THE GRAY MAN (2022)

July 15, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. You’ve likely heard, and maybe used, the old adage, “everything but the kitchen sink.” It’s typically meant to emphasize the inclusion of many unrelated and often unnecessary elements into a conversation or event. It also provides a description of the strategy filmmaking brothers Anthony Russo and Joe Russo have taken with the action sequences in the highest budget Netflix original movie to date. Of course the Russo brothers have directed numerous Marvel movies, including AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019), so subtlety is never anticipated in their films. If you are curious to know what kind of kitchen sink you get for $200 million, Anthony and Joe show us: lots of guns, a global trek to various countries, more big guns, plenty of characters – some relevant, some not, even larger guns and weapons, lots of rayon, and the destruction of a town square in Prague.

Fans of turbo-charged action films such as the John Wick and Jason Bourne films will likely be quite satisfied with the set pieces, stunts, and manic gun fights and fist fights that are packed into a two-hour run time. There is so much bouncing around the globe that it’s kind of difficult to keep up – especially since there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason for all of the globetrotting (well, other than it’s pretty unusual). I couldn’t keep track of every locale, but we definitely visited Bangkok, Austria, Croatia, and Czechoslovakia. And that’s beyond Washington, D.C., and Langley, where we spend time in dark offices.

Co-director Joe Russo co-wrote the screenplay with frequent Russo Brothers collaborators Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and it was adapted from Mark Greany’s novel (the first in a series). Ryan Gosling stars as Court Gentry, codename Sierra Six, a CIA black ops hit man recruited directly from prison by veteran CIA agent Donald Fitzroy (Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton). This is Gosling’s first movie in 4 years (FIRST MAN, 2018) and it’s nice to have him back in a role that will recertify his ‘man card’ before next year’s BARBIE movie. As you might expect, Gosling’s Six is cool as a cucumber, popping off quips, and stoic in the face of adversity. In fact, much is made of his character’s ‘street cred’, despite most every scene involving colossal mistakes, should-be death encounters, and enough mayhem to make Allstate jealous. Six is so cool that he has less reaction to being shot or stabbed than I have when I stub my toe on the leg of the bed.

When Six’s mission goes awry due to his human compassion, three things happen. First, Agent Dani Miranda (Ana de Armas) bails him out (the first of a few). Second, his target gives him advice and the always mysterious thumb drive with incriminating evidence; and third, his corrupt station chief, Denny Carmichael (Rege-Jean Page, “Bridgerton”) throws a tantrum and hires a psychopath to track down Six and eliminate him. The psychopath is Lloyd Hansen played by Chris Evans, sporting an evil mustache and resort casual attire. It seems Mr. Evans is having fun with the villainous role that he hopes will put distance between his career and the Captain America role he has embodied for more than a decade. The argument could be made that he overplays his hand here, but he does get to spout the already infamous line, “If you want to make an omelet, you gotta kill some people”.

Other players here include the always terrific Alfre Woodard as a former station chief, Jessica Henwick (Bugs from THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS), Dhanush as yet another hired assassin, Shea Whigham in flashbacks, and Julia Butters as the ‘damsel in distress’. You might recall Ms. Butters’ scene-stealing turn as the precocious child actor in Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD. This film’s title is derived from the term for a CIA operative who effectively moves around without being noticed or remembered (the opposite of a Kardashian). The ironic thing is that Gosling’s Six is almost never undetected. He is frequently in fights, shootouts, car chases, and either causing or escaping explosions. Even the Russo’s “gray” lacks subtlety! It makes perfect sense that the film’s cinematographer, Stephen F Windon, is best known for his work on multiple entries in “The Fast and the Furious” franchise. Here he employs some supersonic drone shots in order to add further hyper-activity to the proceedings. Again, this one is for extreme action fans, not those looking for a brainy spy-thriller.

Opens in theaters on July 15, 2022 and on Netflix beginning July 22, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


OUR BRAND IS CRISIS (2015)

October 29, 2015

our brand is crisis Greetings again from the darkness. The world of political campaigns and elections is a never-ending treasure trove of material for movies. It’s a subject ripe for parody, satire, comedy, suspense and documentaries.  Need proof?  How about this widely varied list: The Manchurian Candidate, Bob Roberts, Wag the Dog, Bulworth, Welcome to Mooseport, and The Ides of March.  Director David Gordon Green has a resume equally as varied, ranging from Pineapple Express (2008) to Manglehorn (2014).

This wide spectrum of possibilities seems to have confused screenwriter Peter Straughan (the excellent Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) who used Rachel Boynton’s 2005 documentary of the same name as inspiration. It seems to be both a comedy that’s not too funny and a drama that not very dramatic. Casting Sandra Bullock in the lead probably created a certain feeling of security with the filmmakers, as they assumed audiences would laugh along at such creative moments as her predictable pratfall from a private jet, the sunglasses-on-the-nose look of consternation, and the rah-rah speech given to a group of campaign volunteers who don’t speak English. Even fans of Ms. Bullock will recognize the laziness.

Alvin Lee and Ten Years After delivered the anthem “I’d Love to Change the World”, and never before this movie had I placed it in such a negative manner … how the United States sticks its nose where it doesn’t belong in international elections. Ms. Bullock’s character Jane is a political strategist brought out of self-imposed exile to run the campaign of Bolivia’s former President (played by Joaquim de Almeida). See he is far behind the leader in the polls – a progressive candidate whose campaign is being run by Bullock’s long-time rival Pat Candy (played by Billy Bob Thornton). Let the juicy rivalry games begin!

The only problem is … it’s a wasted rivalry filled with mostly lame games and it’s often quite plodding (just like real politics!). The character of Jane is based on the real life efforts of James Carville to influence South American elections, and yet it’s Pat Candy who sports the look of Carville. The supporting cast is filled with talent: Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd, Scoot McNairy, and Zoe Kazan, yet none are given much to do other than play second fiddle to Bullock.

While the script offers no real surprises or twists, and the forced “message” at the end could be guessed by most any viewer 10 minutes in, it’s the amateurish ploys that make this one score high on the annoyance scale. Having Ms. Bullock sport the only blonde follicles in Bolivia, the over-use of super slow-motion to create some unnecessary effect, and using the word “crisis” the way Tarantino uses the f-word, all combine to give the film a very cheesy look and feel … and we aren’t even rewarded with a single memorable exchange between Bullock and Billy Bob. One thing for sure … this is not the garden spot of Bolivia.

watch the trailer:

 


THE JUDGE (2014)

October 11, 2014

judge Greetings again from the darkness. It’s hard to beat a good on screen courtroom drama for tension and conflict. Despite centering around a long time judge accused of manslaughter and being defended by his estranged son, a hotshot defense attorney, this one eschews gritty courtroom action in favor of uncomfortable and explosive family dynamics. And thanks to the acting abilities of Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr, that’s a good thing.

Mr. Downey’s Iron Man/Tony Stark character has ingrained in movie goers his motor-mouthed smart-aleck persona that fits very well with the lacking-a-conscience cocky defense attorney who only defends the type of white collar criminals who can afford his unmatched courtroom savvy. When Hank (Downey) returns home for the funeral of his mother, we quickly witness the strained relationship with his demanding-perfection magistrate father (Duvall), and the historical family details slow-drip for the next couple of hours.

Hank’s older brother (Vincent D’Onofrio) was once a promising baseball player whose career was cut short after an automobile accident (with a crucial component). Hank’s younger brother (Jeremy Strong, who played Lee Harvey Oswald in Parkland) is a mentally handicapped young man attached to his video camera. Hank also (of course) runs into his high school sweetheart (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter (Leighton Meester), as a reminder of what he left behind in his quaint hometown when he chose fortune and big city life.

John Grisham has made a career, actually two (books and movies), dissecting lawyers and courtrooms. As you might imagine, director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus) doesn’t have Grisham’s eye and ear for the courtroom, so the script often slips into manipulative melodrama during the trial (think Grisham-lite). But the scenes between Duvall and Downey more than make up for the fluffy parts. The kitchen confrontation and the bathroom sequence couldn’t be any more different, or any more powerful. One is the exorcism of a parent-child relationship gone bad, and the other is a vivid depiction of old age and disease.

This is old-fashioned mainstream movie-making. It’s about relationships and family and personality and life choices. There are no explosions or CGI or car chases. Even the key crime happens off screen. It’s also not breaking any new ground, and if not for the acting, could be just another TV movie. A perfect example is Vera Farmiga, who brings an edge to a role that otherwise would be superfluous. Same with Hank’s brothers. Both roles are severely underwritten, but D’Onofrio and Strong somehow make them work. Billy Bob Thornton brings a presence to an otherwise not-believable role as a slick special prosecutor wearing $1000 suits. Even Dax Shepard plays his comic relief country-bumpkin attorney slash furniture re-seller in an understated (for him) manner.

Other support work is provided by Ken Howard as the judge, Emma Trembley (Hank’s daughter), Balthazar Getty as the deputy with a grudge, Grace Zabriske as the victim’s vengeance seeking mother, David Krumholtz as a District Attorney, and Denis O’Hare as Duvall’s doctor.

In better hands, the script could have become much sharper and the film much crisper. Prepare for cheese and schmaltz, but it’s difficult to imagine more fun than watching Duvall and Downey go nose to nose and toe to toe. If you stay for closing credits, you’ll hear Willie Nelson wobbly warble through a Coldplay song.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see two excellent actors battle each other as only resentful father and sons can

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: even a single teaspoon of courtroom schmaltz is more than your movie doctor recommends

watch the trailer:

 


PARKLAND (2013)

October 15, 2013

parkland1 Greetings again from the darkness. Fifty years of investigation and research have spawned an endless number of theories about what happened, how it happened, and why it happened, that tragic day in 1963. President John F Kennedy and his lovely wife Jacqueline had captured the hearts of many Americans, and on a trip to Ft Worth and then Dallas, the streets were lined with eager citizens who just wanted to catch a glimpse … hoping some of that Camelot magic would rub off. Instead, a city and a country, went spinning off into feelings of anger and devastation. Rather than show us what we already know, this is a peek at a few individuals impacted in ways you might not have previously thought about.

Vincent Bugliosi made a name for himself as the prosecutor in the Charles Manson Family murder case, and then penning the corresponding book “Helter Skelter” (subsequently made into a movie). Parkland (the name of the Dallas hospital where Kennedy was taken after the shooting) is based on Bugliosi’s book “Four Days in November: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy”.

parkland4 The main stories we follow are that of Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti), Lee Harvey Oswald’s brother Robert (James Badge Dale), their mother Margueritte (Jacki Weaver), Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), local FBI Agent James Hosty (Ron Livingston), and the emergency room doctors and nurses who treated JFK and Oswald (Zac Efron, Colin Hanks, Marcia Gay Harden). You might think that’s too many stories for a single movie, and you are probably correct. However, it’s fascinating to see the frenetic pace and immediate fallout of just how these people were impacted. Sure, we would like more details and backstory, but that’s not the approach this film takes. It just provides a taste of the gut-wrenching decisions Mr. Zapruder has to make while grieving for his beloved President; and the shock of Oswald’s brother as reality hits; the jaw-dropping delusions of Oswald’s mother; the absolute frustration of the CIA and FBI agents knowing their historic failures will be their legacy; and the disparate emotions that enter the operating room with Kennedy and Oswald.

parkland5 The film doesn’t take any stance on the grassy knoll, CIA involvement, LBJ involvement, or number of shooters. This is not a crime solving story or research into conspiracy theories. No, this is a look at real people in extraordinary situations that no amount of preparation can pacify. There are so many little details revealed … one of the most powerful occurring at the Lee Harvey Oswald funeral, and another as the JFK casket is loaded onto Air Force One just prior to LBJ taking the oath. So many little things you have probably never before considered.

parkland6 If you were alive at the time of the assassination, you understand the impact. If you have read any of the stacks of books written about that day, you understand what happened and the messy investigation that followed. Bugliosi and director Peter Landesman effectively mix news reels from the day with dramatizations of the fallout, and the actors do a tremendous job of showing just how personally this affected those at the time. A different perspective brings with it interesting discussion … and a big thanks if your mother is nothing like Oswald’s!

**NOTE: Since I am a Dallas resident, I was relieved to see the film didn’t dwell on the hatred directed at the city following the shooting

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are interested in the stress and emotion experienced by so many after JFK was assassinated.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for another conspiracy theory in the mold of Oliver Stone’s JFK.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SgPjt_BRLvY


filming PARKLAND in Austin, TX

January 16, 2013

This was posted January 2013.  In August 2013, the trailer was released and I posted an update:

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.wordpress.com/2013/08/21/update-parkland-trailer/

Filming has begun on Parkland, a movie that will capture the chaos of November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was shot.  Based on Vincent Bugliosi’s book “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy”, the adapted screenplay was written by journalist Peter Landesman, who also directs.   The movie should be released later this year to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination.

Parkland Hospital in Dallas is where President Kennedy was taken after the shooting, and for the movie, Austin State Hospital will “stand in” for the hospital.  The film stars Paul Giamatti, Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Billy Bob Thornton and Jacki Weaver. It’s being produced by Tom Hanks’ production company.

My niece Hannah lives at Scottish Rite Dormitory and took some time to watch the filming at the nearby church.  Below are a couple of photos: one of Hannah on the set with some of the classic cars from the era, and another of Paul Giamatti in action.

parkland3

parkland2