Monday, March 28, 2022

And Now, As If Anyone Cares, Here’s My 2022 Oscars Score

As I and everyone else predicted, Troy Kutsur wins the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for CODA

When I posted my predictions for the 94th Academy Awards over the weekend, I speculated that I might get more wrong than I ever have before. Actually, I had a pretty good, but typical score: 19 out of 23.

For most of the last decade, there have been 24 categories, and my scores were twice 16/24, and 19/24 twice, with my lowest score being 13/24 in 2019 (the year of GREEN BOOK), and my highest score being 21/24 in 2014 (the year of BIRDMAN, though I had predicted BOYHOOD).

In 2021, they combined Sound Design and Sound Editing into just plain Sound, so of this year’s 23 categories here are the four ones I got wrong:

BEST PICTURE: My prediction: THE POWER OF THE DOG/What won: CODA.

I had told people before the show that I wouldn’t be surprised if Sian Heder’s CODA won as it was the feel-good family overcoming obstacles drama that regularly received Oscar love, but I was still going with Jane Campion’s western. Maybe because Netflix sent me this swag:


CODA sent me nothing! Nah, that really didnt sway me. I really preferred TPOTD, and really thought it had a great chance of winning. Over the last ten years, I have only gotten four of my Best Picture predictions right, so the category is apparently not my strongest.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: My prediction: Ari Wegner for TPOTD/What won: Grieg Fraser for DUNE. I went with TPOTD because of its excellent old school imagery, but should’ve guessed that DUNE would add it to its six Oscar tech sweep.

BEST ANIMATED & BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORTS: My predictions: Dan Ojari and Mikey Please’s ROBIN ROBIN, and Matthew Ogens AUDIBLE/What won: Alberto Mielgo and Leo Sánchezdouble-dagger's THE WINDSHIELD WIPER, and Ben Proudfoot’s THE QUEEN OF BASKETBALL. These picks were of the eeny meeny miny mo variety so I have no argument here.

So there’s my score. Now we can go back to talking about the Chris Rock/Will Smith altercation, which I do in this post.

More later...

Oscars 2022 Recap With The Most WTF Oscar Moment Ever

Last night, Rian Heder’s CODA won the Best Picture Oscar beating out THE POWER OF THE DOG, which I had predicted would win. But that wasn’t a surprise as CODA was exactly the kind of feel-good drama that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has rewarded many times over edgier, artsier fare. None of the other wins were surprises either as everyone, myself included, forsaw that Will Smith (KING RICHARD), Jessica Chastain (THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE), Troy Kutsur (CODA), and Ariana DeBose (WEST SIDE STORY) would take home the gold; and that DUNE would have a tech Oscar sweep.

But what was a surprise, maybe even a shock, is the moment that everyone is talking about now, and has already entered into the realm of legend. You know what I’m talking about – Will Smith slapping Chris Rock because of a joke made at the expense of Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Pinkett Smith was sporting a shaved head due to her struggle with alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that leads to hair loss, and Rock, appearing as a presenter for the Best Documentary feature attempted to make light of this by quipping, “Jada, I love ya. GI Jane 2, can’t wait to see it!”

When Rock cracked this joke, the camera cut to this shot of Smith Laughing.


Then the camera cut back to Rock, who was trying to move on in his intro, but had to react (“Uh oh!”) to something we, the home viewers, couldn’t see yet. 



That would be Smith walking onstage towards Rock. It appeared that between the above shot of Smith’s initial laughter, and the long shot of his approaching the presenter, he had seen his wife’s disapproving face, and felt he had to handle the situation.

 

This is where the sound went off on the ABC broadcast, and I watched in WTF silence as Smith slapped Rock then walked back to his seat. In an exchange that I, and many viewers, didn’t hear until later, Rock, litterally trying to keep a good face, said, “Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me,” to which Smith yelled from his chair, “Keep my wife's name out of your f***ing mouth!”

 

Rock, keeping composure, said, “Wow, dude, it was a G.I. Jane joke.” Smith again raised his mouth and with more emphasis repeated, “Keep my wife's name out of your f***ing mouth.” This completely quieted the entire Dolby Theater. It was the moment that we all realized that this wasn’t a bit. Smith was completely serious. “I’m going to,” Rock replied, also as serious as a heart attack. The stunned silence remained until Rock did what he could to reclaim the stage, and the night, with a joke that acknowledged that this was sure to be a much remembered event: “That was, uh, greatest night in the history of television.”


A shaken Rock went forward with his presenting duties, and the show went on. Smith, when accepting the Best Actor award, also was a bit off, leaving one to wonder which parts of what he was saying were prepared or improvised. His apology to the Academy, and his fellow nominees appeared to be referring to the instance with Rock, as did his summation through tears: “love will make you do crazy things.”


One could argue that Rock’s joke on Jada wasn’t really that offensive, especially in the context of the celebrity roast element of the proceedings. I mean, G.I. Jane is a strong female character, and there are tons of other bald targets that would’ve been more insulting, but in the big public arena that is the Oscars, it was calling attention to the actresses’ appearance in a cheap way, and the audience’s reaction was that it was a cruel jab at Jada.

"There’s like, a different vibe in here...," co-host Amy Schumer remarked later in the evening. This line was funnier than most of the material during the broadcast as so many scripted lines fell flat, and prepared bits such as co-hosts Wanda Sykes, Regina Hall, and Schumer dressing up as coach Richard Williams, televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker, and Spider-Man were just the epitome of lame award show fodder.

One of the only clever moments for me was the PULP FICTION reveal of the Best Actor envelope.


But despite a few funny lines (I loved Schumer’s DON’T LOOK UP diss: “I guess the Academy members don’t look up … reviews!”), some genuinely touching acceptance speeches (Troy Kutsur, and Questlove’s particularly), and the cool James Bond 60th retrospective video set to “Live and Let Die,” this was one of the lamest Oscars ever.

For example, the In Memorium was mishandled with a choir (singing such appropriate numbers as “Spirit in the Sky”), and dancers drawing attention away from the faces and names of those in the industry who have passed in the last year. There was the nice touch of having tributes presented by Bill Murray for director Ivan Reitman, and Jamie Lee Curtis for Betty White, but there was an awkward air surrounding the segment that felt creepy to watch. And, of course, there were ommisions (Bob Saget, Norm Macdonald, Ed Asner, Robert Downey Sr. to name several).


Honestly, creepy would be a good word to describe the whole event. The Oscars have often been a cringe-fest, but this time the dials were going crazy into the red warning danger-danger zone over and over. 

The Rock/Smith altercation did bring attention to the event - something the Academy (and ABC) was desperate for after years of bad ratings, and audience indifference - but I doubt it will translate into future relevance.

The 94th Academy Awards ceremony will go down in history for Smith’s shocking, awful reaction to Rock’s hosting duty diss. It sure livened up the show, but in such an unnecessary, and unfortunate way. Like everyone I see on social media who is debating about the moment right, I’m still processing what went down. Even after writing this, all I can think of is what Rock said right after the smackdown landed: “Oh, wow…WOW!”

So it was the most WTF moments in Oscar history on one of the lamest, most cringe-festiest Oscars ceremony ever. Yeah, years and years from now, we’ll all still look back at this one and wince.

More later...

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Hey Kids! Fun Time 2022 Oscar® Predictions!

Emilia Jones in CODA, a front runner for the 2022 Best Picture Oscar

Y
es, it’s that time again - the 94th Academy Awards® Ceremony is tonight, and I’ve got my predictions ready. After last year’s weird ceremony with no official host at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, the show is back at the Dolby Theatre at the Hollywood & Highland Center, and this time, there are three hosts - Amy Schumer, Wanda Sykes and Regina Hall - who I’m sure will bring the funny.

This Oscars further displays how much the streaming services are gaining ground in these races. Netflix got 27 nominations for 10 titles, while Apple got six, Amazon got four, and Hulu got one. The two front runners (CODA, and THE POWER OF THE DOG) in the Best Picture showdown is basically Apple vs. Netflix. But let’s get right to it my complete, final predictions of what’s gonna go down tonight:

1. BEST PICTURE:  
Jane Champion’s THE POWER OF THE DOG


Sien Heder’s CODA has picked up a lot of Oscar buzz late in the game, and many critics from such outlets including the New York Times, Variety, IndieWire, and Vulture are predicting that it’ll win the big one, but I have a feeling that Jane Campion’s THE POWER OF THE DOG, an early major contender will still out. It would be fun to have an upset in this category, like if BELFAST or LICORICE PIZZA somehow got more votes. I won’t be surprised if CODA wins, as it’s so much more of a crowd pleaser than POWER OF THE DOG, but I’m gonna still go with the Campion crowd.

2. BEST DIRECTOR: Jane Champion (THE POWER OF THE DOG) Same deal here.

3. BEST ACTOR: Will Smith (KING RICHARD) 


I’m not the biggest Will Smith fan, but I think he’s excellent in this film as the stubborn tennis coach father bully, Richard Williams, and deserves to take home the gold. Several weeks ago, I would’ve said Benedict Cumberbatch was a lock for TPOTD, but Smith has the edge now, and I bet his acceptance speech will be epic.

4. BEST ACTRESS: Jessica Chastain (THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE)


This may be the toughest category in a program full of tough category as there doesn’t appear to be an actress that doesn’t have a big chance. Nate Jones of Vulture wrote, “Many categories, including Best Picture, seem like genuine fifty-fifty calls. (Best Actress might be 20-20-20-20-20.)” I’m going with Chastain, whose performance as the scandal queen televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker was stunning, despite the actual film being way less so. Like Smith, it’s her third Oscar nomination, so I’m counting on it being the charm.

5. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Troy Kotsur (CODA)


Now, I’ll be very surprised if this guy doesn’t win this. He’s the best thing in CODA, and he’s already won a British Academy Film Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a Critics' Choice Award, and stole the show at each ceremony. If he wins, he’ll be the first deaf actor to score the statue (his CODA co-star, Marlee Matlin, was the first deaf actress to win an Oscar for CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD in 1987), so that’ll be a cool thing.

6. BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Ariana Debose (WEST SIDE STORY)


I don’t have a strong feeling on this one, I’m just seeing that just about everyone is saying this is a lock, and I’m going with the flow.

Now here’s the rest of the categories, the ones that are getting the shaft this year by their exclusion from the live broadcast.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

At Long Last, Film Babble Blog’s 2021 In Review


So I’m finally getting around to appraise the films of 2021 – just under the wire, in fact, as the 95th Academy Awards ceremony is this coming Sunday (March 27).

It’s nothing new for it to take a few months into the new year to do this as many movies aren’t accessible until well into the awards season, and there’s a lot of films to catch up with. However, there are a lot fewer than in years past for obvious pandemic reasons. In the Before Times of 2019, there were 792 films released in the U.S. and Canada; in 2021, there were 403. I haven’t crunched the numbers to calculate how many movies of those that I’ve seen, but I think I’ve seen enough to say that it was a good, not great, year for film.

Like last year, I’m not posting a Top 10, but if I were, I would pick Paul Thomas Anderson’s LICORICE PIZZA as my #1 movie of the year. The film resonated with me as it matched my memories of being a kid with acting aspirations in the ‘70s, and delighted me with its radiant, real-feeling turns by its leads, Cooper Hoffman (son of Phillip Seymour Hoffman), and Alana Haim. A brash Bradley Cooper steals the show as producer Jon Peters (the inspiration for SHAMPOO!), which made much more of an impression on me than his performance in NIGHTMARE ALLEY.

Speaking of Guillermo del Toro’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY, that was one of a number of movies from the last year that I admired more than I enjoyed. Likewise, I found Jane Champion’s THE POWER OF THE DOG, a front-runner for the Best Picture Oscar, to be a fascinatingly weird western with a masterful performance by Benedict Cumberbatch, but I didn’t connect with it in any great, emotional way.


Same goes with DUNE. Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the first half of Frank Herbert’s iconic sci-fi bestseller is amazing looking, and powerful in its presentation, but I felt a bit distant to it when I wanted to be more inside the action.


That’s not to say that it isn’t a worthy epic as it boasts a strong ensemble headed by “it boy” Timothée Chalamet, eye-popping visuals, a primo Hans Zimmer score, and a solidly intriguing storyline, yet I was still left somewhat cold by it. DUNE received ten Academy Award nominations for good reason, but I’m just hoping that PART TWO, due for 2023, will resonate more greatly with me.


2021 films that did speak me include Joel Coen’s spare black and white Shakespeare adaptation, THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH, which earned Denzel Washington a Best Actor nomination (he deserves it for his intense handling of the “Is this a dagger which I see before me” soliloquy alone); Joachim Trier’s THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD, which should’ve gotten Renate Reinsve a nom; Kenneth Branagh’s BELFAST (read my review here); and Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s elegantly poignant DRIVE MY CAR, which I bet will win the Best International Feature Oscar on Sunday night.

James Bond movies usually don’t make my year-end best lists, but Cary Joji Fukunaga’s magnificent NO TIME TO DIE certainly deserves such accolades. Daniel Craig’s swan song as 007 is one of the series’ best, and you can read my reasons why in my review from when the film hit theaters. 


One category that flourished in 2021 is the musical documentary genre. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s SUMMER OF SOUL leads the pack of pop infotainment with its colossal concert footage from the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. How an event that featured such iconic performers as Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Sly and the Family Stone (among other luminaries) could linger in obscurity for so long is baffling, but thanks to Questlove, we’ve got an essential, and joyous addition to the roster of classic concert festival docs that includes WOODSTOCK, MONTEREY POP, and SOUL POWER. 


Second to that in the rock doc division is Edgar Wright’s THE SPARKS BROTHERS with its loving breakdown of the eccentric career of Ron and Russell Mael’s Los Angeles-based band, Sparks. It’s one of the most entertaining, and funny rockumentaries I’ve ever seen, and since I’m a big fan of the genre, I’ve seen a lot of them. Wright’s film really should’ve been nominated for Best Documentary - I’d say instead of Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s FLEE. Not that FLEE is undeserving, it’s just that it’s also nominated for Best Animated and Best International Feature too, so it’s pretty well covered.

Also worth seeing is Todd Haynes’ THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (read my review), Dan Lindsay and T. J. Martin’s TINA, about legendary singer, Tina Turner; and Garret Price’s WOODSTOCK 99: PEACE, LOVE, AND RAGE, which scarily depicts what’s been considered the worst music festival ever.


Finally, the musical documentary event of 2021 was THE BEATLES: GET BACK, Peter Jackson’s eight-hour exploration of the fab four’s sessions for their next-to-last album, Let it Be. We witness John, Paul, George, and Ringo rehearsing, joking around, arguing, and working on new material, capturing the band’s creativity as never seen before. The Apple Corps rooftop concert by itself makes for one of the year’s best docs as it’s been shown at IMAX theaters as a standalone film. Read my review of GET BACK here.

So there’s my overview of cinematic highlights of 2021. Friday, I will post my Oscar predictions for this Sunday’s broadcast. Hope to see you here.

More later…

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

THE BATMAN: Another Dark Reboot Rises

Now raking in over $300 million at the multiplexes:

THE BATMAN (Dir. Matt Reeves, 2022)


B
atman begins yet again.  

The first standalone film for the DC comic book icon since Christopher Nolan’s holy DARK KNIGHT trilogy concluded a decade ago brings us a new brooding Batman in Robert Pattinson, an actor who sure has made leaps and bounds in his career since his pretty-boy TWILIGHT days.

 

Pattinson’s debut thankfully isn’t another origin story as it presents the caped crime-fighter already established as the conundrum of being a vigilante who works with the police. So while director/co-writer Matt Reeves’ take doesn’t go as far back to where we’ve gone so many times before - i.e. the killing of Bruce Wayne’s parents - it does get back to bat basics by exploring Batman’s early detective roots.

 

The film follows Batman’s investigation, aided by Lieutenant Jim Gordon (the reliably gruff Jeffrey Wright), into the murders of prominent Gotham City political figures by the Zodiac killer-inspired Riddler (a definitively unhinged Paul Dano). Along the way to the inevitable spectacle-filled climax In Batman brushes up against The Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), mob boss Carmine Falcone (the always welcome John Turturro), and Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz, whose crazysexycool-style really sizzles).

 

THE BATMAN contains a stellar cast, a gorgeously gothic look, a hypnotically murky tone, and an undeniable gravitas that makes it a mighty addition to Batman mythology. However, while I appreciated these elements, I had trouble fully engaging with it. It’s all too easy to complain about how many big event movies are too long these days, but at just under three hours, THE BATMAN can be justifiably slammed for its punishing length.

 

There are too many scenes that drag beyond the point that they are supposed to be making, and lost me in the foggy scenery. However, these plodding set-pieces are routinely broken up by the action showcases like the movie’s most thrilling part, the Batmobile freeway chase sequence. Such things helped me stay awake when my mind felt like it was being numbed by the Bat procedural.

 

It also didn’t help that the film felt horribly humorless throughout. Maybe that’s pure intent, as Batman has often been made to be a pretty silly commodity whether it be via Adam West or Lego®, and many fans want it to be as serious as a heart attack, but a few witty lines here, and there wouldn’t have hurt.

 

After so many incarnations, I believe I’ve come down with a major case of Batman fatigue. Pattinson’s performance as the legendary character is solid, and I bet he’ll be further up to the task in the inevitable sequels, but maybe my mind is too cluttered with every other Dark Knight actor to fully embrace him. Maybe only when memories of Ben Affleck (or Batfleck) have fully faded can that happen.


More later...

Friday, March 11, 2022

Spielberg’s Re-Mix Of WEST SIDE STORY Is Probably Worth A Few Oscars

Despite underperforming at the box office, Stephen Spielberg’s epic adaptation of the musical classic, WEST SIDE STORY garnered rave reviews (92% approval on Rotten Tomatoes), and seven Oscar noms. Now, I’m joining the droves that are catching up with it since it dropped on HBO Max last week.

After both dabbling and diving deep into nearly every cinematic genre known to mankind, Spielberg presents to us his first musical, a big bustling showcase with show-stopping production numbers, sweeping visuals, and ambitious performances. Yet for all its lofty entertainment value, Spielberg doesn’t quite make the material his own.

Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s mostly catchy compositions, popularized by the 1957 Broadway smash, and the 1961 Robert Wise-directed interpretations have been re-produced, re-staged, covered, and parodied so many times that folks who haven’t seen any version may feel like they have a working knowledge going in. That’s how I felt as it’s been decades since I’ve seen the original film, and mostly just remember some songs, and bits of the choreography.

I’m not going to get too detailed with the story, as it’s also familiar to most folks, being that it’s reheated Romeo and Juliet set in New York City’s Upper West Side in 1957. The star-crossed lovers here are Tony (Ansel Elgort), and Maria (Rachel Zegler), and Shakespeare’s rich feuding families, the Montagues and Capulets, have become the rival gangs, the scruffy white “Jets,” and the Puerto Rican “Sharks.”

Tony and Maria’s courtship is cute, but too high school play-ish for any real spark to ignite. Elgort (who I regularly mix up with Tye Sheridan) summons a bit of charm and verve for his lovestruck Tony, while Zegler seems a bit nervous about putting herself completely into Maria’s voice. It’s her film debut so she’s still wet behind the ears I guess.

I was somewhat annoyed by the nasal voice (and tough attitude as he’s pretty runty looking) of Mike Faist as Jets leader Riff, but I remember being annoyed by Russ Tamblyn in the ’61 version too. More effective are the turns in the supporting ensemble by Arian DeBose, David Alverez, and Rita Moreno, who, of course, was in the original film, and gets to sing a song (“Somewhere”) on her own.

Longtime Spielberg cinematographer Janusz Kamiński’s camera glides through the streets, and lots of Harlem, Washington Heights, Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx pleasingly, but, apart from the rumble scene inside a salt warehouse, and the big “I Feel Pretty” Gimbel’s set-piece dance number, the interior shots aren’t as visually interesting.

Spielberg has said that this isn’t a remake, but I’m considering it a remix with a new screenplay by Tony Kushner (another Spielberg veteran), and a mild re-imagining of all the melodic elements. There may be some modern touches here and there, but the ultra-popular filmmaker doesn’t fuss with the formula, or mess with the ingredients; he just attempts to apply his tried and true brand of movie magic on the project. The resulting effect is pure superficial showbiz.

It’s been noted that WEST SIDE STORY ’21 was a casualty of the pandemic in that, with its Spielberg pedigree, and its beloved background, it may have been a big hit during a different time. But I’m not so sure that it would have broken the box office even without omicron in the air. I doubt it’s going to come anywhere near replacing the original in the classic canon either.

WEST SIDE STORY is up for seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Actress for DeBose, Best Production Design, Best Sound, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography, and Best Director. I bet it’ll win maybe two or three of these Awards, but won’t say which ones until I make my full predictions a few days before the Oscars ceremony on March 27.


More later...

Deaf Culture Gets A Gooey Coming Of Age Drama in CODA

When the nominations for the 94th Academy Awards® were announced last month, the only one that I wasn’t familiar with in the Best Picture category was Sian Heder’s CODA. It probably went under my radar because of its limited distribution, and/or lack of buzz in my media feeds as I was unaware that it’s been available for streaming on Apple TV+ since last August.

Like 
Darius Marder’s SOUND OF METAL, which was a nominee for Best Picture last year, CODA (standing for Children of Deaf Adults) deals with deaf culture, and music. But while SOUND OF METAL is a gritty depiction of a former junkie drummer’s bout of hearing loss, CODA is a gooey family melodrama that, despite some sex jokes, is more akin to an ABC Afterschool Special (dated reference lost on younger readers?).

Emilia Jones stars as Ruby, the only hearing person in her Gloucester, Massachusetts household, which is made up of her parents Frank and Jackie, portrayed by Troy Kotsur, and Marlee Matlin (the Queen of Deaf thespians -deafspians?); and her brother Leo (Daniel Durant).

Ruby is a familiar angsty teenager, captured with the right amount of awkwardness by the 19-year old Jones, whose crush on a fellow student (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) leads her to sign up for choir at her high school. There she is inspired by another familiar archetype, the acerbic, and demanding instructor played by Eugenio Derbez to find her singing voice. Actually, Jones’ Ruby seems to have already found it as her vocal performance sounds like she’s had some previous training. Her takes on Joan Baez’s “Both Sides Now,” and Ashford and Simpson’s “You’re All I Need To Get By” are pretty damn polished.

CODA, which is a remake of Éric Lartigau’s LA FAMILLE BÉLIER (2014), comes down to Ruby deciding if she wants to leave home to follow her dreams via an audition for a scholarship at Berklee School of Music, or if she should stay home, and help her family with their fishing business. This is a scenario as old as the Hollywood hills, without a surprising story-beat to be found; but it’s an earnest, well-meaning attempt at uplift aided greatly by its likable cast.

As Ruby’s father, Kotsur scored a Best Supporting Actor nom, but as appealingly authentic as he is as the grizzled, concerned character, I wouldn’t bet on him winning. Matlin, who has some sharp moments (“If I was blind, would you want to paint?” she unfairly asks Ruby), but perhaps because she won Best Actress back in 1987 for her first film, the also deaf culture-entric CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, she wasn’t nominated here. That leaves Director Heder’s Best Screenplay nom, another doubtful candidate due to the film’s fluffiness.

So, I’ll go on the record to predict no Oscar wins for the all-too cuddly CODA.

More later...

Thursday, March 03, 2022

FREE GUY: Fun But We’ve Seen Every Bit Of It Before

Now available on streaming services including HBOmax and Disney+

FREE GUY (Dir. Shawn Levy, 2021)


W
hen movies are overly formulaic they often lead to overly formulaic reviews.

FREE GUY is one such film as it has many critics describing it as THE TRUMAN SHOW meets WRECK-IT-RALPH. Other titles that have been thrown into the premise mash-up are THE LEGO MOVIE, PLEASANTVILLE, and even THEY LIVE. 

After identifying those influences, or direct steals, reviews will move on to the all the pop culture references that are layered through this addition to the stuck-inside-a-video-game premise. The story being that Ryan Reynolds stars as a perfectly content background character (a bank teller in a heist scenario) in a popular interactive Grand Theft Auto-style video game, who becomes aware that his world is virtual. 

Reynold’s Guy (yes, his name is Guy) was clued into this revelation via his infatuation with Molotov Girl (Killing Eves Jodie Comer), a leather clad, cool-as-ice biker chick, who is a video game designer named Millie in the real world. Millie, and her programmer pal Walter (Stranger Things and Ozarks Joe Kerry) had their source code for a game called Life Itself stolen (hey, shades of TRON!)by Taika Waititi as the arrogantly goofy Antwan, an evil CEO of Soonami Studios (I like that name). So our heroes, Guy, Millie, and Walter work together to claim their destinies, and free the cogs of Free City. Or something like that.

Oh, and this is the part of the review that acknowledges the sideline characters Buddy, played by the super affable Lil Rel Howery, who makes the best of his typical black best friend part; and Mouser, Walter’s wise-cracking Soonami co-worker played by Utkarsh Ambudkar. Both guys aid Guy in the game gags department so they are worth mentioning.

But it’s the rapid outpouring of pop culture references that are the real stars here. FREE GUY out-metas Reynold’s DEADPOOL flicks with Easter Eggs involving the MarvelVerse, THE SHINING, Pac-Man, Pokémon, Doctor Who, STAR WARS, Q*Bert, THE MATRIX, Jeopardy!, Rick and Morty, GROUNDHOG DAY, Mortal Kombat, READY PLAYER ONE, and even Diff’rent Strokes, among maybe dozens and dozens of other nods.

The fabric of all of these not-so-hidden touchstones that make up FREE GUY is patched together with so many familiar elements that it’s impossible to imagine the movie holding together without them. When Guy wields a STAR WARS lightsaber in a climactic battle with the arm of The Incredible Hulk in a scene featuring the theme from The Greatest American Hero, it’s supposed to be funny due to the audience’s recognition of these things, but it’s a cheap use of expensive aesthetics that probably only gathers a quick giggle because no clever comment is being made.

I ignored this movie when it was released last summer, as I suspected it was a noisy collection of movie and gamer clichés, but moviegoers lapped it up to the tune of over $300 million. I can understand that as it’s not without its charms as a busy yet breezy action comedy directed by Shawn Levy, whose career is mostly filled with feel-good rom coms, and family-friendly fare.

FREE GUY, even as a derivative amalgam, is fun, at least superficially. It would be more fun if we hadn’t spotted all of the references before, but maybe kids who haven’t seen all the movies, TV shows, and video games that make up its DNA will dig it. Nah, I bet that they’ll even sense that it’s so not its own thing.

And that’s my formulaic review of FREE GUY.

More later...