Film Review: “Camp Pleasant Lake”

Starring: Jonathan Lipnicki, Bonnie Aarons and Andrew Divoff
Directed by: Thomas Walton
Rated: NR
Running Time: 90 minutes
Deskpop Entertainment

Our Score: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

The slasher genre is no stranger to parody. 2023 ended with “Totally Killer,” the “Scary Movie” franchise was built on slasher tropes, “Club Dread” was Broken Lizard’s follow-up to their smash hit “Super Troopers,” etc. The examples are endless. So, while “Camp Pleasant Lake” might have an interesting concept, an understanding of the slasher genre, and a cast that’s more than willing to slop it up with blood, the film barely tickles the funny bone and barely offers up anything remotely new or fresh.

“Camp Pleasant Lake” is about the titled summer camp, the site of an infamous murder from decades before, reopening under new management. The new owners are interested in cashing in on Camp Pleasant Lake’s horrific history by serving as an immersive horror attraction. Attendees are brought in on school bus, ready to see some fake blood and guts. What the owners aren’t expecting is an actual killer to show-up, who starts butchering camp workers and attendees. What follows is all promise and no payoff.

The biggest issue with “Camp Pleasant Lake” upfront is the cast. There are way too many characters and none of them are the lead. We don’t get any alone time with any and most of the time when they do talk, it’s awkward, forced, wooden and unfulfilling. The only time where “Camp Pleasant Lake” feels like a film with living breathing characters is in a flashback to the infamous incident that made Camp Pleasant Lake so…well…infamous. Even then, that flashback basically tells you who the killer is, quite easily. The only way you wouldn’t notice is if you were asleep.

Like I stated earlier, the movie just isn’t funny. The jokes are one note. If characters thinking an actual murder is fake because it’s a fake camp causes you to have giggle fits, I’d recommend this movie. For everyone else, you’re going to be wondering how many times characters can see this happen and still think it’s all staged. In fact, at one point, the killer goes to a group of remaining attendees and workers, at least 20 or more, and begins stabbing indiscriminately. At no point does a victim let out a “oh no, this is real” or anything to alert everyone living that the killer is a real killer. Nope, this just happens over and over again until the credits arrive.

All-in-all, “Camp Pleasant Lake” is empty on laughs, empty on suspense, and sometimes empty on gore despite the killer slashing his way through 30 people throughout its runtime. It’s really unfortunate because the idea behind the film is fantastic, the look of the killer is great for being low budget, and the killer’s origin story could easily be built into a franchise, but it never blossoms. Since you’ll have an unpleasant experience with “Camp Pleasant Lake,” I’d recommend a film like “Hell House LLC” or “Ruin Me,” because they do a much better job with the premise of a fake horror experience going awry.

4K Review: “The Raid: Redemption”

 

The Raid: Redemption, a high-octane action thriller released in 2011, redefined martial arts cinema’s boundaries. Directed by Gareth Evans, this Indonesian masterpiece captivates with its raw intensity and breathtaking fight choreography, offering an adrenaline-pumping experience you’ll never forget!

 

Set in the heart of Jakarta, the film follows an elite SWAT team’s mission to infiltrate a high-rise building run by a ruthless crime lord. With limited resources and overwhelming odds, the team must navigate a maze of danger and deception. It’s a race against time and survival, where every floor presents a new challenge. All this culminates in a swarm of heart-stopping action sequences.

 

That is to say, The Raid: Redemption is a masterclass in action choreography. Each fight sequence is a symphony of brutality and grace, showcasing the Indonesian martial art of Pencak Silat. The relentless nature of these sequences keeps you on the edge of your seat, making The Raid an unforgettable experience for action lovers. Also, the close-quarter combat scenes are mesmerizing, displaying a blend of speed, power, and precision. Cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono capture every bone-crushing hit and agile movement, immersing the audience in the relentless pace of the battles. Watch the hallway fight scene if you want a perfect example of this. It’s thrilling and artistically executed, elevating it beyond mere action into cinematic art.

 

The movie isn’t just about style; The Raid also has some substance — the dramatic stakes are also at play here. Each scene intensifies the peril, with the protagonist facing increasingly formidable foes in a claustrophobic environment. The film cleverly uses its limited setting to heighten tension, transforming the building into a character itself — an obstacle course of traps, challenges, and foes. This ingenious use of space amplifies the action, making each encounter a physical battle and a strategic play for survival. Sort of reminding me of the Bruce Lee film Game of Death, where Bruce faced a more lethal combat as he progressed up in the building.

 

While primarily action-driven, The Raid doesn’t skimp on performances. Iko Uwais delivers physically and emotionally, portraying a compelling hero with determination and vulnerability. Though limited in character development, the supporting cast adds depth to the narrative, making each character’s struggle in this high-stakes environment feel genuine and urgent. Overall, The Raid: Redemption is a groundbreaking action film, setting a high bar for the genre. It’s a must-watch for action enthusiasts and those who appreciate movies that push the envelope.

VIDEO

The Raid: Redemption hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with an upscaled 4K color corrected picture. The Ultra HD Blu-ray release of The Raid: Redemption presents a significant upgrade in video quality over its Blu-ray predecessor. Scenes are illuminated with a brightness that adds depth without any issues. At the same time, black levels are notably deeper, ensuring darker scenes retain detail and texture. With the film’s limited and mostly mute color palette, Dolby Vision can’t showcase its power.

Nevertheless, the colors that do appear on-screen look more vibrant and accurate, adding to the film’s intense aesthetic. Additionally, the clarity of detail is remarkably improved. Every sweat droplet, facial expression, and intricate background detail is rendered stunningly sharp. Film grain is present but handled carefully, preserving the film’s original texture without becoming distracting.

AUDIO

The Raid: Redemption hits Blu-ray with a Dolby Atmos or a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD audio presentation if Atmos is not supported. This review will cover the Blu-ray’s Dolby Atmos mix. While The Raid: Redemption‘s Dolby Atmos mix on Ultra HD Blu-ray might sound like an immersive feast for the ears, it’s more of a front-loaded mix. It’s not all that surprising since most of the film’s action takes place front and center. Thus, it doesn’t allow for any sense of dynamic sound because that’s how the movie is. Regardless, the object placement is precise — aligning perfectly with the on-screen events, putting you in the middle of the action.

EXTRAS

The Raid: Redemption doesn’t have any bonus features on the Ultra HD disc. However, there is plenty of bonus features on the HD Blu-ray Disc including a very immersive Director’s Commentary and Anatomy of a Scene breaks down key scenes, providing an in-depth look at the cinematic techniques and storytelling strategies employed in the film.

FINAL THOUGHT

Finally, this limited-edition steelbook packaging pays homage to the film’s iconic imagery, featuring key imagery of Rama in the back and the film’s key art in the front. The design captures the essence of the movie in a beautiful, matte metallic finish.

Overall, The Raid: Redemption is a groundbreaking action film, and it’s still one of the best action films since its debut thirteen years ago. Additionally, the video and audio quality surpasses the Blu-ray version, making it a must-have for fans of the film. Unfortunately, there aren’t any brand new bonus features included in this release. But you get previously released features.

Film… ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️ Presentation…⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Extras…⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

 

Film Review #2: “Bob Marley: One Love”

 

  • BOB MARLEY: ONE LOVE
  • Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch
  • Directed by: Reinaldo Marcus Green
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 1 hr 47 mins
  • Paramount Pictures

 

Nearly 42 years after his death, Reggae music pioneer Bob Marley (1945-81) continues to be legend of near-mythical proportions on a global scale. The only child from a brief marriage between a middle-aged, white British plantation overseer and an 18-year-old black Jamaican girl, Marley grew up in poverty and was bullied because of his mixed ethnicity. Despite this, he went on to have a life that Jim Morrison would have quipped was good enough to have a movie based upon it. Unfortunately, while it contains a near-Oscar worthy performance by British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir (“Secret Invasion,” “One Night in Miami”), “Bob Marley: One Love” falls far short of being a triumphant biopic.

 

With the involvement and oversight by members of his family, “One Love” delves into a specific timeframe of Marley’s life from his rise to global fame following an assassination attempt in late 1976 to his triumphant return to Jamaica in 1978 to perform the “One Love Peace Concert”. The film, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green (“King Richard,” “Monsters and Men”), mistakenly does not provide much detail about Marley’s previous 30 years of life other than some repeated imagery that implies a sense of isolation and abandonment within the famed singer. The decision to fly through his trials and tribulations as a young man significantly weakens the sense of his ultimate triumph.

 

“One Love” tries to prevent the complicated marriage between Rita (played wonderfully by Lashana Lynch, “The Woman King,” “No Time to Die”) and Bob in some meaningful way, yet it too is glossed over with their underlying problems just briefly hinted at. Yes, there is a big scene involving them arguing but its impact is insignificant.

 

The highlights of “One Love” include Ben-Adir’s performance and, of course, its music. The soundtrack alone is worth the price of admission and should serve to continue to perpetuate Marley’s legacy. However, it you want to know the man on a more in-depth and intimate level, I would highly recommend the 2012 documentary, “Marley.” It is a riveting and detailed account of his life and music from his humble beginnings to his musical triumph to his untimely death.

 

On a scale of zero to five, “Bob Marley: One Love” receives ★★

 

 

Film Review #1 – “Bob Marley: One Love”

 

  • BOB MARLEY:  ONE LOVE
  • Starring:  Kingsley Ben-Adir, Lashana Lynch, and James Norton
  • Directed by:  Reinaldo Marcus Green
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 47 mins
  • Paramount

 

As a father I’ve tried to share my love for musicians I grew up listening to to my son.  It’s a family tradition.  My father introduced me to Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley.  I introduced my son to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and many others.  But there was one artist I neglected to share with my son, so it was with great pride when, at the age of 14, he asked me if I’d ever heard of Bob Marley?  Of course I had.  He was another favorite.  The pride I felt came from the fact that my son, without my input, was now listening to the music of a man who had passed away three years before he was born.

 

It is a tough time to live in Jamaica.  With two very opposite people trying to take power, the citizens of the Island country are caught between both factions.  Enter Bob Marley (Ben-Adir) a Rastafarian musician who, despite his sometimes political posturing in his music, only wants to bring the people of his country together.  He and his band, the Wailiers, are currently getting ready for a large concert when their rehearsal is interrupted by gunfire.  Marley and his manager are shot, as was Marley’s wife, Rita (Lynch).  But Marley will not be deterred in his quest to share his music and his message of peace with the world.

 

Produced with the approval and input of Marley’s son, Ziggy, “Bob Marley: One Love” takes a look not only at the man, but at the rise of a new music genre’ including the creation of, in my opinion, Marley’s greatest album, “Exodus.”  But don’t take my word for it.  “Rolling Stone” magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time lists “Exodus” at number 71.

 

While the music is important, it is the man we learn about.  As portrayed by Ben-Adir, Bob Marley is a man like every other man.  He has his faults, and the film does not try to hide them from the audience.  He knows what he has to do to get his music heard – mostly traveling constantly – yet sometimes questions the methods of how his popularity is being achieved.  When Rita reminds him, “if you’re going to swim in pollution, you’re going to get polluted,” he realizes that, try as he might, he can’t control everything.

The performances are outstanding, with Mr. Ben-Adir seemingly channeling the spirit of Bob Marley.  From the way he moved to the way he spoke and sang, it is an amazing performance.  Ms. Lynch gives Rita Marley her own voice, playing her as both a loving and supportive wife as well as a no-nonsense woman who is not afraid to speak her mind.  The music, of course, is pure bliss.  Most people can tell you that Bob Marley sang “I Shot the Sherrif,” “Jamming,” and “No Woman No Cry” and the film highlights those songs but you also get a taste of some of Marley’s lesser known songs, all of them enjoyable.

 

Thanks to the hard work of Ziggy Marley, “Bob Marley: One Love” is a loving and inspiring tribute to a man who left this world much too soon.  But his music, and his message, lives on.

 

On a scale of zero to five, I give “Bob Marley: One voice” ★★★★

Film Review: “Zone of Interest”

Starring: Christian Friedel and Sandra Huller
Directed by: Jonathan Glazer
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 106 minutes
A24

Our Score: 2 out of 5 Stars

Watch Nazis raise a family. Watch Nazis play with their kids. Watch Nazis tend to their garden. Watch Nazis get short with their Jewish house servants. Watch Nazis plan a children’s party. Watch Nazis discuss their career paths in the war machine. “Zone of Interest” is a lot of watching Nazis do mundane things while the unthinkable genocide at Auschwitz takes place just over the hedges, over the fence, in the background, or just upstream from children horsing around. That’s “Zone of Interest” for 106 minutes, nothing less, and unfortunately, nothing more.

“Zone of Interest” is visually disgusting because the family, made up of Rudolf Hoss (Christian Friedel), his wife, Hedwig (Sandra Huller), and their five children seem to live this simple life. The children are oblivious, even when they sift through prisoner possessions, to the atrocities happening next door. Of course, if the kids did know, could they fully comprehend the extent of what’s happening?

Rudolf and Hedwig know good and well about the insufferable cruelty and mass death. Rudolf is one of the architects, but he views this simply as his work duties. Hedwig knows of her husband’s work, and what’s happening, but she’s enjoying a somewhat extravagant life with a vast, adorable cottage to raise her family with an army of trembling servants constantly cleaning, cooking and washing. So, we have to ask, do Rudolf or Hedwig care?

As I stated, Rudolf appears to have the nature of Adolf Eichmann, simply doing his job and unfortunately, being damn good at it. We never get a vibe for his feelings on it all. It’s possible he’s simply doing it because that’s what society, his government, and his wife expect him to do. While this may be horrifying, the worst part is that Rudolf never seems to reflect or realize the Holocaust he’s perpetuating. Ultimately, this makes Hedwig worse because she is personified privilege. She lords over the servants with threats of sending them to the crematorium herself or upset that her idyllic perspective and life isn’t as lavish as it could be.

What are we supposed to take away from a film like “Zone of Interest? That evil isn’t necessarily evil, more than a mass number of individuals doing a horrific thing to serve their own self-interest, whether it’s career goals, enjoying the benefits of new life, or reaping benefits from chaos? Is it that this can happen again because family responsibilities can force the average worker to become a cog in a sociopathic machine? “Zone of Interest” is actually so banal in discussing the banality of evil, it fails to deliver anything meaningful or even lasting.

I wanted to like “Zone of Interest” because it was telling an untold story of the Holocaust. When the final solution is discussed, it’s always the major players, the big wigs and Hitler. Never is it discussed or talked about how often average people did horrible things in seemingly quaint areas. Years and years ago, I visited the concentration camp Dachau and the biggest impression left on me wasn’t the crematorium where countless bodies were burned, the showers where people spent their last minutes on Earth in terror or the vast dormitories used to store thousands of starving, hopeless humans. It was how this camp of misery and death sat nestled in such a picturesque town. Dachau was in operation for over a decade and I could only imagine the people at home nearby who eventually became used to this horrific sight and went about their day. That kind of horror and shock isn’t in “Zone of Interest.”

“Oppenheimer” Earns (13) Nominations for the 96th Annual Academy Awards

 

Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s epic story about the dawn of the Atomic Age, dominated the nominations for the 96th Annual Academy Awards, earning a total of (13) nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director for Nolan.  Also earning double-digit nominations, Poor Things and Killers of the Flower Moon, which received (11) and (10) nods respectively.  Both films are also in the running for Best Picture, alongside American Fiction, Anatomy of a Fall, Barbie, The Holdovers, Maestro, Past Lives and The Zone of Interest

 

The nominations were announced by Zazie Beetz and Jack Quaid, who for some reason seemed to think they were leading a pep rally.  Their vocal inflections and over enthusiasm for some nominees were actually pretty annoying. 

 

This year’s acting nominations were a great representation of the talent working today.  Kudos to Jeffrey Wright, who is great in anything he does, earning his first Best Actor nomination for American Fiction.  A surprise non-nominee in this category was Leonardo DiCaprio for Killers of the Flower Moon.  In Leo’s defense, it was a strong season for acting this year so no shame in not making the top five.  His Killers co-star, Lily Gladstone, became the first Native American actor to be nominated for an acting award. 

 

2023’s biggest moneymaker, Barbie, earned (8) nominations, including Best Supporting Actor for Ryan Gosling, Best Supporting Actress for America Ferrera and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Surprisingly, star (and co-producer) Margot Robbie, did not earn a Best Actress nod. 

 

Martin Scorsese, at age 81, became the oldest nominee in the Best Director category, earning his tenth  nomination in this category for Killers of the Flower Moon.  

 

The great John Williams received nomination number (54) when he earned a nod for his original score for Indian Jones and the Dial of Destiny.   

 

 

The 96th Annual Academy Awards will air on Sunday, March 10th

 

Below is a complete list of nominees:

Best Picture

“American Fiction”

“Anatomy of a Fall”

“Barbie”

“The Holdovers”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Maestro”

“Oppenheimer”

“Past Lives”

“Poor Things”

“The Zone of Interest”

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper, “Maestro”

Colman Domingo, “Rustin”

Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers”

Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”

Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction”

Best Actress

Annette Bening, “Nyad”

Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Sandra Hüller, “Anatomy of a Fall”

Carey Mulligan, “Maestro”

Emma Stone, “Poor Things”

 

Best Supporting Actor

Sterling K. Brown, “American Fiction”

Robert De Niro, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer”

Ryan Gosling, “Barbie”

Mark Ruffalo, “Poor Things”

 

Best Supporting Actress

Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer”

Danielle Brooks, “The Color Purple”

America Ferrera, “Barbie”

Jodie Foster, “Nyad”

Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

 

Best Director

Jonathan Glazer, “The Zone of Interest”

Yorgos Lanthimos, “Poor Things”

Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”

Martin Scorsese, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Justine Triet, “Anatomy of a Fall”

 

International Feature Film

“Io Capitano,” Italy

“Perfect Days,” Japan

“Society of the Snow,” Spain

“The Teachers’ Lounge,” Germany

“The Zone of Interest,” United Kingdom

Animated Feature Film

“The Boy and the Heron”

“Elemental”

“Nimona”

“Robot Dreams”

“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Adapted Screenplay

“American Fiction”

“Barbie”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

“The Zone of Interest”

Original Screenplay

“Anatomy of a Fall”

“The Holdovers”

“Maestro”

“May December”

“Past Lives”

Visual Effects

“The Creator”

“Godzilla Minus One”

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”

“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One”

“Napoleon”

Original Score

“American Fiction”

“Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

Original Song

“It Never Went Away” from “American Symphony”

“I’m Just Ken” from “Barbie”

“What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie”

“The Fire Inside” from “Flamin’ Hot”

“Wahzhazhe (A Song For My People)” from “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Documentary Feature Film

“20 Days in Mariupol”

“Bobi Wine: The People’s President”

“The Eternal Memory”

“Four Daughters”

“To Kill a Tiger”

Cinematography

“El Conde”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Maestro”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

Costume Design

“Barbie”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Napoleon”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

Animated Short Film

“Letter to a Pig”

“Ninety-Five Senses”

“Our Uniform”

“Pachyderme”

“War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko”

Live Action Short Film

“The After”

“Invincible”

“Knight of Fortune”

“Red, White and Blue”

“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”

Documentary Short Film

“The ABCs of Book Banning”

“The Barber of Little Rock”

“Island in Between”

“The Last Repair Shop”

“Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó”

Film Editing

“Anatomy of a Fall”

“The Holdovers”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

Sound

“The Creator”

“Maestro”

“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One”

“Oppenheimer”

“The Zone of Interest”

Production Design

“Barbie”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”

“Napoleon”

“Oppenheimer”

“Poor Things”

Makeup and Hairstyling

“Golda”

“Maestro”

“Oppenheimer”

4K Review – “Oppenheimer”

 

Before I launch into – spoiler alert – a rave review for what I consider to be the best film of 2023 (sorry Barbie), I want to say right up front that I am a huge Christopher Nolan fan. I respect Nolan immensely as a director and writer, I find his movies to be epic creations. I love Memento and the Batman trilogy and appreciate the visceral power of Dunkirk, and the dazzling Inception continues to amaze me and Intersteller left me spellbound. Tenet was a big hit for me, too, so inspired by all the hype for Oppenheimer, I went into the IMAX screening this past summer with great anticipation, Excited of how this massive epic about the man who spearheaded the development of the atomic bomb would hit me.

To say Oppenheimer blew me away would be not only a bad pun and tired cliché but also a gross understatement. Nolan outdoes himself, crafting an ambitious, innovative, and beautifully constructed film that absorbed me from the get-go and held me spellbound for three solid hours. (I can’t recall a more enriching cinematic experience over the past decade.) Intelligent, intricate, thought-provoking, emotional, visually stunning, and brimming with potent performances, Oppenheimer is the complete cinematic package, a movie that satisfies on multiple levels and demands repeat viewings to absorb all the nuances. Of course, the big bang that occurs about two-thirds of the way through is the film’s central component, but it’s the small, intimate moments that reverberate the loudest and make this movie so memorable.

Oppenheimer isn’t just a biopic about an arrogant genius who’s driven by ambition, wracked by demons, and tortured by guilt. That would be enough. But Nolan goes further. The most fascinating parts of Oppenheimer actually occur after the bomb goes off. The repercussions and fallout (and I’m not talking about radiation) resonate so much more strongly than the intrigue surrounding the weapon’s development. Yes, this is a tale about scientific breakthroughs, crossing dangerous boundaries, grappling with weighty moral issues (like the potential destruction of mankind), and creating a beast that can’t be controlled, but more importantly, it’s about political persecution, unbridled ego, and the petty jealousies and insecurities that fuel small-minded men and inspire them to destroy the lives of others.

The bomb is the elephant in the room, but the crux of Oppenheimer is the bitter conflict between J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) and government official Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.). As the film opens, both men face critical trials that will ultimately scrape away their smug veneers and expose their faults, frailties, and carefully guarded secrets. Oppenheimer meekly battles a biased group of political operatives seeking to revoke his security clearance due to his prior association with the Communist party, while Strauss (pronounced Stroz), President Eisenhower’s nominee for Secretary of Commerce, must endure the probing questions of a Senate confirmation committee to secure his crowning career achievement. Nolan the writer, who based his screenplay on the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, deftly and lyrically tells their parallel and intertwining tales, while Nolan the director keeps their stories distinct by filming Oppenheimer’s perspective in color and Strauss’s in black-and-white. The device may be off-putting at first, but it’s a stroke of genius that not only helps simplify the challenging narrative structure, which continually jumps forward and backward in time, but also adds even more style to an already visually arresting film.

One character calls Oppenheimer “a dilettante, a womanizer, a suspected Communist, unstable, theatrical, egotistical, neurotic,” and that’s all true, but he also possessed one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century. Other films like A Beautiful Mind and The Imitation Game have explored such brilliance and shown it to be a burden and a curse. Oppenheimer treads similar territory but on a larger scale and broader canvas. The stakes are higher here and some of the film’s themes strongly resonate in our current social climate. We can relate to a world in crisis that’s hurtling toward chaos and possible destruction, where political enemies are targeted and attacked. And with the dawn of Artificial Intelligence, we now have our own debate about a new technology that can potentially threaten human existence.

Oppenheimer asks important questions: How far do we take science and how do we deal with the consequences of what we unleash? One of the film’s most powerful scenes shows a shell-shocked Oppenheimer addressing his colleagues after the A-bomb test. As he delivers his remarks, we see how the weight of what his team has produced and the devastation it will soon deliver hit him with almost the same force as the world-changing detonation he just witnessed. That detonation, the lead-up to which instills palpable dread, fear, and uncertainty despite the fact there’s no mystery about the test’s success, is breathtakingly depicted. I won’t spoil it, but it’s just one more example of Nolan’s brilliance. He leads us down a well-worn path, then rips the rug out from under us. It’s tough to creatively depict a seminal event, especially one as monumental as this, but Nolan finds a way to combine artistry with the sobering gravity and sheer awe of the moment.

While I often enjoy seeing films with star-studded casts, sometimes the plethora of high-profile personalities can be distracting and take me out of the movie. “Oh, there’s so-and-so. Wow, I didn’t know he/she was in this! What a great cameo!” I had none of those feelings here. Yes, the initial glimmer of recognition causes a spark, but the roles are so well cast, the actors disappear inside them. The list of luminaries in Oppenheimer is large. In addition to Murphy and Downey, there’s Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek, Casey Affleck, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Tom Conti, Matthew Modine, Tony Goldwyn, and others. All of them nail their parts (though Pugh is saddled with a sketchily drawn role), but Murphy and Downey shine the brightest. Both men deserve Oscars for their finely etched portrayals of complex, fascinating, and deeply flawed men who scale massive heights, but must live with the consequences of their deeds and misdeeds. Murphy is riveting throughout, never striking a sour note, and Downey is a revelation. After far too many Marvel movies, he reminds us what a terrific actor he can be when given the opportunity to sink his teeth into a juicy part.

Oppenheimer isn’t perfect. Some of the story’s time shifts can be confusing and with so many characters popping in and out of the story – often for only a few fleeting moments – remembering all the names and how they relate to the narrative can be a challenge. Like almost every biopic, there are historical inaccuracies and liberties taken with facts for dramatic effect. The pivotal exchange between Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein upon which much of the story hinges is complete invention, but it’s nevertheless an inspired device to set up the division between Strauss and Oppenheimer and define the finer points of Strauss’ character.

Nolan bites off a lot here, but never more than he can chew. Yes, Oppenheimer is long, but unlike its fellow 2023 epics Killers of the Flower Moon and Napoleon, it doesn’t feel long. The pacing has a lovely ebb and flow as it mixes massive scope with searing drama, bits of humor, and a whole lotta visual stimuli. With insight, deep commitment, and tremendous care, Nolan has made a movie for history buffs, science nerds, political junkies, and – most importantly – movie fans. Oppenheimer is what cinema is all about. I Dug in and enjoyed it.

The video presentation of the 4K disc is flawless. Sound will shake your house and certainly give your system a true workout. The 1080p Blu-ray is certainly acceptable, but definitely a big step down from the exceptional 4K rendering. Flatter, duller, and a bit murkier, Oppenheimer on Blu-ray keeps the viewer at arm’s length. When I ejected the Blu-ray and went back to 4K, I felt as if I was looking at a totally different movie. The 4K disc is reference-quality stuff and anyone who enjoyed Oppenheimer in any theatrical format will be dazzled by this A-plus presentation.

The bonus featurettes are housed on a separate Blu Ray and they are aplenty. Included are all teasers and trailers. So much to delve into, that you could spend time on the bonus disc as much as the length of the film! 

2023’s best film is a slam-dunk on 4K UHD. This epic portrait of both a controversial scientist and turbulent era in American history is enlightening, entertaining, and exquisitely mounted by a master craftsman at the very top of his game. With a breathtaking HDR transfer, potent audio, and hours of supplements, Oppenheimer demands a spot on every movie-lover’s shelf. Must Own. Film ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Film Extras ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (out of five stars)

Film Review – “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”

 

  • AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM
  • Starring: Jason Momoa, Patrick Wilson
  • Directed by: James Wan
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 4 mins
  • Warner Bros. Pictures

 

After lots of lows and some highs, the DC extended universe of films is ending with its 15th and final installment in the form of “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom.” Currently in theaters, “Lost Kingdom” ends the franchise on a solid note with two hours of pure popcorn fun. While Jason Momoa is no Laurence Olivier or Sidney Poitier, he does not pretend to be and instead infuses a genuine enthusiasm into a performance which does not require a lot of range. Bolstered by some enjoyable supporting performances, fun action, and few laughs, “Lost Kingdom” is an improvement over the first “Aquaman”.

 

Voiceover narrations are often so dullish that they impair a film’s progression, which is the case in the beginning with “Lost Kingdom.” Momoa provides a reflection of where his character of Arthur Curry/Aquaman has been over the past few years, and it comes across as stilted. Regardless, we learn that Aquaman has married Mera (Amber Heard) and had a son while at the same time trying to lead a double life as a reluctant king of Atlantis.

 

Concurrently, we see that David Kane/Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is still hell bent on avenging the death of his father no matter what the cost. Amid his quest, Black Manta, with the assistance of a marine biologist, stumbles across an ancient Atlantean artifact in the form of a black trident. Like something out of a D&D game, the trident possesses Black Manta and its trapped creator, who resembles the King of the Dead from “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” offers Black Manta glorious purpose if he frees him.

Black Manta’s subsequent actions with other forms of ancient technology threaten to destroy the Earth’s environment. To prevent it, a war with the surface world, and save his family, Aquaman must turn to his imprisoned, disgruntled brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson) for help.

 

For someone who has been a fan of at least some of the DC movies, or the Zack Snyder universe, it is a bit sad to see the unfinished storylines come to an end. It is at least going out on a decent note as “Lost Kingdom” provides a fun way to spend just over two hours at the movie theater. There are several laughs to be had throughout its running time with plenty of action, albeit nothing we have not seen before, and decent enough special effects. The thing about “Lost Kingdom” is that it does not take itself too seriously, which would have caused it to be a complete dud if it had.

 

Abdul-Mateen II stands out once again as a man so blinded by rage and revenge that he become something less than human. Wilson is also fantastic with some great comic relief with good timing in support of Momoa. Overall, “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is a nice swan song to a franchise that had its fair share of severe ups and downs.

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” receives ★★½ stars out of five.

Film Review – “Maestro”

 

  • MAESTRO
  • Starring:  Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan and Matt Bomer
  • Directed by:  Bradley Cooper
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time: 2 hrs 9 mins
  • Netflix

Composer Leonard Bernstein provided the music for some great shows, including the magnificent “West Side Story,” so when I heard that Bradley Cooper was going to follow up his Oscar winning “A Star is Born” with a film about Bernstein I was really excited to see it.  However, for some reason Cooper has chosen to nearly ignore the musical passions of the man to focus on the passions of the heart.  That, in a nutshell, is “Maestro.”

A phone rings, waking Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) out of a sound sleep. The voice on the other end tells him the news he’s been waiting to hear.  With lead conductor Artur Rodziński away, and the guest conductor falling ill, he is to conduct that afternoon’s performance of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  With no rehearsal.  Confident, Bernstein takes up the baton.  And a legend is born.

 

Oddly paced, but brilliantly acted, “Maestro” is a film that may take a second viewing to fully understand the story director Cooper wanted to tell.  The film follows the decades-long relationship between Bernstein and his actress wife Felicia (Mulligan).  Along the way there are plenty of bumps in the road, the main one being Bernstein’s infidelity with members of both sexes.

 

Along the way we do get brief glimpses of Bernstein’s musical genius – working on “On the Town,” mentoring young musicians, but what made him famous almost seems like an afterthought to Cooper and co-screenwriter Josh Singer.  And for some reason Cooper often uses long, static shots throughout entire scenes when some film editing may have made the scenes more interesting.

On a positive note, the performances are excellent.  Cooper channels Bernstein down to his voice patterns.  Mulligan carries most of the emotional baggage of the film and never delivers a false note.  Hopefully both actors will be remembered when Academy Award nominations are announced.

 

My first date with my now-wife was the film “Wedding Crashers” with a young Bradley Cooper.  He has since become a favorite of my wife and when we first saw the trailer for “Maestro” I jokingly asked if Leonard Bernstein ever took his shirt off.  Apparently he did.  But I have also grown to respect Cooper as both an actor and a filmmaker.  It borders on criminal that he did not receive an Oscar nod for his direction of “A Star is Born.”  I’m not sure if he’ll get in this category this time around but I truly admire the work and research he puts into his films.

 

On a scale of zero to five I giver “Maestro” ★★★½

Film Review: “American Fiction”

Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Tracee Ellis Ross and Issa Rae
Directed by: Cord Jefferson
Rated: R
Running Time: 117 minutes
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

I’m not going to attempt any bad barely remembered quotes, but I’ve heard a solid critique from several African American film critics about when critics, award groups and associations award black films. The critique is that the film is either a movie about the worst time for black people in America (“12 Years a Slave,” “The Color Purple,” “Django Unchained”) or how their story needs the help of a white person to tell (“The Blind Side,” “Precious,” “Green Book”). “American Fiction” feels like that critique personified.

Thelonious Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), who also goes by Monk, is a professor and black writer, who receives praise from his fellow academics for his books. But none from his publisher, the public, or even his family. Monk, as he’s told, directly or indirectly, isn’t “black enough.” He watches as others in his field write books that he believes not only pander to white people and the surrounding culture but demean black voices. So, he begins writing “My Pafology” to not only mock the narrative he sees, but to jokingly see if anyone cares what he writes now. Unfortunately, they do.

Almost like a meta commentary, that’s what the trailer for “American Fiction” kind of says the movie is, but at no point did I ever feel the movie was a spoof. I almost began to wonder if the trailer was intentionally selling audiences, white critics like me and America on this notion that we’re about to watch an academic parody of how black people are reduced to caricatures with so-called hood talk for stereotypical films that highlight slavery or impoverished neighborhoods. Instead “American Fiction” uses that as a kind of background noise to the real story, Monk’s life.

He comes from a lower middle-class background in the northeast, but now lives in Los Angeles, far from his two siblings and an ailing mother Agnes (Leslie Uggams) who suffers from early signs of dementia. His sister, Lisa (Tracee Ellis Ross), takes care of her while Monk bemoans the literary industry and his brother, Cliff (Sterling K. Brown) has pretty much abandoned the family because he feels he’s being looked down upon by everyone, including Agnes. That’s because Cliff’s ex-wife divorced after catching him with another man. Unfortunately, we don’t get to know much about Agnes, because she dies suddenly from a heart attack.

Ultimately “American Fiction” is about Monk’s flawed perception because he himself seems to be living out a stereotypical American life we’ve seen in other family drama films. He’s dealing with the age of his mother, attempting to reconcile with a brother who’s nose deep in cocaine, and dealing with the unexpected death of a loved one while finding random romance in his older years. In that regard, that’s the kind of stories Monk wants people to see when it comes to black people. That’s what ultimately leads him to ridicule everything through “My Pafology.” The movie is still about a both, someone or something upping the drama in Monk’s life as the insult to professed book lovers begins to spin wildly out of control. Eventually Monk must reconcile with the fact that everyone lives life differently and similarly.

“American Fiction” plays like an indictment of society and pop-culture at-large. In some ways, it has me pondering the movies I’ve liked and if it’s simply because of my own personal expectations or if it’s because it’s telling a unique story. Do we, as critics, filmgoers, and consumers, want to hear black voices or do we want the same old narrative where white people alleviate a terrible situation or we see triumph under oppression? Do we even want to hear other minority voices or just more sad stories? There’s a lot to study in this film, for years to come. “American Fiction” tells us that everyone, while living the same experiences, enjoying the same triumphs and enduring the same tragedies, all have a unique story to tell.

Film Review: “Laced”

Starring: Dana Mackin, Hermione Lynch and Zach Tinker
Directed by: Kyle Butenhoff
Rated: NR
Running Time: 98 minutes
Dark Sky Films

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

Molly (Dana Mackin) and Charlie (Kyle Butenhoff) appear to be having an intimate evening together. They share dinner in a remote cabin, surrounded by a record-breaking blizzard, and appear to have planned the whole thing. However, there’s no time for small talk, deep talk, cozying up by a roaring fire or even finishing the meal. That’s because Molly has poisoned Charlie.

I don’t want to say much more because “Laced” works purely on its performances and reveals. Sure, it doesn’t take us long to realize something is amiss and that Molly has intentionally poisoned Charlie. And sure, the initial exposition comes hot and heavy, or in the case of watching the trailer, almost too spoilery. We know things will continue to be complex and complicated, that’s why Molly has unexpected dinner guests that make “Laced” a rather effective winter thriller.

It’s an indie film so I can forgive the lack of style that could have made it more claustrophobic and made effective use of the blizzard. Seriously, I sometimes forgot a raging snowstorm was outside because of how much time is spent indoors in this singular setting without a peep. The howling wind seems like an afterthought as characters stab each other with icy dialogue. All of that being said, Mackin, Hermoine Lynch and Zach Tinker provide enough fireworks in their performances. Butenhoof, not so much, but I can’t fault an actor who dies about five minutes in.

However, Butenhoff serves as writer and director, showing a Hitchcockian knack for making the most of a simplistic story. In other hands, “Laced” would have just been another predictable murder film, but Butenhoff is creative with making us second guess the narrative, whether it’s from Molly’s perspective or the explanations of her unexpected dinner guests. While I certainly felt the film lacked that winter bite, “Laced” has enough creativity to entertain you for 90 minutes and has the potential to chill you to the bone.

4K Review: “Rudy”

 

 Some become legends through all-American grit and determination. For college football fans, the story of Dan “Rudy” Ruttiger is well known. Even if you’re not a sports fan. If you were a kid growing up in the 80s or if you didn’t read his book about his determination to play football for Notre Dame, he may have dropped by your school as a motivational speaker. Reuniting the team behind another classic sports drama Hoosiers, Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo with composer Jerry Goldsmith set out to tell the tale of how one poor working-class kid fought his way to play for the Fighting Irish.

We first meet Rudy (Sean Astin) as he’s finishing high school. From a steel-working family, his father Dan Senior (a lovely turn from Ned Beatty) loves Notre Dame football, but can’t believe his young son or any Ruttiger could ever attend the university. But little Rudy has a dream and he’s ready to prove himself to anyone and everyone that doubted him. Beyond getting accepted into one of the most prestigious universities in the country, he’ll also have to make it onto one of the hardest-hitting most competitive football teams in the country.

I personally come from Wolverine country and the sight of the Irish blue and gold is usually a rage-inducing eyesore. But for Rudy – I love this film. Rudy is to college football as Rocky is to boxing. It’s a human drama first with sports as a backdrop. A classic underdog story, it’s a movie that inspires you to try to achieve your dreams and then in the face of repeated failures – keep trying. I saw this film in theaters and I’ve watched it countless times since. It’s remained a rousing inspirational film three decades later. It also happens to feature one of my very favorite Jerry Goldsmith scores.

Now when this film was announced for 4K, I was just happy to have the version of the film I’ve known and loved for three decades (DVD). But to sweeten the pot, Sony includes Anspaugh’s new Director’s Cut (via seamless branching) for a longer and I have to admit more fulfilling film. Not just frivolous scene extensions, the new cut gives more weight to a variety of characters. We see more of Robert Prosky’s Father Cavenaugh, he doesn’t just disappear now in the second act. We see more of Rudy trying to fit in with the Notre Dame team setting up their antagonistic struggle earlier while also giving them more time to ease into their redemptive actions in the final stretch. More interesting and meaningful, we see more of Greta Lind’s Mary. Thankfully this cut doesn’t force Rudy and Mary into a silly weightless romance but instead bolsters a more valuable friendship through to the end.

 

The film looks and sounds absolutely wonderful for the age that it has. Skin tones come alive and the football field has never looked so green! The set comes with a Blu Ray copy as well but that only contains the theatrical version. The extras come with a bit of old and new features. For the new stuff, Director David Anspaugh and writer Angelo Pizzo team up for a new Director’s Cut exclusive audio commentary. It’s a lively discussion about making the film, their long working relationship, and comparing the versions of the film. Then we come to a little over three minutes of deleted scenes that are separate from the new cut. They’re interesting in their own right, but I can see why they wouldn’t make it on either cut. Then we have the film’s trailer all on the 4K disc. Then we come to the archival material that’s housed on the included Blu-ray. 

As big a fan as I am, in the crowded pantheon of sports films, Rudy may not be the greatest of the pack, but it’s an emotional heavy hitter. Truthfully one would need to be a pretty jaded individual to not connect to this story in some way. Sean Astin is amazing as he headlines an excellent cast for this true (mostly) story of grit and determination winning the day. I’ve loved this film for three decades now and it’s a genuine pleasure to see it look and sound this good in 4K – in two cuts no less! For fans of the film, this is a no-brainer essential pickup. Newcomers will need to invest in a few boxes of tissues.

Movie ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Extras ⭐️⭐️⭐️

(Out of five stars)

Film Review: “Migration”

 

  • MIGRATION
  • Starring the voices of:  Kumail Nanjiani, Elizabeth Banks and Danny DeVito
  • Directed by:  Benjamin Renner and Guylo Homsy
  • Rated:  PG
  • Running time:  1 hr 32 mins
  • Universal

 

When the animation company ILLUMINATION puts out a movie, you expect a well told story with beautifully rendered animation.  With “Migration,” those expectations are not only met, but they are also exceeded.

 

We meet the Mallard family as they leisurely relax in a beautiful, New England Pond.  Father Mack (Nanjiani) and mom Pam (Banks) spend their days watching their youngsters – Dax (Caspar Jennings) and Gwen (Trasi Gazal) – swim contently across the water.   When they are visited by a flock of ducks heading to Jamaica for the winter, they are encouraged to head south with the flock.  Mack is over-protective and prefers the safety and familiarity of the pond.  Yet Pam would like a little adventure in their lives and, with the help of the kids, convinces Mack to take flight.  Accompanied by Uncle Dan (DeVito), they head off to the adventure of a lifetime.

 

Ever since “Despicable Me,” ILLUMINATION has released a string of outstanding films that are funny, family friendly and, most of all, beautiful to watch.  I’m not sure what their secret is, but whatever it is, I hope they don’t change it.  Even mighty PIXAR has had a few duds in their past, making ILLUMINATION, in my opinion, THE leader in film animation.  “Migration” takes the Mallard family on a journey that takes them from big cities to rural countryside, with each location beautifully presented.  Often, it’s like looking at a photograph, so detailed is the animation.

The cast features both familiar names (besides Nanjiani, Banks and DeVito, the vocal talent includes Carol Kane, Keegan Michael Key and Awkwafina) and fresh, bright voices who bring the characters to life.  The script, by Benjamin Renner and Mike White – yes, “School of Rock” and “White Lotus” Mike White – is full of both fun and emotional moments.  Like other ILLUMINATION films, these are characters you want to spend time with and, most importantly, want to succeed.

 

As an added bonus, there is also a short film called “Mooned” which answers the pressing question from “Despicable Me” – What happened to Vector?

 

On a scale of zero to five, I give “Migration” ★★★★

Film Review: “DICKS: The Musical”

  • DICKS: THE MUSICAL
  • Starring:  Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson, Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane
  • Directed by:  Larry Charles
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 26 mins
  • A24

 

Imagine being young, handsome and, um, well equipped.  You’d sing about it, wouldn’t you?  I know I would!  You’d think you had the world on a string.  Now imagine you just discovered you have a twin.  It could happen.

Craig (Sharp) and Trevor (Jackson) are both living the good life, excelling both professionally and personally.  The one thing neither has, and desires, is a family.  Though they live a few doors apart, they are each unaware of the other until a department merger at their mutual employer pits them against each other to see who the best salesman in the company is.  Noticing that there is a very strong resemblance with each other, the two eventually share enough personal details to discover they are twins, separated by their parents.  One went to live with Dad (Lane) and the other with Mom (Mullally).  Each parent has their own baggage that the lads must work through as they plot to get their folks back together.

Written by stars Sharp and Jackson, the film is directed by long time “Seinfeld” producer Larry Charles, whose directing credits include films like ”Borat” and “The Dictator” as well as multiple episodes of television shows “The Comedians” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”  He knows his way around a punch line and he never allows the film’s humor to hit you over the head.  It’s funny without screaming at you, ”Hey, laugh at this!”

The cast is top shelf, and you can never go wrong when you have Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally in a musical.  I’ve seen them both on stage and that talent transfers easily to the big screen.  Sharp and Jackson are fun to watch.  They have a great chemistry with each other, and both are fine song and dance men. Supporting work by Megan Thee Stallion as the boy’s boss and Bowen Yang as God (yes, God) keep the fun going.  And then, of course, there’s the Sewer Boys!  The songs are well written and the musical numbers are well paced.

A fun, hilarious comedy, “Dicks: The Musical” is best described as “a fun and raucous Parent Trap.”  And that’s a good thing.

 

On a scale of zero to five I give “Dicks: The Musical” ★★★★

 

Jason Isaacs talks about his new series on BritBox “Archie: The Man Who Became Cary Grant”

Jason Isaacs is known best for his roles including playing Colonel William Tavington in “The Patriot”, Captain Hook in Peter Pan, D.J. in Event Horizon and of course everyone’s favorite Lucius Malfoy in the Harry Potter film series. He also worked on TV series like “Star Trek: Discovery” and 2012’s “Awake” on NBC. Jason returns to TV with his new show on BritBox called “Archie: The Man Who Became Cary Grant”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Jason about his role in “Archie” and his love for playing a villain.

Official Premise: He was one of the twentieth century’s most iconic figures, who touched the world with his charm, wit and grace. Yet, few truly knew him. Jason Isaacs stars as Archie Leach, who would go on to become Hollywood’s greatest leading man, in this remarkable, little-known story from BAFTA-winner Jeff Pope.

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