Friday, November 30, 2018


Rated:  PG-13

STARS: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini
DIRECTOR: Peter Farrelly
GENRE:  Drama

Odd couples in film have made for some intriguing pairings. Harold And Maude...Lars And The Real Girl...and Fay Wray in King Kong, perhaps the oddest couple of them all!  Now we have rough-hewn Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen)--a hot tempered Italian nightclub bouncer, paired with the stoic and refined black musician, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), in Green Book--a retelling of how the two of them ventured into the heart of the deep south in 1962, when racial segregation was still alive and rearing its ugly head. 

Vallelonga's son , Nick, who co-wrote the script, indicates that the events portrayed were based on fact. His dad, known as "Tony Lip," was hired to be Shirley's driver and subsequent bodyguard on a concert tour performed by The Don Shirley Trio, a name that may be familiar to music lovers of a certain age. Shirley was the consummate piano virtuoso, his brilliant talent literally shooting from his fingers. And yet he was subjected to the indignity and insanity of being the featured performer at many of these upscale clubs and venues, and not allowed to dine in their restaurant or use the restroom. He had to go somewhere that catered to "colored folk."

Mortensen gives a cliched but nonetheless affable--and in the end endearing--portrayal of Tony Lip, who starts off being prejudiced at the beginning of the film but grows through his adventure of observing the scope of racism in America first-hand, that dirty little chapter of our past that still hasn't all come out in the wash.

Ali's controlled performance, dictated by the character of the man he's portraying, still allows him to shine when the rare moment of letting off steam with Tony comes about. 

My only knock on Green Book is its length--2 hours, 10 minutes--which could have been shortened if not for all the the background stuff on Tony and his family in the beginning. I kept thinking this is a story about the two men and their relationship, so why aren't we getting to it?  But as it winds down, we see the importance of family during the holidays, and the ending is like a modern day It's A Wonderful Life--it's that heartwarming!     

You're going to wonder if it was actually Mahershala Ali playing the piano, because it looks like he is. (And if he were, he'd be in the wrong profession right now!) It's actually the fingers of film composer Kris Bowers "grafted" onto Ali's arms. They do wonders with surgery these days.

Grade:  A -

I love it when I'm right! And I knew, the minute I saw the previews of Green Book that it would be 'the feel good movie of the year.' (And I'm so glad Tim—who resisted seeing it at first—changed his mind!) The first thing that hit me was how much weight Viggo Mortensen gained in order to be an authentic 'Tony Lip.' (Shades of Robert Di Niro gaining 40 pounds to play Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull.) Both actors in this disparate duo deserve Oscars. Sadly, they'll probably both get nominated and thereby cancel out each other's chances of winning.

I usually can find something to carp about in the movies we review. This one presents a real challenge for me. I loved everything about it. Especially the way each character slowly accepts their obvious differences and a mutual respect—even love—evolves.

My movie companion helped me find a teeny weeny flaw, i.e. too many in-the-car scenes. But some of them were such gems—i.e. sharing Kentucky Fried Chicken—that I forgave the claustrophobic redundancy.

I want to mention one of the Italian family members played by Sebastian Maniscalco.  I highly recommend any of his stand-up specials (Aren't You Embarrassed?) on Netflix. A truly funny fellow.

Grade A

Saturday, November 24, 2018

WIDOWS (2018)

Rated : R

STARS: Viola Davis, Colin Farrel, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson, Cynthia Erivo, Robert Duvall
DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen
GENRE: Drama

Widows starts off with a bang, as four men fleeing from a cash heist they've pulled off get blown up in an explosive shootout with a swat team, and their wives are left behind holding the bag--trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. But there are too many pieces to this overly long puzzle and it seems like director Steve McQueen is trying to force them all together. It's not a good fit.

The widows, played by Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, and Michelle Rodriguez, are being threatened by a local thug who is also a politician (now that IS a good fit) to come up with millions in ill-gotten loot that was stolen from him, or come to a bad end. The ladies (supposedly)  have no choice but to formulate a big heist plan of their own so they can pay him off and make a tidy profit for themselves in the process. 

There's a subplot about local Chicago politics that is supposed to make a statement about something, which might have made a decent film by itself, instead of being tacked onto a violent, mean-spirited, cynical, and totally unrealistic movie where there are no identifiable good guys that you can root for--suggesting that everyone is corrupt in some way, and that money and power are somehow worth risking your life over. But you go girls--no matter how crazy, misguided, or illegal your actions may be--because we live in the age of female empowerment! 


An impressive ensemble cast cannot pardon this Thanksgiving turkey.

Grade:  D

The only good thing about this 'turkey' is that I got to see it with Tim. (As most of you know, we now live in different states—me in California, Tim in Arizona.) I should have known something was fishy when right before the film started the director, with the same name as Steve McQueen only black, spoke on screen to the audience, saying how this particular movie has meant so much to him, how it had been his pet project for years, etc. (Was he begging me to like it before it even began?)

The opening sequence—fast edits between Liam Neeson and Viola Davis in bed trading steamy kisses, and Liam Neeson driving a getaway car; cut to other shady spouses kissing their wives goodbye and joining him—was enough to blow my mind. And not in a good way. I mumbled my confusion to Tim who was equally befuddled.

The only authentic moments came when one of my all time favorite actors, Robert Duvall, graced the screen with his fiery presence. He played a corrupt politician (what other kind is there?) who wanted his son—ably played by Colin Farrell—to follow in his smarmy footsteps. I had a helluva time trying to figure out what this secondary plot had to do with the first. And by the time I did, I didn't care.

This is the perfect film for people with ADHD. But if, like me, your a tad anally retentive avoid Widows at all costs.

Grade: D -

Thursday, November 8, 2018


Rated:  R

STARS: Steve Carell, Timothee Chalamet, Amy Ryan, Maura Tierney
DIRECTOR: Felix Van Groeningen
GENRE:  Drama

It's dark, man. I mean literally, due to the deliberate low light camera settings that were employed to create a bleak and brooding mood for Beautiful Boy--based on the best-selling memoirs of David and Nic Sheff.  (The title is a play on the John Lennon song, which gave us the immortal line: Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans). So even in the outdoor shots, there's never a presence of sunlight. A bit heavy-handed to make a point, I thought, but then the story is about the ravages of drug addiction and the devastating toll it can take on a family.

Young Nic Sheff (Timothee Chalamet) gets addicted to crystal meth, gets clean for a while with the aid of support groups and rehab, then relapses...over and over again. It's a pattern that is slowly driving his dad, David (Steve Carell), up the wall with feelings of helplessness and bewilderment. Because he's tried everything he can think of. Like most addicts, Nic is in denial as to the magnitude of his problem, and David confronts him at every turn, trying to be the loving, concerned parent while dealing to his son a dose of reality. To no avail.

And then the can't heal another person. And just as David throws his hands up and opts for the hands-off approach, he is reminded by the boy's mother and his ex-spouse, Vicki (Amy Ryan), that no, you can't help another person if they're not willing to do it themselves--but you can be there for them when they need you. 

I found Beautiful Boy to be a little slow in the first half, but it builds into something that is so powerful and poignant, I'm declaring the film a MUST SEE! 

Carell and Chalamet give two blockbuster performances. The young Chalamet is already a shining star, especially after his work in Call Me By Your Name (reviewed here), and Carell is making his mark as a serious actor in a way that now outshines his affable comedy persona of the past.     

I'd give Beautiful Boy an "A" rating were it not for the low-level lighting that makes even a couple of the daytime scenes iffy to make out what's going on. But the film's message--that there is light at the end of the tunnel--is a meaningful one for anyone who has been, or is currently a member of a family.

Grade:  B +


The thing that impressed me about Beautiful Boy was the emphasis placed on how addiction is a family disease. How everybody—not just the addict—is sucked into the insanity. The lies, the broken promises, the hopelessness. In the past, films about addiction have mainly focused on the alcoholic (The Lost WeekendLeaving Los Vegas, etc.) or the addict (The Man with the Golden Arm, Requiem for a Dream, etc.). This film, however, pays equal attention to how it can destroy families.

Unfortunately, I knew Beautiful Boy was dragging when I started thinking about scenes I would cut: a miniscule cameo by Timothy Hutton (OrdinaryPeople) as a tell-it-like-it-is addictions doc; the endless father/son flashbacks, reminding us what a beautiful boy Nic was as a child; the incessant relapses.... By the end of the film, I was actually hoping the kid would overdose! (Which is probably the way director Felix van Groeningen wanted the audience to feel.)

My biggest gripe about Beautiful Boy was the score. Loud. Insistent at the wrong moments. The story was powerful enough to carry the film without any music at all. But we've all had some experience with an addicted family member, or friend, or boss. And for that reason alone, it's definitely worth seeing.