My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
The Northman (2022)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
I know I’m in the minority on this but after three attempts I still fail to see what the big deal is about Robert Eggers. Following The Witch (hated) and The Lighthouse (liked but found deeply flawed), I hoped this film would be a third time’s the charm scenario. Instead it was a third strike and when it comes to Eggers, I think I’m out.
The Northman amounts to an indulgent, pretentious rip-off of Conan the Barbarian with elements of Hamlet and MacBeth thrown in to make it feel more important and intellectual, which it isn’t. Some of the early connections to the John Milius masterpiece feel like inspirational nods and then they become downright embarrassing examples of plagiarism: the discovery of the sword and the crucifixion/ravens/rescue in particular. It’s like Eggers lifted Conan‘s narrative with a snobby effort to improve upon what was already great, turning it into an artsy muscle-bound Shakespearean tragedy. Only he forgot the main thing about the Schwarzenegger classic that makes it timeless… the film is fun. This one is not.
The biggest sin of this movie is that it’s pretty dull. The film drags on with a Hamlet-like delay in action but without the depth to justify its length or pacing. There are some moments of intrigue and “visceral” action but they’re few and far between. What ties them together is a poorly told story with mediocre performances. Skarsgard may look the part but, like many actors of his generation, he has no dramatic weight to carry the picture. When Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe were on screen, I could feel an immediate difference. These are true actors and I wish they had been the main protagonists. The leading men of today mostly fall flat when given anything other than a Marvel movie. Nicole Kidman’s character is almost wasted by giving her few shades of gray and little time to explore the complexity of her motivations. The only performance I enjoyed throughout came from Anya Taylor-Joy who continues to prove herself as one of the best actresses working today.
I could go on and on about what doesn’t work in this film. As I often do when a film is this flawed, I spent most of the runtime rewriting the screenplay in my head. After the viewing, I shared some of these ideas with my date and it was clear from her reaction that even a few minor changes in the order of narrative events would have greatly improved the movie. What it boils down to is that Eggers just isn’t a good storyteller. He doesn’t spin a good yarn. My film loving peers don’t care. They eat up the indulgent works of Eggers and his filmmaking generation. But I’m hungry to once again see great storytelling on the big screen, like we had in the days of old.
Watched at Roadhouse Cinemas in Tucson.
The Tomorrow War (2021)
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars
This Chris Pratt adventure/sci-fi film is enjoyable enough for most of its runtime. It’s time travel plot is intriguing enough and the action is well-staged once the characters are thrown into the alien war. It takes a page from 80s genre classics by creating memorable characters with its supporting parts.
A little over an hour in, I’d experienced a run-of-the-mill but entertaining movie. And then it kept going… the last 20 minutes of this movie are so bad, so embarrassing, and unnecessary that they almost negate everything that came before. No spoilers here but the movie pretty much has two endings and the second feels like it was written by someone else entirely. It’s the epitome of bad Hollywood filmmaking. Oh well.
Watched on Amazon Prime.
The Visit (2015)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Shyamalan film. Back in my teenage years, I was a huge fan of his early work and then he started to make some truly bad movies. Aware of his recent resurgence with Split, etc. it’s been on my list to check back in and see what he’s up to.
This was a good re-introduction. The found footage style is used well in this creepy thriller that mostly works. Its best attribute is the acting. The picture is carried by two pairs of performances, the incredibly natural two kids and the more stylized, bizarre acting from the older couple. Perhaps more than any previous effort, Shyamalan wisely leans on the actors to carry the picture.
There’s some good tension throughout and a couple serious scares. For this viewer, the film fails in its finale, becoming too convoluted and contrived in how it tries to wrap everything up. Also, Shyamalan does not integrated his themes about healing as much as he could have. However, it’s still a fun watch and has me interested to see more of what the director has been up to in recent years.
Watched on Amazon.
Fear City (1984)
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
This is my second viewing of Fear City and the re-watch was inspired by a newfound interest in Abel Ferrara’s work which I’m now studying in a chronological order.
Just like the jump from Driller Killer to Ms. 45 was astounding, the leap from that masterwork to this mainstream effort is surprising. Ferrara really feels like he’s reaching for Hollywood with this crime thriller than shreds much of the unhinged, raw tone of his early work for a more refined sensibility. The results are mixed. The more conventional thriller elements bored me, especially a cheesy martial artist villain, and the more grounded, gritty scenes that explore the underbelly of the characters’ criminal world worked well.
Interesting to note as well, the film was written by frequent collaborator Nicholas St. John and this makes the third film he wrote in a row for Ferrara that deals with a killer on the streets of New York. One could argue these films form a loose trilogy.
Watched on Tubi