Archive for the Thriller Category

Deep Water

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 29, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A new release starring erstwhile lovers Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas based on a 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and helmed by provocateur Adrian Lyne would have been a big deal in a previous era. Yet on March 18, this went straight to streaming on Hulu. There’s a reason for that. Adult movie fare isn’t doing so well in theaters at the moment. Oh and frankly, it’s not all that good. But that doesn’t mean it lacks entertainment value.

Director Adrien Lyne earned a flashy reputation in the 80s & 90s for glossy dramas that were sexy and stylish. Flashdance, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal were some of his best known. However, the last time he made a film, was way back in 2002. Unfaithful featured an Oscar-nominated performance by Diane Lane. She was outstanding to be sure, but I also credit Adrien Lyne for being the director in charge of that production. The promise of his first picture in 20 years is something to celebrate. If only it delivered the captivating heights of his previous work.

Deep Water is a limp drama about a couple living in the fictional Louisiana town of Little Wesley. It concerns a husband named Vic Van Allen, (Ben Affleck) in an unconventional marriage to his wife Melinda (Ana de Armas). She has affairs with various men. Instead of sneaking around behind his back, she flaunts them much to his discomfort. It’s the odd back and forth of the feuding twosome that compels your attention. However, the story is a head-scratcher. At first, it appears they’ve agreed to an open marriage. But when Vic threatens the guest (Brendan C. Miller) that Melinda invites to a party, it’s clear Vic isn’t happy with what his wife is doing. Although that doesn’t stop her. It’s implied that perhaps Melinda savors his jealousy. Martin McRae — the last guy that romanced his wife — goes missing and Vic claims to be responsible. Or is he kidding? Melinda is unfazed by the possibility that Vic is a murderer. “I’m the one you kill for.” she coos. It isn’t long before she’s off openly flirting with a different man (Jacob Elordi) and then another (Finn Wittrock).

Deep Water occasionally recalls what made Lyne’s earlier output so irresistible. The milieu is sleek and polished. As photographed by cinematographer Eigil Bryld, the living spaces are exquisitely opulent. They live in a palatial suburban mansion that would be right at home on the pages of Architectural Digest. The bathrooms are the size of a bedroom. A grand pool at the center of a party shimmers with an incandescent glow. The atmosphere is seductive. It hints that something sinister is always brewing. But the attempt to achieve the provocative excitement of his past work goes unfulfilled and an abrupt ending is supremely unsatisfying.

Deep Water is not good. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the mischievous tone that pervades the account. Melinda has this lusty appetite that straddles the line between insatiable and ridiculous. Conversely, Vic inexplicably vacillates between bouts of being enraged and aroused. The developments elicit laughter and campy elements inform the plot. Their precocious six-year-old daughter steals every scene she is in. The suggestion is the dissimilar pair stay together for her sake. Her bratty behavior is an annoying delight. “Alexa, play ‘Old MacDonald’ again” she chirps despite her mother’s protestations. Meanwhile, Vic keeps snails as pets and that’s a bizarre addition to the story. Ben Affleck broods with the same intensity as Nick Dunne, his role in Gone Girl. His character is a most perplexing personality. I could never quite figure out what motivates this highly confused individual. In the absence of a clear motive or credible passion, I simply reveled in the absurdity of it all.

03-25-22

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

Uncharted

Posted in Action, Adventure, Thriller with tags on February 28, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Actor Tom Holland is having a very good year. Spider-Man: No Way Home may have been released in 2021, but it has earned a staggering $166 million in the U.S. in 2022 alone. That means it’s currently the biggest box office hit of this year as well as last. The picture continues to earn money. It hasn’t left the Top 3 since it debuted 11 weeks ago.

Now on the heels of that success comes this fun action-adventure starring the web-slinging actor. This time he plays Nathan Drake. He’s working as a bartender in New York City when we meet him. His flirtatious flair for making drinks gave me flashbacks of another Tom…Cruise in Cocktail. However, Nate uses his job to pickpocket the patrons. We see him lift an expensive bracelet from a young woman. Noticing his “talent,” he’s approached by a fortune hunter named “Sully” (Mark Wahlberg) who offers him a job. Sully wants Nate’s expertise to steal a gold cross that is being auctioned off. Nate declines. Then later realizes Sully swiped the bracelet from his back pocket and left his business card in its place. Nate ultimately agrees to work with Sully. Thus begins a collection of escapades that the mismatched pair hope will lead to riches.

Uncharted the film is based on a series of games for PlayStation consoles. So full disclosure, I’m not a gamer. I have zero familiarity with the franchise that inspired this picture. However, knowing its origins had me worried. Movies adapted from video games don’t have an illustrious history. Expectations were low, but to my delight, this entertaining saga stands on its own. The popcorn movie is easy to enjoy as a swashbuckling adventure in the vein of National Treasure inspired by Indiana Jones. A big distinction is that Tom Holland’s character is a younger protagonist with a baby face. It’s an odd casting choice. Holland doesn’t look like a rugged hero. He is an everyman and though he is capable, he always seems a little out of his depth. I rather enjoyed his incongruous presence.

Uncharted excels in emphasizing the palpable chemistry between Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg. Both actors rest heavily on their movie-star personas. Mark Wahlberg has played tough guys before. Meanwhile, Tom Holland is doing Peter Parker goes treasure hunting. Nate and Sully are like siblings with a competitive relationship. Their witty repartee is highlighted in a screenplay written by Rafe Lee Judkins, Art Marcum, and Matt Holloway. The two stars bicker back and forth tossing off an array of amusing quips in an ongoing effort to top one another. Sure there’s plenty of action and it’s well-staged by director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Venom). The opening sequence of Nate falling through the sky out of a cargo plane is a wow. However, films of this genre often deliver computer-enhanced FX thrills. It’s the banter that kept me invested. I was entertained.

02-24-22

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

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Posted in Drama, History, Thriller with tags on January 27, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Bold, minimalist, and grim – Joel Coen’s adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth is a stark vision in black and white amidst the “shadows and fog.” Joel may be working sans brother Ethan for the first time, but he isn’t alone. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and production designer Stefan Dechant support his vivid display of German expressionism. The movie shot on a Los Angeles soundstage is an austere stage drama but with cinematic flourishes thrown in to maintain interest. There’s a lot on which the eye can feast although computers still can’t seem to render a realistic-looking bird. Oh, but brush up your Shakespeare! This version makes no concessions for those not intimately familiar with the text.

You’ll probably get the gist of it. Lord Macbeth (Denzel Washington) and Banquo (Bertie Carvel) win a decisive battle over the treasonous Thane of Cawdor, for King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson). On their way back from combat they meet three witches (all portrayed by Kathryn Hunter) who prophesize that Macbeth will be awarded the next Thane of Cawdor, then become King of Scotland. Macbeth and his scheming wife Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) collude to assassinate Duncan and take the throne. It all ends in a lot of deaths, like every great Shakespearean tragedy.

Naturally, the language is pure poetry. Disciples of the text will be in heaven. Phrases like “the be-all and end-all”, “at one fell swoop”, and “crack of doom” all first appeared in Macbeth. This is an ensemble with an A-list cast. Stars Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Brendan Gleeson, and Corey Hawkins all contribute. However, it is considerably less well-known theater vet Kathryn Hunter who makes the biggest impression. She appears as one entity that can shapeshift into three witches, contorting her body in odd shapes as she speaks in raspy tones. As she sits looking downward in the rafters, the floor turns into an imagined reflective pool. That re-interpretation of the cauldron scene (with no metal pot) is a stunning highlight.

Sadly the issues I have are attributable to the Bard himself. An emotional attachment to anyone in the cast of Macbeth is elusive. The central role is consistently evil and the rest of the characters aren’t likable either. Without someone to champion, we have “no dog in this fight.” People are slain left and right and I couldn’t even summon up the feeling to give a care. Justin Kurzel, Roman Polanski, Orson Welles, and Akira Kurosawa have all launched adaptations. Throne of Blood is the most compelling, but then again, Kurosawa dispensed with Shakespeare’s language. Joel Coen makes a valiant effort but fails to convince me this play is anything more than an evocative curiosity of Elizabethan English that students can pick apart and study. It will no doubt have a long run in classrooms for the next decade by English teachers who use movies as an “instructional tool.”

01-14-22

Scream

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on January 17, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Definitions vary but in Scream, a “requel” is a movie that functions as a sequel to an existing franchise but mimics so much of a previous entry that it verges on being a remake in disguise. Pictures like Mad Max: Fury Road, Jurassic World, Creed, and The Force Awakens are examples of this. Those all coincidentally came out in 2015. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a recent illustration. As most of these titles show, a requel isn’t necessarily bad. That similarity exists between Scream and…Scream. Of course, Scream is fully aware of this before it apes the plotline of…Scream. Now this is confusing. From here on out, I’ll be adding a 5 to the latest Scream so I can (1) distinguish it from the title of its 26-year-old predecessor and (2) call it out for what it is.

Scream 5 returns to the quiet (?) town of Woodsboro, California. Yet another killer dons the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers. An attack on Tara (Jenna Ortega) compels her estranged older sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) to visit her in the hospital. Tara’s group of young and attractive friends assemble to figure out whodunit. Secrets from the town’s past come to light. That’s it. The plot isn’t going to win any awards. It’s Scream redux. In 1996 Scream became a substantial hit by turning the slasher film inside out. It satirized the clichés of the genre while also exploiting them. But let’s face it, it’s 26 years later and Scream 5 certainly can’t continue doing that.

Scream 5 brings something new to the table. This casts a wider net and considers the current state of sequels whose plot may seem like carbon copies of the original movie. Scream 5 mocks this idea. Then proceeds to do the very same thing by mimicking the developments of Scream but gently tweaking the narrative in meaningful ways. The screenplay is indeed funny and that’s where this installment shines. Even the very title imitates the recent trend of “back to basics” sequels that dispense with numbers like Halloween (2018) and Candyman (2021). This act of self-awareness is a precarious balancing act. There’s a fine line between smug and clever, but luckily screenwriters James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick straddle the line. Scream 5 keeps you entertained with what it has to say.

It’s the spirited new cast that carries the story. The chronicle opens with a recreation of Scream‘s iconic intro when Drew Barrymore as Casey Becker answered the phone. This time however it’s actress Jenna Ortega playing Tara Carpenter. She has a debate about “elevated” horror pictures from directors like Jennifer Kent, Jordan Peele, and Ari Aster with an unknown voice. “I prefer The Babadook,” she says. I feel you, girl. The caller then forces her to play the most stressful trivia game ever before invading her home. Ortega is effective as Tara Carpenter. Even more compelling is actress Melissa Barrera (In the Heights) who portrays her older sister Sam. They enhance the saga because they’re likable. That’s important in a slasher film. I mean it helps when we care the people don’t die, right? “Legacy” characters David Arquette, Neve Campbell, and Courteney Cox are all back to placate longtime followers. They’re appreciated in supporting roles but aren’t essential to the story.

The screenplay also offers a cogent dialogue concerning certain zealous fans — specifically enthusiasts who feel betrayed by franchise installments that don’t adhere to a narrow definition of what constitutes a “good” sequel. Mindy (Jasmin Savoy Brown) recounts how Stab 8 — the meta slasher film series within the Scream universe — forgot everything people loved about the first and undermined the subsequent movies. She is hip to horror tropes like her uncle, Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) in Scream & Scream 2. Her conversations with twin brother Chad (Mason Gooding) are where the script is able to intelligently introduce discussions about the perpetrator of these attacks and toxic online fandom.

Scream is the most meta franchise we have. Yes, I see you Deadpool. For the first time, a Scream movie is not directed by Wes Craven, who sadly passed away in 2015. Directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett honor the spirit of the original while still offering a fresh take. This is the same directorial duo who created the ultraviolent Ready or Not in 2019, so expect blood to spurt and spray more than you’ve ever seen in a Scream film — at least since the first. I didn’t need to see the camera linger on a victim as the knife goes into the side of their neck and pops out the other side. Nor witness the ridiculous number of stabs that one (albeit deserved) fatality gets. With that said, the kills are creatively staged. One murder recreates the shower scene in Psycho but wait a minute…does it? The killer’s whereabouts upends our expectations. Scream 5 pokes fun of the sequel, fandom, and of course the slasher genre. A lot of it will feel familiar and that’s kind of the point. A witty screenplay coupled with a youthful and charismatic cast make this material feel vibrant once again.

01-13-22

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

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

Last Night in Soho

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller with tags on October 30, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

A wistful affection for the past is understandable — even encouraged — at times. Nostalgia for swinging ’60s is a relatable devotion. I happily support any script that has a love for female soloists of the UK. I’m talking about singers like Cilla Black, Petula Clark, and Dusty Springfield, all of whom appear on the soundtrack. This is a saga about one fictional singer named Sandie ( Anya Taylor-Joy). But what if that sentimental yearning for yesteryear were turned on its ear? Perhaps the “good ol’ days” aren’t so rosy. Last Night in Soho is a gripping seed of an idea from director Edgar Wright he considers in a screenplay with Krysty Wilson-Cairn. The concept is a fascinating contemplation for half the narrative …..and then that approach is discarded for — shall we say — less intellectual concerns.

Ellie Turner (Thomasin McKenzie) is a young woman who aspires to be a fashion designer in the modern day. However, she has a fondness for 1960s attire and music. She has been accepted into a fashion school in London. Ellie is excited, and her grandmother Peggy (Rita Tushingham) is rightfully proud. However, gran warns that London is a city of “bad men.” Ellie initially plans to stay in the dorms, but roommate Jocasta (Synnove Karlsen) and her “mean girl” pals are less than welcoming. So Ellie gets a place of her own — a rented room in the flat of Ms. Collins (the legendary Diana Rigg in her final film). That night while in bed under the covers, she is magically transported back to London during the youth-driven cultural revolution. Ellie’s odyssey begins. This phenomenon will happen repeatedly on each subsequent night. She will be changed by these adventures. The past is a thrilling period…until it isn’t.

Ellie’s trips to the sixties are electrifying. There she is transformed into a completely different woman. Her experiences as the more worldly and confident Sandie are pretty captivating at first. They even have a beneficial influence on her in the current day. Ellie’s clothing designs — as well as the way she presents herself (hair, wardrobe) — will become a reflection of these encounters. They have a positive effect. Last Night in Soho gives Director Edgar Wright an excuse to indulge in what he does best. Recreate an age for which he has an obvious connection with style and panache. He then employs a soundtrack that augments his aesthetic. So often these needle drops in movies are tired ditties we’ve heard fifty thousand times. To his credit, not a single tune from the Beatles is referenced. Edgar Wright manages to select well-known chestnuts of the time that haven’t been played to death. At least not to this American reviewer’s ears. I have a penchant for the music of this generation so It’s not often that I am not able to identify every song. This production had me consulting the internet afterward and adding new selections to my existing pop playlist focused on the 1960s. That’s high praise.

Last Night in Soho enthusiastically and skillfully emulates the age with sophistication and verve. Her surroundings are an aural and visual trip that brilliantly captures the excitement of another era. A special shout-out must go to Marcus Rowland’s fantastic production design, the costumes by Odile Dicks-Mireaux, and Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography. Ellie is captivated and so are we. A dazzling dance on the floor of the Cafe de Paris has Sandie/Ellie being swept off her feet on the floor of the club. The dance intermixes actresses Thomasin Mckenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy with her partner Jack (Matt Smith) and the manipulation is pure cinema. The camera angles and lighting are perfectly in sync to duplicate an era that is beautifully realized. These scenes dazzle the eye. The presentation is astonishing. I was transfixed to the screen. The manifestation is a passionate celebration of the fashion and music of the decade . Halfway through, I seriously believed this was going to be the best movie of the year.

Edgar Wright’s display is a genre mashup-up that ultimately details the despair of a promise unfulfilled. I suppose there are many innovative ways in which the director could have taken this interesting adventure. It turns out that blood-soaked zombie horror is not one of them. I go into most films not knowing anything about them, so this twist came as a shock. I did watch the trailer afterward and discovered it fully acknowledges the descent into horror. Knowing this development can only enhance your experience since it prepares you for the abrupt turn of events the story takes. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t have made what happens more palpable. Unless that is you think Georgy Girl would have been a lot better if only it had an ending like Night of the Living Dead.

10-29-21