VIOLENT NIGHT (2022) – Violent Santa Claus Action Comedy as Ugly as a Christmas Sweater

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VIOLENT NIGHT (2022) lives up to its name.

It’s certainly violent. The killings in this Santa Claus action comedy… yes, you heard right. A Santa Claus action comedy… are over-the-top horror movie brutal and bloody. This one is not for the squeamish. Director Tommy Wirkola seems to use violence to get a reaction from his audience, hoping that the killings are so insanely gruesome the audience will laugh. It’s a gamble that only partially works.

And that’s because while VIOLENT NIGHT may be violent, it’s more vile than diverting. I didn’t really laugh all that much.

VIOLENT NIGHT stars David Harbour as Santa Claus, and in this movie, Mr. Claus is more comfortable drinking hard liquor than eggnog, and that’s because he’s depressed, fed up with the world’s children who he laments are all selfish, thankless brats, who are never thankful and only want the next best thing. They open their presents and two seconds later are already bored with them, wanting something else. This might be an interesting point, but the movie isn’t interested in developing it. Plus, methinks Santa in his drunken state may have forgotten that there are plenty of children in poverty in the world who don’t fit this description.

Again, VIOLENT NIGHT isn’t interested in any kind of social commentary, as it tries desperately to be a “fun” action comedy. Harbour as Santa Claus is fun at least, but even his wisecracking tough guy Santa shtick gets tired long before the movie comes to a close. Still, it’s an inspired bit of casting. Harbour is known these days as Sheriff Jim Hopper on the Netflix TV show STRANGER THINGS (2016-2024), and he is indeed excellent on the show. He’s been in lot of movies as well, and these days he’s a fun actor to watch. I enjoyed watching him here as the heroic action hero Santa Claus, even if the rest of the movie was pretty gosh darn awful.

And that’s because the plot of this one involves one of the most unlikable set of characters you can think of. We are invited inside the rich Connecticut home of a wealthy American family, who are as dysfunctional as they are affluent. None of these characters interested me in the least. The one person who seems not to be on Santa’s naughty list is young Trudy Lightstone (Leah Brady) who still believes in Santa Claus, and her one wish is that her mom and dad could get back together. Gag!

Anyway, a gang of ex-military types led by a leader who goes by the name of Scrooge (John Leguizamo) commandeer the estate and take everyone hostage, as they plan to steal all the money in the vault below the home and eventually kill all their hostages. Of course, Santa Claus also happens to be in the house at the time, and because Trudy reaches out to him, he vows to save her. Before you can say “ho, ho, ho,”… actually you may be saying “ho hum” long before that!…Santa springs into action and the fight to the death is on.

This one might have been fun if it could have figured out what kind of movie it really wanted to be. On the surface, it’s DIE HARD (1988) meets HOME ALONE (1990) meets THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS (1974). Leguizamo looks like he walked off the set of DIE HARD 20, and he and Harbour’s Santa square off throughout, with Santa filling in for Bruce Willis’ John McClane. HOME ALONE is referenced throughout, and at one point Trudy sets up booby traps for her pursuers, in a sequence which tries to pay homage to the iconic John Hughes movies. It’s one of the more violent and ridiculous sequences in the film. And Santa laments throughout the movie that dang it, no one believes anymore!

Blah, blah, blah.

All of this could have been fun had it been handled better. The screenplay by Pat Casey and Josh Miller creates some of the worst characters I’ve seen in a movie in years. The Lightstone family are as disinteresting as they are wealthy, and they are described as one of the richest families in the nation. So, there you go. Some of the characters are played for laughs, and others we are supposed to take seriously. They are all unwatchable. And the movie is built around these folks? Not a wise choice.

David Harbour’s Santa Claus is enjoyable for about half the movie, but he’s a one-note character, and he grows dull long before this one ends. Even his one-liners aren’t funny.

Other than Harbour, John Leguizamo gives the best performance in the movie, as the lead meanie, Scrooge. He plays things straight throughout, so at least we know where he is coming from. Leguizamo’s performance stands out because it’s too good for this movie. The rest of the film can’t figure out what the heck it is, but Leguizamo is on point from start to finish. He’s one guy you don’t want to mess with. This is the second straight movie where Leguizamo has played a character without a real name. His code name is Scrooge here, and just a couple of weeks ago he starred in THE MENU (2022) as a character known only as the Movie Star.

Director Tommy Wirkola lays the violence on thick, which would have worked better for me if the story and the characters had caught my attention, but they did not. Midway through this one, I was bored. Wirkola, known for his DEAD SNOW zombie movies, also fared better with his fairy tale actioner HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013).

And alternate takes on Santa Claus have been done before and done better. In fact, just a couple of years ago, Mel Gibson… yeah, I know he’s on most folks’ naughty list… starred in a movie called FAT MAN (2020) that was very similar thematically to VIOLENT NIGHT, as Gibson played a disgruntled Santa who supplements his dwindling Christmas business by freelancing for the U.S. government, and who then finds himself taking on a hitman hired to kill him by a child angry over receiving coal in his stocking. Both films are dark action comedies. But FAT MAN was much more subdued and was consistently moody and dark, and as such its subtle humor worked, and Gibson was actually really really good in the lead role.

VIOLENT NIGHT isn’t focused at all. Its humor is in your face and as a result not very funny. It has some of the worst written characters I’ve seen in a movie in a very long time. And its over the top violence only takes it so far. Even veteran actors David Harbour and John Leguizamo, in spite of their best efforts, can’t save this one.

VIOLENT NIGHT wants to be an adult version of HOME ALONE but ends up being a juvenile version of DIE HARD.

I can’t recommend this one. It’s as ugly as those Christmas sweaters you have collecting dust in your closets.

I give it one star.

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

IN THE SHADOWS: ELISHA COOK, JR.

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Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, the column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today, it’s Elisha Cook, Jr., one of the most recognizable character actors of all time. Small in stature, he often portrayed intense oftentimes frightened characters, especially in his horror movies. One of my favorite Cook performances in a genre film was in HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), in which he co-starred with Vincent Price as the terrified Watson Pritchard, the one man in the movie who believed ghosts were haunting the house. Cook also enjoyed a memorable moment in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) when he falls asleep in the back of Kolchak’s car, scaring the living daylight out of the reporter (Darren McGavin) when he bolts upright in the back seat!

Here now is a partial look at some of Elisha Cook, Jr.’s impressive 220 screen credits:

HER UNBORN CHILD (1930)- Stewart Kennedy – Cook’s first screen credit is in this 1930 love story drama.

STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940) – Joe Briggs – co-stars in this film noir with Peter Lorre. Often cited as the first film noir movie ever.

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) – Wilmer Cook – one of my favorite Elisha Cook Jr. roles is in this classic film noir by John Huston starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. Cook plays the enforcer for Mr. Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet), who Bogart’s Sam Spade torments throughout, at one point slapping him around and eventually turning Gutman against him. Cook is wound up and intense throughout. Also starring Peter Lorre and Mary Astor. One of my favorite movies of all time.

A-HAUNTING WE WILL GO (1942) – Frank Lucas- supporting role in this Laurel and Hardy spooky comedy.

THE BIG SLEEP (1946) – Harry Jones – reunited with Humphrey Bogart, with Bogart this time playing Philip Marlowe. Directed by Howard Hawks and written by William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman, this one is so complex that even after subsequent viewings it’s still difficult to figure out who did what to whom, and why! Bogart famously married co-star Lauren Bacall shortly after this movie.

SHANE (1953) – Stonewall Torrey – supporting role in this classic Alan Ladd western. His character is dramatically slain by the villainous gunslinger played by Jack Palance.

ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN (1954)- “Semi-Private Eye” – Homer Garrity – plays private detective Homer Garrity hired by Lois Lane to prove that Clark Kent is really Superman in this episode of the George Reeves Superman TV series.

THE KILLING (1956)- George Peatty – supporting role in this film noir thriller directed by a young Stanley Kubrick.

VOODOO ISLAND (1957) – Martin Schuyler – zombie horror movie starring Boris Karloff, notable for featuring the screen debut of Adam West. Holy horror movie, Batman!

HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959) – Watson Pritchard – one of my favorite Elisha Cook, Jr. roles is in this William Castle horror movie starring Vincent Price as a cold, calculating husband who along with his equally manipulative wife plan a party in a haunted house where the guests are each paid a large sum of money if they remain in the house all night. And they have no choice once they agree, because they are all locked inside until dawn. Cook plays the one man there who believes in ghosts, and spends most of his time drinking and warning the others that they are all doomed. One of the earlier horror movies to employ jump scares, and the scene with the old woman who appears out of nowhere in the basement is a classic.

BLACK ZOO (1963) – Joe – horror movie starring the Hammer ham himself, Michael Gough, playing a character who uses his zoo animals to kill his enemies. Of course!

THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963) – Peter Smith – reunited with Vincent Price in this horror movie directed by Roger Corman based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft. Cook plays a frightened townsperson who is a yes-man to a tougher townsperson played by Leo Gordon, and they lead the villagers in attempts to oust Vincent Price’s Charles Dexter Ward from their community fearing that he is a menace to their community. And they’re right! Also stars Lon Chaney Jr., in a rare paring with Vincent Price. One of my favorite Roger Corman/Vincent Price movies.

ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) – Mr. Nicklas – part of the terrific cast in Roman Polanski’s classic horror movie which also stars Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Maurice Evans, and Ralph Bellamy.

THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) – Mickey Crawford – plays an informant for Darren McGavin’s Carl Kolchak in this groundbreaking vampire movie written by Richard Matheson. Cook provides one of the better jump scares in the movie as noted above.

BLACULA (1972) – Sam – Cook appears in back-to-back vampire movies, this one featuring a commanding performance by William Marshall in the lead role in this underrated horror movie which is actually very good.

THE BLACK BIRD (1975) – Wilmer Cook – Cook reprises his role from THE MALTESE FALCON (1941) in this comedy about the son of Sam Spade, played by George Segal.

SALEM’S LOT (1979) – Gordon ‘Weasel’ Phillips – this TV movie adaptation of Stephen King’s vampire novel starring David Soul and James Mason is considered by many fans and critics as one of the two greatest vampire TV movies ever made, along with THE NIGHT STALKER. Elisha Cook Jr. appeared in both these movies!

MAGNUM, P.I. (1980-1988) – Francis “Ice Pick” Hofstetler – Cook’s final screen appearances were on the popular TV series, MAGNUM, P.I., in which he appeared in 13 episodes.

Elisha Cook Jr. appeared in tons of TV shows over the years, including GUNSMOKE, THE WILD WILD WEST, STAR TREK, BATMAN, THE ODD COUPLE, and STARSKY AND HUTCH, to name just a few.

I hope you enjoyed this partial list of Elisha Cook Jr.’s career. He was a character actor who starred in many genre films, some, like ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE NIGHT STALKER, are some of the more important ones ever made.

Join me again next time for another edition of IN THE SHADOWS, where we look at the careers of character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael


THE WONDER (2022) – Florence Pugh Superb Yet Again in New Netflix Period Piece Drama

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Florence Pugh just keeps getting better and better.

Pugh currently stars in the new Netflix movie THE WONDER (2022), a tale wonderfully written by director Sebastian Lelio, Alice Birch, and Emma Donoghue, the screenplay based on her novel, and it’s a beautiful period piece which takes place in 1862 and tells the story of an English nurse, played by Pugh, sent to the Irish Midlands to investigate a young girl who reportedly has not eaten in four months and is being treated by the religious locals as a miracle girl.

Pugh’s grounded, deeply rooted performance as a determined nurse with her own past scars may be her best yet. This is a steadily told slow burn of a movie, and Pugh keeps it moving forward. It may be slow, but it’s never dull.

Pugh has wowed me before, going back to the first time I saw her in the wrestling comedy drama FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY (2019), an underrated film that I highly recommend. Shortly after that she enjoyed what may have been her breakout role in the horror movie MIDSOMMAR (2019), and she followed that up by playing Amy March in LITTLE WOMEN (2019). Her performance as Amy which really added nuances to the character not really seen before remains my favorite Florence Pugh performance to date. She’s also starred in Marvel’s BLACK WIDOW (2021) and earlier this year in the flawed thriller DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022). She was the best part of both these movies. Pugh is one of my favorite actors working today, and she’s reached the level where if she’s in a movie, you probably want to see it. I know I do.

In THE WONDER, it’s 1862, and English nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) is hired by a committee of men to watch Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy) who supposedly hasn’t eaten in four months. Lib is not to interfere in any way, nor is she to treat the girl, but only to watch. On the surface, the job supposedly is for Lib to find out if it is really true that Anna is not eating. However, the men all have their own agendas. Most of them, since they are all part of this Irish Catholic community, want it to be true, while the more secular Dr. McBrearty (Toby Jones) is hoping more for a medical miracle, a scientific reason why the girl may be able to survive without food, and he keeps suggesting outlandish theories like perhaps she has found a way to convert sunlight into energy, for instance. But the short of it is none of these men is all that interested in having Lib disprove anything.

When Lib meets Anna, she discovers a healthy young girl who prays thirty-three times a day, for each year Christ lived on Earth, and who says she can survive only on manna from Heaven. Lib observes people coming into the home constantly to see her and giving thanks that God has touched her. At first, Lib does not observe Anna consuming any food at tall, but she knows it isn’t possible for the girl to survive this long without food, and so she continues to watch and think, all the while growing closer to the girl and learning more about her, specifically why she is so religious and why she is doing what she is doing.

And once Lib deduces that no one there… not the girl’s family nor the men who hired her… are at all interested in Anna’s well-being, that for reasons of their own they would be content with letting her die, she decides her time of only sitting back and watching is over.

The other stars of THE WONDER are screenwriters Sebastian Lelio, Alice Birch, and Emma Donoghue. The screenplay tells a deeply compelling story filled with intricate and moving characters. It’s a religious story, as the people there as Catholics deeply believe in God, as does young Anna who believes there is a very specific purpose to what she is doing. This is all well and good, but Lib with her secular beliefs is able to see through the one-sided fanaticism and understands clearly that held without check these beliefs will kill Anna because the girl believes her ultimate purpose, her sacrifice, is to die. It’s a thought-provoking script that held my interest throughout. Donoghue previously wrote the screenplay for ROOM (2015), which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

There’s actually one more star here. Young Kila Lord Cassidy is terrific as Anna. She is nearly perfect as the girl who feels she must do this in order to correct a wrong, and she is believable as a youth who feels touched by and close to God. She’s as good as Pugh in this movie, which is very high praise.

Tom Burke plays newspaper reporter Will Byrne, who tries to get Lib to allow him to interview Anna. Lib refuses, but as the two grow closer, and Lib finds herself needing an ally, she changes her mind. Burke made for a memorable Orson Welles in MANK (2020) a couple of years back.

I also enjoyed Elaine Cassidy as Anna’s mother Rosaleen, and Niamh Algar as Anna’s older sister Kitty. And Elaine Cassidy and Kila Lord Cassidy are mother and daughter in real life as well!

And in an inspired bit of casting, the actors who play the members of the committee who hired Lib make for some of the most formidable committee members you’ll ever see. You have Toby Jones as Dr. McBrearty, Ciaran Hinds as Father Thaddeus, Dermot Crowley as Sir Otway, and Brian F. O’Byrne as John Flynn. These guys are all veteran character actors who are terrific here in these roles.

As I said, THE WONDER was directed by Sebastian Lelio, and while this is a slow burn, the story is tight, the performances topnotch, the photography captivating, and the overall feel mesmerizing. Lelio does a very nice job at the helm.

Not everything works. The ending, while satisfying, isn’t exactly plausible, and one has to suspend disbelief a bit to entirely buy into it.

But all in all, I really enjoyed THE WONDER. Its take on religion, specifically faith vs. fanaticism, is a welcomed dialogue here in 2022, a time where religious fanatics are becoming increasingly emboldened, and the lines between faith and fanaticism are becoming more and more blurred. Whether you are religious or not, it’s easy to understand that the concept of a loving God does not hold up when there are human casualties caused by unchecked religious beliefs, a point that is effectively made in THE WONDER.

I give this one three and a half stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

SHE SAID (2022) – Important Movie on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Is Must-See Viewing

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SHE SAID (2022) is the type of movie that I don’t feel like criticizing one bit because its subject matter— sexual harassment of women in the workplace— is so important.

In other words, while the movie is far from perfect, it’s still a film everyone should see. Period. So, let there be no ambiguity about that. SHE SAID is a must-see movie for everyone.

SHE SAID is based on both The New York Times investigative reporting by reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and their book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, and while it chronicles their investigation into Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, an investigation which eventually led to his arrest and conviction, the story in general is really about how pervasive sexual harassment is in the workplace and how deeply rooted these attitudes against women are engrained in men, especially but not limited to, men in power. The screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz makes this abundantly clear, and rightly so, as its take on this subject is spot on.

I found SHE SAID to be a very somber and unsettling movie because the story it told not only was true but exposes horrible things regarding the way men treat women that sadly are ongoing.

SHE SAID basically follows the two New York Times reporters, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) as they painstakingly and persistently follow leads and search for victims to speak on the record and for proof to back up their claims as they try to tell the story and expose the abuse and harassment propagated by Harvey Weinstein over the years.

The film gets this right, as we witness how frightened Weinstein’s victims are, and how not only are they afraid to talk, but so many of them signed settlements which legally prevented them from talking. It also prevented them from ever working again in the movie industry, as Weinstein would make sure they couldn’t.

The more Twohey and Kantor learn about Weinstein, the more emotional they grow, because they know what he has done and continues to do, but they can’t get anyone on record to speak about it, and so they persist and go to nearly superhuman lengths to seek out and find both the proof and on the record accounts they need. They also have to deal with Weinstein, who with his connections learns they are investigating him, and he intimidates the women who are thinking of speaking out, and there are also anonymous violent and vulgar threats against Twohey and Kantor.

What the film doesn’t get right— and again, because of the subject matter, I encourage everyone to see this movie in spite of this— is a cinematic style. While the content held my attention throughout, both the writing and by-the-numbers directing by Maria Schrader kept this from being a powerful film in its own right. For example, the movie SPOTLIGHT (2015), which covered the Boston Globe investigation into the Catholic Church’s child molestation crimes and its subsequent cover-up, was a phenomenal movie in its own right on top of its riveting subject matter. Not only did it feature a strong cast and powerhouse performances, but the writing dug deep into the reporters writing the stories, and the film also had villains, portraying the Catholic Church as being stubbornly out of touch with its victims. It never got melodramatic. It stuck to facts. But it also went for the jugular and really hit hard with its message of just what happened and was continuing to happen.

SHE SAID doesn’t quite do this. While I applaud the choice the movie made not to ever show Weinstein speaking on camera, and we only see the back of the actor’s head who is portraying him, the sad side effect of this is we never really feel the ugliness and vulgarity of the man. Not that we have to. In terms of story and making its point, we don’t need more of Weinstein. But we need something. Because the movie is almost all Twohey and Kantor and their reporting. Why isn’t this enough? Well, technically it is, but as a movie, the two hours spent watching SHE SAID are nowhere near as riveting as watching SPOTLIGHT.

And the story does give us some family background on Twohey and Kantor, but their backgrounds aren’t what is missing. It’s the process of their investigation which needs more dialogue and angst. The drama is flat.

Carey Mulligan is a terrific actor, and she nails the experienced Megan Twohey, who while growing increasingly rattled by this investigation also is dealing with a newborn at home. She also has a great scene in the movie, where at a meeting at a bar, a guy comes over and hits on them, and when she tells him they’re not interested, and he persists and becomes vulgar, she lets him have it and tells him to f*ck off! Mulligan has wowed me since I first saw her in DRIVE (2011) and THE GREAT GATSBY (2013). She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for her phenomenal performance in PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020), and she also was pretty darn good in the more recent THE DIG (2021), in which she co-starred with Ralph Fiennes.

Zoe Kazan is also exceptional as Jodi Kantor, the less experienced of the two reporters, but the one who initially started the investigation. She also has her share of potent scenes, like when she inadvertently mentions to one of the victims’ husbands what supposedly happened with Weinstein, and the husband says his wife has never mentioned this to him. I’ve enjoyed Kazan in the horror movie THE MONSTER (2016) and even more so in the romantic comedy THE BIG SICK (2017).

The supporting cast is very good. Andre Braugher turns in a fine performance as executive editor Dean Baquet. The way he confidently pushes back against Weinstein provides some of the more satisfying moments in the movie.

SHE SAID is a very good movie, and while it has its flaws, its content is must-see viewing, and its perspective on sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be heard, acknowledged, and understood, and changes need to continue to be made.

I give it three stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

THE MENU (2022) – Thought-Provoking Social Satire Won’t Spoil Your Appetite

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So, what’s on the menu?

Exquisite food from one of the world’s top chefs, tension, plenty of tension, a little violence, a little horror, and to top it all off, satire. Lots of satire.

THE MENU (2022) is an odd movie, as many satires are, but at the end of the day, if nothing else, it’s thought-provoking. It’s the type of movie that will have you thinking, and that’s a good thing.

THE MENU opens like an episode of the old TV show FANTASY ISLAND (1977-1984) where a group of strangers are about to travel to a remote island, but rather than taking a plane (“da plane! da plane!”) they take a boat, and rather than meeting Mr. Roarke and Tatoo, they meet one of the greatest chefs in the world, Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), and he’s their host. They have all paid exorbitant amounts of money to be treated to a private dinner by one of the world’s most renowned chefs.

The characters we meet first are Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), who is so enamored with the Chef that he practically has an orgasm every time he talks about him, and Tyler’s date Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who becomes the central character and the person who the audience most identifies with, because as we soon learn, she wasn’t supposed to be there, as Tyler’s girlfriend broke up with him, and so she was a last minute second choice.

All the guests are wealthy, and all of them have their reasons for coming to this dinner, but with the exception of Tyler, none of them are really there purely for Chef’s food. Things start out well enough, as if it’s going to be an evening of fine food and performance dining, but then in what once more feels like an episode of FANTASY ISLAND, things begin to grow weird and unsettling. Tortillas are served with personal images on them, and so secrets are suddenly revealed. And later when one guest has a finger chopped off, and a cook shoots himself in the head as part of a dish, the guests realize they may not get off the island alive.

That being said, THE MENU is not a straight thriller or horror movie. While those elements are there, the main focus of this movie is undoubtedly satire, and there are various levels to it.

There’s the social status satire. These folks are all there because they have tons of money and can afford to be there, but Chef makes it clear that they’re not really there for his food. He talks about the art of food preparation and consumption, and tells them not to eat, but to taste. His passion for the symbiotic relationship between food and nature reaches almost religious proportions. And it’s also clear that he is insulted that they are there only because they can afford to be, and his passion for cooking is totally lost on them. At one point, he reminds a guest that he has been to multiple dinners on the island, and he asks the man to name at least one dish he’s eaten while there, and the man can’t even do that.

But the sharp screenplay by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy doesn’t stop there. There’s a food critic on the guest list, a washed-up actor, and three arrogant moneymakers who work for the company which sponsors these dinners, and so they feel entitled to threaten the Chef when he doesn’t please them. Each of these characters have back stories, all of which add to the social commentary.

As such, one of the film’s most significant moments comes when Tyler becomes increasingly frustrated by Margot’s complaints about what is going on, and he snaps his fingers at her before becoming flat out rude and insulting, prompting her to get up and leave. It’s a moment where we see his complete lack of acknowledgement of Margot as a person, and that the only reason he is there is because of his blind passion for the Chef, something that the Chef later shows him to be a waste of his time. It’s a moment in the movie that speaks to the way men sometimes treat women, and while that theme is not the main one of the film, it works all the same.

When Chef speaks to Margot privately, he laments that she wasn’t supposed to be there, and he needs to know her story for the dinner to work, because he needs to know who she is. Is she a server, and thus belongs in the kitchen, or is she like the other guests, a taker, and belongs out with the guests in the dining room?

In another biting moment, Chef reveals that he told Tyler ahead of time that everyone was going to die that night, and yet not only did Tyler still agree to come, he also still invited Margot, knowing that she too would die. And when Chef asks Tyler why he invited Margot, Tyler answers that guests were not allowed to come solo. They had to have a guest. Which speaks to the shallowness of our society and the total disregard people have to their fellow humans.

Similarly, the Chef mocks his guests later in the movie, telling them that if they really wanted to escape, why didn’t they make a stronger effort to do so? Would it really have been that difficult to overpower him and the other chefs? He asks them to think about that, and the audience does as well. Why didn’t these people try harder to escape? Is it because they are all too lethargic and passive? Because they wanted to remain to get what they paid for? Or did they on some level enjoy what was going on? Or perhaps they all believed it was just an act, and a safe answer would be revealed in the end?

Again, it’s a thought-provoking script, and it will have you thinking.

Anya Taylor-Joy is a terrific actress who continues to deliver in her movies, often giving the best performance in the film. She’s best known for her work in the Netflix TV show THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT (2020) and in the horror movie THE WITCH (2015). But we just saw her deliver back-to-back excellent performances in LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (2021) and AMSTERDAM (2022). She’s at it again here in THE MENU. Margot is the most dynamic and interesting character in the movie, and the more we learn about her, the more we like her. Anya Taylor-Joy brings this character to life, creating a fiery yet sympathetic person who we feel comfortable rooting for.

Ralph Fiennes is perfect as Chef, a culinary version of Mr. Roarke. While he has his own agenda, his own final masterpiece, he also sheds light on the make-up of each and every one of his guests. It’s yet another masterful performance by Fiennes, and while he doesn’t exactly make Chef a sympathetic character, he does make him understandable. We get where he’s coming from, and why he is doing the things he does. While he has countless movie credits, this performance follows upon the heels of two other equally impressive ones, in THE DIG (2021) and THE FORGIVEN (2021).

The supporting cast is terrific.

Janet McTeer is cold and biting as food critic Lillian, and Paul Adelstein is agreeable as her yes-man magazine sponsor Ted. John Leguizamo is the washed-up actor who is looking to make a comeback. He’s also the butt of one of the better jokes in the film, when Chef pretty much tells him he’s there to die because Chef hated his last movie, which was a complete waste of his time, and he doesn’t like wasting time.

And Hong Chau nearly steals the show as the tight-lipped yet brutally honest right-hand person to Chef, Elsa, in effect playing Tatoo to Ralph Fiennes’ Mr. Roarke.

Director Mark Mylod keeps things tight, and the pacing here is brisk, and the suspense builds. I was unsettled throughout, and really didn’t know where this one was going. The photography is brilliant, the island locales beautiful, with my favorite part being the connection shown throughout the movie between people and the ocean. The dining area and kitchen also share special significance, as at times it feels like a fortress in a James Bond movie, only much smaller.

Not everything works. Like most satires, the humor is there, but often you have to work hard to find it, and much of the laughter is of the under your breath variety. And while the plot of this movie is built around food and food preparation, don’t expect the kind of movie, a la CHEF (2014) and THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014) where all the mouthwatering meals cooked in the film make you want to buy a second popcorn and then go out to dinner afterwards, because as this one goes on, the food becomes less appetizing, and in general there’s less of it, rather than more.

While things grow dark, the film never becomes an all-out horror movie or gross fest. For the most part, I liked this, but it could have gone further in the disturbing department, because there were moments where I felt things didn’t go far enough.

Speaking of horror movies, with a little imagination, it wasn’t difficult to imagine this one being made in the 1970s with Vincent Price playing Chef. Now that would have been a black comedy/horror movie to be sure!

But overall, I really liked THE MENU. It makes its points about what money has done to our society, and it presents its satire like a five-course meal, spreading out over the evening in a movie that will have you on the edge of laughter and of your seat from beginning to end.

Waiter? I’ll take mine to go, thank you very much!

I give it three and a half stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022) – Fitting Memorial to Chadwick Boseman and Tribute to Black Panther Character

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The best part about BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022), Marvel’s latest superhero movie and sequel to one of its all-time best, BLACK PANTHER (2018), is that it captures the right tone of mourning and respect for late actor Chadwick Boseman, who passed away in 2020. It also successfully handles the transition to the future of the Black Panther character.

BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER opens with the offscreen death of Wakanda’s young King T’Challa, aka The Black Panther, and so at the outset we follow main characters in mourning, most notably T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), and close friend Okoye (Danai Gurira). Their feelings regarding T’Challa’s untimely death mirror the audience’s feelings of mourning for actor Chadwick Boseman, and so these early scenes have great resonance.

Wakanda is chastised by the United Nations for not sharing its precious natural resource, vibranium, an element which gives the nation all of its special powers. Ramonda pushes back saying Wakanda doesn’t trust other nations with this power, and also warns nations to think twice about becoming aggressive with Wakanda in light of The Black Panther’s death, as she says the country is still strong and quite capable of defending itself.

However, the United States launches a plan to seek out vibranium on its own, and locates some under the ocean, but their salvage mission is thwarted by a mysterious force of underwater fighters. The U.S. suspects Wakanda, but soon the Wakandans are invaded by these same underwater people, led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta), who, along with his people, possess superior power and threaten Wakanda with invasion unless they kidnap the young scientist who invented the device which helped the Americans find vibranium, which they also possess.

The Wakandans are not used to people being able to get through their defenses, and also do not take kindly to being threatened, and so eventually these two powerful races become involved in an all-out war, with the future of Wakanda and perhaps the world at stake.

Director Ryan Coogler, who directed the first BLACK PANTHER movie, once again presses all the right buttons here. The film’s somber tone is perfect, and it was also refreshing in light of the recent inferior Marvel movies which have all tended to strike comedic silly tones, which sadly haven’t worked all that well, movies like THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) and DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS (2022).

The film plays out like an homage to both actor Chadwick Boseman and to the Black Panther character. It all works beautifully.

Coogler co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole, and the story told in this one is a good one. Both these guys co-wrote the screenplay to the first film as well.

First off, the story is rock solid, and the villain Namor, is as formidable as the come. Tension runs high many times during this movie, which was most welcome after the recent spat of silly Marvel movies in the past couple of years. I also enjoyed the way the film transitioned the Black Panther character into the future. The character who takes over is fitting, and it makes perfect sense for things to play out this way.

The main character in WAKANDA FOREVER is T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri, who was already a dynamic character even when she was playing just a supporting role in the earlier BLACK PANTHER movie. Letita Wright had already made her mark playing the character in BLACK PANTHER, and in AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018) and AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019). WAKANDA FOREVER simply gives her a bigger canvas on which to paint, and she doesn’t disappoint. Shuri is driven by vengeance and bitterness over her brother’s death, and she uses these feelings to her advantage, but it’s a complicated journey because in her heart she knows she can’t be confined by revenge or consumed by grief. There’s more to being a leader. It’s a great story arc for Shuri, and Letita Wright does a phenomenal job with it.

Much of the same cast from the first BLACK PANTHER movie return to reprise their roles and they all do admirable jobs. Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Danai Gurira as Okoye, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, who plays a particularly important role in this movie, and Winston Duke as M’Baku all return, and they all make their mark.

Martin Freeman returns as well as CIA agent Everett Ross, but it’s kind of a throwaway role in this movie, as his character only appears fleetingly. And then there’s poor Julia Louis-Dreyfuss who’s stuck in a terribly written role as Ross’ no nonsense superior, who also happens to be his ex-wife. It’s a pretty sad role, and Louis-Dreyfuss deserves better.

But it’s Tenoch Huerta who stands out the most in this sequel as the villain, Namor, who seems as all-powerful as Thanos at times, and like some of the best movie villains, his back story emits sympathy, and so the audience relates to where he is coming from, even as he causes ample death and destruction.

Speaking of death and destruction, the battle scenes in BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER are expertly handled and some are very suspenseful, especially the fight to the death between Namor and Shuri.

I really enjoyed BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER. It’s a step above the recent silly Marvel misfires, and also a step in the right direction towards getting the Marvel movies back on track.

It’s also a successful send-off to the original Black Panther character and a fitting memorial for Chadwick Boseman.

I give it three and a half stars.

Wakanda forever!

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

THE GOOD NURSE (2022) – Netflix Drama is a Really Good Movie

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Netflix has been able to attract A-list actors in many of their original movies. The results are fifty-fifty. Sometimes the films are disappointing, but other times they really work and make for solid movie viewing, all in the comfort of your own home.

THE GOOD NURSE (2022), based on the true story of serial killer Charles Cullen, a male nurse, who murdered dozens possibly hundreds of people while working at various hospitals, before he was finally stopped by a co-worker, the “good nurse” in the title of the movie, falls into the latter category. It’s really well done, and the two A-list actors in this one, Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain, both deliver compelling performances which carry the movie from beginning to end.

I was surprised how effortlessly THE GOOD NURSE plays out, and a lot of the credit here has to go to director Tobias Lindholm, who directs this one with a straightforward style that tells its story starting with the first frame of the movie, where we see a patient dying, doctors asking questions, and male nurse Charles Cullen in the room feigning innocence, and then moves forward without any diversions or wasted scenes.

Equal credit goes to screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns, who wrote the screenplay based on the book by Charles Graeber, as she outlines the story perfectly and includes superior dialogue throughout, which comes as no surprise, since Wilson-Cairns was nominated for an Academy Award for her co-written screenplay to 1917 (2019).

And then you have Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain, who both play their roles at the top of their games, and the result is THE GOOD NURSE is a really good movie, much better than I expected it to be.

Amy Loughren (Jessica Chastain) is a single mom struggling to raise her two young daughters. She works long hours as a hospital nurse, and she also suffers from a heart ailment which could prove fatal, but she can’t stop working because she needs to work for at least six months longer in order to qualify for health insurance. Her supervisor can’t cut her hours, but she does hire an extra nurse to help out, and that nurse is Charlie Cullen (Eddie Redmayne).

Amy and Charlie hit it off immediately. They are both single parents with young children, and once Charlie learns of Amy’s condition, he promises to help her, and he assures her that with his help she’ll make it through the six months to get her health insurance. When one of their patients dies unexpectedly, Amy is surprised, but hardly takes notice, and when several months later, the police are alerted, the two homicide detectives Danny Baldwin (Nnamdi Asomugha) and Tim Braun (Noah Emmerich) shrug their shoulders and wonder why they are even being called in. But after meeting with icy cold hospital administrator Linda Garran (Kim Dickens) and the hospital attorney, and having their questions go unanswered, Baldwin and Braun feel that something is not right. And when Garran refuses to hand over the internal investigative report, citing one delay tactic after another, the officers’ suspicions are heightened.

They do a random background check on the hospital staff who dealt with the deceased, and they find that male nurse Charlie Cullen has a record for assault. When they attempt to follow-up, they find resistance from every hospital where Cullen ever worked. And when during follow-up questioning with Amy, she tells them that another patient has died, they see a blazing red flag. Amy of course, since Charlie has been such a good friend to her, can’t believe he would be involved in the killing of a patient, but then she begins looking into the matter on her own. What she finds surprises her. She then risks her career and possibly her life as she agrees to work with Baldwin and Braun to finally put an end to what Charlie has been doing.

The story is told through Amy’s perspective, and the events in the movie are framed around her. Jessica Chastain is in top form as the nurse who legally is not allowed to talk about any of the hospital deaths, as her contract explicitly prevents this, and so by helping the police she is risking losing her job. Chastain captures Amy’s exhaustion, from her strenuous nursing position, in a hospital that isn’t funded enough or prepared to properly take care of its staff, to her heart condition, to dealing with difficult children at home. Chastain makes the weary Amy sympathetic and later heroic.

I like Jessica Chastain a lot. She’s been enjoyable in so many movies, from THE HELP (2011) to ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) to THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (2017), to name just a few. We just saw her in THE FORGIVEN (2021), where she co-starred with Ralph Fiennes, and she’s even better here in THE GOOD NURSE. And of course, she won the Oscar for Best Actress this past year for her performance in THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (2021)

Eddie Redmayne kills it as Charlie Cullen. While he is soft-spoken, gentle, and polite, the way Redmayne plays him, there is something off about him, as if he is covering a deep wound, or harboring a sinister secret, which he is. He gets one of the best lines in the movie, when asked by the police why he did it, he answers simply, because they let me.

And that’s a huge part of the story told in THE GOOD NURSE. Hospital after hospital where Charlie worked knew what he was doing, but none of them sought the authorities to go after him, because as explained in the movie, that would make them vulnerable to expensive lawsuits. THE GOOD NURSE does a nice job painting a troubling portrait of the health care system and of hospitals in general, and this is before COVID!

Redmayne won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014), so I won’t claim that his work here in THE GOOD NURSE is his best yet, but it’s pretty darn good! He’s really convincing as a man who would be capable of killing that many people for no other reason other than he could.

I also enjoyed both Nnamdi Asomugha and Noah Emmerich as the two homicide detectives who go from initially feeling like the hospital is wasting their time, to hmm, that seemed like a cover-up, but we doubt it, but we’ll check it out anyway, to full blown holy sh*t! this guy’s been killing people for years and no one has brought charges against him!

I didn’t really expect much from THE GOOD NURSE, but it exceeded my expectations. Driven by two exceptional performances by Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne, THE GOOD NURSE tells a riveting story that is about more than just a serial killer, as it also makes clear that the hospitals which knew of his crimes did nothing about them. And it tells this story through the eyes of one very hard-working nurse, Amy Loughren, who’s struggling to get through her life with a job that doesn’t give her health insurance— and she’s a health-care worker! —and as a single mom with two children. She’s in jeopardy long before she meets Charlie Cullen, and once she does meet him and learns what he’s been doing, she puts her friendship aside and her job on the line, in order to finally put an end to his killing spree.

Just before the end credits roll, the movie reveals what Amy is doing in the here and now, and after some family updates, concludes that she is still “a good nurse.”

I give THE GOOD NURSE a solid three stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963)

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Today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT we visit THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963), Roger Corman’s sixth Edgar Allan Poe adaptation.

Technically, it isn’t a Poe adaptation, since after making five horror movies in three years based on Edgar Allan Poe works, Corman wanted a break and chose as his source material for his next movie, the story “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” by H.P. Lovecraft. However, American-International felt a Poe connection was needed, and so they tacked on an Edgar Allan Poe poem title “The Haunted Palace” to the film, which is mostly, if not completely, based on the Lovecraft story.

THE HAUNTED PALACE once again stars Vincent Price, who starred in most of Corman’s earlier Poe films, and he was joined by a rather interesting co-star: Lon Chaney Jr! This would mark the second and last time these two horror icons would appear together in the same movie, although the first time, in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948), hardly counts, as Vincent Price only “appears” in the final seconds of the film as the Invisible Man. In THE HAUNTED PALACE, both Price and Chaney have ample screen time and share lots of scenes together.

THE HAUNTED PALACE opens with a prologue that shows the angry villagers storming the mansion of Joseph Curwan (Vincent Price) who they not only accuse of witchcraft, but they also drag him out of his home and burn him at the stake, but not before he curses the town and their descendants. The story then jumps ahead 100 plus years, and we see Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price) arrive at the home of his ancestor Joseph Curwan, along with his wife Ann (Debra Paget) to start a new life together.

Not so fast Mr. Ward!

See, the villagers who live there, including Edgar Weeden (Leo Gordon) and Peter Smith (Elisha Cook, Jr.), have not forgotten the curse placed on them by Joseph Curwan and want no part of his descendant returning home! It doesn’t help that Charles is a dead ringer for Joseph, but to that end, I would tell these folks to go look in the mirror, because all of them are dead ringers for their ancestors as well! See, that’s what happens when the same actors play ancestors and descendants. Not exactly the most creative way to cast a story!

Anyway, the one townsperson who is sympathetic to Charles and his wife is Dr. Marinus Willet (Frank Maxwell), but even he warns them about staying, since the townsfolk could make things mighty difficult for them. Inside the mansion, they meet the caretaker Simone Orne (Lon Chaney Jr.), and since he’s played by Lon Chaney Jr., you know he’s going to be something more than just an ordinary caretaker.

No, he’s not secretly the Wolf Man!

But he is secretly an old friend of Joseph Curwen, and he introduces Charles to a portrait of Joseph, and when he does, the spirit of Joseph enters Charles’ body. Together, they begin to work on fulfilling the plan they started 150 years earlier, involving the book, the Necronomicon, and the conjuring of a demon-like beast from the depths below. Their work is slowed by the fact that Joseph can’t remain inside Charles’ body for long, which allows Vincent Price the chance to basically play two different roles, almost a Jekyll and Hyde variation.

This back and forth continues, with Joseph gaining more power each time he enters Charles’ body, and the final part of the plan involves sacrificing Ann to the demon creature. Unless, that is, Charles can break through and save his wife!

THE HAUNTED PALACE is one of the livelier Roger Corman Poe films. His earlier works, like HOUSE OF USHER (1960) and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) were very claustrophobic, with the bulk of the action taking place inside the castle walls, whereas here in THE HAUNTED PALACE equal time is spent in the village as well, and the whole feel of this one is more melodramatic and freewheeling.

I also absolutely love the music score here by Ronald Stein. It’s a powerful score and my favorite of the Roger Corman Poe movies. Stein scored many genre films from the 1950s-60s, including DINOSAURUS! (1960), a laughable but likeable dinosaur-on-the-loose movie by Universal in which Stein’s serious score is also a highlight.

As he always does, Vincent Price chews up the scenery here as Charles Dexter Ward/Joseph Curwen. Price’s persona dominates these movies. Sometimes he’s the character who’s tortured by the evil within him, and other times, he’s the character who seems to take such glee and enjoyment in being evil. He gets to be both in this movie. In the Roger Corman movies, Price’s most intriguing performances probably came in the next two movies in the series, which would be the final two, THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964) and THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964). But he’s awfully entertaining here as Charles Dexter Ward and his nefarious ancestor!

Lon Chaney Jr. is creepy and fun as Simon, the caretaker with the sinister secret and agenda. There’s one shot framed by Corman in which Chaney appears from the shadows to frighten Ann, and he’s completely backlit, which means you only see the frame of his body and not his face, and with a little imagination, you can almost see the Wolf Man standing there in the dark corridor! Sadly, since he was dealing with health issues mostly due to heavy drinking, Chaney looks pretty awful in this movie. Of course, he was also made up to look rather sinister, but still, he looks about 10-15 years older than Price in this movie, when in reality he was only five years older, with Chaney being 58 at the time, and Price 53.

THE HAUNTED PALACE also has a great supporting cast. Leo Gordon was one of the great screen heavies, playing villainous roles in numerous westerns. I always remember him as the baddie Cass in THE NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY (1966). If you’re going to start a mob in a horror movie, Leo Gordon is the guy you want leading it!

Elisha Cook Jr., a terrific character actor going all the way back to THE MALTESE FALCON (1941), where he was famously humiliated and slapped around by Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade. Cook appeared in several genre movies, including HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), which also starred Vincent Price, and THE NIGHT STALKER (1972). Here, he plays a frightened villager who’s basically a yes-man to Leo Gordon’s character.

You also have Debra Paget and Frank Maxwell.

The screenplay by Charles Beaumont based on the Lovecraft story, and a little bit on the Poe poem, hits all the right notes and makes for a decent plot.

Roger Corman, who at 96 is still with us, keeps this one a bit more energetic than his other Poe outings. One part, however, that doesn’t work, is the storyline about the cursed townsfolk’s offspring, many of whom are “mutants.” The story is fine, but the make-up is rather ludicrous. It looks like someone stuck silly putty over their eyes. Here you go. Just add this silly putty here, and now you look like mutants with no eyes! Er…, no!

Other than this little hiccup, THE HAUNTED PALACE is worthwhile viewing, especially around Halloween time. It’s hard to find someone having more fun being evil in a horror movie than Vincent Price, and his talents are on full display here. Add a little menacing Lon Chaney Jr. and it gets even better! Why, there’s even a sinister final shot in the movie for good measure!

THE HAUNTED PALACE isn’t one of the more famous Roger Corman Poe movies– heck, technically it’s not even a Poe movie but a Lovecraft one— but it’s still a heck of a lot of fun!

Looking for a place to stay this Halloween? Try THE HAUNTED PALACE. Just don’t stare at the paintings for too long. I hear they have a knack for… getting under your skin!

Happy Halloween!

—END—

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022) – Quirky Comedy Drama Tackles Themes of Friendship and Loneliness

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What would you do if your best friend suddenly didn’t want to spend time with you anymore?

Who one day just stopped talking to you, and said it was because they just didn’t like you anymore, mostly because you were…dull. How would you react?

That’s the premise of THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022), a beautifully shot and mesmerizing new movie by writer/director Martin McDonagh, the man who gave us the similarly complex and engaging THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017).

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN starts off whimsical and comedic, and while it remains quirky throughout, grows darker and more serious as it explores themes of friendship, kindness, human nature, and most of all loneliness.

The story takes place in 1923 on the fictional island of Inisherin off the coast of Ireland, where Padraic (Colin Farrell) knocks on his best friend’s window to walk with him to the local pub, something they do every day, but his friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t even look at him, and so Padraic goes to the pub alone, confused and somewhat sad. Everyone asks if they have had a row, and Padraic says he doesn’t think so, and when they finally talk, Colm tells Padraic he just doesn’t like him anymore, that he finds him dull, and that he wants to spend his remaining years writing music and not wasting away his time on Earth talking about nothing every day with Padraic.

This starts Padraic on a journey of self-reflection. Is he dull? His sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) tells him that he’s not dull, that he’s just nice, to which he replies he thought “nice” was a good thing, but now he’s not so sure. Padraic and Siobhan live together in a small unassuming home, and both have lonely existences, which is largely why Colm’s decision hurts Padraic so much: he has no other friends. Indeed, Padraic is closer to his farm animals than to other humans, and he shares a tender relationship with his small donkey, who against his sister’s wishes, he constantly allows inside their house.

Padraic refuses to take no for an answer and continues to reach out to Colm, who finally tells Padraic, that if he doesn’t leave him alone, he will cut off one of his own fingers and continue to do so every time Padraic talks to him, an odd threat, that Padraic isn’t quite sure Colm would actually do. But after yet another conversation, Colm shows up at Padraic’s door and deposits his severed finger on the doorstep, a violent and intense act which hits Padraic hard. And Colm ups the ante and says the next time, he will cut off all the fingers on his hand, which means on this very small island, Padraic can’t even say a word to Colm. It’s at this point where the decision on Colm’s part becomes downright cruel, and weird, an exercise in self-mutilation and almost adolescent domination.

And while the story continues to inject humor throughout these proceedings, there’s a deep feeling of meanness inherent in Colm’s treatment of Padraic, and the sense of menace, dread, and death builds as things grow darker and more complicated.

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is a thought-provoking movie that I liked a lot. It covers a wide range of topics and themes, taking shots at religion, human nature, the nature of kindness, mean-spiritedness, and most of all, loneliness. Everyone in this movie tends to be lonely, and the people here, other than Padraic and his sister Siobhan, don’t really share connections, and even Padraic and Siobhan are not inseparable. The closest relationship in the film is between Padraic and his donkey.

Most of the themes are covered with a sharp wit and well-timed snappy dialogue, but the main themes of loneliness and meanness, grow darker and darker until the film takes on a very disturbing edge in its final reel. The masterful script by Martin McDonagh balances light and dark with relative ease.

Colin Farrell, no surprise, turns in a solid performance as Padraic, the man who was enjoying his simple existence of drinking at the pub every day with his best friend, with pretty much no other ambitions in life, until his friend tells him he isn’t interested in spending time with him anymore. And the reason Colm gives, that Padraic is dull, strikes a chord and shakes up Padraic’s whole existence, as he begins to ask questions about himself. Am I dull? I thought nice was good. Being a nice guy isn’t good enough?

It’s a quirky performance that like the rest of the movie grows darker when things grow more serious, and Farrell nails each and every aspect and transition in Padraic’s personality. We just saw Farrell in the also excellent THIRTEEN LIVES (2022), in which he played a heroic underwater cave diver who helps pull off a miraculous underwater rescue. Farrell is an exceptional actor who seems to be getting better the older he gets.

Brendan Gleeson is equally as good as Colm, the man who one day wakes up and realizes he is wasting his life away drinking with a buddy whose idea of a deep conversation is talking about what he finds inside his pet donkey’s poop. Colm is a complicated character, and Gleeson captures the man’s complexities. On the one hand, his desire to leave something in the form of music as a lasting gift to the world is commendable and makes sense, but his methods, and the cold way he treats Padraic are questionable. And Colm never stops caring about Padraic; he just doesn’t like him anymore.

Kerry Condon is also excellent as Padraic’s sister Siobhan, who like her brother is lonely, but unlike him has ambitions to leave the island and make something more of herself. She’s also full of common sense and sees through the madness of stuff that happens around them, and the scene where she confronts Colm and lets him have it, telling him that he just can’t be cruel and cut off a friendship like it never existed, is one of the livelier sequences in the film.

And Barry Keoghan delivers an outstanding supporting performance as Dominic, a young man who lives with his abusive father, who also just happens to be the police constable on the island. Padraic welcomes Dominic into his home when the youth needs to escape his father, and the two have many conversations about both Padraic’s situation with Colm, and about life in general, specifically Dominic’s continued failed attempts at finding love. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN reunites Colin Farrell with Barry Keoghan for the third time, as they both starred together in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017) and THE BATMAN (2022).

Director Martin McDonagh captures the beauty of a rural island off the coast of Ireland, while his screenplay uncovers the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the people there, shedding light on what it means to be a friend, while exploring how people deal with loneliness. It provides a satisfying mix of humor and eventually disturbing drama.

The title refers to a song that Colm is writing, and when Padraic asks him if he believes there are banshees— female spirits of Irish folklore who would warn people of oncoming death— on the island, he says no, and that he came up with the title because he likes the repetition of the “sh” sound. And while there aren’t any banshees in the movie, there is one elderly woman, a friend of Siobhan’s, who stands in for one, as she tends to be the harbinger of doom throughout the movie, often showing up as a silent figure in black before something dreadful happens.

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is a refreshingly odd little movie that has a lot to say about human relationships, loneliness, and what it means to be a friend. It’s the type of movie that will have you questioning who you are and why you do the things you do.

I loved it,

I give it three and a half stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)

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Hammer’s THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), is often cited, and rightly so, as one of the most atmospheric vampire movies ever made.

It’s also one of Hammer’s best, and that’s saying a lot, since Christopher Lee doesn’t appear in this Dracula movie, and that’s because when Hammer decided to make a sequel to HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), Lee wasn’t interested in reprising the role for fear of being typecast (he would change his mind six years later) and so Hammer wrote a new story featuring a disciple of Dracula, and they brought back Peter Cushing to once again play Dr. Van Helsing.

But the true star of THE BRIDES OF DRACULA just might be director Terence Fisher who does some of his best work for Hammer right here in this movie, at least in terms of atmosphere. In terms of shock and fright, Fisher scored highest with THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). His later work for Hammer while always visually impressive, often wasn’t that scary, since admittedly Fisher wasn’t trying to make horror movies but rather tell stories with horror elements. This may have been the reason some of his later films, like THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961), and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) didn’t do all that well at the box office.

But Fisher is at his best here with THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, as there are plenty of thunderstorms, creepy graveyards, an elegant castle, deadly vampire bats, and with Peter Cushing in the cast, some guaranteed exciting vampire battle action sequences. Another thing that Fisher always did well in these movies was use color to his advantage, often filling the screen with shades of green, red, orange, and even purple.

Look at the composition in the photo above, of a scene early in the movie, inside the tavern when the villainous Baroness Meinster (Martita Hunt) arrives to abduct the unsuspecting Marianne (Yvonne Monlaur). You can easily recognize the effective use of red, purple and black, a combination of lighting, costumes, and sets. The set design is superb.

The red color in the back, highlighted by the red on Baroness Meinster’s clothes, and the purple light on the floor and to the right, give the scene a colorful composition of horror. Terence Fisher does this a lot in his movies, from the copious use of green in the lab scenes in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958), to the use of red, green, blue, yellow, and purple in THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). If you watch a Hammer Film directed by Terence Fisher, you are sure to spot creative use of color and light.

As seen in today’s Picture of the Day from THE BRIDES OF DRACULA, this gem of a vampire movie is imbued with detailed set design and costumes that make it look like a much more expensive film than it really was.

Sometimes watching Fisher’s work is like looking at a painting.

When people say THE BRIDES OF DRACULA is one of the most atmospheric vampire movies ever made, they’re right, and most of the credit belongs to director Terence Fisher.

Take one last look at the photo above. A nice long look.

Yup. That’s art in horror.

That’s also why Hammer horror is a thing. While their horror movies worked on so many levels, they were almost always impressive to look at.

Hope you enjoyed today’s Picture of the Day.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael