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‘Infinite’ Review

For a blockbuster film that was shot with the intent of being released into theaters, this is one of the most straight-to-streaming-looking films I’ve ever seen.

“Infinite” stars Mark Wahlberg as a man diagnosed with schizophrenia, only to realize he is actually seeing memories of his past lives and must join a secret organization in order to stop a madman from destroying the world. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sophie Cookson, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Toby Jones, and Dylan O’Brien also star while Antoine Fuqua directs.

Like many 2020 films, “Infinite” was set to be released in theaters but was delayed, only to be moved streaming. While Paramount sold off several of its films, including “Trial of the Chicago 7” to Netflix, they held onto “Infinite,” opting to make it the first exclusive Paramount+ feature film (the service released “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run” in February, but that received theater and Netflix releases elsewhere). I’m not sure why the studio felt like “Infinite” was the film that needed to be held onto and be the official hat tossed into the streaming ring, but it is a nonsensical, boring mess of a film that will be seen by few and remembered by even less.

Mark Wahlberg has always been a hit-and-miss actor in both performances and his choice of vehicles, with great work in the likes of “Boogie Nights” and “The Departed” to unwatchable bombs like “Mile 22” and the “Transformers” sequels. This falls into the latter category, with Wahlberg sleepwalking through his role. He offers narration here and there throughout, and by the end it sounds like he is reading his lines as part of a hostage video.

Chiwetel Ejiofor is another talented actor who seems to almost exclusively choose projects far below what he deserves (“2012,” “Locked Down,” “The Secret in Their Eyes”) and here he is equally as bad as Wahlberg, but at least he has the dignity to have fun with his role. Ejiofor is so over-the-top as the film’s bad guy, chewing up every scene he is in, that at least he made an effort to deserve his paycheck. The rest of the cast ranges from bland to cringe, with Jason Mantzoukas doing his normal crazy annoying guy schtick from a dozen other things. Outside Wahlberg, I couldn’t tell you a single character’s name if you put a gun to my head.

Antoine Fuqua is a talented filmmaker, he has made genuine good films (“Training Day”) and fun action flicks (“Shooter” and “Olympus Has Fallen”), so to see a PG-13 film like this so devoid of style or entertainment is actually baffling. The action set pieces are cut together so haphazardly that it is impossible to tell what is going on, and there was only one moment that I chuckled because of a clever grenade kill.

By far the worst aspect of the film, however, is the screenplay. It is the type of script that has bad guys are evil for the sake of being evil, with no attempts to justify or rationalize their actions like Thanos or Killmonger. New gadgets and rules get introduced every other scene, and for a film not based on a book series with huge established lore there are surface-level attempts of world-building that are quickly abandoned.

“Infinite” has all the visual appeal of a straight-to-DVD movie, with the razor-sharp writing of a Hallmark film. It truly is unbelievable that a film with this many talented people involved (including two Academy Award-nominated actors and a proven director) is not only just bad, but extraordinarily boring. If we really are going to move our blockbuster films out of theaters and onto streaming services (God forbid), we deserve a helluva lot better than whatever this film was trying to be.

Critics Rating: 3/10

‘A Quiet Place Part II’ Review

Theaters are BACK, baby!

“A Quiet Place Part II” is the sequel to the 2018 sleeper hit, again written and directed by John Krasinski. The film follows a woman and her children (Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, and Noah Jupe) one more having to navigate a world where aliens are hunting them based on sound; Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou join the cast.

This was due out in theaters in March 2020 (I had my ticket bought and was a week out from going) but became one of the initial films to be delayed due to the coronavirus shutting down theaters. It has been a long wait, but there is something poetic about “A Quiet Place Part II,” a rare sequel that does its predecessor justice, being the first “big” release of the (almost) post-pandemic era.

“A Quiet Place” took a lot of people by surprise when it came out, and came *this* close getting a Best Picture nomination (it earned top nods at nearly every guild). I like the film and think Krasinski, known for his comedy, did a good job directing the thriller. The sequel ups the stakes (and by default, the budget) but Krasinski manages to keep the film’s heart in-tact. The action sequences are bigger and I really enjoyed the tracking shots and use of background actors to create a sense of chaos, compared to the “hold your breath and look over your shoulder” sequences of the first film. I think he does make the mistake a lot of monster movies (especially sequels) make and shows the creatures a bit too often (the scariest thing is what you can’t see), but it is never overly excessive. I do think that we lose some of the “don’t you dare make a sound” tension since the characters have a way to fight the creatures, but Krasinski is able to play with these new rules.

Emily Blunt and Noah Jupe are both great talents and they’re good here, but the show belongs to Millicent Simmonds and Cillian Murphy. Simmonds takes the reigns as the lead of the film, and she and Murphy, playing a man dealing with being alone in this bold new world, make an interesting team. Their quest is where “Quiet Place 2” thrives, creating some of the tensest sequences of the film.

Much like the first film, I think it takes a bit of time to get the ball rolling, but once Krasinski really gets things moving he doesn’t stop until the credits roll. The film does have some moments of poor sound editing where it is difficult to make out what actors are saying, but for the most part the seamless transition from booming screams, to static, to mute make for an immersive experience.

The film does a great job of building off the lore and rules of the first installment while introducing new challenges and risks, and that isn’t an easy thing for a sequel to do (clearly; name five follow-ups as good as their predecessors). You hear the line “this deserves to be seen in a theater” a lot and usually it’s just code for “this is a big-budget blockbuster that you will forget about almost instantly” but in this case it is actually true: this film deserves to be seen in a theater. From the sound, to the action, to simply giving Krasinski and his team the support they deserve, “A Quiet Place Part II” is a great unofficial start to both the summer movie season and return to normalcy at the cinema.

Critics Rating: 8/10

‘Cruella’ Review

I really think I like these live-action Disney remakes more when they add onto the original stories and aren’t just shot-for-shot remakes like “The Lion King.”

“Cruella” is the origin story for the “101 Dalmatians” villain, with Emma Stone in the titular role as the criminal mastermind obsessed with fashion. Emma Thompson, Joel Fry, Paul Walter Hauser, Emily Beecham, Kirby Howell-Baptiste, and Mark Strong also star, with Craig Gillespie directing.

You can just engrave the 2021 Oscars for Hair & Makeup and Costume Design to this film already, because from the opening frame to the closing shot they steal the show. Taking advantage of London’s 1970s fashion scene, Jenny Beavan (a two-time Academy Award winner herself) creates elaborate dresses and detailed jackets, and has each character leap off the screen.

Aiding them greatly is Emma Stone, who continues to somehow impress and surprise me despite already being an Oscar winner. Stone makes the character of Cruella her own and in a way gets to play dual roles, since the film presents the black-and-white haired Cruella as a mysterious alter-ego to Stone’s timid Estalla, a product of the streets growing up. Stone carries her normal charm and wit, and gives one of the better performances of these Disney remakes.

I also really liked Joel Fry and Paul Walter Hauser as Jasper and Horace, Cruella’s (somewhat reluctant) partners in crime. Fry has good comedic timing and Hauser has shown he can play a likable buffoon, and the pair play well off Stone’s energy. It is also always a treat to see Emma Thompson in anything, much less getting to have her chew scenery as a bad guy.

The film has a great energy about it, and for the most part you don’t feel its 134-minute runtime. Full of incredible music and snappy direction, the film moves along well, only really struggling in the third act where things get a little too repetitive. It could also be argued that this is not a kid’s film (it is rated PG-13), but there isn’t anything too crazy here that a 10+ audience couldn’t handle.

As we start to get back to normal and theaters return to the forefront, it is good to see we will have some quality pictures to check out. “Cruella” plays out like “Joker” and “The Devil Wears Prada” had a lovechild, but I really enjoyed myself during it and recommend supporting your local theater by seeing a film so vibrant on the big screen.

Critics Rating: 8/10

‘Cherry’ Review


I’m all for Tom Holland and the Russo brothers spreading their creative wings and trying to do more than Marvel blockbuster films, but maybe they should choose better projects than this one.

“Cherry” is based on the popular semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Nico Walker. Tom Holland stars as an Army veteran who battles PTSD and an opioid addiction, and resorts to robbing banks in order to pay for his habits. Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Michael Rispoli, and Jeff Wahlberg also star while Joe and Anthony Russo direct.

The Russo brothers began their careers with small comedies but are best known for directing several installments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including the two best films of the franchise “Captain America: The Winter Solider” and “Avengers: Infinity War.” They have branched out into the action-thriller genre in producing roles with “Extraction” (starring the MCU’s Chris Hemsworth) and “21 Bridges” (with the late/great Chadwick Boseman), but this marks their first directorial effort outside the MCU in nearly 10 years. There are flashes of inspiration and style, but overall “Cherry” is a misstep on nearly every level.

Tom Holland quickly became a fan-favorite after being a scene-stealer as Spider-Man in “Captain America: Civil War” and has since grown a large fanbase. He continues to charm as the superhero but has also tried to branch out into more serious films, including this past fall’s “The Devil All the Time.” Holland is undoubtably a talented actor and will one day get his big awards, but that won’t start with “Cherry.” He is asked to convey a lot of emotions- love, scared, scarred, angry- but is let down by a very hacky and juvenile script. Some of the lines that Holland is forced to deliver are just too awkward or unnatural to be taken seriously. It is nowhere near a bad performance, Holland has some moments where he carries himself well, but this would be a tough task for any actor to sell.

The screenplay was written by Angela Russo-Otstot (the director’s sister) and Jessica Goldberg, and it is, simply put, not good. There are 4th wall breaks (until there aren’t), awkward narration (until there isn’t), and unnecessary use of profanity (“you want me to punch this guy in the d*ck?”). It jumps around time liberally, hurting any real sense of momentum or continuity, and there are really no redeemable characters in this entire ordeal. I’m not sure how loyal of an adaptation this was of the book, but it in no way made me interested to read it.

On top of the random choices from a narrative perspective, the Russos chose to use random moments of slow-mo, big words on-screen, and not-so-subtle commentary (one of the names of the banks Holland robs is called “Sh*tty Bank”). It makes the entire film come off like a pretentious student project, and for having directed the “Avengers” films that have such vibrant characters and massive scopes, there is very little trace of either of those things here. The only real compliment I can give the direction is towards the very end the bank heist scenes have some tension.

“Cherry” could have maybe been worth the mildest of recommendations if it was a 100-minute movie about a PTSD veteran who robs banks, but coming in at a pretentious and bloated 141-minute runtime there isn’t a real reason to watch this. Maybe if you fast forward past the first hour where Holland is a lovesick puppy dog awkwardly jamming exposition down our throats you can find some enjoyment, but otherwise this film is swing and a miss Oscar bait. Anthony Russo said that the pair made this film as part of the “one for them, one for you” Hollywood mantra, but the end result is more like “one for them, one for nobody.”

Critics Rating: 4/10

‘The Independents’ Review

“The Independents” is a semi-true story of the formation of the band The Sweet Remains, and stars the real-life members of the band Rich Price, Greg Naughton, and Brian Chartrand as fictionalized versions of themselves. Naughton also writes and directs, with Boyd Gaines, James Naughton, Keira Naughton, Kelli O’Hara, Chris Sullivan, George Wendt, and Richard Kind also starring.

I typically like these small films that feel “real,” with the best way I can describe this is a mix between “Sideways” and last year’s “The Climb.” We have seen the “struggling artists come together for one last shot at fame” story a hundred times before and this doesn’t make any attempt to break the mold, but thanks to some genuine performances, humorous writing, and toe-tapping songs, this film mostly works.

The three main stars each play a different stereotype we typically find in the genre, with Greg Naughton playing the stoner with marital problems, Rich Price acting as a man who thinks he missed the boat and is stuck teaching a college course, and Brian Chartrand as the care-free spirit (who may or may not be close to homelessness). The three share some solid chemistry (they are real-life friends, after all), and when they do have conflict it is not overtly contrived.

The three-man harmony isn’t a genre of music we hear too often these days (a point made in the film by Richard Kind’s agent character), and the melodies are soft and warm.

The film shows the emotional toll that trying to chase your dreams can take on a person and their relationships, and even if it is a bit rushed and open-ended by the end of the film, sometimes it isn’t about the destination so much as the journey. “The Independents” is an independent film that is easy to watch and forgive the flaws, because you can sense the passion the crew had while making it. In a world where capes and creatures dominate our screens, sometimes a small-scale humanistic story is refreshing, even while familiar.

Critics Rating: 7/10

‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ Review

This film will be noted as one of the best of 2021, but is going to receive nominations for the 2020 awards season. Make it make sense.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” tells the story of criminal-turned-FBI informant William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) and his betrayal of Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith, and Martin Sheen also star, while Shaka King directs.

Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield are two of the best rising talents in Hollywood right now, with both going from obscure favorites to mainstream faces following “Get Out” in 2017. Kaluuya earned an Oscar nomination for his work there, and subsequent praise for his performance in “Widows” and appearance in “Black Panther,” while Stanfield has appeared in numerous acclaimed films like “Knives Out,” “Uncut Gems,” and “Sorry to Bother You.” Their reunion here produces a film that is entertaining and intense, but also ponderous and at times infuriating.

As Fred Hampton, Daniel Kaluuya embodies charisma and passion. An onlooker of one of his speeches calls him a poet, and it’s certainly true. He enters rallies to the sound of drums and the chanting of his name from a roaring crowd like he’s a college football star running out of the tunnel onto the field, and makes a point to gather oppressed people from all walks of life, not just African Americans. Like Martin Luther King Jr., Hampton knew he would not live to see old age (he would die at just 21) but he is ready to trade his life for the advancement of the people.

As petty thief William O’Neal, LaKeith Stanfield has a much more challenging role to balance, essentially playing a less-moral version of Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Departed.” Having his arm twisted by the FBI to infiltrate the Panthers in lieu of going to prison, O’Neal is portrayed as much more conflicted in the film than he was in real life but it serves the story wonderfully. While in reality O’Neal felt “no allegiance” to Hampton and the Panthers, director Shaka King and co-writers Will Berson and Kenny and Keith Lucas choose to make O’Neal becoming a rat much more of a conflict of emotion. In one scene where Stanfield must keep his Panther facade up during a rally despite realizing his cover may be about to be blown, and it is masterful acting and direction by all parties. There is the classic “who else knows about me?” confrontation between O’Neal and his FBI handler, as well as a nice touch by King to have the pair meet in progressively more fancy settings as the film goes on to symbolize how removed from his own world O’Neal is becoming, and it adds a little bit of freshness to a story beat we’ve seen before.

The supporting cast is solid as well, with Jesse Plemons playing O’Neil’s FBI handler thinking he means well, comparing the possible threat of the radical Panther party to that of the KKK. However, he and J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen, in make-up and prosthetics that make him look like Danny DeVito’s Penguin) would rather take Hampton and the Party out than fix any actual problems that created the need for the Panthers in the first place (“you can’t cheat your way to equality” Plemons says to Stanfield).

I really enjoyed the musical score by Mark Isham and Craig Harris, too. It has its tender moments of delicate piano, intense sequences with knocking of wooden blocks, and some cool drum and guitar riffs when characters and simply hanging out. The cinematography by Sean Bibbitt is also pretty good, with nice framing and detailed rain sequences.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” is by-default the best film of 2021 to date (no offense to “The Marksman” or “Outside the Wire”), but I already know I will be talking about it all the way through my Top 10 list in December. Much like “The Trial of the Chicago 7” it may take place in the 1960s but the parallels to modern times could not be any clearer, and it adds to an already impressive filmography from its lead stars. This may not be an easy watch for some people, but it is a necessary one for all.

Critics Rating: 9/10

‘Wonder Woman 1984’ Review

This film’s entire message is “careful what you wish for,” and it rings true about the release of the film itself.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is the sequel to the 2017 film, and features Gal Gadot returning to the titular role. Here, she and her long-lost love Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) must stop a businessman bent on taking over the world (Pedro Pascal). Kristen Wiig also stars as supervillain Cheetah, while Robin Wright and Connie Nielsen reprise their roles as Wonder Woman’s mother mentors; Patty Jenkins returns to the director’s chair.

I really liked the first “Wonder Woman” film. The climax leaves more to be desired, but the overall product was good enough to place on my 2017 Top 10 list, and I think it remains the best film of the DCEU (granted, a low bar). “1984” was due out this June but then, well, you know what happened. Warner Bros. ended up releasing it simultaneously in theaters and streaming on HBO Max on Christmas, a move met with a polarized response. From the success of the first installment to the fun trailers for this one, hype and clamoring for this were high, but after seeing the end result we would have all been fine just waiting to see it on the big screen.

One of the highlights of the 2017’s film was the chemistry between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, and that again is the film’s biggest strength here. I won’t go into detail about how/why Pine manages to return to a sequel set 70 years after the first film, but rest assured he’s a treat. Gadot is again solid, although the thick accent occasionally makes bits of dialogue hard to make out.

Newcomers Kristen Wiig and Pedro Pascal are a lukewarm bag. Early on, they are both chiasmatic and own the screen, with Pascal being a (borderline) con-man and Wiig being her normal dorky self. However once both go into supervillain mode they become literal cartoon characters, and don’t seem to belong in the world that Patty Jenkins has created.

And let’s talk about that world. Much like the “X-Men” reboots/prequels, this film goes out of its way to remind you the decade in which it is set, however other than using the anxieties of the Cold War, this could have taken place at any point in time. Jenkins throws fanny packs, arcades, and perms at the screen, and it’s fun to go “ha ha, the 80s were weird, huh” a few times but after a while you just want the plot to, you know, make some sense.

And almost none of this film makes any sense. There is a magic stone that grants wishes, and as the plot goes on there are more and more things that it can do, but it is never explained how or why. Do people have to submit to the will of the stone once asking for something? Is one person’s wish negated by another? They establish you must be touching it to get your wish, but then that rule is ignored later one in a big way. None of these things are answered, and by the time the climax comes around there is so much going on yet it feels like nothing is happening.

Some of the effects are cool and action scenes well-staged, however a few sequences are laughably bad. Whether it is over/under-acting by Gadot, to clear stunt wires and greenscreen, maybe seeing this on the big screen would make these flaws more forgivable. But seated on my couch with others I am free to vocally point out my issues as I see them, instead of being wowed by the spectacle of it all. Warner Bros. may have inadvertently created a situation that advocates and encourages theater-going over streaming, because I feel I am not the only one who will walk away from this with a sour taste in my mouth from the final 30 minutes, instead remembering the fun (enough) two hours.

“Wonder Woman 1984” starts out fun and fine, but as it chugs along it eventually goes completely off the rails. It is a disappointment in a year of disappointments but for whatever it’s worth, this is still one of the better DC films; unlike “Suicide Squad” or “Justice League,” at least this doesn’t feel like a studio-mandated Frankenstein of a film.

Critics Rating: 5/10

‘The Midnight Sky’ Review

As far as blatant rip-offs go, I’ve seen worse than this.

“The Midnight Sky” is the latest directorial effort from George Clooney, based on the novel “Good Morning, Midnight.” The film follows a lone scientist in the Arctic (Clooney) who must journey to a radio tower to warn off a returning spaceship (containing Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Demián Bichir, and Kyle Chandler) after a global catastrophe on Earth.

George Clooney is a very interesting director. When he hits, he hits, with serious dramas like “The Ides of March” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.” However he has recently fallen into a bit of a rough spell, with missed opportunities like “Monuments Men” and the awful “Suburbicon.” His latest (and most ambitious) effort, “The Midnight Sky,” is his first attempt at both a blockbuster and at taking part in the Netflix machine, and while the results are mixed, I think there is enough here to be worth checking out from your couch.

As far as his direction here goes, I appreciated Clooney’s humanistic approach. He had to take a “crash course” on visual effects (more on that in a second), but as far as his handling of the actors go, I think he did a good job getting personal performances from his cast. As far as the story goes, it’s a bit more mixed, because while Clooney’s personal “Revenant” journey through the Arctic with a young girl (Caoilinn Springall) is intense and emotional, the sequences aboard the spaceship belong in a completely different movie (and that movie is “The Martian”).

Half of the special effects are solid here, but in 2020 it takes a lot to wow an audience (especially without seeing them on a big screen). Some of the greenscreen moments are a bit wonky, but Clooney does manage to take a page out of his “Gravity” playbook and create a few “wow” moments when he pans back to reveal the full scope of the universe. In a year where “Birds of Prey” is going to end up as the highest-grossing superhero movie, I could see “Midnight Sky” slipping into the awards talk for its production value, but in a normal year this wouldn’t earn any additional talk for its VFX.

The familiarity of the film certainly hinders it, and for some viewers may even ruin things. However I found myself enjoying a fair amount, whether it was with the film (an exciting snowstorm sequence shot in real-life 50 mph winds at 40-below) or at its expense (the astronauts break out into a carpool karaoke of “Sweet Caroline” like its the 7th inning at Fenway; dumb). Alexandre Desplat’s score, while on-the-nose at points, is also very good, and is one of my favorites of the year.

“The Midnight Sky” thinks it is being slick trying to be a half-dozen better films rolled into one, but given our limited amount of big-budget fair in 2020 I think this latest attempt by Netflix to break into the blockbuster game is admirable-enough to warrant checking. Sure, you could watch “The Revenant” or “Interstellar” or “Ad Astra” instead (and likely should), but for those who demand little and want something “new” (used in the loosest of terms), I think this works.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘All My Life’ Review

Sometimes good intentions aren’t good enough.

“All My Life” is based on a true story and follows a young couple (Jessica Rothe and Harry Shum Jr.) that must put their wedding on hold after one of them receives a cancer diagnosis. Kyle Allen, Chrissie Fit, Jay Pharoah, Marielle Scott, and Keala Settle also star while Marc Meyers directs.

In a film like this, the performances of the leads are important. Thankfully, Jessica Rothe (known for “Happy Death Day”) and Harry Shum Jr. show flashes of chemistry and charisma, with a few entertaining exchanges early on (“go on, wit me” Rothe says to him after meeting at a bar). They may not have the same sizzling partnership as Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, but they are able to come off as a real couple.

Unfortunately, that is about where the compliments end. The rest of the film is simply bland, from the direction to the screenplay. It truly never builds up any momentum, and there is never any real conflict. The pair meet in the second scene of the film and begin dating in the third, and then once Shum is diagnosed with cancer we don’t really see his struggles depicted in a gradual decline, like in “50/50.” There are one or two scenes where the gravity of the situation overtakes the couple, but otherwise his appearance never changes and if we weren’t being straight-up told the updates by the doctor we would have no idea how concerned to be.

Most of the plot focuses on the couple and their friends racing to put together a wedding while Shum is still healthy, and there isn’t any real drama or stakes there, either. Everything continues to fall into line, which is obviously great if that is how it played out for the real couple, but doesn’t make for entertaining cinema. A film like, say, “The Photograph” may seem familiar in its structure, but its camera work and backdrop (both this and that film were shot in New Orleans) keep us visually engaged; this doens’t give us that luxury.

Look, I am in no way this film’s target demographic. I like romantic comedies just fine (I just watched “The Broken Hearts Gallery” and found it delightful), but romantic dramas are typically hit-or-miss with me. Maybe the teenage girls looking for a good cry will find enough here to be worth their while, but when I wasn’t bored watching this, I just kept thinking of better movies of similar premises. “All My Life” isn’t inherently “bad,” it’s just blah.

Critics Rating: 4/10

‘Mank’ Review

I feel the amount of anticipation and pressure on this film and David Fincher to deliver can’t be understated.

“Mank” is the latest film from director David Fincher, and his first since 2014’s “Gone Girl.” Written by his father Jack Fincher, the film follows writer Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and his development of the script for “Citizen Kane” in 1940; Amanda Seyfried, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard, Tom Burke, and Charles Dance also star.

I’m a decent fan of David Fincher’s work, from “Se7en” to “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (one of the biggest crimes of the 21st century is us never getting a proper sequel to that), and of course the director’s crowning achievement “The Social Network” (the actual biggest crime of the century is him losing Best Director to “The King’s Speech’s” Tom Hooper). Fincher took some time away from directing films to focus on developing the series “House of Cards” and “Mindhunter” for Netflix but he is back with “Mank,” a film written by his father Jack (who passed away in 2003). Originally set to star Kevin Spacey in the late-90s, the film is a witty and meticulous view of the old Hollywood system and the demons that men with power face, and while it may not rank among Fincher’s best works, I feel it is one of 2020’s better films nevertheless.

For the longest time, Gary Oldman was one of those actors that everyone knew and loved but he never seemed to get the dramatic roles that matched his talents. He finally won an Oscar for his turn as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour” (whether he deserved it over Timothée Chalamet is another story), and here he is as solid as expected. Oldman’s Mankiewicz is dry and witty, except when he’s sloppy and drunk, and always seems to be the smartest man in the room. It isn’t groundbreaking work, but as he himself says, “you cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours, all you can hope is to leave the impression of one;” and we come away knowing exactly the kind of guy Mank was.

My favorite performance comes from Amanda Seyfried, who portrays actress Marion Davies. Seyfried is sympathetic and while she has less scenes than you would imagine, her presence is felt as a young woman who feels like she has to keep her opinions quiet in a room full of rich old men. The rest of the cast is expectedly good, including Arliss Howard as studio head Louis B. Mayer and Tom Burke as Orson Welles, who perfectly nails Welles’ deep voice and charismatic mannerisms.

Outside Aaron Sorkin’s quips, this is my favorite kind of script. The old-timey rat-a-tat dialogue that is just so sharp and witty that it makes you chuckle even though the line wasn’t technically a joke (“how’s the leg?” Wells asks an injured Mank. “Oh you know, knee bone connected to the thigh bone” he replies). This could land Jack Fincher an Oscar nomination 25 years after he completed the script and more than 17 years after his death, a feat that would mirror August Wilson and his work on “Fences” a few years back.

David Fincher projects always look great, typically with a nice color pallet (“Se7en” is yellow, “Gone Girl” blue, “House of Cards” grey, etc). Here the film is shot in black-and-white, the reason it took Fincher so long to find a studio to back the project, and emphasizes shadows. It is clearly an homage to “Citizen Kane” and the films of old, and at times it is pretty to look at. It never comes off in the same stunning and almost hypnotic way as say, “Roma,” but the cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt works great in certain sequences.

Now the film has a lot on its mind, from the 1934 government race to the old studio system, and not all of it blends perfectly together. Things feel disjointed at times, with the narrative constantly jumping back and forth between Mank trying to keep his socialist views quiet in a Republican-oriented industry (which makes you chuckle when you look at Hollywood today) and his 1940 writing of the script injured in a bed. Also, despite the true authorship of the “Citizen Kane” script being both a big historical controversy and a selling point of the film, the subject is treated as an afterthought until Fincher throws it in (the film itself ends rather abruptly).

“Mank” may not be for everyone but if you love movies, Hollywood, and alcoholism (or the seething criticism of the three) then you should get you kicks here. Do I wish this was an all-timer and not “just” a good movie? Sure, the pieces certainly were there. But I found myself engaged from start to finish, and look forward to revisiting the world again.

Critics Rating: 8/10