“Avatar: The Way of Water” is directed by James Cameron (The Terminator, True Lies) and stars Sam Worthington (Sabotage, Clash of the Titans), Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Adam Project), Sigourney Weaver (Ghostbusters, Alien), Stephen Lang (Don’t Breathe, Tombstone), Kate Winslet (Titanic, Divergent), Cliff Curtis (Training Day, Three Kings), and Joel David Moore (Dodgeball, Bones). This film is the long-awaited sequel to the 2009 film “Avatar,” also directed by James Cameron. This time around, Jake and Neytiri, along with their children, move from the forest and adapt to life by the sea. Meanwhile, humanity strikes once again to kill Jake Sully.
I have not seen every film James Cameron has done. I still have not seen “Aliens.” I still have not seen “The Abyss.” That said, he can direct a movie. I loved “The Terminator.” Its follow-up, “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” belongs amongst my favorite films of all time. “Titanic” is a massive spectacle with a thrilling climax. “True Lies” is a hilarious, fun action movie. Cameron also recently produced “Alita: Battle Angel,” directed by Robert Rodriguez. It has some of my favorite visual effects and action sequences in recent cinema. The man knows how to entertain.
The first “Avatar” is not my favorite movie James Cameron made. Kind of like “Titanic,” the beauty of the film does not always lie in its screenplay, and more so its looks. However, the film made over $2 billion and is the highest-grossing movie of all time. Naturally, whether Cameron wanted to or not, a sequel definitely had to be made. “Avatar: The Way of Water” is the result of thirteen years of Cameron’s transition from one movie to the next. Even I, someone who barely cares about the original “Avatar,” was curious about this film. The trailers looked decent, and whatever visuals they revealed looked stunning. I had a couple chances to see the trailers in 3D, and I was marveled by a couple sequences in said format.
This leads me to my biggest positive with “Avatar: The Way of Water.” This film is the single-greatest use of 3D I have ever seen. For the record, I got to see the original film in 3D last September, and this film surpasses it. It surpasses some other 3D standouts for me like “Gravity,” “Oz the Great and Powerful,” and “The Hobbit” trilogy. As far as blockbuster filmmaking goes, there is no movie I can think of that has done 3D this well to the point where it felt like more than a cheap gimmick. Speaking of unusual technical specifications, “Avatar: The Way of Water” was shot in 48 frames per second. This is an aspect which “The Hobbit” trilogy also utilized both in filming and during select screenings. For the most part, it works. At times, I felt like I was watching a series of video game cutscenes, which sounds like a detractor, but I kind of intend it as a compliment.
However, the unfortunate thing is that since these are my biggest positives, I imagine there are people out there who might never get to experience said positives if they watch this movie. For one thing, 3D at home is not as big of a thing as it may have been over a decade ago. And I am not sure what Disney/James Cameron plans to do in regards to the frame rate for this film’s home release. Although one positive that can be experienced regardless of the setup is the visual effects.
If I have to be honest, if there is any other film that is going to win the Oscar for Best Visual Effects this year, I might start trying to defy gravity because nothing would make sense any more. Similar to what I said about the 3D, the visual effects were great in the original “Avatar,” but they are a step up in “The Way of Water.” The water sequences in this film are some of the best-looking of the year. For the most part, the visuals in this sequel are as perfect as can be. It really felt like everyone took their time with minute details to allow for the perfect color and polish. Some of the cinematography, done by previous Cameron collaborator Russell Carpenter, accompanies said visuals well. There is one shot of a sunset where my eyes lit up. The aesthetic of “Avatar: The Way of Water” does not disappoint.
What does disappoint instead is the story and characterization. You know, the essential things that make movies worth watching.
While I liked the trailers for “Avatar: The Way of Water,” what these trailers always lacked is depth into what the story is about. The film thankfully provides a story, but not a good one. It is less by the numbers than the first movie, but somehow it feels more boring. The visuals are pretty enough to distract me from that, but the characters are uninteresting. In one of my most recent reviews, specifically for “Strange World,” I said the movie is “like a first date with the most attractive woman alive, only to find out she has zero personality whatsoever.” “Avatar: The Way of Water” is kind of like “Strange World” in the sense that the environment feels more important than the characters, but to the point where the characters lack a certain prominence they would otherwise have in most halfway decent movies.
There have been movies where the characters do not stand out that nevertheless find a way to stick the landing. But not every movie can be “Dunkirk.”
“Avatar: The Way of Water” presents a fascinating concept. Specifically, now that Jake and Neytiri have offspring, how does this affect their behavior compared to the first film? In general, I dug the family dynamic, and there were moments in this film that felt relatable based on said dynamic. Although the characters themselves lack dimension and personality. I admire Sigourney Weaver for trying her best at playing an animated teenage girl, but I would not say it is my favorite performance of hers.
In fact, the family dynamic is not the only concept of fascination. The whole water land itself comes with some halfway decent ideas. Similar to the first movie where a particular tree plays a prominent role in societal beliefs and customs, the equivalent to that in this film is a group of whales. Although as fascinating as it is to see the bond between the bunches of blue characters with whales in this film, this leads to yet another story critique where this film feels like another version of the original, only less watchable.
This movie reintroduces familiar characters like Jake, Neytiri, and Quaritch. It also brings in new faces. Some of these include Jake and Neytiri’s kids: Kiri, Lo’ak, Neteyam, and Tuk. I bet some time after writing this review, I will not remember some of these names. At a point in the movie, the story revolves more about the children than it does their parents. I am not against this. In fact, despite my lack of interest with the story itself, some aspects of this were handled with competency. The film’s new characters have their moments. However, if I have to name a least favorite of the characters, it would be this one person named Spider.
Unlike Jake and the rest of the Sullys, who are half human, half Na’Vi, Spider, who Jake also raised, is entirely human. Although he tends to behave like one of the Na’Vi. While I am optimistic about Jack Champion’s future as an actor and wish him nothing but the best, his character was awfully written. At first sight, the character is presented with an intriguing backstory, but as the movie went on, he felt increasingly out of place, and by the end, I questioned his actions. There are few words that I could come up with to describe Spider as a character. “Conflicting” would certainly be one of them.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” takes a lot of what works in the original. Such things include the visuals, the exploration, the flying sequences. Ultimately, this sequel improves those things. At the same time, a lot of I found to be imperfect with the first film such as the story, the dialogue, and its lack of getting me to care for certain characters, make a return here as well. If you want me to be real with you, the climax of this film, at times, is more entertaining than the climax in the original “Avatar.” Should you pay to see this film in theatres, the climax alone makes the film worth the price of admission. I am clearly not a huge fan of the film, therefore I would not pay to see “Avatar: The Way of Water” a second time. That said, I imagine plenty of people will. I think if there is a reason to see this film, the climax would make for a compelling argument.
The theater experience for “Avatar: The Way of Water” rivals “Top Gun: Maverick” in terms of immersion, but if I had to choose a film between the two to watch again, I think “Maverick” is the superior option because despite the film occasionally coming off as another version of the original “Star Wars,” the characters are likable and serve the story. Do the characters serve the story in “Avatar: The Way of Water?” Sure. But I would say they do so with less charisma and personality than those in “Top Gun: Maverick.”
I have not ridden the “Avatar” theme park ride at Disney World. Maybe if I take a trip there in the future I would give it a whirl, but I just never had the opportunity to ride it. Although I must say that “Avatar: The Way of Water,” much like a ride at Disney World, is wildly immersive, but almost to the point of being a pretty gimmick. The 3D definitely stands out, and while I said earlier the 3D does not feel like a gimmick, it belongs in a film that nearly comes off as a gimmick itself. When I left the film, I thought more about how it took me into Pandora, which may sound like a compliment, until I thought about how little it took me into the lives of its characters. While last year’s big movie event, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” had some imperfections, I would rather watch that again to see the characters go through their individual journeys. Although one imperfection “No Way Home” has, like “The Way of Water,” was that I found the ending to be somewhat poor. Although the journey to get to the ending for “No Way Home” invested me emotionally while getting me to care for the core characters. I will give credit to “Avatar: The Way of Water” for having a more appealing visual aesthetic to it, but as the old saying goes, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is yet another example of style over substance.
I would even say that “Avatar: The Way of Water” has narration that at times that is either as tacked on or as bad as the original “Blade Runner.” When I say the original “Blade Runner,” I am talking the original. As in, the one where Harrison Ford sounds like he is half asleep when voicing what he learned about Roy. The one that I imagine a lot of young people experiencing the film for the first time will not even get to hear. I am sorry, but for a movie that carries itself so much on visuals, I am somewhat surprised in regard to how much narration this film has.
Through the ages, there have been several movies that have been able to tell a great story while also delivering eye candy. “Star Wars” took me to another galaxy while also presenting the relatable Luke Skywalker. “The Matrix” presents a fun tale of good vs. evil while also showcasing a one of a kind digital landscape. The Academy Award Best Picture winner, “The Shape of Water,” is a beautiful-looking film with an unusual, but still captivating romance. “Avatar: The Way of Water,” finds itself choosing to focus a lot on the film’s background and surroundings to the point where I do not care one bit about the characters in the foreground. Yeah, I know what happens in the movie. But I would flock to a multitude of other movies before this one again because they presented their stories more admirably. I would imagine there are people who are going to leave this movie, much like the original, who would claim they want to live in Pandora. I on the other hand, would not. I would rather live in Middle Earth, where the visuals are just as stunning, but the stories are ten times as interesting.
In the end, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is possibly the biggest disappointment of 2022. Not only because it is James Cameron, not only because the film looks amazing, but because this is a film that was thirteen years in the making. I cannot believe I am living in a year where I have gone back to the cinema to watch “Top Gun: Maverick,” which is a sequel I frankly think was not all that necessary until seeing footage. Meanwhile, I do not think I want to go back to watch “Avatar: The Way of Water” a second time. This is crazy because I have thought about seeing an “Avatar” sequel maybe since I was ten years old. I thought the potential was there. Sadly, the execution was lackluster. But who cares? Sequels are already scheduled, and there is a solid chance that this is going to make a billion, possibly a couple billion bucks at the box office. While the original “Avatar” is similar to titles like “Pocahontas” and “FernGully,” when it came out, it felt like a distinctive title. “Avatar: The Way of Water” not only feels like a slight retread of the original, but somehow comes off as more boring. Does it look pretty? Yes, but so did “Elvis.” If you read my review for that movie, you would know that movies should sometimes do more than just look shiny. That said, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is undoubtedly a technical beast. I applaud Cameron and crew for delivering a solid-looking film. I just wish I could say the same for the story. I am going to give “Avatar: The Way of Water” a 5/10.
“Avatar: The Way of Water” is now playing in theatres everywhere, including formats such as Real-D 3D and IMAX 3D. Tickets are available now.
Thanks for reading this review! Next week I will be sharing my thoughts on the brand new DreamWorks Animation “Puss in Boots: The Last Wish.” I am attending a press screening of the film this Monday, so I will share my thoughts on the film as soon as possible. Hopefully it has more substance than “Avatar: The Way of Water.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Avatar: The Way of Water?” What did you think about it? Or, which film do you think is better? “Avatar” or “Avatar: The Way of Water?” Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!
Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Welcome to the final installment of Steven Spielberg Month! You know what that means? It is time for shameless self-promotion! If you are interested in checking out more of my Steven Spielberg-related reviews for the month, this is your opportunity to read up on my thoughts regarding “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” and “The Post.” With that out of the way, it is time to introduce the last review of the themed event. It is one of Spielberg’s most recent outings, “West Side Story.” I would have reviewed this film last year if I had the time to. Unfortunately, I could not make it happen. Although I am glad to finally be able to give myself an opportunity to release my thoughts on it, and for you to finally find them out. Ladies and gentlemen, here is my review of “West Side Story.”
“West Side Story” is directed by Steven Spielberg (Lincoln, Ready Player One) and is based on a 1957 play by Jerome Robbins. The film stars Ansel Elgort, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Rita Moreno, and Rachel Zegler as Maria, a young Puerto Rican girl who falls in love with New York native Tony (Elgort). These two are caught in the middle of rivaling gangs, conflicting sides, and altering identities. While these two may be star-crossed, the turmoil beyond their relationship heats up.
I saw this movie on December 6th, 2021 during a free IMAX fan event screening in Boston. The screening took place days before the film’s wide release. This was my first time seeing anything related to “West Side Story.” Prior to rewatching this film for review purposes, not to mention after, I still have not watched the 1961 “West Side Story” adaptation, despite its acclaim. The film won ten Oscars, including Best Picture. In recent months, Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” sort of followed in its footsteps. The 2021 remake won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in addition to earning other categorical nominations. One such nomination was Best Picture, which the film lost to “CODA,” which I have no problem with as that film was brilliant.
Having rewatched “West Side Story,” it honestly was more fun than it was the first time around. And that says something because that first viewing was a great time. Did I mention that my most recent watch of the film is not my second, but my third time? I went to go see the film in theaters twice, and both times it knocked my socks off. Therefore, it should be no surprise that I am handing the film this much praise.
I am so glad to finally get to talk about “West Side Story” after being busy during the tail end of 2021, partially because it is my favorite musical movie of that year. I had fun with “In the Heights” and I admired “Tick, Tick… BOOM!”, but “West Side Story” takes the cake as the most serotonin-emitting of these films. When I first heard about a remake for “West Side Story,” I had mixed thoughts, and slight indifference as I had not seen the original film. When you announce that you are about to remake something iconic or highly acclaimed as this, it begs the question as to how you can make something that is on par with what the prior material provided. Again, I did not see the 1961 movie, so I cannot compare and contrast these two films together. Although as a standalone movie, “West Side Story” 2021 is one of the most finely crafted creations of the decade thus far. The decade has only started, but if things continue to go in a certain direction, “West Side Story” could end up in my top 50, maybe even top 25 films of the 2020s by the time the ten year span ends.
The cast of “West Side Story” could not be better. Every actor is perfectly placed in their role, they feel at home, and they play their part to the best of their ability. Rachel Zegler is a goldmine of adorableness as Maria. Not only is Zegler a ridiculously talented singer, which is an ability that is somewhat expected in a film like this, but she is also unspeakably beautiful. Every time I glance at Zegler in this movie, I can sense that not only is Zegler happy to be in the movie, I can sense her character is always in the moment. Even during an occasional sense of hardship, every time I look at Rachel, I am, assumingly, as happy as her. She is always either upbeat or expressive, which for a musical, is an appropriate set of emotions. Part of the recently mentioned adorableness not only has to do with Rachel Zegler herself, her character, or her acting ability, but also the costume design.
The costumes in this film are designed by Paul Tazewell, who also designed costumes for the musical “Hamilton.” Tazewell’s designs feel straight out of the 1950s. To go along with the extravagant, larger than life feel of a story like this, some of the costumes feel attractively glitzy. Again, Zegler’s costumes, such as her white dress from the first act, are standouts. All the costumes from the dance in the gym are easy on the eyes. Another one of my favorites is Anita’s yellow outfit that she wears during the “America” scene. It goes well with the atmosphere and the time of day. Everything feels intricately planned.
Speaking of Ariana DeBose, she and Zegler pretty much tie for the greatest performance in the film. DeBose won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance as Anita, which is undoubtedly deserved. Everything from her physicality to her line delivery to her overall charisma makes for one of the best performances I have ever seen in musical film. The past couple times I watched “West Side Story,” every line out of DeBose’s mouth, even minor ones, made me smile. There is a saying about movies providing escapes for audiences. Anita in “West Side Story” is synonymous with such a philosophy. Every time she spoke, I instantly transported to another world. I am going to continuously debate as to whether Zegler or DeBose gave my favorite performance in the film, but as far as non-lead roles go, DeBose may have given the greatest of them all in 2021.
Despite having story in its name, the story of “West Side Story” is not the most original when you break it down. Not just because it is remaking a 1961 movie based on a 1957 play. If anything it is a spin on the “Romeo and Juliet” formula with different characters and dance fighting. If anything, this latest iteration of the musical is a fantastic spin, and even saying that is arguably an understatement. As I have said before, you can always supply a cliché story, or a story that has been done in the past. What matters is the execution. If you deliver something great with familiar elements, then job well done. This is exactly what Steven Spielberg did, I was on the edge of my seat during scenes that could have potentially come off as goofy. Dance fighting is a concept that to my surprise, successfully highlighted much of the tension between characters. Not only that, but the music used as a backdrop sounded great. It kept my attention.
This movie is shot by Janusz Kaminski, a brilliant cinematographer who has worked with Spielberg for years. The wides in this film are beautiful. The opening sequence is one of the most intriguing of the year based on the camera movements alone. The scope of the film would not be as massive if it were not for some of Kaminski’s long takes. One of my favorite shots of the film is when we get into the gymnasium and see everyone dancing. The camera swoops around the entire place non-stop until we arrive on our core characters like Anita, Bernardo, and Rachel. Looking back on it and what that one moment was able to capture, is jaw-dropping to say the least. Also, if you ever watch the scene, note the use of color. There is a sense of consistency between the colors of various outfits throughout the shot. It almost comes off like a painting. Again, credit goes to Paul Tazewell for how well he handled the film’s costume design.
Musicals, including this one, often thrive based on the spectacle. “West Side Story” has a ton of poppy moments where the cinematography and musical numbers keep my eyes on the screen. That is despite there being a sense of danger throughout the movie. “West Side Story,” at its core, centers around two star-crossed lovers. Although this film effectively encapsulates how their connection affects the people around them. The rivalry between the Jets and Sharks was already heading for trouble, but as soon as we see Rachel and Tony together for the first time, we also begin to see how various supporting characters handle this matter. Even though it should barely affect them on paper, it ends up resulting in increased calamity. As for said calamity, it made for a great movie.
If you ask me, based on everything I presented so far from the costumes to the shot selection to the editing to the acting, this is a sign that Steven Spielberg has brought together one of the greatest directorial efforts of his career. Or, as some might call it, just another Tuesday. “West Side Story” is apparently a part of Spielberg’s childhood, and it shows. The numbers are handled with grace, the characters are well realized, and the aesthetic of the film has a perfect blend between lighter and darker moments in addition to tones. There is no surprise that a sense of passion was present in every scene.
Aside from the cliché elements and familiar story treads, there are not many noticeable flaws with “West Side Story.” This might not be my favorite Steven Spielberg movie, but I cannot help but recognize how massively bonkers and fun this movie is. At the same time, it also successfully hits emotional beats. Performances from Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose highlight this. One of my favorite elements of the film, as someone who watched it perhaps the way Spielberg intended, is that when the characters speak in Spanish, they do not provide subtitles to aid in regard to what they are saying. I have taken a screenwriting class in college, and one thing my professor noted is that dialogue does not always matter. Sure, movies can have great lines that enhance the experience. Whether they are funny, dramatic, or emotionally charging. Although what makes “West Side Story” great is its tendency to use Spanish, a language which I do not understand, without subtitles, and nevertheless compel me into the scenes in which such a language is spoken. Given select moments and the supposed attitudes of various audiences, this sounds like a big risk. As someone who dropped out of Spanish class in high school for Sociology, I have been moved by this choice and its execution.
Big risk, big reward.
One might as well make the conclusion that this is what the whole movie sounded like from the beginning. A big risk. Sure, when you have Steven Spielberg in the chair, he makes everything look easy. Sure, name recognition is definitely a selling point in modern media. The film did not do well at the box office for various reasons. COVID-19, competition with other movies, and controversy with Ansel Elgort are contributing factors. However, this film is now available to watch at home and if you ask me what movie in the musical genre you should watch nowadays, this is one of the first I can think at the top of my head. It is that good. I do not know if Spielberg will make another musical, but if he does, I wonder how the heck he could top this one.
In the end, “West Side Story” is one of the best musical films of this century. Why should I be surprised that this movie is as solid as it is? Steven Spielberg is at the helm. Then again, maybe I should be surprised. After his many previous monumental successes, Spielberg has yet to create a film in the musical genre. He has done a variety of genres prior to “West Side Story” like science fiction (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), period pieces (Lincoln), adventure (Raiders of the Lost Ark), war (Saving Private Ryan), drama (The Post), and you could even argue that “Jaws” would be considered a horror film. By today’s standards, it is not the most terrifying option on the table, but it has its eerie moments. The man has done everything, and yet he continues to pump out gold. For some filmmakers, this would be an achievement. But I cannot call it that for Spielberg after watching “West Side Story.” As far as Spielberg is concerned, his efforts have amounted to another day at the office. That is how effective of a filmmaker he continues to be. Spielberg could have ended his career at say “Jurassic Park” and have an endlessly celebrated library of films. But that is not the case. His adaptations of songs like “Somewhere,” “Cool,” and “America” have stayed in my memory for a long time, and will likely continue to do so. The look of the film is stunning, the shots are beautiful, and the cast is incredible. Again, I have yet to see the 1961 film, so I cannot confirm if this is better or worse, but I can hardly think of a single problem I have with Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” So much so, that the film is worthy of a 10/10.
Musicals are not my genre, but this is a film that I liked the first time, adored the second time, and found myself eating up by the third time. I am floored by this film’s craft and how extravagantly immersive it is, even when watching it at home. I feel bad for skipping this review last year, but I am more than happy to have gotten my thoughts out by now. Although some of you reading this might not be that surprised that I liked the movie so much, because I ended up nominating it in a few categories during the 4th Annual Jackoff Awards. If you want to see what the film did or did not win, check out the post!
“West Side Story” is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray. The film is also available to rent or buy on VOD. For those who have the services, it is also available to watch on Disney+ and HBO Max.
Thanks for reading this review! This is officially the end of Steven Spielberg Month! But this November, we will be seeing the latest addition to Spielberg’s neverending library. That my friends, is “The Fabelmans.” The film is loosely based on Spielberg’s childhood, and the trailer looks phenomenal. Between this and Damien Chazelle’s “Babylon,” this awards season is likely going to have lots of talk about Hollywood’s self-indulgence. Whether such self-indulgence will be successfully utilized, is a question waiting to be answered.
Also, my next review is going to be for the all DC film “Black Adam.” Be sure to stay tuned for the nine-millionth superhero movie I will be reviewing in my blogging journey. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “West Side Story?” What did you think about it? Or, did you see the 1961 “West Side Story?” What did you think of that? How would you compare the two movies? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!
“Barbarian” is directed by Zach Cregger, who you may know from playing Owen on the TBS comedy series “Wrecked.” This film stars Georgina Campbell (Murdered by My Boyfriend, Krypton), Bill Skarsgård (It, Deadpool 2), and Justin Long (Alvin and the Chipmunks, Live Free or Die Hard). This film follows a woman who books a stay at an Airbnb only to find another person already staying in the property. Despite the unexpected encounter, the two end up staying together only to discover the house is haunted.
I went into “Barbarian” doing something that I do not typically do when it comes to movies I see. Specifically, unless there was one playing at a screening and I do not remember, I went into “Barbarian” having seen no trailers. My earliest memory of this film was hearing about it from someone I follow on Twitter who saw the movie and had a good time. I checked out “Barbarian” for a couple reasons. First off, and least importantly, apparently there is going to be no physical media release, so I wanted to watch the film in a theater before it goes to streaming, and I inevitably forget about it. Streaming is temporary, physical media is forever. Second, I have heard nothing but good things about “Barbarian.” People I know who have seen it, liked it. The critics are eating it up too. “Barbarian” has a whopping 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.
I saw the movie, and the first thing I must say is that this is the best horror movie of 2022 so far. I am happy to say that because not only is this a great movie, but this shows how spectacular of a year the horror genre is having. I am happy for a lot of people working in horror right now. I hope everyone is proud of themselves. I just saw “Smile,” which was fantastic and I literally claimed a week or two ago to be my favorite horror film of the year. “The Black Phone” is really good and had plenty of creepy moments. Even though it is not pure horror, “Nope” was also quite entertaining. I also really liked “Bodies Bodies Bodies.” This movie surpasses all of them.
Before I continue my thoughts, I must state that this review is going to be vague. This is a movie that not only do I recommend, it is one that would recommend with providing as little detail as possible as to why it works so well. The trailer for this film, which I did see while doing this review, perfectly details my sentiments. Whoever worked on that trailer is a legend.
The best part of “Barbarian” is its simplicity. You start off by seeing two characters who immediately develop an inciting incident over who can stay at a house they are renting. This simple bump in the road causes them to get to know each other and deliver some of my favorite chemistry between a duo I have seen this year. In the first ten minutes, I found myself buying into every single one of these two’s interactions. Campbell shines as Tess and Skarsgård is perfectly cast as Keith. The two are great together. I also like how this movie is told from Tess’s perspective instead of Keith because in addition to all the traditional horror elements, there is also another sense of danger I did not initially think about, specifically stranger danger.
Now, if I, a straight white male, showed up at the door of the rental house and I saw Keith staying inside, I would be confused. But if I had nowhere to go, it was raining, I were low on money, and a bunch of hotels were booked, I might walk it off if we agree to spend the night together. Perhaps if neither of us were forced to sleep on the floor. Meanwhile, there is a scene that stood out to me where Tess secretly takes a picture of Keith’s driver’s license. Little things like that reveal the creeps Tess is experiencing.
Some of this movie’s more tense moments are more or less linked to basic, everyday thoughts that runs through one’s mind if they are somewhere unfamiliar or far from home. I tried to get inside Tess’s head for a second. What is she thinking? She must have been asking questions such as… What if this guy drugs me? What if this guy is not what he says he is? How safe is this part of town? The key word here is tense, not scary. The scary shenanigans do not come until maybe a half hour into the movie. If you are looking for scares, they are there, and they are terrifying. You will get them eventually, and the wait is worth it.
This movie is 102 minutes long. As far as I am concerned, that is a perfect runtime. Pacing-wise, this movie could not be better. Despite the kind of short runtime, the pacing is not balls to the wall. It is not quite a slow burn either, at least to me, but everything that happens during the runtime feels either minimalistic or quiet. Even a simple conversation kept my attention, partially because of the conflict in every scene, even if it did not involve something horrifying.
Even when a movie of this sort is not good. I always enjoy a project that challenges its audience. “Barbarian” takes a big swing and it is undeniably a grand slam. I do think the climax is less entertaining than the first two acts. Not that I did not enjoy it, but if I had to name which part of the film I thought was the weakest, that would have to be the one. That said, everything that builds up to the climax from the relationship between Tess and Keith, to the scary shenanigans, to even simple interactions that could backfire, make the ride worth it.
I always make an effort when I show a movie to a family member or a friend to let them go in the way I often did. I want that individual to experience the movie firsthand as blind as a bat. Thankfully, this movie has a great trailer that I would not mind showing to someone who has not watched the movie. But this movie is a perfect encapsulation as to why I keep my mouth shut on all the details as to why I like certain movies when showing them to other people. Maybe if I show my friends “Barbarian” one day, they will disagree with me as to why I like this movie so much. But it does not change the fact in this solid year of horror, “Barbarian” is the genre’s biggest swing and mightiest payoff yet.
In the end, “Barbarian” is a fantastic movie that I would watch again some year on Halloween if given the chance. It is crazy, mind-boggling, yet simple. It is a movie that even though it belongs in the horror genre, can also qualify as a simple human drama. The cast is great, the script is phenomenal, and Zach Cregger’s direction is perfect. The movie’s final moments, while fun, are not as hypnotizing as its initial moments. Even so, this movie is, as I said, the best horror movie of 2022. I am going to give “Barbarian” an 8/10.
This movie is not coming to physical media and instead, only getting a Digital HD release for home viewing, which I think is a shame. This is a movie, if I bought it on Blu-ray, would probably go in my player every other October. Although if you have the chance to check out “Barbarian,” just do it.
“Barbarian” is now playing in theaters and will be available on Digital HD tomorrow, October 25th. The film will also soon be available to stream on HBO Max and Hulu.
Thanks for reading this review! My next review is going to be for the all new romcom “Ticket to Paradise.” The film just hit theaters this weekend, I had the chance to see it with my family, and I will have my thoughts very soon. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Barbarian?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite horror movie of the year? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!
“Amsterdam” is directed by David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle) and stars Christian Bale (The Dark Knight, Ford v. Ferrari), Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad, I, Tonya), John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman, Tenet), Chris Rock (Madagascar, Grown Ups), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit, Last Night in Soho), Zoe Saldaña (Avatar, Guardians of the Galaxy), Mike Myers (Shrek, Bohemian Rhapsody), Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road, Nocturnal Animals), Timothy Olyphant (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, The Mandalorian), Andrea Riseborough (Bloodline, Battle of the Sexes), Taylor Swift (The Lorax, Cats), Matthias Schoenaerts (The Danish Girl, Red Sparrow), Alessandro Nivola (American Hustle, Selma), Rami Malek (Night at the Museum, The Little Things), and Robert De Niro (Raging Bull, Meet the Parents). This film is mainly set in the 1930s, and centers around three people who are framed for murder. Together, this trio uncovers a plot that will change the course of history.
I have not seen all of David O. Russell’s films. I have seen “American Hustle,” which I was not a fan of. I have mostly forgotten it by now. I saw “Joy,” which I thought was cute. The acting was great, especially on Jennifer Lawrence’s part, but it was not my favorite movie of the year. I also saw “Silver Linings Playbook,” which, while not one of my favorite movies ever, is probably the best attempt at a feature Russell has ever given. I still have yet to see films like “Flirting with Disaster,” “Three Kings,” and “I Heart Huckabees.” I am mostly familiar with David O. Russell’s recent work. That said, he has built quite a name for himself as a filmmaker and it is no surprise that names like the ones listed happen to be working with him.
When you have this many Academy Award-nominated or winning actors and actresses in your film, it builds promise. It builds interest. It reminded me of when I saw “The Circle” back in 2017. You had all these culturally relevant or critically acclaimed performers like Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, John Boyega, Patton Oswalt, and Bill Paxton. Given their resumes, I was excited to see what they could do. Unfortunately, their collaborative efforts could not escape them from this misfire. “Amsterdam,” while definitely more satisfying than “The Circle,” is in the same boat.
The best way I can describe “Amsterdam” is to say that the film is all over the place. There is a lot that goes down in just a span of two hours that I felt like I had to take some notes. The film is not wholly incompetent by any means, but it begs me to keep up with its quick pacing. I like quick pacing, but at times, the movie goes too quick. There are a lot of characters and interwoven storylines that there is a good chance that I will have forgotten a couple of them by the next couple weeks. I think this is a film that could warrant a second viewing, but I am not sure yet if it has the replay value. At times, the pacing of this movie reminded me of Guy Ritchie’s “The Gentlemen,” which I know some people like, but for whatever reason I just could not get into. One moment we’re here, one moment we’re there, and in the next my brain, which has escaped from my body, might as well have traveled to the end of the universe.
If there is any saving grace in “Amsterdam,” it would have to be Margot Robbie as Valerie Voze. I thought she had the best moments in the movie. I thought the casting matched the character and the way she was written and directed. This performance solidifies Robbie as one of my favorite actors working today. Her chemistry with Christian Bale and John David Washington is solid, and as much effort as those two put into their performances, Robbie feels like the clear winner here.
Speaking of Christian Bale, if you want me to be completely honest, I think he had a more memorable performance in “Thor: Love and Thunder” of all things. I am not saying that Christian Bale gave a terrible performance in “Amsterdam.” If anything, it was stellar. But I think when combining acting with overall characterization, Bale’s attempt at playing Gorr the God Butcher was somehow more convincing and compelling despite a movie like “Amsterdam” appearing to be more along the lines of Bale’s forte.
It is crystal clear that the story of “Amsterdam” is not the highlight of the movie. If you ask me, it had its moments. There was a specific moment that intrigued me at the beginning where our main characters find themselves in an unspeakable situation. Unfortunately, as soon as we dive away from that, the quality of the movie lessens.
If I had to look in advance at 2022 in film and predict any Best Ensemble nominees at the SAG Awards, “Amsterdam” would have been a contender based on name recognition. However, much like Garry Marshall’s unwatchable holiday-based movies like “New Year’s Eve” and “Mother’s Day,” the movie’s cast is the one glimmer of hope within what can simply be referred to as a hot mess. At least on paper. I never thought I would see the day where we have Margot Robbie, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Robert De Niro in the same movie. I just hope when that unpredictable day came along, there was good script for them all to bring to the screen.
As for other positives, the movie is attractively colorful. Not quite as glitzy and glossy as say “Elvis,” which in some ways might happen to be a good thing if you ask me. However, the look of the film is sometimes easy on the eyes. In addition to having a stacked, recognizable cast, a lot of them are wearing stunning outfits, some look handsome or sexy. If this were a silent film, this might be okay depending on what you put for text. The sets at times look presentable, elaborate, and occasionally have a vintage feel to them.
There is a saying that looks are not everything, and this movie is exhibit A as to why that saying exists. Yes, some of my favorite actors are put in the forefront. Yes, some of the costumes and sets look dazzling. Yes, the movie has an occasional feeling of immersion. Although this cannot save the film itself from providing what could be one of the sloppiest stories of the decade, and that is despite this movie claiming “A LOT OF THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED.” Just because a story is true, does not make it entertaining. You want to know a true story? I woke up today and wrote this review. Imagine if I tried to sell that as a movie. The distributor would probably go out of business!
Here is a fun fact. Christian Bale, who has worked with David O. Russell in the past, signed on to do “Amsterdam” before a script was written. I get the notion of wanting to work with a big name director. Especially one you supposedly have a decent relationship with. Heck, if I were an actor and I hear the name Christopher Nolan or Jordan Peele I automatically think “business partnership.” I hope while these two high-profile industry insiders were thinking about how great it would be to work with each other, they took a moment to think of the quality of what they were going to make. Because despite the quantity of big names, quality seems to be sacrificed when it comes to the final product of “Amsterdam.”
In the end, “Amsterdam” has occasional glimmers of enjoyment, with some extreme emphasis on the word “occasional.” The film has an okay start, but the film itself never finds a way to be as compelling or entertaining as its first ten or fifteen minutes. I liked “Silver Linings Playbook,” but I cannot say the same for “Amsterdam.” I am going to give the forgettable and dull “Amsterdam” a 4/10.
“Amsterdam” is now playing in theatres everywhere, tickets are available now.
Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, I have more coming! I will soon unveil my thoughts on a couple of horror movies I watched recently, specifically “Smile” and “Halloween Ends.” Also, if you want to see more reviews from me, check out my thoughts on “See How They Run.” If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Amsterdam?” What did you think about it? Or, what is a movie with a stacked cast whose script could not justify its star power? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!
“See How They Run” is directed by Tom George (Defending the Guilty, This Country) and stars Sam Rockwell (Moon, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird, Little Women), Adrien Brody (The Pianist, King Kong), Ruth Wilson (Jane Eyre, The Affair), Reece Shearsmith (Spaced, The World’s End), Harris Dickinson (Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, The King’s Man), and David Oyelowo (Selma, Gringo). This film is set in 1950s London, where Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” which has become a popular play in the West End, is set to become a film. Unfortunately, when one crucial member of the film’s eventual production has been murdered, plans halt and it is now up to Inspector Stoppard and Constable Stalker to find out more about what happened.
While I have not watched a good amount of them, I do love a good murder mystery. In fact, my favorite television episode of all time, specifically And Then There Were Fewer from “Family Guy,” is a murder mystery.
“Derek lifted up the Hollywood sign.” -Peter Griffin
Simply put, iconic.
In fact, one of my favorite movies of the past few years happens to be “Knives Out,” directed by Rian Johnson. All the actors play their part well, especially Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, and Ana de Armas, and it was one of the funniest movies of its year. In fact, while both movies have notable differences, I got “Knives Out” vibes from watching “See How They Run,” partially because both have some association with Agatha Christie works. For “Knives Out,” Rian Johnson once went on to reference several of Agatha Christie’s tales as inspiration for his film. As far as “See How They Run” goes, the movie literally uses an Agatha Christie work as a significant part of its story. “The Mousetrap,” which started off as a play, and as this movie reveals, is going to be turned into a film adaptation. As far as play to movie adaptations go, this definitely sounds better than “Cats.”
“See How They Run” is neither the biggest, nor most recognizable movie out right now. Heck, even “Avatar,” a thirteen year old film, beat it at the box office over the past few weekends. But to be fair, “See How They Run” did not release in 3D. Although unlike some of the alternatives out right now such as “Don’t Worry Darling,” “See How They Run” is definitely worth watching.
When I say this movie is not the most recognizable, I mean it. I live in the United States, and there are few big stars in this movie I can pinpoint like Sam Rockwell, Saoirse Ronan, David Oyelowo, and Adrien Brody. And that’s if you can actually call some of these people “stars.” That said, much like the recently mentioned “Knives Out,” every actor in this movie fits their part and feels like they belong in their environment. I have no problem with the casting whatsoever. The same goes with the characters. Everyone brought their A-game and while it may not have as star-studded of an ensemble as say the recent Kenneth Branagh-directed “Death on the Nile,” I would argue that the performances in “See How They Run” are just as, if not more compelling when combined together.
My favorite performances in the film come from the two most prominent characters, Inspector Stoppard and Constable Stalker, played by Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan respectively. Rockwell transforms into this experienced, determined detective who has some noticeable quirks. I cannot imagine anyone else playing his character. The same assessment would have to be given to Saoirse Ronan, who is not only great in the movie, but based on her resume in recent years, this is a different performance than I am used to seeing from her.
Obviously, Sam Rockwell has been acting for years, therefore he has had the opportunity here and there to diversify his performances. From the little that I have seen from Saoirse Ronan, specifically through her work with Greta Gerwig on “Lady Bird” and “Little Women,” she has a knack for playing outspoken characters, and the character of Constable Stalker feels comparatively quiet. She is never shy, not necessarily nervous, but compared to her work as say Jo March in “Little Women,” Ronan plays a character who, based on what the story provides, is not the elephant in the room. Granted, Constable Stalker is not the main character of the film, therefore that also comes into play. Although she had some of my favorite moments in the movie. She had this recurring gag where she would often jump to conclusions that got an occasional laugh out of me.
My other hint of enormous praise of the film is the look of everything in it. Everything from the locations to the cinematography by Jamie Ramsay to the costumes by previous Jackoffs winner Odile Dicks-Mireaux (Last Night in Soho, Chernobyl). I felt like I was in the 1950s the entire time. I wanted to leave my world and enter this one. Kind of like last year’s “Last Night in Soho,” this movie sets up a spookily enchanting environment that is as beautiful as it is rugged. Being set in London is a wonderful coincidence if there ever was one.
This film packs a lot in its fairly short runtime. Unfortunately, I feel like I am not going to remember many of the supporting characters within the next month. I will likely remember Inspector Stoppard and Constable Stalker for their fabulous chemistry, but there are a good number of people that we meet by the film’s climax that I think I will disregard in comparison when talking about the movie to other people.
“See How They Run” may not be as smart or fun as say “Knives Out,” but it is worth a watch. The best way I can describe “See How They Run” to someone who hasn’t watched it is by referring to it as a Wes Anderson-style film if had some of the tones of “Knives Out.” I think both of those aspects could provide for a promising time. But this is no “Knives Out,” and if you want me to go by Wes Anderson terms, this is no “Rushmore.” Although if you are looking for something fun, something that could be an escape from reality, this is a quick, easy option. And I can honestly see myself watching it a second time if it ever comes around.
In the end, “See How They Run” is not my favorite movie of year, it is not the best murder mystery, but it is a quirky, delightful time. I do mean it when I say quirky. The movie even takes time to make fun of particular storytelling methods. A specific instance of this in particular had me dying. One character noted how cliché or predictable some murder mysteries are to some people, which I thought added for a nice touch for a story like this. I like the two main characters, they were played wonderfully by Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan. The overall aesthetic of the film is pleasing. My flaws with “See How They Run” do not detract from the delight this film is. I think you should see it if given the chance. I am going to give “See How They Run” a 7/10.
“See How They Run” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.
Thanks for reading this review! If you like this, you might want to stay tuned for another review I have coming up. Specifically, for the new movie “Amsterdam.” I had a chance to see it, perhaps unfortunately. Therefore, I will be talking about it soon! Also, stay tuned for tomorrow, because I will be unveiling my thoughts on Steven Spielberg’s classic film, “E.T. the Extra-terrestrial.” I am reviewing the film as part of an ongoing Steven Spielberg Month and in honor of Steven Spielberg’s new movie, “The Fabelmans,” which is set to release November 11th. Stay tuned! If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you watch “See How They Run?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite murder mystery? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!
“Death on the Nile” is directed by Kenneth Branagh (Belfast, Thor), who also stars in the film as Hercule Poirot. Joining him in this Agatha Christie novel adaptation is Tom Bateman (Demons, Murder on the Orient Express), Annette Bening (American Beauty, Captain Marvel), Russell Brand (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Arthur), Ali Fazal (Mirzapur, Furious 7), Dawn French (French and Saunders, Coraline), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman, Criminal), Armie Hammer (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., On the Basis of Sex), Rose Leslie (Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones), Emma Mackey (Sex Education, Eiffel), Sophie Okonedo (After Earth, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls), Jennifer Saunders (Sing, Shrek 2), and Letitia Wright (Sing 2, Black Panther). In this film, Hercule Poirot finds himself on a voyage, set on the Nile River, and ultimately has to investigate the behind the scenes shenanigans of a murder during said voyage.
I want to make a couple things clear. I have never read any Agatha Christie works, therefore I have nothing to compare this movie to as far as her material goes. I also will note that this could technically qualify as a sequel. “Death on the Nile” revolves around a group of people under the eye of Hercule Poirot, who was also portrayed by Kenneth Branagh in 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express.” He directed the film as well. I have never seen the film, so I cannot tell you anything in regards to Branagh’s previous efforts, whether they are in front of or behind the camera in said film. I was not particularly interested in it at the time, and my lack of interest unfortunately contributed to what I call a lack of knowledge in this circumstance. Nevertheless, the trailers intrigued me enough, Kenneth Branagh is on fire right now with “Belfast” having just come out, and the cast is stacked to the brim.
Well, there’s also Armie Hammer, I should also mention that.
With that being said, I kind of saw “Death on the Nile” on a whim, I bought a ticket less than an hour before the show because I was in the area, although I did intend to see it by the end of the weekend, and I have to say the movie in some ways pleased me in the ways I expected it to. Although it does have a double-edged sword.
One of the best things about “Death on the Nile” is the feud between the newlywed couple, the Doyles, and this one woman, Jackie, played marvelously by Emma Mackey, or as I call her, Samara Weaving’s lookalike. Prior to Simon Doyle’s connection with his new wife, Linnet, he used to be in love with Jackie, who just so happens to be following everyone else. I loved getting to know these characters and every scene Mackey is in is one that had my attention, partially because of how well she played the character. But this also brings me to my main con with the film, and it is that it takes a bit longer than I expected to actually see the murder shenanigans go down. Now don’t get me wrong, the film is entertaining from start to finish. I was invested in most of the scenes that were written, but that would have to be my big pacing issue of the film. For a film that calls itself “Death on the Nile,” the “death” is not exactly much of a standout until the film’s second half. Is the book the same way? Again, I do not know. I do not plan on reading it anytime soon, so frankly I do not care to know.
Although if I had to bring another positive to the table, it is that the film is easy on the eyes. The film is as exotic as it is suspenseful. The color palette throughout feels like an old-timey flick but with a modern twist. It is a film that feels like it simmers itself in tradition, but infuses some sugar and spice to make it more attractive.
The performers all do a great job at bringing their own flair to the mix in “Death on the Nile,” I cannot recall one performance that either underwhelmed or annoyed me. Well, kind of…
Going back to Emma Mackey’s character of Jackie, I want to focus on her for a bit because I admired Mackey’s performance, but I did so with the acknowledgement of how much I disliked her character. Let me just be clear, I watch a lot of movies, and usually when I watch one I like, I usually like all the characters because they make the movie fun and enjoyable to watch. This one is different. I can only recall a few movies I watched in my life where I hated a character who was in it, and used that hate to remind myself of how effective the movie was at doing its job. “Whiplash” and “The Lion King” are the first two titles that come to mind. Mackey’s behavior in the film made me feel like I was part of the film, and films are always better when they can immerse you into the frame. Mackey did so in a way that made me want to punch her in the face, and all respect to the actress. Emma Mackey, if you read this, I think you have an amazing future ahead of you. I would totally cast you in a film if I find the right role, but I will not lie when I say, your character should have been thrown into the Nile to sleep with the fishes.
I like you, I hate your character. And for that, the movie did its job.
I also want to talk about Gal Gadot. She is an actress I have admired ever since I saw her in “Batman v. Superman,” because while that film showed a weakness from her as a performer, specifically on some line delivery, I saw enormous potential in her, because she carried the action sequences like a champ. I probably said this a couple times in my life. In “Batman v. Superman,” the real winner is Wonder Woman. And I think in just about every movie that has come out since, she has at least improved in some way. In “Death on the Nile,” I think casting Gadot as Mrs. Doyle is appropriate, partially because Gadot looks like someone who can symbolize beauty and wealth at the same time (also, she statistically is very wealthy), but this film shows that she has improved as an actress. She is more able to carry a film now than she has ever been, and there are a couple of scenes where I was able to feel the weight of some of her lines.
And of course, I cannot ignore Kenneth Branagh, who not only makes this film look as pretty as it is, but he carries his weight to bring a lively performance to the table. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch Kenneth Branagh rock a mustache? If they’re making a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” adaptation set in Northern Ireland, I think Branagh would slay as Willy Wonka, and it would be better if the mustache stays. I think Branagh flat out just looks like someone who would be a detective in his spare time, so the fact that he’s cast as Poirot is undeniable. It’s perfect. Again, I have not seen “Murder on the Orient Express,” so I have nothing to compare this performance to franchise-wise. Having said that, “Death on the Nile” is good enough to the point that I want to go back at some point and give “Murder on the Orient Express” a try. Maybe compare the two and see which one’s better.
In the end, “Death on the Nile” is intriguing from beginning to end and offers an ensemble that gives you all the feelings from grace to anger to sadness. This may not end up being the best film of 2022, after all, the year is only beginning, but as far as this year’s fare, I recommend “Death on the Nile.” It has one or two pacing issues, but I feel like that could be a fairly subjective notion on my part. I probably won’t remember every single character, but there are quite a few that stand out to make this film one of the more entertaining experiences of the past number of months. I’m going to give “Death on the Nile” a 7/10.
“Death on the Nile” is now playing in theaters everywhere, tickets are available now.
Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, I have more coming! My next review is going to be for the movie “Uncharted,” which just hit the big screen over a week and a half ago. Also coming up, I will be tackling my thoughts on “The Batman,” which hits theaters everywhere this week. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Death on the Nile?” What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite Agatha Christie book? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!
“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is directed by Sarah Smith, Jean-Phillipe Vine, and Octavio E. Rodriguez. This is one of those interesting cases where a film has three directors, don’t usually see that. This film stars Jack Dylan Grazer (Luca, It), Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover, Missing Link), Ed Helms (The Office, Vacation), Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, All the Bright Places), Rob Delaney (Catastrophe, Deadpool 2), Kylie Cantrall (Just Go with It, Gabby Duran & the Unsittables), Ricardo Hurlado (School of Rock, Glitch Techs), and Olivia Colman (The Favourite, The Father). The film is set in the future where a giant company unveils their latest invention, the B-bot. The B-bot is a personal companion robot that is designed to make friends. Everyone has one, except for Barney, who lives in a slightly unusual household. One day, he opens up what appears to be a B-bot, only it is glitchy and all over the place. After a series of events, the two stay together, form a friendship and navigate themselves through a trend-based crowd of middle-schoolers.
When I saw the trailer for “Ron’s Gone Wrong” earlier this year, my expectations were somewhere in the middle. I liked the fact that it was an original property, which is nice to see. I liked the idea that it sort of connects to our reality (even though this film is set in the future). And the ultimate kneeslapper at the end, the “6 feet apart” joke, which probably would have been nowhere near as funny if it were not for COVID-19 happening. It’s the old saying, comedy equals tragedy plus time. And for the record, I did find out that this film was recorded and animated during the pandemic, therefore it is completely possible that the 6 feet apart joke could be a reference to it. My expectations were neither high or low, I was just looking for a good time at the movies.
And was it a good time at the movies?
I have watched a lot of animated movies. For this blog, I typically watch at least five in a year. But I always notice that in these movies, the filmmakers always intend to hide a lesson about something to children by the end. “The LEGO Movie” had a lesson telling children that just because you’re ordinary, doesn’t mean you’re not special. “The Lion King” taught children that life is hard and the truth will always come out, even if the consequences are deadly. “Cars” teaches children to keep their friends close and sometimes you do not need to win to be the best. I love when animations are more than just farts and giggles for the sake of farts and giggles. This is why I hate when someone says “x movie is for children, therefore x does not have to try hard at being great.” Uh… That’s lazy. That’s like saying the Boston Celtics won 17 championships, why not suck for one season? No, you give it your best shot and try to stick the landing.
“Ron’s Gone Wrong” has an obvious piece of social commentary within it. This film mainly follows Barney, who lives in what could be described as an “under a rock” setting compared to everyone else in the film. Once he acquires his B-bot, which is way different than others, this makes him more normal than before, but not in the ways that one would consider positive. There’s a moment where we see Barney encounter his bullies, and Ron helps fight back against them. I could not really decide whether I like this pair together or not, based on what I saw on screen at the time, because I doubt the movie is trying to encourage fighting for children, but I could imagine some could see it coming across that way if they don’t pay enough attention.
Although one of my favorite things about this film is how much it reminds me of today’s franchise and gaming culture. I don’t play “Fortnite,” but I know one of the big things about that game aside from the terrible hidden narrative that elevators are freakin’ useless, happen to be the skins. During the film, we see all these B-bots, and they seem to cater to the personalities of those who possess them. There’s one that displays a basketball, another one’s a monkey, another one’s a grizzly knight in armor. It’s kind of playing on the notion that the working B-bots all belong to trendy people who have no problem fitting in.
Another big allegory of the film that I picked up on was the idea that social media ruins lives. Now, these B-bots are not just personal companions to their owners, but they also run social media. Basically, the B-bot is a walking phone. There’s this great look into this one person who has something in particular happen to them during the film that makes them go from being the cool kid to the one nobody wants to sit next to during lunch.
If I had to compare this movie to anything else, I would say this it is a mashup of “Jingle All the Way” and “Free Guy.” While this film does not take place during Christmastime, unlike “Jingle All the Way,” this film heavily relies on a story that makes fun of materialism and certain things making children look cool. As for the “Free Guy” comparison, much of this film is spent from the perspective of a massive corporation who is responsible for the creation of the B-bot. The story is very similar, one guy came up with the idea, he had all the marbles and strings attached, but of course, someone else at the company is more concerned about making money and stocks. It’s your show friends vs. show business kind of story. I like bits and pieces of this, but for what I remember about the film, I don’t think I agreed with every move the characters took. Maybe I’m just an ass, I don’t know.
When it comes to animated fare, this one does not pass, but it also does not fail. I was endlessly annoyed by Barney’s B-bot. Now I get it, it’s out of control, it’s got problems. But the voicework for it became increasingly infuriating to listen to, and I’m a fan of Zach Galifianakis just to be clear. But the thing about his voiceover is that the B-bot literally says the same words the same way every single time. If they were trying to go for the typical robot thing where the bot is monotone, that’s one thing, but it’s a mix between monotone and expressive to the point where I feel like I myself am going to glitch out.
I also want to talk about my experience of watching this in the theater. It’s been a month, so I don’t remember everything. But I do remember this… After the movie had it’s big climactic moment, we see this one scene where there’s these B-bots rolling around, and one of them is in the form of a Stormtrooper. I believe there was a Darth Vader version in the movie as well. This movie is obviously making fun of the corporate way, the endless franchise propaganda we’re getting today. But if you’re a kid, it probably doesn’t matter. There was a mother and son next to me, and the son says something along the lines of “I like that one, it’s Star Wars!” Kids might not get the lesson just yet. Either way, Disney probably wins. They made this movie (under the 20th Century banner) and now they get to sell a kid more “Star Wars” stuff. That’s business!
In the end, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” made me leave the theater with such a confused reaction. I did not hate this movie, but I didn’t love it either. I would not call it good, but I also would not call it a disaster. It has some occasional funny moments, but I did not always care for every character and there were certain parts I liked more than others. The film does come packed with lessons for children, but whether or not they take them, is a mystery at this point. I’m going to give “Ron’s Gone Wrong” a 6/10.
“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is now available to rent or buy. You can find it on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Blu-ray in stores. It is available to stream on Disney+, HBO, and HBO Max. It is also playing in select theaters.
Thanks for reading this review! If you enjoyed this review, be sure to look out for more of my upcoming reviews including “King Richard,” “tick…tick…BOOM!,” and “Encanto” just to name a few. The end of the year is here and there are plenty of movies to talk about. Let’s do it. If you want to see this and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Ron’s Gone Wrong?” What did you think about it? Or, what is one item you always begged for as a kid? Perhaps as a gift? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!
“The Last Duel” is directed by Ridley Scott (The Martian, Alien) and stars Matt Damon (We Bought a Zoo, Good Will Hunting), Adam Driver (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Marriage Story), Jodie Comer (Free Guy, Killing Eve), and Ben Affleck (Justice League, The Way Back) in a film where two friends are divided over the claims Marguerite de Carrouges brings forth about her rape. The two friends agree to duke it out in a trial by combat where one lives, one dies, and the outcome of the battle will also determine the fate of Marguerite de Carrouges herself.
I have been excited for “The Last Duel” since 2020, which is when I believe I first heard about it. I may have been looking at the list of films coming out that year on Wikipedia, which at this point, almost looks like a shell of its former self with titles like “A Quiet Place Part II,” “No Time to Die,” and “Black Widow” moving dates. At that point, upon seeing some of the names attached, this had some potential. This looked like some Oscar caliber material. It kind of had this “Braveheart” feel to it that empowered the heart. I was genuinely curious of what was to come.
When the trailer came out this summer, confirming that this movie was finally coming, it honestly promised something beyond my prior expectations because as someone who did not know the full story, I did not know if this was going to be a film of slow or fast pace. But getting a peak of Jodie Comer’s performance, which ended up being one of the film’s highlights, was a symbol of how exciting this movie could potentially be. Everything about this movie going in looked great, Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography, the performances from one of the best ensembles of the year, the set design, the locations. All of it had promises.
And frankly, those promises were met. When it comes to big battle type of films that take place long before I was even born, this one stands out. Partially because of the amazing directing from Ridley Scott, whose legacy has not died yet, and after seeing this movie, I only want more from him. Of the three main performances from Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer, each one did a really good job at conveying rawness, pain, and fear amongst each self. No matter the situation each character finds themselves in, they each find themselves within their own pain and we get a sense of that. One is obviously the hero in this story, but that is also something that at various points, the movie sort of spins on its own head.
In most movies you see a linear path from start to finish with the main hero having a major screen presence. Or in other cases, the main villain. Look at “Avengers: Infinity War.” That whole movie started with Thanos going after the infinity stones and ended with him resting on a farm. Yes, the movie is called “Avengers,” is about the “Avengers,” and heavily features the “Avengers” during its runtime. But you could also argue that the film is technically Thanos’s story once it started and once it ended. “The Last Duel” has a somewhat typical act structure where it has your act 1, act 2, and act 3, but it doesn’t necessarily use those acts in a way where you see a progression of time, which in most cases would be from past to future. For the most part, the acts take place quite literally at the same exact time, but you see certain events play out whereas others are left behind. In some cases, the exact same event will play out but you get a greater emphasis on whichever character’s perspective is put into frame, and it’s not like they’re sitting in a room narrating the story in front of your eyes, you’re seeing it from a visual standpoint.. For some people, I imagine this sequencing procedure will seem repetitive or irritating, but for me, it made me understand the way in which this movie was trying to tell its story. In fact, I honestly think when it comes to the act structure, the movie placed the least compelling act, or as they call them, chapters, before the others, and there’s a reason for that. The other two chapters highlights a certain event in the first chapter that you’re only told about, but as you see more of it in the other two chapters, the bigger the impact it has by the end of the movie. The film shows how important all the perspectives are to create one big picture, thus highlighting the rivalry, the controversy, the infighting, the drama. This is a script that I would honestly put up against many others this year.
The movie does take a bit of time to get into, although it admittedly starts with some quick pace and a promise, there’s that word again, of what’s to come, but once it gets into the nitty gritty, it’s basically full throttle, non-stop, and as for me, the viewer, I’m completely engaged with what’s going on. This movie is called “The Last Duel” and of course, the duel, which is the literal climax of the film supposedly, I mean, you could almost argue that this film kind of has four acts, is incredibly exciting and gritty. But it does not mean the material prior to that going down is inferior in any way. If I have any other cons with the film that I could think of, I would say that the way Matt Damon’s character handles a serious matter in chapter 3 made me a bit uncomfortable. Granted, I think that was kind of the point, but it almost made him less relatable or less likable than maybe he was earlier in the film. May just be a personal reaction.
By the end of the film, when they get to that last battle, I was shaking. Because the film has done such a brilliant job at establishing the perspectives of the main trio that they all came together so well in the last moments. When we see the position of Jodie Comer’s character, the stakes she has to go through as the fight between a couple friends goes down, it only adds to the tension. This film is one of the best of the year and despite coming out the same weekend as “Halloween Kills,” “The Last Duel” felt ten times as disturbing.
In the end, “The Last Duel” is one of the best ways to retell a story in a two and a half hour runtime. This is a film that at times made me feel a pit in my stomach, but it did so in the best way possible. The technical aspects from the camerawork to the sound is all done to perfection. As for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck getting back together to write a script so long after “Good Will Hunting,” it was worth the wait. Granted, Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said, Can You Ever Forgive Me?) also has a credit, but still, it was worth the wait. I love “The Last Duel” and I would personally give it an 8/10.
“The Last Duel” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Tickets are available now.
Thanks for reading this review! I just want to remind everyone that Halloween is coming up and we will be starting my brand new mini review series that day, on the 31st exactly, “Ghostbusters: Before Afterlife.” Expect a review then, and I will be following that up the Sunday after, November 7th, with my thoughts on “Ghostbusters II,” which as of typing this, I have yet to watch once in my entire life. Be on the lookout for these reviews and also stay tuned for my reviews of “No Time to Die,” “Dune,” and if I get around to it on time, “Last Night in Soho.” Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! Also, check out the official Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “The Last Duel?” What did you think about it? Or, have you seen “Good Will Hunting?” Tell me your thoughts on that! Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!
“Free Guy” is directed by Shawn Levy (Night at the Museum, Real Steel) and stars Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, The Proposal), Jodie Comer (Killing Eve, The White Princess), Lil Rel Howrey (Uncle Drew, The Carmichael Show), Utkarsh Ambudkar (The Mindy Project, The Muppets), Joe Keery (Stranger Things, Chicago Fire), and Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit). This film is primarily set in Free City, a massive sandbox video game where players can control characters through a massive city and go on missions. Guy, an NPC (non-playable character), discovers the secrets of the game and breaks the rules of his own character. While he is typically a bank teller who often finds himself in the middle of a robbery, he gets bored of doing the same thing over and over again and decides to level up his life while also trying to win the girl of his dreams.
I love Ryan Reynolds. The word “movie star” does not have as big of an impact as it may have years ago with faces including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Will Smith dominating the big screen with their blockbuster titles. There are a few big “movie stars” that have risen to astronomical heights over the years including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and others who have maintained their fame for years including Tom Cruise. When it comes to the conversation of which actor is currently the biggest star in the world, Ryan Reynolds has to be in the conversation every single time. He is one of Canada’s finest exports and adds a flair to every movie he’s in. This even includes ones I don’t like such as “The Croods” or “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”
The concept of “Free Guy” by itself, where a video game NPC increasingly gains a sense of consciousness and humanity, is already one that could be considered a recipe for greatness. But if you put Ryan Reynolds into the picture, you’ve taken a great movie and bumped up its power by five times. This is a film that had a bumpy road in terms of its marketing. In fact I think the best trailer we got of the film was in 2019 when it made fun of Disney for putting out its animated titles in live-action form. I thought it was genius because it sounded like humor that would associate with Ryan Reynolds, especially considering how he has dominated the meta humor concept with a film like “Deadpool” and its sequel. The trailers after weren’t bad, but they did not live up to the original for me. Although there was a great piece of marketing that had Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool sitting next to Korg (Taika Waititi) doing what could only be a parody of a YouTube trailer reaction video. I was excited for this film despite the mixed road to get to the official release. And I say that even without acknowledging the ongoing pandemic, not that it should be forgotten.
What did I think of “Free Guy?”
Simply put, I had a lot of fun with “Free Guy.” When it comes to movies set in a video game universe, I think “Ready Player One,” which “Free Guy” reminded me of at times and is coincidentally also written by Zak Penn, is a slightly better film. But “Free Guy” takes a cool concept and gives it a smooth execution in the end. And I should not be surprised that this film is as good as it is. Because director Shawn Levy, whose recent projects include Paramount’s “Arrival” and Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” is a master at creating a film for everyone. One of my favorite films from my childhood is “Night at the Museum.” It is a film that does not exactly feel like it is being targeted at kids, but when it comes to both titles, many children could watch the film, understand much of what is going on, and appreciate everything in front of them. At the same time, adults could watch this film and have a great time with it. The first two films in that particular franchise have been a cornerstone of movie nights in my family. To see Levy do a movie like this does not surprise me, and if anything else, it pleases me.
For starters, it is an original idea, which in terms of blockbusters, feel very few and far between. In fact, this is technically the first Disney original live action film in years (technically because 20th Century Fox made it). I just love seeing creative, never before seen ideas come to life and “Free Guy” is a fine example of that.
Also, if the last couple decades have proven anything, people love video games, including me. Much of my childhood has been spent pushing the buttons on my Nintendo devices, so the idea of this film has a special place in my heart. I find it fascinating that this movie chooses to focus on someone who could be anyone and have them evolve. We look nowadays at video game NPCs as tools to let the player do their thing. But to have what is technically a tool sprout into something more is flat out fascinating. Yeah, it kind of feels like that cliche idea that “anyone’s special,” which as Dash from “The Incredibles,” would suggest, “which is another way of saying no one is.” It’s a cliche idea, but it is brought to life through something incredibly creative in addition to Ryan Reynolds’s terrific encapsulation of Guy.
One thing I’ve always noticed while I play a video game is that when you go by NPCs, they’ll often spew the same things out of their mouth over and over. A big part of that is because they’re portrayed by a certain actor, and actors will record a limited number of lines for a certain character, therefore they can only do so much. Therefore, NPCs are usually one-dimensional, do not have much personality, and are often in the background. In the case of Guy, I think Ryan Reynolds did a good job at making the character not feel flat or putting him in a sphere that makes his personality limited. In fact, Reynolds brings a sense of hyperactivity to his character despite him having a life that most would consider boring. Guy is a banker who drinks the same cup of coffee every day and says good morning to his goldfish by his bedside. This is an everyday routine for him, but he seems to accept it because he’s programmed that way.
Now I like Taika Waititi, but I think “Free Guy” has only increased the chances of me wanting to get together with the dude for lunch. You know how a lot of films directed towards young audiences will have an over the top villain? Taika Waititi’s character of Antwan almost seems to find himself within the confines of that description. Not that this movie is specifically for children, but nevertheless. In a lot of cases, this could be a turnoff because then the film could become a live-action cartoon, but not in “Free Guy!” If anything, Waititi’s performance is an utter enhancement in this film. The mixture of his lines and hyped up antics arguably makes him the best character of the movie. It kind of reminds me of another film Shawn Levy directed, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” because that film’s villain was Kahmunrah, and he was perhaps written and presented in such a way that could arguably make him cartoony, but it was presented in such a way where Levy and actor Hank Azaria seemed to embrace the silly that the script listed. As far as “Free Guy” is concerned, Taika Waititi plays a guy who might as well be jacked up on Red Bull all the time and does not seem to care much about others. As far as I’m concerned, I love the execution of this character, and I almost wonder if part of why it worked so well was because of the casting. I cannot imagine anyone other than Waititi playing Antwan at this point.
Without spoilers, the climax of “Free Guy” is a thing of beauty. The film just goes straight into becoming “Garry’s Mod” of all things. There’s some stuff in this climax that I had almost zero warning about going into it, and I think if you want to have the same reaction, do everything you can to avoid any online discussion about the end of the film. It is in a word, “epic.”
If I had any problems with “Free Guy” it would be that the film does get into some impractical nonsense by the end that comes off more or less as a plot convenience more than anything else. It is not a humungous turnoff as the rest of the film is nicely structured but there’s one moment towards the end that feels jumbled in terms of execution, and it’s a pretty important one. Maybe in the script, it sounds more coherent, but in the final product, it sounds kind of… pun intended, pixelated. It’s kind of sad considering the impact the moment was trying to deliver, but for some reason, they could not stick the landing.
This one moment does not take much away from the literal joy I achieved from watching “Free Guy.” “Free Guy” is a crazy, fun adventure. I love the setting, I love the idea, I love how it seems to have fun with our modern video game culture and how much of a cash cow it has become in addition to being heavy entertainment. I left this movie wanting more. I want to see more of Guy, Molotov Girl, Buddy, all the characters in this film were utter delights. I legit think that this is a movie that anyone could watch and enjoy. I sometimes go to see movies with my mom, and most of the movies I see with her are ones that usually are not action heavy or horror heavy. Despite the action heaviness of “Free Guy,” I legit think that this is a movie that my mother could put on and have a ball with despite some things being there that she may not usually tend to see on screen. If you like action, you’ll definitely like this movie, but the crew behind “Free Guy,” whether they intended to or not, did a really good job at creating something that a lot of people could find themselves attached to, even if it wasn’t specifically made for them. In that sort of way, I highly recommend “Free Guy” to anyone reading this and their friends.
In the end, “Free Guy” may solidify Ryan Reynolds as one of the finest Canadians to ever live and the film itself is easily one of my favorites of the year. Disney did not release this film on streaming. Granted, I do not know if they could have contractually, 20th Century Fox movies still go straight to HBO months after release. But from everything I’ve read, Disney practically had all the faith in the world given towards this movie. Based on what has been created, “Free Guy” has massive franchise potential. Heck, I could see this thing becoming a Disney ride at some point. The film is immersive, fun, bonkers, and just a straight up good time. “Free Guy” by the way is set in two different places. The real world and the game of “Free City.” to my surprise, the stuff that happens in the real world has the same level of intrigue as everything that happens in the world of “Free City.” To have the escape be as interesting as the world from which people are trying to escape is definitely pleasing. I’m going to give “Free Guy” an 8/10.
Also, if you need another reason to see this movie, you’ll get to see Alex Trebek one last time. Seeing him on screen brought a smile to my face and I am sure it will for many other viewers as well.
“Free Guy” is now playing exclusively in theaters and IMAX. Get your tickets now!
Thanks for reading this review! I just want to remind everyone that on Monday, August 23rd, I will be sharing my thoughts on “Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation.” The film is not as often talked about as the original, partially because it was made for television. But I am here to talk about it as we dive deeper into my ongoing review series, “Revenge of the Nerds: Nerds in Review” as we celebrate Scene Before’s fifth anniversary. And speaking of reviews, be sure to stay tuned for my review of “Don’t Breathe 2.” I just saw the film last night and I intend to talk about it soon. If you want to read all this and more on Scene Before, be sure to follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Scene Before Facebook page! I want to know, did you see “Free Guy?” What did you think about it? Or, if you could put yourself in the universe of any video game, which one would it be? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!
Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! I do not talk about TV that much here on Scene Before, but it has been over three and a half years since I talked about ten of my all time favorite “Family Guy” episodes. Some examples from the time include “PTV,” (S4E14) “Wasted Talent,” (S2E20) “The Simpsons Guy,” (S13E01), and “Blue Harvest” (S6E01). If you are wondering, no, I do not have any current plans to update the countdown anytime soon. Maybe in a couple years if I’m desperate, but who knows? Besides, even though “Family Guy” is still on the air today, many of the newer episodes are either unfunny, disposable, overly cruel, or downright unwatchable. But there have been some diamonds in the rough, most notably “Three Directors,” (S16E05) where it is one short story presented in the “visions” of Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, and Michael Bay, and “Trump Guy,” (S17E11) where Peter works for the Trump administration. But my favorite episode has aired during a time where “Family Guy” was just getting into the HD age.
Today, September 26th, 2020, is the tenth anniversary of my favorite “Family Guy” episode of all time, “And Then There Were Fewer.” Now I have a lot of respect for the “Family Guy” series. It is a show that I started watching at one point, and convinced my father to watch alongside me. I guess I got lucky, because at this point my father thinks Seth MacFarlane is a genius. In fact, I’m attempting to work on a bit of a “Family Guy” project myself. I can’t say much about it, but if Seth MacFarlane, Fox, or Disney reads this, I will be happy to talk with them about an idea or two I have!
When it comes to the adult animation genre, I think “Family Guy” reigns supreme in terms of humor and likable characters. From Peter to Stewie to Joe to Quagmire, the list goes on. Throughout the seasons, they all have their highlights in various episodes. And even if the episodes themselves are not that great, I still like the characters because at the end of the day, they have a likable presence or personality to keep the show afloat. Peter is a lovable idiot. While he is somewhat entitled and lazy, he plays the part great. I’m not a dog person, but Brian is probably one of my favorite dogs in media, mainly because of how well executed he is as a voice of wisdom. I occasionally enjoy myself realizing that Seth MacFarlane sometimes puts a bit of his own personality into Brian’s character. As for Stewie… He is probably in my top 10 most relatable characters of all time. Well, minus the desire to kill my own mother.
The supporting characters of “Family Guy” show themselves to be quite admirable too. From Tom Tucker, the charming newscaster who has a knack for dry commentary, to Mayor West, who is basically a college frat boy in a geezer’s body (RIP Adam West), and even though the actor himself is a controversial name as of today, James Woods had some of the greatest moments of screentime in the entire series.
This all adds up to something… That, kinda feels like a culmination.
The reason why I enjoy “And Then There Were Fewer” more than any other “Family Guy” episode is the same reason why I consider “Avengers: Infinity War” to be the best installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Every other movie felt like they played a part in a series of buildup. These movies eventually let “Infinity War” take elements from them to give a big, grand story that stands on its own and recognizes what came before, and even builds the story further in the end.
Keep in mind, “And Then There Were Fewer” is the premiere episode of “Family Guy’s” ninth season, but at times, it feels more like a finale. People die. The vibe is incredibly grand and massive. Also keep in mind, even though I mentioned “Infinity War,” this is not exactly like an epic. After all, this episode is a quirky but somewhat serious murder mystery. This episode relies a ton on its own, heavy, unique atmosphere that quite frankly, I have not seen in too many other “Family Guy” episodes. Your typical “Family Guy” episode goes straight for humor. Maybe it’s dark humor, controversial humor, or some plethora of pop culture references. And those are not always bad. These are in the show’s collective wheelhouse. In “And Then There Were Fewer,” the humor is there, but I stay for the story and characterization.
Let’s go over how the episode goes down, and I’ll give some of my thoughts along the way. *MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD*
The episode begins with the Griffins finding out they were invited to a party at Rocky Point Manor, a massive location where the rest of the episode would take place. This episode is the first one in series to be presented in 16:9 widescreen and high definition. In fact, the intro that is not often shown on television due to time constraints (it can be found on the DVD version of the episode, however) tries to make the viewer aware that they are in for something new. Not just in regards to looks, but the overall vibe. The scope is massive, almost movie-like perhaps. Instead of the traditional intro where they show the main characters in the Griffin House and an alternate venue singing, they rely on scenery and atmosphere. When the main location of the episode is revealed, the music, which by the way is a full-blown orchestra, is kind of bombastic and triggers an emotional punch. The music does a solid job of reminding me as a viewer of the beauty regarding the massive mansion up ahead. The colors and animation in these opening scenes are vibrant and finely detailed.
Now, this is a cartoon, meaning that you can get away with more in a presentation of its kind compared to something in live-action. Thus, this episode handles a crossover sort of situation at hand. Turns out the Griffins were not the only ones to get the party invitation, but as Lois points out, “the whole town got invited.” Not only did they get invited, but they got invited “in their honor.”
This brings every single character imaginable into the episode. Your main tag team including Mayor West, Quagmire, and the Swansons. They’ve also got Mort and Muriel Goldman, the Channel 5 news team, Dr. Hartman, you name it. This episode seems to open with big promise, but does it deliver above and beyond the idea of bringing tons of people together? You betcha.
“Good evening, everyone.” -James Woods
I know a lot of people are currently divided over James Woods as a person, but regardless of his personal views of the world, I will say that he has appeared in some of the best “Family Guy” episodes, and this one is no exception. His role in here is perfect as it solidly relies on previous buildup. “Family Guy” has had a history of using James Woods as an antagonist against several characters, including Peter, when he tried to copy several aspects of his life. He ruined Brian’s TV pilot, changing the core aspects of the script and overall vibe of the production. Throughout the episode, there are a couple of other things that other characters briefly bring up that make Woods look like an undesirable monster. Quagmire reveals Woods stole Cheryl Tiegs from him, Tom Tucker mentions Woods kept him from being the star of “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” and Mayor Adam West says James Woods took the Twitter name @MayorWest, meaning he had to then use @Mayor_West. His presence in the episode is a reminder of how far this series has come and raises questions as to where it goes from there, and I admire that about Woods here.
Woods reveals he has recently become a born-again Christian thanks to his girlfriend, Priscilla (voiced by Ashley Tisdale). Because he’s just become a man of god, he felt it was necessary to invite all the people he wronged to make amends. The guests wonder why they should trust him, but James Woods begs for said guests to give him a chance.
When Woods exits the dining room where everybody happens to be sitting, waiting for dinner, Priscilla tags along. Quagmire’s annoying girlfriend, Stephanie, goes over to the Woods’ chair and sits down. Soon thereafter, blood pours out of her chest.
She dies. Head flat on the table.
To quote Agatha the Pre-Cog from “Minority Report…”
This is the perfect catalyst to bring darkness to this episode. “Family Guy” is usually known for being dark, but that’s usually just from a comedic perspective. From this moment, it might as well be gathered that some serious stuff is about to go down.
Everyone assumes James Woods killed Stephanie, thus leading them to flee to their cars. Upon beginning their drive, a tree collapses a bridge, the only way they can go in their escape.
So it’s back to the mansion!
Unfortunately, nobody is getting reception on their cell phones, and even though there’s a landline, it’s dead. Everyone is in panic mode. until James Woods enters the room, where such panic is dialed up a couple notches. After a penis joke, scolding, and further realization that Stephanie is kind of a gag character. James and Priscilla are confused by everyone’s fear. James claims he’s unaware of what’s going on. So they go to the next room, where Stephanie’s body no longer remains. A power outage ensues, summoning a series of black frames, and “Family Guy” does what it does best.
“Oh my god! Is this what black people see all the time?” -Peter Griffin
James Woods dies with a knife in his back.
We don’t see who strikes Woods down, nor does anybody in the mansion. Joe Swanson catalyzes the rest of the episode.
JOE: What I’m saying is James Woods isn’t the murderer. The murderer… is one of us.”
JOE: And someone ate the last goat cheese tartlet.
PETER: Now I hope I die next!
We soon see that Stephanie died due to a timed gun, which went off as soon as Stephanie sat down in the chair that was supposed to be for James Woods. Nobody admits to wanting James Woods dead, so it’s time to play Clue!
Unfortunately for Joe, he’s soon knocked unconscious by Peter, who takes over the investigation. The characters remind us, the audience, that everyone at the dinner had a motive for wanting James Woods dead, but one was willing enough to get revenge. We see tons of finger-pointing. Diane Simmons points at Tom Tucker, who points at Seamus the pirate, who then points at Mayor Adam West. We get into a finger-pointing frenzy! No answers in sight!
Carl shoves Chris into a bookshelf, causing books to gravitate downward. One hits a particular floor tile that pushes down, making the bookshelf slide, thus revealing an opening to the basement.
Everyone goes downstairs, Peter opens a book revealing James’ misdeeds. He’s written each one down so he remembers who to make amends to. Upon some investigation, Brian comes across tons of Oxycontin bottles with James Woods’ name on it. All of it comes from Goldman’s Pharmacy, appropriately owned by Mort and Muriel Goldman. James Woods blackmailed Muriel specifically, as he was being supplied with free medicine. Everyone assumes Muriel is the killer, but she escapes before she can be captured.
Peter divides everyone into teams, and if you watch “Family Guy,” a couple of these combinations make complete sense.
“Chris, you check the basement with Herbert.”
*Herbert stretches over to Chris, emitting a twiggish sound*
Peter even points out Joe and Priscilla, who are currently passed out, therefore they’re labeled the “unconscious team.”
We see these teams in action. Derek and Jillian investigate an attic, where a black cat, voiced by Patrick Stewart, jumps out. There’s even an inside joke to “X-Men” where the cat reveals himself as a “professor.” Chris and Herbert collaborate, and Herbert makes a request to Chris to burn his house down if he dies. Diane Simmons and Tom Tucker enter an art gallery, where Tom clicks a button with his shoe, thus sliding a painting automatically. Tom goes inside, but he gets trapped! Diane raises some concern, but where did Tom go?!
Meg and Carl enter a billiard room, as if this wasn’t like “Clue” enough already. Meg bumps into the stuffed bear from “The Great Outdoors” written by John Hughes.
CARL: Oh, it’s okay. It’s just the stuffed bear from “The Great Outdoors.” Did you see “The Great Outdoors?”
CARL: You suck.
Even though the duo are searching for Muriel, they decide to take a break and play some pool. Meg finds the pool cues, but she falls down a chute as soon as she grabs one of them.
We see Brian and Stewie humming TV themes to each other, when suddenly, a shriek is heard in the distance. The two run to the scene.
Muriel lies down with the knife inside her. Everyone else comes in as well.
And if you’re wondering, the thing I love about this death, not to mention a couple others in this episode, is that the people who died here have not been revived. In fact, the only person to die in this episode who has been revived is James Woods.
The clock ticks. The lightning strikes. The tension could not be higher. There is no other episode in the “Family Guy” series that I can think of that has given stakes like this.
Meg and Tom Tucker reveal their journey through an underground passageway to the rest of the crew, who are all standing together in the dining room. This is where we get one of the best jokes in the episode, and honestly, it has aged like a fine wine.
Derek reveals he’s getting reception on his cell phone. Peter speaks up.
PETER: Oh my god is that–…
*reveal Derek’s phone cover picture, him in front of the Hollywood sign
PETER: Are you holding up the whole Hollywood sign?
DEREK: No no no no, the sign was way in the background. I was standing in the foreground going like this (raises his arms) while Jillian took the picture. So, by forced perspective it looks like I’m holding up the whole sign.
PETER: I don’t believe you. I think you are a god. And I would die for you or kill others.
It’s stupid, but simultaneously brilliant, which to me is a core element of what makes “Family Guy” worthy of its cultural relevance.
Derek goes to the roof to call the police. Unfortunately, not everyone heard him say that. As evidenced by this next quote…
“Oh my god, Priscilla’s gone!” -Brian Griffin
We angle on the couch where Priscilla was laid to rest. We don’t know her fate, but she is nevertheless gone. But guess who isn’t gone? Joe! He’s back!
Some assume Priscilla’s the murderer. Some think there’s more data needed to confirm if that’s true. Then we get arguably the funniest outburst of the episode. Everyone’s arguing about the situation. Peter just jumps in being himself.
PETER: Derek lifted up the Hollywood sign.
PETER: He did too, I saw the picture!
Derek reaches a balcony, dials for the police, but he’s smacked off. Splat! He hits the ground. Dr. Hartman steps in, confirms he’s dead, also noting his head was hit by a blunt object.
Everyone flies back into the mansion, gathers together in a room. Lois assumes Priscilla’s up to this, then Consuela discovers James Woods’ Golden Globe is missing. Everyone gathers around Joe, who suggests that if anyone leaves the group, they’re assumed to be the killer. They investigate Glenn Quagmire’s room, which doesn’t have anything of note. Although Stephanie’s huge underpants get some screentime, which provides for some funny lines.
LOIS: Oh it’s got flowers! I mean, why bother? Who’s gonna see em?
CHRIS: Maybe someone in space!
The gang moves onto Tom Tucker’s room. They search around, Meg gasps, slowly revealing a bloody Golden Globe in her hand.
Everyone turns on Tom Tucker, Joe wheels himself over prepared to possibly turn him in. Tucker brings up Priscilla, noting that nobody knows what she’s up to. Joe suggests that’s possible, then blood starts dripping from the ceiling.
Peter lifts Joe to the ceiling, Joe opens a vent, and a dead Priscilla is revealed, everyone screams. Tom Tucker flees the room as many of the men track him down. They capture him in the dining room, where he’s cuffed. The police take him in once the sun rises.
The music in all of these scenes, and the entire episode for that matter, is simply put, “ear porn.” That’s the best way I can describe it. I know “Family Guy” is often known for their numbers that they’ve sprinkled into various episodes, but this episode has my favorite musical score, or my favorite musical job without lyrics, particularly in the “Family Guy series.” It’s intense, grand, and it pulls you right in. It’s kind of like some movies such as “Star Wars” where the music practically plays a supporting role.
The episode’s not over. We’ve just witnessed the main course. Now it’s time for dessert.
Everyone’s about to leave, Peter and Lois are packing up. Peter checks his stuff and notices his Hot Wheels fire engine does not appear to be in his luggage. He asks Lois if they’re in the bathroom, but she suggests she put them all in his bag. Lois walks down the hall, enters Diane Simmons’ room. She asks if Diane’s okay, to which she responds saying she’s managing. Then comes… this quote.
“You sound like my mother, she actually bought me this blouse for my first solo broadcast. I guess that’s sweet, huh.” -Diane Simmons
Lois is confused, until she puts what Diane said together.
As Peter often says, “Holy crap!”
Lois backs away, suggesting she’s looking for Peter’s fire engine, but Diane points a gun at her. She’s the killer.
As if this wasn’t exciting enough, the backstory behind all of this is incredible. At times when I watch it, I feel like I am viewing this story from the point where Diane is the protagonist. It kind of gives a grand, emotional “John Wick” vibe. I even teared up a couple times by watching the last 5 to 10 minutes of the episode because it’s that good.
Diane reveals that she and James Woods met at a press event, but their relationship was a secret from the media. Then she does something that NO CARTOONS EVER DO. Age. The footage reveals she turned 40, and around this time, James dumps her. Speaking of being left behind by straight, white men, Tom Tucker started promoting a younger blonde anchor, who we now know by the name Joyce Kinney. This anchor was set to take Diane’s place in a matter of weeks.
“I saw my career and my love life crumble, and I wasn’t gonna stand by and take it.” -Diane Simmons
From here, Diane reveals she has previously taken advantage of an intern named Priscilla. Sound familiar? At Diane’s discretion, Priscilla persuades James Woods to become a born-again Christian. This inspired the dinner where Woods invited everyone he wronged. Diane wanted everything to go as smooth as possible so she could kill James Woods and frame Tom Tucker.
“Oh my god. You’re 40?” -Lois Griffin
As for Diane killing everyone else, this was not part of the plan. Stephanie, as suggested earlier in the episode, was an accident. As soon as the power went out, Diane took advantage of the darkness and put a knife in James Woods’ back. From here, she reveals that due to Priscilla and Muriel realizing Diane’s true motivations, they had to die as well. For Priscilla specifically, Diane hid her in Tom Tucker’s room. Muriel was left on the ground as everyone gathered around, and Diane was lucky enough to be “part of the scene.”
When everyone gathers in the dining room, Diane notices Derek running to the balcony.
Remember this line?
“Derek lifted up the Hollywood sign.”
Yeah, you want to know why that’s possibly the best line in the episode? Because even though it was delivered in a manner where Peter was pretty much being a smartass, Diane Simmons utilizes it and takes it seriously.
“When Peter was yelling at everybody about that picture of Derek holding up the Hollywood sign, I grabbed the Golden Globe and slipped out. I followed Derek outside and did what I had to do.” -Diane Simmons
She then reveals the rest of her plan was a success as everyone turned on Tom Tucker.
But what about Stephanie? She was the first to die! But Diane didn’t acknowledge what happened to her body and where she went!
Turns out, Quagmire had Stephanie’s body locked in his trunk. Because when your annoying girlfriend dies, you might as well keep their body as a memento! It’s a lesson for everyone!
But of course, Diane has one thing left to do. Kill Lois.
Peter comes in the room, asks Lois if she’s on her way, and adds the notion that he wants to listen to tapes, but he can’t do that without the car key. Diane says she and Lois are going to take a quick walk. So Peter just asks for the key.
Lois awkwardly hands the key, Peter runs out of the room, and Lois is forced to follow Diane’s orders. Realization sets in that these may be Lois’s final moments. She and Diane walk to the back of the property, they stumble upon a cliff. Diane is set for the kill.
LOIS: Diane, please! You don’t have to do this! I won’t tell anybody, I swear to god!
DIANE: That’s right, you won’t. Goodbye, Lois.
By the way, the music here is glorious.
We zoom out on Lois, looking as normal as ever. Then we cut to a close-up of Diane, who has a bullet through her chest. She falls off a high cliff into the water. This is the last we’ve seen of her since.
Now who killed Diane? Lois didn’t do it! Nobody else was at the scene! So who killed her? Tom Tucker? Joe? Peter? Nope!
The answer is all kinds of badass, none other than Stewie Griffin himself!
“If anybody’s gonna take that bitch down, it’s gonna be me.”
Not only does this support Stewie being one of the most kick-ass cartoon characters of all time, but from a story standpoint, I am curious to know exactly he did this. I’m not saying there’s a plot hole behind it or anything, but for years, one of the biggest storylines in “Family Guy” history is that Stewie continuously desires to kill his own mother. The series even dedicated a two-part special where Stewie and Lois try to kill each other! This is how far they’ve taken this concept! Now, Stewie subversively SAVES Lois from danger. Why does he do this? Does he love his mother? Does he realize he needs a mother figure in his life? Did Diane piss him off one time? Does he just hate the news? I’m probably asking more questions than I need to! This is a complete twist, but I love it!
This episode is written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, and she honestly went above and beyond with it. All the characters within this massive cast had a purpose of some kind. Each one a motive, something to do, and unfortunately this episode has quite a few clips that cannot be shown on most TV broadcasts due to timing purposes. So I will definitely recommend you check this episode out if it plays on TBS or Adult Swim or something, but if you have the motivation, buy the DVD. I know the series is on Hulu as well, but I am not sure how long the episode is on there.
And Then There Were Fewer also uses a classical orchestra to its fullest potential, providing for a soundtrack that I still wonder why is not on iTunes or something. The opening theme for this episode is also used in a “Family Guy” mobile game, subtitled “The Quest for Stuff.”
The animation in this episode is incredible. Not only do we get to see everything in high-definition, but they utilize flashy water, crisp skies, and I must say that the manor inside and out is wonderfully detailed. I must say, this being the first episode in widescreen must have really set the tone, because this episode goes long. Not only because it’s an hour, but because there’s so much that goes on. A vast of number of characters! Plot point after plot point! Stakes dialed up to an 11! The episode barely has any dead air.
But I think the best part about this episode is that it relies less on comedy than usual. “Family Guy” is one of my favorite shows of all time, and I will say part of the reason why is because it makes me laugh harder than perhaps any other show I can think of. But when the show can do something different, make me feel emotions, almost get me to tear up WHILE STILL BEING FUNNY, that is a sign of a masterpiece. This thing gives me chills, man! I felt for everyone during the episode. Everyone who wondered if they were the next to die. Those who were perhaps about to die. Maybe not Stephanie, but she was a gag character, so it’s not like I was supposed to get emotionally invested in her. I even felt bad for Diane by the end of it. I understood her motivation despite the reveal that she killed everybody, because I got a sense of her struggle. This is a character that has appeared every now and then on the show, and to see her at this point, where she defends herself for her deadly actions, is kind of hauntingly beautiful.
But just a reminder, the most important thing we all learned in this episode iiiiiissssss…
“Derek lifted up the Hollywood sign.” -Peter Griffin
Don’t you forget it!
In the end, And Then There Were Fewer is incredibly rewatchable, insanely beautiful, and provides perhaps the greatest blend of comedy and emotion in the entire series. Characters develop, thus allowing the show to develop down the road. It’s something I kind of wish this show would do more. Yes, it said goodbye to a few characters, but with an ending like this, comes a new beginning. We say goodbye to Diane Simmons, but now we have Joyce Kinney. They say change is inevitable, but I think “Family Guy” handles such an inevitability brilliantly. And Then There Were Fewer to this day, officially ten years after it came out, is my favorite “Family Guy” episode, and may just be my favorite television episode of all time.
You want to know how good this episode is? Even Seth MacFarlane himself says that this is favorite episode!
“I think this is my favorite episode of the series. A classic format, great-looking direction, and, I hope, a genuinely surprising ending. It was also the first episode to air in HD. It was really cool to finally see Lois’ pores.” -Seth MacFarlane (Retrieved from: Seth MacFarlane Reveals His 20 Favorite ‘Family Guy’ Episodes)
If the creator says its the best, that says something! Also goes to show that great minds think alike!
Today, “Family Guy” is continuously losing steam despite a few great episodes here and there. Although I will give the show credit for being a pioneer in adult animation for going where say “The Simpsons” can’t, and essentially making the cutaway gag a trademark. Season 19, not to mention the show’s 350th episode, is set to premiere on Fox tomorrow. I will most likely be watching, but “And Then There Were Fewer” is an episode that reminds me of what makes this series so watchable. The characters, the storylines, the brilliant writing. It all comes together beautifully. I will be looking forward to season 19 of “Family Guy,” not to mention the recently announced seasons 20 and 21. But I long for the day where “Family Guy” makes an episode as good as this. Although, just remember one thing, and one thing only.
“Derek lifted up the Hollywood sign.” -Peter Griffin
It’s in the picture!
Thanks for reading this post! It’s not every day that I decide to talk about television, but I figured since And Then There Were Fewer turns ten today, that would make for a good opportunity to do a post like this. But if you are interested in my movie content, feel free to check out my review for “Tenet!” Or, as some call it, the only movie in theaters right now! I’m not sure when I’ll get to talk about TV again. Maybe when another streaming service comes out or something, but we shall see. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account so you can stay tuned for more great content! You know what grinds my gears? The fact that more people are not checking out my Facebook page! So do yourself a favor, and check out the official Scene Before Facebook page! I want to know, did you ever watch the “Family Guy” episode titled And Then There Were Fewer? What did you think about it? Or, what is your favorite “Family Guy” episode? As of today, you have 349 to choose from, which is quite a buttload! Leave your freakin’ comments down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!