Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher


Widows review by FilmZ

Director Steve McQueen teamed with writer Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) to adapt the Widows screenplay from Lynda La Plante’s 1980s British TV series.  Rather than make a breezy, implausible Oceans 8-style romp, though, he crafted a dark, implausible heist film. We aren't saying Widows is implausible because women are pulling off the job. All of the male-dominated Oceans movies have been implausible, too.  Heck, most heist movies are, but some are inventive in planning and execution and don't rely on coincidence, dumb luck, or simply ignoring plot holes.  In this respect, Widows is better than Oceans 8, but not up with the genre's top films.  But then, McQueen and Flynn have bigger ideas: Black citizens taking back their communities, Chicago backroom politics, feminist agency, and Black Lives Matter.  And it is yet another example of a strong, original content film with terrific actors that underperforms at the box office.  [Listen folks, stop begging for movies like this if you're not going to go out to see them.]

Veronica (Viola Davis), a teacher's union rep, Linda (Michelle Rodriquez) a dress shop owner and mother of two, and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) a physically abused wife, find themselves alone and in trouble after Veronica's husband Harry (Liam Neeson) led the husbands to their deaths in the getaway from an armed robbery.  The women are in dire circumstances because their husbands robbed $2 million from local hood Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry).  Jamal visits Veronica and gives her a month to repay her husband's debt, the implicit threat insured by the reputation of his psychotic  brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya).  Jamal must present an air of respectability, though, because he hopes to become the first Black alderman of his community, unseating Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), scion of a family dynasty that includes his father and advisor Tom (Robert Duvall).

Veronica comes upon Harry's notebook which includes meticulous plans for his next heist.  The notebook itself would be worth the debt she owes.  But Veronica proposes that she, Linda, and Alice finish what their husbands started with an even bigger payday.  Initially, Linda and Alice are reticent, but when Linda learns that her husband had gambled away her dress shop, and Alice's mother (Jacki Weaver) suggests that the only thing her daughter is qualified to be is an escort, desperation pushes all three women together.  The plan requires a reliable driver, though, and none of the women qualify.  Enter Belle (Cynthia Erivo), a hairdresser and single mom who babysits Linda's kids to make ends meet.  Now they are four.  Unbeknownst to Veronica, Jatemme has been tailing her. Meanwhile, the Alderman's race heats up, with an insiders look at politics, Chicago-style, where neither incumbent nor challenger is admirable, much less ethical.

If all of this seems cluttered and disjointed, it's really not.  Yes, one might argue that McQueen is taking on too many issues, but he and Flynn slowly leak revelations that lead to several cool-to-excellent plot twists as all characters and subplots come together.  The issues also intertwine and meld.  The Hans Zimmer score is a highlight, establishing a sense of urgency and intrigue while remaining unobtrusive.  A small complaint: for a thriller, things grind along slowly at times.  And one more.  Why hire a talent like Carrie Coon for a couple of scenes, ones in fact that any competent actress could do?  Here, she feels like little more than a plot device.  Overall, though, the film is well-cast and boasts uniformly outstanding performances   We initially thought Widows was going to be a significant Oscar player, but the disappointing box office, despite critical enthusiasm, dampens that.  Still, though, it leaves us with a really good heist film with important social commentary.
8.0 out of 10

Notes on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and The Girl in the Spider's Web

Notes on The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and The Girl in the Spider's Web 
by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

If you like Coen brothers films like we do, you are always ready for the laugh you shouldn't be laughing at and the violence that comes unexpectedly, and sometimes these elements arrive at the same time.  This anthology, combining some of the best features of O Henry and Night Gallery, won the Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival.  It was originally meant to play as six stand-alone stories in a Netflix miniseries.  We watched it as a feature length film with a 2:13 runtime, its tales of the Old West transitioned by hands turning pages on a Zane Grey-style volume that introduces and closes each vignette.  Given their ouevre, the Coens love the Western genre, and they have assembled an impressive array of talent to carry it all off.

The stories are:
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - Coen mainstay Tim Blake Nelson is perfectly cast in the eponymous role as a singing cowboy in the tradition of Gene Autry, but by way of Bugs Bunny.  Innocent and seemingly harmless, he proves to be a hilariously lethal gunhand in this morality tale.
Near Algodones - James Franco is a dim cowboy bank robber who runs across a lunatic bank teller (Stephen Root) and ends up firing off the best, and most literal, example of gallows humor we have seen in a long time.
Meal Ticket -  In a near silent-movie style, Liam Neeson plays a traveling sideshow huckster whose only act is an armless, legless young mand, played by Harry Melling (Harry Potter's Dudley Dursley)  who recites "Ozymandias" and Shakespeare with dramatic aplomb but to ever dwindling crowds.
All Gold Canyon - This Jack London tale features Tom Waits as a prospector who learns to watch his back.
The Gal Who Got Rattled - Inspired by SE White's short story Zoe Kazan is a young woman crossing the Great Plains in a wagon train who finds herself suddenly alone and destitute.  As she and the assistant wagon master fall in love, a lost dog brings a sudden and twist to the tale.
The Mortal Remains - A devout Christian (Tyne Daly), a crusty mountain man (Chelcie Ross), and a Frenchman (Saul Rubinek) share a stagecoach with Brendan Gleeson and Jonjo O'Neill, bounty hunters ferrying a cargo (a corpse) across a twilight landscape in a tale of the macabre.
The stories range from good to excellent, so let's average them out to:
8.0 out of 10

The Girl in the Spider's Web

Having read and enjoyed Stieg Larsson's Dragon Tattoo trilogy, we didn't know what to make of David Lagercrantz's continuation of the series after the author's untimely passing.  Larsson's Lisbeth Salander story unfolded, taking surprising twists and ended in a satisfying way.  Where would Lagercrantz take it?  We didn't read his book, but the movie, while a decent story about stolen keys to a computer program that can set off unilateral nuclear destruction moves the tone from intelligent intrigue to hard-core actioner, and thus it is a letdown for fans of the series.

Claire Foy makes a good Salander (we've seen criticisms of her portrayal, and we conclude that those critics have not read the books).  She is sullen, boyish, and badass.  But while Spider's Web paints the cold, bleak Swedish setting, it doesn't capture the spirit or the body of  Millenium Trilogy.  The plot is pedestrian yet implausible, and the protagonist could be any bright woman with mad computer skills.  The vengeful feminism, integral to the character and the plots, is here just a tacked on, unrelated scene.  It also messes with her back story, and interrelationships we've come to know, most egregiously that of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) here a moon-eyed bit player rather than an integral partner, and Vicky Krieps, who needs to have a talk with her agent about the cameo role that is Erika Berger, a secondary but significant character.  New to the scene is Ed Needham (Lakeith Stanfield) American agent and computer expert in his own right who brings his own convenient and implausible skills to the party.
Stream it for a decent action movie, but see the originals.
6.5 out of 10

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