Paul McGuire Grimes, creator of Paul’s Trip to the Movies, chats with the stars of Belfast and The Shrink Next Door and gives us his review of both – along with his review of Eternals.
BELFAST (in theaters)
Kenneth Branagh’s work as a director ranges from Shakespeare to Marvel to Cinderella. Now he’s making his most personal film to date with Belfast. Branagh heads back to the place he was born with Belfast to showcase a tumultuous time in 1969. Up and coming young actor Jude Hill plays nine-year-old Buddy who loves to frolic in the streets, watch westerns on TV, and is enraptured every time he goes to the movie theater. That happy time is interrupted when chaos erupts in the streets in a battle between the Catholics and the Protestants. It becomes a struggling time for Buddy and his brother as their parents attempt to keep their kids safe all while trying to make ends meet.
Kenneth Branagh wrote the film’s screenplay and directs it like a memory piece from his childhood. He shot this film using black and white. It’s almost as if we are watching old home videos of the time but without the jerky handheld feel. The black and white also mirrors the movies Buddy is getting lost in on screen.
The film is told through Buddy’s perspective and it’s an interesting way of seeing the world through the eyes of a child. There’s a wide-eyed feeling full of innocence and optimism despite the gloomy atmosphere that currently surrounds him. You’re almost relieved he doesn’t have to completely understand the divide in his community or how his parents are struggling to get by.
Branagh reminds us why history is important as these themes continue to circle back around again. We see Belfast become a divided city with barricades built up in the streets, the family is drowning in debt, and the intolerance between the Catholics and Protestants grows. It’s not too far removed from the very divided times we live in now.
Despite the more somber tone, Branagh adds plenty humor along the way with Buddy’s daily adventures and I got a kick out of one line that says, “Nothing against Catholics, but it’s a religion of fear.”
Belfast features a wonderful cast as this family unit. Jude Hill is an incredible young star on the rise. He’s a lively little actor with a fearless approach to the camera. You can feel the deep pain within Catriona Balfe as Ma. It’s a subtle and internal performance but one that’s deeply moving. As Pa, Jamie Dornan wants the best for his family and that determination is felt as his character struggles to make that happen.
It’s easy to get swept up in Belfast as there’s always a feeling of hope throughout. Kenneth Branagh understands the struggle at hand yet reminds us it will get better in the end thanks to the warmth of family. Belfast is a year-end crowd pleaser.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
THE SHRINK NEXT DOOR (AppleTV+)
“The Shrink Next Door” is a widely successful true crime podcast from 2019 that’s now been adapted into an eight-episode limited series starring Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd. It’s a wild story spanning thirty years of deceit and manipulation. Will Ferrell stars as Marty Markowitz who ran his family-owned fabrics company in New York City. He’s been down on his luck as he lets people walk all over him and has panic attacks. His sister, Phyllis, suggests Marty see a therapist. He relents and steps into the office of Dr. Isaac Herschkopf. At first, he’s in denial about why he’s there stating, “I’m fine!” to a variety of Dr. Ike’s questions. Dr. Ike eases in and affirms to Marty that he’s not going to let anyone use him. Yet, that’s exactly what happens as Dr. Ike finds that vulnerability within Marty and spends thirty years infiltrating Marty’s home life, family, and business.
It’s best to describe this as a dark comedy tone set in the crazy world of true crime. It’s one of those stories that seems too unbelievable to be true given all the red flags we can see from the outside. It’s a tricky tone to accomplish with a cast of actors primarily known for comedy.
I’m conflicted on the casting of Will Ferrell. His take on Marty borders on caricature as he gives this veneer of being perfectly content and fine. He believes Dr. Ike every step of the way which comes across as aloof and odd. He feels more naturally within the role as the series progresses as he warms up to Dr. Ike.
Paul Rudd comes off a little more believable playing Dr. Ike. His real-life friendship with Will Ferrell plays into the charming demeanor he needs to build the friendship and therapeutic work on Marty.
The execution of the story doesn’t feel balanced as an eight-episode series. While it spans thirty years, the first five or six episodes all take place in the first year or so of their friendship. It’s oddly surface level at the same time never diving into the nuance or the complexities of how this could have happened.
It’s feels acceptable to laugh and shake your head at the same time, but the tone never evolves throughout when it should for a true crime story.
RATING: 2.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
ETERNALS (In theaters)
Get ready Marvel fans as Oscar winning director Chloe Zhao takes the MCU in a bold new direction with Eternals. The Eternals are team of immortal heroes looking down at Planet Earth from the cosmos. Their goal is to protect humanity from the Deviants, an all-powerful unstoppable collection of monsters. Their leader, Ajak, informs them when it’s time to come together as they’ve spent many centuries dating back to 5000BC protecting humans. There’s a fine line as they’re told not to interfere with human conflict, including Thanos. In present day London, Sersi and Sprite are the first of the Eternals to witness the return of the Deviants. They know the Eternals must reunite if they’re going to stop the Deviants. It’s been centuries since they’ve all seen each other and they’re now living across the world leading their own private lives.
Eternals is a sprawling story expanding on the typical framework of a Marvel origin story. This is the first time we’re meeting this group of heroes and Chloe Zhao and her writing team pack the film with back story and different bookmarks in time showcasing the Eternals history with protecting Earth all while living in the shadows never exposing their secret powers.
Each of our Eternals has a different power and strength. They’re a mighty force when they can work together, and there lies the deeper conflict for these characters. As Marvel fans, we’re used to the Avengers working together battling Thanos. The Eternals are fractured, less inclined to agree with each other, which again is rare for a Marvel origin story where we usually find our key character elated with learning about their super powers.
There’s something risky and daring about the trajectory of this story and the incredibly high stakes we find each of our characters in both within themselves and their part as a group. There’s inner guilt and self-conflict over what has happened over the years. The representation within the cast and characters of the Eternals is big for making this look like modern day society from Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari who is deaf to Phastos being an openly gay Marvel character.
Eternals still looks and feels like a Marvel film and yet you still can’t compare it to the others. There’s the sci-fi/fantasy realm with extensive world building at play with high concepts. What helps this is having Chloe Zhao bring her stamp to it with grounding the film in very real conflicts.
It certainly skews for an older audience as I think the pacing and contemplative nature of some of it will deter kids away who are used to brighter, faster, funnier Marvel films. This couldn’t have been made early on in Marvel’s tenure.
At times, I grappled with how much it was trying to convey and if it was always working, but it has since sat with me more and more. Chloe Zhao takes a huge swing here to shake it up for Marvel, and that’s worth applauding.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS