Thursday, June 25, 2020

Da 5 Bloods, The King of Staten Island, 7500 plus suggestions for TCM cable offerings, other cinematic topics

A Medley of Traumatic Episodes

Reviews and Comments by Ken Burke

I invite you to join me on a regular basis to see how my responses to current cinematic offerings compare to the critical establishment, which I’ll refer to as either the CCAL (Collective Critics at Large) when they’re supportive or the OCCU (Often Cranky Critics Universe) when they go negative.

After a 2-week-break, I'm glad to see Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark return to cyberspace with my new refurbished computer finally functioning properly and the BlogSpot software now behaving itself.  During this down time I did some repairs to about 4 years of previous posts, finally retrieving the proper URL for our Summary of Two Guys reviews so I could put it back into many past postings where only a “dead” version previously resided, along with replacing some “unavailable” trailer videos with ones you can watch (no promises about long those will stay functional, though) so we’re glad to have you in the audience again.

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): In addition to struggling with both hardware and software needed to get this blog posted, another annual activity came around that also took time and energy away from Two Guys reviews (still only done by 1 guy until [maybe?] Pat Craig’s can return to northern CA where I can press him a bit more in person to finally write a review for our supposedly-joint-enterprise), the unlikely event of me cooking 3 nights in a row to give my wife, Nina. a break from the kitchen so we could indulge in a simple Italian dinner (the only kind I’m capable of making) while watching The Godfather trilogy (Francis Ford Coppola 1972, 1974, 1990).  But as our household returns to normal (even as the world struggles to find peace in these days of unrest) I’m now back doing reviews on new releases from streaming platforms: Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee’s latest, about 4 Vietnam War vets who go back to the jungles decades later to both retrieve the remains of their fallen squad leader and find the lost trunk of gold bars they feel is just payment for their service and other Black soldiers who fought/died for a cause mandated by our government when those same combatants weren’t privy to the same freedoms at home they were struggling to preserve in Southeast Asia (Delroy Lindo is amazing as the most troubled of these vets)—available on Netflix; The King of Staten Island where Judd Apatow directs a somewhat-fictionalized-version of comedian Pete Davidson’s life, about a young guy far-too-often-adrift ever since the death of his fireman father in the 9/11/2001 terrorist attack on NYC (rents on Amazon Prime, $19.95); 7500, which deals also with an airliner and terrorists but in our modern day when a few Turkish Muslims manage to get into the cockpit during a routine flight, intent on another horrific crash with only a struggling co-pilot (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in any position to avert this impending-tragedy (free on Amazon Prime).  Also, in the Short Takes section I’ll offer suggestions for some choices on the Turner Classic Movies channel (but too much extra text for line-justified-layout like you see here [Related Links stuff at each posting’s end is similarly-ragged], at least to be done by this burned-out-BlogSpot-drone—oh, tedious software!) along with my standard dose of industry-related-trivia.
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film or want to save some bucks.  So, to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals, I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
                              Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee)   rated R
Here’s the trailer:
                   (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate
                   that same button or use the “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

What Happens: Decades after their brutal Army service during the Vietnam War, 4 former squadmates—Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis), Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.)—are finally headed back to their old battleground in search of 2 precious items: (1) the remains of their respected, beloved squad leader, “Stormin’ Norman” Holloway (Chadwick Boseman), a proud teacher of Black history to his men, killed in action, but circumstances forced them to leave his body behind so they buried it; (2) a chest of gold bars in a wrecked CIA transport, intended as clandestine payment to the local Lahu people for their help in fighting the Viet Cong, also buried, also awaiting future retrieval (as I understand it, retreat through the jungle after a Cong attack prevented them from carrying Norman’s body, then storms washed away their markers, so the combination of decades of tensions between the U.S. and Vietnam and the financial demands of 5 men [Paul’s adult son, David {Jonathan Majors}, accompanies them, arriving a little later] making this journey precluded any earlier return until a landslide revealed the tail of the crashed plane so they’re off on their quest, largely financed by Eddie who’s got car dealerships [although, unknown to the others, he’s now broke]).  They meet in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), where Otis slips off to see his long-ago-lover, Tiên (Lê Y Lan), who quietly tells him her daughter, Michon (Sandy Hương Phạm), is his child (but the young woman doesn’t know it).  Tiên then introduces them to a shady Frenchman, Desroche (Jean Reno)—evoking the pre-U.S. involvement of France in “Indochina”—who’ll help them smuggle the gold out of the country once they’ve retrieved it.  Their journey begins with a guide, Vinh (Johnny Trí Nguyễn), who’s to escort them partway, then meet them at an assigned location after they’ve accomplished their mission; at a bar on an early stop David meets Hedy Bouvier (Mélanie Thierry), working with a couple of associates in her LAMB group, clearing landmines as she rejects how her family made a fortune in this county from rubber and rice.  After some struggles in trekking through the environment (as well as hostilities from Paul toward his son and the others—he’s suffering from PTSD, has become a Trump supporter in anger at the misery he’s endured since his time in the service) they find Norman’s remains (flashbacks show him with his men at times during combat) and the gold, then set about to haul away their heavy loads in backpacks when Eddie’s killed by stepping on a landmine; David steps on one too but through heroic effort the others pull him free before it explodes, then Hedy shows up with her Finnish friends, Simon (Paul Walter Hauser) and Seppo (Jasper Pääkkönen), only to be taken captive by Paul (stole a gun from Otis); however, that night Seppo escapes, Paul’s gun's taken away from him. 

 ⇒The Bloods (Norman’s name for his squad, as well as a reference to their shared Black heritage) connect with Vinh at the assigned location; unfortunately, they’re immediately confronted by thugs with Viet Cong heritage, demanding the gold as theirs in exchange for their hostage, Seppo, whom they captured after his previous escape.  Gunfire breaks out, David’s wounded, Seppo’s killed by another landmine, the other gunmen (later it’s clear they’ve been sent by Desroche) run off so Vinh leads them to a nearby abandoned temple, providing shelter while awaiting another attack.  Paul’s not willing to be part of this so he takes his share of the gold, spouting Bible verses as his mental state deteriorates, storms off into the jungle by himself only to be bitten by a snake losing his backpack in the process (in another flashback we see he’s the one who killed Norman, accidently, in the downed plane in the process of shooting a Cong attacker [in a vision, Norman forgives him], so we now know another aspect of his trauma), then the thugs surround Paul, quickly killing him.  Turncoat Desroche (now with Paul's MAGA hat) and his men arrive at the temple, another gunfight explodes with the Frenchman’s “troops” killed, Melvin dies smothering a hand grenade, Otis is wounded, David kills Desroche with Otis’ gun in the finale.  At the end of the story, we see many of the $17 millions from the gold’s been donated to a Black Lives Matter group and LAMB; David has a letter from Paul offering posthumous-reconciliation; Otis stays in Vietnam to build a life with Tiên and Michon.*  (Lee enhances the film’s context with a great opening montage of issues from the Vietnam War-era [massive protests at the 1968 Democratic convention, student deaths at Kent State while protesting the war, Muhammad Ali saying Blacks shouldn’t fight in Vietnam, Angela Davis addressing social unrest, Nixon resigns his Presidency, fall of Saigon], frequent brief cutaways to notations of historical interest [such as Crispus Attucks, an African-American, the first person to die for the cause of the colonists in the American Revolution], and closing footage of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 talking about ongoing racism in the U.S., then, horribly, he’s killed one year later.)⇐

*Ironically, as explored in this article from The Atlantic, the original script had mostly White vets, the missing squad leader's still alive in the jungles somewhere, and Oliver Stone was going to direct.  That fell through so the project came to Spike who helped transform it from that foundation.

So What? I have very supportive feelings for all 3 of these cinematic experiences under review, but I must warn you in reference to Da 5 Bloods that, while it may prove to ultimately be healing, upon initial viewing it might be quite disturbing especially if you’re a Vietnam War vet, African American, have family/friends killed or physically/mentally-disabled in that long, society-damaging American intrusion into another country’s internal affairs,* and/or become traumatized by depictions of war in general.  My ultra-empathetic wife (a quality making her all the more lovable during our 3 decades together) meets only the last 2 of those criteria, but, for Nina, watching this powerful film left her disturbed for days afterward, unable to shake how what she saw was unnerving her (Apocalypse Now [Francis Ford Coppola, 1979] had a similar effect on her, one of the main reasons I’ve still not watched that director’s … Redux [2001] version of his intense-take on such a cruel, dehumanizing war [OK, you’re right; all such conflict should be described that way] again since we saw it upon initial release, even though I’ve owned a DVD of it for several years now), so by all means see … Bloods if/when you feel up to it, but in light of the intense social protests/Black Lives Matters/restructure-public-law-enforcement activity in our streets and halls of government today, this all may make it too traumatic at first to be reminded—as this film consciously sets out to do—how Black lives (as well as all the others) ended so mercilessly on that Southeast Asian battlefield some 50 years ago, with the tragedy intensified by the large percentage of Black military casualties compared to the much smaller percentage of Blacks in the U.S. population along with the irony of Black U.S. citizens being conscripted into a supposed “war for freedom” of the South Vietnamese people (actually pushed into action, though, by our government’s fear of a “domino effect” of other countries in the region falling to Communist regimes) when those same soldiers were denied basic human rights back home, through lingering segregation and entrenched racism despite mid-20th-century court decisions and Congressional laws intended to end these bigoted national disparities.  

 Such memories of past tragedies coupled with our current situations where “I can’t breathe”-murders by supposed-domestic-peacekeepers are well portrayed in the complex, conflicted character of Paul whose frustrations with being marginalized in his own homeland (one he fought to defend) have led him into Trump-acceptance, frustrating his comrades by wearing a MAGA hat, determined to keep his share of the gold as personal-reparation, defying intentions of the others this windfall should be used for social-justice-purposes.  If Delroy Lindo doesn’t get a Best Actor Oscar nomination, it'll be another grim example of justice still being denied (be prepared for Apocalypse-like length to see him, though, as both films run about 2½-fierce-hours, minimal levity).

*Full disclosure: I was lucky in avoiding participation in this war, first with a college deferment then a very high number in the 1969 Draft Lottery [no bone spurs, though]; I have nothing but respect for those who served, either voluntarily or otherwise, feel those thousands of deaths were wasted lives.

Bottom Line Final Comments: The CCAL doesn’t have to argue the successful impact of Da 5 Bloods, though, with a hefty 91% positive reviews from the critics surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes, a very-supportive (for them) 82% average score at Metacritic (one of their highest numbers for any 2020 releases addressed by both MC and me*—more details from both of these review-accumulation-sites in the Related Links section much farther below [as is the case with such numbers related to the other 2 upcoming reviews]), with much attention to the relevance of the topic, the compelling overall approach to the filmmaking, the consistently fine acting throughout, especially by Lindo, yet there are naysayers.  You’ll find my comments on The King of Staten Island below show support for Mick LaSalle’s response to that movie, yet he’s quite dismissive of ... Bloods: a clumsy hybrid of two fine impulses — to make a heist movie set in Vietnam, and to make a statement about race in 2020. Alas, each intention doesn’t serve the other, and so both go unrealized.”  I’ll agree there are some odd inclusions—referring to Holloway as “Stormin’ Norman,” when that easily evokes another noted soldier from the Persian Gulf War; the small boat moving upriver with “Ride of the Valkyries” on the soundtrack as if Coppola had edited that scene; confrontation with Cong-descendants where the leader says “I don’t need no stinkin’ badges” (straight outta The Treasure of the Sierra Madre [John Huston, 1948])—but beyond such few distractions I certainly can’t agreeit feels long after its first labored minutes.”  In fact, I’ll give Da 5 Bloods as much time as it wants with my use of a Musical Metaphor to round out this review, The Chambers Brothers’ “Time Has Come Today” (from their 1967 The Time Has Come) at https://www. version, poor video but some nice psychedelic-light-show-aspects at this live concert [with "more cowbell"]), used effectively in the film with both pounding rhythm and plot-appropriate-lyrics like: “The rules have changed today I have no place to stay […] My tears have come and gone Oh my Lord, I have to roam I have no home […] There are things to realize Time has come today.”  Time came indeed for these 5 Bloods, both then and now.

*According to Metacritic’s metrics, their score of 82 indicates "Universal acclaim," verifying they rarely get into the 90th percentile, possibly indicating their standards (restrictive as they may seem to me at times) are more in line with mine than me and RT because MC reviews are assigned a number (I can’t always see how when the original review doesn’t have some “X of Y” statement, as with my 4 of 5 stars which easily means 80%), then are averaged out, so it seems it’s just as difficult with them to get over the 80s range as it is for me to go beyond it, saving my precious 4½ or 5 stars for something truly powerful/significant; RT numbers, by contrast, just indicate a “yes” or “no” (more discussion of this in my final footnote in the 7500 review below) so I say it’s easier with RT to push up into the 80s-90s% range, even if some of their reviewers cite significant problems they see.

 But I’d also like to add a little healing Metaphor (from the film's soundtrack too [but not on the soundtrack album]), Marvin Gaye’s "What's Going On" (on the 1971 album of the same name; video from a 1972 live show, plus some added ghetto and community footage), especially because it was written in reaction to brutality by “patriots” (still out there with guns and clubs attacking others at peaceful demonstrations) against anti-Vietnam War-protesters: “Father, father We don’t need to escalate You see, war is not the answer For only love can conquer hate You know we’ve got to find a way To bring some loving here today.” (I know I’ve used this 3 times already in past postings, including in my just-previous-one of June 11, 2020, but its relevance continues to glow, its message is what we need to know, hopefully someday we’ll learn what it tries to show.)  Da 5 Bloods is showing on Netflix streaming, free to subscribers or 30-day-trial-viewers; see it if you can.
        The King of Staten Island (Judd Apatow)   rated R

Here’s the trailer: (Please be aware this language can get a bit rough here.)

What Happens: Scott Carlin (Pete Davidson) doesn’t really have much going for him because he’s 24, still lives with Mom Margie (Marisa Tomei), never finished high-school even as his younger sister, Claire (Maude Apatow [director’s oldest daughter]), is soon headed off to college, has lots of medical issues to keep him distracted (Crohn’s disease, ADHD) which are intensified by an ongoing dose of depression about the death of his fireman father in a hotel fire (Pete’s actual Dad died in the 9/11/2001 terrorists’ attacks on NYC) when Scott was just 7 (he can joke about it somewhat but it continually haunts him) so his days are filled with hanging out with his friends—Igor (Moisés Arias), Oscar (Ricky Velez), and Richie (Lou Wilson) playing video games, smoking a lot of pot—and having secret sex with sort-of-girlfriend Kelsey (Bel Powley) whose vocal-verification of his tactics assures us she’s having a great time (while contributing easily—along with the drugs—to the R rating, as opposed to the R’s for the other 2 reviewed here, based mainly on violence) even as it takes him awhile to quietly-finish due to his antidepressants.  Scott’s ambition involves tattoos, both as an art form for himself (he’s got a ways to go to perfect his craft, though) and as an aspect of an odd restaurant (Ruby Tattoosdays) he hopes to open someday even though he gets no support on the concept, especially from Kelsey.  His meager attempts to answer a local kid’s request for some arm-ink go awry when the frightened boy runs off, angry Dad demands Margie get it fixed (she’s an ER nurse, knows medics who can help), followed by more difficulties for Scott when Mom starts dating that irate father, Ray Bishop (Bill Burr), also a firefighter, with Papa (Steve Buscemi) a leader in his unit.  Scott thinks firemen shouldn’t have families because of the pain caused by their deaths, wants to break up Margie and Ray, gets a job walking Ray’s kids to school and back each day, gets caught up in a pharmacy theft with his friends but escapes being arrested (he also has a job as a busboy, where he has to fight a fellow employee [he loses] for the night’s accumulated-tip-money) 

 Scott gets negative info on Ray from ex-wife Gina (Pamela Adlon), confronts him on behalf of Mom, the men fight, Margie pushes both of them away, Scott has nowhere to go (even Kelsey rejects him when she sees he just needs a place to crash rather than commit to a relationship) so he ends up at Ray’s firehouse doing various minor chores as he eventually bonds with the guys, including Ray⇒Eventually, Scott, Margie, and Ray reconcile with the story coming to a close as Scott surprises Kelsey at the Staten Island Ferry as she’s off to Manhattan for a civil service exam as the start of a life beyond their Island, as they reconnect as well.⇐   (Audiences have responded in a supportive manner to The King of Staten Island [a concept more in Scott’s best-effort-aspirations than in his socioeconomic-reality] which you can get more details on at this Wikipedia site by clicking on links for footnotes 24-27, giving us some relatively-rare-insights into the financial status of notable streaming films, with this one a bit easier to track because everyone has to pay for it, even those who already subscribe to any of the many media platforms where you can rent this cute/sad movie.)

So What? Another full disclosure (if it really matters): I lived in NYC (Queens to be exact, the large community of Flushing, although after watching Archie Bunker every Saturday night on TV I never ran into him in Astoria nor [fortunately, in retrospect] did I ever cross paths with Donald Trump) from mid-1972-late Dec. 1973, then visited again a few times over more recent years just to see the sights with Nina or visit a couple of our nieces to see the marvelous transformations of Brooklyn, but except for riding the famous ferry across and back a couple of times I never saw anything of Staten Island, so I’ll just have to trust native-Davidson the locations, attitudes, accents, etc. are all indicative of what goes on there.  However, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle and a prominent member of the CCAL (both in SF, where he’s the most famous local voice of cinematic analysis, and nationally through syndication) grew up there so I’ll take his word in this review that Apatow, Davidson, and all others involved with this production hit their marks in a plausible, acceptable, embraceable way for those who truly know this locale (“It’s a place where everything beautiful comes so mixed with ugly, or disguised by ugly, that you almost have to be from there to tell one from the other — or to see one and ignore the other.”) while keeping it engaging (for the most part) for tourists like me who just want to easily appreciate Scott despite his many self-admitted-limitations (as well as his “interesting” taste in body art).  I enjoyed what I saw in The King … (enhanced by drinking my first Staten Island Iced Tea while watching it, although I still like the taste of a Long Island Iced Tea a little more [what a difference a bridge makes!] so for the refill I added a bit of triple sec which I think improved it a bit, although Mick and Scott might not agree), yet for me it rambles around just a bit too much (of course, so do I), but given it reflects Davidson's own experiences with extended details here (interrupted by ads at about 2:00, 6:00, 11:00) I’ll just have to (partially) accept this may be based on a lot of events meaningful to the main character even if they don’t fully engage me.  It’s also a bit long at 2 hrs. 17 min. given the relative low-key energy of most of the scenes and situations, but just like a playful puppy looking at you with soulful eyes (which get fiery whenever our protagonist lets his hurt over the loss of Dad result in Scott being vocal about his ongoing-pain), it’s a story hard to put aside because you want so much for him to find a way to rise above his many hindrances, get on with his life, let Margie finally find something for herself again after raising 2 kids for 17 years while working in a consistently-stressful-occupation.  The only character who’s not an immediate-appeal (limited as the others' world visions may be at times) is Ray, but we find reasons to respect him also (despite what his ex-wife says about his gambling addiction), so by the end we just hope all of these folks can move on to a better life than we’ve initially witnessed of them, as Gina's maybe on the best road for true self-fulfillment. 

Bottom Line Final Comments: I found The King … to be less impactful (yet pleasantly-watchable) than the others in review this week, so I considered putting my comments under Short Takes below but I kept thinking about a scene in Godfather II where Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) disowned his older brother, Fredo (John Cazale), then Mama Corleone (Morgana King) dies so the whole family’s in mourning as Michael’s sister Connie (Talia Shire) begs him to make up with Fredo because he’s “so sweet” (he's also not as forceful, sharp, or effective in this family hierarchy as his brothers).  Maybe it’s because of the NYC setting of much of Coppola’s trilogy (although he focuses on the more-affluent-boroughs), maybe it’s because I see Scott as being somewhat akin to Fredo (various internal problems, not able to succeed like even his college-bound-sister while he’s a high-school-dropout, emotionally connected to Mom even though she really doesn’t quite know what to do with him, yet “sweet” despite his bungling manners), but, whatever the reason, I felt Scott’s story (not much removed from Davidson’s actual situation; he’s one of the co-screenwriters along with Dave Sirus, J. Apatow) deserved an equal review, although you have to decide if you’re ready to pay $19.95 on Amazon Prime whereas the others are free in some manner (existing subscribers, 30-day-trial); for a short time if you did want to spend real cash on The King … and had access to a drive-in screen where it was showing you could at least semi-recreate the “theatrical” experience (as long as you brought your own snacks, kept your mask on while using the restroom); however, that’s no longer the case as Universal Studios has again taken out their ire on distributors, pulling this movie from drive-ins to retaliate for it also being available on streaming while playing theatrically (you'll find more details about this feud in the Other Cinema-Related Stuff citations down below).  

 The King …'s fun to watch, especially if you’re already a fan of Pete’s WYSIWYG (Google it if you need to) personality from NBC TV’s Saturday Night Live, but the CCAL’s only mildly-impressed: 72% RT positive reviews, an almost-matching 68% MC average score.  Or, if you’d prefer being steered back into the past, across the lengthy Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge to Brooklyn you could re-explore a more dramatic story of a young NYC man trying to come to terms with his environment, his own limitations in Saturday Night Fever (John Badham, 1977) so to strike a median option (just like being halfway across that enormous bridge) I’ll give … Staten Island the Musical Metaphor of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” (on that movie’s soundtrack album) at watch?v=YxvBPH4sArQ (an extended version illustrated by clips of Tony Manero [John Travolta] navigating his way through disco dancing, peer pressure, his own relationship problems) where Tony and Scott can commiserate with: “I’ve been kicked around Since I was born And now it’s alright, it’s okay And you may look the other way We can try to understand The New York Times' effect on man […] Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’ And we’re stayin’ alive.”  By the end of his story, though, Scott seems more focused on who he is, what to do next than Tony, but, after all, The King … does intend to be primarily a comedy despite some underlying melancholy at times.
                                 7500 (Patrick Vollrath)   rated R

Here’s the trailer:

What Happens: Following a quote from Mahātmā Gandhi, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind,” we meet German pilot Michael Lutzmann (Carlo Kitzlinger), a no-nonsense guy ready to remove luggage of 2 no-show-passengers but they rush up at the last minute, and younger (only 31, but flying for 10 years) American co-pilot Tobias Ellis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as they’re preparing for their night flight from Berlin to Paris; Tobias also chats with his fiancée, Gökce (Aylin Tezel)—she’s German, her father was Turkish—mother of their young son, also one of the flight attendants.  Takeoff goes smoothly (after some early turbulence) but when she opens the cockpit door to bring them food a couple of hijackers try to rush in, one of them, Kenan (Murathan Muslu), stabs Michael severely with a glass knife (looks like a big arrowhead) before Tobias gets the door shut, preventing 2 others, Vedat (Omid Memar) and (my notes say) Daniel (Paul Wollin)—another reviewer says Kalkan (Passar Hariky); I’m not going to watch it again just to verify—from entering, then he knocks out Kenan with a fire extinguisher canister, ties him up, tries to secure him in the jump seat even though Tobias is wounded as well in his left arm, which he applies some makeshift first aid to, then contacts ground control who tell him to land in Hannover.  Through videophone contact with Vedat, Tobias learns they are Turkish Muslims intent on avenging the deaths of other Muslims by crashing this plane.  Tobias is under strict orders to keep the door locked even as the attackers keep banging on it; the situation worsens as Michael dies from his wounds, Vedat and Daniel take a passenger hostage then kill him when Tobias won’t comply with their demands.  Then Tobias' stress reaches overwhelming-intolerance as the terrorists grab Gökce as their next victim. Over the plane’s PA system Tobias pleads with the passengers to help her as the hijackers aren’t well armed, but before that can happen (Daniel’s eventually taken down) she’s killed.  The only way things could get worse for Tobias is for Kenan to wake up, wiggle loose, and knock out Tobias: exactly what happens.  Soon Tobias is the one tied up, Vedat’s in the cockpit, Kenan’s piloting the plane (I’m not sure where he intended to crash it, maybe in Paris) when Vedat’s conscience overcomes him so he stabs Kenan from behind, killing him.  By now Tobias is conscious, convinces Vedat to free him so he can regain control of the plane, assures him they need fuel so the landing in Hannover happens (although in a rainstorm so Vedat has to help with the landing due to Tobias’ injured arm).  Once on the ground Tobias is on radio contact with the police who try to reason with Vedat but he’s not having any of it.  Everyone stalls for time, Vedat’s getting paranoid, ready to kill Tobias when a sharpshooter manages to wound Vedat through the cockpit’s open window.  Police enter the plane, Tobias finally leaves the cockpit and its corpses, asks for a doctor to aid Vedat.⇐

So What?  On the surface the plot of 7500 (distress code pilots use if a hijacking’s occurring) might seem like the sort of tension-to-the-breaking-point of 1970s “disaster movies” (with casts of big stars caught in seemingly-hopeless-situations, such as Airport [George Seaton, 1970]), but instead the situation here is solid, serious drama with unexpected (cruel) surprises, made all the more effective by the claustrophobic structure where—except for some opening surveillance-video-shots of people at security clearance, strolling through airport shops, waiting at a gate (the terrorists might have been in these shots to help spark after-viewing-chatter; I’m not sure but again not going back to find out) everything we see is either in this cramped cockpit (including the video monitor where we see Vedat when he talks to Tobias) or briefly looking through its door into the plane’s interior so we feel trapped along with Tobias as his problems multiply, leaving him seemingly beyond help or hope.  (In principle, 7500 reminds me of Searching [Aneesh Chagnaty, 2018; review in our September 12, 2018 posting] where a father’s frantically trying to find his missing teenage daughter but all we see is what he’s seeing on various computer/smartphone screen[including images of him in video-conferencing-mode as he’s following any trace of the disappeared girl].)  Given those opening surveillance-video-shots could be simultaneously occurring while Michael and Tobias are sharing lighthearted-patter just before passenger-intake you could easily see 7500 as an example of the rare situation of an exact parallel between story time and running time (an increasingly-taut 92 min.), also tension-enhancing as we’re right there through the entire narrative with Tobias, never knowing what’s to come next (we don’t even have “relief” from watching passengers overcome Daniel so, in the back of our minds, we might easily wonder the mood among the dozens on board once they know their flight’s been compromised but have no idea what’s happening in that locked cockpit).  In print this might seem like a simple premise; in practice it’s superbly unnerving, mostly unpredictable (except for ongoing hope somehow this isn’t going to end in a disastrous ball of fire) in its plot maneuvers, and not distracting (as those older “disaster” tales were, waiting for the appearance of the next movie star as a doomed airplane, sinking ship, enflamed building, or earthquake-ravaged-city continues to make life miserable for those famous already into the flow) with recognitions of someone we know because, except for Gordon-Levitt (whom we’ve known from prior work so we can quickly empathize with his travails here*), the cast members aren’t familiar faces, just people caught up in a perilous situation facing imminent disaster.

*Hopefully, you’ve seen tense narratives with him before in such fare as Inception (Christopher Nolan, 2010), Looper (Rian Johnson, 2012; review in our October 5, 2012 posting), The Walk (Robert Zemeckis, 2015; review in our October 22, 2015 posting), and Snowden (Oliver Stone, 2016; review in our September 22, 2016  posting).  If not, I'd encourage watching any or all of these.

Bottom Line Final Comments: However, the haughty voices of the hallowed OCCU aren’t consistently with me on 7500 as it’s managed only 67% positive reviews at RT and an (unusually-close) average score of 58% at MC.  To try to get some sense of the “why” of those who aren’t as impressed as I am I looked into the reviews of those critics I generally trust (even when we don’t agree) to see what problems they found with 7500; from the RT folks I'll present Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, who says: “an effectively claustrophobic but disappointingly formulaic pulse-pounder that wants to tie your stomach in knots […] that only loses steam in the final third when it comes down with real-world credibility problems. [I can’t say he elaborates this except complaints about stereotyped-Muslim-terrorists and a late-plot-device where Tobias and Vedat are having a sincere conversation but] they can’t overcome the shallow screenwriting and the eye-rolling moment when Vedat takes a call from his mother [begging him to abandon his quest].”*  Over at MC I turned to Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times who claims 7500 “nearly grinds to a halt as Tobias keeps talking to Vedat, trying to establish a connection with him, as the camera keeps cutting to the glass knife Tobias has taken from Kenan, and Tobias waits for the right moment to attack Vedat. The standoff between these two men, like many of the previous scenes in ‘7500,’ drags on for far too long and thus loses electricity when it should be amping up the tension level.”  So I guess what works as effectively-crafted-experience for one viewer (me) just gets to a level of boredom for others (them).  I’ll leave it to you as to which camp you think you'd belong to; if you’re interested, 7500 is available on Amazon Prime, free for existing subscribers but also free under their 30-day-trial-policy so maybe you should just watch and see for yourself.  I think you’ll find it to be quite impactful.  However, you might appreciate it even more with a Musical Metaphor, which in the avalanche of stuff I've tried to compile for you this week I forgot to find for this movie, so with time and energy running out for me (just like with Tobias) I'll just grab "Under Pressure" (on Queen's 1982 Hot Space album; song written by the band and David Bowie) at because this blog's "pushing down on me" just like our airline hero meets "the terror of knowing what's the world's about."  Fortunately, this song resonates reasonably well with 7500.

*Another voice I respect is that of James Berardinelli, whom I cite here only due to my ongoing curiosity about RT in terms of whose review is considered positive and whose get a negative splat (as with Travers, above).  Berardinelli says “the suspense starts to leak out like the air from a slightly punctured balloon as the screenplay stumbles through minefield of hostage movie clichés on its way to a predictable and moderately unsatisfying conclusion […] The last-act interaction between Tobias and Vedat feels artificial; the dialogue is as unconvincing as the terrorists’ motivations (they are taking revenge on the West for anti-Muslim acts). The more the production veers into the realm of melodrama, the less interesting it becomes. The real-time conceit becomes a trap in that Vollrath is unable to effectively develop any of the characters or circumstances,” yet this review, with mostly negative commentary gets a (positive) tomato, based (I guess) on its original 2.5 of 4 rating (63%) whereas Travers’s rating is 2.5 of 5 (50%), earning a splat.  As an RT user I got a random request for commentary on the site a few months ago so I noted what I feel to be such seeming-discrepancies in what they term positive or negative but received no reply from them (nor did I expect to get one).

Suggestions for TCM cablecasts

At least until the pandemic subsides Two Guys also want to encourage you to consider movies you might be interested in that don’t require subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, similar Internet platforms (we may well be stuck inside for longer than those 30-day free initial offers), or premium-tier-cable-TV-fees.  While there are a good number of video networks offering movies of various sorts (mostly broken up by commercials), one dependable source of fine cinematic programming is Turner Classic Movies (available in lots of basic-cable-packages) so I’ll be offering suggestions of possible choices for you running from Thursday afternoon of the current week (given that I usually get this blog posted by early Thursday mornings) on through Thursday morning of the following week.  All times are U.S. Eastern Daylight so if you see something of interest please verify actual show time in your area for the day listed.  These recommendations are my particular favorites (no matter when they’re on, although some early-day-ones might need to be recorded, watched later), but there’s considerably more to pick from on TCM; feel free to peruse their entire schedule here.

Thursday June 25,2020

9:45 PM Lady Sings the Blues (Sidney J. Furie, 1972) Great docudrama of jazz legend Billie Holiday (Diana Ross) with her grand talent in constant battle with repeated violence/arrogance/racism against her, resulting in destabilizing-drug abuse undermining her career, contributing to early death.  Also stars Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor, and Scatman Crothers; if nothing else, watch it for Ross’ marvelous singing (nominated for 5 Oscars—including Ross—although didn’t win any).

Friday June 26, 2020

4:00 PM The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941) Some claim this started the troubled-crime-tradition of film noir: Humphrey Bogart as Dashiell Hammett’s streetwise-private-eye, Sam Spade, whose life gets complicated when the takes on Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) as a client searching for the priceless “black bird.”  A fabulous cast includes Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, Elisha Cook Jr.  Masterful ‘Hardboiled-detective” story with a sense of morality amongst greed.

6:00 PM M (Fritz Lang, 1931) One of the last great examples of true German Expressionism, by one of the great masters of cinema, his first sound film with a complex soundtrack often used in editing between parallel stories, one about a tormented child murderer (Peter Lorre), one about the police attempting to find him, one about the criminal underworld also after him to get heat off of them.  The final scene, killer “tried” by the underworld, is powerful drama, also thoughtful about insanity.

Saturday June 27, 2020

12:00 PM King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, 1933) Original tale of a huge ape on a secluded island with natives and dinosaurs, taken away by an entrepreneurial filmmaker as an NYC stage attraction until all hell breaks loose.  Marvelous stop-motion-animation by Willis O’Brien of the island’s creatures (racist stereotypes of the natives, though), culminating with Kong’s capture of Fay Wray, carrying her with him to the top of the Empire State Building for the (sad) grand finale.

3:45 PM The Caine Mutiny (Edward Dmytryk, 1954) Nominated for 7 Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Actor [Humphrey Bogart]), won none up against On the Waterfront and Marlon Brando (just as Lady Sings the Blues stood little chance against The Godfather and Cabaret). Based on a Herman Wouk novel set in WWII about a harsh, seemingly-paranoid minesweeper commander (Bogart) relieved of his command, followed by powerful court-martial scenes about who’s truly to blame.

8:00 PM A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964) The Beatles’ big-screen-debut based loosely on actual Beatlemania las world-sensation-rock-musicians burst upon the scene.  A bit exaggerated (maybe?) in terms of what the Fab Four’s offstage lives were like, the performances accurately mirror the fan fanaticism of the time, while the overall movie incorporates some French New Wave-inspired looseness with visual approaches, meandering plot lines, taking it to a higher level.

10:00 PM Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) Documentary about Bob Dylan’s 1965 concert tour of England presents a completely-factual-look at a rock star at the height of his popularity with additional appearances by Joan Baez (about to break up with Dylan), Donovan, Alan Price (who’d just left the Animals), Dylan’s overbearing-manager Albert Grossman, and others; features terrific solo (acoustic) Dylan numbers as well as no attempt to hide some issues of backstage discord.

Sunday June 28, 2020

2:00 AM Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979) One of Allen's best but an uncomfortable reminder of accusations against him as 42-year-old Isaac Davis (Allen) has an affair with 17-year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) while his friend’s (Michael Murphy) also in an affair (with Diane Keaton), although Isaac does break it off with Tracy to pursue Mary (Keaton).  There’s also Meryl Streep as Davis’ angry ex-wife along with fantastic writing, acting, cinematography, and Gershwin music.

6:00 AM 42nd Street (Lloyd Bacon, Busby Berkeley for lavish choreography, 1933) Here's a genre-foundational-movie, a musical based on an already-successful play.  Set in the Depression, an upcoming-Broadway show has to be a hit for the financially-desperate cast and crew, with classic scenes where ingénue Ruby Keeler has to replace injured star Bebe Daniels, under intense pressure to save the production—can she do it?  Also stars Warner Baxter, Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers.

Monday June 29, 2020

8:00 PM The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Nathan Juran, 1958) Long before digital effects, inspired by O’Brien’s work in King Kong Ray Harryhausen took stop-motion-animation (models shot 1 frame at a time) to new heights to produce an astounding fantasy vision of an heroic captain and his crew who must contend with a gigantic Cyclops, a huge 2-headed Roc bird, a dragon, an active skeleton swordsman, a magic lamp, and other constant action crammed into a mere 88-min. running time. 

Tuesday June 30, 2020

11:45 AM A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan, 1951) From Tennessee Williams’ equally-searing play (it's more brutal, with Hays Code-dominated films conformed to “decency” standards), this masterpiece of interpersonal-brutality stars Marlon Brando in maybe his best role but the acting Oscars went to Vivien Leigh (Actress), Karl Malden (Supporting Actor), Kim Hunter (Supporting Actress). “Stella!”—what more can I say? Even with censorship, this is an all-time filmic triumph.

4:00 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958) Not as bluntly controversial as the Tennessee Williams play it’s adapted from, this still burns with passion, hatred, interpersonal misery as alcoholic, depressive Brick’s (Paul Newman) chastised by both his fed-up wife, Maggie “the cat” (Elizabeth Taylor), and ever-dismissive, dying father Big Daddy (Burl Ives). Maybe if you're from the South (I am) you'll fully appreciate how true to some lives this somewhat-fictional-story ultimately is.

If you’d like your own PDF of ratings/summaries of this week's reviews, suggestions for TCM, cablecasts, links to Two Guys info click this link to access then save, print, or whatever you need.

Other Cinema-Related Stuff: Here are some other items you might be interested in: (1) The King of Staten Island pulled from drive-ins as disputes continue between Universal and theaters because of streaming availabilities; (2) Regal Cinemas to reopen worldwide by July; (3) 2021 Oscars pushed back to April 25, release deadline also pushed up to February 28, 2021; (4) Hitchcock's Psycho 60 years later; (5) Christopher Nolan's Tenet pushed back to July 31, 2020 and Wonder Woman 1984 pushed back to October 2, 2020; (6) Cinemark's reopening strategy; (7) AMC Theaters to reopen during July 2020; (8) New Structure for the Toronto Film Festival.

As usual for now I’ll close out this section with Joni Mitchell’s "Big Yellow Taxi" (from her 1970 Ladies of the Canyon album)—because “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone”—and my ongoing reminder that you can search for streaming/rental/purchase movie options at JustWatch.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*Please ignore previous warnings about a “dead link” to our Summary page because the problems’ been manually fixed so that all postings since July 11, 2013 now have the proper functioning link.

Here’s more information about Da 5 Bloods: (34:18 exploration of the film and many other related topics by director Spike Lee [all audio, minimal visualization; ad interrupted at about 8:00,18:30 when I watched])

Here’s more information about The King of Staten Island: (click on the 3 little lines in the upper left to see the features of this official website) (27:43 dialogue with director Judd Apatow and actors Pete Davidson, Marisa Tomei, Steve Buscemi, Bel Powley, Maude Apatow [clips from the movie included also])

Here’s more information about 7500: (this is the best I could do for an official site) (5:33 interview with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt and director Patrick Vollrath)

Finally, for those of you who’ve endured all the text you had to crawl through to get this far 
here’s a little non-cinematic-surprise to close out this posting, a 3:19 video celebration of 
backyard engineering, "The Swish Machine", sent to me by my long-time Austin, TX 
friend Rick Herndon, featuring the most amazing contraption I’ve ever seen.

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.  You can also leave comments at our Facebook page, although you may have to somehow connect with us at that site in order to do it (most FB procedures are still a bit of a mystery to us old farts).

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

If we did talk, though, you’d easily see how my early-70s-age informs my references, Musical Metaphors, etc. in these reviews because I’m clearly a guy of the later 20th century, not so much the contemporary world.  I’ve come to accept my ongoing situation, though, realizing we all (if fate allows) keep getting older, we just have to embrace it, as Joni Mitchell did so well in "The Circle Game," offering sage advice even when she was quite young herself.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month the total unique hits for us were 39,147 (as always, we thank all of you for your support—especially our mysterious fans in the “Unknown Region” [and Google makes maps?]—with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where those responses have come from within the previous week:

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