3 New Movies For Weekend Streaming: ‘Terror On the Prairie,’ ‘Rise,’ And ‘Operation Mincemeat’

To generate buzz over the holiday weekend, top streaming services are premiering big titles—while a conservative-driven upstart is making a splash with their independently produced drama. It comes as stakes for the streaming wars have never been higher. 

Market leader Netflix has faced massive stock declines and staff layoffs in recent months. Their major competitors like Disney Plus, HBO Max, and Paramount Plus have altered strategies to better compete. And, in light of some parents’ backlash to Hollywood agendas, right-leaning players like Daily Wire are making initial moves to reach critical mass.

Increased competition could mean better value for subscribers — if people can navigate the glut of new films and series, many of them forgettable. This weekend, Netflix has the latter half of “Stranger Things” season four rolling out, but they’re holding big-budget actioner “The Gray Man” until July 22. Prime Video has premiered Chris Pratt’s “The Terminal List” Navy SEALS series, while Paramount Plus comedy flick “Jerry and Marge Go Large” is getting rave reviews

Three recent film releases deserve a closer look, including the much-talked-about Western produced by Daily Wire and a couple of based-on-true-story dramas from top streamers. Here are three capsule reviews as your family considers what to watch during downtime. 

‘Terror On the Prairie’: Aptly Titled Drama Depicts Violent Conflict With Evil

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, which tracks the most popular streaming films, has lately ranked two films from conservative distributor Daily Wire in its Top 10 list: documentary “What Is A Woman” and old-school Western “Terror On the Prairie.” While the latter made Hollywood headlines when announced, mainstream critics have kept quiet since release.

“Terror On the Prairie,” featuring a cast led by Oscar winner Nick Searcy (“The Shape of Water”) and Gina Carano–former co-star of “The Mandalorian” famously fired for some errant tweets—marks a strong second effort for Daily Wire Entertainment. The first, “Shut In,” introduced audiences to filmmaker Dallas Sonnier and his R-rated “pressure-cooker movies” which he aims to be “unadulterated, unfiltered, genuine, [and] not neutered by the studio system.”

With stunning, untouched Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, this post-Civil War story unfolds on the barren landscapes of southwestern Montana. A mother of two, including a newborn, Hattie McAllister (Carano) feels no qualms about her husband leaving their cabin for a day to get supplies in town. Until, that is, four men on horseback arrive uninvited. 

Producer Sonnier is known for crafting scenes of breathless tension, certainly in evidence here as the black-hat gang chats over food with the fierce mother — until all hell breaks loose. Film critic Christian Toto describes one unexpected element of their stand-off: “The characters shoot, and shoot, and rarely hit their targets. It’s a more realistic version of Wild West gunplay that offers another layer of realism.”

Carano, a mixed martial arts champion prior to her acting career, plays to her strengths without coming off as a superhero. Unquestionably bloody and almost too efficient — a stronger music score might’ve helped a sometimes-lagging pace —“Terror On the Prairie” isn’t for everyone. Despite pulpy archetypes, this revenge plot has more layers than may be immediately apparent. 

‘Rise’: Gripping Family Drama Deflated By Flat Basketball Action

Anyone who grew up watching “Remember the Titans,” “Miracle,” or other inspired-by-true-stories films, have longed for Disney to return to high-caliber sports dramas. After seeing middling biopic “Rise,” just out on Disney Plus, it’s apparent fans will have to keep waiting.

The story of star power forward Giannis Antetokounmpo certainly provides the raw material: raised in poverty in Greece, tried out for a local basketball team, trained to improve himself, and ultimately was picked 15th in the NBA Draft in 2013. Last year, he was named NBA Finals MVP after leading his Milwaukee Bucks to take home the championship trophy. 

“Rise,” produced with Giannis’ family, depicts the origins and personal context of his journey. Viewers encounter Giannis’ parents emigrating from Nigeria to Turkey to Greece, in search of a better life. They raise four sons in Athens, only able to take odd jobs due to their uncertain legal status; a fifth son, their eldest, even had to be left behind with his African relatives. While unexpected in a sports flick, all the immigration policy drama brings greater realism.

Struggling to provide for and raise his boys right, Charles (Dayo Okeniyi, from “The Hunger Games” films) has many up-close conversations with them about discipline and risk. Real-life Nigerian-American brothers Uche and Ral Agada portray rising athletes Giannis and Thanasis. When first joining a regional basketball team, their family can only afford one pair of sneakers; a scene of one in socks as the other laces up tangibly illustrates their shared sacrifice.  

The family’s Christian faith shows up, albeit in a minor role. Parents lead their sons in the Lord’s Prayer before bedtime, and a crucifix hangs prominently in their home. But the script doesn’t engage those really interesting questions: why did a Nigerian family convert to the Greek Orthodox Church? Their mother Vera (Yetide Badaki) says, “God makes no mistakes. Give it your all then let God do his work.” But it lacks context to know the true role of faith in their lives.

What “Rise” glaringly lacks is compelling in-the-paint basketball. The film’s limited hoops action consists mostly of layup shots and players doing drills — less than some Disney Channel flicks. There’s even buildup to Greece’s national scouting exhibition game filmed in a large arena. Characters react as if seeing some incredible Giannis plays on the court, but it’s not there. 

A cross-cultural story built on family bonds, “Rise” aims for the inspirational genre similar to last year’s “Blue Miracle.” By the end, with its dramatic NBA Draft scenes and highlight reel of Antetokounmpo brothers, three of them now NBA stars, it leaves viewers inspired. But it also underlines the film’s lack of actual basketball play, an egregious oversight that sadly limits potential impact and shelf life of “Rise.” 

‘Operation Mincemeat’: War Thriller Soars With Spycraft, Unrequited Romance 

As theater screens shift to mostly big-spectacle blockbusters, it’s led to mid-budget dramas and comedies gradually drying up. Thankfully, streamers have stepped up — with World War II drama “Operation Mincemeat” on Netflix a stellar example. 

Academy Award winner Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) stars as an MI5 agent seeking to fool the Third Reich with an elaborate hoax and ultimately get Hitler to relocate troops. Another newly-minted spy (Matthew Macfadyen, who also once played Mr. Darcy in “Pride & Prejudice”) proposes hiding deceptive documents on a corpse, and the two collaborate to execute the ruse. 

Comparisons to last year’s “The Courier” are inevitable, as it’s another British-produced “dad movie” that brings viewers behind-the-scenes of spy craft. While that past war film explored the sacrifice of an everyman keeping his family in the dark, “Operation Mincemeat” depicts a love triangle between the two agents and a member of their clandestine team (Kelly Macdonald, sparkling as ever.) Vying for her affections starts as subtext, gradually coming to the forefront.

Veteran director John Madden (“Miss Sloane”) exudes class and precision in every shot, aided by cinematographer Sebastian Blenkov whose lighting expertly accentuates the ensemble cast. Screenwriter Michelle Ashford, who previously penned episodes of “John Adams” and “The Pacific,” collaborated with author Ben Macintyre to craft a script packed with historical details.

In plotting that recalls “Top Gun: Maverick,” the central mission gets summed up, detailed, and tested about three times before it’s executed—which actually makes it work. How does one stage a floating corpse with a briefcase and other minutiae so it’s believable to the best minds in espionage? A curious wrinkle of history, author Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, played a role in this real-life operation and is depicted in a cameo. An odd title for a unique mission, “Operation Mincemeat” recounts a story worth knowing. 


Josh Shepherd covers culture, faith, and public policy for several media outlets including The Stream. His articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion & Politics, Faithfully Magazine, Religion News Service, and Providence Magazine. A graduate of the University of Colorado, he previously worked on staff at The Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family. Josh and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.

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‘Top Gun – Maverick’ is Action-Based “Dad Cinema” At Its Very Best

‘Top Gun – Maverick’ is Action-Based “Dad Cinema” At Its Very Best

The moving story in “Top Gun: Maverick” of a fatherless son’s journey toward healing is proving popular with audiences worldwide. This is a film highlighting the importance of fatherhood, portraying a tale of reconciliation and redemption.

Top Gun: Maverick is smashing box offices, and it’s easy to understand why.

The film is spectacularly outpacing its weak-because-they’re-woke counterparts, because the film’s unapologetic dad themes resonate.

Alongside the gutsy F-18 camera shots, audiences are in love with the Tom Cruise/Joseph Kosinski sequel because its father-son backstory hits home.

Even the, “it’s all flag-waving, MAGA propagandist tripe” critics are applauding the sequel for keeping to the consistency of the first film’s deep relational backbone.

As The Atlantic’s David Sims explained, the film’s ‘emotional weight rests on Pete Mitchell (Maverick) fighting to earn the respect of Goose’s son (Rooster), who blames Maverick for the tragic loss of his father.’

Childhood Memory

For me, Top Gun: Maverick cut deeper.

My family and I recently saw the film for a birthday bash. The only thing missing was my dad.

Watching the first Top Gun at the cinema with my dad was to be one of the only long-lasting positive memories I would have of him.

It was 1986, I was 9, and we’d turned up late to the cinema.

Missing the iconic afterburner intro of the first Top Gun, dad and I slid into our seats in rhythm with Tony Scott’s smooth golden orange sunset, shot high above a lone F-14 landing on the silhouette of the USS Enterprise.

It became a shared interest, a mutual pursuit, a common bond solely shared between father and son.

From the soundtrack, which always seemed to be on repeat in our broken-down housing commission home, to the old-school Amstrad computer game, the movie connected us.

This was true, right up until my dad’s final week, when, knowing he would never get a chance to wear it, I gifted him a T-shirt with the Top Gun logo on it.

Now covered in dust, I still hold onto the volumes of Warplane magazines he’d chosen to buy me, instead of paying “through the teeth” for participation in a weekend sport.

Healing

I related to the second film because of the first.

Similar to ‘Goose’s’ son in the film, I was confronted by what was lost, what might have been, and what my dad chose to abandon somewhere along the way.

The sequel made the memories all the more material when Val Kilmer (Iceman), tells Maverick — still haunted by the death of ‘Goose’ — “It’s time to let go.”

Seeing the first film at the cinema in 1986 with my dad was an oasis event, an anomaly of normalcy in a wasteland of ash.

This explains why, in almost every scene of Top Gun: Maverick, I heard, and felt my dad’s absence, and choked up at Hans Zimmer’s rendition of Faltermeyer’s iconic Top Gun anthem.

We’re taught in The Good Book to raise up thanksgiving in the face of suffering. Even the smallest object or event that is worthy of our gratitude puts points on the board when it comes to healing trauma.

In retrospect, watching Top Gun with my dad in ’86 was the first, and only time he offered me a healthy introduction to manhood.

His wasn’t perfect, but that was a perfect day. That day my dad did good, and for that I thank him.

For me, the only thing missing from Top Gun: Maverick was the man who took me to see the first one, sitting, at his best, beside me and my uber-impressed family.

Top Gun was, and is, about loss, grief, and recovery; fatherhood, and fatherlessness — as much as it is about courage, defiance, and the determination to overcome obstructions encountered along the way.

The sequel builds on its original father-son backstory. It is “dad cinema” at its very best.

To lean on Miles Surrey’s review in The Ringer,

‘Every single dad — past, present, and those who are expecting to be dads in the near future — should check out Maverick, if not for the sanctity of ensuring Dad Cinema doesn’t fade away, then for experiencing a blockbuster that surpasses its predecessor in every respect.’

___

First published at Dads4Kids.

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‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ Is Nothing All Over The Place For Two And A Half Hours

‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ Is Nothing All Over The Place For Two And A Half Hours

This article contains spicy spoilers. Approximately 250,000 on the Scoville Spoiler Scale.

During my down moments in the days of Holy Week preparation and celebration, I repeatedly encountered effusive praise for a film that recently opened in theaters nationwide — a zany, multi-layered exercise in sci-fi mayhem, absurdist comedy, and family drama called “Everything Everywhere All At Once” (henceforth EEAAO). Knowing nothing about the film beyond the rave reviews and the plot being rooted in some sort of multiverse concept, I took advantage of a lazy Easter Monday and booked two tickets to a film I expected to floor me with its bonkers uniqueness and annoy my wife with its bonkers uniqueness.

It’s easy to see why critics loved the film, which currently holds a 97 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. EEAAO is tender and thoughtful throughout. It’s creative and clever, complex yet easy to follow. It’s delightfully weird and gut-bustingly hilarious in spots, though irredeemably vulgar in others. (In an uncharacteristic move, this humble pastor did not check the film’s rating before purchasing tickets.)

The actors deliver great performances, and the kooky fight scenes are a welcome relief from the copy-and-paste, computer-generated-images-overload action sequences found in the typical sci-fi fare that has filled cineplexes in recent years. In numerous ways, EEAAO is profoundly original.

In the most important way, however, the film is tragically unoriginal. While the film uses its nutty premise to explore deep, aching questions, it offers only shallow answers we’ve already heard countless times before.

Despite the nutso nature of the film, the film’s plot is relatively simple. Evelyn is a Chinese-American immigrant who, in her youth, defied the wishes of the father who never truly accepted her, married a man he didn’t approve of, and sailed off to America. But now she has been drained by the emptiness of existence. She’s mismanaged the finances at her unfulfilling job. Waymond, the husband she’s pushed away, wants a divorce, and she has crushed her daughter Joy’s joy by not sufficiently affirming her lesbian relationship.

Alternate Universe

Evelyn’s banal existence is shattered, however, during her IRS audit. That’s when she learns that an alternate universe version of herself, Alpha Evelyn, made it possible for people to both consciousness-jump into their alternate universe minds and transfer their skills, namely martial-arts related ones, to their alternate universe bodies.

When Alpha Evelyn perceived that her daughter possessed great aptitude for unlocking the power of the multiverse, she pushed her so hard that Joy tapped into the suffering she experienced in countless universes at the hands of her mother, who oppressed her with the rigid judgmentalism she inherited from her father. The influx of infinite suffering then transformed Joy into Jobu Tupaki, a superpowered villain who murders versions of her parents through the multiverse and ultimately seeks the destruction of everything in order to escape the pain of existence.

Jobu Tupaki is thus a deeper villain than you’ll find in most cinematic sci-fi experiences. Her villainy is not formed by lust for power, betrayal, or madness, but by nihilism. She kills to escape the loneliness she feels in the presence of those who love her and whom she loves. She is driven to destructive despair by infinite instances of rejection from those who embrace her.

Despite her daughter’s penchant for multiverse matricide, however, Evelyn will not give up on saving Joy. This is, of course, quite noble, but it’s also what leads to the film’s rather vacuous conclusion. What wondrous feat does Evelyn perform to pierce light into the multiverse of darkness? What great act of heroism does she undertake to heal the unhealable heart of the villain?

‘Be Nicer’

She celebrates her daughter’s lesbian relationship. At the film’s beginning, Evelyn only half-heartedly accepts her daughter’s girlfriend and passes of their relationship as mere friendship to her stuffy, old-world father.

But after Joy internalizes Waymond’s high-drama admonition to “be kind,” she reveals the true relationship to her father and praises Girlfriend With 37 Seconds of Screen Time as this great force of love and forgiveness who completes Joy, just as the husband her father never accepted completes her. This is the act that saves the multiverse, saves the relationship between mother and daughter, and saves the marriage of husband and wife.

There you have it. Inescapable sorrow overcome by LGBTQ affirmation. This is revolutionary stuff we’ve never seen before except in six thousand arthouse films, 8 million television episodes, and 5 trillion viral TikTok videos telling us that embracing people’s gender identity will eternally drive away the sorrow we all know will hound them again in seven months.

The film tells us that unfathomable emptiness can be healed when overbearing authority figures accept their children for who they are — a bold and audacious solution never seen before except when it swirled around 8,000 glittering Disney princesses. The final act declares that we can prevent inevitable destruction by being a smidge nicer to each other. Cinematic ground has not been broken this brazenly since the days of “Rocky IV.”

Generation Fractured Fairy Tale

While it’s fair to fault EEAAO’s director duo known as Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) for their film’s philosophically lackluster ending, it’s also fair to note that their film is reflective of our contemporary culture’s approach to these existential issues. We are a people who speak more than we think and complain more than we consider, which is why we have a strong talent for identifying problems and virtually no aptitude for finding solutions.

Raised in the First Church of Self-Worship, we know what it means to experience emptiness but can’t understand that fulfillment can’t be accomplished with a heavier diet of navel-gazing. We are Generation Fractured Fairy Tale, deluding ourselves into thinking that we can escape the melancholy monster if only our mothers tell us we’re pretty and powerful, our fathers apologize for dashing our dreams with their dastardly wisdom, and we learn to be proud of who our fleeting passions tell us we are.

Finding True Meaning

How, then, should Daniels have offered meaning to a culture that doesn’t know how to find it? Not by repackaging the Disney solution, but by repudiating it. If you ask people to stare at an ocean of emptiness, you won’t comfort them with the suggestion that the emptiness can be conquered if we just make room for everyone on the raft of self-love.

True comfort comes in the promise that there is a God who has filled every drop of the ocean with true love, meaning, and beauty. If you ask people to wrestle with the idea of infinite lonely universes, the only worthwhile comfort comes from pointing them to the Creator who has wrested every atom of His creation away from sin and sorrow and made you one with Him in the sacrifice of His Son.

For decades, films have tried to soothe the pain of rejection by urging us to slather ourselves in the benzocaine of self-affirmation, only to exacerbate the problem when the numbing agent wears off. If you ask your audience to stare into the void of that pain, you need to sew that void shut with something much better than “let’s boost human kindness by ten percent across the board.”

You need to sew it shut with the promise of the One who can kill everything sinful and filthy within you and raise you up as a new creation, perfect and pure. Nietzschean problems require divine solutions, not Instagram moralizing.

If it sounds like I’m saying EEAAO could only find a satisfying conclusion by embracing explicitly Christian themes, that’s because I am. Christ’s atonement, healing, and self-sacrificial example are the only things that can end the existential crises men endure, which means they’re the only things that can cure our culture’s woes, which means they’re the only satisfactory answers to the questions our culture asks through its art.

This is why the parable of the Prodigal Son will still be known in 3,000 years, while “Frozen” will have long since melted in the dustbin of history. Stories about fathers who clothe their sons in sin-destroying, undying grace last because they’re true. Stories about daughters who find salvation by being true to themselves will perish with the narcissistic cultures that create them.

EEAAO’s mixture of martial arts mayhem, dadaist doofery, and frenetic philosophical questions yielded a film that was enjoyable in the moment. But the shallow answers robbed us of a film that mattered once the credits rolled. Daniels could have given us the multiverse of meaning and mercy. Instead, they gave us “The Kung Fu Lesbian Little Mermaid.”

Very 2022. But not very original.


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‘King Richard’ Review: Inspiring Lesson on How to Be an American

In a performance likely to win him a Best Actor Oscar, Will Smith plays Richard Williams, father of tennis legends Serena and Venus Williams.

By night, Richard works as a security guard. By day, he pours everything into executing a plan he mapped out for his daughters even before they were born: Venus and Serena, two little girls from Compton, will be the Michael Jordans of women’s tennis.

It’s a ludicrous plan, preposterous, and as he works the country clubs of Southern California with a homemade “brochure” seeking sponsors and coaches, he’s greeted by “polite society” as a charming eccentric. The truth, though, is that he’s anything but.

Watch below:

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King Richard Williams is the brilliant, driven,  and loving protector of his daughters’ futures and innocence. He is also hard-headed, single-minded, obsessive, and even a little underhanded at times. But what he proves to be above all else is the only thing that matters: he’s right. Those girls are everything he said, and then some.

Even though we know the outcome, the pleasures here, and this movie is pure pleasure, come from watching how we arrive at that outcome. The decision to tell this story from Richard’s point of view is the right one, and not just because that point of view is carried by Smith, one of our last true movie stars. You see, the best biopics leave you with the sense that you’ve learned something about what made this person who she is, and there’s no question it was Richard who made Venus and Serena what they are.

Thankfully, the story isn’t so focused on Richard that we don’t get a sense of the girls themselves, what they wanted, and their competitive spirit, which literally shines in their eyes. In another stand-out performance, Aunjanue Ellis plays Brandy, the girls’ mother, and her imprint also mattered, mostly in how she could course-correct her husband.

There are many themes at work here, but the most important one, the one most needed in today’s society, is how we are taught again through Richard and Brandy’s example to be Americans.

“You don’t need to be worried about what other people are doing,” Richard tells the girls. “You need to be worried about what you’re doing.”

“Don’t worry about them,” Brandy tells her daughters. “Let them worry about you.”

And there it is….

Even if you’re a poor girl from Compton entering a mostly white and wealthy country club world, don’t pay them any mind. Focus on your goals. Focus on what you want. Work for it, train for it, strive for it. What other people say or do or think doesn’t matter unless you allow it to matter, and if you do, that only holds you back.

In a country now poisoned by cynical hucksters eager to destroy black children with the demonic lie that they cannot succeed in a “racist” country, what a breath of fresh air King Richard is. Stop worrying about the past, the movie shouts; it doesn’t matter. Keep your eye on the future. Stop worrying about what other people may or may not think about you. Worry about you, and then go for it.

King Richard is also a movie about the importance of the nuclear family, about the importance of fathers and religious faith and values.

When a busybody neighbor calls the busybody child services office on Richard, he lays it all out right there (paraphrasing): You damn right we’re hard on these girls. That’s our job. They got straight As in school, and they’re not going to die on these streets.

When Richard could’ve cashed in right away, when his dream is dropped into his lap, he refuses. He’s seen how tennis prodigies become stars and then burn out in a fire of personal demons after being pushed too hard too soon. So his girls will wait. School, childhood, church, and normalcy come first.

King Richard tells us that what made Serena and Venus was something more than hard work. It was good old-fashioned values that created those immortals. It was traditional values, and American values emblazoned upon them by a complicated and imperfect man who’d suffered the worst kind of racism at the hands of Democrats in the segregated south. But rather than wallow in the injustice of it all, he looked ahead, always ahead.

That’s what Americans do.

On the other hand, crybabies do crybaby things, like call child services on the family that’s about to prove your crybaby excuses are all bullshit.

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC. Follow his Facebook Page here.

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Identity Politics Completely Ruined ‘The Eternals,’ And Superhero Films In General

Identity Politics Completely Ruined ‘The Eternals,’ And Superhero Films In General

This past weekend, Marvel’s new big-budget superhero movie “The Eternals” proved to be a super disappointment, earning $71 million domestically and $90 million internationally—the lowest opening for a Marvel movie this year, a bad sign of things to come.

“The Eternals” seemed to have all the right elements: great special effects, a formerly quarantined fanbase eager to consume Marvel blockbusters again, and a multiracial cast that ought to appeal to everyone. Moreover, its story was the familiar setup: superheroes fighting supervillains to save the world yet again.

So what happened? Many critics think there has been a burnout on superhero movies. With so many movies and television series scraping up the dregs of Marvel source material still untouched, there is little left to revive the superhero genre.

Coupled with this is the obvious leftist ideology incorporated into each new Marvel and Disney iteration. The movie made news with its inclusion of a large multiracial cast, a Chinese-American female director, and a kissing scene between two nonwhite men. All this seemed like cheap leftist virtue signaling and suggested the movie was checking boxes rather than entertaining audiences.

On their own, however, neither the apparent burnout or ideological overreach sufficiently explain the declining interest in the superhero genre or the lackluster reception of “The Eternals.” When put together, however, they do indicate what’s really happening: the burnout isn’t with superhero movies, but with what leftism is doing to today’s movies in general.

As with most things in life, leftism will ruin a good story, even the stories of well-funded superhero movies. Fundamentally, this is because it substitutes a utopian, simplified vision of the world for the world as it actually is. Instead of characters and plots that are relatable, complex, and thus interesting, a story infected by leftism features characters and plots that are unrelatable, predictable, and thus boring.

“The Eternals” is a great example of how this works. First, it attempted to feature characters of as many different races as possible. Rather than add to the richness and uniqueness of these characters, this decision seemed to do the opposite—they were flat and unmemorable.

As the YouTuber Critical Drinker explains in his review of the film, this is the result of too many characters competing for screen time. Even with a nearly three-hour runtime, there is not enough time to develop so many characters sufficiently. Instead of seeing a handful of characters interact with one another, work through internal conflicts, or grow in any meaningful way, you simply have a pageant of individuals showing off their muscles and superpowers against an equally shallow supervillain.

This is also why the X-Men movies tended to fail more than succeed, even though the source material is among Marvel’s best. Despite having great characters with interesting backgrounds, there are simply way too many of them. The best X-men movies, like “Logan” or “Days of Future Past,” are the ones that contain their multitudes, and the worst X-Men movies, like “Dark Phoenix” and “X-Men: Apocalypse” quickly become messy and chaotic.

The Avengers movies handled this problem by giving each Avenger his own origin story, allowing audiences to become invested and informed about each character. Audiences these days sometimes forget how most of the characters that eventually appear in “Avengers: Endgame” were completely unknown to most people before each had his or her own movie. “Antman”? “Guardians of the Galaxy”? “Dr. Strange”? They were once as unfamiliar to people as the Eternals are now.

Another problem with infusing identity politics is the inevitable tokenism, the inclusion of different minorities for the purpose of virtue signaling and nothing else. In one way, tokenism makes too much of identity, assuming race or sexual orientation can make up for an undeveloped, unrealistic character. They are simply included because it’s politically correct to do so, nothing more.

Paradoxically, tokenism also makes too little of identity by purposefully limiting a character’s personality to an incidental quality. If a character is a token person of color or homosexual, the only thing that matters is his skin color or kissing a person of the same sex. In every regard, they are just like everyone else or generally superior since the goal is to normalize and celebrate, not to show any kind of growth or struggle—for that would imply weakness, which then implies some kind of prejudice.

“The Eternals” adopts the very worst aspects of tokenism. The main characters fight, and they look good doing it. That’s it. Their personal struggles are minimized and their growth is nonexistent. Like Rey from the latest Star Wars trilogy or Captain Marvel, they have nothing to learn because they are awesome already. And if audiences have a problem with this, they better check their privilege and stop being prejudiced.

In addition to the paper-thin characters, the infusion of progressivism also leads to simple, predictable plots. The conflict is always external with some antagonist always trying to destroy or take over the world. The good guys are fighting the bad guys, and nuance is nowhere to be found. The difficult questions of responsibility, freedom, the nature of evil, and even identity are minimized. It’s basically the narrative form of “punch a Nazi.”

That’s why one doesn’t even need to watch “The Eternals” to know what will happen. They are superheroes who will fight a supervillain in order to save the world. Why now and not before? Why don’t they just take over the world themselves? What makes them good and the other side bad? Where do they come from and what is their purpose? And how do they feel about it? None of this is answered because it would complicate the narrative and challenge simplistic leftist thinking.

By contrast, other Marvel movies seemed much more open to these kinds of questions, like “Captain America: Winter Soldier,” “The Avengers: Infinity War,” or even “Spiderman: Homecoming.” Good and evil were not so obvious, or at least the villains seemed to have a point and heroes had to pay their dues. None of it seemed so simple—and the plots of these movies were so much better as a result.

Unfortunately for those movie critics desperately hoping otherwise, the superhero genre is not dead. It can be revived at any time, and probably will be once moviemakers in Hollywood decide they want to make money again. Just as the superhero genre came to the top two decades ago when filmmakers decided to abandon the childish campiness that formerly characterized the genre, it can emerge supreme once again when it abandons the childish leftism infecting it today.

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‘Black Widow’ Gives Natasha Romanoff The Sendoff She Deserves

Spoilers.

After a year of constant pushbacks and delays thanks to COVID-19 shutdowns, Marvel Studios finally returned to the big screen this past weekend with the much-anticipated release of its latest film, “Black Widow.”

Directed by Cate Shortland, the film is emblematic of a James Bond-style spy thriller, with loaded action sequences and impressive character development for its leading protagonists. Coupled with Marvel’s classic, witty humor, the movie represents a strong debut for “Phase Four” of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Set after the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” the movie follows Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) as she attempts to evade the law, while grappling with the haunting shadows of her past. Forced to reunite with her childhood stunt family comprised of “sister” Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), “mother” Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), and “father” Alexei Shostakov/Red Guardian (David Harbour), Romanoff aims to clear the red from her ledger once and for all, fighting to take down evil Russian boss Dreykov (Ray Winstone) and his Red Room espionage program.

The film does a great job exploring Romanoff’s early history and providing fans with insight into her work as a Black Widow assassin working under Dreykov. Long shrouded in mystery, Romanoff’s backstory has never received the attention it truly deserved, with here-and-there references to the character’s past over the years.

In “Black Widow,” however, Romanoff’s past finally gets the limelight, as the film adequately details the important moments that allowed her to grow into the Avenger she is.

One of the most significant themes of the film is the importance of family. To take down Dreykov, Romanoff must first look to the past to heal the fractures of her stunt family. Even as she repeatedly tells herself the whole thing was just a charade, Romanoff can’t shake the love and compassion she developed in those early years for her fake family. In the end, this realization helps her repair the damage to not only her stunt family, but also later her Avengers family.

While Johansson’s performance was excellent as usual, the breakout star of the film was Florence Pugh. Not only did she seamlessly transition into the role of Yelena Belova, I found myself thoroughly invested in her story. At times, her arc was much more compelling than the leading character’s. Irrespective of the scene or circumstance, Pugh’s performance stole the show and made me excited to see what Marvel has in store for her.

The film did have some weaknesses, however. After 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame,” Marvel fans headed into “Black Widow” well aware of Natasha Romanoff’s ultimate fate. While the movie does a great job at further expanding Romanoff’s story, her legacy would have been better served if the film were made prior to “Endgame’s” release.

Watching “Black Widow” before seeing her sacrificial demise in “Endgame” would have made the emotional impact of her death much more meaningful. It would have also brought her character arc full circle without having to jump backward after “Endgame.”

Additionally, the film handled the character of Taskmaster poorly, rewriting the character with an entirely different backstory from what we see in the Marvel comics. Moreover, the franchise changed Taskmaster’s gender, replacing the man from the comics with a woman in the role of Dreykov’s daughter. While I don’t have a problem with the MCU altering certain characteristics in their adaptations, to completely disregard Taskmaster’s comic origins feels like a disservice to the comic writers who spent years establishing the character.

Overall, “Black Widow” is an action-packed spy thriller that makes for an excellent return to the big screen for Marvel Studios. In many ways, the film marks a passing of the Black Widow mantel from Johansson to Pugh, setting up an exciting future for the character of Yelena Belova. While an earlier release would’ve added more emotional weight to Romanoff’s final actions in “Avengers: Endgame,” the film does a superb job providing the character with the solo movie she has so long deserved.

Fans can catch “Black Widow” in theaters now or on Disney Plus with Premier Access.

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Christoph Waltz Directorial Debut ‘Georgetown’ Is A Wildly Engaging Political Thriller

Ulrich Mott is a diplomat, military general, count, intelligence officer, and power broker — or so he would like you to believe. “Georgetown” details how a charlatan entirely fictionalized an impressive background to infiltrate DC society, only for the lies to catch up with him as his one ally, his well-connected and much older wife, winds up dead in their Georgetown townhouse.

Based on the real-life murder of Viola Drath by her con artist husband, as detailed in The New York Times article, “The Worst Marriage In Georgetown,” the political crime thriller is an excellent offering and an impressive directorial debut by actor Christoph Waltz.

When Mott (Waltz) arrives in D.C. at the film’s opening, he is a 50-year-old intern on Capitol Hill, giving tours to constituents when he sneaks into the White House Correspondents Dinner and meets Elsa Brecht (Vanessa Redgrave), a socialite decades his senior. They quickly marry, developing a platonic partnership more than a romance, with the pair leveraging Elsa’s contacts and Mott’s ambition to launch his career and return her to social prominence. Yet when Mott slowly discerns that he will never be taken seriously as more than a party host, he becomes desperate as cracks begin to form in his story, and marriage.

At just 90 minutes, the film’s complex story is rendered with briskness and clarity. The shorter runtime creates an urgency in the film, as each facet of the narrative is given just enough time without dragging. There was likewise a welcome lack of subplots, which created a focused through-line and allowed the audience to remain with the thrilling central story.

A nonlinear story structure is utilized to further create a sense of mystery, jumping between Mott and Elsa’s developing relationship and Mott’s trial for her murder. The timelines are interwoven in an intelligent manner, where information from one scene is not only relevant to the plot, but also the themes and character development of the next.

Despite being filmed in Toronto, the movie captures the feel of Georgetown exquisitely. Discussions of international affairs and social gatherings peppered with an almost compulsive name-dropping of influential acquaintances grounded the film in its specific world and give a distinct identity to the proceedings (the interior of Elsa’s house even looks remarkably like a Georgetown townhouse).

The satirical aspect of the film is brilliant, witnessing how powerful, important, and ostensibly intelligent people were so taken in by a con artist with the most transparent of false backstories. Yet, with some of the political hoaxes that have propagated throughout Washington the past few years, this becomes substantially more believable, almost expected.

It is obvious straight away that Mott is the one who murdered Brecht, even if it is not shown until the end. The film even opens on the night of Elsa’s murder before flashing back to see how it all began. It is also clear very early on that Mott’s impressive background is smoke-and-mirrors. None of this matters, however, as the fun and the tension come not from wondering if, but how. Every reveal, each more startling — and by extension exciting — than the last, will keep you glued to your seat, desperate to learn more.

The film is a stunning debut for Waltz, hopefully the first of many films with the Academy Award winner behind the camera. The shots are well-composed, and the camera movements add to the atmosphere and storytelling without calling too much attention to themselves. The sound design likewise functions beautifully, with Lorne Balfe’s tense score subtly ramping up the tension in the background. The impressive technical facets of the film support a phenomenal story and excellent leading performances.

Mott is the ideal role for Waltz. Equal parts socially awkward and charming, with a dark side lurking underneath the façade, Waltz handles his characters’ various sides with ease. It would have been easy for the narrative to paint Mott in one of two lights, but Waltz decided to go a more complex, interesting route.

He could have been the substance-less schemer, surviving purely on charm and social connections, but despite his false background, he knew a considerable amount about foreign affairs and could hold his own in political discussions. Mott also may have been portrayed as a tragic genius, how he most likely saw himself, an outsider whose intellect is held back only by his unimpressive background. The middle ground was a far stronger choice than either of the more clichéd extremes, as the villain protagonist can remain compelling without being sympathetic.

Redgrave is equally well-suited as his partner in crime. She brings a heartbreaking fragility to the role, paired with a whip-smart savvy and determination. Far from a passive victim, Elsa is actively involved in Mott’s schemes, excited to mold him into a success. She clearly is inspired, however, by a desire for companionship and care for the younger man as much as social ambition, making his moments of cruelty difficult for viewers to stomach.

Waltz and Redgrave make an excellent team, handling the nuances of their messy relationship with grace and believability. The collaborations are imbued with a sense of excitement, while vicious fights become painful, almost voyeuristic to witness. Rounding out the cast are solid supporting turns by Annette Benning as Elsa’s concerned daughter and Corey Hawkins as Mott’s baffled attorney.

“Georgetown” is a wildly engaging political thriller. The film’s insane — mostly true — story is better than most fiction could create and is translated expertly to screen by an impressive first-time director and a strong cast. This smart, funny, tension-filled movie is sure to entertain.

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Relying On A Rogue Covert Agent, ‘Without Remorse’ Plays It Too Safe

Relying On A Rogue Covert Agent, ‘Without Remorse’ Plays It Too Safe

During a classified mission in Syria, Navy SEAL John Kelly (Michael B. Jordan) seizes a massive stash of illicit weapons amidst heavy fire — and barely escapes with his life. He returns home to Washington, D.C. to face an even worse hell.

Russian operatives systemically hunt down and assassinate the few members of his unit who survived the Syrian ordeal. When they reach Kelly’s house, only his pregnant wife lay sleeping in their bed. Hearing the intruders, Kelly defensively shoots into the shadows, taking out several men … but not before his wife and daughter in the womb are taken from him.

Waking up in a military hospital, he quickly demands one thing of his superior officer: “All I need is a name. Give me a name!” So begins “Without Remorse” from director Stefano Sollima (“Sicario 2”) which premiered last week on Prime Video. If the set-up of a rogue agent out for revenge seems familiar, maybe you too have seen the action-thriller films that clearly inspired it.

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Backed by Paramount and Skydance, the Hollywood shingles behind Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” franchise, “Without Remorse” gives viewers a remix of 90’s Jack Ryan flicks, Jack Bauer “24” heroism, and some Jason Bourne intrigue for good measure. Some hardcore action fans will surely cheer a viewing option that evades comic-book superheroes and flashy set pieces in the style of “John Wick.”

Yet, even with charismatic leading man Jordan, two memorable action scenes that show where they spent the eight-figure budget, and a bold third-act plot twist, “Without Remorse” ends up being less than the sum of its parts. Audiences have seen this before, and usually on a grander scale.

Filmmakers sought to ground this action flick in reality rather than invent a new James Bond-style franchise, yet some real-world context comes across as shallow and unrealistic.

(minor spoilers ahead)

Mirroring aspects of fictional spies like Ethan “Mission Impossible” Hunt, Navy SEAL Kelly carries the film as the exceptional agent-marksman-fighter who can be implicitly trusted.

Following his near-death injuries, his superior officer Karen Greer (Jodie Turner-Smith) implores the Secretary of Defense: “It is my opinion that Senior Chief Kelly is not in the right state of mind to be in the field right now.” But anyone who has seen Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer on-screen knows this similar hero won’t be sidelined.

Reportedly, Jordan did most of his own stunts which enables action scenes to proceed efficiently without cuts. It reflects director Sollima’s approach to the story. “Reality, I feel, is much more interesting than fiction,” he said in a recent interview. “I don’t like superheroes (and) action detached from reality. I like heroes, a human being that is pushed over his limit.”

To their credit — Jordan is also a producer on the film — two highlight action scenes emerge organically from the plot rather than the far too typical action-flick contrivance for something cool to just “happen.” In the first of several “off-book” actions, Kelly stalks the Russian Embassy and maneuvers to interrogate a key figure. The two men face-off in a burning vehicle, lending this sequence a ticking-clock urgency.

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The other standout set-piece occurs when the Kelly-led team heads to Russia on a covert flight, which comes under fire and crashes into the ocean. With Kelly submerged underwater and struggling to save his fellow agents, it has a visceral tension that signals the elaborate practical effects at play here, with CGI kept to a minimum. A later sequence using similar techniques shocks viewers with its sudden turn.

Isolated scenes in “Without Remorse” clearly work, making it a decent option for background viewing. Yet the film lacks grounding in depicting consequences and military chain-of-command while production design feels cheaper than it should. A Navy SEAL executing an embassy official with multiple witnesses outside the D.C. airport would not likely go quickly back out into the field for starters.

The film features an incredibly involved secretary of defense, played by Guy Pearce, who personally assigns Kelly to his mission. It’s strange to see a man of such an elevated position show up in various claustrophobic rooms to issue directives.

As to production design, compare the film’s opening depiction of bombed-out Syria, clearly shot on a studio backlot, with the detailed scope of gritty Netflix military drama “Mosul.” While significant portions of this movie, ostensibly set in Russia, were filmed in Germany, viewers would barely know it from how locations are used. Action scenes often occur in poorly lit hallways and back alleys. This might reflect an attempt at realism — the director previously worked in TV news — but if viewers cannot see much, it doesn’t connect.

Renowned military spy-genre author Tom Clancy released his blockbuster novel “Without Remorse” in 1993, and within months the film rights were snatched up. It took almost 30 years for this movie to release, with a script little resembling the original story (Jordan’s character — given the alias “John Clark” by the end — was previously played decades ago by Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber).

Specifically depicting covert missions, recent Oscar winners “Zero Dark Thirty” and even “Argo” show how it’s possible to balance applicable real-world military context with the demands of action-thriller tropes. Truth be told, even Jordan’s villainous turn as Erik Killmonger in the superhero blockbuster “Black Panther” carries the residue of real-world geopolitical conflicts better than this Clancy-inspired flick.

In a sequel teaser that closes “Without Remorse,” undercover spy Clark expresses his intent to coalesce international agents into the counter-terrorist unit “Rainbow Six” — known in popular culture as a best-selling video game franchise. With this, producers tip their hand that perhaps gamers were the movie’s target audience all along.

By ending two hours of supposedly grounded action by teasing an Avengers-style team-up, some confused viewers will doubtless feel a little remorse.

Rated R for violence, “Without Remorse” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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