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Acrimony - It could have rated a Six or Greater
I was thoroughly engrossed in this movie the first time around and thought it was Tyler Perry's best movie yet. The ending was sloppy and chaotic, so I could understand why the movie was heavily criticized. But I liked that the characters were flawed, complex and very relatable. My sympathies kept gong back and forth between the leads the more I learned about them. The best evidence I could offer that this is a good movie is that it generated a lot of discussion. Yes, much of it was over the weak spots in the move, but there was also much discussion about the relationship itself and what this movie was really trying to say.
I just re-watched this movie and enjoyed it just as much as the first time but noticed more the second time around. Over all, my take is that she was more in love with him than he was with her. He did love her, but he seemed self-centered and consumed with building and promoting his invention and he could clearly enjoy the company of other women. For her, on the other hand, he was her whole world.
Their initial attraction was very believable because she seemed to be kind of a black sheep in her family and under the constant judgmental and controlling eye of at least one of her sisters. He was also kind of a black sheep, but he was clearly intelligent and ambitious and had a dream.
So, my take is that Melinda invested her wealth in her man hoping to earn his love. He kept telling her that one day it was all going to pay off. So, even though the audience could see her resentment building over supporting him, she kept investing with the belief that when he eventually made it he would remember all of her sacrifices and love her as passionately as she loved him.
But the next thing we know, they're both in mid life, she's still slaving to support them both, she's lost most of her inheritance and is about to lose her home and, to add insult to injury, they no longer even enjoy sexual intimacy because hubby's taken to sleeping on the couch. This leads her to suspect he's cheating on her and her suspicion is reinforced when her sister finds a woman's wallet in a truck hubby's been hired to drive - a woman who hubby cheated on her with many years ago.
A chain of events transpire that led me to believe she just got fed up and lost faith in her husband. When he claimed to have been offered $800,000 for his invention only to turn it down how would anyone feel? She was buried in debt (on his behalf I might add) and about to lose her home, and he turned the offer down? Actually, I'm not convinced she even believed his story. I suspect she thought he had a tryst in the company truck with that other woman and then used the $800,000 business meeting to cover up his infidelity.
But on second viewing I noticed that even when the husband pleaded with her to not go through with the divorce proceedings Melinda seemed to be dong all she could to hold it together and not rush to take him back. Her sisters had been telling her all along he was no good and that she was a fool for loving him, so she had to put up a strong front for them.
But after the divorce she learns that hubby really did realize his dreams. She reconsiders her position and thinks maybe they could finally live the life he promised her. But then she's rudely awakened to the fact that he's moved on and has married someone else - the very woman he cheated on long ago and led her (in her rage) to lose her fertility - and that this woman is now enjoying the dream that Melinda sacrificed for.
A lot of people have told me they didn't get Melinda's reaction. After all, her ex paid her ten times what he took from her. But I don't think it was all just about money. To her, I believe, her rage was because he never made her feel loved the way she wanted to be loved, and now he was loving this other woman the way that she wanted to be loved. He didn't care when she worked two jobs, incurred the ridicule of her sisters and sacrificed her youth and nest egg on his behalf. But now he was attending to some other woman's every want and need. In her eyes it seems, she did all the hard work, and this other woman is getting all the glory.
I could totally understand her anger, but she pushed him away so her anger should have been directed at herself.
The final scene was a train wreck and was so sloppily written and filled with editing oversights that it blotted out much of the great buildup of the initial plot and earlier scenes.
I wish Tyler Perry would start to focus less on the quantity of his scripts and more on the quality. The opening scenes of Acrimony is proof of the quality he is capable of producing.
Lucy in the Sky (2019)
Much Better Than Expected Based on Reviews
The plot for Lucy in the Sky was compelling to me, plus it starred the highly talented Natalie Portman, so I was surprised by so many negative reviews. It may have been because the true story was far more mundane (and not a little ridiculous), or it may have been because the film was such a slow burner?
Basically, a female astronaut returns from a space mission and has trouble readjusting to day-to-day life, which leads her to increasingly reckless behavior. Even if the plot deviated somewhat from the true story, the concept of readjusting to mundane life from a traumatic or life-changing experience is fascinating and has been touched on often in movies about soldiers, for example.
I liked how the movie lets the audience in on what an overachiever this woman is, and then starts to give subtle and increasingly noticeable signs of her emotional unraveling. I think Natalie Portman was great. Her obsession with the perfect performance in Black Swan (although she wasn't nearly as strong a character) was a great precursor. But Ellen Burstyn was amazing in her limited role as Lucy's strong-willed, independent and cantankerous Nana.
In the latter half of the movie, Portman's character started falling apart for me. I could get why she'd be so upset and might plot revenge, but it didn't make sense for her to take her niece (a potential witness) along for the ride. This was supposed to be the point of high drama and seriousness, but the niece almost comic relief.
Also, there wasn't a truly satisfying resolution at the end of the movie: no cautionary tale, no lesson learned, no factoid about space obsession or follow up on the legal consequences of Lucy's actions.
Lucy In the Sky might not be an Oscar contender, or even a contender for best movie of the year, but I have to give it props for being one of the most unusual movies of the year.
Richard Jewell (2019)
Great Acting All Around
I almost passed on this movie because I was afraid it would portray Richard Jewell as this hapless Barney Fife type. But then I remembered that Clint Eastwood was directing, so I knew his characters would have more depth. All of the characters were excellent, from the always outstanding Kathy Bates (whose press conference almost had me in tears), even to the reporter to set Jewell's trial-by-media in motion.
Paul Walter Hauser's Jewell did make me think of Barney Fife a little bit in his zealousness, but this guy was no dummie. In the end, in spite of his flaws, he proved to be what a law man should be.
Sam Rockwell as Jewell's attorney was enjoyable too. I loved how he and Jewell made their acquaintance in the opening scene. Maybe it's just me but his Watson Bryant, with his dry humor, reminded me a lot of Tommy Lee Jones.
For a docudrama, Richard Jewell was one of the most emotionally satisfying movies I've seen all year.
Tore tanzt (2013)
THE TERRIBLE BEAUTY OF NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN
This is not a horror movie in the traditional sense; the horror in this emotionally riveting film is the utterly depraved things some people can do to another human being for no reason at all. Scriptwriter and Director Katrin Gebbe gives us a protagonist, known only as Tore, who is achingly vulnerable: He's angelic-looking, good-natured, funny and ever the optimist. Life has apparently not been kind to him, however. His "family" is a community of other displaced youths/grunge enthusiasts who call themselves the Jesus Freaks. And when he becomes disenchanted with the moral failing of one of the members, he takes up residence with a local man named Benno and his family and his life becomes a living hell. Gebbe never gives us Tore's backstory, but even in the midst of this hell, he never tries to return home or even considers calling a family member for help. Unshaken in his conviction that Benno's abusive treatment is a test of his faith, Tore goes from fearful, confused and longing for acceptance to decidedly enduring whatever Benno might throw at him.
This movie is not a gore-fest by any means, but the torment inflicted on Tore is heartbreaking and deeply, deeply disturbing. As horrific and sickening as some scenes were, this movie was also strangely triumphant because Benno's daughter Sammy - the target for some of his abuse and molestation - AND his young son were inspired by Tore's courage. And although battered and bloodied in the end, Tore's spirit was never broken.
Not what I would have expected to find on a site like Shudder, but this film has continued to haunt me long after the credits rolled.
I have to admit I didn't like "Hereditary" at all, in part because it was w-a-y overhyped by A24, so I wasn't waiting with bated breath for Ari Aster's next film. Even the preview for "Midsommar" was underwhelming. Similar to "Hereditary", there was this really creepy-looking character who we'd be led to be believe was the key to everything, but who most likely would have little to do with the plot development. (In fairness, he actually did play a role by foreshadowing through his art what was to come, but otherwise, his only purpose seemed to be to just look weird.) And like such recent hybrids as "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" or "Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter", this film looked from its preview like "The People's Temple Remakes Wicker Man while Performing The Sound of Music". But I was jonesing for a horror flick and thought I'd give "Midsommar" a try, and I'm so glad I did.
One thing I have to give Aster props for is his visually arresting opening scenes. In Hereditary, there was the doll house expanding into a very similar full-sized house with a flesh-and-blood family. "Midsommar" opens with shots of a pristine and tranquil countryside abruptly punctuated by the tragic here and now. In fact, this entire film is so visually stunning and audibly seductive I was immediately drawn in.
Another plus for "Midsommar" is that I was able to emotionally connect to the two main characters, Dani and her boyfriend Christian. Dani has long been dealing with the ups and downs of a mentally disturbed sister whom she loves and is now reeling from the loss of her entire family through a murder-suicide. Christian seems to care about Dani but finds her family drama and emotional neediness wearing. He's ready to move on but can't bring himself to leave Dani in such a vulnerable state.
The other characters play minor roles but respond to circumstances in believable and sometimes humorous ways. The scene where the newly arrive guests trip out on hallucinogens is a hoot.
I also liked that, unlike most horror movies that rely on darkness, stormy nights and the like, the events in "Midsommar" unfolded like a rural idyll bathed in mostly dazzling sunshine.
When Dani learns that Christian is planning a trip to Sweden with his male friends, she guilt trips him into letting her come along, and this is where the drama begins.
The group plans to stay as guests of Pelle, a friend of Christian's, who became orphaned after the loss of his parents and who was taken in by a pagan cult called the Hargas. As the students learn the strange ways of the cult, they're horrified by some of the brutality they witness and become increasingly unnerved by the disappearance of a number of visitors.
One of the horrors they witness is the suicide of an elderly couple who have reached their terminal age according to their tradition. In typical Aster fashion, their death is spectacular and over-the-top gruesome. As brutal as it was, this scene was breathtaking in its visuals, touching in its solemnity, as well as engrossing in the dramatic stillness waiting to see what was going to transpire. Interestingly, although Dani was the vulnerable and traumatized one, she was the only one in her group who didn't turn away from the spectacle in shock and disgust.
Another highly disturbing scene is where Christian is chosen to mate with a girl in the community named Maya and apparently given some kind of aphrodisiac (as well as some tampered food and drink that would have sent me to the nearest McDonalds) to aid in the coupling. In spite of the full frontal nudity, this had to be the most non-sexual sex scene I'd ever seen. As in everything else in this strange community, it "takes a village" to consummate the act. The hapless Christian seems more driven by biological compulsion than any titillation, and more bewildered by the women than engaged with his partner. However, as strange and creepy as it was, there was just something haunting about it too.
Oddly, with each successive horror, and as Dani's relationship with Christian falls totally apart, Dani begins to lose her dependency on Christian, become empowered, and realize the Hargas as her new family. When Dani catches Christian cheating on her and finally falls apart, the Harga women share in her pain in a very moving way. They tend to communicate a lot through gestures and glances (called "affekt") mimicry, and also through chanting and singing which, I have to admit, was eerily beautiful.
The final scene left me up in the air as to whether the evolution of Dani was a good or bad thing, though I suppose it could have been symbolic of catharsis and putting to death the old and embracing the new.
At any rate, with more films like this, I see a very bright future for Ari Aster.
The Prodigy (2019)
Much Better Than I Expected (Possible Spoiler Alert)
After reading so many negative or apathetic reviews of this film I expected to sleep through a good portion of it or end up demanding my money back. To my surprise, the movie wasn't nearly as bad as I'd expected, and it managed to keep me engaged to the very end. I can't say that about most of the horror movies I've seen lately.
There's not a whole lot of mystery to what was going on with this little boy, and not long into the movie the problem is clearly spelled out, so I don't think a spoiler alert is in order here. A serial killer gets reincarnated into the body of a child at the time of his death. Why this boy is unclear, but okay. How this is demonstrated was pretty clever, I thought, if not a little awkwardly executed. The killer, realizing he's surrounded by cops and his victim (that he could possibly have used for leverage - or a shield) has escaped, decides to surrender. But before doing so, he decides to disrobe and wander outside in his birthday suit. He's hiding something behind his back that the cops think is a gun (turns out it's the victim's hand), so they open fire. As he's riddled with bullets, we see a baby being born in another state somewhere, naked of course, with blood stains in the exact locations as the killer's bullets. Get it?
Pretty clever, I thought. What made the scene awkward was that there was no apparent reason for the killer to take his clothes off before surrendering, but okay. One theory is that he was a total nutjob. Another most likely theory is that the writers didn't want anybody to miss the transference. Or both.
We're told the child, named Miles, is some kind of genius with very little evidence (he can say "mama" after a few months), but okay. But his social skills clearly leave much to be desired. He doesn't interact with the other kids and begins to manifest a disturbing violent streak early on. Strike that, throwing temper tantrums and hitting are disturbing. Nearly beating a kid to death with a pipe wrench should have brought about a lawsuit, and what to do with Miles should have been taken out of the parents' hands, but okay. Other clues that something wasn't right with Miles were fairly subtle. He develops a penchant for paprika. He speaks gibberish in his sleep that is later identified as Hungarian, which he's never learned. Bad things seem to keep happening whenever he's around.
How the parents react to Miles's behavior pretty much drives the film from then on and begs the question: How far should parental love go to protect a clearly troubled child, and at what point do you decide that a child as just plain evil? Dad's role in the film is pretty minimal. He never goes to any of the counselors his wife insists on taking Miles to, and he seems willing to get Miles removed from the home early on. This seems unusually cold until we learn about his history of growing up in an abusive home. While he clearly wants to be nothing like his abusive parent, he's clearly struggling with anger management issues of his own. Miles effectively uses this struggle to neutralize his dad's involvement by putting him under suspicion of child abuse, even causing his own wife to question him, and then pushing his buttons every chance he gets. I thought that was pretty clever.
While the dad is easily ready to put Miles away somewhere, the wife not so much. And yes, she finally finds an expert who's able to tell her what's wrong with Miles which she dismisses. But let's give her some credit. If a "therapist" told you your child's been possessed by the spirit of Jack the Ripper, for example, would you believe it? So her initial disbelief is perfectly understandable. Keep in mind also that the parents had tried for some time to conceive a child, so it's natural for them to want to give him the benefit of the doubt. Also, Miles himself was not evil. He was just as scared and confused by what was going on as she was. It would have been different if Miles himself was intentionally doing evil. Miles - or the killer's spirit - makes short work of the therapist, leaving Mom and Dad on their own to take desperate measures.
The final scene, where Mom makes a last ditch effort to save her son from this evil spirit, was the most unsettling part of the whole movie, even though the audience was set up to see it coming. The serial killer clearly had a screw loose somewhere, but Mom's actions were well thought out. At every step of the way her conscience was begging her not to do it, but she plunged ahead anyway. Far-fetched? Maybe. Emotionally effective? For me it sure was.
My only beef was the overly drawn out ending and the setup for a sequel, which went against why the killer possessed the boy in the first place.
I doubt if I'll lose any sleep over The Prodigy, but I was entertained.
Harsh Times (2005)
Like "Training Day" Starring the Three (Okay, Two) Stooges
Christian Bale was great in this movie. He totally nailed the street attitude and mannerisms. And the movie did keep me on the edge of my seat because his character was so unpredictable. The final scenes were truly scary. But too many things in this film, including decisions by the main characters, were unbelievable to the point of ridiculous. Also, the main characters (except Bale's Mexican girlfriend) were really unlikable, at least to me, so the occasional attempt to humanize them left me cold.
The Glass Castle (2017)
A Real, Raw and Riveting Account of a Loving But Troubled Family
(Warning, may contain some spoilers)
I like that the director stayed true to the book by opening with the stove accident because that captured my attention immediately. Told from the adult Jeanette's perspective looking back, the movie version took on a serious tone right away and lost some of what made the book such an addictive (no pun intended) read. When told from a child's perspective, some of the family's experiences seemed truly magical, like spending the night in the desert or dancing in rain puddles during a storm. I also felt a stronger emotional connection to the dad through young Jeanette's idealized view of him and was less able to hate him later when his alcoholism totally spiraled out of control. From the child's perspective, Jeanette's growing realization that her larger than life dad was not so heroic was very potent. The story told by the adult Jeanette was still emotionally powerful, but the present dysfunction gave away the secret of why her parents were so odd and why they kept moving. The fiancé was barely mentioned in the book, but I loved the dynamics between him and the dad in the film. That add-in was very helpful in understanding how Walls came to terms with who she is and where she came from. I wish the other siblings had been more developed. All in all, I liked this adaptation of Walls's touching and disturbing book and hope Woody Harrelson gets an Oscar for his portrayal of Rex Walls.
House of Thaddeus (2013)
A Most Unusual and Intelligent Horror Film
This movie covers several issues: a couple moving into a house being unaware of it's dark past, a couple becoming increasingly divided by their differences in beliefs and priorities, and a woman's struggle to recover a sense of meaning and purpose in her life after being uprooted and suffering a disabling injury as her career was taking off.
One thing I liked immediately is that the movie avoided most of the standard horror movie clichés, like the requisite dark and stormy night, the creepy music, etc. I also liked that this story could be interpreted on more than one level - as a horror story of sorts, a murder mystery, or as a psychological exploration of the power of belief.
The film was extremely well-written. at times humorous, and the acting was wholly believable. The story was complex and kept me riveted throughout. There was enough mystery in the backstory to keep me wondering. The toll that the house exacted on a marriage was indeed tragic but, unlike the equally excellent and similar "Exhibit A", was made more heartbreaking by its less than certain conclusion.
The Comedian (2016)
De Niro's Back
I suppose an actor, if he seeks longevity, should be flexible enough to do any kind of role. However, it was really disheartening to see Robert De Niro in movies like "Meet the Fockers." It's not that he wasn't funny, but his character was about an inch deep. (Now his role in "Jackie Brown" as Samuel L. Jackson's washed up partner-in- crime was a notable exception.) I admire the humility it takes to play those kinds of roles, but they're a far cry his stronger roles in "Taxi Driver" "Awakenings" and "Cape Fear."
"The Comedian" was a great comeback movie for him. De Niro's character, Jackie Burke, was a lot more abrasive than likable, and maybe that's the sign of an amazing actor: to make us like someone who's not very likable. What mostly touched me was the overall theme of an aging and, some would say, washed up comedian struggling to hold onto his dignity and climb back up to relevance on his own terms. If De Niro ever tired of acting, he might have a future in stand-up because his comedic timing was top-notch.
It didn't hurt that there were so many other strong elements to this movie. His co-star. Leslie Mann, easily held her own and the chemistry between her and De Niro was great, even though I don't usually like love/romance stories.
The supporting cast was strong and it was great to see so many actors and comedians I've enjoyed over the years. Age has been kind to Harvey Keitel because he looked fantastic. And I don't think I've ever seen a Danny DeVito movie I didn't like.
I love the moods created by the New York City street scenes as well as the killer jazz score.
The pervasive language was particularly grating, but absolutely essential to De Niro's character. The final scene was far more uncomfortable than funny and not very surprising, but toilet humor aside, "The Comedian" was one of the most interesting De Niro films I've seen in quite awhile.
A Good Marriage (2014)
A Good Marriage? (Warning: Possible spoilers ahead)
I'll start off by saying I'm a huge Stephen King fan - always have been; always will be. But I haven't rushed to see "A Good Marriage" because the reviews haven't been great. But it was the sheer ordinariness of this movie that sent chills up my spine. It made me think of Hannah Arendt's coverage of the Eichmann trials and musings on the banality of evil. Most of us aren't shocked when a criminal is rounded up who looks like Charles Manson and has a troubled past. But what do we make of the criminal who has no criminal past, looks like the classic "boy/girl next door", and was class valedictorian? The Ted Bundys of the world? Okay, so the beginning was a bit of a snooze fest. I kept thinking to myself, "Normal, hard-working people, happy family, solid marriage - I get it already." I honestly wasn't expecting a lot from this movie. I love Stephen King, but I had heard that A "Good Marriage" lacked the requisite Stephen King signature staples, like rotting, talking corpses, telepathic powers, killer cars, etc. And though the main theme was an interesting idea, it didn't break any new ground. I mean, a woman discovers her husband isn't what she thought he was...been there, done that. Story of my life. At best, a sure contender for the Lifetime Channel. But it was the sheer mundane-ness of this movie that made it so intriguing and ultimately disturbing.
I could emotionally relate to Darcy as she discovered that her husband was the infamous Beadie, but what intrigued me even more was her response.
Darcy's final conversation with a guy obsessed with tracking down Beadie was poignant. Here, he's spent a huge chunk of his life chasing down a serial killer only to be forced to reexamine his own life and learn that things aren't always so cut-and-dried or black-and-white as they initially seem.
In the final analysis, "A Good Marriage" may have been too real and down-to-earth for Stephen King loyalists and people accustomed to high drama, but if you can appreciate an intimate, subtle, slow burning character study I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
The Gift (2015)
Left Me Thoroughly Entertained - and That's a Gift
For the first time I'm happy that a movie trailer didn't match the movie; that is, I watched the trailer expecting one thing, but this movie exceeded all of my expectations. One thing I liked is that it started building the suspense pretty quickly and kept up the momentum so that I was engrossed the whole time. Another thing I liked is that this movie had a serious creep factor, made all the creepier because of its subtlety. I loved how Edgerton played Gordo with understated menace. I also loved the way the plot shifted so effortlessly so that I was never entirely sure what was going on or whose perspective to trust. There were some "what the heck?" moments for sure, but they were never contrived or convoluted. Finally, I liked that the movie had something to say but let its message play out in the drama which had far more emotional punch. Now, this is what a psychological thriller should look like.