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Reviews for November 23rd, 2022


Directed J. D. Dillard

      Jesse Brown (Jonathan Majors), the first black aviator to join the U.S. Navy, befriends his fellow Navy pilot, Tom Hudner (Glen Powell) while fighting in the Korean War. Back at home, has a wife, Daisy (Christina Jackson), and daughter waiting for him.

        Based on a true story and on the novel by Adam Makos, the screenplay by Jonathan Stewart and Jake Crane finds just the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally. On the surface, it's an exhilarating war film with rousing action scenes that provide plenty of palpable thrills much like in Top Gun: Maverick. Unlike, Top Gun: Maverick, though, the enemy is actually named which makes the mission more clear and suspenseful, and there are no cheesy, contrived or clunky romantic or dramatic scenes on the ground. Also, the subplots are kept to a minimum, so the plot remains focused without going into any tangents that take away from the narrative momentum. Jesse has a family back home and the scenes where they're together are genuinely moving instead of being heavy-handed and cloying. Tom has a family, too, but they're not shown. The emotional core of the film is the friendship between Jesse and Tom that develops as they work together in the U.S. Navy. That's what this film is truly about beneath the surface, so it's a testament to the strengths of the screenplay that it manages to bring that friendship to life. Their bond of friendship feels organic, so the beats land especially during the intense third act which won't be spoiled here. It's best if you don't know about the true story or what happens to Jesse, but if you do, it doesn't make the film any less gripping or emotionally resonating.

      Everything from the sound design to the cinematography and editing turns the film into cinematic spectacle. Every great film should have a perfect blend of Truth and Spectacle, as Francois Truffaut once wisely observed. Devotion has both in spades. The aerial scenes and the scenes on the ground are equally captivating without a dull moment. Jonathan Majors is well-cast and captures the emotional complexities of his role very convincingly. He and Glen Powell have wonderful chemistry together and you really want them to be there for one another as friends while hoping that they make it out alive. At a running time of 2 hours and 18 minutes, Devotion is a triumph. It's powerful, gripping and genuinely heartfelt. It's better than Top Gun: Maverick!  

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Columbia Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Directed Rian Johnson


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Netflix.
Opens nationwide.


Directed Nikyatu Jusu

       Aisha (Anna Diop), an immigrant from Senegal, lives in New York City and gets hired to work as a nanny for the daughter, Rose (Rose Decker), of a wealthy couple, Adam (Morgan Spector) and Amy (Michelle Monaghan). She sends money to her young son in Senegal and hopes to be able to bring him the U.S. She develops a romance with a doorman, Malik (Sinqua Walls), and deals with tensions that arrise between her and Rose's parents when they're behind on paying her what they owe her. Meanwhile, she experiences strange visions.

      TThe screenplay by writer/director Nikyatu Jusu combines psychological horror, mystery, drama, social commentary and romance with mixed results. It walks a fine line between fantasy and reality as Aisha's visuals become increasingly intense and bizarre. Is it all in her head or is there something supernatural going on? Nanny tackles a lot of subplots some of which are handled better than others. There's the relationship between Aisha and Rose, Aisha and Malik, Aisha and Rose's parents, and then the stale marriage between Adam and Amy. Jusu does a fine job of incorporating just the right amount of exposition about Aisha's life back in Senegal to keep you at the edge of your seat for the first hour, but around the hour mark, it's easy to figure out what the "big reveal" will be, so when it does finally arrive, it's not very surprising. The introduction of a new character, Malik's mother, seems like she's just there to move the plot forward and isn't a well-developed character either. However, at least most of Nanny manages to be moving while allowing the audience to get inside Aisha's head. She's going through a lot and has a lot of emotions to process, especially when Adam makes the moves on her when they're alone. That said, Nanny teases the audience too much with dream sequences that quickly become tedious, so there's not much subtlety when it comes to that. How many silhouettes of a spider does the audience need to see? What's the point of Aisha swallowing a spider in her sleep? If you have arachnophobia, you'll find that scene to be more terrifying and disgusting, but even if you don't it's a scene that makes very little sense even in retrospect. There's enough tension within the drama itself, so the horror scenes make the film feel overwrought and convoluted.  

      Nanny has two major strengths that stand out: Anna Diop's breakthrough performance and the visually stylish cinematography. Anna Diop helps tremendously to provide the film with poignancy, so Nanny's emotional depth comes from her performance, not from the screenplay. Then there's the use of lighting, camera angles, color and sound design which add both style and substance while making the more cinematic. It's as visually stunning and poetic as the cinematography in the far more powerful and haunting Waves which shares a few themes in common with Nanny, so it would make for a great double feature. At a running time of 1 hour and 38 minutes, Nanny is visually stunning, suspenseful and engrossing, but tedious, heavy-handed and overwrought. 

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Amazon Studios.
Opens in select theaters.

Strange World

Directed Don Hall

      Years after his father, Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid), an explorer, disappeared, Searcher Clade (voice of Jake Gyllenhaal) lives with his wife, Meridian (voice of Gabrielle Union), and 16-year old son, Ethan (voice of Jaboukie Young-White), in Avalonia. He farms a plant called pando which, he learned, can be used to power Avalonia. When Callisto Mal (voice of Lucy Liu) arrives to let him know that the pando plants are mysteriously dying, Searcher, Meridian and Ethan venture into the heart of Avalonia to save it from being destroyed.

      Strange World is yet another sci-fi adventure with an imaginative premise, but poor execution that leaves a lot to be desired. The screenplay by Qui Nguyen deserves to be praised for trying to ground its story in realism and for being all-inclusive by having a bi-racial character, Ethan, who's openly gay with parents who accept his sexuality. The first act is occasionally funny and effectively sets up the exposition with "world building" needed before the main adventure commences. Once Jaeger and his family go on an adventure to save Avalonia by entering the "strange world", that's around the time the film becomes silly and increasingly dull rather than funny, witty or thrilling. Some of the side characters that they meet in the strange world are simply annoying like nails on a chalkboard. There's one major surprise which won't be spoiled here, but it comes too late in the game and after the "big reveal", the film turns into a mildly engaging action adventure that doesn't really gain enough momentum. Also, the relationship between Jaeger and Searcher feels contrived as does the preachy message that's tacked onto the third act while spoon-feeding the audience. Despite the title having the word "Strange" in it, it's disappointing that the film isn't zany and outrageous enough in the strange world scenes.

      The CGI animation, though, looks dazzling with plenty of colorful eye candy that should please younger viewers especially. A lot of time and money was clearly spent on the animation, and it definitely pays off while turning the film into a truly visual spectacle. The voice-over work is also superb. The pace moves too quickly at times, and the action scenes aren't very exciting, though. Then there's the third act that feels rushed and sidelines the most interesting character, Ethan. At a running time of 1 hour and 42 minutes, Strange World is mildly engaging, silly, dull and ultimately underwhelming. Great CGI can't save it.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide.