Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

GG3 is not near the bottom of the Marvel barrel, as some have attested. Neither is it a “great send-off,” as others have called it. It’s a generally funny, overlong, and overstuffed film, but is still successful at wrapping up a unique trilogy. Certainly the first film is the best, but GG3 is still enjoyable for those that connect with these characters (as I do).

All of the usual suspects hew close to their previously developed characters, with little actual growth. Pratt, unfortunately, is saddled with a seriousness that he pulls off, but doesn’t align best with his screen personality or Quill’s character. Pratt has a great comic presence in nearly everything he does, and while he can be a decent action/adventure hero outside of the Galaxy, he’s not the strongest serious action hero. Added to that is the screenwriter’s insistence that he occasionally remind the viewer of the ultimate reason for all the discussions, fights, schemes, and killings: to save their friend. It stops the film cold every time, and is possibly one of the weakest “let’s remember why we’re doing what we’re doing” series of lines in recent memory.

“Their friend” is Rocket, the (spoiler alert) raccoon voiced by Bradley Cooper. This is Rocket’s origin story, a strange choice for the culmination of a series, but which is explained, if rather clumsily, at the end of the film. Putting a great background character into a leading role (at least narratively) is risky (e.g., Ted Lasso’s second season, episode eight). But the film ultimately pulls it off by making the origin story a series of flashbacks that add a new energy each time the film cuts back to Rocket’s early years and experiences. It’s a rather thin throughline for a Marvel film, but we accept it because Rocket isn’t featured in every scene, and we get to enjoy our familiar favorites.

We get adequate visits with Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Groot (Vin Diesel), who continue being their unusual selves and who break little new ground in their interactions with others. We also get more than we want from Zoe Saldaña, who plays Gamora with more of an uncomfortable, harder edge than ever. Her final relationship with Quill is as ill-defined as Drax’s is with Mantis.

Sean Gunn’s Kraglin was once an integrated part of the Guardians, but seems to be a bit sidelined here, which cuts into a likeability factor that had been built up in the previous two films. As strangely used is Sylvester Stallone, who provides a casting jolt when first seen, but ultimately is a distraction. Chukwudi Iwuji is given star credit and an important role as The High Evolutionary, but the character doesn’t come off as the great bad guy he is supposed to be, making the villain someone who mysteriously tends to fade into the background.

And then there is Will Poulter. Is there going to be a new franchise built around his Adam Warlock character? That seems the only reason for introducing his character. His arc from evil killer to one of the guys is only one mystery with his character. The other is the presence of Elizabeth Debicki (The Crown‘s second Princess Diana) as Warlock’s mother, who is all of two years older than Poulter. They both have a strong screen presence, and Poulter’s general amiability wins out at the end. But such new and strong characters seem there for future franchise reasons than for logical new additions to the end of a trilogy, and they only add to the already excessive side storylines.

What is extraordinary about GG3 is what a technical triumph it is. The created creatures are as real as the humans and the natural landscapes, especially Rocket. Yes, there are stunning action sequences involving a great many effects. But the greatest effect here is of a believable world comprised of real and computer imagery. It’s up there with the  Avatar films.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the film is its attempts at importance and transcendence, with doesn’t really jive with the lighthearted insouciance of the best Guardian moments. The does thankfully break some too-serious moments with a strong and welcome tonal shift when things threaten to get too heavy. But those moments are unfortunately undercut by painful s-l-o-w-m-o-t-i-o-n scenes that turn small moments into attempted BIG MOMENTS FILLED WITH FEAR, DREAD, OR SIGNIFICANCE. I won’t spoil them except to say that one of the first of these is right at the beginning when a hand very slowly approaches the young Rocket character. If the film had simply allowed the hand to grab him quickly and steal him away, and the film had followed that rule throughout, it would have been blessedly shorter and more fun.

And why is a Marvel film taking a cue from the worst of the D&C movies, with dragged out fight after dragged out fight? The film is The Searchers combined with Saving Private Ryan in space to some degree, but the rescue gets lost in the set-up and execution of each new noisy, lengthy skirmish. And the violence and language! I was wondering if the increased crudeness and definitely stepped-up violence was an attempt to keep pace with the franchise’s original audience, moving from young impressionable kids to young adult territory. The one strong f-bomb, unfortunately handled by Quill, is approached a few times in a few sequences before we hear it loud and clear, which is the one-bomb-only rule that keeps things PG-13. But there is a good deal of crude language for those wondering if they should take the kids, and at what age the film would be appropriate. The language and violence are simply not appropriate for young children. The A Clockwork Orange-like scenes with Rocket and his eyes, too, will likely be uncomfortable for most viewers and might be traumatizing for little ones.

Being a space opera version of Saving Private Ryan and The Searchers et al., the film focuses on saving one person at the expense of many, many other lives, most of whom have nothing to do with the main rescue narrative. Apparently, Rocket’s life is presented as worth the violent deaths of dozens of side characters.

The songs of the first GG film, and most of the songs of the second, were delightful and at least to this writer, perfectly nostalgic. GG3 doesn’t have the same effect with its music until the end credits—again, at least to this guy. And finally, there is the Kevin Bacon thing, with is delightful.

GG3 is too long, too violent, too crude, and too full of plot and new characters. It’s also a technical marvel, and a visit with old friends that we are sorry to see go. I saw it twice.

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2023 Oscar Predictions

Until recently, there has been no film that has captured critical, awards, and audience consensus and has thus seemed bound for Oscar glory. That’s changed in the past month or so, as Everything Everywhere All at Once has landed on top of the pile, collecting a number of acting, directing, and Best Picture awards. 1922 wasn’t the strongest year for narrative film, and this crazy/wonderful/bonkers/original film has been, certainly, among the most interesting films of the year. Tár and The Banshees of Inisherin are probably stronger films formally, but the former is too cool and the latter, too hot. Elvis was fun (excepting Mr. Hanks), but a bit all over the place. Top Gun: Maverick makes the list because it was both solid and wildly popular, and brought audiences back to the movie theater (for which the Academy is most grateful). Spielberg’s The Fabelmans is the big movie that couldn’t, (and apparently won’t), All Quiet on the Western Front already has a lock on Best International Feature, and isn’t Parasite enough to capture the big prize. Avatar: The Way of Water is there for technical reasons, and both Triangle of Sadness and Women Talking are respectable films (that practically no one saw) that serve to round out the full list of ten.

If I were writing this a month ago, I would have written with more certitude about my guesses—hence the inclusion of dark horses and possible spoilers. So here goes….


Everything Everywhere All at Once I can’t imagine anything else taking this this year.


Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert for Everything Everywhere All at Once (only the third directing pair to win this).


Michele Yeoh for Everything Everywhere All at Once. I feel quite vindicated by this, as she was my pick for Best Actress back in April of last year ( ). There was a moment in time that the towering performance of Cate Blanchett in Tár might have (and possibly deservedly) won her third Oscar. But Yeoh’s long career, great performance, and being the PC pick of the year will give her the Oscar. (Remember, most applause for her that night will be Hollywood congratulating itself for its inclusion, and only incidentally, but not completely insincerely, for the legendary Chinese actress.)


I’ve gone back and forth on this for months. It will either be Austin Butler for Elvis or Brendan Fraser for The Whale. Both are literally standout performances in their films, with Elvis certainly being the stronger film of the two. But being great in a so-so film often highlights the performance, and Fraser wins on that score. Add to that the great Hollywood comeback story that is his this year, and I think the scales will tip in his direction. But since there is generally at least one shocker per night (can you say “Anthony Hopkins for The Father”?), it may be that Butler and Fraser split the vote, and an also deserving Colin Farrell might snag the Oscar, à la Born Yesterday‘s Judy Holliday winning the Best Actress Oscar over both Bette Davis (All About Eve) and Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard). Fraser has been giving great acceptance speeches this awards seasons, and I think the Academy wants to see another.


Again, I had a different thought a month ago. I assumed that Angela Bassett was a lock for her ferocious performance in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. And since Everything Everywhere All at Once has TWO female supporting nods, it seemed that this might have canceled out those two nominations—Jamie Lee Curtis and Stephanie Hsu—thus leaving the prize to Bassett. But the Academy loves Curtis, and Hsu’s even better performance only promises a possible great career and not an award this early. Curtis won the Screen Actors Guild award in this category, which muddies the prediction waters, but I still lean toward Bassett. It will be one or the other.


No question that it will be Ke Huy Quan for Everything Everywhere All at Once. First, the performance is good enough to win. But Quan is also the Asian comeback story of the year—the winning combination this year, and is a lovable and engaging presence giving great acceptance speeches. No one else has a chance. Earlier this year, I thought it might be the great actor Brendan Gleeson for Banshees, but he gave everyone the finger, so no.


Women Talking has great dialogue, as one might have guessed by the title. Plus it’s an original work by a woman, directed by that woman (Sarah Polley). I honestly can’t say either way whether this is the best adapted screenplay, but it gives the Academy the chance to reward someone they admire.


The screenplay for Everything… is a modern, all-over-the-place explosion of ideas and perspectives, most of which work. But…the script by Martin McDonagh for The Banshees of Inisherin, while problematic on several levels, is tight and beautifully classical in nature. Everything… might win here as part of a sweep, but I think the Academy realizes that a work of art like Banshees should have some attention and will go the Best Original Screenplay award route for the film and for McDonagh.


This might easily have gone to Top Gun: Maverick if it had been nominated. But it wasn’t. The top contenders are Germany’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Elvis, two films that couldn’t be farther apart in look and feel. I’m guessing All Quiet… will win, but wouldn’t be surprised by an Elvis come-from-behind win here.


This one is tough to guess. I would have guessed Babylon a month ago, but Elvis may make a surprise win here as well. I think that Everywhere… and Black Panther… will cancel each other out.


Again, a month ago I would have assumed that Everything… had a lock on this, as a good half of the film’s energy and meaning comes from its editing. But this might be the category that folks decide Top Gun: Maverick needs this win.


A month ago, The Whale. Now, probably Elvis.


A month ago, Babylon. Today, still Babylon.


See BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN, above. (Babylon)


No question, it’s going to be “Naatu Naatu” from RRR. And since this is Diane Warren’s 14th nomination (for “Applause” from Tell It Like a Woman) and will be her 14th loss, we can all relax because Warren received an honorary Oscar late last year for her body of work.


This is probably Top Gun: Maverick’s closest thing to a lock. The film shines technically, and this is a category win that few will have a hard time with.


Could it really be anything other than Avatar: The Way of Water? All Quiet on the Western Front used its effects invisibly, while Avatar… puts it effects front and center. No contest here.


No award for Disney or Pixar this year. It goes to Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio. This has received the most critical acclaim of any animated film this year, and the others are the very definition of “also ran” films.


Navalny. A great story that is political (and on which all can agree as to the bad guys!), as opposed to Fire of Love, which is personal and may well have won any other year it wasn’t up against a Holocaust film.


All Quiet on the Western Front is nominated for nine Oscars. That seems to make it a sure winner in this category.


I don’t care.

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Jesus Revolution

It’s impossible to be whatever “objective” is with this film, much like the struggle I had writing about Isn’t It Romantic, which was directed by my friend and former film student Todd Strauss-Schulson. In that instance, this was a major film directed by someone I cared about, and therefore difficult to address without the “I’m so proud” card showing. In the case of Jesus Revolution, in many ways it’s the story—or at least the context of the story—of my spiritual life and the spiritual life of many of my closest friends. The film covers the Christian revival (primarily) among the young and disaffected—yes, and the hippies—of Southern California. The revival made its way to the East Coast, where in 1973 it caught up to me, my family, my future wife, and many folks that become life-long friends. To use a phrase I’ve been avoiding for years, I finally felt “seen” on the screen.

As a former film professor, I’ve struggled with the quality of Christian films over the last 20 years. Some of the screenplays are paint-by numbers, and the acting is, shall we say, not necessarily Oscar-worthy. Jesus Revolution won’t win any acting Academy Awards next year either, but every lead and most secondary characters are real actors (including Father of the Bride bride Kimberly Williams-Paisley) who give believable performances. Of course, the lead is Kelsey Grammer, who wears the character of Pastor Chuck Smith like a glove. If I recall correctly, I only caught him acting once. The rest of the time, he was the character.

To make things a little strange for many Christians, Jonathan Roumie, who plays Jesus on “The Chosen” series, has a major role here as a hippie-turned-believer. He’s a good actor and nails the part, but for those that know him from “The Chosen,” it takes a few moments to wrap one’s head around this new and flawed character.

The film has been described as being about Chuck Smith, the conservative pastor who opened the door to hippies and rode a revival like a surfer rides a wave, eventually becoming the head of the Calvary Chapel group of churches. That’s not really true. It’s really about something the film declares (and that I believe) is a move of God that involved imperfect people and still had a monumental impact on a generation. To help make that point clear, the film encompasses several stories at once, and covers a great deal of ground. Yes, it covers Chuck, his wife and daughter, and their struggles with what was happening around them. But it also includes the beginning of Lonnie Frisbee’s story, a story which became quite complex and convoluted, a future for which the film lays the groundwork, but doesn’t get lost in. It also covers a romantic love story, but a real one with a person that many of us from that time are familiar with. And lastly, the famous (spoiler alert) Time magazine cover article on the movement is featured as well. So it “hits home” with this writer and many other people who became Christians about that time because, in some ways, the film is our story as well.

Ironically, one of the problems I have with many Christian films of the past is the obviousness and “on-the-nose-ness” of some of the dialogue; it comes across as too far removed from what real folks say. Here the only part of the film that even comes close to that is the world of late-60’s California pre-Christian hippies, with “cool” and “dig it” making their appearance along with many similar expressions of the time. (And oh, the clothes!) But once I thought about it, that is exactly what a lot of people looked and sounded like back then. It was another world, and just because it might seem embarrassing now to those of us who lived through it doesn’t mean that an awkward-sounding reproduction of those times wasn’t “right on” (sorry/not sorry—I had to). What comes across as real and true, instead, are the conversations between Christians and the presentations from the pulpits. Yes, world, that is pretty close to the language we really used, and still do. It may seem corny and occasionally come off as preaching to the non-choir, but it’s quite real, and deeply meaningful.

Jon Erwin, this film’s co-director (with Brent McCorkle) was also the director of I Can Only Imagine, American Underdog, and Moms’ Night Out, among others, with his brother Andrew. Erwin and his colleagues have been steadily improving the “inspirational film” genre steadily throughout the years. Tackling this event and this many story lines would be a great challenge to any director, but this film solves those admirably.

Many film writers have rightly talked about how important it at least feels to be seen and represented on the screen. For me, seeing folks come to Christ and getting baptized pretty much ruins me (in the best way) whenever I see it, even as it does in my real life in my real church. So for me, there were too many moments that hit close to home for me to feel I can be artistically objective about the film. But as many writers have expressed, “if you want to understand [this group of people], seeing {such-and-such a film} would help you understand them and would broaden your mental and emotional horizons.

My wife and I walked out of the theater and said we had to tell our children that if they wanted to understand the context of our spiritual lives, they would have to see this film. Jesus Revolution tells of a move of God with intelligence and more honesty than I was expecting, weaving several stories together in a surprisingly coherent way. In its focus, it leaves out a number of elements that could have been covered, but which I believe the film is wise to not address. But for anyone wanting to understand this time and place, or even evangelical Christians in general, this film is a must-see.

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A Man Called Otto/A Man Called Ove

Tom Hanks’ new film is an American remake of Sweden’s submission for 2016’s Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award, A Man Called Ove, which also received an Oscar nomination for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling. It’s enjoyable, or what my wife and I call “fine,” which is code for just OK. For those looking for a good date movie, or something mildly enjoyable, it is a good choice for those who like Hanks and a good story.

Without going into too much plot detail, Hanks plays an old grouch. There are reasons for his grouchiness in general, and his excess grouchiness at the film’s opening in particular, and the film explains them in good time. There are unexpected occurrences which help to keep the film moving along, but the ark of the story will be obvious to anyone in the first few minutes (or even before sitting down to watch the film). (Spoiler alert: He meets folks who help him be less grouchy.) (Second spoiler alert and warning: The film depicts more than one suicide attempt, and works to mitigate the power of the scenes through comedy in the scene or in the context around it.)

There are some strong points to the newer film, which hews very closely to the original. The changes made are a great example of the challenges of aiming a film at an audience with a different culture. Some changes are good and help to clarity characterization and motivation. Some, not so good.

The couple that figures mostly strongly in Ove’s life are Swedish (the husband) and Iranian (the wife). The new film has them as an American husband and a feisty Mexican wife. The “Persian wife” in the Swedish film, as she is called, is a more recessive character compared to the delightful and “in-your-face” Mexican. (In both films, the husbands are disappointments, as characters in the film and for the viewer to watch). Pregnancies and accident feature in both films in pretty much the same way. Judgments about cars also feature in both, with major American “adjustments” that can be read as full equivalents to the Swedish conflict.

Some changes are an improvement, not just an accommodation to another culture. There is a subplot with a quarter that makes much more sense in the new film, and was a small but wise change. I’m not sure if it worked to the new film’s benefit or not, but the Swedish film featured Ove’s relationship with his father in much greater detail. That puts more pressure on the American film to give a kind of explanation and backstory for Otto’s attitudes and behaviors, but the Hanks film succeeds in its lighter presentation of Otto’s background.

The opening “parking” scene in the Swedish film makes less sense and is more overly comedic in the newer version, which is a weakness. (Don’t read on if you want to see the film with fresh eyes and ears.)  But perhaps the biggest “mistake” was changing a young gay character to a trans character. One reason is that it made more sense in terms of plot to have the father kick his son out on the day he announced his homosexuality to his family. That is the beginning of a plotline that works to bring redemption to Otto/Ove. TBH, that plotline isn’t completely believable based on what we know about Ove in the first film, but it’s more believable than in the newer version.

The newer version replaces the gay character with a trans character, which compromises a minor plot point. It doesn’t make as much sense for the father to somehow kick him out on that particular day when the transition process obviously took a long time, and the unseen father would have had plenty of time to deal with his thoughts and emotions. Plot-wise, it made sense in the first film to have the coming out be a turning point that put the character out on the street. But the American film seems to indicate that the father decided willy-nilly to put his child out when it’s been obvious that the father was in the know for a long time.

Secondly, the trans character’s introduction takes the film out of the fable-like quality of the original story, and the American version up to that point in the movie, and feels like a socio-political statement that belongs in another film. Reams could be written about updating a gay character with a trans character, but that discussion has layers of complexity and possible contentiousness that are for another forum. Suffice it to say that for this viewer, the Swedish film fits this plot point more subtly and sensibly into its film’s world.

The great weakness of the American film, again for this viewer, is its leading man. I’ve loved Tom Hanks in nearly everything he’s done, with the exception of The Ladykillers, the ridiculous Da Vinci Code movies, and Elvis. To use that word again, he’s “fine” throughout, and is clearly giving the character what he can. But Hanks’ persona is likability incarnated, and he can’t escape that here. He’s as genuinely believable as a grouch as Charlie Sheen would be playing a sincerely devout country parish priest in medieval Europe. Denzel Washington has the same problem leaning into his more evil characters. For Washington and Hanks, the characterization that plays opposite to his persona and personality can only go so deep (though DW does a better job acting against his character than Hanks). Hanks’ work comes off as more of an impersonation of a grouch than a completely believable person. For many people, that may be fun. But the film could have used the edge that a darker outline would have delivered to Otto.

Mariana Treviño as neighbor Marisol is Otto’s sunny and personable counterpoint, and she is a delight throughout. There is also a small side story of Otto’s/Ove’s connection to a neighbor that borders on the saccharine but is finally deftly handled.

There are a number of reasons to go see this film, one of the few currently aimed at adults. The story is a good if not original one, and the acting is uniformly solid. It’s a classic cliché to say that “the original,” especially if it’s a foreign-language film, is better. It’s not, but it’s not worse. It’s just different, and for this writer, the fun was not so much in the story as in finding and evaluating the changes.

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First Thoughts on 2023 Oscar Nominations

The 2023 Academy Award nominations came out today, and the first wave of published responses will be who got an unexpected nomination, and who got “snubbed,” a ridiculous phrase for an imprecise idea. My thoughts, however, turn to who got nominated, and what my thoughts are about the list, and about the possible winners. (Heads up: abbreviations abound for the film names.)

Best Picture

The list is locked in at 10 now, which is a marketing coup for the two or three that wouldn’t have made the list otherwise. Nothing looks like a lock at this point, which means that Top Gun: Maverick has a chance. (The Academy has made worse choices recently, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.) Avatar: The Way of Water is there for technical reasons. Tár, which perhaps two dozen people have seen, and The Banshees of Inisherin, are there for artistic reasons. The Fabelmans won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, Drama, which certainly helps it here. My money at the moment is on either Top Gun: Maverick or Everything Everywhere All at Once.

Best Actor

I think this one is a lock for Brendan Fraser in The Whale. A great performance in an OK film is right up the Academy’s alley, and the combination of the gay theme (sorry, but that’s true) and the comeback for a respected actor is probably too big for anyone else to overcome. In another year, it would be Colin Farrell for Banshees. Austin Butler is a dark horse here for Elvis, and a division between Farrell and Fraser might give it to him (think 1950 and Judy Holliday (Born Yesterday) vs. Bette Davis (All About Eve) vs. Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard), where Holliday emerged the winner).

Best Actress

This is between Cate Blanchett for Tár, giving a towering performance, and perhaps her best, and the legendary Michelle Yeoh, receiving a nomination for officially Everything Everywhere… and unofficially for her body of work. Tough choice for voters. Yeoh is loved, but Blanchett gives a performance for the ages. I was rooting for Yeoh to get a nomination back in April ( So I’m happy she’s being honored.

Best Supporting Actor

This one’s easy. It’s Ke Huy Quan for Everything Everywhere All at Once. It’s more “comeback-y” than even Fraser’s story, and his acceptance speeches steal your heart. No competition here. It might have been Brendan Gleeson in another year (Banshees), but he shares a nomination with the equally deserving Barry Keoghan in the same film. So Quan it is.

Best Supporting Actress

Again, a bit of a tough choice for some, with Jamie Lee Curtis winning her first nomination for Everything Everywhere. But like Gleeson and Keoghan, she shares a nomination with the talented Stephanie Hsu in the film. So it’s going to be Angela Bassett for Black Panther: Wakanda Forver, again for the performance and for her body of work. (And to reward Wakanda Forever, which came up short in the nominations.)

Best Animated Film

I’d be shocked it was anything other than Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio.

Best Director

A tough one this year. Perennial favorite Steven Spielberg won the Golden Globe for The Fabelmans, which might help him. But Martin McDonagh won a great deal of praise for Banshees, which won’t win Best Picture, so this could be a consolation prize. “The Daniels,” as they are known—Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert—may well be the winner/s for Everything Everywhere. My money is on them at the moment.

Best Adapted Screenplay

This could go in any direction. Writer/director Sarah Polley may win for Women Talking, as it also got a Best Picture nomination, and it would make up for her not receiving a Best Director nomination. My guess is that Academy will think her nomination is enough. Living probably won’t win, so it’s a toss-up between All Quiet on the Western Front, Top Gun, and Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery. The “artiest” among this list include All Quiet and Women Talking, which might work in either film’s favor.

Best Original Screenplay

An initially easy one, but one that gets a little more complicated as you think about it. Banshees is a beloved script, but so is Everything Everywhere. The combination of Spielberg and Tony Kushner (who has undeservedly won before) might too potent to ignore for The Fabelmans. And Tár’s script is a sharp piece of work. I’m betting on either Banshees or Everything Everywhere.


I had assumed that Claudio Miranda was going to win for Top Gun: Maverick, but that’s clearly not going to happen. Today’s guess is All Quiet, but time will tell.

Best Film Editing

I would have given it to Top Gun in a second if it weren’t for Everything Everywhere, which I think will win.

Best Original Score

Making up for a dearth of nominations for Babylon, my guess is that this is the one Oscar this film will win.

Best Original Song

“Naatu Naatu” from RRR won the Golden Globe, and there was a great deal of self-congratulation by that group that will be absorbed  by the Academy crowd when the time comes. Awarding “foreign” films in categories like this makes the Academy proud of its inclusiveness. Unfortunately for them this year, that bumps right into “Lift Me Up” from Wakanda Forever, which won very few nominations. There is no big song this year like Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On” this year. So it’s anyone’s guess. But a record might be set: Diane Warren received her 14th (!) nomination for songwriting for “Applause” from Tell It Like a Woman, and she will lose for the 14th time.

Best Visual Effects

It would normally be Avatar: The Way of Water, but All Quiet is getting a good deal of respect for its effects and how they are used.

Best Sound

In my mind today, it’s a toss-up between Elvis and Top Gun: Maverick. The former is about the sound created by a legend, and the latter is clean, bright, and shiny, with crisp and intelligent sound.

Best Costume Design

This could go to Babylon as a consolation prize. But Elvis, which was directed by Baz Luhrmann, has Luhrmann’s wife Catherine Martin as Costume Designer and Production Designer, awards she has won before for The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge! And Elvis’s costumes are large part of the visual appeal of the film.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

Except for The Whale, all seem to have an equal chance. That’s All Quiet, The Batman, Wakanda Forever, and Elvis. Wakanda and Elvis are the most obvious, which might result in a win for one of them

Best Production Design

If it weren’t for Catherine Martin (see Costumes, above), I wouldn’t have thought of Elvis as a possible winner, but it’s too early to tell. Babylon perhaps has the MOST production design, which sometimes pulls in a win. We’ll have to see which way the wind blows here.

Best International Film

India might be regretting submitting Last Picture Show as its country’s submission here in the light of RRR’s success. (Think of the regret felt by folks for the song “Dos Oruguitas” from Encanto being submitted as best song just before “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” became a Number 1 hit.) So it’s between Argentina, 1985 (Argentina) and All Quiet on the Western Front (Germany). My best guess at the moment is All Quiet.


Final Note: The Razzie nominations came out today as well. Probably the funniest nominations in this list of worsts belong to Tom Hanks:

Worst Actor for Disney’s Pinocchio (not to be confused with del Toro’s version!)

Worst Supporting Actor for Elvis (I can get behind this. See my thoughts at

Worst Screen Couple for Elvis for “Tom Hanks and His Latex-Laden Face (and Ludicrous Accent)”

I love Tom Hanks (who doesn’t?). But the Razzie group is on the money here….

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Show People (1928)

Silent and early sound film star Marion Davies was a wonderful comedienne when given the chance, and perhaps there was no greater opportunity for her to show her talents than in 1928’s Show People, her last major role in a silent film. Of course, the argument is still going on that she was really like Susan Alexander, the sweet, slightly dumb, and only slightly talented “singer” who was Charles Foster Kane’s second wife in Citizen Kane (1941). As the film Mank ties to makes clear, Marion was not Susan. But Kane’s huge shadow over the world of film history has so associated Susan with Marion that Marion’s true talents may take a few more decades to find their place in people’s minds and film history books.

It wasn’t only Dorothy Comingore’s blistering performance as Susan that has cemented the wrong impression in people’s minds. There were three other circumstances that have conspired to keep Davies wrongly reimagined. One was the thisclose connection between Charles Foster Kane and William Randolph Hearst. Yes, a few red herrings were thrown in so that Orson Welles’ filmic creation was only 97.5% on the nose. But every adult in 1941 knew that Kane was Welles’ version of Hearst on the screen, and it was easy to make the leap to assume that Hearst’s mistress, Davies, was properly portrayed in all her lack of talent and ditsiness by Comingore.

Another was the reality of Davies’ life circumstance and rise to fame. Her lover and supporter was likely the most powerful man in America, as big a figure then as Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos are today. He and Davies were by far the most famous adulterous couple in the country, setting up home in Hollywood and at San Simeon in San Luis Obispo, with Mrs. Hearst firmly and permanently ensconced in New York City. (Hearst never divorced his wife and married Marion, even though they lived together for decades.) In spite of her fame as an actress, she was not always cast correctly, and every viewer knew where the money was coming from for Cosmopolitan Pictures, Hearst’s production company that majored in Davies’ career. No matter what she may have accomplished in her films, there were these huge shadows that always hung over her—Hearst himself, and her relationship with him.

The third factor that continues to muddy her reputation is her bad handling by Hearst in her film roles. It’s finally been widely conceded that the film roles that Hearst wanted for his lovely mistress—historic, dramatic costume pictures, didn’t serve her talents as well as the comic roles that she longed to play. But how talented was she comedically? Few have seen her best work these days, and perhaps the best demonstration of her talents is in a silent film—Show People. (Her first sound film, Marianne, is painfully bad on many levels, though Marion did very well in sound films, her stutter notwithstanding.) Show People is probably the one film that film historians should see to get a proper accounting of Davies’ skills.

If ever a silent film felt modern, it is Show People. It’s a straight-up satire with the cocky attitude of Singin’ in the Rain with some of the sauciness of Blazing Saddles. The story is simple and rife with comedic opportunities. Southern belle Peggy Pepper (Davies) comes to Hollywood with her father, assuming that her acting success in Savannah, Georgia will quickly translate to success as a dramatic actress. The rest is both obvious and meta at the same time. After trying her luck unsuccessfully as a dramatic star, she finds her true footing in silly screwball comedies, complete with pies in faces and plenty of tripping. Of course she meets a handsome young man along the way, someone unimpressed with stardom and who is just interested in Peggy for herself. Peggy loses her sense of self, becomes Patricia Pepoire, decides to live for “art,” and almost marries a narcissistic count who bears a close resemblance to John Gilbert, one of the biggest male stars of the time. Nothing unexpected happens, but it’s a joy to watch things play out as Peggy eventually comes to her senses.

Davies’ acting here is great. When Peggy tries “serious” acting, Davies lands a lovely bit of satire as she tries different facial expressions that reputedly express shock, love, anger, surprise, etc. She continues overacting “just so” throughout and gives a great comic performance. That is the first big comedy delight.

The second is all her famous friends that make cameos. Of course, most are unknown to most viewers these days, but these are not second-stringers by any stretch. According to IMDB, the following then-famous people appear in this order:

  • Dorothy Sebastian
  • Louella Parsons
  • Estelle Taylor
  • Claire Windsor
  • Eileen Pringle
  • Karl Dane
  • George K. Arthur
  • Leatrice Joy
  • Renée Adorée
  • Rod La Rocque
  • Mae Murray
  • John Gilbert
  • Norma Talmadge
  • Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.
  • William Hart

Then there are three other erformers that put the guest star conceit over the top. The first is Charles Chaplin, then the most famous person in the world, asking Pepper for her autograph. She doesn’t recognize him, and nearly dismisses him completely until her love interest forces her to give the autograph. As Chaplin gets into a car to ride off, she asks who “the little man” is. Her reaction is perfect. Later, Peggy has a scene with famous director King Vidor, who here plays…a director. Of course, he is also the director of Show People.

Then, my favorite and the most meta of all, there is a scene near the end when Pepper, decked out in her usual old-fashioned Southern belle dress, is on the studio lot when a car approaches, and a modern-looking, well-dressed star exits the car and walks off. Pepper asks who it is, and her companion explains that it’s Marion Davies. Peggy’s reaction, again, is priceless. There are also moments of imitation, when Marion effects the “bee-stung” smile of silent star and The Merry Widow lead Mae Murray. (TBH, the moment can be read today as a take on Gloria Swanson as well.)

The film is the flip and flippant side of What Price Hollywood? and the various A Star is Born films, with a learning curve and a happy ending. It’s not the plot that holds our interest; that’s as deliberately predictable and hackneyed as they come. What the silly plot holds is one of the most modern-feeling comic performances in a silent film, and one that film historians need to see to put Marion Davies in her rightful place.

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Avatar: The Way of Water

Thirteen years after the record-breaking Avatar was released, we finally get the first of several sequels. I managed to see it under the best of (visual) circumstances, in our local IMAX theater. Yes, it’s stunning to the eye, and actually takes its time to occasionally luxuriate in its imaginary environment. There is nothing else out there like it in terms of creating its own filmic world, and Cameron deserves credit for that. There are some visual references to Terminator and Titanic (and even to Apocalypse Now), and perhaps more of Cameron’s previous work. That can be engaging, or off-putting, or not worth doing anything other than noting it. I chose the last option.

Cameron, never the best scriptwriter, tries to update the story for us and make it more relatable to a modern audience. He and his several other writers do it with many family-and-children related jokes, such as recognizable sibling rivalry, crude teenage speech, giving the middle finger, etc., even using the “Are we there yet?” question in one traveling scene that every parent has heard on a long trip. Yes, this is a basically a YA movie with great effects, and my guess is that the most appropriate audience for those looking beyond the visuals is that young adult audience. Nearly all of these additions can be called “cute,” but they tend to take the viewer out of the film.

I don’t like giving plot lines away, especially as I write more of an analysis than a review; I think plot developments should be discovered by the audience while they view the film. The original Avatar was Dances With Wolves on Pandora. This time it’s a chase/revenge film that drives the plot, which is an acceptable through-line in theory but which gets old rather quickly as it makes less and less sense as the film goes on. To keep momentum going as that plot-line gets thinner and thinner, we have a build-up of the usual big fight scenes and an increasing element of “this time it’s personal” added to the mayhem.

Hanging on to that through-line are many “we are family” and “family sticks together” moments and statements. This is about as deep as the film gets, and yet this theme is often contradicted by Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) own behavior. Sully treats his family as if he is still a military man, and any connection we might make with him as our lead and leader is consistently challenged by his lack of warmth and emotional support for his children. He keeps telling us that what a father primarily does is protect his family, but clearly, he only means it in the most superficial and physical sense.

A good deal of the film’s time is spent with Sully’s children, with the usual childish rivalries and reactions. They provide a number of funny moments, tense moments, and greatly add to the film’s running time. But considering that Jake is something of a jerk, and that we are robbed of any serious father-mother romantic time between Jake and Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) that might have helped round out his character, we’re torn between the plot’s insistence that he is the plot-driving central character and the fact that his kids are more interesting.

One new element was the young adult (really, mid-teenage) character of Spider (Jack Champion), who is Colonel Miles Quaritch’s (Stephen Lang) son, but who in his heart is an adopted member of the Sully family. Why he is there in the film and what he is supposed to contribute to the father/son themes of the film is beyond me. He acquits himself well and handles the dramatic challenges given him, and I am left to wonder if the sequels are going to make greater use of his character. He is personable and easily grabs the viewer’s sympathies, but his presence is often confusing.

And then there is the Job/Moby Dick-like side story of the Sully boy who communicates with the great fish. This pulls the film into a Disney direction that goes beyond the usual man-and-nature connections the film leans so heavily on.

Perhaps it’s because the film took so long to arrive on screens, but much of it feels dated. The pantheism that seemed at least different in 2009 now comes off as yesterday’s attempt at spirituality. The prayers to “Mother” seem just as retro. And the environmentalism and anti-colonialism (as well as the anti-capitalism) no longer supply the same energy and come off as a bit stale. Even the “I see you” aspect of the first film is repeated here in what seems perfunctory rather than earned.

What makes up for all that are the incredible visuals. Pandora and its environs are no longer new and surprising, but Cameron allows the film plenty of time to linger in its beauty. To many, those sequences may be the highlight of the film. The final sequences are textbook battle scenes, and they are stretched out to rather unbelievable effect. They bring much-needed dynamism to the last portion of the film, but it tends to bring the film into the Marvel/DC camp of “let’s end this thing with a knock-down, drag-out fight”. There are other imaginable endings.

While the first Avatar made a huge amount of money, it’s been noted that it had little long-range cultural impact. The same can be said of The Way of Water. It’s perhaps a little richer thematically than its predecessor, but it’s ultimately just as shallow.

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Quick Takes: Disenchanted and Spirited

OK, there are a lot of new Christmastime movies to watch, and usually I wait awhile to see them. But this time, I saw two of the most promoted ones early on. Here are my quick thoughts:


My wife and I have a particular connection with the original film, which featured an apartment building just one block from where we lived for a while. This time around, a long shot included that very building, and many of the shots just outside of the Enchanted building (at Riverside and 116th Street) featured the same view of the Hudson River that we enjoyed.

It only made sense to have a sequel of that earlier successful film, and the filmmakers ticked off nearly every box—every box—of how to do a sequel, with limited success. In fact, it seems like the rule of “let’s do something different this time” was taken to an extreme

Instead of working her way through the various challenges of NYC, including the intrusion of fairy tale witches into the Big Apple, Giselle (Amy Adams) is now dissatisfied with her lot in life and wants more magic. The answer is a move to the suburbs, but not into a regular house, but into a castle-like structure that is as “normal suburb” as Mar-a-Lago. Continuing the 180-degree turns that the film embraces, the charming step-daughter is now a very attitudinal teen. Of course, she then (spoiler alert) undergoes her own 180-degree turn.

Giving away too much of the plot is both rude and pointless, as the film combines the real world of so-called suburbia with the fairy tale land of Giselle’s birth, Andalasia. There are three women, dominated by Malvina (a name that perhaps gives away a bit too much at the start), played by Maya Rudolph. Malvina has two sidekicks that complete the “three witches” trope.

The so-called “real world” and the fairy tale world of Andalasia collide in a rather messy ways, and the plot is all over the place. This time Broadway and film star Idina Menzel (Wicked, Frozen), who unaccountably was not given a song in Enchanted, gets her chance to sing (and belt). As a standalone song, it’s fine. But it doesn’t move anything forward other than ticking off the box of giving her a number.

Amy Adams, who apparently worked hard to regain her light soprano, sings beautifully, with a little help from singer-actress LC Powell on the high notes. (I had to look it up–I knew there was no way that Adams could hit those stratospheric notes.) She is delightful throughout, and when she has a certain personality struggle later in the film, she pulls it off like the excellent actress she is. Patrick Dempsey had very little to do, though they gave him about a dozen notes to sing this time.

Maya Rudolph, as she does a great deal of the time, acts in swirls around the character, never completely landing in the center. Her comic timing shows through at times, but is very underused (rather like Menzel not singing in the first film). As the daughter of a great singer (Minnie Riperton), Rudolph has a voice, and she used it well in a “Badder,” a duet with Adams that might be the highlight of the film.

Perhaps the shining light of the film, aside from Adams, is Gabriella Baldacchino as the step-daughter. After Giselle, she is the heart of the film, which develops slowly but surely as the film develops. This could be the beginning of a great career.

I love James Marsden in his comic mode, and am always impressed with his singing. I’m glad he was in the film, but he quickly disappears every time he shows up. He brightened the first film every time he showed up, and does the same thing here.

The music features songs by the legendary Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Hercules, Tangled), so the songs are solidly built and entertaining, if not completely memorable. There is an awful lot of dancing, which doesn’t work as well on the small screens on which we have to watch the numbers. But they are well done and very energetic.

The film might be worth watching if you loved the first and want to see what happens to the characters. But while it throws everything but the kitchen sink into this sequel, the one thing this jam-packed film missed is charm.


Spirited, a modern take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is another thing entirely. It’s definitely not for children, but it’s also not as crude as it could have been. But what it is is hilarious, inventive, and surprising. The film stars Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell, a comic combination that could have bombed but which completely works. The film also features Octavia Spencer as a (spoiler alert) love interest, Broadway star Patrick Page as Marley, and the voice of Tracy Morgan.

Ferrell, Reynolds, and Spencer all sing in the film, but none is really a singer. That doesn’t matter, as they all do well, obviously following every bit of coaching advice to maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. They also “dance,” which is really stretching the word. The real dancers behind the leads are great, and have the same energy and verve of the dancers in Disenchanted. The leads keep moving, but there is nary a real choreographic move among them. Again, that doesn’t matter. Their moves and energy work.

Ferrell and Reynolds each individually pose a comic challenge, as they have different comedic styles, and their acting here combines whimsy with snark, a mixture rife with possibilities of failure. Can a world be created that allows them each to maximize their personal styles? Can that world contain them both working together at the top of their game? The answer is yes.

The plot is familiar if you know the story, but the film keeps taking unexpected turns (right up to the end!) that energize the film and offer delightful alternatives to the usual and predictable. All I would want to tell any reader is that Reynolds is the Scrooge character, and Ferrell is the main ghost. The rest is up for discovery. Ferrell gets the best line in the film, a line so funny we had to pause our viewing to allow for our full reaction. (You’ll know it when you get there).

The phrase that comes to mind in this umpteenth version of the main story is “a fresh take.” Again, this isn’t for kids. But for everyone else, it’s highly recommended.

[To my Christian friends and readers: The main plot of redemption is so very close to truth, but of course, falls into the “good works can redeem us” category. What Ferrell et al. are trying to do for their charges is what Jesus has already done for us. If you want to shout “But Jesus died to do just that!” at your TV, it would be understandable. But if you know you’re watching a version of “A Christmas Carol”, you already know what you’re getting into.]

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She Said

From l: Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Andre Braugher, and Patricia Clarkson in She Said

She Said is the “coulda-shoulda” disappointment of the Oscar movie season thus far. The story is still great—reporters, who have real lives outside of their work, dig into the rumors of sexual exploitation in Hollywood and end up bringing Hollywood mogul/sex offender Harvey Weinstein to justice. Some famous victims, e.g., Ashley Judd, actually play themselves, adding a certain frisson of excitement to the enterprise. The quest to get people to go on the record with their experiences with the Miramax owner is a key part of the suspense, and a central element of the plot. Plus it’s a tale where hard work and dedication actually pay off. Yet…it fails to do little more than lay out a story. It’s just OK, and not anywhere near as engaging or exciting as it coulda-shoulda been.

The strengths are the actors, many of whom work harder here than they should have to. Fortunately, the slightly more dominant of the two main reporter characters is played the (I believe) future Oscar winner Carey Mulligan (An Education, Promising Young Woman). Mulligan suggests depths of joy and pain almost effortlessly, and is the heart and center of the film. The other lead is Zoe Kazan (The Big Sick), who works as hard as Mulligan but fails to reach her heights (and depths). Patricia Clarkson, usually a strength in any film, seems to walk through her Streep-like role here. Andre Braugher brings his usual gravitas and adds a welcome jolt of authority to his role. As two of Weinstein’s victims, Jennifer Ehle and Angela Yeoh are particularly strong. But the standout of the supporting performances is Peter Friedman’s (“Succession”), one of those actors whose face we all recognize but we don’t know his name. His part is all contradictions and subtle slime, and might grab him a Supporting Actor nomination if it weren’t so uncomfortable to experience.

So what are the actors working so hard against? Two things: the script and the cinematography. The script is a solid grade B first draft that tends to just sit there telling us things, losing opportunity after opportunity to let us infer anything for ourselves. Great German director Ernst Lubitsch is known for his famous rule of 2 plus 2 equaling 4. He rightly claims that giving the viewer 2 plus 2 is the filmmaker’s job, and adding it up is the viewer’s job. Telling the viewer the answer is 4 is what is wrong with too many films, this one included. Just one example: it turns out that famous lawyer Gloria Allred’s daughter Lisa Bloom is somewhat ironically advising Weinstein legally. But instead of allowing us as viewers to taste the irony ourselves, we’re told right away that Bloom is Allred’s daughter, and later, there is a painfully obvious reference to the “feminist icon” Allred and the “shock, shock” that the daughter of the women defending half the high -sexual harassment cases in America is actually helping the bad guy, a sexual predator himself. The rest of the script is as generic and basic as that, usually telling us what something means, and then overly explaining (instead of allowing us to discover) what must happen next. That approach is solid (if boring) and helps keep things clear in the swirl of activity, but it fails to engage.

Unfortunately, the camerawork is similar. I remember being surprised when the film finally gave us a semi-emotional close-up during an important interview that gave the scene some punch and energy. There are a lot—a lot—of medium shots that keep everyone in view but end up keeping us at something of a distance throughout the film. Since the story includes the private lives and personal struggles of the reporters, there is an expectation that we are going to connect with the issues of post-partum depression, work-life balance that includes young children and husbands, and the growing personal connection between the two leads. But between the script and the cinematography, we see it all at a distance, and we observe rather than experience. 

The film unfortunately pales in comparison to two films that have similar story arcs, but do it so much better: the more recent Spotlight (2015) and the classic All the President’s Men (1976). As with She Said, these films have endings we already know but are nonetheless filled with suspense, emotional peaks, touching side stories, and flawed and believable central characters we find it easy to relate to. Some might call She Said’s approach cool and understated, and its central story can evoke strong and varied reactions to the specific case of Weinstein or the more general issues related to sexual coercion and power imbalances. If those maddening issues being addressed in a rather flat manner is enough, the film will work for the viewer. But therein lies the true disappointment here: A great and powerful story isn’t given the dramatic treatment it—and we–truly deserve.

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The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

In the wake of the death of the legendary Angela Lansbury, I thought I’d take another look at her third Oscar-nominated performance in the 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate. It’s a film that disappeared for a while, so it’s lost a recognizability factor that other films produced in the early sixties still have. But this is one of the best of its kind, its kind being a paranoid thriller that gave birth to the genre that includes The Parallax View, Marathon Man, Blow-Up, Blow Out, and The Conversation.

The film is a great example of the taut early sixties, black-and-white films made by directors who began in television and moved into feature films, e.g., Sidney Lumet, Robert Altman, James Brooks, Ridley Scott, Edgar Wright, Joss Whedon, and of course, John Frankenheimer, the director of The Manchurian Candidate.

For those who haven’t seen it, suffice it to say that this is a film released at the height of the Cold War involving communists, the Soviet Union, China, left-wingers right-wingers, brainwashing, and American politics of the time. However, one cannot help but notice the similarities between then and now. Surprisingly, the film functions as a one-size-fits-all film for those looking for contemporary resonance; lefties and righties alike can claim the byzantine conspiracies and evil power-brokers as extensions of their own world-view. Yet even then, the questions arose over whether the real bad guys were the feared communists or the McCarthyite communist-hunters.

While the overall plot of the film makes sense, there is a lot that doesn’t, which is one of the reasons this film has lasted; the things we might not completely understand only serve to add to the head-swirling the film consistently delivers. Janet Leigh’s character comes out of nowhere and raises a lot more questions than answers, a series of confusions that works in the film. How did lead Laurence Harvey’s mother and stepfather ever get together, and how did she ever become the monster she became? The film refuses to tie up loose ends and answer every question, and even ends with only a response, not any kind of answer or explanation.

But what a ride this film is. The brainwashing sequence toward the beginning is the stuff of legend, and is equal parts cinematically thrilling and deeply distressing. We see a lot more gore these days, but what occurs here is as shocking as any jump-scare in a modern horror film, yet all the more brutal in contrast to its matter-of-fact presentation. As the film slowly unveils its varied conspiratorial threads, the tension mount incredibly until its climax, which is both satisfying and devastating.

The film gives Frank Sinatra top billing, and he has the more dramatic character of the two male leads. But the film’s storyline belongs to Laurence Harvey, who does numbed and deadened characters as well as anyone. Sinatra, at this point an Oscar-winning, Oscar-nominated, and greatly respected actor, leans into his sweaty, tortured, aging ex-serviceman who is caught between his own suffering and his desire to find out the truth behind it. There is no vanity in it, and his character’s angst is almost painful to watch at times. (Also, Sinatra engages in one of the first martial arts fights in an American film, something that comes off as surprising as any of the revelations of the film’s script.)

One note for those that have been as misinformed as I: This film was not banned after President Kennedy’s assassination the year after this film’s release. It is true that it was censored in several Eastern European countries and the Soviet Union for a time, and it was held back for a time by Sinatra in the 1970s, when he acquired the rights to it. But it first showed on television in 1965.

Frankenheimer’s style is clear and bracing, and has a surprising number of avant-garde touches that can be enjoyed. But he never slows down to indulge his own style or a performance; this is a film that moves. Frankenheimer wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, but was nominated for a Directors Guild of America award and a Golden Globe. The film was nominated for a BAFTA as well for the Best Film from Any Source. But the one towering performance is that of Angela Lansbury, who will erase all memories of her Oscar-nominated work in Gaslight in 1944, her Oscar-nominated work in The Picture of Dorian Gray the next year, Mrs. Potts in Beauty and the Beast, and of course, Jessica Fletcher in “Murder, She Wrote.” Here she is the smartest person in the room, cold as ice and as calculating as they come, with a relationship with her son that is twisted in more ways than one.  (To add to the discomfort, Lansbury, who often played older than she was, was only 36 to her movie son Laurence Harvey’s age of 33.) Lansbury lost her Oscar that year to Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker, which is understandable. But Lansbury’s performance is just as rich, if not as emotionally satisfying for the viewer. Keep your eye on her in every scene she is in, and you will see a master at work. She is brilliant and chilling.

Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey as mother and son in 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate.

As 1960’s Psycho was the originator of the modern horror film, 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate is the mother (word chosen carefully) of the modern political thriller, specifically of the paranoid variety. Yes, it was remade with great actors and color. But this is the one you want to see.

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