This Is a Movie Review: ‘Widows’ is the Best Cinematic Crime Saga in Quite Some Time

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CREDIT: Twentieth Century Fox

This review was originally published on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Viola Davis, Elizabeth Debicki, Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Liam Neeson, Jacki Weaver, Carrie Coon, Robert Duvall, Lukas Haas, Garret Dillahunt, Molly Kunz, Jon Bernthal, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo

Director: Steve McQueen

Running Time: 129 Minutes

Rating: R for Professional Criminals at Their Scariest

Release Date: November 16, 2018

Sometimes I am at a loss of what to say about a film because of how powerfully it has affected me. Widows is one of those films. Its immediate effect was similar to that of The Dark Knight, in which I sat stunned, not quite sure what had happened, but certain that I had seen something special. Steve McQueen’s massively sprawling saga about Chicago crime and politics is populated by a ridiculously sterling cast, with at least ten, or maybe fifteen, of them receiving the gift of really juicy material to bite into.

Chief among them, in all fairness, are the titular widows, who are left to clean up the very expensive mess left behind by their recently deceased criminal husbands. Veronica (Viola Davis), Linda (Michelle Rodriguez), and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) are forced to form an uneasy alliance or run the risk of the rest of their livelihoods dissolving away. While each actress is compelling, their characters are not necessarily likable. Do they bear some guilt for benefitting from their husbands’ activity despite not knowing what they were tup to? On the other hand, they are in many ways trapped in a situation with no good options for escape. Their predicament demonstrates the limits of feminism and standing up for a yourself in a world ruled by violence.

Thus far in this review, I have barely touched upon even 10% of this film. It runs just a little over two hours, but it is so stuffed with goodness that I am amazed it is under three hours, yet it is simultaneously so sleek that it feels like it is running for just an hour and a half. There are about six (maybe more) stories running alongside each other and somehow they run seamlessly together. There’s Bryan Tyree Henry as a crime boss trying to break good by running for alderman in a gentrifying neighborhood and Daniel Kaluuya as his brother and terrifying enforcer. His opponent is Colin Farrell, who is struggling with maximal agita as he finds his place as a successor in a long line of Chicago politicians. And we cannot forget Cynthia Erivo as a babysitter/beautician/hustler who also plays a big part in all this. Plus there is plenty more to know about the shadowy machinations of ringleader Harry Rawlins (Liam Neeson), Veronica’s husband. And how is there also room for Matt Walsh to show up for one key scene?! McQueen is dynamite with his clear, effective craftsmanship. If you see Widows, you will likely understand everything that happens plot-wise, and you might also just feel compelled to take part in the exhaustive analysis of every frame that is sure to follow in the years to come.

Widows is Recommended If You Like: Heat, The Town, The Dark Knight, “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” by Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Aldermen

 

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Peter Rabbit’ is Fun Enough for the Kiddos, But It’s Also Kind of Insane

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CREDIT: Sony Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: James Corden, Domhnall Gleeson, Rose Byrne, Daisy Ridley, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Debicki, Matt Lucas, Sia, Sam Neill

Director: Will Gluck

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: PG for Cartoonish, But Quite Dangerous, Violence

Release Date: February 9, 2018

For the most part, Peter Rabbit is just another trifling kids movie with CG-animated animals. It is not the worst of the menagerie, though it is far from the best. But like many movies of this ilk, it also raises some weird metaphysical conundrums that I do not think it ever planned on grappling with but that it cannot avoid entirely. When you have anthropomorphic animals interacting with humans, especially when those humans are played by live-action actors, you have to decide how much the humans can recognize the critters’ extraordinary abilities. When the beasts talk to each other, does it just sound like animal noises to people? Or can they hear it perfectly, thus forcing the animals to be discreet? Or maybe there is only Dr. Dolittle-type, going mad over the loneliness of his interspecies communication powers.

In this case, Peter (James Corden), his triplet sisters Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), Flopsy (Margot Robbie), and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley), and their cousin Benjamin Bunny (Matt Lucas) are quite sneaky, and as their schemes become more and more elaborate, there is no reason to pretend that they are not fully intelligent creatures. The confirmation that they can in fact talk to humans is a rather sloppy reveal, as it begs the question: how have they hidden this secret for so long? Regardless of what mysterious machinations they have pulled off, the narrative requires that they spill the truth, considering that Peter is responsible for extensive property damage, and furthermore, he wants to apologize to Bea (Rose Byrne), the human that he loves, and make peace with Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson), the human that he has been torturing. This all makes for a resolution that is sweet but with disturbing subtext.

But beyond that, this is a fairly typical entry for this genre, as typified by its soundtrack of the pop hits of the past twenty years. Len’s “Steal My Sunshine,” Basement Jaxx’s “Do Your Thing,” and Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still” will keep the kids bouncing in their chairs without challenging their soundscapes. Lady Bird can take note that Peter’s use of Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash Into Me” is not similarly profound. Elsewhere, the film’s raison d’être is excessively painful physical gags, including a truly worrying number of electrocutions (this is nowhere near as gentle as Beatrix Potter’s source material). There is a rake gag that I must admit I chuckled at, though I am concerned that the target audience will not realize how heavily indebted it is to The Simpsons. And that is indicative of the whole: a satisfying diversion, but with some worrisome implications.

Peter Rabbit is Recommended If You Like: MouseHunt, Dr. Dolittle, the Pop Dance Hits of Today!

Grade: 3 out of 5 Winking Rabbits

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2’ Fulfills Its Blockbuster Duty

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This post was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Kurt Russell

Director: James Gunn

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Space Opera Whiz Bang and Discussions About the Facts of Life

Release Date: May 5, 2017

As fun as this era of Marvel-ous moviemaking can be, a corporate agenda gets in the way of originality. But it is not necessarily the blueprint of interconnected universes that mandates that every superhero movie must end with a fight for the survival of the planet. That is simply this genre’s instinct. If you want to avoid it, you have to fight it. And expanding the setting to multiple galaxies is not the way to do so. That just raises the stakes. Instead of just Earth, it is the fate of the entire universe that hangs in the balance. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 cannot help but be a part of this exhausting pattern, but it does what it can by rendering this gigantic fight as personal as possible.

When Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost papa Ego (Kurt Russell) shows up, Quill suspects that the reunion is a little too perfect. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) convinces him to give his dad a chance, assuring him that if treachery is afoot, killing him is always an option. So they, alongside Drax (Dave Bautista) and Ego’s empathic companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) head off to Ego’s home planet. It looks like an idyllic utopia, but eventually it is revealed that Ego is the planet, and his intentions with his son may not be so aboveboard. The threat of universal apocalypse thereby feels intimate because it depends upon how Quill will or will not be manipulated.

Meanwhile, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are holding down the fort elsewhere and forming unlikely, but satisfying, alliances with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). They must deal with an onslaught from a new race of aliens that I do not feel like getting into. They are probably here because they will factor significantly into future Marvel Cinematic Universe installments, but for now, they are a distraction from the main conflict. I am not opposed in principle to splitting up the main crew. Rocket and Groot, after all, have a delightful C-3PO/R2-D2-style repartee wherever they go. They can do their own thing, it just does not need to be so extensive when the main thrust is already so all-encompassing.

While vol. 2 does fall prey to sequel bloat, the Guardians crew is reliable enough for their adventures to have a pretty high floor. The banter is top-notch, fueled as it is by intergalactic culture clash. Gamora attempts to comfort Quill by referencing his attachment to a certain beloved-by-Germans celebrity, but she totally botches the details. Quill later fires back with a Cheers analogy of their relationship that is adorably confused. Drax demonstrates how his race is quite open about discussing sexual matters with a colorful description of his parents’ experiences. This is all helped along by Mantis’ empathic abilities, in which she can feel others’ emotions and thus open up the dams holding back honesty. The pinnacle of all this sharing is Baby Groot’s opinion on hats (which does not even need Mantis’ prompting).

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is Recommended If You Like: “I am Groot.” “I am Groot?” “I AMMM GROOOOOOOT!”

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sweet Sounds of the Seventies