Dr. No (60th Anniversary) Fathom Events

I was unable to find a Fathom Events Trailer for the screening of Dr. No last night, so instead you get this original trailer which is a lot of fun in itself.

I was only four when Dr. No was first released so I obviously did not see it then. It wasn’t until the late pary of the sixties that I caught up with it in a double bill with either “Thunderball” or “Goldfinger”, I can’ quite remember the match up. Whichever one it was , the other played on a separate bill with “From Russia with Love”. That’s how I first saw the original four James Bond films. 

Three of my five favorite 007 films are from the original Sean Connery list. “Dr. No” clocks in at number 4of all the James Bond films for me. It was the first film in the series that launched my sixty year love for all things Bond. It is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book with a few minor changes (there is no giant squid and SPECTRE has been retconned into the film series). 

Dr. No looks great on the big screen, this was a Digital Projection so there were no flaws from the film stock, it looks like it was from the remastering done for the Blu-ray set that came out ten years ago. I have been to Jamaica, although not Kingston, and the ocean and islands do look like what you see in the film. It is a beautiful place although I know there are some dark places that you probably don’t want to visit. 

When I was getting ready for “Spectre”, I did a countdown of 007 films, with the top seven reasons to love each film. For “Dr. No” here are the seven things I picked. There are some additional reasons you should invest in seeing this film. Although he is the first of the sacrificial lambs to go in Bonds place over the years, Quarrel is also one of the most memorable. John Kitzmiller, who played Quarrel, was an actor I’d never looked up before, but there are a couple of important highlights to mention. He won the Best Actor Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1947, but even better, he was born in my parents hometown of Battle Creek Michigan. The parts that don’t age well are when Bond orders him around when they are on Crab Key, you know, “Fetch my shoes” and that kind of stuff. Still he was a salwart companion and ally of 007, and he died bravely fighting dragons. 

This was the introduction of the Monty Norman theme, jazzed up by John Barry, which has had some controversy over the years but for which the late Mr. Norman deserves credit for writing. The theme gets used as a running score element and is mixed with some of the Island tunes that set the locale. The scene in the nightclub with all of the patrons dancing to “Jump Up” has plenty of visual charm in a simple way, and the “Three Blind Mice” calypso version is used with the Maurice Binder titles and transitioned to a live shot very effectively at the end of the titles. This is also a film notable for not having a pre-title sequence. 

As a Fathom Event, they always put in a little extra. The Trivia screen shots were a nice touch before the movie, and they included a statement from Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson on the passing of Sean Connery from two years ago. After the movie, there was a long featurette on Daniel Craig called “Being James Bond”, it is not on my Blu-ray copy of “No Time to Die”, but it was clearly prepared as a promotional piece for the last of Craig’s Bond films. This was a legacy screening so it did not feel inappropriate to me to include it in the show. 

Beast

If you look at the masthead of this site, or count the number of posts relating to the 1975 classic, you will know how much I love Spielberg’s “Jaws”.  In fact, in a couple of weeks there will be more posts because it is getting a release in IMAX and 3D. That may make it a little unfair to compare today’s film to the beloved shark story, but in many ways it is the same story, simply adapted to a different environment. “Beast” is a nature gone malevolent film where instead of a shark we get a lion. There is an initial attack, and then the slow burn discovery of the continuing danger, followed by an extended sequence where man is pitted against nature in a single vehicle that is crippled. There are plenty more comparisons to come but I’ll save those to first talk about whether the film works.

Idris Elba has been in 30 films in one form or another in the last 10 years. Before that he was in a bucket load more and some essential television shows, so it is not a stretch for him to have to hold the attention of an audience for 90 minutes. The part of Doctor Nate Samuels is low key and calm in the face of overwhelming danger. The Doctor has two children that he has brought to South Africa to visit the home of their deceased mother. The husband and wife were separated at the time of her death and as a doctor, he feels guilt about not being able to do more about the cancer that killed her. It is a cliched trope that a trip like this is designed to repair the estrangement he has with his teen daughters. That the relationships will have to be repaired under the most pressure filled scenario is typical in a movie like this [Bruce Willis and Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Live Free or Die Hard is an example of the stress repairing parental bonds trope].  

The premise is simple, the family in emotional crisis suddenly finds itself under attack from an outside source. In this case the threat comes from a rogue lion, angry about the slaughter of it’s pride and reeking vengeance on all humans it encounters.  In the opening sequence we get a night time attack on the poachers left behind to clean up after the initial destruction of the pride. There are a couple of moments that feel like a mid-night swim and the CGI lion is pretty effective at providing jump scares. When Elba and his friend Martin, played by Sharlto Copley, come across a decimated village, it’s as if Brody and Hooper are finding Ben Gardner’s boat, only this time Brody brought his kids with him. Later, it turns out that Martin is also Quint, intrepid hunter of poachers and the victim of the creatures he tries to protect. 

The lion attacks on the vehicle that the doctor and his daughters are trapped in are pretty dramatic and scary. The idea that the lion is using one of our characters as bait is similar to the mysterious behavior of the shark in “Jaws” going under the boat. Animals are inscrutable, but they do follow their nature, and we were given a foreshadowing lecture on lion behavior that tips us to how this is ultimately going to be played out. Of course a couple of characters have to do some stupid things to keep the story going in a few spots and that does undermine the value of the film. 

I don’t know of anyone who wants to see animals harmed as a part of the story, but as this tale goes on, you really are rooting for something to happen to this lion. The most brutal violence on an animal is in the openings sequence, so if you get through that you will be OK. We mostly see the aftermath of the mauling that the humans get, but in the climax we are given a pretty graphic depiction of what happened to a variety of characters, and it happens in broad daylight, so night does not cover up what is going on. The locations look beautiful and there is some terrific nature photography early on, but once the peril starts, the plot takes over and most of the shots are about building fear rather than amazing footage.

Crawl” was a similar story from a couple of years ago. It was much more aware of it’s exploitation roots and leaned into them to make an effective summer entertainment. “Beast” has a little too much sincerity to pull off the entertainment value at an equally high level, but it mostly works. That is due to the two leads and the premise, more than anything else. 

Spielberg Double Feature August 2022

Any time you can see one of Spielberg’s classic films on the big screen, you should take the opportunity to do so. As repeatable as most of his films are, a theatrical presentation enhances the experience by making the action more urgent in the size of the screen, the volume of the sound system and the response from your fellow movie goers. Raiders is 41 years old, but for a Saturday matinee, with a cost of  $14, the theater was nearly full. This screen was part of the Summer Classic Film Series at the Paramount Theater in Austin Texas.

The presentation was a digital projection, so it may have lacked some of the warmth and texture of a 35mm screening, but the images were great and the movie just plays like gangbusters. The opening ten minutes is still a standard by which many action based films today fail to live up to. Indiana Jones is defined as a character by his look, his actions and the way the movie is shot. Harrison Ford does not have a lot of dialogue in the opening sequence, but when he does speak, we get a sense of the adventurous archeologist and his strengths and weaknesses.  

Not only did I get a chance to see one of the Spielberg masterpieces on the big screen, I got a second one on the same day. This year is the 40th anniversary of “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” and in celebration, Universal is releasing it on IMAX screens around the country.  We had just seen “E.T.” at the TCM Film Festival back in April, and Spielberg was there to discuss it. Why would we need to go again? Because it’s fricking great, that’s why. 

The thrilling flying bicycle scenes don’t hold up as well as you might hope, but everything else does. Once again, John Williams accounts for half the success of the movie because his score for this is so touching and appropriate that the emotions on the screen can be felt over and over again, just by hearing the score.

If the first ten minutes of Raiders defines action, the last ten minutes of E.T. defines heart. The closing moments of the film never fail to bring me the tears that I remember shedding the first time I saw this film forty years ago. Henry Thomas continues to work as an actor, after giving one of the great child performances of all time. If he had never made another film, he should be enshrined in Valhalla for this alone. 

All of you out there stewing in jealousy over this great day that I got to indulge in, you can still catch “E.T.” on an IMAX screen somewhere. Why are you still here?

John Carpenter’s The Thing (Round 2)

Just a quick update to remind myself that I did go and see “The Thing” again on the big screen at the Alamo Drafthouse last Friday.  They are doing a summer series on films that came out in 1982, forty years ago now, and of course John Carpenter’s masterpiece is included. 

This video is from the same program seven years ago, but it still kicks ass. 

As early arrivals, we scored a nice mini-poster of John Carpenter films that have apparently played at the Drafthouse at some point or another. 

I’ll be looking at the Drafthouse theaters near me to see if I can catch up with any of these movies. The only one I have never seen is “Christine”. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea how I missed it. 

Once again, the greatest performance in this movie is turned in by the dog in the opening section. The trainer who got this dog to stand so still and stare in just the right ominous manner, deserves a round of applause

Bullet Train

Director David Leitch knows his way around a contemporary action scene. Having been a producer and an uncredited director on John Wick,  he took on “Deadpool 2” and the “Fast and Furious Spinoff Hobbs and Shaw”. In other words, Leitch has become adept at making action films that are short on credulity but long on humor and style, and this is one of them. “Bullet Train”, to use the obvious metaphor, is a fast moving vehicle that has few stops, no real scenery and a self contained environment for the players to bounce around in.

Brad Pitt plays an operative who has gone through some kind of existential crisis and is trying to maintain his career as a top clandestine agent, without having to kill or confront anyone in a violent manner. Of course when your job is to steal valuable assets from dangerous people, your life goals may have to take a backseat to your survival skills. In this situation Pitt’s character, code named “Ladybug”, has to steal a briefcase containing a large amount of money. Of course there is a reason for the money to be there, and there are others on the train who are after the same thing for different reasons, and there are other “fixers” from crime syndicates all trying to eliminate one another. If you took the characters from “Clue” and you moved them from a locked house mystery, to a trapped on a train crime thriller, this would be the result. This is one of those films that plays dismemberment for laughs and violence as a mere inconvenience until the next quip or visual joke comes along. 

“Ladybug” is a Buster Keaton like character who manages to get into and out of situations with a combination of great skills and incredible luck. The physical jokes are over the top and completely unbelievable, they are also incredibly fun to watch and they are accompanied by the relaxed performance of Brad Pitt. It is as if Pitt is not only channeling the laid back character he played in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”, but he is now calling on the spirit of Owen Wilson to add a zen like daze to his hipster cool. Pitt seems to know how silly it all is but is having a good time anyway. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry, in addition to using three names, play salt and pepper brothers who are contract killers/operatives for hire, who having thought they completed their mission, now have to deliver the briefcase that is the target of Ladybug. They too have cute code names, Tangerine and Lemon, and they are full of some of the same cool headed hipster violence and humor that dominate these types of movies. 

If you saw “The Lost City” earlier this year, you probably won’t be too surprised at a couple of cameo spots that show up in the movie. Also, if you liked Pitt’s role in Deadpool 2, we get a turnabout moment that lasts just as long in this film. Maybe this is a little close to spoiler territory, but none of it gives away plot and you know how these things go anyway, so it is really more a moment of pleasure more than surprise when these things happen. I was also a bit pleased when I finally recognized the big bad who shows up at the climax of the film, it was not a role I had any foreknowledge of and it was another moment of cinema fan service more than plot development. Speaking of plot, unlike “Atomic Blonde” which still does not make any sense, this convoluted series of set ups works pretty well at bringing everything together in a reasonably coherent way. There may still be plot holes, but you will understand why everyone is in the picture and what their motives ultimately turn out to be. Pay no attention to the other passengers who appear and then vanish from the train. At best they provide a quick joke, most of the time they would be in the way, but by the end no one cares because the action and the train have accelerated way past reality a third of the way into the movie. By the last act we are watching a live action Road Runner cartoon, and that will be fine for most of us.

“Bullet Train” is the kind of summer movie you should be looking for right about now. It has no long term agenda, there is nothing serious going on that will haunt your memories, and it is easy to watch. Any film that has a Bee Gees tune and mimics the opening of “Saturday Night Fever” must have something going for it. Layer a Jim Steinman song on top of that with a bunch of other upbeat tunes and you will find yourself refreshingly immersed in a pop culture mashup, perfect for these times and this time of year. Jump the turnstile or buy a ticket, “Bullet Train” will entertain you for the dog days of summer.

Vengeance

I am as big a fan of comic book films and action movies as anybody you can think of, but my two favorite films so far this year are small independents created by film makers with distinct visions, and this movie is one of those films. This was written and directed by actor B.J. Novak, and I am impressed with his ability to balance the story he is telling with the subjects he is dealing with. It would be easy to see this as a take down of fly over culture, except that it isn’t. Certainly, the idiosyncrasies of Texas life are shown in a humorous light, but just when you think they are being mocked, there is a note that not only validates the point but expresses some appreciation for it. Oh, and by the way, the coasts are not immune from the being targeted. In the long run, this film does a lot to unify the culture in a way that may not be appreciated by everyone, but was certainly welcome by me. 

Novak has identified Rob Reiner as his favorite director, citing the marvelous stretch of films from the early 80s to the early 90s. Among those films is “This is Spinal Tap”, a mockumentary that has been an inspiration for film makers ever since and  clearly has influenced this film. “Vengeance” is a little more subtle about taking down the podcast/media establishment, but the humor and satire in this script is no less biting than Spinal Tap’s songs that mimic heavy metal themes. When Ben and his editor/mentor start calling the project, “Dead White Girl”, the rest of us can see that this is “Sex Farm Woman” and “Big Bottom” redux. The shallowness of our gawker consumption of true crime podcasts is also indicated by the opening conversation that Novak’s character Ben has with his friend at the party. Their supposedly rational approach to relationships sound insincere from the start, and it sets up the payoff for this film at the climax. 

Everybody in the film is excellent, but I would be remiss if I neglected to take special notice of actor Ashston Kutcher in the role of West Texas music producer Quentin Sellars, with a charismatic grasp of that job, but a warped philosophy about life. He is in two long sequences in the film and those moments both owe a debt to Robert Shaw’s monologue in “Jaws”. Kutcher is not quite Shaw in those moments, but he is damn good and watchable as all get out. Novak’s Ben is basically Richard Dreyfuss  in the monologue sequence on the Orca. We see astonishment on his face as Kutcher pulls a greater performance out of his recording artist with a story that seems incongruent but perfectly taps the inspiration he is looking for. The growing admiration Ben feels for Quentin Sellars in this moment will be juxtaposed later in the film when the ramification of the philosophy is causally laid out in front of him by a smug and self righteous charlatan. Ben’s facial expressions mirror the horror and disbelief that Hooper felt as he listened to Quint. The final reaction is priceless and justifies classifying this film as a revenge drama along side the phrase comedy/mockumentary.

There are three distinct turns that the film takes in story and tone. At first we are treated to what looks like a comedy takedown of life outside of the big city. There was plenty to laugh about and the characters don’t feel too exaggerated as to make the perception feel skewed. The second section goes a long way to building a warm relationship between disparate characters and the way they approach life. I have to admit that as a transplant to Texas, I learned more about the “What-a-burger” obsession that some people here have than I have learned in my two years of living here. Unfortunately, the jurisdictional law enforcement politics hits it’s mark a bit too accurately in light of the police response to the Uvalde shooting. The third section of the film, forces us to confront some ugly truths about all of the characters. Our ability for denial in the face of the truth, our willingness to emotionally betray those we care for in pursuit of our own needs are both big parts of the last act. It is however redemption, in the most unlikely Liam Neeson moment of a film called “Vengeance”, that will let you love or hate this film.  I felt the climax was earned, and in the end, like a long string of revenge movies before it, “Vengeance” surprisingly earns it’s title.

As writer, director and principle actor in the film, B.J. Novak has earned my respect. This is a sophisticated and balanced look at our contemporary culture. He finds the sad, meaningless relationships of modern men and destroys them. The use of stereotyping is shown to be destructive in multiple directions, finally acknowledging that sophisticates are capable of being just as blind as those in the hinterlands. The tonal shifts do come abruptly, but they come from revelations that are natural and human. Maybe the journalist/writer is a little too self confident in his interviews, but he is capable of screwing up like the rest of us and gets called out for his condescension each time. The one time that being called out for his so called selfish acts, is the mic drop moment of the film.  

NOPE

I was a big fan of “Get Out“, Jordan Peele’s feature directorial debut. His second film “Us“, however, was maybe the most laughably bad movie I saw in 2019. So I was worried about which way this film was going to go. The original trailer was intriguing, but not convincing on it’s own. The subsequent trailers were less inspiring and I started having big doubts about how this would all work out. I am relieved to say that the film is solid, with a good deal of suspense, a couple of good scares and some humor. The action based last act seems to come out of nowhere and it feels like a slightly different movie at that point, but not a bad different movie, just not one that feels closely tied to what came before. 

Regular visitors know that I do not regurgitate the plot of the film in these reviews and I avoid as much as possible spoiler material. I am going to share something with you however that may be interpreted as a spoiler by some, so be aware…this movie is filled with red herrings and when it is done, you may very well wonder why they were all there. This is especially true with the flashback sequences to a different horror story that is told in the movie. There is no logical reason for it’s presence except as a story telling piece of legerdemain, designed to distract us at times from things that are goin on in the main plot.  It is a well told story with it’s own elements of suspense and horror, but it has no relationship to the events that happen here, except both stories take place in the entertainment industry.

Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer play siblings who are part of a show business group that provide horses and wrangle them on Hollywood productions. After the mysterious death of their father (an underused Keith David), they are struggling to keep their ranch together and selling off horses that are part of the family legacy. Kaluuya plays OJ, a man who has a hard time making himself heard on set and off. Keke Palmer is his sister Emerald, who has trouble in the opposite direction, she can’t turn it off most of the time. When they discover something unusual taking place in the gulch where their ranch is located, they try to find a way to use that discovery to save them from financial ruin. Down the dirt road is Ricky “Jupe” Park, played by Steven Yuen, a former child star with his foot in a different branch of the entertainment industry, and he too has plans to use the discovery to his advantage. It is the convergence of these two stories that is the only thread which brings the horror elements we are shown together. 

Because OJ is so quiet, his character starts off without much relatability. I did feel that his character grew as a presence in the story and by the end, he had earned a heroic plotline. In one of those red herring sequences in the film, he gets to play against the hard type that he is shown as, and it works as a moment of humor.  Another character, Angel, Brandon Perra, is added to the mix and he also jukes the story humor up a bit while still keeping the suspense going. The slow build first act of the film sets us up really well for the edge of our seats fear and terror of the second act. There are some big unexpected moments, and the twist of the horror/sci-fi concept is revealed and sort of interesting. Michael Wincott joins the group as a mysterious cinematographer, and I don’t quite get what his actions at the end are supposed to mean, but he does tend to add a little gravitas to the last section of the film. 

So not everything in the story comes together, and the resolution feels like it came out of left field, but it was fun anyway. I think the movie does mostly what you want a horror film to do. It creates a creepy atmosphere, it tells us enough about the characters to make us care and enjoy being in their company, and it ultimately produces some thrills that are fear based and suspenseful. It’s nice when a movie offers you things that you were not expecting, it just odd when those things are disconnected from the plot. Enjoy going down a few dead ends, but you will get a fine amount of entertainment from everything else. 

Cabaret Fathom Events 50th Anniversary

As amazing as the performances are and the staging of the musical sequences is fantastic, this movie and story are haunting in a way that is difficult to explain. As the nation of Germany is about to be swallowed up by the fanaticism of the Nazis, the decadent entertainment seems to be a distraction from the coming storm. Even when the characters acknowledge the impending doom, they can’t seem to escape from the complications they are living through while the pawl of doom is closing in. 

Director Bob Fosse has made a movie musical for people who don’t like movie musicals. Characters don’t break out in song, unless they are on a stage, or at one point in an audience listening to a staged song. His background in theater shows as these sequences of the performers at the “Kit Kat” club, are all choregraphed with just enough vulgarity to be fitting for this kind of venue, but also enough professionalism to keep us watching closely. The stories that the film is based on sound like they focus on the decadent behavior more than the Nazi threat, and maybe the poverty of the time is not fully conveyed, but I don’t think any of us living today would choose this era to live in. It is the antithesis of glamour, with the exceptions of the characters of Max and Natalia, both of whom seem to have bleak futures despite their wealth.

Liza Minnelli is of course the shining star in the film. She has an unconventional beauty at this point in her life, and her persona was perfect for the somewhat deluded Sally Bowles. I get the impression that the less we know about the real characters that were the inspiration for the stories that the play and the musical are based on, the greater we will enjoy the experience. Michael York seemed to be everywhere in the 1970s, and he was very well cast as the sexually ambiguous Brian. The uncertainty of his character about his own sexuality would be a no no in today’s world, where questioning an impulse is frowned upon. In 1930s Berlin, I would imagine this difficulty was much more understandable. We should have known that the romance between Brian and Sally was doomed, but there are moments when they seem to make each other happy and more confident and that is the sort of thing that drama can thrive on. 

The editing of the musical sequence with the beat down of the maître d’ of the Kit Kat Club was very clever and cinematic. I also liked the choices of audience shots for some of the songs, including the one song that is performed in front of an nearly empty cabaret. There are a few scenes of violence, and knowing what the future held, I am sorry to say that the moment that disturbed me the most involved the death of an animal rather than violence at a person. The mental cruelty of the moment hangs over the rest of the film, and I don’t know how people could continue to seek pleasure in times where this was widely practiced victimization. At the moment, such horrible behavior remains the exception, although every time I look at news articles, I wonder if the fascists on the left and right are aware of how much they do come off as Nazi progeny. 

I too want to enjoy the moments of singing and dancing entertainment on the stage, but Fosse manages to make us pay for that with a guilty conscience. Joel Grey steals the stage every time he shows up, and that is frequently. In spite of the fact that he has no off stage dialogue, he is as central a character as the lovers are. It is a great performance. The Master of Ceremonies is guilty of taking the anti-Semitism of the culture very lightly and that it becomes part of the entertainment may be answers the difficulty of explaining my disquiet in the opening paragraph here. 

“Cabaret” is a terrific film, that will entertain you but also challenge your sensibilities. It is a much more complex film than some seem to realize. 

The Gray Man

So before I talk about the movie itself, a little bit of background on the film, exhibitors and myself. This is an expensive Netflix production, that is getting a limited theatrical release ahead of it’s debut on the Netflix steaming service. The reported budget was near $200 Million and that looks like it made it to the screen. The Directing brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, who did some of the most successful MCU films, were in charge for this show. The reason that the release is limited probably has something to do with the fact that several film chains require exclusivity to theatrical for a set amount of time, and Netflix was not prepared to accept those conditions.  AMC is one of those exhibitors who will not play a movie that is going to compete with itself, at least not after the pandemic restrictions which had call most bets off. I am happy to see a film on streaming, but I much prefer the theater experience, so when given the opportunity, I took it and traveled to a nearby town to be able to see this since it was not within a ten mile radius of where I now live. With rare exceptions, this site is devoted to the cinema experience. There is too much content on streaming for me to keep up with, and I don’t want to review TV. However, since Netflix make the effort to put this in theaters and I made an effort to see it in one, it will get some attention from me here.

“The Gray Man” is a spy film, which focuses on the assets that are primarily in place to kill someone. Although there may be comparisons to Mission Impossible” or the James Bond films, this is really closer to “Atomic Blonde“, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard“, “The Accountant” or “The Eiger Sanction“, which all pretend to be spy films but are really cat and mouse games between paid killers. “The Gray Man” is not a character that works in intelligence, they do not infiltrate conspiracies to bring them to an end, there is not really much suspense in the work they do. The Gray men exist in the shadows, executing directions that have been given to them rather than forging their own path. Sierra Six, Ryan Gosling’s character in this film, is basically a weapon for action, not a tool of investigation. As long as you keep that in mind, you will probably be able to enjoy this film for what it is. 

The Russos have managed, along with the screenwriters and editors, to cut the story down to the minimal outline required in order to have a plot, and then filled in that skeletal structure with as much screen action as is possible, staying just this side of the nonsense that shows up in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. There are wild shootouts in crowded locations every few minutes. There are also over the top car chases on city streets between the shootouts and while they are happening. Cars don’t fly between buildings or swing from one cliff to another, but people do emerge from wrecks that would kill most of us at half the speed, and they simply jump up, dust off and get in the next ride. The foot chases are sometimes tough because of the shaky cam that is used to film them, but the car chases are problematic so often because the use of frequent close ups keeps us from observing the context and knowing what the risks are.   

There are certainly joys to be had in the overkill that is employed in providing mayhem on screen. All of that is OK for an audience interested in pyrotechnics only. Any viewers who were looking for a plausible story with characters facing consequences for their choices will be disappointed. It is as if the CIA, sent it’s own forces en masse to London, to collect Julien Assange or to Moscow to get Edward Snowden, and along the way they wiped out half of the security services of those countries and there were no ramifications. That’s because this movie is not about anything, it is simple a diorama for moving the toy soldiers around and blowing things up. If you have seen the MCU films the Russo Brothers have directed, you will see that they are quite capable of showing interesting mayhem. They continue to be able to do that. 

Gosling is delivering an understated character as an action hero pretty well. He keeps the sardonic quips to a minimum and provides a voice that is exhausted, injured or optimistic as the situation calls for. His co-star and fellow agent Ana de Armas, is proficient physically as she was in “No Time to Die”, but her character here lacks the joyful enthusiasm of that character and she is simply another action figure without much personality or purpose. That was certainly not the actress’s fault, it is the screenwriting team that left her high and dry. Chris Evans plays against type in this film, as he did with his previous effort which starred  Ana de Armas, “Knives Out“. The antagonist Lloyd Hansen is a psychopath with skills but no off switch. The notion that the CIA deputy director that turns him loose had any idea what was coming, undermines the credibility of the plot. Evans is not required to do much, but his hostile passive aggressiveness, combined with actual torture, will make you hope he gets what is coming to him. As usual, the gravitas of a film he appears in is provided by Billy Bob Thornton, who in the last couple of decades has become one of my favorite on screen performers. 

This film seemed to have a stink on it before it opened. I’m not sure why. It is not great but it is certainly not a terrible picture. It is an action film that goes all in on that avenue and abandons any attempt to make us care much about who gets killed except for the two leads. If you see it in a theater, you will get your entertainment value, but not much else. 

Thor: Love and Thunder

While there are some references to the MCU stories, this is largely a stand alone Thor film, and it has the same vibe as “Thor Ragnarok”, for the obvious reason that it was directed by the same Taika Waititi who directed that film. It is in large part successful at being amusing with some fun comedic moments, but it does not quite live up to the standard set by the earlier film. “Love and Thunder” lacks some of the elements that made “Ragnarok” work. Those missing elements are critical characters from the other stories. There is no Loki or Hulk to play against, we are provided with Valkyrie and Jane Foster, two good characters but they don’t stack up well in comparison. 

The Guardians do make an appearance in this film, but it is basically an extended cameo, and they are gone within the first ten minutes of the movie. That means that the main link to the Asgardians and the events of the past is Korg, voiced by Waititi himself, as a sort of storytelling narrator, injected sometimes in odd places to provide exposition, but also present for much of the action. The device has a comic effect, but it also tends to take us out of the flow of the story, which makes the movie feel a little bit like a mess. I certainly would not get rid of the character, he is too amusing to leave out of the film, but the way he is utilized emphasizes the comedy and not the narrative. 

The plot, such as it is, concerns a being who comes into possession of the NecroSword that can slay a god. The character becomes Gorr, the God Butcher, played by Christian Bale. Initially, the story seems to be about Gorr’s mission of vengeance, and there is a plot device added to make the danger seem more immense, but it turns out that the ultimate goal is a means to rectify a problem, or lay waste to all the Gods at one fell swoop. The strategy for achieving the objective involves Thor’s weapon Stormbreaker which has somehow assumed the power of the Bifrost bridge. To be honest, there is a pretty clear shortcut in the story that doesn’t get used, and it seems like it would have been something the God of Thunder might have considered. 

A secondary plotline, and one that is actually more engaging and dramatic, involves Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and her acquisition of  Mjölnir, giving her the powers of Thor. Following this story line makes it clear why Natalie Portman was willing to return to the series after having abandoned it subsequent to “The Dark World”. Jane Foster is a more interesting character here and she faces a crisis that makes the decisions she choses feel more justified. The Restored  Mjölnir, Stormbreaker and Jane, all vie for Thor’s attention and the comedic bits that come from that are quite clever and character based. 

There is an extended sequence in the hysterically named Omnipotent City, where Thor and his band of heroes, implore the Gods, in particular Zeus, to aid them in fighting Gorr. This scene is mostly a plot point for humor rather than necessity. Zeus is portrayed by Russel Crowe, and he assumes an accent that is both offensive and whimsically hilarious at the same time. I have already pointed out in other films, that Crowe has been slammed by middle age weight issues, but he is still a compelling persona, even if he lacks the musculature of Hemsworth’s Thor [and by the way, Chris Hemsworth looks amazing in physical form.]  This is the eighth time he has played Thor, and given the credit stingers it looks like we can anticipate some more work from the current iteration of the God of Thunder. 

My reaction is positive but not with the same level of enthusiasm I had for Ragnarok. Of the four Thor Centered films (minus the Avenger movies) this ranks above “The Dark World” but below “Ragnarok “and “Thor“.  I think the movie has potential to grow on me, but for the moment this is only a mild endorsement.