Widows (2018)


Dangerous deeds discussed in dark places.

(2018) Crime (20th Century) Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Liam Neeson, Jon Bernthal, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Duvall, Colin Farrell, Cynthia Erivo, Brian Tyree Henry, Jacki Weaver, Daniel Kaluuya, Garret Dillahunt, Carrie Coon, Manuel Garcia-Ruffo, Lukas Haas, Coburn Goss, Alejandro Verdin, Molly Kunz, James Vincent Meredith, Patrese McClain. Directed by Steve McQueen

Viola Davis is one of America’s most underrated actresses and that considering that she has been nominated for an Oscar three times and won once (for Fences). So when I tell you that this might be the best performance of her career, and it wasn’t even one of the three nominated films on her resume, that might speak volumes about how the system

She plays Veronica, the widow of Harry (Neeson) who was butchered along with his crew after a job. As it turns out though, he stole two million bucks from a ruthless gangster (Henry) who happens to be running for Chicago alderman as the opponent of Jack Mulligan (Farrell), the son of a politician who together have been essentially running the Ward for decades. Now, with the gangster’s psychopathic brother (Kaluuya) hot on her trail, she knows she must resort tto literally using her husband’s playbook to pull off a much larger heist that will pay his debts in full and set her up for life, but she’ll need help. She figures the widows of Harry’s crew have both the motivation and the skills.

Oscar-winning director McQueen has assembled a cast that is without parallel. In fact, he might have done his job too well; the film is crammed full of interesting characters who all need more screen time than they got, so we end up with scenes that run too long and characters that overstay their record. A little less focus on the other characters would have made this a better film.

McQueen uses the city of Chicago perfect effect, whether in the mansion of Jack’s dad (Duvall) or in Veronica’s beautiful apartment overlooking Lake Michigan, or in the poorest corners of the largely African-American Ward, the movie is always interesting in a visual sense. The movie doesn’t have the humor that is usually found in heist films nor does it have that clever “we outsmarted you” gotcha that most heist films possess. This is far more brutal and direct. It works as a heist film, but it works even better as  a commentary on how wide the gulf between haves and have-nots has become.

REASONS TO SEE: A tremendous cast with Davis standing out particularly. McQueen has a great visual sense.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit long and a few too many characters.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity throughout, a fair amount of violence and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Olivia the dog, who is heavily featured in the film, also appeared in Game Night.
BEYOND THE THEATER: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Max Go, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/22/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews, Metacritic: 84/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Kitchen
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Himalayan Ice

The Hangover Part III


The Fab Four consciously (perhaps not) try to ape another Fab Four.

The Fab Four consciously (perhaps not) try to ape another Fab Four.

(2013) Comedy (Warner Brothers) Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Ken Jeong, Justin Bartha, Heather Graham, John Goodman, Jeffrey Tambor, Melissa McCarthy, Mike Epps, Sasha Barrese, Jamie Chung, Sondra Currie, Gillian Vigman, Oliver Cooper, Mike Vallely, Grant Holmquist, Oscar Torre, Jonny Coyne, Silvia Curiel, Lela Loren, Jenny Ladner. Directed by Todd Phillips   

In the movie business, sometimes the third time is the charm. Very often in film trilogies, the first one is great, the second one is not quite as good and the third is better, sometimes even than the first film. Did that hold true with this trilogy?

The Wolfpack is in crisis. Alan (Galifianakis) is acting out something horrible; his beloved daddy (Tambor) has passed away suddenly and his behavior is becoming more and more bizarre since he stopped taking his medication (don’t ask what happens with the giraffe). Now it’s evident that the only people he’ll listen to are Phil (Cooper), Stu (Helms) and his brother-in-law Doug (Bartha). An intervention is in order and the idea is to get Alan to agree to go to a clinic where he can get the help he needs. Once Alan realizes that his Wolfpack are all in, he relents and allows them to drive him to Arizona.

Unfortunately, they are waylaid on the way there by a bunch of pig mask-wearing thugs led by Black Doug (Epps) and his boss, Marshall (Goodman) and yes you can bet it involves Chow (Jeong). It seems that Chow stole some $21M in gold bullion that Marshall had himself stolen and now he wants it back. Chow had just broken out of prison in Bangkok and Marshall believed that the Wolfpack were the way to find him. To ensure their cooperation, he’s holding on to Doug and if they don’t find him, the Wolfpack are going to be short a member.

Of course, they think they don’t have any idea where Chow could be until Alan figures out that the e-mail he has been receiving from “Chow” are from him. Oops. Now they must head back to the place where it all started – Las Vegas – for a final showdown to get back Doug which Chow may not necessarily survive. There will indeed be bloodshed.

My criticism of The Hangover Part II was that the plot was too much like the first film, only set in Bangkok. The plot deviates here somewhat – there are no blackouts, no alcohol and no partying except in a single scene and that party doesn’t involve the Wolfpack (at least as participants). In a sense the title is a bit of a misnomer; it’s more of a treasure hunt than a puzzle. The charm of the first movie which makes it the best of the bunch is that the group’s friendship is what keeps them looking for Doug. Here you don’t get a sense of that bonding; it’s more like guys going through the motions.

There are some good laughs here, like the whole giraffe sequence which you can pretty much figure out from the trailer but true to the franchise’s tradition is shown in fairly graphic detail. Galifianakis has been kind of the comedic center of the first two movies but Jeong is more of a presence here. However, some of the best scenes in the movie are between Alan and Cassie (McCarthy), a tattooed pawn shop owner that Alan takes a shine to. Their relationship takes the series full sequel, although it must be warned that it also leads to a final cut scene in mid-closing credits that you will NOT be able to un-see once you’ve seen it. If you intend to watch it, bring plenty of brain bleach.

Cooper has become the big star that he has shown that he could be since the first film debuted in 2009 and has said this will be his last time playing the maturity-challenged Phil. There’s little of the edge that marked him in the first two films which does detract some from the overall feeling of the film. Helms, whose hysterics were some of the funniest moments of the first movie is strangely calmer here; I don’t know if that’s because those scenes weren’t written or if Helms decided that Stu needed to be more centered. Regardless, the movie could have used a few more freak-outs on the part of Stu.

Graham’s winning smile and good looks are a welcome return to the third movie but you never get a sense of Jade’s character. She’s remarried to a surgeon so that sense of unattainable hopes and dreams that made her character so appealing in the first film is gone. Still, it’s kind of nice to know that she made it okay. Goodman as Marshall is all bluster and occasionally he shoots people but he’s not nearly as menacing as Paul Giamatti’s character was in the second film. Personally I think Goodman is more suited to nice guy characters not unlike his role in Roseanne and as Sully in Monsters, Inc. and it’s upcoming sequel.

All in all, this isn’t the roadkill that critics are painting this to be, but by the same token it isn’t a home run either. There is certainly room for improvement. The opening weekend box office numbers have been disappointing (although the competition has been stiffer than the first two films had to face) and I can’t help but think that the series should really be put to rest after this one, although who knows what the studio will do if the numbers warrant it (and thus far they don’t). I think that fans of the first movie will want to see this regardless and by all means do. However, I don’t think you’ll want to see it more than once.

REASONS TO GO: Varies the formula from the first two movies nicely while sticking to the things that made the first movie great. More Jeong is never a bad thing.

REASONS TO STAY: Scattershot much more than the first two films.

FAMILY VALUES:  What family values? There’s a good deal of foul language, some violence, a bit of drug use, plenty of sexual references and some graphic nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Near the end of the movie as the Wolfpack returns to the minivan a billboard featuring Eddie, the man who ran the wedding chapel from the first movie, can be seen.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/20/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 20% positive reviews. Metacritic: 31/100; critics pretty much universally hated this one.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Superbad

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Limelight