Monday, April 20, 2020

SERGIO (2020)

Rated: R

STARS: Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Bradley Whitford
DIRECTOR: Greg Barker
GENRE: Biopic

Sergio, just released on Netflix, is a biopic based on the true story of Sergio Vierra de Mello, a Brazilian diplomat for the United Nations whose long career was a series of personal and political ups and downs.

If the narrative in the film is to be believed, de Mello was an effective negotiator--a charmer who spoke straight and tough to power, but had a truly "diplomatic"way of facilitating negotiations between opposite sides, such as when he brokered a peace deal between East Timoor and Indonesia.

In 2003, he was appointed as a special U.N. envoy to Iraq, which turned out to be his last hurrah. A suicide truck bomb blast took him out. His story is told in hop, skip, and jump flashbacks, all eventually feeding into that explosive moment.

Wagner Moura, who portrays Sergio, does an admirable job of communicating the man's sensitivity and sympathy for the plight of the everyday people whose lives were impacted by the Iraq war. But his relationship with his family suffered, as evident in the scenes with his two young sons, who basically don't know him.

A love story runs parallel to the political. There is fiery chemistry between Moura and the captivating Ana de Armas, who plays fellow U.N. employee Carolina Larriera. At first she balks about him being married and having a family, but she eventually comes around and passion flares, in similar fashion to the way the film, where the camera lingers too long on some scenes, resulting in its nearly two hour run time,won me over; it's like quicksand in the way it slowly draws you in.

Sergio is told with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, and in that way is not particularly brave or insightful in its conclusions (everyone now agrees that Iraq was a tragic misstep for the U.S.), except as a character study of one man who maintained his integrity in the face of the prevailing mob mentality ("You're either with us or against us") fostered by the Bush administration at the time. An engaging story of triumph and tragedy. 

Grade: B +


Many many years ago, when I was a teenager, I had two serious crushes on movie stars: James Dean and Montgomery Clift. Both sensitive types who portrayed weak, vulnerable men. They shaped the type of men I've always been attracted to. Or so I thought until my last serious crush on a film star. Wagner Moura was the polar opposite of weak and sensitive as Pablo Escobar in the Netflix series "Narcos." But like Dean and Clift, he sure made my heart beat faster.

So when I saw that he was the lead in the latest movie offering on Netflix, I couldn't wait to watch it. Moura still can turn on the charm (as he did playing Escobar). A good 40 pounds lighter, without a moustache, he still has incredible sex appeal. But sex appeal isn't enough to carry this choppy, deafeningly loud, interminably long film. Trying to follow the two storylines---his career versus his love affair—gave me a headache. Is it a political movie with lots of steamy love scenes? Or an extra marital affair wrapped around a lot of bombings? (I'm getting a headache again just trying to figure it out!) 

I'm not big on history, ancient or recent. Maybe if I was, I would've enjoyed Sergio more. I'm really getting discouraged with the idea (I thought was brilliant at the time!) of reviewing Netflix films. Obviously, The Irishman and Marriage Story were flukes. All Netflix seems to be offering in the way of new movies these days is.....crap. Sorry, Tim. Let's wait until real movies start happening again....

Grade: C

Monday, April 13, 2020


Rated: R

STARS: Jessica Chastain, Idris Elba, Kevin Costner
DIRECTOR: Aaron Sorkin
GENRE: Drama

I'll admit to having fantasized about being a professional poker player seems like the most exciting thing you can do just by flipping a finger. You would need nerves of steel and buns of wool to cushion your rear while sitting there all day practicing the art of the deadpan bluff. These guys, however, are ridiculous. Ultra-rich A-holes who apparently are so bored with life they've got nothing better to do than toss obscene wads of money around like they're casually buying up the deed to Park Place. 

And here is young Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), organizing and running the games for these high rollers, raking in a decent slice of the pot for herself.  How she went from being an Olympic caliber downhill skier who got injured to the high-stakes world of manipulating men in the sphere of illegal gambling is, apparently, the stuff of daddy issues--to be explained at the end by her psychologist father (Kevin Costner). That's if you make it through this overly talky marathon that conjures up an extended episode of Gilmore Girls. Between all the lines, characterization builds through flashing back and forth through the various stages of Bloom's life. 

There are a few things that kept me from engaging whole-heartedly with Molly's Game, based upon the awesome if not awe-inspiring true story. Primarily, it is Molly Bloom herself--or Jessica Chastain's one dimensional portrayal of her. She comes off as an unwavering smartass--too glib, too poker-faced-- devoid of any outward vulnerability that would have allowed me to feel some empathy with her. Even though she's addicted to drugs. 

Poor girl.

Then you've got the players. An endless series of them. There are supposedly many big recognizable  names here, but they're all under pseudonym. So you've got "Player X" over there. Yeah, so what? Would have been more intriguing, since this is a true story, if we had a clue as to who they really were.

And then you've got Jessica Chastain's boobs.  They're a running joke here.There isn't one damn scene in the movie where they're not commanding our attention, as she wears nothing but low-cut tops throughout. Even in the private consultation scenes with her lawyer. What's the point? I'm not sure, but she's making a couple of big ones.  

When the feds finally nab her, the story question becomes will she be able to avoid the slammer and get off with a relative slap on the wrist, through the machinations of her powerhouse attorney, Charlie Jaffey (Idris Elba). After all, it's not as if she were a politician or something!  

Molly's Game is currently ranking high on the Netflix popularity list.

Grade:  C


After the two cinematic losers we've recently reviewed on Netflix, I felt Molly's Game was a definite step up. The opening ski scenes were worth the price of admission. (In Netflix' case, that's pretty darn cheap!) And I can totally understand why, after a crippling injury that ended her dreams of becoming the next Lindsey Vonn, Jessica Chastain's character became emotionally numb. Not a bad trait if you want to run high stakes poker games.

The gamblers were fun to watch. From the best poker player, Player X, portrayed convincingly by Michael Cera (Juno) to the worst--'Bad Brad' (Brian D'Arcy James/Spotlight), who lost incredible amounts of money only to make it up by adding many of these wealthy players to his hedge fund client list. And then there was Harlan Eustace (great cameo by Bill Camp) who came into the game late, couldn't stop raking in the chips until he got bluffed out of all his winnings by none other than Bad Brad. Downhill he went. Seriously downhill. (I was sure he was going to jump off the hotel balcony....)

One last actor I want to mention: Jeremy Strong. He played Molly Bloom's first ( and last!) unsavory boss. Berating her for bringing the wrong store-bought bagels. At first, I didn't know where I'd seen him recently. Then I remembered. He plays the weak son in HBO's hit series "Succession." Kudos, Jeremy. You do unsavory very well.

Because Molly's Game is based on a real person, I forgave the talkiness. And believe me, there were some talkfests in this film. I also loved the ending. But I'm not about to spill the beans in case you decide to watch it.

Grade: B -

Monday, April 6, 2020


Rated: NR

STARS: Ivan Massague, Zorion Eguileor, Antonia San Juan
DIRECTOR: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
GENRE: Horror/ Science Fiction

It's "trickle down economics" taken to it's most literal extreme! The Platform, from Spanish director Galder-Gaztelu-Urrutia, is a crazy gross-out horror flick that wants to deliver a message about the haves and the have-nots, and how the haves are selfish and disdainful of those below them (in today's world the haves are the ones who got there early enough to scarf up all the toilet paper, and the rest of your asses be damned). But it's the same point Bernie Sanders has been making since day one in a much less cringeworthy fashion.   

Goreng (Ivan Massague) wakes up in this weird dystopian prison facility, and is informed by his older cellmate, Trimagasi (Zorion Eguileor) of how things work. There are over two hundred levels in this place, and the ones on the top level eat like kings, then a platform with their leftovers on it gets sent down this big elevator shaft to the lower levels. Depending on what level you're on, you may get to eat, or you may not get to eat. 

Trimagasi has it down pat. You eat like a pig for the few minutes the platform stops at your level, before it starts descending and making its next stops. Prisoners get shuffled around periodically to different levels, so those at the bottom are not always stuck there and vice-versa. Don't get too used to your good fortune, because it's only temporary.  Kinda like real life on any level. 

I have always found it disgusting watching people eat, and this guy shoveling it into his pie hole is the first gross-out moment. But when it turns cannibalistic, The Platform reaches a new level of depravity.

Others come along, men and women--they seem to just drop in on Goreng--and there's even a little "dirty" sex on the menu (between people who must not have showered for months or years). People get peed on. People get shat upon. There were many look-away moments for me.

Goreng maintains his humanity to some degree (for a cannibal), and laments that if everyone took only what they needed, there'd be enough to go around for all. 

The Platform is not for polite company. Unless you have a dark, dark, sense of humor and a strong stomach, you'll want to skip this barf-inducing bonanza.

Now playing on Netflix.

Grade:  D


'Barf-inducing bonanza.' I like it, Timoteo. (How 'bout 'an upchuck extravaganza' or 'puke-worthy cinema'?) All I can say about this weird, weird film is: I am very impressed. Not with The Platform but with the fact that my co-writer actually watched it all the way through! I did, too. (While I was trying to eat my dinner....)

Let me start with the good stuff. I thought the opening theme music was pretty darn spooky. (Buen trabajo, Senor Calleja!)

I wish I had more to say about this film. Nothing stirs my craving for vicarious violence more than a good prison drama. But once it's set in the future, I lose interest. And I found the premise a bit repetitive. I mean how much food, in various states of disgustingness, can you keep offering the viewer?

Sadly, the recent movies on Netflix leave a lot to be desired. Not so with the bingeworthy series such as "Ozark," "Rectify," "Unbelievable," "Hell On Wheels," "Frankie & Grace," to name a few.  But we can't exactly review episode-by-episode, can we. So far, we've been opining about unadulterated dreck. But just like real life right now, I'm hoping things'll get better soon!

Grade: F