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: With ‘Brigsby Bear,’ Kyle Mooney Applies His One-of-a-Kind Style to a Rescued Kidnapping Victim

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This review was originally posted on News Cult in July 2017.

Starring: Kyle Mooney, Greg Kinnear, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, Claire Danes, Mark Hamill

Director: Dave McCary

Running Time: 97 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for First Times: First Time Doing Hand Stuff, First Time Tripping, First Time Making Dynamite

Release Date: July 28, 2017 (Limited)

It is certainly possible for a film about an escape from kidnapping to be about the triumph of the human spirit. But is it also possible to also make one in which the spirit was never really beaten down in the first place, just slightly confused? Brigsby Bear sure seems to think so. It’s basically what Room would have been if it were a quirky, offbeat comedy. If you’re a fan of writer/star Kyle Mooney, then you have already bought your tickets. If you’re unfamiliar, then let me explain a little more.

Like a lot of young adults who spend most of their time at home, James Pope (Mooney) is obsessed with his favorite TV show. But unlike most TV fanatics, he stays indoors because he has been led to believe that the outside air is toxic, and also unusually, his particular favorite show, “Brigsby Bear Adventures” (a sort of charmingly low-budget live-action spacefaring Saturday morning cartoon) is produced for an audience of one. Because, as it turns out, the people James thinks are his parents actually abducted him when he was a baby. When the authorities track down the compound and return James to his real family, he struggles to move forward in this strange new world. He is able to accept that these people are who they say are, and his social adjustment is relatively smooth, but what really bothers him is the astounding realization that he will never know how the story of Brigsby Bear concludes.

But wait – there is a solution to be had! James decides to put together his own amateur production of a Brigsby Bear film, and the result is a paean to the stirring power of filmmaking. Although… is it perhaps irresponsible to present the story of a kidnapping victim whose recovery consists mainly of a major element from the time of his captivity? It is acceptable that the pull of the familiar, however distorted it may be, cannot be denied (James revisits the bunker in a moment that plays exactly like the return to the shed in Room). And to be fair, every individual captive’s experience is unique. So it is ultimately inspiring to see James’ family and entire community embrace his Brigsby Bear obsession, because they recognize that as strange and as risky as it may be, this is his best chance to recover and flourish. There are certainly discomforting moments (especially in the case of Mark Hamill, who, as James’ impostor father and the man behind Brigsby, toes a tricky line between detestable and genuinely human), but they are among the intrinsic elements that make this story as heartwarming as it is.

Brigsby Bear is Recommended If You Like: Room, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Kyle Mooney’s YouTube/SNL videos

Grade: 4 out of 5 Giant Costume Heads