WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022)

July 14, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. This is the kind of movie that requires upfront disclosure: have you read the book or not? Since it was number one on New York Times best seller list for 2019 and 2020, and remained on the list for almost three years, it’s a legitimate question and likely the driving force behind Reese Witherspoon producing the film. I have not read the book and came in with only a few preconceived notions, and enough background information to make it more interesting, not less. This is director Olivia Newman’s first film since her debut FIRST MATCH (2018), and Lucy Alibar (BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, 2012) adapted the screenplay from the enormously popular novel written by Delia Owens.

Kya Clark is the youngest child of Ma (Ahna O’Reilly) and Pa (Garret Dillahunt). We get a quick glimpse at their strained existence in the marshes of Barkley Cove, North Carolina in 1953, including the violent abuse administered by Pa. It doesn’t take long for her parents and siblings to abandon her, leaving young Kya (JoJo Regina) to fend for herself in what most would consider a harsh environment. But Kya becomes one with nature. Though illiterate, she draws and charts local bugs, bird, and water creatures, while scrounging out a meager living thanks to assistance from local black store owners, Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt).

Daisy Edgar-Jones (“Normal People”, FRESH, 2022) plays older Kya, the one townspeople refer to as “Marsh Girl”. Sensitive local boy Tate (Taylor John Smith) shares Kya’s interest in nature and teaches her to read and write … surely having little to do with her being the prettiest marsh girl you’ve ever seen. When Tate heads off to college, adding another to the Kya abandonment roster, she’s pursued by local rich boy Chase (Harris Dickinson). This becomes another in the film’s storylines when Chase turns up dead after a fall from a fire tower. Despite no footprints, no fingerprints, and very little evidence, Kya is charged with murder and faces the death penalty. A local nice guy attorney (David Strathairn) takes the case and shy, withdrawn Kya provides little help in her defense.

So let’s chat about what’s good and not so good. The Kya character is fascinating and certainly worthy of being the centerpiece of a story. There are similarities to other stories about those who were raised outside of society. NELL (1994) and Tarzan come to mind, but despite the marsh environment, Kya never is a wild creature, and only as a child do we see her dirty and unkempt. This is a flaw, as Kya should be more raw and primitive … at least until her mentoring by Tate. It’s a mystery how Kya is as smart and clean and refined as she appears, since it’s mostly just the store owners who provide even a dash of support. The structure of the film is decidedly fluid – bouncing from timeline to timeline and from story to story. This kind of structure requires superb writing, something that just isn’t in the cards. The courtroom drama and murder case against Kya are especially lightweight and sloppy. Most of it makes little sense and bears almost no resemblance to what an actual trial would look like. Instead, it’s slick for dramatic effect.

The cliches are to be expected, and Ms. Edgar-Jones is to be commended to making the most of a role that often requires her to sit with bowed head or gazing at nature. The narration is odd, with an inordinate number of words jumbled up to initially differentiate between a marsh and a swamp. The love story seems pulled directly from a romance novel, and in fact, that’s probably the best description of his, rather than a murder mystery. Chase and Tate are textbook examples of the extremes of men, and Kya’s Pa adds fuel to the argument that most men are experts at letting down women. Kya’s attention to nature and emphasis on survival instinct vs morality are used multiple times to guide us toward the ending, which evidently is supposed to be a twist reveal. Cinematographer Polly Morgan inserts some nice shots of nature, and the music from Oscar winning composer Mychael Danna (LIFE OF PI) is excellent. Taylor Swift’s new song, “Carolina” plays over the closing credits. It’s not likely a film that will win over anyone who wasn’t a fan of the book, but those devoted readers will surely be on board.

It should be noted that a story more interesting that what we see in the movie, is the real-life events of writer Delia Owens and her husband from their twenty plus years in Africa. This includes a murder case with some curious similarities to what she wrote about. If you are interested, track down the 2010 New Yorker article, “The Hunted”, researched and written by Jeffrey Goldberg.

Opens in theaters July 15, 2022

WATCH THE TRAILER


WIDOWS (2018)

November 15, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Woman power. Black power. Racist old white men. Corrupt politicians. Abusive husbands. Cheating white husbands. Racist cops. Men are bad. Women are strong and good. If a filmmaker were to blend all of these stereotypes into a single movie, then as movie goers we should expect an ultra-talented filmmaker like Steve McQueen to go beyond conventional genre. Unfortunately, a nice twist on the heist movie formula from Lynda La Plante’s novel turns into predictability that whips us with societal clichés posing as societal insight.

I seem to be one of the few not raving about this movie. Hey it has the director behind  Best Picture Oscar winner 12 YEARS A SLAVE (Mr. McQueen),  a screenplay he co-wrote with Gillian Flynn (GONE GIRL) from the aforementioned novel by Lynda La Plante, and a deep and talented cast of popular actors. It ticks every box and it’s likely to be a crowd-pleaser, despite my disappointment. Every spot where I expected intrigue, the film instead delivered yet another eye-roll and easy-to-spot twist with a cultural lesson. Each of the actors does tremendous work, it just happens to be with material they could perform in their sleep.

It’s the kind of film where audience members talk to the screen – and it plays like that’s the desired reaction. This is the 4th generation of the source material, including 3 previous TV mini-series (1983, 1985, 2002). It makes sense that this material would be better suited to multiple episodes, rather than hurried through 2 hours. There are too many characters who get short-changed, and so little time to let the personalities breathe and grow. But this is about delivering as many messages as possible.

A strong premise is based in Chicago, and finds a team of four burglars on a job gone wrong. This leaves a mobster/politician looking to the four widows (hence the title) for reparations. Since the women have no money, their only hope is to tackle the next job their men had planned. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Carrie Coon play the widows, though only the first three are given much to do, as the talented Ms. Coon is short-changed. In fact, Ms. Davis is such a strong screen presence that she dominates every scene she is in – she’s a true powerhouse. Even Liam Neeson can’t hang with her. Colin Farrell appears as a smarmy politician and Robert Duvall is his f-word spouting former Alderman dad. Cynthia Erivo has a nice supporting turn in support of the women, and Bryan Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin J O’Connor, Lukas Haas, and Jon Bernthal fill out the deep cast … see what I mean about too many characters and too little time?

There is no single thing to point at as the cause for letdown. The story just needed to be smarter and stop trying so hard to comment on current societal ills. As an example, a quick-trigger cop shooting an innocent young African-American male seems thrown in for the sole purpose of ensuring white guilt and an emotional outburst from the audience. It’s difficult to even term this film as manipulating since we see the turns coming far in advance. Two far superior message films released earlier this year are Spike Lee’s BLACKKKLANSMAN and Boots Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU. For those who need only emotion and little intellect in their movies, this not-so-thrilling heist might work. For the rest of you, it’s good eye-roll practice.

watch the trailer:


LOOPER (2012)

September 29, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Writer/Director Rian Johnson (Brick) delivers a very entertaining, creative, thrilling and clever sci-fi film that features time travel, dark comedy, romance, metaphysics, and enough action to keep just about any viewer engaged … as long as you enjoy using your brain a bit.  This one requires some assembly … and the ability to ignore the horribly distracting make-up/prosthetic/special effects used to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis (he doesn’t).

Source Code, the recent film from Duncan Jones, used time travel in very limited segments. In 2074, time travel is perfected, but has been declared illegal. So, of course, only crime syndicates use it. When you think about it, sending your enemies back in time to be killed and disposed of is brilliant. It’s very difficult to solve a missing person case when the body has been incinerated 30 years prior. The future mob boss known as The Rainmaker hires “loopers” from 30 years past to handle the dirty work. When The Rainmaker begins “closing loops”, he does so by sending the loopers back in time to be killed by their younger selves. Yes, somehow this works.

Well it works until Seth (Paul Dano) chokes up and lets his future self escape. That doesn’t go over well with the modern day (sent from the future) crime boss (Jeff Daniels) who just can’t allow these future guys to be roaming free. Then, just like that, the same thing happens to Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). His future self (Bruce Willis) appears, young Joe flubs the kill, and the next thing you know, Young Joe and Old Joe are seated in a booth at a remote diner ordering the same breakfast and staring into their own eyes.  You may recall that Mr. Willis is an acting time travel expert thanks to his “trips” in Tweleve Monkeys and The Kid.

It’s impossible not to compare to some other time travel movies (there have been MANY).  There are certainly similarities to The Terminator, but not so much to Hot Tub Time Machine or Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.  It’s a tricky topic because it involves the uncertainty of how things done today might impact what has already happened. Or something like that.  It would have been interesting to get more flavor from the 2074 world, since all we see is the blissful (until it’s not) presence of Old Joe and his saviour bride. Also, you have to believe that if you came face to face with the future “you”, there might be at least a brief Q&A.

 Plenty of fun stuff in this one, although, I had a tough time buying a blond Emily Blunt as a Kansas farmer. Her young son Cid, played very well by Pierce Gagnon, is one of the more interesting characters in the film. He is supposed to the young version of the future Rainmaker, and he possesses some unusual traits … with Blunt trying to supply sufficient motherly love to prevent him from spinning off track.

Director Johnson has a knack of tossing in some dark humor at just the right time. Some of the romance seemed a bit forced, but the criminal element and the Joe vs Old Joe stuff was really fascinating to keep up with. If you enjoy movies that are somewhat challenging, and you can suspend reality for the time travel elements, it’s one that you’ll probably find quite entertaining.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: time travel and sci-fi tickle your fancy OR you want to see Hollywood’s best attempt to make Joseph Gordon-Levitt look like a young Bruce Wills

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: Hot Tub Time Machine or Austin Powers are the level of seriousness you expect from time travel flicks

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iQuhsmtfHw