IRRESISTIBLE (2020) – Cynical Political Tale by Jon Stewart Depressing Statement of the Obvious

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Steve Carell and Mackenzie Davis in IRRESISTIBLE (2020)

IRRESISTIBLE (2020) is anything but.

Written and directed by Jon Stewart, of THE DAILY SHOW (1996-2020) fame, IRRESISTIBLE tells the tale of a Democratic strategist Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) who travels to a small Wisconsin town to help a folksy farmer Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) win a mayoral election.

Why is a national Democratic strategist from D.C. who led Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential campaign interested in a rural mayoral election? Your guess is as good as mine! Actually, the movie makes it clear. He’s interested because he believes the only way to save the Democratic party is by winning back the heartland, one small section at a time. I guess. I just found this central plot point to be a stretch and not very believable.

Anyway, since IRRESISTIBLE was written by Jon Stewart, you can expect biting cynical commentary on the current state of politics, and to this end Stewart doesn’t disappoint. However, none of it is all that insightful or anything we don’t already know. The film is billed as a comedy/drama, and the drama stems from that commentary, but the comedy is seriously lacking. The film has its moments of levity, but mostly the cynicism here keeps things from being all that fun. As such, IRRESISTIBLE is a strange title for this one. It’s about as irresistible as a Trump/Biden debate.

So as Gary assembles a team of mostly locals to work on Jack’s campaign, led by Jack’s daughter Diana (Mackenzie Davis), he attracts the attention of his biggest rival, Republican strategist Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne) who arrives in town to use her political machine to re-elect the Republican incumbent, Mayor Braun (Brent Sexton). The battle lines have been drawn. Let the mudslinging begin!

Part of the problem with IRRESISTIBLE is that it constantly reminds us that the current state of U.S. politics is a complete sh*t show, and unless you’ve been living under a rock, this isn’t exactly something we need reminding of. It’s evident every single day. And so without anything new to add, IRRESITIBLE comes off as rather depressing statement of the obvious.

It works best when it allows itself to go the route of the goofy, like when the volunteers on Jack’s team mix up the voters’ list with the volunteer list, and as they hit the phone bank, all their own cell phones start ringing and they all start talking to each other, to which a frustrated Gary has to admonish them to stop gabbing and use the right list!

The sequence where Gary is introduced to small town America as he is flabbergasted when the next day everyone in town already knows his name is a good one. If you’ve ever lived in a small town, you have certainly had this experience!

But more often than not, the humor just isn’t there.

Steve Carell does what Steve Carell does, and you’ve seen this shtick before, from THE OFFICE (2005-2013) to his latest Netflix TV show SPACE FORCE (2020). Incidentally, IRRESISTIBLE isn’t much funnier than the lackluster SPACE FORCE. I prefer Carell when he stretches his acting chops more, as he has done in such films as BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017) and THE BIG SHORT (2015).

I’m a big fan of actor Chris Cooper, having enjoyed his performances in such films as LITTLE WOMEN (2019), A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019), and way back when as Jake Gyllenhaal’s dad in OCTOBER SKY (1999). Strangely, he doesn’t have a lot to do here as Jack Hastings. Most of the film focuses on Steve Carell’s DC Gary. I was hoping Cooper would be going for a Jimmy Stewart vibe, and he does have a couple of key moments, but for the most part the screenplay ignores the character, which doesn’t do the film any favors.

Mackenzie Davis, who’s been making big impressions in films like BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017), TULLY (2018), and TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (2019), is solid here as Diana, the daughter who wants to do well by her dad and her town, although ultimately, it’s a role that never quite rises to its potential.

Rose Byrne delivers a one-note performance as the icy cold Faith Brewster, a role that has cliche written all over it.

The supporting cast is impressive and features Brent Sexton, C.J. Wilson, and Topher Grace, among others, in small roles.

IRRESISTIBLE has its moments and makes the social commentary it wants to make, but it simply isn’t clever or funny enough to work. It also, strangely, features a major plot twist towards the end which I found to be a head-scratcher. I get what the film is saying about what’s wrong with politics these days, and the twist speaks to that, but I couldn’t help but find it to be contrived and phony.

I can’t say I enjoyed IRRESISTIBLE all that much. And judging by what writer/director Jon Stewart had to say about politics in this one, that may have been the point.

Nonetheless, you don’t have to watch IRRESISTIBLE to understand what’s wrong with politics, and that’s my biggest issue with the movie. It adds little that is new to the conversation, and it’s simply not creative enough to make a lasting impression.

At the end of the day, it’s as painful to watch as the political campaigns it’s mocking.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016)

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The best stories supersede the genre.

Take THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016), for example. While some may argue that the zombie movie has overstayed its welcome, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS approaches the trope with some fresh ideas and as a result infuses new energy into the subgenre.

The fact that this movie has a deep and clever screenplay comes as no surprise since screenwriter Mike Carey adapted the screenplay from his own very successful novel of the same name.

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS takes place in the near future, where a deadly disease has turned people into flesh eating zombies. Yup, it’s another variation of the zombie apocalypse. The difference here is that a group of children hold the key to the cure.

Teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) is tasked with educating these children, who are subdued and guarded 24/7 by the military, commanded here by Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), because these special children are pretty much zombies with consciousnesses who still retain their intellect and personalities.

To find the cure for the disease, scientist Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close) busily experiments on these kids and treats them like lab rats, cold to the fact that they die from her methods, a notion that does not sit well with Ms. Justineau. One of the children, Melanie (Sennia Nanua) forms a bond with Ms. Justineau, and the two grow to care for each other very much.

When the “hungries” overrun the facility, and all hell breaks loose, a small faction of survivors which include Melanie, Ms. Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks, and some of his soldiers, have to find ways to survive and make their way to safety, even while Dr. Caldwell insists she is so close to a cure, and perhaps just one more experiment would do the trick, one more experiment….on Melanie.

THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS tells a really interesting story that as I said rises above the genre. It’s a fabulous screenplay by Mike Carey. The first half grabs you with its originality, keeping the audience guessing as to what’s going on and then keeping things intriguing. It also generates decent suspense early on. The second half of the movie, once the zombies overrun the facility, becomes much more of a standard horror flick, but it still works well.

I loved the cast. I’m a fan of Gemma Arterton, having enjoyed her work in such films as THEIR FINEST (2016) and the Bond flick QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008). Here she’s a caring teacher who it turns out is also as tough as nails.

Paddy Considine makes for an effective Sgt. Parks, a military man who is all about duty but grows more sympathetic as the story goes along. Considine has enjoyed notable roles in such films as THE DEATH OF STALIN (2017) and on the TV show PEAKY BLINDERS (2016) where he played a very villainous priest, Father John Hughes.

And Glenn Close is deliciously cold as Dr. Caroline Caldwell, the scientist with ice in her veins. It’s a terrific performance.

But it’s Sennia Nanua who really steals the show here as young Melanie, the most intriguing character in the movie. Nanua is fantastic, and Melanie is one of the more watchable horror movie characters I’ve seen in a long while.

Director Colm McCarthy makes sure that this one remains scary even with its more literate screenplay. There are plenty of disturbing scenes, the type you expect to find in a movie about flesh eating zombies. The film also does a nice job mixing zombie horror with human horror, something the TV show THE WALKING DEAD (2010-present) always excelled at. Some of the scenes with Dr. Caldwell are just as chilling and suspenseful as the scenes with the “hungries.”

While I slightly prefer the other zombie movie which came out in 2016, TRAIN TO BUSAN, to THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, it’s only by a hair. I thought TRAIN TO BUSAN, which is a much more traditional zombie film, pushed the envelope with its intense action sequences which were off the charts suspenseful. THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, while telling a more intelligent story, never reaches the same emotional level as TRAIN TO BUSAN.

That being said, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS is still an excellent movie. So much so, that it’s not only one of my favorite zombie movies of recent years, but one of my favorite horror movies.

This Halloween, if you want to watch superior horror, a frightening story wrapped around a thought-provoking concept, then you’ll definitely want to watch THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS.

It’s the perfect Halloween gift.

—END—

 

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (2020) -Aaron Sorkin’s Courtroom Drama Lifted by Superior Cast

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Netflix seems to be excelling with the all-star cast.

Like its dreary drama THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020), Netflix’s latest original movie, THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 (2020), written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, features a superior cast which includes Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Keaton, and Frank Langella.

The only drawback is it’s an almost entirely male cast. Then again, back in 1969, the principal players in this story were almost all male.

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is the story of seven protestors at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, who were leading the crowds outside the convention protesting the Vietnam war. After Nixon had won the White House, his Attorney General  John Mitchell (John Doman) decided to put these men on trial to make an example of them.

The seven included Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne,) Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), and Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). Their attorney William Kunstler (Mark Rylance) not only had to deal with the young hotshot prosecuting attorney Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) but also an incompetent judge, Judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) and constant interference from the justice department.

The film chronicles the trial which between Abbie Hoffman’s and Jerry Rubin’s theatrics, and Judge Hoffman’s bizarre rulings and interruptions, like spending time explaining that although he shares the same last name with Abbie Hoffman, that they’re not related, often resembles a full blown circus.

Written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, the man behind the classic TV series THE WEST WING (1999-2006), and such notable movies as THE SOCIAL NETWORK (2010) and MONEYBALL (2011), for which he wrote the screenplays, and his screenplay for THE SOCIAL NETWORK won him an Oscar, THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is a first-rate courtroom drama.

I was fully invested in this story, and it held my interest from beginning to end. One drawback, however, is as a director here, Sorkin does little to make this movie cinematic. It definitely plays like a TV drama, made for the small screen, rather than a film to be seen on the big screen at the movie theater. As compelling as its story is, there are surprisingly few memorable images from this flick.

And the screenplay, as interesting as it is, never really goes full throttle. This is a movie that I appreciated intellectually, but sadly, emotionally I was never moved as much as I expected to be. And I believe this is because the dialogue spends more time telling the whole story rather than focusing on the individual characters and their plights.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some emotional moments, the biggest of which occurs when Bobby Seale is cuffed and gagged in the middle of the courtroom. And there are some tense moments between Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman. Mark Rylance probably enjoys the best scenes in the movie, as his character attorney William Kunstler is frustrated throughout, but overall, there just aren’t that many sequences in the film where the heart starts racing.

The best part really as I said at the outset is the film’s outstanding cast, especially the veteran actors in the group.

Eddie Redmayne is fine as Tom Hayden, and Sacha Baron Cohen is excellent as Abbie Hoffman. And John Carroll Lynch adds fine support as David Dellinger. Lynch is one of my favorite character actors working today and has made notable appearances in such films as CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011), THE INVITATION (2015), and THE FOUNDER (2016) in which he also co-starred with Michael Keaton.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is convincing as attorney Richard Schultz who, while he is all in to win the trial, understands that these folks probably shouldn’t be on trial in the first place.

Mark Rylance probably delivers the best performance in the movie as defense attorney William Kunstler. Every time Rylance is on the screen the film is that much better. He plays Kunstler as a veteran attorney, who’s cool under pressure, and incredibly smart, but as the trial proceeds and he is met with more and more unfair opposition and tactics, he finds it increasingly difficult to keep his cool.

Rylance is an awesome actor who has given some of the best performances in the movies that I’ve seen in recent years, including in BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015) and DUNKIRK (2017). His work here in THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is every bit as good as his work in those movies.

Frank Langella is outstanding as the incredibly frustrating Judge Julius Hoffman. He’ll have you shouting at the screen in anger. The only drawback with Hoffman is he’s inept from the get-go and so often sounds like someone with dementia rather than with an agenda, so while he’s infuriating he’s not a straight “villain” because you can’t help but wonder if he just isn’t all there any more.

Langella of course played Richard Nixon in FROST/NIXON (2008), a performance that earned him his only Oscar nomination. But he’s a terrific actor with more credits than one can list, going all the way back….way back!….. to his turn as Count Dracula in DRACULA (1979).

And Michael Keaton delivers a scene stealing performance in his brief screen time as former Attorney General Ramsey Clark. His two sequences, where Kunstler visits his house and then later when he’s on the witness stand, are two of the best scenes in the movie. Keaton is an exceptional actor who I still don’t think gets the respect he deserves.

Especially in recent years, Keaton has really turned it up a notch with performances in films such as BIRDMAN OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE (2014), in which he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination, SPOTLIGHT (2015), THE FOUNDER (2016), and SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017), where he played one of Marvel’s most memorable screen villains yet and arguably outshined both Tom Holland and Robert Downey, Jr.

Also giving notable performances are Alex Sharp as Rennie Davis, another of the seven, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale, Ben Shenkman as fellow defense attorney Leonard Weinglass, and in one scene John Doman as Attorney General John Mitchell.

THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 is a compelling courtroom drama which tells a story from 1969 that still retains incredible relevance today, serving as a another sad reminder that even after the traumatic events of the 1960s we still haven’t gotten that far in terms of healing and unification in this country.

As such, in spite of the fact that it never really rises above the standard courtroom tale and lacks the emotional wallop expected with this kind of story, it’s still highly recommended viewing.

—END—

 

#ALIVE (2020) – Decent Zombie Movie from South Korea Just In Time for Halloween

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#ALIVE (2020) is a new zombie movie which hails from South Korea and is currently available on Netflix.

It’s the story of a young man Oh Joon-Woo (Ah-In Yoo) who wakes up one day alone in his apartment and discovers that the outside world has forever changed. A deadly disease has struck turning people into violent, vicious cannibals, otherwise known in the movie world as zombies. These folks are a bit different than your typical zombies, as they can remember things from their past lives, and so some are adept at turning door knobs and opening doors, while others, like a firefighter-turned-zombie, remembers how to scale the outside of an apartment building.

Oh Joon-Woo is a gamer and as such a whiz with technology, and he uses this to his advantage, but as the days turn into weeks, his hopes for survival dwindle. But then he meets a young woman Kim You-bin (Shin-Hye Park) from the apartment complex across the way, and eventually they join forces and do everything they can to stay…. alive.

#ALIVE is a decent horror movie. The biggest knock against it is it doesn’t really offer much that is new to the genre. As such, while I enjoyed it, I liked TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016) and THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2016) much more.

Ah-In Yoo is okay as Oh Joon-Woo, the young man who finds himself separated from his family and totally alone in his fight against the zombies. There was a quirky humorous side to him that for some reason didn’t really work for me.

I enjoyed Shin-Hye Park’s performance as Kim You-bin more, as there was something edgy and mysterious about her character that kept her captivating. I thought the film really picked up once she entered the story. And while I wasn’t a big fan of the humor in this film, I did enjoy the comical moment when Oh Joon-Woo shares his Nutella with Kim You-bin, and she is unimpressed, to which he blurts out to himself, “Why did I even share this with her then?”

There also aren’t really too many intense scenes or frightening ones. While there are plenty of zombie kills and sequences where our two main characters have to fight to survive and ward off zombie attacks, these sequences are not anything we haven’t seen before. The best one comes near the end, when Kim attempts to reach Oh’s building. That’s the best scene in the movie.

Director II Cho has made a quick compact horror movie that while it has little fat on its bones never becomes as intense as one would expect. Cho also wrote the screenplay, along with Matt Naylor.

If you like zombie movies, there’s no reason why you won’t enjoy #ALIVE. But if you’ve never seen one, there are plenty of others you probably want to check out first before watching this movie.

As for me, I liked #ALIVE well enough, and it certainly provides some horrific fun here around Halloween time, but it wasn’t quite a homerun for me.

While there were plenty of parts to this one that I enjoyed, taken as a whole, it just never really came… alive.

—END—

MISBEHAVIOUR (2020) – Story of Protests at 1970 Miss World Competition in London Has A lot to Say About Women’s Rights and Racism

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In 1970, a group of women protested the Miss World Beauty Pageant in London, going so far as throwing flour bombs at host Bob Hope on stage. The event is credited as being one of the jump-starters of the Women’s Liberation Movement.

This is the story told in the new movie MISBEHAVIOUR (2020), an enjoyable and informative film by director Philippa Lowthorpe, and starring Keira Knightley.

MISBEHAVIOR actually tells two stories, one about the Women’s Liberation Movement, and the other about racism, as seen through the eyes of two black contestants, one of whom is from South Africa, living under Apartheid, a system which the powers that be in 1970 refused to acknowledge.

Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) is struggling to get ahead in life for the sole reason that she is a woman. It’s 1970, and she has a difficult time enrolling in college classes, is judged because she is unmarried and has a daughter, and even when she gets accepted into a college program her opinions are not heeded the same way as her male classmates.

Sally meets Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) who’s part of a women’s group which Sally views as rather extreme, but when she is continually frustrated by her college experiences, she decides to seek out Jo and join their group. Together, they set their sights on the 1970 Miss World Beauty Pageant, an event they see as the epitome of objectifying women.

Miss World coordinator Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans) struggles to keep his pageant above the fray as he continually touts the notion that Miss World is first- rate family entertainment, even as his wife Julia (Keeley Hawes) peppers him with tidbits that imply he’s behind the times. In fact, she gets one of the best lines in the film when she says she fears her husband will be forever stuck in the 1950s.

There are a  lot of memorable lines in the movie. It’s a smart screenplay by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe. Chiappe also wrote the screenplay to THEIR FINEST (2016), an underrated comedy-drama about a World War II propaganda movie about Dunkirk. In  MISBEHAVIOUR, some of the biting lines include comparing the beauty pageant to a cattle market, and in a conversation between Sally and her mother, her mom complains that there are lots of girls who enjoy Miss World, to which Sally replies that she’s not a girl, she’s a woman.

Meanwhile, while both Jennifer Hosten, Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Pearl Jansen, Miss Africa South (Loreece Harrison), are happy to be the first black contestants, they are also disheartened by the fact that no one seriously believes they can win.

And then there’s Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) who sees nothing wrong with his sexist jokes which he views as harmless fun, but when he’s pelted with flour bombs on stage, he’s left wondering, what is happening in the world, and what does it mean for his place in it?

MISBEHAVIOUR is an intelligent, well-written, well-directed movie that tells an important story, even more so in the here and now, where it seems that women’s rights are once again in jeopardy.

Director Philippa Lowthorpe has made an effective period piece, and she gets the look and feel of 1970 right. She also effortlessly goes back and forth between the women’s right story and the racial angle. Both points are successfully made in the film.

It’s an interesting cast. Keira Knightley is fine in the lead role as Sally Alexander and gets the most screen time. While she’s enjoyable throughout, it’s the supporting cast in this one that really makes its mark.

Jessie Buckley gives a quirky performance as Jo Robinson, and it’s easy to see why Sally would join forces with her. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Loreece Harrison both give sensitive performances as Jennifer Hosten and Pearl Jansen.

Rhys Ifans gives the liveliest performance in the film as the eccentric and determined Eric Morley whose mantra is the show will go on at all costs. Equally good is Keeley Hawes as his observant wife Julia.

Phyllis Logan is excellent as Sally’s mother Evelyn, who is constantly sparring with her daughter, trying to reign her in and get her to be a more traditional woman. And when Sally strikes back and laments that her mother wasn’t allowed to live her life, as she had to sacrifice it all to be there for her family, you can feel the pain emanating from Evelyn’s heart. The two share some of the best moments in the movie.

And in a smaller role, Lesley Manville is exceptional as Bob Hope’s long suffering yet patient wife Dolores. She also gets a great line near the end of the movie when Bob Hope is wondering what this all means for his career, and she wisely tells him that the world is changing, but his career will go on because people love him.

Greg Kinnear does a nice job as comedic icon Bob Hope. It’s not a full-on impersonation by any means, but the look and mannerisms are there to make Kinnear’s performance as Hope thoroughly convincing.

I really enjoyed MISBEHAVIOUR. What it has to say about women’s rights and racism is still so prevalent today. It’s sad, really, that these issues remain in jeopardy in the here and now fifty years after the events told in this movie.

If you want to know about one of the major events which energized the Women’s liberation movement, the protest at the 1970 Miss World Pageant in London, then you definitely want to check out MISBEHAVIOUR.

It’s one of my favorite movies of the year.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

PICTURE OF THE DAY: Aurora Monster Models

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Today’s Picture of The Day comes from the art of model making, monster models, to be exact!

Back in the day, a company named Aurora manufactured model kits of everyone’s favorite classic movie monsters! They were introduced in the the 1960s. I was collecting and building mine in the 1970s. Just thinking about them brings back memories, from the joy of building them, to the orange smell of the nontoxic model glue, to the frightening display of all my glow in the dark monster models on my bureau in my bedroom, on some nights scary enough to stop me from falling asleep.

I owned all four of the monster models pitctured above, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and Dracula.

Dracula was the first monster model I ever owned, and was the best, since my uncle, also a horror movie fan, helped me build it. I also owned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, and King Kong.

Toys which helped warp…. er, shape a childhood!  These magnificent models are up there with the Creature Double Feature and Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Wonderful memories indeed!

As always, thanks for reading.

—Michael

 

THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (2020) – Strong Cast Lifts Bleak Drama

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If you like your movies dark and dreary, then THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME (202), a new flick on Netflix about some very unsavory people, is the film for you!

THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME tells the sprawling tale of various characters and how their lives connect between two states, Ohio and West Virginia, over the course of three decades, from the 1940s through the 1960s. With its near perfect narrative style, the film jumps back and forth through time as it tells its story of mostly awful people whose acts directly impact those who aren’t so awful. It provides a bleak portrait of humanity, especially in the context of the dangers of extreme religious beliefs, and with a running time of two hours and eighteen minutes, it can be difficult to sit through.

But it does have a first-rate cast which certainly helps.

Willard (Bill Skarsgard) returns home from World War II a scarred man. On his way to his West Virginia home, he stops at a diner in Ohio where he meets a waitress, Charlotte (Haley Bennett). The two fall in love and eventually get married and have a son, Arvin. When Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta) is nine years-old, tragedy strikes as his mom Charlotte is diagnosed with cancer. Willard takes his religious beliefs to the extreme in an effort to save his wife, and when she still dies, he’s makes yet another tragic decision, scarring his son Arvin’s life in the process.

The bulk of the story takes place several years later, with Arvin (Tom Holland) now a young adult looking after his step-sister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) who has a tragic back story of her own. And the tragedies don’t stop there, as a sinister preacher Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson) arrives in town and sets his unsavory sights on the young and impressionable Lenora.

Meanwhile, back in Ohio, Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough) are a pair of serial killers who have been at it and getting away with their crimes for twenty years, crimes that have directly impacted the lives of Arvin and Lenora, even though they don’t know it. Sandy’s brother Deputy Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan) while he tries to look after his sister, more often than not, simply looks the other way.

So, you have serial killers, murder, sexual abuse, rape— you get the idea. It all makes for a long two and a half hours. That being said, for the most part, I liked THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME. I can’t say I enjoyed a story like this, but it still works. Its title says it all. Most of these folks are trying to be religious, but looking at things from their perspective, God is nowhere. Instead, the devil is everywhere, all the time. Looking at it from a nonreligious persepective, it’s simply this: bad things happen to everyone, and if you’re going to rely solely on faith in God you’re barking up the wrong tree. More often than not, you need to take action on your own.

It’s a compelling if not overly bleak screenplay by director Antonio Campos and Paulo Campos, based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, who also provides the effective voice-over narration. The characters are all fleshed out nicely, the story laid out in an understandable fashion even as it jumps around in time, and the conflicts are all rather horrifying and tragic. The dialogue is first-rate as well. The only problem is it is dark, and as such, difficult to get through.

Antonio Campos does well with the directing duties. He captures the look and feel of all three decades successfully. The photography is on par with a major theatrical release. The one issue is pacing, as it is slow and deliberate throughout, and even though some truly horrible things happen throughout the story, it doesn’t necessarily translate into rising suspense or a major climax. The plot does come to a head by film’s end, but even as it does so, the emotion remains the same: bleak, bleak, and more bleak.

The cast is this film’s main asset.

Tom Holland, although he doesn’t appear until nearly an hour into the movie, is superb as Arvin, and easily becomes the main protagonist in the movie. It’s good to see Holland play a more nuanced role instead of Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

Bill Skarsgard is also exceptional as Willard, and even though his screen time is limited, appearing mostly in the film’s first forty five minutes, he delivers one of the film’s best performances. Skarsgard, of course, just finished playing Pennywise in the recent IT movies.

Eliza Scanlen, who played Beth March in LITTLE WOMEN (2019), makes for a tragic Lenora, and Robert Pattinson is one creepy preacher. Likewise, Haley Bennett is excellent as Charlotte in limited screen time. Bennet played Emma Cullen in the remake of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016), and she also starred in the disturbing thriller SWALLOW (2020).

Jason Clarke and Riley Keough make for an unsavory pair of serial killers, even though Keough’s character tries her best to break from this partnership. Keough, who also was memorable in the horror movie IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017) is Elvis Presley’s granddaughter.

And Sebastian Stan is also very good as the conflicted Deputy Bodecker.

In smaller roles, Harry Melling stands out as another demented preacher, Roy, and young Michael Banks Repeta makes his mark as Arvin at nine years-old.

This is an outstanding cast, and they are a major reason why I was able to make it all the way through this gloomy period piece and depressing commentary on human nature.

At the end of the day, in spite of its bleak outlook, I liked THE DEVIL ALL THE TIME. You’d be hard-pressed to find another cast as competent as the one here, and its story as dark as it is, is based on truth. People are this misguided, are this dangerous, and in the case of someone like Arvin, are this relentless in their pursuit of justice.

While the devil may be present all the time, so are the Arvins of the world.

—END—

LEADING LADIES: LORRAINE GARY

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Lorraine Gary in JAWS (1975)

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

Up today an actress whose claim to fame is pretty much due to one famous movie and its sequels, but that’s okay because her performances in those movies are quite memorable. I’m talking about Lorraine Gary, who played Chief Brody’s wife Ellen in JAWS (1975) and in two of the three JAWS sequels.

I watch JAWS nearly every summer, and it seems with each viewing I notice Lorraine Gary more and more. She certainly never received much praise back in the day. That all went to Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Steven Spielberg, John Williams, and of course, Bruce the shark. But Gary’s performance as Brody’s loyal and caring wife is really good, and in her own subtle way, she enjoys some of the more memorable non-shark moments in JAWS, in a film that is chock-full of classic moments. She also shared wonderful chemistry with Roy Scheider.

She received more screen time in JAWS 2 (1978) and again added solid support in what remains the best of the JAWS sequels. Gary would come out of early acting retirement to appear in the last of the JAWS movies, JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987), a decision that most fans probably wish she hadn’t done, since the fourth and final JAWS movie is by far the worst. And Gary hasn’t made a movie since, which is sad for fans, because she’s very talented, and the movies have missed her.

Here now is a partial look at Lorraine Gary’s career, on today’s LEADING LADIES:

DRAGNET 1967 (1967) – Mrs. Frank- Gary’s first professional acting credit is on the classic police TV series.

MCCLOUD (1970) – Joan Stanford – Gary appears in the second episode of the famous TV series. Dennis Weaver, the star of MCCLOUD, would star in DUEL (1971), directed by a very young Steven Spielberg who would direct Gary four years later in JAWS 1975).

NIGHT GALLERY (1972) –  Barbara Morgan – stars in the season 3 episode of the famous horror anthology TV series entitled “She’ll Be Company For You” which also starred Leonard Nimoy.

THE MARCUS-NELSON MURDERS (1973) -Ruthie- stars in this TV movie which introduced Telly Savalas as Kojak to the TV world.

JAWS (1975) – Ellen Brody – it’s easy to forget that JAWS was Lorraine Gary’s big screen debut. Her natural caring style is front and center here as Brody’s wife. She enjoys many fine moments in the movie, like the scene where she admonishes her husband for not wanting their sons to play in their new boat, but upon seeing a picture of a shark attacking a boat, she changes her tune, “Michael! Did you hear your father? Out of the water now! Now!” to her tearful goodbye as she sends Brody off on his trip to kill the shark on the Orca, with Quint yelling obscenities in the distance. The next time you watch JAWS, pay attention to Gary’s performance. She quietly adds a lot to the movie. She also gets a memorable moment when Hooper joins them for dinner, and she says, “My husband tells me you’re in sharks.”

CAR WASH (1976) – Hysterical lady- memorable bit in this classic comedy.

JAWS 2 (1978) – Ellen Brody- returns along with Roy Scheider for the sequel, and gets more screen time. Again shares strong chemistry with Roy Scheider. The best of the JAWS sequels.

JUST YOU AND ME KID (1979) -Shirl – stars in this comedy with George Burns and Brooke Shields.

1941 (1979) – Joan Douglas – part of a huge cast in Steven Spielberg’s big budget World War II comedy which was a major flop back in the day. Cast includes Dan Aykroyd, Ned Beatty, John Belushi, Murray Hamilton, Christopher Lee, Tim Matheson, Warren Oates, Robert Stack, Nancy Allen, and John Candy.

JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987) – Ellen Brody- came out of retirement to play Ellen Brody one last time, in what is clearly the worst of the JAWS sequels. Hasn’t made a movie since, which is sad, because Gary is a wonderful talent.

Okay, there you have it, a brief look at the career of Lorraine Gary.

ELLEN BRODY: Martin hates boats. Martin hates water. Martin… Martin sits in his car when we go on the ferry to the mainland. I guess it’s a childhood thing. It’s a… there’s a clinical name for it isn’t there?

BRODY:  Drowning.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

ENOLA HOLMES (2020) – Story of Sherlock Holmes’ Younger Sister Charming But Dull

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ENOLA HOLMES aka Ferndell

ENOLA HOLMES (2020), the new Netflix movie about Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister, features a wonderfully spirited performance by Millie Bobby Brown in the title role.

Brown brings so much energy and charm to the character that she single-handedly carries this movie, and she has to, because sadly, the rest of this feature, from the directing, writing, and acting, is all rather dull. Painfully so.

Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), whose name spelled backwards is “Alone,” has been raised by her mother, Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). But one day, shortly after her sixteenth birthday, Enola awakes to discover her mother has disappeared. When her two brothers, Mycroft (Sam Claflin) and Sherlock (Henry Cavill), who is now known as the world’s greatest detective, arrive, Enola hopes they will help her find her mother, but when they appear less than interested in doing so, Enola decides to take the case on her own.

Complicating matters is Mycroft wants Enola enrolled in a proper women’s school, and when she she leaves in search of her mother, he uses his resources to find her and bring her back. Meanwhile, Enola meets the dashing young Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) who’s embroiled in a mystery of his own, and when it becomes clear that his life is in danger, Enola sets out to help him as well. The game is afoot!

Too bad it wasn’t a more interesting game.

As I said, Millie Bobby Brown is absolutely wonderful in the lead role. She exudes charm and charisma as Enola, and her spirited performance is infectious. Combined with her lively voice-over narration and her frequent addresses to the audience as she looks directly into the camera, make her performance here a clear winner. By far, Brown is the best part of this movie.

While I still prefer Brown’s work as the character Eleven on the Netflix’ series STRANGER THINGS (2016-2021), that doesn’t take away from her outstanding performance in ENOLA HOLMES.

Sadly, she just doesn’t get much support from anyone else in the cast, which is surprising, considering the talent inolved here. But a lot of this falls on screenwriter Jack Thorne, whose screenplay is based on the novel by Nancy Springer, because he simply didn’t give these folks much to do or much of interest to say.

Henry Cavill, who’s been playing Superman in the recent DC films, is okay as Sherlock Holmes. He definitely has a presence, but the character is largely in the background, and as such, it’s one of the more subdued and least effective characterizations of the famous literary detective as you’re ever going to find.

Sam Claflin, another talented actor, has a bit more to do as the cantankeous Mycroft Holmes, but at the end of the day, he doesn’t do much either. Claflin was much more memorable in the underrated Hammer Film THE QUIET ONES (2014) and the World War II comedy-drama THEIR FINEST (2016).

Louis Partridge as Lord Tewkesbury shares some nice chemistry with Brown’s Enola, and I really enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter as Enola’s mother Eudoria, but she’s not in the movie much since the character disappears early on.

As I said, Jack Thorne’s screenplay was somewhat of a disappointment. He goes all in with Enola’s character, and she is the one character in the story that works. The dialogue for everyone else is ho hum, and the plot I thought was a snooze. The story I was most interested in— what happened to Enola’s mother— often took a back seat to the political intrigue surrounding Tewkesbury’s predicament and Mycroft’s efforts to force Enola to attend the women’s school.

Director Harry Bradbeer keeps everything light and lively until the final thirty minutes when things get a bit darker, which incidentally, was my favorite part of the movie. The film looks great but sadly lacks that innovative touch which might have made it really memorable.

I thought eveything about ENOLA HOLMES was pretty standard and not very exciting, with the one big exception being Millie Bobby Brown’s performance.

She’s the reason to see this one and the reason why it is even worth a look. The rest, especially if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan, is sadly lacking.

It’s all rather dull and….elementary.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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Print cover

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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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

CENTIGRADE (2020) – Drama About Couple Trapped in Snowbound Car Exceedingly Quiet

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CENTIGRADE (2020) is a curious drama based on a true story of an author and her husband who were trapped in their car underneath ice and snow on a frozen road in Norway.

The film is also billed as a thriller, but this is only because the concept of two people trapped in their car underneath ice and snow is a life-threatening experience. The film itself is strictly a drama, with no attempt to sensationalize the events. For a story like this, it’s exceedingly quiet.

Still, I somewhat enjoyed this one, even as the script presented other problems, which get in the way of the film’s realism.

CENTIGRADE opens with author Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez) and her husband Matt (Vincent Piazza) waking up in their car after pulling over onto the side of the road during a dangerous ice storm. They awake to find their car buried under a wall of snow and ice. The car won’t start, and they have no cell phone service. Naomi wants to break a window and dig their way out, but Matt wants to stay in the car, which he says is safer and will help keep them warm, and that is what they decide to do.

And thus begins their odyssey, stuck in their car, at first for hours, but then… for days… and days. With nothing to do but talk to each other and get on each other’s nerves. Oh, and by the way. Naomi is pregnant and about to have her baby.

And that’s the plot of CENTIGRADE.

The film opens strong. The conflict is present immediately at the outset. The problem with CENTIGRADE is it doesn’t really go anywhere from there. It remains pretty much one note throughout, and the longer it goes on this way, the less effective the story becomes.

For example, I really expected Naomi and Matt to really have a hard time being together in close quarters in a perilous situation, and they do bicker, but it never becomes full blown arguing. I mean, they have their disagreements, but like the rest of the movie, in terms of story arc, nothing much really happens to keep the viewer interested.

The story also has other struggles. Early on when Naomi has to pee, Matt suggests she pee into a towel. It works. But as the days turn into weeks, how are these two going to the bathroom? How many towels do they have? And there are some things that towels are not going to be good for in the bathroom department. The film never addresses this.

They light candles in their car to see, which I thought was odd. The film also doesn’t address how they never run out of oxygen. Nor do they look like two people stuck in a car for weeks. They look too neat. And then there’s the birth scene. One of the easiest births you’ll ever see, and then the baby joins them in their car. What are these folks eating? I mean, they have some food, but enough for weeks? Not sure about that.

I also found it difficult to imagine they’re not wanting to escape. How long does it take before you realize no one is coming to find you? It’s time to get the hell out and take your chances! Not here. They just sit in that damn car.

All this being said, for the most part, I enjoyed CENTIGRADE. I enjoyed the performances by Genesis Rogriguez and Vincent Piazza as Naomi and Matt. They did seem like a married couple, and their conversations were definitely realistic. The problem is, sometimes in a movie you want more than realistic. You want a reason to keep watching. This film doesn’t really give its audience that. I stuck with it because I enjoyed the characters, and they seemed like real people.

But the story didn’t always seem real, as the screenplay by Daley Nixon and director Brendan Walsh didn’t really do a good job with the details.

And while director Brendan Walsh does capture the sense of icy coldness throughout, I thought the feeling of claustrophobia of being stuck in one’s car for so long in a life threatening situation which should have been there, weirdly was not. I didn’t get the sense that these folks feared every day for their lives or were about to flip out at the idea of being trapped in their car. They just sort of continue their quiet talking throughout.

If you’re looking for an intense thriller, CENTIGRADE is not that movie. Instead, it’s a quiet talky drama about a married couple who find themselves trapped in a vehicle under snow and ice. As I said at the outset, it’s a curious story, one that was intriguing enough to hold my interest for its 98 minute running time, but since I was expecting this one to get more intense as it went along, ultimately by film’s end since it didn’t, it was something of a disappointment.

The best parts really are the understated performances by the two actors here, Genesis Rodriguez and Vincent Piazza. They are what kept me watching.

If you know beforehand that CENTIGRADE is a rather quiet drama, you may like this one. Otherwise, you may find yourself giving it the cold shoulder.

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