by Julian Spivey
Halloween Ends – Peacock – Premieres: Friday, Oct. 14
Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has seemingly spent all of her adult life running from and haunted by Michael Myers. Their decades-long battle is coming to a finale in the aptly named “Halloween Ends,” directed by David Gordon Green, which drops on Peacock and in movie theaters on Friday, Oct. 14. Who’s going to win this battle of good versus evil? Or will it end on a cliffhanger, as ‘Halloween’ movies are wont to do?
The Curse of Bridge Hollow – Netflix – Premieres: Friday, Oct. 14
“The Curse of Bridge Hollow” looks like the type of film you would’ve seen in the late ‘90s or early ‘00s on the Disney Channel. Thus, it’s probably not all that great, but it’ll likely be a fun evening spent around the TV with your kids. The film stars Marlon Wayans as a teacher who must team up with his teenage daughter (Priah Ferguson) to save their town when a mischievous spirit brings all the local Halloween decorations to life.
The School for Good and Evil – Netflix – Premieres: Wednesday, Oct. 19
“The School for Good and Evil” definitely appears more fantasy than spooky, but there’s more to the Halloween spirit than just frights and jump scares. Director Paul Feig (“Bridesmaids”) brings the beloved children’s fairytale-fantasy books by Soman Chainani to life for Netflix following the tale of best friends Sophie and Agatha who are brought to the titular school to determine their fates. The film co-stars Kerry Washington, who seems to be a good teacher, and Oscar-winner Charlize Theron, who seems to be chewing up the scenery as an evil teacher.
The Good Nurse – Netflix – Premieres: Wednesday, Oct. 26
Some of life’s most real and worst monsters are the kind you wouldn’t find in an old Universal Pictures monster flick – like killer nurses. “The Good Nurse” isn’t a horror film per se, but one you should be horrified by. Based on a true story, the film directed by Tobias Lindholm, stars Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne as a nurse suspected of killing his patients at multiple jobs and Oscar-winner Jessica Chastain as a nurse tasked with trying to help bring him down. With the acting caliber of Chastain and Redmayne, this should be a must-watch for film buffs.
Wendell & Wild – Netflix – Premieres: Friday, Oct. 28
I’ve been hoping to see a re-teaming between Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key, whose sketch comedy series “Key & Peele” is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. It might only be as the voices behind two demons in Netflix’s “Wendell & Wild,” a stop-motion animated flick directed by Henry Selick, but it’s better than nothing. In “Wendell & Wild,” the two titular demons enlist the help of a young teen (voiced by Lyric Ross of “This Is Us” fame) to help summon them to the Land of the Living where they can wreak their havoc. It looks like it might be a fun watch for the family, but I will point out it’s rated PG-13, so it might be too much for younger kiddos.
The Devil’s Hour – Amazon Prime Video – Premieres: Friday, Oct. 28
Amazon Prime Video’s “The Devil’s Hour” is the only television series to make this month’s cut, but it looks like it could be one of the spookiest offerings of the month just by looking at the intensity of Peter Capaldi’s eyes as Gideon, a reclusive nomad who’s the prime suspect in a murder spree. The series comes from former “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” producer Steven Moffatt along with Tom Moran and co-stars Jessica Raine as a woman woken up every night between three and four a.m., regarded as a time with the unexplainable can happen known as ‘the devil’s hour.’
by Julian Spivey
Director: Tom George
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan & Adrien Brody
Runtime: 1 hour & 38 minutes
“See How They Run,” directed by Tom George from a Mark Chappell screenplay, is a fun little whodunnit that pokes fun at the genre of whodunnits. Ultimately, it’s the poking fun aspect that comes off more satisfying than the crime story itself.
The film opens in 1953 in London with the celebration of the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap in the theater. American film director Leo Kopernick (a delightfully sleazy Adrien Brody), who’s also serving as the film’s narrator, is wanting to direct the film version of the popular play and feels he can make the story better too, which immediately sets him at odds with the playwright Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo). Kopernick gets into a slugfest with the play’s star Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) after making a pass at his wife and co-star Sheila Sim (Pearl Chanda) at the after-party. The next thing you know Kopernick, who might be the film’s most interesting character, has shown up dead on the set of The Mousetrap, with his tongue cut out.
Luckily for us filmgoers, Kopernick will be seen in flashbacks, including one of the film’s best scenes where he’s describing the ridiculous changes he’d like to make to the play in its film version.
Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) is the first authority on the scene, but most wait for the lead detective Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) before really getting into the whodunnits of it all.
Ronan is delightful, as is frequently the case, as Stalker, a wet-behind-the-ears constable with high aspirations of going up in the job, but her greenery shows multiple times throughout the story when she jumps too soon to conclusions.
Rockwell plays Stoppard as a drunken, disheveled and depressed detective (is there any other kind in these stories). Despite the cliché, I still found it to be a likable performance, probably because Rockwell is a likable performer.
When “See How They Run” is at its best is when it’s playfully punching at the cliches of the whodunnit genre, like the aforementioned scene with Kopernick making changes to the story for the film, which I can’t go into depth on for fear of spoiling.
The unfortunate part of “See How They Run” is the eventual realization of the who in the whodunnit is not all that interesting, but it is propped up a bit with all the poking fun of what’s going on, especially a perfect needle drop of Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light” at the end.
“See How They Run” makes for a fun, breezy watch – even if its 98-minute runtime can still somewhat drag – mostly because of the performances by Rockwell, Ronan and Brody. I don’t see anyone needing a repeat viewing of the film, especially when there are recent absolute modern classics within the genre like “Knives Out” out there for the taking.
by Julian Spivey
Director: B.J. Novak
Starring: B.J. Novak, Boyd Holbrook & Ashton Kutcher
Runtime: 1 hour & 47 minutes
B.J. Novak’s directorial debut “Vengeance,” which is now streaming exclusively on Peacock after a theatrical run that began on July 29, had so much momentum going for it until it fizzled out by the end, or mostly because of its end.
Novak, who also wrote the screenplay, stars as Ben Manalowitz, a journalist for The New Yorker (which is multiple times hilariously mistaken by local Texans as New York Magazine) who’s looking for a big break via a podcast in the vein of the many true crime podcasts that have become popular over the years. He stumbles upon one when he gets a tragic call from Texas that he doesn’t quite understand at first. Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook) calls Ben late one night to tell him his girlfriend, Abilene (Ty’s sister), has died. The problem is she’s not Ben’s girlfriend, merely a former hook-up, but the Shaw family believes the two to have been very close.
Ben flies down to Texas for the funeral and gets roped into a revenge plot by Ty, who believes his sister has been murdered by a cartel member. Ben agrees to tell the story as a podcast (the working title “Dead White Girl” is hilarious).
Ben becomes close with the Shaw family – mother Sharon (J. Smith-Cameron), sisters Kansas City and Paris (Dove Cameron and Isabella Amara), brother Mason or “El Stupido” as he’s affectionately called (Eli Abrams Bickel) and grandmother Carole (Louanne Stephens). He’s also making ground on his story, which includes interviews with record producer Quinten Sellers (Ashton Kutcher) a smart, big city-schooled Texan who helped record Abilene, a singer-songwriter, and Sancholo (Zach Villa) the gang banger whom Ty believes killed his sister via a drug overdose.
There are a lot of laughs in “Vengeance” and most of them have to do with the big city writer Ben being a fish out of water in rural Texas, but I don’t believe the movie ever really pokes fun at small-town country folk. In fact, Ben is trying to show how folks have more in common than not (which is a storyline I’m kind of tired of at the moment).
“Vengeance” is strong for most of its one hour and 47-minute runtime, but unfortunately unravels quite a bit in its final minutes when Ben figures out the culprit behind Abilene’s death and acts, after quite the showdown between the two, in a manner that I didn’t feel was natural for his character, but certainly fit in with the title of the movie.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Colin Farrell & Joel Edgerton
Runtime: 2 hours & 27 minutes
Director Ron Howard has always been in his wheelhouse when re-creating events or moments that captured the world’s attention in real life, whether it be the almost disastrous Apollo 13 space mission in “Apollo 13” (1995), a disgraced President going head-to-head with a journalist in “Frost/Nixon” (2008) or a thriller, edge of your seat Formula 1 rivalry in “Rush” (2013). Howard once again finds his sweet spot with his latest, “Thirteen Lives,” which premiered in select theaters on July 29 and on Amazon Prime Video on August 5.
“Thirteen Lives” is the daring rescue mission of a Thai youth soccer team lost and stranded in the Tham Luang cave near the Thailand/Myanmar border in the summer of 2018. Written by William Nicholson, who wrote a similar rescue mission film in director Baltasar Kormakur’s 2015 film “Everest,” the film’s focus is the rescue mission as seen by those attempting to rescue the boys, mostly through the eyes of volunteer rescue divers Richard Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell). If you want a film from the children’s perspective, this isn’t what you’re looking for.
The film doesn’t waste any of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime getting into its story. The boys are missing and trapped in the cave within 10 minutes of the film beginning. It’s rescue mission the rest of the way. The Thai Navy Seals attempt to save the boys first, but their expertise is in open water diving, not cave diving with much murkier waters and tighter confines. It isn’t long before Stanton and Volanthen are called in to help. Stanton views it as a recovery mission the entire time, not believing the boys could still be alive by the time of his involvement. Volanthen is a bit more hopeful, probably because he’s a father himself and can’t fathom losing children near the age of his son. Even after the men both find the 12 boys and their coach alive in the cave Stanton still believes they’re all going to die. It’s a six-hour dive to get them from where they are in the cave back to safety and panic among other factors just doesn’t bode well for their survival.
Stanton produces a never before thought of plan to use anesthesia to sedate the children and essentially move them throughout the chambers of the cave as if they were merely packages. They don’t really believe this will be successful, but it’s eventually deemed the only potential way to save any lives. If the boys are going to die, at least the rescuers can attempt to save them is the thought. Dr. Richard Harris (Joel Edgerton), a diver and anesthetist, is brought in to sedate the boys and train the divers on how to do the same because the medication will need to be re-applied during the dive. Other top rescue cave divers Jason Mallinson (Paul Gleeson) and Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman) are also brought in to help with the mission.
It's recent news being only just over four years since the events took place, so I don’t feel it’s really a spoiler to mention all 13 lives are miraculously saved by this team of heroes making for an ultimate feel-good movie with a lot of tension and drama along the way.
The true highlights of the film are Howard’s direction and especially the cinematography by Sayombhu Mukdeeprom shooting in what was essentially a man-made cave in four 100-foot-long tanks, equipped with tunnels to recreate the real-life cave. The performances by Mortensen and Farrell are terrific. The two never overplay their scenes and always come off naturally, almost as if you were watching a documentary or the real people, except for the fact you recognize their famous faces.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Billy Porter
Starring: Eva Reign, Abubakr Ali & Renee Elise Goldsberry
Runtime: 1 hour & 38 minutes
“Anything’s Possible,” the directorial debut from Emmy-winning actor Billy Porter, is a unique, modern take on the coming-of-age high school romance genre.
The film shows the budding relationship between Khal (Abubakr Ali) and Kelsa (Eva Reign). It’s your typical cute high school first love tale, but with some modernity thrown in because Kelsa is a trans girl. This makes “Anything’s Possible” something you likely wouldn’t have seen in a mainstream movie even a decade ago, but the brilliance of Porter’s film and Ximena Garcia Lecuona’s script is that the story doesn’t focus all that much on Kelsa being trans. Khal likes her for who she is, not as some in Kelsa’s inner circle suspect as some way to earn “woke” points. And this is the way “Anything’s Possible” should be told because today’s youth doesn’t seem to care about the kind of old school constructs past generations were so caught up in. If you like someone you like someone. How they were born doesn’t matter.
The chemistry between Reign and Ali, both in their film debuts, is instantaneous and you fall for this duo from the first time you see them together. The relationship will leave you with a smile on your face for the majority of their time together. Of course, there will be a hardship along the way or there wouldn’t be any drama to this movie, but it’s not something that wallops you over the head as a viewer.
It was kind of nice to see such an open-minded high school on film, though I don’t know if that’s just the way of the world today or if it’s a bit of Hollywood fantasy. I do know today’s youth is more open-minded than my high school was 15 years ago, but I bet in my neck of the woods in the middle of red country things might not be as easy for a couple like Kelsa and Khal. I hope the real world is a kind to couples like this as the one in this movie is.
The majority of the story is focused on Kelsa and Khal, but there are some nice supporting performances in the film from the always lovely Renee Elise Goldsberry as Kelsa’s loving mother Selene and some comic relief from Kelly Lamor Wilson as Kelsa’s best friend Chris and Manu Narayan and Miriam Laube as Khal’s parent Sasan and Selda.
It’s important for stories like “Anything’s Possible” to be told and I think it’s terrific that Porter, who I imagine is considered royalty among Hollywood’s LGBTQIA+ community, chose a story like this for his directorial debut. I can’t wait to see what kind of stories he has to tell in the future. I also hope for fruitful careers in acting for Reign and Ali, as well.
“Anything’s Possible” is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Cooper Raiff
Starring: Cooper Raiff, Dakota Johnson & Vanessa Burghardt
Runtime: 1 hour & 47 minutes
Oh, to have had the talent of Cooper Raiff at 24 years old. If you don’t know the name yet you likely will before long, but Cooper Raiff is a director, writer, actor extraordinaire. He’s made two films in his early filmmaking career and the second “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” streaming in AppleTV+ right now, has a whole lotta heart and isn’t afraid to show it.
Raiff first made his mark in 2020 with his directorial debut (that he also wrote and acted in) called “Shithouse,” which I haven’t yet seen but was a critical darling upon its release. His sophomore effort “Cha Cha Real Smooth,” which comes from a line in the DJ Casper dance hit “Cha Cha Slide,” premieres at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in January and quickly had its distribution rights purchased by AppleTV+ for $15 million.
In the film Raiff plays Andrew, a recent Tulane University graduate who moves back into his parents home and is pretty aimless. He wants to travel to Spain to be with his college girlfriend, but that plan doesn’t last long. When he takes his younger brother, David (Evan Assante), to a bar mitzvah that is lame as hell Andrew encourages everybody at the party to get up and dance – including an autistic teen girl named Lola (Vanessa Burghardt) and her young mom Domino (Dakota Johnson).
Andrew is so successful as a “party starter,” all of the other parents seeing their teen children enjoying themselves so much quickly gobble him up to do the same at their children’s upcoming bar mitzvahs and parties.
Andrew is incredibly charming – Domino is constantly calling him sweet, even if he brushes this off. It’s rare to see a character this charming, especially with the aimlessness of his life, on film these days, but Raiff isn’t afraid to show this. The film quite broadly wears its charm on its sleeves. Andrew believes in soul mates for pete’s sake!
The way Andrew interacts with Lola is beautiful – knowing her disability, but never talking down to her or treating her as a child. Lola is adorable and this is as much to do with Burghardt, who has autism in real life, as it is Raiff’s script.
Johnson’s Domino is immediately alluring the moment we meet her – part of it is the gift of looks her parents (Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) gave her, but much of it has to do with the way she carries herself and even touches put in the script by Raiff, like just the uniqueness of her name.
The chemistry between all of the performers in “Cha Cha Real Smooth” is terrific, especially that between Raiff and Johnson, whom you immediately want together and expect together from the start. The fact that the film doesn’t necessarily go down the path you think it will by its end is what makes it unique and in some ways maybe a bit infuriating, but by the end of the movie everyone is on the path that makes sense for them, even if not 100 percent completely thrilled by it. It’s a fact of life. One that might be hard for the idealistic young, but one it doesn’t take long into adulthood to realize.
It's terrific to see a young filmmaker come out with something this good at such a young age. I look forward to following Raiff’s career into the future.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Sophie Hyde
Starring: Emma Thompson & Daryl McCormack
Runtime: 1 hour & 39 minutes
If you Google “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” directed by Sophie Hyde, you’ll see genres listed as drama/sex comedy. While there are occasional laughs in ‘Leo Grande’ it’s laughable to see it listed as a “sex comedy.” This is no “American Pie” or raunchy film where sex is a part of a joke. ‘Leo Grande’ is an important look at middle-age-to-elderly sex and the right to being fulfilled sexually at any age.
“Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” written by Katy Brand, is the kind of movie I’ve always loved – there’s two primary characters, one location and almost entirely dialogue. It’s basically a play captured on film. And while I understand the simplicity of two characters, one location, almost entirely dialogue might sound boring to man film goers, ‘Leo Grande’ kept my attention the whole way through it’s one hour and 37 minute runtime with two of the best performances I’ve seen on film this year.
Nancy Stokes, nom de plume, is a 60-something widower who’s never orgasmed in her life and her sex life with her late husband was very straightforward and unexciting. She’s embarrassed by her age, her body and her lack of experiences with sex. We meet her in a hotel room, where she’s waiting for a knock on the door from Leo Grande, nom de plume, a sex worker with ridiculously good looks, who’s probably in his mid-to-late 20s.
Nancy is played by Oscar-winner Emma Thompson. Leo is played by Daryl McCormack, who is new to me, but makes his mark on the film brilliantly. It should be a star-making turn.
Nancy is guilty and embarrassed, both of which Leo assures her she need not feel. There’s nothing dirty about sex and he thinks highly of his profession. ‘Leo Grande’ is very sex positive.
You wouldn’t expect such a scenario – woman books sex worker – to lead to such wonderful conversations, but Nancy’s worries about the experience lead to both of them opening up and getting to know one another. The two form something of an odd couple relationship and after a positive first meeting, Nancy books Leo once again – she has an entire list of sexual pleasures she wants to try out this time. She insists she’ll never orgasm though.
As one would guess, eventually things turn too personal between Nancy and Leo when real names and pasts are brought up. Ultimately, the two come to an understanding – though as a viewer it’s unfortunate to know these two people who’ve shared so much intimacy together will likely never see each other again. But Nancy ultimately received what she’d been looking for all along – and no it’s not just the orgasm.
Thompson is brilliant in ‘Leo Grande’ and has been hailed by many as being brave for going completely nude as a 63-year old actress. I don’t know if bravery is where I would go with it, but it is unusual to see an actress of her age do this. It’s also important to the overall story, something most nude scenes realistically aren’t. I hope voters remember Thompson’s turn in this film when Oscar nominations are up for conversation – though it’s mid-summer release on a streaming service like Hulu may have a negative impact on that.
McCormack is likely going to be a name to look out for moving forward after his performance as the titular character in this film. He’s a warm, smart presence and his piercing eyes and good looks certainly won’t hurt him any finding roles.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Jeremiah Zagar
Starring: Adam Sandler, Juancho Hernangomez & Ben Foster
Runtime: 1 hour & 57 minutes
Adam Sandler might be 55 years old and nearly 30 years into his film career, but he’s more popular than ever when you combine his critical reviews and audience scores, according to Entertainment Weekly. Sandler’s latest film “Hustle,” which premiered on Netflix on June 3 and his directed by Jeremiah Zagar, has a 92 percent critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes (only director Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” from 2017 is higher) and the audience score is at 93 percent, which is eight points higher than his previous most popular audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, which was his 1996 golf comedy “Happy Gilmore.”
There are a few Sandler dramatic performances I’ve yet to see – most notably his 2002 film “Punch-Drunk Love,” directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and 2019’s “Uncut Gems,” directed by Josh and Benny Safdie – but I’ve never seen him better than as basketball scout Stanley Sugerman, one of the best in his field, but with aspirations of becoming an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers NBA franchise. At the beginning of the film Sugerman’s dreams come true when he’s promoted to assistant coach by the team’s owner Rex Merrick, played by acting legend Robert Duvall, but when Merrick dies shortly after and the team is taken over by his overzealous son Vince, played by Ben Foster, who doesn’t care much for Stanley, it’s back to the airport and overseas to find the next big international basketball prospect.
While in Spain, Stanley stumbles upon a ruckus at a local outdoor basketball court where a tall, tattooed Spaniard is hustling folks at basketball while wearing his construction work boots. Stanley is enamored with the man’s play and follows him to his home in hopes of intriguing him with a potential NBA career. The young man, Bo Cruz, played by actual NBA player Juancho Hernangomez in his acting debut, doesn’t want to leave his daughter and mother in Spain, but knows it’s a great opportunity to provide for them if successful.
It's not going to be an easy trip to the NBA, Stanley knows this, but he doesn’t realize how much Vince is going to be against his newfound stud of a prospect, especially after finding out he has a previous arrest for assaulting the boyfriend of his daughter’s mother. Cruz’s attitude and inability to let others get in his head is also going to be a major detriment along the way, no matter how good he looks at times.
I said I’ve never seen Sandler better, but I’ve mostly seen his as an immature imbecile in his comedies – some sophomorically funny, others just sophomorically dumb. His role as Sugerman doesn’t seem hard, but it’s a winning performance for Sandler as an everyman trying to live out his dream and the determination he shows, mixed with Sandler’s affable charm make you root for his character the entire flick.
The hugely impressive acting in “Hustle” is that of Hernangomez, especially considering he’d never acted before and he’s on the screen nearly as much as Sandler from the moment he’s introduced. It was incredibly important for the film to find an actual basketball player to make all the plays and training experienced in the film (and there’s a training montage that goes on too long in my opinion) look realistic. It was also important to have the film’s basketball villain Kermit Wilts be a real player too and young NBA star Anthony Edwards (of the Minnesota Timberwolves) does a good job at playing the brash, trash talker.
I’ve seen a handful of basketball movies over the years and “Hoosiers” is the only great one of the bunch. In fact, there aren’t even many good basketball films period. “Hustle” may not be “Hoosiers,” but it’s definitely a good film. It’s an easy lay-up, if not a slam dunk.
by Tyler Glover
Director: Angus MacLane
Starring: Chris Evans, Keke Palmer & Taika Waititi
Runtime: 1 hour & 40 minutes
In December 2020 when Pixar first announced the development of a Buzz Lightyear origin story, I was immediately skeptical. Audiences have always known Buzz as one of Andy or Bonnie’s toys in all four ‘Toy Story’ films. So, it was difficult to imagine a Buzz with no Woody, Jessie, Rex or Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. My skepticism grew even more when it was announced that Tim Allen would not be voicing Buzz Lightyear anymore, but it would be Chris Evans instead. So, now that “Lightyear” has been released, does it have a friend in us?
“Lightyear” follows Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger in Star Command, and his best friend, Alisha Hawthorne as they are investigating a habitable planet. After having to retreat to their spaceship after finding the planet has some hostile creatures, Buzz accidentally damages the vessel leaving them stranded on the planet. A year later, the crew has made a colony to live in while also developing a way to return to Earth. Buzz, very driven to fix his mistake and complete the mission, volunteers to test hyperspace fuel that will help them escape from the planet. However, after he returns, four years have passed for everyone else while just minutes have passed for him. His continued pursuits leave him un-aging but sees his friend, Alisha get engaged to her girlfriend, have a baby, have that baby graduate college, and have a child of their own. Finally, Buzz receives the help from Sox, a robotic cat, Alisha’s adult granddaughter, Izzy, and two others named Mo Morrison and Darby Steel. Eventually, they are even forced to come face to face with the infamous Zurg.
One thing to note about Pixar films is that they have set the bar for animation so incredibly high that even films that are really good may not measure up to previous films. Pixar has produced so many movies that have multiple repeat viewings in my household, like: “Finding Nemo,” “Up,” all ‘Toy Story’ movies, “Coco” and “Inside Out” for example. When Pixar is brilliant, they are brilliant! So, while “Lightyear” may not be one of the best additions to Pixar’s filmography, it is still a very entertaining, action-packed and at times, funny film. This film is also the same film that Andy watched in the first “Toy Story” that made him want to get a Buzz Lightyear action figure. Andy proves to not only have great taste in toys but also in movies.
Sox, the robotic cat, will be the standout in this movie for many. Sox is such a fun and clever companion to Buzz that it will no doubt sell lots of merchandise for Disney. However, one thing that really resonated with me is having lovable characters that still have flaws. Disney has had a history of showing us seemingly “perfect” heroes and heroines. Snow White and Cinderella, for example, are model examples for all of us in showing kindness to people that are against us. While I love those films, “Lightyear” shows us a protagonist whose pride and ego are very visible throughout and shows us the consequences of those flaws. We also have a supporting character in Darby Steel, who is a paroled convict. As a consequence, there are times she is not able to help as a condition of her parole.
The film also shows us the world for the way it is. In the film, Buzz’s friend, Alisha, is a lesbian. This is the first time Disney and Pixar have had such a central character be a part of the LGBTQIA community. The thing getting some press is that the film shows a same-sex kiss on screen. The truth of the matter is even if you are against the gay community, it is not stopping them from being a part of our world. Films should represent the world as it is and tell those stories. Gay people are a part of the world’s story.
Where the film truly lacks in comparison to other Pixar films is in its emotional aspect. There are moments that resonate with you but not in the way “Up” or “Finding Nemo” do. It is not saying that all Pixar films have to be that way but when you have played up an emotional aspect very heavily in most of your films and then one doesn’t have it, it can feel a little jarring. The truth is there were moments where the film started to truly highlight an emotional aspect, but it was too quick and rushed to leave the lasting impact it probably planned to give. At times, I felt like the heart of the film was sacrificed for more of the normal summer blockbuster action leaving the film to be exciting to watch in the moment but leave very little impact days later.
So, does “Lightyear” have a friend in me? It’s the kind of friend I will occasionally meet for lunch, but we don’t vacation at Christmas together.
by Julian Spivey
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Austin Butler, Tom Hanks & Helen Thomson
Runtime: 2 hours & 39 minutes
Elvis Presley just wanted to sing and be loved. Colonel Tom Parker just wanted his carnival sideshow chicken to dance for money. This is essentially the premise of director Baz Luhrmann’s epic Elvis Presley biopic “Elvis,” in theaters now.
“Elvis” is Luhrmann’s first film in almost a decade since 2013’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby and only his sixth film in his 30-year directorial career. He doesn’t rush to pop out film after film, meaning if he’s doing one it’s most likely a passion project. Luhrmann’s hand is all over “Elvis,” from the creative flourishes behind the camera and penning the script with Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce and Jeremy Doner. The film is expansive – covering Presley’s career from its beginnings to his young death. An interesting aspect of “Elvis” is choosing the film’s villain Colonel Tom Parker to be its storyteller.
The film opens with Parker (played by Tom Hanks in an unusual heel turn) being rushed to a Las Vegas hospital in 1997, 20 years after the death of Elvis. Parker is old and his health failing, and he takes us viewers on his career’s magnum opus, which was the guiding and controlling of Elvis from Memphis kid just wanting to sing R&B to the biggest pop culture superstar the country and even world had ever seen.
Parker was a carnival worker by trade who became musical promoter and manager for country music acts like Hank Snow and stumbled upon Elvis at the Louisiana Hayride radio show early in his Sun Records days when he sees the way young women in particular are taken by his music, but mostly his physical persona and gyrations on stage. He doesn’t see Elvis the man or Elvis the artist. He sees dollar signs from the beginning and no matter how much he fools Elvis, those surrounding Elvis or even himself he'll never see him as anything more than his dancing chicken.
By the time Elvis realizes Parker’s ill intentions it’s much too late.
“Elvis” is the story of an all-time legend – one who would’ve been such no matter who managed him – and the conman who ultimately brought him down.
Austin Butler was essentially an unknown. He had roles in two short-lived, unacclaimed television shows before beating out major names like Harry Styles and Miles Teller for his breakthrough role as Elvis. It’s clearly a star-making turn for Butler who absolutely holds his own playing off of Hanks, one of cinema’s all-time greatest actors, for more than two-and-a-half hours. Never does it feel like Butler is outmatched and that’s utterly amazing. A bad or even slightly underwhelming performance from Butler would’ve greatly harmed the overall impact of “Elvis” and he pulled it off filling the world’s most famous jumpsuit.
I’ve seen a great number of Hanks performances and can’t remember him ever playing a villain. His turn as Parker is brilliant, I hope Academy Awards voters remember a June release when it comes time to vote for Best Supporting Actor at next year’s Oscars. Parker’s selfishness and “me first” personality just ooze out of Hanks the entire film.
The supporting cast of Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley (Elvis’ wife), Helen Thomson as Gladys Presley (Elvis’ mom) and Richard Roxburgh as Vernon Presley (Elvis’ father) are adequate and don’t need to be anything more as the movie isn’t really focused on those close to Elvis other than Parker.
As for Luhrmann’s impact on the film there’s absolutely no doubt you’re watching a Luhrmann film from the very beginning with its resplendent colors, fast-paced movements and editing and the use of modern music, especially hip-hop throughout a film about the so-called King of Rock & Roll. Some of these, especially the use of hip-hop, are flourishes that might affect the opinion of the film from some of the older theater patrons, no doubt longtime fans of Elvis hoping to see his life on the big screen, but honestly they work – maybe not as well as in older Luhrmann films like 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet” and 2001’s “Moulin Rouge,” where they’re large, important factors in those films – but it’s certainly not a detriment to “Elvis.”
The only thing about “Elvis” I could really say is a bother is its two hour and 39 minute runtime – which has been a common criticism for me lately of film. There’s not really anything specifically I’d care to see cut out to shorten the runtime, but the length of the film did allow me at least once during the showtime to lose focus temporarily and think about how actor Richard Roxburgh reminded me of old Hollywood actor Robert Ryan in terms of looks. If you can avoid losing focus simply due to the long length and today’s short attention spans you’ll find yourself enjoying “Elvis.”