21 BRIDGES (2019) – Cliche Cop Drama Offers Nothing New

0

21 bridges

21 BRIDGES (2019), the new cop thriller starring Chadwick Boseman, is a classic example of what happens when a screenplay doesn’t get as down and dirty as it should but remains painfully superficial instead.

Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman [BLACK PANTHER {2018}]) is a cop with a reputation: he shoots first and asks questions later. Yup, he obviously went to the Dirty Harry school for police officers. When a drug theft goes awry, and the two thieves Michael (Stephan James) and Ray (Taylor Kitsch) find themselves surrounded by police officers, they engage in a fierce gun battle which leaves multiple officers dead while they escape into the night.

When Detective Davis arrives on the scene, Captain McKenna (J.K.Simmons) tells him point-blank that he’s the right man for the job, that they want these guys dead, not captured to stand trial and get off on technicalities. Ah, the dreaded technicalities which show up in every badly written police drama.

Anyway, Davis makes the bold decision to shut down the twenty-one bridges going in and out of Manhattan, in effect locking down the island until he can nab the two bad guys. Hence, the name of the movie, and its plot.

Of course, as Davis closes in on his prey, he learns that there’s more going on here, and that it involves police corruption, a plot point that is so blatantly obvious that even Inspector Clouseau would figure it out.

The plot is pretty bad. For instance, for a guy who is supposed to be trigger happy, Davis is the most conscientious cop in the film. It’s everyone else who shoots first and asks questions later, because they’re all corrupt. And it’s one of those films where nearly every one but Davis is involved in the conspiracy.

I really like Chadwick Boseman, and in fact he’s the reason I went out and saw 21 BRIDGES, and he’s fine here, but he’s stuck in a cliché role that doesn’t do him in any favors. Had the writing been stronger, it could have been the type of role that Denzel Washington would have played twenty years ago, or Al Pacino in the early 70s. But in Pacino’s case, the films he made in the 70s like SERPICO (1973) captured the grit and authentic feel of the time. There’s little that’s authentic about 21 BRIDGES.

Stephan James has a few good moments as Michael, a thief with a good head on his shoulders, but like everyone else in the film, his character is swallowed up by the weak screenplay. Taylor Kitsch is largely wasted as Michael’s fellow thief and mentor Ray.

Everything J. K. Simmons says as Captain McKenna is a cliché. Sienna Miller plays narcotics officer Frankie Burns, a character whose motivations are as believable as the rest of the film, which is to say, they’re not.

As you can tell, I did not like the screenplay by Adam Mervis and Matthew Michael Carnahan. Both the story and dialogue are cliché, offering nothing we haven’t seen before in other cop movies of this type. It also makes little effort to make the story it’s trying to tell believable. I didn’t believe any of it.

Director Brian Kirk offers little help. While the film certainly looks polished, it’s not gritty enough for a New York City police thriller. Plus there’s nary a memorable moment to be found.

What 21 BRIDGES does offer is solid acting, especially by Boseman and Stephan James, but neither one is strong enough to lift the mediocre material to a level where this film becomes recommended viewing.

21 BRIDGES is a largely forgettable entry in the canon of good cop vs. corrupt cop movies.

Dust off an old Dirty Harry flick instead.

—END—

 

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) -Curious Style Reveals the Potency of Mister Rogers’ Message

1

Matthew Rhys (Finalized);Tom Hanks (Finalized)

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) is a curious movie, and as much I like Mister Rogers, and the performances in this film, I’m not sure it entirely worked for me.

Check that. It did work for me. Just not as smoothly as I expected.

The film tells the story of a magazine journalist Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) who’s earned the reputation of being a cynic and writing unflattering pieces on the people he interviews. As a result, his editor assigns him to write a brief piece on TV’s Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks) who as it turns out is the only subject they reached out to who agreed to be interviewed by Lloyd.

As Lloyd interviews Rogers, he’s struck by the man’s consistent sincerity and caring, so much so that he doesn’t believe it, and he sets his sights on trying to prove that Rogers isn’t the real deal. This mission doesn’t last long. Instead, Rogers flips the agenda, and it’s Lloyd who’s revealing his past, his innermost hurt dealing with his relationship with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper) who left his family when Lloyd was a boy, leaving him and his sister to care for their dying mother. In effect, Rogers provides all the information Lloyd needs for his interview not by answering questions, but by asking them, and by doing the things he’s known for doing. It takes Lloyd a while to pick up on this, but when he does, he realizes the truth about Rogers, and he does so because in the course of their interviews, Rogers changes Lloyd’s life.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD tells a serious story, but it does not play out like a standard drama or biography. Instead, the entire film is framed as if it’s an episode of Fred Rogers’ series MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD. Indeed, it opens just like the show does, with Rogers entering the interior of his TV home, and as he explains to his audience his prop for the day, Picture Picture, he reveals a photo of Lloyd and begins to tell Lloyd’s story. And the film unfolds from there.

As much as I appreciated the originality of this style, sometimes the line was blurred between fantasy and reality. Like when later in the film Lloyd finds himself on the show, reduced to the size of one of the puppets. Clearly, this is a dream Lloyd is having, right? Then again, the movie is framed like the show, so—. Thought-provoking to be sure, but also simply flat-out odd. Which is what I meant at the outset that I’m not sure it entirely worked.

Some moments do work. Like the scene at the diner, where Rogers asks Lloyd to sit with him in silence for one minute, to pray with him for those in need, and as he does this, the patrons in the diner notice and also stop talking. And then Rogers looks right at the camera, and the shot holds— we’re talking sixty seconds in real-time, folks— and the implication is clear: he’s looking at the people in the theater, the point being that they should be doing the same. Again, supporting the notion that A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD is like one big Mister Rogers episode for adults.

And then there’s the ending. Earlier in the film, Lloyd asks Rogers how he handles the pressure of being Mister Rogers, and Rogers doesn’t answer directly. Instead, he speaks of the different ways people can handle pressure, and one of the ways he mentions is pounding the piano keys on low notes really loudly, and he demonstrates this to Lloyd by pretending to do so right there. He doesn’t directly answer the question or say that he himself is stressed, which frustrates Lloyd in the interview. But later, as the film ends, and Rogers’ work is done, and Lloyd has benefitted from Rogers’ intervention, and the final shot of the show is wrapped, Rogers says farewell to his crew, but he remains on set until everyone is gone.  In the silence of the empty set, he sits at a piano and pounds those low keys. As he said earlier in the movie, he’s human, and not a saint.

Tom Hanks nails his performance as Mister Rogers. He captures Rogers’ mannerisms and persona to a tee, and there are times when he’s a perfect match. However, even an actor with Hanks’ superior talent has his work cut out for him because Rogers is such an iconic figure that it was rare that I ever truly felt I was watching Rogers on-screen. Instead, I was aware that it was Hanks playing Rogers. I don’t think this is a flaw on Hanks’ part. Rogers is such a genuine presence that’s it’s difficult to see anyone else but him saying and doing the things he said and did.

Matthew Rhys is excellent as Lloyd Vogel, and he delivers the most effective performance in the movie. Of course, in fairness to Tom Hanks, Hanks has the tougher job here, playing Fred Rogers. Nonetheless, Rhys perfectly captures Lloyd’s pain and cynicism. In fact, throughout the movie, I related mostly to Lloyd, who in spite of his biting personality comes off as a real person throughout, so when he’s shaking his head about Rogers’ upbeat and offbeat shtick, he seems like the real person and Rogers the oddball. And yet Rogers’ work is a process, and so as the story goes on, and Lloyd realizes this, he and the audience as well, is won over and understands that Rogers may be an oddball, but he’s the real deal. Rhys captures Lloyd’s journey and transformation perfectly.

Chris Cooper has been one of my favorite actors for years. He’s good in nearly everything he’s in. Probably my all time favorite Cooper role is when he played Jake Gyllenhaal’s father in OCTOBER SKY (1999). He’s back playing another troubled dad here as Lloyd’s father Jerry who spent his life being a jerk and now as he’s dying he desperately wants his son’s forgiveness but can’t seem to get it. He’s got one of the best moments in the film when he laments that it’s only as he is dying that he’s figured out how to live. Cooper nails the role.

I also really enjoyed Susan Kelechi Watson as Lloyd’s wife Andrea. She gets one of the best lines in the movie when Rogers calls them on the phone and refers to her by name, and as she hands the phone to Lloyd says in a starstruck tone, “Mister Rogers knows my name!”

Director Marielle Heller makes the bold decision to film this story like an episode of the iconic children’s show, and for the most part, this works. That being said, the parts that work best really are Lloyd’s moments, which are removed from the show, so, in a strange way, while it’s a clever decision, I’m not sure it completely helps this story. The argument can be made that it would have worked even better with a straight dramatic construct.

The screenplay by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster is based on the true story of the real-life friendship between journalist Tom Junod and Fred Rogers. It does what it sets out to do, in that we see the power of Mister Rogers through his actions and the effect they have on Lloyd Vogel.

I liked A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD well enough, but as a fan of Mister Rogers, I did enjoy last year’s documentary WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (2018) more.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD features superior acting and reveals the potency of Mister Rogers’ message in a drama that unfolds like an episode of his iconic TV show. It’s definitely worth a look, even with a style that sometimes gets in the way of the story it’s trying to tell.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

New in 2019! 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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019) – New Reboot by Elizabeth Banks Is Stylish, Mindless, and Fun

0

charlies angels

The original CHARLIE’S ANGELS TV show (1976-1981) premiered when I was in middle school, so at the time, for obvious reasons, the show caught my attention. But as an adult seeing it years later it never did much for me, and I really never considered myself much of a fan.

Likewise, although the rebooted CHARLIE’S ANGELS movies in the early 2000s starring Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu performed well at the box office, I wasn’t a fan of these movies either as I didn’t really enjoy the move to turning the series into a comedy.

So, if you asked me if I’d be seeing yet another reboot of the series, my answer would most likely be no. I would have pretty much zero interest in seeing it.

Except when I read that Elizabeth Banks, an actress I enjoy a lot, was directing, writing, and starring in it. Furthermore, the cast was also going to include Kristen Stewart, another actress I really enjoy, and so against my better judgment, I went to the theater to check out this latest edition of CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019).

I was not disappointed.

Elizabeth Banks’ CHARLIES ANGELS is a stylish polished action flick with women doing all the butt kicking, and this time, even though the tone for the most part is light, this story does not hide behind comedy to make its point. These women kick butt for real, and it’s believable.

One of my favorite scenes is the film’s finale where the villain boasts that he has the Angels surrounded, and he has, with a small army of henchmen at his disposal, but it’s the Angels who have the last laugh, as unnoticed among these macho thugs stand a multitude of beautiful women, guests of the elegant party they’re all attending, and these women are not there just to be looked at. They’re there to fight. It’s a moment that in a quiet subtle way reveals that men so often aren’t even paying attention to the women in the room, as if they couldn’t possibly be a threat. The Angels’ back-up are literally invisible to their enemies, as they hide in plain sight. It’s a great moment in what otherwise is a pretty standard actioner.

The action scenes are fun and exciting, and Banks handles them well. She has less success with the screenplay which provides a forgettable story that serves only as a bare framework for the action scenes. Banks scores higher with some of the dialogue, which is entertaining, and some of the tweaks she makes to the ANGELS canon, like having “Bosley” be a code name for multiple handlers around the globe.

The plot is about a device that is about to revolutionize the energy industry, but an employee of the company developing the device, Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) discovers a flaw and realizes it could easily be turned into a weapon. Her efforts to warn her superiors are ignored, and so she turns to one of the “Bosleys”  (Djimon Hounsou) for help.

When the device is stolen, the Angels jump into action led by Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and Jane (Ella Ballinska), along with Elena who eventually becomes the latest Angel recruit.

As I said, the plot is pretty meager.

The best performance in the movie belongs to Kristen Stewart— Bella who? Stewart has come a long way from the TWILIGHT series, and her performance here as the quirky Sabina who has no filter for when it comes to saying the wrong thing is one of the liveliest parts of the movie.

But I also enjoyed Naomi Scott as the green Elena Houghlin who becomes Angel material while working on this job. Likewise, Ella Balinska is fun and believable as Jane, the former MI6 agent now turned Angel. Basically, the spirited performances by all three of these actors lifts the material to the point where I didn’t care that the plot was rather dumb. They made the story enjoyable.

Writer/director Elizabeth Banks plays the chief Bosley, and Patrick Stewart hams it up as the original Bosley who doesn’t take “retirement” all that well. Stewart is always fun to watch and his presence adds a lot to this one.

Jonathan Tucker makes for a formidable assassin named Hodak who would have been memorable had he possessed some personality.

And in a fun reveal at the end, we get to see who is now running the Angel’s organization for Charlie, and it’s an original cast member!

This 2019 CHARLIE’S ANGELS is certainly a mixed bag. The nothing story does the film no favors, but the spirited performances by the three leads and effective direction by Elizabeth Banks lift it to a level that makes it a rather enjoyable if not mindless action film.

Hey, men like Stallone and Schwarznegger have built their careers making mindless movies like this. If CHARLIE’S ANGELS says anything, it’s that women can make them too.

—END—

FORD v FERRARI (2019) -Thrilling Race Car Sequences Makes This One a Winner

0

ford-v-ferraru

FORD v FERRARI (2019) is a fun movie to see in IMAX.

With its thrilling race scenes and camera angles that are low to the ground which put you in the driver’s seat, FORD v FERRARI watched in IMAX is a special treat. The thunderous roar of the engines literally shakes your insides, and the larger screen makes sure you don’t miss a single turn. It’s one very exciting movie experience.

FORD v FERRARI is based on the true story of how car designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) and race car driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale) were recruited by Ford Motor Company to build and race a car that could beat Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966.

With sales slipping, Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) challenges his corporate team to start thinking outside the box to shake things up. Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal) suggests they need a younger sportier image and that they could learn a thing or two from the ultra popular Ferrari. When Iacocca reveals that Ferrari is bankrupt, Ford offers a merger deal in which the two companies would work together, but Ferrari rejects the offer, instead inking a deal with Fiat. Insulted, Henry Ford II sets his sights on building a race car that will defeat Ferrari, and he says money is no object.

As a result, Iacocca turns to former race car driver and current car designer Carroll Shelby, who against his better judgment agrees to work for Ford. He handpicks Ken Miles as his driver, a decision that irks Ford Corporate, because Miles is viewed as a loose cannon and someone who does not live up to Ford’s conservative image. Complicating matters is Ford’s Vice President Leo Beebe (Josh Lucas) cannot stand Miles and does everything in his power to remove him from the team, but Shelby is undeterred and fights for his driver all the way to racing day.

As I said, FORD v FERRARI in IMAX was a lot of fun since the larger screen and louder sound really heightened the race car effects.  And yes, the race scenes are definitely one of the reasons to see this one. They’re done really well, as director James Mangold keeps the camera in tight and captures the essence of race car driving from inside the front seat of the car.

I like Mangold as a director, as he’s directed a bunch of movies I’ve really enjoyed over the years, including LOGAN (2017). the superior R-rated Wolverine conclusion starring Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart, the western 3:10 TO YUMA (2007) which starred Christian Bale and Russell Crowe, and way back when COP LAND (1997), which features one of Sylvester Stallone’s better acting performances.

The other reason to see FORD v FERRARI is its two leads, two actors I enjoy a lot, Matt Damon and Christian Bale.

Damon is well-cast as Carroll Shelby, the man who not only uses his talents to build the car that beats Ferrari, but also to keep his team together which is under constant attack by Ford Corporate. This one is called FORD v FERRARI but it could easily have been called FORD v CARROLL SHELBY since more often than not he’s fighting the very company that hired him to get the job done. This is probably Damon’s most satisfying role since THE MARTIAN (2015).

Christian Bale is a phenomenal actor who impresses in nearly every movie he makes. Last time we saw Bale he was unrecognizable as Vice President Dick Cheney in VICE (2018), in a role that required him to gain a considerable amount of weight. Here, he had to lose weight again to play the lean and mean race car driver Ken Miles, and as you would expect, Bale is superb in the role. He easily delivers the best performance in the movie.

Jon Bernthal, another of my favorite actors, does a nice job as Lee Iacocca, and he more than holds his own alongside Damon and Bale. Even though Bernthal is known for his TV work, on shows like THE PUNISHER (2017-2019) and THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2018), he has a lot of film credits as well in some pretty impressive supporting roles, in such films as BABY DRIVER (2017) and WIND RIVER (2017). Incidentally, the real Lee Iacocca just passed away earlier this year.

Josh Lucas is also very good as the very annoying Leo Beebe, while Ray McKinnon is effective as lead mechanic Phil Remington. Rounding out the cast is young Noah Jupe who plays Ken’s son Peter, and Caitriona Balfe who plays Ken’s wife Mollie. Both are very good.

It’s an interesting screenplay by Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller, as it tells a less straightforward story than one might expect. The real “villain” here isn’t Ferrari, but Ford, the company and Henry Ford II. The only Ford member shown in a positive light is Lee Iacocca. The rest are portrayed as unimaginative bullies who Carroll Shelby and Ken Miles have to circumvent in order to win. In fact, there are times in this one where I found myself rooting for Ferrari.

FORD v FERRARI is not an incredible or astounding movie, as its story simply isn’t thought-provoking or emotional enough to reach that level, but it does feature top-notch car racing scenes and two actors, Matt Damon and Christian Bale, performing at the top of their games, and they’re supported by a talented cast of actors.

The result is a thrilling movie experience that’s the closest thing to being behind the wheel at the 24 Hours of Le Mans short of actually being there.

Start your engines!

—END—

 

 

JO JO RABBIT (2019) – Unlikely Comedy of Boy Who Idolized Hitler One of Year’s Best

0

jo jo rabbit

If I were to tell you that one of the best comedies of the year would feature Adolf Hitler as a main character, you probably wouldn’t believe me.

But believe! Because not only is JO JO RABBIT (2019) one of the best comedies of the year, it’s also one of my favorite movies of the year.

JO JO RABBIT is the story of a young boy named Jo Jo (Roman Griffin Davis) who during the waning days of World War II not only wants to be in Hitler’s army but also idolizes the Nazi leader, so much so that his imaginary friend is none other than Hitler (Taika Waititi) himself. He gets the nickname Jo Jo Rabbit when during his youth soldier training he refuses to kill a rabbit, and the officers make fun of him, calling him first a coward and then “Jo Jo Rabbit.”

When Jo Jo discovers that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house, he is at first outraged, but then as he gets to know her through their subsequent conversations, his feelings change, so much so that he finds himself questioning the Nazi doctrine.

JO JO RABBIT is an unusual movie. It’s also a terrifically fun and comedic one. The scenes between Jo Jo and his imaginary Adolf are flat-out hilarious. Writer/director Taika Waititi has a field day with the role, making this one of the most unlikely characterizations of Hitler on-screen ever. Waititi channels equal parts Mike Myers and Michael Palin, and even some Tom Hanks in his completely inane and hysterical take on the character. When asked why he would ever consider playing Hitler, Waititi, who is Jewish, answered, “What better way to say f*ck you to the guy?” And he’s right.

Young Roman Griffin Davis is astounding as Jo Jo. He pretty much carries this movie, and that’s saying a lot for a film that features a strong veteran cast.

Equally as good as Davis is Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the young Jewish girl hiding inside Jo Jo’s home. She is responsible for teaching Jo Jo some truths about life, including that he’s just a kid and not a Nazi. McKenzie stood out in last year’s LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) in which she co-starred with Ben Foster. I may have enjoyed her more here in JO JO RABBIT.

Scarlett Johansson delivers a spirited performance as Jo Jo’s mother Rosie. The two share some of the movie’s best scenes, certainly its most poignant ones, as the film speaks on what it’s like to be a single parent, but don’t expect strife and pain. Johansson’s Rosie is a strong character who is more than up to the task of raising her son on her own, even as she secretly works to take on the Nazis.

Likewise, Sam Rockwell— as he always is— is excellent as quirky Nazi officer Captain Klenzendorf who at times seems as if he walked off the set of the old HOGAN’S HEROES TV show. But there’s also a sincerity to Klenzendorf in his relationship with young Jo Jo that transcends comedic caricature.

And if Klenzendorf hearkens from HOGANS HEROES, Rebel Wilson’s Nazi Fraulein Rahm could easily have walked off the set of a Mel Brooks movie.

And young Archie Yates is exceptional as Yorki, Jo Jo’s second best friend— after Adolf. Yates and Davis share some tender scenes and some hilarious ones.

The screenplay by Taika Waititi, based on a novel by Christine Leunens, is nonstop hilarious. The film works not only as an energetic comedy and satire, but also as a moving drama that looks at the human condition and explores the relationship between Jo Jo and his mother, and more importantly, between Jo Jo and Elsa.

Some may argue that a movie like this may promote pro-Nazi views, and that some folks may not get the joke that these people are being made fun of, but the film combats that notion on two fronts. One, the Nazis here are portrayed as over-the-top buffoons, and two, the love of the Nazis is seen through the innocent eyes of a young boy, who with the experience of getting to know a young Jewish girl realizes how backwards and false those views are. In essence, as the story goes along, Jo Jo falls out of love with Adolf and in love with Elsa.

The film is clear in its repudiation of the Nazi agenda, as not only is Elsa a voice against Nazism, but so is Jo Jo’s mother Rosie, and to a lesser extent Captain Klenzendorf.

Taika Waititi, who also directed THOR: RAGNORAK (2017), and is known more for films like BOY (2010) and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014) has hit a home run here with JO JO RABBIT. Everything about this one works, from its sharp satire, to its frequent laugh out loud moments, to its touching message on the human condition, which is simply put, that love conquers all, and that we are here to love each other, not kill each other.

The film is also shot in bright vibrant colors, giving Nazi Germany a celebratory feel, which goes against the many gray newsreels from history, the point being that ordinary German citizens thought everything was going great. They believed they were living the dream, while others who secretly fought back, realized their government was misguided and working against human rights and decency. So Nazi Germany in JO JO RABBIT is shown as a happy place, where the Nazi agenda operated in the shadows.

It’s not every day that you come across a comedy that satirizes Nazism successfully, but JO JO RABBIT makes it look easy.

As such, it’s one of my favorite movies of the year.

—END—

 

DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) – Worthy Sequel to THE SHINING

1

doctor sleep

One of the reasons I enjoyed Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep so much was it told a really good story.

As the sequel to The Shining, it told a tale which was far removed from the one told in King’s iconic novel, yet it retained elements from the first novel to satisfy King’s faithful readers. Better yet, its attempt to tell what happened next in the life of young Danny Torrence, seen in Doctor Sleep as an adult, was spot on.

On the strength of its story,  I felt pretty confident that the film version of DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) would be a success, especially since it was being directed by the talented Mike Flanagan.

The good news is I was correct. Not only is DOCTOR SLEEP a really good horror movie, it’s also a worthy sequel to Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980).

Let’s start with that story.

Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is now an adult, and he’s been spending his life bottoming out, an alcoholic, who has turned to booze to block out the awful events of his childhood at the infamous Overlook Hotel. But when he meets Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) his life turns around as Freeman helps Danny get a job and more importantly get sober as he invites Danny to AA meetings.

His mind now clear, Danny is contacted by a young girl Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) who shares his gift for “shining” and the two become psychic “pen pals,” as Abra wants to know more about her gift. All is well, except it isn’t, because there is a group on the prowl known as the True Knot that go around killing people who possess the shining power. They do so because they live off the “steam” or breaths released when their victims are tortured and killed. The True Knot are led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and they are always on the lookout for shining victims to consume.

When Abra psychically witnesses the True Knot kill a young boy, she tries to stop them, but in doing so, makes her presence known to Rose, who feels the young girl’s strength and decides the True Knot has to have her. Abra reaches out to Danny for help, and it’s at this moment that he realizes his purpose in life: he has to be the one to step up and not only save Abra but put down the True Knot.

It’s a battle that eventually returns Danny to the place of his childhood trauma, the Overlook Hotel.

As I said at the outset, I really like the story told in DOCTOR SLEEP, and the film takes this solid tale and has no trouble putting it on the big screen. The account of what happens next to Danny Torrance makes perfect sense, and the chemistry he shares with new character Abra Stone is genuine and moving. In fact, another strength of both King’s novel and this movie is the characters are fleshed out and compelling.

The only issue I have with these characters, and it’s one I had with the novel as well, is that ultimately, the True Knot are not as omnipotent and deadly as first thought. It’s a case where the duo of Danny and Abra pretty much have the upper hand. I wish their struggle to defeat the True Knot had been a bit more challenging.

The acting is great. Ewan McGregor is perfect as Danny Torrance. It’s interesting that for the role, McGregor said he tried to capture how the voice of Jack Nicholson’s son (Nicholson, of course, played Danny’s father Jack in THE SHINING) would sound, and he didn’t want to completely mimic Nicholson. I’d say McGregor was successful here.

Kyliegh Curran is excellent as Abra Stone. She’s completely convincing as the powerful young teen. Rebecca Ferguson is enticing as the True Knot leader Rose the Hat, but I was disappointed there wasn’t a stronger sensual element to the character. Cliff Curtis adds fine support as Danny’s friend Billy Freeman.

Of course, the question on everyone’s mind is how does this compare to THE SHINING? And the reason this is such a burning question is that the movie THE SHINING was directed by Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest film directors of all time, who put his own visionary stamp on the tale, which is why it is so unlike other movie versions of Stephen King’s works.

Conventional wisdom is that since the late great Stanley Kubrick is not at the helm here, there’s no way DOCTOR SLEEP will measure up. Maybe not, but DOCTOR SLEEP was written and directed by Mike Flanagan who is an exceedingly talented guy.  Flanagan is the man behind the superior Netflix show THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) which was based on the Shirley Jackson novel. It’s one of the scariest TV shows I’ve seen in a while.

Flanagan has also written and directed some really good horror movies, including GERALD’S GAME (2017), another Stephen King adaptation, and HUSH (2016). Now, I’m not arguing that Flanagan is Stanley Kubrick, but you can add DOCTOR SLEEP to the list of high quality horror movies by Mike Flanagan.

The film is strong throughout, and it saves the best for last, when for the film’s climactic battle between Danny and Abra and the True Knot, the characters return to the Overlook Hotel. Flanagan and his crew painstakingly recreated the interiors of the hotel to look exactly like the original in THE SHINING. The result is both chilling and nostalgic.

Incidentally, the name Doctor Sleep comes from the part of the story where Danny works as an orderly at a hospital, and he uses his gift to help dying patients navigate their final moments in this life to the next, and so he earns the nickname “Doctor Sleep” as he helps these folks relax as they enter their final “sleep.”

I really liked DOCTOR SLEEP. Not only is it a worthy sequel to THE SHINING, but it’s also a superior horror movie in its own right.

It’s that rarity among sequels in that it’s more than just a follow-up to the first story. It stands on its own.

—END—

THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019) – A Descent Into Madness- And Boredom

0

the lighthouse

While everyone and his grandmother seem to be eating up THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019), the latest movie by writer/director Robert Eggers, who also gave us the artistic horror movie THE WITCH (2015), I’m not among them.

In short, THE LIGHTHOUSE did not work for me.

Not. At. All.

For starters, you can be a whiz at cinematography. You can write a story full of symbols and metaphors. You can go nonstop highbrow for nearly two hours. But if you can’t write a story that includes characters I give two cents about, I’m not going to pay attention, which is exactly what happened with this movie. Half way in, I’d lost interest to the point where I was bored beyond tears.

THE LIGHTHOUSE is about two men, Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) who work at a New England lighthouse on a remote island in the 1890s. A storm prevents their relief shift from arriving, and they find themselves stranded together at this lighthouse for an extended period of time, an experience that taxes their patience and their sanity.

That’s the plot in a nutshell. So, as you can see, while THE LIGHTHOUSE is about two men stranded at a lighthouse, that’s not what the movie is really about. And no, it’s not really about two men going crazy because they’re stuck with each other on a remote island either. Well, it’s sort of about that, but this film attempts to delve deeper and speak on a number of things, from a duality of purpose, to the age gap between the young and old, to what men do when they’re alone, to what happens to the human mind when stuck in endless boredom, to class differences, and to insanity.

There’s a lot going on, and it’s all shot in haunting, mesmerizing black and white. There’s no denying that the photography is amazing. The film is full of weird and indelible images, and the ocean looks ominous, as the menace of turbulent seas and storm clouds are captured on camera with authentic ferocity.

Yet, strangely, the film somehow does not capture the essence of a New England lighthouse.Try as it might, and it does try, I never felt I was there, in spite of the impressive photography.

The bigger problem for me, though, wasn’t the photography, but the story and the characters. These two characters did not interest me in the least, nor did their story, and so as I said, all the deeper symbolism meant nothing since I wasn’t invested in the story.

Like the black and white photography, the acting is superb. Robert Pattison and Willem Dafoe are both convincing in their roles.

But still, I was bored throughout.

And while director Robert Eggers focused on a goat in THE WITCH, here he focuses on another animal, the seagull, which is integral to the plot.

Still, I was bored.

And then there’s the sound effects, especially the fog horn. Awesome and haunting.

Still— you got it, I was bored.

So, what you have here with THE LIGHTHOUSE is something unique, at least for me anyway. For me, THE LIGHTHOUSE was one of the most artistic, technically well-made, and well-acted films that I absolutely did not like. And that’s because it failed to make any emotional connection. I felt nothing watching this one.

Except boredom.

I often judge my feelings towards a movie by how soon I want to watch it again.

With THE LIGHTHOUSE, the answer is simple.

Never.

I never want to watch THE LIGHTHOUSE again.

In spite of its attributes, THE LIGHTHOUSE was my least favorite film experience of the year.

—END–