April tends to play out merely as buildup for summer movie blockbusters. Sometimes, there are unexpected hits (Everything Everywhere All at Once). Mostly, it’s a month full of mindless but somewhat pleasing cash grabs (The Bad Guys) and wretched duds (Morbius).
Although I only really liked one of them, The Northman and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent stretch the fabric of tonality in cinematic expectation and provide worthwhile experiences in the air-conditioned darkness. Please let me know what you thought of these two…
The Northman **** out of *****
I’m a stickler for atmosphere-before-plot moviemaking and a cloud of ambiguity to boot. These days, the rules in Syd Field’s Foundations of Screenplay Writing are for minimizing and defying, and Director Robert Eggers is our current front runner to the cause.
Although Eggers’s latest vision in The Northman doesn’t probe or tease its narrative verisimilitude like The Lighthouse (2019) or The Witch (2015), it’s just as dark, brooding, and unpredictably engrossing. On the surface, it’s an A.D. 895 Norwegian viking avenge film molded out of Hamlet. Underneath, there are guts of testosterone-saturated brutalism, animal spiritualism, and poisonous sorcery. If Disney+ had an evil twin brother, this would be it, and that’s a compliment if you find CGI and superheroes redundant.
Eggers’s camera soars through battle scenes with the same “grace” as Iñárritu’s The Revenant (2015). And, without the symbolism and literal depiction of the family tree similar to Aronofksy’s The Fountain (2005), the story wouldn’t be as alluring. Eggers obviously has his influences, but his trademark in animalism and its reversed survival of the fittest is entirely his.
Not for everyone, The Northman challenges the viewer to follow the revenge of the flesh while also knowing how intrinsically wicked that venture may become. There is no one to root for, and the same animals that mocked humanity’s pride in The Witch and The Lighthouse, scoff at The Northman as well.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent **1/2 out of *****
Despite my lifelong Nicolas Cage fandom and sincere respect for his work ethic, I found his latest feature to be too self-conscious, forcing Nic to force our own cartoonish perception of what his “real life” must be like onto the big screen. I didn’t buy it. Other than a few nostalgic Easter Eggs to appreciate and an always dependable “buddy film” likability, there isn’t much to laugh at, believe, or disbelieve. The production value comes across lazy and plagued by recycled comedic devices (the Big Deal on Madonna Street/Welcome to Collinwood gag is shamelessly copied), but Nic Cage valiantly does what he always does and chews the scenery at full effort. Is that entertainment? Kind of, but he deserves a better screenplay (and a cameo by John Malkovich would have helped).
What did you think of these two movies? What are you excited to see this summer?