Michael Bay has moved on from the Transformers movies and gone back to pure action. Thank goodness! This genre is what he does best. “Ambulance” is a pure adrenaline rush. From the time it starts until the last scene you will be on the edge of your seat. Jake Gyllehaal brings his adopted brother in on a bank heist that goes wrong. They end up escaping in an ambulance with an EMT and an injured cop. It’s car chases on the freeway and in alleys. We learn that Jake’s father was a master bank robber and his son went into the family business. I was exhausted when it was over which means Bay did a good job. It’s nice to have him back where he belongs.
I have been a Marvel fan since the first Spiderman movie through the X-Men era and into the Infinity Wars, but I am not thrilled with the newest super heroes they are coming up with. They seem to be taking themselves too seriously, are darker and much more violent. “Morbius” follows this trend. It’s the story of a sick boy who grows up to be a brilliant scientist who is always near death. By injecting himself with bat blood he heals himself and gains super powers. There is a catch; he must drink blood on a regular basis in order to maintain his strength. Does this sound familiar? Ever hear of Dracula? His friend who is as sick as he is gets ahold of the serum and uses it for evil. Fighting, destruction and blood sucking ensues. Jared Leto, who has made a career of playing weird characters, continues along this path. There is a reason this film got a 16% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
“The Lost City” is an action/adventure/comedy starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum and Daniel Radcliff. Bullock is a shut in author of romance novels and Tatum has made a career of being her Fabio-like cover man. She is kidnapped because she knows something about archeology and Tatum follows her, but not before hiring a mercenary played by Brad Pitt. He is only in a few scenes, but he steals the movie and is the best part of it. This film is enjoyable fluff, sort of a “Romancing the Stone”-lite. Bullock and Tatum do have chemistry.
Three words to describe “The Batman”: Dark, dark, dark! The new take on the Batman tale is dark and melancholy. Gotham City has turned into a crime ridden cesspool with corrupt politicians, dishonest police and two bit criminals. The Batman seems to be the only one going after the criminals. Enter a new super criminal: The Riddler. But this is the 21t century and the criminals are not as they were in previous films. The Penguin is a homely corrupt businessman. The Riddler is mostly seen on video. Catwoman is an ally of the Batman. And everyone has secrets that intertwine them with each other. This is an interesting, different take on an old tale. Not much light, lots of rain and everyone speaks in whispers. At three hours long it held my interest because I wasn’t sure what would happen next. And Robert Pattison is a good choice for the caped crusader. This is the best film since the Christopher Nolan trilogy.
The Best Actress category is the most competitive one this year. Unfortunately, my favorite for the award, Lady Gaga for “House of Gucci”, wasn’t even nominated. She gave a flawless performance. Instead here are the nominees.
Jessica Chastain for “The Eyes of Tammy Fay”. Chastain has become one of the best actresses in film. She’s given a number of great performances. This one is one of them. She went from an innocent, religious college student to a corrupted televangelist. Chastain makes this surreal person human. It is a great performance.
Olivia Colman for “The Lost Daughter”. Colman has become the Oscar “IT” Girl since her performance in “The Favorite” a few years ago. She was nominated last year for “The Father”, but didn’t win. I thought her performance in this film was unemotional and boring. For some reason the film and her performance are getting raves. I don’t get it.
Penelope Cruz for “Parallel Mothers”. Cruz stars in another Pedro Almodóvar film and she does a very good job, but it’s the plot and its twists that really make the film.
Nicole Kidman for “Being the Ricardos”. Kidman has become more beautiful and a better actress as she has grown older. Playing Lucille Ball is a daunting task and she carries it off. A masterful performance, showing how serious Ball was about her work and how she transformed herself when in front of the camera.
Kristen Stewart for “Spencer”. I have always thought that Kristen Stewart was a one-note actress, someone who moped her way through performances. Playing Princess Diana toward the end of her marriage, Stewart is spot on. What impressed me was her accent and how she pulled off the character. Like Kidman and Chastain, she played a well known person and made us forget that she was an actress, not just playing the character.
Like I said this is a very competitive category. Chastain, Kidman or Stewart are all deserving of the award, but from the awards and nominations so far, it’s seems to be between Chastain and Kidman. The former won the Screen Actors Guild award. It would be her first Oscar. I would give her the edge right now.
If I was voting, I would vote for Nicole Kidman. The fact that she pulled off playing Lucille Ball, one of the most familiar faces in media, is impressive,.
This year’s nominees for Best Actor are all worthy of the honor. Here is my take on who deserves the award and who I think will win.
Javier Bardem for “Being the Ricardos”. Bardem played Desi Arnaz during the making of “I Love Lucy”. He was believable and made me forget that it was an actor playing a famous person. That in and of itself was impressive. While he was quite good, I do not think he will win the Oscar.
Benedict Cumberbatch for “The Power of the Dog”. Cumberbatch is usually good in whatever he is in. In this movie he plays a nasty, mean spirted jerk and he does it well. Plus he speaks with an American actor. He will probably win an Oscar or two some day, but I hope it is not for this film. He has done better work and I hated the film.
Andrew Garfield for “Tick, Tick Boom…”. Garfield plays Jonathan Larson who wrote “Rent”. The film covers the time when Larson was a literally a starving artist. Garfield has the energy, innocence, drive and talent to play the part. And who knew he could sing? A brilliant performance and if Will Smith weren’t in the running, I would vote for him.
Will Smith for “King Richard”. Smith plays the father of Serena and Venus Williams. The character was a force to be reckoned with and Smith does an amazing job. This is his best performance an he deserves to win. A great performance.
Denzel Washington for “The Tragedy of Macbeth”. Washington doesn’t give bad performances and this one is no exception. Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s darkest tragedies. Washington plays the character with authority and force. Good performance, but I do not think this is Denzel’s year.
I think that Will Smith will win the Oscar and he deserves it. Benedict Cumberbatch could upset Smith if “The Power of the Dog” becomes a big winner, but I hope not. I wouldn’t be upset if Andrew Garfield took home the prize, Smith deserves it this year.
I have now seen all of the films nominated in the major categories. Here are my thoughts, predictions and how I would vote.
First up is Best Picture. For the 2021 films there are ten nominations. They are:
“Belfast”- This is an autobiographical film from Kenneth Branagh set in 1969 told through the eyes of a ten year old boy. Beautifully done and well acted, this is the best film of Branagh’s career. He is nominated for Best Director. I loved it.
“CODA” – It is a film about a deaf mother, father, son and a hearing daughter who wants to be a singer. A warm story with wonderful characters. It was very different. I loved this one too.
“Don’t Look Up” is the story of scientists trying to convince political leaders that a deadly meteor is heading toward earth with the former arguing against the science of it. This film from Adam McKay is not as good as his previous films “Veep” and “The Big Short”. It’s a little long. I would call it good, not great.
“Drive My Car” is a Japanese film about an actor/director who is working on a stage version of “Uncle Vanya”. During rehearsals he becomes close to his female driver. This film has received international critical acclaim. It was very good, but long. Like “Licorice Pizza” the director, Ryusek Hamaguchi who is nominated for Best Director, should have hired an editor.
“Dune” is part one of a remake of the science fiction novel. Epic and well cast it is quite good if a bit sanctimonious. The ending leaves you hanging, setting up for part two.
“King Richard” is the story of Venus and Serena Williams’s father and how he was driven to make his daughters tennis champions. Will Smith gives the performance of his career and the supporting cast matches him. I was impressed that Richard Williams was shown as not perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed this film.
“Licorice Pizza” is the story of a teenager coming of age in the 1970’s. This is Paul Thomas Anderson’s most intimate film since “Boogie Nights” but once again it is over long. Like the director of “Drive My Car” he should have hired an editor. Too long, but I liked it. Anderson is nominated for Best Director. He is an auteur who doesn’t know when to stop.
“Nightmare Alley” is Guillermo Del Toro’s remake of a film noir. Beautifully filmed, this is a dark look at humanity, but it is beautiful to watch. The acting is quite good, though none of the actors are nominated.
“The Power of the Dog” is loved by the critics and has won a number of awards already. This film, directed by Jane Campion who is nominated, is a western about two brothers set in the 1920’s. It is dark and depressing. Is it getting all of the acclaim because a woman directed a dark western? I hated it.
“West Side Story” is Steven Spielberg’s (nominated for Best Director) reimagining of the 1957 Broadway play and 1961 film. Spielberg gives it his own touch, opening up the story so that the New York neighborhood is a part of the story. The dance scenes, which I thought could not be topped versus the 1961 film, are sensational and imaginative. This is my favorite film of the bunch.
So which film do I think will win? “The Power of the Dog” has won the most awards and will probably be named Best Picture. Unfortunately. While it is technically well done, it is slow and none of the characters are sympathetic.
Which film deserves to win? Either “Belfast” or “West Side Story” deserve the Oscar. If I were voting it would be for the latter.
If it’s February there must be a new Liam Neeson action film and this year it’s “Blacklight”. Neeson plays a “fixer” for the FBI. He’s also a grandfather who wants to hang up his guns, but the FBI director, played by an old looking Aiden Quinn, won’t let him. The problem is that there are a lot of bad actors in the bureau. The plot is different from the “Taken” movies, but Neeson’s character is not. Lots of action and the scenes with the granddaughter are nice. Not great, but not bad.
Kenneth Branagh’s latest Agatha Christie mystery remake is “Death on the Nile”. It has an all star cast and of course each character has a motive for murder. The film is slick, beautifully filmed and well acted, but a bit slow. It’s the type of movie you watch at home. An interesting prologue shows how Hercule Peroit became the person he is. For me, the stand out was Sophie Okonedo as a jazz singer. A bonus was the jazzy musical numbers. See if you can figure it out. Not great, but enjoyable.
Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg star in the movie version of the video game, “Uncharted”. It’s an action/adventure film with plenty of twists and action. Holland and Wahlberg make a good team and have plenty of chemistry. The plot involves trying to find gold hidden in the 1500’s by the Spanish. One of the things that set this movie apart was that two of the villains are women and they are great. They trick and double trick everybody. It’s a fun movie.