I’m going to be trying something a little bit new today, as an experiment. For those of you who don’t know, I’m now a Rotten Tomatoes certified critic, so I want to attempt to give more of what I see a write up, in order for it to show up there. So, for a busy week like this, I decided to lump three films into one long post. It’s essentially a trio of slightly shorter articles in one shot. Perhaps it’ll be a recurring thing. We’ll see. For this inaugural attempt, the three movies that open this week (tomorrow, specifically) are the satire Bodied, the family flick The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, and the long lost Orson Welles curiosity The Other Side of the Wind. Here goes nothing…
It’s incredibly satisfying to see a satire really go for broke. Too often, the razor is on the dull side. Not here. Filmmaker Joseph Kahn brings an incredible amount of style and passion to this work. In many ways, it’s a calling card film, announcing Kahn as someone who should be given the reigns of a bigger property. His previous movies have been smaller in scale, but certainly distinctive. Quietly, Kahn is proving that he has something very unique to say. What he’s saying here may well offend some folks, but that’s part of the point. Bold satire always runs that risk. It simply comes with the territory.
The film is a satirical comedy about battle rap and racial tensions. Adam (Calum Worthy) is a graduate student working on a thesis about battle rappers. In his research, he attends many a battle, immersing himself in the world. To say he stands out is putting it mildly. Most rappers ignore him, his girlfriend Maya (Rory Uphold) doesn’t understand, and his scholar father Dean Merkin (Anthony Michael Hall) actively discourages him. Adam does have one supporter in top battle rapper Behn Grymm (Jackie Long). Behn sees what Adam is trying to do and finds it interesting. A friendship even develops. Then, Adam gets sucked into actually performing battle raps. Initially a lark, it becomes an obsession for him, leading to all kinds of outrage when a rap of his goes viral. The aforementioned Kahn directs and co-writes with Alex Larsen, while the supporting cast includes Charlamagne Tha God, Dizaster, Jonathan Park, Walter Perez, Shoniqua Shandai, Debra Wilson, and more. Matt Wise handles the intense cinematography.
This movie is an intense and often amusing experience. Those easily offended will run screaming from the theater, but if you can take hard edged satire, Bodied has a lot to say. Equal opportunity in its attempts and desires to offend, it’s a very unique flick. Credit to Kahn and Larson for pulling no punches, along with the cast, led by Turner, for embracing it like they did. The final product certainly reflects that commitment to the material. That’s the only way this works, too. If you’re not all in, the satire is dulled down and ends up ineffective. That’s not the case here though, not in the slightest.
Bodied won’t be for everyone. That goes without saying. Frankly, if you don’t have any interest in rap, it can be a hard sell. That being said, the satire is so effective and so strong, it makes this worthwhile regardless. Kahn’s filmmaking is easy to embrace, as the fuel that lights his fire here is super potent. That alone makes the movie worth seeing. If you can see this with a rowdy audience, all the better. I saw it via screening link and can only imagine how much more potent it would be as an experience with others. It’s one of the week’s best bets, so seek it out and give it a shot!
*The Nutcracker and the Four Realms*
Why in the world did Disney feel the need to give us another version of The Nutcracker? This new take is bigger and has more action, but what’s the point? Too odd at times for children, too chaste for adults, it falls into the trap in trying to be for everyone but ending up being for no one. Sure, it’ll give some younger viewers their first exposure to the ballet, but it also is clothed in some knockoff Tim Burton type extravagance. Not the good Burton either, but close to Alice in Wonderland, and brace yourself…the sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass. Consider yourself warned.
This version of the movie offers something new, tale wise. Here we follow Clara (Mackenzie Foy), a young girl who has just lost her mother. In possession of an item of her late mother’s, all she needs is the key to open it. While at a party her father Mr. Stahlbaum (Matthew Macfadyen) took her to, one thrown by her kindly godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), something magical happens. A golden thread leads her to a whole other world. This world, one that includes gingerbread men, mice, and more. Clara meets a soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight) who becomes her protector, while the more she discovers, the more she learns that her mother had a connection to this world. She’ll encounter characters like Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), and more, all while having the adventure of a lifetime. Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston share directing duties here, while the screenplay is by Ashleigh Powell. Also on hand in the cast are the likes of Misty Copeland, Eugenio Derbez, Richard E. Grant, and many more. James Newton Howard composed the original score, while the cinematography comes from the great Linus Sandgren. If nothing else, the film looks and sounds good.
I wanted to like the flick. The below the line talent is incredible. Unfortunately, it just never synched up for me. Again, the point above rings true. In trying to be just a little weird and just a little sweet, it ends up lacking in appeal for both children and adults. The only thing that younger and older audience members will be able to share here is a sense of boredom. Sure, Sandgren contributes some nice visuals, but in service of what? It certainly feels like a mess, and considering two directors made it (Hallström was essentially replaced by Johnston for a ton of reshoots), that makes sense.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms has very little to recommend about it. It’s harmless, no doubt, but it’s not worthy of a family’s hard earned money, not to mention the time commitment. Poorly paced, lacking in forward momentum, and trafficking in as basic a story as possible, this is the definition of mediocrity. It won’t move the needle for you at all. I expected better from Disney. This was an opportunity to introduce a new generation to The Nutcracker in an exciting and distinctive way. They had the talent, but not the story to do so. As such, it winds up being a major disappointment. Alas.
*The Other Side of the Wind*
It’s hard not to be fascinated by this project. Rescuing a long lost Orson Welles film? Alas, it’s not really a film, at least in the way you want one to be. A collection of scenes loosely strung together, maybe. But a movie? Nope. Closer in completion to a mockumentary than anything else, it’s still a chore to sit through. There are small hints of Welles’ genius, but Citizen Kane, this is not. Netflix has admittedly made a cool decision in helping finance this and giving it a home, but unfortunately, the efforts are all for nothing. From beyond the grave, Welles has another misfire.
As some of you may know, Welles died while still trying to get The Other Side of the Wind completed. Decades later, producer Frank Marshall and others helped finish it and bring it to the finish line, using money from the streaming giant Netflix. The story here, movie wise, concerns a famous and reclusive director named Jake Hannaford (John Huston) emerging from exile with a new project to unveil. He has a daring new film that he wants to screen for guests at a party. So, people are shuttled to his estate, not knowing what to expect. What they see is bizarre, while Jake’s behavior is no better. Welles co-wrote with Oja Kodar and directs. The ensemble cast here includes Peter Bogdanovich, Mercedes McCambridge, Robert Random, Susan Strasberg, the aforementioned Kodar, and many more. Eagle eyed viewers will notice cameos from Cameron Crowe, Dennis Hopper, and others.
There’s a fascination factor here, but not much in the way of enjoyment. Scenes are so scattershot, it’s closer to watching someone’s home movies, spliced together in an often random order. If there’s one thing to praise, it’s some of the performances. Huston absolutely eats the scenery, while Bogdanovich is pretty strong too. It’s actually kind of fun to watch Huston drink in the film, as he consumes alcohol in such a unique way. Aside from that, this is largely a bore. That doesn’t even take into account the casual sexism of the film within a film, one that almost seems to hate women. It’s troubling, to say the least.
Cinephiles will dive deep into The Other Side of the Wind, no doubt about that. What they find, and if it’s of any worth, is up for debate. Frankly, I didn’t see much of anything here. It was more enjoyable to say that Welles had a new film than to actually see it. Film school students will have their say, analyzing it to death, but this humble critic found it to signify very little. Credit to Marshall and company for completing it, but either Welles’ vision was lost in translation, or else he didn’t have one in the first place. Whichever the case is here, The Other Side of the Wind is strictly a curiosity and nothing more.
All three titles hit theaters (or in one case Netflix) on Friday!