Underseen Movie: ‘Sarah’s Key’ – A Unique Look at the Effects of the Holocaust

Sarah’s Key” is what some would say is yet another movie dealing with the Holocaust and its impact on us all, but do not be fooled into thinking it is going to be the same old thing. Based on the novel “Her Name Was Sarah” by Tatiana de Rosnay, it ventures into this dark part of history from a different perspective as we watch the French army and bureaucracy aiding the Nazi party as they rounded up Jews and shipped them to Auschwitz; this event was called the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup. As the story moves back and forth in time from 1942 to 2009, American journalist Julia Jarmond (Kristin Scott Thomas) works to solve a decades-old mystery which can no longer remain hidden, and these days we are all sick of things remaining hidden.

In 2009, Julia has moved into an apartment with her French husband and teenage daughter. She had previously written a celebrated article about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup, and he soon learns her husband inherited the apartment from his grandparents who came into possession of it during the 1940’s. From there, she becomes obsessed in learning about the apartment’s history, and she learns it was the scene of an unspeakable incident. Finding out the truth about this incident, however, proves to be extremely difficult as her family sees it as too damaging to reveal to the world at large.

Julia’s main focus is centered on a young girl named Sarah Starzynski (Mélusine Mayance) who hid her little brother Michel in a closet to keep him from getting rounded up by the Nazis along with everyone else. She makes him promise to stay in the closet until she returns, and she takes with her the only key which can unlock it. But Sarah soon realizes no one will be going back home anytime soon, and she escapes her captors in a desperate attempt to save Michel before it’s too late.

Like Stephen Daldry did with “The Reader,” director Gilles Paquet-Brenner makes the transitions between the past and present feel seamless to where it never feels jarring. He also avoids turning “Sarah’s Key” into a schmaltz fest begging for Oscar consideration which is quite the relief. By getting naturalistic performances from the cast, he creates an atmosphere which feels real and not exaggerated for effect. You end up getting caught up so emotionally in the story and its characters to where you do not feel like you’re watching just any motion picture.

Thomas is an amazing actress who never gets the same acclaim actresses like Meryl Streep or Viola Davis do on a regular basis. Maybe it is because her acting is not as theatrical, but Thomas’ strength is in inhabiting characters to where you never catch her acting. She pulls off a flawless American accent to where she makes the act look effortless, and she speaks fluent French ever so beautifully.

Attention must also be paid to Mélusine Mayance who gives a very believable performance as the young Sarah. Called upon to portray a child going through horribly nightmarish circumstances, Mayance holds her own amongst the adults, and she breaks your heart through her utter commitment to the character she portrays. Throughout, she makes you share Sarah’s desperation in getting to her little brother before someone else does, and she makes you feel her accomplishments and disappointments in every which way.

“Sarah’s Key” is one of those movies I find it hard to find any fault with it. Everything seems to fit together perfectly, and nothing ever appears superfluous to the story. While it treads the well-worn ground of Holocaust movies and of what happened to millions of Jews, it finds an interesting angle by looking at the complicity of the French in this atrocity. It never did get much of a release as it spent little time in theaters near you, and you will probably be hearing about it more about on physical and digital media. Here is hoping that it finds a bigger audience than the one it has already gotten to date.

* * * * out of * * * *

Underseen Movie: ‘The Beaver’ – A Movie Which Deals Effectively with Depression

The Beaver” was Jodie Foster’s first feature film directorial effort since “Home for The Holidays” and it starts off with Mel Gibson as Walter Black laying on an inflatable cushion in his pool, looking lifeless as if any direction he’s had in life has been rendered completely non-existent. We quickly learn he is the CEO of a toy company, has a beautiful wife and two sons, and that he is severely depressed. We are meeting him at the point where he has been in this depressive state for quite some time, and it has gotten to where his wife Meredith (played by Foster) doesn’t want him living at home anymore, and his kids don’t know what to make of him.

After a failed suicide attempt, Walter is brought back to the land of the living through a hand puppet of a beaver which develops a life of its own after he puts it on his hand. With a Michael Caine cockney-like accent, the beaver tells him he is going to save Walter’s life. And sure enough, his life gets better very quickly as the beaver begins doing all the talking for him both at home and at work. But as time goes on, this beaver threatens to make Walter hit rock bottom in a way he may never be able to recover from.

“The Beaver” is a black comedy which gets blacker as it rolls along. The trailers made it look like a light affair, but this is most certainly not the case. It does have its funny moments, but it is really a serious examination of depression. This is an important issue because it is not something you can just simply get over regardless of what others will tell you. Depression can seriously debilitate you and affect those who love you the most, but not many fully understand this. The idea that you must go through life and take the punches which come with it can only go so far. Sooner or later, we find we can only take so much until we break. While some may have a great smile on their faces, they may be fighting a battle you know nothing about.

As Walter Black, Gibson reminds us of what a great actor he can be when given the right material. Aside from his work as a director, which really has been truly remarkable, it is easy to forget what a great presence he can be onscreen. Gibson captures Walter’s emotional downfall in a way few actors could, and he makes you care about him even as he heads further downhill emotionally. It is a brave performance that doesn’t hold anything back, and you have to admire the lengths Gibson goes here.

Foster remains an excellent actress as always, and seeing her acting alongside Gibson is a treat as they were so much fun to watch together in “Maverick.” She makes Meredith Black a strong-willed person who holds it together despite Walter’s behavior. It all makes Foster’s work even more fascinating to watch, and you sympathize with her plight throughout.

It is a real shame it took Foster 16 years to direct another movie. Her past efforts of “Little Man Tate” and “Home for The Holidays” showed a great eye for characters isolated from others because of who they are and what they are going through. Her work on “The Beaver” is especially commendable in that it is not an easy script to bring to the silver screen. Finding the balance between the comedy and drama makes this challenging even for the best directors working today. But Foster manages to pull it off like the professional she is, and she shows an incredible sensitivity to the subject of depression.

For me, “The Beaver” is one of the best films made about mental illness. The screenplay by Kyle Killen topped the 2008 Black List, a ranking of the best unproduced screenplays. I can see why as it features wonderful characters which are thankfully down to earth, and the dialogue feels fresh and does not contain an abundance of worn out clichés. Many will find the premise of a man working through mental illness with the aid of a hand puppet to be far-fetched and unbelievable. But this screenplay really takes some chances, and I honestly did not find any of what I saw as being beyond belief.

Besides, is it really that far-fetched for an adult to play around with puppets or stuffed animals? Look at these names: Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Ben Kenber. All these men have become well known for performing with puppets to the joy of many. Yes, I did put my name up there because I still have a love for stuffed animals which I used to make home movies with and sometimes bring to my day job. People may think this is strange, but I like how it sets me apart from the rest of the crowd.

In addition, there are other wonderful performances to be found here. The late Anton Yelchin, who did unforgettable work in the “Star Trek” movies, “Terminator Salvation,”  and “Green Room” among others. He is excellent as the Black’s oldest son, Porter. Throughout, he is terrified of becoming like his dad and implores his mother to divorce him. Yelchin makes what could have been a major brat into a fascinating individual whose endeavors in doing homework for others have long since become quite a profitable venture for him. His relationship with his father never feels contrived, so when we get to the end of the film, the emotions in their climatic meeting feels truly earned.

I also really liked Jennifer Lawrence as Norah, the popular valedictorian cheerleader who hires Porter to write her graduation speech. When this film was released, she was still riding high on the acclaim she received for “Winter’s Bone.” Norah is anything but a cliché, and she surprises us as much as she does Porter with a strong intelligence and a completely welcome lack of snobbery for a popular high school student. At the same time, she also hides a pain deep inside which defines her state of mind, and this presents her with something to overcome. Lawrence is great to watch here, and it was a sign that she had more great performances to give us which we eventually got in films like “Silver Linings Playbook.”

Congrats also goes out to young Riley Thomas Stewart who portrays the Black’s youngest son, Henry. It’s a remarkable performance for an 8- or 9-year-old as he has to convey both the confusion and effect his dad’s depression has on him. The scenes he shares with Foster and especially Gibson are wonderfully realized, and it helps that he has a former child actor directing him who knows how to coax a performance out of such a young human being.

Watching “The Beaver” reminded me of another great movie which had a big effect on me, “Lars And The Real Girl.” Both films featured characters whose pasts damaged them emotionally, and who seek release through unorthodox methods. With Gibson, it’s a hand puppet, and with Ryan Gosling it’s a sex doll he treats as his new girlfriend. Each takes what seems like a completely implausible story and surprises us by making it more than some average comedy which just dumbs everything down.

If you have not already seen “The Beaver,” I do hope you give it a look. Regardless of how you feel about Gibson these days, it’s an incredibly well made movie that takes a great script and visualizes it with respect and empathy to the subject of depression. While it was declared a “flop” after its first week at the box office, this should not define its worth. This film may not be for everyone, but those in the mood for something cinematically unique should find much to admire here. More importantly, I applaud any motion picture which takes the subject of depression seriously. It is not a mental condition that anyone can simply get over.

By the way, I love how Foster got Teri Gross of “Fresh Air” fame to do a cameo. I always wondered what her studio at WHYY in Philadelphia looked like, and we get a brief look at it here. Now how often does that happen?

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Bones and All’ Movie and Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Bones and All” is a film I must admit I was not familiar with until I heard of its upcoming release on Blu-ray.  After hearing about its premise and the actors involved, I was immediately interested in checking it out.  It is an intimate little film which is unique in the way it tells its love story, and it’s filled with great performances and beautiful scenery. We live in a cinematic world where it’s all too commonplace for a film to be a remake, a sequel, or a copy of another film.  It is something to admire when a project like “Bones and All” comes along and decides to take an ambitious and outside-the-box approach on young love and mix it with cannibalism.  Director Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me by Your Name” and the “Suspiria” remake) is always on the cutting-edge of filmmaking.

The film opens by introducing us to Maren, played by the immensely talented Taylor Russell.  Russell has an incredibly expressive face throughout the course of this movie, and she plays this part just right as she balances the vulnerability of Maren along with the inner strength she has been forced to possess because of her situation in life.  Her father keeps her under lock and key and for good reason: she is an eater.  He never knows when she might decide to eat someone.  She first did it to her babysitter when she was younger, and it was something which caused her mother to pull away from her.  We find out why later in the film.

Maren’s father is played by André Holland, and he makes the most out of his limited screen time.  However, this is really the story of Maren and, later, of Maren and Lee, played by Timothée Chalamet.  While on her journey to discover more information about her mother and why she left her and her father, Maren meets Lee in Kentucky.  Lee is charming, charismatic, and an eater. For the most part, eaters do not eat other eaters, but they can smell when someone is an eater. The reason they meet is because Maren’s father decided there is nothing else he can do to protect his daughter.  He has done all he can for her, and she’s become a threat to anyone she encounters even though she’s very nice, shy, and soft-spoken.

Along the way, the bond between Maren and Lee grows even stronger.  This is the first time she has really been outside the house this much and been allowed to interact with people around her age.  She likes him, and he likes her.  They try to follow a moral code when it comes to the individuals they eat, but they do not always know their backstories, which can sometimes lead to Maren feeling like she’s a bad person. Lee is more experienced in this field and, because of this, he knows he needs to do whatever is necessary to survive.

There is also an older eater named Sully (Mark Rylance) whom Maren runs into earlier in the film.  He seems to mean well, but Lee is not exactly sure what to make of him because of the age difference and his overall demeanor. Maren tries to distance herself from Sully, but he seems to be around the corner at every turn.  Is he just a harmless old man?  Is he a threat to her and possibly Lee?  I was fascinated by the cannibalism angle of this film, as it does not really make a judgement on the characters.  Cannibalism is part of them, but they are seen as human beings and not monsters.  They are trying to live with it as best as they can and forge meaningful friendships and relationships.

“Bones and All” is one of those under-the-radar gems which is shot in such a naturalistic way by Guadagnino .  It really allows the audience to spend time with the main characters, get to know, understand and feel for them.  The love story between Chalamet and Russell is the lifeblood of this film.  It is what makes this film tick. Both on their own and together, they make movie magic on screen.  They have strong chemistry from the moment they meet each other, and it only increases as they are put together in various scenarios.  Rylance does a fantastic job of keeping the audience guessing as we are left to figure out what his true intentions are with Maren.

This film is truly a journey with its running time of 131 minutes.  At certain points, it can lag a little bit and feel a bit disjointed.  During other scenes, the pacing is exactly right as it allows things to breathe and have time to resonate with the audience.  The more and more I thought about “Bones and All,” the more I liked it.  It is not perfect, but the things which work, such as the relationship between the main characters, the gorgeous cinematography and direction are top notch.  This is a unique film that packs a powerful punch and is worth seeking out.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Blu-ray Info: “Bones and All” is being  released on a single-disc Blu-ray from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The film is rated R for strong, bloody and disturbing violent content, language throughout, some sexual content, and brief graphic nudity.  It has a running time of 131 minutes, and it also comes with a digital copy of the film as well.

Video/Audio Info:  I really wish this film would have received a 4K release, as it’s a film shot with such scope and beauty.  I am a 4K guy and am always going to prefer a 4K release.  The Blu-ray, however, is still pretty good, picture-wise.   It comes in 1080p High Definition. For the audio, we got a Dolby Atmos track which is really impressive.  Subtitles are in English, French and Spanish.

Special Features:

A Look Inside

Luca Guadagnino: The Vision of Bones and All

Meet Lee

Meet Maren

Outsiders in Love

Should You Buy It?

As a firm believer in physical media and independent cinema, I think this is a film worth adding to your collection.  Sadly, the special features are noticeably short as they run around two minutes or less.  I would have enjoyed a little more detail with them.  However, with a film like this, maybe less is more as it allows the audience to come up with their own conclusions as it pertains to how they feel about the film.  I am also disappointed about the lack of a 4K release as it would have looked perfect in that ultra-high definition format.  The Blu-ray looks good, but a 4K of “Bones and All” would have been stunning.  As far as the film itself, if you are like me and enjoy being challenged by a unique story with powerful performances and great cinematography, you will find a lot to like with here. As of right now, the film is going for $27.99, which is a bit pricey for a Blu-ray.  If that were the price for the 4K, I would say you should buy it immediately.  As it stands, you should buy it, but I would wait for the price to drop.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Paris, Texas’

Until this past week, the only Wim Wenders film I had ever seen was “The Million Dollar Hotel.” That one was a fascinating motion picture which dragged at times but still had moments that held me in a grasp few other filmmakers could ever hold me in. When all is said and done, the one thing we can all agree on is that it had a terrific soundtrack by U2, and that Mel Gibson should have kept his mouth shut during the film’s press day when he was caught saying it was “boring as a dog’s ass.” This proved to be one of the many times Gibson was obligated to apologize for saying something he never should have said.

But whether you consider “The Million Dollar Hotel” one of Wenders’ best or worst, films, you have to admit “Paris, Texas” shows him working at his filmmaking best. I caught a screening of it at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles as this was a film crying out for me to watch it not at home, but on the silver screen in a darkened theatre. Knowing of its reputation as a Palme d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984 and having a beautifully subdued music score by the great Ry Cooder, I knew I was in  for quite a unique cinematic treat.

We open on the driest of deserts in West Texas to find a drifter named Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) wandering aimlessly while trying to find some water to drink. After passing out in a nearly empty saloon, he awakens in a clinic where a German doctor cannot get a single word out of him. Frustrated, the doctor calls a phone number Travis just happens to have on him, and it is answered by his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), who lives out in Los Angeles. It turns out Tavis disappeared without a trace four years ago, leaving behind his wife Jane (Nastassja Kinski) and their son Hunter (Hunter Carson). Why did Travis just up and leave? Well, much of “Paris, Texas” is dedicated to figuring this out, and the answers are never made easy to come by.

The first thing I have to say about “Paris, Texas” was how amazing and mesmerizing it was. Not once could I take my eyes off the screen as Wenders captured a Texas which was at once beautiful and haunted by a past its characters want to, but cannot, recapture or escaoe. It is also an unforgettable time capsule of life in the 1980’s in America as the story takes place in a time when you needed maps instead of GPS to find your way from one place to another, smoking was allowed on airplanes, and regular unleaded gasoline was only $1.07 a gallon (shit). But while things have changed a lot since then, the themes this film deals with still have a lot of resonance in this day and age.

For a moment, I thought Harry Dean Stanton and Dean Stockwell would go on the same kind of road trip Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman went on in “Rain Man,” and this was especially the case after we see their characters suddenly get off a commercial airplane and instead travel back to Los Angeles by car. “Paris, Texas,” however, speeds things up and has the two arriving in Los Angeles where Stanton’s character slowly starts to acclimate to civilization and his new environment while trying to reintroduce himself into his son’s life.

Stanton has gone on record in saying “Paris, Texas” is his favorite film out of all the ones he has done, and his performance as Travis may very well be the best of his career outside of “Repo Man.” His face is like a well-trodden landscape which says so much, and it is important to note this as Stanton does not say a single word for the first 26 minutes. It is fascinating to watch him act in a childlike manner as he sits in the backyard of Walt’s home while watching the airplanes fly in and out of Burbank Airport with a pair of binoculars. I also loved the interaction between him and Hunter as he slowly gains the trust of a long-lost son who, very understandably, is not quick to connect with him.

Dean Stockwell was on the verge of quitting acting and going into real estate when he got cast in “Paris, Texas,” and his performance shows how lucky we were that his talents were not robbed from us. What a shame it would have been if we did not get his Oscar-nominated performance in “Married to the Mob” or his co-starring role in the television series “Quantum Leap” had he not appeared here. In this film, he is the audience surrogate as, like him, we are desperate to figure out what Travis has been through in the four years he has been missing. Moreover, Walt must figure out how to deal with how he and his wife Anne (played by Aurore Clément) consider themselves the real parents to Hunter while trying to help Travis make a connection with someone whose life he was always supposed be a part of.

As for Hunter Carson, the son of this film’s co-writer, L.M. Kit Carson, he is perfect for something like this. “Paris, Texas” is a film which demands its actors inhabit their roles naturally rather than act or perform them, and Hunter is a kid who was clearly not brought up by stage parents thank goodness. He simply exists here as any other young child would which makes his scenes with the other actors even more authentic and moving, and this is especially the case in this film’s final moments which are as emotionally moving as one would expect them to be.

But the scenes which had me mesmerized the most were the ones between Stanton and Nastassja Kinski where Cooder’s score was not needed as their acting with one another via a one-way mirror and a telephone proved to be as subtle and intense as any onscreen acting I have ever witnessed. It is always a gift to be held at attention by two wonderful actors who give their roles every ounce of their being, and this is no mere exception in the slightest.

And when it comes to Kinski, who looks so much different than she did in “Cat People,” we do not see her appear onscreen until 53 minutes into this film. And yet somehow, her character Jane’s presence is felt deeply throughout. It is said Kinski wrote a diary for Jane, and it shows how deep into this character she got as her first appearance shows us someone who has lived a long beyond her years, and she was still quite young when “Paris, Texas” was filmed. Watching her react to what Stanton is telling her proved to be utterly enthralling as I wanted Jane to realize something which was right in front of her, and it makes Kinski’s performance all the more inspired.

Now on one hand, I am tempted to say how shameful it is that I did not watch “Paris, Texas” years ago. By that, I do not mean when it came out in 1984 as I was only nine years old back then and not about to take in the impact the Ronald Reagan Presidential years had on the world at large. I am thinking more of when I was in college and watching “A Clockwork Orange,” “Full Metal Jacket,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Taxi Driver” which took my moviegoing to a whole other enthralling level. “Paris, Texas” is a motion picture that does not play by any cinematic rules as it keeps you waiting and longing for certain things to happen, and in a good way. It also dares to leave story threads hanging in an ambiguous fashion which, while some will feel frustrated by this, will make the more adventurous viewers think deeply about what they just saw.

As for myself, I have a lot of Wim Wenders films to catch up on like “Wings of Desire,” “Pina,” “Buena Vista Social Club” and “Until the End of the World.” For what it is worth, I have seen the American remake of “Wings of Desire” which is called “City of Angels,” and it came out in 1998 and starred Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan. That remake broke my heart, and it makes me wonder if the original will do the same. Perhaps I am afraid to find out.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Ted’ Remains One of the Funniest Comedies Ever

Man, I would have loved it if this had happened to me as a kid; having one of my stuffed animals come to life and me forming a lifelong friendship with it. That is what makes “Ted” one of the most enjoyable and funniest movies I saw back in 2012 as it makes that dream become a reality. Seth MacFarlane, the creator “Family Guy,” makes his live-action motion picture directorial debut here, and it is one of the few comedies which is not hit and miss as the laughs just keep on coming. “Ted” also balances out its wickedly crude humor with a lot of heart as the movie comes to look at how important friendships can be in life no matter what form they take.

At the movie’s start, we meet young John Bennett (Bretton Manley) who lives with his family in a town near Boston. The narration, delivered in brilliant fashion by Patrick Stewart, goes over how John has no friends and that even the Jewish kid in the neighborhood who keeps getting the crap kicked out of him by bullies wants nothing to do with him. Things change for the better when he receives a teddy bear for Christmas, whom he names Ted. John loves Ted so much to where he makes a wish for the bear to come alive, and I am sure you know what happens from there.

“Ted” doesn’t take long to get the comedy juices rolling as John’s parents (Alex Borstein and the hilarious Ralph Garman) are incredibly shocked to see their son’s teddy bear walking and talking on its own. After that, Ted becomes a celebrity of sorts as he has Johnny Carson in hysterics and ends up getting arrested at the airport for drug possession. Throughout all of this, he and John remain the best of friends through all things and share many common interests including a serious fear of thunder.

Moving forward to the present, John is now played by Mark Wahlberg and works at a car rental agency. He and Ted still enjoy hanging out together while getting high and doing stupid things when left to their own devices. At the same time, John has been in a long-term relationship with the beautiful Lori Collins (Mila Kunis), and she ends up giving John an ultimatum to get Ted to move out of their apartment so they can move on with their lives.

The fact is Ted has become incredibly obnoxious, unthinkably vulgar, and gleefully hedonistic; something which does not stop once he is finally forced to move out and get his own apartment. He even finds a job at a supermarket despite being grossly inappropriate during an interview with the manager. Instead of giving the manager a reason not to hire him, Ted impresses him with his behavior. Either that or he is just desperate for any employee he can get to work for minimum wage.

During this time, Ted still manages to get John to hang out with him, and this results in John having to lie to Lori while making ridiculous excuses to get out of work. One night with Ted which John cannot possibly turn down is when Sam J. Jones, the star of their favorite movie “Flash Gordon,” shows up for a party at Ted’s apartment. You have to give Jones a lot of credit for sending himself up and having a good sense of humor about the popularity of the 1980 camp classic as he portrays himself as a hard living actor looking for a comeback. Even Ted cannot help but remind John about how Jones’ performance in “Flash Gordon” ended up redefining what it means to act in a movie (and not necessarily in a good way).

Truth be told, “Ted” could have just worked with its crude yet irresistible humor as it scores one big laugh after another. But its main success is how it also combines that crude humor with a lot of heart. The movie is really about the power of friendships and the struggle to keep them going when other things get in the way. As crazy as Ted gets, be it humping a checkout scanner or even snorting cocaine, even he comes to see he has to change his ways just like John has to in his own way. But whatever you do, do not get Ted started on Teddy Ruxpin, seriously!

I have never watched “Family Guy” on a regular basis, so I cannot compare “Ted” to it. Regardless, this film does show him to have a great sense of humor as well as a good appreciation for the stranger parts of popular culture. It is also a must for fans of “Flash Gordon” as it pays homage to its so bad it is good qualities. MacFarlane also throws in jabs at other pop culture targets like Taylor Lautner, Justin Bieber, and even Brandon Routh whose performance in “Superman Returns” is not exactly respected here.

Wahlberg is utterly hilarious, but this should be no surprise to anyone who saw him share the screen with Will Ferrell in “The Other Guys.” The scene where he lists off “white trash girls names” in rapid fire succession is a comic highlight, but even that gets outdone by the vicious fight scene he and Ted have. For a moment I thought Ted would descend into Chucky (the doll from the “Child’s Play” movies) territory, but even he doesn’t get that crude. Still, it results in some of the biggest laughs I have ever had in a movie theater.

Mila Kunis remains as engaging as ever, playing the same wonderful type of character she played in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Having her in this movie as Lori makes John’s need to get rid of Ted seem like a real no-brainer. Kunis also gets to play Lori as someone not bound by typical clichés, and she ends up making Lori the most intelligent person in the entire movie as a result.

There is also Giovanni Ribisi showing up as crazed stalker Donny who wants to buy Ted from John so he can give the teddy bear to his son Robert (Aedin Mincks). Donny cannot bring himself to say no to anything his son wants (bad parent alert!), and this includes giving Robert a toy he may very well end up destroying. Granted, Ribisi’s role in “Ted” might seem unnecessary as it adds something the plot does not necessarily need, but it’s worth it just so we can watch his truly creepy dance to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.”

The design of Ted is that of a generic teddy bear, the kind you end up adding your own personality to. It was smart to go with this kind of bear instead of with some iconic stuffed animal with a built-in personality. You never quite know what is going to come out of Ted’s mouth next. While it may seem somewhat unrealistic for any teddy bear or stuffed animal to be having this much fun, women of any age are quick to hug one quicker than men nearby. This is the story of my life these days, dammit.

Seriously, “Ted” was one of the best comedies I ever got to watch in a theater. Now a lot of this has to do with my continued affection for stuffed animals after all these years, but it also proved to be one of those comedies which was not hit and miss like many I see. It speaks to those special memories we had with our stuffed animals growing up, and of how they eventually bec0me as crazy as us.

* * * * out of * * * *

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘Cannonball Run II’

Copyright HAG ?2008

I remember almost renting “Cannonball Run II” on VHS from Nino’s TV and Video in Thousand Oaks when I was a kid. I enjoyed the first “Cannonball Run” movie a lot and watched it many times, and these days I rate it as an Ultimate Rabbit guilty pleasure. But when I presented it to my dad as the movie I wanted to rent for the weekend, he looked at me and said, “Are you sure you want to rent this? It’s really awful.” This shook my courage in renting movies for a time as I began to doubt my taste in film. As a result, I put this one back on the shelf even though its poster looked ever so cool.

Well, while my dad’s pleas failed to keep me from renting the Clint Eastwood comedy “Every Which Way But Loose,” it did keep me from checking out “Cannonball Run II” for many years. But at a time when I should have been watching such films as “Tar,” “The Banshees of Inisherin” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” I found myself watching this 1984 sequel as it was available to view for free on You Tube (with ads of course). And though I was not expecting a good movie in the slightest, I was stunned at just how amazingly atrocious this follow up was as everyone involved cannot even bother to give the proceedings a mere 50% of their energies.

This sequel starts off with the Sheik Abdul ben Falafel (Jamie Farr) being berated by his father (played by Ricardo Montalban) for losing the Cannonball Run race last year. Having embarrassed the Falafel family (you read that family name correctly), Abdul’s father orders him to win another Cannonball Run in order to restore the family name. The problem is, there is no Cannonball Run race happening that year, so Abdul is told to buy one, and the grand prize is a million dollars.

From there, “Cannonball Run II” begins its arduous task of reintroducing characters from the original as well as introducing a whole bunch of new ones who could only dream of being as funny as Roger Moore was when he played  Seymour Goldfarb, Jr. In fact, Hal Needham, who returns to direct this misbegotten sequel, spends more time with these characters than he does with the race itself.

Burt Reynolds is back as J.J. McClure, and he looks like he can save this motion picture with his charisma and sexy mustache. Dom DeLuise also returns as J.J.’s partner Victor Prinzi and his alter ego of Captain Chaos. These two always look to be having the time of their lives when they work together, but the fun they have does not translate over to the audience as it did for me in the original. This is especially the case when you watch the outtakes which play over the end credits, and you wonder what made the cast enjoy themselves endlessly as their laughter speaks more of a desperation to make this sequel worth watching.

When it comes to racing partnerships, there are a few changes. Jackie Chan is joined this time in his Mitsubishi car by Richard Kiel who plays his driver, Arnold. Doctor Nikolas Van Helsing (Jack Elam), J.J. and Victor’s partner in crime previously, is now working with Sheik Abdul to keep his ulcer in check. And Susan Anton and Catherine Bach are here to replace Tara Buckman and Adrienne Barbeau as those sexy women behind the wheel of a Lamborghini. Still, as Snake Plissken kept saying in “Escape From L.A.,” the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In directing “Cannonball Run II,” I had to wonder what was going through Needham’s mind. Was he just telling a cast which included Shirley McClaine, Dean Martin, Marilu Henner, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tony Danza among others to just go out there and be funny? If so, it did not work to anyone’s advantage as everyone looks to be either phoning it in or trying way too hard to put a smile on our faces. And if you thought the stunts from the original were lacking, the ones here are generic and pedestrian at best.

The only decently funny moment for me was at the beginning with Ricardo Montalban who plays his role as if he is not in on the joke in the slightest. Heck, he even makes the word falafel sound vaguely amusing in a way Bill O’Reilly only thinks he can. Perhaps if the rest of the cast had followed suit, this sequel might have been slightly better than it ever could have hoped to be.

I also keep thinking Needham and company kept looking at this sequel and its making to where he believed he could solve anything and everything in post. There’s a subplot involving mobsters which goes nowhere and has actors like Abe Vigoda being cast just for old time’s sake. And, yes, there is an orangutan driving a car, but he can only hope to be as memorable as Clyde was in “Every Which Way But Loose.”

So much time is spent on such overly broad character moments that Needham and his collaborators kept forgetting there was a long-distance race involved in this movie’s plot. As a result, they brought in Ralph Bakshi to animate the race’s climax in order to give it some momentum, but it doesn’t do much to speed things up, especially after a cameo with Frank Sinatra who plays himself. And yes, it is ever so easy to tell that Sinatra filmed his scenes in a studio by his lonesome. Not once do we see him and actors Reynolds, DeLuise and others in the same scene together.

“Cannonball Run II” will at best be remembered as a footnote in history for the following reasons: it marked Frank Sinatra’s final role in a theatrical motion picture, it is the final action stunt comedy for Reynolds following such films as “Smokey and the Bandit” and “Hooper” among others, it was the last film for Dean Martin, Molly Picon and Jim Nabors who is essentially parodying his character of Gomer Pyle. Other than that, this one is a certifiable waste of 108 minutes out of your life.

What is my excuse for wasting my precious time with “Cannonball Run II?” I will treat that as a rhetorical question. Still, its poster does looks really cool.

½* out of * * * *

‘Glass Onion’ – Another Ingenious Film From the ‘Knives Out’ Filmmaker

Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion” is one of those movies I would love to analyze in every single way. It is so cleverly constructed to where I want to know how he went about writing the screenplay. Putting a mystery like this together cannot be the least bit easy because nothing this ingenious comes to any filmmaker easily, and I have to believe Johnson had this story percolating in his brain for many years before it became a reality. This film has several layers viewers will have plenty of fun peeling away at, and the misdirections it employs are wonderfully insidious in a way Ben Shapiro will never be able to appreciate like any intelligent audience member can.

On top of being named after a classic Beatles song, “Glass Onion” is also Johnson’s sequel to “Knives Out.” Or, more correctly, it is a standalone sequel as the only actor returning from “Knives Out” is Daniel Craig who returns to play private detective Benoit Blanc. This time, Benoit has found himself invited to the private island of the billionaire co-founder of the technology company Alpha, Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Miles has brought together a group of his friends together on his island in Greece to play a murder mystery game, and they include Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), controversial fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) who is accompanied by her harried assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick), and men’s rights streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) who is accompanied by his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline). But the most controversial guest of all is Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), the other co-founder of Alpha who was ousted from this group a long time ago, and yet she appears here to everyone’s utter shock.

Still, none of this deters Miles from getting his guests to solve the murder mystery he has in store for them. There is, however, one catch. The murder everyone needs to solve is Miles’, and it is here my friends that I refuse to tell you anymore about the story. To do so would ruin an insidiously good time you are bound to have while watching this.

Having seen “Knives Out,” I was tempted to believe I knew which direction Johnson was going to take the audience in with this follow up. But after a good twenty or so minutes, he pulls the rug out right from under us to where I really did not know where things would be heading. While it might seem obvious as to who will get murdered, it is actually not in the slightest. And once the first murder is committed, you become every bit as inquisitive and fearful as the other characters because no one can ever feel safe on this island from there.

Watching “Glass Onion,” I kept wondering what inspirations fueled Johnson to write and construct this screenplay with. Surely he could not have come up with all of this on how own, or did he? Did he read a lot of mystery novels by Agatha Christie and Gregory McDonald? Even I have to catch up with all those “Fletch” novels which I keep promising to myself I will read someday. Watching everything come together is a sheer blast as I kept thinking the fun could only last for so long until everything falls apart. But nothing ever fell apart for me as all the story elements seem to fit together perfectly in a way they never could have in all those “Saw” movies.

The average Pixar movie has so many easter eggs to where watching them once can never be enough. “Glass Onion” is no different as there are so many things you have to keep an eye out for, and the number of name drops of famous people throughout feels endless. There is also a plethora of cameos here which are too good to spoil here as they come out of nowhere, and the one involving Benoit’s partner in life is truly priceless.

I believe Craig’s role as Benoit Blanc may eventually supersede his most famous role to date as James Bond since he is clearly having far more fun playing this character than he ever did as 007 (seriously, just ask Dave Bautista). While playing a British spy may have forced this actor to act within certain boundaries, writer/director Johnson is more than willing to let him turn loose as a private investigator who is a mix of Jacques Clouseau and Sherlock Holmes. The joy of Craig’s performance is that he keeps you guessing as to whether he will solve a crime by sheer accident, or if he will actually deduce who the guilty person is before anyone else can.

The rest of the “Glass Onion” cast prove to be as game as the cast of “Knives Out,” and this did not surprise me in the slightest. Kate Hudson channels her mother Goldie Hawn’s character from “Overboard” here as Birdie Jay, and it is nice to see here in a motion picture which is as deserving of her talents as “Almost Famous” was. Kathryn Hahn brought her sublime and harried comedic talents as Governor Claire Debella here, and her constant exasperation proves to be a continued joy. Bautista once again proves there is much more to him than his character of Drax in those “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies in his portrayal of YouTube star Duke Cody, and that’s even though we should have known this after seeing him in “Blade Runner 2049.” And there is no ignoring Edward Norton who makes tech billionaire Miles Bron into every bit the bumbling manager Elon Musk has proven to be when it comes to Twitter. Of course, this is nothing more than an amazing coincidence as Johnson started writing this movie long before the Tesla visionary even thought about buying the internet app James Woods used to go apeshit on.

But the one performance worth singling out in “Glass Onion” is the one given by Janelle Monae. She portrays Andi Brand, but her role proves to be far more complex than at first glance asshe has to sell us on different facets of an individual we did not walk into the theater expecting to see. Again, I do not want to give anything away, but Monae has more to do here than the other actors, and the fact she pulls this off is beyond admirable as it makes her work look all the more impressive.

You know, when you look at Rian Johnson’s filmography, he has always appeared to be a mystery buff of sorts. His breakthrough movie, “Brick,” was a neo-noir mystery, but while his next film, “The Brothers Bloom,” was more of a caper, it still featured characters searching for answers which constantly elude them. The same goes with my favorite Johnson movie to date, “Looper,” as well as “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” in which characters we know or don’t know are trying to find some way to silence the chaos which constantly disrupts their seemingly peaceful existence.

Taking this into account, I cannot wait to see where Johnson and Craig take this franchise next. Thanks to the deal they have with Netflix, we can expect at least one more “Knives Out” installment in the future, and maybe there will be even more following that. Like James Cameron with his “Avatar” movies, Johnson and company are not about us to give us the same exact thing twice.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ – James Cameron Wows Us Yet Again

It is surreal that “Avatar: The Way of Water” has finally arrived in movie theaters after having its release delayed so many times. The original “Avatar” came out in 2009, and since then we have been promised a number of sequels which never quite made it to the silver screen regardless of what James Cameron promised us. This got to be aggravating for everyone including myself as I kept rolling my eyes whenever Cameron said the sequels would be coming out soon. Like many, I wanted to just yell out, “release them already!” But while so much has happened between 2009 and 2022, it suddenly feels like it was just yesterday when we first visited Pandora and all those blue people, and I was reminded about how wowed I was by everything Cameron put on display.

Well, I can certainly see why Cameron kept us waiting for years and years as he wanted to break new cinematic ground, and he has done so with again with this long awaited sequel. While “Avatar: The Way of Water” may not have the most complex of stories or characters, and his films rarely do, he succeeds in giving us one hell of a cinematic experience as he spends a lot of the 192 minutes wowing us in ways I thought he was no longer capable of. Like “Top Gun: Maverick,” I cannot wait to see it again.

Over a decade has passed since the Na’vi repelled the human invasion of Pandora, and Jake Sully is now the leader of the Omaticaya tribe. He and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are now parents to four children; two adventurous sons and two girls who are so fascinated by the world and creatures constantly surrounding them. But like all happily ever after endings, this fairy tale eventually comes crashing down in a nightmarish fashion.

The Resources Development Administration (RDA) has now returned to Pandora, but instead of obtaining that brilliantly named mineral called unobtanium, they are this time intent on inhabiting the planet as Earth is now in its death throes because there were never enough people there who realized climate change was real. And in this futuristic time Cameron has thrust us into, manifest destiny has taken humanity from conquering planets to taking over galaxies because, you know, heaven forbid adults get given the same kind of boundaries children are and eventually benefit from. Once again, humans are out to, as George Carlin once said, free the people and whip a little industry on them.

Fearing the worst, Jake and Neytiri flee the Omaticaya tribe along with their children and take refuge with the Metkayina reef people in hopes they will never be found by the RDA. The family, however, has trouble fitting in as they are tree people while Metkayinas are water people. This leads to a lot of awkward situations between everyone as the kids hate being uprooted and are not sure how to act around those who know the water more than what is above it.

It is when “Avatar: The Way of Water” goes into the waters of Pandora that it really takes off. The underwater footage is nothing short of amazing as we are taken through the many depths of the planet and are introduced to various aquatic creatures who must be seen to be believed. A good portion of the footage was shot in a higher frame rate (HFR) which gives the visuals a clarity which makes them look even more astonishing than they already are. I have not always been a big fan of HFR as it can make things look a little too crystal clear, and Cameron knew not shoot the whole movie in this format as the audience could have been easily alienated, but he makes HFR work to not just his advantage, but the audience’s as well.

Now much has been said about this sequel’s making and of how the actors spent many minutes underwater. As the Na’vi children are made to experience the underwater realm, “The Way of Water” could almost be seen as an advertisement for free-diving. Spend just a minute or two in the shallows or the depths is not enough to take in the last frontier left to explore on Earth or any other planet, but we are also reminded of the dangers of staying underwater for too long, and Cameron knows we know this, so he squeezes ever last ounce of tension to make this clear.

Cameron also gets to deal with themes which have been prevalent throughout his movies and documentaries to where I am quickly reminded of a line from “Aliens” uttered by Sigourney Weaver where she pointed out the difference between humans and certain extraterrestrials:

“You know, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other for a goddamn percentage.”

 Indeed, we are given plenty of proof here of how marine life can be far more intelligent than humanity, and it makes the humans decimation of such sea creatures in scenes which reminded me of similar ones in “Jaws” even more painful. Clearly, these fish hunters never took the time to watch “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” at least once, and the fluid they remove from these creatures is treated as being even more profitable than unobtanium. All I can say about this fluid is that it’s the kind which would just fly off the shelves in Beverly Hills. I mean, heaven forbid anyone allows themselves to age gracefully, you know?

The inhabitants of Pandora also get to talk to whales in this movie, something which I am sure would make Doctor Doolittle infinitely envious. Now on paper this may have looked incredibly silly, but I never found myself laughing at those scenes where the characters could talk to the animals. That, and maybe I just want to believe deep down that we can do this for real someday if we haven’t already.

As complex as the visual effects are, the same cannot be said about the movie’s story or screenplay. Even with several other credited writers, nothing here sounds like it could have come out of a David Mamet play. Then again, Cameron has not always been known for giving such complexities when it comes to his screenplays. What you see is what you get, and it is up to the actors to bring to life even if the dialogue is not particularly great.

Speaking of the actors, their performances are mostly excellent, and the best ones come from those who will not simply let the effects teams do all the work for them. This is especially the case with Zoe Saldana who puts every single ounce of her energy into Neytiri to where the motion capture, visual effects and her performance all combine to create one big passionate fireball of energy. The same goes for Kate Winslet, reuniting with Cameron for the first time since “Titanic,” who portrays the pregnant Metkayina free diver Ronal with a passion to where it took me forever to realize it was the Oscar winning actress of “The Reader” who was playing this character.

I also have to say how envious I was of Sigourney Weaver here. Not only does she reprise her role of Dr. Grace Augustine, but she also portrays the daughter of her Na’vi avatar, Kiri. Weaver portrays Kiri with all the innocence a child could have as she comes into contact with things she is ever so quick to learn from and use to her advantage.

But my favorite performance of all comes from Stephen Lang who returns as the nefarious Colonel Miles Quaritch, albeit in Na’vi form as he died in the last movie. With his mind implanted in this avatar with memories of his past life, Miles has not changed one bit as he seeks bloody revenge on Jake Sully for what he sees as betraying his own kind. But thanks to Lang, he gives us an antagonist who is never one-dimensional as his goals are led by a patriotic duty which, while misguided, fuels his heart in ways nothing else can. Still, he lets us see another dimension hiding within Miles as he comes to meet the son he left behind on Pandora, Spider (Jack Champion), who has long since become accustomed to the environment he has been living in.

Everything in “Avatar: The Way of Water” leads to an adrenaline-fueled climax which echoes the most intense moments from one of Cameron’s more underrated works, “The Abyss,” as Jake and company are forced to literally keep their heads above water as they fight off those who exploit their planet for their own greedy purposes. When it comes to Cameron, he never lets us down when it comes to infinitely exciting third acts.

No, this is not a perfect movie, and it does not surprise how many detractors out there are quick to point this out. But still, Cameron still knows how to create a cinematic spectacle which is best experienced at a theater near you. Furthermore, no other filmmaker out there can make 3D seem like much more than a mere gimmick than he can. Regardless of how annoying it was to wait this long for an “Avatar” sequel, I think it was worth the wait. But more importantly, I am relieved we will not have to wait all that long for the next installment, and I cannot wait to see where these characters will go next.

Just remember this quote when you come out of “Avatar; The Way of Water:”

“They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all.”

That quote is from “Whales Weep Not” by D.H. Lawrence. And yes, I got that quote from a pivotal scene in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.”

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Black Adam’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

I always make sure to preface my review of any superhero film by informing the reader that I go into these films as a novice. I do not know anything about the backstories, the characters, or if it’s true to its source material. However, I am a firm believer that if a film is good, it can be enjoyed without an audience member knowing anything about the superhero.  It should be able to stand on its own merits. There is no denying the movie star appeal of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but I do have serious questions about some of the film roles he has picked for himself. He has proven both in wrestling and in certain films like “Central Intelligence” that he has a charisma very few can match.  He is an authentic human being who is filled with charm for days, and I would like to see more of that in his future projects. This film, though, called for a different type of performance out of him.

Black Adam” is initially set in 2600 B.C. where a crown was created by Ahk-Ton of Kahndaq in order to give him the powers of a demon. The film then moves to the present day, and it shows Kahndaq in a state of distress at the hands of Intergang, a crime syndicate that doesn’t like to play by the rules. Adrianna Tomaz (Sarah Shahi) is looking to obtain the Crown of Sabbac, and she has enlisted the help of her brother, Karim (Mohammed Amer), along with their associates Samir (James Cusati-Moyer) and Ishmael (Marwan Kenzari). It should be noted she has good intentions for the Crown. Once Adrianna gets her hands on the crown, she awakens Teth-Adam (Dwayne Johnson) from a lengthy slumber. She is under the impression that he is the hero of Kahndaq after he saves her from Intergang.  Government officials from America, however, believe Teth-Adam is dangerous and not a hero, and they bring in the Justice Society to make sure he will not inflict any harm on anyone.

The Justice Society consists of Hawkman (Aldis Hodge), Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), Cyclone (Quintessa Swindell) and Atom Smasher (Noah Centineo). However, Adrianna’s son, Amon (Bodhi Sabongui), believes there is good inside of Teth-Adam as, after all, he saved his mother from Intergang.  There might be some darkness and a past to Teth-Adam, but Amon believes if Teth-Adam can come up with a cool catchphrase and harness his powers for the right cause, he can be a really special superhero.  There is a past with Teth-Adam, one which still haunts him to this day, and he is a complex character with an interesting backstory and more layers than one would expect.

I found the story of “Black Adam” interesting, layered and geared more toward adults than children.  I cannot imagine this is the kind of superhero film that will appeal to many children.  The first half does a good job of laying out the stakes, allowing the characters to develop, and letting us spend time with them where we get to know them.  This is a more restrained performance from Johnson. As soon as you find out his backstory and what happened to him in his past, you understand why.  This is not the Dwayne Johnson we are used to seeing in his other films, and he gives a solid and understated performance. He has to express a lot of emotions throughout the film, and he does a great job with that. Sarah Shahi is really, really good here and shows just the right amount of powerful vulnerability and humanity throughout.

With the Justice Society, the standout performer was clearly Aldis Hodge. I have been enjoying his work for a while now, and he holds his own with Johnson and even steals a few scenes. I felt like Pierce Brosnan was not given a whole lot to do with his role as Doctor Fate, but he does come across as wise and insightful with his performance.  He is an observer of what’s going on and trying to come to terms with what he knows is going to happen because he’s aware of when people are going to die.  The younger actors, Quintessa Swindell and Noah Centineo, are very, very effective, but again, they are not given enough screen time to really shine and show off their acting chops. I liked what I saw from them, but I wanted to see more.

Overall, “Black Adam” is an entertaining superhero film with a dark backstory that I enjoyed.  The special effects, action, and pacing are lacking, however, and they hold the film back.  I wish they had a tighter script as the last forty-five minutes are really lagging and keep everything from ending on the right note.  I see elements of a really, really good superhero film here, but they don’t all come together.  There are actors, moments, and scenes where I said to myself, “Now, this is working.  Let’s stay here.”  Other times, I was thinking to myself, “This is sound and fury, signifying nothing.” It is an average film but with good to great signs of life sprinkled throughout its running time.

* * out of * * * *

4K Info: “Black Adam” is being released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The set also comes with a digital copy of the film.  It has a running time of 125 minutes and is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence, intense action, and some language.

4K Video Info: We do get Dolby Vision here, but I have to say, I was pretty let down with the visuals of this film.  Don’t get me wrong, it is very clear and crisp, but it doesn’t quite pop like it should.  I understand the film is called “Black Adam,” and it’s supposed to have muted and hushed tones, but there is a way where you can use these to create an interesting 4K transfer with great visuals.  I thought it looked just OK.  There was not anything which really impressed me or stood out.

4K Audio Info:  The Dolby Atmos track brings the power.  It really enhances the action scenes without being too loud or overpowering to where it is distracting and you are reaching for your remote to turn the volume down on your soundbar.

Special Features:

The History of Black Adam

Who is The Justice Society?

From Soul to Screen

Black Adam: A Flawed Hero

Black Adam: New Tech in an Old World

Black Adam: Taking Flight

Kahndaq: Designing a Nation

The Rock of Eternity

Costumes make the hero

Black Adam: A new type of action

Should You Buy It?

I do not think “Black Adam” as a film or as a 4K disc is something you need to add to your collection at its current price.  It was entertaining for two hours, but it did not reinvent the wheel or leave me with any lasting impressions which stayed with me after the credits rolled. I did not hate it nor did I love it.  It was an entertaining superhero film which, of course, is fine, but I think fans are looking for something a little more than just “fine.”  There are some good special features here, though.  I was disappointed with how the film looked on 4K, as I was expecting an impressive and powerful transfer.  It is just OK as well.  The audio is really good, as I mentioned earlier.  I can see what they were going for here and what their intentions were, but the pacing and the special effects really stop this film dead in its tracks. I recommend you check it out on HBO Max, but I would not add it to your collection.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

Rachel Weisz on Playing Hester Collyer in ‘The Deep Blue Sea’

WRITER’S NOTE: As the opening sentence hints at, this article was written in 2012.

The 2012 New York Film Critics Circle Awards were recently given out, and one of the big winners was Rachel Weisz who won the Best Actress Award for her performance in “The Deep Blue Sea.” In the film she portrays Hester Collyer, the wife of a High Court judge who ends up having a passionate affair with Royal Air Force pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), and we watch as this affair throws her life into utter turmoil. “The Deep Blue Sea” hasn’t yet found the audience in America it deserves, but hopefully Weisz’s win will bring more attention to the film which has earned tremendous critical praise since its release.

“The Deep Blue Sea” was directed by British independent filmmaker, Terence Davies. His resume includes such movies as “Distant Voices Still Lives,” “The Neon Bible” and “The House of Mirth” which featured an extraordinary performance from Gillian Anderson. In an interview with Ara Aquino of Complex, Weisz described Davies as being “very different” and “unusual” compared to most other filmmakers she has worked with. Hearing Weisz talk about Davies makes him sound both rigid and yet full of life:

“He’s probably as passionate as Hester and led by his emotions and his heart. He’s more like her than I am,” Weisz said of Davies. “He gets really carried away both in happiness and sadness and anger. He’s a very emotional person. He likes things to be incredibly controlled in terms of where the camera is; you’re the center of the frame. It’s the opposite of contemporary, hand-held reportage style films that we’re used to seeing now. He’s got real rigor as a filmmaker, but he’s also really passionate.”

Weisz then went on to tell Aquino that what interested her about playing Hester was how the character “really, kind of completely humiliated herself” and has “no pride.” Those who have seen “The Deep Blue Sea” can agree this role is a frightening and challenging one for any actress as it forces them to convincingly portray conflicting emotions and to play a character who is not exactly likable. Still, it was those challenges which made Weisz want to take on the role.

“What I found interesting about her was she just fell so completely, devastatingly, utterly in love with someone who really didn’t even love her back,” Weisz said about Hester. “She just couldn’t control it, and I thought that was really interesting to see someone lose it. She just throws herself at his feet and kind of makes a complete fool out of herself in many ways.”

Actually, one of the most refreshing things I heard Weisz say about the roles she chooses is that she does not worry about whether the character is likable or not. Many actors tend to be very self-conscious about their work and how the public will treat them for playing someone who is far from being universally loved. But they do themselves a disservice thinking like that as they cut themselves off from many interesting opportunities worth taking advantage of. Weisz made this clear in an interview she had with the Awards Line website.

“I think if you ask the audience to like you, it’s all over,” Weisz said. “The most interesting characters are those you’re drawn to, then repelled by, and then come to understand. All that tension – I live that. But I don’t plan the tension. It’s just something that should happen. I don’t judge the character at all. It’s a bit like being someone’s defense lawyer-you have to believe in their innocence in order to defend them. Did I know that Hester was a pain in the ass? Yeah.”

Another interesting story about the making of “The Deep Blue Sea” involved shooting the love scene between Weisz and her co-star Tom Hiddleston. While Weisz has been in her share of sex scenes in movies, this particular one was the first that Davies ever directed. In talking with Michael Ordoña of the Los Angeles Times, it sounded like she spent a lot of time trying to make Davies feel more comfortable about doing it which was amusing because it’s typically the other way around.

“He just said, ‘I want you to lick his shoulder.’ He had never shot a nude scene, or a sex scene,” Weisz said of Davies. “I thought for a while, ‘Maybe I’ll just keep on my slip.’ But then he said ‘Ah, no, I don’t think so …’ He was really embarrassed. He had it in his mind he wanted audiences to see their bodies together.”

“The Deep Blue Sea” may not be the kind of movie that fills up multiplexes around the globe, but it is a must see for those who love complex dramas and great acting. Rachel Weisz continues to deliver one great performance after another, and this film features one of her best yet. If she continues to choose her roles in the way she told Aquino, then we can expect many more unforgettable performances from her in the future.

“You just have to read a script and think, I’d really like to play this character,” Weisz told Aquino. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s a big movie or a small movie. You still have to say the lines and make it sound true. I just need to be intrigued or pulled in. It’s hard for me to put it into words. It’s like reading a book: Some books grab you and some books don’t. It’s the same with a character. Some things you just really connect with. It could be a really silly book or a dark tragedy.”

SOURCES:

Ara Aquino, “Interview: Rachel Weisz Talks “The Deep Blue Sea” & The Madness Of Love,” Complex, March 21, 2012.

Q&A: Rachel Weisz on Deep Blue Sea,” Awards Line, November 21, 2012.

Michael Ordoña, “How Rachel Weisz put depth in ‘Blue Sea’ performance,” Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2012.