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Film Reviews

Review: ‘Corsage,’ A Woman Out of Time

Directed by Marie Kreutzer, the drama stars Vicky Krieps in a magnetic  performance as an Empress who suffers an epic mid-life crisis when she turns 40. 

Tighter! Make it tighter

Born at the wrong time in history for independent women, Elisabeth (Vicky Krieps) finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage to a very busy man who has no time for her. Granted, she lives in a luxurious palace, and her husband is Fritz Joseph (Florian Teichtmeister), the Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary

It’s Christmas, 1877 in a fictional account of the Empress’ life, written and directed by Marie Kreutzer (The Ground Beneath My Feet, 2019). History informs us that Elisabeth married FJ, as she refers to him privately to her royal court, when she was just 16. She grew up into a woman who yearned to be free of all the restrictions placed upon her by her station in life, reaching what we would call today a mid-life crisis as she turns 40. 

As her physician reminds her, the life expectancy for her female subjects is just 40, suggesting without saying so that maybe she should just shut up and enjoy the pheasant. Elisabeth cannot do that. She recognizes her duties, and performs them to the best of her abilities, without ever enjoying what she is expected to do. 

Lacking intimacy with her husband, she likewise realizes sadly that her children, teenage Crown Prince Rudolf (Aaron Friesz) and young Princess Marie (Eva Spreitzhofer), are more inclined to follow their father in his obedience to the grand order of things among the royal family, leaving Elisabeth to seek occasional comfort from various friends and relatives as she kicks against the goads of her unhappy existence. 

Stately, rather than lively, Corsage depicts Elisabeth’s growing discomfort as she continually insists that her corsets be tied tighter and tighter — a real-life historical tidbit — reflecting how she felt increasingly suffocated from the rigid requirements of her royal role. Writer/director Marie Kreutzer is less interested in the facts of Elisabeth’s life and/or the year that is dramatized in the film, and much more concerned with the emotional truths that speak to what Elisabeth was likely dealing with at the time. 

Absolutely emphathetic as she continues to struggle against the slow strangulation of her life, Vicky Krieps shows the full emotional weight carried by Empress Elisabeth, all without resorting to outward shows of fire or fury or frustration. It’s all quietly done, and patently obvious, to anyone observing who cares to sympathize with her situation. 

In that, Elisabeth is not completely alone; the problem is, the few who truly care for her and about her have even less power than she does to change and/or improve things that really mattered.  That leaves Elisbeth alone in a deeply mournful atmosphere that feels like a tragic film noir, only without a crime committed. 

Except for the crime of being born at the wrong time. Poor Elisabeth. 

The film opens at AMC Parks @ Arlington 18, Angelika Film Center and Cafe, and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, on Friday, January 6, via IFC Films. For more information, visit the official site.

5 Best Film Experiences of 2022

Have you seen any good films lately?

That’s been my driving force in writing, long before I founded this site in 2010. My interest has always been to share my enthusiasm about good films and explain why other films simply did not connect with me. Over the past year, I’ve published 77 reviews of feature films, including 58 reviews that I wrote for two other sites (ScreenAnarchy and EverythingButHorror).

Here at Dallas Film Now, my esteemed colleague, Joe Baker, has written a flock of excellent reviews that are definitely worth your attention. As for me, I’ve published just 18 reviews here, which is as many as I could fit into an ever-tightening schedule.

Of those 18, eight were experienced in local movie theaters, which remains my preferred venue. Here, then, the five best film experiences I enjoyed in 2022, in reverse date order.

  1. Avatar: The Way of Water. Yes, it’s “more like a theme-park amusement park ride than a movie. But what I ride!” Mine came in an auditorium at AMC Northpark, surrounded by gloriously empty seats at the advance screening. (I believe attendance was limited to 10 people!) The sound was thunderous, the seat was comfortable, and the 3D glasses … well, since I am bespectacled, 3D glasses have always a bane of my existence, so I have to take a half-point off for that. Also, I didn’t realize, or didn’t remember in advance, that the film was shot at a High Frame Rate, which means the action sequences all bore an unmistakable similarity to live television or live sports. Undoubtedly a memorable experience. [My review.]
  2. The Fabelmans. My first theatrical experience with Steven Spielberg came in 1975, when my big brother and one of his friends brought me to a screening of Jaws at a jam-packed Panorama City multiplex theater. Close Encounters of the Third Screen, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial followed, all leaving deep imprints on my brain, though I believe Jurassic Park was the last to truly take advantage of the big screen. I’ve seen the majority of Spielberg’s films in movie theaters, but his latest brought true delight, rewarding the effort to see it in theater — in this case, a press screening at AMC Northpark — before the inevitable move to the small screen. [My review.]
  3. Marcel the Shell With Shoes On. My favorite film of the year hit me hard with its emotional impact, which may be a strange thing to say about a movie. As it happens, I attended an advance press screening at Alamo Drafthouse, Lake Highlands, though I didn’t see any other critics, which ties it with the movie’s themes: “A lovely mixture of live-action faux documentary techniques and stop-motion animation that is utterly beguiling and, somehow, completely transfixing and entertaining. I laughed, I cried, I was glad to be alive to see Marcel the Shell With Shoes On with an audience as we shared the experience. It’s good to be alive.” Sometimes I struggle, but sometimes, I get the words just right to express my feelings. [My review.]
  4. Top Gun: Maverick. If memory serves, I never saw the original Top Gun in a theater, only on videocassette (?!). (Hey, it was the 80s.) The military advocacy never appealed to me; also, it felt very much like an MTV movie, a collection of music videos. Still, Tom Cruise’s mad desire to create incredible, truly cinematic sequences to make his movies stand out has become well-known over the past 20 years, especially, and so I wanted to see his latest in a movie theater. Thus, when an invitation to an advance press screening in IMAX at AMC Northpark arrived, it was easy to lower my expectations and attend. The sound and vision exceeded the story, but that kind of sound and vision justifies the time and expense to attend in person. [My review.]
  5. The Batman. Director Matt Reeves has consistently impressed with his moviemaking talents, wrestling franchise “properties” into compelling cinematic experiences. It was a no-brainer for me to accept the invitation to an advance screening at AMC Northpark, where the sound and vision definitely impressed. An added bonus for seeing it in a movie theater: it’s so dark! In the extreme dark of a movie theater, it still looked very, very dark on a big, big screen, which means I could never hope to come close to replicating that particular experience at home on my 32-inch television, even with all the curtains pulled tight around my windows. [My review.]

Review: ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,’ Delightful Interlocking Puzzles

Daniel Craig stars in a new mystery-thriller from writer/director Rian Johnson, arriving on Netflix December 23.

Around the world, several friends happily work together to solve a mysterious puzzle box that has been delivered to them, eventually revealing an invitation to an exotic location for a luxurious weekend getaway.

That opening sequence sets the tone for Glass Onion: A Knives Out, a sequel to Knives Out (2019) that is the best kind of sequel, in that it follows one key character, famed private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), and places him into an entirely new setting, surrounded by entirely new characters, as he unexpectedly finds himself endeavoring to unravel another complex and deadly crime. 

It’s an entirely pleasant film that builds upon the first film and gives Benoit Blanc an entirely new type of mystery to solve. Therefore, it would be entirely unfair of me to deprive any potential viewers of the opportunity to solve the mystery for themselves, or simply to wallow in the wonderfully complex world that filmmaker Rian Johnson has created for the sequel. 

Instead, let’s talk about Rian Johnson. 

From his first feature film, Brick (2005), Johnson has manifested an abiding interest in mysteries, which form an integral element in each of his narratives, which, in turn, swoop and jump around traditional story arcs, leading to surprising twists and unexpected curves, nonetheless always arriving at satisfying conclusions.  

To cloak his mysterious bent, Johson has further played with stylistic conventions, merging high-school and noir expectations in the aforementioned Brick, playing around with con artists and romance in The Brothers Bloom (2008), as well as action and science-fiction tropes in the delirious Looper (2012) and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), the latter leaving an impossible puzzle for poor J.J. Abrams to try and solve, and prompting many hardcore fans to complain that Johnson had destroyed the franchise, somehow. 

Meanwhile, Johnson moved on to Knives Out (2019), which only weakened in its third act, as it leaned more heavily on a flurry of scenes that felt rough, unfinished, and obligatory. Whatever the reasons for that, and perhaps it’s only my remembrance of them in that manner, the complexity and pleasures of Glass Onion lies in its ability to maneuver smoothly between genres, paying homage to great mysteries of the past and revealing more about the personality of Benoit Blanc, perhaps the least believable “Southerner,” which may also be his greatest charm; we suspect that much more lies beneath his surface appearances, which feeds into the overriding mystery narrative. 

Glass Onion also features a powerhouse performance by Janelle Monae and entertaining turns by Edward Norton, as the villain of the piece, and juicy contributions by Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr., with very welcome wildcard support by Jessica Henwick and Madelyn Cline, not to forget the dependable Noah Sagan. 

All in all, it’s a complete delight, and one of the year’s best. 

The film debuts worldwide, including Dallas and Fort Worth, on Netflix Friday, December 23, 2022.

Review: ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody,’ By the Numbers

Naomi Ackie stars as pop singer Whitney Houston in the biographical drama, directed by Kasi Lemmons.

Built around impressively recreated performance sequences, I Wanna Dance With Somebody follows well-worn biographical channels as it tells the story of pop singer Whitney Houston (Naomi Ackie). For dedicated fans, that may be enough. 

For the uninitiated, in 1985 Whitney Houston catapulted to the top of the pop music charts, recorded successful albums, starred in successful movies (The Bodyguard, Waiting to Exhale, The Preacher’s Wife, TV’s Cinderella), and then returned to making popular music. During the 90s, she married fellow pop star Bobby Brown (Ashton Sanders). Troubles were never far away, though, and throughout the remainder of her life, the singer was often rumored to have a drug-dependency problem and abuse issues with Brown. 

Written by Anthony McCarten (Bohemian Rhapsody, Darkest Hour, The Theory of Everything), the narrative structure of the film reflects his experience in converting real-life characters and their experience into cinematic form. Empathetic and respectful to a fault, it smacks of an “authorized biography,” acknowledging her darkest moments and periods of tribulation, but only to the degree that emphasizes her vulnerability to stronger personalities. 

For example, Whitney’s longtime friend Robyn (Nafessa Williams) is introduced as a romantic interest, which is quashed by the demands of Whitney’s father that the rising star instead date men in public, hiding her relationship, which then shifts from an intimate friendship to a hidden friendship, which is eventually quashed by a weakening Whitney’s capitulating to the demands of Bobby, her emotionally abusive husband, that she sever relations with Robyn, which she can never quite do. 

According to the film, Whitney always fell victim to other people and their desire to control and/or benefit from her professional career, including her strict mother, professional gospel singer Cissy Houston (Tamara Tunie), who only becomes more encouraging as she sees her child’s success; and her stern and controlling father (Clarke Peters), who lives high on the hog off her success, and never quits his priority of money over family ties. 

Both Robyn and Clive Davis (Stanley Tucci) realize that she needs her with her drug issues as the 90s morph into the new century, though she declines their attempts to help her. Clive Davis is portrayed as one of a few music professionals who surrounded Whitney, recognized her incredible talent, and did what they could to maximize her professional opportunities, yet were ultimately helpless against her own self-destructive impulses, as well as enablers that drew close to her. 

It’s a tragedy, but I Wanna Dance With Somebody does its utmost to put a happy face on a life that was sadly cut short. For now, the memories of a phenomenal voice remain. 

The film opens, only in movie theaters, December 23, 2022, in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities, via Sony Pictures. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Avatar: The Way of Water,’ Gobsmacking in Its Visual Audacity and Diverse Beauty

Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Kate Winslet, Stephen Lang, Cliff Curtis and Sigourney Weaver star in director James Cameron’s long-awaited sequel. 

A spectacular must-see in 3D, Avatar: The Way of Water is more like a three-hour amusement park ride than a movie. But what a ride!

My seat shook and thundered in tune with the thundering sound. Gobsmacking in its visual audacity and diverse beauty, the “film” — I’ll call it that for lack of a better word — is incredibly compelling to watch, at least for the first 20 minutes or so. Then my eyes started to settle down and I began to consider what was unfolding before me. 

Designed especially, it seems, for non-movie buffs who may need a reason, excuse or justification to spend possibly big money for a night out, director James Cameron often appears intent on bludgeoning the audience with an overwhelming amount of visual information. But he’s too skilled a storyteller entertainer to do that, which is a characteristic of his films over the years, from The Terminator (1984) onward. (My personal fave remains The Abyss, 1989).  

Cameron borrows liberally from literary, cinematic, and other sources to cobble together his storylines, which serve as skeletons that allow him to tell his stories in visual form, which always takes precedence over his characters. Cameron has consistently bent lights into odd and unexpected shapes and shadows to suit his stories, which may be why he takes full advantage of 3-D filmmaking. 

To be sure, I was distracted throughout the opening 20 minutes or so by the extreme brightness of the lightning, something that looked more like a cold live television show than what I associate with the warmer colors of celluloid and more recent digital productions. The very practical aspects of 3-D — the ever-present, if slight, weight of the 3-D glasses, worn over my own prescription eyeglasses — become a bit uncomfortable over the movie’s three-hour running time. 

As a film buff, though, I was eager to see what Cameron had wrought. The story feels like one might expect from a sequel to a movie that was released years ago, in that the characters have aged. Some of them have married and given birth to one or more children, while others who died in the original film have now been resurrected as avatars, or clones of their original selves. 

Thus,the blue-skinned Jake (Sam Worthington) and Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) are raising their four children on the peaceful, paradisaic planet known as Pandora when a military force from Earth returns on their quest to conquer Pandora so it can become the new home for humans. As part of their mission to dominate the planet, the humans (or Skyriders) have placed a bounty on Jake’s life, since they think he has an outsized role of influence upon the natives. 

In truth, Jake can barely manage his own family, much less anyone else. However, he realizes the danger that his family’s presence poses to their tribe, and so they move on in secret, soon finding refuge with a seaside community of people who have green skin and a great capacity for breathing and hunting underwater. 

Cameron and his co-writers on this film, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, have trouble dreaming up sufficient plot to cover three hours, so they tend to repeat story beats with a certain degree of variety in setting and outcome. Really, the plot is just an excuse for the visuals to play out, and they are lovely. 

If you haven’t suffered from 3-D overkill already, that may be sufficient. With its simple-minded, catch and release dramatic rhythms, accompanied by mind-blowing visual effects that overshadow a shallow collection of characters, Avatar: The Way of Water features more than enough eye candy, if that’s your primary motivation for spending three hours staring at a screen bigger than many palatial estates. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, December 16, via Fox and Disney. For more information about the film, visit the official site. 

Review: ‘Nanny,’ Immigrant Horror Story

Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector star in a haunting drama, directed by Nikyatu Jusu. 

It’s a very common story: a wealthy family hires someone to look after their child while they work long hours to support their lavish lifestyle. 

Aisha (Anna Diop), an immigrant to the U.S. from Senegal, begins a new job with a new family in Manhattan, hopeful that she will soon earn enough to bring her young son to live with her. The family appears to be ideal. 

Amy (Michelle Monaghan) is gracious and inviting, the apartment/residence is lavishly appointed, and the little girl, Rose (Rose Decker), is well-mannered and polite. Returning home from out-of-town business a few days later, Adam (Morgan Spector) is surprised to see that a nanny has already been hired, and is initially guarded, though he puts on the airs that are expected. 

So far, so good. We learn how Aisha became a single mother in Senegal and understand why she emigrated to the U.S. She even meets a promising young man, Malik (Sinqua Walls), and they begin a relationship that looks like it has a future. 

Signposts begin popping up, however, that signal trouble lies ahead. Aisha finds herself under increasing pressure to deal with turmoil that arises, none of it of her own doing. As she slowly becomes completely stressed out, she also starts to experience disturbing dreams that truly feel like nightmares, things that cannot be easily explained away or dismissed. 

Nikyatu Jusu makes her feature-film debut, writing an intricate, layered, and character-based story and directing it with fluid, haunting grace. Rather than rely on supernatural objects or traditional scary stories, she forges her own path, burning down everything in its way to  make something truly unique. 

She is aided and abetted by the performance by Anna Diop, who makes the role her own with understated ease and relatable anxiety and unease, and Michelle Monaghan and Morgan Spector, who support and enhance the picture and story, along with Sinqua Walls, young Rose Decker, and Leslie Uggans, as Malik’s unusually insightful mother. 

As a kind of visual tone poem, Nanny burrows its way under the skin while also mesmerizing with its command of precisely calculated framing and visuals. In its own quiet way, it’s quite stunning. 

The film opens Wednesday, November 22 in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles and will expand to additional cities on December 2. It will begin streaming December 16 on Prime Video. For more information about the film, visit the official site.