Run Hide Fight

I will let others get involved if they want with the genesis of this movie. I don’t care where it came from, I only know that it is a terrifically tense thriller that seems appropriate for the times. Inevitably it will be compared to “Die Hard”, but that’s OK because the hero in the movie is a lot like John McClane. She is reluctant but resolved. She pushes herself and does so while recognizing the punishment she has to go through. There is an emotional epiphany for her that is prompted by her circumstances but needed to be arrived at regardless of the trigger. Zoe Hull may not have the wise cracking persona of Lt. McClane, but she does have the spirit of defiance and the recognition that even though the people she is trying to protect are not all her favorites, they deserve to have someone on their side. 

The scenario is simple, which is one of the reasons the story works. A school shooting has started and depressed senior Zoe is caught in the middle of the events. Isabel May plays Zoe, a girl who is in denial of how much her grief at the loss of her mother to cancer recently, is poisoning. her life. The relationship she has with her father, a gruff but loving Thomas Jane, is being tested by her recalcitrance. He has tried to teach her basic skills, including hunting, which might be appropriate for a girl growing up in a farming community in Indiana. Her best friend Lewis, has deeper feelings toward her but she puts up a defensive wall that makes warmth difficult. There are teachers concerned enough to make an effort to reach out to her, but they too are rebuffed. It is the sudden striking act of violence that begins to awaken her to what she may be losing out on. 

The movie is not for the faint of heart. It opens with a scene that features hunting and the reality of that activity is not really minimized. Some might question it’s inclusion but it is needed to show Zoe is capable of taking a violent action herself, and it also sets up a payoff that we will see coming later on. The takeover of the school cafeteria and the ensuing execution of students is even more brutal. It is not glamorized or played just for gore. The four perpetrators are shown to be  merciless and indiscriminate in their dealing out instant death. In older style movies, some measure of hesitation might be shown by the gang of misanthropes, but here it is casual without consideration of consequences or emotions.  The lack of character background for the victims is mostly a function of story efficiency rather than weak writing. This is not a disaster film where we are hanging on the edge of our seats praying for characters we have come to love. Instead we are shown more about the culture than the individuals, because these school shooters are millennial bumps with social media as their primary teacher. 

The leader of this troop of monsters is Tristan Voy, a school misfit played by Eli Brown. He certainly does not have the charisma of Hans Gruber, but in these circumstances, he does stand out as a villain worth of our hate. Ultimately, the satisfaction we derive from having a revenge fueled action picture like this, is proportionate to the degree of loathing we have for the main antagonist.  Tristan’s casual indifference to the emotions of his classmates, along with the capricious decisions about when and who to kill are probably enough to justify our eventual reactions. He is however shown to be  a sociopath in a couple of other ways, including the humiliation of the principal, the Spanish teacher and the security guard. His manipulation of the other three attackers is also going to give us some reasons to loath him. Social media fame fuels his narcistic ego, but it also makes the community of viewers accomplices to the horror that we are witnessing. 

The title of the film actually comes from the simple training that students are given in real classrooms today. Because an active shooter incident is such a noticeable event, despite it’s remote possibility, schools now require student training. My last three years in the classroom required an annual lockdown exercise, that included the paraphrase of directions, first run if you can, second hide if needed, and finally fight if you must. It is the transition from running to fighting that forms the story arc for Zoe. She has an internal monologue with her Mother, and Mom gives her the advice and encouragement she already knows she needs to follow. Zoe’s acts of heroism and resistance, undermine Tristan’s goals, not just the plan. So while he and Zoe do not share the repartee that John McClane and Hans Gruber did, we can see why she would be such an annoyance to him. 

The nature of the training and the procedures become a tool for the shooters. School administrations are tied up in policies. Teachers are reluctant to change from the established procedure, even when an alternative is called for, and of course students are responding emotionally to what is happening to them. Lewis does not become a pivotal player because of his actions, but rather his social media. Zoe rediscovers her empathy and that helps her manage a problem and turn it into a tool to her benefit. The climax of the picture does involve some of the movie make believe that all such stories require. Dad’s reemergence into the story, and Zoe’s suddenly strong peripheral vision are shortcuts to the end, but the intervening tension has been more than sufficient to forgive some of that.  

The movie does have things to say about our culture and the schools. The police do not come in for the criticism they might deserve after the incident a couple of years ago in Florida. The police chief played by veteran actor Treat Williams, is a sympathetic character who hates being forced to operate in the conditions that are presented, but he does manage to find a way to adapt. The news media also gets a bit of a shellacking for the emphasis on the sensational that drives their coverage. So this is another beat lifted from “Die Hard” which is moderated a bit but still relevant. 

In summary, this is a violent action thriller that takes pride in the difference one person can make.  It understands the ambivalence many students have to their high school experience, but also how important some of those experiences can be in building us as people. Best of all, it provides the action and emotion beats that a thriller like this needs to keep an audience glued to the seat. I really liked it. 

2020 Wrap Up/ Best Of

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know when I say the Movie Year of 2020 was insane and disappointing. As it became clear in early March, theaters were going to be closed. Overseas markets had been cut off, and a string of dominos fell, pushing back the most anticipated films that had been scheduled for the year. Some studios thought a few weeks or months would be enough, and then they discovered the pandemic was not abating. So they pushed back again, and the holiday season looked ripe to save studio box office from the worst case scenario, sorry again. 

Most of the big films rolled back to 2021, and we are still in a wait and see formation. Disney did get Mulan on to PPV and seems to have done alright. Warner Brothers decided to dip their toe in the water with a day and date release of Wonder Woman 1984 on their Streaming Service for no extra charge, and a theatrical release. Then, Warner’s jumped in head first by planning to do the same thing with their entire 2021 schedule. Disney followed by putting Soul on Disney Plus without any extra fee. 

Plenty of films skipped their planned release and went straight to  Netflix or Prime or other streamers, confusing theatrical with television and making the distinction meaningless for the Academy Awards. Oh yeah, the Awards season got extended and who knows what is going to happen with all the other film award shows. 

This site is primarily dedicated to theatrical releases, with an occasional exception. Usually that exception is a retrospective series or a unique film that is not widely available. I have been based in the Southern California area for most of this site’s history, and Theaters in Southern California have remained closed since March. I relocated to Texas in August and theaters here are open but the pickings have been slim. As a result, my traditional Top Ten is going to be contracted and modified to reflect the times. I have four top five lists for you, and they are based on a selection of films that is a quarter of my usual annual consumption, (This is especially true for theatrical release).

So here are the lists I have for you, such as they are.

Five Favorite Theatrical Releases of 2020

5. The Personal History of David Copperfield

I thought this was a delightful re-imaging of the Dicken’s classic story. The conceit is that the movie is made with a color blind cast and contains a number of whimsical images to make the story a little more lively and modern. 
The talented Dev Patel plays David and the host of British actors who are dragooned from television and other films made by the director Armando Iannucci , is long and impressive. This was a small film that benefits from great production values and a good sense of imagination.

4.  Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in his Own Words

For some of you, this might be a controversial choice. Justice Thomas is reviled by many on the left side of the political spectrum, but this is a movie not a political ad. Clarence Thomas has a fascinating personal history and his selection for the high court produced a dramatic historical event.
His judicial philosophy is outlined in solid detail. You don’t have to agree with it but if you listen, you will understand it more completely.  The structure of this film is pretty standard, but it has the benefit of being told through his writings, interviews and historical record. It is not groundbreaking but it is intelligent.

3.  The Broken Hearts Gallery

This was a little romantic comedy that I happened upon back in October. It played in theaters and that was the main reason I saw it, because it afforded me a chance to get out and support movie theaters in their time of crisis. Imagine my surprise at how much fun it was.
I thought the casting was a little unconventional, and the story idea at the heart of the premise is one of those things that can only happen in movies set in New York, but still it caught my fancy. It delivers on the two things you wan from a rom-com, laughs and heart. Probably not an awards contender but you will be happy you saw it. 

2.  Onward

The last major film release before everything went down, “Onward” was also the subject of a Lambcast which explored the film in depth. Probably not as widely anticipated as Pixar’s other 2020 release “Soul”, but a quite respectable outing for the animation giant. The twist here is that fantasy creatures live in a world where magic has vanished and their daily existence is not too different than you would fins in a first world suburban community.
It starts off as if it is a father-son story, but it will slowly dawn on you that a different relationship is the key to the heart of the movie. Not all the story elements work but as usual, the voice cast is top notch and the visual design is stellar. A week after it opened, theaters were closing and it jumped to Disney Plus immediately. 
1. The Gentlemen

This is a typical Guy Ritchie crime film. Which is pretty much all I needed to get me into a theater in January. The fact that the cast is diverse and ultimately brilliant is a cherry on top. This convoluted plot circles around a marijuana kingpin, in the middle of a transaction to sell his business. There are plots within plots and you get a gruesome bit of comedic violence every few minutes. As has become standard for the genre, the movie is told in a non-linear format and partially through narration
Hugh Grant, who has never been nominated for an Academy Award, shows again that comedy performances are ignored by the snobs at the Academy, not because the work is sub-par. If you have liked Ritchie’s previous films, this one should be up your alley. Colin Farrell deserves to stand  next to Grant at the Awards platform this year. 

Five Favorite 2020 Releases Not in Cinemas
Plenty of critics and other bloggers will be able to fill a top ten list because they don’t exclude films from consideration when that have not been released theatrically. I however, have attempted to keep this blog focused on cinema experience. That said, I did see some films streaming that would be contenders for my own personal list, so I have created a separate category for them so that you can enjoy as well.
5.   Lost Girls

The harrowing true story of a mother fighting police incompetence in order to find her missing daughter. Along the way, a horrifying discover is made in spite of the oblivious authorities.  Amy Ryan is fierce and sad in the starring role, which has no glamour or hope attached to it.

4.   Emma

My daughter is a Jane Austen fanatic, and we would have gone to see this together except that she moved to Texas a few months before me. As it was, she saw this in a theater and I watched it with her a few weeks later on a video chat when we had the digital version to share. I don’t know that the 1996 version needed to be improved upon, except this version features Bill Nighy and that is enough justification for me. 

3.   The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin directs from a script that he wrote. The fact that many of the pieces of dialogue from the courtroom scenes come from the transcript of the trial and not Sorkin’s pen is remarkable. This was a controversial moment from fifty years ago. There is an implication that it was a political moment but what really transpired is a piece of insanity, inspired by another piece of insanity, which was responding to the a first piece of insanity. A litany of great performances. 

2. Host

This was MOTM on the Lambcast in October. A Halloween Horror film for a Zoom bound world. A low budget film, put together in a short amount of time, with the stars of the film staying socially distant and recording their own parts to be assembled by the director. It sounds like a disaster, instead, it is plenty scary and very entertaining. Even better, it’s just an hour. 

1.   Soul

Knocked out of  prime real estate in June, banished to Streaming at Christmas, this was my pick in the box office draft a year ago, oh those were the days. Pixar might be accused of repeating itself because there are similarities to “Inside/Out” in this film. If you are not a fan of that movie, don’t worry, the annoying parts and sanctimonious tone are largely missing. Instead we get some great music, a different lesson and some characters that deserve to be remembered. Another Pixar Home Run.  

Because I was limited on the number of new releases to review this year, I thought I would toss in a couple of bonus lists for you. First up are some film releases from years past, that I am finally catching up with. 
Because I keep a list on Letterbxd of all the movies I watch during the year, I can provide you with a statistical breakdown of films watched by decade.

The seventies and the 2010s took up a lot of space. Many of the things I watched were not new to me but comfortable rewatches of old friends. Of the things that were new to me, here are five favorites.


Five Favorite New To Me Films this Year
5. They Live By Night

This noir style classic is a film I have heard about for years. So much so that I believed I had already seen it. While it was running I came to the realization that I had it confused with another older film and that this was brand new to me. Nicholas Ray directs this sad and taut film about a prison escapee who is overwhelmed by his circumstances but tries to find a way to stay in love with a girl who helped hi,

4.  Fighting With My Family

I have never been a fan of wrestling but I know that the world is full of people who are. This tells a true story about a woman wrestler who finds her way from a small town matches in Britain to the WWE, It stars Florence Pugh in a role entirely different from her turn in last year’s “Little Women”. I enjoyed it a lot. Oh, and it features Vince Vaughn who is in both of my next two favorites in this category. I guess I’m a fan.

3.  Dragged Across Concrete

As far as I can tell, this never had a major cinema release, so that may be why I did not see it until I was on Lockdown looking at steaming to feed my movie fix. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are cops with some problems that lead them into unfamiliar territory, mostly because they are good at doing their jobs, and that might include cutting corners occasionally. It ends with a bloody shootout that is an appropriate climax.

2. Brawl in Cell Block 99

Vince Vaughn again, and this is directed by the same guy who brought us “Dragged Across Concrete”, S. Craig Zahler. He made a slow but great bloody western with Kurt Russell a few years ago called “Bone Tomahawk”. I must be a fan because I really have liked all three of the movies he has directed. This one is brutal, let me repeat that BRUTAL, It is not for the faint of heart. It builds to a climax and creates a compelling character in Vaughn’s small time criminal who has lines he will not cross. 

1. The Man Who Invented Christmas

Have you seen every version of a Christmas Carol that has ever been made? Do you know the story backwards and forwards? If the answer to those questions is yes, this is a film for you. A fictionalized account of the writing process that Dickens went through in putting together this most treasured of his stories. Internal monologues mix with dramatic incidents and Christopher Plummer is a Scrooge for your imagination. This was my favorite discovery this holiday season. 

To finish up, I have five theatrical screenings of old classics that I can share with you. Normally, I would have a couple of dozen because I haunt the Fathom Events films, attend the TCM Classic Film Festival and have been a member of the American Cinematique. Closed theaters, cancelled festivals and a move to Texas have altered that this year, but here are some gems. [I excluded Jaws and Lawrence of Arabia because they are repeat pilgrimages]
Classic Screenings

Jurassic Park was special because it signified a return to theaters after the lockdown. It was the first film I saw when I got to Texas and the theaters were open under Socially Distant Guidelines. It was far too long for me and I was happy to just be sitting in a theater.


John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is one of our go to Halloween films and it’s practical effects hold up and make the movie scary as f*@k. My first Alamo Drafthouse film since becoming a Texas resident.

The “Evil Dead” experience was a Halloween Day film. We went to a special screening at a classic movie palace in downtown Austin, and we got a meet and greet picture with Bruce Campbell before the show and his fantastic talk before the movie. 


The Last of Sheila” was a presentation by the Cinematique at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, a year ago. A great movie, a great talk and one of the few things I will miss about California these days.


The last film I saw in a theater before everything closed up, was not some comic book blockbuster or animated Pixar treasure, it was an 87 year old, Black and White classic. King Kong leaves me in awe every time, in spite of some of the creaky 1933 trappings, it completely sucks me in. The day after I saw this, everything closed across the country. Fortunately this left me on a high. 

Monster Hunter

Frankly, there is not a lot to say about the film. It has no subtext, the acting is in service of the action not really the characters, and the action is from Paul W,S. Anderson, who has been making this kind of movie for a long time so he knows his way around this stuff. The only hook I have for potential fans is my own nostalgia for movies like this and I will get into that in a moment.


The story does not spend anytime explaining what is going on. It drops us into a mission, transports us to another dimension and starts throwing monsters at us pretty damn quickly. No one will be surprised that Milla Jovovitch’s character, Captain Artemis, ends up as the one real survivor of the opening half hour. The other characters are so thinly drawn that you can see it coming immediately. What does work in the movie is a long sequence where she combats and collaborates with a true resident of this world, Tony Jaa, a martial arts movie star that you will recognize if you like those kinds of films. Their initial interactions are full of hand to hand combat and the sort of action work you would find in Anderson’s other movies.

The process by which the two become allied is reminiscent of a number of other films, the first that come to mind is “Enemy Mine”. My nostalgia radar was going off very early, thinking of one of my favorite childhood movies “The Mysterious Island” from 1961, but also some cheesy 1970s films starring Doug McClure, “At the Earth’s Core” and  “The Land That Time Forgot”.  Basically a group of outsiders gets plopped down in an alien environment and gets attacked by monsters. Edgar Rice Burroughs should have received a story credit on this movie.


“Monster Hunter” is a brisk time waster that will go down well on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but it is not especially good. The design of the monsters is fun and a little confounding. Since this review is mostly name dropping of other films, I will throw in “Starship Troopers”. When you see the night crawling nest of creatures after Artemis and the Hunter, you will understand why that reference is relevant.   I’m not sure why a sailing ship crossing a desert works visually, but in the opening sequence it does, inspite of the fact that it is confusing. When you notice that the Captain of the ship is played by Ron Pearlman, yo will not at all be surprised that those images come back later in the film.


For me, the main reason to see this is that it is playing exclusively in theaters now, and dammit, I am on a personal crusade to try and sustain movie theaters until things get back to something more normal. If we don’t try, they will all give up and we will be left alone in our living rooms. That is a monster that I am hunting. 

Evil Dead with Bruce Campbell

How can you beat a Halloween experience like this? We saw “The Evil Dead” and it was introduced by a conversation with Ash himself, Bruce Campbell. 
Having been a fan of Mr. Campbell I had a pretty good idea what to expect. I went to a screening of “Bubba-Ho-Tep” back in 2002 with my oldest daughter, and Bruce was there and he was hysterical. 18 years has not changed that. Bruce Campbell knows how to work the audience and make a story interesting to listen to. 
https://soundcloud.com/richard-kirkham-227409846/sets/bruce-talk
The above is a link to a few brief clips from his Conversation that day. 

The awesome Paramount Theater in Austin Texas. was our host for the day. If you look past me you will see Bruce in the Doorway posing for pictures with VIP Guests. 
Oh yeah, here are a couple of VIP Guests.

If you ever get a chance to hear Bruce in person, jump on it. Completely worth it. 

Honest Thief

Whatever you do, don’t watch the trailer that is posted above. This is one of those too numerous examples where the trailer is basically a condensed version of the film and it gives away plot points, action beats and storyline without regard to what you want to know going in. I was lucky, I’d never heard anything about the movie, I never saw a trailer, I only knew that Liam Neeson was in it and it fits the action genre that he has owned for the last decade. The truth is, you will know most of where the movie is going as the story unfolds, there really are no big surprises in the film, but why would you want every highlight to be foreshadowed by an image from the trailer? 


So, not having seen the preview, I am watching this and I know immediately who the “bad guys” are going to be. All you needed to do was see Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos sitting in their cubicle and you just know, these are going to turn out to be crooked cops (or FBI agents as it is). You also keep suspecting that Jeffery Donovan might be a bigger crook except they give him a dog that he actually takes care of. That would not be a scene in the movie if there was a turn for his character. I watched every season of “Burn Notice” and I was happy to see him in a movie, but he does have a somewhat dark persona. Two decades ago, instead of Jai Courtney as the obvious heavy, Robert Patrick would have fit the bill, but as time as marched on, he more naturally fits the senior agent with a case of cynicism and a short story arc. 


The whole point of these kinds of movies is to allow us to do some hero worshipping of Neeson, and watch him use his special skills to bring down the baddies. I think he still looks to be in good shape but it probably is a better idea to have him taking those guys out more with his wits than with his physical skills. The use of IEDs is more believable than a 70 something guy beating up a 30 something guy. Of course nothing in this movie is particularly believable. The premise is that this guy commits these crimes for no reason, never spends the money, and has principles that come back to haunt him only after he falls in love. That is a bit of a stretch. 


What is not a stretch is the chemistry between Liam Neeson and Kate Walsh. I don’t really know her as an actor although she seemed really familiar to me for some reason.  Although she has extensive credits, the thing that I recognized her from was a Cadillac commercial from twelve years ago. She has a great line in the ad, and the same personality was on display in this movie. She is mature enough to feel like a romantic partner for Neeson, and still be someone that can be changed by the experiences the character is going through. The cute meet was maybe the best written scene in the film, and I think they could pull off a romantic movie about adults if anyone is willing to see such a movie anymore. 

So this is a suspense thriller with a revenge plotline about a heist that doesn’t go according to plan. Does that sound like they mixed together enough genres to get your attention? For me it did not matter that it was derivative, soft edged in regard to the violence, and preposterous in concept. I went to this because it was a movie in theaters, not also streaming, just in theaters. It stars Liam Neeson who I love, and it was Sunday afternoon. There was popcorn and the world almost felt normal again. I want the theater experience to return, so I will be going as much as I can, and spending money at the concession stand so the Cinemas can remain open. If the movie is passable and stars someone I enjoy watching, so much the better.

#getyourassintoatheateryouwanks

Lawrence of Arabia (Austin)

As usual, when Lawrence of Arabia is playing on a Big Screen, I want to be there. This was my second visit to the Paramount Theater in Austin and we took a different approach this time. Choosing Orchestra seats, we watched the movie from an appropriate perspective and got to enjoy a different view of the theater. 

Again, it is a beautiful classic movie palace and I expect as the year ends, I will be joining the organization that maintains it. Memberships have privileges, but I do want to see that the programming is going to continue, even with the Covid restrictions. 

Having written about this film a number of times, it is challenging to find perspectives to focus on for each new post. However, in this weekend’s screening, I had two things jump out at me immediately.

Editors deserve a huge amount of credit for the movies they work on. There are many films that have been saved by an editor fixing things that the director was unable to take care of on set or location. Anne V. Coates was certainly deserving of accolades when she did this film, but it is clearly the vision of David Lean. Coates however realized that vision in numerous ways.

I did not take notes on all of the cuts and transitions but I noticed especially in the first third of the picture how jump cuts were used judiciously. The most famous being the jump from Lawrence blowing out the match to the rising sun over the desert. The camera work was smooth but it is enhanced by a timely use of swipes from below and the sides. It was also impeccably timed to synch with the fil’s action and music.

The other thing i was paying attention to during this screening was the willfulness of Lawrence himself. In the first half of the movie, the story revolves around the success that Lawrence wills himself to accomplish. The match trick is the perfect precursor to all of these points. As he tells his colleague who burns himself while trying to copy the action, “the trick is not minding that it hurts.” He chooses to forgo a drink when his guide  does not drink. He is unyielding in the first confrontation with Sherif Ali. The trip to Aqaba across the Nefud desert is a miracle that he chooses, and then he repeats it with the trip across the Sinai. 

He jokes at one point with General Murray that he is not insubordinate, but rather it is his manner that makes him seem so. That is a piece of circular reasoning being used to justify the fact that he is willful, even with those under whom he is supposed to be working. 

The events after the intermission, demonstrate that will alone cannot accomplish the things he wants. He uses the same fierce will power to lead the Arab Army, but with limited success in regard to their discipline.  The military success cannot be matched with political success. His will is broken at one point by his brutal encounter with the Turks, and the depraved General played by Jose Ferrer. He blames Allenby for returning him to the effort, but it is Lawrence’s will power that moves him to try to reach Damascus first. 

These were just a couple of new notes on the continuing love I have for this film. You can read more Here, and here, and here, and here, and here, oh and here

Bill & Ted Face the Music


So 29 years after our last dose of Bill and Ted, we get a sequel that is not needed for the story to feel complete, but feels like it is needed in these times. The world seems like it is a mess. Covid, violent protests, Political Division, and natural disasters galore. The whole planet could use a break and a movie like this fits the circumstances nicely. There is no agenda here, the closest the story comes to reflecting our times is the notion that reality as we know it is being threatened. Forget that silly coincidence and let the stupidity flow over you like a warm stream from a hot shower. The only way you will be changed by this is that you will have a slight smile on your face, and no memory of the world outside for 90 minutes. That is a reasonable respite for these times.


While Bill and Ted have aged physically in the story, their emotional growth is static. The two of them are joined at the hip, skimming through life, having missed the chance to turn their immense popularity at the end of the last film into something lasting. The problem may be expectations. Since they know that the future has been influenced by their work, they appear to have been chasing the dream of writing a song that will unify the world and bring balance. We all know how hard it is to fall asleep when we want to rather than when we need to. Nothing will keep you awake as much as thinking about how important it is for you to get to sleep. Well apply the same principle to just about anything else and it will be true there as well. In an effort to fulfill their potential, they have alienated their audience, isolated their life experience and generally grown less relevant. For the first twenty minutes of the movie, I felt that the characters and script were suffering from the same problem. The movie wants to be fun, but it takes a long time to set up the story, and by exaggerating some of the character traits by genetically passing them on, the screenwriters seem to be suffering from the same hubris. 


Once the set up is out of the way, the movie feels a lot more easy/breezy and the dofuss fun begins. Creatively, there is not much here. As in the first film, historical figures are being collected, but this time for a band rather than a history project. Also, as in the second film, we return to Hell and have to figure out how to escape the afterlife. The return of William Sadler as Death is the most welcome call back to the previous films. The storyline of estranged bandmates coming back together is one of the few organic elements of the film that fits. Some other side plots such as the counseling session with their wives, the two princesses rescued from the first  and second movies, may amuse but don’t connect well to the main story. If you thought Bill and Ted were deficient in IQ points back in 1989, it appears that there is no recessive gene, because the two daughters are even more vacuous. There were a few cute points about their similarities to the dads but combined with the story points, it does feel a bit like they are simply repeating themselves.


Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves don’t seem to have changed all that much. They are in on the joke and play it straight for us. Other returning characters seem to be there simply to show that the world we are seeing is an outgrowth of the previous films. Ted’s Dad, the boy’s Step Mother Missy, and the Joanna and Elizabeth, the wives/princesses, don’t do much for the story except provide continuity. I can’t decide if Dennis Caleb McCoy, the robot sent to kill Bill and Ted is more amusing or irritating. I think I got just enough laughs out of him to tip the balance slightly in his favor. I can tell you however, that as a

long time SoCal resident, San Dimas never appears as itself in this movie. There was one static shot in the credits of the real San Dimas High School, but all other physical similarities are non-existent.
The other thing that is missing from the movie is a song track that would be worth playing back. I did not notice any killer songs being used as background music, and the stuff that was supposed to be original, entirely lacked a hook. So how is it that after these criticisms, I can still say the movie was fun, thats simple. It is stupid and relishes it’s stupidity. I have no idea who Kid Cudi is, but I know that when he is given the exposition that is supposed to explain the physics of the plot line, it is supposed to be ironic. It was, because it is scientific mumbo jumbo spewed forth by a peripheral character, at an opportune moment, and we are just expected to let it go. I could do that, and did so with a number of other things in the film, because the two slackers and their cohort were making me smile and forget about the really dumb stuff happening in the world these days.    

JAWS 2020

Because of Covid, I did not get to do a trip to see Jaws on the big screen this last July 4th. That’s right, we literally had “panic on the 4th of July.” Thanks Mayor Vaughn for that prescient moment. I did watch the new 4K version at home on that holiday, but this site caters to theatrical presentations for the most part, so I did not feel there was anything worthy to say at that time. Since then, I have relocated to Texas, just outside of Austin, and I am trying to find my feet in this new cinema community. It looks as if there will be many chances to see older films in a theater at a local hot spot for those activities, the Paramount in downtown Austin.

They were closed over the summer but recently re-opened and there is a series of popular classics scheduled for the next month or so, including this greatest adventure film of all time. The theater is an old style movie palace that has a mezzanine section and a balcony above the main orchestra level of the theater. We chose seats up here so we could get a better look at the walls, ceiling and boxes of the theater.

There are some intricate moldings around the proscenium, and the elaborate decor on the opera style boxes is lovely. Although modern theaters are comfortable with stadium seating and wider aisles, the presence of old style showmanship in these classic buildings makes a visit to see a movie special.

As usual, the “Quint” essential film of the 1970s played like gangbusters. The audience was not huge, probably because capacity is limited under the current times and people are required to wear masks. I did hear the four ladies behind us a few rows, laughing after gasping, which many people do to alleviate their anxiety. So it was clear the movie has lost none of it’s impact. The sudden arrival of Ben Gardner continues to cause people to jump, even when they know it is coming. 

That is Amanda in the background, taking in the theater and taking a picture of the ceiling. I would not be surprised to find some of those on social media if you go looking in the right places. Anyway, popcorn was had, sodas were consumed and Hooper and Brody [spoiler alert] manage to make it back to the shore at the end of the film. In all, it was a successful Sunday afternoon that I hope to repeat frequently in my new hometown.

That should not be hard considering what is coming up in another couple of weeks.  Somebody out there likes me. 

Tenet

This was probably the most anticipated film of the summer for a lot of people. Because of the Pandemic shutdowns, it got pushed back three times before finally making it to theaters this week. Bu all means, see this movie if you are interested, in a theater. The scope, photography and action sequences will be diminished if you choose to see this on a tablet, TV screen or heaven forbid, on a phone.

I want to start with a message that is also a warning. If, during the course of this Two and a half hour film, you need to visit the restroom or concession stand, and you are worried you will miss something that clarifies the story or advances the plot in the time you are gone, go ahead and go. Nothing explained in any five minute sequence during the film, will help you keep track of what the hell is going on in this movie. “Inception”, “Memento” and “Interstellar” all play with time and parallel events. If you ever had trouble following those concepts, which are reasonably well explained although still confusing at times, get ready to feel completely lost. For the first hour, things made sense and you could follow the logic of the world Christopher Nolan has created here. The premise is interesting and it contains the usual conundrums that time travel stories face. The problem is that about a third of the way into the film, two or three additional plot elements are introduced, each one with different time influences , and they all start influencing each other. Sometimes those effects are so complicated that a map would not help you. Events start moving faster and trying to keep up will be a waste of time if you are also trying to enjoy the movie.

There is nothing inherently wrong  in having a complicated plot, if at some point you can make sense of how it all comes together, “Tenet” attempts that but largely fails to be coherent, even though several of the twists involve tricks you have seen a hundred times before in a time travel story. Ultimately, I think you can view this film as one loop in an event that has a limitless number of possible variations. Doing that will not make the story more satisfying however. I would have to see the movie several more times to pick out the inconsistencies and  conundrums that pop up, but to be honest, Nolan himself doesn’t seem to care about them. He even has one of the characters say as much, fairly early in the film. Stop trying to make sense, let’s just let this wash over us. I can live with that, but it will leave Tenet as an exercise in style and film making, rather than a piece of cinematic art. 

With a pre-title sequence that feels a lot like a Bond film, Nolan sets this up as an espionage story, that potentially would be confusing the way some double and triple cross stories can be, but it would still be grounded. As the science fiction element takes center stage, the tradition spy tropes get doubled back on with a wink and a nod to time travel twists we have seen before. I won’t spoil it for you, but during a heist scene, one character confronts another and we don’t see the second characters face in that sequence. You know that will play out again, and there will be a reveal.,,guess what’s coming.

John David Washington has just enough charisma to play the low key “Protagonist” of the story. The scene that shows off the potential of what might have been a solid spy film, involves his lunch with Michael Caine. It is not his fighting skill, or dramatic intensity that makes the scene work, rather, it is his bemused self confidence in the face of being judged by others. One place I don’t think he was quite successful at was the near romantic element of his relationship with the character played by actress Elizabeth Debicki. I can buy that he feels a sense of responsibility for her in a paternalistic way, but the embers of romance that are supposed to be the base of this are not there.  He can sell that he cares, what is not clear is why he cares.

We get a pretty good preview of what the next Batman movie will be like because Robert Pattinson, plays a much more active Felix Leiter to Washington’s 007. I suspect, that as in most of the good Batman films, the quirky Bruce Wayne will not take a back seat to the brooding “Dark Knight”. Pattinson plays Neil, the mysterious counterpart to the Protagonist, and he has a light touch with the humor and enough presenter to sell the physicality. 

You ready for a surprise? The actor who steals the movie is Kenneth Branagh. Taking the start he made on a similar character in the Jack Ryan film from a few years ago, Branagh manages to make a cartoon villain feel dangerously real. A kingpin of a Russian oligarch, it would be easy to just say the lines and have threats come off as empty bravado. Nolan gives Branagh actions to play that show us his ruthlessness, the actor adds a sense of menace to those lines, but never with the charm of a fictional character. Instead, the deadly earnestness of his performance is disturbingly real. The tiniest touch of humanity right at the end of the film paints just enough of a persona to make the character evn more real, and loathsome. 

Filmed in some of the most beautiful locales in the world, it would be hard to fault the look of the picture. The movie is not overcut in the action scenes, but the parallel time tracks and reverse structure do require some frequent cuts in perspective that can get a bit confusing at times. The backward car chase sequence looks great, but when it is followed up on, instead of being clearer, it leads us to start questioning what we really saw before, but not in the good way that it is supposed to work. 

At two and a half hours, despite a solid pace, the film feels long. Probably because of the plot conceit concerning inverted time elements. I loved “Memento” but it was less than two hours and the same kind of thing happens there. Adding another forty minutes to it would do to it what happens with “Tenet”, it makes you look at your watch and wonder how much longer it is going to go on.  Maybe when it is serialized as a four hour mini-series, it will work better. 

Christopher Nolan has one of the greatest imaginations in the film industry. There are terrific concepts in most of the movies he has made. There are simply too many times that we ravel on a tangent that takes up a chunk of time but might have been replaced with something simpler as just as easy to admire. The stacking Russian Doll story structure worked well in “Dunkirk”, it was clever in “Inception”, but it is simply overdoing it in this movie. 

I probably sound like I am down on the film, I’m not really. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Pattinson and Washington invading a penthouse in India, or doing a heist at an airport freeport, were well staged action scenes. The inverted battle at the climax of the movie was spectacular to look at but mostly incomprehensible. The inverted stories are fine but when you start to retcon your own movie to change the outcomes, you create dilemmas that Solomon could not work out and algorithms that might give Einstein fits. See the movie, go with what is happening on the screen at any point and don’t try to make it make sense. That extra brainwork will distract from the moment, and it is the moments that make this movie worth seeing, not the plot.  

The Personal History of David Copperfield

We have had plenty of Jane Austin inspired films in the last few years, including a charming version of “Emma” earlier this year. It’s time for a change up, but not too big a change, so we will stick to 19th century English writes, but change genders, decades and primary locations. Who is in the mood for some Charles Dickens? 

I’d not seen the trailer for this film before we went to the movies, in fact, I don’t even think I’d heard of it, but it was the weekend, theaters are opening up, and this was not “The New Mutants” so it became the designated choice for Saturday afternoon. From the start, you can tell this will be an interesting approach to telling the well worn story of David Copperfield. The opening of the film is set up like it was a lecture hall, and the audience was certainly more diverse than you would have seen in 1840’s London. That is one of the winning choices of the film makers. Casting was dictated not by historical accuracy or by Dickens’s description per se, but by the ability of actors to be charming in the roles that they are cast in. Our hero is portrayed as an adult by Dev Patel, not a traditional Englishmen of the stage. He is delightful in the role, and I have been a fan since “Slumdog Millionaire”.  He has an earnestness that matches well with the Dickensian moods of our hero. I assume that the young Ranveer Jaiswal  was chosen to play the young David Copperfield because he matched up with Patel in many ways, but the way that is most important is demeanor rather than appearance and that worked here. 

Director/writer Armando Iannucci is familiar to me because of two films, “In the Loop” which was a MOTM on the LAMB three years ago, and “The Death of Stalin” which was widely hailed and recommended to me. Both films were solid comedies with a bent to them that is very distinctive, and that sensibility is also found in this movie, at least in a few spots. I had some reservations because the framing device and transition to the traditional narration felt a bit frantic and unclear at the beginning. It was as if the director was struggling to signal that this is a comedy, while still trying to retain the elements of Copperfield that are not really funny. The whole thing settles down after about ten minutes and the more straightforward narrative takes over. There are still plenty of the odd moments and stylings that Iannucci is well known for, but it fills the story rather than driving it as we go along.

I recognized Peter Capaldi, not from Dr. Who, which I don’t watch, but from “In the Loop” and the “Paddington” films. I thought he was a perfect Mr. Micawber, and every time he showed up the movie was funny again. Hugh Laurie, who plays Mr. Dick, was also a comforting comical presence. Both of these actors are capable of playing off absurd circumstances yet still pulling some poignant moments amid the craziness. My guess is that most of the cast will be far more recognizable to Brits than we colonists, because they all seem very good, so they probably work in television programming or theater that is more U.K. centered.  

The casting of romantic counterparts in the film might be a little precocious since the point seemed to be to emphasize the lack of ethnocentricity,  The actors are so good however, that what might have been seen as an affectation, turns out to be barely noticeable. Rosalind Eleazar as Agnes, a love interest for Patel, and the daughter of Benedict Wong’s Mr. Wickfield, crossed two ethic boundaries at once and we don’t care at all. This is the sort of casting I think would address the desire for diversity without drawing attention to the fact that you are trying to do that. 

For a complicated story, the film is paced pretty well. I do think that the opening section with the awful Mr. Murdstone needed to fleshed out a bit more, but perhaps the youthful Copperfield isn’t where the writer found the most joy in the story. If you are able to see the film, by all means do so. I think it would be easy to peg the costumes for awards consideration at the end of the year. The clothes help make the characters easy to understand and entertaining simultaneously. Copperfield has some tragic moments but this production does not dwell on them, it acknowledges those points but move quickly to it’s objective, which is to amuse us. The return of the bookend devices toward the end of the film are much less jarring than at the start of the story and they finish things off nicely.