THE FABELMANSAm I failing as a movie reviewer if I really don’t know what to say about a film?

Let’s talk about THE FABELMANS, Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical movie about his family and how he was inspired to become one of Hollywood’s most reliable directors.

I saw this movie in a theater back in November (maybe it was October?). I walked out thinking, man I really enjoyed that movie. It could have gone so wrong (hello Sam Mendes’ Empire of Light), but in the sure hands of Spielberg and co-screenwriter Tony Kushner it didn’t. It’s a pretty entertaining 2 hours and 30 minutes. So why am I having such a tough time writing about it. Why has it taken me months to formulate an opinion I feel comfortable putting on “paper”?

I really don’t know. It’s a genius explaining how he became a genius. So maybe I found that a bit off-putting. The only character that I would consider likeable is Spielberg’s analog, Sammy Fabelman (competently played by Gabriel LaBelle). Michelle Williams was nominated for Best Actress for playing Sammy’s mom Mitzi and while she’s decent, it’s not close to her best work. Paul Dano is also decent as his dad, Burt Fabelman. But he’s kind of one note until near the end. Judd Hirsch swoops in for a completely bananas 5 minutes or so, then he’s gone and some of the energy of the film goes with him. There are some other fine performances, including Seth Rogen as close family friend Uncle Bennie (who it turns out Mitzi is in love with). But nothing that blew me away. Really the only performance that stuck with me comes at the very end when David Lynch shows up.

And maybe that’s my problem. Maybe Spielberg is too close to the story to make it really interesting or daring. Or at least interesting to me. I know many critics have adored THE FABELMANS, putting it on their Best of 2022 lists. The Academy obviously liked it, gracing it with a Best Picture nomination and Spielberg with a Best Director nod.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it. It is very captivating in the theater. I was glued to the screen while watching it. But these many months later, it’s a cypher to me. It was fun, and I’d watch it if it comes up on HBO on a Sunday afternoon. But it’s not something I’ve spent any time thinking about since I saw it. Contrast that with TÁR, BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, EVERTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE or TOP GUN: MAVERICK. I have thought of or re-watched those films a lot in the past year. I’ve sought them out, I even purchased the TÁR Blu Ray. I have even sought out ARMAGEDDON TIME, a film with a very similar theme. James Gray got it right and hooked me. But THE FABELMANS? Not so much.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with any of that. Sometimes a film hits you in the feels or the head and you cannot get past it or forget it. THE FABELMANS didn’t work for me on that level. And I’m sure Spielberg will live just fine without my adoration.


triangle of sadnessWhen thinking about movies in which the theme is “eat the rich”, there are a couple that jump to mind immediately. “PARASITE” may be the best and most honored example having won the Oscar for Best Picture. There have been kind of a lot in recent years. THE MENU, KNIVES OUT, HUSTLERS and weirdly, THE JOKER all have the underdog or less fortunate getting one (or several) over on the wealthy. Wealth used to be something to aspire to. Now it is something to be derided and the target for comeuppance. The latest is TRIANGLE OF SADNESS from Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund.

TRIANGLE won the Palm d’Or at Cannes in 2022. And now it has been nominated for three high profile Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay. But there is also a snub conversation to be had (more on that later). The question I’ve heard many people ask, is any of that deserved? Well, tastes are unique to each person.

TRIANGLE OF SADNESS starts off with two models who are a couple (Charlbi Dean and Harris Dickinson) who get to go on a luxury cruise. She is far more successful than he, her position as an Instagram influencer is a large reason they get to go on the cruise. They argue about money and it sort of falls along gender lines. He feels like she should not be the provider whereas she doesn’t seem to mind.

Once on the cruise their squabbles seem quaint. There is a Russian oligarch, a British couple whose family business is anti-personnel mines and other assorted terrible people. The model couple also seem to the youngest on the cruise. They have attitudes unique to the wealthy and have little concern for the crew of the ship. I’m skipping through a lot in the interest of brevity and in the interest of motivating you to check out this completely bananas movie. But it all sort of comes to a head at the Captain’s DInner. There is questionable food, rough seas that would have sunk even the most modern of cruise ships, and a lot of, uh, bodily fluids exploding all over the place. There is also the captain, in a genius role for Woody Harrelson. He is constantly put out and put upon in his job. He seems to hate it. That comes to a head in a drunken standoff with the oligarch (a genius performance from Zlatko Buric) where the two use the ship’s intercom to debate Communism versus Capitalism with Harrelson advocating for the former and Buric for the latter. As if that isn’t enough, something happens that forces passengers and crew to abandon ship. Only a few make it to what appears to be a remote island. The young couple are among them. So are a widower, a woman who is an invalid from a stroke, the oligarch, the ship’s sort of cruise director and a member of the crew whose job is to clean toilets.

On the island is where the movie really takes off. Dolly de Leon is the crew member, and her skills and abilities make her the defacto leader of this group. She rules with something of an iron fist and trades sex for favors and position. It’s a genius turning of the tables that Östlund has presented us. From shit cleaner to shit enforcer. De Leon is brilliant and probably should have received a supporting actress nomination, but I cannot for the life of me decide who to kick out. Maybe Stephanie Hsu from EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, but it may be a snub debate worth having.

Östlund has a unique vision and really knows how to get his point across and keep us entertained. TRIANGLE is funny, poignant and entertaining. The Captain’s Dinner scene and its aftermath go on a bit long for me and my distaste for puking in movies, but I cannot deny that I laughed out loud several times. The movie is a commentary on how wealth and power turn even those who have been oppressed into the oppressor. The screenplay absolutely deserved the nomination. I suppose the movie deserved its Best Picture nomination, thought one could argue (as I have in another review that DECISION TO LEAVE is the snubbiest film of this year’s Oscars). You may not care for Östlund’s style but there is no denying his talent and getting noticed for Best Director is a nod to encourage others with that type of unique vision to go for it.

The movie is kind of long and does feel like it drags in parts. But it is a great comedy and satire about the evils of wealth and power. It may be the most effective in that genre since PARASITE.


top gun maverickI am sure you have noticed that there has been a flood of posts from Hollywood & Whine lately. I took too long a break and figured Oscar season was the opportune time to dive back in and give you the content you have been longing for (ok, it’s not like I was getting a flood of emails or messages asking what happened).

I figure it was time to get to TOP GUN: MAVERICK. But really, what is the point of reviewing a movie that has been out for 9 months and that has made (checking Box Office Mojo) more than $718 million (nearly $1.5 billion worldwide). If you haven’t seen it, well I have to question your life choices and whether you like fun or even have a heart. I mean, MAVERICK is just 130 minutes of fun, action and nostalgia. It’s awesome. I dare you to challenge me or the millions of people around the world who have enjoyed the film.

So, what to talk about? I was intrigued by the comments from Steven Spielberg that Tom Cruise “saved Hollywood’s ass” and saved the theater industry. Spielberg has been very vocal about his frustrations with so-called “day and date” releases, the decision by studios (most notably HBO MAX) to release new films in theaters and on streaming on the same date. Several filmmakers hated it. Spielberg was among the most vocal bashing the idea. Cruise also refused to allow the release of TOP GUN: MAVERICK on a streaming service until it received an appropriate run in theaters. The movie dropped on Paramount+ just before Christmas. Almost 10 months after its theatrical release. Tom got his way and was proven correct the right movie would bring people back to theaters after the pandemic. It has been proven several times with Avatar: The Way of Water, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Spider-Man: No Way Home, No Time to Die and several others earned boatloads of cash (north of $500 million domestic) with theater first releases. So, maybe Steve should also thank Marvel, but well he’s not going to do that. He’s with Martin Scorsese in the opinion that the MCU is ruining movies. For all that, theaters are in no less trouble than before. Regal is closing theaters all over the country, including one it took over from Arclight in Sherman Oaks when that company closed during the early days the pandemic. A Laemmele Theater (a Los Angeles arthouse chain) is shuttering a theater around the corner from me because the landlord is going to tear it down to build luxury apartments (so much for affordable housing in L.A.) So, did Cruise really save theaters?

Look, I’m as in love with the movie-going experience as the next guy. Seeing TOP GUN: MAVERICK in a theater was the most fun I had since AVENGERS: ENDGAME. The audience was all in. People were cheering, sobbing and hooting and hollering throughout the movie. It was awesome. Then, when I wanted to see it again, I bought a digital copy on Apple (good deal, both Top Gun movies for $30). I didn’t need to go back to a theater. I could watch in the safety and comfort of my own home. Of the 10 Best Picture nominees, I have seen only TOP GUN: MAVERICK, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, THE FABELMANS and EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE IN THEATERS. The rest I watched either on streaming or DVD.

Maybe I am missing something by not participating in theatrical experience. Maybe it will eventually kill the mid-level or independent film. But no business can stay the same forever. The studios and filmmakers must adapt. I know it seems lazy to not go to a theater. That may be true, but I am lazy. I also don’t want to have to fight traffic, parking, people talking during the movie and other assorted annoyances. If I can watch something at home, then I will. For example, tonight I think I’m going to watch Babylon. I didn’t want to go to a theater to see it, but now I can. This all may seem counterintuitive for a guy who fancies himself a film critic. I’m not saying I will never go to a theater. I will. This year for example I will go see the new Ant-Man, Indiana Jones, and Fast & Furious movies in a theater. Just because they are fun in that environment. And I want to review them in a timely manner. But as I get older and crotchetier, I find myself just wanting to stay home. Why should I be robbed of great art because of that? The answer is I shouldn’t. Isn’t part of the point of movie making is have people see your creation? If that’s the case than getting more eyes on a film can’t be anything but good whether it’s in a theater or in your living room.


Women_TalkingNot to be snarky or too clever, but is there a more accurately titled movie this year than WOMEN TALKING? I mean, that’s literally the content of the movie. But it is about much more than a bunch of women talking. It is about abuse and fighting back and taking fate and destiny into your own hands.

The movie is set in a Mennonite community in Bolivia. We’re not exactly sure where, but it appears to be sometime around the turn of a decade since at one point a census taker drives by the community. (A little Wikipedia research says it happens in 2010. Ok, sounds good. There is a dark secret in this community. The women are tranquilized and abused by a circle of men. After years of this, someone finally reports it to the authorities and the men are arrested. But that is not the end for these women. With the men either in prison or away dealing with the trial the women feel they need to make a decision—stay and run the risk of continued abuse or leave for the unknown, but the promise of safety.

That is the dramatic tension of the film. Most of the women gather in a hayloft to talk about the options. About whether they should stay or go. That argument is played out in a series of discussions. The various arguments are captivating mostly because of several stellar performances. Claire Foy’s Salome wants revenge in the form staying and fighting or killing the men. Rooney Mara’s Ona wants to stay and change the community’s rules so this kind of thing won’t happen again. Jessie Buckley’s Mariche believes forgiveness is the only path forward. The discussions are led by two other older women, Sheila McCarthy’s Greta and Judith Ivey’s Agata. While no one is thrilled with the idea of leaving Greta and Agata The path to their final decision is filled with questions and heartfelt arguments about their faith and what it really means for the women as they make their decision.

Buckley, Mara, Foy and McCarthy give standout performances. Also, Ben Wishaw is very good as August, the only man allowed into the hayloft because he’s the only one who can write and document their decision.

Director Sarah Polley’s script from a novel by Miriam Toews is fantastic. It reveals the dramatic tension in a way that draws you in. This could have been a snooze of a talk fest, but the choices Polley makes keep things interesting. I was less in love with her direction. I loved Polley’s documentary STORIES WE TELL. I appreciated the artistry of this movie. The tone and color palette fits the story being told here. But it also left me a bit flat. I can’t put my finger on it. I suppose the Mennonite-ness of the movie demanded the choices Polley made. It’s not bad by any measure, it’s just not for me.

The Best Picture and Adaped Screenplay nominations are well-deserved. This is kind of a Mennonite Me Too movie. It gives women the power without being preachy or clubbing you over the head with its message. Polley is a supremely skilled filmmaker. I continue to look forward to whatever she will do in the future.


ELIVSI’m sitting here at my computer. Microsoft Word is open. The cursor blinking at me, taunting me to write something about ELVIS. If you’re read any of my reviews you know I try to find a way into the conversation about a movie without just coming right out and saying “great”, “meh” or “horrible”. Today I am struggling. What to say about ELVIS. I admit it’s tough to find a way in. Something that connects me to the Baz Luhrman’s biopic about the man, the myth, the legend… Elvis Presley. I think I’ve determined there is nothing. Nothing that connects my lived experience to the bombastic, Oscar nominated ELIVS.

There is a lot to not like about this movie. I am decidedly not a fan of Luhrman’s style. Mainly because it seems to value glitz over substance. How flashy can he make a movie and is that flash hiding flaws? Please, just tell me the story. The jumping around, the spectacle… are they really necessary to make Elvis more appealing to the viewer. I mean the guy sold out shows in Las Vegas for years. He was a showman. He did all that without Baz Luhrman’s help so maybe just tell Elvis’ story and let Elvis be Elvis.

That’s just the start. I’m sure you’ve read about Tom Hanks performance as Col. Tom Parker, the man behind the legend. I kind of get what Hanks is going for here, but it doesn’t work. Maybe it’s the sweaty fat suite or the bizarre Dutch-Southern U.S. accent. I dunno, maybe that’s the way Parker talked but man is it weird. It’s distracting and that is never a good choice for an actor.

Then there is the offensive explanation from a fictional B.B. King about how it’s ok for Elvis to steal the work of black performers. I don’t know if anyone really knows the content of those conversations but somehow, I don’t think it went that way. We can’t ask King or the King. Maybe Priscilla Presley (who approved the movie) knows something we don’t. But in 2022 it is quite tone deaf. Especially after years of knowing how black artists work was stolen and they got no credit or money for it. I’m not asking to re-write history, but this just seems beyond belief.

Ok now let’s talk about the “unreliable narrator”. In this movie Parker is that narrator. It’s almost told from his perspective. A lot of people blame Parker for abusing Elvis and getting him addicted to the drugs that eventually killed him by pushing past the limit of what a human being can do. If that’s not an unreliable narrator, I don’t know what is. It just made me angry at the whole endeavor.

So, is there nothing to like about this movie? Sure, there is. If you are a fan of Elvis’ music, then you’ll hear a lot of it. But the best part of the movie is Austin Butler. He got a Best Actor nomination for his performance, and it is truly amazing. He becomes Elvis. The voice, the moves, the songs… it’s all there and perfectly done. It’s not an impersonation, it’s an interpretation and a damn good one. But I had to shove aside Luhrman’s bombast to really appreciate what Butler is doing. He’s magnetic, a true movie star. If he wins the Oscar, well I can’t say it’s not deserved. I’m rooting for Colin Farrell, but I will understand if Butler takes home the trophy.

As good as Butler is, I just can’t past the multitude of the things I truly disliked about this movie. It’s long and suffers from biopic-itis… that thing where large periods of time are raced through to get to something else the director finds more compelling. We spend a lot of time at the recording of Elvis’ comeback Christmas special. Like maybe a quarter of the movie? It also messes with history in the service of the story. The special was recorded in mid to late June 1968. But in the movie, we see the crew watching coverage of Bobby Kennedy’s assassination which happened on June 5, 1968. I don’t mind fudging things, but that’s just lying. And it bugs the hell out of me.

There were so many more 2022 movies that were better than ELVIS. DECISION TO LEAVE comes to mind. Heck, CONFESS, FLETCH was more effective. I suppose the Academy likes Luhrman’s style of bombast. I just find it exhausting and overwhelming. And who wants those feelings when you either sit in a theater or in front of your TV for 2 hours and 40 minutes. Not me thank you.


MV5BNTM4NjIxNmEtYWE5NS00NDczLTkyNWQtYThhNmQyZGQzMjM0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyODk4OTc3MTY@._V1_FMjpg_UX1000_I recently had a conversation with a co-worker about the word “fine”. She hates it. She thinks it connotes mediocrity and is an easy way out for the person delivering the opinion. She asks, “does my story look good?”, and I respond, “it’s fine”. It was better than fine, and I should have been more accurate in my critique.

So, if someone asks me what I think of the new movie, “BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER”, and I reply, “it’s fine”, know that is intentional. It is fine. Not in a bad way, not in a good way. It’s simply fine. Ryan Coogler and company had a nearly impossible task. How to move the story forward after the death of Chadwick Boseman. That part of the film is handled with sensitivity and care. You can tell that the scenes of mourning are deeply felt by the entire cast. It is a loving and accurate portrayal of grief. I applaud not just the effort, but the execution. But everything else is decent but has no “zazz”. It is a rote version of a movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There’s a big bad expertly played by Tenoch Huerta Mejia. You immediately get why he was cast as Namor the Submariner and leader of the underwater nation of Talokan. I like that Coogler gave them a Mayan ethnicity and backstory. It continues the MCU’s efforts toward presenting stories and characters that look like its audience.

But again, in execution it’s just meh. The visual depiction of Talokan is pretty good. I get it’s underwater and there is little natural light, but creators’ recent obsession with making thing actually dark and therefore hard to see is kind of baffling. Are they hiding middling effects in the dark? Who knows. What you can see is pretty good. The MCU throws the Iron Heart character Riri Williams (Dominque Thorne) in here as kind of a plot driver, but if feels wedged in without a great reason. The movie could have existed without her entire thread. Is this Kevin Feige forcing it in to set up the Disney+ “IRON HEART” series? Maybe. But it just adds to the feeling of bloat. Speaking of bloat. I love Julie Louis-Dreyfuss (Val de Fontaine) and Martin Freeman (Everett Ross). Both are welcome additions to the MCU, but someone needs to explain why they are in this movie. Another subplot that could be cut out and not significanly change the film.

Just about everyone but Boseman is back. Angela Bassett Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira, Winston Duke and Lupita Nyong’o return. Michaela Cole is a nice addition to the cast. That’s a lot of people. They all have moments, especially Duke and Gurira. More of Okoye and M’baku please? And early Oscar prediction, Bassett will be the first actor in an MCU movie to win an Academy Award. She’s amazing.

That doesn’t mean this is bad. It’s just feels long, and at 2 hours and 40 minutes it kind of is long. There are really inspiring and wow moments. The reveal of the new Panther. Several set pieces. The introduction of a great character like Namor. All that worked for me.

But not a very rewatchable movie. It is heavy. It deals with heavy themes, and I admit to moments of real emotion, but those are tied to grieving the loss of T’Challa. Do you really want to relive something so tragic? I don’t (and yet I did when the movie dropped on Disney+. I may have liked it even less on second viewing).

I usually leave an MCU movie feeling like, “wow, I cannot wait to see that again”. I didn’t have that feeling here. And that’s fine.


ARMAGEDDON TIMEWhen I heard about James Gray’s ARMAGEDDON TIME, I was pretty interested. A film about a Jewish family in Queens in 1980? Count me in. Then I saw the cast list and that ramped up my interest even more. Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway and Anthony Hopkins? Wow.

While those three do pretty outstanding work here, the movie is really centered around 11-year-old Paul Graff, an avatar for Gray in this autobiographical look at his experience growing up. Paul is an odd kid, or odd by the standards of a conventional 6th grade class. He’s a bit of a wiseass. He likes to draw more than anything. And he is quite shy and finds it hard to express himself except in burst of either anger or impudence. He also befriends a black child who his teacher obviously hates and who disrupts the class at every opportunity. Johnny has reason to act out. His parents are gone, his brother works for NASA in Florida (does he really?) and he lives with his grandmother but is pretty much on his own.

Paul’s reasons for being a pain are less clear. It is not a play for attention, more like a little kid trying to find himself, trying to find his place. He doesn’t fit in and pushes back the only way he knows how.

Strong is Paul’s father Irving, a handyman and electrician. Hathaway plays his mother Esther, an art teacher and president of the PTA. Hopkins is Hathaway’s father, a Jewish immigrant whose family escaped the Nazis, settled in Liverpool before moving to the United States. Paul’s best relationship is with his grandfather. The two have a deep bond and Hopkin’s character obviously has deep affection for his grandson. Some of the best parts of the movie are the family teaching Paul about anti-Semitism and discrimination. The parents don’t want Paul hanging with Johnny. But Grandpa sees what is going on and applauds Paul’s for standing up for his friend, a boy shoved aside by society.

Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb have great chemistry as Paul and Johnny. You get the feeling they are friends and Paul really cares about Johnny. He tries to help him, to the point of criminal activity. Again, it isn’t acting out so much as searching on Paul’s part. Where do I belong? What is my role?

All the acting is wonderful, Repeta nails the outcast kid role. But Hopkins is in full Hopkins mode. His passionate explanation of his family history. How he teaches Paul what is right. All of it just sings.

Gray’s movie is obviously deeply felt and explores some important themes. I couldn’t help but feel how timely it is give how anti-Semitism seems to be back with a vengeance. Not that it ever went anywhere, but it seems ok to offend Jews whenever you want.

ARMAGEDDON TIME is yet another great film from a great filmmaker. And it is worth seeking out in a theater or streaming.


THE BANSHEES OF INISHERINIn Irish folklore, banshees are spirits that herald a coming death. In the case of Martin McDonagh’s new film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, they may not be warning of coming death… instead the death of friendship.

The film is set during the Irish Civil War in 1923. The parallel between that and the conflict between friends depicted in the film feels obvious, but still satisfying. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson seem to have been friends for quite some time, meeting at the pub every day for a pint. Early on, Gleeson’s Colm tells Farrell’s Padraig that he doesn’t want to be friends anymore. Padraig is too dull for Colm, and he doesn’t want to waste his limited time on Earth on such a boring person. Padraig is baffled and keeps trying to find out what is really wrong. That’s when Colm threatens to do something drastic to himself. It would severely limit is abilities as a violinist/songwriter/teacher. Padraig is kind of dim about it and pushes until the threat becomes real. That is just part of what’s going on in this thoroughly well-crafted movie.

It explores depression, sadness and isolation as felt by Colm. It also explores loneliness as experienced by Padraig. So that sounds like a downer way to spend two hours. But the examination of these serious topics is sprinkled with a lot of humor and some genuine laugh out loud moments. Most of those come at Padraig’s expense as he encounters obstacles trying to find out what he did to his friend to be cast aside in such a way.

The movie makes you think about other questions. The one that’s been rolling around in my head is what will we be remembered for? Padraig is a nice guy, a fact everyone agrees on. Colm is a curmudgeon who believes that niceness is not remembered, but great art is. So, is it more important to be nice or to be a great artist? Padraig believes in nice. Colm believes no one will remember that but will remember his music even 200 years from now. And that is what matters. It makes you think about whether you even want to be remembered.

The film is loaded with great, memorable performances. Farrell and Gleeson have an easy chemistry, one that was also on display in another McDonagh movie, IN BRUGES. Farrell’s eyebrows may deserve a best supporting actor nomination. They dance on his forehead and express as much emotion as any other part of his face. Kerry Condon as Padraig’s stifled sister and Barry Keoghan as the town’s dimwit are both fantastic. The score by Carter Burwell is excellent and sprinkled with Irish fold melodies. Ben Davis’ cinematography takes full advantage of the lush, rocky, and captivating landscapes.

McDonagh also wrote the screenplay, and it is just wonderful. The language, the jokes, and what is unspoken really capture the mood I believe he is going for. I was not a huge fan of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. I don’t think McDonagh, a native of Ireland, really grasped the racial politics that he was trying to represent. But here he is in his element and his voice has never been clearer or stronger.

There are parts of the movie that are not for the squeamish. I got past that and I’m glad I did. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is a funny, heartfelt and touching story and should be remembered exactly because it is great art, and not necessarily nice.


ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONTWhen I was a kid, maybe 13-years-old, my father turned on a movie and said I should watch it. I protested because I was 13 and didn’t really care about most movies. Especially movies for grown-ups. I was not the movie nerd I am today. My dad told me to watch GUNS OF NAVARONE with him and to trust him, I would like it. He was not wrong. I did like it. I still do, maybe more than I did when I was 13. Gregory Peck, Anthony Quayle, Anthony Quinn, David Niven. Just a great “men on a mission” movie. It also made me love World War II movies. From The Sands of Iwo Jima to The Longest Day, from Tora! Tora! Tora! to 30 Seconds Over Tokyo. I was all in on the genre. Then we started getting the “war, what is it good for” movies. Apocalypse Now, Full Metal Jacket, Born on the 4th of July, Saving Private Ryan. These are the “war really is hell” movies. But there is an ultimate anti-war movie and it’s not about WWII or Korea or Vietnam.

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is based on a novel written by Erich Maria Remarque about his experience in the German army during World War I. There is nothing romantic about it. It is a brutal depiction about the horrors of war. The book was made into an Academy Award winning film in 1930, one year after the book was released. Then it was made into a TV mini-series in the 1970’s. Those were adapted by Americans. The new adaptation released by Netflix is written and directed by a German, Edward Berger. His nationality had to have some influence on this version. I think I saw some of the TV mini-series and I never saw the original adaptation, but neither could be any better than this film.

The film focuses on Paul, a young man conscripted into the German army near the end of the war. He and three friends are deployed to France… the western front. They think they are going to win the war and return home heroes. Their optimism is quickly turned when they see the carnage and brutality at the front. Gas, hand to hand trench warfare, collecting the dog tags of dead German soldiers. Nope, nothing romantic here. The story follows Paul as he becomes a more hard-bitten soldier. The only thing that really matters is fighting and surviving. He finds a sort of mentor in Kat, a more experienced soldier. They are the pair we follow throughout the movie. They are our heroes if this film has any. There is B-Plot about the negotiations toward signing the armistice and ending the fighting. It’s largely an invention by Berger and the only thing that really makes you care about it is a wonderful performance by Daniel Brühl as the lead negotiator. It serves to remind us that the peace only stoked the fire for Hitler’s rise to power and the next World War.

The cinematography by James Friend is breathtaking. The way he frames the fighting and shows its unsparing brutality really gets the point across. Then the vistas of the battlefields, and the French countryside give us all a pleasant break from the brutality, just as it must have the soldiers. The Oscar nominated score by Volker Bertelmann is propulsive and helps drive the action.

But the real amazing work here is by Berger. He draws us in from the first scene. It shows a soldier attacking the French, then being killed in action. His uniform is repurposed for the next soldier, who happens to be Paul. The way Berger shows us the brutality, then the reality of what happens after soldiers die is one of the best sequences of a war movie I’ve ever seen. Add in Bertelmann’s score and it’s just a masterful piece of filmmaking.

This film is not for the faint of heart. Berger shows us the carnage in all its grotesque horror. But it’s necessary to get the point across. War isn’t fun, it’s not glamorous. It’s not John Wayne running up Mount Suribachi. It’s not Gregory Peck and David Niven triumphantly destroying those guns on Navarone. It is young men fighting and dying for very little purpose. Berger ends the film with title cards one of which explains that after years of war, neither the Germans nor the French gained much if any ground on the Western Front. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT may have surprised people with an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, but it is an honor that is richly deserved.



I try not to traffic in the whole Oscar Snub discussion. I mean, what’s the point?

We’ve all tried to go for things and did get them for whatever reason. Most of the time, as Michael Corleone said, “It’s not personal, it’s just business”.

But on occasion there is a snub so egregious, so inexplicable, so head scratchingly beyond reason I feel compelled to engage in the discourse. That’s right Academy. This is your fault. All you had to do is nominate DECISION TO LEAVE for something. Anything. But no. Members for whatever reason chose to just forget this 2022 movie ever. At least South Korea thought enough of the film to submit it as their entry for Best International Feature. But that’s as far as DECISION TO LEAVE got. And it’s not like the film had a middling resume. Park Chan-wook was recognized at Cannes for best director. So yeah, this would not have been some off the wall decision.

The real reason this is such an… ok I’m going to use the “O’ word… yes, outrage is DECISION TO LEAVE is one of my Top 5 movies of 2022. Director Park’s psychological noir thriller is a smoldering, riveting film. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. It definitely has a Hitchcock vibe. Park told the L.A. Times that he didn’t go to film school.. that “Hitchcock was my film school”. Give the man an A+ in that class. The influence of Hitchcock is clear, but it’s not just a lift from a movie like VERTIGO. Park takes the best of his influence and makes it his own.

DECISION TO LEAVE follows a young police detective who is assigned to investigate the death of a middle-aged man in a climbing accident. The dead man is married to a young Chinese immigrant. The detective (Park Hae-il) questions the widow (Tang Wei) for hours. All the while th married detective is falling for the mysterious young woman. Eventually he accepts that the death was an accident, and he moves on to other cases.

That is just the start of this twisty, engrossing film. I will avoid spoilers because you really should see how it all plays out. That said, there is one scene I have to talk about because it is a prime example of Park’s talent and the lessons he learned from Hitchcock. We follow the detective as he recreates the time leading up to husband’s death. It is as harrowing as it is masterful. It is perfectly shot. You get inside the heads of both the detective and the widow at the same time as Park recreates what happened by taking us to the crime scene in two different timelines.

The film is as much about desire as it is about the crime that is being investigated. The smoldering chemistry between the two main characters jumps off the screen and into your head. This is a sexy movie that isn’t obsessed with the act. The detective is married, but his obsession isn’t his wife. Despite what has happened he cannot seem to get the young widow out of his mind. The film is a slow burn builds to an edge your seat climax.

Back the snub discussion. So, what would I kick out of the Best Picture nominations for example? I have not and will not see AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER (not interested. Saw the original when it was released and haven’t watched it since) or ELVIS (I have thoughts on that which I’ll save for another review). See. It’s easy. I did the work for you Academy. You’re welcome.

In all seriousness it is baffling how the Academy could pass this over. Only the members can answer that. The only international feature to be recognized among the 10 Best Picture nominees was ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT. Maybe it’s an availability issue. AQOTWF is streaming on Netflix. For DECISION TO LEAVE I had to sign up for a trial subscription to MUBI. Or maybe Park wouldn’t “play the game” of campaigning for his movie. I don’t know. But a film this good, that was honored at Cannes and received 2 BAFTA nominations (Best Film not in the English Language and Best Direction) deserved better from the Oscars.