by Philip Price
Shazam! Fury of the Gods
Like many superhero stories these days, “Shazam! Fury of the Gods” unfortunately deals in its soul being pure and full of heart while contrasted with a murky visual style heightened by hollow visual effects. This four-year-later sequel isn’t as offensive as something like “Thor: Love and Thunder” in the effects department, but it is depressing gauging how much more enticing and satisfying something with as much charm as a David F. Sandberg film would be if its exterior matched its interior. I really enjoy Sandberg as a filmmaker and how he infuses every element of his films with that little something extra the film doesn’t necessarily need but signals the investment, inventiveness, and respect the man has for the craft of storytelling. ‘Fury of the Gods’ balances everything it wants to do and all of its many, many characters impressively (that Chris Morgan really knows how to work an ensemble) with the trio of female antagonists being especially emblematic of a threat and arc that made their marks in children’s movies of the ‘90s - where bad guys made the stakes feel real even if there was zero doubt of where we’d end up. Many will undoubtedly argue the villains are a weak point of the film, but everything in this movie is an archetype and the Daughters of Atlas (and Rachel Zegler especially) is one that builds on as much in a successful fashion. Jack Dylan Grazer remains a huge highlight and I can’t wait to see where his career goes while Asher Angel really draws the short end of the stick here. Things like the Lair set and Steve the pen are genuinely great and so many of the bits land that it’s difficult to imagine anyone walking out of this movie too upset, but it is quite an exhaustive third act that will either wear folks down or get them amped for the possibility of Shazam remaining in the DCEU and personally, as long as Sandberg’s at the helm, I not only wouldn’t mind Shazam sticking around but am optimistic at the thought.
Beginning with text scrolling across the stars directing duo Scott Beck and Bryan Woods know they’re not reinventing the wheel here with “65,” meaning they would seem to have a handle on the basic requirements of their genre flick and yet - for one reason or another - the dots never fully connect.
This had to be the ultimate test of “trust the premise” for Adam Driver. This, along with what he was doing day-to-day when shooting overcoming one obstacle after another; he had to really hope and trust this would cut together in a fun/compelling way while knowing the intended tone and class of picture in which he was participating.
All productions are monotonous in certain regards though and Driver had to no doubt be inspired by the physical challenges and real locations (real locations!) he encountered, but for all the pros that can be leveled against “65” the final result and how successful it is still comes down to how invested the audience becomes in the experience and while the execution feels proficient it never reaches that plane of excitement or level of thrilling that will make it a benchmark monster movie - even in the vein of the schlocky genre it’s aiming for.
“Champions” is a by-the-numbers sports dramedy that charms with its charismatic cast, led by Woody Harrelson, while never being patronizing or preachy. There are more sex jokes than expected, but I chuckled and cheered meaning this fulfilled its intent.
by Philip Price
“Scream VI” zips with the energy of an earlier installment while being the most acute “meta” entry since “Scream 2” and the weakest story since “Scream 3.” I was slightly underwhelmed by the reveals, but the execution and character development are solid. It balances the tone perfectly and was incredibly fun/suspenseful.
“Scream VI” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video and Paramount+.
Your Place or Mine
For a movie about reluctant writers and avid readers, “Your Place or Mine” is one of the laziest romantic comedies I’ve seen in a while … even by Netflix’s standards. Not to mention neither Reese Witherspoon nor Ashton Kutcher are good in it. In fact, Witherspoon is kind of - and it pains me to say this – terrible. It’s a miracle I finished this thing.
“Your Place or Mine” is streaming on Netflix.
The Quiet Girl
It is so, so difficult to do the whole “show, don’t tell” thing as effectively as first-time feature director Colm Bairéad has done here with “The Quiet Girl.” The simple on the surface, but emotionally deep scenes resonate both with such tenderness and power that by the time it builds to its final frames you will be weeping along with Andrew Bennett‘s character. It’s hugely impressive how it conveys so much despite the characters speaking little. I was incredibly moved.
“The Quiet Girl” can be rented on Amazon Prime Video for $5.99.
“Sick” is largely screenwriter Kevin Williamson playing the hits, but as groan-inducing as the Covid framework might seem it actually works really well to both ratchet up the uncertainty and the tension of each encounter while the genre exercise this ultimately is also serves as a clever metaphor for the virus itself.
The pairing of Williamson’s sharp tongue with the unrelenting force of John Hyams’s direction is also really inspired and results in a sleek, lean thriller where every blow lands with impact even if the film itself fails to leave much of one.
“Sick” is streaming on Peacock.
I Love You, You Hate Me
As a kid who grew up loving Barney with nothing but fond memories of the show this was interesting from the perspective of a peak behind the curtain, but from a more cynical "serialized docudramas are all the rage" perspective this often feels like it's trying to make something from not enough in order to conjure that "shock value" so many of these true-life documentaries rely on.
The extent of the backlash was certainly news to me and certainly deserves its own cultural analysis but withholding what eventually happened to the members of the Leach family felt like more of a crass decision; designed more to perpetuate "scandal" than genuinely trying to understand how something with such good and humble intent could have ramifications that were both hateful and tragic.
“I Love You, You Hate Me” is streaming on Peacock.
by Philip Price
Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has now outlived his father in every conceivable way and has, in many ways, fulfilled and surpassed Apollo’s own ambitions. Moving from the sins of the father to the ones of our youth, “Creed III” is absolution by fire with two insanely intense and intimidating performances at its heart. Michael B. Jordan is a DIRECTOR as this is not only the best film in the ‘Creed’ series, but also features the best fights of the entire ‘Rocky’ franchise. Jonathan Majors is breathtaking not only physically, but more importantly in how he plays every angle of Dame’s arc with a devious precision that goes out the window the second the bell rings and he bullishly advances toward his opponent. The way the mask drops in Majors’ performance is so menacing yet equally invigorating that the Shakespearean nature of it all can’t help but deliver in spades when it comes to the final fight and every punch is made heavier by the weight of the pain and guilt behind them. It’s the rare film - especially these days - that I wish were just a little longer and had given Dame a little more screen time, but I was floored by the experience and walked out immediately wanting to watch it again.
“Creed III” can be rented on Amazon Prime Video for $19.99.
It’s fun, but it could have been really fun. There’s a lot of missed opportunity here due to editorial choices as they have the material, but the pacing is off and the energy only finds itself in a few select sequences. The ensemble nature is welcome as well given it makes the kills unpredictable and everyone fair game, but as far as the cast goes the film’s tone needed to be on the same wavelength as Margo Martindale, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Aaron Holliday - each going over the top in just the right capacity. From the ambulance backing up to the door to Whitlock jumping on the table in the gazebo I needed more consistency in these small comic touches throughout and less of the one-note joke of the title to keep repeating itself over and over.
“Cocaine Bear” is now streaming on Peacock.
Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre
“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” is Guy Ritchie doing what Guy Ritchie does and doing it damn well even if the title couldn’t be worse. I, for one, could not be more thrilled the pair Ritchie and Jason Statham have found one another again and can’t seem to stop collaborating as it’s the characters, performances, and overall style audiences will show up for and none of those disappointed in this iteration of this plot we’ve seen countless times before. Hugh Grant and Josh Hartnett could have their own series and the use of sound here is pretty awesome, especially in the way it assists scene transitions. Nothing groundbreaking, but effortlessly watchable.
“Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre” can be rented on Amazon Prime Video for $19.99.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Ben Affleck
Starring: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck & Viola Davis
Rated: R (language)
Runtime: 1 hour & 52 minutes
“Air” is the kind of movie you don’t see much in theaters anymore, especially in spring/summer when theaters are inundated with I.P. films. It’s an adult story about something that happened 40 years ago and is set in the world of business and marketing. Honestly, “Air” wasn’t supposed to be a theater movie either. Being an Amazon Studios film, it was originally slated to debut on Amazon Prime Video, but it tested so well with audiences the company decided to send it out for a theatrical release (though I’m sure it’ll be available on Amazon Prime Video before too long).
Directed by Ben Affleck from a script by newcomer Alex Convery, “Air” is the story of how Nike, a popular running shoe company already by the early ‘80s, but fledgling with its basketball shoe division, sets out to sign Michael Jordan as the face of their brand.
The executives at Nike don’t think they have a shot at attracting Jordan, the third pick overall in the 1984 NBA Draft, as it’s well-known he prefers Adidas and will be too expensive for the company’s budget. The company wants to grab two-to-three draft picks to sign to their shoe – looking at future stars like Charles Barkley and John Stockton, but also players who would turn into pro basketball nobodies like Melvin Turpin.
Nike’s basketball talent scout Sonny Vaccaro, played by Matt Damon, wants to make a big splash and thinks he could potentially attract Jordan by throwing the entire $250,000 budget at him. But to do so he has to inspire Jordan with the right shoe, approach his mother, Deloris, to help get in with the young player, battle across phone lines with Jordan’s agent David Falk and convince Nike CEO Phil Knight it’s the right decision.
“Air” is entertaining from start to finish, which is quite a feat for a story about marketing and business that probably won’t have too many mouths watering with anticipation or excitement. But like similar movies “The Big Short,” directed by Adam McKay, and “Moneyball,” directed by Bennett Miller, Affleck is able to make exciting and interesting a topic many wouldn’t find to be so. The key to this, I believe, is a mixture of Convery’s script and the incredible cast.
Damon has perfected this everyman with a big dream character. We saw it recently in director James Mangold’s 2019 film “Ford v Ferrari,” in which he played another real person in automotive designer Carroll Shelby. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen that movie, but it feels like the performances are very similar – which might be a negative for some, but as long as Damon’s grooving let him groove.
Affleck is fun as Knight, no doubt playing off of some of the eccentricities of being a rich guy running a big business, even if Nike wasn’t anywhere near the kind of big business in 1984 it would turn out to be, thanks in lots to the results of what happens in this film. Affleck’s performance as Knight, with his tracksuit, crazy sunglasses and Buddhist aphorisms is played as the film’s comic relief, potentially necessary with people’s livelihoods on the line if the deal bombs.
The supporting cast of “Air” is stellar.
Viola Davis portrays Deloris Jordan as the wise matriarch of the Jordan family knowing her son is something special that doesn’t come around often and has the opportunity to set himself up for life if they play their cards right. We see this the most in the final phone conversation she has with Vaccaro, where they ask for something that simply wasn’t ever done before. It wound up making Nike and Michael Jordan billionaires. Davis is stellar in basically everything she does and because of this is probably the most likely Oscar nomination from the film, but it’s far too early to be thinking about that stuff.
Jason Bateman is likable in nearly everything he does and he brings this likability to his role as Rob Strasser, Vice President of Marketing at Nike. Strasser knows the company needs something big to keep the basketball division going and believes in Vaccaro, but he also is reluctant at first to stray from the conservative plan of signing multiple players. One of the best scenes in the film is Strasser telling Vaccaro that his job within Nike is more than just a job to him.
Chris Messina as David Falk is such a Messina performance that I couldn’t possibly see any other actor playing the character after watching “Air.” The on-the-phone battles between him and Vaccaro were potentially my favorite moments of the film, with the two of them absolutely giving each other hell in vile ways (especially from Falk) that range from cordial to furious to cordial again. It’s a blast watching Messina and Damon go at it verbally in these scenes.
Chris Tucker is only in three scenes as Nike employee Howard White, who would become Vice President of the Jordan Brand, but you will smile the entire time he’s on the screen. Tucker essentially plays the role as himself, but as a personal friend of the real-life White, maybe there’s more acting there than we really see.
Another thing about “Air” I really enjoyed was the era-appropriate soundtrack that had me tapping my feet along on the theater floor the entire runtime. It begins with Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing” and includes other great needle drops like “Blister in the Sun” by Violent Femmes, “Legs” by ZZ Top, and, of course, “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen.
by Julian Spivey
In December I saw something called the “12 Movies Challenge” on Facebook. The premise was that you would have 12 months to watch 12 movies recommended by 12 friends. I don’t often participate in such social media challenges but being a movie buff I felt this might be an interesting way to get out of my comfort zone a bit when it comes to watching movies.
My Facebook buds gave me some films that I’ve been meaning to watch and I pretty much front-loaded those on the list – though not explicitly stated in the challenge rules I am opting to watch one film a month.
A Best Picture winner like “Out of Africa” is an obvious choice for me to get to at some point – that point is now going to be March of this year. But there are certain movies I’m not really looking forward to all that much – I’m looking at you “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken,” my August selection. Then there’s the acclaimed stuff that isn’t really up my alley like the anime feature “Spirited Away,” which I’ve scheduled for November. That will truly be me getting out of my comfort zone.
Here are the 12 movies recommended to me and the months I’ve assigned myself to watch them:
January: “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” (1983)
February: “Till” (2022)
March: “Out of Africa” (1985)
April: “Legally Blonde” (2001)
May: “The Devil Wears Prada” (2006)
June: “The Birdcage” (1996)
July: “Morning Glory” (2010)
August: “The Ghost and Mr. Chicken” (1966)
September: “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006)
October: “Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975)
November: “Spirited Away” (2001)
December: “The Last Laugh” (1924)
Now, you might be thinking if you read my previous month’s entry that April’s recommended movie was supposed to be another Meryl Streep feature in “The Devil Wears Prada,” which was selected for me by my friend and The Word contributor Tyler Glover.
But Tyler graciously allowed me to swap “The Devil Wears Prada” out with “Legally Blonde,” which was supposed to be my selection for May. You see, “Legally Blonde” was recommended by my wife, Aprille, and her birthday was April 2 and I knew she would really love it if we watched the film together for her birthday.
“Legally Blonde,” released in 2001, was one of the movies I really wasn’t looking forward to watching when this challenge began. I mostly just figured it wasn’t a movie for me. It would seem to be almost an exact representation of what a “chick flick” would be – and not the kind of rom-com like “When Harry Met Sally,” which is honestly as beloved among men as it is among women. And, you know, after watching “Legally Blonde” I can confirm that it’s probably not a film for me – but I didn’t hate it. I didn’t even dislike it. It’s not something I’ll ever want to watch again – but I could say that about many films.
I think it’s possible the film, which was directed by Robert Luketic (whom I’d never heard of before) and written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith based on a novel by Amanda Brown, mostly accomplished what it set out to do. But I also have some questions about whether or not it really did. Because I didn’t view “Legally Blonde” in the same way I know my wife does and I believe most of its fans do. For instance, “Legally Blonde” is a comedy – but I didn’t feel it was very funny. But, then again, I’m probably not going to find girly, sorority and blonde humor all that funny. The film is also billed as a rom-com, which I just don’t see at all. Sure, Reese Witherspoon's Elle Woods winds up with the guy in the end in Luke Wilson’s Emmett Richmond, but they don’t have a whole lot going on between them in the film and none of it is romantic. It’s nice that Emmett respects her from the start and sees her talents and her for whom she really is, unlike the douchebag Warner Huntington III (played by Matthew Davis), her boyfriend at the movie’s outset – but the movie has virtually nothing to do with their relationship, effectively meaning it’s not a rom-com. The movie also seems to wrap up RIDICULOUSLY fast. Like the writers were like, “OK, I’m tired. Let’s end this.”
Here's what I admired about “Legally Blonde,” and it pretty much all comes down to Elle Woods. This movie and her character could’ve been really dumb and when the title of the film plays off the “dumb blonde” stereotype you kind of expect the character to be dumb, to be the punchline of all those amateurish “dumb blonde” jokes you’ve ever heard. But there wasn’t a single moment in “Legally Blonde” where I felt Elle Woods was dumb – though it’s evident most outside of her sorority house certainly feel she is.
Now, I will say I don’t like the setup of how Elle decides to go to law school – she’s doing it because she wants to remain with Mr. Douchebag who broke up with her because he needed to take life more seriously and didn’t view her as a serious person. But it doesn’t take very long to realize she’s going to be more than just Warner Huntington III’s trophy wife.
Elle Woods works hard. She has a goal and sets out to reach it. Through her hard work and using her particular set of knowledge and skills she succeeds. She’s also ridiculously nice and really that’s what you most want from someone, isn’t it? I think she’s a terrific role model for people, especially young girls/teens. For me, personally, that’s what “Legally Blonde” was – the story of a young woman who doesn’t give up, works hard and perseveres, even when those around her doubt her.