Top Gun: Maverick

I once worked in a small department of six people that was isolated from the rest of a large corporation; because no one could hear us (or find us, for that matter), we played records all day long on an old phonograph with a tinny speaker. Our music selections came from a few boxes of vinyl left over from the 80s that had been donated from someone’s basement. 

We had several favorites—Flashdance, Saturday Night Fever, Oklahoma!—but the one that got played almost every day was the soundtrack from Top Gun. For reasons I can no longer remember, we all took nicknames from the film. I am proud to say that I was Maverick; although I bear absolutely no resemblance to Tom Cruise, I liked to think that I could fly an airplane upside down if I absolutely had to. Also, last person to pick ended up as Goose.

Sitting in the audience for Top Gun: Maverick and hearing those first twangy eight notes of the Top Gun Anthem, I was immediately transported back to a time when toxic masculinity was fun and a skintight white t-shirt was all you needed to make a girl swoon. The original movie wasn’t really that good, but oh, that shirtless volleyball game.

I’ve read a few reviews that have mentioned you don’t need to have seen the original 1986 Top Gun to be able to appreciate the new one, but I disagree. If you’re there for the airplane fight sequences, you’ll enjoy it because they are spectacular; however, how can you understand the complicated relationship between Maverick and Rooster without knowing how Goose died? Or get a lump in your throat when Iceman finally shows up, remembering how cocky he always was?; or recognize the parallels between the sunset football game and the shirtless volleyball on the beach? Or understand that of course Tom Cruise doesn’t wear a helmet when he rides his motorcycle because he wouldn’t be Tom Cruise if he had helmet hair.

This is about as nostalgic a summer movie as there is; completely escapist and fun, filled with beloved characters who have aged far better (or have better plastic surgeons) than we have. Flight sequences are thrilling and inexplicably did not make me nauseous, even though there was a lot of swooping in loops and g-forces contorting faces. 

I should probably note that the Hollywood patriarchy is in full macho mode here, erasing the Kelly Willis and Meg Ryan roles from the original and giving Maverick a new girlfriend and an ethnically ambiguous female pilot; this film would definitely NOT pass the Bechdel test. Also interesting that they never name what country is supposed to be the villain here. It is much more convenient for global film distribution if you’re not offending China or Russia or whoever might have a hidden stash of nuclear weapons. 

But somedays I’m too tired to protest and just want to give in to airplanes and cute boys and popcorn and forgetting that the world is blowing up around us. I know, I know—I’m a bad feminist and Tom Cruise is a Scientologist and I’m a terrible pacifist for supporting this love letter to the military complex. Just give me this two hours and eleven minutes of the skintight white T-shirts and I swear I will do better next time.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. I may need to create a new category called GuiltyPleasures.

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksIWantToLick

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Alert the media and empty out the vomitorium, because this review marks the return of the OG flicksthatmakemesick

A long time ago far, far away, this website was created to help those who got nauseated at films that used the hand held shaky cam and other quick cutting techniques. Directors finally calmed down a few years ago, so flicks abandoned its unique premise for the more standard movie review site. Those of us who are afflicted with motion sickness gratefully put down our Barf Bags and headed back to theaters, more worried about the symptoms that might come from the guy coughing behind you than what the film would do to your stomach.

This website is thrilled to be able to honor its origins by telling you that one of the parallel universes in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is the one where movies regularly made you sick! As Stephen Strange and his new partner jump through millions of different times and places, their journey flashes by so quickly that your stomach ends up in the row in front of you. I had eaten some greasy, buttered popcorn, which is a lethal snack when a film goes into edited frenzy. I closed my eyes as quickly as I could, but not before the theater had started to spin and my mouth filled with saliva, which is never a good thing. But my eyes flew open at the dialog when the young woman in the film said “I’m surprised you didn’t puke. Most people do.” And then Benedict Cumberbatch proceeded to barf his guts out on a rooftop somewhere in another version of New York.

I was so stunned by art imitating life that I didn’t pay much attention to the reason they were in the multiverse, because 1) it doesn’t exist and 2) I am sick of it. This is the third movie I have seen in the last three months that ended up jumping around like frogs on acid. I realize there are not a lot of original ideas in Hollywood, but this is starting to feel like the mid 80s when studios spewed out about a dozen or more body switching movies that had all the same plot (starting with the original Freaky Friday in 1976).

I felt this was one of the weaker Dr. Strange films, missing a lot of the humor and angst from the original one and its various sequels. The action sequences went on forever and seemed repetitive. Director Sam Raimi’s influence is evident from an unusual amount of gory, horror-filled moments; my take on this is if you have an actor with cut glass cheekbones like Benedict Cumberbatch, why have him spend half the film as a zombie missing part of his face? And as much as I was a fan of WandaVision, I’m not sure if the Scarlet Witch missing her two fake children was enough of a reason to go psycho on the entire world. 

Marvel keeps churning out these films and I suppose I will keep buying the tickets; but somewhere in a different part of the multiverse, there is version of me who is getting really tired of the same old schtick.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Two Kernels. In the ranking of all thirty-four Marvel movies, I would score it above Eternals and Ironman 2, but below AntMan.

New Category: FlicksYouShouldPickOnlyifYouAreaDieHardMarvel Junkie

Oscar Recap (as if anyone cares who won at this point)

Well, that was exciting, wasn’t it? I’m sure no one watching the Oscars was thinking about their Academy Award ballots after Will Smith smacked Chris Rock in the face and then won the Best Actor trophy a half hour later. This event will certainly eclipse the whole La La Land/Moonlight mix-up that happened a few years ago as the most shocking thing that has ever occurred at the ceremony; at least until the next thing happens.

There are plenty of hot takes you can get about this incident from every single person on the internet, so let’s proceed with the winners (more on my personal reaction further down). These awards were all over the place; Dune won the most with six, and they were all technical except for Best Score. (Question: How does a film that is mostly CGI generated win Best Cinematography?) The Power of the Dog (which had been nominated for twelve and was considered the frontrunner for Best Picture) won only one for Jane Campion for Best Director (back-to-back women directors for two years!). The poor showing for TPOTD busted a lot of brackets—people voted for Kentucky and then the Cinderella story called CODA swept in and took Best Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Lin Manuel Miranda did not get his EGOT when that upstart Billie Eilish took Best Original Song for No Time to Die, and poor West Side Story only got one for Best Supporting Actress (Arian DeBose—but her acceptance speech was great).

I am a bit annoyed that after all my hard work of watching every movie nominated, no one really cares about who won (I imagine the winners feel that way, too). Thousands of people managed to produce some top-notch films in the middle of a global pandemic, and the only thing anyone wants to talk about is The Slap (#Twitternamedtrend). 

I’m not going to take sides here, as I feel that both Chris Rock and Will Smith were in the wrong. This was a classic case of impulse control—I would guess that from Will’s perspective, it probably felt like it happened in slow motion. You can see him laugh at Chris Rock’s joke about Jada’s bald head and then catch site of his wife’s face and her reaction. Why storming up the runway and smacking the comedian was the only thing he could come up with, I don’t know; but there is some history of Chris Rock mocking Jada in the past. It’s also possible (probable?) that Rock did not know about Pinkett Smith’s medical condition that caused her hair loss. But why would he be making a joke about the wife of a nominee’s physical look in the first place? Talk about punching down.

And here is my personal take on the situation—and the fact that I am nervous about writing this gives you some insight about how Jada must have felt. I have dealt with alopecia since I was a teenager, and it is crushing to your self-esteem. My biggest fear has always been people mocking me for something I have no control over, and the idea of a comedian joking about her bald head in front of a global audience is the nightmare that anyone coping with this has probably had more than once. Will Smith hitting Chris Rock was the absolute worst way to deal with this; but he is probably hyper aware of how his wife feels about her hair loss and reacted without considering the consequences. 

And the consequences are huge. To then win the award for Best Actor and make an acceptance speech where you once again make a huge faux pas by saying “Love makes you do crazy things”—which is a classic statement made by abusers everywhere as they protest they only hit “out of love”—was quite possibly the worst thing he could have said. Everything about this situation was terrible and no one came out looking good, but I imagine that shiny gold statue that will be sitting on Will Smith’s mantel is going to be a tainted reminder of what should have been a triumphant night.

I told you all to vote for Andrew Garfield!

King Richard (*BP22)

I wanted to like King Richard; I really did. It tells the story of Venus and Serena Williams and the father who raised them to become two of the greatest athletes in the world. The star is one of my favorite actors (Will Smith) and I usually love a good inspirational biopic. The first hour or so of Richard Williams driving his kids around in a VW minibus and talking about his plan to make champions out of his two girls was entertaining. It was heartwarming to see how he put the all-around character of his kids at the forefront, and he was obviously a major influence in making them who they are. 

But at some point, the film needed to move away from him screaming about them opening up their stance and let the talents of the girls start to take over. And while Venus is finally allowed to make her own decision about signing with a sponsor toward the end, I was much more interested in how two sisters can have such phenomenal careers and compete against each other and still remain best friends. I didn’t need to see more of Will Smith in those very short shorts.

Venus and Serena are listed as Executive Producers on the film, so they obviously approved the script and wanted to honor their father. But I felt having all the focus be on the man behind the girls gave short shrift to the fact that they were the ones standing out in the blazing sun pounding the ball into the court. Will Smith is an iconic actor but I never entirely lost sight of him, even with the lisp and the shorts.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Two Kernels. I absolutely loved Aunjanue Ellis as the mother, but felt there was way too much of Richard Williams.

Categories: FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix (I don’t have a category called FlicksIWatchedOnHBOMax, and also it doesn’t rhyme, but the film is NOT streaming on Netflix)

Drive My Car (*BP22)

Go on, admit it. You never thought I would actually get to the three-hour, sub-titled Japanese film about grief that is a Best Picture nominee before the Sunday deadline.

Me, neither. And yet, here I am to tell you about Drive My Car, not only nominated for one of the ten best films, but also director Ryusuke Hamaguchi for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. And for Best International Feature as well! 

A theatrical director is staging a production of Uncle Vanya two years after his wife has died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The producers have assigned a young woman as his driver, and they spend a great deal of time cruising around Hiroshima in a red Saab listening to a cassette tape that his deceased wife had recorded of the Chekhov play. Repetition is how the director learns the lines, and by the time the film is over, I’m pretty sure that I could play Sonya as well. We hear a LOT of Uncle Vanya.

The movie is a study of people locked inside their emotions. For a film with the verb drive in the title, there is a lot of stillness. Even when they are actually in the car, the camera barely moves. These people are so frozen in their grief that one gets the feeling that if they allow themselves to experience any emotion, something inside will crack right open. Even when they finally get to that point, it still seems like the act of acknowledging their pain is muted by years of silence. The film builds with a slow momentum and tension until you feel like you can barely breathe because of all the intense feelings that are not allowed to escape.

About that slow momentum part . . . Hamaguchi is a master of tiny increments of tension, but the film is three freakin’ hours long. I understand what he was doing with the camerawork—the driving becomes more of a medium shot, then wider, then lots and lots of tunnels that show the director and the driver getting more comfortable with each other—but it just went on forever. I realize it is the director’s prerogative to pace a film the way he wants, but I wonder if audiences who have been seeing mostly Marvel movies would be able to watch this. 

I mention this because every year the Academy shuns popular favorites (like Spider-Man: No Way Home), and then complains because no one watches the Oscars or goes to movies anymore. Of course, the two demographics are completely different and don’t need to have any overlap, but this is the kind of film that critics love and most people won’t watch. That doesn’t mean it should not be showered with awards—this film will deservedly win Best International Feature, and it is a masterclass in silence. And I’m not suggesting that all films be dumbed down to level of the typical movie audience (Jackass Forever made $23 million dollars its opening weekend.) It simply answers the question of why no one is watching the Academy Awards.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three and a Half Kernels. The pace and the length are almost hypnotic, and by the time you get to the end, you feel like the silence these people live with is almost more eloquent than anything they have to say (and they say it in many different languages, too!)

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix, (I don’t have a category called FlicksIWatchedOnHBOMax, and also it doesn’t rhyme, but the film is NOT streaming on Netflix)

Belfast (*BP22)

Belfast is the story of The Troubles in Northern Ireland between the Catholics and the Protestants, a violent period that started in the late 60s and continued for nearly thirty years. Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film is his memory of growing up in Belfast amid the escalating violence. 

The movie is seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy attempting to understand how his childhood neighborhood is changing as gangs and terrorists insist that his family take sides in the conflict. Filmed in black and white, the movie is an odd assortment of low angles and strange composition. There is one unnecessary shot as the camera does a slow, complete circle around the child; I assume this was to show the confusion he felt, but I found the movement to be distracting. It felt as if Branagh was attempting to convey the tension of the situation through the cinematography, but it took me out of the film completely because it was so strange. This is his 15th movie as a director, so the man is no novice. The story is powerful enough without adding any tricks, and that is how it felt every time he did something jarring like switch from B&W to color and then back again. 

It is impossible to watch this film without thinking about the war in Ukraine. The normalness of everyday life shattered by terror and explosions; children being dragged to safety by their parents; the bewilderment of innocent citizens wondering how violence keeps happening again and again. It’s always interesting to me how the times we live in influence art that already exists and changes our perspective of it. I wonder if that will affect the voting for this movie as Best Picture. There were other films more compelling, but none have been quite this timely.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. It is simultaneously charming and sobering and the plight of the family resonates, but the distracting camerawork kept pulling me out of the movie.

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick

Nightmare Alley (*BP22)

I try not to go into movies with preconceived notions of the subject matter, but when I realized that Guillermo del Toro’s newest film Nightmare Alley was set in a carnival, the first thing that popped into my head was a quote from Austin Powers. “Only two things scare me: Nuclear war . . . and carnies. Circus folk. Nomads, you know. Smell like cabbage. Small hands.” 

I have to agree with Austin, because when there are circus folk around, you just know it’s going to eventually lead to geeks.

Wikipedia describes Nightmare Alley as “a neo-noir psychological thriller,” and it is certainly that. Noir means black and the color palette of the film is so dark that it sometimes reads as black and white, with all the bright tones usually associated with a carnival looking like they have been smeared with grime and filth. The film is a production designer’s dream, from the wonky funhouse angles and jars of fermented babies lining the walls to the electric chair that is designed to up the drama of the woman who is electrocuted nightly. Everything looks damp and a violent storm is always about to erupt. I don’t know if it smells like cabbage, but it sure looks like everything reeks of urine. This is a rough way to make a living, and the desolation of the backstage circus areas is reflected in the faces of the people who inhabit these spaces. 

That includes the geek. Early in the movie, there is a graphic depiction of what it would be like to be a raging, caged alcoholic who is flung live chickens in front of an audience and then bites their heads off. Not a profession one would want to end up in.

Bradley Cooper enters this bizarre world and quickly adapts to a variety of odd jobs. His general prettiness is immediately noticed by a fortune teller, and he starts to learn the secrets of her husband, the mentalist. The film spirals into darkness as he becomes a master at reading people and eventually ends up in a plot with Cate Blanchett to trick people into speaking to their dead. The cast is great and the story gripping, with an ending as horrifying as it is inevitable. 

I was mesmerized by this movie; it did not do well at the box office, but I wish that I had seen it on a big screen simply because the look of it was so spectacular. Of course, that would have made the geek scenes really big, so perhaps HBOMax was the way to go. It does not appear to have much of a chance at Best Picture, having won no other awards this season, which is a shame because I would count it among my top three favorites this year. Maybe just close your eyes when they bring out the chicken.

Side note: Why does Bradley Cooper always take roles where he ends up looking like he’s a complete disaster? The man is very handsome, and just once I would like to see him make it to the end of a film without pissing on himself.

Second Side note: I have been informed by a loyal reader that I neglected to mention that there is a brief flash of Bradley Cooper’s full frontal in this movie. Since I try to give the public what they want, I have added the category FlicksThatHaveADick to this review. Although that was not the original intent of this label, the customer is always right, so here you go. (It’s also been added to The Power of the Dog. Hello, Dr. Strange!)

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three and a Half Kernels. It looks amazing, and as much as I am embarrassed to admit this, I simply could not look away from the geek biting the head off the chicken.

Categories: FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix, (I don’t have a category called FlicksIWatchedOnHBOMax, and also it doesn’t rhyme, but the film is NOT streaming on Netflix), FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksIWantToLick, FlicksThatHaveADick

Don’t Look Up (*BP22)

Remember the great Is the Dress Blue or Gold? debate that swept the internet in 2015? People spent hours discussing this topic and trying to decide what it meant if you were Team Gold or Team Blue. It was fun and kind of silly. That was seven years ago—we were so young and innocent then!

Another similar online argument happened just a few months ago when the movie Don’t Look Up premiered on Netflix. This was director Adam McCay’s latest work, and it created a brand-new hot topic of discussion that swept the internet for a few weeks. The film was a heavy-handed metaphor about climate change and government incompetence, and people either thought it was the greatest satire since Dr. Strangelove or a smug, condescending piece of crap populated by Hollywood A-listers who should have known better. Can you guess which side I was on?

I’m not sure who McCay thought the audience was supposed to be for this film. People who already believe that climate change is the greatest crisis we are facing right now don’t really need to be convinced that it is happening; and if you honestly think the whole idea of global warming is a hoax, you are never going to watch a preachy movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. And yet Don’t Look Up was the third most viewed film in Netflix’s history; so whether or not people agreed with it, they still watched it. Not all of us made it all the way through to the end, though, and if it wins an Oscar for Best Picture, I am going to have to write a strongly worded letter to the Academy. Spider-man didn’t even get nominated!

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Zero Kernels. I have rarely hated a movie as much as I hated this one; not only does it not get a single, unpopped piece of corn, but the original  popcorn bucket is still upside down on the sticky floor of a theater with a greasy coating of fake butter topping, where rats will find it and lick up the yellow, viscous goo and it will get stuck to the roof of their mouths and they will never get rid of the taste. 

Side note: The dress was blue.

Categories: FlicksYouShouldNotPick

CODA (*BP22)

CODA came out on AppleTV+ in August of 2021, so it is amazing that the film has such proven staying power after six months; movies that hope to be nominated for Academy Awards are usually released as close to the end of the year as possible to make the eligibility deadline. For example, Don’t Look Up premiered on Netflix on December 24, 2021 (and what a Christmas gift that was—review to come).

CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) has a fairly standard Lifetime-ish family drama plot: high school girl wants to do something different with her life than what her parents expect her to do. As the only hearing member of her family, Ruby is relied upon to translate interactions with others that impact the family fishing business. If she pursues music as she hopes to, the business may not survive without her. Her parents and brother are all played by deaf actors, and their performances give the film an air of authenticity. 

The movie is charming and occasionally heartbreaking, and the expected happy ending was a relief. Watching this movie was like sinking into a good book, and I really needed everything to work out for this quirky family. I think the pandemic has made us all a bit more sentimental (at least this hard-hearted bitch seems to weep at everything these days).

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. A heartwarming tearjerker that will have you crying like you were watching a Hallmark Christmas movie, only with American Sign Language.

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick

The Power of the Dog (*BP22)

I had very little knowledge of what this film was about before I saw it except that it was a western directed by Jane Campion (whose work I love) and hated by Sam Elliott (who has a very big moustache). 

The story is set in Montana, 1925, and although Campion uses vistas from New Zealand as a stand-in for the state, her sweeping camera captures the beautiful desolation of the land and the immense isolation of the gothic farmhouse where two wealthy rancher siblings live. One brother is awkward and repressed; the other is a psycho who slathers his naked body with mud before swimming and castrates bulls with his bare hands. As Sam Elliott pointed out, this is not your typical western. It is a brooding psychological thriller with chaps. 

I watched this film with horrible fascination as the four main characters descended into alcoholism, despair and murder. It starts out a bit stilted and slow-moving and then builds until the tension is nearly unbearable. All of the performances are extraordinary, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is the skinniest, weirdest medical student you hope you will never meet in a doctor’s office. 

Hollywood bookies seem to think this is the odds-on favorite for Best Picture right now, and it does have many of the dark, brooding qualities that voters admire. I’m not sure that I agree with that; I still have a few more films to watch.

 “That’s what all these fucking cowboys in that movie look like. They’re all running around in chaps and no shirts. There’s all these allusions to homosexuality throughout the fucking movie.” Elliott also calls out director Jane Campion, asking what she knows about the American West and why she would film it in New Zealand and call it Montana, adding,
“That fucking rubbed me the wrong way, pal.”
He does go on to say that he’s a fan of her previous work.”

Sam Elliott, NYPost article

Side note: I have to admit that even before I read Sam Elliott’s comments, I wondered why the cowboys were working shirtless with just chaps. Seemed like they could get a bad sunburn that way.

Second Side note: Because apparently people want to know when there is a flash of Benedict Cumberbatch’s penis as he slathers himself in mud, I have added a new category.

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three Kernels. It is powerful, unsettling and will definitely make you steer clear of dead cows.

Categories: FlicksIWatchedOnNetflix, FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksThatHaveADick