MARRIAGE STORY (2019) – Painfully Authentic Depiction of Divorce

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I finally caught up with MARRIAGE STORY (2019) the other night, the only 2019 Best Picture nominee that I had not seen before the Oscars aired last week.

I had heard that its depiction of divorce was depressingly realistic, and after finally having seen it,  I have to agree. MARRIAGE STORY gets the emotions right.

MARRIAGE STORY opens with a voice-over by Charlie (Adam Driver) describing all the reasons why he fell in love with his wife Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), and these reasons play out in little vignettes shown on-screen. Then it’s Nicole’s turn as she describes why she fell in love with Charlie, again in a voice-over narration with the accompanying vignettes. It turns out these were written by Charlie and Nicole as part of their mediation process, and when Nicole refuses to read out loud what she wrote, she walks out of the mediation meeting, and thus MARRIAGE STORY begins.

Charlie runs a very successful theater group in New York City, he as the director, and Nicole as the lead actress, but Nicole has always longed to return to Los Angeles where her family lives, but Charlie has never been interested in that idea, which has caused Nicole stress over the years. When Nicole accepts a role in a TV pilot, she moves to LA with their eight year-old son Henry (Azhy Robertston), a move that Charlie believes is temporary.

But once there, Nicole hires divorce attorney Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern) who reminds Nicole that this process is about her getting what she wants and that there is no reason why she has to settle for things she doesn’t want, a la things that Charlie wants. When Charlie arrives in LA, he’s served the divorce papers, and he feels blindsided and betrayed by Nicole as he was under the impression that they were not going to hire lawyers, but Nicole makes it clear that she is unhappy and this is the only way she is going to get what she wants.

Charlie hires a more sensitive attorney Bert Spitz (Alan Alda), but after losing continually to Nora’s hardball tactics, he hires a tougher attorney, Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta) because as he tells Nicole, “I needed my own assh*le.”

As things get uglier and nastier, Nicole and Charlie have to deal with all their emotions even as they realize they don’t really want to hurt each other, in spite of the fact that their marriage is over and their divorce is imminent.

I really liked MARRIAGE STORY, even though watching it was a very uncomfortable experience.  As I said, it gets the emotions right. Through Nicole and Charlie, we witness the pain of watching one’s family and way of life disintegrate before one’s eyes, the frustration of suddenly being adversaries with the very person they’d been in love with, having to keep it together in front of their child, having to deal with their child’s emotions, but as a parent working alone. It makes them say things they simply don’t mean, as the whole ordeal gets inside their heads and changes them, scars them.

All of this is depicted very accurately in MARRIAGE STORY, as well as the sense that even while the divorce is happening, there’s the feeling that Nicole and Charlie don’t really want it to happen. That they love each other and don’t really want to hurt each other, but yet the marriage is over, and so there’s this weird mix of fighting for what you want and need vs. wanting on some level to keep that sense of family together even as the actual family is now separate.

So, kudos to writer/director Noah Baumbach for creating such a genuine portrait of divorce. The screenplay is outstanding.

As is the acting, especially by the two leads. Adam Driver continues to impress me as an actor. Sure, he plays Kylo Ren in the new STAR WARS movies, and he’s very good in the role, but he’s been better in other movies, in films like LOGAN LUCKY (2017) and BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018). His work here in MARRIAGE STORY is best of all.

Driver makes Charlie a self-absorbed character who is totally at home directing for the stage and perfectly content in that world, but it blinds him to the needs of his wife. He enjoys some powerful scenes, especially with Johansson, as their arguments are fiery and agonizing. Driver’s best moment comes when Charlie unleashes upon Nicole wishing her deader than dead, and then he just collapses, overcome with emotion, before apologizing for what he said.

Scarlett Johansson is just as good. As Nicole, she’s the one who seeks the divorce, but she’s also the one who needs the change, as Charlie is so stuck in his own world nothing she has said or done so far had been able to reach him. When she files for divorce, and Charlie tries to reconcile, in her eyes, it’s already too late. She believes if she goes back it’ll be the same, and she wants more for her life.

Johansson was equally as good as another mother Rosie in JOJO RABBIT (2019), which means 2019 was a pretty darn good year for Johansson.

Laura Dern won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role here as divorce attorney Nora Fanshaw. Dern is excellent, no question, although I thought both Florence Pugh in LITTLE WOMEN (2019) and Kathy Bates in RICHARD JEWELL (2019) gave better performances. That’s not to take anything away from Dern, who like Johansson, also enjoyed a stellar 2019. Dern was also in LITTLE WOMEN, as matriarch Marmee March, and she’s excellent in both films. In fact, these two performances are among Dern’s best ever. She’s been making movies for a long time, and so I for one was happy she won the Oscar. And I’m old enough to remember one of her earliest movies, SMOOTH TALK (1985), which I saw at the movies. She impressed me then and has continued to do so ever since.

But the main reason to see MARRIAGE STORY is to watch Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson performing at the top of their game. As good as the script is, MARRIAGE STORY ultimately works because of Driver and Johansson. They nail their roles, and the emotions that go along with them.

MARRIAGE STORY is not a fun movie, but it is an accurate one. Its depiction of divorce is painfully spot-on.

As such, it’s one of the finest dramas of 2019.

—END—

 

 

 

BIRDS OF PREY (2020) – Harley Quinn Stand-alone Film Hardly Soars

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The best part of DC’s flawed SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)  a few years back was Margot Robbie’s performance as Harley Quinn.

In short, she stole that movie, which wasn’t hard to do since the film wasn’t all that good, but that’s not to take anything away from her zany sexy performance as the Joker’s deranged girlfriend.

With BIRDS OF PREY (2020) Harley Quinn gets her own movie, and Margot Robbie gets to strut her stuff once again, this time without having to share screen time with those other Suicide Squad members. Now, I love Robbie’s take on Harley Quinn, but sadly, while BIRDS OF PREY might be slightly better than SUICIDE SQUAD, it’s not by much, and that’s because in spite of Robbie’s antics, the story is sparse, and the writing which is driven by Harley Quinn’s unhinged voice-over narration, just isn’t sharp or funny enough to make this one worthy of the Robbie’s performance.

In BIRDS OF PREY, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) has broken up with the Joker, or as we find out, he has broken up with her, and she’s not taking it all that well. She also finds out that without the Joker’s protection, her enemies declare open season on trying to kill her. One of these enemies is the powerful Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), who at present seems to be running Gotham’s underworld.

Sionis is also after a young pickpocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) who inadvertently swiped a valuable diamond from the pocket of Sionis’ right hand man Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina). To save her skin, Harley Quinn promises to catch Cassandra and bring her and the diamond back to Sionis. But Quinn is not alone in her quest to find Cassandra. Also on her trail are Detective Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) and singer and newly promoted Sionis’ personal driver Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) who’s working with Montoya to try to save Cassandra. Plus Sionis offered a reward for Cassandra’s capture, so there are a plethora of armed and dangerous heavies all competing for the cash prize for bringing Sionis Cassandra’s head on a platter.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s this mysterious crossbow killer Helena Bertinelli aka The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who’s out and about taking down various villains in Gotham.

Eventually, these female warriors all end up together and join forces to protect Cassandra from Sionis’ clutches, calling themselves Birds of Prey.

Which makes BIRDS OF PREY one of those movies that drives me crazy, in that the entire movie seems a set-up for a sequel, which I find frustrating because it wastes the narrative of the present movie. A lot of films do this, and when they do, I always feel cheated.

Of course, I would have minded this less had the script been better. The screenplay by Christina Hodson is admirable for having its badass female characters beat the stuffing out of its badass male characters, although I’m sure this will turn off the same folks who’ve been complaining about other recent Me Too Movement movies featuring strong female leads, films like CHARLIE’S ANGELS (2019) and BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019). I’ve enjoyed these movies, and that’s not the reason I didn’t love BIRDS OF PREY.

The bad girls beat down the bad boys storyline I have no problem with.  It’s the actual plot and the dialogue that I have trouble with. The story is just so-so, and it’s certainly not worthy of the Harley Quinn character. I would have much preferred a plot where she was driving the story, not reacting to Sionis’ threats against her. And the dialogue just isn’t as snappy and edgy as it needs to be.

Margot Robbie is excellent once again as Harley Quinn. That being said, I enjoyed her even more as Sharon Tate in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) and as Tonya Harding in I, TONYA (2017), and her performance here doesn’t quite have the same impact as it did when she first played the role in SUICIDE SQUAD. That’s not to take anything away from her, because she’s a terrific actress, and she’s clearly having fun playing Harley Quinn, but she’s not really given the opportunity to do more with the character here other than get more screen time.

Another notable difference this time around is that director Cathy Yan along with screenwriter Christina Hodson tweaked the character here and made her much less of a sex object. Gone are the scenes from SUICIDE SQUAD where Harley Quinn makes men desire her. In their place are simply scenes where Quinn kicks butt and stands on her own as a person. It’s a noticeable tweak, and not a bad one.

As a fan of Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and I’ve been a fan since her role in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010), I was disappointed that as The Huntress she had very limited screen time. Of all the female leads, Huntress has the least impact, which is too bad, because Winstead is an exceptional actress.

I enjoyed Ella Jay Basco as the teen thief Cassandra Cain, as well as Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary. And while Rosie Perez was fine as Detective Renee Montoya, I thought her scenes with her fellow police officers were some of the most poorly written of the film. The dialogue was cliché and stood out like a sore thumb from the rest of the movie.

Ewan McGregor hams it up as villain Roman Sionis, who likes to have the faces of his enemies removed. Yeah, he’s not a nice guy, and his cruelty is somewhat out-of-place n a film that is largely high camp rather than dark superhero drama. I like McCregor as an actor, although he seems to jump back and forth between hits and misses, as seen with last year’s DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) where he was excellent as adult Danny Torrance, and CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2018) where he was meh as Christopher Robin. Here as Roman Sionis, he’s all over the place, but he succeeds in making the villain someone you simply can’t stand.

One of my favorite performances in the movie belongs to Chris Messina who played Sionis’ right hand man Victor Zsasz. Messina made Zsasz one creepy dude.

Director Cathy Yan keeps all the action and chase scenes as high-octane as they need to be, but there’s nothing overly memorable about any of them when all is said and done.

BIRDS OF PREY is an okay standalone film for Harley Quinn, and supposedly, it’s the first of three Quinn films in a proposed trilogy, but it’s hardly a game changer. In other words, after watching it, I’m not pining for the next film in the series. The script simply wasn’t sharp enough for that to happen. That being said, I’d still be happy to see Margot Robbiie play Harley Quinn again. I’d just hope she’d be in a better movie.

BIRDS OF PREY easily gets off the ground, but once airborne, hardly soars.

—-END—

 

PARASITE (2019) – Gripping Tale of Haves and Have-Nots Comedic One Moment, Horrific The Next

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So-dam Park and Woo-sik Choi in PARASITE (2019).

Usually when a movie can’t be pigeonholed into one genre, the common refrain is that it can’t make up its mind what kind of movie it wants to be.

Not so with PARASITE (2019), a drama that hails from South Korea that is frequently comedic even as it flirts with undertones of a harsh reality, before it explodes into a full-blown horrific nightmare.

PARASITE has been quietly gaining momentum as a dark horse Best Picture contender, and while I certainly really liked this one, I’m not sure it would have made it into my Top Ten list for Best Movies of 2019.

That being said, I still really liked it.

PARASITE is the story of a destitute family, Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), his wife Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang), their 20-something daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park) and college-aged son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi). They are all unemployed and live in a decrepit basement dwelling.

But when Ki-woo’s college friend recommends him to take over his private tutoring position while he studies abroad, Ki-woo suddenly finds himself hired to tutor the high school daughter of a very wealthy family and as a result he’s handsomely paid. He then comes up with a scheme to have his sister impersonate an art therapy tutor to help the family’s youngest son, and once she’s hired, now there are two members of Ki-woo’s family working and getting paid amazingly well.

So, why stop there? The comedic plot thickens as the family schemes to get Ki-taek and Chung-sook hired there as well, and so they all find themselves pretending to be people they are not working for the family led by Dong-ik Park (Sun-kyun Lee) and his wife Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo). And while life is good for a while, as the two families interact, it becomes increasingly clear how much of a divide exists between the likes of Ki-taek’s family and Dong-ik’s, who hold the poor in contempt. And so there is this undercurrent of a painful divide which is there and seemingly on the verge of exploding yet never does.

Until something completely unexpected happens which turns everything that has occurred thus far on its head.

THE PARASITE is a gripping, captivating story that is as entertaining as it is disturbing. You’ll find yourself smiling and laughing along for one moment and then grimacing in horror the next. And the best part is these seemingly opposite emotions really work here, and they work because they are both based on truth. The truth of the matter is in the here and now, we are seeing a greater and greater divide between the haves and the have-nots, and while here the antics of the have-nots to make do can be light and humorous, when push comes to shove, and the realization hits that the have-nots are never going to be the haves, the pleasant comedic balance ends. Things get dark real fast.

THE PARASITE was written and directed by Bong Joon Ho, who has made a couple of other highly regarded movies, films like SNOWPIERCER (2013) and THE HOST (2006). The script captures the class differences perfectly, as does the camera, as we see entirely different worlds, the elegant and opulent home of Dong-ik and the shanty poverty-stricken dwelling of Ki-taek, which when there is a flood, not only has to contend with the flood waters, but all the back-up sewage water which erupts through their plumbing.

The cast is excellent, especially Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang, Woo-sik Choi, and So-dam Park as the four members of the Kim family.

The best part of THE PARASITE is that it mixes its emotions perfectly, and while at times it can be jarring to go from light laughter to brutal horror, in terms of the story it’s telling, it makes perfect sense and it works.

Sadly, the divisions between classes continues to grow. The rich seem to grow richer while the poor grow poorer.

The emotions in THE PARASITE capture and reflect this sad reality. In short, in these present conditions, you can only laugh for so long. Eventually you’ll be crying.

—-END—

 

THE TURNING (2020) – Atmospheric Ghost Story Ruined By Quick Ending

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Finn Wolfhard, Brooklyn Prince, and Mackenzie Davis in THE TURNING (2020)

What a shame.

For most of its 94 minute running time, THE TURNING (2020) is an atmospheric and somewhat compelling horror movie, forever on the cusp of breaking into a full-fledged ghost story, but this doesn’t happen, because the movie is done in by a terribly abrupt ending that occurs so quickly if you look down to grab that last kernel of popcorn you’ll miss it. And when you look back up you’ll be watching the end credits.

THE TURNING is based on Henry James’ novel The Turn of the Screw and it tells a modernized version of the story. Sort of. The events in the movie take place in 1994, though I’m not sure why. The movie doesn’t explain the significance of the film taking place in the 1990s, other than it removes cell phones from the equation which would have allowed the main character to feel less isolated, perhaps.

Anyway, the story in THE TURNING follows young school teacher Kate Mandell (Mackenzie Davis) who accepts a position as a nanny/governess/tutor for a young girl Flora (Brooklyn Prince) who recently lost her parents. Flora lives in a huge mansion in Maine along with her older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard) and their lifelong family servant Mrs. Grose (Barbara Marten).

While Flora warms up to Kate immediately, the same can’t be said for Mrs. Grose or Miles. Mrs. Grose constantly reminds Kate that the children have been born into privilege, and she continually scuttles Kate’s attempts to make the children more responsible. Miles has been expelled from his boarding school for physically attacking another student, and so Kate eyes him with suspicion, which only grows when he makes weird, aggressive and threatening remarks to her, and when she finds him in her bedroom watching her sleep.

As things grow more uncomfortable, and Kate finds herself feeling more threatened and less in control, the element of the supernatural comes in when she begins to receive messages from what she perceives to be the ghost of the previous nanny. Furthermore, there is another more belligerent spirit on the premises, one that is actively interested in doing her harm.

What’s a nanny to do? How about this: get out of the house!!!

Nah. That would make too much sense.

There’s also another part of the story that is terribly underplayed. Kate’s mother seems to be suffering from some sort of mental illness, which is never clearly defined, and there are hints that it’s possible that Kate suffers from the same malady, which would add the element to the plot of whether the supernatural occurrences were all in her head. And the way this movie ends, the implication seems to be that this is what the filmmakers were going for. However, it’s not developed at all, and so this part of the story, while having some potential, doesn’t really come to fruition.

Neither does the movie as a whole.

Director Floria Sigismondi takes full advantage of both the creepy interior of the mansion and the haunting exterior of the surrounding gardens on the estate. In terms of atmosphere, THE TURNING has plenty of it, and for the most part, this is what kept me into the film. It looks good and there’s an unsettling feeling which permeates most of the narrative.

THE TURNING also features effective acting performances by its three leads. I really enjoyed Mackenzie Davis as new nanny Kate Mandell. She’s a strong young woman, but both Miles and the supernatural occurrences get inside her head to the point where she’s slowly tortured and really begins to doubt herself. Davis successfully captures the journey the character takes down the road of darkness. Davis has enjoyed a slew of prominent roles recently, in films like TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (2019), TULLY (2018) and BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017). I’ve enjoyed her in all these movies, and here in THE TURNING she’s playing a much more vulnerable character than she’s played previously.

Young Brooklyn Prince who was so memorable in THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017) is equally as good here as Flora.

But the performance of the movie for me belongs to Finn Wolfhard from STRANGER THINGS fame. As Miles, Wolfhard delivers an unsettling performance which gets under the audience’s skin just as he gets under Kate’s. And it’s understated. It’s not full-fledged teen creepy by any means. He goes back and forth between sinister and innocent, between “I’m going to attack you in your sleep” to “I’m really trying to deal with my own personal demons.” Wolfhard was also very good in the two recent IT movies, but I enjoyed him even more here.

So, even though this one is getting deplorable reviews, for me, with the atmosphere and the acting performances, I was enjoying it. It was holding my interest for nearly two thirds of the way in, and even as it built to a climax, it still was better than critics were giving it credit for, but alas, it’s all for naught, because the ending is a disaster.

Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes wrote the screenplay, and these are the same folks who wrote THE CONJURING (2013) one of the better horror movies of the past ten years. Here, they do a good job telling the main story of the dynamic between Kate and the children, but stumble once the supernatural elements enter the tale. And that’s because it’s around this time that I started wondering if this was real or inside Kate’s head? And the film doesn’t address this.

And the ending only adds to the confusion, because it definitely implies a connection between what was happening and Kate’s mother’s condition. But it does it in such a quick abrupt way that it doesn’t work.

It’s so quick it feels as if the filmmakers just ran out of money and forgot to add the last scene. It’s one of the weakest endings I’ve seen to a movie in a long time, which is too bad, because what came before it, wasn’t as bad as some folks are saying.

That being said, taken as a whole, I can’t really recommend THE TURNING. In spite of the promise it holds throughout, it just doesn’t— turn out that well.

—END—

 

 

 

Picture of the Day: Winter Monsters – HORROR EXPRESS (1972)

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The alien creature early on in HORROR EXPRESS (1972), one of Peter Cushing’s and Christopher Lee’s finest horror movies.

One of my favorite Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing movies is HORROR EXPRESS (1972), a Spanish/British production by director Eugenio Martin.

This horror tale about an alien creature loose on the wintry Trans Siberian Express in 1906 is one of the best movies Cushing and Lee ever made together, and one of the few where they play co-heroes, working together on the train to save the passengers from the murderous alien.

It also features Telly Savalas as a ruthless Russian Captain who shows up at the end with his Russian soldiers to torment both the passengers and the monster. It’s a wild ride, and the fact that it’s not a Hammer Film, and hence plays out like a Spanish horror movie, is all the more refreshing.

Besides Cushing and Lee, the other memorable part of this movie is the alien creature. At first, it shows up inside a monstrously-looking fossil of a possible missing link, in the photo above, and later it enters the bodies of various passengers on the train. But early on, the look of the monster is really cool, and has always been one of my favorite parts of this movie.

And pardon me for indulging in this fantasy, but although this film takes place in 1906, it was filmed in 1972 and retains a 1970s style of filmmaking, complete with zoom shots and a funky soundtrack. So, there’s just something about this one which has always made me imagine Darren McGavin’s Carl Kolchak as a passenger on this train doing his Night Stalker best to help solve the mystery. Kolchak would have been right at home on the HORROR EXPRESS.

Looking for a cool monster to watch this winter? Look no further than the creature in HORROR EXPRESS (1972), one of Peter Cushing’s and Christopher Lee’s best horror movies.

—END—

 

 

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

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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.

—END—

 

Horror Movies 2019

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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.

black christmas

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!

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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