THE GENTLEMEN (2019) – Latest Guy Ritchie Movie A Good One

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gentlemen-poster

Guy Ritchie doesn’t get shown much love.

But I like his movies.

I enjoyed his two Sherlock Holmes films starring Robert Downey Jr., and while they were neither critical nor box office successes, I liked THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (2015) and KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017).

Ritchie’s latest, THE GENTLEMEN (2019), filmed in 2019 but released here in 2020, is a gritty hard-hitting comedy-drama about an American drug dealer working to maintain his British drug empire amid attempts by his competitors to take him down.  It gets off to a somewhat slow start but then gets better as it gains steam and laughs, and by the time all is said and done, it’s another Guy Ritchie movie that is worth a look, in spite of what some critics are saying about it.

THE GENTLEMEN also has a terrific cast, led by Matthew McConaughey, who plays champion marijuana grower and self-described king of the jungle, Mickey Pearson. It’s another signature McConaughey performance, and for the most part he plays it straight, making Pearson a man who in spite of his principles, especially when it comes to his business, is not a man to be trifled with. He’s had a violent past, and he makes sure his enemies don’t forget that. While others in the cast get the laughs, McConaughey stays serious.

The story unfolds in a somewhat confusing way at first, as a private detective named Fletcher (Hugh Grant) confronts Pearson’s right-hand man Ray (Charlie Hunnam) with a demand for money because he knows things about their organization which he will make public unless they pay up. Fletcher explains that he was hired by the grimy newspaper editor Big Dave (Eddie Marsan) to dig up dirt on Pearson, which he did, but for a price, he won’t hand it over to the editor. Fletcher says he’s also written a screenplay, and he sits down to read it to Ray, as proof of what he knows.

So, the narrative continues as Fletcher reads his script, which begs the question, is this what really happened or just how Fletcher saw things? Hence, the confusion, but this is by design, and things do become more fun as the film goes along, as at times Ray chimes in to correct the story, and things we have seen change, as we re-watch sequences from different perspectives.

The result is a tale filled with unsavory characters that grows more complicated and outlandish as it goes along, building to some genuine big laughs. It’s also filled with some fast-paced dialogue and an energetic creative storytelling style that doesn’t allow the audience to relax.

Guy Ritchie’s style here is reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino movie, only not as dark and violent, but the quirkiness of the script is there, the playful banter, and the deadly mix of comedy and bloodshed as well.

The mostly male cast is excellent. Matthew McConaughey does his thing, at which he is very good. Probably his signature scene is when he says that his product, marijuana, doesn’t kill his customers, unlike his competitors who deal in drugs that do exactly that. In that moment, McConaughey nails the character, defines Pearson’s persona, and pretty much makes him a sympathetic protagonist.

But as good as McConaughey is, the two best performances in the movie are by Hugh Grant and Colin Farrell in supporting roles. Grant’s weasel private eye Fletcher is probably the best character in the movie, thanks to Grant’s flamboyant performance. Fletcher is a fast-talking storyteller who when he’s not telling jokes or moving the narrative along, is flirting with Ray, albeit not very successfully.

Colin Farrell plays a quirky character named Coach, who runs a fight club, a group where he’s trying to do something positive for the young men in the neighborhood, but his young men run afoul of Pearson’s empire, which pulls him into the fray. It’s a lively spirited performance by Farrell, and he gets the best laughs in the movie.

Charlie Hunnam does his thing as Ray, which is look to solid and act competently.  Jeremy Strong is sufficiently slimy as Matthew, the man who’s trying to buy out Pearson’s empire. But Henry Golding is largely wasted as Dry Eye, an Asian drug dealer who is also out for Pearson’s blood. His scenes are brief and the character pretty one-dimensional.

And character actor Eddie Marsan stands out as newspaper editor Big Dave. Marsan’s always good, as he’s delivered notable performances in such films as VICE (2018), WHITE BOY RICK (2018) and THEIR FINEST (2016).

And pretty much as the lone female character, Michelle Dockery is coolly efficient as Pearson’s no-nonsense wife Rosalind.

Ritchie wrote the screenplay, and it’s a good one. As I said, it starts off slow but then gains steam and never looks back. It’s a very funny script.

And behind the camera, Ritchie does a lot of things, from sequences viewed from different perspectives, to words superimposed over the screen at opportune times, to some quick and nifty editing. At the end of the day, you won’t be bored watching this movie. There’s a lot going on here.

I really liked THE GENTLEMEN. The characters were fleshed out and intriguing, the humor sharp and lively, and the story good enough to hold my interest throughout.

I definitely recommend this one.

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Horror Movies 2019

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midsommer

MIDSOMMAR (2019), the most disturbing horror movie from 2019.

I saw 21 horror movies at the theater this year.

For folks who say they don’t make good horror movies any more, that simply isn’t true. The last decade was a good one for horror movies, and 2019 was no exception. Of the 21 horror flicks I saw on the big screen last year, I would only categorize three of them as being really bad. The rest run from halfway decent to very, very good.

Here they are, ranked from worst to first:

 

21. THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA – My pick for the worst horror movie of 2019, yet another weak entry in THE CONJURING universe, this one about a demon that preys on children.

20. ANNABELLE COMES HOME – My pick for the second worst horror film of 2019 also hails from THE CONJURING universe, which should tell you something about this “universe.” While the Annabelle doll is frightening to behold, filmmakers continue to struggle to write good stories in which to place it in. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson appear only at the beginning and end of this dud.

19. IT CHAPTER TWO – Overlong at 2 hours and 49 minutes, this version of Stephen King’s novel fails to make Pennywise scary, and that’s saying something. The main characters are much more interesting as children, which is a major reason why I enjoyed Part One of this tale more.

18. THE PRODIGY – another variation of the “evil child” storyline. Nothing we haven’t seen before.

17. THE DEAD DON’T DIE- In spite of a strong cast which features Bill Murray and Adam Driver, this zombie comedy simply didn’t work for me. Fans of writer/director Jim Jarmusch swear by it, but I found his slow-as-molasses style monotonous and his breaking-the-fourth-wall comedy obvious. Also fails to respect the genre. Worth a look because some of the comedy is diverting. Reminded me of Bob Newhart on an off-day.

16. PET SEMATARY – Inferior remake of the 1989 movie. Fails to take advantage of the changes it made to Stephen King’s novel. I definitely missed Fred Gwynne from the 1989 version.

15. COUNTDOWN- Gimmicky horror movie about a murderous app was better than expected, although it’s still not very good. Start off bad, gets better for a time, but doesn’t really end strong. I did enjoy Elizabeth Lail in the lead role.

14. BRIGHTBURN – Ah, the story of Superman told as if it were a horror movie. Not really, but the similarities are definitely there. Farm couple discover an alien child from outer space with superpowers, but rather than turn into a superhero, he becomes a murderous killer. Elizabeth Banks plays the mother who just won’t accept the fact that her son is not going to grow up and write for a Metropolitan newspaper! I liked the idea behind this movie, but ultimately it just wasn’t all that scary.

13. US- Certainly the most over-hyped horror movie of the year. After his horror movie triumph GET OUT (2017), writer/director Jordan Peele gives us, US, a horror film that starts out strong but then completely unravels. Once it starts to explain just what exactly is going on, it loses all credibility.

12. CAPTIVE STATE – Science fiction horror movie chronicling what happens after the human race has been enslaved by a hostile alien race which has taken over the planet stars John Goodman and is pretty good for the most part, although it has one twist too many and runs out of gas before it finally reaches its conclusion.

Godzilla-King-Monsters

The King of the Monsters is in a slump thesee days.

11.GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS- Godzilla sure has been in a slump lately. This follow-up to the sub par 2014 GODZILLA isn’t any better and wastes stars Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown. For some reason filmmakers of late just don’t seem to want to make a movie that’s really about Godzilla. Instead, we’re stuck with ludicrous overbearing plots that distract and take away from what a Godzilla movie really should be: a fun giant monster movie, or a flat-out frightening giant monster movie. I’d take either one over the pretentious storytelling featured here.

10. 47 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED- shark sequel about divers fending off hungry sharks in some very dark underwater cavers has its moments. Slightly more enjoyable than its predecessor.

9. MIDSOMMAR – With MIDSOMMER, we reach the first of the very good horror movies of the year. This slow burn horror movie by writer/director Ari Aster is by far the most disturbing horror movie of the year. Not for the faint of heart, this film will literally churn your stomach and will take its sweet time doing it, as it runs for nearly two and a half hours, but it tells a tale which is as compelling as it is long. Features Florence Pugh, one of my favorite actresses working today.

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Imogen Poots in BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019).

8. BLACK CHRISTMAS – Some folks really hated this remake by writer/director Sophia Takai because of its heavy-handed MeToo Movement storyline, which features male villains and female heroines, but I liked this one just fine, mostly because the lines it draws are largely based on truth. Imogen Poots delivers a knock-out performance.

7. ESCAPE ROOM- This horror thriller about a group of people fighting for their lives in an escape room which plays for keeps, in that if you lose, you die, was a lot of fun and was one of the more enjoyable thrill rides of the year.

crawl

6. CRAWL- I really liked this exciting tale of a daughter and father trapped in the flooded basement of their Florida home with some very hungry alligators during a massive hurricane. High concept thriller doesn’t disappoint. Thrills from start to finish. A perfect summer time popcorn movie.

5. CHILD’S PLAY – Mark Hamill voices Chucky and steals the show in this effective remake of the 1988 classic. I enjoyed the updated take on having Chucky come to “life” due to technology rather than a supernatural curse.

4. ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP – Surprisingly enjoyable sequel features a very funny script by Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick which although it retains the same comedic elements from the first movie tells a completely new story. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin all return to reprise their roles, ten years after making the original.

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DOCTOR SLEEP (2019)

3. DOCTOR SLEEP – I loved this movie, which is the best adaptation of a Stephen King novel this year. The film succeeds in capturing the essence of King’s novel, as well as being a sequel to both King’s novel The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s film THE SHINING (1989). Ewan McGregor is perfect in the lead role of the grown-up Dan Torrance.

2. READY OR NOT – This thriller about a bride who marries into an eccentric family and learns that on her wedding night she is about to be murdered in a deadly game of hide and seek works because its dark humor is so sharp. You’ll find yourself laughing out loud at things you know you have no business laughing at. Samara Weaving (THE BABYSITTER)  is excellent in the lead role as the bride who decides to fight back, and then some!

scary stories to tell in the dark

Beware the scarecrow! SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK (2019)

1. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK –  My pick for the Best Horror Movie of 2019 is SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Based on the book series by Alvin Schwartz, this one tells multiple stories which are connected by a convincing wraparound story. It continually gets better as it goes along, and really knows how to build suspense. It also serves as proof that a PG-13 horror movie can be both scary and effective. For atmosphere, writing, directing, and acting, you can’t get much better than this. From beginning to end, everything about this one is taken seriously, and the result is the best horror movie of 2019.

There you have it, the 21 horror movies I saw in 2019, ranked from worst to first.

There were a lot of good horror flicks this year, and I’m looking forward to what filmmakers have in store for us in 2020.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WORST MOVIES 2019

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it chapter two

Here’s a look at my picks for the Ten Worst Movies of 2019:

10. PET SEMATARY

Coming in at #10 it’s PET SEMATARY, which is both an inferior remake of the 1989 movie and a pretty tepid take on one of Stephen King’s scariest novels. The changes made to King’s story here have potential but sadly the filmmakers do little with them. And as much as I like John Lithgow as an actor, he did not make me forget Fred Gwynne’s memorable performance as Jud Crandall in the 1989 film.

9. THE DEAD DON’T DIE

Fans of writer/director Jim Jarmusch seemed to really like this one, but for me, this zombie comedy just didn’t work. For starters, it had no sense of the genre, as its zombie/horror elements were weak and uninspired. In spite of an impressive cast which included Bill Murray and Adam Driver in lead roles, the deadpan breaking-the-fourth-wall humor I found obvious and mundane.

THE DEAD DON'T DIE

8. THE PRODIGY

One of the more forgettable horror movies of 2019. Another evil child chiller that offers nothing new.

7. ISN’T IT ROMANTIC

No. It isn’t. It’s not even that funny. This rom com starring Rebel Wilson as a cynical romantic who suddenly finds herself living in a romantic comedy can’t seem to move beyond its clever gimmick. While some of the humor works, most of it doesn’t, making for a lukewarm entry in the rom com genre.

6. IT CHAPTER TWO

This long, overblown, and slow-moving horror “epic” which clocks in at two hours and forty-nine minutes would have struggled to be scary even in half the time. Simply put, the main characters here were far more interesting when they were children, which is why part one of this flick was more entertaining. A waste of a good cast, as even the presence of James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain can’t save this one. Even worse than the incredibly long running time is how not scary Pennywise is in this movie. Based on Stephen King’s novel.

5. RAMBO: LAST BLOOD

Bottom of the barrel entry in the RAMBO series, this uninspired revenge flick is just that: Rambo exacts vengeance on thugs who abducted his niece. The ridiculous ending seems to be inspired by HOME ALONE (1990). The film makes no effort to lend credibility to the idea that Rambo at his advanced age could take down a gang of violent drug heavies singlehandedly.

rambo last blood stallone

4. ANNABELLE COMES HOME

Another awful horror movie from 2019.  In spite of the fact that Annabelle is one creepy doll, filmmakers continue to struggle to write worthwhile stories about her. This one wastes the talents of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who show up only for the beginning and end. Someone should lock Annabelle in her glass case and throw away the key. The series just isn’t very good.

annabelle comes home

3. THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA

My pick for the worst horror movie of 2019. No surprise, this one also takes place in THE CONJURING/ANNABELLE universe, which simply put, is not the universe you want your horror movie to appear in. I loved the original THE CONJURING (2013). The ensuing movies just haven’t been very good. Here, we have a demon that preys on children, and a priest who does battle against it in scenes that are laughably bad.

2. COLD PURSUIT-

The Liam Neeson actioner may have worn out its welcome with this movie, in which Neeson plays a snowplow driver who seeks vengeance against the thugs who murdered his son. Blah, blah, blah. Been there. Done that. This one also makes some bizarre attempts at humor, with some over the top superimposed captions following each character’s violent demise. My least favorite Liam Neeson movie in quite some time.

1. THE LIGHTHOUSE

Yeah, I know. For some folks, this was their pick for the best movie of the year. And yes, I can’t take anything away from writer/director Robert Eggers’ masterful black and white cinematography. This might be the best made movie I’ve ever loathed so much. Photography looks awesome, but this tale of two lighthouse keepers, played by Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, who become stranded there together for an extended period of time, and hence have to deal with each other, is a story of boredom and madness, and for me, it provoked just that. I wasn’t interested in either character, and watching them simply deal with each other over the course of this film was a maddening experience that left me completely bored. Story matters. Magnificent cinematography on its own does not a movie make. I often judge a movie by how soon I’d want to see it again. I never want to see THE LIGHTHOUSE again.

the lighthouse

Hence, it’s my pick for the worst movie of 2019.

And there you have it, my picks for the worst films of 2019.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

Dark Corners cover (1)

Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1917 (2019) – World War I Drama Cinematic But Rarely Moving

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1917

1917 (2019), the new World War I drama by director Sam Mendes, who also co-wrote the screenplay, is at times cinematic and suspenseful, and at others brutal and shocking, but strangely it’s rarely moving.

In short, it’s not going to do for World War I trench warfare what SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998) did for the World War II D-Day invasion at Normandy.

1917 wastes no time getting started. Within the first few minutes of the movie, Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) learn that they’ve been selected for a very dangerous mission. General Erinmore (Colin Firth) informs them that the battalion of soldiers on their way to engage the Germans are about to enter a trap. With phone lines cut, they have no way of warning them, so Blake and Schofield have been charged with racing across the front lines into no man’s land to cross into enemy territory in order to give the troops orders to stop their advance, since they mistakenly believe the Germans are on the run.

Blake has been chosen because he’s an expert with maps and will be able to navigate through the tricky enemy territory.  And only two men are being sent to avoid detection. To make matters more complicated, Blake’s older brother is in the battalion that’s about to fall into the trap.

The movie then follows Blake and Schofield on their nearly impossible task of making their way through the trenches to warn their fellow soldiers in time.

Director Mendes filmed 1917 to appear as if it was filmed in one long shot, and for a while, especially early on, it heightens the effect of the movie. Honestly, later in the movie, I simply didn’t notice as much.

Like Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK (2016) at times there’s not a lot of dialogue, as there’s mostly running and trudging through mud, and what little dialogue there is doesn’t always resonate.

The cinematography is impressive, and there are certainly some major cinematic moments, especially approaching the film’s climax. There are also some shocking scenes, although nothing as brutal as what was depicted in Steven Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

The best part of 1917 is the way it depicts trench warfare. You can almost smell the mud and the decomposing bodies. Mud is everywhere, as are corpses. One scene involves some particularly nasty looking bloated bodies floating in a river. It really captures the sense of how draining and how worn down the soldiers were from the unending horrors of it all.

The screenplay by Sam Mendes and Krysty Wilson-Cairns is decent enough, although the writing is nowhere near as sharp as the cinematography. The dialogue just isn’t all that moving, nor are the characters. In fact, I didn’t really feel an emotional connection to the proceedings until the final reel.

Both Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay are very good in the lead roles. They have to be. They’re in most of the movie. Everyone else is secondary. And heavy hitters like Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mark Strong appear in nothing more than cameos.

While I definitely enjoyed 1917, it didn’t wow me completely. Visually, it’s striking, as the images throughout the film are potent and sometimes haunting. But the dialogue and the characters weren’t quite up to snuff.

1917 is an above average World War I drama. It gives you a thorough understanding and appreciation for what trench warfare was like.

It also has some things to say for present day audiences. In today’s world, where we seem to be at war nonstop, its message of soldiers wondering what they’re fighting for, and wishing just to get back home, says something of the importance of war as a last resort, as opposed to war as the first choice of world leaders.

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UNDERWATER (2020) – First Exceptional Horror Movie of 2020

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UNDERWATER (2020) wastes no time diving into action.

Within minutes of its opening credits, the crisis begins, and this new underwater horror movie starring Kristen Stewart is off and running.

Now, I’m a big fan of Stewart’s, and other than the TWILIGHT movies, every movie she’s in she makes that much better. Things are no different here with UNDERWATER. Stewart is terrific.

Underwater horror movies/thrillers are nothing new. In fact, there was one year, 1989, which featured three of them: DEEPSTAR SIX (1989), LEVIATHAN (1989), and James Cameron’s big budget THE ABYSS (1989). You can go all the way back to Irwin Allen’s VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961) and Disney’s production of Jules Verne’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (1954). There’s a long history here.

Some are calling UNDERWATER, “ALIEN under water.”  This isn’t really an apt comparison. While there are some similarities, UNDERWATER tells its own story, and to be honest, other than the obvious “crew stalked by monstrous threat,” I didn’t think of ALIEN at all while watching UNDERWATER.

So, how does UNDERWATER hold up to the rest of the underwater thriller movies? Surprisingly well.

Within minutes of meeting main character Norah (Kristen Stewart), a mechanical engineer on a futuristic underwater oil drilling station, and it’s futuristic because the story takes place in 2050, an explosion rocks the rig and suddenly Norah and a handful of survivors are fighting for their lives.

The station has been completely compromised, and it’s crumbling from the top down, and so the survivors have to make their way down to the very bottom, the ocean floor, where they will put on underwater diving suits and walk across the ocean bottom to a neighboring facility where they will be able to access escape pods to jettison to the surface to await rescue. Trouble is, as they prepare to make this walk, they discover they are not alone. There are strange creatures lurking beneath the sea. Lots of them. And they’re hungry.

UNDERWATER has a fun premise, and it doesn’t disappoint. Throw a few survivors in harm’s way inside an underwater drilling station that is constantly being rocked by explosions, falling debris, and the deadly water pressure outside, and you have suspense and excitement even before the creatures show up.

And the creatures here only add to the excitement. In fact, they were among my favorite parts of the movie. They look good, they’re scary and intense, and not only are there a lot of them, but there are different ones as well. In fact, by the time this one ends, there’s a really big payoff in terms of monsters. UNDERWATER has a lot to offer for monster movie fans.

As I said, Kristen Stewart is excellent here in the lead role, and she makes for a likable and believable heroine. My favorite thing about Kristen Stewart as an actor is she has a sincere, moody presence, and she plays characters who are flawed yet extremely strong and resilient.

The rest of the cast is okay but pretty much follow Stewart’s lead. T.J. Miller, who is becoming typecast, provides the comic relief. Miller, who played a very similar role as Hud in the classic CLOVERFIELD (2008), and who’s been seen more recently in the DEADPOOL movies as Weasel, gets the best one-liners in the film. Miller is very good at this, and he’s fun to watch here, but it would be even more fun to see him play some other types of roles for a change.

Jessica Henwick is very good as well as the intern in the group. Vincent Cassel plays the Captain, and John Gallagher Jr. , who was memorable in such movies as THE BELKO EXPERIMENT (2016) and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) is also one of the crew.

Director William Eubank wastes no time in getting this one jump-started, and the action stays consistent throughout. That being said, the pacing isn’t perfect. There are times when things slow down, and some of the underwater scenes, especially towards the end, are dark and murky and difficult to see.

The dialogue isn’t always sharp either. The screenplay by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad offers mostly panicked conversations and has little else to say, although it is mentioned briefly that the creatures’ presence is nature’s way of striking back since humans have taken their underwater drilling too far, and that humankind doesn’t belong there.

Brian Duffield also wrote the screenplay for the horror movie THE BABYSITTER (2017) which was a much more creative script than the one here for UNDERWATER. Still, he’s now written two very well-made horror movies. Adam Cozad wrote the screenplay for THE LEGEND OF TARZAN (2016) and his work here is a step up from the TARZAN movie. All in all, the screenplay for UNDERWATER is decent enough.

But the best part of UNDERWATER is its monsters. They do not disappoint. They are cool looking and mysterious, deadly and relentless, and oh so hungry!

These creatures combined with Kristen Stewart and a fine supporting cast make UNDERWATER the first exceptional horror movie of 2020.

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Best Movies of 2019

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Here’s my list of the Top 10 Movies from 2019. Now, while I see a lot of movies each year, I obviously don’t see every release, and so it’s possible that some of your favorites are not on this list. But here are mine:

10. READY OR NOT

I loved this gory campy thriller in which Samara Weaving plays a bride who finds herself married into a peculiar family: they love games, and on her wedding night, the game of choice is a variation of kill the bride, and they mean it. They’re playing for keeps. But Weaving’s character is no victim. She fights back and then some! Although it sounds like a downer, this one is saved by its lively humor where you’ll find yourself laughing at things you have no business laughing at. Samara Weaving, who was so good in the horror flick THE BABYSITTER (2017) is excellent here once again.

ready or not poster

 

9. DARK WATERS

This riveting drama about one attorney’s fight against the powerful Dupont chemical company which was not only polluting one town’s water but an entire nation with its no-stick cookware features top-notch performances by Mark Ruffalo and Anne Hathaway. The most disturbing part of this film, which was based on a true story, is that the issue was never satisfactorily resolved and continues to this day. A must-see drama.

 

8. JOKER

The lone superhero movie to make my Top 10 list, and that’s a stretch, because it’s not really a superhero movie. It’s a moving and often disturbing drama that chronicles one man’s descent into one of the most iconic superhero villains of all time.  Joaquin Phoenix knocks it out of the park as Arthur Fleck, the man who eventually becomes the Joker. While I still slightly prefer Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) because of the way he dominated that movie, Phoenix’ performance here is very different but equally as satisfying. The strength of JOKER is it makes the story of the Joker completely plausible. You’ll understand and believe how an ordinary person could become the Joker.

joker-2019

 

7. THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON

This heartwarming tale of a young man with Down syndrome Zak (Zach Gottsagen) who runs away from his state-run home to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler features outstanding performances by Zach Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome in real life, Shia LaBeouf as the drifter who decides to help Zach fulfill his dream, and Dakota Johnson as the concerned social worker hot on their trail. Also features fine supporting performances by Bruce Dern and Thomas Haden Church. Superior script by writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. LaBeouf’s best performance to date.

 

6. SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK

The only horror movie to make my Top 10 List, SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is all the more impressive because it’s rated PG-13 and still manages to be scary, and that’s because it takes its business of scaring people seriously. Based on the popular book series by Alvin Schwartz, SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK succeeds at what a lot of other horror movies fail with, and that is, building suspense. This one gets more exciting as it goes along. It tells separate horror stories that are all connected by one compelling wraparound story. The whole thing works, making for the most solid and effective horror movie of the year.

 

5. THE CURRENT WAR (2017)

Filmed in 2017, THE CURRENT WAR was re-released in 2019 with a new director’s cut, and so I feel comfortable including it on my Top 10 List for 2019. This winner of a movie tells the fascinating tale of the competition between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) to be the first to provide electricity for the United States. This period piece which takes place in the late 1880s-1890s is beautifully photographed and handsome to look at. Features two powerhouse performances by Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon, both of which drive this movie along, as well as a notable performance by Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Testa.

the-current-war

 

4. ROCKETMAN

Outstanding biography of music legend Elton John features perhaps my favorite acting performance of the year, Taron Egerton’s spot-on depiction of the flamboyant and troubled John. Innovative in its approach, mixing the music of Elton John into key moments of the story, this film succeeds as much as a musical as it does as a biography. The sequence where John performs at the Troubadoor club in Los Angeles is one of the more electrifying sequences in any movie this year.

 

3. HOTEL MUMBAI

Not really shown a lot of love by critics, HOTEL MUMBAI nonetheless was one of the more intense movie experiences of the year. Based on the true story of the terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai,  HOTEL MUMBAI tells the compelling story of how— with authorities hours away from reaching the hotel— the hotel staff decided it was up to them to protect the guests from the terrorists who had overtaken the hotel. Thanks to some taut and tight direction by Anthony Maras, and notable performances by Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs, Anupam Kker,  and Nazanin Boniadi, this one is a nail-biter from start to finish.

 

2. JO JO RABBIT

For me, JO JO RABBIT was the biggest surprise of the year. It came out of nowhere and was a film that I went to see not knowing what to expect, especially considering it tells a tale of a young German boy JoJo (Roman Griffin Davis) living in World War II Germany who adores the Nazis and Adolf Hitler, so much so that his imaginary playmate is Hitler himself, played here with hilarious effectiveness by writer/director Taika Waititi. At times wildly comedic a la Monty Python, this one is also a moving drama as JoJo’s mother Rosie (Scarlet Johansson) is anti-Nazi and is secretly housing a young Jewish girl Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie). When JoJo discovers her, he is at first outraged, but as he gets to know her, he begins to learn the truth about what Nazism is all about. JO JO RABBIT is an amazing movie that works on all levels. Thanks to the writing, directing and acting talents of Waititi, and the rest of his talented cast which also includes Sam Rockwell as a Nazi captain with a conscience of his own, JO JO RABBIT is both a deeply moving drama and wild zany comedy, which provided for me the most and the best laughs from a movie all year. This was my pick for the Best Movie of the Year, until the final week of 2019.

jo jo rabbit

1. LITTLE WOMEN

And that’s because the last week of 2019 I saw LITTLE WOMEN, a perfect gem of a movie by writer/director Greta Gerwig, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers working today. Gerwig makes the bold decision to tell this story out of sequence, and the result is a fresh moving take on a literary classic, one that effectively speaks to modern audiences here in 2019. Features outstanding performances by two of the most talented young actresses working today, Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh, as well as a superior supporting cast which includes Emma Watson, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothee Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, Chris Cooper, and Meryl Streep. While I’m not really a big fan of the novel by Louisa May Alcott, I am an instant fan of this movie, thanks to Gerwig’s innovative directing and writing, the message about what life was like for women when they had so few rights, and the powerhouse performances by Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh, two actresses to keep our eyes on in the years ahead. Without doubt, LITTLE WOMEN is clearly my pick for the Best Movie of 2019.

little women

 

And there you have it, my picks for the Top 10 Best Movies of 2019.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RICHARD JEWELL (2019) – Clint Eastwood’s Take on Atlanta Bombing Hero-Then-Suspect A Good One

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richard jewell

Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, and Paul Walter Hauser in Clint Eastwood’s RICHARD JEWELL (2019).

RICHARD JEWELL (2019) has a story to tell.

A story about how a man’s life was nearly ruined by an aggressive press and FBI investigation that both got it wrong when they accused him of being a terrorist bomber, releasing the story to the national media before the facts had been ascertained, in effect convicting him before he was ever charged.

This of course is based on the true story of what actually happened to Richard Jewell, a security guard who was falsely accused of the terrorist bombing at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.

RICHARD JEWELL tells this story well, and it does this with its talented cast and with Clint Eastwood at the helm. Eastwood, who is 89 – let that sink in for a moment—, continues to amaze, making films at an age long after most people have retired. Sure, his last couple of movies were misfires, THE MULE (2018) and THE 15:17 TO PARIS (2018), but his three movies before that were all exceptional, SULLY (2016), AMERICAN SNIPER (2014), and JERSEY BOYS (2014). Of course, Eastwood’s entire body of work is nothing short of astonishing, as he will be remembered as both one of the screen’s finest actors and directors, and I think he’ll be remembered more for his work behind the camera than in front of it.

With RICHARD JEWELL, Eastwood has made another quality movie, well worth your time.

When we first meet Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) he’s a supply room clerk who’s rather odd and even a bit creepy in the way he lingers around people when he talks to them. He strikes up a friendship with one of the attorneys at the office, Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell) when he stocks his desk with Snickers bars. When Bryant asks him how he knew he liked Snickers, Jewell tells him he saw Snickers wrappers in his trash. Jewell also tells Bryant of his dreams to have a career in law enforcement.

The movie jumps ahead ten years, and Richard is working as a security guard at a local college, but because of his aggressive take on the position, he is fired. He next takes up a temporary security guard position at the Atlanta Olympics. Richard so wants to succeed in law enforcement, that he takes everything he does extremely seriously, and so while covering the Olympics, he’s always on the lookout for suspicious people and bags, and when he finds one lying on the ground, he alerts the police, and they tell him it’s probably harmless, but he insists they call for the bomb experts. They do, and it turns out he was right: the backpack contained a bomb, and before it can be defused, it goes off.

But because the evacuation had already started, the casualties were much lower than they would have been. When news breaks that Richard was the man who first found the bomb, he becomes an instant celebrity, and he’s hailed as a hero. But the FBI receives a call from Richard’s former college employer who had fired him, and he tells the FBI that based on his experience with Richard at the college, he fears Richard may be the type of person seeking attention, and it’s possible he may have planted the bomb just so he could play the hero.

The FBI agrees, feeling Richard fits the profile of someone who would go to extreme lengths to become a hero, and they quickly name Richard as their top suspect. Meanwhile, aggressive reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) in search of an angle, seduces information out of FBI agent Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm) who tells her they suspect Richard Jewell. Scruggs writes and publishes the article in the newspaper naming Jewell as the prime suspect, and the story goes national, enraging the FBI because they hadn’t even started their investigation. It also causes a media sensation, and the next thing Richard knows he’s being labeled a terrorist, the press surrounds his home and follows his every move, and the FBI brings him in for questioning.

Richard then turns to the only attorney he knows, Watson Bryant, a man he hadn’t spoken to in over ten years, but Bryant remembers Richard, and he agrees to take his case. The rest of the movie follows Bryant’s efforts to clear Richard’s name and attempt to undo the guilty verdict which the media had already delivered.

The strength of RICHARD JEWELL is that it does a terrific job telling its story while not politicizing it. Both the press and the FBI do not come out of this smelling like roses, and yet the film doesn’t espouse any of the delusional “enemy of the people” or “deep state ” fears which exist today. That’s because director Eastwood and the screenplay by Billy Ray, based on a magazine article by Marie Brenner, both show how easy and normal it would be to mistake Richard’s odd enthusiasm for law enforcement for something more sinister. Heck, just listening to him speak, he sounds weird enough to be guilty. Then again, what does a guilty person sound like? And that’s the point the film makes. In spite of appearances, you still can’t charge a guy without any evidence.

Which is one of the more amazing things about this story. The news about Jewell erupted in the news cycle without a shred of evidence behind it. Jewell was never charged because except for his “profile” there was nothing that was found that implicated him in the crime.

The acting is superb.

Paul Walter Hauser is captivating as Richard Jewell, an odd duck who is so dedicated and sincere in his quest to become a law enforcement officer that he sounds ridiculous to those who don’t know him well, hence fueling the fire and the notion that he has something to hide. However, both the movie and Hauser make Jewell’s portrayal clear: he may be an oddball, but he’s not guilty. In this regard, the film works well. The audience knows full well that Richard is innocent. Yet, suspicions about him are certainly understandable based on his personality. The problem was the press leaked the story before it had any corroborating facts. The only fact they had was the FBI had named Jewell as their prime suspect, which was true, but what followed was a trial in the media that all but confirmed Jewell’s guilt even as he remained uncharged by the FBI.

Hauser played a similar role in I, TONYA (2017), as Tonya Harding’s one-time body-guard, except in that movie he was an oddball who did carry out sinister intentions, hiring the guys who attacked Nancy Kerrigan.

As attorney Watson Bryant, Sam Rockwell is excellent as he always is. He’s one of my favorite actors working today, and I often see movies just because he’s in them. In fact, the main reason I saw RICHARD JEWELL was because Rockwell was in it.  Just look at his last three performances, for example. He stood out as Nazi Captain Klenzendorf in JO JO RABBIT (2019), as KKK member C.P. Ellis in THE BEST OF ENEMIES (2019), and as George W. Bush in VICE (2018). And oh yeah, he won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as racist cop Dixon in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017). And all of these roles were very different. Rockwell is as versatile as he is captivating on-screen.

Here, as Watson Bryant, he takes Richard’s case not only because he needs the business, but because he likes Richard and believes in him. In one of the better scenes in the film, after a bitter argument, Watson asks Richard why he chose him as his attorney, and Richard says he chose him because all those years ago he was the only person there who didn’t make fun of Richard, slur his intelligence, and fat shame him. He was the only person there who took time to talk to him.

Kathy Bates is fantastic as Richard’s dedicated mother. Bates knocks it out of the park when things spiral out of control ,and she laments she doesn’t know how to protect her son any longer. The pain she experiences is palpable. Her speech to the media towards the end of the film where she pleads for President Clinton to clear her son’s name is one of the more emotional scenes in the film.

Olivia Wilde as newspaper reporter Kathy Scruggs and Jon Hamm as FBI agent Tom Shaw add solid support, and Nina Arianda stands out as Watson’s loyal assistant Nadya Light, and she gets some of the better lines in the movie.

While the sequence featuring the bombing at the Olympics is suspenseful, RICHARD JEWELL is not a suspense thriller but a drama documenting what happens when there is a rush to judgement in the media. It nonetheless make for some compelling storytelling.

I liked RICHARD JEWELL a lot.  With his 41st film in the director’s chair, Clint Eastwood continues to cement his legacy as one of film’s greatest directors. He frames this story in clear understandable fashion, and he gets the most out of his actors. The result is a movie that both makes its point that facts matter, that media leaks and FBI bias are problematic, and that portrays Richard Jewell in sympathetic fashion so that his plight is understood and believed.

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