August 18, 2023

What We’re Watching: August 18, 2023



Ron Howard returns to Apollo 13 territory with Thirteen Lives (2022), based on actual events film about the Thai futbol team and coach stuck in a flooded cave back in 2018. While the dialogue and characters are not as well refined as in his 1995 Best Picture nominee, there are convincing performances, good photography, strong editing, and some great tension in the underwater sequences. Like with the dice in Solo: A Star Wars Story, Howard overly relies on the imagery of the statue at the mouth of the cave for…his own reasons that are not entirely clear to the audience. Regardless of that, and while there are other nits to pick, there is no question this is Ron Howard’s best film in years. I liked some of his recent efforts enough, but here he returns to fine form. Recommend


A TikTok clip had me decide to accept The Proposal — the 2009 Ryan Reynolds/Sandra Bullock rom-com.  And, boy, what a joyless by-the-numbers film it was. At times I had to stop and check that I wasn’t watching a Hallmark holiday movie about the big-city girl that goes to a small town and learns to appreciate their ways while falling in love with the small-town boy. Bullock sheds all her natural charm to be the uptight executive who has to pretend to marry her assistant to avoid being deported (to Canada). Reynolds is her put-upon assistant who agrees to go along with the sham of a wedding…and I’ve seen Reynolds charm me in ads for mobile phones, but here he seems stifled and lacks the charisma that comes so naturally to him. Usually a script with low aspirations results in a bland film, but I couldn’t believe something so formulaic could be so dull. I watched the clock as much as I watched this movie. The only high point was Betty White, who is great in everything, as Reynold’s wacky grandmother. But this is a Proposal you should staunchly refuse. Not Recommend


I’m a Jason Statham fan, straight up and down, so with a few weeks to go until the next Expendables I flipped over to his 2011 remake of Charles Bronson’s The Mechanic. Statham plays an assassin who specializes in hits that look like accidents, and along the way he picks up Ben Foster as a protégé, though the latter has hidden motives that I won’t spoil. Statham does his solemn acting thing – this isn’t one where he smiles and cracks a few one-liners – and he’s as good as he usually is, but Foster’s the one I keep thinking about. That guy is very focused on being a serious actor, you can tell by the projects he selects, and here he’s so dialed in, so precise in his character’s movements and dialogue, that you have to exhale when the movie’s over. It’s not that director Simon West has crafted some kind of action masterpiece, it’s just that Foster is very intense. I appreciate that in his performances, though, obviously, this is not the best movie he’s made. It’s a weak recommend for the stars and the creativity of the assassination scenarios. If I can make it all the way through the sequel, Mechanic: Resurrection, without getting bored and pressing “stop” (I’m on my third try now), I’ll let you know how that turned out.


I rewatched a ’80s relic I hadn’t seen in over 30 years – 1988’s Satisfaction, one of the few star vehicles for Family Ties star Justine Bateman. It’s a light, breezy tale about a Bangles-esque girl group who are doing all they can to hit it big in the music biz, recruiting a male keyboard player and stumbling their way onto a high-paying gig playing at a Florida nightclub. It’s probably most interesting for the appearance of two future stars in supporting roles – Julia Roberts as the band’s fun-loving bass guitarist and Liam Neeson as the nightclub owner. It would have been a much better film if Roberts and Bateman had swapped roles actually, and Neeson is great as well with a low-key dramatic performance amid a lot of silliness. But the soundtrack is great and the cast likeable and engaging. And because this is an ’80s comedy, you better believe there’s a beach volleyball montage.


Asteroid City (2023) is among my favorite Wes Anderson projects. It is also one of his saddest. Almost every scene has an undertone of sadness to it, but it makes the warm moments feel even warmer, with Maya Hawke and Rupert Friend having one moment in particular that I found to be very moving. As a big fan of theater and acting, I really appreciated its homages to key theater figures like Tennessee Williams, Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg. It has one of the most stacked casts I’ve ever seen in a film and everyone does a really good job, but Jason Schwartzman takes the cake with a great and nuanced performance. Also, I’m not gonna spoil it but there’s a cameo that delivers one of the best monologues of the year. Strong recommend.


Last week for my own birthday, I decided to finally watch one of John Hughes’ seminal movies — Sixteen Candles (1984) — and, man, it did not hold up anywhere near the level of enjoyment that I was expecting. Molly Ringwald is as charming as ever, and it’s easy to see why she was the hottest star of the 80s. But beyond her, I couldn’t relate to any of these characters. Anthony Michael Hall plays the geek pining after his crush, and normally I’d expect the underdog loser to be a plucky, likable protagonist. Here, with the panty-chasing, the inability to take a hint, and the taking advantage of passed-out Caroline, none of it paints the geek in a positive light. Then there’s the popular guy–who’d I expect to be the antagonist–who comes off as mostly a nice guy–until he pawns his passed-out girlfriend to the geek. And then the overly broad stereotype that is Long Duk Dong felt like it belonged in a bad 50s comedy. So I fail to see why this movie is propped up. Ferris Bueller’s Day OffThe Breakfast ClubPlanes, Trains and Automobiles–those are great Hughes movies. But I won’t be rushing back to Sixteen Candles anytime soon.

Leave a Reply