“Ferrari” is perfect vehicle for Driver

Ferrari (Adam Driver, Penelope Cruz, Shailene Woodley) – Enzo Ferrari was a complicated man. Adam Driver is exceptional (though hardly recognizable) as Ferrari, the Italian race car driver and automobile manufacturer who designed the legendary sports cars bearing his name. Set in 1957, Ferrari chronicles the difficulties he had selling enough cars to finance his racing obsession.

On the racing circuit, Ferrari’s cars were fast but not always safe, resulting in deaths and a second-place reputation to Maserati. While the competition to produce wins fueled Ferrari, there was some reluctance on the part of the rich and famous in purchasing his vehicles despite their unparalleled beauty. He was deep in debt.

His wife, Laura (Penelope Cruz), was his active and savvy partner in the company. But their marriage was in tatters in large part due to the death of their young son years earlier. That tragedy changed Ferrari, sapping the joy out of his life. As played by Driver, he is sullen, serious, and driven. For Laura, their son’s death created a deep void. Cruz plays Laura as morose, bitter, and formidable.

On top of all that, Enzo has an entire other family with Lina Lardi (Shailene Woodley) with whom he has had an affair for more than a decade. They have a son, Piero, whom they both adore. Almost everyone knows about this except Laura, who eventually uncovers the deception.

Ferrari has generated a lot of Oscar buzz and deservedly so. In the capable hands of director Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider, Ali), Ferrari has a plethora of racing scenes featuring exceptional photography, pulsating sound, and a couple of gruesome accidents. This film is tailor made for action and car enthusiasts although you’ll have to put up with the human story, too.

Driver has proven himself to be an extraordinarily versatile actor. From fantasy films to romcoms, he has played heroes, villains, historical characters, and ordinary guys. Playing almost two decades older than his 40 years, Driver plays repressed, restrained, and unrepentant. It’s a very measured performance.

With a strong supporting cast and a gripping story that puts the audience into the cockpit, Ferrari is an impressive biopic that only disappoints if you are hoping for an expansive life story rather than a short slice of Enzo Ferrari’s life.

Third is a charm in “Wonka”

Wonka (Timothée Chalamet, Calah Lane, Olivia Colman, Keegan Michael Key, Hugh Grant) – The third Willy Wonka film presents Roald Dahl’s enigmatic chocolatier as a sweeter, more idealistic character than the first two. With Timothée Chalamet as Willy, we are presented an “origin” story about the young man who just wants to make the best chocolate in the world.

In 1971, Gene Wilder played the slightly snarky Wonka with a glint in his eye and a dark streak. In 2005, Johnny Depp was closer to Dahl’s Wonka, that is, dark and less flighty. As the young Willy, Chalamet’s innocent comes to town with a trunk and a penchant for making chocolate magical. He is naïve yet headstrong. And he sings.  A lot.

Yes, this version is tuneful and aimed straight at kids. I always felt that the 1971 movie was made for adults but invited us to “feel free to bring the kids.” The 2005 version was pure Tim Burton, an eccentric artist’s take on a classic. This time, Paul King, who helmed the two Paddington movies, plays this for kids. That means there aren’t a lot of inside jokes or adult innuendo.

Chalamet is likable and playful. His Wonka is seeking the dream his now-deceased mother encouraged – to make magic chocolate in his own factory. Arriving in the city with only a little money, he ends up at a boarding house run by a tyrant disguised as a motherly type. Played by Oscar winner Olivia Colman, Mrs. Scrubitt gives Willy a room but not until he signs a contract, which a little girl named Noodle warns him it contains lots of fine print. He signs anyhow and instantly joins Noodle and a small band of others as indentured servants.

Calah Lane, who practically “steals” the film, becomes Willy’s sidekick as Noodle.  Along with the gang, they outsmart the rich, evil cabal of chocolatiers and eventually prevail (sorry for the spoiler without a warning). Willy also outwits the local, corrupt chief of police played perfectly by Keegan Michael Key, who proved his musical comedy chops in the streaming series, Schmigadoon. And then there is Lofty, an Oompa Loompa, who is looking for Wonka because Willy stole the cocoa beans that are the key ingredient in Willy’s chocolate. Played by the moody, sometimes brooding, often sarcastic Hugh Grant, it is inspired type casting.

The score is simple and wonderful. It could garner a nomination or two, including for Best Song for A World of Your Ow, which you’ll be singing on your way out of the theater. Chalamet has a flat, pleasing, lilting voice as he sings several songs, some original and some from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Listen for familiar songs in the underscore as well as a great version of Pure Imagination. But alas, we don’t hear Sammy Davis Jr. sing The Candy Man.

Hundreds of animators, CG artists, compositors and matte painters make the film a joy to watch. If you can see it on IMAX in new generation Dolby sound, do it. You won’t be disappointed. At under two hours, Wonka is a perfect holiday movie.

Oscar winners boost thriller, “Leave the World Behind”

Leave the World Behind (Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, Ethan Hawke, Myha’la) – Something is wrong. Very wrong. Amanda Sandford (Julia Roberts) is a loner, an unhappy, rich woman who “hates people.” Her husband, Clay, a milquetoast, anxious-to-please husband (Ethan Hawke) and college professor just tries to make their increasingly troubled marriage work. Their two kids seem like your typical Gen Y narcissists, spending all their time online or watching Friends reruns while using the f-bomb liberally.

On a whim, Amanda rents a house for an impromptu vacation. And it’s not just any house; it’s a gorgeous, modern, multi-million dollar home not far from New York (maybe in the Hamptons). Once settled, she heads into the town for groceries and runs into a guy (Kevin Bacon) loading his truck with survivalist gear and lots of non-perishable goods.  

Once back, the family heads to the beach. There, the first signs of trouble appear. An oil tanker – a big-ass ship – washes ashore as the Sandfords and everyone else goes running. Weird.

Getting back to the house, the Internet is out. The TVs don’t work. But suddenly, a message appears on the screen – an emergency alert. Only this one is not a test. The message is cryptic and disappears. Cell phone service is down until the next morning when Amanda sees a CNN “breaking news” alert that came in overnight. But then it’s gone, too.

That night, a man, G.H. Scott (Mahershala Ali) and his daughter, Ruth (Myh’la), knock on the door … saying they own this house. They were out to see a play, G.H. said, but couldn’t get home due to a power blackout. They decided to drive to the house they own to spend the night. They realize the Sandfords are renting it. But they’re in a bind and are willing to sleep in the “mother-in-law” quarters.

Predictably, Amanda is skeptical while Clay is accommodating. What’s going on? This is strange. An oil tanker. Strange people showing up at the door. The internet and TV out. Cryptic messages on the phone and TV. The daughter can’t watch Friends! The horror!

You get the picture. I brace myself for a horror movie about an alien invasion or some such thing. There are six people in this house, and I figure they will disappear one at a time. Does anyone survive? Are we doomed? Why is Kevin Bacon in this movie, for God’s sake?

Leave the World Behind went right to streaming on Netflix! Right to streaming with Oscar winner Julia Roberts; 2-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali; and 4-time Oscar nominee Ethan Hawke? How bad is this?

Well, I really enjoyed it. And the internet is loaded with “What does the ending mean?” The film will leave you guessing and wondering “What happens next?”

The Holdovers is Holiday Charm

The Holdovers (Paul Giamatti, Dominic Sessa, Da’Vine Joy Randolph) – Almost 20 years ago, writer/director Alexander Payne collaborated with Paul Giamatti on the celebrated “little” film, Sideways. Payne’s successes include Election, About Schmidt, The Descendants and Nebraska, garnering six Academy Award nominations. He won Oscars for Adapted Screenplay for both Sideways and The Descendants.

The Holdovers reunites Payne and Giamatti in a harmless, old-fashioned tale about a cranky prep-school teacher who gets stuck with babysitting duty with the students who are stuck on campus for Christmas vacation at the end of 1970. Giamatti has always been a remarkably versatile, “everyman” character actor who can helm a leading role in small, independent films like this. He did just that in Win Win, Barney’s Version, and Duets, all of which are sleeper gems. But he has also played successfully as ensemble player in big-budget movies like The Ides of March (with George Clooney), The Negotiator (with Danny Glover), The Truman Show (with Jim Carrey), Man on the Moon (Carrey again), Cinderella Man (with Russell Crowe), The Illusionist (with Edward Norton), and dozens more. On TV, he starred as John Adams (with Laura Linney) and, most recently, Billions (with Damian Lewis).

He reminds me most of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (also featured in The Ides of March). For both, if they were better looking, they would probably be among the most popular American actors of their generation. Incidentally, they were born the same year, 1967.

The Holdovers is another perfect vehicle for Giamatti. Playing not-so-beloved professor Paul Hunham, Giamatti is sanctimonious, stuffy, traditional, and quick-witted. As Christmas break approaches, he almost joyfully delivers failing grades to most of the students in his ancient history class while urging them to study over the break in order to re-take the exam with different questions. The entitled students who attend this exclusive all-boys prep school range from nice kids to jerks.

One of the smartest is a troubled, smart-mouthed teen, Angus Tully (Dominic Sessa), who is looking forward to his trip to the Caribbean until his mother calls to cancel his trip even though she is going with her new husband. Angus’ father is gone, and he feels doubly abandoned. Now, he must stay at the school with a few other kids and this professor who he loathes. When the other boys find a way out of town, Angus, his professor, and the head cook of the school are stuck together on the big campus. De’Vine Joy Randolph, most familiar to viewers as the cop on Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, plays Mary Lamb, the sharp-tongued, chain-smoking cook who recently lost her son in the Vietnam War. She is alone, alone and grieving.

It would have been easy to let this story morph into a maudlin, feel good, Hallmark Christmas movie, but Payne is too good for that. Instead, the plot dives deep into the three characters, uncovering their broken souls. We then get the obligatory road trip, the warming winds of friendship, and an ending that might not be totally predictable.

As with most Payne films, the box office results are lower than the critics’ enthusiasm. For movie lovers, this is a leisurely, but satisfying, holiday flick featuring excellent acting and an engaging story.

It’s a “Killer” of a film

Killers of the Flower Moon (Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro, Lily Gladstone) – Paramount greenlighted this adaptation of David Grann’s historical novel about the systematic murder of the Osage Indian Tribe in the 1920s-30s to gain rights to the oil that made them the richest people per capita on Earth. Set in Oklahoma at the dawn of the Roaring ‘20s, Killers of the Flower Moon became legendary director Martin Scorsese’s passion project.

When cost overruns on the film ballooned to (eventually) $200 million, Paramount and Scorsese went to Apple to convince them to provide ongoing financing. Apple planned to enter the movie business, having already begun to provide original content for its Apple TV+ streaming service. Apple committed upwards of $1 billion annually on movie content. Killers of the Flower Moon will spend at least 7-8 weeks in theaters before moving to Apple’s streaming service while establishing the company as a sponsor of quality, award-winning cinema (putting it in the same class as Netflix).

There is no way that Killers of the Flower Moon will earn its money back at the box office. It opened with $23 million the first weekend, which generally fell in line with industry expectations. Its compelling story and incredible scope will attract serious movie mavens, history buffs and human rights advocates. It won’t drag casual moviegoers off their couches.  It also won’t draw younger viewers, who are the beating heart of cinema audiences.

It is the ideal film for streaming. At three-and-a-half hours, it is far easier to watch in bite-sized pieces with convenient bio-breaks. In the theater, it feels mammoth in scope. Like Scorsese’s The Irishman, which runs the same length, it is exhausting.  While the master keeps it moving and visually stunning, Scorsese also weaves a story with seriousness of purpose and incredulity at the violence and brazenness it depicts.

Killer stars Scorsese’s two most frequent on-screen collaborators, Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, Shutter Island, Gangs of New York, etc.) and Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, GoodFellows, Cape Fear, etc.). They are exceptional; shoe-ins for Oscar nominations.

DiCaprio plays Ernest Burkhart, who returns home to Oklahoma after World War I. He isn’t very bright, very talented or very opinionated. He is embraced by his rich, powerful uncle, Bill Hale (De Niro), the most revered person in this small town. He has managed to make lots of money while supporting the Native American Osage Tribe. He is philanthropic, sympathetic, and seemingly a model white man living in Indian country.

As the story evolves, we realize that Hale is a puppeteer. He encourages Ernest to marry Mollie (Lily Gladstone, who will certainly be Oscar nominated), with whom he is already smitten. She is a beautiful, smart-tongued Osage woman whose family is her foundation. Mollie’s mother and sisters are among the legacy families who own the oil rights that have made the Osage prosperous. Mollie and Ernest seem well matched but increasingly cursed. First, Mollie’s mother dies and, one by one, so do her sisters. And they aren’t the only ones. Over a decade or more, virtually every one of the legacy families suffers unexpected deaths. As viewers, we know that Hale is responsible, with Ernest and Hale’s other son, Byron (Scott Shepherd of Bridge of Spies), serving as the boss’ Corleone-like sons.

Eventually, the feds come to Oklahoma to investigate the rash of murders. As the story tightens, Ernest is arrested … and the film turns into a trial drama. It is more than two hours into the movie before we meet the other stars of the film – Jesse Plemons as the Bureau of Investigations agent; Brendan Fraser as Hale’s attorney; and John Lithgow as the federal prosecutor.

By the end of the film, Scorsese (another certain Oscar nominee) delivers a denouement worth waiting for. I will leave it at that.

In summary, Killers of the Flower Moon is an amazing film. It is very long … and feels it. It is stunningly presented and impeccably well-acted. But you must be ready for it. This is not a casual watch. Viewing it on the big screen is ideal but you can wait to see it on your big-screen TV. The experience won’t be as immersive, however.

I predict that it will compete with Oppenheimer for Best Picture. It deserves to.

Mirren captures Meir in morose “Golda”

Golda (Helen Mirren) – The biopic (biographical picture) is one of cinema’s enduring genres. Essentially, there are three types: docudrama (documentary drama), fictionalized drama, and character psychological study. Some biopics cross multiple sub-types.

Golda falls mostly into the latter category.  Judy, the Judy Garland biopic starring Rene Zellweger; Blonde, the Ana de Armas tour-de-force as Marilyn Monroe; The Queen, Helen Mirren’s depiction of Queen Elizabeth; and The Iron Lady, the Meryl Streep performance as Margaret Thatcher, all garnered Academy Award nominations for their stars. Zellweger, Streep, and Mirren all won Best Actress. 

While these performances were incredible and heralded, the movies themselves were quite mediocre. In each case, the stories covered only narrow slivers of these remarkable women’s lives. Likewise, these icons were depicted as haunted, troubled, and manipulated. The visual tone was dark; the tone was brooding; three of the four ended with their death.

Golda stars Helen Mirren as Golda Meir, the Ukrainian-born, Milwaukee-raised, schoolteacher-turned-Zionist zealot who, despite her gender, her lack of charisma, and her chain smoking, became the Prime Minister of Israel. Golda largely ignores all of this except the chain smoking. It opens with the start of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and, except for the epilogue, ends with Israel’s victory in that conflict.

The film is terribly flawed. While it creates drama without depicting any war scenes, it focuses on Golda’s cancer diagnosis, her angst over the progress of the war, and her struggle with conflicting advice from her seemingly incompetent advisors. It totally ignores her personal life, her motivations, her atheism, and her internal political struggles.

Mirren, who is actually older than Meir was in 1973, is marvelous … as always. Behind the prosthetics, she captures Meir’s grandmotherly gate, her facial mannerisms, and even her Russian/American/Israeli accent. Because we all know that Israel ultimately prevailed in the war and extended its borders, the film is dominated by Mirren’s presence.

The film could have been better if it played more like Darkest Hour, the Winston Churchill biopic starring Gary Oldman or 42, the Jackie Robinson biopic starring Chadwick Boseman. Instead, it is more like Judy, Blonde, and The Iron Lady and just not even as good as The Queen or as bombastic as Elvis, which plays the king of rock n’ roll as victim.

Israeli director Guy Nattiv, who won as Oscar for Live Action Short film in 2019, made the conscious choice to limit Golda’s scope, and it is too bad. Golda deserved better.

Cruise never stops in MI7:Dead Reckoning P1

Mission Impossible: Dark Reckoning Part One (Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Esai Morales, Henry Czerny) – It’s not usually a good sign when a movie has three titles, like Mission Impossible or Dark Reckoning or Part One. I suppose we now know that there will be a sequel to this sequel that is part of a sequel to a TV show.

Tom Cruise reprises his Ethan Hunt role for the seventh time. Determined to show that he can run as fast as ever and to put his life at risk as much as possible in stunts that are truly death-defying, Cruise certainly doesn’t phone it in. His physicality at age 60 is more than impressive though his charming, good looks are more than a little rough around the edges. Are those sags, wrinkles, and Botox injections under that make-up? If so, it hasn’t slowed Ethan down.

He is still saving the world from his perch as the leader of the Impossible Missions Force, the super-secret strike team of the CIA, which is still run by Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) as Cruise’s combination boss/antagonist. This movie’s premise is too ridiculous to describe. But that never matters to MI moviegoers.

All we must know is that the world is in danger from artificial intelligence acquired by The Entity and personified by Gabriel (Esai Morales). Paris (Pom Klementieff) works for Gabriel, and she is a killer, a formidable foe for Ethan and his gang (Luther played by Ving Rhames, Benji portrayed by Simon Pegg, and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). Now MI fans may have thought that Ilsa died in the last movie (I think) but … au contraire. Anyway, Ethan has to kill The Entity but, for reasons we find out in a long-winded speech from Luther, not kill Gabriel. That’s in Part II.

Now to the 2 hours and 43 minutes of high energy, fast, loud action sequences.  Here goes: chase on foot; chase in cars; chase on a motorcycle; chase on a train. Fight with guns; fight with knives; fight with swords. Big finale! That’s it.

To several of my friends who love action movies, you will love this. To those who want human drama, there are Ethan’s relationships with three different women – the one we thought was dead, the thief who steals the “key” that serves as the MacGuffin (look it up) everyone is trying to acquire; and the killer whose life Ethan spares.

As summer movies go, MI7 is a welcome antidote to 100-degree temperatures, reruns on TV, and BS from our thrice indicted, twice impeached, once convicted (so far) sexual predator and democracy destroyer.

“Barbie” visits the Real World

Barbie (Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Kate McKinnon, Michael Cera, Will Ferrell) – Hooray for Greta Gerwig! The director/writer/actor pulled off a nifty trick in turning Barbie into a funny, whimsical, farcical romp with a feminist message without getting overly preachy or totally saccharine. Mattel, the company founded by Harold Matson and Ruth & Elliot Handler, gave Gerwig the room and the budget to take its most beloved property, the Barbie doll, and turn it into the first of the films to be built around Mattel toys.

What Gerwig created is a blockbuster beyond anyone’s expectations. Starring perhaps Hollywood’s currently most bankable actress, Margot Robbie, with heartthrob and La La Land’s Ryan Gosling, Barbie is part fantasy, part musical, part history lesson, and part coming-of-age commentary on the male-dominated world.

Barbie isn’t a perfect film, but it manages to make the audience smile, wink, and cry in equal measures while presenting a world of pink that appeals to kids who grew up with Barbie over multiple generations. In 1959, when Barbie was introduced, girls played with baby dolls, not full-figured young women with their own dream house and soon, a full array of clothes and friends.

Robbie makes a perfect “Stereotypical” Barbie, looking perfectly smiley, waving, busty and innocent. But she has a nagging thought that strikes out of nowhere: what happens when you die? As you’ll see, it’s a show/movie stopper. Something is awry, and Barbie doesn’t know why. With the help of “Weird” Barbie (a perfectly cast Kate McKinnon), she realizes she must leave Barbieland and visit the Real World to find the person who is messing with her.

Ken (Gosling), who pines to be Barbie’s boyfriend, invites himself along. When they get to Real World in Los Angeles, Barbie feels rejected but Ken suddenly feels respected even in his rhinestone cowboy outfit. Eventually, Barbie finds Mattel, where she is welcomed by the all-male executive team led by its buffoonish CEO (played expertly by Will Ferrell). Like Barbie, Mattel wants everything to stay exactly the same. But, to play on an old phrase, “the Barbie is out of the Dream House.”

She escapes the board room, which leads to the third act, the pseudo-serious part of the film. It is here that the right-wing media goes bat-sh*t crazy as Barbie morphs into a more worldly woman. She meets Gloria (America Ferrera), the Mattel CEO’s assistant, whose own frustrations as woman and mother have led her to question her life. Gloria’s daughter, Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt), is rebellious and has even rejected her old Barbie, even as mom continues to love it.

Eventually, Barbie heads back to Barbieland, only to find it completely changed. It’s now Kendom, a patriarchy that Ken modeled after his version of the Real World. All the women, the Barbies, who previously ran Barbieland, are now objectified and serve the Kens.

You get the picture. The film then moves to a wrap-up that is quite satisfying, heartwarming, and thoughtful. Barbie is a phenomenon, a full-fledged hit and bridge to a future filled with movies based on Mattel toys. That is not a pleasant prospect. Barbie isn’t the first movie based on a toy or a doll in the way Superman was the genesis of super-hero films. But it is a new stake in the ground for live-action movies based on Mattel toys. Barbie is not just a kid’s movie even though every mother is taking their daughters to this film. There is a nostalgia element to Barbie, which carries a much deeper message than Ruth Handler ever envisioned when she named her doll invention after her daughter.

Oppenheimer is a blast!

Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr.) – Nobody in Hollywood thought that a film about Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the “father of the atomic bomb” could be a blockbuster. But trusting the story to Batman, Dunkirk, Tenet, Intersteller, and Inception director/writer Christopher Nolan guaranteed that the story wouldn’t be some boring biopic. Getting lucky that the film would be released the same week as Barbie, leading to an internet meme surrounding a Barbenheimer double feature, created a seismic event. Opening with $82 million the first weekend ensured a profit.

Oppenheimer is a masterful, brooding, exciting re-telling of Oppenheimer’s life from his college days in the 1920s through the mid-1950s. Under Nolan’s deft touch, the film presents a complicated, haunted protagonist whose brilliance is exceeded only by his ego. His partnership with humorless Army General Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) led to the development of the bombs that ended World War II and ushered in the atomic age and its potential to destroy the world.

Oppie focused on the science while clearly recognizing the implications of his work if he and his hand-selected group of scientists succeeded. Working from their secret location in New Mexico, where Oppenheimer owned a ranch, the Manhattan Project team raced their German enemy and their Russian “ally” to create a superbomb.

We all know how it ends yet the movie captivates thanks to a blasting, atonal soundtrack by Oscar winning composer Ludwig Göransson (Black Panther). Shot in IMAX, the film pops off the extra big screen with an intensity that matches the explosiveness of the nuclear reaction that relied on fission. If possible, make sure you see this movie on an IMAX screen. Don’t settle unless you must, and please don’t wait to watch it at home.

The cast is first rate led by Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who worked with Nolan on The Dark Knight and Dunkirk. Murphy usually plays dark villains, and he masterfully portrays Oppenheimer as pained, haunted, and uncomfortable in his own skin. As disciplined as Oppenheimer is in his scientific endeavors, he is reckless in his personal life as he flirts with Communism and engages in personal affairs. When, before 1950, Oppie becomes a critic of nuclear proliferation and an advocate of international oversight of the technology, he becomes the target of sinister forces within the government. The hero of the end of the war becomes a pariah, abandoned by some of his closest associates during the “Red Scare.”

The film is presented brilliantly as flashback as Oppenheimer faces a secret hearing to determine whether he should keep his security clearance, a veiled attempt to discredit him. Murphy and Nolan play this post-war period as a lens into Oppenheimer’s moral struggle, perhaps even penance for developing such a lethal weapon.

The supporting cast is outstanding, most notably Robert Downey, Jr. as Lewis Straus, the head of the Atomic Energy Commission. A complicated man, Straus turns from Oppenheimer’s chief sponsor to his secret nemesis, eventually orchestrating Oppie’s fall from grace. Downey is fantastic! Write it down now, he will get an Oscar nomination as will Murphy.

Emily Blunt plays Oppenheimer’s wife, Kitty, a biologist relegated to housewife who became a fierce defender of her husband. Blunt’s performance is both understated yet powerful. Florence Pugh, a surprise Oscar nominee for Little Women, steals scenes as Jean Tatlock, one of Oppenheimer’s lovers and muse.

As much as I like superstar Matt Damon, I think he was miscast as Groves. Portraying the no-nonsense, by-the-book General who oversaw the building of the Pentagon before taking over the Manhattan Project, Damon doesn’t quite have the bearing the part requires. He certainly doesn’t detract from the film, but it feels like he was hired for his star power.

And there are lots of cameos, most notably Josh Hartnett, Rami Malek, Casey Affleck, and Matthew Modine. And I challenge you to identify the cameos of Gary Oldman and Tom Conti before the closing credits.

Oppenheimer is an incredible film thanks to Nolan and Murphy. It exceeded my already high expectations. It is great that it has become a box office hit because it is a good story and, most importantly, a cautionary tale about the long-term impact of revolutionary technology.

Even JLaw can’t save “No Hard Feelings”

No Hard Feelings (Jennifer Lawrence, Andrew Barth Feldman, Matthew Broderick, Laura Benanti) – By the time Jennifer Lawrence (JLaw) was 30, she was inarguably the best actress of her generation with one Oscar from four nominations and being the highest paid actress in the mid-2010s. The only actress even close was Kate Winslet. Now (still only) 32, JLaw can name her project. Yet she chose to take time off from acting, to set up a production company, advocate for women’s rights, and become a spokesperson for several humanitarian causes.

The first time I saw her was in the independent film, Winter’s Bone, which earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination at age 22, the second youngest actress ever so nominated. I had missed her on TV’s Bill Engvall Show as a rebellious daughter and in small roles in little films. When watching Winter’s Bone, I told my wife: “She’s the real deal.” Indeed!

Even JLaw can’t save No Hard Feelings, her return to romantic comedies (rom-coms). My first reaction when I left the theater was “This film is beneath her.” She plays Maddie Barker, a broke waitress at a bar in Montauk, NY, the Long Island winter resort for rich New Yorkers. She lives in the house willed to her by her late mother. She can’t make her property tax payments; she’s estranged from her boyfriend and sleeps around; and her car was repossessed. To this point, the film shows promise as a different kind of comedy.

In desperation, she responds to an ad for a young woman to “date” the 19-year-old son of helicopter parents who are concerned about their reclusive, awkward, boy who is lacking in social skills. The parents, played by Laura Benanti of TV’s Supergirl and Matthew Broderick, the original, super-confident teen, Ferris Bueller, want their son, Percy, to come out of his shell and shtup a girl. They lost me right here! Maddie, in desperation, responds to the ad and sets about trying to lure the kid (Andrew Barth Feldman, who starred on Broadway in Dear Evan Hanson and on screen in one of the High School Musical sequels). It’s more difficult than it should be.

The rest of the film contains the merry mix-ups that always occur in the rom-com genre. The kid finds out what his parents are up to; Maddie develops real feelings for the kid; Percy rebels after he realizes the deception. Eventually, inevitably, mercifully, the movie ends … happily. Sorry for the spoiler! If you are thinking about seeing it, go for it. It’s safe; it’s light; it’s breezy. And, yes, as any research will reveal, JLaw goes full frontal on a beach in one of the best scenes in the film.

You can’t go wrong with a JLaw movie whether it’s Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle, Joy, Causeway, Hunger Games, or the early X-Men films. But this is not a very good film, and it’s way below JLaw.