Amazon Movie Review: The Lie

There are many reasons why screenwriting is considered the most challenging of all art forms. For one thing, coming up with an idea that is original is a huge road-block because so many movies have been produced – all of them trying new ideas. Trying to surprise the audience is another challenge because the surprise must make sense and be believable. If there is a surprise ending or key moment that is not believable or absurd, then all the good ideas that happened before are ruined, resulting in an angry audience.

The Amazon produced movie “The Lie”, released in 2018, starring Mireille Enos, Peter Sarsgaard and Joey King has a story similar to “Your Honor” – a recent series on Showtime starring Brian Cranston. The idea is, what would any parent do to protect their child if they killed someone – by accident, or temporary insanity? To what lengths would they go to protect their child from dire consequences and a life ruined even before it starts? For most of The Lie, the story was told in an understandable and believable series of events. Unfortunately, in an effort to be extremely different, there is a surprise at the end that is absolutely absurd. All of the action and emotions that happened before, especially with Kayla, played by Joey King and her parents Jay and Rebecca, played by Sarsgaard and Enos – become instantly invalid, once you consider an ending this far fetched. No teenage daughter would ever do something like this and that is why this movie fails immediately.

The majority of people who see this ending are going to think, “give me a break” or “that is just insane”, “this makes no sense”. Anything good that happened before in this film, especially the acting is forgotten – all because another outrageous story idea that never should have been attempted.

The ratings on IMDB of 5.8 and Rotten Tomatoes 44% are low – and I agree with these numbers. Any movie with an ending this ridiculous, should be skipped.

Movie Review: The Marksman

Since the release of the great movie “Taken” in 2008, there has probably not been any A-list actor who has made more movies than Liam Neeson. One reason for this is the huge success of Taken, that spawned two sequels and perhaps another reason is the tragic death of this wife Natasha Richardson, who died in a fluke Skiing accident in 2009.

Not surprisingly, Neeson has never again achieved the heights he reached with Taken – due to the fact that this movie was a very hard act to follow. He has made some bad movies but mostly solid films, some of them B-level and most have been widely released. The new movie “The Marksman” is another generic Neeson film where he is a farmer who lives near the Mexican border – and his story is a tragic one heard far too often. Jim, a former Marine – played by Neeson, was financially ruined because of medical bills, trying to save his wife from cancer and unfortunately she died. How many times in this country has something like this happened to far too many good people.

While patrolling a part of the Mexican border Jim runs into a young mother with her son, trying to illegally break into the United States, while also being chased by a group of murderous members of a Mexican drug cartel. What follows is a gunfight between Jim and the members of the Cartel. The rest of this story is nothing new, with Jim transporting the woman’s son across country to her family in Chicago.

Several things did not make sense in this story, starting with how a group of drug Cartel criminals were allowed to enter this country so easily and then were able to track Jim and the young boy across this country with an efficiency that seemed like a series of insane miracles. At first they used his credit card transactions to follow him, that did make sense, but other methods were so outlandish and unlikely that they would never happen in the real world. Then add how quickly they seemed to make up so many hundreds of miles while tracking Jim and the boy. Somewhere along the line, within all screenplays, things just eventually have to make sense. I also did not like the ending, that had some similarities to the end of Taken 2 – once again forgoing a believable ending into a Hollywood-like unsatisfactory ending that also made no sense.

I agree with the 6.9 rating in IMDB with the 34% Rotten Tomatoes ratings way too low. Despite the many holes in the plot, I give The Marksman a modest recommendation, mainly because of Neeson.

Movie Review: Fatale

There is no better example of the highs and lows of a career in the movies, than the career of Hillary Swank.

Hillary Swank is one of the very rare actors who has ever won 2 Academy Awards, her last in 2004 with the Clint Eastwood film “Million Dollar Baby”. After that great movie, she make several movies that failed at the box office and even took some years off after things were not going well for some time. When I decided to see her new movie “Fatale” – which is yet another insane stalker movie – I was surprised she took this role because her past movies have signaled a major comeback. However, I was surprised (despite the critics) how good Fatale is. Once again the critics are wrong. with their very low 43% ratings.

This movie also stars Michael Ealy, who is the all time champion for appearing in movies like this, with the exception this time, that he is the victim of the stalker. I was impressed with the story and the many twists and turns – all of them believable. This is the first insane-stalker movie that I have seen that I actually not only liked but was impressed with the screenwriter who created something unique within this very tired genre.

The Rotten Tomatoes user rating is a very high 88% and once again, its hard to understand that the critics and the audience can be so far off in their opinions. My rating is a solid 80% and I recommend Fatale.

Hulu Series Review: A Teacher

The new 10 part Hulu Series “A Teacher” is about a female teacher in high school, having an affair with one of her students – a story that has happened in recent history, far too often. This series does a very good job of showing the damage a short term decision based on emotion or rationalization can cause someone in the long term. In the case of a High School English teacher, Clair Wilson, played by Kate Mara – her short term rationalizations were that he marriage was failing, her student Eric Walker, played by Nick Robinson was 18 years old and they were in love. Clair’s long term penalty for having an affair with a student, was that she lost her job as a teacher forever, she was arrested, tried and had to go to prison and after she was released, she was never able to get a job again in any field.

Clair was never able take full responsibility for what she did, long after she was released from prison. During this entire story for Clair, it was always someone else’s fault, what she did was not that bad and this lasted all the way to the last episode in this series. This story is all about cause and effect, what is wrong is wrong, even if the student was over 18 and they were really in love.

The acting throughout this series is outstanding with both of the two main characters played by Kate Mara and Nick Robinson. I disagree with the mid-level 72% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes and give this series a solid 80% rating.

Movie Review: News of the World

Every time Hollywood produces another Western – two of the last very good ones “Open Range”, 2003 and “Unforgiven”, 1992 (Won Best Picture) – we are all reminded of how difficult a time it was in the days of the mid 1800’s, most especially around the years of the Civil War. The new movie “News of the World” is surprisingly Tom Hanks very first Western. The story is a simple one, a man by the name of Captain Kidd, played by Tom Hanks travels from town to town and reads newspapers to groups of people – and makes a little money doing this. Back in the dark days in this country of the mid-1800’s so many people could not read, so this service of reading newspapers to a group of people was a viable profession.

One day Kidd rides by a wooded area, where there is a black man who was hung. Within the wreckage of the mans wagon, is a young girl Johanna, played by Helena Zengel, who was taken by Indians after her parents were killed and then released by the same Indians, making her an orphan twice.  Zengel has a look about her that almost makes her appear to be someone who was alive during the 1800’s.  Kidd then takes the girl to the military authorities along with her papers to try and get them to take her to her relatives, many miles away.  After they refuse, what follows is a long and hard road trip with Kidd taking care of the child and encountering two groups of extreme lowlife that always seem to be highly prevalent in all Westerns. There is a great gunfight, with even the girl getting in involved within a brilliant scene that involving quarters to load a rifle cartridge.  The ending of this movie was brilliantly conceived with a very good conclusion that was both emotional and satisfying. 

The Rotten Tomatoes ratings for this movie is a very solid 85% and I agree with this opinion.  Tom Hanks might be nominated for another Academy Award for this movie, for his strong acting and for the extreme lack of movies released this year due to the horrible Pandemic.  I highly recommend this film.  

Movie Review: Promising Young Woman

On January 17, 2015 a young Stanford college student Chanel Miller got extremely drunk and was sexually assaulted by another college student named Brock Turner. Chanel later released a memoir about this assault stating that rape is not a punishment for being drunk. Odds are that the screenwriter and director of “Promising Young Woman”, Emerald Fennell was inspired by this story or another like it. Because this is the main idea behind this dark comedy/drama about a former medical student Cassandra, played by Carey Mulligan seeking revenge for a close friend who was sexually assaulted by several other college students when she was very drunk one night.

The two hours of this solid drama unwind the series of events from some seven years earlier where the medical school did nothing to prosecute those involved in the sexual assault of Cassandra’s friend Nina. A lawyer who dug up irrelevant dirt to discredit Nina and fellow students who showed Nina no empathy or understanding, ultimately turning their backs on her. Nina later dropped out of medical school along with Cassandra who devoted her time towards helping her friend recover from a violent assault that ruined her life.

Most unusual about this film is the lack of extreme-murder-eye-for-an-eye that is typical of revenge movies like this one. The revenge Cassandra seeks is more in line with an admission of guilt and retribution, rather than killing people, that I thought was a refreshing new approach. Cassandra regularly goes to bars, pretending to be very drunk only to later turn the tables on any man who takes her home and tries to take advantage of her – in a half hearted attempt to avenge what happened to her friend Nina. There are numerous attempts to be different with this story, that mostly all work, and an ending that was very unexpected, but did reach a satisfying conclusion. As have said many times in this blog, so many of us go to the movies because we crave justified conclusions that happen in real life, far too rarely.

The Rotten Tomatoes reviews of Promising Young Woman are an extremly high 91%. I agree with this rating and highly recommend this film.

Showtime Series Review: The Loudest Voice

The 2019 Showtime series, “The Loudest Voice” is all about the television career of Roger Ailes, who became CEO of Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdock, in the mid 1990’s. What this 7 part series clearly shows is that over time, a person who lacked all empathy, integrity and human decency like Roger Ailes would verbally and sexually abuse countless women who he employed. Ailes never cared about all of the woman he abused and terrorized, because he thought he was better and more important than everybody else. In all cases like this with any person in a position of power over others, including so many during the “Me Too Movement” – time and the number people involved catches up to them, and they pay the price for what they have done. In the case of Roger Ailes he was fired from Fox News in 2016 and the allegations of 23 women finally came out, following the lawsuit of Gretchen Carlson.

There are many things to like about this series, starting with the great acting of Russel Crowe who played Roger Ailes that included wearing a fat suit and heavy makeup during the series. Ailes wife Beth Ailes, was played by Sienna Miller and her acting was also a standout, as she defended Ailes throughout their marriage, despite the endless allegations of abuse and sexual harassment. Miller’s makeup as Ailes 50+ wife made her unrecognizable throughout this series.

The message of this great story is that those of us who get to be in charge of other people who are trying to make a living have a choice to either use their power over others in a humane and professional way, or become abusive because they know that the other person is terrified of losing their job. Abusive leverage like this is far worse in the movie or news industries, because the jobs are far more high paying, and far less likely to ever attain in the first place. People like Harvey Weinstein(now in prison) and Matt Lauer (fired and disgraced as a Today show anchor), Bill Cosby (now in prison) used their clout and power to ruin the lives of other people, never caring about the damage they caused. The victim list during the years of the recent “Me Too” movement is huge and even included a picture of 60 women on the cover of Time Magazine who accused Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them.

The rest of the cast of The Loudest voice include Seth McFarland as one of Ailes rudely treated assistants, Brian Lewis and Naomi Watts who is outstanding as Gretchen Carlson. It was Carlson’s recording of 20 hours of her abusive conversations with Ailes that eventually brought him down. One thing I did not understand during this series was why there was no inclusion of Megyn Kelly during this series, considering her importance to the Roger Ailes story.

The ratings on Rotten Tomatoes for this series at only 55% make no sense, but the very high 7.9 rating on IMDB is far more accurate. This is an excellent series and worth getting Showtime even temporarily just to see it.

Movie Review: Wonder Woman 1984

As the movie industry continues to try and adjust to the new ways of providing entertainment to the masses, the release of the new movie “Wonder Woman 1984” – in theaters a few weeks ago, and today on HBO Max is something that has never been done before. Perhaps this will be one of the many new ways we will be seeing movies from now on, even after this horrendous Pandemic of 2020 is finally over. Many believe that eventually all movie theaters will go away for good and I for one will miss seeing a great movie on a big screen if that ever happens.
One thing has been obvious with action movies for many years is that it is always easier to create special effects than it is to create a great story and screenplay. Screenplays require months or even over a year of hard work and re-writes. Special effects involve advanced computer graphics that can be created in a relatively short period of time. Wonder Woman 1984 is the sequel to the original “Wonder Woman”, released in 2017 and unfortunately has a story that is all over the place, convoluted and in some areas even boring. This movie involves the discovery of an ancient stone that can provide any person anything they want in the world, just by wishing for it. A failing oil executive Maxwell Lord, played by Pedro Pascal uses this stone to try and take over the world, Barbara Minerva, played by Kristine Witt uses the stone to gain the super powers of Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot, and Wonder Woman uses the stone to bring back her boyfriend Steve Trevor, played once again by Chris Pine. In the case of Wonder Woman, her wish causes her to lose some of her power, which is one of the many areas of this story that was not defined nearly enough.
The messages of this film are good ones, “power corrupts absolutely”, “There is a price for everything” and even “be careful what you wish for”. However, good messages are not nearly adequate enough to save this mostly bad movie, that is even lacks enough special effects within an overly long 2 1/2 hours.
The Rotten Tomatoes rating for this movie are a below average 70%. My rating is about 55%, only for some good acting and some special effects.  I do not recommend Wonder Woman 1984.

HBO Max Series Review: The Flight Attendant

For the majority of people in the world who hate to fly, its a mystery why anyone would want to have a job where you are flying constantly and living in hotels around the world. In the HBO Series “The Flight Attendant”, Cassie Bowden, played by Kaley Cuoco is not only a Flight Attendant, but a raging alcoholic.

During a routine flight to Rome, Cassie has a one night stand with one of the passengers  Alex Sokolov, played by Michiel Huisman, gets very drunk and the next morning – she finds him dead in bed with her the next morning, with his throat cut.  Cassie has no idea what happened the night before because she blacked out from drinking so much. For the rest of this series, Cassie tries to figure out why Alex was murdered.  What makes this story extremely unusual is that Cassie is visited/haunted by Alex frequently as they both try to figure out clues as to who murdered Alex, and more importantly, try to understand why Cassie drinks so much.  Cassie’s dangerous drinking habit is directly tied to her abusive father and her relationship with her brother Davey Bowden, played by T.R. Knight. This investigation along with Alex of Cassie’s drinking problem is by far, the best part of this story. The story idea with a dead person who is murdered at the beginning of a story, visiting someone so frequently is an unusual and risky concept for any screenwriter. For this series, this new approach mostly seems to work.

One issue I have with this story, is its endlessly winding, and overly complex mystery/comedy that is at times more frantic than entertaining. The acting is very good throughout, including Cassie’s best friend Megan Briscoe, who has her own legal and dangerous problems, played by Rosie Perez. Cassie’s other friend and lawyer Ani Mouradian, played by Zosia Mamet is both endlessly annoyed and supportive of Cassie’s never ending life threatening problems.  

The Rotten Tomatoes review of this series is a too high 98%, my rating is around 80%, mostly for the interesting ideas attempted in this series.  Overall, I do recommend The Flight Attendant. 

Movie Review: Monster Hunter

The question that always comes up with action movies that have tons of special effects, karate fighting, huge monster-like creatures and explosions is – does there need to be a story? A beginning middle and end? We are spending so much money on special effects, why not just create the special effects and then try to make some kind of a story around those effects later. Too many bad movies are like this, with the screenplay and well organized story an afterthought, rather than the reason why the movie was created in the first place. For me, its always been intelligent story first, explosions and special effects second.

The new movie “Monster Hunter” is about a group of marines who are in a desert somewhere in the world, where they are suddenly trapped in a huge sand storm and then transported into a different dimension. There is no explanation as to why or how this happened, or why this other dimension even exists. Once the group of marines lead by Artemis, played by Milla Jovovich arrive in the new world, there is scene after scene of the marines being attacked and killed by huge lizard or spider-like monsters. Artemis then meets up with The Hunter, played by Tony Ja who does not speak English but does have outstanding karate fighting skills and what follows are at least 4 fighting scenes between the 2 of them, until eventually they become friends. They then team up to kill the biggest lizard monster, and them meet up with Admiral, played by Ron Perlman. This is the entire movie, marines transported to a new dimension, then fighting monsters, killing monsters and getting killed. There is absolutely no story here and really no movie, just an excuse for many special effects.

The Rotten Tomatoes rating for this bad movie is 48% – I give it 18% only for the special effects. This is not a movie, is just a series of action events and because of this, should be missed.