Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

Category: Movies Page 1 of 36

Connie has been reviewing film uninterruptedly since 1970 (47 years) and routinely covers the Chicago International Film Festival (14 years), SXSW, the Austin Film Festival, and others, sharing detailed looks in advance at upcoming entertainment. She has taught a class on film and is the author of the book “Training the Teacher As A Champion; From The Godfather to Apocalypse Now, published by the Merry Blacksmith Press of Rhode Island.

Salaries for James Bond Films Through the Years

The pay has gone significantly up after each Bond movie.

Sean Connery
Dr. No : $17,000
From Russia With Love : $250,000
Goldfinger : $500,000
Thunderball : $750,000
You Only Live Twice : $750,000 + 25% of net marchandise profits = $1,000,000
Diamonds Are Forever : $1,200,000 + 12.5% of net US profits = $6,700,000

George Lazenby
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service : $80,500

Roger Moore
Live and Let Die : $1,000,000
The Man with the Golden Gun : $1,000,000
The Spy Who Loved Me : $1,000,000
Moonraker : $4,000,000
For Your Eyes Only : $3,000,000 + 5% of net US profits = $4,607,500
Octopussy : $4,000,000 + 5% of net US profits = $5,265,800
A View to a Kill : $5,000,000 + 5% of US gross = $7,515,000

Timothy Dalton
The Living Daylights : $3,000,000
Licence to Kill : $5,000,000

Pierce Brosnan
Golden Eye : $1,200,000
Tomorrow Never Dies : $8,200,000
The World Is Not Enough : $12,400,000
Die Another Day : $16,500,000
(Wanted salary for Bond 21 : $20,000,000)

Daniel Craig
Casino Royale : $3,220,000
Quantum of Solace : $7,245,000
Skyfall: $17,000,000 plus bonuses for certain box-office milestones
Spectre: $24,000,000 + endorsements

No Time to Die – $25,000,000

Interesting how low George Lazenby’s salary was for “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service:” Less than 10% of what Connery got for Diamonds Are Forever, even before Connery multiplied it over 5 times with his share of the U.S profits.

 Roger Moore was on 1 million for each of the first three movies and then his pay was multiplied 4 times for Moonraker. I’m guessing he was on a 3 movie deal and by the time they negotiated for his fourth film his popularity in the role was massive so he could command this. He commanded a share of the profits for each of his last three movies following “Moonraker.” Neither Dalton or Brosnan seemed to have an agent who could get that for them.

There are 3 films that are not part of the James Bond official canon, including the film that Connery agreed to do at age 53, “Never Say Never Again,” “Casino Royale” in 1967 and “Casino Royale” in 1954.

“No Time to Die” Is Worth the 18-Month Wait

Daniel Craig makes his final outing as Bond memorable. The log-line says: “James Bond has left active service.  His peace is short-lived when Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), an old friend from the CIA, turns up asking for help, leading Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain armed with dangerous new technology.” During a pandemic, a weapon that is a microscopic bio-rocket that can enter your bloodstream via the slightest contact with your skin is certainly timely. No wonder the studio pulled the $250 million-dollar film for 18 months. The ploy seems to have worked, as it grossed $56 million in 4,407 North American theaters this past weekend and was the fourth-best opening in the 25-film series history.

I’m not a particularly avid Bond fan—(although I am the target demographic, as the audience is primarily older)—but I really liked almost everything about this Bond epic. The cinematography and score (Hans Zimmer), including a Billie Eilish song that opens the film, are Top-Notch.

ACTING

Daniel Craig is great as Bond. He really seems to be doing all the fighting in the many fight sequences. The stunts are spectacular and, again, special mention should be made of the contribution to the mood and tone from Hans Zimmer’s score. Of course, there is also the Billie Eilish song at the beginning of the film, which will, no doubt, be remembered come Oscar-time.

The female lead, Lea Seydoux, while not as glamorous in appearance as previous “Bond girls,” was a good actress.

Lashana Lynch as a Black female 007 could have been omitted to shorten the film, and Ana De Armas’ appearance seemed sort of gratuitous, to me. If you added up the screentime of these two and remove them from the 2 hour and 43 minute run-time, the film would come down closer to what it should have been. This is a movie that should be seen on a big screen, as the cinematography in Norway and England and Jamaica and elsewhere is breathtaking, but the long run-time and other factors may well cause otherwise dedicated theater-goers to stream it at home when it is available. More’s the pity.

Rami Malek is weak as the villain and Christoph Waltz’s Hannibal-Lecter-like appearance was simply weird, but the main love story between Bond and the Bond girl makes up for a lot.

WRITING

Writers never get the credit they deserve. This film’s script is credited to Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, Director Cary  Joji Fukunaga and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”). Here are some memorable lines:

(1) “There’s something I need to tell you.” (Lea Seydoux)

“I’ll bet there is.” (Daniel Craig)

(2)  “We all have our secrets. We just didn’t get to yours yet.” (Daniel Craig)

(3)  “Seems intelligence isn’t central any more” (re the blonde aide, Ashe, of Felix Leighter’s)

(4)  “I gave up trusting pretty faces a long time ago.” (Daniel Craig)

(5)  “You seem like a man who only has time to kill—nothing to live for.” (of Bond)

(6)  (Felix Leighter after being shot by Ashe)  “I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a feeling in my gut that Ashe may not be on our side.”

(7)  (Bond to “M”)  “Either the desk is getting bigger or you’re getting smaller.” (Followed by “Definitely not the desk.”)

(8)  “I wanted to give you an empty world like the one you gave me.” (Rami Malek to Daniel Craig)

(9)  “I wanted everything with you.  I have loved you, and I will love you, and I do not regret a single moment of my life except putting you on that train.” (Bond to Madeleine).

(10)  “Life is all about leaving something behind.  We want to be told how to live and then die when we are not looking.  We are built for oblivion.” (Bond)

(11)  “We both eradicate people to make the world a better place.” (Rami Malek to Daniel Craig as Bond.)

(12)  “I just showed someone your watch.  It really blew their mind.” (Bond about the Cyclops device)

(13)  “We are two heroes in a tragedy of our own making.” (Bond to Madeleine)

(14)  “You made me do this.  This was your choice.” (Rami Malek to Bond)

(15)  “Our function is to live, not to exist.  I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” (Bond)

 

As of Sunday, global grosses for “No Time to Die” were estimated to be over $313.3 million. The film cost $250 million to make and another $100 milliion to advertise, but it is on target. Said Head of Distribution for United Artists Releasing Erik Lomis, “It’s right where we thought it would be and right where tracking predicted it would be.”

One factor in the improvement at the box office is that 25% of movie-goers returned to theaters for the first time in 18 months this past weekend. Many audiences erupted in spontaneous applause at the end of the film; it’s definitely a crowd-pleaser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Many Saints of Newark” Strolls Down “Sopranos” Memory Lane

“The Many Saints of Newark” is a prequel to the well-loved television series “The Sopranos.” We could justifiably expect to learn all about the early years that shaped young Anthony Soprano, played in his youth by Michael Gandolfini, the son of James Gandolfini. The elementary-school-aged Tony is played by William Ludwig, who is also good in the role.

The Big Come-on in this David Chase-directed drama is that the biological son of James Gandolfini—Michael Gandolfini—-a young actor with 10 professional credits who played Joey Dwyer on “The Deuce” in 2017—is going to provide the Gandolfini vibe, in the same way that Liza Minelli’s channeled her mother, Judy Garland.

There is a resemblance in Gandolfini’s eyes, although they are far from “dead ringers” for each other, as Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber is for her famous model Mom in the new “American Horror Story” series.

Writer/Director David Chase has commented on the Gandolfini eyes:  [on James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano] “His (Gandolfini’s) eyes are very expressive. There’s something about him that’s very caring, which you see in him no matter what he’s doing. There’s a sadness there. As cynical, bullying, vulgar and overbearing as he could be, there’s still a little boy in there. He did a lot of mean things, and he enjoyed vengeance, but he didn’t seem mean. Somewhere he believed that people are good. There were some roads he was not going to go down, because there was no coming back.”

So we were all drawn to this prequel to “The Sopranos” to see if the Gandolfini “eyes” have it. They do, but we don’t get to see as much of young Tony Soprano’s eyes as we do of the other stock characters that we remember from the television series. And some of them—since Silvio and Big Pussy and the boys are played by other actors here—are not that recognizable. Nancy Marchand, who played Livia Soprano, has now shuffled off to that theater in the sky and has been replaced here by Vera Farmiga, who does a great job as the reincarnation of David Chase’s real mother, Norma, whom he described as “abusive.”

Chase has been mining his family pain for years (he is now 76) and is described as so depressed when in college that he had panic attacks and slept 18 hours a day. I remember him onstage in Chicago shilling for the only film he has directed in the past decade since “The Sopranos,” “Not Fade Away” (which did fade away). He would have been voted the person you would least like to be trapped in an elevator with. He was withdrawn, taciturn and spoke very little. His nickname is  Cylinder Machine.

In 2012, David Chase (real surname DeCesare) directed a movie, “Not Fade Away,” set in the sixties about a young boy who wants to be in a successful rock band. This, too, is autobiographical from Chase’s youth in the sixties, when he really did want to play drums and bass in a rock band. His parents were not supportive of that career choice, nor of his desire to make movies.  His success came about writing for television for “The Rockford Files” in the early seventies. It was his real-life therapy that he wove into Tony Soprano’s story on “The Sopranos.” The huge success of the series surprised many people, including Chase.

Chase has a fairly low opinion of television and Hollywood, historically, seems to have had a fairly low opinion of him. As he has said, “I wrote many, many, many a script and they never got made. I could not get arrested, as they say. Nothing started to click movie-wise for me. All the scripts were either too dark or too this or that. Their appetite for me didn’t get whetted until The Sopranos (1999), and once they see you are someone who can make a billion dollars, they let you do anything. That’s all it comes down to.”

Since “The Sopranos” went off the air, Chase has made just one feature film (“Not Fade Away,” 2012) and created one additional television series (“Altindagli,”2013). Now he has returned to television with this star-studded vehicle, with voice-over by Michael Imperioli, who portrayed Christopher Moltisanti on “The Sopranos” series. (“Moltisanti” translates to “many saints” and explains the title of the film.)

This time out, Chase is the producer. The writer is Lawrence Konner, based on Chase’s “Sopranos” characters. The directing is by “Game of Thrones” alumnus Alan Taylor. I enjoyed the stroll down memory lane, although the disjointed plot with emphasis on everyone except Tony drove many of my friends into critical carping territory. It was a fairly entertaining, if non-linear, look into the past.

 

 

Todd Haynes “Velvet Underground” Documentary Hits Festival Circuit

 

Velvet Underground

Todd Haynes, USA, 110 min.

Thursday, October 14, 7PM Premiere (AFS). Streaming on Apple+ on October 15th. (Also showing at Chicago International Film Festival).

 

“Austin Film Society will present a Doc Days Opening Night presentation of Todd Haynes’ The Velvet Underground: a look at the cultural, social, musical, artistic and cinematic forces that created one of the world’s most enduring bands. Far from your typical rock documentary, Haynes goes deep into the source inspiration of the sounds The Velvets would be known for, while tracking and connecting the band’s rise with and through New York’s independent and experimental film scene.

Haynes weaves a cinematic portrait of a band that was essentially birthed and defined through cinematic ideas and images, using footage from the films of Andy Warhol, Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, and Shirley Clarke, among others; and interviews past and present with those who experienced the brief reign of The Velvet Underground.”

According to Wikipedia, “Rolling Stones” named the “most influential bands of the Sixties” and the bands ranked first, second and third were the Beatles, James Brown and the Famous Flames, and the Velvet Underground.

As a sixties music afficionado, I was “in” to music, especially music from my own sixties generation. I subscribe to “Rolling Stone” and brought back a British record release of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1967, carried home from my time as an exchange student abroad. (The record was slightly different from the U.S. release.)

In England and Europe I took in James Brown and the Famous Flames in Paris and bought the U.K. version of the Beatles seminal “Sergeant Pepper” record breakthrough. When in England I attended a concert at the Savoy Hotel, a posh hotel in Birmingham, with a light show, at which an unknown band that had no record contract (yet) appeared. That band was Pink Floyd.

 

So, how did I miss out on being a fan of the Velvet Underground in their hey-day?

 

Now that I’ve seen Todd Haynes compilation of old photos and interviews with original members of the group and heard some of the songs, I think I know why I didn’t jump on the Velvet Underground bandwagon at the time. They were hugely experimental and are credited with giving birth to the punk movement and the New Wave movement many years later. With Welsh band member John Cale (who is interviewed prominently in the documentary) playing the viola and supposedly obsessed with sounds that are droning noises (like a refrigerator humming), that doesn’t sound much like the Beatles or James Brown, does it? It didn’t, to me. Then or now. To show how film was supposed to have merged with music (years before it did), some YouTube links like Nico’s singing with Warhol’s art in the background, should perhaps be included in this documentary. I’ve given you a couple video links.

 

I did not become very aware of the Velvet Underground until David Letterman featured Lou Reed on his Late Night talk show many years later. Since Lou Reed has been dead since 2013, these appearances must have happened 9 or 10 years ago, but I remember that Reed was always held forth by Letterman as the King of Cool, sitting in with Paul Schaffer and the Late Night Orchestra.Lou Reed was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame not once, but two times, once as a member of the Velvet Underground and once for his own music, which continued for many years after the break-up of the group. His big hit was “Walk on the Wild Side.”

 

In fact, as one learns from reading up on the Velvet Underground (but not really from this documentary), the parting of the ways for this band came about when Reed felt that Cale had to go. And the primary reason Lou Reed felt that John Cale needed to go in one direction while Lou Reed went in another was that Cale, an odd bird from the first (a weirdly-coiffed intellectual Welsh guy who played the viola), was taking their music in a fairly eccentric and probably unmarketable experimental direction. Lou Reed had already had a job turning out 99 cent songs for Pickwick Records and he knew how to craft a tune that didn’t sound like the drone of a refrigerator. He also wanted to become a well-known star; he needed to do that on his own.

 

“Walk on the Wild Side” was written by Reed for use in the film version of Nelson Algren’s book of the same name. That book and that movie have a special place in my heart, because I sat across from Nelson Algren at the Englert Theater in Iowa City (Iowa) watching Nelson Algren watch the Jane Fonda/Laurence Harvey movie version of his work. I was glued to watching the author watch his book be interpreted onscreen by Hollywood. The song played over the film credits, if I remember correctly, and it had a haunting, beatnik vibe, as, indeed, Lou Reed represented throughout his life and work.

 

The other tune of Reed’s that broke through my consciousness was the song chosen for the movie “Juno” called Sticking with You,” which I remember thinking was a good choice for the theme of the unwed pregnant teenager who decides to stick with the young man (Michael Cera) who impregnated her, who was her best friend, if not technically her “boyfriend.” In keeping with the entire tone of the Velvet Underground and its pushing of boundaries, it seems somehow fitting that the female lead of “Juno,” Ellen Page is now Elliot Page. Here is a version of the song from that movie, sung by the Moldy Peaches:

 

 I had to read up on Lou Reed to be able to interpret and fully understand this Velvet Underground film tribute.

 

I learned that Reed took listeners of his songs on unsettling journeys that detailed his drug use or the electro-shock therapy that his parents put him through. Reed always said he thought his parents made him undergo the shocking (no pun intended) therapy to “cure” him of what might have been his homosexuality. One source says he lived with a trans-sexual individual for three years, but he was also married three times, so I’m not sure if the homosexuality was a correct diagnosis—maybe pan-sexual?— but he was definitely a drug addict and an alcoholic for much of his life and wrote about it in songs like “Heroin.”

 

There was a story told of a falling out between Reed and one of his biggest supporters, David Bowie, who told Reed he was going to have to straighten himself out. Lou had gone on a tour of England and was so strung out that he never took the stage, causing the promoters to hire Ike & Tina Turner to fill his spot. There was talk of Reed, himself, finally deciding to quit using drugs in about 1979. He had contracted hepatitis early in the years of his intravenous drug use and he died shortly after a liver transplant in 2013, living less than 6 months after that treatment.

 

But if Lou Reed—the band’s lead vocalist and its most successful member—is gone, we have John Cale telling us of the years when Andy Warhol was the band’s manager (1966) and pictures from Andy’s work would be projected onto the stage behind the band. Warhol had decided the Velvet Underground would be the Factory’s “house band.” The band toured wearing dark sunglasses because there were so many things happening onstage at times, including impromptu composing of songs  in a sort of improvisational music fashion, and so much happening with lights, etc.. that the sunglasses were to help the band.

 

The female drummer of the Velvet Underground, Maureen “Mo” Tucker, didn’t like cymbals and stood up to play drums in a sort of tom-tom fashion. She is also featured on the documentary talking about her time with the band. Angus MacLise was the drummer and then Moe Tucker in 1965. The band reunited in 1993 and for their 1996 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but were primarily done as an entity by 1970.

 

Various voices tell us that they had to change their name a lot “because we were bad” and that “With Lou we were going to blaze a trail, which we eventually did.” One woman even gives an impromptu dance of “The Ostrich,” which Reed wrote as a satire on the ridiculous dance tunes of the day, like the Monkey.

 

Reed, himself, was described as insecure and angry. Shelley Corwin said he was “angry at people for rejecting him,” which seemed odd, since he was always seen as Mr. Cool and managed to keep a career going even after associates like Tony Conrad tell us, in the documentary, “Lou was always falling down, was sick, and had to be raced to the hospital numerous times.”

 

A large part of the documentary shows how Andy Warhol’s P.R. “juice” would have helped them to succeed, and Andy decided that Nico—a gorgeous blonde—would sing. She couldn’t really sing all that well, so it was short-lived, but she was certainly very pretty and would draw a crowd. (She had a bit part in “La Dolce Vita” as one of the girls behind Anita Eckberg in that Italian film.)

 

Talking heads like Jackson Browne and John Waters pass judgment on the Velvet Underground and Lou is quoted as saying, of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl,” “That’s what I wanted to do, except with a drum and a guitar.”

 

I was at a poetry reading at Berkeley once where Allen Ginsberg came out, sat on the floor with finger cymbals, and mumbled incoherently. He was so stoned that they finally had to go get the janitor to physically carry him off-stage. And th-th-th-that’s entertainment, Folks! Reminds me of the slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Ginsberg’s was being wasted that night in the summer of 1965, and Lou Reed’s talent was wasted for many years until he decided to depart from the Velvet Underground and clean up his personal act.  They never “shocked the gayness out of him,” but whatever measure of gayness he possessed seems to have been mixed with a fair amount of heterosexuality, as well. [Remember: in those days, you could get 20 years in prison for being gay. It was not embraced by society.]

 

I enjoyed the old clips of Bo Diddly and Mick Jagger, the pictures or film of Andy Warhol and his coterie of avant garde followers.

 

I was less impressed by drummer Maureen Tucker or the viola-playing John Cale, original members of the band.

 

I enjoyed reading the story of a band member (Angus MacLise?) who never showed up on time for practices and/or appearances. Once, he showed up half an hour late for a performance, so, after everyone else had quit playing, he stayed onstage and played solo for half an hour to make up for his lateness.

 

Obviously, these disparate personalities—Reed’s included—were quirky and different and, yes, creative.  All contributed to the assessment that the Velvet Underground, as Todd Haynes’ documentary testifies, was “One of the most influential bands in rock, underground, experimental and alternative music.”

 

I was hopelessly square (apparently) and from Iowa and preferred the Beatles (seen “live” at the San Francisco Cow Palace in 1965) and James Brown and the Famous Flames (seen “live” in Paris in 1967) and seem to have learned what little I knew about Lou Reed and friends from David Letterman and from research done for this documentary.

 

If you’re a big Velvet Underground fan you’re going to probably be older than I am old, which, since I’ve been reviewing non-stop since 1970, means you are not “young.” To follow John Cale’s “Velvet Underground” you had to like often discordant sounds presented as “music,” but, hey! To each his (or her) own. You’ll love this slice of sixties Americana if you were “in” to the Velvet Underground’s music way back when. It’s easy to see the genesis of Bob Dylan, MTV, music videos and so many other staples of today’s music scene.

 How many Velvet Underground fans remain in 2021? Judging from the rave reviews at Cannes (and elsewhere), more than you’d think.

“The Night House:” Great Psychological Thriller from Director David Bruckner

“The Night House,” a 2020 break-out success at Sundance that Searchlight Pictures bought for $12 million, is playing now at 2,150 theaters for a 45-day run, which is almost over. So far, it has garnered about $8 million worldwide. The studio showed its faith in the film by not releasing it to streaming first and Director David Bruckner admitted in an interview that it could have been a studio film but wasn’t. He’s glad it wasn’t overly supervised by a studio, but became the independent movie success it is. “The Night House” has given me a new name to add to my list of “favorite directors.”

David Bruckner, the 44-year-old director of “The Ritual” and the accident sequence of the “Southbound” film anthology, filmed this completely frightening psychological horror thriller in 24 days in Utica, New York. I realized that I had seen “The Ritual” when I went back to try to find any previous films by Bruckner.

The film starts with a shot of a small rowboat bobbing dockside outside a modernistic lake house. The woman going up the steps of the house-under-construction has obviously just lost a family member, as her female companion is telling her to call her any time in Detroit, if she feels the need. Rebecca Hall (who also executive produced) as Beth Parchin is a no-nonsense teacher. After her friend leaves, she immediately dumps the hot dish (lasagna?) that her well-meaning friend has given her and breaks out the booze.

The film then picks up the story of life after loss, because Beth’s husband, Owen, got in the rowboat, rowed out into the lake outside the modernistic house he is building, and shot himself in the head. It is ironic that it was always Beth, the wife, who was the depressive one with dark dreams, not Owen, because Owen is the one who has succumbed. Why?

We see Beth trying to cope at work during a meeting with a parent who seems to want to complain about her son’s grade. In an interview, Rebecca Hall says it was this scene that sold her on the script, as Beth shows all the earmarks of a woman who is struggling to hold it all together while under terrific stress. All of the acting Ms. Hall does is convincing, but the directorial decisions that Director David Bruckner has made in order to scare us all are brilliant.

In an interview of his own, Bruckner described how the script for “The Night House” had been “laying around for a couple of years” when he was contacted and, he said, “Here’s this crazy movie that nobody will make. Rebecca Hall read it and understood it and we were off.” Noting that he is the kind of director who works fast and decides in a split second (“I’m definitely a filmmaker who likes to lean into a space.”), Bruckner says, “You really have to go with your gut.”

Lead Rebecca Hall, who is onscreen in nearly every scene and has some difficult situations she creates that involve working opposite a mysterious spirit that isn’t really there, said, of Bruckner, “I loved working with David and think he’s brilliant and well on his way to owning the genre.” The “genre” is horror, and Bruckner has been tapped to re-create “Hellraiser.” He said, to “Shockya” magazine that “It’s a dream come true to a horror person like myself.”

The script for “The Night House” was written by Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski.  The psychology of the script intrigued both Bruckner and Hall. It asks a question about whether we can ever really “know” the people closest to us. We spend a large part of the film feeling sorry for the recently widowed Beth and thinking that her husband, Owen (Evan Jonigkeit) is a good guy. Or was he? He may have been a good guy in the same way that Ted Bundy seemed like a good guy to his live-in girlfriend at the time .

Bruckner called the film “a complex drama” and a character piece. Mirror logic is a recurring motif in the film. The expert use of sound to create terror is handled beautifully. The film was one of the most original approaches to a horror film in some time.

I asked my husband what part or parts scared him the most in the movie. He singled out the spot when a stereo goes off in the dead of night, seemingly for no reason, at maximum volume. For me, it was the sight of several young girls running to a cliff and jumping off. One of the ghost-like figures seems to walk almost through Hall’s character. It happens so quickly that I physically recoiled. But it’s not a gory slasher film, which was welcome, to me.

When Beth’s husband commits suicide, he leaves behind a note that reads: “You were right. There is nothing. Nothing’s after you. You’re safe now.” I immediately wondered if the term “nothing” could be capitalized and represent an evil entity, Nothing. This was long before the film got into the idea of CAERDROIA, which are Welsh turf mazes, or the Louvre doll, which appears to be a metal doll that has had a number of metal rods driven through it in a voodoo “curse” motif. (The original doll is in the Louvre, hence its name).

The premise: if you do things backwards, it will throw off evil spirits. When Beth discovers that her husband was building an exact replica of their new house on the other side of the lake, things take a nasty turn. We suspect that Vondie Curtiss Hall as Mel is somehow involved. Or is he?

SPOILER ALERT

Don’t read further if you don’t want to know some important plot points.

After I realized that the various pictures of women who resembled Beth were simply “stand-ins” for Beth, blameless victims whom Owen dispatched in an attempt to lure the evil spirit away from her by using doppelgangers, I wondered why Beth never mentions so much as one word of bodies buried in the basement of the new “backwards” lake house. There are several scenes after her discovery where Beth could have told someone about her grim discovery, but she says nothing, and we are not given a reason for her silence. Is she trying to protect everyone’s image of Owen as “a good guy?” There is no way of telling. I found this to be one of the biggest flaws in the admittedly out-there script. Why? Why wouldn’t a responsible person like Beth, a teacher, not inform the authorities of such a horrible discovery?

Rebecca Hall admitted that she felt that some of her later scenes in a bathroom (mirrors, again) battling the spirit that is trying to lure her back to the underworld may have been a bit wonky. She was right, but I give her high marks for giving it her all.

The quick cuts where we realize, after the fact, that what we have just seen may have all been a dream were expertly handled. Kudos to the director and the music person (Ben Lovett), the cinematographer (Elisa Christain), and the film editor (David Marks). The production design and set and art directors also did a great job in making the night house feel as though Beth is probably never really quite comfortable in it, as it had a decidedly masculine feel. [I kept recommending grabbing her keys and splitting for any other port in a storm, once the weird sounds began, but it would have been a much shorter film if Beth had never stood her ground and battled her demons.]

As we learn during the set up for the plot, Beth already survived a horrible car crash in her youth and was clinically dead for four minutes. That is the set-up for much of what happens and also serves as a bit of a motive for all that is visited upon her.

It’s not as ambitious as “Us” was with its complex backstory, but there are so many things that go bump in the night in this one to truly frighten that it is a movie I’d recommend to anyone who likes psychological thrillers with original themes and lots of horror that isn’t “Saw”-like in emphasizing violence or gore.

 

“Reminiscence:” Hugh Jackman Visits the Past

 

The budget for Hugh Jackman’s new film “Reminiscence” was $68 million. For this, you get a peek at Miami “after the flood” caused by global warming. This is a futuristic world in which a machine designed, originally, to interrogate prisoners via their dreams, is now used in the post-war society as a way to take a stroll down memory lane.

A private investigator of the mind (Hugh Jackman as Nick Bannister), assisted by his former partner in the military (Thandiwe Newton as Emily “Watts” Sanders), helps clients take a stroll back through time in a world where “nostalgia never goes out of style” and “the past is addictive.” One wonders how Nick Bannister (Jackman) cannot see that his kick-ass female partner would/should/could have been his perfect romantic partner, but nevermind about that potential plot point.

Various customers come and go in the converted bank building that Nick and Emily use as their dream-trip headquarters. Each individual that  gets in the tank, has electrodes attached to his/her head, and receives a shot in the neck, helping him or her to revisit the past. Each time traveler becomes a part of the plot puzzle, a plot that is tremendously complicated and is, perhaps, weakened by so many threads that must come together to form the complete story.

The set for sunken Miami was built in New Orleans in an abandoned theme park. It is impressive. Director Lisa Joy said that walking on the set for the first time was one of her biggest thrills. The sets were fantastic; it is not surprising to learn that Lisa Joy (the director in this, her film dbut) worked on “West World.”

THE GOOD:  CINEMATOGRAPHY

The holographic images used for the dream sequences were fantastic, created by Cinematographer Paul Cameron who said, “It needed a certain holographic reality, so the challenge, for me, was to create this illusion for the memories live on set.” Cameron, who had worked with Director Lisa Joy on “West World,” used halo gauze material, a projection system, and a curved screen. The thin mesh was stretched in the shape of a half cylinder and three 20K projectors mapped on the circular screen, including a Sony Venice 4K camera using TODD AO 2X anamorphic lenses for soft vintage-looking rear projection.

The cinematographer can take a huge bow. As he explained, “You’re laser projecting onto this fabric that has been stretched into this curved shape that’s a little out of focus.” Said Cameron, “It’s a layer within a layer and so that becomes the syntax of the film. It gets very tricky with Jackman and Ferguson, popping in and out of memory, especially when he even steps into hers for the most surreal moment.”

Let’s talk for a moment about that “most surreal moment.” Even made-up worlds usually have rules about how that world works. I commented to my companion that it didn’t seem “right” that Jackman’s character could simply step into a dream sequence that is being replayed, when it  was originally a scene between Rebecca Ferguson’s lead female character Mae and the crooked cop Cyrus Boothe (Cliff Curtis). Some of the “rules” of this future world are spelled out for us. For instance, we know that when a subject is in the tank, if they are asked to summon a memory that they don’t have, they have a fit, like a small child watching a video game who might fall to the floor and have a seizure. I wanted to know the “rules” for one character stepping into the memories of another on replay of the other character’s dream.  I still enjoyed the “step into my dream” sequence, but I wondered if it was really “allowed” in Lisa Joy’s Future World.

Besides the Cinematographer’s revolutionary achievements, the sunken world created by the special effects and set people were truly outstanding. Some have mentioned “Inception” as a similar film, and that is not surprising, considering that Jonathan Nolan (a producer on this film and husband of the director) is Christopher Nolan’s brother.

Other films mentioned that have the same futuristic look are “Blade Runner,” “Inception,” “Minority Report,” “Strange Days,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Total Recall,” “Déjà Vu” and, of course, television’s “West World,” the previous work experience of the director) The noir attitude, lighting and theme are comparable to “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential.” Visually, this film is their equal. In terms of the smooth intersection of the many plot strands, the acting, and the overall impression, it is not up to the standards of most of those I have listed, but it is enjoyable and certainly very ambitious in scope.

There were some totally original scenes, such as Jackman’s rescue from a tank full of electric eels and the near death-by-piano of the corrupt cop Cyrus Boothe, played by Cliff Curtis.

I found Hugh Jackman’s acting, as a man obsessed with finding Mae, the object of his affections, believable and on target. He’s definitely got the hypnotic vocal quality to lead passengers through time down the rabbit hole. I did wonder why, in every scene, whether or not Hugh Jackman had just taken part in a fight scene, he was slightly limping (his right leg seemed injured.)

THE BAD

I wasn’t as solidly onboard with the casting of Rebecca Ferguson, the Swedish and British actress who starred opposite Tom Cruise in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” (and is set to star in the next “Mission Impossible” film) opposite Hugh Jackman.  Even though Ferguson previously appeared in “The Greatest Showman” with Jackman, portraying Jenny Lind, as a romantic duo they don’t have “heat.”

It’s hard to define this onscreen quality, but when the pairing onscreen has it and it works, you know it. When it doesn’t, you may find yourself saying, “What does he see in her?” or “What does she see in him?” Taylor and Burton onscreen (and off) had “heat.” Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson had it Big Time in “The Year of Living Dangerously” (1982) and so did Richard Gere and Kim Basinger in 1986’s “No Mercy.” If you want a more recent example, the recently canceled television series “Bad Girls” with Christina Hendricks as Beth and Manny Manolo as Rio provided sexual frisson whenever the two were onscreen together, although it is rumored that they didn’t really like each other in real life.

Prior to her lead in “Mission Impossible,” the 39-year-old Ferguson had smaller parts in “Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016) and “The Girl on the Train” (2016), but, for me, she was curiously unconvincing here as a femme fatale who instantly mesmerizes at least four of the male characters while singing in seedy nightclubs. The song “Where or When” is integral to the plot. We hear Ferguson singing it. Her singing is so-so, which I’ve also said about the singing in another recent offering, “Annette,” but not about the singing of Jennifer Hudson in “Respect.” Ferguson is distant, not involved emotionally, and could have been replaced by any attractive female leading lady. (SPOILER) When she ingested some mysterious drug and jumped off a building, I didn’t mourn her passing even for a moment.

 It was hard for me to understand how Ferguson could so reliably captivate so many men so quickly. I remember a display at the Field Museum concerning the real Cleopatra and how captivating she was to so many of her powerful male contemporaries, although her death mask showed her to be just average in appearance.

Rebecca Ferguson, for me, was part of the reason the film as a whole did not “work.” She is an oddly inert presence throughout.  She doesn’t engage us. She is remote. Detached.  Is it because Ferguson’s character (Mae) in the script is ambivalent, presented as both bad and good? For much of the film we are convinced she is a scheming manipulator. However, from Jackman’s POV, she is his angelic dream girl. It takes the entire film to sort truth from fiction.

Because both depictions of Mae are out there until the very end of the film, it is hard to root for her or against her. I noticed that she wore extremely high fashion dresses in most of her scenes. The high fashion gowns had midriff cut-outs and were used in blue, red, gold and every other color. Yet her apartment has no electricity when she first takes Jackman there after her duties as a chanteuse. [This caused me to jot down “Quite the wardrobe for someone with no money for electricity!”]

THE SCREENPLAY

Many have expressed their unhappiness with the script. It was on the Black List, as it is called, for some time, which is a list of the best scripts out there that have not yet been made into films. Personally, I liked the script, but I agree that it isn’t how “real” people talk.

I also found the water scenes (Jackman almost being drowned in an aquarium tan full of electric eels; Cliff Curtis’ character almost experiencing “death by piano” underwater) to be original, inventive, creative and well-executed.

But what about the actual words the characters speak?

Here are some lines from the script. Decide for yourself if these are good or bad:

“The past can haunt a man.”

“Just a series of moments, each one perfect. A bead on the necklace of time.”

“It’s us who haunt the past.”

“Late is a construct of linear time.  We don’t deal in that.”

“Time is no longer a one-way stream.”

“Nostalgia has become a way of life.”

“The past is addictive.”

“You can’t remember something that never made an impression.”

“We’re all haunted by something.”

“The city simmers with unrest.”

“Memories are like perfume: better in small doses.”

“People don’t just vanish.”

“There is no such thing as a happy ending.”

“To find where she’d gone, I had to know where she’d been.”

“You’ve been had and you don’t even know why.”

“Stay here in this life. Stay here with me.”

“The barons stay alive by drowning everyone else.  Only the rich mold the world to their delusions.”

“When you’re young, you think the future will play out like dominoes.  You have no idea the things that are lined up.”

“Nothing’s an accident with Mae.”

“When the waves came they washed away our lives.”

“You’re an empty man looking for a woman to blame.”

“The truth is not gonna’ set you free.  It’s gonna’ damn you.”

“I was so stupid to think that falling in love could save me.”

“Love is the thing we cling to.”

“Missing people is a part of the world.”

VERDICT:

Look back at the films listed that this one emulates. If you liked those, you’ll probably like this one—perhaps not as much as those, but it’s definitely cut from the same bolt of cloth.

 

 

 

 

“Annette” with Adam Driver & Marion Cotillard Sings Its Way Into Cannes’ Awards

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard portray a celebrity couple in “Annette.” She’s a world-famous opera singer and he is a comedian billed as “The Ape of God.” Driver is also an executive producer of the film helmed by Leos Carax, who is known as an avant garde French filmmaker. Carax  previously directed the Cannes favorite “Holy Motors,” a big Cannes favorite, which I found almost unwatchable.

“Annette” follows along in this tradition of  very weird films from Leos Carax. It is based on the dialogue and music of the group known as Spark, brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Much of the dialogue is sung, which has been done before both on television in a police sit-com directed by Steven Bochco (“Cop Rock”) where all of the dialogue was sung, and in a film featuring Anna Kendrick directed by Richard Lagravenese, “The Last Five Years.” And let’s not forget about operas like Bizet’s “Carmen.”

The singing is not particularly good, but Adam Driver likes to sing, as proven by the completely unnecessary singing he did in “Marriage Story.” The plot has Marion Cotillard’s character of Ann Defrasnoux cast as a world famous opera singer whose career is going great guns. Plus, she and Henry (Driver) are crazy about each other, although she was dating her accompanist (Simon Helberg) before she met Henry.

Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) is a misogynistic comic who goes onstage clad only in black BVDs and a green bathrobe and rants, usually in a darkly humorous vein. At first, like Kanye, Henry McHenry’s schtick in his act (known as “The Ape of God”) is considered cool and chill by his audiences. His brand of toxic masculinity, blending intimate, often obnoxious confessions with a crude onstage persona (a la Andrew “Dice” Clay or Donald J. Trump), has the audience cheering. But things change.

Henry’s audience turns on him and his fortunes as a comedian suffer. The fall from favor that Henry experiences made me think of a stand-up routine I once suffered through with a late-in-the-game ailing George Carlin, where he went on a supposedly comic rant in a routine about suicide. Patrons were streaming for the exits. So, that is, roughly, what happens to Henry, who finally wears out his welcome like many insult comics.

“Annette” turns into the plot of “A Star Is Born” when Ann’s opera career continues to thrive while Henry’s fans reject his “Ape of God” appearances. This sets up problems in a marriage and the early crooning of their song (“We Love Each Other So Much”) now gives way to a fall from grace, with Henry drinking too much and a melodramatically staged storm leading to tragedy.

But Annette, the daughter that Ann gives birth to, is still there for Henry to care for. Henry begins to shirk that responsibility more and more, leaving paternal duties to Ann’s accompanist-turned-orchestra director, well played by Simon Helberg (“The Big Bang Theory”).

Somewhere in the second half of this 2 hour and 21 minute film Henry—who has discovered that Baby Annette has inherited her mother’s fantastic vocal instrument—decides to exploit his young daughter’s talent by having her tour non-stop singing for stadium-sized audiences. The part of Annette from birth until age five is played by an obvious wooden dummy throughout the first three-fourths of the film. That is very odd, but so is the film. Only in the final prison scenes of the movie do we get a real live girl, Devyn McDowell, who sings her part opposite Adam Driver as he languishes in jail.

The look-alike redhead is only five years old and she is terrific! I would have liked the film to be set up in such a way that we could have had more of Devyn. She is one of the best things in it. The five-year-old traveled to Belgium and Germany for filming and “Annette” not only won the Best Soundtrack and Best Director awards at Cannes, it was the opening night film. At 6 years old, Devyn also worked with the talented, award winning cast of Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne in the anticipated thriller, “The Good Nurse”, directed by Tobias Lindholm

Ultimately, we learn that the most important thing in life is to have someone to love (and vice versa). The singing in the prison sequence between Baby Annette and her father isn’t as distracting as elsewhere in the film. Devyn actually is very, very good for a five-year-old and the message of the film is pretty impressive. As the New York Times critic said, “The final reckoning is as devastating as anything I’ve seen in a recent film,” calling the movie depiction of megalomania “feverishly imaginative.” It earned the film a 5-minute standing ovation at Cannes.

I was burned by “Holy Motors,”one of Leos Carax’s early films (2012). This one is just as odd, but has a better message and better acting.

This film is overlong, has average singers singing the dialogue, and uses a theme we’ve seen done many times previously, but it was far more entertaining than I anticipated it would be.

Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin in “RESPECT”

The first cut of “Respect,” Jennifer Hudson’s starring role as Aretha Franklin, ran 5 and ½ hours. The final cut runs 2 hours and 25 minutes. Both of those times for this movie are too long.

It was nice that a female director and screenwriter were involved in the project, but Director Liesl Tommy is only known for “Jessica Jones” (2015) and “The Walking Dead” (2010). At the risk of being  snarky, this film has about as much energy as “The Walking Dead.” It drags to the point that even Jennifer Hudson’s undeniable vocal talent cannot sustain interest in this overlong bio-pic.

Broadway theater director Liesl Tommy is working from a script by screenwriter Tracey Scott Wilson (Producer of “The Americans” in 2013). Forest Whitaker plays Aretha’s domineering father.Mary Jane Blige has a role playing Dinah Washington and Marc Maron (“G.L.O.W.”) plays Jerry Wexler. Skye Dakota Turner plays Aretha as a child and is very good. These competent actors do as well as they can with a script and a film that is simply a showcase for Hudson singing Franklin’s hits, one by one. For that, you can simply play her records/CDs. This is a bio-pic that is supposed to be telling us about Aretha Franklin’s life, but  one which glosses over many essential threads of the Queen of Soul.

There is an allusion to a childhood marked by sexual abuse, with Aretha giving birth to the first of four children at age 12 in 1955 and a second child at age 14 in 1957. Who was the father of child #1 and child #2? Franklin did not like to talk about her children during interviews and various answers as to who sired child #1 exist (one possible father was named in a handwritten will found after Aretha’ death and was the man who became her first husband, but other potential fathers were mentioned.)

Since the first two children were essentially products of rape, statutory or outright, Aretha’s reluctance to talk about those offspring is understandable. Marlon Wayans gets the role of the man who enters Aretha’s childhood bedroom when she is very young and molests her. Later, in the film’s version, Edward Jordan (Marlon’s character) and Aretha marry and he becomes the father of her second child, born when Aretha is 14.

But the children are barely seen. “Who is raising these four children?” Yes, we can look this up elsewhere, but even there the answers make it sound like a floating support network of random friends and family raised Aretha Franklin’s four sons.

Likewise, in looking up information about her mother, who divorced Clarence Franklin because of his numerous infidelities, we learn that she died of a heart attack before Aretha’s 10th birthday. Yet, in the film, Aretha is shown as a young woman of at least twenty preparing a meal for friends and bragging about how good her cooking is when the phone rings and word comes of the death of her mom. The movie doesn’t even have the news being given directly to Aretha, but to whomever answered the phone. There is no clear cause of death passed on to Aretha by the answerer, nor to us, the audience. We can find out (by looking it up) that she died of a heart attack, but shouldn’t a bio-pic mention what killed the subject’s mom? And shouldn’t it have been more accurate concerning how old or young Aretha was when her mom died?

Aretha was born in Memphis, Tennessee.  Here is the house that is said to be her birthplace.

Aretha Franklin’s birth place in Memphis.

In watching the film and watching the celebrities who are said to have dropped by Aretha’s childhood home (and are pictured there during a Saturday night party), the home certainly must have been one that followed the Franklins’ move to New York (and, later, Encino, California and Bloomington Hills outside Detroit.) Aretha’s father, Clarence, did do well as a fellow preacher and contemporary of Martin Luther King. He was known as “the man with the Million Dollar Voice.” But the Memphis house pictured is a far cry from the comfortable old house depicted in the movie.

In an interview in the Chicago “Tribune” Hudson said, of her female director, “I love that Liesl was brave enough to allow things to breathe.” She remarked on how the actors chosen to play their roles were also musicians.

I don’t know what Hudson meant by “allowed it to breathe” but the inaccuracies (like when Aretha’s mother died) and the failure to address such things as “Who’s minding Aretha’s kids?” or “Who shot Clarence, Sr.., and why?” are not small lapses of judgment or tiny inconsequential matters in Aretha Franklin’s life.

Losing your mother at age ten is traumatic. We could make a guess that Aretha’s becoming a mother, herself, just two years later could be a consequence of such early loss. Her father—-“the man with the million-dollar voice”—-died of his wounds (shot during a break-in at the house) in 1984, when Aretha was 42. The phone call that came to Aretha to tell her about her mother’s death, looks almost like the director got confused about which parent died when. (The woman setting the table when that unsettling news reaches her looked closer to 42 than 10.)

There are allusions in the film to Aretha and her preacher father traveling together, with him preaching and her singing, but we never see any of that early beginning outside of his church. The entire flow of the screenplay, based on a Callie Khouri story, lurches along like that.

Aretha wanted Jennifer Hudson to play her in a bio-pic;  they began meeting right after “Dreamgirls,” so it has been 15 years of waiting for Jennifer, a Chicago girl, to get to play the Queen of Soul.

We waited so long for so little.

“For MadMen Only:” Crash Course in Comedy Legend Del Close

 

Patton Oswalt in “For Madmen Only”

The name Del Close is not one most of us associate with the pre-eminent comedians of the past twenty-five years, but we should.

In the documentary “For Madmen Only” from Heather Ross, narrated by Michaela Watkins we learn about this guru of comedy who helped discover and ultimately shape such talents as Bill Murray and Chris Farley.

The number of talking heads who pay homage to Del Close as their teacher is lengthy. Here is a quick look at who you will find in this documentary talking about Del Close: Robin Williams, Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Patton Oswalt,  Mike Myers, Will Farrell, Chris Farley, Steven Colbert, Jon Favreau, George Wendt, director Adam McKay, Ike Barinholtz, John Belushi, Harold Ramis, Dave Thomas, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Catharine O’Hara, Jason Sudeikis, Rachel Dratch, Howard Hesseman, Tim Meadows, Mike Nichols, Elaine May and “Better Call Saul’s” Bob Odenkirk.

The early performances onstage by famous comics is legendary.

Who was Del Close? And what, exactly, did he do to help that impressive list of comics get their start?

Amy Pohler in “For Madmen Only.”

John Belushi in “For Madmen Only.”

In 1960 Close moved to Chicago, his home base for much of the rest of his life, to perform and direct at Second City, but was fired due to substance abuse. He spent the latter half of the 1960s in San Francisco where he was the house director of improv ensemble The Committee. He toured with the Merry Pranksters, and created light shows for Grateful Dead shows. In 1972 he returned to Chicago and to Second City. He also directed and performed for Second City’s troupe in Toronto, in 1977. Prior to those Chicago years with Second City, Close had, at age 23, become a member of the Compass Players in St. Louis.

When most of the cast—including Mike Nichols and Elaine May—moved to New York City, Close followed. He developed a stand-up comedy act, appeared in the Broadway musical revue The Nervous Set, and performed briefly with an improv company in Greenwich Village.

Del Close, subject of “For Madmen Only.”

Del Close was certifiable. He ran away from home at the age of 17 and joined the circus, working as a fire-eater and being shot from a cannon. He spent time in mental hospitals and was checked out to do his show in Chicago and then checked back in to the Cook County Hospital Psych Ward. He had had a complete breakdown while supervising the Great White North in Toronto in 1976, a Second City outpost.

From a troubled childhood that saw Del’s alcoholic neglectful father commit suicide came a highly intelligent and highly creative comic genius who was devoted to promoting improvisation as an entirely separate art form, which he called “Harold.” He also supervised a magazine for D.C. Comics called “The Wasteland,” although he admits, “Most of our readership didn’t quite get it.”

This documentary written by Alan Samuel Golman and Heather Ross describes Close as “a living legend in comedy.” Bill Murray organized a deathbed party for the inveterate smoker, who refused to quit even when emphysema was killing him.

Jason Sudeikis of “Ted Lasso” on “For Madmen Only.”

The Del stories involving pot, alcohol and psychedelics never quit, starting with groups like the Merry Pranksters and continuing on until his death. Close died on March 4, 1999, at the Illinois Masonic Hospital (now the Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center) in Chicago, five days before his 65th birthday. An early birthday party was held for him by Bill Murray, who summoned many of Del’s former students to his bedside, a party which is on film in the documentary.

Close bequeathed his skull to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre to be used in its productions of Hamlet, and specified that he be duly credited in the program as portraying Yorick. Charna Halpern, Close’s long-time professional partner and the executor of his will, donated a skull—purportedly Close’s—to the Goodman in a high-profile televised ceremony on July 1, 1999.

A front-page article in the Chicago Tribune in July 2006 questioned the authenticity of the skull, citing the presence of teeth (Close had no teeth at the time of his death) and autopsy marks (Close was not autopsied), among other problems.

Halpern stood by her story at the time, but admitted in a The New Yorker interview three months later that she had purchased the skull from a local medical supply company. Halpern is shown onscreen bemoaning the fact that the public learned that this was not, in truth, Del Close’s real skull.

This film is a tribute to the creative comic who lived and taught this credo:  “You have a light within you. Burn it out.”

“For Madmen Only” premiered on July 27th and is available on Apple TV and Altovid

M. Night Shymalan’s “Old” Leads the Box Office on July 23rd, 2021 Weekend

Night Shymalan has always investigated original concepts, ideas that are out-of-the-box, even in his iconic 1999 film “The Sixth Sense.” He has had his share of hits or misses, scoring with “Split” in 2016 and less so with “Glass,” television’s “Wayward Pines,” “Signs,” “The Village,” and “Lady in the Water.”

We’ve gotten spoiled by some of Shymalan’s “twist” endings. It’s unfair to hold the writer/director to “Sixth Sense” exacting standards every time out. Shymalan largely funds his own films himself; it looks like a lot of Bollywood talent was employed on “Old,” which was shot in the Dominican Republic.

THE PLOT:

A family is embarking on what may be their last trip as a unit. Parents Guy (Gail Garcia Bernal) and Prisca (Vicky Krieps) have taken their 6-year-old son Trent and their 11-year-old daughter Maddox on vacation.

Mom and Dad are having some difficulties in their personal relationship. Each has a health issue (Gail Garcia Bernal’s health issue is a blood-clotting problem. His wife, Prisca’s, ailment is a tumor.) As the plot progresses we will learn that most of the tourists at the resort have a health issue of one sort or another.

Prisca thinks she wants out of the marriage and has been unfaithful, but she wants to protect their 6 year-old son Trent and their 11-year-old daughter Maddox  from this unhappy personal news and give them one last happy family outing.We get to see three different sets of actors portray the children, gradually aging them as the beach does its thing. It is unclear why Mom and Dad barely age and one of the film’s flaws.

When the family reaches the resort, they are met by Madrid, carrying a tray of drinks. The actress is Francesca Eastwood, the 28-year-old daughter of Clint Eastwood and actress Frances Fisher, offering them a drink based on their preferences. Later. the managing director of the resort suggests that the family can be transported to a hidden secret beach. They board a van (driven by none other than Director Shymalan, who usually appears briefly in his films, a la Hitchcock) and are dropped off at the remote beach with the understanding that they will be picked back up at 5 p.m.

That last bit of housekeeping turns out to be bogus. If they try to leave the beach they pass out from mysterious and painful headaches and wind up unconscious on the beach. One tourist, who attempts to swim out, doesn’t make it. (Famous last words: “Don’t worry. I was on the swim team.”) One who tries to climb the forbidding-looking cliffs that surround the beach falls to her death.

Getting off the beach is a bitch, but if they stay, they are going to die there as they quickly age 2 years an hour. If you’re there 24 hours, you’ll age 48 years. That will quickly kill off the elderly woman (Agnes) with the dog, Dr. Charles’ mother. It also takes its toll on any health concerns, like Prisca’s slow-going tumor that is suddenly catapulted into hyper-drive. Having time telescope so rapidly brings the parents back to their senses and makes them realize what they have in their marriage, but it’s too little, too late.

The premise of a mysterious beach that can cause the body to age 2 years in one hour is intriguing. Especially in the wake of this pandemic year, an event that has not happened for one hundred years and one which has touched so many of us on a deeply personal level, this is something we can relate to.  As we have watched an insidious killer take our friends and loved ones, the theme of mortality and time changing all things dramatically has become poignantly relevant to one in three Americans who have lost close friends or loved ones. The idea of time flying by and robbing us of our looks, our health, and, ultimately, our very lives, is something that any human being can relate to even in normal times—but even more so in a plague year.

THE GOOD

The premise is interesting and worthwhile. It has been adapted from the graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar-Levy/Frederick Peeters. The dialogue in the adaptation for the screen by Shymalan does not really flow well. There is a lot of information introduced by having the young son of parents Prisca (Vicky Krieps of “The Phantom Thread”) and Guy (Gabriel Barcia Bernal of “Mozart in the Jungle”)  ask everyone who they are and what they do. This technique does not yield the smoothest flow of information or dialogue. It’s even klutzier than a voice-over would have been.

SPOILERS

One of the problems with the film is the pace of the plot. It moves too quickly over momentous events with no time to build up any interest in whatever character has just bitten the dust.  There are dead bodies turning up floating in the water, attacks by a paranoid schizophrenic tourist on the beach, and the group doesn’t wait around to act. Example: letting the doctor on the beach operate with a pocket knife roughly five minutes after a tumor’s acceleration in size causes Prisca to pass out. That  seemed a tad speedy. There was talk of whether the group had any alcohol to use as an antiseptic. If the answer was yes, we never saw the antiseptic materialize before Dr. Charles (Rufus Sewell, who played the Fuhrer John Smith in “The Man in Castle the High Castle”) was plunging what looked like an old pocketknife into Prisca’s mid-section.

Another ridiculous plot point has one family’s young daughter mature from six to adolescence, become pregnant by Guy’s son (who has also accelerated from the age of six) without even a compulsory sex scene, and—voila!—she delivers a baby on the beach, all in record time.

I turned to my husband and said, “You wouldn’t want to doze off on this beach with this group around. They’d be throwing dirt in your face in your grave before you nodded off.”

THE BAD:

The inclusion of an instantaneous pregnancy and childbirth and the impromptu operation-on-the-tumor did not enhance the film or buttress its believability. Far from it. Both could well have been omitted, as could some of the many tourists.

For instance, the big Black character, a rapper known as Mid-sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre), never really was necessary, other than to be the object of a random attack by Rufus Sewell playing Charles, the dotty doctor.

I just watched Rufus Sewell portray Nazi Fuhrer John Smith in the final season of “The Man in the High Castle.” Watching him randomly puncture people with sharp objects was quite the change of pace. (We later learn in the film that, while he is a cardiac thoracic surgeon, he is suffering from mental health issues).Charles has a much-younger hot wife (Abbey Lee of “Mad Max Fury Road” and “Lovecraft Country”) and Chrystal displays her toned bikini body alongside Charles’ elderly mother, Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant), before Agnes shuffles off this mortal coil.  Chrystal’s demise in a cave was like something out of a third-rate horror movie. Chrystal didn’t really offer much to the film other than her beach body.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

While there were some crafty shots that concealed the reaction of the parents to their children’s sudden aging until the final moment, there were so many blurry unframed shots from Cinematographer Michael Gioulakis that I thought the cliffs were making me dizzy, too. One critic praised the blurry focus. I was not a fan. The cinematography and music were unremarkable, but the beach—which gave the director fits—was spectacular.

MUSIC:

There is a song called “Remain,”  composed by Saleka Night Shymalan, that was tuneless and forgettable.

VERDICT:

Overall, I was not impressed with the film as a whole, but I always find M. Night Shymalan’s hits or misses interesting and original.

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