My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.
This week I look at two new feature films and a limited series released this year.
Thirteen Lives (2022)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
It’s a shame this film wasn’t given a wider theatrical release. It’s a moving story that deserves the big screen experience, not because it’s a blockbuster spectacle but because audiences should be focused for its 2 hour plus runtime, held in a dark room for this intense journey Ron Howard has created without the relief of a pause button.
The Hollywood craftsman has never been one of my favorites. He rarely surprises or astounds me but now and then has delivered some solid work. Every once in a while, he achieves greatness (with A Beautiful Mind especially). Thirteen Lives may be one of his finest achievements. Howard is wise not to over-dramatize the rescue of the Thai soccer team. He uses very little music throughout this long but never boring film and when he does, it’s a minimal hypnotic score. The cinematography is purposefully bland, almost like news footage, and this cleverly places us even more in the footsteps of the amazing individuals who went through the experience.
The acting is also understated, highlighted by yet another incredible performance from Viggo Mortensen. He continues to prove himself the most versatile of American leading men. Who else could make a French-Algerian Western, a handful of Spanish-speaking films, and pull off a flawless British accent here? He never repeats himself and with two great films so far this year (Crimes of the Future is the other one), it really feels like there is no one in his league.
I wish I could have seen this on the big screen. I wish we all could have but that shouldn’t stop you from queuing it up at home. It’s one of the best of the year.
Watched on Amazon Prime.
This is Gwar (2022)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
To be honest, my experience with this band was limited to memories of their ridiculous album covers which I sold during my days working at Zia Records. So based on Shudder’s programming and an enticing trailer, I went into this film pretty unaware of the band’s story. I’m happy to report that I enjoyed this humorous and endearing (yes, endearing) film about Gwar’s journey.
I’d recommend the film to other non-Gwar fans and even people who don’t like heavy metal music because ultimately this is a tale of the creative spirit, of being bold and doing something different. As an independent filmmaker, I could relate to Gwar’s struggles, their highs and lows, their internal squabbles. I admired their persistence and their commitment to unapologetically be who they are. As mentioned before, the film is quite touching. The tragedies these people have experienced are real and haunting.
I may not be blasting their music on a consistent basis but I have a newfound respect for this one-of-a-kind band and fondness for this film.
Watched on Shudder
Black Bird (2022)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
So many of these new shows start with a bang and then peter out. The Old Man comes to mind, which began with so much strength and lost steam around episode four. It’s the opposite effect of shows like The Wire, which took a lot to get into but were cooking by mid-season. Black Bird is better than The Old Man but unfortunately it is still uneven.
The big surprise for this viewer was Taron Edgerton. Spying his filmography, his output over the last ten years hasn’t interested me at all however Taron is clearly capable of not only carrying a show/movie, he has the potential to be one of our top leading men. His complicated convict character is reason enough to watch Black Bird. And anyway who saw Richard Jewel should not be surprised that Paul Walter Hauser delivers an equally complex, unpredictable performance. Finally, Ray Liotta gives us one of his last great parts. It’s heartbreaking and hard to watch him.
But overall, the filmmakers lead us down too many trails, failing to focus on what really matters in this story. The subplots serve only to confuse and not to enrich the narrative. By the time the show comes to its end and very few of those tangents reach a conclusion, I felt the creators made a big mistake by not simplifying their execution.
Watched on Apple TV