Flick finds best selling mystery writer and millionaire, Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) dead with his throat cut. It’s ruled a suicide, but an anonymous someone has hired private detective Benoit Blanc (a wonderful Daniel Craig) to take on the case. Blanc finds the game is afoot with a family cut out of Harlan’s will at his 85th birthday the night of his death and his personal care nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) now the sole inheritor of his fortune and assets. With a house filled with those who would benefit from Harlan’s demise, can the unwelcome detective unravel the tangled web that has been woven.
Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) this is a near perfect flick. It’s a delightfully old fashioned murder(?) mystery with a dozen or so suspects, all with a motive, and an intricately woven plot that our detective must unravel. It’s easy to follow, but like Craig’s Blanc we must find and interpret the clues, while the web keeps getting more and more complex around him…and us. The film has a darkly comic tone, which suits the story perfectly and an absolutely fabulous cast to play our suspects including, de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson and Toni Collette, not to forget the legendary Christopher Plummer as Harlan. It keeps you guessing and smiling, never confuses you, but doesn’t make it easy for you either. When the time comes, there are some fun surprises and reveals and you also realize that for the last two hours you’ve been spectacularly entertained. A near perfect movie that has a perfect cast. Also stars Katherine Langford, Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan.
Latest from Guillermo del Toro is a dark fairly tale that takes place at a research facility in Baltimore, Maryland in 1962. There we meet lonely, mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who works as part of the janitorial crew. A strange creature is brought in one day, an amphibious humanoid (Doug Jones) with healing powers, captured in South America. Feeling a kindred spirit with “the Asset”, Elisa begins to communicate and bond with him. A cruel security chief (Michael Shannon) has plans to dissect the creature, which Elisa is falling in love with. Now Elisa must figure out a way to break The Asset out with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and a sympathetic scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg ) with a secret.
Unconventional romance is directed by del Toro from his own story and a script he co-wrote with Vanessa Taylor. Unfortunately there is something missing from this aquatic Beauty and the Beast, that keeps it from really resonating. The film has some great performances, and as with all del Toro’s works, it is sumptuously designed, but never really creates a sense of wonder with Elisa and Asset’s romance. Maybe it’s because the film can be a bit crude sometimes and shares a bit too much. We know Elisa’s lonely, did we need to know her masturbation routine? We know Shannon’s Strickland is a creep, but did we need to see his caveman-like sexual activities with his wife? And maybe it was better left ambiguous about Elisa and Asset’s romance becoming sexual instead of seeing it and getting sign language descriptions of Asset’s sex organ. It kind of takes away from the wonder that we become privy to such graphic detail. That and The Asset still comes across very much an animal and Elisa’s sexual relationship with it is unsettling even if Asset can communicate and enjoys music. It’s a bit uncomfortable and not as charming as intended. Del Toro also tries to tackle some social issues like racism and anti-gay sentiment, but it seems a little forced at times, such as one scene where both issues come to bare within minutes of each other as Elisa’s gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) encounters a racist, anti-gay waiter at a pie shop. It’s a bit heavy handed, despite being relevant themes. Still, there are some very effective scenes, some nice moments of whimsy and even a fantasy musical number, but too much information and a lack of subtlety on certain elements keep this from reaching the heights of his Pan’s Labyrinth, which masterfully combined dark fantasy, with more serious subjects. It’s not being R-rated that hinders the tone, just some things begged for a more subtle touch...something del Toro usually knows when to be.
The director does get some great performances here. Sally Hawkins is wonderful as the mute and slightly odd woman. She creates a sad yet endearing character. Doug Jones is also very good under a lot of prosthetic make-up as the silent and sometimes fearsome “Asset”. While he certainly gives him some human qualities and a lot of personality, the gill-man is still very much an animal which makes it hard to accept that his relationship with Elisa becomes sexual. It’s not enchanting, it’s uncomfortable. Richard Jenkins is very likable and has some of the more humorous lines as Elisa’s gay, artist neighbor Giles. The actor creates a very eccentric and likable character. Octavia Spencer is really good as Elisa’s only friend at the facility, Zelda. The actress makes her a lively and feisty woman, with some nice strength and compassion. We also get nice work from Michael Stuhlbarg as sympathetic Dr. Hoffstetler, who has some secrets of his own and Shannon is again top notch as the cruel and twisted Strickland. While the character is cliché, Shannon’s characterization is not. This is a very strange and disturbing individual. A great cast.
Overall, Guillermo del Toro’s newest tale is sadly a mixed bag. It has some great performances, giving life to some interesting characters. The visuals are beautiful and there are some very effective moments despite the whole “Beauty and the Beast” story being quite oft told. What keeps this flick from giving it’s dark fairy tale a sense of needed awe and wonder is being a bit too crude at times and sharing a bit too much, when subtlety would have been more effective. Sometimes less is more. Most of all, despite being imbued with human elements, Doug Jones’ fish-man is still too much an animal to make his sexual relationship with Elisa from being anything more than unsettling. As Serge in Beverly Hills Cop would say… “It’s not sexy. It’s animal.” A bold and audacious take on a time honored tale, but one that isn’t always effective in the way it wants to be.
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Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols’ film is a science fiction/chase thriller that evokes John Carpenter’s Starman yet, is very much it’s own movie. Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is a boy with some very unique and unexplainable powers. These powers have earned him a religious cult built around him that believes he can protect them from the coming Judgment Day. As he can receive communications of even the most top secret kind, the government is very interested in him as well. His father Roy (Michael Shannon) and friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) kidnap Alton from the cult and now flee across country to a place and time the boy insists he must be. With both government agents and cultists in hot pursuit, will they get there in time…or at all?
If you can imagine John Carpenter at his prime teaming with Steven Spielberg in his earlier years than this flick is what you might have gotten. Nichols writes and directs a tale of a mysterious and special boy on the run from those who seek to use his gifts for their own purposes. What makes this work especially well is the emotional depth it’s given being presented from the perspective of a loving father accepting his son for who he is and willing to give his life to see him safe. It’s this emotional core that makes this work beyond the well-executed SPFX sequences of Alton’s powers at work…which are used sparingly, but to full effect. There is certainly suspense and some tense sequences, which are all deftly handled, but it is the film’s sense of wonder and the flesh and blood characters that really draw us in. Even if the Spielbergian finale is a bit more on a Disney level than the more intense and sometimes violent rest of the film, it still works and leaves us effected even after the credits role, as Nichols doesn’t just present it, but shows us some of the effects on those around it. It gives the SPFX filled moment weight…and a sense of wonder. The director/writer takes a familiar tale and really makes it something fresh and fills it with some very three dimensional characters which give it a realism and keeps it grounded, despite the science fiction elements. It’s a really enjoyable film with a heart, as well as, SPFX, action and suspense. There is an effective score by David Wingo and some Dean Cundey-esque cinematography from Adam Stone to add to an already exceptional movie.
The cast couldn’t be better. Michael Shannon again proves he is one of the most gifted actors around as Alton’s caring and self-sacrificing father, Roy. Jaeden Lieberher is enchanting as Alton, who is more than he seems and we really endear to him despite his sometimes dangerous abilities. Joel Edgerton, fresh off The Gift, is again solid as the state trooper who is willing to break the laws he holds dear to help his friend and his son. We also have Kirsten Dunst in a touching role as Alton’s mother who loves him enough to possibly let him go, if it means his safety. Sam Shepard also appears as cult leader, Calvin Meyer and rounding out the leads is Adam Driver as a sympathetic government official who decides to help Alton find what it is he is looking for. A top notch cast that make their characters very real.
A emotionally strong and highly enjoyable thriller about a special boy and the race to keep him safe. Alton is a bit of a mystery at first, but as we journey with him, we slowly learn just how fantastically special he is. The film has a big heart with some tense action and suspense, along with a sense of wonder and some very effective SPFX moments. But unlike the CGI laden big budget FX spectacles of today, this film has a very human center at it’s core, about a parents love for their child and the lengths they will go to see them safe. Great movie that reminded me of John Carpenter in his prime and the earlier works of Steven Spielberg. Highly recommended.
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Thriller is the return to the director’s chair of James McNaughton, who is most known for the cult classic Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer. The story is of Andy (Charlie Tahan), a very ill young boy who lives a secluded and guarded life in his rural home. His over-protective mother Katherine (Samantha Morton) is a doctor and surgeon herself and oversees his treatment while his meek father Richard (Michael Shannon) follows along. A young girl named Maryann (Natasha Calis) moves into a house nearby and becomes curious about her reclusive young neighbor. She visits Andy and the two quickly bond. Katherine, however, takes a very quick dislike to this new development and as Maryann continually finds ways to see Andy, Katherine’s behavior becomes more unhinged and aggressive. Worst still, while hiding from Katherine in the basement of the house, Maryann makes a shocking discovery that could not only turn Andy’s odd life upside down but, quite possibly mean he’s in danger as well!
McNaughton directs Stephen Lancellotti’s script well enough, though, there should have been more tension and suspense, especially in the last act. The story starts out almost as some kind of Lifetime drama about an ill boy befriending a spirited girl then turns into something more like Misery when Katherine’s behavior degenerates and she starts to go all Kathy Bates. There are some very disturbing moments here, especially with the big reveal about two thirds of the way through. What we discover is unexpected, a bit twisted and takes an even more bizarre turn later on. While it is very unsettling, the film never gets truly as intense as it should considering what is happening and what is at stake. It becomes a bit of a fight for life that just felt like it needed more urgency. The film also comes to a sad and tragic “Frankenstein-ish” climax that is oddly appropriate, though that gets a bit neutered somewhat by a corny, happy ending last scene that almost feels tacked on. McNaughton is given upsetting enough material to work with here, but, never really brings it to a full boil to really make this thriller the gut punch it should be. It’s a little too laid back. It still works well though, and George S. Clinton provides an atmospheric score and there is crisp cinematography from Rachel Morrison in support of the story and it’s events.
The acting from the cast is very good with Samantha Morton really delivering a disturbing performance as the unstable Katherine. She goes from concerned and a bit smothering to overbearing, paranoid and outright psychopathic by the story’s end. While she does remind us of Kathy Bates’ Annie, she is all the more frightening as she is a mother and a doctor and her behavior contradicts both by her actions. Michael Shannon is intriguing as Richard. A docile man who has gone along with his much stronger-willed wife for far too long and it is starting to break him. No more evident than his tolerance of Maryann and his affair with a pretty drug company rep (Meadow Williams) which seems in direct rebellion to Katherine’s demented wishes. Natasha Calis is very good as Maryann. A strong-willed young girl and quite feisty and resourceful in her fight to free Andy from his suffering at his parents’ hands…even without much support from the adults around her. As Andy, Charlie Tahan gives us a frail and sympathetic young man who we care about, especially when we find out the hidden truths Maryann uncovers. He also can be quite rebellious in his own way, when he wants to be. Rounding out are Leslie Lyles and Peter Fonda who are perfectly charming as Maryann’s kindly grandparents who, unfortunately, don’t seem in a hurry to get involved when Maryann tells of Andy’s plight.
Despite needing a bit more intensity to the proceedings this is a disturbing thriller and a very well-acted one. There are some unsettling revelations that are legitimately surprising and very likable characters in Andy and Maryann. Samantha Morton creates a character that is both Mommie Dearest and Dr. Frankenstein and even if the film needed a bit more strength, she creates a very unnerving portrayal, as does Michael Shannon as a man who has been following her lead for far too long. A film that entertains and disturbs even if not fully living up to it’s potential or the reputation of it’s director.