Cinema Dispatch: The Northman

The Northman and all the images you see in this review are owned by Focus Features

Directed by Robert Eggers

So not only did The Daniels make one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, we got a movie from Robert Eggers just a few weeks after! Either someone out there likes me or I’m being set up for a huge downfall, which admittedly is thematically consistent with Eggers’ other work. Both The Witch and The Lighthouse were two of the best movies in their respective years and it looks like Hollywood is taking notice as they’ve given him a blank check to make his unique form of creeping dread and otherworldly terror as big and bombastic as any summer blockbuster! Do the bigger budget and expansive production give Eggers the room he needs to make the best movie of his career, or is he better suited for something on a much smaller scale? Let’s find out!!

Back in the time of The Vikings, there was a king named Aurvandill (Ethan Hawke) who was unjustly slain by his own brother (Claes Bang) in front of the young prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) in a power grab for his kingdom and his queen (Nicole Kidman). The prince manages to escape and swears vengeance on his uncle which he nurtures into a finely distilled ball of pure rage and spends the next twenty years bulking up and kicking butt until he is ready to take back his kingdom. Now a grown man (Alexander Skarsgård), Amleth pillages the countryside with a group of like-minded and similarly buff Viking dudes until he gets word that his uncle has been deposed and is living with the queen and their two sons on some farm in Iceland. He heads over there on a slave ship to try and get close to him while meeting the fair maiden Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) who may or may not be a witch, and is similarly interesting in killing the man who will be enslaving them both. Amleth manages to stay unrecognized as he becomes one of his uncle’s slaves and plots his revenge which includes sewing chaos during the night and stabbing dudes with a magic sword he finds. Still, this proves to not be as simple a task as Amleth believed it to be for all those years, and now he’s faced with the true consequences of his actions which forces him to weigh the cost of his vengeance against the balance he hopes to restore with that blood. Will Amleth be able to avenge his father, save his mother, and be the hero that would make Odin proud? Will his uncle catch wise to this hulking blonde brute being the instrument of his torment, and even if he does realize his identity, is there anything he can do to stop his nephew from carrying out his quest? Is it just me or does a blood feud really do wonders for your physique? I mean jeez, they didn’t even have EMS back!

[THENORTHMANCD1 – I guess when you can’t get whey protein in a jar you just have to get it the old-fashioned way by drinking the blood of your enemies!]

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Cinema Dispatch: 2021 Catch Up (Part 2)

January is still proving to be a rough month across the board, so we’re gonna continue our look back 2021 with a few more movies that I missed!  Will some of them be contenders for the end of the year lists I’ll be putting together very soon?  Let’s find out!!

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Being the Ricardos

Being the Ricardos is owned by Amazon Studios

Directed by Aaron Sorkin

Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem) are about to have a rough week making their show I Love Lucy when a local news station accuses Lucille of having ties to the Communist Party.  Couple that with tabloids about Desi’s behavior, fights with the network over content, and a director that really gets under Lucille’s skin, and there may not be a show to put on by the time it goes to air!  Can Lucy and Desi smooth through all of these problems without alienating the people who help them make the show, and is there more at stake than their careers if things go badly?

Aaron Sorkin has always been fascinated with the inner workings of organizations that carry a lot of public weight; places where hiding the turmoil behind the scenes is just as important as anything else they are doing.  It seems almost natural that he’d turn that fascination even more inward with a movie about the field he’s most familiar with, television productions, and while there are some Sorkin-esque flaws in this movie, I think the material has steered him into making one of his best works.  Lucy and Desi, at least as they are portrayed in this movie, are fascinating characters with deeply compelling inner lives, and the movie makes no bones about singing their praises throughout.  Whenever they clash with the network over their creative vision for the show, it’s played with reverence as these victories did end up revolutionizing television and American culture, and Sorkin definitely uses this story to indulge in his favorite topics.  Strong men and women with sharp tongues and even sharper wits sticking it to the old guard to make way for the next generation is well-worn territory for him, but the fact that he’s drawing from real things that other people did tempers that enthusiasm and so it comes off as genuinely important rather than mere wish fulfillment.  Now that’s not to say he doesn’t exaggerate in places as the film does lack a certain sense of authenticity.  Clothing, technology, and even a lot of the attitudes do fit in with the time period, but it never quite feels like a period piece with Sorkin’s dialogue being what it is, and the overall look and feel of the show just feels too modern.  I don’t know if there are HD transfers of I Love Lucy, but I’m guessing they don’t look this crisp and they certainly weren’t shot in widescreen.  Still, even if it’s a bit showy in places where it probably wasn’t in the real-life story, Sorkin’s overly enthusiastic style fits with themes of the movie and his specific brand of dialogue creates a clear delineation between the deep and flawed people who make the show and the more modest caricatures they bring to life in front of cameras.  This is where the movie shines brightest, where these two people are darn near Herculean in their ability to solve problems, fight for what’s important, and smooth talk their way to getting what they want, but at the end of the day, when the cameras stop rolling and the lights turn out, they are still flawed people barreling towards an ending they are too scared to face.  Desi is madly in love with Lucille and Lucille is just as passionate about him, but Desi also can’t help but hurt her in ways that she cannot ignore.  This tension between the genuine love they feel and their uncontrollable selfishness (admittedly much more so with Desi than Lucille) is where the tragedy of this story ultimately lies and where the story is at its strongest.  This ends up being a double-edged sword however as the movie feels the need to be about more than just that and so it feels a bit scattershot and overstuffed with subplots and characters that don’t have the impact you would expect them to given the prominence of certain scenes.  The big red elephant in the room is the Communist allegations which are what kicks off the movie and you assume it’s what the whole thing is going to be about, but that ends up fading into the background as the network stuff and the relationship between Lucy and Desi end up pushing it to the background. It ends up being relevant only to the start and the end of the movie which is a bit of a shame as the fervor surrounding communism in the mid-twentieth century is certainly a frightening chapter in television history, but it at least ends on a very strong note and sets us up for a pretty big gut punch right at the end of the movie.  It’s certainly a flawed movie throughout, but it’s entertaining from the first frame to the final curtain call, and frankly, something that walks with confidence is more interesting to me than something safe; even if the former trips over itself a few times along the way.

4 out of 5
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Cinema Dispatch: The New Mutants

The New Mutants and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Studios

Directed by Josh Boone

I was going to the movies multiple times a week for YEARS before this pandemic hit, and one of the things I kept seeing over and again was trailers for this movie. Every few months there’d be another one but with a different release date on it, and it got so ridiculously long that I vowed to be there opening day to see what kind of nonsense they were trying to cover up in post-production. Then the world came to an end and wouldn’t you know it? One of the first movies to go to theaters AND NOWHERE ELSE happened to be this one. All was not lost however as it turns out there’s a drive in theater nearby (the ONLY place I’ll go to see a movie right now) and they actually had this movie on their schedule, and so I was able to go out and keep that promise I made to myself all those years ago without having to take an unnecessary risk of CATCHING A POTENTIALLY LIFE THREATENING DISEASE in the process! So with all that buildup, with all the shakeups at the studio, and with all the world events that have broken the world between the first teaser trailer to now, does the movie manage to be any good? Did all the extra time working on it prove to be a fruitful endeavor, or are they hoping that the threat of getting sick would be enough for them to sneak this out without anybody noticing? Let’s find out!!

Dani Moonstar (Blu Hunt) finds herself stuck inside of a hospital of some sorts with a bunch of other young people under the watchful eyes of Dr. Reyes (Alice Braga) who informs her that her family is dead and that she’s here because she PROBABLY caused it. Why? Well because she’s a mutant of course, and so is everyone else here! We’ve got Sam (Charlie Heaton) who can go fast and make things explode, Illyana (Anya Taylor-Joy) who… has some sort of teleportation and sword fighting powers, Roberto (Henry Zaga) who’s the most dudebro dude ever and also might have fire powers, and Rahne (Massie Williams) who is… well she’s just a werewolf. I didn’t realize that fell under MUTANT powers, but I guess you can call anything a mutant power if you try hard enough. In any case, they’re all stuck in here with the discount Nurse Ratched who’s trying to get them to learn to control their powers through… group therapy sessions I guess, and clearly has some sinister motivations for keeping them all there that they’re vaguely aware of but none too concerned about. Dani, still trying to figure out exactly what happened to her father and not even knowing what her own super power is, tries to make the most of this very bizarre situation which only gets more disturbing once everyone starts having terrifying dreams or something relating to their past traumas which is certainly not making the overall dingy atmosphere of this place any more cheery. What exactly are Dani’s powers and are they in any way connected to the strange goings on at the hospital? What does Dr. Reyes have planned for them once she’s deemed them to be “better”, and is it somehow worse than having stay here? Are they actually stuck in some sort of Groundhog’s Day time loop which is why it feels like this movie’s been around for a hundred years!?

Nope. Nope. There we go!
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Cinema Dispatch: Glass

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Glass and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by M Night Shyamalan

Isn’t it nice that every time an M Night movie comes out we don’t automatically know that it’s terrible?  I mean sure, there are PLENTY of critics of his more recent films, but unlike the bad old days of the mid to late 2000s, it’s not something that’s an unfailing certainty.  I actually like this phase of his career quite a bit with Split being a rather intense and enjoyable thriller, so seeing him make a full on sequel to one of his great works is at the very least something that will grab people’s attention.  It’s been almost twenty years since Unbreakable which came out before the super hero boom in film, so perhaps this is a good time to take a look back and see what’s changed since then from one of the first big attempts at dissecting the genre.  Is this film a continuation of Shyamalan’s rise to prominence and acclaim after such a dismal spate of films, or was the greatest twist of all the one where he convinced us that maybe he was going to make better movies again?  Let’s find out!!

After serial killer Kevin Wendell (James McAvoy) managed to escape custody at the end of the last film, he has been linked to a series of similar murders throughout Philadelphia and has cemented himself as THE HORDE in the minds of the general public.  In doing so however, he has painted quite a large target on his back for David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who has a security shop that he runs with his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) while also moonlighting as a vigilante that the media has dubbed THE OVERSEER.  Eventually the two cross paths as David finds his latest victims before they get eaten by Kevin but the super hero battle is cut short when the police show up and throw them into a mental institution under the care of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) who specializes in treating those who believe themselves to have super powers.  Along with these two, she’s also working with Elijah Price (Samuel L Jackson) who has been at this mental institution since the end of Unbreakable, though he seems to be more of a side project since he spends most of his time in a catatonic state due to the amount of sedatives he’s provided on a daily basis.  Now that she’s got these three stooges under one roof, can she solve their mistaken beliefs that they are actually super powered beings?  Alternatively, will they finally show not just her but the world at large that people like them exist?  Will I sound TOO insufferable if I declare this movie to be better than Avengers: Infinity War?

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“I can’t say that I’m too impressed with The Philadelphia Avengers.”     “Look, we’re trying, alright?”

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Cinema Dispatch: Thoroughbreds

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Thoroughbreds and all the images you see in this review are owned by Focus Features

Directed by Cory Finley

Well they haven’t announced a sequel to Ingrid Goes West yet which is PROBABLY a good thing all things considered, but it also means that I’ll have to start looking to the imitators if I want to re-experience that magic that made that film so special.  Not EXACTLY the case with this film as it was actually made BEFORE Ingrid Goes west (back in 2016), but considering both films are about emotionally unstable young women (this time there’s TWO of them!) and the ways that society can exacerbate their worst tendencies, it seems like a good place to start if I want to find another great movie that’s right up my alley.  Does this manage to succeed not just in terms of being LIKE a movie I really loved but as its own unique story?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with Amanda (Olivia Cooke) who feels nothing being tutored by Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy) who feels everything, and the two of them are sort of rekindling their friendship after certain life events (the death of Lily’s father as well as some really disturbing activities Amanda got up to) had driven them apart.  Now normally this would be a cause for celebration as two friends getting back together is usually a recipe for good times and wholesome nostalgia, but when it becomes clear that Lily REALLY hates her new step-father (Paul Sparks), Amanda floats the idea of just murdering the dude… because that’s what people who don’t feel anything naturally jump to… I guess?  Lily is skeptical at first, but it doesn’t take long for her to warm up to the idea which they start hastily putting together in between watching old movies on TV and sitting around in Lily’s fancy house.  Clearly they aren’t criminal masterminds, but it does seem that they know enough to try and get someone who’s ACTUALLY a criminal (not necessarily a mastermind) to try and help them with this plan, so the duo enlists Tim (Anton Yelchin) who Lily saw selling drugs at a party once, and things start to spiral out of control from there.  Will Lily and Amanda come up with the PERFECT plan to kill the douchebag step dad without getting caught themselves?  What can Tim really bring to the table now that he’s sucked into these girls’ outlandish scheme, and how far will he go to find a way out of it?  Is it just me, or do these girls watch just as much TV as I do?

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“So you want to start picking locations to dump the body?”     “Shh.  After this episode.”

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Cinema Dispatch: Split

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Split and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by M Night Shyamalan

We all want Shyamalan to have a comeback and to find a way to make up for the last fifteen years of his career; especially when it includes such unmitigated disasters like After Earth, The Last Airbender, or even The Happening which is fun to watch but for none of the reasons he intended it to be.  Now he did manage to knock out at least one decent film recently which was The Visit, but it was also a clear sign of how far his status has fallen that he was picking up Blumhouse scraps on a dopey premise with a found footage gimmick.  Now it WAS probably the best thing he made since Signs, but even with that it still wasn’t all that great and wasn’t something that I could imagine a dozen other much less accomplished directors directing along with three other direct to video horror films that year.  With this movie though, it seems he’s making a much more earnest effort; not just a paycheck to keep his name relevant, but an honest attempt to make the next great M Night movie that we’ve been waiting for since Bush won reelection.  Does the latest M Night thriller finally bring him back into the spotlight, or is this the final curtain call for the much maligned filmmaker?  Let’s find out!!

The movie begins with the teenagers, Claire, Marcia, and Casey (Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Anya Taylor-Joy), being kidnapped by a mysterious dude for clearly nefarious purposes.  Once they wake up from this… spray the guy uses (do they actually make Knock Out spray?), they find themselves in some sort of basement with two beds, a small bathroom, and a locked door.  Not long after they wake up, they are confronted by their captor Dennis (James McAvoy) who doesn’t give much details but makes it clear that he isn’t about to let them go.  Sometime later, they meet Patricia (James McAvoy) who apologizes for Dennis’s rude behavior, and eventually they meet young Hedwig (James McAvoy) who tells them they’re all screwed.  Now if you couldn’t pick up on it yet, or you haven’t seen the trailers, these are all the same person as their captor, given name Kevin, has Dissociative Identity Disorder and is said to have 23 distinct personalities, though maybe five or six are relevant to the movie.  From there, the movie just builds the tension as more time passes and the women are dreading what their captor has planned for them which, according to Hedwig, are PROBABLY not good things.  While that’s going on, Kevin’s therapist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley) is getting messages from one of his identities, Barry, claiming that they DESPERATLEY need to see her, but whenever he comes in, he seems perfectly fine and is sorry to be wasting her time.  Hm…  So just what does Dennis, Patricia, and Hedwig have planned for the women in his basement?  Will the good doctor find out that everything is certainly NOT fine before it’s too late?  What exactly are those other identities we don’t to see really like?

 

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“Did Igor bring you here so we can work on our experiments?  I mean, I prefer the bodies to be cold BEFORE I bring them back to life, but I can work with this.”

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Cinema Dispatch: Morgan

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Morgan and all the images you see in this review are owned by 20th Century Fox

Directed by Luke Scott

I think I actually managed to avoid every trailer for this movie (if I did catch one, then I quickly forgot it) because I know next to nothing about this movie other than there’s some woman who’s got powers or something.  Frankly, it looks like something right up Fox’s alley to the point that I wouldn’t be surprised if the big twist at the end is that Morgan gets enrolled in the Xavier School for Gifted Children, though there might be a bit of awkwardness considering where this movie looks like it’s gonna go.  Then again, they gave Wolverine a pass and that dude’s only power is to kill people and not get hurt doing so.  Anyway, will the latest Fox sci-fi thriller be something to keep the company relevant and afloat until they can rush out the Deadpool sequel, or does this science gone wrong escapade turn out to be just as bad as Fantastic Four?  Let’s find out!!

The movie is about some sort of science project by THE CORPORATION (*COUGH* Tyrell Corp *COUGH*), that seems to have gone off the rails when one of the scientist (Jennifer Jason Leigh) was stabbed in the face by their test subject known as Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy) who is a… synthetic human I guess?  After the incident, a Risk Assessment officer (Kate Mara) is sent by THE CORPORATION to find out what the hell happened and if the project should be terminated.  I would have terminated the project when it turned out they were KEEPING HER IN A LOCKED CELL UNDERGROUND, but what the fuck do I know?  Things seem to be going okay for the most part as the scientists are still very enthusiastic about keeping the project going (including Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Morgan seems to be no more harmful than anyone else who you’d keep under a microscope twenty four hours a day.  Still, this wouldn’t be a movie if things didn’t go horribly wrong and needless to say that bringing Paul Giamatti into a situation never ends very well; especially when you get a guy that hammy to assess someone else’s current mental state.  Will Morgan turn out to be the monster that Kate Mara thinks she is?  Was she actually sent there to see if the project is on track, or were the more nefarious motivations at play?  Most importantly, who the hell keeps dressing Morgan up in those awful hoodies!?

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“So do you like that color or do they just not give you anything else?  Don’t mind that they’re staring right at you by the way.  You can tell me.”

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Cinema Dispatch: The Witch

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The Witch and all the images you see in this review are owned by A24

Directed by Robert Eggers

It’s probably too soon to say we’re out of the New Year Doldrums just because this movie came out, especially considering it played the festival circuit throughout most of 2015,  but whether or not this release can be used to determine a trend at the multiplexes, at least it’s something interesting to break up the mundanity and outright crappiness that we can usually expect for the first two or three months of the year.  Does this movie deserve all the praise it’s been getting, or is this another overhyped festival darling that’s being release now because it couldn’t hack it during a better time in the mainstream circuit?  Let’s find out!!

The movie follows a family of ultra-religious pilgrims who have voluntarily left the settlement to live on their own and practice their own brand of conservative Christianity in peace.  Just to clear, these are the Puritans who thought the Puritans that left England to separate themselves from that sinful country were not pure enough for them.  Clearly leaving them to their own devices is going to end well for everyone.  Spoiler alert: It does not because not too long after William (the father played by Ralph Ineson) sets up their homestead just outside the woods, the baby son seems to have disappeared out of nowhere.  What happened to him?  Oh trust me.  You will find out very quickly what happened to him.  Needless to say that losing one of the kids does not sit well with either the parents (especially the mother played by Kate Dickle) or the baby’s siblings of which there are four (Thomasin played by Anya Taylor-Joy, Caleb played by Harvey Scrimshaw, and the twins Mercy and Jonas played by Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson).  Now it’s clear to us that somewhere deep inside the woods is a witch, but the family hasn’t come to that conclusion yet and as things get stranger and stranger, they begin to suspect one another which only escalates conflicts and weakens their sense of morality which is easily replaced by fervor.  Can this family get over the loss of their child and come together to hash out whatever differences they may have?  Will the witch’s devious motivations become clear as her corrupting influence permeates though the unwelcomed guests?  WHY IS THAT GOAT STARING AT ME!?

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“KING KONG AIN’T GOT SHIT ON ME-E-E-E-E-E!!”

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