I CARE A LOT (2021) – Dark Thriller Delivers

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I CARE A LOT (2021) is a strange name for a cutthroat thriller with moments of dark comedy, but it’s called that because its main character Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike, giving a diabolical performance) runs a get-rich scam operation as a caregiver and legal guardian for the elderly who can no longer care for themselves, but in Marla’s case, she seeks out her clients, going after the ones with few family connections left and lots of wealth, so she can steal it all, once they’re in an assisted living home.

It’s the type of movie you will like if you don’t mind the fact that nearly every one in it is absolutely despicable.

If you remember the Netflix show HOUSE OF CARDS (2013-18) with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, I CARE A LOT possesses a lot of that same vicious vibe, except rather than D.C. politics, it centers on the health care system, and how Marla exploits it.

Marla Grayson and her partner Fran (Eliza Gonzalez) seek out elderly marks who they can exploit, and they do so with the help of a doctor (Alicia Witt) who falsifies documents for a piece of the cut, and an unsuspecting judge (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) who always rules in Marla’s favor. Hence, Marla is shrewd enough to always keep the law on her side.

But when Marla and Fran discover who they believe to be the perfect mark, a woman with no family connections Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), they are ecstatic. They are even happier when they discover unclaimed diamonds in Jennifer’s safety deposit box. Their exuberance is short-lived when they begin to receive threats that if they don’t release Jennifer from the nursing home, there will be consequences. Marla ignores the threats, and after some more digging, they discover that Jennifer Peterson is not who she claims to be, and that in fact the person who wants her released, Roman Lunyov (Peter Dinklage) has connections to the Russian mafia.

Even so, Marla refuses to be intimidated.

And that’s when things get ugly.

I enjoyed I CARE A LOT, even though you’d be hard pressed to find even one likable character!

The screenplay by director J Blakeson is on target throughout. It hooked me in within the opening moments of the movie when in a voice over narration Marla explains how playing by the rules is a joke created by rich people to keep the rest of us poor, and she follows that up with the statement that she wants to be rich, really rich. And from there, there is no looking back. The dialogue is sharp throughout, as are the characterizations, and the plot is intriguing.

Rosamund Pike dominates the movie with her cold-hearted ruthless performance as the indomitable Marla Grayson. I’ve enjoyed Pike in a bunch of other movies, including BEIRUT (2018), HOSTILES (2017), and GONE GIRL (2014). Her work here in I CARE A LOT is unlike anything I’ve seen her do before. She loses herself in the role. I was seeing Marla Grayson, not Rosamund Pike.

As he always is, Peter Dinklage was excellent as Roman Lunyov. He possesses a cool, calm demeanor throughout, making his threats all the more effective.

As Jennifer Peterson, Dianne Wiest enjoys some fine moments in a supporting role, especially in the scenes where she gives it right back to Marla. Eliza Gonzalez is also notable as Marla’s partner Fran, and two other memorable supporting performances include Chris Messina as Lunyov’s slimy lawyer Dean Ericson, and Nicholas Logan as Lunyov’s lowlife henchman Alexi Ignatyev.

Behind the camera, J Blakeson succeeds as well. The film is snappy and sharp throughout, hooking me in immediately and not letting go until the end credits rolled. It also has a lot to say about the ruthlessness of capitalism and how and why people do what they do to make unbelievable amounts of money.

One of the few things that didn’t work for me in this movie, and it’s a small thing, is that when Marla and Fran decide to take on the Russian mob, they do so on their own, and things seemed a little too easy for them at that point.

But all in all, I CARE A LOT is a satisfying thriller that delivers the goods, while even managing to produce a few laughs along the way.

I may not have cared for any of the characters, but I certainly liked this movie.

A lot.

—END—


			

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: HORNS (2013)

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HORNS (2013), a horror movie by director Alexandre Aja, based on the novel by Joe Hill, is supposed to be part comedy, and yet, for me, the biggest flaw of this movie is that as it goes along, it simply takes itself way too seriously. Not the best comedic strategy.

And it’s also way too long.

In HORNS, Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe) has an interesting problem. After his lifelong girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple) is murdered, and he is implicated in the crime, he grows a pair of horns on his head. And with these horns, he seems to possess the power of Satan, because whatever he says, people will do. Right there and then.

But Ig is too deep in grief over the violent death of his girlfriend to think much about the horns on his head, other than to wonder why he suddenly has them. Instead, he is focused on proving his innocence and finding out who in fact did murder Merrin.

I enjoyed HORNS the most when the story dealt with Ig’s horns and how they affected people around him. There a lot of very funny scenes here, although most occur in the first half of the movie. As the film goes on, it gets bogged down in the plot of Ig solving the case of Merrin’s murder, and the longer it follows this course, the less interesting the film becomes. Mostly because unlike the high concept of Ig’s horns, the murder story is pretty standard and quite frankly a bore.

Although I’m not a fan of the HARRY POTTER movies, I do enjoy Daniel Radcliffe as an actor, and he’s very good here as Ig. Again, his best scenes are when he’s dealing with his horns. The scene where he goes to the doctor for help with those horns is a keeper. Other films in which I have enjoyed Radcliffe include THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012) and SWISS ARMY MAN (2016).

The rest of the cast is hit or miss.

Juno Temple is okay as Merrin, a character whose name, incidentally, is a reference to Father Merrin from THE EXORCIST (1973), while Joe Anderson is very good as Ig’s drug-addicted brother Terry, who wants to look out for his kid brother but is always messing things up. Max Minghella starts off fine as Ig’s best friend and lawyer Lee, but as the plot unfolds, the character becomes far less interesting and much less believable.

Both Kathleen Quinlan and James Remar enjoy fine moments as Ig’s parents, as does David Morse as Merrin’s grieving dad, and he gets some of the better scenes in the movie.

Keith Bunin wrote the screenplay, based on Hill’s novel, and it works best when it plays things light and comical. When it gets serious, it gets tedious.

I have mixed feelings about Alexandre Aja as a director. I liked his remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006) well enough and really enjoyed the recent CRAWL (2019), but I hated PIRANHA 3D (2010) which a lot of folks loved. I thought it was way too over the top and all rather dumb. I’d place HORNS somewhere in the middle of these movies. There were parts I liked, the humor, for instance, and parts I didn’t like, the standard murder mystery plot.

HORNS isn’t a bad horror movie. It’s just not a very good one.

Simply put, while it was an okay diversion for a couple of hours, it’s certainly not a film that I would honk my horn at.

—-END—

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2021) -Bio Pic of Black Panther Leader Tells Dark and Depressing Story

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JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2021) was not an easy movie to sit through.

In fact, it was downright painful.

Perhaps it was made more excruciating by my viewing it on the same day Donald Trump was acquitted of insurrection charges in his second impeachment trial. See, JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH, the story of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the man who betrayed him, Bill O’Neal, is less about race and more about the power establishment in the United States and how its sole purpose is to keep the lesser folks down. This notion seems more true today in 2021 than in the time this film takes place, in the late 1960s.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH tells the story of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya, in an Oscar-worthy performance) who leads the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers. His goal is not just to fight the establishment for the black population, but for the underprivileged population, who he views as never having a chance unless they all fight back together, which is why he spends so much of his time trying to build bridges between the different factions fighting for the same thing.

As such, he draws the attention of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) who makes it the Bureau’s mission to take Hampton down. To do so, he puts the pressure on one of his agents, Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) to get the job done, going so far as to make veiled threats against Mitchell’s family if he fails. Mitchell turns to a car thief Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) making him an FBI informant on the inside of the Black Panthers with the express mission of getting close to Hampton and informing Mitchell of his secrets. Eventually, the stakes are raised, when Hoover makes it known that the only solution to their problem is to have Hampton end up dead.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH tells as bleak a story as you are going to find. While Hampton does his best to be the leader that his people need, at the end of the day, it’s a losing battle, and the establishment with all the power at the beginning of the story holds on to that power by the end, and Hampton ends up dead. And the story is even more depressing because it is true.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH is driven by powerful performances throughout. As I said, Daniel Kaluuya’s performance as Fred Hampton is Oscar worthy. It’s riveting, raw, and real. To horror fans, Kaluuya is known for his starring role in GET OUT (2017). To Marvel superhero movie fans, he’s known for his supporting role in BLACK PANTHER (2018). I liked him in both those movies. His work here in JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH is his best yet.

LaKeith Stanfield is equally as intense as informant Bill O’Neal, who grows off the charts stressed out as the stakes keep getting raised, as he is continually thrust into impossible situations by the FBI.

Jesse Plemons, who is always locked into his roles, excels as FBI agent Roy Mitchell. And when the heat is on and his own family is threatened by Hoover, he doubles down and becomes more relentless with O’Neal. There is no sympathy here for Mitchell. My favorite Plemons role remains his one season stint on BREAKING BAD as Todd, the odd cool-headed killer. But he’s also been in a bunch of movies and has been terrific in all of them.

Dominique Fishback is also powerful as Deborah Johnson, the woman who becomes involved with Hampton and eventually has his child.

And in limited screen time, Martin Sheen makes for a cold, callous, and very creepy J. Edgar Hoover.

The screenplay by Will Berson and director Shaka King is raw and rough. It makes JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH play like real life rather than like a movie.

Shaka King also directed, and while this one remains intense throughout, it does struggle with pacing. While there are some advantages to playing more like real life than a movie, one disadvantage is a lack of dramatic structure. While the film’s conclusion is certainly riveting, getting there is not.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH is now available on HBO MAX, and of their recent “released on the same day as theater” movies, it’s the best of the lot so far.

That being said, I did slightly prefer ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (2021) another civil rights film taking place in the late 1960s which premiered on Netflix a few weeks back slightly more, as that film was almost poetical in its execution and screenplay. There was just something mesmerizing about ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH is not mesmerizing. It is, however, dark and depressing, telling a story from 1968-69 about a man who was trying to change things for his people, a man who died for his beliefs.

A man whose work remains largely unfinished in the here and now.

–END—

LEADING LADIES: SUZAN FARMER

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Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at lead actresses in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today is an actress mostly known to horror fans for one major horror movie. The actress is Suzan Farmer, and the movie is DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966), Hammer Films’ second Dracula movie starring Christopher Lee, and the direct sequel to their mega-hit HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).

In DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, the undead count is resurrected when his servant murders an unsuspecting guest at the castle and uses the man’s blood to rescuscitate his vampire master. Suzan Farmer plays one of the guests, Diana, who’s married to the brother of the slain sacrificial victim. It’s a memorable performance in a movie that has continued to age well over the years, and is held in much higher regard today than it was upon its initial release back in 1966, when it was widely viewed as an inferior sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA.

Here is a partial look at Suzan Farmer’s career:

THE SUPREME SECRET (1958) – Tess – Farmer’s movie debut in 1958 at the age of 15.

THE CRIMSON BLADE (1963) – Constance Beverley – High seas adventure which takes place in 1648 and also stars Lionel Jeffries, Oliver Reed, June Thorburn, and Hammer regulars Michael Ripper and Duncan Lamont.

THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964) – Angela – Hammer pirate adventure written by Jimmy Sangster and directed by Don Sharp. Starring Christopher Lee, Andrew Keir, Duncan Lamont, and Michael Ripper.

DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965) – Susan Whitley – Farmer plays the daughter of a wheelchair-bound Boris Karloff. She’s stuck in the castle while Karloff conducts bizarre experiments, all the while her boyfriend Stephen (Nick Adams) tries to convince her to leave daddy and get the heck out of there! Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.” Also starring Freda Jackson and Patrick Magee.

DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966) – Diana- My favorite Suzan Farmer role and performance. A big reason for this is she’s in some of the best scenes in the movie, certainly the best Dracula scenes. The scene where Dracula (Christopher Lee) attacks her from an open window, and later when he slits open his chest and invites her to drink his blood, are two of the more memorable sequences in the film. Farmer also enjoys playful chemistry with Francis Matthews, who plays her husband Charles. Their dialogue together resonates throughout the movie, and they really do seem like a young married couple very much in love. Farmer also dubbed the high-pitched screams for co-star Barbara Shelley.

RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK (1966) – Vanessa – Shot simultaneously with DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, using many of the same sets and cast, including Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, and Farmer.

PERSECUTION (1974) – Janie Masters – Farmer’s last movie credit is in this thriller starring Lana Turner as an evil mom tormenting her adult son played by Ralph Bates and his family. Also starring Trevor Howard, Patrick Allen, and Ronald Howard.

LEAP IN THE DARK (1980) – Grace- Farmer’s final screen credit was in an episode of this horror anthology TV series.

Indeed, after 1966, the majority of Farmer’s screen appearances were on the small screen on various TV shows.

Suzan Farmer passed away on September 17, 2017 at the age of 75 from cancer.

I hope you enjoyed this brief partial look at the career of Suzan Farmer. She made a lasting impression with only a few appearances in horror films in the 1960s, especially in the Hammer Film DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Speaking of DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, with the recent passing of Barbara Shelley, and six months earlier of Philip Latham who played Dracula’s loyal servant Klove, all the major cast members from that classic Dracula movie are now gone, sadly.

Here’s a toast to them, a wonderful cast in a classic Dracula movie.

Please join me again next time for the next LEADING LADIES column, where we’ll look at the career of another leading actress in the movies, especially horror movies.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

THE DIG (2021) – Exceptional Movie Unearths More Than Just Historic Archeological Find

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I dug THE DIG (2021).

Yes, THE DIG, a new Netflix movie, is a wonderful film. It tells the surprisingly moving story of the excavation in 1939 in Sutton Hoo, England, which unearthed a burial ship from Anglo Saxon times. It features two fabulous performances by Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, beautiful direction by Simon Stone, and an above average screenplay by Moira Buffini, based on the novel The Dig by John Preston, both of which are based on a true story.

It’s 1939, and England is on the brink of war with Nazi Germany. Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires amateur excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to dig on her property as rumors have swirled that historic burial grounds lay underneath, and as Edith says, she just has a “feeling” about what is there. Brown is only an “amateur” because he’s not formally educated or trained in the field, but he’s been excavating since he was a child, and so his instincts and true experience are unparalleled, and Edith recognizes this. He has the reputation of being difficult to work with, but this comes more from idiosyncrasies rather than from stubborness.

Edith herself is unwell, as she is slowly dying, and she worries for her young son Robert (Archie Barnes), as the boy’s father has already passed away. Robert is an imaginative young boy who believes the ancient explorers were a lot like the space explorers he reads about in science fiction magazines, and he takes a liking to Basil Brown and is only too happy to be allowed to help the excavator with the dig.

Eventually, Basil unearths an amazing find, the remains of an Anglo Saxon ship, which would have been painstakingly moved from the sea to the land to provide a burial for someone of extreme importance. It’s a magnificent find, one that brings the British Museum to Edith’s doorstep, with orders that from here on out, they are taking charge.

Director Simon Stone has made a thoroughly satisfying period piece. The photography of the English countryside is as elegant as it is pastoral. You can almost smell the greenery. The film also nails the look of the period, 1939 England on the brink of war.

The first half of the movie is almost magical, bordering on fantasy, even as the story is rooted in reality. There’s a mystical quality to the screenplay as Basil Brown expounds on the marvels of the past, which he says speaks to them. There is a reverence here that resonates throughout the movie. Young Robert is an eager listener to Brown’s ideas, and we the audience are right there with the boy. It’s storytelling at its best.

The second half of the movie pivots somewhat, as the British Museum becomes involved, and we are introduced to more characters, including Peggy Piggot (Lily James) who’s there to help her husband with the dig, but it is through this experience that she learns some truths about herself and her marriage. The second half of the movie isn’t quite as effective as the first, but it’s still a first-rate screenplay by Moira Buffini.

The two leads here are outstanding.

Ralph Fiennes, who has delivered many fine perfomances over the years going all the way back to THE ENGLISH PATIENT (1996), and who is currently playing M in the new James Bond movies, is outstanding here as Basil Brown. It’s clearly one of his best film performances, and instantly one of my favorites. He makes Brown a three-dimensional character who in spite of his reptutation for being difficult is sincere, empathetic, and a genuinely caring person.

Carey Mulligan is equally as good as Edith Pretty. It’s a challenging role, as Edith grows sicker throughout the story, and Mulligan is up to the challenge of capturing her ever increasing sickness. In spite of her illness, she is a strong-willed woman who does her best to give Basil credit for the dig, even though the museum would prefer the name of an amateur not be mentioned at all.

I have been enjoying Mulligan’s work for some time now, as she has made memorable impressions in such films as DRIVE (2011), THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), and MUDBOUND (2017). She is also currently starring in the thriller PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020).

The other testament to Mulligan’s and Fiennes’ acting is the two actors share tremendous chemistry… their scenes together resonate and drive this film forward… even though they are not connected romantically, which is usually the way it is onscreen for characters who share this kind of chemistry. They are both fantastic.

Young Archie Barnes is noteworthy as Edith’s son Robert, as his energetic performance really captures the spirit of the movie.

Lily James is also very good as Peggy, although she doesn’t show up in the film until its second half, but she makes Peggy a sympathetic character, even if she’s not integral to the film’s main plot. I like James a lot and have enjoyed her work in such films as BABY DRIVER (2017), DARKEST HOUR (2017), and REBECCA (2020).

One of the themes in THE DIG, in addition to the connection between explorers of the past and explorers of the future, is that life is fleeting, and you have to go for things in the here and now. However, we all fail at times, and we have to live with our failures and move on, and when ultimately our time is done, we do live on as what we do now for others lives on with them, which allows the past to continue to speak to the present and the future.

There’s a lot going on in THE DIG, as it has a very layered screenplay by Moira Buffini.

And one of the film’s best scenes, which speaks to its theme of the meeting of explorers, Robert takes his ailing mother on a “voyage” on a ship through time. They camp out in the remains of the unearthed ship under the starry night sky and Robert speaks of his explorations through time and space and how his mother will be there with him because time is different in space, and from where she is she will know all that he has done.

Deep, almost magical storytelling, and yet there’s not a drop of fantasy to be found. Instead, it’s wrapped in a story that is as deeply rooted in reality as you can get.

THE DIG is an exceptional movie that unearths more than just an amazing archeological find. It digs up some astounding truths about who we are, what we are doing here, and where we are going.

—END—

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933)

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Today’s PICTURE OF THE DAY comes from James Whale’s classic THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933), and it’s the initial appearance of the Invisible Man, which remains for my money, one of the best first entrance scenes of any of the classic Universal Monsters.

The locals are all huddled together at the neighborhood pub, drinking and having a grand old time while a snowstorm rages outside, when the door opens, letting in both the howling blizzard winds and a strange man wrapped in bandages. The atmosphere in this scene is off the charts creepy.

This entrance is up there with the first time we see the Monster (Boris Karloff) in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), also directed by James Whale, and when Dracula (Bela Lugosi) appears for the first time at the top of the castle stairs in Tod Browning’s DRACULA (1931).

Claude Rains is superb as the titular character, playing a menacing monster mostly by just using his voice, since the character is invisible! THE INVISIBLE MAN also features spectacular visual effects for its time.

I often consider THE INVISIBLE MAN to be Universal’s most overlooked classic, as you don’t usually hear it mentioned in the same conversation with DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, or THE WOLF MAN (1941), or even THE MUMMY (1932) for that matter. But it’s an exceptional film, filled with both humor and some truly frightening scenes. The murder of Dr. Kemp always gets me.

And the Invisible Man’s initial appearance, shown above, is one of classic horror cinema’s most effective and chilling scenes. Not bad for a sequence which occurs in the opening moments of the movie!

It’s always cozy to be indoors during a snowstorm, unless the door opens letting in first a chilling wind followed by a mysterious stranger wrapped in bandages!

Yikes!

—END—

THE LITTLE THINGS (2021) – Denzel Washington Thriller In Need of Some Big Things

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THE LITTLE THINGS (2021), a new serial killer thriller by writer/director John Lee Hancock, and starring the impressive trio of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, stresses that it’s the little things that matter, the small details that even the most careful killers will miss. It’s those things that investigators have to find in order to nab their guy. In short, you gotta pay attention to the little things.

Too bad the movie didn’t take its own advice.

THE LITTLE THINGS takes place in California in 1990 and follows the story of former homicide detective Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel Washington). Deke worked so hard on his last case, trying to track down a serial killer, that it nearly killed him, and he was forced to move on to another position as a sheriff’s deputy. But when current homicide detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) is at his wit’s end trying to track down a serial killer of his own, he turns to Deke for help, and since Deke notices similarities between this case and the one he had been working on, he is only too happy to oblige. Deke is known for being able to find the “little things” which killers miss.

Deke and Baxter settle upon a person of interest, Albert Sparma (Jared Leto), and when Sparma doesn’t disappoint, the game of cat and mouse begins.

THE LITTLE THINGS takes place in 1990, pretty much for no other reason than that’s when John Lee Hancock first wrote the screenplay. Neither the year nor the decade adds anything of relevance to the story. And while you can tell it’s the 1990s by the cars being driven and the fact that no one has a wireless device of any kind, the movie isn’t exactly steeped in 1990s atmosphere.

The other noticeable thing about this having been written in 1990, which is especially noticeable here in 2021, is that there isn’t any major female characters in this story. None whatsoever. All the women here have smaller supporting roles. The fact that this is so noticeable in the here and now is a good thing. Let’s not return to the days of yesteryear, thank you very much!

It’s kind of strange script by Hancock. For starters, the time in the story just seems off. At first, it appears as if Deke has been off the job as a homicide detective for a long time, but as the story goes along, it’s revealed that it wasn’t that long at all. Which is weird because it plays better had Deke been off the force for years.

I enjoyed the story early on. The serial killer plot was interesting, as was Deke’s character, and the way he worked the case. But once prime suspect Albert Sparma shows up, things change, and it has little to do with Sparma, who is a creepy character and interesting to watch. No, it’s the characters of Deke and Baxter who become head scratchers, especially Baxter. He is supposed to be this hotshot police detective, but time and time again, the decisions he makes are rather stupid, especially towards the end. Speaking of which, the ending to this film is a huge letdown. The story doesn’t really build to a climax, and the ending is very flat.

This one also has a rather strange subtext. It stresses that the little things are important, but we barely see Deke take advantage of that, at least in the solving of a case. Instead, the message seems to be what the little things are important for are so that you can cover your tracks when you mess up, as these guys continually do in this movie. Ultimately, the story didn’t work at all for me.

John Lee Hancock also wrote and directed THE BLIND SIDE (2009) and directed SAVING MR. BANKS (2013). Prior to THE LITTLE THINGS, Hancock directed the Netflix movie THE HIGHWAYMEN (2019), starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson as the men who successfully hunted down Bonnie and Clyde. It was a film I was only lukewarm to. One of my favorite Hancock-directed movies is THE FOUNDER (2016), a film in which Michael Keaton delivered a knockout performance as the controversial McDonalds “founder” Ray Kroc, and Hancock brilliantly captured the look and feel of the time period. So Hancock is a talented director, but his work here as both a director and writer on THE LITTLE THINGS isn’t his best.

The best thing about THE LITTLE THINGS is its cast. I can watch Denzel Washington all day, and as you would expect, he is excellent once again in the role of Deke, the homicide detective with the knack for finding the little things. The only problem is we don’t see this knack on display all that much.

Rami Malek is good as Detective Baxter, althought ultimately he proves to be a rather dumb character. He’s certainly not a worthy enough character for an actor like Malek, who won an Oscar for playing Freddie Mercury in BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (2019).

I really enjoyed Jared Leto as creepy suspect Albert Sparma. Leto’s performance is every bit as good as Denzel Washington’s. He makes Sparma one very unsettling dude.

There are some fine supporting performances as well, especially Michael Hyatt as coroner Flo Dunigan. She has a special connection to Deke.

Ultimately, THE LITTLE THINGS is a mediocre thriller. It enjoys a stronger first half than its second, which strangely fails to generate much suspense or excitement. It does have strong acting, with Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto leading the way, but when all was said and done, it just wasn’t a film that I was all that excited about.

While it may be all about the little things, in this movie the little things hardly seemed to matter at all.

Perhaps what it really should have been focusing on were some big things.

—END—

DOLITTLE (2020) Does Little

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When DOLITTLE (2020) opened back in January of last year to negative reviews, I stayed away.

I really had no interest in seeing it anyway, other than having really enjoyed the work of Robert Downey Jr. over the previous decade, mostly with his recurring role as Tony Stark/Ironman in the various Marvel superhero movies, but also in other films like the rebooted SHERLOCK HOLMES movies. So, I was curious to see Downey as Dr. Dolittle, but not curious enough to run out and see this one.

However, this past weekend, I was in the mood for something light and upbeat, and so finally I decided to check this one out, nearly a year after its initial release.

I could have waited two years.

Yup, DOLITTLE was as bad as folks said.

Now, I realize this is a kids movie aimed mostly at younger kids, and it’s supposed to be a family friendly comical adventure. The problem is, while it may be family friendly, in terms of being appropriate for the younger kiddos, it kinda forgot about the older folks in the room, the adults. There’s not much here that is all that relevant or fun for anyone over the age of 10.

Let’s start with the script by director Stephen Gaghan, Dan Gregor, and Doug Mand, based on the character created by Hugh Lofting. And that character is Dr. John Dolittle, a man who possesses the magical ability to talk to the animals. Yep, he understands what they say, and they undertand what he says. Dolittle has been portrayed by Rex Harrison in the musical DOCTOR DOLITTLE (1967) and by Eddie Murphy in a pair of DR. DOLITTLE comedies in the late 90s early 2000s.

Here, Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) is grieving over the death of his wife, an adventurer who was lost at sea, and so he has withdrawn from society and has become a hermit, interacting only with his animals on his enormous estate. But when young Queen Victoria falls deathly ill, she calls on Dolittle to help her. And with the assistance of a boy named Tommy (Harry Collett) Dolittle and his animals take to the high seas to find both his wife’s lost journal and a healing tree to save the Queen, all while being pursued by the sniveling and villainous Dr. Blair Mudfly (Michael Sheen).

Yawn.

Now, this didn’t have to be a yawnfest, but it is. The jokes just aren’t very funny, but worse, the characters are pretty much all caricatures and don’t come off as real people at all. But this is a kids’ movie, you say, a fantasy. But it is just so far removed from reality it is nearly impossible to watch. Plus, the dialogue, rather than being snappy and lively, is dreadfully dull.

The actors don’t help.

As I said, I have thoroughly enjoyed the work of Robert Downey Jr., especially over the past decade, but his performance here as Dolittle is a head-scratcher. He comes off as a muttering grumpy grandpa who you half expect to shout, “Get off my lawn!” at any moment. Any kind of magic is missing from the character here. A big part of it is the story. I mean, he’s grieving the death of his wife, so it makes sense that he’s dark and dreary. It’s just a weird characterization that simply doesn’t work.

Michael Sheen plays things way over the top as the villain, Dr. Mudfly. It’s embarrassingly in-your-face. Antonio Banderas does the same as Dolittle’s embittered father-in-law King Rassouli. Jim Broadbent plays things with a bit more realism as another villain, Lord Thomas Badgley, but he alone is not able to make much of an impact here.

There are a bunch of notable actors doing voicework here for the animals, folks like Emma Thompson, John Cena, Rami Malek, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, and Selena Gomez. But I can’t say that any one of them stood out for me.

As I said, Stephen Gaghan directed, and the one thing going for DOLITTLE is it looks good. The photography is bright, lively, and colorful. If only the same could be said for the rest of the movie.

The CGI effects are okay. They’re passable. They are what you would expect to find in a film geared mostly for kids.

Overall, I thought DOLITTLE was a snooze. It only runs for one hour and forty one minutes. I was ready for it to be over after the first fifteen.

There simply isn’t much to like about this one.

Yup, DOLITTLE does little.

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ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (2021) – Fictional Account of Four 1960s Icons Phenomenal and Flawless

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It’s all about the screenplay.

So often, the one element which hurts a movie the most is its screenplay. Generally speaking, bad screenplay, bad movie. Likewise, if your movie has a good screenplay, chances are, you have a winner on your hands.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (2021), now available on Prime Video, not only has a good screenplay, it has a phenomenal one! Written by Kemp Powers, based on his stage play of the same name, ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI tells the fictional account of four icons, Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) getting together in a hotel room in Miami to celebrate Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston for the Heavyweight Title earlier that night, and the ensuing conversations between them as they navigate through Malcolm X’s views on race relations, and their own roles in the movement make for superior storytelling from start to finish.

When he defeated Liston that night for the Heavyweight Title, Ali was still known as Cassius Clay, but under the guidance of his friend and mentor Malcolm X, Clay had been considering converting to Islam. In fact, this get-together from Malcolm X’s perspective, was largely to finalize that conversion, and to tell their two other friends, Cooke and Brown, about it.

On this night, Malcolm X is on edge. He knows people are following him, that there are threats against his life, and he is having conflicts within the ranks of the Nation of Islam, but more so, he feels the struggle for the black man is imminent, and there is no time to slack off and accept the status quo. And so, in addition to his invitation to Clay, he also leans heavily into Sam Cooke, a singer Malcolm X accuses of cozying up too much to white society. Cooke does not take kindly to this criticism, and most of the night the two friends engage in heated exchanges.

Meanwhile, Jim Brown, the NFL’s biggest star, does not agree with Malcolm X’s militant stance on race, and yet he knows huge problems exist in the country. He just doesn’t agree with Malcolm’s solutions. And Cassius Clay, while originally enthustiastic about becoming a Muslim, has ever increasing doubts as the heated arguments continue throughout the evening.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is chock full of memorable lines and conversations. It’s pratically a treatise on race relations, and even though the story takes place in 1964 and is seen through the eyes of four icons of the that period, the conversations remain relevant in the here and now. And it’s done on a canvas of a marvelous play. The dialogue, the relationships, the characters, they all come to life, and thanks to director Regina King, who invites the audience right into the room with these guys, you feel like you’re right there sitting next to them.

One of the more memorable lines comes as Jim Brown is shaking his head at Malcolm X and telling him it always amazes him that Malcom so freely mixes being religious with being militant, to which Malcolm replies, “what’s the difference?”

Nearly every conversation is a memorable exchange. From Malcolm X pointing out that Bob Dylan, a white man, has written songs more pointed towards their cause than anything Cooke has written, to Cooke’s lambasting Malcolm over his comments following JFK’s assassination, telling Malcolm “my mother cried when JFK died. So did I. I liked JFK.”

Eli Goree delivers the most fun performance in the movie as Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali. He captures Clay’s exhuberance and over-the-top personality, and enjoys many scene stealing moments, like when he’s bragging he doesn’t have a scratch on his face and looks in the mirror, stopping abruptly and going silent as if concerned. When his three friends rush to his aid, he says, “How is it that I’m so handsome!” It’s one of the better performances of Clay/Ali that I’ve ever seen.

Kingsley Ben–Adir makes for an intense, introspective, driven, and visibly frightened Malcolm X. His scenes of harsh criticism of his friends are juxtaposed with his late night phone calls to his wife and daughters, revealing him as a loving, caring family man. And while his friends push back, he desperately tries to tell them that he’s not criticizing them, but trying to motivate them to help their cause.

Aldis Hodge plays Jim Brown as the most level headed of the group, in that he’s the least interested in Malcolm’s cause and simply believes that the way to achieve equality is through economic means, and each of them by their own successes are already doing that. Malcolm disagrees and says that is not enough. For Brown, he knows things are bad, he’s experienced things first-hand, but he just doesn’t see the answer as coming through militant means. Hodge is very good in the role, as he’s been in a bunch of other movies, including THE INVISIBLE MAN (2019), BRIAN BANKS (2018), and HIDDEN FIGURES (2019).

Leslie Odom, Jr. plays Sam Cooke and partakes in the film’s most fiery scenes, as Cooke is constantly at odds with Malcolm X. And the reason Cooke takes Malcolm’s criticisms so seriously is because he believes he has been doing these things, he has been making strides for race relations, and so he is irked by Malcolm’s statements to the contrary. He recounts the story of how a song he wrote and another black artist recorded reached #49 on the charts, and when a British band called the Rolling Stones asked for permission to do a cover version of the song, he said yes. He says Malcolm would have said no because they were white, but Cooke said yes, and the Rolling Stones version went to #1 on the pops chart. And since Cooke owned the royalties, both he and the black singer collected huge checks, and with that kind of money, that is how Cooke says he is a making a difference.

It’s an excellent performance by Odom, known mostly these days for his performance as Aaron Burr in the musical Hamilton, as well as in the movie version, HAMILTON (2020).

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is actress’ Regina King’s directorial debut, and it’s a powerful one. She captures the look and feel of the period with ease. Everything about this movie looks authentic. And she is able to weave in and out of the various conversations and arguments without ever losing any momentum. In spite of the fact that this one is driven by dialogue, it is cinematic in scope and does not feel like a simple stage play.

It’s captivating from start to finish, and there isn’t a dull moment in any of its two hour running time.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is pretty much flawless. Add this one to your queue immediately. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in a long time.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: NIGHT CREATURES (1962)

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NIGHT CREATURES (1962) (also known as CAPTAIN CLEGG) is one of my all time favorite Peter Cushing movies.

Technically not a horror movie, NIGHT CREATURES is instead an energetic and atmospheric pirate adventure, filled with mystery and intrigue, and since it was made by Hammer Films, the horror elements are certainly highlighted, including the eerie Marsh Phantoms.

In NIGHT CREATURES, Peter Cushing plays Dr. Blyss, the local reverend in the small village of Dymchurch, but all is not as it seems, as Blyss is secretly the infamous pirate Captain Clegg, who years after escaping his own execution (Hmm, sounds like something Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein once did…) settles into Dymchurch and decides to turn over a new leaf, to do good for a change. Up to a point. See, Blyss is also the leader of a secret smuggling operation which smuggles illegal goods in and out of Dymchurch and uses the mysterious Marsh Phantoms as cover.

When Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) arrives with a troop of a soldiers, he sets out to expose and thwart the covert smuggling operation. Collier is also the man who spent his life chasing down Captain Clegg. Hmm. Interesting.

And this one is much more than interesting. This rousing adventure set in 18th century England is so full of atmosphere you’ll feel like you’re riding the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney! It’s also a helluva entertaining story.

The cast is first-rate.

At the top is Peter Cushing, channelling the same energy he used to portray Baron Frankenstein here as Dr. Blyss/Captain Clegg, and he’s at it again playing the heroic villain. We should not like Clegg very much, but in Cushing’s hands, we root for him. The script by John Elder provides Cushing with many memorable moments, from his admonishing of the weasel Mr. Rash (Martin Benson)… “Mr. Rash!” to his verbal spars with Captain Collier. At one point, Blyss is doing everything in his power to make sure Collier and his men have nowhere to stay the night in Dymchurch, but Collier declares his men are definitely staying, to which Blyss utters under his breath, “Really? I wonder where?”

Another fine moment comes when Collier believes a man his men shot in the arm is Blyss, and when he grabs Blyss by the wrist, he flinches, but there’s no bullet wound. Collier asks him why he flinched when he grabbed his arm, to which Blyss answers, “It wasn’t my arm, Captain. You trod on my foot!”

Veteran character actor and Hammer favorite Michael Ripper delivers one of his all time best movie performances as Jeremiah Mipps, the coffin maker, Blyss’ loyal right hand man. He too has numerous memorable lines of dialogue and key moments in the film, like one where he is seen sleeping in one of his coffins. One of his better lines comes when an angered Captain Collier at discovering one of his key witnesses has been found dead, demands of Mipps to know why the man was out on the Marshes. Mipps replies, “I couldn’t well ask him, seeing that he’s dead.”

A young Oliver Reed, fresh after his performance as the werewolf in THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) makes for a dashing young Harry Cobtree, who is also part of Blyss’ operation and is in love with Blyss’ daughter Imogene (Yvonne Romain).

And Patrick Allen is excellent as Captain Collier, the man who matches wits with Blyss throughout the movie. Allen also starred with both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in the science fiction thriller ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED (1967), and his voice was also dubbed in for the character Rex Van Ryn in the Christopher Lee Hammer classic THE DEVIL’S BRIDE (1968).

NIGHT CREATURES also features a rousing music score by Don Banks, who also scored Hammer’s third Frankenstein movie, THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (1964).

Director Peter Graham Scott fills this one with lots of memorable scenes. There’s an exciting fight scene between Blyss and the hulking Mulatto who is out for revenge against Captain Clegg, and the climax to this one is also action-packed. The special effects on the Marsh Phantoms are first-rate. All in all, this is one Hammer Film you do not want to miss. It’s topnotch entertainment from beginning to end, without a slow moment in sight.

Incidentally, Hammer had to change the name of Cushing’s character from Dr. Syn to Dr. Blyss, since Disney owned the rights to the character, which is based on Russell Thorndike’s Doctor Syn stories. Disney made DR. SYN, ALIAS THE SCARECROW (1963) starring Patrick McGoohan in the lead role, which was later aired in three parts on TV on THE MAGICAL WORLD OF DISNEY.

If you are looking to bust yourself out of the winter blues this January, look no further than the thrilling pirate adventure NIGHT CREATURES, which features a talented cast touting out their A-game, with Peter Cushing leading the way with yet another of his phenomenal movie performances, this time as the heroic Dr. Blyss, doing his best to move on from his villainous past as the notorious pirate Captain Clegg, but only when it suits him, as he is more than comfortable running his secret smuggling operation. And when the relentless Captain Collier arrives, the stakes are raised, and Blyss’ cover and entire operation are suddenly in jeopardy.

NIGHT CREATURES is an underrated gem, one of Hammer’s best, and a must-see for all Peter Cushing fans. But be on your guard! Captain Collier and the King’s men are on the prowl! But don’t fret. Just look to the scarecrow across the way for his signal, and if his hand moves, then it’s time to run!

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