Monday, March 23, 2020


Rated:  R

STARS: Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe, Rosie Perez
GENRE: Drama/Political Thriller

We open in 1982, and Elena McMahon (Anne Hathaway), a reporter for the Atlantic Post, and her colleague Alma (Rosie Perez) are in El Salvador during that country's civil war--doing what journalists often do. Poking their noses into dangerous situations for the sake of getting a story,

Later, McMahon gets reassigned to cover Ronald Reagan's 1984 reelection bid ('s still 1984) and she's not happy. She cuts out on the campaign to be with her ailing and addled father, Dick (Willem Dafoe). Dick McMahon is involved in some illegal arms dealings to Central America, and he's on the hook for a half million bucks. He needs to get a load of weapons shipped down there and collect his payment. But he can't handle it himself. So he asks his daughter to fly down and facilitate the operation. By doing so, she's placing herself in a highly volatile and unpredictable situation. 

At what point would a normal person say, "No dad...that's crazy!" Apply a little tough love. But she agrees to do it, because as it eventually hit me...she's an adrenaline freak! (Despite the appearance that she's just a dedicated journalist ready to go where the action is.) Adrenalin junkies always need more, until one day...poof!--they've checked out of this world way too early.  

A little history refresher might be in order. In 1979, the left-wing Sandinistas overthrew the dictator in Nicaragua. Ronald Reagan was afraid it might trigger revolution throughout the region, and threaten U.S. security. The U.S. secretly funded the right-wing contras, who were fighting to overthrow the Sandinistas, even though such activity had been outlawed by congress. Much of the funding had come from Nicaragua's cocaine trade. Reagan continued to support the contras on the sly, and the resulting scandal threatened to take down his presidency. 

It is against this backdrop that the delusional Elena thinks she'll just go down there and complete her father's transaction, like an everyday trip to the bank.

Elena has pieced things together, and she wants to blow the lid off the whole she-bang. Ben Affleck is a high ranking government official who's trying to keep her from learning too much, which necessitates getting her into bed to gain her trust. (She's so sympatico!) She'll try to pump him for whatever information she can get. As she says, "I came for the money, I stay for the scoop."

The Last Thing He Wanted, adapted from Joan Didion's last novel, seems torn between wanting to be a personal or a political story. The political is settled history. We've been there, done that. It should provide a context to move Elena's story along, but not be constantly distracting us from it. We want to develop some empathy with Elena, but it's difficult when there are so many shadowy players to  keep track of. Whose side are each of them on? It keeps you guessing for sure, but it's like a crossword puzzle you will never finish because you've only figured out some of the answers.

The movie's strong points are its cinematography; its authentic sense of time and place; and the ratcheting up of tension with escalating dramatic music. And the heavyweights who play the heavies. Hathaway is in constant woman-running-from-bad-shit mode, but she looks good all sweaty and stuff. And a more mature Rosie Perez sans makeup is quite appealing as well. 

There's a twisty and twisted surprise ending. But how kind can you be to a film that will do any appalling thing for shock value? (When the dog appears, look away.)  

From Netflix studios.

Grade:  C


Thank god for Tim! Reading his review explained what this blankety-blank-blank movie was all about. I didn't have a clue. I kept muttering to my cat, "Is Ben Affleck a bad guy or a good guy? Is Willem DaFoe's character dead now or still alive? Did that actor who played the gay bon vivant also play Truman Capote?"(Toby Jones) But the question I kept on repeating to my furry friend was "When will this turkey ever end???!!

I've often wondered whether Netflix accepts films that the producers know will bomb in regular movie theaters. It would appear so if The Last Thing He Wanted is any example. Speaking of which, who is the "he" in that mysterious title? (Maybe it was a typo and they meant to call it The Last Thing She Wanted?)

If you have a secret desire to see Ann Hathaway's breast – at least one of them—then turn on this baffling and battle-weary film. My advice? Read the book instead. (Joan Didion had to have done a better job with the story-telling than African American female director Dee Rees.)

Grade: F

Thursday, March 19, 2020


Note: We're changing the focus on the films that Jill and I will be reviewing here on "The Noodle" for the time being. With movie theaters being shut down across the land, we'll be looking at some of the newest releases from Netflix, so you'll know what to watch--and what not to watch--at home during this unprecedented time of social distancing. And now you get to make your own popcorn!

Rated:  R

STARS: Amy Ryan, Gabriel Byrne, Reed Burney
DIRECTOR : Liz Garbus
GENRE: Drama/ Mystery-Suspense   

Mari Gilbert is a multi-faceted character, and Academy Award nominee Amy Ryan shows that she is fully capable of hitting on all those cylinders in the just released Lost Girls from Netflix. One by one, those layers are peeled back, revealing more and more details about Gilbert, and they are not flattering to her.

Gilbert's daughter, Shannan, went missing in the Long Island, New York area in 2010. Mari has two other young girls, and together the three of them are searching for answers. But as those layers are peeled back, it's revealed that Mari gave Shannan up to be raised by foster care when she couldn't control her. And later, as Shannan is revealed to be a prostitute, her mother doesn't question where the money is coming from when her daughter makes payments to her. Now, seemingly out of a sense of guilt and regret, mom becomes a take-no-bullshit crusader for the truth, It's a gritty, bravura performance from Ryan, and this is her film. 

The scenes where Mari Gilbert is going hard up against an apathetic male dominated police force that places different levels of value upon different types of human lives--and "prostitute" occupies the lowest rung with them--are the best.  

The interchanges between Ryan and Gabriel Byrne as Richard Dormer, the Suffolk County police commissioner, are the most intriguing. Dormer shows a reluctant but steady metamorphosis toward growing a pair as the validity of the evidence that Gilbert is presenting to him becomes overwhelming. 

Reed Burney adds a smarmy touch as a doctor who acts more like a mafioso than a medical professional--arrogant and condescending--and we're naturally going to think there's something fishy about him.

I want to say a word here about semantics and how they've been changed over time by political correctness. The words "prostitute" and "sex worker" are used interchangeably in Lost Girls, depending upon who is speaking. The men tend to say prostitute. The women tend to say sex worker. The term sex worker, however,  attempts to give the world's oldest profession a sense of legitimacy, as if we are now supposed to think of it in the same light as a regular office job.  

I don't like it.

It's got nothing to do with being male or female. It's about calling a spade a spade. Prostitution is a dangerous and ill-advised game, as this dark film so clearly points out. 

You may find the ending of Lost Girls to be unsatisfying, but it's only staying true to the facts of the non-fiction book by Robert Kolker the movie is based on. Over a dozen still unsolved murders of female prostitutes in the area have been attributed to the Long Island Serial Killer.

Grade:  B +


First, let me say that I'm sad not to be seeing movies in movie theaters. I'm a creature of habit and my TV's sound system leaves a lot to be desired. Still, I'm thrilled that Tim and I can continue opining via Netflix.

As gritty as Amy Ryan's performance was as a foul-mouthed (I liked that!), take-no-prisoners mom, I got tired of it after awhile. And I found it hard to believe she went from farming her manic depressive child out to foster homes to being a responsible mommy to her other two 'lost girls.'

I also felt the film went on too long. Granted, the story is worthy of telling. I used to live in Vancouver, BC where we had a famous prostitute-killer who fed the corpses to his pigs! (Robert Pickton) I realize the search for Shannan went on for a hellishly long time. For me, the movie did, too.

I loved the eerie use of the song "Beautiful Dreamer." (Kudos to music director Anne Nikitin). And the stark swampy settings added immeasurably to the darkness of the film. But what really got me was after the movie ended and we were given updates: "In July 2016, Mari's daughter Serra suffered a psychotic episode after going off medication for schizophrenia." -- "Mari tried to intervene and sustained fatal wounds."

Grade: C


Thursday, March 12, 2020


Rated: R

STARS: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Janina Gavankar, John Aylward
DIRECTOR:  Gavin O'Connor
GENRE: Drama

First off, I should tell you that the trailers for The Way Back are misleading. They make you think it's a story about personal redemption and triumph over adversity and addiction, against the backdrop of a young sports team on the rise. Former star basketball player, Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck), takes over the coaching duties for the current sad sack team at his Catholic high school alma mater, and turns the team into a winner. In the process, he supposedly beats his own demons. There's no suspense about where the team aspect of the movie is headed, because this is an obvious "feelgood" flick. Or so you would think.

But the personal redemption aspect of it is long in coming and short on realization. In between there is basketball. And more basketball. This is basketball movie. So if you're not a fan, there really isn't going to be much here for you.

Jack has been separated from his wife (Janina Gavankar ) for about a year. We learn that the couple has suffered a tremendous personal loss, and their mutual grief has driven them apart. So Jack drinks. And drinks. If you don't like ubiquitous scenes of a guy chugging down the beers and swilling vodka straight from the bottle, there isn't going to be much here for you.

When the headmaster of his high school alma mater (John Aylward) asks Jack to take over the coaching duties for their currently crappy basketball team, he is reluctant at first. But he takes the job. His coaching style is to pull no punches with his kids-a collection of mostly goof-off stereotypes of young jocks--and to show them exactly where their weaknesses are. This is done through a lot of cussing.The F-bombs fly fast and furious, like balls bombarding the basket during practice. If you're not a fan of the F-word and similar colorful language...uh...there isn't going to be much here for you.

Jack meets with his estranged wife a couple times, and she tells him she has a boyfriend. This stings, because he clearly regrets their breakup. I could see a  a lot of potential to develop the story of their relationship beyond surface level, but it doesn't happen. It feels like maybe this was going to be a longer movie originally, but most of the substance got cut to make way for...more dramatic scenes of basketball!--and Jack's boys turning their fortunes around. Because the team loves being coached by a raging alcoholic who cusses like an entire ship of sailors! And the film accepts as benign the main thing that is wrong with sports on any level today: the obsession with winning at all costs. 

Damn, there must be something that this reviewer liked about the film, right? I liked the foul language. (No harm, no foul!) There's something perversely ironic--and funny--about a coach at a Catholic high school letting the F-bombs fly, causing the administrative figures at the school to cringe. In fact, it's played for laughs. But if that's not your sense of humor, there isn't going to be... 

Grade:  C-


Fuck it! That's what I have to say about this movie. My main reason for pushing Tim to see The Way Back was to find out if (often wooden) Ben Affleck would do a more convincing acting job portraying an alcoholic—since he is one. He did lie convincingly. And he was convincingly self-centered like alkies tend to be. But his acting was basically wooden.

This was one helluva schizophrenic film. If I had to pitch the idea to a production company, I'd say it's "Lost Weekend meets Hoosiers." Or "Leaving Las Vegas meets White Men Can't Jump." (I would sincerely hope they'd turn me down.

There were so many things that bugged me about this movie but I'll only focus on two. First, we see a seriously addicted alcoholic going to the same bar every night and passing out. Drinking while driving. Drinking at work. Even drinking in the shower. But once he gets involved with coaching, he suddenly decides not to frequent this same bar anymore. Like sobriety is a snap decision? (Tell that to anybody who attends AA meetings.)

The second thing that pissed me off was all the people who didn't need to be in this story. I didn't know who half of them were. Nor did I care. But if you want to see a chunky Ben Affleck--let's hope some of that was padding--go see The Way Back. Otherwise, stay home.

Grade: D