IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MIST (2007)

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My two favorite works by Stephen King are his novel Salem’s Lot (1975), which I read when it first came out when I was eleven years old, and it scared the crap out of me, and his novella The Mist (1980).

So, when the movie version THE MIST (2007) came out, I knew it would be hard-pressed to meet my expectations because I enjoyed the novella so much, and while I generally liked the movie, I didn’t love it.

Part of this is because of my love of the novella itself, but another more important part is the movie version simply isn’t as intense as King’s original story, even with its infamous changed and much darker ending. Having re-watched the film for the purposes of this column, my opinion remains unchanged.

In THE MIST, a mysterious mist covers a small Maine town after a ferocious thunderstorm, and a group of townspeople including David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son find themselves trapped inside a supermarket with giant carnivorous insects and other unseen nasties hovering outside in the fog, creatures that are not only waiting to eat people who venture outside, but also that are actively trying to break through the glass of the market and get inside.

It’s a great premise for a story.

THE MIST was written and directed by Frank Darabont, who also successfully adapted a couple of other Stephen King stories for the big screen, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) and THE GREEN MILE (1999). Darabont is also the man who developed and created the TV show THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2022). THE MIST shares a common theme with THE WALKING DEAD, as both stories follow a group of survivors as they try not only to deal with the supernatural threat in their world, but also the threat from other humans who lose their sh*t when the world as they know it comes to an end. They even share some of the same cast members, as Laurie Holden (Andrea), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), and Melissa McBride (Carol) all have roles in THE MIST.

But THE MIST is not as intense as THE WALKING DEAD, nor is it as intense as the novella on which it is based, which has always been my problem with this movie. It’s generally enjoyable and scary, but it never really gets under your skin or goes for the throat, with the exception of its chilling conclusion. But so much before that, like the all-important sequences in the grocery store, is talky and drawn out.

The most frightening part of the movie version of THE MIST is not its monsters, but human character Mrs. Carmody, played by Marcia Gay Harden, who delivers one of the best performances in the movie. Mrs. Carmody believes the mist and its monsters have happened because her Old Testament vengeful God is angry with humanity and is exacting revenge. To appease her God, she begins to seek followers inside the supermarket, and there’s talk of offering a sacrifice to God to show him that they are faithful. This character remains frightening today as in recent years both religious and political extremism has grown more aggressive and violent.

Also memorable is character actor Toby Jones as Ollie Weeks, the supermarket employee and character audiences probably most identify with, as he is just an everyday loyal worker who finds himself stepping up and taking on a leadership role. I always enjoy Jones’ work, and his credits are too numerous to list here, but his performance is one of my favorite parts of THE MIST.

WALKING DEAD veterans Jeffrey DeMunn and Laurie Holden are also really good here in their roles, which almost seem like warm-ups for their roles on the blockbuster TV series.

Andre Braugher is fine as the annoying Brent Norton, and in the lead, Thomas Jane is okay as David Drayton, but I’ve always found his performance, with the exception of the ending, to be, like the rest of the movie, lacking in the necessary intensity. Supposedly, Frank Darabont wanted Jane to star as Rick Grimes in THE WALKING DEAD. Based on his performance here in THE MIST, I’m glad the lead role of that zombie series went to Andrew Lincoln instead.

Of course, you can’t talk about THE MIST without talking about the ending. The ending to the novella simply had the characters exiting into the mist, and their fate was left for the reader to decide, which was something that worked for me. Darabont famously changed the ending, which gives the film an incredibly dark finish, which for many fans, made this movie something extra special. Indeed, even Stephen King is on record as saying he loved the ending to the movie and wishes he had thought of it. As endings go, it is incredibly grim, and again, since I loved the entire novella so much, I prefer its original ending to the one in the movie. Let’s put it this way. It’s the ending which prevents me from wanting to watch this one over and over, as it’s such a complete downer.

But there is one positive that I took from this depressing ending as I watched the movie again here in 2022, a time when extremism is running rampant throughout the world. On the one end in THE MIST, we have the extremism of Mrs. Carmody, which is easy to see, and on the other end, at the film’s conclusion, we witness an extreme decision made by David Drayton, which at the time, seemed like the best decision, in spite of how excruciatingly painful it would be, to make. But moments after pulling the trigger— eh hem— on this decision, Drayton sees that it was so very wrong, and he falls to his knees and screams in agonized horror. So, the ending, in spite of the fact that I don’t really like it, does speak, like the rest of the film does, to the importance of avoiding extremism, whether that be extreme beliefs or actions. If Drayton and those in the car with him, had only expressed a bit more faith in humanity, their fates would have been different.

THE MIST is a well-made, frightening horror movie. For some, it’s an exceptional horror movie. For me, it remains just very good, because its source material, Stephen King’s novella of the same name, is far superior.

Either way, THE MIST is worth a look, and its ending is one you definitely need to experience at least once, and then as you walk away from the end credits, you can ask yourself, would I have done the same?

—END—

HALLOWEEN ENDS (2022) – Final Film in HALLOWEEN Franchise Much Better Than Expected

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HALLOWEEN ENDS… we can only hope!

Actually, I’m a big fan of the HALLOWEEN series and have been since seeing John Carpenter’s classic HALLOWEEN (1978) at the movies when it first came out, a long, long time ago. That first movie remains my favorite, and truth be told, most of the sequels and re-imaginings have been pretty bad, but I’ve enjoyed most of them, as guilty pleasures, I guess. I’ve had this conversation with friends, but one of the reasons I’ve always liked the HALLOWEEN movies even when they’re not that great is because of John Carpenter’s iconic HALLOWEEN music score. As soon as it starts playing on the soundtrack, I’m in!

And the music was about the only thing I liked about the reimagined sequel HALLOWEEN (2018) which brought back Jamie Lee Curtis to the series and told her character’s story about how she had been dealing with the fallout from Michael Myers for forty years, a film which pretty much ignored all the sequels and tried to be a sole sequel to the 1978 film. It was a worthy idea, but the script was pretty bad, and the film a disappointment.

I was one of the few people who actually enjoyed the sequel to that movie, HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021) more than the 2018 film.

Now comes the “final” installment in this new HALLOWEEN trilogy, HALLOWEEN ENDS— who is coming up with the titles to these movies?— and all three movies were directed by David Gordon Green.

HALLOWEEN ENDS is not getting good reviews, but I’ll cut right to the chase: I actually liked this one better than HALLOWEEN KILLS, which makes it my favorite of this new HALLOWEEN trilogy.

One of the biggest reasons I liked this one? It tries a lot that is new, and so if you are expecting two hours of Michael Myers vs. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode, that’s not what you’re going to get. I’m sure some fans will be put off by this. I wasn’t, mostly because what was in its place were story elements that were all rather intriguing.

HALLOWEEN ENDS opens in the here and now in Haddonfield, Illinois, the small town which seems to have been forever cursed by Michael Myers, with a different take on the babysitting trope, as this time the babysitter is a young man, Corey (Rohan Campbell). Corey is babysitting a bratty little kid who tells Corey he’s not afraid because Michael Myers doesn’t kill kids; he kills babysitters! Ouch! Before the night is over, the boy locks Corey inside an attic room. When Corey kicks the door open, tragedy results, and the little tyke is killed in front of his parents’ eyes who have just returned home.

Cue opening credits.

Usually, introducing new story elements and characters isn’t the best idea in a third film in a series, as you want to know what’s going on with the characters from the first two installments, but it somehow works here in HALLOWEEN ENDS, and Corey becomes an intriguing character. Even with all the Michael Myers history, Corey is now considered the town psycho after he is not convicted of murder. He’s the recipient of massive hating and bullying, and he has a mother who would be right at home being best friends with Norman Bates’ mother.

One thing HALLOWEEN ENDS gets right is it paints a portrait of hatred and vindictiveness in our modern-day culture, and I think it nails this throughout the movie. It reminded me a little bit of what Sandra Bullock’s character went through in the excellent Netflix movie THE UNFORGIVABLE (2021), where Bullock played an ex-con where pretty much everyone in society decided her crime was unforgivable and treated her like dirt.

When we finally catch up with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), she’s living with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), and the two are trying to live their lives in Haddonfield after the events from the last movie where Allyson’s mom and Laurie’s daughter was murdered by Michael Myers. Laurie is writing her memoirs, and we learn that Michael Myers has disappeared.

When bullies actually push Corey off a bridge, he finds himself left for dead on the banks of the river. He makes his way into an underground tunnel and there discovers— you got it! Michael Myers has taken up residence underneath Haddonfield! When Myers attacks Corey, their eyes lock, and a strange thing happens. Is it a meeting of the minds? Does Myers see a fellow psycho? Or is the evil that inhabits Myers now transferred to Corey? Whatever the answer, Corey finds a newfound power, and an ally, and together they go on a vengeance killing spree.

Around this same time, Allyson meets Corey, thinks he’s cute, and pursues him, and the two characters grow close, finding common ground in their disdain for Haddonfield, and they speak openly of blowing everything up and then leaving for good. This story arc is rather interesting, as it brings together a Michael Myers disciple and Laurie’s granddaughter, now both working together for less than noble purposes.

Of course, Laurie disapproves, especially when she begins to receive Michael Myers’ vibes when she looks at Corey. As she says, she sees Myers’ eyes in Corey’s eyes. There’s a neat scene where Laurie looks out her window and sees Corey standing by some hanging laundry which mirrors a similar scene in the original HALLOWEEN.

Corey eventually wants more power, and battles Michael Myers and steals his mask, in effect becoming a new Michael Myers. But HALLOWEEN ENDS isn’t SON OF MICHAEL MYERS, and good old Michael isn’t interested in retiring just yet.

And Michael is old, as he should be in his 60s right about now, and the film stays true to that notion, and we see a killer who isn’t a young man anymore. That’s not to say he’s not in killing shape. He’s just a demonic killer who’s now in his 60s, which is something else about this movie that I liked.

HALLOWEEN ENDS makes good on its title and goes out of its way to make sure that Michael Myers isn’t coming back ever again—almost to a laughable degree—but never say never. This is the movies, after all, and anything can happen in the movies.

Also, as Laurie says in her voice over narration from the memoir she’s writing, evil never really dies. It just changes shape, an intriguing notion and choice of words, since Michael Myers is often credited as The Shape in the HALLOWEEN movies. Which is a neat way of wrapping up this series, with the idea that Michael was just a temporary shape of evil, housing some demonic entity, which may in fact live on even after its host body has been destroyed.

I thought there was a lot to like about HALLOWEEN ENDS. The screenplay by Paul Brad Logan somehow kept this story fresh throughout. I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy the story about Corey, but it works. I also thought Logan nailed the hate and vindictiveness in our modern-day society. Townpeople call out Laurie and blame her for their woes, because she had the gall to irk Michael Myers, rather than just leaving him alone.

One thing that doesn’t work, however, is the notion that this is a long-standing battle between Laurie and Michael. Sure, he attacked her in the original movie, but if anyone was truly his adversary, it was his doctor, Doctor Loomis, played by the late great Donald Pleasence. The idea that Laurie and Michael are bitter adversaries really was concocted for this trilogy.

Jamie Lee Curtis is fine, playing Laurie for what seems to be the final time. But one of my favorite performances however belongs to Andi Matichak as Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson, who is a much more interesting character, and her flirtations with evil and “burning down” Haddonfield are some of the more interesting parts of the film. Rohan Campbell is also very good as Corey, the misunderstood youth who becomes a Michael Myers disciple.

David Gordon Green’s direction isn’t bad. The film takes its time, which might turn off audiences, but it didn’t bother me because the story was firing on all cylinders. How does it stand up as a horror movie? Not bad. It’s not all that scary, which is not a good thing. How does it rank as a HALLOWEEN movie? It’s the best of this latest trilogy, but it still pales in comparison to John Carpenter’s original.

That being said, it was still way better than I expected, and so I have few complaints about this one. If you’re going to call your movie HALLOWEEN ENDS and plan to end a franchise, this was certainly a fitting way to do it. Then again, maybe it was just that iconic music score working its magic again…

Either way, this series started back in 1978, and although this installment actually included some new ideas, most of the films have not, and so on that note, I think it’s time we put this series to bed. So while I like this one, I’m still hoping HALLOWEEN ENDS lives up to its name.

I give HALLOWEEN ENDS three stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

SMILE (2022) – Decent Horror Movie Provides Some First-Half Scares

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Yes, smiles can be creepy.

And SMILE (2022), a new horror movie now playing in theaters, takes full advantage of that fact. For two thirds of its running time, it delivers some genuine scares and a very interesting premise, before it falls off a bit with some over-the-top and unintentionally laughable special effects and a plot in which its characters seem to figure things out long after the audience does.

For while, SMILE reminded me somewhat of a better horror movie from a few years back, IT FOLLOWS (2014) as both movies had a creative and rather unique plot. In IT FOLLOWS, in what served as an allegory for the transmission of stds, the supernatural threat was passed on from person to person through sexual contact. The entity in IT FOLLOWS would slowly follow its victims, a relentless pursuit which would only end in either the victim dying, or, if the victim had sex with someone, then the entity would be passed on to that person and would stalk them.

Here in SMILE, the entity feeds off trauma, and it stalks its victims through suicide. Each victim, who sees random and oftentimes people they know smiling at them strangely, are driven to commit suicide, and the person who witnesses the suicide is the next to be stalked. The difference between the two movies is that in IT FOLLOWS, the teenage characters aggressively attempted to fight back and figure out ways to stop the supernatural stalker, whereas here in SMILE, it takes forever for the characters to figure out what’s going on, and when they do, for some strange reason, they fail to act on it.

In SMILE, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) treats a young woman who insists she’s not crazy, that she is being stalked by a real creature that appears like ordinary human beings only with a sadistic smile. While Rose tries to treat her, the woman suddenly shrieks that the creature is in the room with them, and she brutally slits her own throat.

A short time later, Rose begins to experience the same symptoms, having bizarre and frightening hallucinations of people she knows smiling threateningly at her. To make matters more complicated, when Rose was a child she witnessed her abusive mother commit suicide, so when Rose begins to act unhinged, her sister, her fianc√©, her boss, all believe it’s the result of childhood trauma. The only person who does believe her is her cop ex-boyfriend, Joel (Kyle Gallner), and he helps her investigate the strange goings on, and they discover a trail going back a long time of suicide victims who were witnesses to other suicides. Rose then uses this information to fight for her life.

For a while, SMILE was firing on all cylinders. I was enjoying the story, which had a premise I found rather interesting, and the scares were there. Early on, there were some frightening scenes, spots where I actually jumped.

But when Rose finally figures out what is going on, and it becomes clear that the supernatural entity goes from one body to another after its current host’s suicide is witnessed by someone else, the story takes a hit because you expect Rose to realize this and make it her strategy to isolate herself, to get away from any other people in order to strip the creature of its calling card, but by the time she decides to do this, it’s way too late.

Plus, the film makes the dubious decision to include some over-the-top gross out effects which seem like they jumped off the set of a Tim Burton movie. Members of the audience actually laughed at these effects, which I’m sure wasn’t the intention.

Writer/director Parker Finn has written an intriguing horror tale but unfortunately his main characters suffer through a major case of the stupids and don’t figure things out until long after those of us sitting in the audience have done so. He does craft some frightening scenes early on, and I liked this, but the film doesn’t hold it together for its entirety, slowing down and becoming much less frightening as it closes in on its end credits.

SMILE is an okay horror movie that provides some decent scares for this Halloween season, even though in its latter half there isn’t all that much to smile about.

I give it two and a half stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

AMSTERDAM (2022) – Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington Lead All-Star Cast in David O. Russell’s Lighthearted Murder Mystery Period Piece

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AMSTERDAM (2022), director/writer David O. Russell’s first film since JOY (2015), is loosely based on a true story, a political conspiracy in 1933 known as the Business Plot, where wealthy businessmen and bankers plotted a behind-the-scenes coup d’√©tat to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt and replace him with a military general.

With its all-star cast, led by the triumvirate of Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington, combined with its artful cinematography capturing 1933 New York and its impactful and hopping screenplay by David O. Russell, AMSTERDAM largely entertains for all of its two hour and fourteen-minute running time.

The movie gets off to a lively start as we meet Burt Berendsen (Christian Bale) in 1933 New York. Berendsen is a doctor and World War I veteran who treats his fellow veterans who returned from the Great War with unspeakable scars, injuries, and pain. So much pain. Berendsen is always looking for more powerful drugs to help his patients deal with the pain, and he himself lost an eye during the war, and his back is terribly scarred and twisted, so much so he has to constantly wear a back brace. Bale with his character’s glass eye and odd manner of speaking channels a lot of Peter Falk throughout his performance. When they are later trying to solve the mystery, it was easy to imagine Columbo on the case.

Burt and his fellow veteran and best friend from the war Harold Woodman (John David Washington), an attorney, are hired by Liz Meekins (Taylor Swift), the daughter of their former commanding officer, to look into her father’s death, which she believes is the result of foul play. And when Liz is pushed in front of an oncoming vehicle and murdered right in front of their eyes, they realize something big is going on.

Burt, who narrates the movie, then says it’s time for some background information, and the film jumps back in time to 1918 where he and Harold are cared for in army hospital by a nurse Valerie Voze (Margot Robbie). The three become inseparable, and their friendship blossoms as they spend a magical period shut off from the rest of the world in Amsterdam. But they pledged to always be there for each other. And so eventually when the action returns to 1933 New York, Valerie re-enters their lives as they, in the process of investigating their former commanding officer’s death, uncover a vast conspiracy against the United States government.

All of this sounds serious, and some of it is, but the screenplay is anything but a straight drama. It’s quirky and humorous, generating enough clever laughs to keep this one lighthearted throughout.

The biggest story with AMSTERDAM is its cast, both its three main players and the supporting cast of actors. Anytime you have Christian Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington sharing ample screen time in your movie, chances are things are going to be purdy darn good. And they are.

Christian Bale is a phenomenal actor, and his performance as broken Burt Berendsen drives the entire movie forward. With his quirky Peter Falk-style delivery, Bale is watchable throughout. The same goes for Margot Robbie and John David Washington. The three of them deliver throughout this movie.

The supporting players also make their mark. Probably the two best supporting performances belong to Rami Malek as Valerie’s manipulative brother Tom, and Anya Taylor-Joy, who other than Bale, delivers hands down the best performance in the movie, as Tom’s eccentric wife Libby.

It was fun to see Mike Myers back on screen again, playing a British intelligence officer named Paul Canterbury, in a role which would have been perfectly suitable for Michael York a few years back. Myers and Michael Shannon, who plays Canterbury’s American intelligence counterpart, share lots of scenes together and seem to be having a great time as the two men who steer Burt and his friends towards uncovering the conspiracy plot.

Chris Rock in limited screen time gets some genuine laugh out loud moments as Milton King, one of the other soldiers in Burt’s and Harold’s platoon. Timothy Olyphant is also memorable under heavy face-altering prosthetics as Taron Milfax, a villainous henchman and murderer. And Zoe Saldana is enjoyable as a beautiful coroner who has eyes for Burt.

By the time Rober De Niro shows up as the level-headed general who refutes the coup, the film has lost a lot of its energy and pizzaz. While it remains entertaining throughout, the first two thirds of AMSTERDAM are much more energetic than its third act, which slows down as all the answers are revealed.

And David O. Russell’s screenplay keeps things simple. When De Niro’s General Dillenbeck delivers his much-anticipated speech, the words he uses to explain the evil that these men plan to do sounds like he’s speaking to a room of first graders. I suppose this is better than an explanation that is unclear and cryptic, but things are explained in straightforward simplistic black and white terms, in language that definitely calls to mind current events and what was attempted in the United States on January 6, 2021.

Overall, I enjoyed AMSTERDAM quite a bit, and I liked it better than Russell’s previous two movies, JOY and AMERICAN HUSTLE (2013). My two favorite Russell movies remain THE FIGHTER (2010) and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012), but AMSTERDAM is right up there with them.

The 1933 New York sets, costumes, and cinematography were so authentic, I half expected to see King Kong rampaging through the streets on his way to the Empire State Building.

AMSTERDAM covers more than just its murder/coup plot, as it touches upon love, relationships, race, and art. At the end of the movie when Valerie and Harold have to leave the country, because they know their mixed-race relationship will not be allowed in the United States, it’s a powerful point that not many movies have felt comfortable making, and when Burt vows to work towards changing things, so his friends can return and live in this country freely, it’s a bittersweet moment because while we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.

But the overall feel of this drama/comedy period piece is definitely on the lighter side, and the film provides plenty of humorous moments and laughter, most of it of the quirky variety, and it all works, even if the final third of the film slows down somewhat.

AMSTERDAM is well worth the visit.

I give it three stars.

—END–

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

LOU (2022) – Allison Janney Solid in New Netflix Action Thriller

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LOU (2022), a new action thriller now streaming on Netflix, isn’t half bad.

Which, of course, also means, it’s not half good!

What are you going to do?

LOU stars Allison Janney… who looks like she walked off the set of an episode of THE WALKING DEAD…as a rough and independent woman named Lou living with her dog in the Pacific wilderness on an island off the coast of Washington. She is somewhat of a pain in the backside.

She rents out a home on her property to a single mother Hannah (Jurnee Smollett) and her young daughter Vee (Ridley Asha Bateman), and when she nearly runs over Vee with her pick-up truck, she is chastised by Hannah for driving too fast, to which Lou replies that Hannah needs to teach Vee to look after herself and not run out into the road. Hannah does not like Lou, but Vee kinda does.

But when one night during a major storm, a man breaks onto the property and abducts Vee, Hannah turns to Lou for help, and it’s a good thing because at the very moment Hannah was banging on her door, Lou was seconds away from committing suicide. It turns out the man who abducted Vee is the girl’s father, Philip (Logan Marshall-Green), and he is an ex-Green Beret, so Hannah warns Lou that they can’t take on Philip on their own, which is a problem since the power is out, and they can’t call the police. But Lou ignores the warning and vows to track Philip immediately. Why? Because Lou is ex-CIA.

Let the chase begin!

If only the plot had been this simple, LOU would have been highly entertaining. As it is, it’s not bad, but the screenplay by Maggie Cohn and Jack Stanley makes things complicated and convoluted when it turns out that Lou is also Philip’s father, which makes her Vee’s grandmother, which makes the entire plot suddenly fall into the overused trope…this time it’s personal!…which by the time all is revealed, makes everything that happens in this one less credible and less believable.

Why couldn’t Lou just be a pain in the ass old lady bitter from her CIA past who just when she was about to end it all, finds one last moment of redemption, as she uses her skills to save a little girl from her crazed ex-Green Beret father? That would have been an exciting and worthwhile story to tell. Instead, she’s a manipulative mother, whose son is not only trying to get back at his ex-wife, but also his mother. It’s PSYCHO Plus!

It’s also a bit too much to swallow.

The story takes place in 1986. Not sure why. In terms of plot, it does give Lou some historical CIA missions to be bitter about. In terms of the movie, it provides an excuse to have lots of 80s songs on the soundtrack, which definitely helps.

Allison Janney, who did not star on THE WALKING DEAD, but did star on the classic series THE WEST WING (1999-2006) as C.J. Cregg, is terrific here in the lead role as Lou, and she’s also believable. Even as she deals with arthritis, she makes for a realistic bad ass who is believable kicking the butts of much younger adversaries. Janney has been making movies regularly, having appeared in BOMBSHELL (2019), I, TONYA (2017), in which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress as Tonya Harding’s mother, and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016), to name just a few.

Jurnee Smollett is also believable as Hannah, the mother who had no idea her landlady was really her mother-in-law and the root of her crazy ex-husband’s problems. We just saw Smollett in SPIDERHEAD (2022), the Netflix thriller in which she co-starred with Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller.

Even better is Logan Marshall-Green as Philip, the volatile ex-Green Beret who abducts his daughter as part of a plan to blow up everyone he used to love. Not exactly daddy day care here! But Marshall-Green is really good in the role, and my favorite part of his performance is he somehow actually makes Philip somewhat sympathetic. He makes the guy human, and when he talks about his pain, and what his mother did to him, he’s believable. This is no surprise, because Logan Marshall-Green also delivered a standout performance in the superior independent horror movie from a few years back, THE INVITATION (2015), in which he played the lead role.

Matt Craven also stands out in a supporting role as Sheriff Rankin, the island sheriff who knows his people and rushes to help Hannah and Lou even as he is warned by the CIA to keep away from scene.

LOU was directed by Anna Foerster, and there are no complaints here. The action scenes are realistic, and some of the sequences are rather suspenseful. There’s a neat sequence where Lou and Hannah have to cross a dilapidated bridge that I thought was particularly effective. Foerster also takes full advantage of the Pacific Northwest scenery, especially during the scenes with the big storm.

Other than its convoluted plot which gets in the way of the true story here, the one about Lou and her attempts to save an abducted child, LOU works, making it for the most part a satisfying and entertaining action flick, anchored by a solid performance by Allison Janney in the lead role.

I give it two and a half stars.

—END—

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.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

GOD’S COUNTRY (2022) – Powerful Drama Uses Subtlety to Ratchet Up Tension

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GOD’S COUNTRY (2022) is a slow-burn thriller that grows stronger the longer it goes on, using subtlety to ratchet up the tension the way other lesser-made movies use violence to do the same. As such, it’s a refreshing and resounding drama that packs a punch from start to finish.

What GOD’S COUNTRY has to say, that racial disparities and violence against women continue to be unchanged is disturbing, mostly because it is hard to argue that the movie is wrong.

Figuratively, the film plays out like a western of old, only the protagonist is a woman of color, alone on the prairie, dealing with bad men with guns, pushed to the limit, until she has to stoop to their level, like a classic gunfighter of yesteryear, and beat the villains at their own game. But GOD’S COUNTRY isn’t a “western,” nor an action movie, but a drama about a college professor dealing with both subtle racism and in-your-face violence.

It’s a masterful story and movie well worth the price of a movie ticket.

GOD’S COUNTRY takes place in beautiful western Montana, “God’s country,” where college professor Sandra (Thandiwe Newton) has recently moved from New Orleans, and with the passing of her mother, she is grieving. She lives alone with her dog in a farmhouse with stunning mountains and wilderness all around her. One morning after her morning jog, she finds a red pickup truck parked in her driveway. Her employer and dean at the college Arthur (Kai Lennox) tells her not to worry about it, that it probably just belongs to some hunters, and they never bother anyone.

But Sandra takes offense to their parking on her property, and when the truck is parked there again, she leaves a note asking for them not to park on her property. But they ignore her request, even after she speaks to them in person, and when they shoot an arrow into her front door, she calls the police. Acting sheriff Wolf (Jeremy Bobb) tries to tell Sandra that things are different in Montana than in New Orleans, and that most of the time, these issues are solved not by calling the police, but by the folks themselves. But Sandra says she feels threatened, and so against his better judgment Wolf agrees to talk to the two men. Sandra insists on going with him, which doesn’t make the situation any easier.

They meet the first man Nathan (Joris Jarsky) at his job, and he takes offense at Sandra being there with Wolf, and he worries that Wolf’s presence there in the store will cost him his job, which Wolf assures him it will not. Nathan reluctantly agrees not to park in Sandra’s driveway anymore. But when they visit the second man, Samuel (Jefferson White), the more unpredictable of the two, at his place of work, cutting down pine trees, they find themselves in the forest suddenly surrounded by hostile men wielding chainsaws, in one of the movie’s most riveting scenes, men who refuse to listen to Wolf, because, as we find out, the former sheriff is on a leave of absence for shooting and killing one of the men’s brothers, and so they do not trust the police at all. It’s Sandra who steps up and offers her sympathy and condolences to the men and gets them to agree that the man who shot the brother is not there with them, and so she convinces them to let her, and Wolf walk away, no harm, no foul. It’s here where Wolf recognizes that Sandra wasn’t a college professor back in New Orleans.

And later over a conversation at a party hosted by Arthur, Wolf learns that his suspicions are correct, that Sandra was a cop back in New Orleans. And in one of the movie’s best scenes, Wolf asks Sandra why she left the force, and he guesses that she shot someone in the line of duty, to which she replies, that’s the worst thing you can think of? When she goes on to tell him that the reason she left was because of what happened after Hurricane Katrina, how the authorities and the system failed her people, and her mother specifically, it’s a powerhouse moment, where the audience feels as dumbfounded and as foolish as Wolf, who offers a weak “I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” which causes Sandra to walk away.

The tension rises when Sandra begins to follow Nathan and Samuel to learn more about them, and they view this as an escalation, and the acts of violence against her grow more serious. Meanwhile, Sandra grows more frustrated at her job when Arthur fails to include a person of color for an open professorship. Things build to an explosive climax, and as I said, this one gets better as it goes along.

There’s a lot to like about GOD’S COUNTRY. Director Julian Higgins continually inserts brief snippets of close-ups of items inside Sandra’s home, soaking in pouring rain, giving the audience a sense of foreboding that something awful is yet to come. The entire film is beautifully shot in western Montana, and this natural scenery is at odds with the humans who inhabit it. The film’s title GOD’S COUNTRY has multiple meanings here. The literal, the setting, but it also refers to the recurrent theme of useless faith. Sandra’s mother put her faith in God yet was left to fend for herself in the hurricane in New Orleans. It also speaks to what God’s country ultimately is in the United States, a flawed unfair system that hides behind the notion of God while it does whatever the heck it wants.

Thandiwe Newton, who stars in the TV series WESTWORLD (2016-2022), plays Sandra as a sad, cautious, and ultimately fed-up woman who is sick and tired of being bullied by the folks around her. She comes off to the casual viewer as being somewhat of a pain in the backside, and early on in the movie the audience tends to agree more with her levelheaded boss Arthur, and the two hunters don’t at first seem all that unreasonable. But Sandra asked them not to park in her driveway, and they refused. That in and of itself needed to change, and when it doesn’t, the audience’s view on Sandra changes. It doesn’t matter that she might seem annoying, those guys should one, be off her property, and two, should leave her alone, and when they don’t, that’s when the problems get worse.

Jeremy Bobb as acting-sheriff Wolf is convincing as the laid-back country police officer who became a cop because his high school coach was also a cop, and he figured it was a worthwhile profession.

Kai Lennox is excellent as dean Arthur, the man who seems fair minded at first, but the more we learn about him, the more we realize he’s not as progressive as he says he is. The scene where Sandra has had enough and tells him to f*ck off, is one where the audience feels the same exact way.

Jefferson White is sufficiently slimy as the unhinged hunter Samuel, but Joris Jansky is even better as his buddy Nathan. In another of the film’s many powerful sequences, the scene where Sandra follows Nathan into a church is a perfect microcosm for the story this movie tells. When Nathan sees Sandra, he tells her she has to leave, but when she sees his mother playing the organ, she tells him that her mother also used to play the organ at church, and she also tells him that her mother has just recently died. The two converse quietly in the back of the church, on their mothers, and on faith, and they seem to gain an understanding of each other and bond, but moments later, he tells her in a harsh and threatening manner, that she has to leave the church now!

That’s what happens in God’s country.

The screenplay by director Higgins and Shaye Ogbonna is a real strength. It makes its points without hitting you over the head with them. It uses subtlety to great effect. When Arthur’s young secretary confides in Sandra and tells her that Arthur sexually assaulted her, when she gives the details, it at first sounds so harmless— in other words, it’s not a blatant rape or grope, but it is a massage, and the film gets you to realize, of course this isn’t harmless!

The film’s ending, in which Sandra realizes there is only one way to finally stop these men, which comes after they have inflicted great harm to her, hearkens back to the classic westerns of old. In a way, this seems disappointing, that this is the best we have as an answer. But that is what the film is ultimately saying, that as much as we want change, nothing is changing.

It’s a somber message, but it all works.

GOD’S COUNTRY is well-made drama that speaks volumes as to what life is really like in this nation some people call God’s country.

I give it three stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022) – Utopian Thriller’s Reveal a Disappointment

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If you’re going to make a science fiction thriller with an anticipated “big reveal,” you’d best keep the “big” in the reveal.

DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022), a new quasi-science fiction thriller, fails to do this. It has a reveal all right, but it ain’t big! The only thing big about it is, it’s a big letdown!

DON’T WORRY DARLING takes place in the 1950s in an idyllic closed community located somewhere in beautiful sunny California, where the young husbands of the families who reside there all work for an ultra-modern, yet mysterious company run by the eccentric Frank (Chris Pine). It’s mysterious because no one seems to know exactly what the company does, as the husbands never talk about their work, and the wives don’t seem to care. They’re all wealthy and happy in their utopian community.

The story focuses on one couple in particular, Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles). They are the perfect couple, and life has never been better, until one of the wives and one of Alice’s best friends, Margaret (Kiki Layne) begins to act strangely and make unexpected accusations against the company, saying it took her son away from her. Her behavior is dismissed by Frank as delusions after the traumatic experience of losing her son in an accident out in the desert, an area the wives are told not to visit because of the hazardous materials there. But when Alice witnesses Margaret commit suicide, and when she is later told that Margaret is fine and is recuperating at the hospital, she pushes back against being told she only imagined she saw Margaret take her own life.

More strange occurrences ensue, and Alice realizes that this utopian community isn’t as it seems. There is something else going on. And the rest of the movie follows Alice as she tries to figure out what is really going on, while everyone else, including Frank and her own husband Jack, fights back against her, telling her that she is unfortunately dealing with her own delusions since she too ventured into the desert and was affected by the “hazardous materials.”

This all leads up to the anticipated “big reveal,” which as I said, isn’t all that big. Nor is it terribly new or exciting.

But before the reveal, the film has a lot of good things going for it.

Things get off to a lively start with some energetic and creative direction by director Olivia Wilde, who also plays one of the wives in the movie, Bunny. The cinematography is bright and cheery, and the homes, cars, costumes, music, and characters all capture the 1950s perfectly in an opening montage that has this film hopping in its first few minutes. The setting and the characters are established with gusto.

The performances are very good. Florence Pugh, who has never looked better, by the way, is perfect as the fully content stay-at-home wife Alice, until she begins to doubt that she is living in a utopia, and that something far more sinister is going on. The one knock here is we’ve seen Pugh play this type of role before, specifically in MIDSOMMAR (2019). Not a big deal, but as good as Pugh is here, it wasn’t quite as fresh as some of her other performances. Still, she’s a wonderful actor, who I first noticed in the wrestling movie FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY (2019), and who has since wowed me in the aforementioned MIDSOMMAR, in LITTLE WOMEN (2019), and in Marvel’s BLACK WIDOW (2021).

Harry Styles as Alice’s husband Jack is convincingly loving and supportive, until the plot takes a different direction, and his character takes on a ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) vibe, as he plots against his wife.

It was fun to see Chris Pine cast against type as the villain here, Frank, the man who coolly and confidently seems to have an answer for everything. Frank is super annoying, and he gets under your skin. Pine’s performance might be the best in the movie.

Timothy Simons makes for a dubious doctor who works for the company, Dr. Collins, whose stoic demeanor irritates as he counters Alice’s emotional accusations with calm comments to the contrary. And director Olivia Wilde is effective as Bunny, a housewife who seems to be one of the most loyal to the needs of the company.

The screenplay by Katie Silberman, based on a story by Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke, presents an interesting premise but then doesn’t deliver on that premise. From the get-go, the audience knows there’s going to be a twist, a reveal, as it’s pretty darn clear that this utopian society isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. And so, it’s not a surprise when that reveal happens, but worse, the reveal itself is something we’ve seen before, and this take on it is nothing new.

On a metaphorical level, the story tackles the issue of the husband who stomps on his wife’s autonomy, which is the most interesting theme the film has to offer, but it’s handled in such a superficial way that it really doesn’t resonate.

And while the characters are generally interesting, and the two leads Alice and Jack likeable, no one really drives this movie. Pine’s Frank is the most effective character in the film, but he’s the elusive villain, and so the bulk of the movie isn’t built on him.

So while DON’T WORRY DARLING starts off well, it actually slows down and becomes rather dull long before the disappointing reveal.

Director Olivia Wilde does a decent job here, but I prefer her previous directorial effort, the sharp and funny BOOKSMART (2019).

DON’T WORRY DARLING has some creative direction, and a couple of strong acting performances by Florence Pugh and Chris Pine, but none of it is enough to overcome its dull reveal or sluggish second half pace.

Don’t worry about missing this one.

I give it two stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

SEE HOW THEY RUN (2022) – Playful Murder Mystery Comedy More Amusing Than Funny

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SEE HOW THEY RUN (2022) brings together two of my favorite actors working today, Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan, and pairs them as Scotland Yard detectives in a playful mystery/comedy that is full of spirit and gumption yet has a script that only partially delivers.

And while Rockwell and Ronan do share some onscreen chemistry, it’s Adrien Brody who delivers the film’s best performance. Unfortunately, Brody’s character is killed off before the opening credits, and it’s his murder that the detectives have to solve. Now, we do continue to see Brody’s character in flashbacks, and while SEE HOW THEY RUN obviously isn’t on the same level as the classic SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950), in which the story was told by William Holden’s deceased character, Brody even in flashbacks pretty much dominates the film.

The opening pre-credit sequence, which just might be the best sequence in the whole film, introduces us to Hollywood film director Leo Kopernick (Adrien Brody) who is in London in the early 1950s to prepare for a film version of Agatha Christie’s hit play, The Mousetrap, and in this lively sequence, we learn of Kopernick’s contempt for the murder mystery trope which he views as cliche, and we also see that he is pretty much a complete jerk, insulting or getting on the wrong side of nearly all the players involved with The Mousetrap, and so it’s no surprise that someone jumps out of the shadows and kills him. Just before this happens, he laments that somehow, he unwittingly has become a victim in the type of story he disdains!

Enter Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) who are assigned to the case, and Stoppard has also been tasked with training the very green Stalker. It’s their job to solve the crime, and pretty much all the suspects are the folks involved in both the play and film versions of The Mousetrap, making this a mystery within a mystery.

Sam Rockwell, who has been brilliant in so many different roles, from George W. Bush in VICE (2018) to the racist cop Dixon in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017), to, going way, way back, the whiny “red shirt” crew member Guy Fleegman in the hilarious GALAXY QUEST (1999), to name just a few. Here, he has the thankless role of playing the straight man to both Ronan’s character and the rest of the supporting players, who are all over-the-top larger than life suspects. His take on the sad, dour Stoppard is of a man deep in melancholy and in need of a drink. While the other actors all appeared to be having a fun time playing their roles, Rockwell here was playing the heavy. He’s convincing, as you would expect. And we are spared any voice-over narration from the depressed detective.

Saoirse Ronan fares better as Constable Stalker who takes things so literally, she often seems like a bumbling Inspector Clouseau, but she’s no fool, and her meticulous notes actually help crack the case. But she is a source of a lot of the humor here, as she does take things literally, like when one of the characters steps up to Stoppard and says, “I did it!” in reference to something she just did, but Stalker misinterprets that as a confession and announces, “I arrest you for the murder…!” Ronan gets most of the laugh-out-loud moments in the movie. The only issue I had is most of these moments were shown in the film’s trailers, and they didn’t save all that much for the movie, so her best bits, I had already seen.

Still, it’s another terrific performance by Ronan, who has wowed me in such movies as LITTLE WOMEN (2019) and LADY BIRD (2017). This is the most fun performance I’ve seen her deliver.

And other than Adrian Brody’s scene stealing performance as a deceased director, it’s the best performance in the movie.

The rest of the cast is fine, although none of these folks, in spite of their eccentricities, really come to life as much as expected. David Oyelowo plays annoying screenwriter Mervyn Cocker-Norris, and Ruth Wilson plays the arrogant theater owner. My favorite Ruth Wilson role remains her recurrent role as the explosive Alice Morgan on the gritty Idris Elba cop TV series LUTHER (2010-2019).

Director Tom George holds nothing back and has made a murder mystery that pokes fun at the genre and looks fabulous while doing it. However, the screenplay by Mark Chappell, in spite of going all out in an attempt to not be the genre it’s spoofing and doing creative bits like breaking the fourth wall at times, simply isn’t as sharp as it needs to be. Briefly put, the laughs simply aren’t there. SEE HOW THEY RUN is far more amusing than it is funny.

I loved the cinematography, and it nails the 1950s London look. I enjoyed all the characters, although with the exception of Brody’s Leo Kopernick and Saoirse Ronan’s Constable Stalker, they don’t really come to life. They remain caricatures of the characters they are playing. Even having Agatha Christie (Shirley Henderson) herself show up doesn’t cut through the surprisingly wooden characterizations.

There’s a lot to like about SEE HOW THEY RUN, even as a lot of it doesn’t work. I wish the jokes had been sharper. Let’s put it this way. It’s not Mel Brooks or Neil Simon. It’s not even Agatha Christie. But it sure tries like heck.

It does have a snappy music score by one of my favorite film composers these days, Daniel Pemberton, who wrote memorable scores for THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E (2015) and KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD (2017).

SEE HOW THEY RUN is fun and entertaining and doesn’t take itself too seriously. In a way, I wish that it had. It may have resulted in a stronger, tighter, and ultimately funnier script.

I give it two and a half stars.

—END—

PEARL (2022) – Horror Prequel Decent Follow-up to X (2022); Another Showcase for Mia Goth

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PEARL (2022), the new horror movie by director/writer Ti West, is a prequel to his earlier horror movie from this year, X (2022), which so far is among my favorite horror movies of the year.

X told the story of a group of people setting out to make a porn movie on a farm, but their plans were thwarted by the elderly couple who owned the farm, who seemingly took offense to an X-rated movie being made on their property. The story took place in the 1970s, and the main character was a young woman named Maxine (Mia Goth), who was making the porn movie because she wanted to become a famous movie star. Goth also played the elderly farm owner Pearl (under heavy prosthetics and make-up), who in the words of PSYCHO’s Norman Bates, just “goes a little crazy” at times. Pearl, seemingly upset that these young people were having sex, while she and her elderly husband were not, flipped out and went on a brutal murder spree in the film’s final reel.

PEARL is her story, explaining a little bit of her history and how she became the person we saw in X.

PEARL takes place in 1918, during World War I, amid the pandemic of the Spanish flu, and when we meet Pearl (Mia Goth) she is living on her farm in Texas with her parents, her excruciatingly strict mother Ruth (Tandi Wright) and her ailing father (Matthew Sunderland) who is now a mute invalid. Pearl’s husband Howard is away fighting in the war.

Life is hard. Money is tight, and Ruth believes they must make it on their own. She doesn’t trust other people, and she fears that their German ancestry will be held against them. However, making it “on their own” mostly involves making Pearl do all the difficult jobs, like feeding her invalid father and cleaning him after bowel movements. Pearl just wants to escape. She loves the movies and wants to become a dancer like she sees in the movies.

She befriends the local projectionist (David Corenswet) who encourages her to follow her dreams. He also introduces her to black market sex movies, which he says will become legal one day. When there’s a dance try-out at the local church, Pearl sees this as her chance to escape from the farmhouse. But her mother will have none of it, and she tells Pearl she’s a failure and she won’t succeed in her dreams. She also adds that she knows how Pearl really is, and that she sees the things Pearl does when she thinks no one is watching, and she pretty much tells Pearl that she’s not normal and that because of this she will frighten people and will never succeed.

Wow. Can someone say, Mommie Dearest?

Well, she’s not wrong, and when Pearl snaps later in the movie, we see just exactly how it is that Pearl frightens people.

PEARL is a decent follow-up to X, although I liked X better, as that film paid homage to the 1970s horror flicks as well as 1970s porn movies and captured the flavor of both. PEARL doesn’t have this added element. It takes place in 1918, but it’s not shot as an homage to that time period or to silent movies. It’s filmed in bright vibrant colors, which seem to embody Pearl’s wide-eyed hopes and dreams. At the end of the day, this one is about exactly what its title says it’s about, Pearl.

It’s all about Pearl. And to that end, it’s mildly interesting. Strangely, it almost feels like it’s a back story for the other character Mia Goth played in X, Maxine, as Maxine wanted to be a star more than anything. Here in PEARL, we see that Pearl too wants to be a star more than anything. It’s what drives her throughout this movie. When I saw X, I believed that the elderly Pearl flipped out over the characters making a porn movie because she and her husband could no longer have sex, and she wanted to have sex. That’s what the movie implied. I mean, we saw scenes of Pearl crawling into bed with Maxine. We didn’t see scenes of Pearl yearning to be a dancer.

Yet here in PEARL, that’s all Pearl wants, to be a dancer and to become famous, both in the hopes of getting off her farm. The sex angle is here, but it’s downplayed. There is one scene where Pearl has a romantic fantasy with a scarecrow, but when the projectionist shows Pearl the silent sex movie, she’s hardly aroused. Pearl behaves like any normal woman who’s longing for her husband to return would behave. While she displays various abnormalities, all of which lead to murder, her sex drive isn’t one of them. Yet, this is the side of her personality which seemed to be driving her to kill in X. But the events in PEARL say otherwise.

On the other hand, these two things aren’t mutually exclusive. I just find it odd that Pearl in X didn’t speak of wanting to become a star or react to Maxine’s wanting to be a star, and that when we do see the beginnings of Pearl’s violent side here in PEARL, none of it has to do with sex, which was the prevalent theme in X.

The best and darkest scenes in PEARL are between Pearl and her mother, and these are the most disturbing and painful sequences in the movie. The sequence at the dinner table where the two characters eventually come to blows is the most powerful scene in the movie. The subsequent murders are well-staged and elaborate, but they’re not all that scary. The murders worked better in X.

PSYCHO was mentioned in X, and there were hints in that movie linking Pearl’s behavior to Norman Bates’, and so I was happy to see some more PSYCHO references here in PEARL. In PSYCHO, Bates hides his mother’s body in the fruit cellar. Here, Pearl hides her mother’s body in the root cellar.

The alligator is back and swimming in the waters around the farm, and Pearl seems to be its best friend, as she feeds it regularly. Technically, it could be the same alligator from X, but with 50 years between the two stories, it would be plenty old. It’s probably a different alligator. Either way, the alligators sequences in X were scarier.

X also had stronger characters.

Both films have Mia Goth though, and she’s terrific in both movies. I’ve been a fan of Goth’s since I first saw her in A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016), a horror movie I liked a lot. Goth is perfect as Pearl. At times, she seems so wide-eyed and innocent, and at others, she seems so very, very bad. Her expression during the last shot of the film, as the end credits begin, which is not a freeze frame, says it all, as we see the full gamut of emotions: surprise, happiness, tears, fear, and finally vulnerability and steadfastness. It’s a terrific performance. She’s the best part of the movie.

Goth also co-wrote the screenplay with Ti West, and it’s her first screenwriting credit. The script does a decent job explaining Pearl’s backstory, even if at times it seems as if it’s trying to tell Maxine’s backstory. The point I guess is that in X, Pearl would have seen a lot of herself in Maxine. But the overall composition of the film isn’t quite as solid as X, which had better characters and also served as an homage to two film types, 1970s horror and porn.

Tandi Wright is icy cold as Pearl’s mother Ruth, and I’m tempted to say the audience won’t feel much sympathy for her when she gets her comeuppance, but in that aforementioned sequence at the dinner table, when tempers flare, Ruth unleashes and lets out how unhappy she is now, and that she is supposed to be a wife not a mother to her husband. Wright allows the audience to see how she became the heartless woman she is in the movie.

David Corenswet is dashing as the confident young projectionist. He’s also one of the more underutilized characters in the story, as for a time it seemed as if he was going to have more of an impact with Pearl, but that’s not the case.

Ti West films PEARL with big bold bright swipes, embodying Pearl’s hopes and dreams, and so this one doesn’t look like a horror film. The violence and murders don’t come until late in the game, and they grow more gruesome as they go along, although none here are quite as powerful as the sequences found in X.

PEARL is a decent prequel, and although it’s not as good as X, it’s still a showcase for Mia Goth, and she’s the reason to see this movie, as her performance brings Pearl and all her madness to insane painful life.

I give it two and a half stars.

—END—