WORTH (2021) -Story of 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Subdued But Worth a Look


What is life worth?

Law professor Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton) asks his students this question in the opening moments of WORTH (2021), a new movie by director Sara Colangelo now available on Netflix which chronicles Feinberg’s efforts to roll out the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund in order to support the families who lost loved ones on that horrific day.

Feinberg answers his own question, telling his students that they are not philosophers but lawyers, and as such, the question has an answer, and it’s a number. And it will be their jobs to determine what that number is in terms of monetary compensation.

So, shortly after the horrific events of September 11, Feinberg believes that with his experience he is uniquely qualified to help the government come up with a formula to pay the families of the victims who lost their lives that day. The Bush administration agrees and hands him the impossible task of seeing that this job gets done. Feinberg has long taught that fair doesn’t exist, so he comes up with a formula that pays victims’ families based on what they earned, and so the family of a CEO will get more than a family of a janitor or of a first responder. Obviously, among the victims’ families, this causes an uproar, the cry being why isn’t my loved one’s life worth the same as someone else’s?

Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci) who lost his wife on that day, tells Feinberg that his wife is not a statistic and that he finds everything about Feinberg’s formula to be offensive. He also tells Feinberg that the only reason he is doing this is that the government is trying to prevent these people from suing for larger amounts of money. In fact, Wolf points out, that immediately after 9/11 the government changed the law so the victims couldn’t sue the airlines. His point is that Feinberg doesn’t represent what is best for these people, and if he wants to be able to do that, he’s going to have to get to know who they are, listen to their stories, and change his formula.

This is not an easy thing for Feinberg to do, as he has the emotional range of Mr. Spock, but he is a good man who wants to do right by these people, and so he sets out to learn more about them and try his best to make the fund something that they will sign onto.

And that’s the story told in WORTH (2021). As stories go, it’s surprisingly subdued considering the subject matter. The most moving scenes in the film are the testimonies of the victims’ families as they tell their loved ones’ stories, often describing their final harrowing moments. Attorneys on Feinberg’s legal team, Camille Biros (Amy Ryan) and Priya Khundi (Shunori Ramanathan) definitely feel the pain of these families and struggle with the task at hand, but Feinberg does not, and so as a character he’s difficult to warm up to.

Other than Stanley Tucci’s Charles Wolf, there are not many characters in this film who are all that interesting. As such, WORTH works best as a generalized telling of these events which is one of the reasons why it is strangely subdued. The film almost embodies Feinberg’s stoic personality.

Michael Keaton as he always does delivers the goods as Ken Feinberg. He does a terrific job making the audience understand how this man thinks, and so even though he is largely misunderstood throughout the movie by the victims’ families, the audience gets that he means well but that he simply can’t figure out how to get through to these families. In short, he really does want to help the families, he really believes that this money will help them, but his formula turns off and insults so many people he can’t see how to move forward. Eventually, he does, but it takes a while, and Keaton makes Feinberg’s personal journey believable.

Stanley Tucci however steals the movie with a fantastic performance as Charles Wolf, the man who calls himself Feinberg’s harshest critic yet wants Feinberg to “fix the fund” and do right by the families. In other words, he disagrees with the Feinberg’s formula, but he doesn’t want Feinberg to fail. All of Tucci’s scenes are the best in the movie.

I also enjoyed Amy Ryan as attorney Camille Biros and Shunori Ramanathan as attorney Priya Khundi. Their characters are easier to relate to than Feinberg. And Tate Donovan is also very good as cynical attorney Lee Quinn who represents an opposing view from Feinberg’s.

Director Sara Colangelo succeeds in making a movie that tackles an intriguing and emotional topic, the paying of reparations to the families of the victims of 9/11, and she does it in a way that is far less emotional than expected. On the one hand, this is a good thing, because the film works best as a chronicle of these events and doesn’t try to sensationalize them. But on the other hand, the story comes off as so subdued it feels like an ordinary telling of a tale that perhaps needed to be a bit more extraordinary.

Max Borenstein wrote the competent screenplay. It does what it sets out to do, inform the audience of the events which led to the creation of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, and it does it in a low key way that keeps things real. This surprised me because Borenstein also wrote the screenplays to GODZILLA (2014). KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017), and GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021). While these three movies have their fans, I’m not one of them, and I love giant monster movies! But not these. They certainly could have used some of the realistic writing which Borenstein employs here with WORTH, which has a far better screenplay than the ones in those silly giant monster flicks.

WORTH is not the kind of movie that will wow you or blow you away. It has a story to tell, and it goes ahead and tells it.

It may come without fanfare, but at the end of the day, it’s worth a look.




John Carradine appeared in many of Universal’s classic monster movies from the 1930s and 1940s. He played Dracula in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and in HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), and he played prominent supporting roles in such chillers as THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944) and THE INVISIBLE MAN’S REVENGE (1944), as well as appearing in a whole host of others, with some of these roles uncredited, like his brief moment in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) as one of the men who discovers the Monster (Boris Karloff) in the home of the blind man.

And while Carradine did eventually achieve the same fame as his notable co-stars Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney Jr., he did so mainly as a character actor rather than as the lead. Even as his long and varied career continued onto the next generation of horror stars, where he co-starred with the likes of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, he still rarely played the lead role.

Over a career which spanned six decades, Carradine amassed an amazing 354 screen credits. On both TV and in the movies, he was everywhere from the 1930s through the 1980s. But it was a rarity to find Carradine in a lead role.

One time that he did get the opportunity to play a starring role and carry a movie on his own is with today’s film, BLUEBEARD (1944).

In BLUEBEARD, John Carradine plays Gaston Morel, a Parisian puppeteer, who seems friendly and harmless enough, but in reality, he’s the infamous Bluebeard serial killer stalking the streets of Paris, violently strangling young women to death. As I said, it’s a rare treat to see Carradine in a lead role. Here as the haunted and tortured Bluebeard, he’s never been scarier! It’s a terrific performance by Carradine. In fact, he considered it his favorite.

BLUEBEARD was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, the man who directed the classic Boris Karloff/Bela Lugosi thriller, THE BLACK CAT (1934). Like with THE BLACK CAT, there are plenty of innovative camera angles and shots, and also like the Karloff/Lugosi masterpiece, nearly the entire film has background music playing throughout.

Better yet, the murders are chilling and frightening, a testament to how one can create fear without showing graphic scenes of violence.

The screenplay by Pierre Gendron, based on a story by Arnold Lipp and Werner H. Furst, tells the story of puppeteer Gaston Morel who hires women to work with him, paints their portraits, and when he tires of them, he strangles them to death. He then gets rid of the paintings by having a private dealer sell them to buyers who only display them privately, keeping Gaston’s connection to the murders out of the public eye. This private dealer has no issue with Gaston being a murderer, as long as he makes money off the paintings. It’s a lurid plot with modern day overtones, as the way Morel manipulates and then harms women, eventually murdering them, as well as the way his fellow male art dealer dismisses the murders as if these women don’t matter, is symbolic of modern day male predators.

After his latest murder, Gaston meets artist Lucille Lutien (Jean Parker) who like other women, is fascinated with the puppeteer and agrees to design some new puppets for him. Hot on Gaston’s trail is Inspector Jacques Lefevre (Nils Asther) who finally catches a break when by chance he happens to see one of the paintings of the murder victims. He then focuses his investigation on trying to learn the identity of the artist.

BLUEBEARD is an atmospheric, gritty, and genuinely frightening thriller that in spite of its low budget really packs a punch. It’s also a golden opportunity to catch John Carradine in a starring role. He’s excellent as the conflicted puppeteer Gaston Morel. He’s also damned scary!

It’s a shame Carradine didn’t play more leads like this, although he appeared in so many movies in so many supporting roles he certainly made his mark in the movies and for horror fans, his name is up there with the greats like Karloff, Lugosi, Chaney, Price, Lee, and Cushing. And rightly so.

But those guys pretty much always had starring roles. Carradine achieved the same success primarily as a character actor.

Maybe it was because I watched it late at night. Or maybe it’s the fine work of John Carradine and director Edgar G. Ulmer. All I know is, when it was over, I was creeped out way more than I expected. For a black and white 1940s horror movie to get under my skin like that, that’s saying something.

So check out BLUEBEARD. With his terrific performance as Gaston Morel, John Carradine will get under your skin too. In fact, you may even notice your neck starting to feel a bit sore…


CRY MACHO (2021) – Eastwood’s Latest Plays More Like An Afternoon Nap


I’ve been a fan of Clint Eastwood my whole life.

The guy’s been making movies since before I was born, and there aren’t a lot of filmmakers out there now who I can say that about. I’ve been around for quite some time.

While I had seen many of his movies on TV when I was a kid, my first experience watching Eastwood on the big screen was his highly successful and very fun comedy EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE (1978). After that, it was off to the races, especially when his career morphed and suddenly he was being recognized more as a director than as an actor, and rightly so, because he began making some high quality movies, from the Oscar-winning UNFORGIVEN (1992) which some reviewers at the time thought was Eastwood’s swan song, to films like MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004) and AMERICAN SNIPER (2014).

The point is, when Clint Eastwood makes a movie, I’m eager to see it.

Which brings us to today’s film, CRY MACHO (2021), which Eastwood both directs and stars in, a remarkable feat, considering that he is 91 years old. Let that sink in for a moment.

CRY MACHO is… let’s get this out of the way immediately… not one of Eastwood’s best. Not by a long shot. But it does possess an endearing quality about it and gets better as it goes along.

CRY MACHO is about an aged retired ranch hand named Mike Milo (Clint Eastwood) who agrees to do a job for his former boss because he feels he owes the man a debt, as years earlier after Mike had lost his wife and son in a car accident, and after he had suffered a devastating back injury when he was thrown off a horse, his boss had stuck by him and in effect had saved his life. The job is to go to Mexico and find and bring back his 13 year old son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) who is currently living with his unhinged and unpredictable mother.

When Mike arrives in Mexico he finds that the boy’s mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola) is wealthy, lives in a mansion, and employs armed guards. Mike mutters to himself, “why would anyone ever want to leave this place?” Leta tells Mike that he’s not the first man Rafo’s dad has sent looking for him, that Rafo is out on the streets on his own and that Mike is welcome to go search for him, and oh yeah, she flirts with Mike and invites him to have sex with her… did I mention that Eastwood is 91 years old? Anyway, Mike declines and goes off and searches for the boy.

He finds Rafo, and after some haggling, the boy agrees to return with him, but not before they hide out in a small town, because even though she told Mike to look for her son, Leta refuses to part with him and sends her henchmen to bring the boy back. In the small town, they are befriended by the lovely Marta (Natalia Traven) and her daughters. Rafo tells Mike that he thinks Marta likes him. She does, and Mike likes Marta, and a romance—- have I said yet that Eastwood is 91 years-old?

Anyway, that’s the story as Mike intends to keeps his promise and eventually get the boy back to the States to see his dad.

The first issue that jumps out at me regarding CRY MACHO is its storytelling, which at at times struggles to be believable. Things get off to a clunky start, as the opening moments of the film unfold in a way that doesn’t exactly make for a smooth beginning. It’s 1979, and we see Mike pretty much being fired by his boss. We then watch a flashback showing Mike’s devastating back injury. Then it’s a year later… 1980?… and we see Mike’s boss hiring him to bring back his son which comes off as odd as the previous time we saw these two one was firing the other.

Then there’s the age issue. I’m not poking fun at Eastwood’s age or trying to argue that he’s old… hell, if I live to be 91 I hope I look half as good as Eastwood and am still creating like he is! But in terms of story, women who are way, way younger than him continually seeking him out just didn’t register high on the believability meter. Now, to the story’s credit, Mike’s age is not mentioned in the movie, and it appears that Mike is supposed to be younger than Eastwood’s 91 years. It’s left unsaid, so it’s not completely unbelievable, but it just doesn’t really work. I wish it did.

The acting doesn’t help. Eastwood is fine, and he gets his characteristic humorous one-liners and is amusing when he grumbles at the folks who are trying to impede his journey back to the states. One of his best lines is with Rafo, when the boy is telling him that he named his pet rooster Macho, and when the boy asks him what’s wrong with that, Mike replies, “Nothing. Guy wants to name his cock Macho, it’s okay by me.”

Eastwood’s best work here though isn’t his tough guy shtick, it’s his tender side, especially with animals. Mike is a former horse trainer and sort of an “animal whisperer” as he has a way with them, and when he is staying with Marta he gets a reputation as a healer and suddenly the townsfolk are all bringing their pets to him so he can treat them. He also gets philosophical, telling Rafo being macho is overrated, and just when you think you have life figured out you realize you really don’t.

And in two supporting roles both Natalia Traven as Marta and Fernanda Urrejola as Leta are solid. Traven makes Marta a relaxed caring woman who both Mike and Rafo feel at home with, while Urrejola is fiery and sultry as the boy’s powerful mother.

But Eduardo Minet as Rafo just didn’t work for me. His performance was kinda all over the place, and I think it was a combination of the writing and the acting, but he didn’t seem very real to me. I teach middle school and know a lot of 13 year-olds. I wasn’t buying this one.

And country music star Dwight Yoakam who plays Rafo’s dad I thought was also particularly bad.

N. Richard Nash wrote the screenplay for this one back in the 1970s, couldn’t sell it, turned it into a novel that was well-received, and then tried to shop the screenplay again, again unsuccessfully. Nash passed away in 2000. Nick Schenk, who also penned a couple of other recent Eastwood movies, THE MULE (2018) and GRAN TORINO (2008) co-wrote the screenplay for this version of CRY MACHO.

The screenplay here is a mixed bag. Some of the dialogue works, but a lot of it doesn’t. Eastwood’s lines run hot and cold, most of the time hot, but he gets stuck saying cliched things like “you’re growing on me, kid.” Almost all of Rafo’s lines are god-awful.

The story is okay. It has its endearing moments. Mike’s relationship with Marta is warm and enjoyable, and the way he is with animals is tender to watch, but the main story with him and Rafo is forced and not very believable. It’s also incredibly easy. Mike goes to Mexico and finds Rafo as easily as if he had been told to pick him up from school. He’s in an entirely different country for crying out loud! And yet he finds the boy first try. And this is 1980. No GPS!

And that’s my biggest issue with the story. It’s not very believable. It plays more like a dream Mike might be having. I go to Mexico, save my friend’s son, have a tryst with his sexy mom, but then fall in love with this wholesome single mother… YEAH, RIGHT!

Behind the camera, Eastwood does an adequate job. It’s about as slow-paced as you can get, and when you have characters you don’t fully believe in, that makes things even slower. But Eastwood has always known how to tell a story, and while those skills aren’t on full display here in CRY MACHO, there are many times when they are, enough to keep this one from being a total loss.

CRY MACHO isn’t one of Eastwood’s best. It’s supposed to be a tender story where Eastwood’s character teaches young Rafo about life and learns more about his own life in the process, but with realism a struggle, it plays more like a dream Mike would have had while taking an afternoon nap.

Which is something you might find yourself doing while watching CRY MACHO.


KATE (2021) – Action Flick Lacks Originality


I love movies about kick-ass female heroines as much as the next person, but KATE (2021), a new action flick starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead as the latest woman who kills first and asks questions later, suffers from the been there done that syndrome.

Especially because if follows so closely upon the heels of GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (2021) and JOLT (2021), two other action movies featuring kick-ass female leads, and worse, shares too many similarities with both these movies. Of the three, GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE is the most visually stunning, has the best fight choreography, and is the overall best of the lot.

In KATE, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Kate, an assassin who works for her handler Varrick (Woody Harrelson) who has been her protector since she was a young girl, grooming her to become an assassin from a very young age. Currently in Japan, Kate’s mission is to take out various members of a powerful mob family, but before she can finish the job, she is poisoned. With only 24 hours to live, she sets out to seek vengeance against the members of this family who she believes poisoned her. Along the way, she befriends Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau), a teenage girl belonging to this clan who feels betrayed by her family, as she believes they murdered her father, although the truth is, her father was killed by Kate.

And that’s pretty much the plot of this one.

While the plot point of Kate having only 24 hours to live is different from the stories told in the two movies mentioned above, that’s about the only difference. The rest is all too similar and familiar. In fact, KATE and GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE both share the same plot point of the young girl becoming friends with the person who murdered her father.

As such, the screenplay by Umair Aleem is just so-so. It’s not overly original, and the longer the story plays out, the more tired it becomes. The plot twist later on involving Woody Harrelson’s character can be seen coming a mile away mostly because it’s been done so many times before. The dialogue is also not a strength here.

KATE is visually impressive, however. Director Cedric Nicholas-Troyan captures the brilliant and vibrant colors of its Tokyo locale. But the fight scenes, while frequent, hard-hitting, and violent, didn’t impress me all that much. They lacked the ingenuity and creativity of similar scenes in GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE. There were a couple of cool nods however to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character.

You can’t go wrong with Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a movie, and that holds true with KATE. She’s excellent in the lead role, and while I wasn’t nuts about the fight scenes, that’s not Winstead’s fault. She’s pretty believable as the take-no-prisoners assassin here. I’ve been a fan of Winstead’s since her role in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010). She has also delivered notable performances in such films as THE THING (2011) and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016).

Woody Harrelson, on the other hand, fails to impress here as Kate’s handler Varrick. Harrelson is usually the type of actor who creates characters you can’t stop watching, but here, Varrick is shoved into the background for most of the movie, and when he does appear, it’s an uncharacteristic subdued performance by Harrelson.

Miku Patricia Martineau is fun as Ani, although the role is so far from original it’s getting to be a cliche, the hip teen looking for acceptance and befriended by the very person who harmed her family.

Jun Kunimura makes for a respectable villain, Kijima, and his scenes with Mary Elizabeth Winstead are some of the better ones in the movies, certainly in terms of writing. He gets some of the best lines in the film, deep lines, not the kind of macho bravado one usually gets from a mob leader. And Tadanobu Asano makes for another notable villain, Renji.

Then there’s Michiel Huisman, who shows up as a man who Kate meets at a bar, and is directly involved in her poisoning. This is nearly the same exact role Huisman played in the recent TV series THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT (2020), except that overnight encounter with the main female character led to his being murdered. His role here is a small one and he’s hardly noticeable, which is too bad, because he’s had some memorable performances, in the TV show THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018) and the underrated horror movie THE INVITATION (2015).

KATE belongs to a genre I like a lot, the female action hero flick, but in this case it’s all a bit too familiar with fight scenes that didn’t wow me as much as I expected and characters that didn’t seem fresh and exciting

I liked the “having only 24 hours to live” gimmick, but other than that, this one didn’t offer much of anything that I hadn’t seen before.

KATE is a decent action movie but simply isn’t original enough to be a very good one.


MALIGNANT (2021) – James Wan Knows How To Make a Horror Movie But His Latest is Uneven


MALIGNANT (2021), the latest horror movie by director/writer James Wan, the man who brought us SAW (2003), INSIDIOUS (2010) and THE CONJURING (2013), opens with a campy pre-credit sequence that’s an obvious nod to RE-ANIMATOR (1985) but then pivots into a slick action horror movie that gets better as it goes along until it stumbles with a weak conclusion.

I’m not a fan of RE-ANIMATOR (gasp!) so the ridiculous over-the-top pre-credit sequence with its laughable dialogue nearly turned me off to the point where I almost turned the movie off. But I stuck with it, and I’m glad I did, because for the most part I enjoyed all that followed.

MALIGNANT opens with a pre-credit sequence set in the 1990s at a medical facility where a patient who seems to feed off electricity is going haywire attacking everyone, and the doctors are struggling to control him. Finally an exasperated Dr. Florence Weaver (Jacqueline McKenzie) cries out that it’s time to cut out the cancer, and at the moment the title credits begin.

The action switches to present day where a pregnant Madison Mitchell (Annabelle Wallis) is struck hard by her abusive husband Derek (Jake Abel). She locks the door to their bedroom, and Derek spends the night on the couch. He is awoken by some strange noises in the house, and as he investigates, electrical appliances turn on and off. A demon-like figure emerges and attacks and kills Derek. The next day Madison discovers her husband’s dead body, and then she is attacked by the mysterious demon-figure as well, but she manages to escape.

When the police investigate, the two detectives Shaw (George Young) and Moss (Michole Briana White) upon learning that there are no signs of forced entry, and that Derek used to beat Madison, consider Madison their primary suspect. Later, when a prominent doctor is murdered and Madison sees the murder as if she is there in the room, she goes to Shaw and Moss along with her younger sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) with this information, which to the detectives seems farfetched and only fuels their suspicions of Madison. The mystery deepens when they discover that when Madison was a child she was once treated by the murdered doctor, a time that Madison can’t remember, as the years before she was adopted by Sydney’s parents are all blank.

The investigation continues, as do the murders, and the victims are all doctors who worked at the facility where Madison had once been treated.

As stories go, the one told in MALIGNANT is actually really good. While the big twist at the end is fairly obvious, I liked the fact that this one told a story that wasn’t about your typical demon or devil. The hints are all there, and at times it seems like this one may go that route, but it doesn’t. So, the story was fresh, and the mystery compelling. And while you may see the big reveal coming ahead of time, it still makes for quite the shocking revelation. It’s the kind of scene that I could easily see generating lots of screams and gasps from a crowded theater audience.

So the screenplay by Akela Cooper, based on a story by James Wan and Ingrid Bisu, scores high marks for its innovative plot. It does struggle with dialogue at times. The campy dialogue in the film’s pre-credit sequence is laughable, and while that may have been on purpose, it doesn’t really fit here, since the rest of the movie isn’t campy at all. And some of the lines during the film’s conclusion are just flat out bad, pure and simple.

Also the police in this movie aren’t very smart. Most of the answers to the mysteries in MALIGNANT are discovered by Madison’s sister Sydney. Detectives Shaw and Moss don’t seem to know how to follow leads and often make decisions that seem foolish.

Akela Cooper was also one of the screenwriters who wrote the horror movie HELL FEST (2018), a film about a masked killer terrorizing a Halloween-themed amusement park that I liked a lot. Interestingly, HELL FEST shares a similar problem with MALIGNANT in that it also had an opening sequence that was badly written but it… just like MALIGNANT— got much better. Hmm, maybe Cooper has something against opening sequences!

The best part of MALIGNANT is the work of director James Wan. He’s at the top of his game here. The film looks fantastic and is visually superior. There are many haunting scenes, the murders are violent and gory, the mysterious murderer is frightening and weird, and there are some excellent action scenes here as well. The chase scene where Detective Shaw pursues the murderer on foot is right out of a James Bond movie. Visually, MALIGNANT is a horror movie treat.

While I’m not a fan of SAW, I loved both INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING, and while both those movies are scarier than MALIGNANT, their demon stories aren’t as fresh as the one told here in this movie.

I’ve been a fan of Annabelle Wallis since her days on the TV show PEAKY BLINDERS (2013-2019). She also starred in ANNABELLE (2014) and ANNABELLE: CREATION (2017), as well as in the Tom Cruise version of THE MUMMY (2017), a film I wish I could forget I ever saw. Wallis is solid here as Madison, who for large chunks of this movie is either frightened or in a dreamlike state forced to watch grisly murders. She eventually rises up to become a heroine.

George Young is also very good as Detective Shaw, and as previously stated, he gets one of the best sequences in the film, as he chases the murderer down a treacherous fire escape into the dark streets of underground Seattle.

Speaking of underground Seattle, the plot point in MALIGNANT where the killer hides in those forgotten streets reminded me of another horror classic, THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973), the sequel to THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) and the second time we got to see Darren McGavin play reporter Carl Kolchak. The killer in THE NIGHT STRANGLER also resided in underground Seattle.

MALIGNANT also sports another energetic and effective music score by Joseph Bishara.

While overall I enjoyed MALIGNANT, taken as a whole, it’s a bit uneven for me. After its out of place campy opening, it gets better, and the bulk of this film is really well done. But it doesn’t end strong, as its conclusion isn’t all that believable, and as a result, I found the final reel disappointing.

Still, James Wan knows how to make a horror movie, and for that reason alone, I recommend MALIGNANT, even though it doesn’t entirely work for me.


THE COURIER (2020) – Benedict Cumberbatch Historical Thriller Delivers


I finally caught up with THE COURIER (2020) which was released back in March, and I was not disappointed.

This period piece drama based on true events and starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Greville Wynne, an ordinary unassuming British businessman who finds himself in the middle of American/Soviet espionage at the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s tells a captivating story of real life bravery amidst the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

THE COURIER, now available on Prime Video, opens with Soviet General Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) worrying that Khrushchev is too unhinged to be in control of a nuclear arsenal, and so he reaches out to the Americans hoping to initiate a secret dialogue to keep the peace. CIA operative Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) reaches out to her counterpart at Britain’s MI6 Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) to help broker this arrangement because the U.S. does not have a solid footing of operatives on the ground in the Soviet Union. Franks agrees to send in one of their agents, but Emily suggests instead they send in someone who is not an agent, hoping to arouse less suspicion. They choose businessman Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) since he had planned to expand his sales to the Soviet Union anyway.

At first, Wynne wants no part of the deal, as he has a wife and son, but he changes his mind when Emily lays out just how serious things are and what his involvement would mean for the safety of the entire world. Wynne travels to the Soviet Union where under the guise of expanding his business he meets with Oleg Penkovsky, and in public they talk shop, and in private Penkovsky slips Greville intel which he brings back to England upon his return home.

But the more Greville visits the Soviet Union, the more suspicious the KGB becomes, at a time when Emily refuses to suspend the operation as the intel clearly details Khrushchev’s interest in supplying Cuba with nuclear missiles. And Greville doesn’t want out anyway, as he and Penkovsky have become friends, and he wants to help Penkvosky and his family defect, an endeavor which proves to be the riskiest one of all.

I really enjoyed THE COURIER. It’s a handsome production. Director Dominic Cooke captures the look and feel of the 1960s locations, from the Soviet Union to Great Britain. The set pieces, costumes, and general feel of the time are all there.

It also tells a riveting story, with an excellent screenplay by Tom O’Connor. The characters are fleshed out, the dialogue is first rate, and the story compels from start to finish. The situations throughout are engrossing, emotional, and exciting. O’Connor also wrote the screenplay for THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD (2017), which is such a different movie from THE COURIER it’s funny to think that O’Connor wrote both, as THE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD was a raunchy comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson that I enjoyed much more than I should have as I found myself laughing throughout. While I liked that movie, I enjoyed THE COURIER even more.

Benedict Cumberbatch as he always does excels in his performance as Greville Wynne. At first, he’s the consummate British businessman, successful because he knows how to make his clients feel good, even losing at golf regularly so his clients can win. And once in the Soviet Union he’s terrified, knowing that all eyes are on him and that he can’t trust anyone other than Penkovsky. But as the stakes grow higher, Greville changes, wanting to do more, so much so that he refuses to leave without trying to help Penkovsky defect first.

Likewise, Merab Ninidze is excellent as Oleg Penkovsky. He exudes the kind of confidence as Penkovsky that allows Greville to trust him and feel safe in his presence. Of course, when dealing with the KGB, no one is safe, and that becomes apparent as the story goes on.

I also enjoyed Jessie Buckley as Greville’s wife Sheila. Their story where Sheila suspects Greville’s frequent trips to the Soviet Union means he’s having an extramarital affair, since he had done this before, is a moving one, and one that becomes more emotional later in the film as Sheila learns the truth behind her husband’s visits out of the country.

The rest of the cast is just as good, and this one is well-acted throughout.

THE COURIER also enjoys an effective music score by Abel Korzeniowski. It captures the flavor of the Soviet Union and really enhances the drama in this movie.

THE COURIER is a superior piece of historical storytelling. It captures the efforts of two men who attempted to bring peace to the world and who in fact did contribute to the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile crisis. As Penkovsky tells Greville, “We are only two people. But this is how things change.”

If you enjoy period piece dramas, especially those steeped in historical intrigue, you should definitely check out THE COURIER.

It delivers.


SWEET GIRL (2021) – Jason Momoa Action Flick Doesn’t Satisfy


Let’s cut right to the chase.

I didn’t like SWEET GIRL (2021) all that much. In fact, it’s one of the least satisfying action movies I’ve seen this year.

I was interested in seeing SWEET GIRL, which is now streaming on Netflix, because it starred Jason Momoa, who I like a lot, but not even Momoa could save this dud. Truth be told, Momoa’s lackluster performance is actually one of the reasons this one is a dud. But the biggest reason this movie falters is it has a story that doesn’t resonate, that comes off as weird at times, and that sports a major plot twist two thirds of the way in that doesn’t work at all.

In SWEET GIRL, Ray Cooper (Jason Momoa) is desperate to save his wife Amanda (Adria Arjona) who is losing her battle with cancer, all the while trying to care for his teenage daughter Rachel (Isabela Merced). When an experimental drug is pulled from the market before it could be used on Amanda, Ray is livid, especially when he learns it was pulled by a pharmaceutical company strictly as part of a business decision. When Ray sees the CEO of the company on a TV news program, he calls in, and he threatens the CEO on the air if his wife should die. Well, Amanda dies, and… yup, Ray turns into a vigilante against the big drug companies.

Now, I don’t like these companies any more than the next guy, but there was something forced about this plot point of Ray going ballistic against a pharmaceutical company that made a slimy decision to pull a drug that may or may not have saved his wife’s life. The way it was handled in this movie made Ray seem more of an unhinged nutcase than a vigilante with a reason to kill. Not that it matters, because the plot quickly pivots. See, there’s more going on here than Ray knows. Yup, there’s more powerful people involved, and Ray learns this firsthand when a hitman named Santos (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) shows up and starts killing the same people Ray is after.

The rest of the movie follows Ray and his daughter Rachel as they seek answers while trying to stay ahead of a pair of FBI agents and the murderous Santos. Until that is the big plot twist, which for me, didn’t work at all. It would have if Rachel’s character had been developed more. As a result, SWEET GIRL suffers from not being able to make up its mind over whether this is an action flick about Ray, about Rachel, or about both of them. As it stands, it doesn’t do a good job with any of these options.

As I said, I’m a fan of Jason Momoa. I enjoy him as Aquaman, and he was a memorable villain in the Sylvester Stallone actioner BULLET TO THE HEAD (2012). There’s a charisma about him that’s difficult to deny. Except, that charisma wasn’t really on display here in SWEET GIRL. Honestly, Momoa seemed so subdued here it was almost as if he were sleepwalking through the role.

Nor was I overly impressed with Isabela Merced as Rachel.

The best performance in the movie belongs to Manuel Garcia-Rulfo as the unstoppable cold-hearted assassin Santos. He’s so unstoppable that the way the story chooses to finally stop him is laughable.

SWEET GIRL was directed by Brian Andrew Mendoza. And while there were some decent action and chase scenes, they weren’t enough to lift this movie to something I’d want to watch again.

SWEET GIRL is nowhere near as good as the recent action movies GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (2021) and JOLT (2021).

The biggest culprit is the screenplay by Greg Hurwitz and Philip Eisner. It couldn’t figure out what story it wanted to tell. Was this Ray’s story? Rachel’s? And the one they eventually settle on seems to have been the wrong one. I mean, you have an action film starring Jason Momoa, and he’s not around to finish this one off? That’s a decision that just didn’t work for me.

And the other big problem the film has is when it decides to feature Rachel more as the action hero, it’s simply not as believable. Unlike last year’s thriller BECKY (2020), which starred Lulu Wilson as a teenage girl who seeks vengeance against a group of convicts who hold her family hostage, where Wilson took that character and made you believe that she could kick the crap out of the adult baddies in that one, here in SWEET GIRL, there’s simply not that same level of believablility.

As an action thriller, SWEET GIRL simply doesn’t satisfy.