‘Where The Crawdads Sing’ Doesn’t Dig Deep Enough into the Marsh

After watching “Where the Crawdads Sing,” I immediately went out and purchased a copy of Delia Owens’ novel upon which it is based. Judging from the opening narration in which the main character of Catherine “Kya” Clark tells the audience how “marsh is not swamp” but instead is “a space of light where grass grows in water, and water flows into the sky,” this cinematic adaptation looked to defy all the perceptions we typically have of such places on Earth. This is further emphasized by her describing how swamp exists within the marsh and is “quiet because decomposition is cellular work,” and how it “knows all about death, and doesn’t necessarily define it as tragedy, certainly not a sin.” This dialogue comes straight from Owens’ prose, and it stayed with me throughout the film’s 126-minute running time.

This cinematic adaptation of “Where the Crawdads Sing” comes to us from Reese Witherspoon who has gushed endlessly about how much she loves the novel, and she produced this film alongside Lauren Neustadter. The screenplay was written by Lucy Alibar who co-wrote “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” and it was directed by Olivia Newman who is best known for her Netflix film “First Match.” Clearly, there is a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera here, and the appreciation everyone has for the source material cannot be doubted. Still, while this film held my attention throughout, I Pate’s came out of it thinking, couldn’t the filmmakers have dug into the material even deeper?

We first meet Kya as a young girl who lives with her family in the North Carolina marsh, and it is fun to watch her being embraced by her loving mother. But then we see her dad (played by Garret Dillahunt) is an abusive bastard who treats every member of his family like crap. From there, Kya’s mother and siblings leave their home one by one to where it is just her and dad, and she learns to survive his drunken wrath in more ways than one. But soon he disappears, and Kya is forced to fend for herself and survive on her own to where she copes with loneliness in a way few others do.

Indeed, seeing Kya grow up in the marsh to where we can believe she can more than survive on her own provides this film with its most interesting moments, but it is all surrounded by a courtroom drama which makes the proceedings feel utterly routine and ordinary. As the story begins, the police come upon the body of Chase Andrews (played by Harris Dickinson), a high school quarterback who had been in a relationship with Kya which ended on a bitter and violent note. People in town are quick to label Kya as the key suspect as they have always viewed her as an outsider to where they fear her for all the wrong reasons. It is not long before Kya is arrested and charged with his murder.

Part of my problem with this film is that it treats many of the characters as caricatures instead of fleshed out human beings. More often than not, the filmmakers only touch on the surface of these individuals instead of transcending their nature to present something more unique. While certain characters are given special attention, others are painted in broad strokes to where they could have come out of so many other motion pictures. The period detail is spot on as the film immerses us in the times and tribulations of the 1960’s, but it still feels like we are just watching events unfold instead of living them through Kya and everyone else.

One actor who elevates his material here is the great David Strathairn who co-stars as Kya’s defense attorney, Tom Milton. While the prosecuting attorney looks and acts like a Jake Brigance wannabe, Strathairn transcends his character’s mannerisms and background to give us a performance which feels alive and lived in. Not once does he ever give us a moment which feels false as his character comes out of retirement to defend Kya in her murder trial. At the start, he asks Kya to her that he cannot help her until het gets to know her better. His character becomes key from there to the story as, like him, we want everyone to see Kya as an individual instead of some odd human being who exists in the shadows where few others dare to travel to.

Speaking of Kya, the actress who plays her is Daisy Edgar-Jones, and her performance for me was worth the price of admission. She more than inhabits Kya to where the character never comes across as some female version of Tarzan, but instead one who merely exists in the marsh as it is the only home she has ever known and feels comfortable in. Jones also renders many scenes she appears in with heartbreaking honesty as we watch her discover love for the first time, and later heartbreak which is always devastating, especially for the young.

It is also worth singling out Jojo Regina who plays the younger Kya as she embodies the character at a fragile point in her life. She shows us how lost the young Kya is when she first goes to school and discovers how cruel children can be to someone different from them. More importantly, Regina sets the stage for Kya becoming wholly independent as she digs in the marsh for mussels to sell to the local general store. Watching her, I believe Regina gave Jones so much great stuff to work with.

I also enjoyed the performances of both Sterling Macer Jr. and Michael Hyatt as Jumpin and Mabel, the kindly African-American couple who own and run the local general store where boats get their gas. They respect and care they have for Kya is strong and shows through their eyes and actions. Plus, Mabel has one of the movie’s best lines as she rightly points out that the Bible says nothing about being careful.

But as for the rest of “Where the Crawdads Sing,” it all feels inescapably routine. Sure, the cinematography by Polly Morgan is gorgeous, the music score by Mychael Danna fits the material perfectly, and it is clear everyone here has great love for the source material. But in the process of being slavish to the novel, they don’t do enough bring everything it to life. I cannot help but believe this adaptation could have been given much more depth as this movie could have stood out in the same way Michael Apted’s “Nell,” which starred Jodie Foster as a similar individual raised away from civilization. While the novel may have given many a unique experience, this movie fails to do the same as it becomes like many we have seen time and time again.

I think it would have been best to focus much more on the trifecta of Kya, her first boyfriend Tate (Taylor John Smith), and her second boyfriend Chase. Where Kya is a child of the wilderness and the marsh, Tate has one foot in the civilized world and another in the wilderness, and Chase himself is a product of the civilized world which has given him a lot of bad ideas about social status and women. These relationships are dealt with, but in a rather shallow way with some acting which is too theatrical for motion pictures.

Heck, I would have liked to have seen more of Dillahunt as Pa as, from what I have read of the novel thus far, there is more to him than being just a drunken bully. Perhaps we could have been given more depth into this character as a result to where we could understand why he acts the way he does even as we rightly despise his actions. Still, the movie decides to keep him at arms’ length. Granted, the main focus is, and absolutely should be, on Kya, but perhaps knowing more about the key people in her life would have made her coming of age adventures all the more enthralling.

If you are a fan of the novel, I think you will have to see how the movie “Where the Crawdads Sings” compares to it. There is a lot to like about it, and again, Jones is simply wonderful in the lead role. But considering how beloved this novel is, I imagine many will come out of it feeling like more could have been done with the material.

For what it’s worth, both the movie and the novel serve as a reminder of how the civilized and uncivilized worlds don’t go by the same laws as survival takes on different forms in each. And remember, unlike animals, human beings are the only species to put their own in cages, behind bars.

* * ½ out of * * * *

‘Adventureland’ – A Ralph Report Video Vault Selection

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2010. I applaud Eddie Pence for featuring this as a Video Vault selection on “The Ralph Report.”

It’s always those low paying jobs you had as a teenager during the summer months which helped mold you into the person you are today. It sucks how it takes you another decade or so to realize this upon closer reflection. Being there at the cash register, ringing up orders for customers in the real world, this all shows you things people they don’t teach you in high school or college. So yes, even those cumbersome jobs I had such as cutting the guts out of fish, teaching little kids how NOT to fish (and they still didn’t listen to me), shoveling popcorn constantly to where I came home reeking of it, and selling overpriced drinks at the movie theater (because that’s where they get their profit from folks) made me wise up to things which would eventually benefit me later in life. It also taught me how to take control and responsibility for my life. Still, it would have been nice if they paid me more an hour. Minimum wage was around four dollars back then. I wouldn’t be able to live on that today.

Adventureland” follows the exploits of James Brennan who is forced to take a summer job upon graduating from Oberlin College. His dad just got laid off to where neither of his parents will be able to support him financially either for the summer vacation in Europe he was hoping to take, or for his first year at Columbia College where he was planning to study journalism. Despite gloating over the great vacation he cannot go on now, James applies for different jobs around his hometown, but even his impressive transcript from Oberlin can’t land him a decent paying job. Adventureland Park, however, is hiring just about anyone with a pulse who fills out an application. Heck, I bet they even hire people they call the cops on! James tries to get a ride operator position, but managers Bobby and Paulette (played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) are convinced he is more of a games person, so he unenthusiastically takes on the job only out of a financial need.

This is one of those movies which unfortunately got lost in the shuffle due in part to Miramax’s promoting it in the wrong way. The posters kept screaming out how it was from the director of “Superbad,” Greg Mottola. But despite the fact both movies have the same director, they are very different from one another. While “Superbad” was a broadly comic farce (one of the most gut-bustlingly hilarious ones from this past decade might I add), “Adventureland” is more of a serio-comic story and one of the more realistic coming of age movies I have seen in a while. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very funny moments to be found here, but you really can’t walk into this movie expecting another “Superbad.” If you do, you will be disappointed for all the wrong reasons.

The Adventureland Park itself is like one of those travelling carnivals you see come into town once or twice a year. You know, the ones with those rides which are in a constant state of disrepair which no cleverness can ever hide. The games they have like the ring toss and dart throwing are all designed to be unwinnable. This doesn’t stop people from still paying to play them though, hence the profit. Plus, like all amusement parks, they play the same damn songs over and over to where the employees are driven to insanity. I remember working at a park like this once, and I endured the same exact daily irritations. Where James and his colleagues have to listen to Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” every other five minutes, we kept getting subjected to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers… Well actually, I do like Tom Petty, but I just realized I don’t listen to him as much as I used to.

I love how “Adventureland” gets all the specific details down to where it resembles just about any job I could have had as a youth. I actually worked at Disneyland for a couple of years myself, and while Adventureland is a pale imitation of it, many of the same rules I lived under were reflected by the park employees here. What this park has over that corporate monolith, however, is that the rules are much looser, and the working environment is nowhere as stressful.

Jesse Eisenberg plays James Brennan, and right now he is going through that Michael Cera phase of playing the young adult who is not always of sure of what he is supposed to say, think or do most of the time. He is best known for starring in “Zombieland” opposite Woody Harrelson or from “The Squid & The Whale” where he held his own opposite the great Jeff Daniels. Eisenberg is perfect as James in how he finds things to savor at Adventureland even though he would rather be vacationing in Europe. He never overplays or underplays the part to where he becomes ingratiating to watch. Somehow, this actor finds the perfect note to play James to where we like this guy and want to follow him on his post-graduate summer from start to finish.

The other big star here is Kristen Stewart who we all know of course from those darn “Twilight” movies. I haven’t seen any of them but, from what I have been told, I haven’t missed much. My friends keep telling me Stewart cannot act and how she looks all vacant whenever she is onscreen. Well, they didn’t check her out in “Adventureland” because her talent really shines through. Her character of Emily Lewin is the most complex here as she is dealing with a lot of problems which make her yearn for an escape out of town. Emily’s dad is actually a rich lawyer whom she resents for remarrying so soon to a woman she cannot stand. She really doesn’t need to work a part time job, but she does so just to get out of the house. Her methods of escape end up getting her into a relationship with Mike Connell (Ryan Reynolds), a married man who also works at the park.

Stewart does great work in portraying a character who yearns to be with someone who really sees her for who she is, but ends up running away from that particular someone when she becomes seriously afraid of messing everything up. You care about Emily because we can all relate to being confused about our place in life and of wanting to escape an environment which feels too confining. As a teenager, you can really feel like a prisoner in your hometown, especially if you don’t have a driver’s license. There are only so many places you can go to, and there is a strong need to break the boundaries holding you back. Stewart and the rest of the cast really show this throughout.

Another actor I want to give a lot of credit to is Martin Starr who plays Joel, the sarcastic co-worker who shows James around the park and makes him see how everything works. Starr has an amazingly dry sense of humor which has served him very well ever since appeared on the depressingly short-lived show “Freaks & Geeks.” This role is perfect for him as he embodies the antisocial misfit we remember from school, and who proves to be far more interesting than the jocks who were the stars on campus. Starr also gives his role an unexpected depth as we see him getting involved with a girl who ends up thoughtlessly rejecting not for who he is, but of what she and her family sees him as. It’s one of the film’s most honestly painful moments which rings true in ways too real to discuss openly.

And, of course, I can never get enough of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, some of the funniest people working today on “Saturday Night Live.” They are great together as the managers of this barely average amusement park and provide some of the biggest laughs as they take care of business as professionally as they can. Just make sure not to litter around Hader’s character because this will set his fuse off almost immediately,

With “Adventureland,” Mottola really captures how those jobs we worked for little money growing up toughened us up and helped in our evolution. I think it will be seen in the future as one of the most vastly underrated coming of age movies ever. It deals with the painful truths of growing up, and of experiences we had which molded the way we think and acted from there. Hopefully it will find the audience it deserves on cable and physical media. And for those of you who still think Kristen Stewart cannot act, get a clue, please.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

‘Lost Highway’ – One of My Favorite David Lynch Films

I remember when I first watched David Lynch’s film “Lost Highway” back in 1997. I saw it at a small theater in Newport Beach where the screen ratio was off by a bit, and the opening credits did not fit onto the silver screen as a result. I left the theater feeling a bit cold as I was not sure what to make of What I saw, and the ending seemed so absurdly abrupt to where I wonder if Lynch and co-writer Barry Gifford had simply run out of ideas and went down a rabbit hole they could not dig themselves out of. The way I saw it, this film was easily upstaged by its soundtrack which proved to be one of my favorites from the 1990’s with its music by Angelo Badalamenti, Nine Inch Nails. Barry Adamson, Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson.

A few days later, however, I found myself thinking about “Lost Highway” a lot to where I could not put it out of my head. I could not figure out why initially, but then I found the answer in a review of the movie I read in Video Watchdog. I cannot remember the critic’s name, but they wrote it’s not about how the film affects you while you watch it, but how it affects you after you have watched it. I could not agree with this more, and it made me watch “Lost Highway” again, but this time in a THX approved theater with better sights and sound.

I have since revisited “Lost Highway” again and again over the years, and I revisited it yet again at the Nuart Theatre which presented this Lynch cult classic in a 4K restoration personally supervised by the director. While it may not seem as brilliant as “Blue Velvet” or “Mulholland Drive,” it remains one of my favorite films of Lynch’s as it presents us with a puzzle of a story which might be easier to solve than at first glance.

We are introduced to the married couple of saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife, Renee who live in the Hollywood Hills. Their marriage looks to be a cold one, lacking in passion. When it comes down it, Fred is far more able to get orgasms out of his saxophone solos than with Renee, and he becomes suspicious that she might be seeing someone behind his back.

Things get more unsettling for them when they discover someone has been leaving videotapes for them on their doorstep. The first one features a view of the outside of their house, but the second goes even further as it shows footage of them asleep in their bed. They call the police, but they are of little help in finding out who filmed them. Next thing you know, Fred finds and views another videotape which shows him hovering over Renee’s dismembered body, and from there he finds himself on death row for her murder.

Lynch has described “Lost Highway” as being a “psychogenic fugue,” a rare psychiatric phenomenon characterized by reversible amnesia for one’s identity. Others have compared the film to a Möbius strip, a non-orientable strip which one cannot consistently distinguish clockwise and counterclockwise turns. Both of these make sense as the beginning may very well be the end, and the end may very well be the beginning.

This is even further enhanced by Lynch saying he was partially inspired by the O.J. Simpson murder trial which came to dominate the early 1990’s. Indeed, I can see this inspiration all throughout “Lost Highway” as Simpson has not, nor will he ever, admit to committing any murders. For all we know, Simpson may still not know what he did as he has long since blacked it out of his mind. The same goes with Fred Madison as he cannot believe it when a certain video implies he murdered his wife in a most horrible way, but this doesn’t stop a jury of his peers from finding him guilty and putting him on death row.

There is a scene where the police visit Fred and Renee at their home after they received the second video, and Renee talks about how Fred hates video cameras and doesn’t want them in the house. His explanation is as follows:

“I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.”

I have come to refer to this dialogue as the Dinesh D’Souza line as he continues to sell anyone and everyone on a narrative which just isn’t the least bit true. But regardless of how you view this film, one thing should remain clear: videotapes do not lie. Just look at what Detective Mike Kellerman (played by Reed Diamond) said in one episode of “Homicide – Life on the Street:”

“Videotape, it’s the perfect witness. It can’t change its testimony, and it can’t forget what somebody looks like.”

Indeed, “Lost Highway” is all about Fred Madison trying to escape the truth of what he did or, perhaps, what everyone thinks he did. As a result, he goes through a rather grotesque transformation which ends up turning him into a young auto mechanic named Pete Dayton (played by Balthazar Getty), and he gets released from prison. But as he now experiences life as a free man, he comes to meet the gangster Mr. Eddy’s mistress, Alice Wakefield. The only thing is, she looks a lot like Fred’s late wife, Renee. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the fact Patricia Arquette is playing Alice as well as Renee.

“Lost Highway” has long since become one of my favorite David Lynch films, and while “Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland Drive” are regarded more highly, this one is so much fun to view again and again. The whole thing is a complex puzzle, and I am convinced I can still solve its mysteries in ways I cannot with Lynch’s other works. I am not even going to try and make sense of “Inland Empire.”

With Pullman’s character of Fred, he is trying to stay ahead many steps of his darkest memories and actions, assuming they are true. But the deeper he digs into his psyche to escape an especially harsh reality, the more memories and familiar faces keep coming up. I like how Pullman plays Fred as a suspicious man who finds himself caught up in a situation he does not understand but which leaves him with the worst headaches imaginable.

Patricia Arquette is a marvel here as both Renee and Alice as she opens herself up, literally and figuratively speaking. It’s great to watch her go from portraying a scared wife to a dominant seductress who holds Pete very tightly within her grasp. Seriously, watching this Oscar winning actress here should serve as reminder of just how much stronger women are than men, especially when men are led by certain parts of their bodies other than their brains.

Who could have known this would have been Robert Blake’s last performance ever in a motion picture before the whole… Well, you know. Still, his work here as the Mystery Man is wonderfully chilling as he clearly took joy in crafting a character unlike any he played previously. When he glares at you, there is no escape, and seeing him without eyebrows makes his presence all the more unnerving. It’s an original performance which people never give enough credit to.

There are many moments from “Lost Highway” which will forever stay with me like when Fred Madison walks into the darkness of his home and re-emerges as someone much different, Robert Loggia who, as Mr. Eddy, unleashes his rage at an ignorant motorist for tailgating him, seeing Alice and Pete have sex in front of a car’s headlights, and the final scene where a character transforms in a hideously angry fashion. All of them are aided by the haunting musical soundscapes created by Angelo Badalamenti and Trent Reznor, the cinematography of Peter Deming, and the strange appearances pf both Richard Pryor and Gary Busey which had me wondering if Lynch was using dream logic in the same way Darren Aronofsky did in “Mother.”

“Lost Highway” provided me with one of the most unique experiences I have ever had. It left me at odds upon the beginning of its end credits, but it stayed with me from there on out, and I constantly find myself returning to it and its awesome soundtrack. This truly is an art picture as it can be interpreted in many ways, and I know I will come back to it again before I know it. Just remember one thing, Dick Laurent is dead.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Edge of Tomorrow’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

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

Edge of Tomorrow” is a film that, on paper, had all the ingredients for a film I would enjoy.  Tom Cruise has always been an actor who has never been afraid to really throw himself into a project.  He takes his work seriously, and it shows with the films he releases.  He has great quality control.  Emily Blunt is one of the best-working actresses in Hollywood with a ton of range and depth.  When you throw in director, Doug Liman (known for action films such as the “The Bourne Identity” and “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”), it seemed like a recipe for a fun action film featuring some impressive action sequences and top-notch performances by its leads. However, the film forgot one of the most important ingredients of any truly successful action film: a great story.  It uses the Groundhog Day gimmick of repeating the same day over and over again.

A group of aliens, which are known as “Mimics,” are coming to destroy Earth.  They are fast, smart, and incredibly difficult to defeat. U.S. Army Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is thrown into the fire by General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson) to help what is essentially a suicide mission against these Mimics. William Cage makes sure to tell him he has no combat experience, and he is not fit for any type of action. Brigham, however, is only looking out for himself, and he is looking to make Cage the fall guy. When he’s arrested and sent to Heathrow Airport, Cage soon discovers he is in way over his head. He’s part of a ragtag group of misfits known as the J-Squad.

Cage is killed instantly and starts to have the same day over and over again.  If this sounds familiar, it is because this formula has been used countless times in other films, most recently with the “Happy Death Day” franchise. During one of his multiple trips to France, he ends up meeting Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt).  It doesn’t take long for them to connect, and she reveals to Cage she also once had the same power he now possesses, where she had to repeat the same day over and over again.  She has since lost it.  If the two of them can team up, maybe together they can figure out a way to save the world from the Mimics.

“Edge of Tomorrow” is a very complicated film to follow at times. All of this talk about Mimics, alphas, betas, superorganisms and loops starts to become quite tedious after a while.  This should have just been a fun, easy-to-follow film with some action and laughs thrown in the mix.  There is plenty of action, in fact, there is too much of it.  At times, it really took me out of the film. A little bit of character development and a little time to stop and smell the roses would have been appreciated. Any great action film takes the time to really let us get to know about our main characters. We know absolutely nothing about them. Cruise and Blunt are entertaining when paired together, but it doesn’t take long for the film to resort to wall-to-wall action right away.

Between the convoluted story, the non-stop action and lack of character development, I found it hard to really get into “Edge of Tomorrow.” I can’t deny the special effects are impressive and the Mimics look really good, but I didn’t sign up for either of them though, I realize I’m in the minority on this 2014 film, which made quite an impression with a majority of critics. I truly wanted to like this film, and I was prepared to sit back and shut my brain off and enjoy myself for two hours. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief for that long because the film was throwing too much at me with little rhyme or reason.  It didn’t take the time to explain things or to make us care about what was happening on screen.

* * out of * * * *

4K Info: “Edge of Tomorrow” is released on a two-disc 4K Combo Pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It comes with the 4K, Blu-ray, and a digital copy of the film.  It has a running time of 113 minutes and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language, and brief suggestive material.

Audio Info: The audio formats for this film are Dolby Atmos-TrueHD: English, DTS-HD MA: French, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French, and Spanish. The film has subtitles in English, French, and Spanish. I’m always a huge fan of Dolby Atmos audio, and it really stands out in a film like this.

Video Info: The 4K is released on 2160p Ultra High Definition. The High Dynamic Range really makes the film look moody, dark, and shadowy. It’s an impressive looking 4K. The Blu-Ray is in 1080p High Definition.

Special Features:

Operation Downfall – Adrenaline Cut

Storming the Beach

Weapons of the Future

Creatures Not of This World

On The Edge with Doug Liman

Deleted Scenes

Should You Buy It?

Sadly, I can’t recommend you go out and purchase “Edge of Tomorrow.”  However, if you are a fan of the 2014 film, I would encourage you to upgrade from the Blu-ray to the 4K.  There is a noticeable difference between the two formats in terms of picture quality and audio.  It had been eight years since I watched the film, and I didn’t think much of it back then.  I thought maybe a second viewing would give me a new appreciation for the film.  I’m sad to report that is not the case.  It’s still not a film I enjoy or can recommend you pick up unless you own the Blu-ray and want the 4K experience.  I like all of the participants in the film, but the storyline has been done before and done better. The actors are really hampered by the exhausting script. It’s too much movie and there is no brain behind it.  The characters are also written without a lot of thought behind them. The film is simply eye candy with its special effects.

**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.

‘The Great Gatsby’ – Even Baz Luhrmann Can’t Bring Fitzgerald’s Classic Novel to Life

I once had a teacher in college who told me filmmakers keep making the same movie over again and again without even realizing it, and Baz Luhrmann is a prime example of this. His “Romeo & Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge” dealt with characters looking back at a past they can never return to and of love affairs which ended tragically. His adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel “The Great Gatsby” is not any different from those two films, and it is filled with extravagant scenes that dazzle us with amazing choreography and beautiful images. But while it is a beautiful movie to look at, this film lacks the heart and soul I usually expect Luhrmann’s works to have in an infinite degree.

This “Gatsby” adaptation starts with Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a writer and bond broker, telling us about his time in New York during the 1920s (better known in the history books as the “Roaring 20s”). Right there I knew the movie was in trouble as Luhrmann started “Moulin Rouge” off with Ewan McGregor reflecting on an exhilarating past and a great love which has long since passed him by, and Maguire is a very similar character in that respect. From there, it is clear that this movie will not have a happy ending, and the characters we see enjoying themselves will soon experience a suffering which will be endless. We’re not even five minutes into this cinematic adaptation, and already I can tell this will be familiar territory for Luhrmann, way too familiar.

The 1920s were a time of great wealth and endless partying which came to a crashing halt the following decade when the stock market crashed and Americans found themselves out of a job (sound familiar?). Carraway finds himself caught up in all the hoopla which came with those times, and it’s at an especially over the top party where he meets Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a man as rich as he is mysterious. From there they become inseparable friends as Gatsby shows Carraway around town and introduces him to the most influential people one could ever hope to meet. But it’s when Gatsby takes a strong interest in Carraway’s cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), that things start changing and not for the better. It turns out Gatsby knew Daisy in the past, and now Gatsby will do everything in his power to win Daisy back from her suspicious husband, polo player Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton).

“The Great Gatsby” has the same problem Luhrmann’s “Romeo & Juliet” had during its first half; it thrust a lot of style and flash cuts at us at an alarming rate to where I was desperate for things to slow down so I could breathe and actually everything in on a deeper level. Now Luhrmann did slow things down in “Romeo & Juliet” to where we connected emotionally with the story and its characters, and he successfully reinvigorated one of William Shakespeare’s most overdone plays to where it felt fresh and exciting again. But this time he gets so caught up in the spectacle he is putting up for us all to see to where it became impossible for me to connect with anything or anybody here. The sensory overload I got in his previous films was exhilarating, but here everything feels so exhausting and artificial to where it doesn’t matter if you watch this film in 2D or 3D (I watched it in 2D because I refused to spend the extra money). The characters may be starving for emotion, but it’s the audience that needs it even more.

Whether or not you have read Fitzgerald’s classic novel, it’s easy to see the direction this movie was going to take. As a result, I found myself getting very bored and impatient as I knew Gatsby would eventually stumble over his own ambitions, and I just wanted see him get his ass kicked sooner rather than later. Heck, I even got up and went to the bathroom at one point, and that should you give you an idea of how frustrating this movie was for me. I was able to sit through “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” despite needing to pee really bad, but this one I could not hold it in. Yes, that’s too much information for you readers, but anyway…

On the upside, the actors acquit themselves very nicely. You can’t really go wrong with DiCaprio, and he does make quite the dashing Gatsby, but there should be a drinking game based on how many times he calls people “old sport” throughout, and I seriously got sick of him saying that. His good friend Tobey Maguire has his back as Nick Carraway, and he does a lovely job of reading Fitzgerald’s words to where I’d like to hear him do a reading of the novel as he brings us a lot closer to the author’s dialogue than Luhrmann does.

Carey Mulligan, however, is seriously miscast as Daisy Buchanan. She still gets to do her whole woefully vulnerable lady act which she played to perfection in “An Education,” but Mulligan is not able to nail the other complexities this role has to offer. Yes, she is a lovely presence to watch in this or in any other movie, but this is not enough to save her performance here.

Clearly a tremendous amount of effort was put forth by the cast and crew on “The Great Gatsby,” but it doesn’t change the fact that the movie is a profound disappointment. Fitzgerald’s novel has been adapted several times with limited success, and many say it is an exceedingly hard book to translate to the silver screen. Luhrmann looked like he was the man who could do it justice, but he doesn’t come close. What a shame. We can always count on him to give us spectacle as well as substance, but this movie is all spectacle and not enough substance.

* ½ out of * * * *

Julian Fellowes’ ‘Romeo & Juliet’ is Seriously Lacking in Passion

William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is a play which has been done to death. Keeping track of all the adaptations is aggravating, but on top of that, there are other plays or musicals which were, at the very least, inspired by this classic tragedy (“West Side Story” is the most obvious example). Since Shakespeare’s time, “Romeo and Juliet” has been done in many different styles and taken place in various time periods. It seems the only way to do a production of it these days is to break free of the way it was done during Shakespeare’s time. Baz Luhrmann’s modern take on “Romeo and Juliet” was absolutely entrancing in how it made us feel like we were watching the doomed story of two young lovers for the first time, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes never had a shortage of chemistry between them.

Taking all of that into account, that makes this “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Carlo Carlei and adapted to the screen by Julian Fellowes, come across as a renegade version for they have instead brought Shakespeare’s work back to its traditional and romantic version. It is filled with medieval costumes, balcony scenes and duels, and the filmmakers even got the opportunity to shoot it at the story’s original location of Verona, Italy. But for all the effort put into this umpteenth film adaptation of this famous tragedy, the whole endeavor feels like it is severely lacking in passion.

Perhaps the main problem is the lack of chemistry between the two leads, Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld, who play Romeo and Juliet. When they first meet at the dance, their attraction to one another is not all that palpable and feels rather forced. While both actors do their best to connect with one another, their relationship never felt believable enough for me to really care about what happens to them. In fact, towards the end, I started to get impatient and kept waiting for Romeo to do himself in already.

Steinfeld is a wonderful actress, having deservedly received an Oscar nomination for her performance in “True Grit” (though she should have been for Best Actress, not Best Supporting Actress). As Juliet, she does well and has quite a radiant smile which lights up the screen. At the same time, she seems miscast in this role when paired with Booth. While Steinfeld is around the same age as Juliet, she seems too young to be taking on this famous role now. It’s a shame to say this because she isn’t bad, but I came out of this movie thinking an actress a few years older might have fit this role more realistically.

As for Booth, it takes too long for him to come to life as Romeo. When we first see him, he doesn’t seem all that crazy about Rosalind even after we see him making a bust of her likeness. When it comes to the classic balcony scene, the attraction between him and Juliet feels awkward as they still don’t seem as madly in love as they are supposed to be. Booth’s performance does get stronger as the movie goes on, but he never digs deep enough into the character to where it seems like he is only touching the surface of Romeo’s dilemmas.

Carlei, whose work as a director I am not familiar with, does capture the beauty of Verona, Italy to where it made me want to get on a plane and visit it. His handling of the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues, however, is not clearly defined, and we never quite get a full idea of what made them hate each other in the first place. This is the original gang story for crying out loud! As for the battle scenes, they feel a bit too staged and could have been far more exciting.

Fellowes is best known for creating the popular show “Downton Abbey,” and he seems a natural to adapt any Shakespeare play let alone “Romeo and Juliet.” He preserves the dialogue for the most part, and it’s clear he has a deep love and understanding for the Bard’s words. At the same time, this film has been severely affected by a misleading advertisement which stated it would not be using Shakespeare’s traditional dialogue but would still follow the play’s plot. But having been exposed to this play many times myself, I could not tell the difference between what Shakespeare wrote and what Fellowes came up with. Go figure.

It is a real shame because this “Romeo & Juliet” has a number of great supporting performances which almost make it worth watching. Ed Westwick makes a fierce antagonist out of Tybalt, his eyes filled with rage over a betrayal he can never forgive. Lesley Manville, best known for work with Mike Leigh, is priceless as the Nurse and succeeds in taking this character from her ecstatic highs to her tragic lows. Manville never misses a beat every time she appears onscreen.

There’s also Damian Lewis as Lord Capulet, and he gives the character of Juliet’s father a twisted feel which really makes his performance stand out. Kodi-Smit McPhee is very strong as Romeo’s good friend Benvolio, Natascha McElhone gives us a sympathetic Lady Capulet, and Stellan Skarsgård is a welcome presence as the Prince.

But it should be no surprise to see Paul Giamatti stealing the show as Friar Laurence, as it’s truly one of the best interpretations of this role I have ever seen. Friar Laurence is the moral center of “Romeo & Juliet,” and he sees the union between the two lovers as a way of bringing peace between the Capulets and the Montagues. I could tell just how much Giamatti put his heart and soul into this role, and I wept with him when his well-intentioned plans fall apart so tragically.

Still, despite all the great performances, this “Romeo & Juliet” never really comes to life in the way a truly great Shakespearean production does. The language in his plays is so rich, and it can be so intoxicating to take in when done right. This is how I felt after watching Kenneth Branagh’s cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare’s work, but Carlei is not as successful in making this famous playwright’s words come alive, and he is working from a script by Fellowes for crying out loud!

Every generation definitely deserves their own version of “Romeo and Juliet,” but this one is not going to do it. They will be better off with Baz Luhrmann’s version which ended up breaking my heart as it made me wonder if things might take a different turn from what we remember. Or perhaps it was just that big crush I had on Clare Danes which made Baz Luhrmann’s movie affect me so much. Oh well…

* * out of * * * *

‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Was Well Worth the Wait

Movies take a long time to make and bring to the silver screen, but this one took forever to debut thanks to the pandemic and a superstar’s strong desire to ensure it DID NOT debut on streaming. This is also a sequel which comes to us 36 years after the original, and that one was a classic 1980’s flick. Can you make a sequel to an 80’s classic in another decade where things have changed ever so much? I mean, Paul Hogan tried to do this with “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles,” and it proved to be one of the most needless sequels in cinematic history.

Well, when it comes to “Top Gun: Maverick,” this is a sequel which proves to be well worth the wait. While it does pay some homage to its predecessor, especially in its opening moments where the music of Harold Faltermeyer and Kenny Loggins blast through the speakers and generate a wealth of nostalgia, this sequel is the rare one which largely stands on its own and proves to be even better than the original. Now that is saying a lot as “Top Gun” forever holds a special place in my heart for being one of the most iconic 80’s films whose VHS tape gave our home speakers quite the workout and proved to be one of the few from this glorious decade which I did not walk out of crying uncontrollably. Believe me when I say this is saying a lot.

We catch up with Pete “Maverick” Mitchell all these years later as he continues to avoid promotion in order to keep flying. He works as a test pilot who is determined to lay waste to any of Chuck Yeager’s all-time records. The problem is, pilots like him are in the process of being phased out to make room for drones. As Rear Admiral Chester “Hammer” Cain (the great Ed Harris) points out, Pete is on his way to becoming a relic. Of course, the Admiral tells Pete this at the same time he is forced to point out his talents are needed back at Top Gun to train a new generation of pilots for an important mission.

While his fellow aviators have advanced in rank, Pete has remained a captain and continues to piss off admirals and other superior officers in ways both intentional and unintentional. When the original “Top Gun” ended, Maverick was about to become a instructor, but here we learn he only lasted two months as one before ditching those duties. I have to say I was annoyed upon learning this as dropping out after such a short period of time seems rather petty of Maverick, but it also once illustrates what a rebel he is among his fellow aviators.

Upon his arrival at Naval Air Station North Island (a.k.a. NAS North Island), Maverick comes to meet a new generation of aviators which include Lt. Natasha “Phoenix” Trace (Monica Barbaro), the lone female pilot of the bunch, and Jake “Hangman” Seresin (Glen Powell) whose ego knows no bounds even when you want it to. But the two individuals who will factor most strongly into Maverick’s life here are Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly), and admiral’s daughter whom he once did a high-speed flyby years ago and now owns a bar, and Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw (Miles Teller) who just happens to be the son of his best friend, the still missed Goose (Anthony Edwards). Suffice to say, some here have not quite gotten over the past, and dealing with the present may prove to be even more challenging.

One of the things I have to address about “Top Gun: Maverick” is the fact Kelly McGillis did not return to portray Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood. Many consider this the latest case of ageism in Hollywood, but while I do not want to lay any shade to that, there are also several other actors who are absent in this sequel: Tom Skerritt, Rick Rossovich, Meg Ryan, Michael Ironside, and James Tolkan to name a few. When it comes to the filmmakers/ response to this, they said they did not want to spend a lot of time looking backwards, and to this I applaud them endlessly.

The problem with a lot of sequels, especially ones which come 10 or more years after their predecessor, is how much they reflect on what happened previously. Sequels are clearly made to cash in on the original’s massive success, and it gets to where filmmakers are a bit too fearful to tinker with an established formula. I was reminded of this while I was watching “Blues Brothers 2000,” a sequel I was honestly excited to see come fruition. But as I watched this movie unfold before me, the following dialogue started playing in mind:

“Hey, remember when we did this years ago?”

“Yeah.”

“Remember when they did that?”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, remember this bar owner from the original?”

“Yeah.”

“He was funny when he said what he said, you know?”

“Yeah, he was.”

“Seriously, do you want to turn this sequel off and just watch the original?”

“Oh yeah, way ahead of you!”

We love what came before, but not everything can be the same. Granted, “Tom Gun: Maverick” does not reinvent the formula or the genre it is a part of, but it does give us something new and fresh which makes everything we see here all the more thrilling. This is not a simple regurgitation of what we previously witnessed, but instead a look at the present and the challenges it presents for the characters here. While certain notes from the original are played on here, this sequel is not necessarily business as usual.

More importantly, this is one of those sequels which are better than the original. As incredibly entertaining as “Top Gun” was, it did suffer from cliches and a romantic subplot which the movie really could have done without. “Top Gun: Maverick” improves upon its predecessor in many ways as, even if repeats familiar beats, brings a lot more depth to the proceedings and more heart to where, even when things seem emotionally manipulative, I got so swept up in the action. I cheered as loudly as the next audience member during the climatic sequences, and this made me feel like I was back in Thousand Oaks watching “Return of the Jedi” for the first time. The audience got so involved in the action, and it filled my spirits in a way few cinematic experiences could have back then. Believe it or not, the same goes for this long-awaited sequel.

The late Tony Scott, who directed the original “Top Gun” and to whom this sequel is dedicated, gave us some amazing aerial dogfights years before. “Top Gun: Maverick” was directed by Joseph Kosinski who previously worked with Cruise on “Oblivion” and was also behind the camera for “Tron: Legacy” and “Only the Brave.” Like Cruise, he was clearly determined to not fake a single scene from start to finish. The g-forces you see the actors experience is no joke, and it made me wonder what was going through their heads as their faces were being smushed in beyond their control. And seeing those fighter jets fly through treacherous terrains at such high speeds was infinitely thrilling.

Kosinski has proven to be a strong director with a great visual style, and “Top Gun: Maverick” is his best film yet.

As for Cruise, there is no doubt about his dedication to authenticity. While, to quote a lyric from Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” all those lines on his face (or his forehead to be more specific) are getting clearer, he is not about to let age get in the way of what he wants to accomplish in a motion picture. When it comes to his star-making role, he slips back into it ever so easily, and he is not just portraying Maverick in the same way he portrays Ethan Hunt.

I also got to praise the rest of this cast as they more than rise to the occasion here. Miles Teller has long since proven to be a truly talented actor, and I love watching him hold his own opposite Cruise from scene to scene. Jennifer Connelly remains an infinitely talented presence as she gives Penny Benjamin a reason to stand head-to-head with a man who once flew by her at very high speed. Glen Powell tricks you into believing his character’s strong ego will be forever crushed, but it makes sense as to why it never does. And then there is Val Kilmer who returns briefly as Tom “Iceman” Kazansky, and his presence reminds us of how powerful a presence this actor can be even if cancer has forever robbed him of his wonderful voice.

It would have been a joke if Cruise did a “Top Gun” sequel back in the 1990’s or at the cusp of the new millennium. He would have needed such a sequel back then as “Cocktail” would have. His career was flying high without a need to revisit his past, but when it became time to do so, he was not about to serve us the same old shit.

“Top Gun: Maverick” for me is the epitome of a summer blockbuster as it makes you feel like a part of the action, and you find yourself cheering with the audience in a way you normally do not. While it not be a cinematic masterpiece, it does its job with sincerity and boundless enthusiasm, and like many, I cannot wait to see it again. Yes, this sequel was made to be seen on the silver screen, so please do so before it does make its debut on streaming.

I cannot wait to see it again.

* * * * out of * * * *

No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now: ‘The Room’ (2003)

After all these years, I finally took the time to watch Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room” from start to finish. I have viewed some of its most infamous scenes on You Tube from time to time, but upon learning it was going to be showing at the Landmark Theater in Westwood, my procrastination in viewing it came to an end.

When I interviewed director Jan Komasa and actor Bartosz Bielenia about their religious drama “Corpus Christi,” I wore the following t-shirt:

The two of them got a huge kick out of this shirt and encouraged me to check this cult classic on the silver screen with an audience. The way they saw it, this is the best way to experience this hopelessly bizarre motion picture as it had already become the next generation’s “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Watching “The Room” just for the drama is not enough. It’s the audience participation which makes it all the more worthwhile as the most devoted fans are quick to seize the moment and celebrate this film’s most glaring mistakes with tremendous glee.

Wiseau, whose name is plastered over the opening credits, stars as Johnny, a man who is expecting to receive a big promotion at work and is madly in love with his girlfriend Lisa (Juliette Danielle). But at the same time, Lisa is having a torrid affair with Johnny’s best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero, who I went to junior high school with, believe it or not), and this leads to inadvertently hilarious sex scenes which almost had me believing Wiseau and company were actually trying to sell “The Room” to Cinemax as opposed to a major Hollywood studio. Let’s face it, these “love-making: scenes are so ridiculously staged and choreographed to where they make the average episodes of “Red Shoe Diaries” and “Beverly Hills Bordello” rise to the level of high art. Watching Wiseau and Sestero make out with Lisa also reminded me of what Robin Williams once said:

“Men can’t fake orgasms! Who wants to look that dumb?”

Into this tragic love triangle comes a variety of characters, many of whom forget to close the door to Johnny and Lisa’s apartment upon entering it. There is Lisa’s mother, Claudette (Carolyn Minnott), who is far more concerned with her daughter marrying Johnny for financial security than she is in her recent breast cancer diagnosis. Then there’s Denny (Philip Haldiman), a young college student who is supported financially and emotionally by Johnny and is quite smitten with Lisa (who isn’t?). And let us not leave out Michelle (Robyn Paris) and Mike (Scott Holmes), the couple whose love for chocolate provides this movie with its “9 ½ Weeks” moment.

What can I tell you? “The Room” is filled with gloriously hammy acting and terrible one-note performances. Certain scenes are clearly shot in front of a green screen, and many images of San Francisco float cross the screen for the sake of making this movie look like it takes place in more than one room. Certain camera moves look to be shot on a tripod in need of some serious tightening, and the movie suffers from a terrible editing job as scenes feel as though they are put into the wrong place. To all aspiring filmmakers out there, you may fear your debut feature will look a cinematic abomination, but whatever happens, there is no doubt it will look far more professional than Wiseau gave us here.

And yet, as terrible as “The Room” is, watching it provided me with the most enjoyable times I have ever had at a movie theater. I haven’t laughed this hard at a motion picture since “Deadpool 2,” and unintentional hilarity hasn’t felt this inspired for me since “Troll 2” or Tyler Perry’s “The Single Mom’s Club.” Any film which has me laughing so hard to where I get lightheaded and almost pass out will always hold a special place in my heart, and this one is honestly no exception.

Granted, there are many movies out there which are truly awful, but the worst are usually multi-millionaire dollar feature films which are made with nothing more than the thought of a potential franchise that can keep the money train rolling in for years. Those ones end up having more money spent on promotion than on the actual movie, and what we get is an overhyped event where the anticipation proves to be more exciting than the final cut. Those are movies made without heart, and it shows in an inescapably depressing way.

When it comes to “The Room,” however, it is a movie made with a lot of heart but not a lot of thought, and it shows its heart right on its sleeve without any shame. The screenplay introduces us to far too many characters it can possibly deal with, and several subplots are never brought to a satisfactory conclusion. All of this reminds me of one of my favorite guilty pleasures, “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” which has many of the same problems but had a slightly higher budget regardless.

Wiseau remains an enigma years after “The Room” was released as many wonder about his past and present. He certainly has an unusual look which some might scoff at, but to others it shows a life lived long and hard. Regardless, his line readings of dialogue are ever so memorable even if they show how he emotes more than acts. “You’re tearing me apart Lisa” will never sound the same when uttered by another individual, and another’s denial of not hitting another will sound hollow in comparison. While harsh criticism is needed in situations like these, they are not worth the trouble here as they would simply take away from our enjoyment of this cinematic spectacle, regardless of how poorly realized it may be.

A lot of people who aspire to make a movie many times do so to leave their mark on the world. Wiseau’s path in making “The Room” is not all that different from what Rudy Rae Moore aspired to do when he made his first “Dolemite” movie. While the finished result did not merit a single Oscar nomination, it left its mark on those who were quick to watch it. The same goes with Wiseau who wanted “The Room” to be an epic of sorts. Well, his work is epic alright, but not for reasons he intended. Still, his film has given millions of moviegoers great joy even if it was of the unintentional kind. Perhaps making any kind of mark with a motion picture like that is better than letting it sink into the realm of streaming where it could easily get lost in an overcrowded cinematic ocean.

While Wiseau is in intent on making us believe he always meant for “The Room” to be a dark comedy, it is clear he wanted this film to be something else. But whatever the case, it is a memorable motion picture which will never be easily forgotten, and you don’t want anyone to forget what you did, you know? Besides, the term “male bonding” will never sound the same ever again.

One other thing; I was reminded of the following dialogue between Teasle and Trautman from “First Blood” in which they talked about capturing John Rambo:

Teasle: “Are you telling me that 200 of our men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?”

Trautman: “You send that many, don’t forget one thing.”

Teasle: “What?”

Trautman: “A good supply of body bags.”

Well, when it comes to “The Room,” I say don’t forget this: a good supply of plastic spoons!

WRITER’S NOTE: I am not going to bother giving this movie a star rating. Seriously, what’s the point?

Gaspar Noe’s ‘Vortex’ – An Unflinching Descent into Oblivion

This movie starts off simply enough with an elderly couple outside of their apartment in northeast Paris, having what looks like lunch and some wine as they are enjoying the long life they have had together. The wife then asks her husband, “is life a dream?” He responds, “life is a dream within a dream.” Seeing these two together in such a simple setting spoke to me of a couple who have lived what looks like a very successful life. It also proves to be the happiest scene this movie has to offer.

Vortex” is the latest piece of cinema from Gaspar Noe, a filmmaker I very much admire and have no problem nor hesitation in defending. This particular movie is his most mature one to date, but do not for one second think he has lost a single ounce of his audaciousness here. With “Vortex,” he takes us on a cinematic journey which I can best describe as being unflinching as we follow this couple as their mental and physical health are on a permanent downward slope. Gaspar begins this movie with a dedication which states: “To all those whose brains will decompose before their hearts.” This is then followed by Françoise Hardy singing “Mon Amie La Rose,” a song about going from life to death. Suffice to say, you know from there that this movie will not have a happy ending, and there is no music score from Thomas Bangalter to elevate us out of the bleakness on display.

With “Vortex,” Gaspar goes out of his way to utilize the split screen approach, which Brian DePalma used to great effect in his movies, and a line is slowly drawn down between these two characters to where their existence together will never be the same. They go about their daily activities in what seems like the usual mundane way as the husband works on a book he calls “Psyche” which deals with movies and dreams, and the wife goes shopping at local stores near Stalingrad Station where they live. But as she travels through the aisles of one store, we see on her face how lost she is to where it quickly become clear she has no idea where she is at. Keep in mind, this is just the start of the story. We have yet to see how truly bad things will get.

As for the husband, the work on his book is constantly being undermined by his wife’s deteriorating condition which shows itself in the most horrifying of ways. In addition, he is suffering health problems of his own as his heart condition has him checking his blood pressure every other day. Their only hope is the help they get from their son, Stéphane (Alex Lutz, playing one of the few characters here with an actual name), but he can only deal with so much as he has problems of his own which includes raising his son, Kiki (Kylian Dheret), and recovering from his mental breakdown and a drug addiction which threatens to overtake him in the face of inevitable mortality.

We know Dario Argento best for being one of the best horror filmmakers ever which such classics as “Suspiria,” “Deep Red” and “The Bird with the Crystal Plumage” among others. As for Françoise Lebrun, she is a highly acclaimed French actress who has appeared in a plethora of movies, most notably in Jean Eustache’s “The Mother and the Whore.” Together, these two do not act their roles as much as they inhabit them. With the split screen setup, this makes perfect sense as every single moment in this couple’s time together counts for everything. Even the most mundane of details carries a lot of meaning as these two experience a deterioration neither is prepared to accept or fully deal with.

I also have to give Alex Lutz a lot of credit as well. Not only does he inhabit his role alongside Argento and Lebrun, but he never overacts in the slightest as his character of Stéphane has to carry the weight of his parents’ mental and physical demise all on his shoulders, and anyone who has been through a similar situation can certainly relate. Still, the scene where he relapses without even knowing his son is watching him freebase proves to be quite devastating.

With “Vortex,” Gaspar is not out to pass judgment on these two characters or those around them. Instead, he makes us follow them are inevitable journey to death which we know is coming. Is it cruel of him to do this? No, not really as we have a certain denial when it comes to the finality of life. We know it is coming, but who is prepared to deal with it? While we say we will be there for our loved ones when they breathe their final breath, who exactly looks forward to that?

Watching this movie, I was reminded of some dialogue from one my favorite television shows, let alone one of my favorite HBO shows, “Oz:”

“Let me tell you, dying is a lot harder on the living than it is on the dead. Death really only hurts those left behind.”

“Do we care for people when they’re sick because we actually care about them? Or do we care for them because when our time comes, we want someone to care for us?”

“The state’s attitude to the elderly, any elderly, in or out of prison is… hurry up and die.”

With “Vortex,” Gaspar is not out to suggest any course of action, but to instead offer us an unflinching look at a couple’s last moments before they expire. Even if I felt the urge, I could never look away from the screen as these two individuals breathed their last breaths. Now while it might sound like I am spoiling this film for you, I am not. Some films you watch to enjoy, and others are meant to be experienced. “Vortex,” like all of Gaspar’s films, is meant to be experienced more than anything else, and I applaud it for that.

I would also like to add how “Vortex” makes me want to look at my parents and tell them the following:

“If you ever get dementia, I will kill you. You understand?”

Filmmaker Lars Von Trier was once quoted as saying the following:

“A film should be like a rock in the shoe.”

That is certainly the case with “Vortex.” This is not the first Gaspar Noe film to give you this feeling, and it certainly will not be the last.

* * * * out of * * * *

‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ Teaser is Here, Should You Choose to Accept it

It’s been close to five years since the last film in this long-lasting franchise, but now we get our first look at “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.” I should, however, state how frustrated I was to see it will not be released until July of 2023 which is such a buzz kill. All these exciting images are presented to us, and now we have to wait just a little over a year to see them on the silver screen. This reminded me of how thrilled I was when I first watched the teaser trailer for “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions,” and how deflated I was when we saw the year 2003 plastered at the end of it. We were so excited, and then we were made to wait a full year before we went back to the “real world.” That’s like putting salt in the wound!

Well, with Tom Cruise returning as Ethan Hunt once again, we are greeted with various images we have come to see in the “Mission: Impossible” films such as him palling around with his colleagues played by Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby among others. We also get glimpses of insane car chases which go through downtown cities, trains traveling through the countryside, and our heroic characters partying at a members’ only rave in the most glamorous of places. So yeah, this definitely looks like a “Mission: Impossible” film.

Having watched this teaser trailer several times now, this particular sequel looks to be not much different from the others which preceded it. Perhaps this is because Christopher McQuarrie is returning to director’s chair for the third time, or maybe I am just reacting to how Tom Cruise still looks like he hasn’t aged a day since “Mission: Impossible III.” I’m not surprised to see him “grinning like an idiot every 15 minutes” here and, in this trailer, we see him running really fast, and all by his lonesome as usual. When was the last time anyone rang alongside him anyway?

What stood out to me most in this trailer was the appearance of Henry Czerny who returns to this franchise as Eugene Kittridge for the first time since the original “Mission: Impossible” film from 1990. Hearing him talk to Ethan and explain how he needs to take a side makes me feel like this sequel will have very high stakes, and this always helps to add to spectacle on display.

One other thing; seeing Ethan ride a horse is something I have not seen him do before in this franchise. At least I can count on the filmmakers bringing in that as something new. Plus, I have not seen a train fly off the rails since “Back to the Future Part III,” and that should be quite the sight to see. And then there is Cruise driving a motorcycle off of a cliff, something we already knew he was going to do. It makes me wonder what motorcycle enthusiasts think of such a stunt. Once they learn what kind of motorcycle he let crash to the ground, they may be incredibly heartbroken.

And if you look closely, you will get glimpses of newbies to this franchise which include Esai Morales, Hayley Atwell and Cary Elwes among others. These are actors you can always depend on, and I have no doubt they will be great additions.

“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” is set to open in theaters on July 14, 2023. If you haven’t already, check out the trailer above. Whether or not this will equal or be better than “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” one of the best action films of recent years, remains to be seen.