Here, I reviewed Wes Anderson's collection of four new Short films based on author Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More (1977).
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
I loved The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar so much. I wish it were a little longer. I could have stayed in the wonderful little world of Henry Sugar forever. Clocking in at only 40 minutes, Wes Anderson uses the most of his face-paced, stylistic tone to whisk us through the breezy world of Henry Sugar (played by an incredible Benedict Cumberbatch). Anderson uses his characters in all four of his new Short films to speak the narration, like running a marathon. There's a sense of spiritual growth at the story's core, while the costume and production designs in this Short are some of the best I've seen this year for cinema. Henry Sugar opens into Anderson's jewel box of gorgeous set pieces, moving cameras, witty humor, and delightful storytelling. On top of Cumberbatch's superb performance are excellent performances from Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel, and Ben Kingsley. Anderson moves his 40-minute Short in record speed, keeping the viewers engaged and our hearts open to this delightful story. Henry Sugar follows a variety of stories in one. The main storyline has to do with Henry Sugar (Cumberbatch) discovering a book that teaches him how to see through objects and predict the future. What Henry Sugar does with all of his earnings from playing blackjack on your own. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is truly wonderful indeed.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is Rated PG (Parental Guidance) Smoking
Now Streaming on Netflix
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley, and Richard Ayoade.
The Swan is dark, breathtaking, and also heartbreaking. Wes Anderson's second Short is a complete 180 from his previous one. The Swan's tone and storyline are much darker and more tragic. Clocking in at a brisk 17 minutes, The Swan studies how trauma stays with an individual for years. Here, we follow a small, brilliant boy, Peter Watson, who loves nature and birds. Actors Rupert Friend and Asa Jennings both play Watson. Friend does the narration for this Short and is an older version of Watson looking back on this traumatizing event in his life. Jennings plays the younger version of Watson when that fateful event occurs. Jennings does not have any speaking roles, but his body language and acting chops are excellent throughout. The story follows Peter Watson, who is brutally tormented through a series of events by two large, idiotic bullies. One of these events involves the bullies strapping Watson down on train tracks, while the other involves a swan and a gun. I won't go into the heartbreaking events involving the swan. That's for you to uncover yourself. The Swan is extremely minimalistic in nature, but the moving set pieces and dark storyline kept me engaged. In the end, my heart was a little broken.
The Swan is Not Rated (NR)
Now Streaming on Netflix
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Rupert Friend, Asa Jennings, and Ralph Fiennes.
The Rat Catcher
The third feature, The Rat Catcher, is chock-full of screwball comedy. The Rat Catcher is probably the weakest of the four, but it's still a hilarious and oddball cinematic treat from Wes Anderson. Actors Richard Ayoade, Ralph Fiennes, and Rupert Friend showcase their comedic chops in this 17-minute-long Short film. While Fiennes lets his freak flag fly high as the eccentric "Rat Man." Our story follows a small English village that has a rat problem and needs to get rid of them. A reporter (Ayoade) and a mechanic (Friend) listen to Fiennes' wild tales of how he outwits his prey. Anderson uses some of his cheeky stop-motion in this Short. There is also a quick bit of comedic horror, shown through a series of close-up shots. Overall, The Rat Catcher is a breezy mix of quirky humor and bizarre storytelling.
The Rat Catcher is Not Rated (NR)
Now Streaming on Netflix
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Richard Ayoade, Ralph Fiennes, and Rupert Friend.
Poison is intense, fast-paced, and nail-biting. How Dev Patel can speak so fast is truly insane. Last but not least is Wes Anderson's final Short, Poison, from Roald Dahl's The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More (1977). Poison is a race against the clock to save an Englishman (Benedict Cumberbatch) who had a poisonous snake slither underneath his covers and onto his stomach. Cumberbatch's fellow associate (Patel) and a local doctor (Ben Kingsley) race to save him from being bitten by the deadly reptile. The tension will send an adrenaline rush through your veins during this fast-moving 17-minute Short feature. Poison is a manically written feature that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Patel's narration is nail-biting, while Anderson uses a series of close-ups and shaky cams to throw you into the action. Poison was my second favorite Short film out of the four. It's a lovely blend of thrills and chills that kept me fully engaged until the final frame. I hope Anderson makes and releases more Dahl Shorts down the road. As for now, take a bow, Mr. Anderson.
Poison is Not Rated (NR)
Now Streaming on Netflix
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel, and Ben Kingsley.
A Barbenheimer Feature Review!
Barbie and Oppenheimer are officially in theaters, and both have been a huge success (commercially and critically). It was announced last year that both Barbie and Oppenheimer would be released to theaters on the same day: July 21, 2023. That announcement unexpectedly took the internet by storm, and Barbenheimer was born. The term Barbenheimer stands for "an internet phenomenon that began circulating on social media before the simultaneous theatrical release of the two blockbuster films." It started to get everyone excited, including myself. Closer to the release date, people were securing tickets for a double feature of both Barbie and Oppenheimer on the same day. I have an 11-month-old (Charlotte), so Glynis and I had to split up Oppenheimer and Barbie within two days. We saw Oppenheimer first on Saturday the 22nd and Barbie second on Sunday the 23rd. Both of these movies receive a 5-star review from me.
"Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. For this he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity."
After seeing Oppenheimer and thinking about it, this movie is Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus. Oppenheimer is an incredible, haunting character study. The weight of Nolan's picture is enormous, and the film left me in awe. As of right now, this is the best movie I have seen this year. Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Dunkirk) is a masterful director, gifting us with smartly written blockbuster spectacles for over 20 years now. Nolan filmed Oppenheimer with a combination of IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large-format film. Oppenheimer also made history by filming portions in IMAX black-and-white for the first time ever. Just when I thought no more future films of his could top 2017's masterpiece known as Dunkirk, Nolan goes out a makes Oppenheimer. Nolan's latest picture is a 3-hour biographical thriller that studies the life and moral complexities of American theoretical physicist: J. Robert Oppenheimer (played by an excellent Cillian Murphy). A genius and a monster, J. Robert Oppenheimer became the director of the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos during World War II. He is known as the "father of the atomic bomb."
"Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."
Now, Nolan's picture does not physically show the devastating effects of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (the horrific killing of +200,000 innocent Japanese civilians). However, we do see the moral weight of those grave decisions ripple throughout this film. “I have blood on my hands,” Oppenheimer exclaims to then President Truman (played by a sly Gary Oldman). It's a haunting conversation between these two figures. Murphy gives us a tour-de-force performance from start to finish. The film might be 3-hours long but it moves at a breakneck pace: keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. The beginning of the movie introduces us to a young Oppenheimer during his Cambridge years. In addition to his time with the Manhattan Project, we also follow the storyline of the Oppenheimer Security Hearings in 1954. Here, AEC (United States Atomic Energy Commission) commissioner Lewis Strauss (played by a masterful Robert Downey Jr.) is trying to remove Oppenheimer's Q clearance and political influence. Nolan uses his craft to paint portions of the movie in black-and-white and in color. Nolan has stated that the black-and-white scenes were "objective," while the color scenes were meant to be "subjective." This idea and construct worked very well for the picture as the color sequences were more from Oppenheimer's perspective and reflected back on what he had unleashed in the world. While the black-and-white sequences were used objectively in the picture during the 1954 Oppenheimer Security Hearings and Strauss' devilish schemes.
"You are the man who gave them the power to destroy themselves. And the world is not prepared."
There is a scene that shows the full fledged horror of Oppenheimer's creation during his speech to the other scientists after the dropping of the atomic bombs. Hell is unleashed in this scene, while composer Ludwig Göransson's (Creed, Black Panther, and Tenet) electrifying score will send chills down your spine. Göransson's score is one of the very best from this year and deserves to win an Oscar. Yes, it's that good. Göransson used the violin as the central theme of Oppenheimer's score — gifting the audience with a beautiful and anxiety-driven composition. The Trinity bomb testing sequence is also an adrenaline rush due Göransson's tension fueled score and it's one of my favorite scenes of the year. On top of Nolan's meticulously crafted direction and writing, is also the film's powerful performances by his band of actors. It's a sprawling list that includes actors Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Benny Safdie, Dane DeHaan, Jason Clarke, David Krumholtz, Tom Conti, Alden Ehrenreich, Jack Quaid, Josh Peck, David Dastmalchian, Gary Oldman and James Remar.
Even if some of these actors only have a handful of lines, all of them bring their A-game. Murphy and Downey Jr. both deserve Oscar noms for their impeccable on-screen incarnations. Lastly, Hoyte van Hoytema's (Interstellar, Dunkirk, Ad Astra, and Nope) cinematography is gobsmacking to watch on the big screen. Beautiful and terrifying, I was in awe of van Hoytema's perfectly constructed shots. Van Hoytema has only been nominated once for an Oscar (Dunkirk), which is a shame because he has given us some of the most beautifully shot films in the last 20 years. I hope he is recognized next year by the Academy. In the end, Oppenheimer is a harrowing picture that grapples with the consequences of one's decisions. As Oppenheimer contemplates what he has unleashed in the world, the ripple effects begin to spiral out of control. Our government has abused its power, and empathy in this new world is even harder to find. Oppenheimer is Nolan's magnum opus. His latest feature is a cinematic achievement, a visual grandeur, emotionally resonant, and terrifyingly brilliant. A world on fire and forever altered.
Here's my ranking of Christopher Nolan's entire filmography via Letterboxd. Click Here.
Oppenheimer's opening weekend grabbed a stellar $82.5 million domestically and it has already passed $400 million worldwide during its second box office weekend. Simply incredible.
Oppenheimer is rated R (Restricted) For Nudity | Language | Some Sexuality.
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Starring Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Benny Safdie, Dane DeHaan, Jason Clarke, David Krumholtz, Tom Conti, Alden Ehrenreich, Jack Quaid, Josh Peck, David Dastmalchian, Gary Oldman and James Remar.
These Barbies are ready to take on the patriarchy. Greta Gerwig’s (Lady Bird and 2019's Little Women) Barbie is a bubblegum swirl of camp, charm, and subversive storytelling. Her picture dazzles and wows throughout. Actors Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling are perfect as Barbie and Ken. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You will be moved. From the moment Gerwig's Barbie opened to a parody of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, I knew this film was going to be special. Based on Mattel's fashion doll, Barbie was created by American businesswoman Ruth Handler and launched in 1959. Gerwig's movie is everything I could have hoped for and more. From the extravagant production designs to the colorful costumes to the hilarious campy tone, Barbie offers a cinematic treat for audiences of all ages. Plus, there is a killer soundtrack throughout. Gerwig and her partner Noah Baumbach's (Frances Ha and Marriage Story) electric script is also incredibly moving and even poignant at times. Gerwig's picture is a journey to self-discovery, maturity, and finding one's purpose in this messy world.
“My job… is just beach.” — Ken
Our story leads us to Barbieland, a matriarchal society where all of the Barbies are successful and self-sufficient. The Barbies in this world hold all of the positions: politician, doctor, lawyer, and even a Nobel Peace Prize winner. While their Ken counterparts enjoy their days engaged in mindless activities on the beach. Margot Robbie's Barbie is known as "Stereotypical" Barbie and Ryan Gosling's Ken is known as "Beach" Ken. Gosling's Ken is wanting to have a deeper relationship with Barbie (Robbie), but she only sees him as a friend and enjoys her independence. That is until she begins to have thoughts about death. “Do you guys ever think about dying?” Suddenly, this Barbie is having a full-on existential crisis. This crisis leads Barbie to travel to the real world, and Ken decides to tag along as her No. 2. I don't want to go much further into the plot — otherwise — I could accidentally spoil the rest of the movie. Barbie is a funny, empowering, and even moving summer blockbuster. Gerwig gives us another hit, and it's one of the best films of the year. An exquisite picture about growing up that is both raw and imaginative. Barbie is heavily stylized, taking a well-known IP and molding it in just the right way for the big screen. Even the brand extension in this movie is done with taste and pizzazz.
Gerwig even focuses on the Kens, not just the Barbies. We see them also grow and find their own identities outside the shadows of their Barbie. Yes, you are "Kenough." Through all that glam and glitter is a beating heart waiting to discover the world. One might even shed a tear by the end of this picture, something that I would not have expected in a Barbie movie. Yet, I was deeply moved. The supporting cast (America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa, Ariana Greenblatt, Will Ferrell, and Helen Mirren) all excel in the film. Actress America Ferrera quite possibly gives us the best monologue of the year and Michael Cera, you will always be THE Allan. While Gosling is absolutely hilarious as Ken, and I cannot get his catchy song "I'm Just Ken" out of my head. The "I'm Just Ken" dance sequence is my favorite scene of the year, thus far. Gosling was born to play this role. Give this man his Oscar already. In addition, Robbie gives us another Oscar-worthy performance in a role she was also born to play. Barbie is a weird, glamorous, and zany-filled cinematic treat waiting to be watched on the big screen. You won't be disappointed unless you have a heart made of stone. So, "come on, Barbie, let's go party."
"Humans have only one ending. Ideas live for ever."
Want to know my thoughts on the Barbie soundtrack? I wrote an album review for Sound Words Central. Click Here.
Barbie smashed so many records on its opening weekend and brought in an eye-popping $162 million domestically. Barbie has already crossed $700 million worldwide in its second box office weekend. It's only a matter of time before Barbie becomes a "Barbillionaire."
Barbie is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) For Suggestive References | Brief Language.
Directed by Greta Gerwig
Starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman, Emma Mackey, Hari Nef, Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Ncuti Gatwa, Ariana Greenblatt, Will Ferrell, and Helen Mirren.
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a great send-off to our aging and beloved archaeologist. Though Dial of Destiny has some minor flaws, the film is too much fun to dismiss.
"There was room for one more story and that story was the one that dealt with age, time, and relationships in his family."
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