Film Review: “Jungle Cruise”

  • JUNGLE CRUISE
  • Starring:  Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt and Paul Giamatti
  • Directed by:  Jaume Collet-Serra
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 7 mins
  • Disney

The tale is told of the Conquistadors that sailed down the vast and dangerous river in search of the petals of a certain plant.  The petals, called “The Tears of the Moon” were said to cure any ailment and reverse any curse.  But of course, it’s just an old tale.  Right?

Full of fun, with another winning performance by Dwayne Johnson – I think if he met me he and I would be best pals immediately – “Jungle Cruise” is the latest Disney attraction to become a feature film and, I must say, it’s pretty darn entertaining.

We are introduced to the Houghton siblings – brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) is every bit the prim and proper Brit he seems to be while his sister, Lily (Blunt) is the adventurer in the family, having spent a good portion of her adult life searching for the mystical petals.  While looking for a boat to take them down river they meet Frank (Johnson) who is currently doing his best to avoid Nilo (Giamatti), the local bad guy.  If you’ve seen “Roadhouse” think of him as the jungle version of Brad Wesley.  A deal is made and the threesome head into the great unknown.

On the plus side, “Jungle Cruise” makes great use of CGI, creating a jungle, and all of its inhabitants, with amazing realism.  Tigers. Spiders. Monkeys.  You name it, they’re there and they look amazingly real.  The cast is in great form, with Johnson happily spouting puns (we call them “dad jokes” today) whenever he gets the chance.  Also well cast is Jesse Plemons, whose character, a former German army officer, is as obsessed with the petals as Lily is.  He’s a little over the top, but in a good way. 

My only major problem with the film is that it seemed about 30 minutes too long.  You can only battle zombie pirates so long before it gets boring.  If I wanted a three hour tour I’d wait for “Gilligan’s Island – the Movie,” which I’m sure will be in theatres soon!

Film Review: “Black Widow” SPOILER FREE!

  • BLACK WIDOW
  • Starring:  Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh and Rachel Weisz
  • Directed by:  Cate Shortland
  • Rated:  PG 13
  • Running time:  2 hrs 13 mins
  • Disney

The expression is “timing is everything.”  I say this because, while I found “Black Widow” enjoyable, it doesn’t feel as timely to me as other films in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe for those of you who don’t understand fan-speak).

Ohio.  1995.  It’s another sunny day in the local park and Melina (Weisz) is enjoying the time watching her young daughters play.  When they get home mom prepares dinner and they all wait for dad (David Harbour) to get home.  However, the mood changes when dad announces “it’s time.”  On the move again!

Full of non-stop action and some self-depreciating humor, “Black Widow” is an origin story that attempts to inform viewers where Natasha (Johansson) came from and why she defected to the Avengers. 

The majority of the film takes place in 2016, after Theodore Ross (William Hurt) helped the United Nations enforce the Sokovia Accords, which basically made the Avengers outlaws, unable to do their stuff unless requested.  It also requires all “enhanced” people in the United States to not only identify themselves but disclose what their enhancement is.   Currently Ross is on the look for Black Widow and Captain America.  And the hunt is on.

I’m doing my best to make this a SPOILER FREE review, so I won’t be going into too many details.  Suffice it to say that the characters travel literally all over the world, a lot of stuff gets damaged and a lot of people got hurt.  The action scenes are well designed and the script fun.  But still…..

While it’s not the best film in the MCU, it certainly isn’t the worse.  And that’s a good thing.   

Film Review “F9: The Fast Saga”

Directed by: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, John Cena, Jordana Brewster, Nathalie Emmanuel, Sung Kang, Michael Rooker, Helen Mirren, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Release date: June 25, 2021
Running time: 145 minutes

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

The Fast & Furious franchise titled The Fast Saga has not run out of gas just yet. “F9” is completely over-the-top, action packed and one hell of a blast to watch. Who knew that this franchise would be going here nine films strong. Listen we all know that these things could never happen in real life but they are fun to watch on the big screen. I recently re-watched this franchise from the beginning and it was really fun to see how this series has evolved from street racing to international spy heists…and it has been so much fun to watch. This latest film gives this franchise a kick right into outer space…literally! Where can this franchise possible go next?

Official Premise: “Vin Diesel’s Dom Toretto is leading a quiet life off the grid with Letty and his son, little Brian, but they know that danger always lurks just over their peaceful horizon. This time, that threat will force Dom to confront the sins of his past if he’s going to save those he loves most. His crew joins together to stop a world-shattering plot led by the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve ever encountered: a man who also happens to be Dom’s forsaken brother, Jakob (John Cena, the upcoming The Suicide Squad).”

I am personally a big John Cena fan from the WWE and it was awesome getting to see him play the baddie. I felt that the film also gave an extra nod to the ladies of the Fast Saga. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a female only spinoff happen down the line. The visual effects are beyond amazing. There is nothing that looks “too CGI” or anything like that. The Fast Saga is well known for blending actual practical effects with digital effects.

Like I mentioned above, I have no clue where this franchise could go in the future, so the next two films are going to be a big mystery. But from a franchise that started 20 years ago, this week in fact (Happy anniversary), on the streets to literally flying outer space in this film, and while still keeping things fun and existing, I don’t see this franchise having any issues in the future. This movie needs to be seen on a big screen with popcorn and concessions!

Film Review: “A Quiet Place Part II”

  • A QUIET PLACE PART II
  • Starring: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds
  • Directed by: John Krasinski
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 1 hr 37 mins
  • Paramount Pictures 

Three years ago, “A Quiet Place” became THE breakout film of the year as it grossed over $188 million domestically and landed in many top ten lists. Its long-awaited sequel, “A Quiet Place Part II” picks up right where its predecessor left off and it does not disappoint. From the get-go, we are put on the edge of our seats as this fast-paced, sci-fi/horror flick keeps our hearts racing a million miles per hour. A smart script and superb direction by John Krasinski help make this film the first true “must-see” of the year. 

(If you have somehow not seen the original film yet, then do not read this any further.) When we last saw the Abbott family, the father, Lee (Krasinski) had sacrificed himself so that his family would have a chance to live. Thanks to the subsequent resourcefulness of his deaf daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and the tenacity of his wife, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), not only were they able to survive, but they also found a way to kill the sound sensitive aliens by utilizing Regan’s cochlear implant. 

“Part II” takes us back to Day 1 when a normal afternoon of little league baseball turns into an extinction-level event for humanity. After this brief flashback, we are flung forward to day #474 of the invasion. Evelyn and her three children – Regan, Marcus (Noah Jupe) and her infant son – gather up what possessions they need and make a silent, perilous walk into town. 

As they reach the deserted town’s railroad depot, they accidentally make enough noise to attract an alien. It is at this point they stumble upon Emmett (Cillian Murphy, “Inception”), an old friend of theirs who has lost everyone and everything. He is initially adamant they leave, warning Evelyn there is not anyone left worth saving. However, Regan figures out a way for a much broader application of her cochlear implant and it sets into motion events which put everyone’s lives in serious jeopardy. 

“A Quiet Place Part II’ is a superb work of cinema as it excels in all three major phases – writing, acting, and directing. Good luck in finding a flaw with the script. In fact, you will have a better chance at finding a needle in a haystack first. Blunt delivers a perfect blend of strength and vulnerability as does Simmonds, who again demonstrates with a wonderful range that she is a star in the making. Lastly, Krasinski successfully duplicates the pacing, tension, and thrills of the first film, which earned an Oscar nod for Best Sound Editing. 

Overall, “A Quiet Place Part II” already has a good shot at being on a lot of top ten lists again when 2021 is over.

Film Review: “Cruella”

  • CRUELLA
  • Starring: Emma Stone, Emma Thompson
  • Directed by: Craig Gillespie
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Running Time: 2 hrs 14 mins
  • Walt Disney 

There is nothing cruel about watching the new Walt Disney prequel “Cruella,” starring former Academy Award winner Emma Stone in a role she absolutely nails. Unlike 1996’s “101 Dalmatians,” in which Glenn Close played Cruella with over-the-top, maniacal behavior, Stone infuses Cruella with emotional complexities that draw us into a character who becomes much more than a punchline. Ultimately, there is an almost Joaquin Phoenix-as-Joker vibe to Stone’s performance, just not nearly as dark. However, do not be worried, “Cruella” is not all doom-and-gloom as there are enough light-hearted and even tender moments to keep it from falling too far down the rabbit hole. 

As a little girl, Cruella goes by Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland, “Krypton”). Raised by her loving mother, Catherine (Emily Beecham, “Daphne”), Estella manages to get into a private boarding school. Her mother warns her, though, to not be rebellious and cruel, but the fashion curious Estella cannot prevent herself from getting into continuous trouble. Eventually, Estella wears out her welcome and is expelled. 

Estella’s expulsion does not turn her world upside down. In fact, she views it as a new adventure complete with a new puppy she finds. However, reality of how cruel the world can be takes place when Catherine dies and Estella becomes homeless in London’s city streets when she encounters two young boys who are always up to no good. 

Flash forward ten years later when the trio of Estella, Jasper (Joel Fry, “Game of Thrones”) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser, “Richard Jewell”) are busy stealing from anyone they can. Yet Estella still has her eyes set on the world of fashion and a series of lucky events puts her into the employment of the most powerful fashion designer in London – The Baroness (Emma Thompson). At the pinnacle of her happiness, Estella learns a dark secret and Cruella begins to take over. 

Stone has all the appearances of being born to play this role in what is an overall terrific origin story. Her portrayal never becomes too unhinged, and she even manages to do the previously unthinkable – make Cruella De Vil a sympathetic character. Of course, she was guided with the steady direction of Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya”), had a fresh and inventive script to work with, and shared the screen with the equally fantastic Thompson who makes The Baroness about as unsympathetic and diabolical as they come. What should also be mentioned are the film’s fantastic costume designs which will hopefully not be forgotten about when Oscar season rolls again, not that more than 10 or 12 people will be watching it anyway. 

Overall, “Cruella” is probably not for small children. Let them watch the 1961 animated version instead. Otherwise, “Cruella” is a wonderful, two-plus hour escape.

Film Review: “Spiral”

  • SPIRAL
  • Starring: Chris Rock, Max Minghella
  • Directed by: Darren Lynn Bousman
  • Rating: R
  • Running Time: 1 hr 33 mins
  • Lionsgate 

Part of the premise of the “Saw” franchise is that the story’s victims are put in horrendous situations and then forced choose to do something terrible to escape or die horribly. Except possibly the 2004 original, I have desperately wanted to run away from each one of these dismal death traps as they begin to flicker to life on the screen. The newest installment, “Spiral” is easily one of the most unsurprising, stereotypical works of cinema I have ever seen in my career as a professional film critic. 

The story, which is a nice way to describe what is presented to us as entertainment, begins during a 4th of July celebration when an off-duty detective does not call for any backup before chasing a purse snatcher down into a darkened subway tunnel. Shockingly, he never sees the light of day again. Enter Det. Zeke Banks (Chris Rock), a lone wolf cop who is hated by every police officer in his precinct as they all view him as a rat. 

Divorced and estranged from his father, former police chief Marcus Banks (Samuel L. Jackson), Zeke is forced to take on a younger partner, Det. William Schenk (Max Minghella, “The Handmaid’s Tale”) as he begins his investigation into crimes committed by a Jigsaw-inspired killer. Despite his efforts, the body count climbs as more dirty cops are killed in such horrific ways that you cannot help but wonder how the writers who come up with these ideas sleep at night. 

At the risk of ruining any surprises those who wish to spend their hard-earned dollars on seeing “Spiral,” I will refrain from going into any more details about the story. It should be noted that while there has been a total of eight “Saw” films in the franchise, “Spiral” is technically not part of the franchise’s ongoing tale as villain Tobin Bell (John Kramer) is only mentioned in this endeavor. 

Directed by Overland Park, KS native Darren Lynn Bousman, who also helmed “Saw II,” “III” and “IV,” “Spiral” overflows with unbearable, over-the-top grotesqueness matched only by ridiculous stereotypes (e.g. a captain who yells and waves fingers at a “rogue” detective) and plot points so predictable that you could go to the bathroom for ten minutes and not miss a beat. A good chunk of Rock’s dialogue feels like a stand-up comedy routine and when he wants to present himself as intense, he often resorts to squinting his eyes like Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western. Minghella is stoic while Jackson is too underutilized. The rest of the cast delivers choppy performances with dialogue that may have been written in crayon. 

Overall, “Spiral” spirals down into an abyss of mindlessness so bad that not even a stiff drink could help salvage it as being watchable.

Win Passes To See the New Film SPIRAL (Nationwide)

HELLO EVERYONE!!!

How in the hell are you doing?? It seems like forever since we did a pass giveaway and to celebrate, we’re not giving out passes to see a movie in Kansas City or Boston or Orlando – we’re giving passes out all over the country!!

Mediamikes has teamed up with their friends at Lionsgate Films to give (10) readers and a guest the chance to check out the latest film in the SAW series, SPIRAL.

All you have to do is let us know below what film you are most looking forward to this year. The new Bond? “Top Gun: Maverick?” “The Batman?” Let us know and you could be on your way to the movies.

(10) random winners will be chosen and they will be sent, via email, an ATOM code that will get them (2) tickets to see SPIRAL. Pretty simple if you ask me. Not like we’re asking you to saw off your arm!

This giveaway will run through Thursday, May 13th at 10:00 pm EST. At that time the winners will be selected and sent their codes via email. GOOD LUCK!!

SPIRAL opens nationwide this Friday, May 14th!

Facebook:                                 @Saw

Twitter:                                     @Saw 

Instagram:                                @Saw

Hashtag:                                   #Spiral

Film Review “The Djinn”

Written and Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell
Starring: Ezra Dewey, Rob Brownstein, Tevy Poe, John Erickson, Donald Pitts, Jilbert Daniel, Omaryus Luckett, Collin Joe and Isaiah Mansfield
Studio: IFC Midnight
Running Time: 82 minutes

Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

When I see a movie coming out from IFC Midnight, my interest always immediately peaks! When I saw that there was a new movie centered around the supernatural Djinn, I got even more excited. I knew I had to see this film ASAP. It packs a fantastic synthesizer score, which I wish was used more. I would have loved to seen The Djinn more in it’s supernatural form but the film kind of cop-outs by transforming the Djinn into human form. I think it could have been much creepier if it was in demon form but I assume it was due to budget. Overall, the score works well to deliver great suspense, especially with the crying mom. “The Djinn” is definitely worth a watch despite it’s likely budgetary issues.

Young actor, Ezra Dewey, definitely does a great job here. He also worked with writers/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell on their last film “The Boy Behind the Door”. I can see why they wanted to work with him again. I see this kid having a bright future in the business. He literally carries this entire film himself as the only other case is his father and the humans that the Djinn embodies from photos in the apartment. I

Official Premise: The story follows a mute twelve-year-old, Dylan Jacobs, as he discovers a mysterious book of spells inside his new apartment. Grieving the loss of his mother, and feeling isolated from everyone except for his father, Dylan performs a ritual that promises to deliver his heart’s desire: to have a voice. But he soon discovers that every gift has a toll when a sinister djinn arrives to collect his soul. Now trapped in his new home with nowhere to hide, Dylan must find a way to survive until the stroke of midnight or pay the ultimate price.

Overall, the small apartment in the film is the only location for this film, which leads to this claustrophobic feel that the film has. Due to this small space, it delivers some solid suspense for our young lead trying to escape the creature throughout the hour in order for his wish to be granted. The twist is worth the watch as well. I appreciate a good twist in horror films and this one definitely delivers. I just wish we had the Djinn more in it’s creature form because this could have been much scarier if we had a looming figure rather than a human hunting our lead.

Opening in New York at the IFC Center, Los Angeles at Laemmle NoHo7 and Select Theaters Nationwide on Friday May 14th. The film will also be available on digital/VOD everywhere you rent movies.

Film Review “Wrath of Man”

Directed by: Guy Ritchie
Starring: Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Laz Alonso, Raúl Castillo, DeObia Oparei, Eddie Marsan, Scott Eastwood
Distributed by: United Artists Releasing
Running time: 119 minutes

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When you put director Guy Ritchie and Jason Statham in the same room, great things are bound to happen. “Wrath of Man” marks the fourth collaboration of the duo following Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000), and Revolver (2005). “Wrath of Man” is a non-stop fast paced rollercoaster ride. It’s a shoot first ask questions later kind of movie. Speaking of shooting, boy, is there a lot of shooting in it! Just from the trailer alone you could have expected that though. What’s good about this movie is that the trailer sold it for me yet without giving away too much.

Official Premise: A mysterious and wild-eyed new cash truck security guard (Jason Statham) surprises his coworkers during a heist in which he unexpectedly unleashes precision skills. The crew is left wondering who he is and where he came from. Soon, the marksman’s ultimate motive becomes clear as he takes dramatic and irrevocable steps to settle a score.

Guy Ritchie is coming off last year’s The Gentlemen, which was another must-see gem! This film keeps the fire hot and allows Statham to continue his career as being Hollywood’s badass. He is so cool and collected through this film that he makes you nervous for him. Holt McCallany, aka FBI Special Agent Bill Tench on the Netflix series Mindhunter, gets a chance to deliver a solid role as well. I like this dude and I like that he gets to shine here. Josh Hartnett also pops up in the film, feels like we haven’t seen him doing anything recently, so it’s cool to see him kicking ass as well. Also music fans should keep an eye for a quick cameo from Post Malone.

I didn’t know this but this is based off the 2004 French thriller Le Convoyeur (aka Cash Truck) by Nicolas Boukhrief. I am definitely interested in checking out that film now as well. Hopefully it is as badass as this film. Also the score, by Christopher Benstead, should also get some props cause it keeps you on the edge of your seat during the film’s twists and turns. Let’s hope that this doesn’t mark the last time that Statham and Ritchie work together because this is yet another winner for both of them.

Film Review “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah”

CLAUDE LANZMANN: SPECTRES OF THE SHOAH
Directed by: Adam Benzine
Starring: Claude Lanzmann
Running time: 40 minutes
HBO

Claude Lanzmann has become a legendary figure in the world of filmmaking, and this documentary by Adam Benzine, which was nominated in the Best Documentary Short Subject category at the 2016 Oscars, is an attempt to try and distill Lanzmann’s life, and his greatest project, into a short movie. Of course, you would probably need a documentary as long as Shoah to properly tell his life’s story, but Benzine does a fantastic job here of getting the Frenchman to open up about his early life as well as the huge task that was the creation of that documentary. For those who have not heard of Shoah, it is a French documentary directed by Lanzmann that was released in 1985, which is a look at the Holocaust, through interviews with survivors, witnesses and perpetrators, as well as visits to Holocaust sites such as Treblinka and Auschwitz in Poland. The movie runs to 566 minutes; that is over nine hours long, and is a detailed and painstaking effort which won a BAFTA for Best Documentary, as well as a New York Film Critics Choice Award for Best Non-Fiction Film. It has been hailed as one of the best documentaries ever made on a subject of contemporary history, and thus it was apt that there was a documentary made on the making of this documentary.

Thus, we can see how this is already an iconic documentary, and it made waves recently for very different reasons as well, becoming the first major motion picture, as well as the first Oscar-nominated movie, to be released as a non-fungible token (NFT). Ten ‘first edition’ copies of the movie were offered for sale via the blockchain auction site Rarible, along with bonus items including access to a director’s cut of the movie, as well as unique digital posters. It is interesting that this movie became the first to join the NFT bandwagon, and this is another reflection of the growing trend towards crypto and blockchain in today’s world, where people can even, for example, visit bitcoin baccarat gambling site to place bets virtually through cryptocurrencies on casino games online.

Benzine gets Lanzmann to open up about his earlier life, including his youth when he was part of the French Resistance against German occupation in the Second World War. He also briefly speaks about his affair with Simone de Beauvoir, but the main focus of this documentary is the making of Shoah. It took him nearly 12 years to make the movie, having begun production and interviews in 1973, and he talks about the various challenges and the emotional burden of trying to get survivors of death camps to open up and relive their experiences for his movie. He also had to secretly track and film former SS officers illegally to have the perspective of the perpetrators in his movie, while it was another monumental task to try and create a cohesive narrative from the nearly 200 hours of footage that he had amassed. Benzine also managed to secure a lot of previously unseen footage from Shoah that did not make it to the final movie, but was showcased in this documentary, with the help of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, to try and tell Lanzmann’s story better.

Shoah was a groundbreaking movie in every way, and it is therefore fitting that Spectres of the Shoah is also a pioneer in some manner. This is an excellent documentary that tells the story of one of the greatest documentary movies ever made, and thus it is a must watch for movie fans, as well as fans of history, in any part of the world.

Film Review: “Mortal Kombat”

  • MORTAL KOMBAT
  • Starring:  Lewis Tan and Josh Lawson
  • Directed by:  Simon McQuoid
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 50 mins
  • Warner Bros.

I can hear the pitch now.  Couple of guys walk into Warner Bros. and layout their idea for a film based on the early 1990s video game MORTAL KOMBAT.  “It’ll be great,” they tell the studio boss.  ‘Every thirty year old with kids will want to take them to see a movie based on their favorite childhood video game.  And, because we obviously don’t know that kids can’t readily see an “R” rated film, we’ll fill it with vulgar language and buckets of blood!”  Mission accomplished.

The story in a nutshell:  bad-ass bad guy kills bad-ass good guy and his family, but doesn’t know there is a baby hidden under the house.  Centuries later, we meet Cole Young (Tan) who is, of course, an MMA fighter.  That loses.  A lot.  An orphan (of course again) Cole has a family of his own, including a young daughter who is his corner-person when he fights.  Sadly, despite her constant pleading, he won’t throw the uppercut, so he taps out a lot.  But even though he’s a loser in the octagon, Cole has one thing the other fighters don’t.  A strange dragon marking on his body.  What could it mean?

Poorly written – I imagine the script was basically there to put a few minutes between fight scenes – and way over the top, MORTAL KOMBAT is exactly the kind of film I wouldn’t want my 37 year old son to take his kids to.

The dialogue, what there is, is very heavy handed, with words of wisdom that fall on deaf ears.  Another issue with the dialogue is that some of the film is subtitled, with the subtitles telling you if the characters are speaking Japanese or Chinese.  Later in the film they drop identifying the dialect.  When one character speaks to Cole in, if we were paying attention, we know is Japanese we can’t help but hope for a subtitle that reads “I have no idea what you’re saying” (English).

While the fight scenes do liven up the film some, the violence is over the top.  Yes, in the video game you killed your opponent in nasty ways.  Usually your opponent would explode in a red burst and their bones would rain down.  Violent, yes.  But not like this.  Here heads are crushed with a bloody splat, limbs hacked off and various blades are buried deep inside bodies, only to be removed in a geyser of blood.  Heck, one character is split down the middle vertically with organs spilling out like quarters from a slot machine.  Definitely not the MORTAL KOMBAT I remember playing.

A loud, rambling blood-fest, MORTAL KOMBAT is a great concept gone horribly wrong. 

Film Review: “Mank”

  • MANK
  • Starring:  Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Arliss Howard
  • Directed by:  David Fincher
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  2 hrs 11 mins
  • Netflix

“Citizen Kane” is often regarded as the greatest film ever made.  Directed by “boy genius” Orson Welles, who was only 25 at the time, the film would receive nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture (Welles was also nominated as Best Director and Best Actor) the film won only one Oscar, Best Original Screenplay.  The award was given to Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz but, according to “Mank,” only one of the deserved the award.

We meet Herman Mankiewicz (Oldman) as he is brought into a home far from the big city.  Mank, as he is called, is recovering from an auto accident and has been hired by Orson Welles to write a story about a man obsessed with power but yearning for love.  As Mank begins dictating his script, we look back at various episodes in his life that have made him the man he is.

A true love letter to the movies of the Golden Age of Hollywood, “Mank” is an amazing recreation of those exciting times before World War II when talking and conversation were almost a commodity. 

Director Fincher, working from a screenplay by his late father, Jack, has captured everything about the films of that era, from the opening credits to the cue marks that appear in the corner of the screen to signify a reel change.  The script is well written (surprisingly this is Jack Fincher’s only produced screenplay) and the dialogue is pure poetry.

Mank is a man who loves his work, his liquor and his women, though not always in that order.  As he makes his way around Hollywood we are introduced to his fellow writers (Ben Hecht, S.J. Perelman and George S. Kaufman among them), Hollywood moguls like David O. Selznick, Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer (an outstanding Arliss Howard, missing from the big screen for far too long).  We also meet the “boy genius” himself, but in this story Orson Welles (Tom Burke) is a secondary character, showing up occasionally to add his thoughts to Mank’s script. 

Oldman is perfect as Mank, accenting every nuance in his many monologues, whether he is sober or…not so sober.  His performance is truly award worthy, and I have him neck and neck with Chadwick Boseman for this year’s Best Actor Oscar.

But the big revelation here is Amanda Seyfried, who plays actress Marion Davies.  I’ve seen her in everything from the “Mama Mia” films to “Ted 2” to “Les Miz” to the underseen “Lovelace,” in which she made Linda Lovelace into a human being and not just a punchline, and have always enjoyed her but this is the first time she has completely inhabited a character.  She has been nominated for a Best Supporting /Actress Oscar for her performance here and rightly so.

Production wise, the film is beautiful to look at, with much credit going to cinematographer Erik Messerschmidt, an Oscar nominee for this, his first film as DP.  His cameras capture the era perfectly and it’s like going back in time.

Most movies about the movies are either hit or miss.  “Mank” is definitely a hit.

Film Review: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2)

  • MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
  • Starring: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman
  • Directed by: George C. Wolfe
  • Rating: Rated R
  • Running Time: 1 HR 34 MINS
  • Netflix 

With the 93rd annual Academy Awards just days away, it is a good time to take a look at “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a film unforgivably snubbed in the Best Picture category. Garnering a total of five nominations, “Ma Rainey’s” is a fantastic drama with a brilliant cast punctuated by memorable performances from Viola Davis and the late Chadwick Boseman. 

Based upon the 1982 stage play by the late American playwright August Wilson (1945-2005) and wonderfully directed by George C. Wolfe (2005’s “Lackawanna Blues”), “Ma Rainey’s” is set on a hot and steamy July day in 1927 Chicago. Popular Georgia-born blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Rainey (Davis) is scheduled to record a song – “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” – for a pair of white producers anxious to make a profit off her music. 

Ahead of her much-anticipated arrival, Ma’s band arrives to prepare for the day’s recording session. Her musical quartet is made up of three seasoned veterans (Colman Domingo, Glynn Turman and Michael Potts) and an ambitious trumpet player named Levee Green (Boseman). Levee has a head full of dreams of becoming a star on his own, but his fellow players scoff at his ideas, at least until he tells them in a powerful scene about a disturbing racist experience he had while growing up. 

When Ma (Davis) arrives late there is heavy tension in the air, especially when it comes to her interaction with one of the white producers, Mel (Jonny Coyne, “The Blacklist”). Neither likes the other as Ma does not take any guff from anyone and Mel does not like her because she is black. In the middle is the other producer, Irvin (Jeremy Shamos, “Better Call Saul”) who will do anything to appease her. After many hiccups, the recording session finally begins but it is afterwards when the story’s haunting climax occurs. 

The real Ma Rainey lived from 1886-1939 and is often regarded as the “Mother of the Blues.” The Columbus, Georgia native was a force of nature in life and Davis drives this home with a tour de force performance that dominates the silver screen. It’s almost no wonder that Davis thrives so well on the script since she won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2016’s “Fences,” another of Wilson’s works.

 Equally spellbinding to watch is Boseman whose last performance before his untimely passing is one never to be forgotten. His progression from a bravado-filled, star-seeking musician to a broken man seething with rage, pain, and frustration is done with amazing skill. It is arguably the best acting of his brief career and makes his death that much more tragic. 

Overall, “Ma Rainey’s” is an important, transformative work of cinema. How it was ignored in the Best Picture category is a travesty of the highest order.

Film Review: “Ma Rainey’s Black Botom” (1)

  • MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM
  • Starring:  Chadwick Boseman, Viola Davis and Glynn Turman
  • Directed by:  George C. Wolfe
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 34 mins
  • Netflix

It’s a hot summer day in Chicago in the late 1920s.  In a small, enclosed room a group of musicians gather, waiting to back up a recording session for the tardy Ma Rainey (Davis), forever known as “the Mother of the Blues.”  Among the musicians is Levee (Boseman), a horn player with aspirations of musical fame of his own.  He’s tired of being part of a “jug band” and wants to introduce the musical world to a new style.  But he soon learns that Ma isn’t interested in a new style.  And what Ma says, goes.

Like “Fences” before it, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is a film adaption of an August Wilson play, again produced by Denzel Washington, who also produced, directed and starred in “Fences.”  “Ma Rainey” is directed by the amazing 15-time Tony Award nominee (and three time winner) George C. Wolfe.  Wolfe skillfully opens up the play on screen while keeping the performances front and center.  And what amazing performances they are.

Davis is tough as nails as Ma, a woman a lot smarter than some give her credit for.  She knows that her white producers only want her for her voice = that otherwise they would have nothing to do with her.  So she wields the power her voice gives her by making demands that must be met.  Whether it’s fetching her a Coke or ensuring that her nephew will appear on a record and get paid, she is as strong a Black woman as the times will allow.

The supporting cast of musicians are equally strong, especially when killing time by sharing stories of their musical past.  Turman, Michael Potts and Colman Domingo share their tales with great conviction and, occasionally, humor

As the session producer, Jeremy Shamos is both firm and bendable, depending on whether he’s dealing with his boss or Ma.

God bless Chadwick Boseman.  His star shone brightly with amazing work in films like “42,” “Get on Up” and, of course, “Black Panther.”  He left this world much too soon, but he left us with a performance that will be remembered forever.  Levee is a dreamer, but when his dreams are dismissed, or downright crushed, his jovial smiling face turns into a mask of anger, an anger that needs to be released.  Boseman, like Ms. Davis, has been Oscar nominated for his performance and they both richly deserves to win.

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is currently showing on Netflix.” 

Film Review: “Crisis”

  • CRISIS
  • Starring:  Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer and Evangeline Lilly
  • Directed by:  Nicholas Jarecki
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 58 mins
  • Quiver Distribution

Even with the current pandemic circling around the globe, it isn’t alone in its destructive hold on the world.  You would have to be living on Mars to not be aware of the horrible Opioid problem that is still being faced by over 10 million people in the United States alone and is claiming the lives of almost 50,000 annually.  You would be correct in calling it a Crisis.

“Crisis” is the story of three very different people with very similar goals.  The film opens with a young man running for his life through a field of snow.  He is heading to America from Canada but is eventually stopped by the Border Patrol.  In his backpack they find $500,000 worth of Fentanyl.  Meanwhile, in nearby Montreal, Jake (Hammer) is setting up a deal with Mother (Guy Madon).  He and his Armenian partners are looking to score $3 million in Fentanyl, to be pressed into, and disguised as, vitamin pills.

Meanwhile, at a small college, Dr. Tyrone Brower is pushing back against recommending a drug created to stop pain but is described as being non-addictive.  Dr. Brower’s lab results tell him different but the school’s Dean (Greg Kinnear) urges him not to make waves as the pharmaceutical company manufacturing the drug are his biggest grant donors.

In Detroit, a mother’s worse nightmare come true when she is informed that her son has overdosed after consuming a handful of Oxycodone.  Grief stricken, the woman (Lilly) makes it her goal to find out where her son got the pills.  Eventually all three characters will be central to the story.

Well-paced by director and writer Nicholas Jarecki, who also has a role in the film, “Crisis” is a film with several twists and turns, each one taking your around the corner to another revelation.

Oldman, who is truly a chameleon on screen (he’s played everyone from a wannabe Rasta pimp in “True Romance” to Lee Harvey Oswald in “JFK” to Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour,” which won him the Academy Award for Best Actor).  Lilly is spot-on as the grieving mother who will do anything to find the answers she is looking for.

Hammer’s Jake is the most complex character.  As his story unfolds we learn he really isn’t who we thought he was.  We also learn that he has a sister who is hooked on drugs, which gives his character more impetus to carry out his plans.

The plot, based on a true story, jumps from one character to another fairly seamlessly, which is always a positive in a film with multiple story arcs.  If I had any complaints it would be Lilly turning into a one-woman detective squad and the fact that Mother sometimes loses his Canadian accent, curious because Mr. Madon is, indeed, Canadian.

Those little quibbles aside, “Crisis” is an enjoyable film and well recommended.  It also is proof, in this writer’s opinion, that they can’t sign Armie Hammer fast enough to play Batman!