Archive for the Crime Category

The Outfit

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on May 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I love a clever title with a double meaning. The Outfit is about an English tailor named Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) who sews suits, but it also concerns the Chicago Outfit, an organized crime syndicate. The story details one fateful night in the tailor’s life. Okay, so he’s technically a “cutter” because Leonard used to work in London’s Savile Row. It’s 1956 and he runs a neighborhood shop in Chicago controlled by Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale), an Irish Mob boss. Roy’s son Ritchie (Dylan O’Brien) and chief enforcer Francis (Johnny Flynn) are Leonard’s best customers but they also use his business as a place to hide dirty money. Oh and his receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch) also happens to be Ritchie’s girlfriend.

The drama has all the trapping of the stage. The story is set in a single location. A twisty sequence of developments unfolds as the tailor attempts to stay alive by manipulating people with his words. The low-key vibe of the account takes a while to get going. However, things do get more complicated and even bloody. Before the night is over, not everyone will still be alive. A series of discussions propel the plot. Although the climax ultimately relies on a sequence of several actions. The ending could use a little — pardon the pun — tailoring.

The Outfit is an entertaining tale from screenwriter Graham Moore who won an Oscar for The Imitation Game. The dialogue is crisp and witty. A sample exchange:

Richie: [My father was] always stating, “A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life kid”
Leonard: Wilde
Richie: F***ing crazy, right?
Leonard: No, that’s a quote: Oscar Wilde

Screenwriter Graham Moore is making his directorial debut. He expertly builds tension from a unique situation. There’s a rat somewhere in Roy Boyle’s organization and he’s aiming to find out who it is. The centerpiece is a stellar performance from Mark Rylance. He’s a cagey individual but his unassuming nature belies a shrewd personality. A notable alumnus of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, his talent here recalls the work of another graduate of the prestigious school, Anthony Hopkins. I can’t give an actor higher praise than that. Mark Rylance elevates this well-written theater piece into a captivating pressure cooker drama.

05-06-22

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Posted in Action, Comedy, Crime with tags on April 28, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s the role he was literally born to play. Nicolas Cage is Nicolas Cage — or at least a heightened version of his frenzied persona. Sometimes a high concept is enough. When The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent fully acknowledges its meta pretense, the movie is a hoot. However, a pedestrian action-comedy ultimately emerges from that facade of creative self-awareness. It’s enjoyable too, but not as clever as the idea of the actor playing himself as a movie star.

The conceit has Nick currently mulling over his career. The performer hasn’t had a good part in a while now and he is running out of money. He has a tense relationship with both his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and their daughter Addy (Lily Sheen). Occasionally he argues with a younger even more boisterous interpretation of himself called Nicky. Sorry, but the efficacy of de-aging technology using CGI is still highly questionable. After being passed over for a coveted film role, he decides he will retire from acting. But first, he’s going to accept a mysterious offer of $1 million to attend the birthday party of a billionaire playboy named Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal). Cage would be the guest of honor. The celebration is being held on the island of Mallorca, off the coast of mainland Spain.

UWOMT is a lot of things. When the script is focused on being a Hollywood satire, it’s a sly comment on the entertainer’s own acting choices and the current state of filmmaking. That wit is peppered throughout the film and I relished those moments. Cage has made a lot of movies. I expected Leaving Las Vegas and Face/Off references. The fact that even Guarding Tess and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin get a mention too was an amusing surprise. The screenplay co-written by director Tom Gormican with Kevin Etten is that thorough.

The heart beating underneath this spoof is a pleasant but formulaic action-comedy. Actor Pedro Pascal is indeed lovable as the wealthy super-fan. His admiration for Cage has a warmth that radiates sincerity. Javi Gutierrez also happens to be an international criminal. The true nature of his character is an ongoing concern for Nick. Javi may or may not have kidnapped the daughter of a presidential candidate. At one point, there’s a memorable reveal of a secret room in Javi’s compound that could’ve gone any number of ways. No spoilers here. I’ll only offer that the buddy aspects are superior to the criminal elements. The two bond over a certain beloved family movie. The pair have ample chemistry together to make this a winner. Now I think I’ll go rewatch Paddington 2.

04-26-22

Windfall

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on March 21, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Windfall has been boldly touted as a Hitchcockian thriller. If I had a $1 for every movie that failed to live up to that high bar…I’d probably have at least $50. Hey, I’m trying to be realistic, but it happens a lot. At this point, I regard the appellation as a red flag for something that aspires to Alfred’s brilliance but isn’t as thoughtful. This film reinforces those feelings.

The drama concerns a burglar (Jason Segel) who breaks into the luxurious vacation home of a wealthy CEO (Jesse Plemons) who heads a tech company. Things don’t go as planned when the CEO and his wife (Lily Collins) happen to coincidentally show up at that moment and surprise the would-be prowler. I didn’t know it at the time, but the parts are listed as CEO, wife, and Nobody (for the robber) in the credits. That perfunctory attitude pervades the account. There are so many directions the writers could have taken. They chose the most mundane.

The narrative is constructed around a boring discussion set within a scenic but fixed locale. We discover the husband and wife are quite blasé about the robbery. They unexpectedly offer to help the thief out so he can be on his way. There’s one amusing interaction where the couple encourages the robber to negotiate his take up to half a million dollars. The cost of living has skyrocketed they contend. However a sum that large will require a day to arrive. Over the next 24 hours, the three participants will have a tedious conversation. We learn that the couple isn’t happily married. The intruder seems benign while the tech mogul grows more arrogant and obnoxious. That’s about the extent of it. There’s not much more to be discovered than that. A gardener shows up, but that doesn’t improve the story.

Director Charlie McDowell has worked with screenwriters Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker before. The One I Love had a similar single location setting, but that story had a supernatural component. At least it kept things interesting. The high point here occurs when the three of them are watching TV. We witness a scene from the 80s western comedy Three Amigos! That brief snippet is more compelling than anything in this picture. Windfall is only 92 minutes but I couldn’t wait for it to be over. (So I could watch Three Amigos!)

03-18-22

The Batman

Posted in Action, Crime, Drama, Superhero, Thriller with tags on March 7, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Did we really need another Batman movie? At this point, the question is akin to asking whether we want more James Bond flicks, an additional performance of A Christmas Carol, or a new production of Hamlet. For any film lover, the answer will forever be yes. The obligation is to make it good and to bring something fresh to the table.

Every new incarnation of Batman seems to top the previous one in darkness and gloom. Tim Burton’s 1989 vision was a game-changer compared with the lighthearted TV show of the 1960s. However, by the time Joel Schumacher had directed parts 3 and 4, the 1990s series had devolved into a zany cartoon. Christopher Nolan recalibrated with The Dark Knight trilogy. It’s the definitive version as far as I’m concerned. That spirit inspired the DC Extended Universe franchise with Ben Affleck. The R-rated spin-off Joker upped the ante considerably and now we’ve got this reboot in 2022.

The title points to a back-to-basics approach. Bruce Wayne is the Batman, a vigilante uncovering corruption in Gotham City. He has a personal vendetta against the kind of criminals that took his parents when he was 10. Director Matt Reeves — who wrote the screenplay with Peter Craig — wisely spares us the umpteenth dramatization of that murder. A slow-motion shot of Martha’s pearl necklace falling apart is burned into my mind. But I digress. The caped crusader is conflicted by the ethics of vengeance. He has the uneasy support of Lieutenant “not quite Commissioner” Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). In Batman’s quest to bring criminals to justice he meets The Riddler (Paul Dano). The arch-villain has been singling out corrupt officials suggesting a connection between them and the criminal underworld. The web of corruption runs deep. It may even impugn the hallowed legacy of the Wayne family.

The Batman is yet another melancholy depiction of the superhero, but the narrative does distinguish itself from the others. The biggest difference is that this interpretation leans very heavily into the idea that Bruce Wayne is first and foremost a detective. Lest we forget, DC stands for Detective Comics after all. The story is set after he’s been fighting crime for two years. The Riddler is a sadistic serial killer in this iteration. Think of Batman as Sherlock Holmes dropped into the thriller Seven or even a Saw movie. The Riddler places his victims in these contraptions that recall the devices from that horror franchise. He taunts the Dark Knight with a string of riddles. Each one conveyed in a greeting card. Batman’s pursuit of justice will lead him to an organized crime conspiracy in Gotham city and a variety of different characters.

The saga incorporates a terrific cast. This includes a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and a mobster played by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell. Oswald Cobblepot is his name but you might know him better as The Penguin. Of course, the most important person is Robert Pattison as the main character. He’s officially the 10th person to portray Batman in a live-action picture. Pattinson manages to offer a unique take on his personality. Bruce Wayne is significantly more troubled with what he is doing. The most depressed and broken interpretation of the character we’ve seen thus far. He’s also younger than the most iconic portrayals. Pattinson is physically slight, less stocky. His emo haircut says he’s sensitive and even sports eyeliner when he wears the cowl. “They think I’m hiding in the shadows, but I am the shadows,” he whispers. This Batman doesn’t growl like his predecessors.

The Batman is a lot of things. Simply consider the definite article before the name. The title is a declaration that’s a little presumptuous right off the bat, no pun intended. The film is also too long…nearly three hours. The convoluted tale features the labyrinthian twists and turns of an investigation. Although to its credit, it doesn’t drag. But most of all it’s dark. I’m talking pitch black. The atmosphere is not an innovation. We’ve seen this somber rendition before. It’s so bleak but it does affect the compelling mood of a neo-noir. Director Matt Reeves stages the action with such visual flair underscored by the stunning cinematography of Greig Fraser (Lion, Dune). One stylish scene with Selina Kyle takes place in a sordid private club amidst the flashing strobe lights. The movie feels cinematic. Although it may not top Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, there’s still much to admire. That’s enough for a recommendation.

03-03-22

Death on the Nile

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on February 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Director Kenneth Branagh is having a moment. On February 8th, Belfast was nominated for an impressive 7 Oscars — including Best Picture. The celebrated filmmaker has followed up his movie with the more box office-friendly Death on the Nile. It was the #1 movie in theaters this weekend.

The mystery is of course based on the 1937 novel by Agatha Christie. Kenneth Branagh is not only the director and producer, but he also reprises his role as detective Hercule Poirot. It’s a sequel of sorts to his remake of Murder on the Orient Express, a monetarily successful adaption that came out in 2017. I wasn’t a fan, but I’m happy to report this one is significantly better.

All aboard the S. S. Karnak! This trip down the river Nile is an old-fashioned throwback — in a good way. Where Orient felt tired and stuffy, this is lighthearted and fun. Screenwriter Michael Green (Logan) even gives us a bit of a backstory of Hercule Poirot and why he has that immense mustache. The collection of stars is enjoyable to watch. In any large ensemble, the ability to stand out can be a challenge. Gal Gadot is perhaps the most memorable as a wealthy English heiress but Sophie Okonedo makes an impression as an American Jazz singer. Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Emma Mackey, Ali Faza, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders are among the other actors that show up. Note: It would be insipid to list the entire cast so the omission of any actor should not be viewed as a deliberate choice.

This interpretation is the kind of fluffy diversion I enjoy while watching but completely forget about days later. The thing I do remember most is how much CGI is used to make it look like they’re in Egypt. It’s quite obvious this wasn’t filmed on location. Credit goes to VFX Supervisor George Murphy and his team who utilize a London soundstage and an “extravagant” dependence on green screen. That does take away from the authenticity of the experience. The 1978 version of Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov WAS a production that was famously shot in Egypt. This revision doesn’t top its glorious predecessor for style or opulence. Let’s face it, that’s a major component of these Agatha Christie adaptions. I’ll concede the story moves briskly, however. The chronicle is not a chore to sit through. Thankfully this is just slightly over two hours. In an era where movies hew closer to three hours than two, that’s a welcome surprise. It’s nothing to die for, but still a solid piece of entertainment.

02-10-22

Nightmare Alley

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on January 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Film noir” is a term used to describe the genre of stylish crime dramas released between 1945 and 1960. Subsequently, “neo-noir” was a loosely defined term created to describe pictures that advanced the same sensibility but came after the classic period. Nightmare Alley is a novel by William Lindsay Gresham published in 1946 and subsequently became a 1947 movie starring Tyrone Power. Now Guillermo del Toro has adapted the same story (with Kim Morgan). Truth be told, my expectations were substantially restrained. I wasn’t a fan of his last release, The Shape of Water. However, color me surprised. I was completely captivated by this adaptation. Some of my favorite neo-noirs of the past 25 years include L.A. Confidential (1997), Match Point (2005), Brick (2005), Drive (2011), and Nightcrawler (2014). Nightmare Alley is an outstanding addition that ranks highly on that list.

The crime drama begins within the shadowy world of a second-rate carnival. Bradley Cooper is perfectly cast as Stan Carlisle, a charismatic man of questionable character. Stan takes a job in a traveling carnival owned by Clem Hoatley (Willem Dafoe). The occupants consist of the usual hustlers, grifters, and various sideshows including the unfortunate circus geek (Paul Anderson). Stan begins working with a clairvoyant act that comprises “Madame Zeena” (Toni Collette) and her husband Pete (David Strathairn). Pete becomes something of a mentor to Stan and begins teaching him the tricks of the trade. These methods incorporate cold reading techniques used to extract information from their marks. However, Pete warns never to use these tricks to put on a “spook show” which means channeling the dead. Meanwhile, Stan is attracted to Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), a fellow carny whose schtick is to allow electrical charges to run through her body. He makes suggestions that improve her act. They form a connection. Then he proposes they leave the carnival together and start a new routine on the road exploiting the craft he has learned. As his approach becomes more and more sophisticated, Stan enters the pantheon of high society. Things get progressively more complicated from there.

The last time Guillermo del Toro directed a production it won the Oscar for Best Picture. That feat is unlikely to happen again. Nightmare Alley hasn’t been as warmly embraced. However, as far as I’m concerned, this is a far superior work. Guillermo del Toro has built a solid reputation on stories about monsters. Although his latest chronicle doesn’t feature any mythical creatures, it still details monsters of humanity. The story may involve unsavory people but it’s gorgeously filmed by cinematographer Dan Laustsen. At the same time, production designer Tamara Deverell recreates a 1930s carnival with authenticity and style. The tale unfolds with the complexities of a carefully plotted saga helmed by a director who knows exactly what he is doing. Every filmmaking decision informs the account which features an extraordinary ensemble of actors, all of which give performances worthy of acclaim. It’s incredible I’ve gotten this far and haven’t even mentioned Dr. Lilith Ritter, a psychiatrist played by Cate Blanchett. The character is a femme fatale in the most classic tradition. I’ve purposefully kept the specifics of her involvement secret so as not to spoil any of the twists and turns of the narrative. The second Lilith challenges Stan at one of his shows, I was enrapt. Every scene in which she is featured is mesmerizing. Ok so honestly, I was engaged throughout. That is the barometer of an entertaining movie. This also happens to be a work of art.

12-23-21

West Side Story

Posted in Crime, Drama, Music, Musical with tags on December 13, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

You’ve got to hand it to Steven Spielberg. In his 50 years of making movies, he has never directed a musical before and when he decides to start, he chooses to remake one of the most illustrious of all time. That takes guts. The 1957 Broadway show was conceived by Jerome Robbins featuring music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It became a landmark 1961 film that made $43.7 million ($400 million adjusted for inflation) and won a whopping 10 Oscars including Best Picture. The soundtrack spent 54 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s album charts, giving it the longest run at No. 1 of any album in history. It was an imposing task. I’m happy to say the gamble pays off.

The beloved tale is a well-known formula of timeworn components. Rival street gangs face off in NYC. It concerns the Sharks who hail from Puerto Rico vs. the nativist white gang the Jets. Side note: actor Mike Faist is a revelation as Riff, the leader of the Jets, and the story isn’t even about him. Tony (Ansel Elgort) is a former Jet who went to jail and is now a reformed character. He meets Maria (Rachel Zegler), a beautiful 18-year-old at a community dance. Tony and Maria instantly fall in love and want to spend the rest of their lives together. Ah, movies! Complicating matters is that she’s the younger sister of Sharks leader Bernardo (David Alvarez). Anita (Ariana DeBose) is his assertive girlfriend. More on her later. Trying to keep the peace is Valentina (Rita Moreno), a widow who now runs Doc’s general store. It’s a reworking of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, a doomed romance between star-crossed sweethearts. In this case, from different sides in 1950s Manhattan.

This bright, uplifting musical got my emotions going. Each production number is a big rousing larger-than-life event. “Something’s Coming,” “Maria,” Tonight,” “Gee, Officer Krupke,” “Somewhere” – I’ve loved these tunes for years. Every fan will cite a favorite. For me, the highlight has always been the spirited “America” sung by the Puerto Ricans that pits the women who list all the things they champion about their adoptive country against their male counterparts who play up all the negative aspects. I appreciate the mixed meter of a chant that espouses pro-American views but is rooted in vibrant Latin rhythms and Spanish guitar. It’s both funny and athletic. When the women start twirling their dresses as the men leap and jump while the camera zooms in and out, I thought, THIS is cinema. I was enthralled. The singing is stellar across the board. In a cast of many highlights, the MVP goes to Ariana Dubose as Anita. She has some pretty big shoes to fill. Rita Moreno famously received a well-earned Oscar for that role. Ariana is more than up to the task.

In a word, West Side Story is spectacular. This grand production is a perfect marriage of old and new. There is such respect for its iconic predecessor. Composer David Newman arranges Bernstein’s timeless score with passion and verve. Meanwhile, Justin Peck updates Jerome Robbins’ influential dance routines. Peck is the resident choreographer at the New York City Ballet. They honor the source material but gently modernize the piece for a 2021 audience. The balletic moves are more realistically violent when depicting the fights. Additionally, screenwriter Tony Kushner spends extra time fleshing out the Puerto Rican personalities. Many have called this the “greatest musical ever made.” * I walked in arms folded with the attitude, “Why are we remaking this classic?” and I left the theater thinking, “Did that just top the original?” The leads as written in the play have never been the most captivating characters. The supporting parts have so much more charisma. That’s true once again, although I’d argue Tony and Maria are slightly more compelling here than their 1961 equivalents. Apologies to Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood. Whether this tops that version overall is debatable. I can’t give a decisive answer because I’m still not sure. However, just the fact that I’m even entertaining the idea, speaks to the immense talent that is Steven Spielberg.

12/09/21

*Not a definitive list, but offhand I know I enjoyed The Wizard of Oz, On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, The King and I, and The Sound of Music more.

House of Gucci

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on November 29, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Any movie pushing three hours should have a reason to be that that long. I once thought 120 minutes or less was the standard, but 2021 seems to be upping that tradition. A few anecdotal examples: F9: The Fast Saga (143 min), In the Heights (143 min), Respect (145 min), Army of the Dead (148 min), Dune (155 min), Eternals (156 min), No Time to Die (163 min), Zack Snyder’s Justice League (242 min). The thing is, while I enjoyed most of the aforementioned films, every single one of them would have benefited from some judicious tightening of the narrative. House of Gucci is a breezy 90-minute picture buried in a 2 hour and 38-minute slog.

The chronicle depicts Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), a social climber who meets Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at a party. They have a whirlwind romance and she marries her way into the organization of the Italian luxury label. This is to the disdain of his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) who initially disowns him. Al Pacino plays his more flamboyant brother, Aldo, and Jared Leto is Aldo’s wayward son, Paolo.

The screenplay written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna is adapted from the book by Sara Gay Forden. This story begins in the 1970s and while the label is respected, the luxury fashion house is seen as a little stale and old-fashioned. Tom Ford (Reeve Carney) will change that perception. Aldo and Rodolfo currently each possess 50% of Gucci and Patrizia pushes her husband to gain control of the company. This could’ve been a delightful romp of a soap opera that recounts the custody of an empire but it gets bogged down on the banalities of marriage, the details of who controls what, and other financial matters that aren’t particularly interesting.

What the production does have are some charismatic performances. Lady Gaga and Jared Leto are both affecting exaggerated accents in the movie I enjoyed – a campy escapade that is a lot of fun. They’re giving us personality – Leto in particular. He’s unrecognizable as the paunchy and bald underdog who wants to prove his ability as a designer in his own right. One may not appreciate his theatrical achievement as much as I did, but at least he’s memorable. Salma Hayek is Patrizia’s fortune-telling confidante and she is also an amusing character. Meanwhile — dull by comparison — are Adam Driver and Jeremy Irons giving us dependable acting in a completely different movie that’s more of a dour drama. Energizing the mood are the often anachronistic needle drops. For example, Donna Summer’s “On the Radio” is heard at a soiree in 1978 and George Michael’s “Faith” at a wedding which cleverly begins with the song’s cathedral organ intro.

Passion! Betrayal! Greed! Jealousy! A true-crime epic about fashion and wealth should be a celebration of wicked excess. There’s a reason why prime-time serials like Dynasty and Dallas ruled the Nielsens in their heyday. House of Gucci could have lifted a lesson or two from those TV shows. I wanted glamour and opulence but director Ridley Scott is more interested in the boardrooms and backroom discussions of business. It’s not a spoiler that the saga ultimately concerns a highly publicized murder. That sensational event should have been placed at the center of the drama. Here the deed is pushed near the end like an afterthought. A title card informs us of a trial that would’ve been a riveting sight to see. Instead, we suffer through an account that’s mostly concerned with who owns what shares. There’s an entertaining film contained within that some clever (and gutsy) editing could have extracted from the distended runtime of House of Gucci. Sadly audiences will have to “separate the wheat from the chaff” to experience it.

11-23-21

Pig

Posted in Crime, Drama with tags on September 30, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

It’s difficult to pinpoint when Nicolas Cage first earned a reputation as an eccentric actor. Many say it started back in 1988 when he ate live cockroach in the cult comedy-horror Vampire’s Kiss. I’d argue it started even earlier. Listen to the high-pitched voice he uses in Peggy Sue Got Married and tell me that’s not a ridiculous choice. Anyway, his scenery-chewing sensibilities continue to be put to good use. Recent productions Mandy and Color out of Space continue to feature manic performances. So it is an amusing irony that a movie where he doesn’t “ham it up” is in a picture called Pig.

This is the portrait of a reclusive hermit named Robin Feld who owns a truffle-finding pig. Then one day some intruders break into his home and steal her. Thus begins an expedition to find out where his beloved pet has been taken. At first, we’re led to believe he’s practically homeless living in a shack in the forested outskirts of Portland but little details are slowly unveiled. Robin is currently a widower mourning the death of his wife. We find out rather early that he was once a prominent chef. He is joined by a cohort named Amir (Alex Wolff) — an awkward young man who supplies luxury ingredients to high-end restaurants.

This is an odd saga. We are in the dark about a lot of things. Bizarre developments are presented gradually. The depiction uncovers a world of fine dining with a seedy underbelly amongst restaurant workers. There’s a bewildering scene of something you might find in the movie Fight Club. That idiosyncratic humor pervades the film. In a key moment at Eurydice, the hottest restaurant in Portland, there’s a reveal of a plate — a single scallop. The server explains:

“We’ve emulsified locally sourced scallops encased in a flash-frozen seawater roe blend, on a bed of foraged huckleberry foam, all bathed in the smoke from Douglas fir cones.”

The absurdist description and visual of the minuscule bite pokes fun at the fine dining scene, but the sendup is glib. Writer/director Michael Sarnoski (who co-wrote the story with Vanessa Block) seeks to expose the inauthenticity of the experience. Robin berates the chef (David Knell) for not following his dream to open a pub. Later Robin’s odyssey to find a salted baguette leads him to a bakery. These and many other quirky but inessential details — are disclosed.

Pig is a meditative character study. There are moments to appreciate, but the culmination left me wanting more. This is a narrative that introduces us to Darius (Adam Arkin) — a power broker in the restaurant industry. He also happens to be Amir’s father. All I’ll say is that Darius and Robin have a history. The saga climaxes with the preparation of a dish. I was unmoved. The chronicle became one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2021. I was less captivated by the story’s dubious charms. I’ll grant that this is offbeat. Its ability to subvert expectations is perhaps its greatest asset. Too unique to completely dismiss but too muted for me to embrace.

09-07-21

Malignant

Posted in Action, Crime, Horror with tags on September 12, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The category is: Gonzo horror movies that entertain out of sheer weirdness. Ladies and gentlemen, Malignant has just entered the room. Uber-successful director James Wan first found fame with horror: Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring have earned billions worldwide. Over the past six years, he achieved even greater success with Furious 7 and Aquaman. Wan’s latest marks a return to the genre that made him famous. It’s too silly to take seriously and yet too bizarre to simply dismiss.

This movie has everything: psychic abilities, doctors, detectives, repressed childhood memories, imaginary friends, lesbians in jail, and evil siblings. I suddenly feel like Stefon — Bill Hader’s club-kid character on SNL — enumerating all the avant-garde features of the hippest New York clubs. Despite my long list, I haven’t given any substantive details of what happens in this crazy movie. There is so much more than meets the eye.

Madison Lake (Annabelle Wallis) is expecting a child. One night after a fight with Derek (Jake Abel), her abusive husband, she locks herself in the bedroom away from him and falls asleep. At night, she dreams that a stranger enters their home and violently kills him. Sure enough, she discovers Derek’s dead body downstairs when she awakes. Then realizes the killer is still there before blacking out. She regains consciousness in the hospital and learns she was attacked. Soon thereafter she continues to experience terrifying visions of horrific murders. What’s even more troubling is that the murders she’s witnesses are indeed happening. Her visions simultaneously occur in real-time.

There’s a heightened sensibility to the atmosphere right from the start. The exaggerated acting style telegraphs we’re in for some humor. Star Annabelle Wallis plays it pretty straight, but the rest of the cast didn’t get the same memo. The opening scene ends with a doctor boldly making a solemn declaration to the camera, “It’s time we cut out the cancer!” Buckle up for a fun ride. The explanation for Madison’s hallucinations will be fully explained. Trust that’s it’s an insane and unpredictable reveal. The manifestation of that development is a genuinely freakish display. The third act will either have you rolling your eyes in disgust or laughing uncontrollably at how over the top it is. I’m firmly in the latter category. Longtime readers know I am not a fan of viscera. However, when tinged with humor, it becomes cartoonish and therefore easier to take. Here I embraced the gore.

James Wan is well acquainted with camp. His entire filmography is proof of that with Aquaman being a recent example. As Susan Sontag famously wrote in 1964, “Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.” That perfectly describes Malignant in a nutshell. If you’re willing to embrace that sensibility, this will be an absolute hoot. This fantastic (and bloody) saga is reminiscent of the work of Italian director Dario Argento, best known for Suspiria in 1977. Granted the narrative will not hold up to intense scrutiny. This is a convoluted mess. Nonetheless, a ridiculously entertaining fright fest with an emphasis on the grotesque is still a mesmerizing spectacle. I enjoyed it for its audacious style.

09-10-21