Wednesday, March 22, 2023


“The Dude abides…”


This month marks the 25th anniversary of Joel and Ethan Coen’s THE BIG LEBOWSKI. 


A dark comedy with elements of a crime novel, THE BIG LEBOWSKI followed Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski; an easy-taking, White Russian-drinking, pot-smoking, unemployed bowling enthusiast who has the bad luck of sharing a last name with a local millionaire involved in a kidnapping plot. Dude is joined by his friends and bowling teammates Walter and Donny, and the three casually try to unravel the mystery of the kidnapping which involves ransom money, bowling rivals, the porn industry, performance art, wacky dreams, and the theft of Dude’s beloved rug. 


THE BIG LEBOWSKI was the 8th film by the producing, writing, and directing sibling team of the Coens, and their first follow-up to their Oscar-darling FARGO from 1996. The beginnings of the film go as far back as 1991, when the Coens began writing the script before abandoning it to work on BARTON FINK. When they revisited the project, the script was written with John Goodman (Walter), and Steve Buscemi (Donny), in mind, who had worked with the Coens before. The central character of The Dude was inspired by two acquaintances of the brothers, who had all of the traits from White Russians to going by “Dude”. That role would eventually go to Jeff Bridges, who would make it his own. The rest of the outstanding cast would include Julianne Moore, David Huddleston, John Turturro, Sam Elliott, Tara Reid, David Thewlis, Peter Stormare, Flea, and the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. 


With the city and culture of Los Angeles being so prominent in the script, shooting took place on location over a period of eleven weeks, with Dude’s dream sequences shot in a converted airplane hangar. Sam Elliott, acting as a narrator and making two cameos, shot for only two days. Famed cinematographer Roger Deakins gave the film a colorful look which popped off the screen. 


THE BIG LEBOWSKI was not a hit financially and did not score well with critics, but over the years has earned a massive cult following. Fans hold festivals and the characters are the inspiration for cosplay at conventions across the country. There are over 200,000 ordained priests practicing a pseudo-religion called Dude-ism, and the film has inspired competitions ranging from trivia, White Russian contests, and academic treatments. Entertainment Weekly ranked it 8th on their Funniest Movies of the Past 25 Years list, and the late famed movie critic Roger Ebert added it to his list of Great Movies in 2010. 




It took this Blogger several years to really appreciate the art of THE BIG LEBOWSKI. It is a delight to take in through its twists and turns, the dialogue is instantly quotable, and the chemistry between Bridges, Goodman, and Buscemi is pure magic. The three characters benefit from holding to classic archetypes; the passive, the aggressive, and the neutral…and are executed so well that the film should be played and studied at every Film 101 class. It has elements of a Western, or even a Greek adventure through a series of perils and encounters…all while maintaining a sense of fun with a barrage of laughs (the gag with Donny’s ashes cracks up this Blogger every time). After 25 years, The Dude is the role that the world relates Jeff Bridges to, and offers an important lesson: just take ‘er easy. 


“All the dude wanted was his rug back.”


Friday, March 17, 2023


FURY OF THE GODS, the sequel to DC’s (rare) hit SHAZAM! of 2019, has the unfortunate label of a lame duck movie. The main character and the universe he lives in are apparently set to be wiped clean when DC and parent company Warner Bros. introduce a new line of continuity in the next few years. None of that really matters when the screen lights up, but it does put FURY OF THE GODS in the position of using its limited time wisely. 


The Daughters of Atlas (Helen Mirren, Lucy Liu, Rachel Zegler), arrive on Earth and re-assemble an all-powerful magic staff, which they intend to use to reclaim the power of the gods from Billy Batts (Asher Angel as a young teen, Zachary Levi as the superhero Shazam), and his siblings. 


Directed by SHAZAM! helmer David S. Sandberg, FURY OF THE GODS sets itself up as a little family drama mixed with a possible world-ending scenario brought forth by the Daughters of Atlas. While the daughters are unleashing havoc by brainwashing people, leveling stadiums and riding dragons, Billy has his own family-level concerns of aging out of his foster home, and trying to keep his team of foster-siblings together as they grow and find other ways to use their superpowers as individuals as opposed to a team. These two worlds are fine on paper, but land with a thud. The family drama bits are mentioned early on, forgotten about for an hour, and then quickly resolved by movie’s end. The world-ending threat is backed by a mythology that feels like it is being made-up-as-it-goes, with an endless stream of magic doors, floating libraries, sentient ink-pens, a magic apple, and a herd of unicorns. 


If that sounds like a lot, it is. FURY OF THE GODS is trying to go out with a bang, and it comes off as overload. Where the first film was simple and had the thrill of discovery to generate some charm, this sequel takes the kitchen-sink approach. They are trying too hard, as scenes that are supposed to be funny land as stupid, and characters that are supposed to be struggling with their own identities present as annoying. 


The big swings and misses keep on coming. Action sequences are a headache, jokes and one-liners mostly fall flat, a bizarre dream sequence with the head of the great Djimon Hounsou (reprising his role as a wizard), pasted on a woman’s body is cringe-worthy, and attempts to integrate the film into its larger universe feel very forced. 


Acting is all over the place. Shazam the character is played by Zachary Levi as an adult, and Asher Angel as a teen. While both actors are good, Shazam as an adult acts like a giddy ten-year-old while Billy acts like an angsty teen. Inconsistent and weird. Helen Mirren and Lucy Liu look gorgeous but are just blurting out their mythological world-salad lines. Rachel Zegler is a delight, and Meagan Good, as an adult version of one of Billy’s foster siblings, is a revelation. 


After a noisy climactic battle, FURY OF THE GODS offers a character death which feels un-earned, and then resurrects them five minutes later in another big swing and strikeout. The film then offers two post-credit scenes that offer a hint to the future of Shazam but are both pretty dumb. This is a mess of the gods, and that clean slate can’t come soon enough. 



Monday, March 13, 2023

A Reel Opinion: Oscar Night - The Good, The Bad, & The Glorious

The 95th Academy Awards happened last night. It was a night of history, emotion, and capped off with the sci-fi/fantasy romp EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE (or EEAO, for the sake of brevity), winning seven Oscars including Best Picture. Here’s how it all landed in The Good, The Bad, and The Glorious. 




-Host Jimmy Kimmel, hosting his third Oscars, seems to have moved into the echelon of veteran Oscar Hosts like Billy Crystal and Bob Hope; solid, confident, and fully aware of all that comes with the Academy Awards. His entrance was spectacular (a TOP GUN parody that had him parachuting in), and 99.9% of his jokes landed. There was also no ignoring the elephant-in-the-room matter of last year’s SlapGate. The self-awareness was welcome. 


-After a few years of tinkering with the format to make the show more hip or shorter, the Academy finally seemed to give up on that and return to a conventional show. All the awards were presented live, there were no stupid online polls, and the three-and-half-hour runtime was embraced. It all felt familiar and comfortable. 


-The efforts to make the Oscars more modern or accessible took an odd turn this year, with in-show promotions for Disney’s upcoming film THE LITTLE MERMAID, and a promo for Warner Bros’ 100thanniversary. It was different and a little jolting, but celebrating films of the past, present, and future is what the Academy should be doing more of. 




-While we did get a good look at THE LITTLE MERMAID, and WB got to quickly promote THE FLASH, there seems to be a need for more exclusive trailers to run during the commercial breaks. Take a page out of the Super Bowl breaks and give people a reason to look. 

-Not necessarily bad (or good), but as this Blogger correctly predicted, frontrunning films TAR, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, and THE FABELMANS combined for zero wins. The real surprise was ELVIS going home empty-handed as well. These are all good films and worthy to be nominated, but they just went up against a juggernaut in EEAO. 


-The In Memoriam. Lenny Kravitz appeared to perform Calling all Angels, and while he sounded great and the song was perfect, the presentation of our departed actors and filmmakers left a lot to be desired. The graphics were odd with a blurring effect when two faces appeared, and there were no clips with sound of their performances. And they left out Tom Sizemore, Anne Heche, Paul Sorvino, and Melinda Dillon. 


-Best Song going to Naatu Naatu from the Indian action film RRR. Voters had to be second-guessing themselves after Lady Gaga blew the roof off the place with her performance of Hold My Hand from TOP GUN: MAVERICK. The former feels like it will be forgotten by next week, while the latter has the potential to keep flying for a long time. 




-Speaking of Lady Gaga, she was originally not going to perform due to her filming commitments, but at the last minute pulled it together. The queen lost her dress and makeup and appeared in a stripped-down, back-to-basics performance…and then later was back in the dress and makeup. Amazing performance and effort. 


-The German-language film ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT nabbing four Oscars. The adaptation of the classic war novel un-surprisingly won Best International Feature, and then swiped Cinematography, Production Design, and Original Score. The Oscars should have no boundaries, and this leap across the pond was an important one. 


-As this Blogger correctly predicted last week (HERE), all four acting wins were packed with emotion, as all four were taken home by long-time favorites. Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis (for EEAO), Mummy-killer Brendan Fraser (THE WHALE), veteran Michelle Yeoh (EEAO), and seeker of rich-stuff Ke Huy Quan got his fortune and glory (EEAO). Quan was the most satisfying and enjoyable win, and he was perfectly greeted on-stage by his INDIANA JONES co-star Harrison Ford when EEAO won the big one. 


-Speaking of greetings…Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian to win Best Actress, and she was handed her Oscar by the first black woman to win Best Actress: Halle Berry. 


-EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE winning Best Picture. The sci-fi/fantasy drama took home seven Oscars, including three for acting. It had been in the lead since the start, and if the reactions from the audience were any indication, was really beloved by Hollywood. In the last 20 years only two films that fall into sci-fi or fantasy have won Best Picture (RETURN OF THE KING in 2003, THE SHAPE OF WATER in 2017), and EEAO makes it three. This was an important step forward for the Oscars, as it shows that a great movie, and a great story can take on many shapes and forms. And that’s what the movies are all about. 




See all the winners HERE


Thursday, March 9, 2023

A Reel Opinion: Oscar Picks - Part 2

The 95th Academy Awards are less than a week away. Earlier this week Reel Speak picked the winners in the acting categories (HERE), and will now attempt to predict the winners in the elemental categories leading to Best Picture. 


Picking winners every year often comes down to stats and trends, momentum, and good old-fashioned gut-instinct. Following the precursor awards is vital; the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Producers Guild (PGA), Writers Guild (WGA), Directors Guild (DGA), Golden Globes, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). The Oscars can often be a monkey-see, monkey-do thing, and whoever wins early and often can be considered the favorite. 


But every year there is a X-factor, and this year that factor is the huge disparity from BAFTA and where the rest of the industry awards has showed love. BAFTA went big with the Netflix-carried ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, but the Guilds have been in all-in on the universe-hopping EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. The Globes went to Steven Spielberg’s THE FABELMANS (drama), and THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN for comedy, and although there is no overlap in the Globes and Academy voters, they can still reflect what is the talk of the town. 




And the Oscar will go to…






A Best Picture winner, or contender, should have good editing. In 95 years, two-thirds of all Best Picture winners have also won for editing. However, the winner of Best Editing has not matched Best Picture since ARGO in 2012. That odd streak comes to an end this year, with EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE and its insane, yet easy-to-follow universe-hopping story taking this one. 







Very tough year for the writing categories. Sarah Polley’s adaptation of the 2018 novel WOMEN TALKING has been heralded for its screenplay, having won at the WGA earlier this month. Its closest competition seems to be the Netflix-produced ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, which was the big winner at BAFTA but failed to get a nomination from WGA. WOMEN TALKING has been praised all season, and deserves to win something. This is that something. 








EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE dazzled us with its editing and will be rewarded so, and that roadmap to edit came from its equally dazzling screenplay, which balances the spectacle and madness with a down-to-earth family story. Having already won at WGA, this feels like an easy one. 




Another one that feels like it’s already in the bag. Directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as the Daniels), have been cleaning house all year, including the top prize at the DGA. Their competition includes Steven Spielberg (THE FABELMANS), and Martin McDonagh (THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN), but the Daniels followed those roadmaps in creating not only spectacle, but sending a year-best four actors to nominations. 






It’s hard to stop a freight train once it gets going, and EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE is that train. It has won the top honors at all the guilds this year (only the fifth film in history to do so), has the most acting nominations and the most overall this year. It works in bringing spectacle and is a technical marvel, and also delivers the drama in a relatable, family story. It’s been the talk of Tinsel Town since the start, and even its competitors seem to favor it. It will win everything. Everywhere. And all at once. 






The Oscars are this Sunday, the 12th.



Tuesday, March 7, 2023

A Reel Opinon: Oscar Picks - Part 1

The 95th Academy Awards are less than a week away, and in this first part of Oscar picks, Reel Speak will attempt to pick the winners in the acting categories. 


Picking winners every year often comes down to stats and trends, momentum, and good old-fashioned gut-instinct. Following the precursor awards is vital; the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Producers Guild (PGA), Writers Guild (WGA), Directors Guild (DGA), Golden Globes, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). The Oscars can often be a monkey-see, monkey-do thing, and whoever wins early and often can be considered the favorite. 


But every year there is a X-factor, and this year that factor is the huge disparity from BAFTA and where the rest of the industry awards has showed love. BAFTA went big with the Netflix-carried ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, but SAG and Hollywood have been in all-in on the universe-hopping EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE. There is no question that actors hold a lot of power in Hollywood, and as they go, the Academy tends to go. 


And the Oscar will go to…




Each acting category this year has the potential for some real emotion, as all four have long-time fan-favorites in competition. This will be the first stand-up-and-cheer moment, as Jamie Lee Curtis, for her role in the heavily favored EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE, looks to take this one home. The great Angela Bassett won this category at the Globes, while BAFTA went with Kerry Condon for THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, but Curtis seems primed to repeat her SAG win and get the ball rolling for a big night for her film. 


WINNER: Jamie Lee Curtis 


This is nearly a no-contest, with Ke Huy Quan’s delightful performance in EVERYTHING EVERYWHERE ALL AT ONCE being the heavy favorite, having already won at SAG and the Globes. Quan is somewhat outnumbered by THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN, which has two actors in this category (Brendan Gleeson and Barry Keoghan), but the data supports Short Round taking home the fortune and glory. 


WINNER: Ke Huy Quan


A very close race, with the famed Cate Blanchett winning here at the Globes and at BAFTA for her role as a troubled music conductor in TAR. She seemed ready for a sweep, but then Michelle Yeoh pulled off a stunner with her win at SAG. TAR seems to have dropped off everyone’s radar, and Yeoh’s film has a lot of momentum right now, and if the atmosphere at the SAG Awards is any indication, even Cate wants Yeoh to win. 


WINNER: Michelle Yeoh 


The tightest race of the year, with Austin Butler’s lead role as the King in ELVIS going toe-to-toe with Brendan Fraser’s role as an obese man at the end of his life in THE WHALE. Early in the season Butler looked to have this locked up, with wins at the Globes and BAFTA. But then SAG went with Fraser, who over the years has become one of Hollywood’s most beloved. People still adore Elvis (the man more than the movie), so this very well could be Butler. History is on the side of the King: the last time all four acting wins went to fictional characters was 2016, and before that it was 1997. But when in doubt, follow the actors. 


WINNER: Brendan Fraser




Read Reel Speak's in the elemental categories leading to Best Picture HERE




The 95th Oscars are this Sunday, the 12th




Saturday, March 4, 2023

Tom Sizemore: 1961 - 2023

Actor Tom Sizemore has passed away at 61. 

Born in Detroit in 1961, Thomas Edward Sizemore Jr. had his big-screen debut in two high profile films in 1989: Sylvester Stallone’s prison drama LOCK UP, and Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. 

High-profile films seemed to be his calling-card, as in the 1990’s he appeared in some of the most well-known and acclaimed films of the decade, with the top two being Steven Spielberg’s epic war film SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998), and Michael Mann’s crime masterpiece HEAT (1995). Other notable films in the 90’s included BLUE STEEL (1990), POINT BREAK (1991), HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN (1991), PASSENGER 57 (1992), WYATT EARP (1994), THE RELIC (1997), ENEMY OF THE STATE (1998), and Martin Scorsese’s BRINGING OUT THE DEAD (1999). 

He moved into the new millennium with another solid run including BLACK HAWK DOWN (2001), PEARL HARBOR (2001), and DREAMCATCHER (2003). On television he appeared on LAW AND ORDER, CSI: MIAMI, IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, and provided the voice of Metamorpho in DC Comics’ animated JUSTICE LEAGUE. He also played Pete Rose in a 2004 TV film, and appeared in the 2017 TWIN PEAKS revival. 

Other notable roles include RED PLANET (2000), TRUE ROMANCE (2003), TICKER (2001), and BIG TROUBLE (2002). His highest accolade came in 1998 when he and his castmates were nominated for a Best Ensemble Cast by the Screen Actors Guild for SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. 


Tom Sizemore’s struggles in the back half of his life had him removed from the spotlight, but he still leaves us with an impressive resume. Between SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and HEAT, he has his name attached to two of the greatest films of all time, and not many actors can say that. His talent for playing a tough-guy every-man made him the right guy to be the guiding voice in Tom Hanks’ ear, and the driving force behind Robert DeNiro. He acted with the best and showed he belonged on that big screen with them. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

A Reel Review: CREED III

The biggest question around CREED III, the third film to spinoff from the famed ROCKY franchise, is how well it can punch without The Italian Stallion himself, Rocky Balboa. ROCKY founder and star Sylvester Stallone is absent this time around, leaving star (and first-time director) Michael B. Jordan to take swings on his own. 


Adonis Creed (Jordan), son of famous boxer Apollo Creed, retires as the World Heavyweight Champion, only to be challenged by Dame (Jonathan Majors), an old childhood friend. 


Directed by Jordan, CREED III plays out like a boxer’s WRATH OF KHAN. Dame is out for revenge against Adonis, blaming him for his 18-year incarceration, which in his eyes robbed him of the life that Adonis wound up having. The two go back a long way, having grown up together in a group home before a street fight sent Dame down a path to prison. Once released, Dame works his way into Adonis’ good graces, before a late-film twist puts the two of them on a blood battle. 


Ultimately it becomes a Creed vs. Dame fight, and the film does great work in creating empathy for both characters…despite Dame pulling a dirty trick or two. Adonis is looking to live a life of peace with his wife Bianca (Tessa Thompson), and daughter Amara (Mila Davis-Kent), while Dame is looking to finally get the life he thought he had lined up. There is emotion and real-world stakes at play, and CREED III plays out less of a boxing/sports movie and more of a film about family and friendship. 


But there is still boxing to be had in CREED III, and it delivers big. Jordan puts the camera inside the ring at all times, always moving with fighters and having us feel every bone-crushing punch. Audiences will be ducking on every left-hook and jab. A boxer’s perspective is shown, giving us new insight to what they see and feel in that ring…and the end result is a thrill. 


Also a thrill is the acting. Michael B. Jordan puts in the physical and emotional work, and delivers what may be his best role. Jonathan Majors is an absolute force of muscle and emotion. Tessa Thompson is excellent as always, and little Mila Davis-Kent is a delight. 


Despite not involving Rocky himself, CREED III carries a lot of the ol’ Balboa spirit, and the lessons Adonis learned from him in past films come back around here. Every punch that CREED III throws lands and lands hard, and Apollo would be proud. 




Thursday, March 2, 2023

A Reel Preview: The Year in Film 2023 - Episode III

Movies that we get in the month of March can be just as unpredictable as the wretched Spring weather. With the Summer Movie season still a couple of months away, March can be full of hot ones or cold ones. Here are the notable releases for the month: 



CREED III – Michael B. Jordan stars and directs in this third chapter of the CREED franchise, which is a spin-off of the ROCKY series. Jordan reprises his role as Adonis Creed (son of Apollo), who defends his boxing championship against an old childhood friend, played by Jonathan Majors. It co-stars Tessa Thompson and Phylicia Rashad. 




65 – Adam Driver finds himself stranded on Earth of 65 million years ago, where he (of course), is hunted by dinosaurs. 



CHAMPIONS – Bobby Farrelly (one-half of the comedy team of the Farrelly Brothers), directs his first solo-outing about a basketball coach who takes the job of coaching a team of players with intellectual disabilities. Woody Harrelson, Ernie Hudson, and Cheech Marin star. 



SCREAM VI – The sixth installment of the comedy/slasher horror series, with the Ghostface killer chasing the survivors of the previous film all the way to New York City. 



INSIDE – Willem Dafoe plays an art thief trapped in a New York penthouse after his heist goes wrong in this psychological thriller. 



SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS – Billy Batson and his siblings, who turn into adult superheroes, battle the Daughters of Atlas in one of the last films in the old line of continuity based on DC Comics characters. Zachary Levi reprises his role as Shazam, and he is joined by Rachel Zegler (WEST SIDE STORY), Lucy Liu, Djmon Hounsou, and Helen Mirren. 



JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 4 – Keanu Reeves is back as Wick in the fourth chapter of his shoot-em-up franchise, this time traveling the globe to defeat old and new enemies. Donnie Yen, Bill Skarsgard, Laurence Fishburne, Clancy Brown, and Ian McShane co-star. 



DUNGEONS & DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES – The ever-popular tabletop role-playing game gets another big-screen treatment, with a group of thieves fighting to stop a great evil from taking over the world. It stars Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, and Hugh Grant. 





Next month, Reel Speak previews the month of April. 




Tuesday, February 28, 2023

A Reel Opinion: The Top 10 Best Films of John Ford

It is no great spoiler to print that THE FABLEMANS, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated, semi-autobiographical film, has a movie-ending, show-stopping cameo in the form of real-life director John Ford (the actor who plays Ford would be a huge spoiler to print, so go see the movie if you want to know). The short scene is a re-telling of the real-life encounter Spielberg had with Ford, and despite its short length, goes a long way in showing Ford’s influence on Spielberg. Younger viewers were probably asking “who the hell was that”, while older audience members were celebrating the tribute. Who was that guy? That answer can be found in Reel Speak’s Top 10 Best Films of John Ford. 


Born John Martin Feeney in 1894, John Ford would direct over 140 films stretching back to the silent era before his passing in 1973. He would earn six Academy Awards, including a record four for Best Director. He would redefine location shooting, wide-shots, shot-framing, and is credited with making an American icon out of John Wayne. His films would solidify the images of the Old West for good, and in doing so would be considered one of the most influential directors of all time. His best works are the films that stand as a reference point for filmmaking and have stood the test of time. 



Meet John Ford: 




10. YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939)

John Ford loved American icons and heroes and showed no restraint in celebrating their wit and bravery. This courtroom drama, with Henry Fonda playing a young Abraham Lincoln during his lawyering days, has the future President defending two brothers falsely accused of murder. The term “prequel” wasn’t around in 1939, but thanks to a clever script and Fonda’s gentle and intelligent performance, the building blocks can be seen stacking to the monument that would become Lincoln. 




Having served in the Navy during WWII and earning a Purple Heart, Ford had a love of American fortitude. This realistic and somewhat grim exploration of war centers around a PT boat crew during a Japanese invasion of the Philippines, with real-life war hero Robert Montgomery and budding superstar John Wayne. Ford went for realism here and pulled no punches, setting a new standard for films of war. 





In 1940, Ford would pull off the rare feat of earning two Best Picture nominations in one year, one for this sea-bound drama and the other you’ll find out in a few minutes. THE LONG VOYAGE HOME drew back on Ford’s love for the sea, and followed a ragtag crew board a British steamer on a perilous journey. Shot in glorious black-and-white, it would be considered to be one of the best film noir movies. 



7. THE INFORMER (1935)

Ford would win his first Oscar for Best Director in this drama set in 1922 Ireland, following a young man (Victor McLaglen), trying to get into the IRA. McLageln would win Best Actor for his performance, and despite a tragic ending, sends us out the door on a hopeful note. 





Ford had a way of presenting the chasing and failing of dreams, and this one of his strongest. Despite Ford’s four Oscars for Best Director, this would be his only film to win Best Picture…famously beating out CITIZEN KANE. Based around a Welsh mining family at the turn of the century, VALLEY would be an awards-gobbler, with 10 nominations and five wins including Best Director for Ford and Best Supporting Actor for Donald Crisp. 



5. THE QUIET MAN (1952)

Ford’s final win for Best Director in this classic that has become a vital element of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day as much as whiskey and beer. A romantic journey into Ford’s own Irish roots, the film was a departure for both Ford and star John Wayne, who strayed from their tough-guy, put-em-up roots. Wayne plays an ex-boxer who returns to his homeland and falls in love with a fiery red head (a lovely Maureen O’Hara). Although THE QUIET MAN would end in a fistfight anyway, it stands as an early rom-com and shows the diversity of both Ford and Wayne. 




In this late career masterpiece, Ford takes the Western, a genre that he practically invented for the big screen, and finds an exploration of truth and myth. John Wayne and James Stewart are given the opportunity to find new layers to character-types they had played for decades, courtesy of a late-film twist that has consequences for both characters. Home to one of the greatest movie lines of all time: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”. 


3. STAGECOACH (1939)

The film that would make a star out of John Wayne and define the Old West for cinema. Following a group of strangers taking a stagecoach across dangerous Apache territory, it would be the first of many Westerns shot in Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah border, and would set a new standard for location shooting as future productions would finally move away from soundstage filming. Before STAGECOACH, the Western would be known as B-movie shorts. Afterwards, it would be a new genre of cinema that would dominate for 60 years. The first of many Westerns for Ford and Wayne together, which would include gems such as FORT APACHE (1948), and RIO GRANDE (1950). 




Ford’s adaptation of the 1939 John Steinbeck novel would earn him an Academy Award for Best Director, and would be one of his two films nominated for Best Picture in this year. In telling the story of a family who migrates to California after losing everything in the Great Depression, this was one of Ford’s many fascinations with chasing and losing dreams and pushing out beyond boundaries to find them again. Often considered to be the definitive adaptations of the novel and one of the greatest films ever made. 




Ford may have elevated the Old West for cinema with STAGECOACH, but with THE SEARCHERS he sent it up even further. John Wayne plays an angry Civil War veteran who digs into his hatred of Native Americans when his niece (Natalie Wood), is kidnapped by Comanches. In what could have been a cliched tale of Cowboys and Indians, Ford finds new depth of character when Wayne and his partner (Jeffrey Hunter, years before his STAR TREK role of Capt. Pike), finds the niece living happily with the Comanches. The moral ambiguity the characters explore would set the stage for future anti-heroes in cinema such as Travis Bickle and Michael Corleone. Beautifully shot, edited, and scored…THE SEARCHERS would set a standard not only for Westerns but for all of cinema, and future franchises such as STAR WARS and Indiana Jones would take influence from here. When Spielberg met Ford, it was THE SEARCHERS that sent him on his way. 



Friday, February 17, 2023


Despite his long comic history, when Ant-Man first arrived on the big screen, it was easy to not take him seriously. The incredible shrinking (and sometimes super-growing) man who talks to bugs could have gone south in a hurry, but the team at Marvel Studios embraced the absurdity, and eventually made Ant-Man one of the key elements in their massive war in AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Now, set some years after the events of ENDGAME, Ant-Man returns with even bigger responsibility in ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA. 


Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd), along with his daughter Cassie, (Kathryn Newton), girlfriend Hope/The Wasp (Evangeline Lilly), mentor Hank (Michael Douglas), and Hank’s wife Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), are whisked into the Quantum Realm; a sub-atomic universe populated by strange creatures and inhabitants. While looking for a way out, they cross paths with Kang (Jonathan Majors), a super-being looking to conquer the many universes across time. 


Directed by Peyton Reed and the 31st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), QUANTUMANIA has deep roots in not only the AVENGERS films, but also the previous two ANT-MAN solo films. Janet, who had once been trapped in the Quantum Realm, knows the threat of Kang and has kept her knowledge of him and his threat a secret from her family. In their fight to get home and to keep Kang from escaping and continuing his conquest, the family voyages across the Realm, encountering strange beings, stranger places, and finding themselves in a war against Kang. 


The war against Kang and the fight to keep him imprisoned in the Realm forces the film to stay in the fantastical world for (guessing) 95% of the film. Once they arrive there (after 10 minutes in), there isn’t a single shot for two hours that isn’t overloaded with CGI. The graphics look great, and the creature designs fantastic (despite being so weird), but there is artificial feel to the film that leaves us cold. On top of that, this is the first ANT-MAN adventure that isn’t very fun. The usual yuk-fest that Ant-Man is associated with is gone, which is fine for a change of pace, but this adventure and war just lacks a sense of urgency and fun. Kang’s threat is real, but QUANTUMANIA just doesn’t have the desperation or stand-up-and-cheer moments that the MCU has been known for. 


There is still a lot to love in QUANTUMANIA. The family dynamic between Lang, his daughter, and his adopted family of Hope, Hank, and Janet works very well. They’re not just superheroes but a family working their issues. Long-time comic readers will take great joy in the presentation of Kang and his right-hand man; the MCU did their homework on these characters and it shows. 


Acting is very good. Paul Rudd is a delight as always, and Michael Douglas and Michelle Pfeiffer are a great match. Jonathan Majors is outstanding and is worthy to take the throne as the MCU’s new Big Bad. The show is stolen by Kathryn Newton who is incredible. 


Throughout its long history, the MCU has excelled at making self-contained adventures which also serve the larger universe and overall storyline. QUANTUMANIA isn’t perfectly balanced as this time Ant-Man has to do a lot of setup…because yes…something BIG is coming. That lopsidedness can be annoying, but forgivable if they remembered what made the MCU so popular since 2008: a little fun.