Cynical and gratuitously perverted view of super hero concept, following The Boys – a human led group, bent on vengeance against the evil enhanced and the corporation which produces, protects, promotes, and profits from them.
WHO SHOULD WATCH
Not fit for human consumption – nor for non-humans neither.
The idea of humans seeking to uncover corrupt behavior of enhanced people is an interesting one. After all: “Power corrupts and absolute power — ”
The possibility of a rogue super hero is not a new one. The comics have explored this, especially concerning the almost invincible Superman in stories about everything from alternate universes to the random effects of red Kryptonite. And in the Justice League comics Batman carries green Kryptonite in his utility belt — just in case. And that’s not even bringing up the extremely disturbing Brightburn.
But The Boys takes it too far. Whereas Superman’s darker side manifestations are aberrations, in The Boys the incidents of drug abuse, sexual depravity, disregard for non-enhanced human life, murder and rape are par for the course with The Seven, a corporate sponsored set of “supes” whose public persona is a thin veil over people whose abuse of powers are quite literally – nauseating. From group orgies to the unrepentent liquification of a human when run through by a variation on The Flash, these are nobodies idea of heroes.
The Boys is an underground organization of humans, occasionally helped by a few supes with a modicum of conscience, who seek to expose and end both the supes and Vought International, a corporation which not only promotes and profits from these scum in supes’ clothing, but may have created the supes with a drug called Compound V.
There are no good guys in The Boys. No one and nothing to cheer for and no moral center.
Karl Urban (Lord of the Rings) chews a lot of scenery as Billy Butcher, the ringleader of The Boys with a personal ax to grind against the supes. He is aided by Hughie Campbell (Jack Quaid – son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan) bent on revenge for the death of his fiancee by A Train. Elisabeth Shue (the second Jennifer in the Back to the Future trilogy) plays Madelyn Stillwell, the scheming corporate PR/VP at Vought. The supes are played by actors with unnotable resumes including soap operas and bit parts. The resulting ensemble performances are nothing to write home about.
The most love the creators gave this misbegotten insult to the genre is the special effects rendered for the gore and powered perversion.
Anyone can write to play down to the lowest level of human impulses. But it takes thought and decent writing to craft a story which strives to teach lessons which ennoble the human spirit and encourage our better angels. This was the original intent of the creation of characters like Superman – to be the embodiment of our better natures and examples for, well, Truth, Justice and The American Way.
The Boys is just the next acid bead in the continuing drip drip of denigration oozing out of the anti-culturalists, those who would sneer at American traditions, including patriotism, religious affiliation, respect for the marital union and even the dignity of innocent unborn life.
And it’s not even good quality. Give The Boys a — super — wide berth.
AUDIO OPTION OF MY TOP 10 EASTER MOVIES NOT USUALLY ON ANYONE ELSE’S LIST
There are a number of traditional Easter movies we turn to every year – and rightly so.
The Passion of the Christ is at the top of that list. Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel, this 2004 movie is based upon the Gospels as well as the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of Our Savior’s walk to Calvary. The Passion is a difficult watch and not one I would recommend for children or even some adults. Accurate in its intensity, there can be no mistake of the suffering and degradation Our Lord went through as expiation for our sins. And because of that alone it is often difficult for anyone to watch, let alone believers who understand that even now, outside of time, our sins make us complicit in putting Jesus on the Cross.
If you CAN watch this remarkable film I strongly encourage you to do so. If not this year, then at some time in your life. It should be on most people’s bucket list.
There are other films, though, which help convey this message. The Greatest Story Ever Told is a beautiful but far more sanitized version of the life of Jesus. Covering His birth to His Resurrection, this old classic stars Max von Sydow and features an array of actors who would be familiar to anyone fond of old World War II or epic costume dramas of the 1950’s and 1960’s: Telly Savalas, David McCallum, Donald Pleasance, Claude Rains, Jose Ferrer, Martin Landau, Charlton Heston, and Roddy MacDowell, among others
1959’s Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston, is an inspiring gem of a film, about two life shattering encounter-moments with Christ that re-inform the life of an unjustly punished man.
These, as well as many other traditional films, are magnificent and should be seen multiple times.
But I wanted to suggest a broader field of vision this year. I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to consider films which are either lesser known or whose Christ-like self-sacrificing moments are under appreciated.
Many movies today lionize the idea of revenge, following the motto of Bruce Willis’ John McClane, from Live Free or Die Hard. When asked what his plan was to save his daughter, McClane quips: “Find Lucy. Kill everybody else.” The cinemas are rife with vengeance porn bloodbaths: The John Wick franchise, the Taken series, the Kill Bills, Peppermint, Death Wish, True Grit…
And I’m not saying all these movies are bad. Some are classics. And some, like Dark Knight, make it clear that the desire for revenge can corrupt and destroy you. Nor am I absolving myself from admitting to be a fan of these often cathartic films.
But – there is something inherently and far more satisfying, not to mention noble and Christ-like, in stories wherein one character sacrifices himself to save a stranger or even an enemy. So here is my list of 10 movies – some of which may surprise you – which include self-sacrifice on behalf of a stranger or enemy.
BEYOND HERE BE SPOILERS
While there are dozens of others I could have included on the following list, here is my top 10 (plus) from least to most notable of my personal favorite:
MOVIES DEMONSTRATING UNEXPECTED EXAMPLES OF CHRIST-LIKE SACRIFICE
SERIOUSLY – SPOILERS BELOW – AS IN – I GIVE AWAY ENDINGS AND/OR KEY PLOT POINTS TO A BUNCH OF MOVIES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!
10. Starting with an example for my fellow nerds – Avengers: Age of Ultron is about super heroes combating an evil super A.I. During the course of the movie, two characters who had been antagonists to our good guys, Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) switch sides. During the course of one of the battles against Ultron’s AI bots, Quicksilver throws himself, as a shield, in front of Hawkeye, one of his former opponents, who is, in turn, shielding a child with his body. Quicksilver takes the brunt of the bullets and dies. Greater love hath no man…
9. In Armageddon, Bruce Willis, instead of killing everybody else, chooses to die in the place of his daughter’s fiancé, a man with whom he has had a love-hate relationship throughout the movie, in order to save the world.
8. X-Men: Days of Future Past, casts Magneto (Ian McKellen) as our unexpected hero. Magneto, who has been at lethal odds with Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and company throughout the course of three previous movies (four if you count The Wolverine) places himself between an overwhelming force of deadly mutant-hunting robots and his life long friend/nemesis Charles Xavier.
7. Dramatically moving is the moment in 1982’s Blade Runner wherein Harrison Ford’s Deckard has a final confrontation with Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty. Batty is an android who Deckard has been chasing throughout most of the movie. By showdown time Deckard has killed most of Batty’s friends and pursued the android to a rooftop where Batty gets the literal upper hand over the bounty hunter. Batty grabs Deckard just as Deckard loses his grip on a slick rain soaked pipe from which he would have plummeted to his death. But instead of gloating over his pursuer’s brutal demise, Batty lifts Deckard, his tormentor and would be executioner, in an act of mercy, to safety minutes before his own time is up and his predetermined android life span ends.
6. A little known movie worth the watch in this theme is Baby Boom. Baby Boom stars Diane Keaton, a darling of the late 1970’s through early 1990’s cinema, (most particularly from Annie Hall, the Godfather saga and the Father of the Bride movies). Keaton plays JP Wiatt, a wealthy and successful advertising executive who inherits a young toddler from a deceased cousin. The key turning point in the movie comes early when JP has the opportunity to “dump” this child on a willing foster family. But, knowing in her heart of hearts what she will ultimately have to give up, she just can’t bring herself to do it and turns her life upside down, inside out and leaves everything she values behind, in order to start over as a mother. With a supporting cast of Harold Ramis (actor in Ghostbusters, director/writer of Groundhog Day), James Spader (Ultron as well as “Red” Reddington from Blacklist), Sam Shepard (actor in The Right Stuff and prolific stage and screenplay writer), it is a shame this charming and warm hearted movie did not get more positive attention.
5. The end of the 1935 version of Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities sees Ronald Coleman’s dissipate Sydney Carlton dying on the guillotine for another man’s happy ending: “Tis a far far better thing that I do than I have ever done …” He takes the place of the noble Darnay, the husband of the woman, Lucie, he loves but who Carlton knows does not love him. Carlton subjects himself to a shameful and terrifying death for the love of someone he could have claimed but was not truly his.
4. Rain Man a brilliantly acted and beautifully quiet film, stars American cinematic icon and chameleon Dustin Hoffman and the ever ebullient and watchable Tom Cruise. Cruise plays Charlie, a selfish and cynically manipulative man. When Charlie’s father dies, Charlie takes custody of his autistic brother, Raymond, solely to get access to the three million dollars left to Raymond’s trust fund. But during the course of a cross country trek Charlie develops a genuine and completely altruistic love for this man, even knowing Raymond will never be capable of returning or even acknowledging the bond.
3. Molokai: The Story of Father Damien stars David Wenham (Lord of the Rings). The movie is based on the true story of Father Damien who feels inexorably pulled to offer up the prime of his life to a leper colony, knowing he will eventually catch and succumb to the disease that ravages the inhabitants. Also starring Peter O’Toole (Lord Jim, Lion in Winter among a plethora of famous performances), Derek Jacobi (the great Shakespearean actor who has worked with Kenneth Branagh on many films from Hamlet to Murder on the Orient Express), Kris Kristofferson (country singer turned actor), Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact), and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) this film is a moving portrait of a truly Christ-like example of loving another as oneself. This one could be watched by mid-teens and up with parental supervision.
2. After The Passion, the most difficult to watch is Calvary, a story about Father James, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, a flawed man but good priest, who spends his life in caring for a difficult flock, and takes upon himself the punishment for another man’s sins. With a supporting cast which includes Gleeson’s son Domhnall, the usually jaunty Chris O’Dowd who takes on a very different role this time, and the familiar face of M. Emmett Walsh, this is a movie that you will not easily forget. Language, violence, and extreme topics of serial killers, arson, murder and child sex abuse make this one movie STRICTLY for adults, and only those who are well formed in their faith, as well as with a sturdy emotional constitution.
Before revealing my number one pic, I can not neglect a favorite moment from the Cumberbatch/Freeman Sherlock films. (Yes, I know they are technically TV shows, but at 90 minutes each and with a quality of acting and writing that outshines the vast majority of what hits the big screen, these qualify as movies.) In The Final Problem Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), Watson (Martin Freeman) and Mycroft (Sherlock’s estranged brother, played by Mark Gatiss) are trapped by a psychopath into a sadistic game where Holmes must choose to kill either his best and arguably only friend, Watson, or his brother. Mycroft then proceeds to explain very coldly and succinctly why Sherlock should kill Watson, putting forth a rather compelling argument why Watson is the weak link in their predicament. But it is a ruse. Mycroft knows that Sherlock would eventually be able to forgive himself for killing his own brother but it would destroy him to kill Watson. So Mycroft attempts reverse psychology to goad Sherlock into sparing Watson, effectively offering himself up in Watson’s place. Sherlock understands Mycroft is trying to make this sacrifice so INSTEAD Sherlock, in an act to save BOTH Watson and Mycroft chooses…to shoot himself. (What happens next I’ll leave to you to watch and find out. But you MUST see this stunningly creative, intelligent, witty and masterfully acted show in order of production.)
1. Saving the best for last is the original Gene Wilder led 1971 Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. This quirky and whimsical musical features Wilder as the eponymous and very eccentric sweets inventor Wonka, who leads a group of ticket-winning children through his mysterious Oompa Loompa-run candy factory.
At the start of the tour all are given an “Everlasting Gobstopper” and cautioned to give it to no one else as the recipe is coveted. All but one have been co-opted into stealing secrets from Wonka by a competitor.
Charlie (Jack Ostrum) is a gentle and honorable child who only wishes to obtain the life time chocolate supply, promised as part of the prize, for his desperately poor family. The rest of the group are indulged, selfish, and one by one fall away from the group as they succumb to their particular vices – gluttony, pride, avarice, and obsession with TV. Charlie and his Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson), are guilty of having snuck a sip of Fizzy Lifting Drink, an infraction for which they are almost immediately repentant and, as they are allowed to continue with the tour, we assume is a minor piccadillo.
However, at the end of the day, Wonka, who up to now had been especially kind to Charlie, turns nasty and informs them that they, too, have forfeited the prize chocolate, then abruptly and rudely dismissed them. A livid Grandpa Joe tells Wonka off then pulls Charlie aside and advises him to sell the souvenir Gobstopper to Slugworth, the corporate spy.
Instead, believing Wonka unaware of the competition’s espionage attempts, Charlie meekly places the candy on Wonka’s desk, thereby protecting Wonka’s secret but foregoing the promised fortune he could have obtained from Slugworth. Charlie sacrifices his future to save someone who has betrayed and deeply hurt him.
Wonka then quietly says one of the most touching lines in cinematic history: “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” It had all been a test to judge Charlie’s mettle as, and after apologizing to Charlie and Grandpa Joe, a positively effervescent Wonka reveals to Charlie the real prize was the entire factory. Charlie is to be Wonka’s heir.
The Christian imagery is unmistakable and no doubt the reason for this telling’s decades old endurance as a family favorite: Wonka allows all the children to be tempted. In a perspicuous, albeit child-like and abbreviated tracking of Pilgrim’s Progress, most fall away, but not Charlie. Charlie turns down a lifetime of worldly goods to save his betrayer, an offering which results in Charlie being taken up as an heir to the confectionary paradise and ends with a literal rise to the Heavens in a floating elevator.
Unlike the other films mentioned here, this one is accessible to children as well as entertaining for adults.
So there you have my Easter gift of what I hope is a new perspective on films which offer unusual gateways into the examples offered by Jesus of forgiveness, mercy, and love.
By acceptance of His own horrific death for the expiation of our sins, Jesus gave us the template to follow in our own infinitely smaller ways. These movies, famous and obscure, old and recent, from a variety of genres, I think, demonstrate some of the many many movies which bear witness to the many many ways we can find opportunity to die to ourselves for the sake of another. And I hope you find LOTS more.
Love charitably those around you and have a Blessed, Christ-like, Happy … and self-giving … Easter.
Classic dark comedy of a destitute playboy who plans to marry wealthy and then…murder.
WHO SHOULD WATCH:
While there is little profanity and no sex, the topics of living desolutely and planning homicide are somewhat unseemly for children, though, with parental discretion, perhaps younger teens.
I would venture to say that none of you have ever heard of the movie A New Leaf. Penned, directed and starring Elaine May, co-starring the iconic Walter Matthau, this is a small budget film made in 1971 based upon the short story, The Green Heart, by Jack Ritchie. The protagonist, Henry Graham, (Matthau) is a self-absorbed, self-indulgent aristocratic heir who runs through his family fortune until, in his late thirties, finds himself without friends or fortune. There is only one person in the world who cares anything about him, Harold (the delightful singer and Shakespearean theatrical actor, George Rose), Henry’s valet, who sums up the basis for his loyalty to Henry in this one speech: “How many men these days require the services of a gentleman’s gentleman? How many men have your devotion to form, sir? You have managed, in your own lifetime Mr. Graham, to keep alive traditions that were dead before you were born.”
Of course, Harold tempers this with the warning that if Mr. Graham continues to be poor, he immediately tenders his two week notice.
Henry quickly realizes that, for him, there are only two options: suicide…………….or marrying rich. With Harold’s aide Henry embarks on a quest to find a rich widow or single heiress who would be tolerable to his refined tastes and isolated ways. He soon discovers that while there are MANY candidates, he can’t stand any of them…until he finds the least suitable one of all. An extremely wealthy but ugliest of ugly ducklings, Henrietta Lowell (Elaine May – also the author and director of this brilliant story) is shy, socially awkward, clumsy, naive, and gullible. She is everything Henry would NOT want in a mate… aside from the money. However, it suddenly occurs to him, she would be quite easy to —— murder.
So begins the courtship and honey-murder, I mean —moon of one of the most charming little comedies I have ever seen. It is ultimately a film about the power of love, redemption and poetic justice, but told in the singularly most UN-conventional and UN-sentimental way I have ever seen demonstrated.
I REALLY am not going to spoil this one for you. You can now find it on Amazon HERE.
I recommend this movie as one of my all time favorites. As I mentioned before, A New Leaf COULD be appropriate, with parental supervision, for young teens, and worth the trouble given the moral and theme of the story. Henry is quite chaste. There is very little profanity and no sex. Henry’s SOLE vice is avarice. The only questionable moment is when one socialite attempts to seduce him and Henry, in a breathtaking moment of humor, literally runs screaming from her.
Walter Matthau is at his finest in a brilliant example of miscasting gone right. Aside from Hello Dolly, I can’t think of a less appropriate vehicle for Matthau. But – as in Hello Dolly – he is such an amazing actor that he pulls off the deliciously arrogant and thoroughly self-centered Henry while making him – somehow – adorable.
Elaine May is perfectly terrific as the totally INcapable Henrietta Lowell. Vulnerable, dependent, socially oblivious and educated to the point of being a blithering idiot in everything except her one field of interest – botony – May creates a child-like character who is both endearing and extremely annoying at the same time. You come to understand why Henry would consider killing her yet dread her disappearance.
May is probably not very familiar. She made her biggest mark with Mike Nichols as half of an improvisational comedy duo and did a good deal of stage work. She was in only about a dozen films, including a teensy part in The Graduate, wrote only 10 screenplays and despite her obvious talent directed only four movies, probably because of her tendency to go way over budget. As an aside, one of her directorial efforts was Ishtar, the biggest and most expensive flop in history at that time.
But she did manage to produce this beautiful blossom of a movie. And that, alone, should be enough to decide on… A New Leaf.
NOTE: This is a re-release of a post from 2015. Since then I have added photos and the movie has become available on streaming services.
Joaquin Phoenix’ mesmerizing and brilliant performance as Joker is wasted in the nihilistic plot of this realism grounded, extremely disturbing, origin story.
WHO SHOULD GO:
ABSOLUTELY ADULTS ONLY. This is not Caeser Romero. Heck this isn’t even Heath Ledger. Extreme violence, profane language, discussions of child abuse and neglect, demonstrations of mental illness all make for a showing difficult for most adults to see much less children.
Under tour-de-force in the dictionary you should find a picture of Joaquin Phoenix in costume as Joker/Arthur Fleck from the movie of the same name. His performance in and as Joker should go down in cinematic history as a watershed accomplishment in the creation of an onscreen character.
The story in Joker is of a man’s descent into madness, and for Arthur Fleck, while the trip isn’t very long, it is shown in slow motion.
Todd Phillips, writer/director, takes a stab at what could be described as a documentary about the real story behind Joker, from which all of the cartoons and comic books were based, told in an observational style, as though Jane Goodall had hidden cameras on Arthur Fleck instead of gorillas.
Without giving too much away, Arthur is not born but created, as he suffers mentally, emotionally and physically at the hands of a mental health system which fails him, the people who should have protected him, and a violent uncaring culture which takes advantage of his initial simple view of life.
One of the main characters in Joker is invisible – the soundtrack. The music accompanying Joker is incredible, following Arthur like an unseen ghost, drawing in his madness and breathing it out again for others to hear. Hildur Guonadottir, an Icelandic composer, weaves a web of truly haunting cello music which, at turns, lulls and aggressively pursues the listener, echoing Arthur’s multi-faceted insanity: his depressed, hopeless state of mind, his hallucinatory flights of fancy, as well as his manic episodes of single-minded determination.
The cinematography visualized by Lawrence Sher is masterful. From the grim hues and motifs of rain and shadow, to the camera work which uses techniques such as the “dolly zoom” aka the “Vertigo Effect” where the camera pulls back and zooms forward at the same time – all work together to allow a bleak and twisted perspective into Arthur’s broken mind.
But, most tragic, all this wealth of creativity and talent is ultimately wasted.
While Joker, as I mentioned, can arguably be considered the origin story from which all the other legends and mythology of the D.C. Joker emerge, especially the cartoons, the comics, and Jack Nicholson’s rendition, the viewing of the movie is a long travail of suffering with very little purpose. In films like Les Misérables, for example, the suffering of Fantine and Jean Val Jean is altruistic and ultimately redemptive, teaching humility and mercy to the characters and vicariously to the audience. In Man of La Mancha, the prostitute, Aldonza, is shown literally and figuratively in the ditch in which she self describes as having been born, in order to illuminate how far Don Quixote’s kindness brings her when she reforms. Even silly fare like disaster movies serve as a mechanism for the characters to show courage and self-sacrifice.
In The Dark Knight,Bruce’s losses mold and inspire him into becoming a self-appointed defender of the weak and innocent. And there are Judeo-Christian motifs in the Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne dies to himself everyday, denying his own comfort and pleasures, instead taking on the sins of others, all the while pitted against the remorseless demonic figure of Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Even farces such as Mad Mad Mad Mad World, which feature the ne’erdowell indulgence of greedy impulses by groups of people succumbing to temptations, serve as lessons in horrible warnings against sinking into the mire of one’s baser instincts. The Mad Mad ensemble put themselves through brutal punishments and ultimately go to jail – all while making us LAUGH.
But there is nothing absolutive in Joker, nor are there any hints of a reckoning to come. And there is no proportionate justice for the wicked, especially not for Arthur, no purpose to anyone’s suffering and no humor. Joker is unrelentingly grim, unendingly dark, and grindingly depressing. In the end, the audience is left only with the familiar figure of a boy standing over the dead bodies of his parents and the dancing of Arthur in his Joker costume amidst the rampaging rioters in a burning Gotham.
Joker does serve as a demonstration in favor of institutionalizing the mentally disturbed as opposed to releasing into the “wild” those incapable of functioning in society.
It also serves as a horrible warning against the efficacy of vigilante justice as Arthur quickly moves from killing in self defense, to murder in order to cover his actions, to vengeance against those he believes have harmed him, to serving as judge, jury and executioner against those he deems as “awful”.
But there is nothing redemptive, or self-sacrificing about Joker’s actions. There is no moral base from which Arthur even attempts to rationalize his behavior. There is nothing to learn from the pain which Arthur endures or inflicts.
Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2) is his exhausted single-mother neighbor Sophie, Brett Cullen (Dark Knight Rises) plays Thomas Wayne, Douglas Hodge makes a singular impression as Alfred Pennyworth, one of the only characters in the movie whose focus is not on themselves, as his primary concern is to protect Bruce, and Dante Pereira-Olson plays young Bruce.
Robert De Niro has a small role, as talk show host Murray Franklin. DeNiro’s presence is delicious irony. De Niro has played both a character as equally as unhinged as Arthur inTaxi Driver and as demented a fan who faces off against an idealized talk show host in the lesser known King of Comedy. DeNiro’s resume is incredible, featuring a list of movies with enough quality and variety to have secured the careers of a dozen actors: the casual, criminal violence in the characters of The Godfather II, The Irishman, and Cape Fear, the flawed heroes struggling in the dark worlds of Midnight Run, Deer Hunter and Taxi Driver, the boxer in Raging Bull, the captain of a fantasy ship in the light farce Stardust, the aging lead in the romantic comedy The Intern, the slaver turned priest in The Mission, the grim and frightening Al Capone in The Untouchables, the moving victim of catatonia in Awakenings. De Niro is impossible to pin down. Admittedly, it is a testament to the quality to which the filmmakers were aiming in Joker, that the legendary De Niro, himself a master at his craft, would agree to participate.
Unfortunately, the abundance of talent in Joker does not resolve the ultimate meaninglessness of the plot. The audience, much like Arthur, suffers pointlessly in following Arthur’s moral and mental descent.
While Joaquin Phoenix’ performance is mesmerizing and probably should serve in every acting class as a “how to create a character on screen” and while the director and the music serve, with masterful art, to bring us into Arthur’s state of mind and point of view, the journey ultimately has no end, no goal, and no exit strategy from the depths into which Arthur is thrown or the hole he continues to dig at the bottom of his well.
As of the writing of this article Joker is the highest grossing R-rated movie ever made. And it is disturbing to consider that such a pointlessly violent and unrepentantly dark film should attract so much attention.
If you are a student of acting, Joker is worth enduring for Phoenix’ performance. But for those just seeking entertainment or an extension to the D.C. world of Batman and Joker, give this one a miss and re-watch 2008’s The Dark Knight.
Clever, witty, well acted, anti-mystery which will keep you guessing to the end.
WHO SHOULD GO:
Mid-teens and up for: profane and blasphemous language, unscrupulous behavior, and some violence and a few disturbing images.
First off I have to be careful what I say. I don’t want to spoil any of this cleverly written murder anti-mystery.
If you are familiar with the old Columbo TV series you’ll know what I mean by anti-mystery. The anti-mystery is a plot format whereby the “mystery” is revealed in the first act. You know what is done, how and by whom, and in the classic charming Peter Falk vehicle the fun is in watching Detective Columbo as he “bumbles” around waiting for the killer to underestimate the savvy investigator and let his guard down.
Knives Out is similarly structured. Act I of Knives Out reveals a great deal in the first 20 minutes, leaving the consequences for the remainder of the movie. But despite starting at the “end” the plot is so clever that there were still a lot of legitimate surprises in store – none from left field and all earned.
The title is a “sharp”-witted, double edged – uh – sword, referring not just to murder weapons but the emotional knee jerk reactions of the family members to each other not just as events unfold but in their “normal” every day relationships to each other.
A truly star studded film written and directed by Rian Johnson, Knives Out will keep you guessing.
Daniel Craig definitely missed his calling. He made his name as James Bond beginning with Casino Royale in 2006, but his flare is for more humorous characters. His southern private detective, Benoit Blanc, is not a caricature but amusing in his juxtaposition amongst the New England snobby crazy rich Thrombey family. His timing is precise and his occasional quirks executed with style but without being distracting.Christopher Plummer is a veteran actor of both theatre and film whose career spans 6 decades – including such varied stories as The Sound of Music, The Man Who Would be King, Oedipus the King, 12 Monkeys, Waterloo, A Beautiful Mind, Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, The Man Who Invented Christmas and made recent cinematic news by stepping up to replace Kevin Spacey in All The Money in the World when Spacey was excised in shame from the cast of that movie. Plummer has portrayed Kipling, Oedipus, Scrooge, Sherlock Holmes, a Klingon general, Santa Claus, Julius Caesar, Tolstoy, John Barrymore, King Herod and J. Paul Getty. Here, in Knives Out, Plummer portrays patriarch Harlan Thrombey. Wealthy, successful murder mystery (what else) novelist, he is found with his throat slit on the day after his 85th birthday party. (FYI Plummer was actually 88 during filming.) Suicide or murder? Police Detectives Elliott and Wagner (LaKeith Stanfield from Get Out and Noah Segan from Looper) work with Blanc to find out.
In life Harlan had been saddled with a crew of weak and dependent relatives. Chris Evans, in an obvious distancing from his Captain America persona, is Ransom, the obnoxious entitled grandson. (Halloween Scream Queen) Jamie Lee Curtis is cold and stiff Linda, Harlan’s eldest. Don Johnson (Miami Vice – the original, who made the five o’clock shadow a facial fashion statement) is Richard her socially clueless husband. Michael Shannon (12 Strong – SEE MY REVIEW HERE) is Walt, Harlan’s son and publishing employee who has otherwise never held a job in his life. Riki Lindhome (The Big Bang Theory) is Walt’s hanger-on wife. Toni Collette (Sixth Sense, and lots of other horror movies specializing in emotionally very unhealthy families) is aged hippie Joni, Harlan’s widowed daughter-in-law. Katherine Langford plays dependent, professional college student Meg, Harlan’s granddaughter. Jaeden Martell (It and St. Vincent) is Jacob, Harlan’s reclusive internet-addicted grandson. All are a bit like zoo animals, both confined and supported by a keeper until they can not function in the outside world.
Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049 and the upcoming Bond movie with Daniels, No Time to Die, in 2020) plays Marta, Harlan’s private nurse, through whose eyes much of the action is witnessed and whose very peculiar behavioral McGuffin provides a helpful plot anchor.
The cinematography by Steve Hedlin (San Andreas and Looper) takes advantage of cloudy days and dark passages to enhance the mood and theme of confusion – to make you doubt what you think you might know. He also does not shy from taking harsh advantage of close shots that put characters in “lights” most reflective of their personalities.
The theme music by Nathan Johnson is a very classy dissonant original string quartet and the rest of the soundtrack has the familiar richness of a symphonic poem.
The acting is wonderful: part caricature Clue characters part Agatha Christie – a fine ensemble group of players who walk that fine line effortlessly between realistic portrayals of dysfunctional people and outright hamminess. These are people you love to truly dislike but can’t wait to see what they do next. And Knives Out will keep you guessing to the tip end.
Mostly family friendly spoof on murder mysteries, based on the board game of the same name and translated from the eponymous movie, Clue, playing at ACTS Theatre for the next three weekends – October 11 – October 27, 2019 – get your tickets HERE.
WHO SHOULD GO:
Everyone. Aside from a little bit of mild profanity and some very light jabs at religion and alternative lifestyles, this is a family friendly show. There’s no sexual activity, no real violence and the murders are part of the buffoonery and played for healthy laughs. Older people will get the jokes and kids will enjoy the slapstick.
In 1945 Anthony Pratt invented a family past time based upon the idea of a murder mystery. He called it Cluedo but we all know it as Clue. In the 1980’s John Landis (director of Trading Places, Oscar and National Lampoon’s Animal House) became possessed with the idea of making Clue into a film. Despite being star studded and wielding a $15 million budget it flopped hard at the box office but has since become a cult sensation boasting of: a novelization, its own fan club, Youtubes coming to its defense, an off-Broadway musical, a campaign to remake it with Ryan Reynolds in the lead, and a live theatrical version.
Landis’ Clue was the first of its kind, a movie made from a board game. It starred some of the most talented comedians of the time: Tim Curry, (who lists this along with Muppet Treasure Island as two of his own favorite movies in which he was cast), Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein) whose now classic dry description of how much she hated one of the other characters “flames on the side of my face” left fellow cast mates struggling to maintain their professional composure during the scene and was the only ad lib allowed to stay in the tightly disciplined and rehearsed shooting schedule, Martin Mull (FM, Jingle all the Way and guest spots on a zillion TV shows), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, and the classic TV show Taxi), Eileen Brennan (FM, The Sting, and another parody murder comedy Murder by Death), Leslie Ann Warren (Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Victor/Victoria), and Michael McKean (Laverne and Shirley).
I mention all this to point out what big shoes the cast and crew for ACTS latest production of the theatrical Clue have to fill, and fill them they do.
The story concerns a group of strangers who gather at the summons of a mysterious stranger, aptly named Mr. Boddy, (no that is not a misspelling) to a spooky and isolated house on a stormy night for an evening of revelations. The guests get more than they bargained for. With characters named and colorfully costumed in keeping with the pieces in the Clue game, in a house laid out like the original Hasbro product, it becomes immediately apparent that there will be far more vaudeville than violence and more mugging than mayhem. Pratfalls and slapstick laughs are the coinage of the evening as fun is poked at the genre which has long been home to the likes of the far more austere Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes.
Stepping up to the plate for the inimitable Mr. Landis to direct is our own Clay Hebert, veteran of decades of productions all over Lake Charles from McNeese to ACTS to Lake Charles Little Theater and even Hollywood, for whom this play has been a two year dream project.
Clever use is made of the stage in which quick changes and even quicker stage hands move props on and off to represent the many rooms of the house and in the board game: hall, library, study, etc.
Wadsworth, the butler and audience liason, is played by Aaron Webster ( just having finished a similarly sinister role in Arsenic and Old Lace for ACTS). Mrs. White is Kelly Rowland (also from Arsenic) who can’t seem to resist roles of sweetly homicidal ladies. Dylan Conley is Colonel Mustard. Miss Scarlet is played by Taylor Novak-Tyler (Steel Magnolias and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). Robert Goodson (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Spamalot) lends his unique brand of physical comedy to liven up Mr. Green. Stacy Solak (recently in Bye Bye Birdie) is a scene stealing Mrs. Peacock, and does double duty as aide-de-camp to Clay in the offstage role of assistant director. Zac Hammons (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) is Professor Plum. Yvette, the maid – not a board game piece but a character from the movie – is played by Kaylen Peters. Similar to the way the Swiss Army Knife of performers who portrayed a multiplicity of characters was used in The 39 Steps, Lauren Manuel and Lewis Paxton fill in variously for: Mr. Boddy, the Cook, the Motorist, the Singing Telegram Girl, and Police Officers.
Lending their respective wifely supports as well as extraordinary talents to this production in general and Aaron Webster and Clay Hebert in particular are Kris Webster and Markie Hebert who functioned as co-producers.
A brave Catheryn Fredericks helps wrangle this motley crew of comedians together as the stage manager.
Sorry movie fans – – there is only one ending.
So go join this humorously homicidal troupe as they give it their all to give you a ….. Clue.
Surprisingly thoughtful, intricately plotted, well acted and very effective but terrifying finale to the film version of Stephen King’s mammoth-sized book IT.
WHO SHOULD GO:
I would like to make one thing clear: STEPHEN KING STORIES ARE NOT CHILD FRIENDLY!!!
There is a warning at the beginning of the movie which declares flashing lights could trigger epileptic seizures in the photosensitive. But that is the LEAST of the problems. There is also sexually discussed content, a profound amount of gratuitous profanity, some of it blasphemous, a lot of lethal violence and gore with child victims in close up, homicide, patricide, people being burned alive, grotesque deformities, slit throats, an explicit scene of suicide, overt physical and implied sexual abuse, and brief but conspicuous demonstrations of alternative sexuality. The violence and bloodshed would have alarmed the Grimm Brothers, though this is to be expected in any movie about a child-eating monster.
I do not know what the parents in the audience were thinking but there was a group of under-chaperoned young teens in the audience next to me for whom I cringed, given the film’s content as well as the visuals in some of the trailers. An R-rated movie will attract R-rated trailers, which R-rated “coming soon” offerings will not be R-rated “ONLY” for gore. One of the movies previewed at the afternoon showing of IT: C2, which was viewed by these kids, included scantily clad pole dancers! Even more inexplicable was the presence of young children who, predictably, begin to cry almost from the outset. Bringing kids to an R-rated movie of any kind, much less a horror fest, is a face-palming level of stupidity, bordering on child neglect, if not abuse.
Let me repeat KING IS NOT CHILD FRIENDLY. DO NOT TAKE CHILDREN.
FOR MATURE ADULT AGE TEENS AND UP ONLY!!!
I walked into IT: Chapter Two fully expecting not to like it. I can hardly be blame. I didn’t like the book and although the TV version had a – dare I say it – certain charm due to the talents of Tim Curry as Pennywise the sinister, extraterrestrial psycho killer clown, and the recent Part 1, IT, wasn’t bad, I still did not hold out much for Part 2, having read the book. My youngest, now 21, pointed out an element that had not occurred to me about Part 1 – that instead of a straight up horror story it could be seen as an analogy for overcoming one’s childhood traumas and deepest wounds.
Although I thought this idea had merit I still dreaded what they would do with the second installment. After all it was based upon an excessively long, often deeply disturbing novel which catered to our darkest impulses and often relied heavily on caricature-level biases against small town citizens, authority figures, and parents.
However, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. While it is, by no means, a great movie, it is far better than I thought it would be. IT: Chapter Two is the second half of Stephen King’s elephantine book IT about 7 children, outcasts in different ways, who bond as The Losers’ Club to fight an other worldly monster, and their adult selves who return 27 years later to kill IT. My review of the filmed version of the first half of the book – IT – is HERE and covers the child actor versions of the characters. The kids return in clips and flashbacks.
SPOILERS – BIG, CASUAL SPOILERS – SO BE FORWARNED
The adults include: James McAvoy (whose incredibly varied resume includes: TheLion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Split, Atomic Blonde, and the entire X-Men reboot series) is Bill, the stuttering leader of the group. Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game, Interstellar) is Beverly the grown up abused child who marries another abusive man. Bill Hader (who has done a lot of voice over acting) is Richie the comedian who as a child seems physically incapable of keeping his smart aleck bully-antagonizing comments to himself. Isaiah Mufasa is Mike, as a child one of the only black people in Derry and an orphan whose parents burned to death in a tragedy he witnessed, and as an adult is the librarian and self appointed guardian of Derry who stays to watch for the monster’s re-appearance. The significantly sleeker and athletic grown up Ben is played by born-Kiwi (native New Zealander) now Aussie Jay Ryan (who, in a note of incredible irony, before becoming established as an actor, used to perform in local supermarkets entertaining young children as —– a clown). Andy Bean is the adult Stan whose Jewish faith, when a child in Derry, made him the target of abuse by the town bullies. Finally, fatherless, hypochondriacal, mother-dominated Eddie has grown up to be played by James Ransone.
Bill Skarsgård (a worthy addition to the Skarsgard acting family which includes both brother Alexander from Melancholia, Battleship, and Tarzan, as well as his father Stellan from the Marvel movies) reprises his role as Pennywise. One might hate his performance as the psycho clown or be fascinated by his interpretation of King’s murderous mountebank, but no one can deny that Skarsgard puts his all into the character, going full out to invest Pennywise with as much horror as a harlequin can hold.
While Gary Dauberman, the scriptwriter, REALLY needs to learn the meaning of “less is more” (and yes, I know, people who live in glass houses….), he, with director Andy Muschietti, (whose only big credit up to now was another horror movie – Mama), made some VERY VERY good plot choices.
There were a number of circumstances in the source material they decided to leave out. Among the sensible deletions were, among a number of other smaller but improvement tweaks: Tom, Beverly’s abusive husband doesn’t pursue them into Pennywise’s lair in a last minute late third act conflict. They do NOT use a parody-level, laughable, King-invented creation myth of a turtle who vomits up the universe to defeat Pennywise. Derry did not blow up when the monster died, resulting in the group being heroes who save a town leaving hope in their wake instead of monster hunters who leave nothing but destruction behind them. Bill’s wife, Audra, did not show up needing to be saved which would have further padded an already excessively long run time. And they explicitly do NOT again lose their memories of Derry after the monster is vanquished, which retention implies they have learned to conquer their own inner demons as well as the extraterrestrial who externalized those fears. (NOT to mention the extremely wise excision in the first movie of the truly disturbed scene in the book where the boys “tag team” Beverly in a bonding ritual of intimacy.)
These cuts indicated a well considered re-evaluation of King’s original book. Dauberman and Muschietti kept what made a good horror story from King’s book IT and replaced the book’s failings with plot and character structures that provided IT with a deeper, layered and even subtle meaning over which King’s far more negative paper prose had steam rollered. Thankfully, and in a rarity, the filmmakers had a bit more sense and gentler hand than did the initiating author.
Dauberman also chose to craft the story around a continuation of the first film’s theme of conquering childhood fears. Each adult, who had formerly been a member of The Losers’ Club, contributes to the defeat of the fear-eating monster by facing and debriding some wound which fundamentally shaped their personalities. Bev once and for all denies her abusive father’s hold over her by embracing Ben’s unconditional genuine love for her. Ben, at one point, is trapped in their childhood underground clubhouse with its walls closing in on him, physicalizing how he was trapped in the fat of his own prepubescent body, but vanquishes this self-killing insecurity by declaring his love for Beverly in acknowledgment that he is not alone and is worthy of loving and being loved. Bill almost drowns in the same sewer water in which his brother Georgie died, then kills a younger self-accusatory version of himself, finally putting his misplaced guilt over his brother’s death behind him. Eddie uncovers Pennywise’s fatal weakness when he throws off his germophobia long enough to successfully wrestle a leperous manifestation of the evil clown.
And so it goes. As each member adds to the pot the Losers get stronger.
To defeat Pennywise they must all reduce him to a killable size. Metaphorically this makes perfect sense. One’s childhood fears can seem to increase proportionately as one gets older, towering over us unchecked and unconfronted to destroy us. But in the light of mature perspective, trauma can be reduced to manageable size from which one can learn, grow, and even benefit. This is a philosophy worth considering and manifests in a monstrously (if you’ll excuse the pun) dramatic way in Pennywise.
There are also a couple of fun cameos – Stephen King, himself, as an opportunistic second-hand shop owner, and Peter Bogdanovich (real life director of Noises Off, Paper Moon, and What’s Up Doc?) playing to type as a film director.
BUT for all of its successes as a horror film – IT is WAY too long – by about a third. Just having to accommodate a large ensemble cast will make for an inherently long story. Accommodating TWO ensemble groups – with present-time adults and childhood dove-tailing flashbacks – is one of the reasons this movie is almost a full 3 hours long. Its padding is mostly due to not trusting the average ticket buyers. Dauberman, et al, needn’t have worried that audience members would RANDOMLY wander into a movie house showing a movie titled IT: Chapter Two. We really did not need all the backtracking, and re-covering old childhood ground with “new” adult eyes to understand what was going on.
In addition, I do not think they understood the difference between pausing long enough for tension to build and holding on to the “punch line” so long you start checking your watch. There are a LOT of jump scares in IT. This movie practically parkours its way through the entire plot on jump scares. And every SINGLE jump scare endures a prolonged preview. For example, Rich and Eddie encounter a cute Pomeranian dog – probably because Rich had jokingly stated a wish that he hoped the monster’s true form would be in this shape. We all know the dog is going to jump scare into a monster-size zombie dog but far too many beats go by as Rich and Eddie comment about how cute it is before this happens. So, yeah, about an hour could have been chopped just by jumping, instead of dragging, their way to the jump scares.
The language is ridiculously and unnecessarily crude, using the “F” word like a baker does flour. Granted all of them subtly reverted back to elements of their childhood during the course of the movie – Bill’s stutter and Eddie’s psychosomatic asthma for examples. Childhood Richie had a marked dependence on profanity as a defense mechanism against his own insecurities, so adult Richie’s profane filled vocabulary should not surprise us, but even so, the repetition became gratuitous.
Benjamin Wallfisch returns to create yet another creepy musical backdrop which functions as a character in its own right. Heavy, and effectively random use of oppressive jarring percussions and wandering dissonant acrobatics on flute and violin provide a disjointed, otherworldly, off balanced and forcefully unsettling soundtrack for most of the movie accompanying Pennywise, which music occasionally, like brief moments of sunshine during a terrible storm, give way to lovely, lyrical, and melancholic passages representing the children and their adult dopplegangers.
IT: C2 is a solid horror movie with an intelligent sub-text but certainly appropriate only for older teens and up given the language, the extreme violence, and multiple scenes of physical, emotional, verbal and implied sexual abuse.
And as I have already mentioned – more horrifying than Pennywise’s presence on screen was the attendance by a number of early teens and even YOUNGER audience members, some of whom were with parents who REALLY should have known better. As if the movie IT: C2 was not inappropriate enough for these children, the previews certainly were, including stories which featured real world violence and pole-dancing strippers. If a movie is “R” rated, as IT is, then authority figures should realize previews are going to be “R” rated as well and often not just for gore and jump scares.
So if you liked Chapter ONE IT then you’ll find IT: Chapter Two very satisfying, with creatively gross monsters and an interesting underlying analogy about learning to heal from childhood trauma.
But PLEASE avoiding traumatizing your own child with this movie and leave the kids at home.
AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD REVIEW
A classically Tarentino revisionist history of a terrible event during the 1960’s seen through the prism of a fading TV star and his stunt double in an intricately detailed and brain shockingly familiar re-creation of the 1960’s.
WHO SHOULD GO:
ADULTS! ONLY ADULTS! And only adults who have fairly strong constitutions. While there really are no sex scenes, the language is frequently raw and occasionally vulgar topics are discussed in crude ways, but there are a few fight scenes and one long scene of extremely gory and prolonged violence.
Allow me to begin this review by quoting GK Chesterton:
“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”
Reviewing this movie puts me in an awkward position for a number of reasons. For one, it is a typically Tarentino violent and sexually charged film but one I thought extremely well done and worth viewing. For another I don’t want to unduly spoil anything in the movie but need to set the stage for one of the most vile moments in American history without either scaring off prospective appropriate film goers or giving away too much.
So keeping all this in mind:
SPOILERS FOR OUATIH AS WELL AS IRON MAN, WONDER WOMAN, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, AND X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
There’s a YouTube show called How it Should Have Ended, a PG if not G-rated comedy, which points out inconsistencies, crosses universe franchise storylines, and evaluates any plot flaws in movies which rely on nonsensical stupidity to set up the premise or move the story along. They animate scenes and do very credible voice impersonations showing, for better or worse, what is likely to have really happened had common sense prevailed in a given situation.
For examples, they: point out how a man as smart as Doctor Strange would not have texted on a winding road, going super fast, in the dark, but would have hung up the phone and planned to call later; demonstrate how Iron Man’s quicker, lighter and faster suit, along with his flying experience would have easily defeated Obadiah Stane at the end of Iron Man; introduced Wolverine to assist Wonder Woman; clearly showed in a spoof of the theme song from Beauty and the Beast that Belle was a victim of Stockholm Syndrome; and exhibit how Mr. Incredible probably would have loved Syndrome’s childhood inventions instead of shunning him with far more positive results.
Similarly, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is aptly named, for it is a fairy tale, if you consider, as Joe Harper did in Kenneth Branagh’s A Midwinter’s Tale that “most fairy tales turn out to be nightmares”, which explores the alternate possibilities in life.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays the fictitious fading star Rick Dalton, a composite of every little known ’60’s TV show one trick pony and Brad Pitt is his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (based loosely on Burt Reynold’s stunt double Hal Needham). Where Rick is a fragile bag of regrets and insecurities off camera, Rick exudes a tough cowboy presence 24/7.
Likely the best acting job of either DiCaprio or Pitt, and almost the only two people who do not play historically documentable figures, they avoid what easily could have been caricatures to create two very different but vulnerable men who are survivors at their core. Despite the background story, their downwardly spiraling respective careers and the omnipresent spectre of the looming profoundly malevolent event on the horizon, dreadful to anticipate for anyone familiar with this year, these two archetype examples of crank-’em-out TV show stars from the ’60’s manage to be likeable, interesting, relatable, appealing and, like yeast in a barrel of flour, lighten the mood of every scene they are in.
This is a very “META” concept outing – with actors portraying real people who portrayed characters in movies and TV shows similar to the ones being filmed withIN the confines of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Whew.
The acting of the supporting cast, most of whom do play real people, is terrific. Among a large cast: Margot Robbie is the sweet and gentle but vacuous Sharon Tate. Dakota Fanning does a gut clenching quietly evil rendition of Manson follower Squeaky Fromme. And Mike Moh has all the mannerisms down for what can only be described as a Bruce Lee caricature (for which his surviving daughter, Shannon Lee, has taken exception). But one of the most impressive was Damien Lewis’ Steve MacQueen (The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair). With just his voice and gestures he brings this cinema icon back to life for just a few wonderful movie moments.
In addition, there are some wonderful cameos from Al Pacino (1972’s The Godfather), Kurt Russell (from Disney’s 1969’s Computer Wore Tennis Shoes to Snake Plissken in Escape From New York) who has a small part as stunt coordinator Randy and provides some V.O. narration, and Bruce Dern (1972’s eco-warning sci fi Silent Running), actors whose careers were pretty much “born” during this period of time.
And then there are little Easter Eggs that you might miss unless you look closely, like Mama Cass from the Mamas and the Papas who greets Tate at the Playboy Mansion, and someone who can only be Twiggy talking to Steve MacQueen. NOT to mention the resurrection of the old TV show Lancer, including Wayne Maunder (portrayed by Luke Perry) and cigarette commercials which are startlingly accurate dopplegangers to the ones we watched on TV as kids.
The songs are beautifully handpicked for the right moments like bouquets placed around a professionally decorated room featuring the likes of: “Good Thing” from Paul Revere and the Raiders, Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”, and “California Dreamin'” by Jose Feliciano.
And the sets, pacing of interviews, acting styles of the actors as they performed the shows within the movie, costumes, blunt and awkward dialogue all open a portal into a world I have not experienced in more than half a century. It was jarringly realistic. Tarantino even cleverly placed throughout the movie the awkward and jerky edits often experienced in watching a show from my youth, as the more humble equipment just did not produce the smoother transitions we all demand today, subtly evoking that era, as well as reminding us this is all just a fantasy, a wishful thinking creation of a cinematic mind.
If he has done nothing else, Tarantino has done a stunning job of disabusing me of any temptations to nostalgia for the era in his pinpoint accurate recreation of the world in which I grew up – the ’60’s with its emphasis on: the constant generation of cigarette smoke, plastic furniture, ridiculously high miniskirts, obnoxious self-aggrandizing hippies, sparse air conditioning, unchallenged snake oil salesmen, terrible TV shows, black and white monitors with Vietnam in the background, and condescending talking heads masquerading as newscasters (OK we still have those).
Don’t get me wrong. I loved it while I was living it but in the stark light of a Tarantino day – let’s just say that walks down Memory Lane should be taken sparingly.
And then there is the specific history of that particular “moment” in time.
In order to appreciate the pervasive sense of suspense and anxiety that hangs over the entire movie, you have to understand the backdrop in which the story plays out. The movie takes place during the year preceding the slaughter of Sharon Tate, her baby and guests on the night of August 9th 1969. On that terrible night, a cult leader name Charles Manson sent his followers out to kill everyone in the house on Cielo Drive. The people there were not just murdered they were savaged. A pregnant Sharon Tate, two weeks from delivery, was hung up and butchered like cattle. The rest were bludgeoned, shot, and stabbed dozens of times. Anyone old enough or well read enough to be familiar with this event knows it is coming — and protagonist Rick lives next door.
The next day, before their capture, Manson and his hippies did the same to a couple named LaBianca. It is hard to appreciate how this atmosphere of evil informed those days unless you lived through it…or watched this movie.
It was largely thought that the 1960’s “died” that day, (ignoring the fact that, well yes, 4-1/2months later it would be 19–SEVENTY, but I get the drift), replacing the open door “love is in the air” perception of the flower child with the reality that these people engaged in highly dysfunctional and destructive behaviors, who were predominantly a danger to themselves and those around them.
In OUATIH we get the true face of the hippie, free-love, Flower Power movement: promiscuous, selfish, manipulative, filthy, violent, arrogant, condescending, narcissistic, slothful, parasitic, hypocritical, self-adoring, drug addicted anarchists with a sense of entitlement to other people’s property. The greatest horror to those who stylistically aligned themselves with these pet anti-establishment philosophies (while living otherwise) was that the Manson cult demonstrated to the world merely the logical extrapolation of the hippie mantras which included calling police names and advocating their destruction, extreme hostility to capitalism while living off the work of others, and engagement in sexual debauchery without accepting consequences.
The aftermath of Woodstock alone demonstrates it takes a lot of someone else’s effort and money for one to appear to be living a life of freedom and independence from the drudgery of actually having to work for a living. (Of course, unfortunately, that is now the Democrat National Party goal – to be living off the hard work of other people, responsibility free – not surprising since many in their leadership fermented out of that intellectual cesspool —— but that’s a post for another day.)
Without any real job they lived, if you can call it that, on the largesse of family, friends and community, that is when they weren’t begging, prostituting themselves or outright stealing.
As this is a Tarantino film one expects an extreme amount of violence and gore and OUATIH is no exception…..but not the way you might expect, or cringe fearfully. I am delighted to say that, through the magic of Tarantino pixie dust, I was inspired to clap and cheer during the last scenes.
Tarantino likes to play with “What if’s”. Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained being his most telling examples. I had actually never seen an entire Tarantino movie before but only clips from the likes of Kill Bill, Hateful Eight and Pulp Fiction. Sudden and ferocious bloodshed tend to jump out like ghouls from a haunted house, but OUAPIH is quite gentle for most of the movie in comparison, as the director manifests more suspense and extreme apprehension than actual violence…until the end.
Also stick around for a funny ending credits scene with a brilliantly on point faux cigarette commercial.
So if you want a head first dive into the deep end of nostalgia, and if you have the stomach for it, this is Tarantino at his best, if for no other reason than his masterful re-invention of a time gone by and for the cathartic satisfaction of seeing justice served in a Tarantino-flavored version of How it Should Have Ended.
God bless and R.I.P. Sharon Tate, baby Paul Polanski, Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent, Leno LaBianca, and Rosemary LaBianca.
AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF THE REVIEW OF JOHN WICK (THE FIRST CHAPTER)
Ultra-violent movie which skates on a thin excuse for revenge to create large piles of dead bodies.
WHO SHOULD WATCH:
Adults only, and then only those with a stomach for violence: intense weapon and martial-art combat lethal force, and extreme language. Its only “virtues” are a minimal amount of sexuality, mostly limited to bikini clad escorts, and the fact that the protagonist is a devoted and faithful, albeit grieving, husband.
I know I’m probably the last one on the train here with John Wick (2014) as it has been out so long there is now a third installment. Having just seen the first one and with the John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum in theaters now, I felt compelled to make some comments about the “origin” story.
SPOILERS FOR JOHN WICK, TURNER AND HOOCH, A DOG’S PURPOSE, AND MARLEY AND ME
The premise, in case you have been on a prolonged abstinence from movies, is that a retired assassin goes on a massive killing spree after someone shoots his dog.
Now there is more to it but that is what it boils down to. John Wick verges on, if is not steeped in, what one might label as violence “porn” ( by which I mean senseless and gratuitous violence for the purpose of cathartic schadenfreude* brutality), though of a certain attractive elegance, which takes itself way too seriously. Don’t get me wrong , I am sympathetic to Wick’s righteous anger over the unnecessary killing of a puppy. As I have mentioned before in other posts, while I can tolerate an awful lot of violence in an action movie, I cringe at the thought of something happening to a dog. That point has actually prevented me from ever watching a couple of movies, including:
Turner and Hooch, and Marley and Me. I have even been putting off watching A Dog’s Purpose even though the dog gets reincarnated multiple times, because I know the viewing will require a couple boxes of kleenex.
My point being, from a cinematic point of view, I am quite sympatico with a lead whose motivation, which propels the entire running time, is the death of his dog.
However, even by my rather indulgent parameters of an average action movie, wherein the protagonist is given nothing to lose, I could not help but yell at the screen occasionally, wondering why his opponents did not handle the situation quite differently.
The mutt murderer was, Iosef, (Alfie Allen best known as Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones), the son of John’s previous employer, Viggo, a Russian mafia Don, (Michael Nyqvist from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the Naomi Rapace version of the Dragon Tattoo girl). Iosef had come to steal John’s hot car – and the dog just got in the way.
As Viggo, the Slavic Vito Corleone points out, it was bad luck that brought them back together in this way. But a little common sense and a teensy bit of courtesy could have mitigated the situation, if not established an easy detente.
The dog was the last gift from John’s dying wife. From the reaction of wiser heads than the aforementioned Iosef, the dog dispatcher, everyone knew about this and what the legendary assassin, John’s, response was likely to be. A hitman with nothing to lose and a lot of grief anger to expend, is a recipe for a bloodbath.
Therefore, I thought, had I been Viggo, (and keep in mind I am stepping into the shoes of a Mafia Don), I would have arrived with a new car, a new dog, a profuse apology, a chastised son with a black eye, and an offer to set up an entire charity Animal Hospital in the name of his deceased wife.
Instead, Viggo, knowing his son was stupidly in the wrong, as evidenced by the beating he gave Iosef after the fact, puts a contract out on the man to whom he refers as the best of the best, the one who was called Baba Yaga, not because he was The Boogeyman but because he was the one you sent out to kill The Boogeyman. This is a guaranteed plan for failure and Viggo’s downfall hereafter is from criminal (if you’ll excuse the pun) stupidity. I couldn’t help but think of Hawkeye in Thor. Watching Thor dispatch agent after agent in Thor’s path towards Mjolnir, Hawkeye quips to Coulson: “Do you want me to take him down, or would you rather send in more guys for him to beat up?” Because, that is what Viggo does – he sends in squad after squad to kill this unkillable killing machine. Viggo’s men are about as effective as Storm Troopers and were this a video game John would have the High Score. But WHY???!!!
Viggo is an intelligent man or wouldn’t have been able to create and keep his empire. He MUST have seen the results of his decreasing returns. And no explanation is given as to why he would commit his entire army in a fruitless and hopeless effort to take out the one man he knows he can not defeat, especially when it seemed obvious to me there were alternatives. It’s not even that he is so committed to the protection of his son. Viggo doesn’t like or love his son and Viggo ultimately gives Iosef up to Wick as bait to save his own skin.
90% of the movie is John’s body count which quickly exceeds the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan.
I get the use of the MacGuffin. I even get stories where you put the protagonist in a corner with nothing to lose and watch them fight their way out. Movie franchises like Taken, Die Hard,Jack Reacher and even a few of the James Bonds are good examples of a protagonist who resolved knotty conundrums with fists and firefights. And I am the first to admit they are guilty pleasures. But the motivations are usually more compelling, as in: protection of a vulnerable family member, a national danger, or the righting of a grave injustice. AND the protagonist usually is witty, relieving the unremitting gore and violence a bit with dry one liners.
But, despite the fact I have often maintained that Keanu Reeves has missed his calling as a comedian, Reeves’ Wick parkours his way through the movie on the backs of dead bodies with the somber deadpan of a mini-Lurch from The Addams Family. Don’t get me wrong, I like Keanu Reeves. I just wish someone would DO something with him which entails more EXPRESSION!!!
When I refer to Keanu Reeves’ comedies, I’m not talking about the unintentionally – so bad they are funny – like Constantine, and his insult to the classic Day the Earth Stood Still. Nor am I referring to his well done stint as the singular dry villain in Branagh’s Shakespearean comedy Much Ado About Nothing. I’m talking about Reeves roles in legitimate comedies. If unfamiliar with Keanu Reeves’ comedies, I recommend the slapstick ridiculous Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and the wryly observant ensemble piece Parenthood. Both are for an older crowd though.
Reeves can be really amusing and cute with good timing. And while I’m not suggesting that a former assassin who has just lost his wife to cancer and his dog to a home invasion should be light-hearted, John Wick is unrelentingly grim where it perhaps did not have to be. I mean, Wick is SUPPOSED to be human, right?
I have often maintained that the best loved action films often have a sense of their own humor. Good examples are Jaws, Aliens (but only the second as the first and third are even grimmer than John Wick and the fourth is best simply ignored) and all theDie Hard movies. Tongue is planted occasionally but firmly in cheek and there is an awareness in the script of its own cliched vulnerability.
But Wick‘s level of constant violence with no emotional offsetting balance is just exhausting.
The cinematic atmosphere is dark and poetically sympathetic, as most of the movie takes place in dark interiors, at night, or in conjunction with bad weather.
There is an interesting juxtaposition with another film I have previously reviewed, which DOES have a sense of humor, called Hotel Artemis. Much of the third act of John Wick takes place in the Continental, a hotel renowned as a high-class refuge for people in John Wick’s line of work. Like the Artemis, a hospital for the underworld with questionable aesthetics, the Continental has a primary rule: you are not supposed to kill any of the other guests. A certain neutrality is supposed to be enforced there amongst society’s lethal predators. These two – the titular Hotel Artemis and the Continental in John Wick – exist in a consistent universe where you could put them on a double bill or even together in the same movie. But Hotel Artemis, unlike John Wick, has a heart and knows when to recognize the grin in even the darkest human comedy, and is a far better movie for that.
Small parts and cameos from the action-adventure pool abound in Wick from both TV and film. Ian McShane, who has added his talents to everything from westerns to British and American cop shows to Pirates of the Caribbean, plays the owner of the Continental. Willem Dafoe who has appeared in movies as divergent as Platoon and Spider-Man 3 is a mysterious colleague / competitor. Adrianne Palicki, most notably the indominable Agent Bobby Hunter in Agents of Shield and Kelly Grayson in The Orville, is Perkins, a female assassin. Lance Reddick from Fringe and Blacklist is Charon, the concierge of the Continental. John Leguizamo, from Executive Decision and Baz Lurhmann’s ultra-violent version of Romeo and Juliet, is Aurelio, the chop shop owner to whom Iosef brings Wick’s stolen car and who is the first to clue Iosef in to his mistake with a punch in the mouth. There were so many cameos from the action adventure genre that I would not have been surprised to see Samuel L Jackson show up. Sadly, that was not to be.
The acting is good and the shoot-‘em-up-bang-bang with combined martial arts is well-choreographed and interesting as Wick dispatches his targets with precision and no innocent bystanders to the count.
Wick is obviously an anti-hero with a ledger redder than Black Widow’s. As action adventures go it was brainless fun and emotionally cathartic to watch a bunch of bad guys being blown away with incredible efficiency and expertise by another, but sympathetic, bad guy. It is always a pleasure of sorts to see anyone do their job with such skill and excellence whether they are a pastry chef, a ghost hunter, or a paid assassin. But still I couldn’t help perseverate on the plot point of the missing opportunity to mitigate. Had Viggo tried to placate Wick but been rebuffed I would have found the scenario far more believable at least within the universe of that genre.
But what I truly do not understand is how the film makers can justify one sequel much less two. I mean, in this first one John killed …….. EVERYBODY. And I wonder about the movie’s core world-view. Iosef, for all his being a completely cruel jerk, was not responsible for the death of John’s wife nor did he attempt to kill John. Therefore, John’s reaction to the theft of his car and slaughter of his puppy without at least an attempt at peaceful and equivocal recompense, to me seemed over the top even for this kind of movie, making it hard for me to empathize with a protagonist who creates this much mayhem.
Compared to similarly set up movies like the aforementioned Die Hard, Taken, or from a HUGE variety of styles where the protagonist goes on a mission to avenge a terrible wrong with extreme prejudice, like: True Grit, Death Wish, The Count of Monte Cristo, or Dirty Harry – even for me, even for this genre of movie – John’s reaction was too extreme and with insufficient reasonable motivation, making this a (if you’ll excuse the pun) fatally flawed story.
schadenfreude – a German word for which there is no English equivalent, meaning: pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune.
Documentary-style bio pic about Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist who violated even Pennsylvania’s liberally permissive abortion laws, extending his convictions to include manslaughter of a mother and murder of three full term infants, and the people who brought him to justice.
WHO SHOULD GO:
Adults only – for the topics and many of the visuals of the abortion mill. But of those adults who seek truth or justice, a MUST SEE.
In the movie Jacob’s Ladder, Tim Robbins plays a military veteran suffering from such extreme PTSD that he has visions of hell. One of those manifestations is of a hospital of filth and gore staffed by demons indifferent to his suffering. While watching that 1990 surreal film, I never dreamed I would one day see real-life footage of the actual place. But footage of a real place, just like Jacob’s visions, were included in Gosnell, the movie about the exposure and trial of Kermit Gosnell, (portrayed by Earl Billings, a familiar face from many TV shows all the way back to the 1970’s), the perpetrator of the cold blooded killings-for-hire of full-term infants and the casual death of one of his “patients,” who was, to quote Bernard Hughes’ character in the dark satire The Hospital, “neglected to death”.
The film, Gosnell, tracks the investigative and legal activities that stopped Gosnell’s Eichmann-like casual killing business. If you see Operation Finale, (to read my blog on Operation Finale click here), you will note the similarities between Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of Eichmann and Earl Billings’ Gosnell. Both men had an affluent, family-oriented life.
While Eichmann’s personal obsessions wandered into the fastidious, Gosnell wandered onto the other end of the bell curve with profound levels of filth. While Eichmann behaves like Lady Macbeth, figuratively (and sometimes literally) trying to wash the guilty stains from his hands, Gosnell wallowed gleefully in the depravity, denying its existence. Both men swam in the blood of others to achieve their goals of career security in an environment and culture which protected their activities for years regardless of the heinousness of the crimes they committed.
The acting in both cases was amazing. Kingsley will likely, and deservedly, be up for awards for his portrayal as the cold, tunnel vision author of the deaths of millions, who wore blinders and chose to see himself as merely a clerk or cog in a machine convenient to his advancement. Billings, despite his equally subtle rendition, because of the politically protected nature of Gosnell’s occupation as abortionist, will likely be ignored for his cine-magic contribution. Billings plays a man who, in other surroundings, could be mistaken for a genial, grandfatherly, old-fashioned doctor. It is only the subtle body language, quirks, facial tics and tiny contradictory gestures which visualize Gosnell’s fundamentally broken, corrupted and rotted moral view.
Were the director creating this monster out of whole cloth, he might have been lauded for the extremely effective, visually poetic symmetry of the man’s life. Gosnell lived in a beautiful suburban home, in a Biblical sense the outside of the vase. But the house’s rooms reflected Gosnell’s inner corruption in the piles of trash, the chaotic disorder, Gosnell’s personal hygiene, and the dead animal rotting in a cellar of aggressively flea infested debris. Gosnell’s clinic, while purportedly there to serve the poor, gave preference to white customers, regularly employed underage untrained teenagers to administer dangerous levels of anesthesia, and housed garbage bags full of decomposing infant parts, casually discarded in hallways, up stairwells, and in so-called operating rooms.
Likely the only reason this abattoir was not over run with four legged rats was because there was a plethora of irregularly cared for cats who roamed at will using the entire clinic as their kitty box.
Like the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs, Gosnell kept trophies in small jars of body parts. So insulated was Gosnell from the rest of the world, humanity, or his own culpability, that he did not understand he was actually displaying evidence against himself.
None of this was manufactured by the filmmakers. The stomach-churning images were re-created, and in some cases simply copied directly onto the film, from actual footage made by the investigating police officers, there initially to pursue probable cause of the death of one of Gosnell’s victims/patients. The police entered planning a drug bust. They left with evidence of a serial killer whose murders had been covered up for over two decades by a corrupt Pennsylvania Department of Heath, the steaming environment of political correctness, and the permissive Pennsylvania abortion laws.
Despite the heinousness of Gosnell’s activities, the repeated complaints, and the obvious incompetence and flagrant disregard for even the most basic sanitation much less safety of his patients Gosnell was left alone to continue his habits for decades.
It came up in trial that the health department of the state was for at least 17 consecutive years forbidden from pursuing even the most serious of complaints against him because of his status as a black abortionist in a poor neighborhood. But there was no protection for the unwary, vulnerable, scared and defenseless inhabitants that served as Gosnell’s prey.
Gosnell had no respect for the mostly poor minority women who came to see him, nor the tenants of basic common sense medical sanitation, nor even the law which had closed its eyes to his behavior for so long. Given his protected status it is perversely understandable why he legitimately believed he could get away with murder with impunity. He admitted as much to his attorney when he laughed at his solicitor’s concerns about his legal vulnerability, saying that he was certain no one would question his personal determination of what constituted a human life regardless of the law which forbade abortion passed 24 weeks.
The director, Nick Searcy, who also plays the defense counsel, Mike Cohan, creates a calm, even somewhat sterile atmosphere for the investigations and courtroom. This makes for a relieving counterpoint to the simple video walk-throughs of the “clinic” which view like the abandoned labyrinth of a series of dystopian torture chambers. The supporting characters, from the initially reluctant Asst. D.A. Lexy McGuire (Sarah Jane Morris) to the immediately invested and likeable lead detective James Wood (Dean Cain) to the computer geek/blogger Molly Mullaney (Cyrian Fiallo) do wonderful jobs in solid performances. And the screenwriters, Andrew Klavan, Ann McElhinney, and Phelim McAleer, used composites of real people to flesh and round out the cast. But Billings, as I said, is a standout in the lead with his restrained but utterly creepy portrayal of a man who would fit in a horror movie about a grandfather who hands out razor filled apples and cyanide laced candy on Halloween night.
Evidence showed Gosnell murdered seven born alive infants. He was convicted of three with an unknown tally of death on his belt over the previous two decades. Gosnell was convicted of one count of manslaughter in the death of a “patient” but who knows how many others died directly from his hands or indirectly from his gross negligence and malpractice. There was evidence of 21 late term abortions, even illegal in Pennsylvania. But who knows how many he committed? And he was convicted of hundreds, out of the likely thousands, of violations of the rules concerning 24 hour informed consent, which are, themselves, but pathetically thin attempts at some common sense to this horrific practice. And all this doesn’t even touch the thousands of babies in the womb he murdered under the auspices of “legal abortion”.
While Gosnell was held to account for his crimes, he was, in truth, merely a symptom of the greater evil of the governmentally, not just allowed, but protected, murder of millions of unborn children.
While this is a difficult movie to watch, we must all stand, like the Jews who survived the Holocaust and their descendants, as witnesses to atrocities which should not be happening now and, once defeated, must never happen again. It is our duty to testify against the laws and institutions which allow monsters like Gosnell to exist and thrive, for those already lost and those at risk and yet to be born.