ONODA: 10,000 NIGHTS IN THE JUNGLE (2022)

October 15, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. There has been no shortage of conspiracy theories, either recently or historically, that have left non-believers bewildered at how ‘the other side’ held firm. Writer-director Arthur Harari and his co-writers Bernard Cendron and Vincent Poymiro bring the remarkable struggle of Hiroo Onoda to the screen. Onoda was a Japanese soldier who refused to believe WWII ended, and instead, continued his mission of resistance by spending thirty years in a Filipino jungle.

Onoda was only 22 when he entered the war in 1944. He is played as a young man by Yuya Endo, and in later years by Kanji Tsuda. The film goes mostly in chronological order, with only occasional flashbacks to Onoda’s “special training” by Taniguchi (Issey Ogata), his trainer and trainer. The passing of years is noted on screen, and we watch as Onoda’s squadron shrinks in size, holding at four for quite a while, before shifting to two, and finally only he remains. During the special training, Taniguchi declares, “You don’t have the right to die”, instilling a firm commitment to the cause in Onoda.

Also seared into Onoda’s brain is the proclamation of, “We’ll come back for you. No matter how long it takes, we’ll come back for you.” Still, it’s fascinating to see his determination to keep fighting, despite so many signs that the war was over. He viewed magazine articles and radio broadcasts as tricks to draw him away from his mission … going so far to decipher a coded message that was anything but that.

The young man who finally succeeds in lulling Onoda out of the jungle has his own mission – actually three of them: finding a panda, locating Onoda (by this time a legend), and tracking down a Yeti. It’s a bittersweet moment for the long-dedicated soldier, and he went on to live many more years as a home country icon – considered a nationalist man of honor by some, a murdering fool by others. The film, and Onoda’s saga, makes us question the point of war when it’s impossible to tell if the war is over or ongoing. Harari’s film is almost three hours, which is entirely too long … but significantly shorter than the time Onoda spent in the jungle.

Releasing in theaters on October 14, 2022

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THE SAME STORM (2022)

October 15, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. When is it too soon to look back? We all experienced the pandemic, and yet, things aren’t quite normal again … at least not the ‘old’ normal. Talented writer-director Peter Hedges (the underrated PIECES OF APRIL, 2003) shows us the various ways in which the pandemic affected folks, and how zoom and other virtual connections became the lifeline to the outside world for many.

You will surely recognize many of the faces being filmed by smart phones and zoom recordings. These include: Mary-Louise Parker, Sandra Oh, the great Elaine May, Rosemarie Dewitt, Ron Livingston, Alison Pill, John Gallagher Jr, Noma Dumezweni, Judith Light, and many others. Twenty-four characters in all (according to the synopsis), and we see most of them in two different scenarios. We see young people worried about old people, and vice versa. We see parents worried about kids, and kids worried about parents. Significant others check in on their “better half”, while a ‘ground zero’ nurse searches for a different kind of companionship and escape. We see the struggles of teachers and parents, and witness the loss of loved ones. There is even an online yoga class, a virtual AA meeting, and the challenges of Tele-doc.

You will recognize most of these situations and exchanges, whether you went through them yourself, or heard about them from friends or family members. What’s obvious is the heightened stress level of every person during this unique time period. The effects of isolation and loneliness are expertly portrayed here, and we should all be quite appreciative of zoom meetings, Facetime, and all other virtual connection applications. Only you can decide if it’s too soon or not, but either way, we can tip our caps to Peter Hedges and the actors.

Opening in theaters on October 14, 2022

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SELL/BUY/DATE (2022)

October 15, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Sarah Jones is a Tony winning actress and comedian, and one thing is obvious after watching her first film – she is a sensitive and intelligent person. Co-written with David Goldblum, this partially scripted docu-com is described on screen as an “Unorthodoc”. This is an odd film with seemingly conflicting objectives: documenting the process of adapting Ms. Jones’ stage presentation to the big screen or acknowledging the backlash to this by following her on a philosophical journey of self-discovery.

We begin by meeting Sarah Jones and her troupe of characters: an octogenarian Jewish grandmother, a social media-obsessed twenty-something student, a Puerto Rican women’s advocate, and a mouthy Uber driver. Ms. Jones plays each of these characters. Throughout the film, we also meet her real-life mother Leslie, who is helping and sharing in the grief over the recent death of Sarah’s sister. Over the course of the film, Sarah also crosses paths with some familiar faces like Rosario Dawson, Bryan Cranston, Ilana Grazer, Evan Seinfeld, and others (each of these appear as themselves).

Sarah’s elation at having her work turned into a film is soon thwarted by the social media backlash claiming she has no right to tell the story of sex workers within the sex industry. In other words, Sarah herself becomes a victim of cancel culture and scrambles to find a path forward. Now considered an outsider who is not entitled to tell these stories, she digs in and meets with those in the industry to determine whether they are being exploited or if they view this as seizing an opportunity.

What this boils down to is what we once called research, discussion, and debate – all four-letter words these days, but this was the ‘old school’ way of learning about a topic. Sarah heads to Las Vegas for a sex industry conference and even visits the infamous Chicken Ranch, a legally-operated brothel. Sure, some of the bits feel a bit contrived, but it’s a pleasure, and often entertaining, to see Sarah Jones dig deep to find answers to questions she doesn’t already know the answer to. It turns out that old school research and curiosity can also provide some entertainment value.

Releasing in theaters on October 14, 2022

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AMSTERDAM (2022)

October 7, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Sometimes no matter how hard we try to like a movie, it simply doesn’t work for us. In those instances, I typically attempt to focus on what I did like and offer an explanation of why it fell short of expectations. And it’s that word, “expectations”, that is usually the culprit. High expectations often lead to disappointment, whereas ‘low’ or ‘no’ expectations at least have a shot of ending up a pleasant surprise. So when the writer-director of SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012) and THE FIGHTER (2010) rolls out his first film in seven years, and his cast is filled with Oscar winners, Oscar nominees, and other talented actors … well, high expectations are in order. Unfortunately, so is the disappointment.

David O Russell is the filmmaker noted above, and despite some disturbing accusations made against him recently, his cinematic track record and ability to attract deep and talented casts and crews make his new project something to check out. This one is inspired by the true story of a1933 political conspiracy, and that’s where the story begins before flashing back to 1918 and ultimately returning to 1933. It’s during the flashback where we see the beginnings of the friendship between Burt Berendsen (Oscar winner Christian Bale) and Harold Woodman (John David Washington). It’s here that we also witness the presence of racism in the military during the Great War. When Burt and Harold are injured, they are cared for by nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie). Harold and Valerie fall in love, and third wheel Burt joins them as a roommate in Amsterdam, where they live a blissful bohemian existence … right up until Burt returns home to his wife and Valerie vanishes.

Returning to 1933, we find Burt is a doctor experimenting with multiple medical options focused on injured war veterans, and Harold is a distinguished lawyer. Burt has a scarred face and glass eye from his war injuries, and Harold has been contacted by the daughter (Taylor Swift) of their former commanding officer (Ed Begley Jr). The daughter suspects foul play in the death of her father, who was scheduled to give a speech at an upcoming military reunion gala. Ms. Swift’s appearance is in fact swift, and leads to the murder and scandalous autopsy findings.

Going through all that happens next would be as convoluted on paper as it was on screen. There are so many characters and so many story lines and so many familiar faces that the film couldn’t possibly be expected to flow smoothly. And it doesn’t. A mention of some of the supporting cast includes standout Anya Taylor-Joy as the wife of filthy rich Tom Voze played by (Oscar winner) Rami Malek. When the murder occurs, Burt and Harold are the prime suspects of the detectives played by Matthias Schoenaerts and Alessandro Nivola. Andrea Riseborough plays Burt’s estranged and ultra-snobby wife Beatrice, while Chris Rock is another old war buddy of our wrongfully accused murder suspects. Robert DeNiro (another Oscar winner) plays General Gil Dillenbeck (who we learn is based on real life Major General Smedley Butler). Others making an appearance include: Michael Shannon and Mike Myers as American and British spies, Timothy Olyphant as an undefined henchman, Zoe Saldana as the autopsy nurse, and the always dependable Colleen Camp and Beth Grant. Now you understand what I mean by so many characters and familiar faces.

All of the actors are as strong as you would expect. Mr. Bale and Ms. Robbie go “big”, while Mr. Washington stays in a low-key mode for balance. The film has an unusual look through the camera of 3-time Oscar winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, and seems to be filled with an endless stream of close-ups shot upward at the subject’s face. It’s not a whodunnit since we see the crime happen, and instead is more of a “we must solve the case to avoid prison” – kind of a quasi-comedy caper film, only they aren’t trying to get away with anything. It’s also not quite a farce, and is a madcap with a shortage of “mad”. We see the power play between various factions that catches the unsuspecting types in the crosshairs, while raising points of fascism, antisemitism, and racism. The film meanders when it’s not downright choppy, and it often plays like a scripted series trying too hard to appear improvisational. I believe the message is the power of friendship and love wins over the lust for power, however it’s hard to know for sure. Drake as an Executive Producer adds an element of interest, but as a movie, this one mostly falls flat despite the efforts of a sterling cast.

Opens in theaters on October 7, 2022

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CATHERINE CALLED BIRDY (2022)

October 7, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Lena Dunham, the creator of the HBO series, “Girls”, is probably not the first name that comes to mind when you think of costume dramedies set in the Middle Ages. However, for her third feature film, the writer-director has adapted Karen Cushman’s 1994 YA novel, and in doing so, has shrewdly given Bella Ramsey her first lead role.

Ms. Ramsey (played Lorna Luft in JUDY, 2019) plays Lady Catherine, aka Birdy, and is on screen almost the entire time. Birdy is a rebellious 14-year-old who is a master at skirting all responsibilities while finding/causing mischief throughout her village. Birdy is quite a spirited character, one who is properly self-absorbed for her age. The story is structured around her diary entries, and keep in mind this takes place in the year 1290. A raucous mud fight between Birdy and her friends opens the movie and sets the stage for the filmmaker’s approach to the novel – comedy trumps drama.

Birdy learns that her father (Andrew Scott) has depleted the family finances to the point where the only option is to marry off Birdy to the highest bidder. Of course, this won’t be easy, as her father describes her as “one step away from a leper”, and her brother’s description is even more graphic. One obstacle is her not-so-secret crushing on her Uncle George (Joe Alwyn), and mostly we get to watch as Birdy cleverly repels/outmaneuvers each potential suitor, solidifying her lack of interest in getting married. In Medieval times, women were like bartering chips – a family asset not to squander; and soon enough, Birdy is engaged to Sir Paul Henry Murgaw (Paul Kaye, one of the film’s highlights), whom she calls “Shaggy Beard”.

Ms. Dunham mines for humor in nearly every scene, and some moments work, while others fall flat. A use of contemporary music accompanies the more modern-day wordplay used by the characters. Supporting work is provided by Billie Piper (Birdy’s consistently pregnant mother), Sophie Okonedo (another highlight as George’s new rich bride), screen vet David Bradley, and Leslie Sharp (as Birdy’s supportive and interesting nursemaid). There is even an odd cameo from Russell Brand.

Despite some of the strained comedy playing directly to the audience, it’s a treat to watch Bella Ramsey embrace the role of Birdy. The film has the feel of a coming-of-age story, but it’s mostly her father who seems to grow up … although Birdy is striving for independence and does reach a certain maturity level by the end. Filmmaker Dunham presents this as a mostly light-natured romp that gives the feeling of a movie with a much more meaningful message buried deep and left unexamined. Regardless, the best parts are really good (including Julian Day’s costumes), and the rest kind of drags out a bit.

On Prime Video beginning October 7, 2022

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PRETTY PROBLEMS (2022)

October 7, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. I have always assumed the familiar phrase “green with envy” was somehow related to green being the color most associated with money. Director Kestrin Pantera’s latest film does nothing but reinforce this. The script and story come from co-writers Britt Rentschler, Michael Tennant, and Charlotte Ubben, each who also play a key character in the film.

We first meet married couple Lindsay (Ms. Rentschler) and Jack (Mr. Tennant) as they finish up “good try” morning sex before heading off to work. Their lack of enthusiasm for intimacy is matched by the rest of their daily lives. She is a clerk at “Gift of Garb”, assisting others with selecting outfits, all while silently dreaming of designing her own fashions and running her own place. Jack is in an even less desirable spot. On probation stemming from an assault, he has been disbarred and can no longer practice law. He now sells solar energy door-to-door.

The set-up gets more interesting when oddball store client Cat (a terrific JJ Nolan) befriends Lindsay with some textbook positive image philosophy, and then invites ‘Linz’ and Jack to spend a weekend at her place in Sonoma. Jack finds the idea of spending the weekend with people they barely know to be unfathomable, yet relents when Lindsay persuades him and says they need new friends and experiences.

When they arrive, both Lindsay and Jack are stunned at the beauty and size of the estate. He references PURGE and calls it “a murder house”, while she is anxious to see how the other half lives. Another surprise greets them when it turns out to be Cat’s birthday weekend, and it’s to be shared with Cat’s husband Matt (Graham Outerbridge), and their friends Kerry (Alex Klein) and Carrie (Charlotte Ubben) … yes Kerry and Carrie. Also present for the weekend are Cat’s and Matt’s servants, Dan (Clayton Froning) and Becca (Katarina Hughes) … along with enough drugs and alcohol to supply a Los Angeles rave.

No cell or internet service and the bizarre personalities of these ultra-rich friends has us believing Jack’s initial assessment could be spot on. The constantly vaping Cat buddies up to ‘Linz’, while the drugs and booze lead to behavior that allows us to understand no amount of money leads to happiness – even if the parties can get pretty wild and the houses are spectacular. Yet another surprise unfolds thanks to the presence of Dan, the possessor of an enviable nickname. In other words, the escapist fun bears a price to pay, and it puts definite strain on the relationship between Lindsay and Jack.

Keeping up with the Joneses is rarely an admirable direction to take, and here a certain sadness permeates most scenes of indulgence. The newcomers experience feelings of inadequacy and respond quite differently – Jack understands they don’t fit in and simply wants to leave, while Lindsay also sees they don’t fit in, but is drawn to the “better” life and the idea of wallowing in affluence. This could have been biting satire were it a bit more clever. Instead, we are left watching as unhappiness takes shape across multiple economic sectors. The poor are overtaken by envy, while the rich are desperate to feel. Director Pantera’s film follows the template for a successful low budget film festival flick, and in fact, won an Audience Award at SXSW.

Opens in theaters October 7, 2022

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VESPER (2022)

September 30, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. We are always looking to the future, and yet so many movies paint a bleak post-apocalyptic picture of what’s ahead. Co-writers and co-directors Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper, who previously collaborated on VANISHING WAVES (2012), are joined here by co-writer Brian Clark to deliver something that still looks bleak, yet is something that not only has a unique style, it also founds a new sub-genre I’ll call arthouse science fiction.

Raffiella Chapman plays Vesper, a 13-year-old forced to survive off the shredded land while also playing caregiver to her disabled father (Richard Brake). She manages his feeding tube and is followed around by the drone through which he calmly communicates … the floating drone looks a bit like Wilson the volleyball. Vesper is also a bit rebellious and exceedingly clever and intelligent. We first see her scavenging the land for anything useful in feeding Papa or furthering her experiments in her self-made lab located in their own cabin in the woods.

It’s a dreary existence and the film even begins by informing us this is the “new Dark Ages” thanks to an ecological disaster. Genetically engineered seeds are the only hope for food, and most everything is controlled by the Citadel, which is run as an Oligarchy. Those on the outside are left to their own devices, and this includes Vesper and her ruthless Uncle Jonas (Eddie Marsan). When a glider crashes in the woods, Vesper rescues one of the injured inhabitants. Camellia (Rosy McEwen) and her shock of white hair is different … nearly ethereal and otherworldly. The two bond, but something never seems quite right.

We know a showdown is coming, but it may not be the one we expect. The film stresses the importance of the parent-child bond, as well as the importance of altruism. Even more crucial is the impact of the demise of the ecosystem. Filmmakers Buozyte and Samper use minimal special effects (especially for a sci-fi film), and still manage to create a world that seems quite real and populated with unrecognizable organisms. A cool score by Dan Levy accompanies a world that may have limited resources, but still features class division and a lust for power among some. Will we ever learn?  Probably not. But a terrific performance from young Ms. Chapman and the hopeful vision of the filmmakers inspires us to keep trying.

In theaters and VOD beginning September 30, 2022

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BLONDE (2022)

September 28, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. For those who have studied Marilyn Monroe’s personal and professional life, writer-director Andrew Dominik’s (first feature film since KILLING THEM SOFTLY, 2012) interpretative adaptation of the 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates may send them into the early stages of shock. In fact, regardless of one’s level of knowledge of the details of Marilyn’s background, shock and bewilderment are likely reactions. It should be made clear for all viewers that it’s a fictionalized account of her life, not a true biography. One should also know that this is cinematic artistic mastery to complement an incredibly in-depth and revolutionary performance from Ana de Armas (KNIVES OUT, 2019, NO TIME TO DIE, 2021).

At times, the film is surreal, while at others, downright hallucinatory. It’s certainly never boring. However, it’s a disturbing beatdown and a grueling watch for a single sitting at close to three hours long. The film begins in 1933 with a young Norma Jeane (Lily Fisher) living in poverty and misery with her single mom Gladys (a terrific Julianne Nicholson). Mom has obvious mental issues and would much prefer Norma Jeane not be around. It’s here where the ‘Daddy issues’ take hold – issues that stick with the girl for the remainder of her life. After being rejected by her father, her mother, and the friendly neighbors, Norma Jeane ends up in an orphanage. A montage takes us through her teenage modeling years, where we see the beginnings of her being taken advantage of and treated as a commodity.

There is an extended sequence involving the threesome of Marilyn and the sons of Hollywood legends Charlie Chaplin and Edward G Robinson (Xavier Samuel, Evan Williams, respectively), and a vicious rape scene with a studio head “Mr. Z” (hmmm). Marilyn’s first pregnancy leads to an abortion, which is the first of a few tragedies she will experience – and director Dominik finds an entirely new (and bizarre) method of filming these occurrences. The Joe DiMaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and Arthur Miller (Oscar winner Adrien Brody) marriages are noted, yet the men go unnamed, instead referred to as “former athlete” and “playwright” … as if somehow that will trick us.

Of course, all of these relationships are right in line with her “Daddy issues” … Marilyn even goes so far as to call these men “Daddy”, in hopes that one will finally give her the love and acceptance she so craves. One of the more uncomfortable scenes (and that’s saying something) involves her tryst with JFK (also unnamed), played by Caspar Phillipson, whose uncanny resemblance to the former President has resulted in his casting for the role in multiple projects. It’s likely this White House moment, replete with Marilyn’s inner voice, is responsible for the film’s NC-17 rating.

Dominik and cinematographer Chase Irvin recreate some of the most memorable film moments from Marilyn’s career … including the subway vent scene from THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH. After capturing that film magic, the sequence seems to drag on with leering onlookers and what proved to be the final straw with DiMaggio. A recurring feature involves Marilyn receiving and reading letters from the father she’s never met – including promises of meeting “soon.” The payoff for this is disappointing for us and for her.

Perhaps the main point of Dominik’s movie is the enormous gulf and psychological contrast between Norma Jeane, the eternally-scarred young girl, and Marilyn Monroe, the iconic bombshell she created for public consumption. There is a sadness about her most of the time, even when she flips that switch to become Marilyn – the familiar sultress adored by so many. Toby Huss plays Whitey, a version of real-life Allan Snyder, who was Marilyn’s long-time make-up artist and confidant. Her famous diary gets a mention, and we see the price she paid for taking drugs to calm anxiety while dealing with the crushing weight of fame.

Ana de Armas delivers a performance for the ages. Of course, the scrutiny she will face playing one of the most famous women of all-time will be senselessly nitpicky, yet from an artistic standpoint, her work is supreme. Costume Designer Jennifer Johnson somehow manages to nail the different stages, films, and moods (of both the film and its subject). Is this exploiting the woman who made a career out of being exploited? Or is it simply telling a story? Norma Jeane was a fragile creature constantly victimized as she desperately searched for love. Has the filmmaker continued that abuse with this vision? From a moviemaking aspect, it’s’ a thing of beauty. From a human perspective, it’s torturous to watch. If you are in need of a ‘feel-good’ movie, keep searching. On the other hand, if you are in the mood for the work of a cinematic visionary and one of the best acting performances of the year, settle in.

Opens on Netflix September 28, 2022

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RAILWAY CHILDREN (2022)

September 27, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. We probably need more family-style movies covering serious topics and worldly events in a style that makes it amenable for kids to watch and learn. I tried to keep that in mind while watching this film from director Morgan Matthews (A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND, 2014) and co-writers Daniel Brocklehurst and Jemma Rodgers. It should be noted that it also serves as a pseudo-sequel to the classic 1970 film directed by Lionel Jeffries, which was adapted from the beloved novel by British author Edith Nesbit.

An opening at the Train depot in 1944 finds many mothers tearfully hugging their kids goodbye as they help them board. It’s war time and parents will do anything they can to protect their offspring – even if it means an unknown future and the chance they will never see them again. We follow three particular siblings: Lily (Beau Gadsdon), the eldest; Pattie (Eden Hamilton), clever but not as old as she wishes; and Ted (Zac Cudby), the youngest. The three are from Salford and headed towards the safer countryside, where bombs aren’t as likely to rain down.

Upon arrival, the kids are taken in by Roberta “Bobbie” Waterbury (Jenny Agutter) and her daughter Annie (Sheridan Smith). Ms. Agutter reprises her role as “Bobbie”, which she played in the original film some 52 years ago. She’s now grandmother to Annie’s son Thomas (Austin Haynes), who quickly bonds with the new arrivals. Annie is also the local schoolmistress charged with making sure the kids keep up with their studies.

Lily carries the weight of being the oldest child, and the others look to her for direction when they stumble upon Abe (KJ Aikens), an injured young American soldier gone AWOL. He’s hiding out in a disabled train car, and no one knows what to make of him, other than they want to help. This is the “serious” side of the story, and it’s balanced with often silly-type sequences. As an example, the new kids are out of their element with farm life, and of course, we get the pratfall of slipping in the mud, followed by the giggles.

Tom Courtenay appears as the mysterious Uncle Walter, while John Bradley is the station master. Homages to the original include Lily dreaming of seeing her military dad through the steam of the locomotive, and we see the local kids banning together to create signs and noise to stop a passing train. The aspects of racism are a bit heavy-handed, but not to the extreme of the overly dramatic, and at times, overbearing music (meant to generate viewer reaction). It’s easy to dismiss the film as fluff due to it’s “after school programming” feel, but again, that is purposeful, and through young eyes, it should work.

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THE GREATEST BEER RUN EVER (2022)

September 25, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. “Can I buy you a drink?” A simple phrase that can have a variety of meanings. In 1967, John “Chickie” Donohue did more than buy his buddies a drink. He hand-delivered beer after tracking them down at their military posts during the Vietnam War. Writer-director Peter Farrelly (an Oscar winner for GREEN BOOK, 2018) and co-writers Brian Hayes Currie (also an Oscar winner GREEN BOOK) and Pete Jones (HALL PASS, 2011) tell the story of Chickie’s dubious trip to the front lines. His mission was to show the neighborhood boys that folks back home care, and the results proved eye-opening.

Zac Efron plays Chickie Donohue, a Merchant Marine from the Inwood neighborhood of New York City. Chickie is a hard-drinking slacker and kind of a joke to his family and friends. He doesn’t really take life seriously and has no perceivable ambition. He is, however, a staunch defender of his country and the military personnel fighting a war that no one seems to be able to define. Especially ‘the boys’ from the neighborhood … too many who have died for the cause. One typically “full of hot air” evening at the local tavern where “The Colonel” (Bill Murray) tends bars, hones patriotism, and honors those who (like him) have served in war, Chickie blurts out his intention to head to Vietnam and hand-deliver a beer to each of his buddies stationed there. His drinking cohorts support his idea, yet fully believe this is simply the next thing that Chickie will never follow through on.

To everyone’s surprise, and despite pleas from his anti-war sister (played by Andy Serkis’ daughter Ruby Ashbourne Serkis), Chickie loads up a duffel bag with dozens of cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon and heads out. That seems to be the extent of his plan because he basically has to charm and ‘luck’ his way through each progressive stop once he has secured a spot on a container ship headed that way. In the film, he secures a 72-hour leave, but in real life, as documented in the memoir written by John “Chick” Donohue and JT Molloy, his journey took almost 8 weeks.

The film plays a bit like a road trip, where Chickie interacts with multiple characters along the way. Some in the military mistake him for undercover CIA, which he uses to his advantage. At a Saigon bar, Chickie debates with war correspondents, including a photojournalist played by Oscar winner Russell Crowe. Chickie questions why they report “only the bad stuff”, which is tough on morale back home, while the reporters counter with the defense of only telling the truth. A later part of Chickie’s journey finds him in the middle of the Tet Offensive, running for his life with Crowe’s character.

Director Farrelly, long celebrated as an iconic comedic filmmaker with his brother Peter, doesn’t break any new ground here, but the remarkable true story keeps us watching. In fact, it feels a bit like a war movie from the 1950s … mostly light, with a well-meaning, charming lead actor with limited range. Songs from the era are included, and the message seems to be that politicians don’t always tell the truth (an obvious fact that we live with every day). Chickie’s personal post-trip pledge of ‘less drinking, more thinking’ would be a good direction for many, and Farrelly includes a modern-day photo of Chickie and the boys from the neighborhood over the closing credits. A nice touch.

Opening in limited theaters on September 23, 2022 and on AppleTV+ beginning September 30, 2022

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