Brittany Runs a Marathon
John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
Forgot your password?
Don't have an account? Sign up here
and the Terms and Policies,
and to receive email from Rotten Tomatoes and Fandango.
Already have an account? Log in here
Please enter your email address and we will email you a new password.
No user info supplied.
Watch a movie closely enough and you'll notice the best filmmakers share a dialogue with the audience. Expectations get subverted. Winking nods are exchanged. A filmmaker needles, prods, pokes and manipulates. When done effectively, you may feel you've gained a new BFF. Although we've never met, I feel that way about Brian De Palma, Peter Bogdanovich (who delivers a funny cameo here), and Billy Wilder. They speak to me.
With It Chapter 2, Andy Muschietti clearly wants to have a chat with us. He knows how to creep us out, how to get inside your head, but it feels like he's that party guest who overshares until you need to excuse yourself to refresh your drink. Get too much of him and you're bound to say, "Hey, Andy, could you dial it back a notch? You don't have to say it all now." Still, he has enough in the plus column to keep him around for a while.
I enjoyed his first It, and although I had never read the book, had a general idea of what to expect with the sequel. Twenty-seven years later, our members of the Losers Club have grown up and mostly forgotten about their childhood traumas, but Pennywise, the Dancing Clown, has returned to Derry to once again feed off of the vulnerable. Can these friends join together once more to defeat this monster or will this horror haunt them forever?
From this description and the fantastic trailer, I had high expectations for a popcorn thriller filled with scary images. Each character will once again confront their worst fears, but with the difficulty of adulthood added to the mix. On that front, it delivers handily. What I didn't expect was a graphic early sequence of a brutal gay bashing. I understand it's in the book, but reading about it and watching it onscreen may just turn out to be two very different experiences. I don't have an issue with the depiction, but the execution took me by surprise for a big studio film. It doesn't help that the scene ends with the terrifying return of Pennywise, which takes the hopelessness to a whole new level. Muschietti truly understands film as a dreamscape with the unforgettable images of Pennywise reaching towards the water, slightly out of focus, and ready to strike. Needless to say, I put my popcorn down and dreaded the next two-plus hours.
Luckily, Muschietti has the ability to keep things zipping along as Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only one of the gang to remain in Derry, gathers everyone back to fight Pennywise. All of the adults, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jay Ryan, and Andy Bean, prove great matches for their younger counterparts. Hader in particular has the most dynamic role as the adult Richie, all grown up and working as a popular standup comedian. When the group meets in a fun Chinese restaurant scene, we get a great vivid sense of their bond with the added bonus of terrifying creatures giving John Carpenter's The Thing a run for its money.
At best, this film succeeds in fits and starts, much like the first one. It seems to lurch from one character's fear sequence to the next, forcing me to count down how many scenes like this we have left. Fortunately, many of these scenes have great impact, especially and under-the-bleachers scene in which a young girl meets our highly manipulative villain. Muschietti and his cinematographer Checco Varese have created a treasure trove of memorable images, such as hundreds of those dreaded red balloons descending upon Derry in the gay bashing scene, a sewer pipe overflowing with water in a clever homage to The Shining, or Pennywise holding a bunch of balloons as he floats over a giant Paul Bunyan statue. He knows how to get you to wince, such as when one character tries to pull a balloon stuck under a bed, and seconds later, you'll scream. It's delicious trickery which carries over throughout the film. It doesn't
hurt to have Bill Skarsgård back with his one-of-a-kind, viscerally detailed Pennywise. His body language and creepy vocal nuances provide an endless series of delights.
With so many characters, however, the film struggles with forward momentum. We check in with each individual and ping-pong around to accommodate this large, unwieldy cast. Everyone does a pretty good job, but Hader walks away with the film as exactly the kind of person into which the swearing, motor-mouthed Finn Wolfhard would grow. Ransone also has a field day with his tightly wound Eddie. Pay close attention and you'll also notice a gay storyline, which, in light of the in-your-face opener, didn't really need to play things as coy as it does. Perhaps it's a misguided carryover from the source material, which set the adult portion in the 80s instead of the film's modern day portrayal, but after literally hitting us over the head at the start, the latter subtleties seem a little off.
In the final act, the filmmakers choose to go big with a gigantic, apocalyptic CGI sequence which proved exhausting. Skarsgård saves the day, however, with some highly memorable facial contortions. Again, Muschietti may not have the most streamlined story or script to work with, but he does know how to etch certain moments into your brain. Even when things turn into a mushy "Hallmark Card meets Nike Commercial" type of sentimentality in its final moments, I give this film credit for some fine horror moments. Next time, I hope Muschietti gets to talk to us on a much smaller scale. I'd love to know what a quiet conversation with him would look like.
ICE QUEEN - My Review of WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (3 1/2 Stars)
Richard Linklater, one of the most humanistic filmmakers working today, has often explored such themes as time, aging, or the benchmarks in ones lives, such as the last day of High School (Dazed And Confused), a first date (Before Sunrise), or the entire breadth of a child's life (Boyhood). His films often feel unstructured, laid back and unforced. It's strange then to see him play in the James L. Brooks/Cameron Crowe sandbox with his adaptation of Maria Semple's epistolary novel, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, but that's not automatically a bad thing. Co-written with Holly Gent and Vincent Palmo Jr., Linklater seems out of his element with this part-sitcom, part psycho-drama about a stifled genius. Still, he manages to deliver a moving experience helped immeasurably by Cate Blanchett's fantastic title performance.
Bernadette lives in a dilapidated Seattle mansion with her Microsoft tech genius husband Elgie (Billy Crudup) and their adorable teenage daughter Bee (Emma Nelson). As a reward to Bee for a successful report card, they agree to take her on a family trip to Antarctica. Trouble is, over the years, Bernadette, a once famous architect, has transformed into a shut-in who hates people, especially taking it out on her next door neighbor, Audrey (Kristen Wiig). Deeply troubled, Bernadette spends most of her time barking orders at Manjula, her virtual assistant in India, who arranges for everything to come to her door in package after package. Getting her out of the house and to the most remote place on earth seems unlikely.
It takes quite a while for the themes to coalesce, with the first act focusing on her feud with Audrey. Wiig excels with her tightly wound Mean Girl character and works well with Blanchett. I wondered, however, what this had to do with Antarctica and why we were spending so much time on this wayward plot strand. The story, however, slowly reveals itself to be about what becomes of an artist who no longer creates. She acts out, makes bad decisions, and directs her anger at everyone.
For a while, you laugh along with Bernadette as she takes out some easy targets. It culminates in a great scene in which Bernadette and Bee gang up on Audrey to take her down a peg. A lesser film would have left it at that, leaving a bad taste in my mouth to see women hurting each other. It wisely chooses to move beyond that scene and give these three women more dimensions than presented at first. Crudup also impressed me with his long-suffering husband character. He could have easily played Elgie as an entitled husband who wants his wife to "behave", but instead he offers a soulful person who loves his wife yet can't figure out how to navigate her towards happiness. Emma Nelson also excels as the kind of incredibly cool daughter you'd want to hang with as friends, but who also clearly needs a more solid foundation in which to grow.
Unlike the somewhat goofy trailer, the film has a much more somber tone in keeping with its rainy, Pacific Northwest setting. Disappointingly, it's Linklater's least flashy directing job of his career. The closest film this resembles is Ben Stiller's The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, another story about a character drowning in self-loathing. Whereas Stiller went for intense visual flourishes, Linklater merely delivers coverage. Still, I felt something here, despite a certain flatness and a ridiculous series of events involving such disparate things as penguins, FBI investigations, mudslides, kayaks, online scams, and potential office affairs. It's a LOT to take in, but Blanchett anchors it with someone cold, nihilistic, yet relatable. It may all come off as champagne problems, ("Oh darn, should we go to Antarctica?" "Did I order too many vests from the catalogue?" "That flood ruined my expensive oak floors!") but Blanchett makes you care just the same.
BUDDY SLAM - My Review of THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON (3 1/2 Stars)
Sometimes, you can tell from the opening moments of a movie if a filmmaker has "it". The Peanut Butter Falcon begins with Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome, attempting to escape from an advanced age care facility in North Carolina. He conspires with an elderly woman, who pretends to choke on her pudding, to distract the security staff as he makes a run for it. Just outside the door, he gets tackled out of nowhere, and the film cuts to black. In this sequence alone, we learn so much about our main character and the filmmaking style tells us that Tyler Wilson and Michael Schwartz have made an auspicious feature debut.
Zak dreams of a better life for himself. Despite the loving care he receives from Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), a case manager at the facility, he dreams of a career as a professional wrestler. He obsessively watches an old VHS cassette of his hero, the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), hoping to one day enroll in his Alabama wrestling school.
Played by the remarkable Zack Gottsagen, Zak eventually does escape, with the help of his roommate Carl (a terrific cameo by Bruce Dern) and stows away on a small boat. Meanwhile, Tyler (Shia LaBeouf), a crab fisherman, has his own set of issues. With his brother recently killed, he struggles to make ends meet, commits robbery and arson against a couple of bullying rivals (John Hawkes as Duncan and Yelawolf as Ratboy), and plots his own escape to Florida via the same boat on which Zak hides. Their chance encounter leads to a Huckleberry Finn-style odyssey as they make their way through the Deep South and form a deep bond. With Eleanor charged with finding Zak and the bad guys hunting Tyler, we have a fairly propulsive storyline yet the film finds a gentle rhythm nonetheless.
The filmmakers, along with their extremely talented cinematographer Nigel Bluck, create one incredible image after another, giving us a perfect sense of time and place. I particularly loved when Tyler eludes the bad guys, a superbly suspenseful boat sequence which expertly lets us know where everyone is and uses silence and smart film editing to tell the story. Shots of our leads sitting on a dock or sweetly patting each other on the face go a long way toward seducing the audience with its laconic yet playful tone.
Gottsagen gives a commanding, nuanced performance, never allowing his disability to turn the storytelling into treacle. He has such surprising moments of humor, loneliness and frustration. All three of those come together when he stops an impatient Tyler from marching to shout at him, "I want you to know about me!" His presence clearly had an effect on his co-stars, as LaBeouf has never been better, more focused. He and Gottsagen have such a believable, natural chemistry, and it's almost completely devoid of the cheap sentimentality which tends to deify a person with a disability. Zak can be a total asshole sometimes, and I'm so grateful the film makes room for it. Johnson also seems looser, more at ease than I've ever seen before. She gives a warm, but appropriately prickly performance.
It's ultimately a tale about three lonely misfits who yearn to connect. We go on this journey with some well-realized montages and a strong sense of purpose. Although somewhat episodic in nature, you won't soon forget the scene on the dock where Tyler confronts a mean little kid, or the flustered store owner who tallies Tyler's bill. Is it just me, or does every good movie have a flustered store owner? I'm talking to you Paper Moon and No Country For Old Men! Even the name of the film thankfully comes from a smart, unpretentious place, but frankly it had me worried. Some indies go for ponderous, impenetrable titles. The Myth Of Fingerprints, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), or Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, anyone? Luckily, The Peanut Butter Falcon mostly stays on its sweet, simple course.
Unfortunately, the film gets a little rushed and sloppy in its final act, delivering on its wrestling premise but shortchanging some of the narrative threads which could have landed the film a little more smoothly. The straightforward, generous style gives way to blackouts and fakeouts which come across as stylistic distractions. It's a minor complaint for a film with such heart, spirit and refusal to go all sappy on us.
CLUELESS - My Review of READY OR NOT (2 1/2 Stars)
The poster for Ready Or Not led me to believe a corseted Margot Robbie had opted to star in a period thriller filled with ammo, murder and mayhem. While we do get the tightly-bound dress and bloody killings, the film stars Robbie lookalike Samara Weaving, niece to Hugo Weaving, and is set in modern day. Directed by horror veterans Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett and written by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy (not that Ryan Murphy), Ready Or Not offers a fun, nearly non-stop splatterfest, but operates on such an off-putting level that its obvious satirical points grow tiresome and repetitive.
Weaving plays Grace, a nice, normal woman who has said "yes" to marry Alex Le Domas (Mark O'Brien), an heir to a vast family fortune built from success in selling games. Alex's eccentric clan, none of whom exhibit anything close to real human behavior, have an odd tradition of forcing newly wedded in-laws into playing a midnight game with them. Should she survive the night, she gains acceptance into the family. Sometimes the games are innocuous, but once in a while, through an odd selection process, they choose "Hide And Seek" in which the bride must hide from everyone until sunrise in order to win. If they fail to find her, they all die. Um, ok. Sign me up?
It seems the family wealth involved signing a deal with the devil with deadly games on the menu whether they like it or not. Clearly a satire about the 1% and the lengths they go to in order to retain their wealth, the film gets points for its unshakeable nerve and Weaving's performance, but the filmmakers make the same point over and over. It's still fun and filled with laughably violent set pieces, but I couldn't help but think I was watching Drunk History, Another Period and Clue have a three-way battle and spit out enough blood to fill three Shining elevators.
The filmmakers have assembled a talented, interesting cast as the Le Domas family, including Andy MacDowell, Adam Brody, Henry Czerny and Nicky Guadagni as spiky-haired Aunt Helene, who seems to have wandered in from some 80s Duran Duran music video gone horribly wrong. At least she knows what movie she's in, whereas the rest of the cast seems a bit lost amongst its arch, quasi fantastical tone. Aside from our protagonist, you won't care about anybody else since they operate as pieces on the writers' chessboard in order to prove to us that rich people suck.
Lucky for Weaving, she gets a showcase here, allowing our potential Final Girl to swear like a truck driver and pummel people into literal bloody pulp. She does so well I can't wait to see her next film. I was actually ready to see her next film DURING this one! In a final shot highly reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic one of Winona Ryder in Heathers, one character gets to smoke a cigarette in front of a burning building and have the last word. That one word, while clever and amusing, further illustrates the type of lazy satire we've experienced for the past 95 minutes.
I don't want to come down too hard on this film, since Ready Or Not has a sense of fun and hating wealthy people seems to be all the rage these days. One note, however exciting that note is, is still one note. Even satires have to make us care about the people or else they play like essays. The filmmakers have obvious talent, but I suggest an ammo reload and trying again.
EXTRADITION -My Review of FIDDLER: A MIRACLE OF MIRACLES (3 Stars)
I played Motel the Tailor in our 5th grade acappella version of Fiddler On The Roof. We were so young, we really didn't understand the gravity of this dark story about religious traditions and ethnic cleansing, choosing instead to smile our way through the final song in which a population of Russian Jews have been turned into refugees. I mean, what business did this story have being a musical? To us, "Anatevka" had a pretty melody and you could almost dance to it. My acting style consisted of lifting my right arm up and down while singing "Miracle Of Miracles". We were 10 year olds putting on an adult-themed musical. What did we know? Still, this show has always had a special place in my heart, so when I heard about Fiddler: A Miracle Of Miracles, a documentary by Max Lewkowicz, I had to go, right? Of course, right!
Since opening on Broadway in 1964, not a day has gone by where the musical has not been staged somewhere in the world. This documentary, which features a treasure trove of archival footage, including The Tempations singing "If I Were A rich Man", explores its far-reaching appeal despite initial terrible reviews. There really wasn't a lot of drama to report, so instead, Lewkowicz focuses instead on what Fiddler has meant to the people involved in its many productions. Sure, it's sycophantic, but it's also generous in its exploration of how people of all cultures have found a universal connection with this production.
From its earliest inception, where we see its creators trying out some eventually discarded lyrics, to its legendary Broadway run and Oscar winning 1971 film, Fiddler On The Roof has always appealed to the Jewish population. Surprisingly, however, when we see productions in Japan and Thailand or in the African American community, it's relatable to all. It's so wonderfully touching to hear one African American actor geek out over the show and how much she loves theater. I also loved how one scholar compares the ostracizing of the daughter Chava, who marries outside her faith, to that of a gay kid kicked out of their family home.
The filmmaker reached out to so many people involved, giving what is ultimately a documentary for fans a more expansive overview of how art affects people. Norman Jewison, who directed the feature, hilariously recounts how everyone assumed he was Jewish because of his name, but he's not. Topol, who starred in the film, still gets choked up remembering filming certain scenes. The most moving segments, however, show us unknown actors in various countries connecting with the material. I found it disarming how relevant the story is to our current global immigration and refugee crises.
Fiddler ends up a sweet keepsake for people who love the musical, nothing more nothing less. But then again, I'm extremely biased. To this day, I still have a wind-up figurine on my nightstand which plays "Sunrise/Sunset" (see below). Yeah, it's a serious situation. To paraphrase a famous Jewish quote, "You don't have to have adored the musical to enjoy Fiddler: A Miracle Of Miracles, but it wouldn't hurt!