“Tenet” is a film which should come with Cliff’s Notes or its equivalent as it is more challenging than the average Hollywood blockbuster. Thankfully, I was able to follow the gist of the story which has the good guys fighting the bad guys in an effort to prevent World War III, but I am at a loss for explaining how the characters learn to manipulate the flow of time. I imagine it all makes perfect sense to writer and director Christopher Nolan and his good friend, theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, but I have already watched this film twice and I still cannot fully understand all of which happened. While “Inception” and “Interstellar” did make a good deal sense over the course of a few viewings, it will take a few more for me to completely decipher all of which “Tenet” has to offer.
“Black Klansman’s” John David Washington stars as a CIA agent who is only known as the Protagonist, and “Tenet” opens with him taking part in an extraction mission which ends up going awry as he is captured and ends up sacrificing himself after an extended torture session. But instead of arriving in the afterlife, he finds himself in bed and informed by his boss, Fay (Martin Donovan), that he has been recruited by an organization called Tenet which, as a word, can open the right doors and some of the wrong ones too.
The Protagonist’s meeting with scientist named Barbara (Clémence Poésy) helps him to learn about technology with inverted entropy, meaning technology which moves backward in time. At this point, I found myself digging this premise as it is always fascinating to find characters wondering if they exist not in the present, but instead a past which has been far removed from what is considered to be the future. It also calls into the question the concept of free will as the Protagonist is made to wonder if we are part of a story with a pre-determined ending. I love it when free will is dealt with as I am always rooting for it to be shown as real even in a work of pure fiction.
The rest of “Tenet” acts as Nolan’s version of a spy movie as the Protagonist seeks to infiltrate the treacherous realm of Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who communicates with the future and is planning to give Earth a fate worse than nuclear Armageddon. In the process, he comes to meet Andrei’s wife, Katherine (“Widows’” Elizabeth Debicki), as well as Neil (Robert Pattinson), his partner in all things inverted or otherwise.
It is tempting to label “Tenet” as a time travel film, but Nolan has made it clear it is not. While Marty and Doc Brown can travel from one point in time to another in the “Back to the Future” trilogy, the characters here do not have the same power of instantaneous travel. To get to a certain point, they have to travel backwards in the past to get to it, and it is never an easy trip as the challenges prove to be quite draining physically. Keep in mind, this is one of the few motion pictures you will see where a character is saved from certain death thanks to hypothermia.
Like I said, I have already seen “Tenet” twice and still cannot explain all that goes on in it. We watch as characters live through moments portrayed both forwards and backwards in time, and the concept of inversion remains the kind of puzzle I am not quick to put together. With this film, Nolan may have bitten off far more than he can chew as the concepts here prove to be more cerebral than the first “Star Trek” pilot known as “The Cage.” Having said this, the film proves not to be too heady for me as such films can drive me to complete insanity or make me fall asleep while watching them. In the end, I am glad I did not come out of “Tenet” in the same way the average filmgoer came out of Darren Aronofsky’s “mother!,” desperate to make a lick of sense out of the cinematic chaos they just witnessed.
Nolan employs many of his regular collaborators here such as cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and production designer Nathan Crowley, and they provide us with visuals which would have been great to see on the big screen or in IMAX had any theater in Los Angeles been open a few months ago. This is the first film from “The Dark Knight” director which I have been forced to watch on my television due to the never-ending Coronavirus pandemic, and it feels like such a missed opportunity to not have viewed it on the silver screen. Once movie theaters open up again, hopefully I will get another chance.
One Nolan’s newest collaborators on “Tenet,” other than editor Jennifer Lame, is composer Ludwig Göransson who won an Oscar for scoring “Black Panther.” Hans Zimmer was unavailable due to his commitment on scoring Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” but Göransson comes up with something as propulsive and percussive as what Zimmer would have likely given us. In many ways, his music is as much a character as any other in “Tenet,” and this is one of those music scores which deserves a more in-depth study than it has already received. Like Nolan, Göransson presents his music to us both forward and backward motions, and the result is endlessly fascinating to take in.
Right now, “Tenet” may likely be seen as lesser Nolan as its plot is more complicated than he would ever care to admit, but even the least of his works prove to be more ambitious and original than much of what Hollywood puts out on a regular basis. Even though I was a bit frustrated in trying to understand everything which unfolded before me, I was still deeply enthralled in what Nolan had to offer this time around.
When it comes to making sense out of this particular film, please keep a few things in mind: the word tenet is a palindrome, and the term Sator Square gave this film its title and is a two-dimensional word square which contains a five-word Latin palindrome. If you want to learn more, go online and find out for yourself. As much as I would like to explain everything for you, it is best you discover certain definitions on your own. The actor Andre Braugher once said that “if your vocabulary is limited, then your thoughts are limited.” Be like Braugher and don’t be limited.
Okay, I have not seen this particular sequel yet, nor have I seen the workprint which has been floating around the internet for years. But seriously, I came across not just one but two trailers for “Grizzly II: Revenge,” and neither of them try to hide how god awful this film must be. It’s bad enough the title reminds me of another excruciatingly awful sequel involving a killer animal, “Jaws: The Revenge,” but this one is so shameless in inviting audiences to check it out regardless of its subpar filmmaking on display (and that’s being generous).
Truth be told, “Grizzly II’s” backstory is bound to be far more interesting than the film itself. A sequel to the 1976 “Jaws” knock-off “Grizzly,” it was made back in 1983, but its production quickly got derailed due to a lack of funding, constant feuding behind the scenes, and technical issues with its 16-foot mechanical bear. 37 years later, after a ton of legal wrangling, it is now being shown in its final cut. But unlike other long-lost films such as “Gone with The Pope” or long in the making sequels like “I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà vu,” this one is unlikely to be worth the wait.
The first thing we in these trailers is the appearance of a couple of Oscar winners, George Clooney and Laura Dern, and Charlie Sheen before he did “Platoon.” Their names headline this movie, but as we can see, they are not in it for very long. We see their screaming faces up close, and it is clear the bear will treat this trio as dinner since hibernation is out of the question. This is not the first time recognizable names have been exploited to garner attention for a movie, and it won’t be the last either.
From there, we are introduced to actors who are forced to spout ridiculous dialogue a film like this always has to offer. A female scientist tells a group that the bear they are hunting is “huge.” No! Really??!! I mean, heaven forbid the bear they are dealing with is a small one! Can you imagine a little cub going psycho on so many stupid and unsuspecting humans?
There is also a brief moment with Louise Fletcher of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” fame telling someone to kill the bear as soon as possible because there is a big concert coming up. And then we have John Rhys-Davies playing what I guess is a mountain man of sorts, and he has one of those dramatic moments where he pauses before saying something intended to be hair-raising (“It’s very bad… you got the devil bear!”).
Speaking of the concert, we are shown some of it as well. But while the crowd looks huge, the onstage performers look like they are re-enacting scenes from the so bad it’s good rock musical “The Apple.”
But perhaps the biggest problem with these trailers is the lack of the bear itself. We hear it grunting throughout and see its point of view from time to time, but we never see its face until the last few seconds. Before this, we see Davies preparing to attack it, and it looks like the actor is about to attack a big pile of wool designed to look like a bear’s legs. Clearly there is no real bear there as it would have gobbled up Davies before he had a chance to draw a weapon.
In the end, these trailers for “Grizzly II: Revenge” represent filmmaking and marketing at its most cynical. The producers are simply looking for a quick buck here as they are exploiting big names and this film’s troubled production history for all it is worth. This sequel may have been 37 years in the making, but that was never intended to be the case. Its production was simply a case of very bad luck, and now this sequel exists as a mere oddity.
All of this just makes me miss Bart The Bear, a real-life grizzly who upstaged Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in “The Edge.” Now if Bart were in this, it just might have been worth watching.
One of the opening scenes of the documentary “Belushi” features a packed audience at the Hollywood Bowl, waiting for the Blues Brothers to make their grand entrance. There was something about the size of this crowd which blew me away, and their excitement at seeing John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd come onto the stage as Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues was very palpable. When they do finally appear, it’s an exhilarating moment as Belushi in particular looks as though he was on top of the world, and back in 1978 he certainly was. But then we hear a voiceover from the late Harold Ramis who says about Belushi, “Knowing his appetites, I don’t think he’ll survive this.” As we all know, he didn’t.
Like another documentary about another “Saturday Night Live” star who left us way too soon, “Love, Gilda,” “Belushi” is at a disadvantage as we all know what happened to this beloved comedy icon and of how he died of a drug overdose at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles on March 5, 1982. Several books have been written and several movies were made which detailed his life and death, and Aykroyd once said how many of them were written by “unfeeling, unqualified personnel.” But with “Belushi,” writer and director R.J. Cutler takes the time to look at him not so much as a comedy icon, but as a man who had his passions and loves which deserve more of our attention than his excesses ever did.
Among the most interesting parts of “Belushi” come at the beginning as animation is used to illustrate his life as a young boy in the west side of Chicago. It was a kick to learn how he would sometimes go to homes of his neighbors to tell stories or do performances. Seriously, John was the kind of person William Shakespeare wrote about, and this is summed up perfectly in his line of “all the world’s a stage.”
To learn of John’s troubled relationship with his father, an Albanian immigrant named Adam Anastos Belushi, was a revelation of sorts as I am tempted to think this played a large role in his development not just as an artist, but as a person as well. Adam expected John to take over the family business which was the Fair Oaks Restaurant, but John was determined to become an actor. There is something about the last meeting between these two which seems to linger throughout the documentary to where I could not help but wonder how deeply this affected John throughout his life. Of course, I have to remember I am not a psychotherapist.
One of the benefits of “Belushi” is it contains interviews which are featured as voiceovers throughout. These interviews were conducted by Tanner Colby for his book “Belushi: A Biography,” and in this documentary we get to hear these interviews for the first time. Whether or not the thoughts of Aykroyd, Lorne Michaels, Carrie Fisher or John Landis surprise you in the slightest, I am thankful we get to hear their most specific thoughts about John as they help to fully describe a man who would have truly done anything to get a laugh from everyone and anyone.
But perhaps the most telling addition to “Belushi” is the participation of John’s widow, Judith Belushi-Pisano who shares, among other things, the letters John wrote to her over the years. In those letters, we see how John was hungry for success, that he did not want to be like his father, and how even he knew he was on a path to self-destruction. The one letter which stood out to me the most was when John confessed to Judith of how he didn’t know how to be comfortable with himself in life. This is a man who yearned to connect with other people, and the one thing he craved, success, kept him from do so.
There was a point where John was in the number one movie in America (“Animal House”), had the number one album in the country (the Blues Brothers’ “Briefcase Full of Blues”), and was starring on the television phenomenon “SNL.” While this may have seemed like a tremendous accomplishment, it is almost treated as though it were a death knell for John as he had nowhere to go but down. Lorne Michaels once said drugs did not kill John, fame did. After watching this documentary, I could not agree more.
Watching “Belushi” quickly reminded of other documentaries about other tremendous talents whose lives were cut far too short. There was Asif Kapadia’s “Amy” which gave Amy Winehouse the eulogy she never would have received from any other filmmaker, and we watched as she walked up to the stage in one scene to accept an award, and the applause from the audience kept getting louder and louder to where any cries for help were forever washed away from our collective consciousness. And then there was also “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck” which chronicled the life of the Nirvana front man, and the interview with his mother when she realized just how famous Kurt was going to end up being still haunts me as she quickly realizes he will not be able to handle in a healthy way. Like John Belushi, these are talented artists who the song “Shooting Star” by Bad Company was all about, and their lives were quickly swept up in the tsunami of fame.
Granted, there are some problems with “Belushi” as I was hoping this documentary would go a little deeper in certain areas. When it comes to movies like “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers,” they deserve their own documentaries as their reputations remain very enthralling, but I would have loved to see Cutler examine John’s performance in “Continental Divide” a bit more as this was a movie in which he dared to go in a more serious direction. And yes, there is the issue of Cathy Smith being omitted from here. Cathy gave John the controlled substances which ended his life at the far too young age of 33. I am not saying Cathy deserves to be crucified, but her role in John’s death does deserve some more insight as it may allude to how certain people treat celebrities who are at their most vulnerable.
Regardless, “Belushi” represents the kind of documentary which digs deeper than the average showbiz expose ever does. So many movies on famous people like this one typically just skim the surface and focus on the most controversial moments at the expense of everything else, and this one does not. For that, I am very thankful as I have always been a big fan of John Belushi, and until Cutler’s film, I truly felt I never got to see him as an individual. Regardless of how you feel about him, John Belushi was a human being like the rest of us who craved love and respect, and he should still be with us all these years later.
The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.
“Tenet,” written and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan, is one of the rare films to get a big release in theaters when it came out in early September during the COVID pandemic. While watching it on Blu-ray was an enjoyable experience, I can only imagine what it was like to see it on IMAX. It probably enhanced the experience quite a bit for moviegoers. That being said, I’ve always subscribed to the idea that a good movie is good on any platform be it Blu-ray, 4K or the big screen. I understand why this was released on the big screen, though, as it is a big screen movie with big ambitions. Nolan has always been a filmmaker with a specific vision, and he likes to give his audience a lot to chew on when they watch his films. He also likes to let them come up with their own interpretations of them as well.
“Tenet” is a film I watched for the most part on my own with my wife checking in with me near the end of it. She asked me what was happening and if I liked the movie. While the idea of trying to explain the film to her was daunting, and I was still processing the film as it was happening, I realized Nolan had me exactly where he wanted me. Even though “Tenet” has a running time of two hours and thirty minutes, it’s pretty damn exciting when you take in all that is happening on the screen, the details, both big and little. As far as trying to describe the plot and what happens to her or to anyone reading this review, I will do my best without spoiling the film or making it sound too convoluted.
John David Washington, who has quickly turned into one of our finest working actors today, is simply known as Protagonist. He is a secret agent who is put through a number of grueling tasks in order to see if he’s up for the task of trying to stop World War III through influencing time. We don’t know much about him, his backstory, or why he’s decided to take on this mission in the first place. Washington, however, comes across as calm, cool and collected in each and every scene, whether he’s negotiating or in battle. His natural charisma is evident throughout.
He’s part of an organization called Tenet, and this is a word which comes up a lot in the film as it is “inverted” and deals with the concept of moving backwards in time. This is put on display a number of times with simply stunning visuals which will leave your jaw hanging on the floor. If you are looking for an emotional core, it comes in the form of Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) and her working relationship with the Protagonist. While we clearly root for and spend a great deal of time with the Protagonist, Kat’s story is the emotional core of the film. There is also great work here from Kenneth Branagh as the villain. He’s very easy to dislike, and his performance is menacing and a little over-the-top, but it works in the world of this film.
The world of the film created by Nolan is not always easy to follow. There were times where I was lost even as Robert Pattinson’s character was explaining things to me with his Master’s degree in physics. I understand Nolan wants to keep us guessing and to question what is happening. I also know there are a ton of fan theories out there. It is always a good thing when a film can create discussion and debate among movie buffs. As a hardcore movie lover myself, I’m always looking to talk shop with individuals that look at movies as more than just movies. They live, breathe and sleep with the movie long after the credits have rolled. With “Tenet,” it is a film I look forward to revisiting a few more times to fully grasp and comprehend all it is about.
Let’s focus on the positives, first. Even though the film was not scored by Nolan’s usual composer, Hans Zimmer, the use of sound and music to enhance the movie is truly awe-inspiring. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even realize Zimmer didn’t compose the score until I saw the name Ludwig Göransson in the end credits. This is not to discredit the fantastic work by Göransson, it is just to say it is clear there is a certain style of sound and music Nolan is looking for with his movies, and he picked a great composer with a very impressive resume. I talked about the performances earlier, and they are universally good across the board with the standouts being Washington and Debicki. A few Nolan favorites pop up as well in cameos. Visually, Nolan takes his work to a whole new level with “Tenet.” It is a big screen movie all the way.
As far as the negatives, even though it is a good movie and doesn’t feel like two hours and thirty minutes, I don’t know if it necessarily had to be this long. I think they could have shaved fifteen to twenty minutes, and it wouldn’t have harmed the overall film. We all know Nolan likes to do everything big with his movies from the sound to the visual effects to the running time, but sometimes things can be scaled back a little bit. Another issue with the film is the fact it can be a little cold and distant at times. His films would be even more powerful with all of the sound and fury if they came with a bit more emotion, heart and more fleshed out characters. If you have great actors, you should use them more within the framework instead of letting the plot take center stage.
In the end, there is quite a bit to like about “Tenet.” I’m going to recommend you buy the film, and I know it will be one I’ll be watching a few more times in the future. However, my favorite Nolan film is still “Insomnia.” As mentioned in the previous paragraph, Nolan sometimes completely abandons character development and the heart of his films which can sometimes leave me feeling like I’m watching robots in the story. He also needs to understand that sometimes less is more. While I don’t necessarily see him changing his ways, there is always the hope of him evolving with his next project. “Tenet” is a good yet flawed flick.
* * * out of * * * *
Blu-Ray Info: “Tenet” is released on a three-disc Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Combo Pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. One disc is the Blu-ray, another disc is the Blu-ray special features, and the final disc is a DVD version of the film. The film has a running time of 151 minutes. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some suggestive references and brief strong language.
Video Info: “Tenet” is shown on 1080p High-Definition 16×9 Variable 2.2:1 and 1.78:1 (IMAX sequences). The film is gorgeous looking with a transfer that is impossible to beat! I couldn’t take my eyes off the visuals of this film.
Audio Info: The Blu-ray comes on the following audio tracks: DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, English Descriptive Audio and Dolby Digital: French and Spanish. Subtitles are in English, Spanish and French.
Looking at the World in A New Way: The Making of Tenet: This special feature is broken up into thirteen featurettes which go into great detail on the filmmaking process. This is why I love physical media. It is for the special features and the amount of behind the scenes details we get here. This special feature is over an hour long!
Should You Buy It?
Considering the fact that you are going to want to watch this film a few times and that it is directed by Christopher Nolan, I think this is most certainly a film worth adding to your collection. There is also the fact it comes with over an hour of special features on a separate disc. There was a lot of time, thought and effort put into this film as well as its Blu-ray release. While this is far from a perfect film, there is enough really good stuff in here to make it a wise investment. As I’ve said a few times in this review now, I want to watch it again and piece together even more of this elaborate puzzle.
**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-Ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.
The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent Tony Farinella.
Good horror is hard to find these days in Hollywood. Between the endless number of sequels, remakes and jump scare flicks, it can be quite difficult to find a horror flick truly worth of your time. However, the beauty with cinema are the little gems like “The Wolf of Snow Hollow.” This film is also notable for being one of the last to feature the late, great Robert Forster. It was written and directed by its star Jim Cummings. Thankfully for the audience, he’s up to the task of being the lead, and he has terrific comedic timing. He knows how to balance the quirky tone of the flick, which is why it’s such a beauty to watch from beginning to end. The film is 80 minutes when you take out the credits, but it makes the most of each and every scene and character.
“The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is set in Snow Hollow, Utah where not much of anything happens on a day-to-day basis for local police officer John Marshall (Jim Cummings). In John’s personal life, there is a lot going on as he’s trying to raise a 17-year-old daughter on her way to college despite the fact he and his ex-wife don’t get along at all. There is also the fact his father, played by the late Robert Forster, is having health issues and struggling to stay retired from his job as Sheriff. It also doesn’t help that some of the individuals working with him aren’t the brightest and most ambitious bunch of police officers out there. However, there is one bright spot in Officer Julia Robson (Riki Lindhome) as she takes her job seriously and is there to help out John Marshall whenever he needs her.
In addition to these issues, John is also struggling to stay sober. He’s three years sober after being in AA for six years, but the urge to drink starts to increase when local women are showing up dead left and right in Snow Hollow. He’s having a hard time solving the case, which is causing increased stress and an inability to sleep until he finds the killer. He also wants to prove to himself, his daughter, his father, and everyone else that he is Sheriff material. The longer this case goes on, the more blame he is facing from the locals. There are theories out there that it’s a werewolf because of the work of the killer, and he’s not sure if he believes in werewolves or if his mind is playing tricks on him.
However, with each full moon another woman is gruesomely torn to shreds. The stress and anxiety of the job and John’s day-to-day life is getting to him. On paper, this might not sound like the type of material which would produce a comedy or a solid horror film. It’s all in the tone and delivery by the actors and what I would imagine was a very specific script. The deadpan comedic moments are executed flawlessly. The beauty comes in the little moments of the film where the characters are interacting with each other. John also has an anger problem, which produces some clever and offbeat moments. It reminded me a lot of “Fargo” if it had werewolves.
“The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is gorgeously shot as well, and this really stands out when taking the film in as an audience member. There are a number of overhead shots which are breathtaking. Near the end, Cummings decides to switch tones a bit, and this is a smart move because he transitions to a heartfelt conclusion that is satisfying on many levels. This is a prime example of a film with a $2 million dollar which makes the most of its script, actors and scenery. It was a film I was not familiar with until its Blu-ray release, but I was pleasantly surprised with it.
This is the perfect cult movie which is going to find an audience as it ages and more people check it out. With its Blu-ray release, now is the perfect time for you to discover and enjoy it. I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I look forward to more projects from Cummings in the future. He has shown a lot of talent and ability here as a writer, director and actor. I had never seen anything from him before, but I’m very curious to check out his feature film debut from 2018, “Thunder Road.” He’s the kind of talent who likes to do things on his own, but he has proven it is a task not too big for him. I highly recommend you seek out “The Wolf of Snow Hollow.” You will not be disappointed.
* * * ½ out of * * * * __________________________________________________
Blu-Ray Info: “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is released on a single-disc Blu-ray with a digital code from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 85 minutes and is rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughoutand some drug use.
Video Info: The film is presented in 1080p high definition. It looks outstanding, and I loved the snowy overhead shots. For a $2 million dollar budget, as mentioned, it surely stands out on screen and there is a lot to enjoy from a visual perspective.
Audio Info: The Blu-Ray comes with a DTS-HD MA: English 5.1 audio track along with an English Descriptive Audio track. Subtitles are in English and Spanish.
· The Story and the Genre
· The Impetus
· Working with Jim Cummings
· The Design of the Werewolf
· The Story and The Genre
Should You Buy It?
Yes! You need to support independent cinema which is daring, takes risks and has something unique to offer to the film world. I have a feeling I’m going to be hearing a lot about Jim Cummings in the future. The film also comes with some solid special features as well. The Blu-ray looks outstanding and really adds to the atmosphere of the movie. The more removed I was from this film and the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. It’s also only $14.99 at most major retailers. If you know someone who is a horror fan, this is the perfect Christmas gift to surprise them with this upcoming holiday season. “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is a delightful surprise. I really enjoyed every minute of this film.
**Disclaimer** I received a Blu-ray copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.
Sacha Baron Cohen has long since proven to have balls of steel in doing the things he does, and you have to admire the fearlessness he exhibits from one crazy moment to the next. But when it comes to him bringing back his most famous character, Kazakh news reporter Borat Margaret Sagdiyev, there is a special daring on display here as Cohen has every reason not to. He announced his decision to retire the Borat persona some time ago as the character had become too recognizable for him to prank others successfully, but now he’s back 14 years later in “Borat Subsequent Movefilm,” a sequel which lays waste to the most ignorant parts of America, and one which proves to be almost as good as the original.
As the film begins, we discover Borat was sentenced a life of hard labor after embarrassing his home country of Kazakhstan all those years ago. In addition to failing to marry Pamela Anderson and, in his own words, “make love explosion on her stomach,” the townspeople in his village now infinitely despise him. He even discovers one his sons, Huey Lewis, now hates him so much to where he has legally changed his name to Jeffrey Epstein. If this is not spitting in a father’s face, I don’t know what is.
One day, however, he is released from the gulag by the country’s Premier Nursultan Nazarbayev (Dani Popescu, playing a fictionalized version of the leader) to deliver a gift to Donald Trump in an effort to redeem himself in his nation’s eyes. Along with him for the ride is the daughter he never knew he had, Tutar (Maria Bakalova), whom he eventually decides to gift to Vice-President Mike Pence even if Pence’s mother or wife does not approve.
“Borat Subsequent Movefilm” makes it clear as soon as it can of how its title character can no longer prey on unsuspecting targets without being recognized. As he tries to walk down the street like any other person, onlookers are quick to greet him despite his best attempts to remain invisible to them. To deal with this inescapable situation, he retreats to a nearby costume shop where he acquires as many disguises as Inspector Clouseau did in all those “Pink Panther” motion pictures, and it is amazing to see what he gets away with.
I would like to believe it is easier to spot Cohen these days as few actors have his height (he is 6 feet, 3 inches tall), and those eyes of his have a unique look to them. Nevertheless, he still manages to trick those who were so unsuspecting to where we wonder if they have any contact with social media or the rest of the world in the slightest. While watching this “Borat” sequel, I kept thinking about “In the Line of Fire” in which John Malkovich played a government-trained assassin who employs a number of different disguises during his attempt to assassinate the President of the United States. Like Malkovich’s character, Cohen manages to fool so many into believing he is the real deal when they should know better. Like Clint Eastwood, I wanted to tell everyone here to look at the eyes as they reveal more than anything else on the surface can.
But as brilliant as Cohen is here, special credit needs to be given to Maria Bakalova as she proves to be as equally fearless in exposing the prejudices of others as Cohen is. Right from the start, she dives right into the deep end as Tutar and appears unafraid to place herself in embarrassing situations others would never be caught dead in. Her commitment to her performance is equal to Cohen’s, and the two make quite the team as they skewer the most unsuspecting people in America. Many of my friends believe Bakalova should be considered for an Oscar nomination for her work here, and I am in complete agreement.
As I watched “Borat Subsequent Film,” I wondered if certain people in America were ignorant either in a willful way or due to a poor education they were subjected to. Borat and Tutar come across those citizens who are not quite up to date on what is going in the world. When Borat asks a tanning salon employee what is the best color for a racist, the employee quickly answers without batting an eye. When Tutar swallows a plastic baby on top of the cupcake she vicariously eats, she and Borat head to a nearby crisis pregnancy center (not to be mistaken for a Planned Parenthood) to have it removed, but Pastor Jonathan Bright thinks these two are involved in an incestuous relationship. Still, he is not eager to terminate what he believes to be an actual pregnancy even if it was conceived in an unsubtle way. As for the debutante ball, I am amazed at those who choose to participate in such a bizarre event, especially the adults who prove to be far too admiring of the teenage girls being put out on display.
But of course, the most talked about moment in this “Borat” sequel comes when Tutar gets to interview Rudy Giuliani, the one-time mayor of New York City. Much has been said about how Rudy acted following the interview, but it does look like he was simply straightening out his pants. Then again, some might describe what he did as being the equivalent of “the Picard Maneuver.” Regardless, when Giuliani asked Tutar for her address and phone number, the average viewer had to be disturbed.
One of the few people who comes off unscathed here and rightfully so is Tutar’s babysitter, Jeanise Jones. Granted, she is being duped like the others, but at least she is able to offer Tutar some much needed advice such as women do not need to be put in cages, and she also convinces her not to get that breast enhancement surgery because, of course, she does not need it. It’s nice to see that, even when an individual is being pranked, they still can seem intelligent simply because they are more in touch with the world than anybody else here.
“Borat Subsequent Film” is in many ways a hit-and-miss affair. Not all the jokes work, but the ones which do work had me laughing harder than at any other movie I watched this year. That it is not the equal of “Borat” should not be a surprise as the first film came at us out of nowhere, and we did not see its comedic firestorm coming at us. With this sequel, we have an idea of what to expect, but this still did not deter Cohen or director Jason Woliner from taking another stab at American culture. In the end, we got a sequel which defied heightened expectations and delivered some much-needed hysterics during the clusterfuck of a year which has been 2020.
As politically incorrect as Borat and Tutar are, it is fun to watch them evolve throughout as they reach a new place of understanding. Of course, as the ending shows, and to quote a lyric from a Paula Abdul song, they have taken two steps forward and two steps back.
As for Giuliani, his career was circling the drain even before he represented Trump. If he ends up getting a Presidential pardon, it will not be for his work here.
Even though we are still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, there are still new movies arriving to us in theaters (those which are open anyway) and/or to our own television screens thanks to On Demand and various digital platforms. One such movie is “Wander,” a thriller starring Aaron Eckhart (“The Dark Knight”) as Arthur Bretnik, a private investigator who live in a rusty old trailer out in the middle of nowhere. We soon learn he is still grieving the loss of his daughter who was killed in a horrific car accident which left his wife completely catatonic. The perpetrators of this accident were never found, and he remains determined to find them.
One day, he is met by a woman who pays him to look into the death of her daughter who also looks to have been killed in a car accident, but the mother is not convinced this was the case. In the process, he uncovers a conspiracy which links to other cases of people killed in a similar fashion as well as to his daughter’s death, and he becomes infinitely determined to uncover it for all to see. But with his troubled past and a history of mental illness, one has to wonder if Arthur is really seeing the truth out there, or if his mind is playing tricks on him. “Wander” also stars Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Graham and Katheryn Winnick.
Directing “Wander” is April Mullen, a highly creative Anishinaabe Algonquin (Indigenous) filmmaker who is known for her passion, her bold visuals, and an ambitious shooting style which is truly amazing. With “Dead Before Dawn 3D,” she became the first woman and the youngest person to direct a live action stereoscopic 3D feature film, and it was awarded the Perron Award for its technological achievement. Her other directorial efforts include the erotic romantic drama “Below Her Mouth” which she filmed with an all-female production crew, and the action thriller “88” which stars Katharine Isabelle and Christopher Lloyd.
I was lucky enough to get a chance to talk with April Mullen about “Wander” recently, and in her director’s statement, she described the film as being a journey towards a truth unseen by most, and one hard to face. In addition, she also sees it as a critique of sanctioned government surveillance which has led to the displacement of many indigenous people through no fault of their own. We talked about this and more in our interview below.
April Mullen: Are you the marathoner runner himself, or did somebody else run a marathon?
Ben Kenber: (Laughs) I am indeed the marathon runner. I have run the full Los Angeles Marathon (26.2 miles) eight years in a row.
AM: Awesome! I just had to ask. I just looked at the (website) byline (“Cinematic Musings from a Movie Lover and Marathon Runner”) and I loved it. I looked at your website and I was like, this is wicked!
BK: I did not run the LA Marathon this year, but I am hoping to come back to it once this coronavirus pandemic has finally ended.
AM: You better because it pumps me up.
BK: Thank you. “Wander” really held my attention to the very end. This is always tricky to pull off especially with one like this which deliberately messes with your mind. When were you first introduced to the screenplay by Tim Doiron?
AM: Tim Doiron and I go way back. We started working and making independent films together 20 years ago. We come together and we’re like, what do we want to make next? That’s a very messy and exciting day. Five years ago, we wanted to create something with a main character who was really dealing with grief, loss, mental health issues and a huge amount of paranoia when it comes to conspiracies and government surveillance and anxiety, and of how to over come that. And then we thought, how are we going to bring that truth and that character to a world that’s commercial and viable for the entertainment industry (laughs). The backdrop was the conspiracy, the podcast, the chip technology, border control and my inner side of the truth; that indigenous women, 2Spirited warriors, BIPOC and displaced people have always been a continual target and victim of governmental subjugation and violent practices. (We went about) exposing that in a tight narrative through the eyes of one single character which is an unreliable narrator like Arthur. So, all of those themes became our mixing pot and then the rest is history, but it wasn’t as easy or smooth as we originally thought. We were like, this movie is going to be very straight forward, but of course it is so much more complex than we had hoped. But hey, we made a movie and that’s what it’s about (laughs).
BK: Exactly. Aaron Eckhart is terrific here. He has to run a gamut of being in a state of grief, but he is also a bit crazy as well. Did you and Aaron had to measure out crazy and grief-stricken he had to look throughout shooting?
AM: We had an unbelievable working relationship. We were attached at the hip. We could communicate through our eyes and even our physicality on set. I was never far away. I was maybe three feet away from him. He was on set every day, every second and in every frame of the movie. He brought 150% and was beyond dedicated. I think this role was so different and far removed from anything else he has ever played. When he read the script, he completely resonated with Arthur. Aaron himself is totally into conspiracies, podcasts and the dark web. He always said, if you’re not paranoid, you should be. We were riffing on conspiracies and chem trails. It was unbelievable how much material resonated with him. He came from a really strong place of truth, and then Tim’s experience with mental health issues also rang from a place of truth. So, my job was just to make all of those things come together and make Aaron feel really comfortable to take major leaps and capture that lightning in a bottle that he has. We went off script and we went off locations. Sometimes it would just be him and I. He would be in a car and I would be operating the camera. We were able to do that because the film was so small, but I knew Aaron Eckhart if that makes sense.
BK: “Wander” is kind of a mind-bending movie in the same the way movies like “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Memento” and “The Sixth Sense” were.
AM: Very much. It’s very much like a current version of “Jacob’s Ladder.” I feel like it is the 2020 version of “Jacob’s Ladder” (laughs). At least, I hope it is. We really hope it is.
BK: You have said “Wander” was created in honor of all Indigenous, black and other people who are targeted and have been displaced through border control on stolen land. Do you this is what helps to set the film apart from others of its kind like “Jacob’s Ladder?”
AM: I’m not sure. I hope so. In the statement (at the film’s beginning), there is so much truth to that. We did a lot of research with MK-Ultra and who were the victims of that and of who did the government use to test different technologies on people, and it was mortifying. In our history, what we have done to people made a huge impact on us, and we had to say something at the beginning of the film because it’s not just a fictional world although we both wish it was different. This is the world that has happened in the past and we didn’t want to ignore it, but we didn’t want to heavy-hand it either. But we just thought it was so important to recognize the truth of what has happened, and it is terrifying to think we are constantly being tested and watched. Chip technology is right around the corner (laughs). Five years ago, it felt a little bit further away, but today… What we assumed five years ago, “Wander” is way more current than we ever dreamt it would be.
BK: In the film’s opening statement, it says “Wander” was filmed on the homelands of the Pueblo Navajo and Apache peoples. What effect would you say this had on the entire production?
AM: It had a huge effect. Our very first day, we opened with a ceremony recognizing the land with an indigenous family and clan from New Mexico, very close to Carrizozo, and that set the tone of what we were about to embark on. And as a creative person, and I’m also Anishinaabe Algonquin, I just thought that to start off with the recognition of the land that is not our own and that’s where we began, I really hoped to allow for truth, vulnerability and a humbling of everyone to know our goal as a creative group of being a silent warrior; shedding a light on these subject matters whatever they might be. This one in particular was Arthur’s journey, but at the end of the day we are all creating something that we hope makes an impact and propels change. Whether you’re a grip or costumes, I just thought coming together as a group and really allowing that to begin on the right foot was important, and then every day afterwards was the same. And then on a personal note, I don’t know if you noticed, but the music throughout the film was really specific and really original and different I think than any normal psychological thriller. That was a very strong intention to collaborate with an indigenous artist out of Canada whose name is Jeremy Dutcher, and I really wanted to put indigenous language in the film to bring medicine and healing through the Ancestors’ songs on the harsh reality of what our past and our history was. Just hearing that and feeling that, whether we understand it or not, I think our spirits are ideally healing through song and language, and that was a personal goal as well in making the film.
BK: The opening shot of “Wander” is brilliantly shot in how the camera comes up to the scene of a car accident and then pulls away from it to suddenly go up into a crane shot. How did you pull this off?
AM: You are the first person to mention this, and I have to say I loved that you did because no one has! That shot was so, so ambitious. There was only four of us. It was a (camera) operator who I have worked with on three films on the Steadicam who was rigged on the back of one of our production vans. My father was driving backwards (laughs) along a deserted road which we had full safety on each side which then came to a stop. The camera operator came up to and circled that space that you saw. He designed, which we brought from Canada to Carrizozo, a walk on/off platform which I am obsessed with. It’s used in the film a dozen times. He was able to take the Steadicam and do a walk on crane shot. It’s independent film so we have to do these things. He at the end walks backward onto a platform after which a crane lifts him up. He’s actually standing on the crane that he made a platform for, and it is all in one shot. I wanted it to be at sunrise so our window was very small. We practiced about three runs to get the timing of the lines of the road correct, and I really wanted it to be shot in one shot and not digitally faked. We shot it four times and then we got it on the second take. I’m really proud of that because it is an amazing achievement for a small crew with a small budget and being innovative together out in Carrizozo, New Mexico. We had very little resources. We built that shot with a hammer and screws (laughs).
BK: I imagine the budget on this production was very tight.
AM: Super tight. Too tight.
BK: How much time to shoot “Wander” in?
AM: 20 days, but our below the line budget was very puny because we had these incredible stars in the film, which is okay because that’s what we need for people to be able to see the film. But it really tightens the clasps on everything else. It was puny, very puny (laughs).
BK: Speaking of the cast, you have a great set of actors on display here. In addition to Aaron Eckhart, you also have Tommy Lee Jones, Heather Graham and Katheryn Winnick among others. How much direction did you have to give these actors, or did you simply leave them to their own talents?
AM: As a director I am very, very hands on, so I am always within arm’s length of them and am trying to challenge them and steer them in new directions. I think Aaron, Tommy, Heather and Kathryn are all playing roles that they are not stereotypically cast for. Heather Graham was the grounded best friend and the tether to reality for Arthur. She was not a romantic love interest. She was the voice of reason for the audience. That is something very challenging and new for her, coming up with ways in making sure she was really grounded. She loved it, I loved it and we were both up for the challenge. Tommy Lee, he doesn’t usually doesn’t get to play an eccentric, fun loving (at least on the surface), Hawaiian shirt wearing, whatever goes kind of guy. It is very different for him. There were a lot of questions and bod language and how to say certain things. We were always, always communicating and it was unbelievable work because it was such a small set and a small cast in a lot of ways. There was a lot of one on one time which was fortunate and really wonderful.
BK: Katheryn Winnick’s character always stands out in an interesting way in this film, and this is especially apparent in the first shot. Was that by your design or Katheryn’s?
AM: It was written in the script, but we also worked on the script months before she got to Carrizozo. I love that she comes prepared. We were revamping and reworking the script to cater to her and her strengths, and what she thought was more intelligent or higher stakes for her character which was fantastic. That was really unique how she brought that as a performer. When she got there, she was unbelievable. She came onto set, it was her first day, and it was the shot where she has to jump out of a window and Aaron catches her and they start running, and it is the intro where she takes off her mask. As she was coming out of the trailer, I was like, Katheryn, we have 20 minutes, the sun is setting, it’s a one-take wonder because it has to happen at magic hour. Once again, trying to way too ambitious for what I have (laughs). So I said, Kathryn, I have your stunt double here, but then I would have to cut for the lines. What do you feel? And she was like, “I’m down, I’m ready, let’s get dirty!” As big and as Hollywood as she is, she was ready to get dirty and gritty for the role because that role is undone in a lot of ways because her character carries with her a lot of weight. She is manipulating all of the puzzle pieces which is pretty cool to find out at the end. She was just such a team player and she didn’t even practice. She was like, let’s do it. I was like, are you sure about the window? Are you sure you’re gonna go through it? Are you okay? She says, “done. I’m ready.” We did it twice, she nailed it twice, Aaron caught her twice doing somersaults out of a window, both of them did their own stunts and it was unreal (laughs), and that was day one on set! They trusted each other, they trusted us, they trusted me and it was an awesome moment of just jumping off a platform and creating magic together. It was awesome.
BK: That’s one hell of a first day.
AM: Can you believe that? I know! Unbelievable.
BK: The look of this film is fantastic. How much of it is due to you, and how much of it is the result of your cinematographers, Gavin Smith and Russ De Jong?
AM: It was a huge collaboration from the beginning. Tim Doiron, the producing partner and I landed in New Mexico six months prior to shooting. We lived in Carrizozo, that little town, in those tiny motels for four months. We were isolated from reality just like Arthur which was super inspiring, and Gavin and I were coming up with that beautiful projection and trying to be innovative with the small budget and small locations we had and really branching out to try and make the film feel much bigger than what it was. I’m obsessed with every detail, every moment and every little piece of color, light, production value and design that you see onscreen. Every little detail, I wish I could say it happened by accident and that we sneezed and there it was, but it is meticulously planned (laughs). I hope it feels real. I just wanted it to feel like real life, but it was definitely very much planned including the times of day when we shot. I really wanted to take advantage of those gorgeous landscape shots and the sun setting shots. That required teamwork with the DP and also out first assistant director and our production designer, my sister Faye Mullen, and me and everybody coming together to really try and achieve what we needed to on a tight timeframe. But the look was heavily established beforehand. I started taking pictures and photographs the minute we started writing. Five years ago, I was collecting a look book for “Wander” that I brought to the DPs who I have worked with before on several projects so we had a shorthand. We just wanted to make it our best work, so we challenged each other every day than we ever made it before which is a good thing.
BK: That lightning bolt in one shot, that was real?
AM: Oh yeah it was. Nothing is effects except for the little chip. Everything is real. Every sunset, every lightning bolt, all of that is just real and I’m so proud of that.
BK: Thank you for your time April.
AM: Thank you for supporting “Wander.” Have a great day and keep running!
“Wander” will be released in theaters (whichever ones are open), On Demand and on Digital starting December 4, 2020. Please be sure to check out the trailer below.Poster and photos courtesy of Saban Films.
Sooner or later, every standup comedian gets their own comedy special captured on film, digital or whatever else people are using these days. Richard Pryor performed one of his most famous standup specials on the Sunset Strip at the Comedy Store, George Carlin performed many unforgettable specials on HBO, Kevin Hart got to perform to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, and Dave Chapelle has remained a comedic force to be reckoned with on Netflix along with others like Amy Schumer and John Mulaney.
And then there is Eddie Pence. You haven’t heard of him? Well, you clearly have not been paying attention like you should. Eddie has been a stand-up comic for many years in Southern California, has appeared on many different shows, and he is also the vice host of “The Ralph Report” with Ralph Garman. Still, he has not achieved the crazy level of fame others in his field have. But like many in this day and age, he has been busy fundraising in an effort to create his own comedy special, and it has finally arrived and been given the unique title, “Eddie Pence: The (Un)special Comedy Special.” What results is a solid hour of hysterics from a self-deprecating individual who is better at performing than he thinks.
With this comedy special, which Pence filmed in his hometown of Washington, D.C., he wisely sets himself up as an underdog. When rushing towards the camera in the opening moments, he is knocked over by a pedestrian who will not even allow him to say the title of this special which Comedy Dynamics took a little too long to release. As he attempts to give out free tickets to his show, he is greeted by one who mistakenly believes he is a blood relative to a certain Vice President who was recently upstaged by a housefly during a debate. Upon arriving at his appointed venue, the D.C. Comedy Loft, he is informed that the main room is hosting a comedy class on how to tell a joke, and it costs only $10 to attend. As a result, he is forced to perform in the venue’s Cellar room which I imagine is the equivalent of the Belly Room at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. Nevertheless, Pence is so determined to jump onto the stage to give us what he has got, and he is so pumped up to where he doesn’t realize his comedy set will not start for another two hours.
The set of the Cellar is very simplistic as it features a red wallpapered wall with bland white Christmas lights adorning it. If those lights were blinking constantly, it may have looked more like the seedy bar Laura Palmer visited in “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.” But while Pence may not have the spectacular sets which adorned Carlin’s HBO specials, he is not about to let his sparse set affect his comedy set, and it quickly proves to be endlessly hilarious.
Right from the start, I could see Pence has had a lot of experience as a stand-up comedian, and he shows a lot of confidence as he goes from one joke to the next with what seems like relative ease. As he points out how strippers are doing the Lord’s work or how no one can half-ass streaking, it is clear he has long since found his own unique style of performing and trusts his own point of view implicitly. Even I have never taken into account how strippers are doing the Lord’s work.
What I also admired about Pence is how he goes from one topic to another with the understanding of not staying on the same subject for too long. He is also aided by his director, Dustin Jacobs, who keeps the proceedings moving at a steady pace. Stand-up comedy specials usually have spots where things begin to drag to where you find yourself checking your watch or looking how much time is left before the end, but this special is never undone by such problems. Everything feels smooth and I never felt my attention wavering throughout even when Pence talks about how hamsters make the worse pets.
And like all great comedians, Pence saves his best material for last. His jokes about “Star Wars” are more than welcome, and he comes up with stuff even Kevin Smith did not include in “Clerks.” Pence’s biggest jabs, however, are at “The Empire Strikes Back,” still the greatest “Star Wars” ever made. The penultimate scene in which Princess Leia tells Han Solo she loves him before he is frozen in carbonite, and he tells her “I know” remains one of the most memorable moments in a “Star Wars” film, let alone any other film in cinematic history. But in the process, Pence provides us with definitive proof of how a similar situation will never play out as well in real life. In fact, anyone with a DNR order will find their wishes completely voided if those two words are the last thing they say to their spouse.
Is “Eddie Pence: The (Un)special Comedy Special” one of the greatest stand-up comedy specials ever made? Oh please, do not go into this needlessly comparing this one to others. Simply let it stand on its own and enjoy for what it is. Besides, all these lists get everything in the wrong order. There was one which even dared to put “Bill Cosby Himself” at a much higher position than “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert.” Blasphemy! That’s like saying John Carpenter’s “Ghost of Mars” is a better motion picture than his remake of “The Thing!”
Anyway, I digress. Pence proves to be a durable stand up comedian who generates many laughs for the most enthusiastic of audiences, and his “(Un)special Comedy Special” will present viewers with a nice diversion from the apocalyptic world we have been forced to endure this past year. But by the end of 2020, I hope to have an answer as to which comedy is funnier: this or “Trump Card.”
As with the deaths of Jim Henson, River Phoenix and Phil Hartman, Robin Williams’ hit me like a punch in the gut and left me speechless for a time. Here is a man whose work I had followed ever since I first saw him in Robert Altman’s “Popeye,” and we have always known his brain to work at 100 miles a minute. He was an extraordinary talent who kept us laughing hard as he managed to improvise routines out of what seemed like thin air. The fact we were now living in a world without him seems unreal even today, and there are times when I think August 11, 2014 should be designated as the day the laughter died.
Among the striking images shown in the first few minutes of “Robin’s Wish,” other than the beautiful vistas of San Francisco and Marin County, are images of newspapers, magazines and tabloid rags which pondered over why the Oscar-winning comedian committed suicide. Was it because he suddenly left a 12-step program where he was dealing with alcoholism? Was he in dire financial straits? Was he upset the show which marked his return to television, “The Crazy Ones,” was cancelled after only one season? Did he really never get over the death of John Belushi? Did all those years of drug and alcohol abuse finally catch up with him? In the wake of his passing there were many questions, and they eventually became rumors which spread like wildfires. As many sought to get to the truth, the rest of us felt so far removed from it.
The documentary “Robin’s Wish” is filmmaker Tylor Norwood’s attempt to set the record straight about what really happened to Robin Williams and why he died. It also serves as a deep examination of disease Lewy Body dementia (LBD) which may sound new, but has actually been around for many, many years. We also get a close and personal look at Robin’s last days before his tragic death, and it proves to be both very sad and yet hopeful all at the same time.
Instead of a full-fledged biography, Norwood looks specifically at Robin’s evolution as an actor and comedian. We see Robin talk about how the brain is “an extraordinary three-and-a-half-pound gland” and that he does not have an act as much as he does a “cesspool of consciousness.” He discusses his time at Julliard in New York where he got heavy duty training as an actor, and of how he left before he could have graduated and moved back to San Francisco to find acting work. When he couldn’t find any, he started doing stand up comedy in which he succeeded in, as one close friend put it, in “demolishing” every single audience he performed in front of. Back then, everyone was in awe of his talents as his mind moved at lightning speed, and this was only the beginning. Like them, we were in awe of what he could do.
Throughout, the documentary moves back and forth from his life to the subject of the LBD which, while it may pale in comparison to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or ALS, can be every bit as debilitating and deadly. UCSF Professor Bruce Miller is shown describing it as a devastating disease which is fast and progressive and a killer. It also increases mental disorders such as depression, anxiety and insomnia, and paranoia and delusions are also major symptoms. There is no none cure for this disease as of yet, and it usually ends in suicide. But even worse, is often misdiagnosed.
Robin’s widow, Susan Schneider, did not have a name for what killed her husband until she read his autopsy report. Initially, Robin was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but this was not the case. Susan says had Robin known what he was suffering from while he was alive, then he would have at least had some peace. As for Professor Miller, he described Robin’s case as being the most devastating case of LBD he had ever seen, and he was amazed the “Good Will Hunting” actor could move or walk at all.
As “Robin’s Wish” goes on, we see how LBD came to affect the actor long before he died, and it is devastating to witness the effect it had on his comedic gifts. Whether it was on the set of “The Crazy One” or the third “Night at the Museum” movie, he started to have trouble memorizing his lines and coming up with stuff to improvise. At one point, he tells someone how he is not himself anymore, and you feel his disassociation around everyone to an infinite degree. To realize you are not who you once were has got to be horrifying.
Learning about this mental disintegration from friends and colleagues such as Rick Overton, David E. Kelley and Shawn Levy helps to shed light on what Robin was going through as LBD was already taking its toll on him. To see someone lose gifts few are ever endowed with is painful, and it also reminded me of the last time he was a presenter at the Oscars. Whereas in the past he would come up with some hilarious thing to say or take aim at Jimmy Swaggart (“Remember, there is no such word as audit in the Bible, okay?”), he simply just listed the nominees and read the winner. Many wondered why he seemed so listless, and now we know.
Schneider deserves a lot of credit for being so open about Robin’s struggles as she still feels the pain of his death from day to day. The love they had for one another was very real, and we see the two of them at their wedding and in many pictures which illustrated just how close they were to one another. She also shares why the two of them had to sleep in separate beds at one point as Robin’s insomnia worsened to where he woke up at early hours and accidentally injured her.
“Robin’s Wish” does make a solid case for how serious a disease LBD is, and after watching the documentary there is no doubt this is what killed him. It makes clear what a wonderful soul he was as he took the time to meet with soldiers who were wounded, children who were sick and others who needed a laugh during a dark time in their lives. It also makes clear of the fact Robin was clean and sober at the time of his death. Drugs and alcohol did not rob us of him.
If there is anything I feel is left out here, it is the thoughts and feelings of others close to Robin such as his children or his ex-wife Marsha Garces whom he was married to for 20 years. Their absence here makes me wonder how they feel about all of this. Perhaps they were not invited to participate or chose not to. Even though this is not meant to be a full out biography of Robin Williams, it feels like some pieces are missing which would have made this portrait more complete.
“Robin’s Wish” is not the easiest documentary or movie to sit through as we know how it ends. The void the famous comedian and actor left in his wake is still deeply felt all these years later, and it is impossible not to feel bad for his closest friends. This is especially the case for the one friend who was informed of Robin’s death over the phone by a reporter who said he died by suicide. This is not the way to inform someone of their friend’s passing.
Nevertheless, as sad as “Robin’s Wish” may seem, it also filled with hope. As debilitating as LBD was for him, he fought it like a warrior even if he did not know exactly what he was fighting. We are also reminded of his perspective on life which he earned through a lot of life experiences and mistakes he learned from. To him, life was always about other people, and he simply wanted to make everyone feel less afraid. Norwood definitely finds the right note to end this documentary on as, while Robin may be gone, he shows we can still carry on his legacy from one generation to the next. No one who knew Robin Williams will ever forget the impact he had on others, and no one ever should.
After watching the trailers for “Bill & Ted Face The Music,” one question kept popping into my head: How can these two guys from San Dimas go from playing in front of the largest audience in the world to performing for a crowd of 40 in Barstow, most of whom were there for $2 taco night? At the end of “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” we saw news articles of them performing all over the place, and they even got to stage a concert on Mars of all places. Seriously, you cannot plummet from a height of fame like that, right?
Well, keep in mind that at the end of “Bogus Journey,” Bill and Ted did finally learn how to play their guitars, but they also performed a cover of “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” by KISS. We never did hear them play any original tunes. As “Face The Music” begins, we learn their debut song as writers opened big and then plummeted to the bottom of the charts in record time. Even worse, their follow up albums were ravaged by the critics, one who described their work as being “manure.” Taking this into account, it makes perfect sense they would end up performing in Barstow, a town in the middle of nowhere. Like Vanilla Ice, they shot up into the stratosphere and then saw their follow-up album being sold at a used record store for only 99 cents (and that’s on the day after it was released).
We first see Bill S. Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) at the wedding of Missy (Amy Stoch). Yes, Missy is getting married, and just wait until you find out to who. The two use the occasion to present the world premiere of their latest work, and while they play instruments with more confidence than before, they are still unable to put together a cohesive song, and the response they get is much like the one Spinal Tap received when they told the audience they were going in a “new musical direction.”
Bill and Ted are still married to the princesses, Joanna (Jayma Mays) and Elizabeth (Erinn Hays), and they have two beautiful music-loving daughters in Theodora (Samara Weaving) and Wilhelmina (Brigette Lundy-Paine). Still, they have not yet written the song meant to unite the whole world, and it appears as if this destiny may have been misread. Furthermore, their daughters are in their 20’s and still living at home, and their wives are starting to tire of the lack of the direction in their husbands’ lives. Ted’s dad, Captain Jonathan Logan (Hal Landon Jr.), refuses to believe he and Bill could have traveled in time or gone to heaven and hell and begs them to get “real jobs.” Yes, middle age has hit Bill and Ted real hard to where they feel the need to reassess their goals.
Then into the picture comes Kelly (Kristen Schaal), daughter of the late Rufus, who takes Bill and Ted to the future to meet The Great Leader (played by Holland Taylor) who is not exactly happy with where they have ended up in life. From there, they are informed that the universe is unravelling and will be destroyed if they do not write the unifying song in the next 78 minutes. How about that? You are tasked with writing the song which will unite the world, and you have just over an hour to compose it. Talk about pressure! As we get older, 78 minutes doesn’t last as long as it used to.
Bill, however, comes up with a most excellent plan to travel with Ted into the future when they have already written the song and to take it from themselves. Ted considers this to be stealing, but Bill convinces him it isn’t as long as they are stealing from themselves. Hey, it worked for James Horner!
“Face the Music” comes to us more than 25 years after “Bogus Journey,” so it is hard to know what to expect. It reunites not only Reeves and Winter, but also screenwriters Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon who penned the previous two films as well. I am thankful to say this sequel is no “Blues Brothers 2000” which relied on an overabundance of nostalgia to where I found myself wanting to watch the original. Instead, it does come with some good laughs and a lot of heart as everyone involved has worked their damndest to bring this last chapter of Bill and Ted to the silver screen and digital streaming for dozens of years. Regardless of what you may think, no one is out to simply repeat themselves here.
Both Reeves and Winter are clearly having a blast as Bill and Ted keep traveling to different parts of the future in an effort to talk to themselves and get the song. This allows the actors to portray them in various ways to where we see them as has beens, a duo ever so in love with English culture, and hard-core prisoners who have bulked far more than you would ever have expected (nice makeup work by the way). Regardless of the many years which have passed them by, both actors slip back into their roles as if they never left them, and they keep these characters from becoming mere caricatures throughout.
Also, believe it or not, there is some evolution to Bill and Ted. Granted, they are still pretty dense when it comes to things like couple’s therapy, but they also realize how their famous sayings of “be excellent to each other” and “party on dudes” do not have the same resonance as they once did. Before they go on their latest excellent adventure, they have to realize they are at a crossroads as things cannot keep going the way they have been as things have got to change. Still, it is worth it to see them playing air guitar here and there even as they approach middle age with inescapable apprehension.
Both Weaving and Lundy-Paine are fun to watch as the daughters, and this is even though the section where they search for famous musicians to create a band is the film’s weakest. It’s a bit of an anemic retread of when Bill and Ted, on their “Excellent Adventure,” went back in time to gather historical figures for their final history exam. Regardless, it is cool to see Jimi Hendrix jam with a bewildered Mozart who has no idea what he is hearing.
It is also great to see William Sadler return as the Grim Reaper as he stole every scene he had in “Bogus Journey.” He too slips back into this hilarious character as if he just played him yesterday, and not once does he have to struggle to get a laugh out of any of us. Seeing the Reaper attempt to make peace with Bill and Ted over the fallout they had with all those 40-minute bass solos is not just one of “Face the Music’s” funniest moments, but also one of its most heartfelt.
Each of the “Bill & Ted” films have had a different director: Stephen Herek directed “Excellent Adventure,” Pete Hewitt helmed “Bogus Journey,” and behind the camera for this installment is Dean Parisot. As a result, each one has a different feel to it despite having most of the same cast and the same screenwriters. Parisot is a perfect fit for this entry as he is terrific at mining material for both laughs and heart, and he proved this with “Galaxy Quest,” one of the greatest cult movies ever made. “Face the Music” doesn’t reach the same heights as “Galaxy Quest,” but Parisot does show a lot of respect for these characters and gives this sequel the heart it deserves. More importantly, he gives it a fulfilling conclusion which truly put a big smile on my face.
Upon first watching “Bill & Ted Face the Music,” I have to admit my feelings on it were mixed as I hoped it would be funnier. But after watching it a second time, I found myself appreciating it more as speaks to the values of friendship and music, both of which we need in these crazy times. Whether or not this sequel is all you ever hoped for, it is clear everyone involved put everything they had into it, and I do hope the fans are satisfied with what they see.
Could a fourth “Bill & Ted” movie ever happen? I don’t know, and frankly this one serves as good conclusion. Seeing them rock out at the conclusion reminds me of what Neil Young once said: