Tag Archives: movie review

Review: ‘A Man Called Otto,’ Lovable Grouch

Tom Hanks stars as a grumpy old man in a remake of the Swedish original, directed by Marc Forster.

A funny thing happened on the way to committing suicide. 

The film opens in Dallas movie theaters Friday, January 6, via Sony Pictures.

Tom Hanks has a Tom Hanks problem, darn it. 

By this point in his long and distinguished career, in which he has played (almost) entirely heroic roles, it’s difficult to take him seriously as a grumpy old man. Indeed, he must do his level best not to be entirely charming; it feels disingenuous for him to play a disagreeable so-and-so who, even before he attends his retirement party, is already making arrangements for his own suicide. 

Truthfully, though, that’s one of truly tragic things about suicide: people who are clinically depressed, to the point that what they want most is to end the pain, whether it be physical or emotional in nature, do not always present as soneone you could point out in a crowd as suicidal. Often, the pain comes from deep inside, and the individual is either unwilling or, more frequently, unable to deal with the pain on their own and, especially, seek someone else’s help. 

Remaking Hannes Holm’s “shamelessly sentimental” — quoting myself — 2016 Swedish-language adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s popular novel En man som heter Ove, script writer David Magee (Finding Neverland, 2004) carries over the original’s kind-hearted character construction, moving the action to a mid-sized town in Ohio or Pennsylvania (where it was filmed) and changing the new neighbors from Middle Eastern to Mexican. The film spends less time in the past, reducing Otto’s memories to fond and/or bittersweet nostalgic highlights that inform his present, and allowing Tom Hanks to carry the primary emotional baggage to dramatize how Otto moves beyond his decision to end it all. 

Director Marc Forster keeps the shamelessly sentimental tone, however, and how could he not? Tom Hanks is a treasure, and even though the first half of the film requires a minimal investment in The Exceedingly Obvious, the latter half allows the elder Hanks to show, by the merest dampness in his eyes, a stiffening resolve in his face, or an adjustment in his body language, that he is, indeed, a very fine dramatic actor who also wrings every last laugh possible out of his familiar comic persona. 

Truman Hanks does his best to play Otto as a younger man who meets and marries Sonja, who is played by the wonderful Rachel Keller. As she has shown in her other roles, especially on the small screen in recent years (Legion, Fargo, Tokyo Vice), Keller is a vibrant performer who is capable of extreme fire and fury. Here, the role doesn’t call for that; consequently, it’s a much quieter performance that she modulates, probably to match more easily with Truman Hanks’ limited experience as an actor. It’s the relatively rare case in which an actor is called upon to play his real-life father as a younger man, and yes, the resemblance is uncanny. (His mother, Rita Wilson, also serves as one of the producers.)

Mariana Trevino has the rather thankless role of Marisol, pregnant mother of two darling girls and a mother of sorts to her own husband, Tommy (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), who’s a bit of a lovable fool, but a loving father and a support to Marisol, to the extent that he can be. Marisol carries all the emotional burdens of her family, as well as Otto, which is a big load, but she has a big heart, so it’s all good. 

By reducing the dramatic load on Truman Hanks, the film loses out on creating an Otto who is entirely believable; lost in translation is his brilliance as an engineer and how that impacted his life and his relationship with Sonja. In its place, we have Tom Hanks, which is not a terrible thing to have, even if the film in which he stars ends up being a little bit less than it could have been, and lesser than the original adaptation.  

Review: ‘Armageddon Time,’ Refracting the Past Through the Eyes of a Young Man 

James Gray writes and directs a very personal story, featuring Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong and Anthony Hopkins. 

The past is a funny thing. It’s always changing. 

Filmmaker James Gray has said that Armageddon Time is inspired by his own personal experiences as a young Jewish boy growing up in New York City. As we all know, though, the past is a minefield planted with destructive bombs. We remember certain events very well, especially those that had a lasting beneficial impact upon us, while we do our best to release memories that we don’t wish to recall. 

In Gray’s telling, his stand-in family is dramatized as the Graffs, a family in Queens that was founded by the declining patriarch, Grandpa (Anthony Hopkins), who fled Europe ahead of Hitler. His son, Irving, broadly caricatured by a thickly-accented Jeremy Strong, and daughter-in-law Esther, captured lovingly by Anne Hathaway, are parents to Paul (Banks Repeta) and his older brother Ted (Ryan Sell). 

Young Paul is filmmaker Gray’s personal stand-in and his coming-of-age story is told through his eyes, so nearly eveything in the film reflects his memories as a young man on the cusp of adulthood. Gray, however, avoids the usual traps of nostalgic sentimentality; thus, the film feels different from nearly evey other coming-of-age story, with the characters acting in a manner that is not always praiseworthy, yet feels relentlessly authentic. 

The story begins in September 1980 with Paul beginning a new school year as a troublemaker who quickly makes a new friend in Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb), who is apparently the only Black kid in Queens, or at least in the neighborhood where the Graff family lives. (Personal aside: I visited New York City in 1981 and 1982 before moving there in 1984, but I can’t recall spending much time in any neighhorbood like the one depicted in the movie. Maybe that was a good thing for my health and safety.)

Paul’s grandfather dotes on him, but his careless, non-studious behavior and his restless antics with Johnny very much concern his mother and father, who eventually decide to enroll him in the same private school where his brother attends class, with the hope that he will cease any association with Johnny and start applying himself to his studies.  

Without ever giving way to dramatic flashiness or creating extreme moments of thunder, the film still pulses with life, beautifully shot by Gray’s usual collaborator, director of photography Darius Khondji, and edited by Scott Morris to enhance gently every key moment. The performances are finely modulated. Director Gray gives each key actor, notably Hopkins and Hathaway, at least two scenes in which it’s the actor’s subtle graces that makes the scenes dramatically effective.

For much of its running time, Armageddon Time doesn’t call attention to itself. This can present a daunting challenge to viewers, including myself, who are accustomed to films — especially ‘coming-of-age’ stories — that shout out their narratives and give advance warning about their narrative direction. For most of his filmmaking career, however, James Gray has defied expectations and created his own path forward. Now it’s resulted in what may be his warmest, truest film yet.

Review originally published by Screen Anarchy. The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, November 4, via Searchlight Pictures. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘The Good House,’ We All Want to Live There

Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline star in a sobering account of one woman’s reckoning. 

By and large, character portraits of older adults have decamped from movie theaters, heading for the friendlier confines of streaming services, where the presumed “target audience” will settle in for a comfortable evening at home, watching stars of yesteryear in movies that can be easily paused, whenever desired. 

More’s the pity, and all the more reason why a film such as The Good House should be valued for what it is: a calm, low-key, charming, and utterly compelling story of a complicated woman. Hildy Good, a realtor who has long lived in the suburbs north of Boston, Massachusetts, certainly appears to be a well-heeled, yet down-to-earth professional person. 

Sure, she has problems, primarily the burden of still providing financial support to her two adult daughters, as well as paying alimony to her ex-husband, Scott (David Rasche), who revealed he was gay after 20 years of marriage and now lives in town with his partner. None of them are desperate, per se, but they have become accustomed to Hildy’s support. 

Eight months before the film begins, however, Hildy finally accepted her family’s insistence that she get help for her alcoholism. Though she is ostensibly recovered, and professes to one and all of her family that she no longer drinks, in reality, she still drinks wine daily, even excusing herself to the point that she occasionally drinks and drives. 

Sigourney Weaver makes Hildy an entirely likable person, which in large part is why she is able to keep up her masquerade of sobriety for so long. She appears be dealing with her problems in an open and honest manner, but she is not, and continually justifies her actions to herself, which she speaks openly to the camera, constantly breaking the fourth wall. 

Longtime partners Maya Forbes and Wallace Wolodarksky wrote the screenplay with Thomas Bezucha, adapting Ann Leary’s same-titled novel, first published in 2013, and they create an environment that is constantly filled with light, so that the audience can get easily carried away by Weaver’s likable personality as Hildy Good. Throughout, it’s easy to wonder: why is she drinking so often? Where are her demons? Could she or other people be exagerrating  her social drinking? What’s the big deal? 

And that, of course, is the problem for addicts. To the addict, it can be monstrously difficult to see how their addiction may be affecting other people, and incredibly difficult to see how it affects themselves, on an individual level. 

The Good House sometimes strays into mawkish territory, sometimes stumbling as it attempt to deliver a measured message thast doesn’t come across as preachy or heavy handed. Sigourney Weaver glides thorough the proceedings with such practiced ease that it’s nearly impossible to contemplate that she is portraying an addict who desperately needs help. 

She is surrounded by seasoned professionals, such as Kevin Kline, Morena Baccarin and Rob Delaney, who are equally at ease in gliding between lightly comic and darkly dramatic material. The cast is well dotted with other familiar faces, such as Kathryn Erbe, Beverly D’Angelo, and Paul Guilfoyle, who add to the film’s sturdy bearing as it sails through occasionally troubled waters. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on September 30, via Roadside Attractions. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story’ Celebrates a City, Its Culture, Its Food, and, Yes, Its Music

If you’ve lived in Dallas for any length of time, you’ve heard about Jazz Fest, whether from Louisiana natives who’ve moved here or from Dallas visitors who have enthused about their attendance.  

Held in New Orleans every year, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival “showcases unforgettable music on multiple stages, delicious Louisiana cuisine in two large food areas, and crafts artisans from the region and around the world demonstrating and selling their work.” If that doesn’t appeal to your personal taste — in which case I question your personal taste — or if it’s been beyond your financial or physical means to attend — a much more likely scenario — directors Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern have put together a documentary that enables a virtual visit to the festival that you can now enjoy in the comfort of your home. 

Newport Jazz Festival founder George Wein first expressed interest in creating a New Orleans equivalent in 1962, but at the time, Blacks and whites were not permitted (by local ordinance) to mingle. Times changed by 1970, enabling Wein to establish the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. 

Young Quint Davis, whose youthful enthusiasms are captured in archival footage, came on board for the inaugural festival and eventually became the festival’s producer. Both Wein and Davis are interviewed, and help to provide historical background and personal insights into the music and culture that power the festival to this day.   

Throughout the documentary, the various types of music that are showcased at the festival are introduced, in some cases explained, and in all cases demonstrated vividly with live concert footage, most from the 2019 festival. As might be expected, a large number of participants speak enthusiastically about the festival itself and their experiences, including notable names, such as Ellis Marsalis Jr. (and his musician sons), members of Earth, Wind & Fire, Jimmy Buffet, Katy Perry (!) and Bruce Springsteen. 

Some of the names, like Katy Perry or Pitbull, are a surprise for those of us who are not necessarily tuned into modern music, but directors Marshall and Suffern supply the background information needed to understand why and how they all fit into the rich tapestry offered by the festival every year. And they don’t ignore the cultural aspects, helping to define why New Orleans has suffered as such a marvelous breeding ground for such a wide variety of musicians, and continues to be supportive of a marvelous buffet of musical — and culinary! — delights. (Yeah, I might be tempted to go for the food alone.) 

As a cinematic work of art, Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story weaves together a comprehensive story of a city, its music, its food, its cultures, and its many changes over the past 50 years, including the great challenges posed by Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It’s heartening to know that the festival and its people survived Katrina and the pandemic; the most recent edition was held this spring, and next year’s edition is already in the planning stages. 

The film is now available on various Video On Platform platforms. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Chases Ghosts

Tom Cruise returns to a role that made him famous. 

Tom Cruise took flight into Hollywood’s firmament of stars in 1986’s Top Gun

Arriving midway through Ronald Reagan’s second term as U.S. President, the film glorified military activity to an obnoxious degree. Under director Tony Scott (The Hunger), the slick visual stylings resembled a feature-length Navy recruitment ad, filled with glistening male abdomens and submissive women who accepted their roles as supporting players in the game of life. Oh, and the jets, and the bombs and the smile. 

Needless to say, it minted a fortune. 

Emulating the original film, Top Gun: Maverick mimics its slick visual stylings, as well as copying its narrative threads and incorporating original footage aplenty, as well as its music cues, themes and characters. Cruise’s character, Pete Mitchell, better known by his military callsign, Maverick, has added a few well-placed wrinkles while otherwise remaining as close to his original appearance as the makeup artists can achieve. 

Evidently, he has learned nothing from his many years in the military. Refusing all offers for promotion, he remains a happy pilot, killing people from a safe distance and obeying only the orders that he likes. His one-time nemesis turned long-time friend, known as Iceman (Val Kilmer), is now commander in chief or some such title, and has consistently saved Maverick from the firing squad. 

Finally, though, Maverick breaks the proverbial last straw and is grounded, ordered to service as an instructor at the so-called Top Gun military training school, where he will teach a dozen top pilots how to do the impossible and blow things up on a mission whose simulation resembles the one in Star Wars (1977). And can you believe it? One of his students is Rooster (Miles Teller), the son of Goose (Anthony Edwards), who died in Maverick’s arms many years ago. 

For many years, Rooster has held a grudge against Maverick, but it’s not because his father died in Maverick’s arms or that he holds Maverick responsible. Oh, no, nothing that simple. Instead, Rooster holds a grudge because Maverick held Rooster back from enrolling in the Navy academy for four years and delaying the inevitable start of his destined military career. Can you believe it? The nerve of that guy! 

I wondered why, if Rooster wanted to fly, he didn’t just flap his arms up and down. (See? He’s named Rooster, so …) Or become an airline pilot. No, Rooster must fly jets, just like his dad, and then hopefully become qualified to kill Faceless Bad People from the air. 

When he’s not staring daggers at Maverick during class, Rooster jousts with Hangman (Glen Powell), who continually mocks him and says he isn’t good enough to fly this dangerous secret mission that’s been borrowed from Star Wars. (Reportedly, Glen Powell was up for the role of Maverick at the same time as Miles Teller, so I wonder if that helped him define his anger issues in this film?) 

Maverick is busy trying to get busy with former girlfriend Penny (Jennifer Connelly), as in, ‘if I had a penny for every time she mocked me, I’d have a fortune and could retire.’ Penny has learned better, it seems, though she does have a daughter who kinda looks like Maverick when she smiles. Who knows? I wasn’t there; I’m not judging. 

Admiral Cyclone (Jon Hamm), who, truth be told, would rather be in advertising, gets mad at Maverick a lot, while secretly admiring his nerve. By the Admiral’s order, Maverick needs to train the pilots in just three weeks, which gets repeated so often I lost track of exactly how much time had passed, which allows for much footage of actors in planes and many, many whooshing sounds — as in, “whoosh,” that jet is mighty fast — and a lot of pilots upside down and sideways, and Maverick is still better than all of them, because he’s the star of the movie, which I mention because you might have just been born yesterday. 

Five writers received credit for “writing” the film, though I suspect the actual number of people who typed scenes or lines or floated ideas for this sequel is much higher. I just hope they all got paid and that their checks have cleared. 

Joseph Kosinski, who directed TRON: Legacy, Oblivion and Taco Bell: Web of Fries (not kidding; it’s on IMDb), obviously knows how to make people, scenery and visual effects look really, really good on a big, big screen. I’m not sorry I attended the press screening, which was in an IMAX theater and looked very, very impressive, and boomed tremendously loudly. 

In many ways, this is a stupidly entertaining movie. Intellectually, I suspect I really shouldn’t like this movie so much, but we all need a little more whoosh in our lives. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on May 27, 2022, via Paramount Pictures. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: In ‘Morbius,’ The Darkness Beckons

Jared Leto stars in a Marvel movie adventure, directed by Daniel Espinosa. 

A dark adventure that gets darker as it goes, Morbius flexes its action muscles early and often, telling the story of a brilliant doctor who is desperately searching for a cure to a rare, blood-borne disease. His latest experiment goes disastrously wrong, turning him into a ‘living vampire’ with an insatiable appetite for human blood. 

Scripted by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, a writing team whose credits include Lost in Space, Gods of Egypt and Dracula Untold, based on a Marvel comic-book character, created by Roy Thomas, that first appeared in 1971, Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) is presented as someone whose life was shaped by a rare, disabling medical condition. In his youth, he met Milo (Matt Smith), who suffered from the same disease, but came from a far more privileged background. The two became lifelong friends, and Milo continues to fund Mobius’ medical experiments. 

Lately, Dr. Morbius has been focusing his research on vampire bats, and believes he may have found a cure. He is seriously mistaken, resulting in a disturbing collection of corpses that have all been drained of their blood, save for a sole survivor, Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona), Morbius’ colleague and a romantic interest. 

As soon as Milo learns of the Morbius solution, and sees for himself that the ‘solution’ leads to a fantastic, permanent uptick into the superhuman realm for whoever takes it, he ignores Morbius’ pleas for restraint, leading to a series of destructive battles between the two in the skies above New York City. Much blood is shed, amidst an endless array of colorful vapor trails in the night sky. 

Director Daniel Espinosa is a Swedish filmmaker who broke out big with Snabba Cash (2010), established himself in Hollywood with Safe House (2012), and followed that with the European crime-drama Child 44 (2015) and the sci-fi horror Life (2017), the latter of which showed he could take a vaguely familiar premise and turn it into a roundly entertaining thriller.  Taken purely as escapist entertainment, Morbius fits neatly into Espinosa’s filmography. 

The action sequences are well-executed showcases for the visual effects, which consistently divert the eyes, though without engaging much thought beyond the simple command: “See, dog! Fetch!” Jared Leto and Matt Smith are well matched as snarling face pitted against each other; Jared Harris lends his grounded authenticity as a longtime physician; Adria Arjona ably contributes in her character’s various thin roles as ‘doctor’ and ‘romantic interest,’ as well as ‘sensible and caring person.’  

On the big screen, the dark palette looks appropriate for the dark story that is told. We are living in dark days, so it is fitting to see a dark antihero who is doing his best to resist his impulse to do dark things. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, April 1, via Sony Pictures. For more information about the film, visit the official site.