LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER (2022) – Latest Film Version of D.H. Lawrence Novel is Steamy and Uninhibited

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Netflix has been on a roll of late.

They’ve been churning out original high-quality movies in the past few weeks, films like THE WONDER (2022), TROLL (2022), and GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO (2022), and now you can add LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER (2022) to that list.

LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER is a steamy, beautifully shot adaptation of the controversial novel by D. H. Lawrence. The story takes place in the English countryside during World War I, and the scenery, sets, and costumes make for a delightful period piece, but the real story of this version of LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER is its sex scenes, of which there are plenty, and they are full of passion, lust, and love.

Recently, I commented on the near complete absence of sex scenes in U.S. theatrical releases these days, and how I don’t think this is a good thing, to sanitize a part of life and remove it from cinematic storytelling. Sadly, sex on film in the United States is mostly reserved for porn, which is the most unrealistic rendering of sex you can find, and one that continues to objectify women,

But LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER does not suffer from this problem. It is a love story, and as such, sex plays a large role, as it does in most love stories, since having sex is what usually happens between people who love each other. And so, the two characters in this story are hot and heavy for each other, and the sex scenes reflect that and really help tell this story in a way that could only be done with them. Without these scenes, the story wouldn’t have been as successful.

Connie Reid (Emma Corrin) is in love with Clifford Chatterley (Matthew Duckett), and she tells her sister Hilda (Faye Marsay) that he is not like other men, that he is progressive, and so she feels comfortable marrying him. But shortly after they are married, Clifford has to go off to war, and when he returns, he has lost the use of his legs and can no longer walk. Connie and Clifford move into the luxurious Chatterley country estate, and Connie has no problem being there for her husband and being his primary caretaker.

But it soon becomes apparent that Clifford only wants Connie for that job and resists the efforts of anyone else to help him, which begins to take its toll on Connie. And when she expresses interest in time away with her sister, so she can have a break to recharge her energy, Clifford ignores the request and makes it clear that Connie isn’t going anywhere, that she needs to stay there to take care of him. It also becomes increasingly clear that Clifford is only interested in himself and his leadership duties at the local mine, and he sees Connie as the dutiful wife whose job it is to attend to his needs.

When Connie tries to become intimate, Clifford tells her that because of his situation, he has lost interest in sex. Connie soon understands that he has no concept or interest in giving her any pleasure. Clifford then laments not being able to have a son, and he floats the idea that they could start a rumor that he is able to function sexually, and then Connie could discreetly have a baby with another man, and they could pretend the baby is theirs. When Connie realizes he is serious, she is horrified, feeling like nothing more than someone who is there to breed for her husband.

It’s about this time that she meets the gamekeeper on the estate, Oliver (Jack O’Connell), and as she gets to know him, she becomes intrigued by his personality. They soon fall in love, and Oliver becomes the titular Lady Chatterley’s lover. And what makes Connie Chatterley such a compelling character, is that she pushes back against society when she realizes that she truly loves Oliver, and that in spite of their class differences, and in spite of the fact that she is married to a wealthy and influential man, she will do whatever it takes to have a life with the man she loves.

LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER is a beautifully shot period piece by director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre that satisfies on every level. The story works from beginning to end, the actors all do admirable jobs, the sets and costumes are superb, and Clermont-Tonnerre’s handling of the sex scenes is probably the best part of all. They are explicit yet tastefully done, and their effect on the story is to really show how much Connie and Oliver love each other. It’s clear that Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre has a vision with these scenes and a purpose, and she exacts that purpose wonderfully by shooting some of the more effective sex scenes I’ve seen in a long time. Of course, part of this is she doesn’t have much competition from other directors on this topic, due to the lack of sex scenes in American movies today, but when they are done right, they can have a huge impact, as they do in this movie.

Emma Corrin is superb as Connie Chatterley. She brings both a strength to the character and a sultry sexy side that communicates that Connie, like most everybody else, likes to have sex, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The audience never doubts Connie’s motives. We really empathize with her plight and root for her to somehow find a way to have that life with Oliver. It’s also rewarding to see Connie lose her inhibitions with Oliver. Emma Corrin played Princess Diana on the TV series THE CROWN (2020).

Jack O’Connell is also excellent as Oliver, the gamekeeper who at first is caught off guard by Connie’s affections, but he is always honest with her, and as they fall in love, it’s a progression that makes sense. And Matthew Duckett makes for a pompous self-centered often clueless Clifford Chatterley. He’s never over the top, and his subtle irritating nature becomes more grating the more Connie gets to know and understand him.

The rest of the cast all do exceptional jobs.

The screenplay by David Magee, based on the novel by D.H. Lawrence succeeds in telling this story in a way that portrays Connie as a woman who won’t take a back seat to a loveless husband who sees his wife as nothing more than someone to take care of him and bear him a son, even if she has that son with another man. She wants love, and once she finds it, she’s determined to keep it. Magee also adapted the screenplay for LIFE OF PI (2012).

I really enjoyed this new version of LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER. Everything about it works.

And perhaps my favorite part is that it really captures what it’s like for two people to be in love and the lengths they go through to be together.

I give it a steamy four stars.

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RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

BLONDE (2022) – Netflix’ NC-17 Rated Fictional Account of Marilyn Monroe Major Disappointment

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Some movies have “it.” Others don’t.

BLONDE (2022), unlike its subject, Marilyn Monroe, doesn’t have “it,” which is too bad because Ana de Armas is terrific in the lead role as Norma Jean, aka Marilyn Monroe, but this fictional account of the life of Monroe based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates just never came to life for me. It didn’t grab me at the outset, nor did it pull me in later as it went along, and for a movie that runs nearly three hours, that’s a long time to be uninvolved. A very long time.

The first issue I had with this movie is why do we need a fictional account of the life of Marilyn Monroe? Wasn’t her real life fascinating and tragic enough? I couldn’t really wrap my head around the idea. Sure, it’s based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel, but again, why? I was especially distracted by this in this day and age where a growing number of political leaders make their living promoting fictional accounts as true, and so this whole notion didn’t sit well with me here in 2022. That being said, I went in with an open mind, and was ready to enjoy this one regardless, but the film itself prevented me from doing so.

BLONDE, which is rated NC-17 for strong sexual content, nudity, rape, and child abuse, is now streaming on Netflix and playing at some theaters. Most of the content here is typical of R rated films. The one exception is a rather vulgar scene between Monroe and JFK, vulgar in the way the President treats Monroe. But this is all fiction so… it doesn’t resonate as it otherwise would.

The film opens with a young Norma Jean living with her alcoholic and abusive mom (Julianne Nicholson), giving the film a very unpleasant first few minutes which seem to go on forever before finally cutting to an adult Norma Jean (Ana de Armas) as she first breaks into the film industry. And in this story, she gets her first role after being raped by the studio head. He has his way sexually with her, and then he gives her the role. Again, fictional account. This never happened.

The rest of the movie follows Monroe’s traumatic life and career, following its factual path through movies she made and the lovers she had, but all with a fictional twist, right up until her tragic death in 1962 at the age of 36.

BLONDE tries to be stylish, and director Andrew Dominik mixes black and white cinematography into the mix, as well as different variants of color photography, and even inserts de Armas into real scenes from Marilyn Monroe’s movies where de Armas stands side by side with the real actors from those movies. Yet, none of this worked for me. In terms of style, BLONDE is vastly inferior to another bio pic from earlier this year, ELVIS (2022) by Baz Luhrmann. That film had me hooked within its opening seconds and it never looked back. BLONDE, in spite of all its technical innovations, labors from start to finish.

A large part of the problem is its pacing. It moves like a snail, and never builds on what has come before it. It just moves from one plot point to another. It really could have used some serious editing.

There are some impressive acting performances. I’ve been a fan of Ana de Armas for a while, and she is making a ton of movies these days. We just saw her in THE GRAY MAN (2022) and before that in the James Bond movie NO TIME TO DIE (2021). Her performance as an A. I. being was one of the better parts of BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017).

Here, she gives it her all as Marilyn Monroe, and at times she is good enough to lose herself in the role, and you think you are watching the real Monroe. Other times, however, de Armas’ Cuban accent is still detectable. If BLONDE had been a better movie, this distinction would have worked better because it would have supported the notion that this is a fictional account and not a true biography, but the film just isn’t up to the task, and so I imagine de Armas’ accent will only irritate Marilyn Monroe fans.

Bobby Cannavale turns in a fine performance as the “Ex-Athlete,” based of course on Joe DiMaggio, who famously married Marilyn Monroe, and Adrien Brody is even better as “The Playwright,” based on Arthur Miller, who married Monroe after she and DiMaggio divorced. Neither one of these two have much of an impact here though, since neither actor is in the movie all that much.

The screenplay by director Andrew Dominik based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates falls flat, and then some. I was amazed at how much I did not like this movie. Considering the subject matter, Marilyn Monroe, the actor in the lead, Ana de Armas, and the impressive looking cinematography.

None of it comes together. The story struggles. It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the narrative because it’s a fictional account of a real person, and so these traumatic events which shaped Monroe’s life— didn’t actually happen, at least not in the way as depicted in this movie.

For me, the bottom line is this: did this really happen to Monroe? No. So, why do I care?

The short answer? I don’t.

So, in spite of tremendous potential, BLONDE was a huge disappointment.

Monroe and her fans deserve better.

I give it one and a half stars.

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RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

SILVERTON SIEGE (2022) – Compelling Historical Drama Recounts Event Which Began “Free Nelson Mandela” Movement

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I first learned about apartheid when I was in college in the early 1980s. My professors at Boston University were talking about it, and I had several teaching assistants who were from South Africa and who shared firsthand knowledge of the brutal system of racism in that country.

Then came the movies, films like Richard Attenborough’s CRY FREEDOM (1987), which was the first time I saw Denzel Washington in a movie, and A WORLD APART (1988), which dramatized what was happening in South Africa, and at the time, it looked like apartheid was a present-day evil that wasn’t going away any time soon. But miraculously, it did, and Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and became president of that nation!

SILVERTON SIEGE (2022), a new Netflix movie, takes place ten years before Mandela’s release, in 1980, and tells the story, based on real events, of three freedom fighters who fled the police and took refuge inside a bank where not knowing what else to do, took hostages and demanded to be released. When they realized this wasn’t going to happen, they decided to raise the stakes, and they instead demanded the release of Nelson Mandela.

The movie depicts the tense events inside the bank, where the freedom fighters contend with the hostages, explaining to them that they are not there to rob the bank, and outside, where police captain Johan Langerman (Arnold Vosloo) is facing increasing pressure from his superiors to stop negotiating and simply storm the bank.

SILVERTON SIEGE is an excellent historical drama, anchored by two solid performances. The best belongs to Thabo Rametsi as Calvin, the leader of the three freedom fighters. He makes it clear that Calvin is not there to kill anyone. They are there to start a movement to free Nelson Mandela. Of course, this isn’t how it started, but once Calvin realized their own lives weren’t worth anything in the eyes of the government, he decided to wage their freedom on someone much bigger, the imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Rametsi makes Calvin a convincing character, a sincere man who most of the hostages come to believe and support.

Arnold Vosloo is also excellent as police captain Langerman. He wants to stamp out the “terrorists” as much as anyone, but he doesn’t want a bloodbath or any international incidents, as one of the hostages is an American, and so he desperately wants the negotiations to win out, but that’s not how his superiors view things. Vosloo has been around for a long time, making movies since the 1980s, and horror fans know him for playing Imhotep the Mummy in the Brendan Fraser remake of THE MUMMY (1999) and in its sequel THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001).

The rest of the cast is also solid, including Noxolo Dlamini as Terra, the lone woman of the three freedom fighters, who also happens to be the most brazen and probably the toughest.

SILVERTON SIEGE was directed by Mandla Dube who grew up in apartheid in South Africa. Dube has made an efficient movie that pulls no punches and does everything right in pointing out the ugliness that once was apartheid.

The drama here is pretty intense throughout, although if you know your history, you kinda know what is going to happen, because Mandela wasn’t released from prison until ten years later in 1990. But still, the story holds up and works well.

The screenplay by Sabelo Mgidi allows the audience to get to know the characters, especially the three freedom fighters and the police captain, and even some of the hostages. The tension remains high throughout and knowing that the efforts of these three fighters will ultimately fail, actually works to the film’s advantage, as for the most part they are depicted as people who just want freedom for everyone, and the audience definitely empathizes with their plight.

That being said, since this event is often credited as the beginning of the Free Nelson Mandela movement, even though the events of the day ended badly, in the long run, they were successful, as Mandela was eventually freed from prison in 1990.

SILVERTON SIEGE is a compelling historical drama that is highly recommended, and it also serves as a reminder that while there is still more work to do… apartheid may be over, but racism isn’t… the lives lost for the cause of freedom have not been lost in vain.

It makes sure that at least in this case, these lives will be remembered.

—END–

MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR (2021) – World War II Espionage Tale is Superior Piece of Historical Fiction

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Neville Chamberlain is finally being shown some love.

Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister from 1937-1940, is generally viewed in history as the guy who for reasons of keeping the peace sat back and let Adolf Hitler gear up for war without doing anything to stop him, and it wasn’t until Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 that the United Kingdom took back its fighting spirit and met the Nazis head on.

But MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR (2021), a new movie which premiered on Netflix last month, tells a different side of Chamberlain’s story, showing how his unrelenting determination to avoid war actually bought time for the United Kingdom to prepare for war with Hitler.

Now, Chamberlain’s story isn’t the main one told in MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR, but it’s the most fascinating one.

MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR is actually the story of two friends, Hugh Legat (George MacKay) and Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewohner), who met at Oxford and became best friends until they had a falling out over Adolf Hitler and the new Nazi regime. Paul believes Hitler is good for Germany and is making Germans feel great about their country again, but Hugh sees him as a racist monster.

Six years later, in 1938, Hugh finds himself working as a civil servant at the office of the Prime Minister, where he reads, edits speeches, and translates for Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons). Tensions are high as Hitler plans to invade Czechoslovakia, and the invasion seems imminent, but Chamberlain refuses to give up on diplomacy, citing his memories of the brutality of the previous war, and predicting that any future war would be far worse. Unable to get a response from Hitler, Chamberlain turns to Hitler’s trusted friend Mussolini, hoping that the Italian leader would get Hitler to the negotiating table. On the eve of the invasion, Hitler backs down and agrees to meet with Chamberlain for peace talks.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Paul has had a change of heart about Hitler, after the Nazis brutalize his Jewish girlfriend. His position keeps him in Hitler’s inner circle, and as such, he is secretly working with a small group that wants to remove the Fuhrer from power. A top-secret document makes its way into his possession, which outlines Hitler’s true plans for Europe in specific detail, proving that Hitler isn’t interested in peace but in expanding the German empire and plans to use force to do it. Paul realizes that this peace meeting with Chamberlain is exactly what Hitler wants, as it will buy him time to build up for future invasions.

MI6 receives word that Paul has this document and that he wants to turn it over to Hugh so that Hugh can get it to Chamberlain, and they pretty much order Hugh to meet with Paul and get the document without telling any of his superiors, which sets up the second half of the movie, as Hugh and Paul navigate in the shadows around the Nazis, while Chamberlain and Hitler meet to sign a peace accord to prevent the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR is a fascinating movie that I really enjoyed, a piece of historical fiction that makes for compelling viewing and gives a nuanced interpretation of Neville Chamberlain while doing it.

Both Hugh and Paul were not real people, but they are loosely based on British scholar A. L. Rowse, and German diplomat Adam von Trott zu Solz, who were friends at Oxford. The screenplay by Ben Power, based on the novel Munich by Robert Harris, is entertaining and intriguing throughout. I’m not sure how historically accurate it is, but the story it tells in this movie is a good one.

The best part is its depiction of Neville Chamberlain, a man who is shown here with an unrelenting passion for keeping the peace. It’s a noble attribute and is one that today a person would be hard-pressed to argue against.

It also helps that Jeremy Irons is playing Neville Chamberlain. As one might expect, Irons delivers the best performance in the movie. He captures the elderly Chamberlain’s devotion to peace, and the physical toll it takes on him, as he has to go toe to toe with Hitler, but it’s a task that in spite of his age he is up for, and Irons makes Chamberlain a leader that people can rally around, which is not the way history has so far remembered Chamberlain, who is often viewed as a weak Prime Minister. And it was much more satisfying to watch Irons play Chamberlain here than his recent portrayal of Alfred in the Ben Affleck BATMAN movies.

Both George Mackay as Hugh and Jannis Niewohner as Paul are also excellent. Mackay perfectly captures the tensions that Hugh feels, and he looks like he should be chain smoking throughout the movie. He makes Hugh so stressed out the intensity becomes almost palpable. Previously we saw MacKay playing a character fighting in World War I, as he played a soldier in 1917 (2019).

Niewohner, who hails from Germany, plays Paul as an intense, volatile character whose passion for Germany is so laser-focused that it enables him to see through Hitler and view him as someone whose interests are not aligned with what is best for the country.

MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR was directed by Christian Schwochow, who does a masterful job. The film is elegant to look at, with its depiction of 1938 Munich, as the sets, costumes, and attention to detail are superb. The story is riveting, and this is an historical drama that is much more of a suspense vehicle than a straight narrative. It’s edge of your seat material.

Not everything works about the film. While there are female characters in the movie, none of them take center stage. I realize the plot is really about Hugh and Paul, and Neville Chamberlain, but the supporting female characters in the movie are not fleshed out at all.

There’s also a key scene that I didn’t buy, and it comes when Paul finds himself alone in a room with Hitler, and he has a gun, and he intends to assassinate the Fuhrer, but he doesn’t. The reason he gives later didn’t fly, not after we perceived him as the explosive, driven young man who not only wanted to save Germany at all costs, but who held Hitler personally responsible for the brutalization of his girlfriend. The scene just didn’t work for me. Everything we learned about Paul told us he would have pulled that trigger.

But overall, I really enjoyed MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR. It’s on par with DARKEST HOUR (2017), the film which won Gary Oldman an Oscar for his portrayal of Winston Churchill, and in terms of spy intrigue, it’s nearly as tense as Steven Spielberg’s BRIDGE OF SPIES (2015) and the recent THE COURIER (2020) starring Benedict Cumberbatch, even though both these films were spy stories about the Cold War and not World War II.

MUNICH: THE EDGE OF WAR is a superior piece of historical fiction, an edge of your seat espionage tale, that touts the value of diplomacy over war, and poses the intriguing question of who benefitted more from the time bought by the peace agreement between Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler. The film argues it was Chamberlain, that his intervention helped give nations time to be ready for when Hitler would ultimately mobilize his war machine a year later. And seeing that the Nazis lost the war, that argument seems sound.

—END—

THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN (2021) – Benedict Cumberbatch Performance Lifts Uneven Bio Pic

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THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN (2021), an original Prime Video movie, is an elegant and colorful bio pic of Louis Wain, a 19th century English artist famous for his drawings of cats. Wain is played here by Benedict Cumberbatch.

And Cumberbatch is the reason you want to see this one. He delivers a great performance as he always does, although truth be told, Claire Foy is equally as good as Wain’s wife Emily, but she is in the film far less than Cumberbatch. Still, these two powerful performances carry this movie, which is a good thing, because the rest of the movie is rather uneven.

Louis Wain (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a kind soul and a bit of an odd duck. As depicted in this movie, he’s definitely on the spectrum, possibly schizophrenic or autistic, but one thing that is indisputable is he is an extraordinary artist and can sketch animals in seconds. In 1881, his father dies, and Louis is left to provide for his ailing mother and five sisters. He secures a full-time position as an artist for a major English newspaper, as its editor Sir William Ingram (Toby Jones) is fascinated by Wain’s work. Over the years, Sir William serves as a mentor for Wain and remains a constant friend throughout his life.

The family also hires a governess, Emily Richardson (Claire Foy) to help care for the children. Emily and Louis instantly share a connection, and not too long afterwards, they fall in love and get married, which causes a stir since Emily is not of the same social class as Louis. The two share a wonderful life and inspire each other to create art as they both see the world the same way. It’s also during this time that they find a stray cat and welcome it into their home, which begins Louis’ obsession with drawing cats.

But when Emily is diagnosed with breast cancer, their magical life comes to an end. After Emily’s death, Louis struggles to keep himself together, and from here on out his life is one tragedy after another, but he finds that the harder and more horrific his life becomes, the more brilliant and vibrant his cat drawings become. He is able to turn pain into art which while providing the world great beauty, drives his own mental health deeper into despair.

The “electrical” in the film’s title refers to Louis’ unique take on electricity. He views it as something more than just a mysterious power source for lights. He saw it as a power source for people, something that could be harnessed artistically, and he would have electric moments where he would feel the electricity and use that power to create his art. Emily was one of the few people who understood what he meant by this. As a fiction writer, I can’t deny that when I am in that “zone” where words fly easily, it does feel like an outside force like electricity has entered my brain, because often I write things which I will read later and say to myself, “I wrote that?” so it’s a concept that I definitely understand.

As I said, while I enjoyed THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN, it is a rather uneven film. I definitely enjoyed the first half more than the second. The first half of the movie which depicts first the courtship and then the marriage of Louis and Emily is lively, entertaining, and fun. Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy share a warm chemistry and really bring these two characters and their love for each other to life. When describing the first half of this movie, words like “delightful” and “charming” come to mind.

But once Emily falls ill and eventually passes, the entire tone of the film changes, as Louis is assaulted by one mishap after another, some small, others tragic. And this part goes on for quite a while, and it’s simply not as satisfying as the first half of the movie.

And while the screenplay by Simon Stephenson and Will Sharpe, who directed, does a nice job depicting Louis Wain the man, one thing the film surprisingly does not do is offer much insight at all into the cat drawings. I mean, the audience gets to see plenty of these drawings, but no light is shed on Wain’s thinking behind them, and perhaps this is so because we might not know his thinking behind them, but the film doesn’t offer anything that speaks to this other than that Wain can draw cats and here are the drawings. There’s also not much insight into his relationship with cats. So, if you love cats, you might enjoy this movie, but I would argue that strangely cats really aren’t featured all too prominently here.

What is featured is yet another tremendous performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. He is the reason I enjoyed this movie as much as I did. He portrays Wain as a stand-up decent man, and his initial awkward attempts to woo Emily are fun to watch. Later, as Wain becomes more and more haunted by his own mental demons, Cumberbatch captures this part of the man as well. The make-up here is also topnotch, and Cumberbatch looks believable as Wain as both a young man and a very old man later in the movie.

The last time I saw Cumberbatch, he played Greville Wynne in THE COURIER (2020), and he provided another fascinating performance as another real-life figure. I enjoyed THE COURIER somewhat more than I did THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN, but in terms of acting, I thought Cumberbatch was even better here as Louis Wain than he was as Greville Wynne. And every time Wain mentioned electricity, I couldn’t help but think of another amazing biographical performance by Cumberbatch, as Thomas Edison in THE CURRENT WAR (2017). Benedict Cumberbatch seems to excel at playing these historical figures.

Claire Foy is also wonderful as Emily Richardson. She plays Emily as quite the eccentric character in her own right, the perfect match for Louis, and as I said, Foy and Cumberbatch are electric together. Had Foy been in this entire movie, I’d list her right up there with Cumberbatch for being the main reason to see this one, and up to a point she is, but her character dies midway through.

Foy is a wonderful actress, known for her work on the TV show THE CROWN (2016-2020), but she’s turned in some memorable movie performances as well. She stood out as Neil Armstrong’s wife Janet in FIRST MAN (2018), as well as in the Steven Soderbergh thriller UNSANE (2018). I first noticed her as the fiery “girl” in the Nicholas Cage action/fantasy/horror movie SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011).

Veteran character actor Toby Jones adds solid support as newspaper editor Sir William Ingram. Jones has been in a gazillion films and adds quality support to each and every one of them. And I always like to point out that he’s the son of actor Freddie Jones, who got his start in Hammer Films, and debuted as one of the more memorable Frankenstein “monsters” ever, in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) with Peter Cushing.

Director Will Sharpe achieves mixed results here. At times, this one looks like an authentic period piece, while at others, the sets look cheap and backdrops phony. Now, I realize this may have been on purpose, to match the look of Wain’s drawings, but I can’t say I was convinced that this was the case. Had the entire movie owned this look, then I would have bought that premise more readily, but as it stands, it doesn’t. The film also doesn’t do the best job balancing its two moods, light and fun during the first half, and dark and tragic during its second.

But most disappointing of all is the lack of insight on Wain’s famous cat sketches. Little time is spent on what was going through Wain’s mind when he sketched those cats or his feelings towards cats in general. And no light is shed whatsoever on how he drew his art. There’s no depiction of any artistic process. The one time the film does this is Wain’s advice to Emily about her own art, where he tells her that there’s really only one rule to drawing, and that is to look. That is a notable moment in the movie, but it needed more of these.

While I did enjoy THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN, it did struggle to hold my interest the longer it went on. Keeping it together and the main reason to see this movie is the fabulous work of Benedict Cumberbatch with his portrayal of Louis Wain.

The first half of THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN is indeed electrical. The second half barely purrs.

—END—

THE HARDER THEY FALL (2021) – Stylish Western Reminiscent of Spaghetti Westerns of Yesteryear

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You can’t ask for a more stylish western than THE HARDER THEY FALL (2021), a new Netflix movie by writer/director/singer/songwriter Jeymes Samuel, but in spite of all the bells and whistles, its story is all rather ordinary, and as a result, this well-made actioner didn’t move me as much as I thought it would.

That’s not to say THE HARDER THEY FALL isn’t entertaining. It is. Director Jeymes Samuel holds nothing back here. His kinetic directorial style using everything from oversized captions to extreme close-ups, as well as colorful, brilliant cinematography, and hard, brutal and bloody violence, reminded me a lot of the classic Spaghetti Westerns of yesteryear, films directed by Sergio Leone and oftentimes starring Clint Eastwood. The only thing missing is a music score by Ennio Morricone.

Of course, THE HARDER THEY FALL has its own signature music score, by songwriter/director Jeymes Samuel, and like most of this movie, it works wonderfully. The only thing lacking in this movie is a compelling storyline, which is something it almost has, but just falls short.

THE HARDER THEY FALL is about two rival black gangs in the old west. Nat Love (Jonathan Majors) is an outlaw who robs other outlaws. He also spends his time hunting down the gang members who murdered his mother and father in front of him when he was only ten years old. The gang leader who gunned down his parents, Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) is in prison, but when his gang breaks him out of his confinement on a train, Love decides it’s time to take him down. And the two ruthless gangs head on a collision course to see who will ultimately survive.

As plots go, this one is okay. The problem is the film doesn’t do the best job of building suspense or excitement as Love closes in on Buck, and when they finally do meet, it’s somewhat of a disappointment. The film’s ultimate conclusion includes a telling reveal, which is one of the best parts of this otherwise ordinary story, but after a slew of violent scenes and fights, the ending just doesn’t generate the nail biting tension one would expect.

I remember being on edge for much of Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012). I was never on edge while watching THE HARDER THEY FALL.

Jonathan Majors is very good as Nat Love. He gives Love a quiet disposition which makes the character a thoughtful outlaw and one who has earned his followers’ respect. He’s also as tough as nails, and there’s little doubt that he’s up to the task of taking down a larger than life villain like Rufus Buck.

As that larger than life villain Rufus Buck, Idris Elba does what he always does, which is deliver a solid performance and make his character believable. Unfortunately, the script doesn’t really allow for Elba to do as much as he can do, and his best scene sadly is his last one. The film focuses more on Nat Love than Rufus Buck, and so Elba, while he does get plenty of screen time, doesn’t get to really dominate this movie like he is capable of doing. Elba fared better in the recent DC superhero movie THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) as that script allowed him to work at his full potential.

Zazie Beetz is spirited and tough as Mary Fields, the woman in Nat Love’s life, and a valued member of his gang. Regina King is equally as spirited and tough as Trudy Smith, the woman in Rufus Buck’s life. Their climactic fight scene is one of the best scenes in the movie. In fact, I’d argue that it’s a more riveting sequence than the confrontation between Love and Buck.

Also standing out is LaKeith Stanfield as Cherokee Bill, the fastest gun in Buck’s camp. Stanfield delivers a terrific performance, as he did in the recent JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2021), where he played Bill O’Neal.

Delroy Lindo also turns in a commanding performance as Marshall Bass Reeves, a nice follow-up to his strong performance in Spike Lee’s DA 5 BLOODS (2020).

I also enjoyed R J Cyler as Jim Beckworth, Edi Gathegi as Bill Pickett, and Danielle Deadwyler as Cuffee, three other members of Love’s gang. Each of these folks have distinctive personalities which makes them all very watchable.

And all of these characters by the way are based on real people. As the opening subtitles state, the story is fiction, but the people actually existed.

For the most part I liked THE HARDER THEY FALL. Its energetic lively style is infectious, so it’s difficult not to enjoy this one. However, it’s unable to lift its standard plot into anything special or memorable, so at times, even with its stylized violence and notable characters and strong performances, it doesn’t resonate any deeper than a glorified music video.

And at two hours and ten minutes, that’s a long music video.

To be fair, THE HARDER THEY FALL has its moments, and there are times where it is spot on and does resonate. But there simply aren’t a lot of these moments.

Not enough for me to fall hard for this one.

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OSLO (2021) – Story of Historic Oslo Peace Accords Straightforward and Authentic

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OSLO (2021), a new HBO original movie, tells the story of the backchannel negotiations held in Oslo, Norway which led to the historic Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

It’s an important story to tell, not only for historical reasons but because it’s one that is every bit as relevant today as it was back in the 1990s when these events occurred. OSLO tells this story in a plain, straightforward manner that doesn’t always translate into a satisfying viewing experience. In short, it plays like the TV movie that it is rather than anything you would see at the theater, and this works against it.

The screenplay by J.T. Rogers, who adapted it from his Tony Award winning play of the same name, is clear and concise in its storytelling, and does allow for some characterizations to shine through. But moments of drama and tension, while there, are all rather subdued, and the whole thing plays more like something you would be required to watch in a history class rather than something you’d sit down to appreciate on your own. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments. It does. It just doesn’t come alive like the best movies do.

Norwegian couple Mona Juul (Ruth Wilson), who works for the Norwegian state department, and her husband Terje Rod-Larsen (Andrew Scott), who runs a think tank, decide to become involved in the Middle East peace process when they are traumatized by an event in which they witness as Israeli and a Palestinian, both young men, about to kill each other, and as Mona recounts, looking like that was the last place they wanted to be, and harming each other the last thing they wanted to do. So, Mona and Terje secretly approach both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, and offer to bring them together in a private spot in Oslo, and by using Terje’s think tank methods, attempt to do something that so far no one had been able to do, reach a peace agreement. When both sides ask why they should say yes, Terje responds that they need him, and without his methods, they will continue to fail. They agree.

The rest of the movie recounts what happens at this secret meeting place in Oslo.

Directed by Bartlett Sher, OSLO does what it sets out to do, which is recount a significant historical event. It just doesn’t do it in a way that makes for a rewarding cinematic experience. In short, it’s not terribly exciting.

What OSLO does best is capture a feeling of authenticity. The whole thing seems real. It invites the audience in and makes them feel like they are a fly on the wall to these secret negotiations. This feeling of authenticity extends to the cast as well.

Getting the most screen time are Ruth Wilson as Mona Juul and Andrew Scott as Terje Rod-Larsen, the married couple responsible for launching these negotiations. Wilson, who was very memorable as the unpredictable Alice Morgan on the excellent Idris Elba TV series LUTHER (2010-2019), plays Mona as the level-headed half of the married team, constantly reminding her husband Terje of what they can and cannot do during these negotiations. Scott plays Terje as the more emotional half, wanting to become more involved and help in more ways than they agreed to. As a STAR TREK fan, I couldn’t help but think of the Prime Directive when watching these two face their own dilemma of having agreed not to influence the negotiations.

There are several other notable performances as well, including Salim Dau as Ahmed Qurei, and Waleed Zuaiter as Hassan Asfour, the two members of the Palestinian negotiating team, and Doval’e Glickman as Yair Hirschfeld, an Israeli professor and private citizen pressed into the negotiations, and Jeff Wilbusch as Uri Savir, the smooth polished and self-assured Israeli negotiator.

These secret meetings were ultimately a success and led to the Oslo Peace Accords. Sadly, this peace was only temporary, and the violence between the Israelis and Palestinians continues to this day.

The story told in OSLO is relevant today. The political climate in 2021 is filled with division and hate, and one of the negotiating tactics used at Oslo was the acknowledgement first that everyone in that room were friends, because if you couldn’t start as friends, you weren’t going to get anywhere. Opposing sides in the here and now would do well to listen to the lessons taught at Oslo and use them.

As movies go, OSLO is okay. It’s not on the same level of the riveting Iran hostage tale ARGO (2012), now nearly a decade old, unbelievably, nor did it work as well for me as the recent Netflix film SERGIO (2020), which starred Wagner Moura as United Nations diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello and told the story of his work trying to broker peace after the U.S. invaded Iraq.

But OSLO makes up for its lack of cinematic storytelling with concise straightforward writing and authentic performances.

Is it enough to keep you watching? Sure, as long as you understand that while you may have a front row seat, you won’t be sitting on its edge or leaping to your feet.

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THE DIG (2021) – Exceptional Movie Unearths More Than Just Historic Archeological Find

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I dug THE DIG (2021).

Yes, THE DIG, a new Netflix movie, is a wonderful film. It tells the surprisingly moving story of the excavation in 1939 in Sutton Hoo, England, which unearthed a burial ship from Anglo Saxon times. It features two fabulous performances by Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan, beautiful direction by Simon Stone, and an above average screenplay by Moira Buffini, based on the novel The Dig by John Preston, both of which are based on a true story.

It’s 1939, and England is on the brink of war with Nazi Germany. Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) hires amateur excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) to dig on her property as rumors have swirled that historic burial grounds lay underneath, and as Edith says, she just has a “feeling” about what is there. Brown is only an “amateur” because he’s not formally educated or trained in the field, but he’s been excavating since he was a child, and so his instincts and true experience are unparalleled, and Edith recognizes this. He has the reputation of being difficult to work with, but this comes more from idiosyncrasies rather than from stubborness.

Edith herself is unwell, as she is slowly dying, and she worries for her young son Robert (Archie Barnes), as the boy’s father has already passed away. Robert is an imaginative young boy who believes the ancient explorers were a lot like the space explorers he reads about in science fiction magazines, and he takes a liking to Basil Brown and is only too happy to be allowed to help the excavator with the dig.

Eventually, Basil unearths an amazing find, the remains of an Anglo Saxon ship, which would have been painstakingly moved from the sea to the land to provide a burial for someone of extreme importance. It’s a magnificent find, one that brings the British Museum to Edith’s doorstep, with orders that from here on out, they are taking charge.

Director Simon Stone has made a thoroughly satisfying period piece. The photography of the English countryside is as elegant as it is pastoral. You can almost smell the greenery. The film also nails the look of the period, 1939 England on the brink of war.

The first half of the movie is almost magical, bordering on fantasy, even as the story is rooted in reality. There’s a mystical quality to the screenplay as Basil Brown expounds on the marvels of the past, which he says speaks to them. There is a reverence here that resonates throughout the movie. Young Robert is an eager listener to Brown’s ideas, and we the audience are right there with the boy. It’s storytelling at its best.

The second half of the movie pivots somewhat, as the British Museum becomes involved, and we are introduced to more characters, including Peggy Piggot (Lily James) who’s there to help her husband with the dig, but it is through this experience that she learns some truths about herself and her marriage. The second half of the movie isn’t quite as effective as the first, but it’s still a first-rate screenplay by Moira Buffini.

The two leads here are outstanding.

Ralph Fiennes, who has delivered many fine perfomances over the years going all the way back to THE ENGLISH PATIENT (1996), and who is currently playing M in the new James Bond movies, is outstanding here as Basil Brown. It’s clearly one of his best film performances, and instantly one of my favorites. He makes Brown a three-dimensional character who in spite of his reptutation for being difficult is sincere, empathetic, and a genuinely caring person.

Carey Mulligan is equally as good as Edith Pretty. It’s a challenging role, as Edith grows sicker throughout the story, and Mulligan is up to the challenge of capturing her ever increasing sickness. In spite of her illness, she is a strong-willed woman who does her best to give Basil credit for the dig, even though the museum would prefer the name of an amateur not be mentioned at all.

I have been enjoying Mulligan’s work for some time now, as she has made memorable impressions in such films as DRIVE (2011), THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), and MUDBOUND (2017). She is also currently starring in the thriller PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020).

The other testament to Mulligan’s and Fiennes’ acting is the two actors share tremendous chemistry… their scenes together resonate and drive this film forward… even though they are not connected romantically, which is usually the way it is onscreen for characters who share this kind of chemistry. They are both fantastic.

Young Archie Barnes is noteworthy as Edith’s son Robert, as his energetic performance really captures the spirit of the movie.

Lily James is also very good as Peggy, although she doesn’t show up in the film until its second half, but she makes Peggy a sympathetic character, even if she’s not integral to the film’s main plot. I like James a lot and have enjoyed her work in such films as BABY DRIVER (2017), DARKEST HOUR (2017), and REBECCA (2020).

One of the themes in THE DIG, in addition to the connection between explorers of the past and explorers of the future, is that life is fleeting, and you have to go for things in the here and now. However, we all fail at times, and we have to live with our failures and move on, and when ultimately our time is done, we do live on as what we do now for others lives on with them, which allows the past to continue to speak to the present and the future.

There’s a lot going on in THE DIG, as it has a very layered screenplay by Moira Buffini.

And one of the film’s best scenes, which speaks to its theme of the meeting of explorers, Robert takes his ailing mother on a “voyage” on a ship through time. They camp out in the remains of the unearthed ship under the starry night sky and Robert speaks of his explorations through time and space and how his mother will be there with him because time is different in space, and from where she is she will know all that he has done.

Deep, almost magical storytelling, and yet there’s not a drop of fantasy to be found. Instead, it’s wrapped in a story that is as deeply rooted in reality as you can get.

THE DIG is an exceptional movie that unearths more than just an amazing archeological find. It digs up some astounding truths about who we are, what we are doing here, and where we are going.

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ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (2021) – Fictional Account of Four 1960s Icons Phenomenal and Flawless

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It’s all about the screenplay.

So often, the one element which hurts a movie the most is its screenplay. Generally speaking, bad screenplay, bad movie. Likewise, if your movie has a good screenplay, chances are, you have a winner on your hands.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI (2021), now available on Prime Video, not only has a good screenplay, it has a phenomenal one! Written by Kemp Powers, based on his stage play of the same name, ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI tells the fictional account of four icons, Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.) getting together in a hotel room in Miami to celebrate Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston for the Heavyweight Title earlier that night, and the ensuing conversations between them as they navigate through Malcolm X’s views on race relations, and their own roles in the movement make for superior storytelling from start to finish.

When he defeated Liston that night for the Heavyweight Title, Ali was still known as Cassius Clay, but under the guidance of his friend and mentor Malcolm X, Clay had been considering converting to Islam. In fact, this get-together from Malcolm X’s perspective, was largely to finalize that conversion, and to tell their two other friends, Cooke and Brown, about it.

On this night, Malcolm X is on edge. He knows people are following him, that there are threats against his life, and he is having conflicts within the ranks of the Nation of Islam, but more so, he feels the struggle for the black man is imminent, and there is no time to slack off and accept the status quo. And so, in addition to his invitation to Clay, he also leans heavily into Sam Cooke, a singer Malcolm X accuses of cozying up too much to white society. Cooke does not take kindly to this criticism, and most of the night the two friends engage in heated exchanges.

Meanwhile, Jim Brown, the NFL’s biggest star, does not agree with Malcolm X’s militant stance on race, and yet he knows huge problems exist in the country. He just doesn’t agree with Malcolm’s solutions. And Cassius Clay, while originally enthustiastic about becoming a Muslim, has ever increasing doubts as the heated arguments continue throughout the evening.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is chock full of memorable lines and conversations. It’s pratically a treatise on race relations, and even though the story takes place in 1964 and is seen through the eyes of four icons of the that period, the conversations remain relevant in the here and now. And it’s done on a canvas of a marvelous play. The dialogue, the relationships, the characters, they all come to life, and thanks to director Regina King, who invites the audience right into the room with these guys, you feel like you’re right there sitting next to them.

One of the more memorable lines comes as Jim Brown is shaking his head at Malcolm X and telling him it always amazes him that Malcom so freely mixes being religious with being militant, to which Malcolm replies, “what’s the difference?”

Nearly every conversation is a memorable exchange. From Malcolm X pointing out that Bob Dylan, a white man, has written songs more pointed towards their cause than anything Cooke has written, to Cooke’s lambasting Malcolm over his comments following JFK’s assassination, telling Malcolm “my mother cried when JFK died. So did I. I liked JFK.”

Eli Goree delivers the most fun performance in the movie as Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali. He captures Clay’s exhuberance and over-the-top personality, and enjoys many scene stealing moments, like when he’s bragging he doesn’t have a scratch on his face and looks in the mirror, stopping abruptly and going silent as if concerned. When his three friends rush to his aid, he says, “How is it that I’m so handsome!” It’s one of the better performances of Clay/Ali that I’ve ever seen.

Kingsley Ben–Adir makes for an intense, introspective, driven, and visibly frightened Malcolm X. His scenes of harsh criticism of his friends are juxtaposed with his late night phone calls to his wife and daughters, revealing him as a loving, caring family man. And while his friends push back, he desperately tries to tell them that he’s not criticizing them, but trying to motivate them to help their cause.

Aldis Hodge plays Jim Brown as the most level headed of the group, in that he’s the least interested in Malcolm’s cause and simply believes that the way to achieve equality is through economic means, and each of them by their own successes are already doing that. Malcolm disagrees and says that is not enough. For Brown, he knows things are bad, he’s experienced things first-hand, but he just doesn’t see the answer as coming through militant means. Hodge is very good in the role, as he’s been in a bunch of other movies, including THE INVISIBLE MAN (2019), BRIAN BANKS (2018), and HIDDEN FIGURES (2019).

Leslie Odom, Jr. plays Sam Cooke and partakes in the film’s most fiery scenes, as Cooke is constantly at odds with Malcolm X. And the reason Cooke takes Malcolm’s criticisms so seriously is because he believes he has been doing these things, he has been making strides for race relations, and so he is irked by Malcolm’s statements to the contrary. He recounts the story of how a song he wrote and another black artist recorded reached #49 on the charts, and when a British band called the Rolling Stones asked for permission to do a cover version of the song, he said yes. He says Malcolm would have said no because they were white, but Cooke said yes, and the Rolling Stones version went to #1 on the pops chart. And since Cooke owned the royalties, both he and the black singer collected huge checks, and with that kind of money, that is how Cooke says he is a making a difference.

It’s an excellent performance by Odom, known mostly these days for his performance as Aaron Burr in the musical Hamilton, as well as in the movie version, HAMILTON (2020).

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is actress’ Regina King’s directorial debut, and it’s a powerful one. She captures the look and feel of the period with ease. Everything about this movie looks authentic. And she is able to weave in and out of the various conversations and arguments without ever losing any momentum. In spite of the fact that this one is driven by dialogue, it is cinematic in scope and does not feel like a simple stage play.

It’s captivating from start to finish, and there isn’t a dull moment in any of its two hour running time.

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI is pretty much flawless. Add this one to your queue immediately. It’s the best movie I’ve seen in a long time.

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MANK (2020) – David Fincher’s Story of CITIZEN KANE Screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz with Gary Oldman in the Lead Is More Appreciated Than Enjoyed

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Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE (1941) is often cited by critics and film historians as the greatest movie ever made. For me, it’s a movie I’ve always appreciated but just have never really loved. It’s a film that in spite of its innovative attributes simply has never reached out and grabbed me.

I kinda feel the same way about today’s movie MANK (2020), an ambitious film by director David Fincher which stars Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz, the alcoholic screenwriter who penned the ahead-of-its-time screenplay for CITIZEN KANE. I appreciated its attributes, but I can’t say I enjoyed it all that much. In a nutshell, I found most of its 131 minutes rather dull even while I appreciated the fine acting, storytelling, and black and white photography.

MANK, a new Netflix original movie, tells the story of Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) who when the movie opens has just broken his leg in a car accident. He’s been tasked by the young hotshot filmmaker Orson Welles (Tom Burke) to write the screenplay for his next movie, and Welles gives him just two months to do it. Welles sets up Mank in a room with a personal nurse Fraulein Frieda (Monika Gossmann) and a typist Rita Alexander (Lily Collins) who will type the script from Mank’s notes and dictation. And of course, no alcohol.

The script Mank sets out to write is based on the newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, and just as CITIZEN KANE tells its story through flashbacks, MANK does the same, and so through these flashbacks we learn of Mank’s relationship with William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance) and his young actress lover Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), who Mank develops a close friendship with. The story is a complicated one, covering the cutthroat studio politics of the time, as well as government politics, as studio head Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard) backs the Republican candidate for governor in 1934 and even produces a fake “newsreel” movie which blatantly labels the Democatric candidate, Upton Sinclair (Bill Nye) (Um, yes, the Science Guy!) as a socialist, under whose leadership immigrants will invade the state! Where have I heard that before? The more things change….

Once the script is finished, those closest to Mank beg him not to follow through, warning him that he shouldn’t cross William Randolph Hearst, while Marion asks him not to betray a friendship. Of course, Mank doesn’t take their advice, and the rest is history.

MANK is filled with impressive performances, starting at the top with Gary Oldman as Mank. I could watch Oldman act all day, and while his performance here is not as atonishing as his portrayal of Winston Churchill in DARKEST HOUR (2017), it’s still pretty darn good. I’ll do one better, it’s really good! Mank clearly has a drinking problem and when he’s drunk his sharp writer’s mind is even more cutting and he says things which offend and hurt, even while being true. It doesn’t win him many friends, except, ironically, William Randolph Hearst, who seems to enjoy Mank’s insights, so much so that it’s later revealed that Hearst paid Mank’s salary at the studio. Oldman convincingly captures this alcoholic behavior, and he does it while keeping Mank a sympathetic character. In spite of his sharp tongue, he doesn’t come off as a jerk, but as someone who refuses to remain silent when in the company of hypocrisy. The main reason to watch MANK is the performance of Gary Oldman.

Both Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance make the most of their limited screen time, and I wish both these performers had been in the movie more. Seyfried gets to show off her acting talents as the sassy Marion Davies. It’s a much more satisfying role than the last time we saw her, in the disappointing thriller YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT (2020) in which she co-starred with Kevin Bacon. Of course, we’ve seen Seyfried do this before, lose herself in the part and completely become the character, as she did with her performance as Linda Lovelace in the superior movie LOVELACE (2013). I like Seyfried a lot, and I’ve enjoyed nearly every movie she has made.

Charles Dance, who starred in David Fincher’s ill-fated ALIEN 3 (1992) way back when, is authoritative, cool, and powerful as William Randolph Hearst. Dance is one of those actors who I’ve enjoyed more the older he gets! He stood out in a supporting role in THE IMITATION GAME (2014), and his master vampire was the best part of the underwhelming DRACULA UNTOLD (2014).

Also making a notable impression and with more screen time is Lily Collins as Rita Alexander, the woman who types the script and develops a friendship with Mank. Collins gets lots of screen time with Gary Oldman, and they’re very good together.

Other notable performances include Tom Pelphrey as Mank’s brother Joseph, Arliss Howard as Louis B. Mayer, Tuppence Middleton as Mank’s wife Sara, and Tom Burke as Orson Welles, just to name a few.

David Fincher uses black and white photography and captures the look of 1930s-40s Hollywood movies. He also mirrors the style of CITIZEN KANE, using flashbacks and jumping back and forth in time, something today’s audiences are use to, but 1940s audiences were not, and so for Mank, his screenplay was unusual and ahead of its time.

The screenplay by Jack Fincher, David Fincher’s father, who passed away in 2003, contains both hits and misses. The hits include the sharp tongues of Mank and his fellow Hollywood screenwriters. Their dialogue contains some real zingers, most of which come from Mank. Also, strangely, since this was written back in the 1990s, the script speaks to the political climate of today, touching upon such issues as the demonization of socialism and the notion that one can promote lies as truth simply by repeating the lies over and over, something that Mank balks at.

Where the screenplay misses is with emotion. As much as I appreciated the acting performances and the technical aspects to this one, the story never moved me. It remained flat throughout. And I think part of this is the screenplay focuses so meticulously on Mank’s motives for writing his CITIZEN KANE screenplay it forgets to give the viewer a reason for enjoying this one. In short, it tells more than it shows.

Yet, director David Fincher does fill this one with cinematic images, meant to call to mind similar images from CITIZEN KANE, and there are lots of memorable lines and anecdotes, like the one on the rumor of what the classic line “Rosebud” means. But emotionally MANK still falls flat. The characters, as well acted as they are, somehow never become truly fleshed out, truly like real people.

Perhaps its because the folks in Hollywood in the 1930s-40 weren’t acting like real people. Perhaps they were simply more concerned with the business of making movies to care about anything else. There’s certainly a line in MANK which speaks to this, when Mank begs Marion to go back and tell Louis Mayer not to release his propaganda movie against Upton Sinclair. She tells him she can’t go back…. because she has already made her exit. To which Mank, upon leaving her, bursts out laughing.

MANK is a movie definitely worth checking out, both for film history purposes and film appreciation, as its strong cast is led by Gary Oldman, who delivers an exceptional performance, and it’s got a veteran and talented director at the helm, David Fincher.

You just might not enjoy it all that much.

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