It's been 24 years since "Good Will Hunting" made Oscar-winning scribes out of real-life best friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Curiously, it took that long for the two to reunite as writers once again, bringing in a third, the Oscar-nominated Nicole Holofcener ("Can You Ever Forgive Me?") to adapt Eric Jager's novel, "The Last Duel."
The dynamic behind the script - two men and one woman - is also at the heart of the brutal story itself, a true tale about a 14th century knight, Jean de Carrouges (Damon) who challenges his squire, Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) to a duel, after Le Gris is accused of raping Carrouges's wife, Marguerite (Jodie Comer).
Directed by Ridley Scott ("Alien," "The Martian," "Gladiator"), this is not a film categorized as "entertaining" in the same way that many of his other films might be. "The Last Duel" is a very tough watch, and may not be for all movie-goers who might enter in based on the star-power, or thinking they're going to get a riotous, sword-clashing adventure. It's rather a depiction of what life was like for women in medieval times, and how some of this treatment echoes through all the way to modern times.
It's powerful, with more than a few hiccups, but "The Last Duel" finds its stride as it gallops on, making it one of the most important films of the year, if falling short of being one of the best ones.
To quote Silvio Dante quoting Michael Corleone: "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back IN!!"
That's what it feels like to submerge back into the world of "The Sopranos," the ground-breaking HBO drama that is considered one of the best TV shows of all-time and certainly one of the most influential of its era. For me, it was the last "must see" TV show, something that would later be categorized as "appointment TV." I would watch nervously and breathlessly each week, hoping that my favorite characters would survive the hour. They often would, but many times wouldn't.
With "The Sopranos" prequel film, "The Many Saints of Newark," you are pulled back in to this modern world of gangsters, their families and their issues that exist both externally and internally. You'll be reminded that David Chase, the creator of "The Sopranos" and who co-wrote "The Many Saints of Newark," is an absolute force of nature...a writer unparalleled and like the show he created, in a league of his own. He makes "Many Saints" not only fit into the world that he created over 20 years ago, but adds to it.
"Many Saints," I'd argue, is going to become required-viewing for those wanting to experience the full tragic saga of Tony Soprano. It lives up to the hype, and for any fan of "The Sopranos," it will meet and surpass your already astronomical expectations.
It's not just a worthy Sopranos story, it's one of my favorite films of the year.
Full disclosure: I have not seen the Tony-winning stage version of "Dear Evan Hansen." But judging by the movie version, I now have no desire to.
A 27-year-old Ben Platt - playing a high school senior and reprising his original role from the play - is the least of the film's problems. There isn't a note of truth in this misguided adaptation, so without ever having seen the play, I can plainly tell you that this film does not do the original material any justice.
"Blue Bayou" walks the line and occasionally stumbles into at best, melodrama and at worst, manipulation, but it has a pure heart. It features characters we don't often see on screen, and includes some tremendous performances. As it drives towards its unpredictable conclusion, there is a scene that will either bring you to tears, or will make your eyes roll so far into the back of your skull that you may just pass out.
For me, "Blue Bayou" worked tremendously (put me in the "brought tears to your eyes" category) and it would be an absolute crime if its writer/director and star, Justin Chon, isn't recognized this awards season. This is a story that needs to be seen, about how the American Dream can - for many - be realized as an absolute nightmare.
One of the most delightful, impressive, heart-warming and optimistic productions you will ever witness comes to Apple TV+ this weekend. "Come From Away" is a Tony-winning musical that was filmed and made into a movie (just like "Hamilton" was for Disney+ in 2020), and it comes just in time for the 20-year anniversary of 9/11.
Yes, the "feel good" movie of the year centers around one of the worst, horrific tragedies in American history, and if there was ever something that this divided nation should be able to agree on, it's that "Come From Away" is an absolute treasure and should be seen by every American...despite it taking place in Newfoundland, Canada.
"Small Engine Repair" is a small film that you root for. The camaraderie between the three main actors is the definition of chemistry, and you'll find yourself laughing and caring for these bums in surprising ways.
But with a quick jump out of the gate and a slowly accelerating pace that will have you easily accepting your invitation to ride, "Small Engine Repair" nearly runs itself off the road as it hits a late patch of dark ice...however it ends up staying on track somehow, due to the three red-hot performances steering the wheel.
Shea Whigham definitely has what it takes to be a leading man, despite making a career out of being an ensemble player. He deserves better than "The Gateway," a film that is squarely a B-movie, but not in a nostalgic or fun sort of way.
What is the value of a human life? Almost everyone would most likely agree that it's absurd to place a dollar amount on the worth of a person's life, but that's exactly what D.C. attorney Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton) was tasked with.
In the days and months following the horrendous terrorist attacks on 9/11, Feinberg stepped in trying to do the right thing: He was heading up the daunting job of coming up with financial compensation for the victims of 9/11 and their families. But how does one go about valuing the compensation one should receive for the loss of a parent, sibling or child? Again I ask: What is the value of a human life?
It's not exactly a "pick-me-upper," but "The Macaluso Sisters" is one of the most gripping dramas of the year.
Surprisingly, the key to understanding the ambitious rock opera, "Annette," might be found in a documentary that came out earlier this year. That doc, "The Sparks Brothers," was about the 80s rock band Sparks, made up of brothers Russell and Ron Mael, whose quirky lyrics, music videos and rhythms led them to becoming one of the most influential bands of that decade, despite having never existed in the mainstream.
To call them and their music "eccentric" doesn't quite describe it. But their documentary is a good primer to trying to understand "Annette" - music and script by the Mael brothers - which is a film that by-and-large will not connect with most common movie-goers, and is even so bonkers and "out there" that it hasn't even been a sure-thing with critics either (as of this writing, it's clinging to a "Fresh" score of 70% on RottenTomatoes).
If you've seen "The Sparks Brothers," it may help get you close to the wavelength in which "Annette" exists, but even then, it's an over-long, showy and mostly hollow musical, kept interesting in spite of the Maels, not because of them. That's because one of the finest actors of his generation, Adam Driver, delivers one of the most boldly dedicated performances of his career, giving us an anchor of emotion in a sea of lunacy.
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