Beast

If you’ve seen Cujo and Jurassic Park, substitute a crazed lion in the role of the scary starring animal and you’re ready for an hour and a half of “Lion King Goes Wrong.” And we’re not talking about Mufasa. Think Scar, the ugly brother with an attitude.
There are three primary lines of dialogue in Beast. First is, “Stay here, don’t go anywhere,” which is frequently spoken by Dr. Nate Samuels to his two teenage daughters. Of course, they never listen, wandering off into clearly risky situations that multiply the dangerous plot lines.
 
The others are, “I’ll be right back,” and “I promise you everything will be ok,” often used together. The promise is the source of a poorly timed outburst by Samuels’ older daughter Meredith, angry over the split up of her parents and the subsequent death of her mother. Apparently, Doc Samuels made unkept promises in the past. But seriously, you’re going to bring this up while stranded in a broken-down vehicle under attack by an insane lion? 
 
The parallels with Jurassic Park become obvious once you make that connection. Early in the film, Meredith is seen wearing that film’s t-shirt. Trapped in a Jeep, falling over a cliff, a leading male actor with an injured leg, keep looking. The lion did everything but eat someone sitting in an outhouse. The fear of being eaten is a real crowd pleaser.
 
Of course, Doc Samuels, played by Idris Elba, has the skills needed to suture his friend’s leg wound using a readily available medical kit while under attack in the Jeep. Idris Elba’s name sounds like an anagram for something: Perhaps Ladies Rib, Bride Lisa and Ariel Bids (another Disney reference,) but that’s just silly.
 
Beast is exciting, however ludicrous. Eventually lions are both hero and villain. Poachers are bad guys, and anti-poachers are bad guys to the bad guys. The message here may be, if you want to see African wildlife, Disney World’s Animal Kingdom may be a better choice.
 
Baltasar Kormákur, whose work includes Everest and The Deep, does a good job of maintaining action and suspense. The movie was actually filmed in South Africa over a period of ten weeks. At 6-foot-2 plus, Elba has the necessary physicality to fight a lion with a knife, wade through crocodile-infested swamps and catch a snake mid-strike, all questionable decisions.
 
Also questionable was the decision not to cast Elba’s real-life daughter in the role of Meredith, after which she didn’t speak to him for three weeks. Perfect for the angry daughter role.
 
We saw Beast on National Cinema Day for a ticket price of $3.00. That seemed about right.

Thor: Love and Thunder

Thor: Love and Thunder is the latest entry in Marvel’s Phase Four. Each phase contains one “Thor” title, though he has been a central figure in eight films. 

If you’re having trouble keeping up, here are the movies in Phase Four, spanning the last two years. At the end of this review are listed the first three phases from Marvel.* Seeing them all is a commitment probably best left for superfans. I have seen most of these, but do not consider myself a diehard. There are plotlines and characters (like Doctor Strange) I don’t like.

 

  • WandaVision (2021)
  • Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021)
  • Loki (2021)
  • Black Widow (2021)
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)
  • What If...? (2021)
  • Eternals (2021)
  • Hawkeye (2021)
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
  • Moon Knight (2022) 
  • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022)
  • Ms. Marvel (2022)
  • Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) 

 

So, do you need to see all of the Thor movies to appreciate Thor: Love and Thunder? Probably not, but there will be elements a fan will pick up on that you won’t. The plot lines are far less ambitious than other Marvel films, but maybe they need a breather. Some of the titles have become really complicated and very dark.

 

Chris Hemsworth is Executive Producer and star of this latest creation. Natalie Portman is the female lead, a selection that was both controversial and disappointing to fans of the franchise. At 5 foot 3, she is a full foot shorter than Hemsworth, who is incredibly ripped. She spent ten months in a gym preparing for the role, and it only slightly bulked up her diminutive body, previously better suited for her role as a ballerina in Black Swan. Apparently, she got over a grudge against Marvel that caused her to state she would never be in another Marvel film. Really? Not even as The Mighty Thor? There are other actresses, possibly even lesser-known stars, who could have played this role more convincingly.

 

The real star of this film is Christian Bale, as Gorr the God Butcher. Intense in any role he takes on, he is the wielder of the shadow-monster summoning Necrosword, seeking vengeance for the death of his young daughter and on a mission to kill all gods in the universe.

 

That brings us to Zeus, played by an old, fat Russell Crowe who at six feet tall looks short next to Hemsworth. Greek Gods are a departure from the Marvel Universe, but he’s in the post-credit trailer, so I guess he’ll be back.

 

Gorr kidnaps all the children from New Asgard, a Norwegian tourist attraction and fishing village, just as Jane Foster shows up as Lady Thor. But don’t call her that, she prefers The Mighty Thor. She’s dying of cancer, is Thor’s old love interest, and is somehow able to pick up Mjölnir, Thor’s powerful hammer. But each time she does it weakens her as a mortal.

 

Enter Thor’s backup weapon, StormBreaker, a battle ax that is jealous of his relationship with the hammer.

 

The Guardians of the Galaxy make a short appearance. That puts two of today’s leading “Chris’s” on cameral together. We’re only missing Chris Evans (Captain America) and Chris Pine (Captain Kirk.)

 

This should rightfully be characterized as a comedy. There are a ton of sight gags and one-liners. The scriptwriters threw everything at the wall, and it all stuck. Of course there are monsters and battles galore, with lots of flying through space in a Viking ship led by two giant and very vocal goats. Yeah, silly.

 

But ultimately this is a love story. Gods have feelings too, no matter how they try to suppress them. But Portman and Hemsworth? Again, not sure this works.

 

Perhaps save this one for home viewing. It should be there soon. We were the only two people in the theater.

 

 

Thor: Love and Thunder runs 1 hour, 58 minutes and is rated PG-13.

 

Phase One:

  • Iron Man (2008)
  • The Incredible Hulk (2008)
  • Iron Man 2 (2010)
  • Thor (2011)
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
  • The Avengers (2012)

Phase Two:

  • Iron Man 3 (2013)
  • Thor: The Dark World (2013)
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
  • Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
  • Ant-Man (2015)

Phase Three:

  • Captain America: Civil War (2016)
  • Doctor Strange (2016)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (2017)
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
  • Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
  • Black Panther (2017)
  • Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
  • Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
  • Captain Marvel (2019)
  • Avengers: Endgame (2019)
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

 

*(For this list I explored the “TotalFilm” section of the GamesRadar website.)

 

Top Gun: Maverick

If you loved 1986’s Top Gun, you’re also going to love Top Gun: Maverick. It’s essentially the same movie, albeit with a weaker soundtrack and a leading man who is 35 years older. Tom Cruise, at age 60 is aging well, here reprising his role as Pete “Maverick” Mitchell. His films are a showcase for his physicality, generally running at top speed as viewed from a distance or riding a super-fast motorcycle. He’s known for doing many of his own stunts. At age 60, his hair is too consistently dark, as if he fell in a vat of blacktop sealer. Some gray highlights, befitting of a sexagenarian, would look cool. Still, he’s one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood.

 








 

Sadly, the same cannot be said of Val Kilmer. The 62-year-old fell victim to throat cancer, resulting in the loss of his voice. Top Gun: Maverick carved out a role for him as a debilitated admiral Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, unable to speak, and near death. A nice poster size photo of the younger man is displayed at his funeral. (Kilmer is still alive, battling his disease.)

 

But will Cruise inevitably fall victim to the aging Hollywood hunk syndrome? Those who embrace aging lengthen their careers. He’s been deceptively protective of his 5’7” stature. That makes him short by most standards. So it helps that the U.S. Air Force dropped a height requirement for pilots in 2015. He still would have qualified, but on the end of the spectrum intended for female aviators. Co-star Jennifer Connelly, Maverick’s love interest, is also 5’7” so Cruise must be standing on a box for this shot:


 

Connelly, at age 51, was only 15 when Top Gun appeared in theaters. Here she plays Penny Benjamin, a bar tender with a 13-year-old daughter who adds little to the script, but provides a foil for our aging hero. Penny understands Maverick better than he knows himself, and is often filmed standing quietly nearby with an all-knowing smile, or repeating the phrase, “Don’t give me that look,” even when walking away.

 

This film, like the original, takes place mostly in the air, or in Penny’s bar, where all the nick-named flying aces banter to the point of fist fights. They’re a competitive bunch, but are about to be pitted against each other to qualify for the top six spots in a real-life mission to destroy an Iranian nuclear production facility. It’s an impossible mission, one that will require “two miracles” to pull off. Maverick, reluctantly recruited as the crew’s trainer, intends to bring his crew home alive. Jon Hamm does a good job as his commander, and of course the perennial captain Maverick has a problem with authority.

 

The flying and dogfighting scenes in Top Gun: Maverick are spectacular. The 130-minute movie seems much shorter, some of which is edge-of-your-seat footage in the cockpit of several fighter jets.

 

One notion needs to be dispelled. Only missiles can travel at Mach 10, and that is a recent development. Maverick taking the “Darkstar” experimental prototype to that speed is a fantasy. The traditional about-to-pass-out G-force plot device is probably overused a bit here, but to good effect, and ejections at hypersonic speed are a death sentence.

 

Despite some moderately corny exchanges early in the film, the action and some underlying psychological baggage provide riveting intensity that make this worth seeing. You don’t need to have seen the original Top Gun, but I heard one movie-goer comment, “I’d like to see the first one now.”

 

Top Gun: Maverick runs 2 hours, 10 minutes and is rated PG-13.


Jurassic World: Dominion

It certainly hasn’t been 65 million years since we first learned that “Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear,” but to see Laura Dern and Sam Neill (ages 55 and 74 respectively) next to the much younger Bryce Howard and Chris Pratt, it sort of feels like it may have been that long. It’s a bit shocking to realize that almost thirty years has gone by since 25-year-old Dern stuck her arm in Stegosaurus dung in that memorable scene from Jurassic Park. And we have aged thirty years as well. If you’re young, the entire series merits a weekend binge. But make no mistake, this is a Jurassic World film. The “Park” team is flattered to be along for the ride, and the ”World” team is honored to work alongside them. 

I’ve written previously about my crude editing of Jurassic Park for viewing by my young children. Today’s kids are used to atrocities on film far worse that a T-Rex eating a guy in an outhouse, but it’s time that this fantastic franchise comes to an end.

 

Jurassic World: Dominion indeed needs to be the final sequel to the best dinosaur film ever. Some segments are more than cute referrals to the five previous films. It’s been too long for that. It feels more like stealing at this point. Perhaps a weak script is to blame, but some segments feel like re-shoots of old material. The special effects didn’t need to improve much over the years since the originals were so good, but certainly the vast increase in computing power has simplified and shortened rendering of a larger stable of extinct beasts.

 

Those beasts have now spread worldwide and are struggling to adapt to a variety of climates, while humans try to get used to coexisting with them. But of course, Lewis Dodgson, the deranged head of Biosyn is out to do more than just control the dinosaurs and help humanity. He’s taken a Monsanto-like approach to genetic engineering of crops that can survive plagues of escaped Cretaceous locusts. That’s the underlying story, with the heroes of Jurassic Park and the new stars of the Jurassic World series on parallel paths to expose Biosyn and also save the cloned granddaughter of John Hammond.

 

The meeting of the two teams of Jurassic stars is probably the most engaging part of the film, unless you consider the abundance of adorable baby dinosaurs. That’s Spielberg playing to the kids in this PG-13 movie, but it works for animal-loving adults too.

 

Despite a somewhat awkward start, some corny dialogue and lots of scene setting and explanations, eventually the film hits its stride and that old about-to-be-eaten dinosaur magic carries the film to Its patented conclusion. Jeff Goldblum is back as Malcolm to inject his dry humor in carefully administered doses. And B. D. Wong returns as Dr. Wu in a last-ditch effort to redeem himself and save the world.

 

Two hours would have been adequate to tell this story, but there’s never a lag in pacing, and the kids will definitely want to see this, maybe with their parents.

 

Jurassic World: Dominion runs 2 hours, 26 minutes and is rated PG-13.

 

 

The Northman

I remember just enough about Shakespeare to wonder if this movie was based on Hamlet. After all, a young prince vows revenge for the death of his father the king at the hands of his vengeful uncle. 

But no, Hamlet was written in about 1600, and this film springs from the Scandinavian Legend of Amleth at least four hundred years earlier, so it appears that Shakespeare was the one who borrowed from history. All the same murderous villainy applies.

 

When the young Viking prince Amleth, played as an adult by Sweden’s Alexander Skarsgard witnesses his father’s murder, he dedicates his life to vengeance, engaging in a sort of Viking cross-fit that develops bodybuilder abs and shoulders. His role in 2016’s The Legend of Tarzan was his prior motivation to get ripped.


His mother, Nicole Kidman’s Queen Gudrún is taken captive by Uncle Fjölnir The Brotherless, played by Claes Bang. Or has she? At this point, Ethan Hawke as King Aurvandil War-Raven exits the script, but not before mentoring the prince in a creepy rite of passage overseen by a costumed shaman, channeling his wolfen spirit animal.

 

Amleth’s mantra is revisited throughout the film:

 

            “I will avenge you father,

            I will save you mother,

            I will kill you Fjölnir”

 

He spends time in a trance-like “berserker” state during battle scenes that aren’t for the squeamish. Later, sneaking onto a slaveship bound for Iceland (actually Ireland), he eventually proves himself worth saving, but never equal, to the masters within his uncle’s village.

 

Director Robert Eggers had a fanatical attention to detail in sets, costuming, rituals and mythic elements that created an immersive Viking experience for the audience. Even Iceland’s own Bjork got to play the part of a Seeress, directing Amleth in his quest.

 

The life-altering plot twist for Amleth won’t be revealed here, but an epic hand-to-hand battle with his uncle ensues against a Hellish volcanic backdrop of flowing lava, the “lake of fire.”

 

Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit) brings her widely spaced eyes to the gloomy medieval setting, speaking quite a bit of Old Norse, more of Eggers attention to detail.

 

“Research and gore” is how one critic summarized The Northman. It is fortunate that this sensory experience doesn’t include the olfactory. This was undoubtedly an extraordinarily stinky time.

 

 

The Northman (2022) runs 2 hours 17 minutes and is rated R.

The Unbearable Weight of Immense Talent

Attention Nicolas Cage fans: you must see this film!

Much of the fun in this film was lost on me because I’m just not a Nic Cage fan. But I realized what was being done, since with over 100 films to his credit it’s hard not to have seen at least a few of his movies, from The Rock, Raising Arizona, Peggy Sue Got Married and Gone in 60 Seconds to Con AirCity of Angels, National Treasure, Ghost Rider and Face/Off. And then there are the forgotten moments in his career like his brief appearance in the 1982 classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where he went mostly unnoticed, until now. Here you go, from the scene in which a customer demands that Brad give his money back for an unsatisfying breakfast.

 

 Starting with a long, awkward title, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, the idea of Nic Cage playing a partially fictionalized version of himself was intriguing enough to merit watching. On and off screen, his antics and newsworthy intensity have captured fan attention for over forty years. He has the overacting tendencies of William Shatner, on speed.

 

Names are dropped and scenes from his career are reprised throughout the film as Cage is drawn in financial desperation to the home of a dangerous and wealthy superfan in Mallorca, Spain. He is offered one million dollars to attend Javi Gutierrez’s birthday party. A bromance ensues as Javi and Nic become embroiled in a real-life action adventure while they drop acid and brainstorm ideas for a movie they want to make together. This TurDuckEn effect layers film upon film upon film, and the biggest surprise to us as the audience is that it actually works.

 

And Cage is no stranger to celebrity worship. His obsession with Elvis led him to collect vast amounts of The King’s memorabilia, including a two-year marriage to Lisa Marie Presley. Javi is similarly afflicted, with a secured vault of Cage artifacts that is “impressive” according to the fictional Nick. A life-sized wax statue of the actor holding the two golden guns from Face/Off factors significantly later in the film.

 

 

The intentionally silly and self-deprecating beginning of the film endears us to the aging actor, so narcissistically out of touch with his wife and daughter it seems nothing can save the relationships. Enter Neil Patrick Harris as Cage’s agent with the birthday party offer. The timing of a lost movie deal forces Cage’s hand. He takes the seemingly easy million, determined to quit acting when the job is complete.

 

To the surprise of Tiffany Haddish and her partner, two CIA agents surveilling Javi Gutierrez, Cage’s arrival provides an opportunity to get eyes inside the fortress-like estate and recover the kidnapped daughter of a political candidate. From there the film spins into a series of Cage’s film references, with fawning fans dropping names of favorite films, eager to be near the action movie star.

 

Young Nicolas Kim Coppola, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola acquired the stage name Nic Cage in order to avoid being perceived as riding on the coattails of his famous uncle. In this film, the fictional character is named Nick, rather than Nic. A bit confusing, but not a distraction.

 

Eventually, the two aspiring film makers merge their hope for a “deeply human, character-driven drama” with a predictable action hero rescue of a kidnapped girl. The developing script begins to play out in an actual series of events that make for a pretty good thriller.

 

Two titles are named throughout the film as favorites of either Nic or Javi. They are Paddington 2 and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a 1920 genre-defining classic exercise in surrealism that earned critical praise. By the end of this film I was curious to see them both.

 

The resulting movie has a bit of everything: car chases, undercover disguises, gun battles and frequent comic exchanges. Cage initially rejected the idea of playing himself and didn’t want to see the finished product. Recurring scenes in which he is lectured by “Nicky,” his younger self, a CGI masterpiece, cleverly reveal his inner struggles and become a vehicle for yet more memorable lines. After all, he’s, “Nick Effffffffffinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn Cage!”

 

 

The Unbearable Weight of Immense Talent (2022) runs 1 hour, 47 minutes and is rated R.

CODA

What would a film featuring deaf actors be without the queen of deaf actresses, Marlee Matlin? She won the best actress Oscar in 1986 for the film Children of a Lesser God. And here she is after a long career, in the film that won the “Best” award this year. Note that I don’t agree that this is the best film. It was good, but not great.

Kudos to the writers and producers for assembling a fine cast and story that honors the deaf. But despite solid performances and decent cinematography the script wandered in multiple directions, seeming contrived at times even to the point of being hokey.

 

But perhaps reality is a bit that way. We seldom pursue objectives on a singular path. Life gets in the way. In this case, the following subplots collide in the person of Ruby Rossi, played by Emilia Jones.

 

She is the only hearing member of an otherwise deaf four-person family

Her parents can’t understand her love of singing. 

She works on the family fishing boat, struggling to make ends meet

She is shy, but loves to sing. A flamboyant choir director becomes her mentor.

Ruby wants to go to college. Her parents want her to remain part of the family business.

Her hyper-sexed best friend is hot for her brother. Not cool, friend.

A boy in her choir falls in love with her, screws up and is redeemed, then left behind.

 

This very un-subtle journey to a fairly remarkable ending is a vehicle for stuff we’ve seen before. Beginning to end, this is a showcase for American Sign Language, but as usual that requires subtitles and audible interpretation.

 

The setting is a typical roughneck fishing village, crews fighting over diminishing catches and “the man” who wants to monitor boats and control pricing.

 

Ruby runs out of her first audition, but winds up in the starring duet for the school concert. This all smacks of a very long GLEE episode, but despite a lovely voice she’s nowhere near that level of talent. In fact she spent nine months learning ASL, took voice lessons and learned to work a fishing trawler. And then she wound up in the year’s best picture. Go figure. Yay Emilia!

 

The most powerful scene in the film takes place during Ruby’s eventual audition for the Berklee College of Music in Boston. With alumni the likes of John Mayer, Quincy Jones, Donald Fagen and Al Di Meola, this seems a reach. But during her performance, with her family in the balcony, the film’s Director chose to go silent for a gut-wrenching thirty seconds. Here we are thrust into the silent world of the deaf. We hold our breath and ride it out. Sure, we don’t get to hear much of Ruby’s song, but neither do they. They are there supporting regardless. This is indeed the “Coda” of her journey. A wonderful play on words in a story about Children Of Deaf Adults.

A few laughs, some nice music and a tearful happy ending. That sure beats a slap in the face at the Oscars.

 

CODA runs 1 hour, 58 minutes and is rated PG-13.

 

The Lost City

If you’re a fan of Sandra Bullock movies like Miss Congeniality (1 & 2) and The Heat, you no doubt appreciate her mastery of physical comedy. The Lost City combines that talent with the action of recent treasure-hunt adventures like Jungle Cruise and Uncharted. The treasure-seeking genre seems to have hit bottom, and most attempts fall far short of Indiana Jones and leave you feeling as if you’ve seen it all before. The comic element here adds life to an otherwise repetitive story, but is it enough? It may be, since the film is filled with great comic lines.

Bullock plays reclusive action-romance novelist Loretta Sage, five years the widow of a real-life adventurer, on a reluctant book tour with her cover model Dash McMahon, played in a Fabio-like wig by Channing Tatum, who also does a good job here being funny and self-deprecating. Enter Daniel Radcliffe as crazed billionaire Abigail Fairfax, in a role that is certainly not his first break from Harry Potter, but you still find yourself thinking, “Oh, that’s Harry Potter.” Fairfax has a fragment of script in a lost language that is key to the location of a fabulous artifact, a red crown of some sort. He believes only Loretta can translate the text, so he kidnaps her and whisks her away to his archaeological dig in the jungle (The Dominican Republic) – The Lost City.

 

If humor isn’t enough, then cast Brad Pitt and Channing Tatum for the ladies, get Channing naked and put Sandra’s face about six inches from his naked bottom half, front and back while she removes leeches that are turning him into a “blood Jamba Juice.” It is reported they had to repeat this scene about fifty times because Tatum couldn’t deliver a line without laughing. Pitt, when asked by Bullock, “Why are you so handsome?” replies, “My father was a weatherman.” His time on screen is short, killed off while rescuing the kidnapped author from Radcliffe’s jungle compound.

 

Bullock spends most of the film in a “glitter onesie” that she complains is “giving me a wedgie, front and back.” The clingy jumpsuit is covered in red sequins that leave a breadcrumb trail through the jungle, and is mostly form fitting except that Bullock has gotten so thin it appears baggy at times, and her ribs can be seen in the low-cut front. Eat something Sandra! Somewhat sadly, she must be fighting the battle of many aging Hollywood actresses, despite her natural girl-nextdoor prettiness. Botox has given her mouth the occasionally awkward appearance of having come from the dentist. But Sandra, in the Producer role clearly enjoys being cast alongside hunks like Pitt and Tatum. Recall she was once married to Monster Garage host and badass Jesse James.

 

If you prefer Bullock’s serious side, like UnforgiveableBird Box and The Blindside, this is not the film for you. She has quite a range. This is her movie, but she shares nicely with Tatum. As action rom-coms go, this one’s a hit.

 

The Lost City (2022) runs 1 hour, 52 minutes and is rated PG-13

Death on the Nile

It’s tempting to comment on the stunning cinematography in Death on the Nile, with shots in Egypt of the Sphinx, Pyramids of Giza and the Abu Simbel temples, but in reality the entire film was shot in studios in England.

Based on the 1937 Agatha Christie novel of the same name, fans of the obsessive compulsive but brilliant detective Hercule Poirot will enjoy this dramatic recreation of her written work. Here he is played by Kenneth Branagh, who also directs the film.

 

The Christie recipe for murder mysteries requires the initial introduction of the cast of characters. This can feel a bit contrived, rushed, and not unlike weekly episodes of The Love Boat. But once assembled, the story begins to gel and each person on a luxury river cruise down the Nile appears to have motive and opportunity to commit the crime.

 

The steam driven paddle-wheeler Karnak evokes feelings of the Titanic. There are plenty of private cabins, hiding places and corridors through which chases can take place. On board is an electric guitar strumming female singer whose daughter becomes romantically involved with Poirot’s friend Bouc. But wait, were Gibson guitars around in 1937? In fact, they were introduced in 1936. That would have been a glaring mistake. Phwew!

 

Armie Hammer plays Simon Doyle, newly-wed husband of wealthy Linnet Ridgeway, played by Gal Godot. Her performance here, as in other films, seems flat. She lacks screen charisma. Maybe you don’t need that to play Wonder Woman, but it would have been welcome here.

Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey) is the bitter fiancé left behind by Doyle, and she keeps showing up in all the wrong places, with a gun.

 

Poirot’s patented interviews with guests lead you astray, and guessing “who done it” all the way to the story’s end. This film earned a “That was okay” upon leaving the theater.

 

 

Death on the Nile (2022) runs 2 hours, 8 minutes and is rated PG-13

Spider-man: No Way Home

Spider-man fans can’t get enough of their high-flying hero. And the Marvel Universe is taking full advantage of that addiction. This latest film features Tom Holland, considered to be the best Spider-man alongside real-life girlfriend Zendaya (Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman) as the latest “M.J.” in the franchise.

There’s really no way to discuss this movie without spoiling certain elements, so be warned. 

 

At times the presence of Doctor Strange threatened to overshadow the main character in Spider-man: No Way Home. I feel that Benedict Cumberbatch is too powerful an actor to portray this character, but that train has left the station. That Strange acquired his skills after spending time studying mystic arts in Tibet, casting spells and opening portals with flaming hand motions lacks the fictional credibility of genuine super powers.

 

Other favorites from the Spidey franchise return, most notably Otto Octavius, Doctor Octopus. A rupture in the multiverse allows a multitude of past villains to join the cast. Willem Dafoe is welcome in any capacity, but please tell me why two previous Spider-men show up as the actors who played them, Tobey McGuire and Andrew Garfield. We all know that’s not how the Multiverse works, right? But it did allow for some inter-character banter that was amusing for a while. “You mean your web comes out of your wrists?” the other two Peters ask McGuire.

The gag got a bit old, but is fun for fans.

 

So, chaos ensues, battles rage, M.J. is saved by a team effort of heroes, and ultimately Peter Parker must make the decision to be completely forgotten by everyone who has ever known him in order to heal the crack in the Multiverse with Doctor Strange’s help.

 

Two hours would have sufficed, but once again, this is a movie for the fans. And as usual, closing credits entice us with a future crossover between the Venom series and this one.

 

Great action and effects, but I’m just tired of this arm of Marvel.

 

 

Spider-man: No Way Home (2021) runs 2 hours, 28 minutes and is rated PG-13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncharted

Mix all the best parts of Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean and you get a movie that tries too hard to be something it’s not. Perhaps if Johnny Depp and Harrison Ford visited central casting when Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland read for the parts of Victor “Sully” Sullivan and Nathan Drake respectively this movie would have had the humor and charisma of its ancestors. Instead, we have a mashup that only sort of works. Or maybe if Steven Spielberg took the director’s chair away from Ruben Fleischer–move aside, buddy, let me show you how to make magic. In any case, this movie is based on a popular Playstation video game series. They may have been catering to a captive audience.

This may all be too critical of a film that has a couple of really intriguing ideas, but like our heroes’ quest in Uncharted, searching for a long lost multi-billion-dollar hoard of Spanish gold, the film drags its audience through an arduous archeological dig searching for those precious nuggets.

 

When you leave a theater so thoroughly entertained and engaged it seems only a few minutes has elapsed, the movie is a winner with a great script and believable characters. In the case of Uncharted, about twenty minutes could have been cut without losing anything. Instead, a few of the best comedic lines presented in the trailer were cut in editing. It’s great when there’s so much good material that the trailer teases without ruining the film, but it’s also a possible sign that the trailer needs to be better than the feature to attract an audience.

 

Holland and Wahlberg play a street-wise kid and a seasoned mentor, learning when to trust each other (never) and watching for the next betrayal. Maybe Holland is being groomed as the next generation of leading-man action hero, but he’s still too boyish to be convincing. And Wahlberg is hardly old enough to hang it up. Michael B. Jordan and Sean Connery would have been a better pairing if the latter was still with us.

 

If you like clever stories like The Da Vinci Code, with an unraveling trail of clues and plot twists, you might be willing to overlook Uncharted’s flaws. There are some spectacular action sequences, and like all good redemptive endings, the baddest of the villains gets hers the worst.

 

One quick aside: there is a thug whose Irish brogue is so thick he can’t be understood. It’s a great gag that could have been taken further.

 

And now for a few words about the female stars of Uncharted. Tati Gabrielle (Marienne from You) plays Braddock. Of course she’s beautiful and does her best fighting in tight leather pants. But she is consistently nasty and deserves her comeuppance. After all, she casually takes out Antonio Banderas, appearing here as the head of the Moncada family dynasty, a breath of fresh and convincing bad-guy air. 

 

Sophia Ali (Grey’s Anatomy – Dr. Dahlia Qadri) plays Chloe, a habitual backstabber like her male co-stars, even after being saved by Nathan. Come on, Hollywood, stop with the white male savior stuff. She’s a capable bad-ass, not a damsel in distress. Also, have you noticed in movies, when characters drown they just spit a little water and are back in action in the next scene?

 

Another overused plot device is the leaping hand-catch, one character literally leaping from a ship to a helicopter where the pilot has left the controls, or jumping from a plane to a plummeting cargo pallet where someone holds on tight, at the last moment grabbing a hand and being pulled to safety. This would most likely rip the receiver’s arm from the shoulder. They are not flying circus performers, working with gravity instead of against it. Oh well, it looks good.

 

You could do worse than to see this movie (Jackass Forever or Moonfall.) But you can do far, far better. See my reviews of The King’s Man and King Richard.

 

Uncharted (2022) runs 1 hour, 56 minutes and is rated PG-13

Dog

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been mistaken for Channing (Magic Mike) Tatum. I can’t tell you because it has never happened. Even at my youngest and in my best physical condition, I didn’t look anything like this square-jawed, athletic male model. (But I am a half inch taller.) He is perfectly cast in this film, though his acting is a bit forced at times. But cut him some slack, he’s on screen with a dog.

 

Dog is Tatum’s directorial debut. He clearly had fun with the role of Briggs, a veteran Army Ranger suffering from a traumatic brain injury. His old captain will have nothing to do with his request to make a crucial phone call attesting to a full medical recovery, unless he goes on one final mission – bring an equally emotionally traumatized dog, Lulu, to the funeral of her recently killed “Dad,” Ranger Rodriguez. There is a Rodriguez subplot.

 

It is clear that Briggs has not fully recovered as we witness him routinely popping pills and experiencing a couple of seizures before and during the road trip. Parallels have been drawn between Dog and the movies K-9 and Turner and Hooch. Those are sillier films and don’t deserve the comparison.

 

Lulu is not a German Shepherd. She is a Belgian Malinois, (A Belgian Shepherd) allegedly the healthier of the two breeds, but not recommended for people lacking experience with dog training. The heavily muzzled dog is a beautiful animal, but terrifying to look at or interact with. But being an Army Ranger gives Briggs the courage and determination to complete his mission.

 

One caveat: the mission is scheduled to end after the funeral with Lulu being euthanized, deemed too difficult to handle.

 

This is a buddy movie on several levels. The Ranger allegiance to other Rangers, one veteran to 

another, and ultimately two traveling companions on a road trip from Oregon to Arizona, with stops along the way to visit their respective “families.”

 

The opening song by John Prine laments, “How lucky can one guy get?” It’s a heartwarming introduction to the coming of age late in life by a guy who is the poster boy for how disastrous one guy can seem.

 

It’s uncertain why Q'orianka Kilcher has top billing for brief, non-speaking appearances as the mother of Briggs’ three-year old daughter. She played Angela Blue Thunder in Yellowstone.

 

Carry some Kleenex for the end of this adventure. I won’t say any more. We hugged our dog when we got home.

 

Dog (2022) runs 1 hour, 41 minutes and is rated PG-13

Jackass Forever

I considered not reviewing this, since doing so is a confession that I saw the movie. Also, I am not easily offended or grossed out. As disgusting as I find the Jackass franchise, this movie just left me shaking my head and looking at my watch.

But here we go with a brief summary of this appalling waste of time and money, a nightmarish series of vignettes populated primarily by penises, scrotums, vomit and electric shocks.

 

This particular brand of physical comedy, if you can call it that, certainly has a loyal following. It’s just sad the world has gotten to a place where this is offered up as entertainment. But wait, how is this surprising given that this is the same culture that lofted a crude grifter to a position where he can actually ruin everything?

 

The stars of Jackass all play themselves, under the sadomasochistic tutelage of Johnny Knoxville, a guy who early on must have realized that people were actually watching America’s Funniest Home Videos for the clips where things go wrong and people get hurt. He no doubt was a fan of ABC’s Wild World of Sports not for “The thrill of victory,” but for “The agony of defeat.”

 

Regarding the film itself - it is poorly written, filmed and edited. There is no acting, just a bunch of morons so hungry for fame they’d do almost anything to achieve it. Sadly, they sort of succeeded. And fans will like it.

 

So if you like farts and feces, pig semen, violence, graphic male nudity and slapstick taken to an entirely horrific level, then this film’s for you. But don’t for a second think that this is something to aspire to. This is what losers look like.

 

Ironically, parents in Texas are banning books they find offensive for honest portrayal of LGBTQ relationships. Do they know what’s being shown at the local theater?

 

 

Jackass Forever runs 1 hour, 36 minutes and is rated R. 

 

 

Moonfall

I apologize for not writing this in the car on the way home from the theater. Precious moments make a difference when trying to save readers two hours and the cost of a movie ticket.

That said, we have the worst film of 2022 in the can, and it’s only the beginning of February. I am going to spoil this movie in every way possible. If you can’t resist the tempting previews, go into it for the laughs, or perhaps as a drinking game (which would require viewing at home of course.) Terrible line – take a shot. Impossible feat of engineering – take two.

 

I can’t blame the actors for delivering horribly written lines. That should be pinned directly on the screenwriters. But Halle Berry is better than this, though she seems to have a track record of making bad decisions off screen. Her Oscar win for Monster’s Ball should have made Moonfall an obvious bad choice. Either the paycheck and starring role were irresistible, or she needs better representation. Did she read the script? Did her agent? Her character’s name is Jocinda Fowl. Really?

 

Likewise, Patrick Wilson as disgraced astronaut Brian Harper does an admirable job of working with a bad script. He’s a very recognizable face with a busy acting portfolio of films, but perhaps better known on Broadway. Here he’s piloting a little spaceship through the bowels of the Moon, like Luke Skywalker in the famous Deathstar scenes.

 

Consider the following:

 

“Everything we understand about the known universe has just changed,” says Berry, straight faced. I laughed out loud.

“We have to kill this thing!”

 

A brief pause, then she picks up the cell phone on an Earth being torn to pieces. Somehow cell towers are unaffected. She then gives her four-star general ex-husband orders not to nuke the Moon. And he listens.

 

There’s an elapsed time problem throughout Moonfall. Events move from one to the next in jump cuts that could have merited making this an eight part limited series on Netflix. Instead, the audience is hurtling through space and time, much like the gravity-wave-generating Moon, headed out of its forever orbit toward Earth – in three weeks. I mean, let’s get right to it. And what is a gravity wave, other than a cool plot device for the graphics department?

 

At this point I have to mention that I know at least one real person who believes in a conspiracy theory that we left the moon and never went back because of aliens, referencing a two minute audio blackout that, of course, was a deliberate NASA cover up. I don’t know if they also believe that the Moon is a “Megastructure” built around a white dwarf star that serves as its engine, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised. Otherwise, why would the Moon be precisely the right size, and the correct distance from the sun to produce eclipses. Why? Tell me!

 

The special effects and video graphics teams had a field day with this film. It’s actually fun to watch in that regard, however stupid the reasons for what’s colliding, exploding and being sucked into space. This is simply a disaster film, and as 3D rendering has become more powerful, more ludicrous scenes are possible.

 

Eventually, running on two rockets (“It’s not possible!), the Endeavor space shuttle is retrieved, covered with obscene graffiti, from an L.A. museum and escorted to a launch pad by military vehicles that bulldoze anything in their way. This alone would take years to pull off in the real world.

 

Our hero, one of them, pilots the shuttle to the moon, then an orbiter/lander down a bottomless hole in a crater to the Moon’s hollow center (remember, it’s a megastructure), a spinning gyroscopic series of concentric rings that were home to an alien species, long gone.

 

The moon is defended by a morphing nanobot artificial intelligence, kind of a squid-like metallic malevolence. As Harper awakens in a scene reminiscent of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, face to face with a holographic “construct” of his son as a child, he is told that, wait for it, the “aliens” were actually our ancestors, who created megastructures to populate the universe, but managed to create an AI that became self-aware and turned into Squid-bot, killing them all. Nice going, ancestors!

 

Enter our second hero, the reluctant astronaut, a chubby conspiracy geek with irritable bowel syndrome and crippling anxiety, who first discovered the Moon’s decaying orbit. He blows himself up, but is “scanned” and turned into another construct in the white-lit room. His cat, “Fuzz Aldrin” is with him – for eternity. And he’s excited about this.

 

Earth is saved. And ruined. But it’s a fresh start, and I’m so happy there’s no possibility of a sequel.

 

 

Moonfall (2022) runs far too long in a galaxy much too near. (Two hours, PG-13)

Beast

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