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Four Short Reviews: Zac Efron shines in 2023’s ‘The Iron Claw’

1. “Maestro”

"Maestro," starring Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Sarah Silverman and Maya Hawke, is a biopic about famous American conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein (Cooper) and his wife, Felicia Montealegre (Mulligan). Recently, it has received extensive media attention, and for good reason. 

For one, Cooper's performance as Bernstein is incredible. There wasn't a moment in the film where I thought I was watching Bradley Cooper and not Leonard Bernstein himself. Cooper doesn't look like Bernstein in terms of appearance (even with old age makeup), but he perfectly captured Bernstein's personality and mannerisms, and it's something to be in awe of. 

Mulligan's performance as Montealegre is also fantastic. Both actors understood the assignment when they read the script for this movie. They naturally feel like a married couple that have been together for 30 or 40 years. Another impressive aspect of the film is cinematography. There are both black-and-white and color sequences, which are equally terrific to look at. 

"Maestro" should be my favorite movie of 2023, but it isn't because I couldn't decipher what Cooper and screenwriter Josh Singer were trying to say. Is this a movie about the rocky marriage between Bernstein and Montealegre, or is it more in line with a traditional biopic narrative structure? 

I have only seen "Maestro" once, so maybe a rewatch will provide a better understanding of Cooper and the rest of the crew's message. Even with that small criticism, the film is extremely well-made, and it definitely feels like a lot of heart was put into the entire production. With this and "A Star is Born" (2018), Bradley Cooper has proven himself to be one of the most exciting filmmakers in Hollywood today. 

Rating: 3.5/5 

2. "The Iron Claw" 

"The Iron Claw" is directed by Sean Durkin and stars Zac Efron, Holt McCallany, Jeremy Allen White and Lily James. The film centers around the true story of the Von Erich brothers and the tragedy that struck their family, during which they rose to fame in the professional wrestling world during the early 1980s. 

I am interested in every A24 film regardless of who directed it, starred in it or what the film is about. "The Iron Claw" looked promising based on its trailer, so I went and saw it with my sister. The film is much more than that. This is one of the best films of 2023. 

For one, the acting is incredible. Everyone brought their A-game, especially Efron, who plays Kevin Von Erich. I never thought much of Efron as an actor, but here, he really shines. He's not just the one good-looking teenager from High School Musical (2006) anymore for me. My second favorite performance in the film is McCallany, who plays Fritz Von Erich, the father to the Von Erich brothers. 

McCallany is a very good character actor who has appeared in many things like "Mindhunter" (2017-2019), "Fight Club" (1999) and even Joss Whedon's "Justice League" (2017). I'm glad that he was in this film because he expertly pulls off the parent who is more demanding and harsh, rather than calm and easy to get along with. Kudos to whoever decided to cast him in the role. He's fantastic. 

As mentioned, every cast member performed well. White plays Kerry Von Erich, Harris Dickinson plays David Von Erich and Stanley Simons plays Mike Von Erich. Each brother has equal time to establish themselves and feel like real three-dimensional people instead of background characters, even though Efron's Kevin is the main character. 

The main theme of the film is brotherhood. I don't have a brother, but watching "The Iron Claw" with my older sister was a special experience because it made me appreciate that I have a sibling I can connect and bond with. Despite the Von Erich family's losses, Kevin still went on strong and continued life with his wife and sons. While his brothers weren't with him in this life, he will definitely get to see them again in the afterlife. 

"The Iron Claw" is a truly beautiful film about a particular topic that isn't given much spotlight when it comes to mainstream film and storytelling. It has a great cast, a phenomenal soundtrack, and well-choreographed wrestling sequences, and it is more captivating than your average sports movie. 

Rating: 4/5 

3. "Ferrari"

"Ferrari" is directed by Michael Mann and stars Adam Driver, Penélope Cruz, Shailene Woodley and Patrick Dempsey. The movie is about Enzo Ferrari and his troubled relationship with his wife Laura Ferrari and his mistress Lina Lardi (Woodley). It also shows him dealing with the loss of his first son with Laura. Another focal point of the film is (Enzo) Ferrari taking a chance with the Mille Miglia, an iconic race that spans over 1,000 miles across Italy, after the company he and Laura built 10 years earlier goes bankrupt. 

Mann has been on my radar pretty recently. In the span of a few months, I watched both "Collateral" (2004) and "Heat" (1995) and was absolutely blown away by how great they were. I wondered how I could miss Mann and his filmography this far in my life. When news broke that his latest film "Ferrari" would be released in a theater near my home, I was the first person in line to get my ticket. 

"Ferrari" left me in an odd spot after watching it. I didn't dislike it or like it. There were many times when watching the film that I felt pretty bored, and, honestly, on the verge of falling asleep at certain moments. There isn't anything in "Ferrari" that I found necessarily bad; rather, I didn't find anything interesting about the film that would keep me thinking about it. 

The performances from Driver as Enzo Ferrari and Cruz as his wife Laura Ferrari are solid. The film is well-shot and features plenty of well-edited sequences involving drivers testing out Ferrari vehicles on racetracks. However, I just felt kind of empty after I left the theater. I do not know how else to put it. 

Maybe sometime in the future, I will give "Ferrari" another viewing and hopefully see what Mann was trying to say with it. Again, it's definitely not a bad movie by any means. It just didn't complement my taste in cinema. For movie fans, give it a watch. For fans of Michael Mann's work, give it a watch. Perhaps you'll find something worthy about it that I didn't.

Rating: 3/5 

4. "Echo" 

"Echo" is the newest miniseries produced by Marvel Studios and stars Alaqua Cox, Vincent D'Onofrio, Tantoo Cardinal and Chaske Spencer. The series takes place after the events of "Hawkeye" (2021) and follows Maya Lopez (Cox) as she tries to escape the sinister Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (D'Onofrio) which leads her to return to her hometown in Oklahoma and reunite with her family. 

I initially had no interest in watching this series. Like many, I have been burnt out by superhero movie fatigue for a while now and was only curious about certain superheroes and what movie or television show was going to be made about them. Some of those superheroes include Batman, Spider-Man and ironically, Daredevil. 

When I found out that the teaser trailer for "Echo" was trending on X, I decided to watch it and see if it was something I may or may not be interested in. To be completely honest, I was quite shocked after watching the teaser trailer. The serious approach it took while also providing original Netflix Daredevil fans with the likes of D'Onofrio's Kingpin and Charlie Cox's Daredevil made the show all the more intriguing. 

My expectations for "Echo" were pretty high. The question is whether or not those expectations were met. The answer is: kind of. Don't get me wrong, "Echo" is a breath of fresh air compared to other more recent Marvel releases like the laughable mess that is "Antman and The Wasp: Quantumania" (2023). The problem is that "Echo" is average when it is at its best. When it's not at its best, it feels uninspired. 

I do appreciate the showrunner(s) for making the tone of "Echo" more serious and not goofy like most of the other Marvel projects – but it doesn't feel earned. It reminds me of when Warner Bros. decided to take a drastic change with their DC Comics films from being mature to being more silly and more like a Marvel movie. 

One angle of the show that I did find heartwarming is the relationship Lopez has with the rest of her family. All of the actors and actresses act like believable family members, and no one feels out of place or unnecessary. I also liked the approach this series had when it dealt with themes of Native American heritage and embracing it. It's a nice touch and something that separates it from other superhero media. 

It's also worth noting that all the actors who played members of Lopez's family had to learn sign language because the character and the actress, Cox, are deaf. It's always a standout when cast members learn a skill they didn't have previously. 

At the end of the day, "Echo" is sadly just another series to fill the pit of other seemingly pointless and substanceless superhero movies and television. It is not bad at all, just forgettable. But hey, don't just read my review about it. Give it a watch for yourself to come to your own conclusion.

Rating: 2.5/5 


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