Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

Usnavi De La Vega (Anthony Ramos) owns a bodega in Washington Heights, in Manhattan. Usnavi has a suenito, a small dream of going back to the Dominican Republic, and restoring his father’s beachside bar, but he needs money to achieve his dream, so he keeps working at the bodega, with his cousin Sonny. (Gregory Diaz IV)  Usnavi is in love with Vanessa Morales (Melissa Barrera) but is too shy to tell her.  Vanessa works at a nail salon, but dreams of being a fashion designer. Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace) has made it out of Washington Heights, all the way to Stanford in California, Nina’s boyfriend, Benny (Corey Hawkins) is not happy that Nina is so far from home. Benny works for Nina’s dad, Kevin, (Jimmy Smits) as a dispatcher.  Nina isn’t sure she wants to stay at Stanford, does she tell her father how she feels?  Does Usnavi tell Vanessa how he feels, does he achieve his suenito at go back to the Dominican Republic? 

 Is In The Heights an instant classic?  No, but it comes close.  Here’s why it could be a classic.  The music, written by Lin Manuel Miranda is fantastic, and lifts the rest of the material higher than it should be.  The Latino diaspora in the US is well represented, Dominicans, Cubans Puerto Ricans and Mexicans are all represented, or at least sung about.  There’s a very effective scene where Usnavi sends a shout-out to different Latina heroes, like Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, Celia Cuz and even Sonia Sotomayor, but why no Tito Puente or Carlos Santana?  The film, even though it’s a musical, never loses sight of reality. The jobs that these recent immigrants have are very real, and so are the daily monetary struggles they bring. 

However, the plot elements come together much too slowly.  Some of these elements are either unnecessary or emotionally manipulative, which leads to the second critique, the movie is much too long. A running time of 2 ½ hours is long for any film, for a musical, it’s much too long.  In contrast, the film’s denouement, or resolution, conversely comes much too suddenly, and undermines the reality that the film seeks to portray.  The romance between the main characters, Usnavi and Vanessa falls flat, there is no spark between the characters, and it’s actually overshadowed by the Benny/Nina romance. 

The acting is very good.  Anthony Ramos gives Usnavi an understated, self-deprecating charm with lots of humor.  Melissa Berrera did a fine job portraying a woman with big dreams and small paycheck.  There is no chemistry between Berrera and Ramos, and that really detracts from the main storyline.  Much more convincing as lovers are Leslie Grace as Nina ad Corey Hawkins as Benny.  The have the chemistry that Ramos and Berrera lack. Leslie Grace is also very good in illustrating the pressures of being an overachiever, while Hawkins does a solid job of reflecting the angst of a long-distance relationship, and working for his girlfriend’s father.  Jimmy Smits portrays Kevin as a hard-charging entrepreneur who has tasted a bit of success, and wants even more for her daughter.  Olga Merediz reprises her role as Abuela Claudia, the guardian angel of the neighborhood, who watches over everyone, she also conveys the hardships of a first-generation immigrant well.   

The direction is pretty good.  The musical numbers are staged extraordinarily well, with Busby Burkeley type crane shots thrown in for added effect.  But the pacing of the non-musical scenes drags and thee many disparate plot points come together much too late.  Director Jon Chu gets good performances from a young cast, but he should have cut the 2 ½ hour running time and made the whole movie as fresh and exciting as the musical numbers. 

In The Heights:  The director bites off more than he can Chu 

Cassandra (Carey Mulligan) had a promising career as a medical student, until she drops out of medical school after something traumatic happened to her best friend Nina. Now, Cassie spends her days working at a coffee shop with her friend Gail (Laverne Cox) and her nights going on strange dates with even stranger men. It is at the coffee shop where Cassie meets Ryan. (Bo Burnham) Ryan used to go to medical school with Cassie and had a crush on her. They date, but their relationship gets off to a rocky start because Cassie is keeping secrets from Ryan about her nighttime activities.

Through Ryan, Cassandra befriends Madison, (Allison Brie) who went to medical school with both Cassandra and Nina, but she doesn’t remember what happened to Nina. But after Madison finds herself on a compromised position, she remembers some very important information about what happened to Nina, and passes it on to Cassie. What does Cassie do with the information. Do Ryan and Cassandra smooth out the bumps in their relationship?

This is a weird movie. It is undoubtedly a vigilante movie, but it tries to be a strange mashup between revenge porn and a romantic comedy. Imagine a movie that mixes Death Wish, Say Anything, and Misery. As strange as that combination sounds, this movie is oddly dependent on the romantic relationship between Cassie and Ryan. The relationship with Ryan and the romantic tone serve at least three purposes, it serves to normalize the Cassandra character, instead of making her the obsessive, compulsive loner she appears to be, second it gives Cassandra a way to get in touch with old acquaintances in medical school, and third, it lends credence to the movie’s predisposed views about men. But the viewer gets whiplash from the tonal shifts in this film. There is a twist, and it almost saves the film from being another predictable vigilante film, but not quite.

The acting is adequate. Carey Mulligan is nominated for an Oscar, she’s asked to play two roles here, a world-weary woman who has seen the worst of what men have to offer, and a woman waking up to the possibility that she might be in love. It’s a tall order playing two distinct roles in one character, and she pulls off the world-weary woman very well, but doesn’t really pull off the woman falling in love too well. Her American accent is quite heavy, and slips a few times. Bo Burnham is quite convincing as the pediatric surgeon and possible love interest for Mulligan’s character. Laverne Cox, most known for her role in Orange Is The New Black is mostly used as comedy relief and is absent from most of the serious potions of the film.

The director, Emerald Farrell, is also an actress, is also nominated for an Oscar, she shouldn’t win. The pacing is uneven, sometimes recalling a horror movie, sometimes sluggish and slow. She doesn’t control the narrative either, which is all over the map. The set piece, or climactic scene is much too reminiscent of the film Misery, and even though she pulls off quite an imaginative plot twist, it’s not enough to save the movie from its multiple personalities. Regina King should have been nominated for best director and was not.

Promising Young Woman: Carrie’s Mulligan Stew performance doesn’t work for this viewer.

Ariel (Jodi Benson) is a strong-willed mermaid, the 16-year-old daughter of King Triton. (Kenneth Mars) Ariel collects human nick knacks from the surface, even though neither she or her seagull friend Scuttle (Buddy Hackett) knows what they are. King Triton is annoyed that Ariel missed a musical performance, because she was on the surface. Triton asks the royal composer, Sebastian (Samuel E. Wright) to keep an eye on Ariel, but she goes up to the surface again, and sees Eric, (Christopher Daniel Barnes) strapping, young seafaring lad, and Ariel subsequently saves Eric’s life.

When Triton finds out that Ariel has been to the surface multiple times, he gets angry and uses his Trident to destroy Ariel’s collection of human paraphernalia. This rash judgement plays right into the hands of the Sea Witch Ursala, (Pat Carroll) who has been plotting to extract King Triton’s power, and usurp his throne. Ursala approaches Ariel and asks her to make a deal. Ursula will give Ariel human legs in exchange for her voice. Ariel impulsively takes the deal, can she attract Eric without her greatest gift, her voice?

The Little Mermaid is a classic movie for two major reasons, animation, and the music, The animation is beautiful, bright and colorful and makes the underwater look very inviting. After such animated and semi-animated flops in the 70’s like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Robin Hood, and Pete’s Dragon, the animation was refreshing and looked like Disney’s classic animation. The characters were interesting and had their own personalities. King Triton was regal and strong, Scuttle seemed confused, Sebastian was only interested in his position in the royal court, and Ursala was scheming and manipulative, much like Cruella De Vil, she even bears a passing resemblance to Cruella, as well as Pat Carrol, the actress who portrayed her The music takes this movie to another level, “Under the Sea” “Part of Your World” “Kiss The Girl” among others, are not only very entertaining, but they move the story along as well.

There are flaws, Ariel is only 16, she shouldn’t plan to be marrying anyone. Ariel and Eric don’t really get to know each other, Ariel literally can’t speak when they are dating, not a basis for a good relationship, and a lyrical reference to a blackfish in the Under the Sea song, is accompanied by an unflattering caricature of a black female fish. Even with some flaws, this movie became a template for many other Disney classics, a little romance, a little comedy, lots of songs, that’s the current Disney formula, and it’s working. Beauty and The Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin, to name a few, have all followed a similar formula, without seeming formulaic. There was a sequel to The Little Mermaid, not nearly as good, and there will be a remake, because Hollywood has no new ideas.

The acting is good, especially by the character actors. Jodi Benson gives Ariel that teenage rebellion and stubbornness that Ariel needs and she has a great singing voice. Christopher Daniel Barnes gives Eric a happy go-lucky attitude, and there’s not much else to the character. Samuel E Wright gives Sebastian a Trinidadian accent and a haughty air about him. Buddy Hackett makes Scuttle funny and endearing all at once. Pat Carroll oozes evil just as much as her character oozes black ink, and Carroll seems to enjoy playing the scheming, vindictive Ursula, maybe a little too much. Ursula even gets her own song. Rene Auberjonois almost steals the film in his one major scene as a psycho French chef.

The direction is good, the pacing is fast, the musical numbers are staged well, the animation is stunning. The set piece is set in a storm, which makes the scene much more dramatic, and the directors get very good performances, both directors are veterans of the newer Disney animated films, Hercules, Aladdin, The Princess and The Frog and Moana. A flashback and a small backstory involving Triton and Ursula would have added a lot to the story, but the Little Mermaid made over 200 million, and probably saved Disney as a studio.

The Little Mermaid: Get hooked on it.

A teen named Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) who loves horror movies is convinced his new next-door neighbor, Jerry Dandridge, (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire.  Charley’s girlfriend Amy, (Amanda Bearse) his mother, Judy (Dorothy Fielding) and his best friend Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) are all skeptical. But, just after Jerry moves in, a number of women are murdered, and Charley is sure he’s seen Jerry’s roommate, Billy Cole (Jonathan Stark) carrying a coffin with Jerry.  Charley tries to enlist a police detective, Detective Lennox (Art Evans) to try to help catch Jerry.  Unfortunately, the detective is as dubious about Charley’s claims as everyone else seems to be.   

With nowhere else to turn, Charley turns to late night horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell) to try to convince him that Jerry is a vampire.  Peter thinks Charley is crazy, but Peter is also down on his luck, having just been fired from his fright Night tv gig.  So, after being bribed by Amy, he agrees to try to convince Charley that Jerry is not a vampire.  Just as he is about to leave, Peter sees something that may change his mind about Jerry.  What is it?  Does Peter finally help Charley?  Is Amy safe from Jerry’s charming personality?   

With movies like Halloween, and Friday the 13th dominating horror movies in the 80’s, Fright Night would have been easy to miss.  There are a lot of similarities to standard horror films and even standard vampire movies, but there are elements that distinguish this movie from the run of the mill vampire film.  First, Peter Vincent is a satire of Peter Cushing, horror actor in the British Hammer studios movies.  Also interesting is how Jerry tries to win both Amy and Ed over to his side, with an interesting wrinkle about Amy thrown in.  The most interesting aspect of this film is the role of faith, both in believing that vampires are real, and believing in the power of the tools to destroy them.  That is something that’s never been explored in vampire films.  There was a sequel to the original, there was a remake, and a sequel to the remake, and none of them were as good as this movie.   

As good as the script is, there are some cliches.  The first victim is a prostitute, Hollywood’s favorite profession.  Two of the other victims are black, following an age-old horror movie trope.  Finally, the teen characters are stock 80’s characters.  The hero, who no one believes, the damsel in distress, and the outcast.  And the adults, who should take the hero] seriously, dismiss his claims without even checking them. 

The acting was impressive, especially by two of the actors.  Chris Sarandon plays Jerry with equal parts charm and ominous foreshadowing. and what makes his performance effective is that the ominous part of his performance was also laced with charm.  Roddy McDowell is great in his role, as Peter Vincent, washed up horror actor, desperately trying to hang on to whatever semblance of fame he’s got left.  Does he become the hero he played in those movies?  The rest of the cast plays standard teen roles.  William Ragsdale plays the teen, who no one believes, and who has to both fight the vampire, and protect his girlfriend and mother from the good-looking guy next door.  Amanda Bearse plays the love interest, and would later go on to fame in Married With Children, and Stephen Geoffreys plays the nerdy outcast.  The teen roles are pretty standard issue. It’s really Sarandon and McDowell who carry this film. 

The direction is good, it keeps the narrative and action going, while relying on a relatively few special effects, compared to today’s CGI extravaganzas.  The director lets the dramatic tension rise to an exciting climax, and ends the proceedings fittingly.  He gets great performances from Sarandon and McDowell.  The director gets decent performances from the 20 something actors playing teens.  The one aspect of this movie that sticks out like a sore thumb is the background music.  It is cheesy.  It sounds like it was played on a cheap Casio keyboard. The best background music is one the viewer doesn’t notice, or in horror films heightens the tension, this music does neither. 

Fright Night:  Bloody Good! 

In London, in 1980, two friends Patty (Shaniqua Okwok) and Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) sneak out of their home to attend a house party.  After a little dancing and singing, Martha meets Franklyn (Michael Ward) and obviously wants to get to know him better.  Patty is not as impressed by Franklyn’s friend Reggie’s (Francis Lovehall)  come on lines, and leaves the party.   Martha is briefly perturbed by Patty leaving the party, and Franklyn’s nickname for Patty, beef Patty, but her pursuit of Franklyn continues. 

Later, Martha goes outside and witnesses something truly distressing.  What happens next?  Does she take steps so stop the disturbing situation? Does she leave the party?  How does the night end for Martha? 

Lovers Rock is a form of reggae music that gained popularity beginning in the 1960’s, so this movie is essentially an homage to Lovers Rock music, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  If Steve McQueen wanted to make a lighthearted movie about music and house parties, he could have done that very easily, but the script which he co-wrote, brings up all of the smoldering tensions between the races and among the partygoers and then refuses to address them.  Why bring up these situations, only to sweep them under the rug?  It would have been a far more interesting movie if the writers had examined these tensions in detail.  Instead, the viewer is left with little character development, little plot development and little reason, besides physical attraction, for Martha and Franklyn to be interested in each other.  It was bad enough that they wrote Patty out of the script completely, to raise and then ignore serious issues is indefensible. 

The acting wasn’t bad, given the paucity of character development in the script.  Michael Ward plays Franklyn as part lover man, part protector man, if he had added a little sensitivity to the character, it would have been a well-rounded performance, but he played Franklyn as if his only goal was to get Martha in bed.  Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn plays Martha as someone who’s pretty familiar with the ways of the world, for someone who is supposed to be a teenager and religious.  The other performances are not worth mentioning, because the characters were too inconsequential to matter. 

Steve McQueen is a good director, 12 Years A Slave is a great movie, Widows not so great, but in this movie, he ignores the narrative, he ignores the character development, and concentrates on the visual and auditory aspects of Love Rock reggae.  McQueen seems to concentrate on the dancing between Martha and Franklyn, and showing repeated close-ups of them dancing becomes lascivious and voyeuristic.  Concentrating solely on the dancing becomes gratuitous and unnecessary.  Also, the repeated use of a religious symbol should be treated with more respect than as a punchline to a joke. The music is great, but it dominates the story and shouldn’t. 

Lovers Rock; McQueen should have quit the Silly Games and made a serious film. 

Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) is raised by a black family in Mississippi, but he seems rhythmically challenged. When he hears a radio station playing music he can snap his fingers to in St Louis, that inspires him to leave his mother (Mabel King) make a name for himself. He ends up pumping gas for Harry Hartounian (Jackie Mason) and is thrilled when Harry offers him the storeroom to sleep in. Navin is happy at the gas station, fixing a pair of loose glasses for Stan Fox, (Bill Macy) and catching some credit card thieves. He is chased away from the gas station by a sniper (M. Emmet Walsh) shooting at Navin because he picked his name at random out of the phone book.

To escape the sniper, Navin joins a travelling carnival, where he is employed as a weight guesser. At the carnival, Navin discovers his “special purpose” with a stunt motorcyclist named Patty, (Catlin Adams) but their relationship is complicated when Navin meets Marie, (Bernadette Peters) a cosmetologist who immediately takes a liking to Navin. Patty wants Navin to date her exclusively, but Marie takes matters into her own hands, and Navin is suddenly free to date Marie. Things seem perfect for Navin, he’s in love with a beautiful girl, he doesn’t have a job, but that doesn’t seem like a big hurdle for Navin, he’s had two jobs already. But suddenly, Marie leaves him. Her mother wants Marie to marry a rich and successful man. Navin is despondent, he suddenly has nothing, no girlfriend, no job, no money, even his loyal dog wants to turn tail and run. What does Navin do? Can he ever win Marie’s affections back?

Even if the viewer does not enjoy the 1970’s iteration of Steve Martin’s humor, there is something here for any movie fan. At the heart of this movie is a sweet love story between Navin and Marie, they even sing a love song to each other “Tonight You Belong To Me” with Martin playing the ukulele. There is an innocence about Navin and Marie that makes it impossible not to like these people. It’s also a cautionary tale about wealth, and most of all it’s about the love of a good family. Kudos to Matin or Reiner for making the black characters loving, thoughtful people and not just a punchline. There are lots of jokes for fans of Martin’s 1970’s humor, some of the jokes don’t work, some of the characters could have been better written, but it has held up surprisingly well for a 40+ year old movie.

The acting is wonderful, and there are some big stars in small roles. Steve Martin plays Navin with a trusting innocence that endears him to the audience. Bernadette Peters imbues Marie with the same innocence in Marie, and the chemistry between the two is undeniable, and makes the movie worth watching. Mabel King plays Navin’s mother with genuine love for him, and the viewer can sense it, she may not be in a lot of scenes but she makes an impression. Another tv veteran, Bill Macy plays a pivotal role as Stan Fox, M. Emmet Walsh plays the Sniper before he got famous for serious roles in Blood Simple and Blade Runner, and unfortunately Jackie Mason plays Jackie Mason.

There is little noteworthy about Carl Reiner’s directing, other than the fact that he filled the script with jokes, kept the pacing and the story going at a pretty quick pace, and made an appearance in the film, along with his son Rob. Kudos to the casting directors Penny Perry and Gino Havens for putting together a stellar cast.

The Jerk: Navin and his Johnson shares his special purpose with those he loves.

Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) is in a death metal band, called Blackgammon, he plays the drums, his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) plays the guitar and sings. They live in an RV, and play at small clubs around the country. Ruben realizes he’s losing his hearing, and a doctor Paysinger (Tom Kemp) confirms that Ruben has lost 80% of his hearing. There is a chance that Ruben could get a cochlear implant, but the cost is prohibitively expensive. Ruben plays one more show, and then informs Lou that he is losing his hearing.

Lou convinces him to go to a program created for deaf people. In addition to Ruben losing his hearing, he’s also an addict. Ruben meets Joe, the creator of the program, a former Vietnam vet, and former alcoholic. Joe immediately lays down the rules of the rehab program, no outside contact, including with Lou, no phones, no internet, and an immersive experience to learn sign language. After initially rejecting the proposal, Ruben agrees, He gradually learns sign language and helps the kids in the adjoining school to live with their hearing loss. Joe wants Ruben to stay with the program permanently, but Ruben can’t rid himself of the feeling that he can recapture his old life if only he could regain his hearing. Does he stay with the rehabilitation program, or does he roll the dice and get the implant operation? Where would he get the money for cochlear implant?

Sound of Metal is a good movie that could have been a great movie, if the writing was a little tighter. Despite that criticism, the writing is for the most part excellent, and mostly grounded in a gritty reality that movies don’t offer. There are many instances where the movie could’ve chosen a hokey feel-good alternative to a scene, but it stays true to the vision that it sets out. Central to that vision is the fact that Ruben is an addict, and he acts like an addict does, rashly, impulsively. And the film also correctly points out that Ruben uses Lou as a crutch to keep him from using again. Where the writing slips a little is the re-introduction of the Lou character and the introduction of her father into the narrative. This is meant to provide exposition for Lou’s character, but it backfires, undercutting Lou’s motivations to be part of a rock band. The use of product placement especially by cigarette companies is also bothersome. Apparently, Ruben’s nicotine addiction is treated as fine, but it’s not fine, and should not be presented as such.

Riz Ahmed’s performance seems like it’s badly in need of a dose of Ritalin. It’s too hyperactive, too many random thoughts, spoken too quickly, that was the intention, but it seems artificial, other than one speech, which rang very true, the acting seemed like a performance. The person who holds this movie together is Paul Raci, as the deaf alcoholic Vietnam vet, who runs the rehab program. Raci was a Vietnam vet in real life, and he has deaf parents, so he does know sign language, the performance is so earnest, so heartfelt that it seems this role was written for him. Olivia Cook is also very good in this film, as Ruben’s initial support system, she gives an emotional, but understated performance. Bad writing wrecks her character, but she does her best with what she’s given. She’s already given a superior performance as Rachel, in Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, a must-watch film from 2015.

The direction is really well-done. The director wants to imbue the film with a documentary feel, it even seems like some pf the dialogue in the recreational vehicle is improvised. The music is clever, in that when the band is not playing metal, they listen to oter music. Among the songs used are “Careless Love” by Bessie Smith, and “One Love” by the Commodores. This music helps lighten the tone a bit, but doesn’t detract too much from the serious undertaking the movie is trying to carve out. The pacing lags a bit at times, but is pretty steady throughout. There are very good performances here and director Darius Marder spotlights all of them. The best thing about the ending of this movie is inferred, Marder resists the temptation to spell out the ending. Marder also makes a point of illustrating what hearing loss feels like, suffice to say, it’s a harrowing experience, and must be heard to be believed.
Sound of Metal. Shows a lot of Mettle.

Arash (Arash Mirandi) lives in Bad City with his father, Hossain (Marshall Manesh) who’s an addict. Saeed, (Dominic Rains) Hossain’s supplier and also a pimp want payment for his heroin and takes Arash’s car instead of money. For good measure, Saeed beats up on one of his prostitutes, Atti (Mozhan Marno) and calls her an old hag because he’s such a nice guy. Then Saeed meets the Girl (Sheila Vand) and takes her to his apartment, after snorting some cocaine, and lifting some weights, Saeed thinks The Girl is ready for sex. But The Girl has a surprise in store for him.

Later, when Arash goes to Saeed’s apartment, and Saeed is gone, he takes his car back, and Saeed’s money and drugs for himself, and sees The Girl leaving Saeed’s house, and thinks nothing of it. Arash meets The Girl again, after getting high on Ecstasy, and she takes him to her house, they listen to music and fall in love. Hossain’s drug habit gets worse, but not to worry, The Girl has a solution for Hossain. Arash’s romance gets more intense, until Arash finds Hossain dead on a Bad City street corner. What happened to Hossain? What about Arash’s burgeoning romance with The Girl?

This movie is disappointing on many levels. The writer/director was born in the U.K. of Iranian ethnicity, but lives in America. The film is all in Farsi, so this movie could have used the sci-fi horror backdrop as a palette to comment on many social or moral or economic issues, of the country of her choice, but when The Girl is asked who she is and why she’s in Bad City, she demurs. So, what is the film about? Not a heck of a lot. It’s not even much of a horror film. The Girl could have been a kind of avenging angel, but the plot is not even that engaging. Arash could have been a flawed anti-hero, but there is no final confrontation between Arash and the Girl, or the Girl and anyone else. Naming the character The Girl is evidence of how little writer director Ana Lilly Amirpour thought about plot or character development. This movie whimpers to a weak finish. There is a conflict in the story, but for some reason, Amirpour avoids it, and just ends the film.

The acting is much better than the writing. Arash Mirandi plays a disengaged rebel, a James Dean type character, and does it well. He’s probably one of the more sympathetic of all the characters. Sheila Vand is mesmerizing as The Girl, when the camera does a closeup of her eyes, the viewer can get lost in them. She’s also quite menacing when she wants to be, but then at other times looks quite innocent. Credit to Dominic Rains for playing a drug dealer and a pimp so convincingly, he’s a rotten human being and he revels in it. The viewer wants something bad to happen to him. Kudos also to Marshall Manesh for playing a difficult role, and making his character sympathetic.

The one aspect of this film that is worthy of praise is directors Amirpour’s use of black and white to film this movie. Black and white film is evocative of horror, with its use of light and shadow, and Amirpour uses these techniques with great expertise, but the rest of the movie is what gives art-house films a bad name, aimless, pointless plot, featureless characters, and meaningless repetitious symbolism. Somewhere Fellini is rolling over in his grave. The music is ok, a mix between Madonna and European house music. Amirpour uses the music well.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night: All bark no bite.

Episode 1 Sundown:
After returning home from the Korean War, to search for his missing father, Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) receives a letter saying that his father is in Ardham Massachusetts. Tic, as his friends know him, takes his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and friend Leti Lewis. (Jurnee Smolett) Leti is a down on her luck singer who needs a place to stay and as a rocky relationship with her half-sister, Ruby. (Wunmi Mosaku) Tic, Leti, and Uncle George encounter family drama and racism as they enter Ardham County, where the racism doesn’t end. Ardham is what’s known as a sundown county, meaning black people aren’t welcome after sundown. The sheriff and his deputies threaten to shoot Tic, Leti and Uncle George unless they leave Ardham County in minutes. What happens to Tic, Leti and George?

This is a very good opening episode of what looks to be a promising series. There is an undercurrent of paranormal or supernatural events going on, on top of the overt racism against three African American protagonists, and it’s an open debate as to which is more frightening to the main characters, the racism or the paranormal elements. The series comes in the wake of Watchman in featuring a story with black characters in the forefront at a time of overt racism. Each of the main characters, and even the ancillary characters are so well-written and acted that it makes the whole episode so much fun to watch. All the characters are multi-dimensional, well-rounded people. It’s a pleasure to see such intricate writing on television.

The acting is superb. Courtney is the steady, calm, reassuring figure of the three, Vance exudes all these qualities and adds some humor to the role. Johnathan Majors is the quiet, contemplative, bookish Tic, but he’s fresh from the Army, and has muscles, but prefers not to use them in case of trouble. Jurnee Smolett stands out as the take no prisoners Letti. She’s willing to fight anyone, friend or foe, who crosses her. Smolett brings a lot of passion to this character and carries this episode for as long as she;s on screen. Even smaller roles like Leti’s sister are well-acted. Wunmi Mosaku adds a lot of fire as Ruby, giving Leti an earful on responsibility. Mosaku also has a great singing voice.

The direction melds the fear of racism with the fear of paranormal activity into one cohesive narrative. The pacing is brisk, The special effects enhance the story, not overwhelm it. Great performances, all packed in a little over an hour.

Episode 2 Whitey’s On The Moon:

Tic, Leti, and George wake up in a lodge owned by the Braithwaite family in Ardham county. Leti and George have no memory of what happened the night before. Tic remembers the night before all too vividly, and remembers the blonde who saved his life on the road to Ardham. She is Christina Braithwaite (Abby Lee) daughter of the patriarch of the Braithwaite family, Samuel. (Tony Goldwyn) Samuel has a plan of his own, it involves Tic, but what is the plan, and how is Tic involved?

Unfortunately, both the story and the characters receded a bit since the first episode, one of the big mysteries from episode one is resolved, which makes this episode immediately less interesting, and the character of Leti, who was so string-minded in the first episode becomes a more conventional female architype. Whitey’s On The Moon was disappointing in as many ways as the opening episode was exciting. The story seemed to put forth mixed messages throughput, and was therefore not as compelling as the first episode. Hopefully, the next episode will be better

Episode 3 Holy Ghost:
Leti buys an old mansion on the North Side of Chicago, with the intention of fixing up the house and turning it into a boarding house, and also bonding with her half-sister, Ruby. But she faces resistance to moving in, from her neighbors, and from some spirits that are restless in the house. Tic feels guilty about not telling Hipppolyta (Aunjanue Ellis) about what happened to George in Ardham.

The problem with the last two episodes is definitely the writing. The haunted house is standard issue haunted house lore with some Tuskegee type experimentation thrown in for good measure. But it’s odd that Misha Green gives the perpetrator of these experiments a Jewish surname, given the Jews own horrific experience with similar experiments during the Holocaust. The character of Leti is inconsistently written, sometimes strong and daring, sometimes overwhelmingly needy. Finally, all the exposition tying the haunted house story to the central story is saved until the final few minutes and sounds rushed and forced.

Episode 4 A History of Violence:
Leti Tic, Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams) Hippolyta go to a museum. Tic Leti and Montrose want to find missing pages from a book. William (Jordan Patrick Smith) makes promises to Ruby after she loses a job opportunity, can he keep those promises?

This episode feels like one of the Night at The Museum movies or maybe one of the Mummy movies, and of course black people have free run of the museum in the 1950’s, nobody’s asking questions, right? The Ruby/William storyline makes even less sense. But the central question is why would Leti, Tic and Montrose want to help Christina Braithwaite? And why do Tic, Leti, and Montrose seem to succeed where so many others have failed?

Courtney B. Vance is a much better actor than Michael Kenneth Williams. Both his overacting and the character in general are grating. Jurnee Smolett is also chewing the scenery quite a bit in these past three episodes. Yelling is not acting.

Episode 5 Strange Case:
Ruby wakes up a whole new woman after spending the night with William, but there’s a price she has to pay for her newfound status, is she willing to pay it? Tic and Leti research the clues the found in the depths of the museum. Montrose continues to prevent Tic and Leti from finding more about the lodge and their members.
This episode tries to discuss race, gender and orientation issues using the guise of science fiction or horror as a genre. When done well, like the Watchmen series, science fiction can be the perfect vehicle to discuss thorny social issues. When done badly, like this episode, and sadly, most of this show, the writing begins to bludgeon the viewer over the head with its point of view and the episode and the show becomes unwatchable.
The producers cast an older actress to play Wummi Mosaku’s alter ego, why is that? Is it that any actress will do? That speaks more to Hollywood’s racism than racism in society. Ironic isn’t it?

Episode 6 Meet Me In Daegu:
In 1950, during the Korean War, Tic did a lot of unconscionable things, including shooting and killing a nurse, Young Ja (Prisca Kim) suspected of being a Communist spy. Tic is wounded and meets another nurse named Ji-Ah, (Jamie Chung) the two fall in love, despite Ji Ah knowing that Tic killed her friend. Ji-Ah has a secret of her own, will she tell Tic? What about her visions of Tic’s future? Do they come true?

This is perhaps the best episode since the first episode. Each of the characters are compromised and conflicted in very complex ways. Tic has killed without remorse, Young-Ja is unapologetically in love with a Communist from North Korea, and Ji Ah loves Judy Garland movies, but hides a dark secret, and knows about Tic’s horrific deeds. The story even adds some Asian horror elements, so even though its only tangentially related to the main story, this episode stands out for depicting the horrors of war simultaneously with a love story.
The acting is excellent Johnathan Majors turns in an emotionally gripping performance as a soldier trying to forget the horrors of war and let himself fall in love. Jamie Chung stands out as a tortured soul, needing to find love. She really pours all her emotion into this role and it’s a very complex performance. Prisca Kim is also very good as the nurse with Communist sympathies.

Episode 7 I Am:

Hippolyta finally finds out what happens to George in Ardham. She also has a crucial piece of the lodge’s hardware in her possession, and she’s learned how to use it. Christina tries to explain William’s fascination with Ruby to Ruby, but Ruby doesn’t seem convinced. Tic finds out something about his father, and it drives them further apart.

This is Hippolyta’s journey of self-discovery, but the writers get it wrong, they try to raise Hippolyta up by tearing others down. There seems to be a lot of repressed anger in Hippolyta’s character, and that plays into a pernicious stereotype about black women. So instead of being an uplifting journey, the narrative gets loaded down by the baggage of anger, and even self-loathing. The anger may even be justifiable, but her actions and the lessons she learns are the wrong ones. More racism is not the way to end racism, more racism only perpetuates racism. The writers also do the same with Christina storyline trying to justify the chip on her shoulder in different ways This is another tangentially related episode, but unlike Meet Me In Daegu, the writing is weak, and so is the character development.

Episode 8 Jig-a-Bobo:
Diana is upset by the death of her friend Bobo. If that isn’t bad enough, Captain Lancaster (Mac Brandt) puts a curse on Diana. Ji-Ah finds Tic and once again tells him about her vision. Tic asks for a favor from Christina, which she grants to Leti? Tic and Montrose bond after Tic tells Montrose something about his future.
The use of historical fiction in this episode is sloppily written, and doesn’t fit the story. If the writers used a historical figure as a plot device, that’s inappropriate. And where did Ji-Ah come from? The last time the viewer saw of Ji-Ah, she was a nurse in Korea, now she’s in Mississippi? Why is no adult helping Diana when she is clearly terrorized, and why did the writers steal a concept and a visual from Jordan Peele’s Us? Since he’s one of the executive producers of this show, the use of those scenes wasn’t a problem. Even with all these shortcomings, this episode is more like what the series should have been about fear of racism coupled with fear of the unknown. The interpersonal relations between the characters is the stuff of soap operas and seems like filler at times, finally the writers got to the heart of the theme of this show, they took a lot of detours to get here, let’s hope that the remaining episodes use the theme again.

It was nice to see Ji Ah again, but this time Jamie Chung sounds more like a Californian, which she is instead of a recent immigrant to the U.S. That detracted a little from the role, which she played very well in the Meet Me In Daegu episode. It’s nice to see that Michael K. Williams finally shows some subtlety in his acting. Montrose was becoming a one-note character. Speaking of Montrose, it was not necessary to make him dyslexic, he’s got enough on his plate.

The use of “Cruel Cruel Summer” by Bananarama seemed like an odd choice to lead this episode, it’s a pop song, it’s not about anything in particular, to give it the weight that this episode gives it is unnecessary.

Episode 9 Rewind 1921:

Tic makes a pledge to Christina that Leti doesn’t want him to keep to try to save Diana’s life. Hippolyta comes back from her journey of self-actualization just in time to send Leti, Tic, and Montrose on a mission to try to save Diana. Does it work?

This was stone cold plagiarism by the writers of Lovecraft Country, who took a script right out of Watchmen, and didn’t even blink. Well, Watchman did it first and did it better. Rewind 1921 seemed like leftovers compared to the Watchman episode, which was moving and powerful. This episode was another misuse of historical fact, and why decide on this time and place when it was already done so exquisitely before? The writers never mentioned where Montrose or George were born, so this episode has no real resonance.

Episode 10 Full Circle:

Christina has a spell, but she needs Tic’s blood to make it operational. Tic has a spell to cure Diana, but he needs Christina’s blood to make it work. Ruby’s stuck in the middle and has divided loyalties. Whose spell will work, and what does it mean for Christina and Tic?

This was the finale, so it was supposed to resolve a lot of issues, and it seemed to have resolved a lot of issues, but because magic is involved, nothing is really final. The resolution of Ji Ah’s issues with Tic was written badly, and still she’s expected to help Tic with his grand plan. The resolution of Chritina’s plot line was most disappointing, because she was made a one-dimensional character with no opportunity to evolve or grow. How she met her final fate is equally disappointing, because of who was involved. This show is marred by episode after episode of sloppy, undisciplined writing and the finale is no exception, anyone expecting an uplifting episode to cap matters will be left wanting.

My Impressions of Season One:

After getting off to a truly splendid start with the Sundown episode, the writing went slowly careening down a cliff. Sundown was a wonderful mix of mystery, elements of horror and the horrors of racism in Jim Cow America. But then, as soon as the second episode, the focus of the story changed, one of the main characters changed, and the sole focus became racism. The black characters had this seething underbelly of anger within them, which was unappealing, and the white characters were so one-dimensional that they don’t even deserve mentioning. That does a disservice to the way progress was made in America in the eras of slavery and civil rights. For every Fredrick Douglass, there is a John Brown, for every John Lewis, there is a Michael Schwerner. That’s what Lovecraft Country misses, for there to be real and lasting change in any era in America, there has to be buy-in from all races, the writers missed an opportunity to make at least one of their white characters learn and grow and evolve.

After the Sundown episode, Lovecraft Country almost seemed like an anthology series, there was no cental theme holding it together, so one episode would be centered on Leti, and her new house, or the museum or Hippolyta, or Ji-Ah, and there was there was the thinnest of threads tying them to the writers alleged theme, but often the narrative became obscured, and the Lovecraftian elements are almost nonexistent in some episodes. The characters vacillate between strong and brave and weak and weepy, and some episodes focus almost exclusively on who’s sleeping with whom. And by the way rape is never acceptable, whether it is a male or female being raped, and anti-Semitism is never acceptable, no matter how it’s dressed up.
There were a few standout episodes after, like Meet Me In Daegu, which is a love story with many conflicted characters, but again this story was barely tangentially related to the central character, Jig a Bobo, with its many flaws, finally gets around to what this show should have been a mixture of supernatural horror and the all-too-common horror of racism. The show that it will be compared to is Watchmen, but Watchmen was much better written, and once Watchmen came together, it was a marvel to watch. Lovecraft Country even ‘appropriated’ the Tulsa Massacre from Watchmen, which was first masterfully captured on screen in Watchmen’s first episode. It is the height of irony to use H.P. Lovecraft’s themes as a palate because Lovecraft was a virulent racist. Misha Green and her co-writers could have done a much better job of it, by not telegraphing her verbal punches, and toning down the anger of the black characters, and by not making the white characters so uniformly hive-minded.

The acting varies greatly. The good performances are very good, the not so good performances are pretty scenery-chewing bad. Johnathan Majors is excellent as Atticus Freeman, he really showed all of his emotions, but he knew how to modulate his emotions, when Tic got angry, it was through clenched teeth, when he felt sadness, the viewer felt his pain, it was a difficult role, but a wonderfully well-rounded performance. He should have a bright future in Hollywood, he’s already making a name for himself with a solid perfrmance in The Last Black Man In San Francisco. Courtney B. Vance was wonderful as the gentle, kind caring, uncle George. He was woefully underused, the writers brought him back, only to lay a guilt trip on him. Bad writing abounds with respect George’s character. The show needed more of the understated grace and charm of Vance’s performance. Michael K. Williams tried to pick up\ the slack for Courtney Vance’s absence, but he overdid his angst. It was a 10,000-decibel performance that required some subtlety.

Jurnee Smolett was terrific in the first episode, and then her character changed from stong and confident to weak and weepy, and she was not able to modulate her performance as Leti, as well as Majors did as Atticus, so she was either screaming in anger, or screaming in terror, and generally overacting. Wunmi Mosaku is a multitalented singer, actress and force to be reckoned with as Ruby, she’s not afraid to step on some toes and give half-sister Leti advice about Leti’s place in the family It’s the bold performance that this show needed. The remainder of her storyline was written badly, but she made the most of it. Abby Lee had a very difficult role, making someone like Christina Braithwaite a likeable character, and she almost succeeded, until the writers torpedoed her best efforts. Every series needs an antagonist, and Christina is this series main antagonist, but Lee does her best to make her somewhat sympathetic. Jamie Chung gave the performance of her life in three or four episodes, she ran the emotional gamut from kind innocence to anger and hatred. It was an illuminating performance and should show Hollywood that they shouldn’t typecast actors, especially female actors. The depth of emotion in her performance in Meet Me in Daegu was incredible. Again, the character’s role in the last episode was poorly written, but that’s not Chung’s fault.

There were 10 episodes mostly directed by different directors, so it’s easier to select two episodes and talk about each director’s work. Episode One was the best episode of the bunch so Yann Damange gets some of the credit for that. He perfectly blended traditional horror themes with elements of mystery and the real-life horrors of racism. He manages to balance the three elements and not let one overpower the other two. The pacing was good, and the special effects were perfectly used especially in the opening dream sequence. He gets great performances from everyone, and even stages a musical duet between Smolett and Moskau.
Episode 6 was the second-best episode, and that was directed by ex-actress Helen Shaver, who had a lot of roles in horror movies like the Amityville Horror, Poltergeist The Legacy and the Craft. Shaver uses those roles in horror well, as she blends elements of Asian horror with war movie and believe it or not Hollywood musical, and comes up with a great narrative, the special effects aren’t overpowering, the interspersing of clips from Judy Garland movies and horrible acts of war create a roller coaster of visuals that leaves the viewer as conflicted as the characters in the episode.

Lovecraft Country: Not crafted as well as it should have been.

Diana Prince (Lilly Aspell, Gal Gadot) is working as an archeologist in Washington DC in 1984. At work, she meets Barbara Anne Minerva (Kristen Wiig) insecure fellow anthropologist, who is asked by the FBI to look into the significance of some stolen artifacts. It is here where Barbara discovers a dreamstone that grants wishes to whomever possesses it. Barbara makes a wish, but tells no one about it, and Diana makes a secret wish too. Soon conman, infomercial specialist Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) find out about the dreamstone, and seduces Barbara to get it. He wishes for his phony oilwells to gush with oil, and they do, making him an instant millionaire. Does he stop there? No, he flies to Egypt, and attempts to wish for all the oilwells that Emir Said Bin Abydos (Amr Waked) owns. Is he satisfied with that? No, he wants more. Can Diana and Barbara team up to stop Maxwell Lord before he accrues too much power? What about Diana and Barbara’s wishes, do they come true?

Wonder Woman 1984 aspires to be a repudiation of the greed and excesses of the 1980’s, but it’s such a shallow and superficial look at the decade, including a cartoonish look at Ronald Reagan and his goals, that when the critique comes, it packs no punch. It’s factually wrong about at least two major inventions, and it sends very mixed messages about women and power, that women with too much power need to be feared and not respected. It’s also troublesome that the only African American characters are a homeless man who Barbara takes pity on, and a little girl in a mall. Wonder Woman 1984 should have been about a woman using her extraordinary powers to make the world a more just and equitable place, but Diana Prince is once again a bystander in her own film. Her wish with the dreamstone says more about sexism in 2020, than the whole movie has to say about the 80’s. Diana doesn’t even get to fly her own invisible plane. Hollywood screws the pooch again.

The acting is only average. Gal Gadot puts in another serious, earnest performance as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, but the script traps her in a forced romantic entanglement, and asking Gadot to emote about love is a bridge too far. Chris Pine gives another flat, emotionless performance as Steve Trevor, yes he’s in the movie, don’t ask how, better yet don’t watch the movie. Pine has been given all these iconic roles, Steve Trevor, Captain Kirk, and he’s basically frittered them away. Pedro Pascal goes way over the top as huckster Maxwell Lord, unlike his fine understated performance in Season 1 of the Mandalorian, this was his chance to shine, in a major motion picture, and he blew it. Similarly, Kristin Wiig who was hilarious in Bridesmads, tries to add a comic touch to a comic book character, and it doesn’t really work, she goes from nerdy wallflower to power hungry woman, (i.e. Poison Ivy) and the transition isn’t very convincing.

The direction is awful. The 2 ½ hour length is unmanageable. The 10-minute opening sequence is the best that this movie has to offer and that is not a compliment. The action sequences after the opening sequence are downright boring and look like every other comic book movie ever made. One of the climactic action sequences is filmed at night, and the viewer can hardly see anything that’s going on. In between all those badly filmed action sequences is a movie about nothing important, slowly paced, which reduces its star to a supporting actress. A terrible directing effort by Patty Jenkins, who actually moves gender equality backwards by going through the motions on this film.
Wonder Woman 1984: Wonder why it was made.