Movie Review: Marriage Story

In 1996 a book was published called “The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy”. What I remember most about this book about the realities of average people becoming a Millionaire or multi-Millionaire in the United States is that the overwhelming majority of them who were married – never got divorced. Not ever. If they got married, they all stayed married and this is one of the primary reasons that they became wealthy, and more importantly, stayed wealthy. Failure was never an option when it comes to the extreme and very often life ending financial nightmare of divorce. If there are children involved, staying married is even more imperative both for the emotional stability of the child and to avoid unrecoverable financial loss.

The new movie “Marriage Story” is by far the best movie I have ever seen about the extremely harsh real life of divorce, both emotionally and financially. The acting from both Adam Driver as Charlie and Scarlett Johansson as Nicole is the best of their careers, especially one scene that ended with an emotional explosion from Driver that might just win him an Academy Award this year. Marriage Story is both written and directed by Noah Baumbach and the screenplay, story and especially the dialogue is about as good as I have ever seen. The dialogue at times is erratic, indirect, nonsensical and in some cases almost crazy; but it sounds like real life. How people really talk, is one of the most difficult aspects of screenwriting to master. The inevitable emotional blowup as Charlie and Nicole try to end their marriage without lawyers is acting at a level of as impressive as “Fences”, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, released in late 2016.

Some of the best lines in this movie were spoken by actor Ray Liotta who plays Charlies lawyer: “Criminal Lawyers see bad people at their best and Divorce Lawyers see good people at their worst”. The reality of 25 thousand dollar retainers and legal fees that are 400, 450 or 950 an hour are overwhelming to hear about for anyone who has never been divorced and even for the many who have.  We have all heard real truth that the only person who wins in any divorce – is the lawyer. One of the clearest messages in this great film.

Actor Laura Dern plays Nicole’s lawyer and she will probably receive a best supporting actress nomination for this role. Everyone in this production is at their best, including Julie Hagerty as Nicole’s mother, Alan Alda who is outstanding as one of Charlie’s lawyers and Azhy Robertson who plays Henry, the couple’s learning disabled and troubled son.

What complicates this heart breaking story is that Charlie and Nicole live and work in New York City on Broadway for many years and when Nicole received and acting job in California, their entire relationship falls apart.  Logistics of a great distance, financial problems and custody of a child has ended millions of marriages.  When a marriage works, studies have shown that people live longer and are much happier than those who never marry.  When a marriage fails, many never recover from the emotional and financial loss. This real life choice is one of the most challenging aspects of being alive for all of us. There is no perfect situation and no guarantees for anyone who decides to get married.

The movie “Marriage Story” is the second in recent weeks to be released in very few theaters before premiering in Netflix on December 6th. On November 27th “The Irishman” was released on Netflix and seems that the movie industry has changed to this new formula of producing high quality movies at the end of the year funded by Amazon or Netflix.  Marriage Story is a guaranteed nominee for best picture along with the Irishman and there will be many nominations for both of these great movies. I agree with all of the very high reviews and highly recommend this movie as one of the best of 2019.

Movie Review: Queen & Slim

There is not a white person in the world, who could ever talk to any black person and say that they understand what it is like to be black in a dangerous neighborhood and be pulled over by a police officer. To say that you “understand” to a black person about this issue, disrespects how bad this problem has been in this country for many years. Anyone who hears the intimidating police sirens following behind is already put on edge. When you’re black this experience is exponentially worse; proportional to part of the country and the training and humanity of the random police officer who stops you.

The new movie “Queen & Slim” is an idea for a film that was inevitable, when a young black couple, Queen and Slim played by Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya are pulled over by a dangerous and bigoted police officer and then turn his own gun against him after an altercation. For the rest of this movie they are on the run for their lives, driving from Ohio all the way to Miami Florida, hoping to escape to Cuba. One flaw with this movie are that there is too much driving across the country in what appears to be filler to make the movie 2 hours long. The other flaw is that there is a video of the altercation with the police officer that goes viral, and this video clearly shows that the entire incident was in self defense. Given that the altercation was clearly self defense, much of what follows is not strong enough to carry the message of this story. There is also a scene in a convenience store, where Slim gives his gun to an insane store clerk, just because he wanted to see what it felt like to hold the gun. Obviously, nobody would ever be stupid enough to do something like this and because of this, Slim is almost killed with the gun he took from the police officer.

I did not like the ending of this movie at all, and despite the critics giving this movie a very high 85% rating, mine is only 70% because too much of this story involves some long boring scenes of driving through the Southern United States and not enough story telling. I give Queen and Slim a very mild recommendation, mainly because of the message and not for the film.

As far as this ongoing horrendous police shooting issue in this country, both sides of this story are best explained in the scene below from the movie “The Hate U Give” by the actor Common, who plays a black police officer in this excellent film, released last year.



Movie Review: Knives Out

A wealthy family. A murder mystery involving the family Patriarch an old Victorian Castle and “Knives Out” seems like another Agatha Christie murder mystery, with a complicated plot and an ending that requires a long series of flashbacks that define and explain everything that happened in the previous 2 hours. I have never been a fan of any screenplay that requires an explanation at the end. For me, all this means is the story was not told well enough throughout the movie. The exception here is that the story was so complicated it actually did require a summary at the end. The other very unusual aspect of this story is that the lead character, the family maid, played by Anna de Armas, cannot lie without vomiting after. I have to admit, that I have never seen or heard of any like this before.

The most exceptional thing about “Knives Out” is the large number of known actors in this production including Daniel Craig, Chris Evans,
Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Christopher Plummer and Ana de Armas. Overall, the acting was very good but my rating is more in the 75% range, not the very high 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This movie is just OK, not great but I do recommend it.