If Beale Street Could Talk

January 11, 2019 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King
Directed by: Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”)
Written by: Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight”)

If you’re unfamiliar with the work of late African-American novelist James Baldwin, the socially conscious writer broke barriers throughout his career with stories about a host of complex and personal issues, including racism, religion and homosexuality. In 2016, the documentary film “I Am Not Your Negro,” which was adapted from one of Baldwin’s unfinished manuscripts, earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination and featured actor Samuel L. Jackson narrating Baldwin’s own ideas about American history and civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

The beauty of Baldwin’s writing, once again, resonates in “If Beale Street Could Talk,” a drama by filmmaker Barry Jenkins, who won an Oscar for screenwriting and a nomination for directing the critically acclaimed 2016 film “Moonlight.” In the hands of Jenkins, Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name is adapted into an observant and touching story of young, requited love, but also one that shoots straight to the heart of how systemic racism has shattered black and brown lives for generations.

Set in Harlem in the early 1970s, “Beale Street” follows Clementine “Tish” Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James), a black couple whose childhood friendship has blossomed over the years into true love. Their romance, however, is put on hold when Fonny is wrongly arrested for a crime he didn’t commit and sent to prison, where his fate hangs on the testimony of one racist cop (Ed Skrien) and a woman (Emily Rios) choosing the easiest route for justice. While locked up, Fonny learns that Tish is going to have his baby — a piece of news that makes Tish and her mother Sharon (Regina King) even more desperate to prove Fonny’s innocence before he fades into the prison system.

At times, “Beale Street” feels like we’re watching a stage production, with Jenkins’ approach to crafting conversations between characters allowing ample time for each line of dialogue to have its moment. But Jenkins always finds his way back to his cinematic roots. His distinctive style and framing are fitting for a film like “Beale Street,” where looking into the faces on screen is just as important as hearing the words they’re speaking.

Through its nonlinear storytelling, “Beale Street” controls its pacing and draws it out effectively. Like “Moonlight,” its slow-burning narrative pairs well with the deep-seated emotion Jenkins is hoping to tap into. In “Beale Street,” he has found the epitome of love as a tool for survival and the sacrifices a family will make to protect their own. Reteaming with “Moonlight” Oscar nominees Nicholas Britell and James Laxton for a stunning original score and pristine cinematography, Jenkins has transported audiences to a place where the only cure for hopelessness is fighting through the pain.

Roma

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira, Diego Cortina Autrey
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón (“Gravity”)
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón (“Children of Men”)

There’s no denying the beauty and timelessness at the heart of Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuarón’s deeply personal drama “Roma.” It’s as close to cinematic poetry as you can get, and Cuarón, with an expert-level attention to detail, places us at the center of his story — watching, listening, waiting, and cherishing every delicate moment.

As with all his past films — whether taking audiences on a road trip through rural Mexico in his 2001 masterpiece “Y tu Mamá También” or floating through the vastness of space in 2013’s “Gravity” — there is an intimacy in Cuarón’s work that is unlike any director making films today. It’s never been more apparent just how meditative his voice has become than with “Roma,” an autobiographical film based on his childhood in Mexico City during the 1970s and told from the perspective of the woman who helped raise him — his nanny Libo. (Yalitza Aparicio plays a fictionalized version named Cleo.)

In Cleo, Cuarón has created a character of pure devotion and human spirit, and Aparicio delivers a restrained, albeit passionate, performance. In “Roma,” Cuarón examines Cleo’s relationship with the middle-class family who employs her and the complex social dynamics that keep them separated. In comparison, Brazilian filmmaker Anna Muylaert’s 2015 film “Que Horas Ela Volta?” (“The Second Mother”) does a better job presenting this theme, but Cuarón’s emphasis on a single character’s experiences is admirable as we observe Cleo not only performing tedious tasks but also comforting the children who are witnessing the dissolution of their parents’ marriage.

From a technical standpoint, “Roma” is second to none — from Cuarón’s brilliant direction and first foray into the role of cinematographer (usual collaborator Emmanuel Lubezki was not available) to the meticulous production design by Academy Award winner Eugenio Caballero (“Pan’s Labyrinth”). The black-and-white 65mm film Cuarón utilizes gives an epic feel to the picture, and his tracking shots reveal a landscape full of life that is oftentimes overshadowed in other films by the shiniest object in the room. Instead, Cuarón makes the ordinary seem remarkable — soapy water gliding over a stone floor, laundry hanging from a clothesline, a lizard scurrying across the dry earth.

Appreciate what Cuarón has constructed with “Roma.” Like other recent image-heavy films such as “Tree of Life,” “Dunkirk” and “The Revenant,” what Roma lacks in standard narrative substance, it makes up for in Cuarón’s skill as a visual storyteller.

The Favourite

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz
Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster”)
Written by: Tony McNamara (“Ashby”) and Deborah Davis (debut)

“The Favourite” is unlike any costume drama you’ve ever seen. That includes filmmaker Sofia Coppola’s imaginative and underappreciated 2006 hipster biopic “Marie Antoinette,” where she uses the song “I Want Candy” in the soundtrack and sneaks a pair of blue Converse into one scene.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if you know the eccentric and invigorating work of Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos in films like “Dogtooth” and “The Lobster,” the latter of which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay in 2016.

Although Lanthimos hands off script duties for “The Favourite” to Australian TV writer Tony McNamara and first-time writer Deborah Davis, who penned the initial screenplay over two decades ago, his fingerprints are all over it. “The Favourite” is an acerbic and abrasively funny period piece featuring three of the best female performances of the year. The film is like a formal curtsy but with a sharp knee strike to the groin.

Set in the early 18th Century, “The Favourite” is loosely based on the reign of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), the sickly crowned head who ruled Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1714 at the age of 49. Don’t expect a history lesson here, however. Lanthimos isn’t as interested in the Restoration of the English Monarchy as he is the darker and comically absurd relationships Anne develops with her close advisor Sarah Churchill (Oscar winner Rachel Weisz), and Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill (Oscar winner Emma Stone), who is hired to work in the scullery.

When Abigail proves herself to be more than a servant, her and Sarah’s political posturing comes to a head as they find themselves vying for Anne’s attention. With a kingdom’s power at their fingertips, Sarah and Abigail become the year’s most intriguing adversaries as they cut each other down at every turn in an attempt to keep their high-end status from waning.

At times voyeuristic in nature, Lanthimos uses a camera lens that allows moviegoers to witness the debauchery unfold as if we are peeking through a palace peephole. In “The Favourite,” hostility and deceitfulness have never been this wickedly entertaining.

At Eternity’s Gate

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Willem Dafoe, Oscar Isaac, Rupert Friend
Directed by: Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”)
Written by: Julian Schnabel (“Before Night Falls”), Jean-Claude Carrière (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) and Louise Kugelberg (debut)

During a scene in the 1975 Academy Award-winning drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” a doctor at a mental institution tells R.P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) that after evaluating him for four weeks, he sees no evidence of mental illness. “You know, what do you want me to do?” McMurphy asks before mimicking masturbating, as if to say, “Is this what ‘crazy’ is supposed to look like?”

In “At Eternity’s Gate,” a biopic on Vincent van Gogh, Oscar-nominated director Julian Schnabel (“The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”) seems to wonder the same thing as Nicholson’s character. Everyone knows van Gogh suffered from some form of psychological disorder, so why play it up like other van Gogh films of the past? Why show him writhing in front of a mirror like a madman in 1956’s “Lust for Life?” Why depict him as some fiendish loon who licks the blood off a knife after he uses it to cut off his ear like in 1990’s “Vincent & Theo?”

While both actors Kirk Douglas and Tim Roth give commendable overall performances as van Gogh in their respected films (Douglas earned an Oscar nomination for his), the idea that mental illness can be defined as one specific thing (or behavior) is an antiquated concept. It’s one of the reasons Schnabel’s film — co-written by him, his girlfriend Louise Kugelberg and French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (“The Unbearable Lightness of Being”) — is such an enlightening and unique experience. With “At Eternity’s Gate,” Schnabel, who is a famous painter himself, confronts van Gogh’s mental instability with inventive style and philosophical reflection. In doing so, he has given audiences one of the most creative and visually-striking cinematic compositions about an artist in recent memory.

Although almost 30 years older than van Gogh was at the time of his death, three-time Oscar nominee Willem Dafoe (“The Florida Project”) delivers a glorious portrayal as the Dutch post-impressionist painter during the final years of his life — living and painting in Arles in the south of France. During this time, we watch van Gogh connect with nature, exchange ideas with friend and artist Paul Gauguin (Oscar Isaac) and find the beauty in the mundane. Through handheld camerawork, distorted scenes and other stimulating experimental film elements, Schnabel designs “At Eternity’s Gate” as if it were one of van Gogh’s pieces seen through the eyes of a filmmaker like Terrence Malik (“Tree of Life”).

It’s not until the second half of the film when Schnabel really scours inside the mind of van Gogh as his mental illness starts to get the best of him — hallucinations, anxiety, depression and self-mutilation. Even then, however, Schnabel focuses more on the man, his work and his words. In “At Eternity’s Gate,” he allows viewers to see the world from van Gogh’s transcendent perspective.

Creed II

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Directed by: Steven Caple Jr. (“The Land”)
Written by: Sylvester Stallone (“Rocky”) and Juel Taylor (debut)

When Sylvester Stallone handed writer/director Ryan Coogler the reigns of his beloved “Rocky” franchise a few years ago, Coogler transformed what was arguably a stagnant series into “Creed” — a nostalgic drama with depth and meaning. At that point, Stallone had already done his part, giving audiences an unexpected Best Picture Oscar win in 1976 for the original film and a franchise-worst contribution with the 1990 sequel “Rocky V.”

Although Stallone redeemed himself in 2006 with “Rocky Balboa,” it was the spinoff “Creed” that proved there was still untapped emotion in Rocky’s world of boxing. In the hands of Coogler, “Creed” became one of the surprise hits of the year and even earned Stallone a much-deserved Oscar nomination for his seventh reiteration of the Rocky character — only this time a lot grayer, lonelier and sadder.

Coogler’s choice to follow Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), the son of Rocky friend and competitor Apollo Creed, was an inspired one — and Coogler delivered more than anyone could’ve imagined. Unfortunately, Coogler was unable to return to write or direct “Creed II” (some little movie called “Black Panther” got in the way) and, despite screenplay duties going back to Stallone, the sequel suffers because of it.

The premise, of course, is what will inevitably make “Creed II” hit big at the box office. Adonis squaring off with Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), the boxer who killed his father in “Rocky IV,” is every fanboy’s dream. What “Creed II” just can’t seem to recapture is the distinctive voice of Coogler. Director Steven Caple Jr. (“The Land”) tries to do his best impersonation but doesn’t equal Coogler’s creativity or narrative ambition.

What’s more troubling is that in the three years since we’ve seen Adonis, he hasn’t grown as a character. In the first three quarters of “Creed II,” Adonis is unlikeable and immature. When Rocky decides he doesn’t want to train him for a match with Viktor (Mr. Miyagi does the same thing in “The Karate Kid III!”), Adonis throws a predictable fit (“I’m taking this fight with or without you”) and a myriad of sports movie tropes start ruining what should’ve been a memorable return to the ring.

“Creed II” also misses a major opportunity to tell a great story about fathers and sons. Stallone’s script just isn’t strong enough to link the dynamics between Ivan and Viktor, Apollo and Adonis, and Rocky and his estranged boy Robert (Milo Ventimiglia). Somewhere under the clichés there’s something heartfelt to be said, but Stallone and first-time screenwriter Juel Taylor simply don’t land their jabs. But, hey, at least there’s a bunch of training montages.

The Front Runner

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Vera Farmiga, Sara Paxon
Directed by: Jason Reitman (“Tully”)
Written by: Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”), Jay Carson (debut), Matt Bai (debut)

It’s almost laughable to think that only 30 years ago, an entire political campaign for a U.S. presidential hopeful collapsed under the weight of a sordid extramarital affair. In comparison to the numerous sexual misconduct allegations raised about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016 — not to mention his countless public gaffes that would’ve destroyed any other candidate’s chances of making it to the White House — the unfaithfulness of Colorado Senator Gary Hart feels like such a trivial issue.

In “The Front Runner,” however, Academy Award-nominated writer/director Jason Reitman (“Up in the Air”) does his best to make Hart’s narrative resonate for audiences that can see the parallels between his indiscretions in the late 1980s and the bad behavior men from all industries have been called out for since the start of the #MeToo movement last year. It’s not heavy-handed from this aspect, but the similarities are recognizable for those who consume news on, at least, a semi-regular basis.

Reitman, who has been in a slump these last five years with less-than-stellar contributions like “Labor Day” and “Men, Women & Children,” delivers a sufficient look behind the scenes of a campaign spiraling out of control, although much of it is surface-level drama that fails to get into the heads of its main characters. It’s especially true of Hart (Hugh Jackman), who spends most of the film’s run time playing defense against accusations and blaming reporters for their salacious coverage.

As Hart, Jackman is genuinely believable in his role as a confident politician who is “talented at untangling the bullshit of politics” and becomes the front runner for the 1988 Democratic nomination. Hart was known for his resistance to answering questions about his personal life, so when the Miami Herald ran an article on an affair he was allegedly involved in, he quickly became a punchline for Johnny Carson and would later be written into the history books as the embodiment of political scandal.

“The Front Runner” is a captivating story but would’ve benefited from the script giving audiences a more meaningful insight into how Hart’s infidelity affected the lives of everyone around him — specifically his wife Lee (Vera Farmiga), campaign manager Bill Dixon (J.K. Simmons) and young lover Donna Rice (Sara Paxton). In her couple of scenes, Paxton gets closer than anyone in capturing the magnitude of Hart’s selfish actions.

Like all politicians, “The Front Runner” is flawed. But Reitman offers up a compelling enough glimpse from the campaign trail and shows that, no matter in what era, journalists will always be there to hold people in power accountable — even if that means forcing them to air out their dirty laundry.

Green Book

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen, Linda Cardellini
Directed by: Peter Farrelly (“There’s Something About Mary”)
Written by: Peter Farrelly (“Hall Pass”), Brian Hayes Currie (“Two Tickets to Paradise”) and Nick Vallelonga (“Choker”)

When filmmakers step out of their comfort zones, things can sometimes get interesting. This year, we saw gore hound Eli Roth (“Hostel”) craft a spooky, yet kid-friendly flick, with “The House with a Clock in Its Walls.” We also got another chapter from the “Halloween” horror franchise, this time from the perspective of drama/comedy director David Gordon Green (“Stronger”). Now, Peter Farrelly — one half of the directing duo known as the Farrelly brothers (“Dumb and Dumber,” “There’s Something About Mary”) — splits from his sibling for the first time and ventures out on his own to make “Green Book,” a charming, crowd-pleasing dramedy that, unfortunately, pulls its punches on race relations.

Set in New York City in 1962, “Green Book” tells the true story of two men who couldn’t be more different from one another — Dr. Don Shirley (Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali), a sophisticated Jamaican-American classical pianist, and Tony “Lip” Vallelonga (Academy Award-nominee Viggo Mortensen), a working-class nightclub bouncer with a gift for gab.

The men find themselves on the road together when Don hires Tony to be his driver and security during a two-month-long concert tour through the Deep South. This, of course, was during the Jim Crow era when laws mandated racial segregation. The film’s title refers to the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” a travel guide blacks could refer to so they could know which establishments (restaurants, hotels, etc.) were considered African-American-friendly. With Tony’s “innate ability to handle trouble,” they embark on a trip that ends with both of them learning about tolerance and true friendship.

Its messaging on race, however, is a little trickier. “Green Book” is serious when it needs to be, but there’s also humor at its heart. Recent films like “The Help” and “Hidden Figures” have also taken a more lighthearted approach to the painful subject of racism, and there’s no denying that it’s a tough balancing act that filmmakers need to be mindful of so they don’t appear flippant on the issue.

“Green Book”’s intention isn’t to preach or hammer a message home with harrowing images or depictions of ultra-realistic bigotry. If audiences are looking for something like that, they should go stream “Mississippi Burning” or “American History X.” Instead, “Green Book” is focused on the dynamic between Don and Tony and how they maneuver beyond their own personal biases to respect each other.

No one ever said racism in this country doesn’t exist anymore because Barack Obama was twice elected President, and no one is saying anything similar because “Green Book,” with all its mainstream appeal and handful of hokey clichés, is an enjoyable picture. Farrelly didn’t produce a flawless film, but he hit an appropriately inspirational and life-affirming theme and tone with ease.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tim Blake Nelson, Liam Neeson, James Franco
Directed by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo”)
Written by: Joel and Ethan Coen (“True Grit”)

As is the case with many of Academy Award-winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coens’ projects, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” a six-part Western anthology that leads audiences through the heart of the unforgiving American Frontier, is a worthy addition to the Coens’ darkly funny cinematic canon, which includes classics like “Fargo” and “The Big Lebowski” and lesser-known gems like “A Serious Man.”

Do not, however, go into the Coens’ newest horse opera thinking they are going to deliver another “True Grit” or “No Country for Old Men.” It’s evident from those critically acclaimed films that they have the Western genre down pat, but “Buster Scruggs” is a different kind of movie altogether. Like “The Sisters Brothers” — another unconventional and philosophical cowboy dramedy that hit theaters a couple of months ago — it’s a unique and unpredictably screwy ride.

Of the film’s six vignettes, the one that would win an Oscar on its own in the Best Short Film category is the 20-minute opening segment, aptly called “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” and featuring actor Tim Blake Nelson (“O Brother, Where Art Thou?”) as the title character, a neatly dressed outlaw and “songbird,” who trots into town on horseback with his guitar only to find a heap of trouble waiting for him at every turn. With the Coens’ whip-smart dialogue and Nelson’s confident and wildly fun performance, “Buster Scruggs” starts off incredibly strong.

While the rest of the segments don’t reach the heights of the first, all of them offer viewers something special — a series of fantastic yarns spun with distinctive themes, pacing and colorful characters. In the segment “Near Algodones,” an unnamed cowboy (James Franco) walks into a dusty bank to rob it but finds his neck at the end of a noose when the teller (Stephen Root) fights back.

In “Meal Ticket,” The Impresario (Liam Neeson) serves as the caretaker to The Artist (Harry Melling), a limbless thespian who recites dramatic verse for townspeople across the Old West until his traveling companion discovers he might have a new plan. In “The Gal Who Got Rattled,” a young woman named Alice Lonabaugh (Zoe Kazan) is left in an uncomfortable position when her brother dies on the Oregon trail. Her future is uncertain until wagon train guide Billy Knapp (Bill Heck) offers her a start at a new life.

Made significant by the Coens’ clever screenplay, the gorgeous photography by five-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) and the beautiful score by two-time Oscar-nominated composer Carter Burwell (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), “Buster Scruggs” is an epic delight.

A Private War

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Tom Hollander
Directed by: Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”)
Written by: Arash Amel (“Grace of Monaco”)

In most instances, the horrors of war are depicted in film form from a male military standpoint. Recently, feature narratives including Oscar-nominees like “Dunkirk,” “Hacksaw Ridge” and “American Sniper” have placed audiences in the trenches of war — wars that span the globe and encompass an extensive timeline.

A lot can be understood, too, when a war story is taken from the perspective of someone whose job isn’t to actually fight, but, instead, to observe and report. These men and women are appropriately hailed as heroes in their own right — journalists who risk their lives to seek the truth and convey to the world what they have witnessed.

No one is quite as deserving of that distinction than late war correspondent Marie Colvin, who in 1986 began her career writing from the frontlines of every major conflict in the Middle East. In “A Private War,” first-time feature filmmaker and Oscar-nominated documentarian Matthew Heineman (“Cartel Land”) and screenwriter Arash Amel (“Grace of Monaco”) capture the grit, fearlessness and obsession for her work that shaped who Colvin was when she was embedded on the battlefield. (Colvin died in Syria in 2012 while covering the country’s civil war).

Portraying Colvin is Oscar-nominated British actress Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”), a role that has to be one of the most physically demanding in her last 20 years. Narrating Colvin’s thoughts throughout the film, Pike gives moviegoers a glimpse of her tenacity for her profession and strength needed in battle, even after she loses her eye in a grenade attack in Sri Lanka in 2001. “Make that suffering part of the record,” she says as if physical pain was always a component of her job description.

Throwing herself in the dirt to dodge bullets, however, wasn’t the only suffering Colvin had to endure. Heineman and Amel explore Colvin’s alcoholism and PTSD, both of which resulted from the war-zone nightmares she was consistently haunted by. “You’ve seen more than most soldiers,” a colleague tells her at one point in the film. Pike’s confident performance maximizes these mentally draining scenes, and the script manages to help with some of the heavy lifting.

All the same, in “A Private War,” Pike is perfectly capable of carrying the film on her own. Whether she sits down to interview a heartless dictator face to face or watches the unearthing of a mass grave holding the remains of Saddam Hussein victims, Pike’s intense passion and genuine humanity shine through.

At a time when journalists are being labeled “the enemy of the people” from the highest levels of our own government, “A Private War” is here to remind everyone that they’re really not.

Widows

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson
Directed by: Steve McQueen (“12 Years a Slave”)
Written by: Steve McQueen (“Shame”) and Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”)

Academy Award-winner Steve McQueen is a brilliant director. Although he has only made three features in the last decade — prior to his new thriller “Widows” — each of those films was clearly different and truly memorable, especially his controversial 2011 drama “Shame,” which starred Michael Fassbender as a New York City sex addict, and his brutal, 2013 Oscar-winning drama “12 Years a Slave.”

Sadly, his early cinematic achievements make “Widows” all the more disappointing. Knowing what he is capable of doing behind the camera, it’s unfortunate to see how incredibly ordinary of a heist movie it turned out to be. Even with a top-notch cast, its sprawling narrative ambition, flimsy characterizations and vague central plot push “Widows” to the brink of total collapse.

Set in Chicago, “Widows” kicks off with serious potential. McQueen and co-writer Gillian Flynn (“Gone Girl”) introduce audiences to a foursome of criminals who are quickly dispatched during a heist gone wrong. Left to mourn them are their wives — Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and less-important Amanda (a wasted Carrie Coon). When Veronica learns that her husband Harry (Liam Neeson) owes $2 million to some shady associates, she takes a set of blueprints left behind by her dead husband and decides to organize a robbery with the help of Linda and Alice, so they can pay off the debt.

Bursting over with more subplots than McQueen and Flynn know what to do with, “Widows” also follows a powerful and corrupt political family, led by father-son tandem Tom and Jack Mulligan (Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell), who get caught up in dirty deeds with one of Veronica’s debt collectors. Their story interlinks to one of the overall themes of the film, which attempts to deliver a reflective message about race, class and gentrification, but does so without much enthusiasm or emotion.

Regrettably, “Widows” forgets that it is – first and foremost – supposed to be a believable heist flick. There is so much happening away from their actual strategy, Flynn neglects piecing together a logical way to get Veronica and her crew to accomplish the feat without mucking it up. Sure, there’s a little preparation involved as we watch the women scout the location and talk through the importance of avoiding slip-ups, but once it’s time to execute the plan, moviegoers will be hard-pressed to explain how these characters are even remotely close to being ready for such a dangerous mission.

Add to this a handful of obvious plot holes and secondary storylines about a tense election, a rich developer procuring sexual services from Alice, a dead son, a fifth single mother trying to make ends meet, a hairstylist with a loan problem and an anticlimactic twist, and “Widows” spreads itself to waifish proportions.

Wildlife

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ed Oxenbould
Directed by: Paul Dano (debut)
Written by: Zoe Kazan (“Ruby Sparks”) and Paul Dano (debut)

Over his 18-year career, actor Paul Dano has become one of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets — a talented performer whose roles in mostly dramas and dark comedies are usually eclipsed by headlining movie stars or flashier characters or, in the case of last year’s “Swiss Army Man,” a farting Harry Potter.

In a sense, some of Dano’s roles are tonally linked by seemingly reclusive characters who gradually break out of their shells to uncover another distinctive part of their personality. He does this with ease in Oscar-winning films like 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine” and 2007’s “There Will Be Blood.”

Dano takes this idea of a smoldering character and uses it to define the atmosphere of his directorial debut “Wildlife” — an intimate, low-key family affair that slowly gives way to a narrative where aggravation, pain and resentment simmer beneath the landscape ready to flare up. All in all, it’s one of the best first independently produced features by an actor-turned-director since Tom McCarthy’s 2003 debut film “The Station Agent.”

Set in the 1960s, the film, much like 2008’s “Revolutionary Road,” depicts the dissolution of a marriage and family. In this instance, it’s the Brinsons — Jerry (Jake Gyllenhaal), his wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and their teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould), who serves as the main spectator of the domestic drama.

Making a life for themselves in a peaceful Montana town, Jerry stays busy working as a caddy at a local golf course. The family dynamic shifts greatly when he is abruptly fired from his job. Stuck in a rut and looking for something meaningful to do, he decides to leave town to become a modestly paid firefighter and battle the blazes destroying the state’s forests. With Jeanette at home upset with Jerry’s choice of employment, she finds solace in the arms of wealthy car dealership owner Warren Miller (Bill Camp).

Subtle in its storytelling, screenwriters Zoe Kazan (“Ruby Sparks”) and Dano offer a delicate approach to the subject matter as Joe attempts to understand what his mother is doing and how his fear of uncertainty is shaping his childhood. His awareness and concern for his family’s survival is palpable as Jeanette embroils herself into a situation she knows is wrong, but one that might bring her some kind of simulated happiness.

The coming-of-age parallels between Joe growing into a man while his father is away and the emotional disarray his mother causes while setting off on her own direction are effective. Mulligan is nothing short of mesmerizing as she struggles internally with life-altering decisions that will ultimately lead to the destruction of something that was once beloved.

Boy Erased

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe
Directed by: Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”)
Written by: Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”)

Australian actor-turned-director Joel Edgerton (“The Gift”) steps behind the camera for only the second time in his career with “Boy Erased,” a compassionate and, at times, upsetting account of a young man’s forced participation in a conversion-therapy program at the hands of his Baptist pastor father and devout mother. It’s a crucially important coming-of-age drama that will hopefully serve as a cautionary tale for those who believe that pseudoscientific treatment or spiritual intervention can actually “pray the gay away.”

Based on author Garrard Conley’s 2016 memoir of the same name, the film stars Academy Award-nominated actor Lucas Hedges (“Manchester by the Sea”) as Jared Eamons, a high-school teen from Arkansas who begins to question his sexuality. This is followed by a series of traumatic experiences — without the thoughtful and empathetic responses most would want from their family. When his conservative father Marshall (Russell Crowe) confronts Jared about a rumor, he denies it at first before admitting to having an attraction to men.

Turning to the counsel of “wiser” elders in his congregation, the consensus is that Jared should be sent to reparation therapy where he can be cured of his homosexuality, an idea he agrees to if only to placate his parents, including his mother Nancy (Nicole Kidman), who sits quietly to the side as her son is urged to renounce what the church believes is an immoral lifestyle.

Once in therapy and surrounded by young men and women also struggling with their sexuality, Jared starts to recognize that nothing justifies the cruelty he and the others are suffering through. While he doesn’t receive much pity from his dad, “Boy Erased” takes a turn toward a more inspiring narrative when his mom realizes the program is causing more harm than good. Kidman is brilliant as she transforms from an initially complicit woman who defers to her husband and the men of the church to someone who chooses to accept her son for who he is, despite the consequences that come with that decision.

Taking on double duty as director and supporting actor is Edgerton, who portrays Victor Sykes, the resolved leader of the therapy sessions. Like “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” another gay-conversion drama that debuted earlier this year starring Chloë Grace Moretz (“Let Me In”), “Boy Erased” doesn’t simplify its characters into heroes and villains. It wants audiences to understand the complexities of the relationships, even though, occasionally, it feels like Edgerton keeps the viewer at arm’s length on an emotional level.

Nevertheless, “Boy Erased” is critical viewing, especially for those bigots out there who still think a person’s sexual orientation is a choice. It’s all worth it if “Boy Erased” is able to affect a few minds.

Next Page »