Recent Films

December 27, 2019    

(n.b. a couple Skywalker spoilers below)

Ford v Ferrari

Some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies in a long time, a long time. Bigger than life and action packed, the story of how Ford and Carrol Shelby took on Ferrari at the 1966 Le Mans is terrific. Affecting performances all around, with Christian Bale once again just taking over the movie. As always, lots of quibbles about the actual story (see below) but still more fun than expected. And if I’m not mistaken, a lot of the race highlights show great closeups of the drivers in perfect Speed Racer grimaces.

The 24-Hour War

On Netflix, this documentary on the Ford Vs. Ferrari story is much more subdued than the film but earnestly presented. Fleshes out many of the other minor characters seen in the film and also gives credit where it is due to Ford Motor Co. itself - no Shelby didn’t build the car all by himself. More importantly, it gives the backstory to Shelby and gives much more insight into the legendary driver/builder (Matt Damon’s Shelby is much more polished and business-like than reality).


An astonishingly complete story of the first act of the naval battles of World War II. Including a brief prologue in Tokyo from the late ’30s, this covers the strategy and tactics of the main battles from Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raid, to Coral Sea, and the Battle of Miday – a period of just over 6 months. Amazing how the film honors each of those events and how they were connected. A great example: The film deftly shows how the U.S. submarine Nautilus was used in Midway, how the Japanese navy tried to depth charge bomb it, how the last Japanese ship had to steam full-speed back to their fleet, and how that ship’s course helped guide U.S. pilots to the remaining Japanese aircraft carriers.

Unlike many other films, there’s no awkwardness when showing wives and family at home nor any contrived love story; the stars of the film are the main combatants, pilots, seamen, code-breakers, and ships. And the actors are uniformly good: Woody Harrelson as Nimitz, Dennis Quade as Halsey, Aaron Eckhart (though too tall!) as Doolittle, and Patrick Wilson as the brilliant intelligence office Layton.

The Rise of Skywalker

Great end to the latest trilogy. Not sure what the fuss is all about. If the problem is that there’s too much stuff going on - at the end of the day that’s a good thing. Too much fan service? Thank the maker. Too many convenient non-plot-twists? Just enjoy the ride. It is what it is. Frankly, if Return of the Jedi didn’t ruin the series with just-another-death-star, then the prequels helped shape the story in to one long saga about the Emporer’s rise and his weapons program, so then wrapping all this up with a scene on the destroyed Death Star and Palpatine’s machinations (in more ways than one), is just fine.

Even better, the new cast is still great (And Richard Grant’s Admiral Pryde is fantastic) and effects and music are as good as ever. Only quibbles are how little screen time C-3PO and R2D2 got overall and, as I’ve said, the decision not to have a fanfare of some sort before the iconic “A long time ago….” title card.

And how did they convince John Williams to having a cameo? His time is far too valuable!

The Irishman

Like discovering a new symphony by Beethoven, we’ve got another Scorcese/DeNiro/Pesci mob movie, this time with Pacino (and Ray Ramano too!). Beautiful and sedate in tone – and requiring a couple nights to digest – this putative story of the rise of the gangster Frank Sheerhan and the rift between the mob and the truckers union is told in a not-entirely clear patchwork of flashbacks. At the end, there’s not a great deal we learn about Sheerhan, no particular motivation or even his response to unfolding events. It’s all a bit too flat. But getting to see, e.g. Pesci rise to a new level of acting ability is more than worth it.

The noted “de-aging” CGI is fine, but to be frank not too helpful in figuring out in what timeframe the scenes are supposed to be.

(BTW, as a native of Birmingham, Michigan, went to Machus Red Fox restaurant plenty of times; it’s not set in some isolated tree-lined road but off a strip mall at Telegraph and Maple. Saw lots of movies at the Maple Cinemas around the corner.)

The Two Popes

Actually, the proper title is “The One Pope” as the film is resolutely in Pope Francis’ camp and tells its story of the priest/cardinals experiences in Argentina. Hopkins’ Pope Benedict is just a bundle of ill-manners, closed-mindedness, and approaching disability; Francis is endearing and of the people. One of those films that’s eventually very affecting, until you find out that it’s entirely, utterly fictional.