the favourite

Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) ruled England in the early 1700’s.  Anne presided over a war with France, the second of the French and Indian wars, and there were two factions, Robert Harley, (Nicholas Hoult) leader of the opposition Tory party, wants to sue for peace.  Lord Marlborough’s wife, Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) is in favor of continuing the war with France, and Queen Anne is closer to Lady Sarah than anyone else so the war continues.  But Queen Anne is quite sick and obese, so a new chambermaid is sent for, Abigail Hill, (Emma Stone) who was left destitute by her father’s financial speculation, seems to want to return to her former high station, so she begins a charm offensive to win the confidence of Queen, does the Queen let Abigail into her inner circle, or continue to be influenced by Lady Sarah?

The Favourite is pretty historically accurate, but it strays from historical accuracy when it illustrates the more salacious aspects of the film.  There was a war with France, there were two women bidding for Queen Anne’s attention, they were rivals, both looking to increase their own power and influence, but that’s where the similarities and movie ends.  The salacious parts of the movie are obviously written to add spice to the film, and generate a buzz.  It works to an extent, as does the addition of humor, but this is a period piece, after all, and if the viewer has no interest in this period of history, no amount of humor or sensationalism of events will pique the interest of a social media crazed populace. And whether one of the favourites actually influenced Queen Anne to the extent that this movie implies is an open question.

The acting is good, very good in some instances.  Olivia Colman won the Best Actress Academy Award for Best Actress, and deservedly so.  She handled both comedy and drama adroitly, and the way she could switch from comedy to drama effortlessly and at a moment’s notice was an incredible thing to watch.  She was also very good as one of the detectives on the BBC television show Broadchurch. Rachel Weisz was also very good as the caustic, catty, ambitious Lady Sarah.  Weisz brings a sense of entitlement to the performance, and it fits thee character perfectly. Emma Stone is less convincing as Abagail, she does a pretty good British accent, but she didn’t seem to bring enough gravitas to the role when acting with the likes of Colman and Weisz.  Nicholas Hoult didn’t seem like the best choice either, he seemed to be more play acting at a role that should have been played by someone older and more seasoned.  It seems like some of the casting was based on appealing to a younger demographic.

The director tries to bring some visual flair to the film, using some kind of fish-eye lens in some of the scenes, which definitely makes things more interesting, but the pacing is awfully slow, and that makes the viewer think why he/she is watching this slow ponderously paced film, the answer is the acting, but  the viewer might not last past the first hour.  The performances are good, how much credit does an unknown director get for good performances?  That is another open question.

The Favourite.  Do yourself a fovour and watch it.

 

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A Star Is Born

One night Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) goes into a bar, and sees a singer named Ally, (Lady Gaga) and he is blown away by her voice.  Jackson also sees her jotting lyrics in her notebook and thinks she can be a heck of a songwriter.  Ally works as a waitress and confides to Jack that she doesn’t sing her songs in public.  Nevertheless, Jack invites Ally to his next show and invites her to sing on stage with him, she does, and they go on tour together.

While on tour, Ally meets record producer Raz Gavron, (Rafi Gavron) Raz is  also amazed by Ally’s talent, and offers her a contract on the spot.  Meanwhile Jack’s life is rapidly falling apart, he has a drinking and drug problem, and his relationship with his half-brother, Bobby (Sam Elliot), is strained at best .  But Jackson sees Ally as the one last hope in his life, and proposes marriage to her.  Does she accept the marriage proposal?  Does she sign the producer’s record contract?

This is the fourth version of this movie, it’s more like the 1976 version than the others, but it’s basically the same story, except the writers try to update the story in ways that only makes the storytelling clumsy and embarrassing.  It’s not even a convincing portrayal of stardom, Jack is never mobbed by his adoring fans, there’s no pressure from the record company to make a new album, nothing.  Jack’s problems seem like nothing more than rock clichés, not real-life problems.  The love affair seems stilted and forced, not romantic at all, and since the lead characters are paper thin, the ending, which is supposed to pack an emotional punch, falls flat as a flapjack.  The songs are good, save yourself two hours, and buy the soundtrack.

The acting is one again, putrid.  Bradley Cooper does his best Sam Elliot impression, and then Sam Elliot actually appears, and the movie turns into Dueling Elliots.  I honestly thought Elliot’s character was Cooper’s character’s father, but no, they are brothers, despite Elliot being 75 years old. Sam That;s a little Hollywood egoism at play.  Elliot has the same dull monotone delivery in every movie he’s in, this one is no different.  Lady Gaga can’t act, neither could her role model Madonna, so their careers seem to be dovetailing again.  Paraphrasing an Eddie Murphy joke about Elvis, maybe the movie would have been better is Gaga sung all her lines.  As if Gaga’s acting wasn’t bad enough, Andrew Dice Clay shows up, and he’s playing Gaga’s father.  For those too young to remember who Andrew Dice Clay is, he was a 1980’s shock jock comedian, whose jokes were punctuated by phrases like ay, oh.  Not to be left out Dave Chappelle plays one of Jackson’s friends.  It’s not that comedians can’t play serious roles, just not in a badly written musical romance.

The direction is inconsequential, Bradley Cooper also wrote and directed this film the pacing is slow, there are several songs staged, in big and small settings, nothing really dramatic, visually, and the performances are poor.  Stay in front of the camera, Bradley.

A Star Is Born:  Shallow, at best

Movie Review: Overlord (2018)

Posted: March 31, 2019 in Action, Drama

OVERLORD

Near D-Day in 1944, a group of paratroopers are on a mission to destroy a Nazi radio tower behind enemy lines in France.  Before they can prepare for the jump, the plane is hit by enemy fire and the soldiers have to jump out of the burning plane to save their lives.  Private Boyce (Jovian Adepo) finds his platoon leader, Ford (Wyatt Russell) the company photographer, Chase (Ian De Caestecker) and the only Jewish member o the group, Rosenfeld (Dominic Applewhite) who’s worried about what will happen if the Nazis capture him.  Boyce gets separated from the paratroopers, and finds himself in a church basement, where he finds some pretty disturbing things going on.  Boyce also finds Rosenfeld, and escapes to a house in a French village inhabited by a woman named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) and her brother Paul.  A Nazi officer named Wafner  (Pillau Asbueck) is also in the house.  Does Boyce tell everyone what he’s found in the church basement?  What exactly is happening in the church basement?

Overlord could have been a great or at least a good movie, based in some part on reality, Nazis doing unspeakable things during World War 2.  The writers do a pretty good job of keeping the secret of what the Nazis are doing, but this movie quickly devolves into another Hollywood bloodbath, full of gore and violence.  The characters are paper thin,  stock World War II movie film characters, whatever plot there is quickly dissolves.  There is a nascent love story that is hinted at, but never fully developed, and the ending is forgettable.

The acting is poor.  Jovian Adepo tries his best to play an interesting character, but there isn’t enough on the page for him to work with, so it’s a waste of time.  Mathilde Ollivier is stuck in the damsel in distress role, Wyatt Russell is stuck with the hero archetype, and doesn’t do much with it.

The direction, by newcomer Julius Avery is not worth mentioning, the pacing is slow, there are really cheap visual effects, and the acting is bad, it’s definitely a low budget B movie, please don’t waste time on this movie, goodness knows why J.J. Abrams would want to associate  with a film as badly made as this.

Overlord:  Thank the lord it’s over.

captain marvel

Vers (Brie Larson) is a Kree warrior, who is captured by the Kree’s archenemy the Skrull, who search her memories for some information vital to the Skrull civilization.  Vers escapes her captors and crash lands on Earth circa 1995, followed in hot pursuit by the Skrull, who can shapeshift into any human on earth.  Vers and the Skrull are met by two Agents of SHIELD Nick Fury, (Samuel L. Jackson)  and Agent Coulson. (Clark Gregg) Fury kills one of the Skurlls, an takes part in an alien autopsy with his superior, Keller, (Ben Mendelsohn) who is really the Skrull leader, Talos in disguise.

Using Fury’s security clearance, Vers finds out about a secret Air Force project called Pegasus, run by Dr. Wendy Lawson.(Annette Benning)  Vers has some dim memories of Earth, and of Wendy Lawson, but she’s not sure if she can trust these memories.  So Vers and Fury go to Louisiana to see Maria Rambeau  (Lashana Lynch)  Does Maria remember Vers, or is Vers’ mind playing tricks on her?  What about Talos, is he a terrorist as the Kree think?

What happens when one has low expectations for a movie, and is happily surprised?  Captain Marvel happens.  The writers do an excellent job of turning the usual superhero narrative on its head.  The writers also make Vers relatable, they do this in several ways, and all of them work.  The movie also works as a buddy movie between Fury and Vers, although some of the banter seems forced, the characters seem pretty natural and comfortable with each other.  There are some sloppily written political messages interspersed in the movie, and probably one too many 90’s references, but above all, this movie is about a person’s search for her true identity.  The women’s empowerment message layered on top of the identity crisis is unmistakable and powerful. And the ending is satisfying, unlike Avengers Infinity War.

The performance by Brie Larson is multifaceted.  She gives her character vulnerability, but also strength, and wit and confidence, she makes the character her own, and the question of gender becomes irrelevant.  Samuel L. Jackson is very comfortable playing Nick Fury, and he’s clearly having fun with the character.  His chemistry with Larson is obvious, and it redounds to the benefit of the film.  Lashana Lynch plays a key role in this movie, and she makes it absolutely authentic, for the movie to work, Lynch’s character has to work, she has great chemistry with Larson and Jackson.  Annette Benning is another actress who is enjoying the complexity of her character.  It’s fun for the audience too, to see actors, not just play one dimensional characters.  Ben Mendelsohn also does a great job giving Talos multiple dimensions.

There are two directors, and they often work together on projects, even though this is the first big budget film they have worked on.  They keep the pacing brisk, after getting past the origin story and the exposition, the story moves along nicely.  The directors are smart to visually tell the story of a woman trying to reconstruct her life through montages and still pictures, and those visuals support the written story hand in glove.  The pair is also smart not to overuse special effects and let them dominate the story.

Captain Marvel:  Tip your cap to the filmmakers.

True-Detective-Season-3-Trailer

True Detective Season 3 (2019)

Episode 1: The Great War and Modern Memory

12 year old Will Purcell (Phoenix Elkin) and his sister Julie (Lena McCarthy) go missing in rural Arkansas.  Their father Tom, (Scoot McNeary) reluctantly calls police.  Detectives Wayne Hays (Mahershala alihershala Ali) and Roland West (Stphen Dorff) begin to investigate the case, what do the find out?

Some of the writing in this episode is very pedestrian, the writers roll out the usual suspects at the scene of the crime, stoner teens, the kids’ parents doing a Southern version of Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, the kids’ mother’s mysterious cousin.  No mahershala alitter how sophisticated the writing tries to be, the writers can’t avoid the Southern hick stereotype that permeates Hollywood.  The mood of this episode is very reminiscent of season 1.  The one interesting aspect of the writing is that the story follows the action in three separate timelines simultaneously.

The distinguishing characteristic of this season is the acting. Mahershala Ali  is great in anything he does, and this is no exception.  He plays Hays as a person on a slow simmer, seething with anger just below the surface, its a great performance.  I was pleasantly surprised by Stephen Dorff’s performance, I’ve only seen him in Blade, and he didn’t impress me, here he gives a serious, well-modulated performance.

The director adds some visual flair, but not a lot.

Episode 2:  Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye

Hays and West interrogate two suspects in the disappearance. Schoolteacher Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo) helps the detectives talk to one of the children about a potentially important clue.  The detectives’ battle with the Mayor about what to do about some of the evidence they’ve found.  The detectives get a note about Julie, could she be alive?

The writing is much better in this episode.  The episode is rife with dramatic tension.  The detectives interrogations are no holds barred events, the detectives battle the mayor, the town, each other, the stress of the kidnapping is affecting everyone in this town and the stress is showing.

Great performances again by Ali, Dorff and Ejogo, playing a woman with a somewhat mysterious past.  There is great chemistry between the three leads, and that is hard to find in movies, never mind tv.  I’m excited to see the next episode.

Episode 3:  The Big Never

Wayne Hayes and Amelia Reardon explore a relationship, but almost immediately fissures are exposed between the two.  Hays collects more evidence, but what does he do with it.  In 1990, ten years after the Pernell case began, police are thinking about reopening the case, do they?

This episode is a lot about Wayne and Amelia’s relationship, and Wayne’s state of mind during the case and later on.  Amelia is used quite intelligently as the voice of guilt in Wayne’s head, but what is he guilty about?  Therein lies the mystery, and it will take 5 episode to unravel.  Agai, great acting by Ali, Dorff, and Ejogo.  There are a few visual tricks directorially, but the story is so engrossing, despite some police drama clichés, that the hour goes by rapidly.

Episode 4: The Hour and The Day

More suspects are rounded up and questioned.  Woodward,(Michael Greyeyes)  a man who collects cans to make money  (Michael Greyeyes) is harassed on mere suspicion alone.  In 1990, Hays becomes obsessed with a new piece of evidence. Amelia tries to get Lucy Purcell, (Melinie Gummer) to confide in her, but Lucy sees an ulterior motive. Tom Purcell gets beat up, and gets driven home by West.

The problem I have with this episode is that it doesn’t really move the ball forward in terms of the missing kids.  It has intensity, the acting is great, but many of  the plotlines are redundant.  In an 8 episode series, there should not be filler episodes, this felt like filler.

Episode 5:  If You Have Ghosts

A gang of vigilantes closes in on Woodward, but Woodward has a surprise for them, and Hays is caught in the middle.  In 1990, Tom Purcell goes to the evidence room and sees something he shouldn’t.  Amelia’s actions lead to tension in her relationship with Hays. New evidence leads to tension between Hays and West.  An elderly Hays seeks comfort and closure from West, what does he get?

This is a very interesting episode, the scenes crackle with tension, the sexual tension between Wayne and Amelia defines their relationship.  There are all kinds of hints and foreshadowing as to what happened, but the writers will make the viewers wait it out.  There are plenty of suspects, and no clear one as of yet, that’s what makes the story intriguing.

There is really good acting too, by Mahershala Ali Stephen Dorff, Ejogo, and now Scoot Mc Neary, the acting keeps the tension near a fever pitch, it is really fun to watch actors at the top of their game, with great writing as a compliment.

Episode 6:  Hunters in The Dark

New evidence in the case lead Detectives West and Hays question Tom Purcell, and Lucy Purcell’s cousin Dan O’Brien. (Michael Graziadei)  The detectives are also questioning Harris James, (Scott Shepherd) who is now head of security at Hoyt Foods, and used to be a detective on the Purcell case.   Amelia does her own investigation for a new book, but gets blowback for the book she just finished.

The intensity on this season’s episodes are off the charts.  The detectives are getting frustrated with the suspects, the suspects are getting frustrated with each other, and the detectives are getting frustrated with each other, the whole drama is like a pressure cooker and the pressure keeps building and building.  The end of this episode is a real honest to goodness cliffhanger.

 

Episode 7:  The Final Country

In the 1990’s Hays is pursuing two suspects, and both can provide promising leads if Hays and West can track them down.  Amelia is pursuing leads of her own.  Something happens to Tom Purcell and Dan O’Brien that deepens the mystery.

This episode tells me what a great season this is.  There is a deeper conspiracy to the story, and no one’s hands are clean in this season.  The viewer asks what mahershala alikes the investigation start and stop, and this episode answers a lot of questions and leaves one big overhanging question, who is responsible for the kidnapping of the Purcell children and who facilitated the kidnapping?  It’s an intricately crafted story with exquisite acting, and I hope the final episode gives the setup some justice with a decent ending.

Episode 8:  Now Am Found

The truth of what happened to the Purcell children is finally revealed, as an elderly Hays doggedly pursues answers.  What happened to the children, who is responsible?

This was a good episode, a nice way to end the series.  The conspiracy wasn’t as far reaching or as sinister as I expected, the ending was a little less dark than I wanted, but there was an ironic twist to the ending that made it bittersweet.  There was one character that the writers never completed the exposition on, and that bothered me.

My Impressions of Season Three

Season 3 of True Detective was undoubtedly the best season from beginning to end.  Season 1 was marred by a confusingly cryptic ending.  The story, the characters the flashbacks, flash forwards, everything was well constructed in season three, the whole puzzle fit together and everything made sense.

The acting was superb, Maihershala Ali deserves an Emmy for this performance that’s not even going out on a limb, they should engrave his name on it right now.  He had to play his character at three different stages in his life, and he is totally transformed as an elderly version of Detective Hays.  Age has ravaged him, and he shows the effects of it.  Gone is the swaggering tough guy of 28 years past, replaced by a forgetful, vulnerable old main.  It is a mesmerizing performance. I was happily  surprised by Stephen Dorff’s performance, he put everything into this role and imbued West with a lot of intensity.  The chemistry between Ali and Dorff is incredible, sometimes they love each other, sometimes they hated each other, and each seemed perfectly natural. Carmen Ejogo plays Amelia interestingly, she keeps the viewer off balance, does she really love Wayne or is she only interested in her own  career?  The writers should have done more to supplement this character’s story.  Egojo’s accent slips a few times, but she does a pretty good accent.

The direction was visually unobtrusive, the pacing was good, the performances were excellent.

True Detectives:  Season 3 lives up to its true potential.

widows

In modern day Chicago, when a team of robbers, headed by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) are killed after trying to escape their latest brazen robbery,  they leave their wives with a mountain of debt, and no way to pay it off.  Harry’s wife, Veronica (Viola Davis) finds a book of Harry’s past robberies and one that he was planning.  The job will score Veronica five million dollars, she’s got to round up the other men’s wives, Alice (Elizabeth Debecki) Linda Michelle Rodriguez) and a potential driver Belle (Cynthia Erivo) and convince them that this is a job worth doing.  Veronica’s got to pull of the heist in the midst of a political campaign where two candidates, Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry and Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell) pledge to clean up this part of Chicago, but are both corrupt themselves.  Does Veronica convince her fellow widows to join her?

There’s a certain amount of ironic humor when in the first scene, Liam Neeson is passionately kissing Viola Davis, but that’s not the worst thing about this movie.  There’s the old cliché about one last job or one last case, there’s a totally unnecessary subplot about the corrupt politicians, tangents that don’t belong, and a plot twist that adds nothing to the enjoyment of this film.  In fact, other than the female robbers, this movie has precious little new to say.  The screenplay was co-written by Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame, or should I say infamy, that accounts for the unlikable characters.  This film really had a good premise but it was executed terribly.

The acting in a word is awful.  Liam Neeson picks up another check going through the motions as an angry middle aged victim/anti-hero.  Viola Davis is a good actress shoehorned in a bad role and she wears only one expression a deep scowl.  Michelle Rodriguez is not a good actress, who doesn’t do much here except try to out grimace Voila Davis.  Cynthia Erivo gave a wonderfully nuanced performance in Bad Times At The El Royale doesn’t show much subtlety here, she punches a heavy bag here, to show how tough she is.  Only Elizabeth Debecki shows a little ability to modulate her character, but it doesn’t really matter.  Colin Farrell plays a corrupt Irish American politician while trying to hide his Irish brogue.  Robert Duvall yells a lot, and thinks its acting.  He used to be a good actor.

A lot of the blame for the failure of this film goes to Steve McQueen. He directed and co-wrote this film. I loved 12 Years a Slave, but this film has a lot to apologize for.  The pacing of Widows is awful, the action scenes are perfunctory, and the performances are horrid, by the time all the elements of the story came together, it was too late to care.

Widows:  Deserves To be buried.

bad times at the el royale

In 1969, Catholic priest  Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges) meets singer Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo) salesman Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm) and flower child, Emily Summerspring, (Dakata Johnson) and her sister, Rose (Cailee Spaeny) in the El Royale hotel, on the border of Las Vegas and California.

Ten years earlier, a man buried something in the floor of one of the rooms, and pays for it with his life.  Who knows about what was buried in that room, and what are they willing to do to get it?  As people are finding out more about the other guests in the hotel, a new person checks in, Billy Lee.(Chris Hemsworth)  Who is Billy?  Does he know any of the other guests at the hotel?

El Royale starts out as a pretty good noir style mystery and maintains the mystery for a decent amount of time, the first act of violence is jarring and interesting, but then the script goes to the well too often, with one violent act after another, and the movie becomes a bloodletting and violence porn.  It’s obvious that writer/director Drew Goddard is trying to emulate Quentin Tarantino , but he really shouldn’t.  Tarantino scripts always have a sense of humor about them, tongue firmly in cheek. Goddard treats this material so seriously that it’s hard not to be horrified at what unfolds, and by the time Billy Lee takes center stage, whatever is left of the story goes screeching off the rails.

The acting is somewhat good, not great, it should have been better, given the cast.  Jeff Bridges is a good actor, and he’s probably given the most to work with from a character perspective.  He does a nice job, making a generally unsympathetic character, sympathetic.  Cynthia Erivo does a great job as the singer waiting for  her next gig, she sings well, and puts enough feeling into the character to make her unpredictable, yet sympathetic.  The character was pretty one-dimensional, however. Jon Hamm is a good actor, but he saddles this character with a phony baloney Southern accent that is grating. His performance is thankfully short.  Chris Hemsworth is a good actor, sometimes this role gives him a chance to ham things up, and boy does he overdo it.  His character destroys any semblance of subtlety this movie had. Dakota Johnson can’t act, and she proves it yet again in this film, if not for nepotism, she would have no career.

Director Drew Goddard gets the visual aspect of directing right, this is a gorgeous film to look at, but that’s it.  The pacing is slow, complete with backstories for nearly every character.  It was yet another case of a director not wanting to cut a scene from a script because the director and screenwriter are the same person.  There are a lot of lackluster performances in this film, and he shares responsibility for that.  Too bad, I liked The Cabin in the Woods, which he directed, and The Martian, which he wrote the screenplay for.

Bad Times At The El Royale: A Royale With Cheese.