Mudbound

Mudbound is a deeply moving film that works the same way a symphony works. Each instrument plays its part and the culmination of it is an overwhelming piece of artistry. Mudbound was released in 2017, but it remains powerful and prescient. It is currently streaming on Netflix and absolutely worth watching.

The story follows members of two families who become entwined in the Mississippi Delta in 1940’s. One family is black and has been working the land for generations first as slaves then as tenant farmers. Hap Jackson, played by Rob Morgan, is the patriarch of the family, and he is determined that if he and his family just work hard enough and earn enough they’ll be able to buy a little bit of land of their own. There’s a wonderful early scene in which Hap’s kids are chiding each other for their “outlandish” dreams of the future. Hap quietly tells each in turn never to make fun of someone’s ambitions. It’s the smallest of moments, but this movie is made of these small moments. Each one is just right not a note out of place. Florence Jackson, played by Mary J. Blige, is a hard working woman who holds everything together in spite of everything that happens to them. She is quiet dignity and solidity in a chaotic world.

As World War II begins, Henry McAllen decides to buy the farm and move his family from the city to country. Henry is played by Jason Clarke. He is a very particular type of old fashioned man. After a passionless round of intercourse with his wife, Henry states that in two weeks they will be moving across the country to this farm he just bought. His wife had no idea about any of this. He didn’t think to mention it. Again, it’s those little moments that make this movie. His wife is played by Carey Mulligan who gives a subtle yet fully realized performance as a woman who does the best she can with what she’s given. Her transition from a city life to one in which back breaking labor and death surround her is one of the many backbones of this movie.

Hap’s oldest son and Henry’s younger brother both fight in World War II. Ronsel Jackson, played by Jason Mitchell, is excited to go. He wants to serve and do his part. He ends up experiencing the horrors of the war inside a tank. Jamie McAllen played by Garrett Hedlund becomes a pilot and endures some truly horrific moments in the air. Both men are haunted by their memories of the war, but Jamie is deeply scarred. Ronsel however found what many African American servicemen found in the war; a place that accepted them. Ronsel returns to America to find a nation in which nothing has changed. He is still treated with contempt despite his uniform. He fought a war and returns home a second class citizen. These two men find each other and bond of over their shared experiences. This relationship forms the emotional crux of the story that binds both families in inextricable ways.

Every performance is pitch perfect. I could write endless paragraphs about each actor present. Every actor hits every moment perfectly. The film is also beautifully shot. Rachel Morrison deserved the Oscar for creating the look and feel of this movie. She creates such a vivid world in this movie that both firmly entrenches the film in its time period while also making it feel elemental and timeless. Watch it on the biggest screen possible.

The film contains some brutal moments. From its wartime violence to its depictions of racial violence at home, there are some truly difficult moments to watch. It’s not an overtly violent film. On the contrary, the violence is brief. But it is those brief flashes that make it more shocking and impactful. it is made all the more brutal because it feels so real. There is a moment between Henry and Jamie in which Henry pushes Jamie down. The emotion behind the act feels real. The force looks harsh. Jamie hitting the ground doesn’t look faked. It feels so much more violent than a brother a shoving a brother because the filmmakers and actors have given the moment the importance and weight it deserves.

This movie builds to a finish that left me in tears. The emotions crashed on top of me in a way few films are able to achieve. These characters endure extreme hardships. It’s the kind of of movie that makes me wonder ‘why would anyone choose to be a farmer?.’ And after all these little moments build throughout the movie and all the hardships and horrors these people have endured, the film comes through with a conclusion that pays off all of those little moments. All that hardship is paid off in the end. It left me devastated. It’s the kind of movie that requires a post movie walk to let it all settle in.

This movie is a journey that is worth taking. Watch this movie. It’s really good. It’s my cup of tea. A+

The Death of Stalin

Now on Netflix, this dark comedy is at once horrifying and hilarious. Great performances, a razor sharp script, and fascinating history, combine in this enthralling movie.

The movie starts slowly. An orchestra is performing a concert on the radio. Joseph Stalin, the ruthless leader of the USSR, listens to the performance and orders a recording of the performance. They did not record the performance and the technicians and the orchestra rush to reproduce the performance exactly in order to create a recording for Stalin. These people are terrified and go to extreme lengths to satisfy Stalin. Stalin was terrifying and held his country in a stranglehold.

When Stalin get his recording, he suffers a cerebral hemorrhage and drops to the floor. Cue the sycophants and bureaucrats. They come running and jockey for positions of power now that Stalin is no more. The movie takes off and never stops from this point on. The key player is Krushchev played by Steve Buscemi. He has plans and ambitions for the Soviet Union, but first he must pretend to weep over Stalin’s body because if Stalin recovers and find out that Krushchev didn’t weep over him, he’ll be furious. They have to hire a doctor, but they recently had all the good doctors killed, so they have to find a decent doctor that will please Stalin if he recovers.

This type of irony runs throughout the film. It is hilarious at moments while at the same time providing such an interesting commentary on cronyism and a system of government in which the appearance of loyalty is more important than anything else.

Krushchev is in direct competition with Lavrentiy Beria played by Simon Russell Beale. Beria is terrifying. He is the head of the KGB and the secret police. He runs secret prisons and is shown torturing people, but Beria plays the game and he plays it well. The political maneuvering between Beria and Krushchev is subtle and fascinating to watch. They play the game and work the system in order to push themselves into more powerful positions. Political machinations have rarely been this entertaining.

Two standout comedic performances come from Jason Isaacs, you’ll recognize him as the villain from every other movie, as the general Georgy Zhukov leader of the army and the most manly man who ever manned. He doesn’t put up with any politicking or foolishness. He is a man of decisive action who spits every line no matter how crass with authority. He is contrasted by Stalin’s son Vasily played by Rupert Friend. Vasily is a drunk and an absolute baboon. He charges head first into every room to great comedic effect. Everything he does in the movie is outrageous.

Of course at the same time that the film is hilarious, it is also terrifying to think of living in this world. A world where the whims of a cruel leader send hundreds to their deaths. A world in which people have to protract themselves in mock grief for fear of being shot on the spot. A world in which a man has to protest that his wife is a treacherous sow one minute and claim she was always innocent the next because it is politically expedient. This film is very effective and thought provoking while being a nonstop thrill to watch.

The language is very harsh. There is a lot of suggestive material. There are scenes of torture. It probably won’t be for everybody. That said, it is a very rewarding film if you give it shot. It’s currently streaming on Netflix. I love this movie. It’s my cup of tea. – A

Extraction

Now streaming on Netflix, this movie is incredibly violent. It is brutal and bloody and thrilling. With one massive action sequence in the middle that totally makes up for the predictable plot.

The film opens with Ovi, the teenage son of an Indian crime lord as he goes about his lonely day at home and his average day at school as he works up the courage to talk to a girl. That night he sneaks away from his heavily guarded home and goes to a club. There he is kidnapped by a rival gang lord. The film then shifts to Chris Hemsworth. The hunky Australian dives off a massive Australian cliff and sits underwater. He has a whole scene under water as he thinks about the family he’s lost and weeps. It’s quite a nice and effective scene. Even though the tortured soldier who lost his family going for one last mission is maybe the oldest action movie cliche ever.

He is called on to rescue the Ovi. His team infiltrate the enemy stronghold and extract (hence the title) Ovi. Things of course go wrong almost immediately as the entire city is under the crime lords control. The cops, the kids, and everyone they meet on the street is probably going to try to kill them. Chris Hemsworth and Ovi fight their way through trying to get to the rendezvous point.

The plot doesn’t matter so much though. This is a nonstop action movie. The plot and the characters are just a clothesline upon which to hang the action. As far as action goes, this one succeeds in a big way. The highlight of the film is one of those sequences that looks like it was all done in one take. It was obviously, digitally stitched together, but it looks pretty good. And the effect of this simulated continuous movement is an action sequence that grabs hold of the viewer and doesn’t let go. It’s truly an impressive sequence. In and out of cars. In and out of buildings. The camera work is fantastic.

It’s nice to watch an outrageous action movie that at least feels like it takes place in the real world. Chris Hemsworth isn’t indestructible here. When he gets hit or cut, it hurts. He weakens and slows down. He’s not the terminator. He struggles, and this struggle leads to a much more interesting action movie than a lot of them that are out there today.

The film looks great, the action is great, but the plot and story is so standard, that it does diminish the film. It is entirely predictable in the broad strokes. Just knowing the basics, tortured former soldier, kid needs rescuing, it’s not hard to guess what will happen and where it will end. However, the ride to get there is pretty fun.

If you’re looking for a bloody, violent, action movie while stuck at home, this is a good one to check out. If you’re looking for a new take on the genre, story, and characters you won’t find it here. All in all, I enjoyed it. It was my cup of tea. B+

Bad Education

Watch this movie. It is new to HBO, and absolutely worth watching. With impeccable direction and a fantastic script the film unfolds the story of the largest public school embezzlement scandal in American History.

Hugh Jackman stars as Frank Tassone. He’s the superintendent for the number four school district in the state. The pressure is on to get them to number one. The film takes its time establishing the world of Frank Tassone. The school board, the parents, and the local leaders all want to reach number one and put pressure on Frank to make that happen. It shows a different side of the education system. One in which high achievements equal property tax revenue and more money for locals. It is all wrapped up in the rhetoric of caring about the students. What’s interesting about Frank is that he seems to genuinely care about the students and their success. He feels like a true believer who is in the middle of a balancing act between these external forces and what is best for students.

Unfortunately trouble is on the horizon. When a student writing for the school paper interviews Frank, he encourages her to dig a little deeper. She is Rachel Bhargava played by Geraldine Viswanathan. She decides to dig a little deeper and during her tense interviews with administrator Pam Gluckin, played fiercely by Allison Janney, some things start to come to light.

To say anymore would spoil the fun and the surprise of the film. This movie doesn’t rush through every new development and dumped plot twists on the audience. It tells its story in a calm measured way that allows the story to unfold and develop naturally. The twists don’t feel cheap or gimmicky. They feel like truths that the audience can look back through the movie and see all the seeds that were planted throughout. The movie is based on a true story, and as far I can tell it hews closely to the truth with a few embellishments to make the story work as a film. The characters and events sometimes feel impossible, but the crazier the details seem the more likely they are to be true.

Hugh Jackman’s work here is stunning to watch. The way Frank is written and the way Jackman plays him make him feel like the fully fleshed out real person. Jackman disappears and Frank takes over. He totally embodies this man who is so much more and less than he appears at first. He is charming. He is guarded and defensive while at the same time feeling open and inviting. He is truly scary in a scene that is late in the movie.

Right up there with Jackman is Allison Janney. Her character is so richly detailed and performed that once again the facade of actor and performance falls away and we’re left with a real woman. She is fierce and formidable, but during a scene in which she panics and breaks down she elicits real sympathy and sadness.

Geraldine Viswanathan is such a delightful young performer. She aha few film roles under her belt, and she has always brought a unique energy to her work. Here she nails the role of a high schooler who may be in over her head. She too unfolds over the course of the movie to reveal so much more about herself than she at first appears.

The screenplay, written by Mike Makowsky, is perfect. It reveals so much about these people’s lives and makes them real people. It interweaves all these people and their stories, and creates a tightly wound narrative that has more and more layers the more you dig into it. This script coupled with the direction by Cory Finley creates an entrancing narrative that sucks you in. With every new revelation and story development the audience is pulled in ever deeper. The movie hits every right note. Considering this is Finley’s second directorial effort, and Makowsky’s third screenplay, this movie is quite the achievement.

I really loved this movie. I started watching it on a whim. I just wanted to check out the first few minutes or so. I ended up hooked and watching it through to the conclusion. It was so good. I’ll watch it again anytime. I watched it on HBO Now. You can watch it on the HBO network, their streaming service or you can get HBO through Amazon Prime or Hulu. It’s worth it. It’s my cup of tea. – A

Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep is a worthy sequel to the classic horror film The Shining. It walks a fine line paying tribute to the original movie while following its own artistic path and succeeds.

Doctor Sleep is based on a 2013 novel of the same name by Stephen King. It is a sequel to what is arguably his best novel The Shining written in 1977. The Shining was adapted loosely by Stanley Kubrick in 1980. That film is a legendary piece of horror cinema. With that kind of baggage this story has a lot to live up to. The first question is why bother? Why make a sequel to one of the best horror novels ever? Why make a sequel to one of the best movies ever? The wonderful thing about this movie is that it has an answer, and it’s a good one.

This movie picks up shortly after the events of The Shining with Danny Torrence dealing with the horrific events he experienced during his time at The Overlook Hotel with his family. He is deeply traumatized and the ghosts that haunted the hotel haven’t forgotten about him. They have followed him to his new home.

Mike Flanagan is the director. He is one of the best horror directors working today because he infuses all of his horror with meaning. His scares and ghosts are almost always metaphors and symbols of something deeper within his characters. Here, the ghosts are trauma. Danny is haunted not by ghosts, but by his past and the abusive childhood he suffered. This is a movie about overcoming pain and past issues and growing as a person. It’s a movie with a heart and a mind to back up the visceral experience.

The movie flashes forward in time to Danny as an adult. He has engaged in some very bad coping mechanisms in order to deal with his trauma and it isn’t until he finds support that he’s able to grow past it. A large portion of the movie is devoted to Danny’s experiences of cleaning up his life and becoming a better person, and the movie is richer for it. It is a true character study for a lot of its runtime, and it’s a very compelling one at that.

But evil comes a calling. Danny has an ability. He calls it the shining. He can perceive more than most. He can communicate with people without words. He can see ghosts. It turns out he isn’t the only person with this ability. There are lots of people who shine, and as we see, there are those who hunt people who shine. These people call themselves the True Knot. They torture and murder those who shine because when they are in pain they release something called Steam. The True Knot consumes this steam and it prolongs their life indefinitely. The True Knot find a girl who can shine called Abra. Abra reaches out to Danny and together they try to defeat the True Knot.

The movie is so well made. Every shot is perfectly composed to create a sense of unease. The use of music is impeccable. It enhances every moment and never feels overpowering. The lighting feels like Kubrick’s lighting while never feeling like a copycat. The movie is tense and foreboding without becoming too much.

The story structure feels like a Stephen King novel. This movie feels like one of his novels more than any other film I’ve seen. It follows the structure of the novel and has a deliberate pace that runs counter to most movies these days. This pacing is so refreshing. Most movies follow such a predictable structure that you can guess what will happen at any moment. This one is surprising and keeps the audience on edge by never quite doing exactly what you think it will.

The movie is not a particularly scary movie. It doesn’t have a lot of jump scares and spooky things hiding around corners. It is however incredibly tense and deeply horrifying in other ways. The sequence in which the True Knot kidnaps and tortures a boy with the shining is one of the most deeply unsettling sequences I’ve seen in years. It is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. It is very intense at times, but it isn’t filled with traditional scares. This isn’t so much a horror movie as it is a movie about horror and what horror does to someone.

Ewan McGregor plays Danny, and he is perfect. He never gives a bad performance really, but here he’s very effective. He is honest and true and has so much going behind his eyes. Rebecca Ferguson plays Rose the Hat the leader of the True Knot. She is charming and alluring, then she’s vicious and repulsive. She is a very compelling monster for this movie.

The movie is so well made, so well acted, and so thoughtful that it has absolutely earned its place alongside The Shining. It is a very different movie, but it is absolutely worth watching if you have the stomach for its more intense moments. It’s totally my cup of tea. A

Love Wedding Repeat

The latest Netflix original movie is a very funny movie that stumbles in its plot and execution, but remains a very fun movie experience for your Sunday afternoon.

The film is set on one eventful wedding day. Jack, played by Sam Claflin, is always trying to do what’s right for those around him and never follows his own desires. He wants to reconnect with Dina, played by Olivia Munn, an American friend of his sister Hayley, played by Eleanor Tomlinson, on her wedding day. Things go wrong when Hayley’s ex shows up high on cocaine and ready to ruin the wedding.

The cast is filled out with delightful British actors playing wonderfully absurd characters. Irish comedienne and actress Aisling Bea is fantastic as a woman who says the wrong thing every time she opens her mouth. Tim Key is cringe worthy as a boring man who never shuts up. He is hilarious every time he’s on screen. My favorite though is Bryan played by Joel Fry. He is the idiot friend who wants to impress a movie director. He gets drugged at one point and the way he plays these scenes is unbelievably funny.

The antics and character moments build to a fever pitch in which someone is thrown off a balcony. Then the movie pauses and says there are many different ways this could have played out. The movie then plays alternate versions of the day. This is the conceit of the movie. It shows how the movie could play out in various alternate timelines. The problem is that the movie stands too much time in the first half setting up these characters and the antics. The alternate versions feels like too little too late. It feels as if the filmmakers forgot to add that in and just kind of shove it in awkwardly even though the movie had really good momentum and energy building up to it and the interruption just kind of ruins that energy. This is so unfortunate because the movie is absolutely great until this moment. This strange decision really knocks it down a peg or two.

That said, the cast is wonderful across the board. Everyone has a moment to shine. These characters are drawn so well that every interaction is packed with good moments. Eleanor Tomlinson avoids the cliche of the stressed out maniac nightmare bride. Sam Claflin plays the nice guy brother with more nuance than that type usually gets. Even the broader more comic characters get moments of reality and compassion. Aisling Bea and Joel Fry have a wonderful heart to heart moment. And Tim Key has one of the most touching moments I’ve seen in a long time showing how much his character grows over the movie.

In spite of problematic plotting the movie has so much to offer. It is a lot of fun and is definitely worth watching in spite of its flaws. My cup of tea – B+

Good Boys

Now streaming on HBO Good Boys is a strangely wholesome gross out sex comedy. It has hints of being a good movie, but mostly settles for an okay movie with chuckles instead of laughs.

The movie follows three 6th graders on a momentous day in their young lives. Max, Lucas, and Thor have been best friends their whole lives, but that friendship is about to be tested as they embark on a quest to prepare themselves for a kissing party taking place that night at the coolest kid in school’s house.

The boys agree that they need to learn how to kiss before going to the party. They decide to steal Max’s dad’s drone in order to spy on their teenage neighbor because “She’s a nymphomaniac. That means she has sex on land and sea.” The movie is full of amusing little puns and misunderstandings like that. “This is sensual harassment!” “We’ll tell them you’re a misogynist. – I’ve never massaged anyone!” Some feel genuine others feel forced. The drone ends up getting stolen by the girls they are trying to spy on and the kids end up taking the girls’s purse in order to trade. In the purse they find drugs and Lucas’ love for anti drug campaigns kicks in.

The boys refuse to give up the drugs because they don’t want to spread drugs in their community. A big section of the plot hinges on the boys trying to do the right thing. This is a really refreshing and interesting twist on this genre of R rated gross out humor. Lucas is a standout here. He is such a good natured and kind character who is happy with who he is and is proud of the fact that his mom is his best friend. That wholesomeness is a really engaging counterbalance to the sex gags and drug humor.

There is a lot of sexual and drug related humor on display here. Some of it is cringe inducing and just unpleasant. Some of it is quite clever, but the movie works best when the humor comes from these characters. These boys are such wonderfully drawn personalities that their arguments and discussions prove to be the funniest and most engaging parts of the movie. A massive blowout between the boys results in major tears from all of them. Watching these twelve year olds yelling at each other while tears flow is hilarious, true, and an interesting comment on masculinity and the fear showing emotions. There is also a slow motion shootout in which the boys shoot frat guys with paintball guns. This is the big climax of the movie, but the funnier and more memorable scene is the crying fight between the boys. The movie is an interesting hodge lodge of styles. It has all the prerequisite gags and chase scenes, but its heart has so much more to offer.

Unfortunately, the heart gets swallowed up and over shadowed by the big trailer moments. Trailer moments are the easy to digest big guffaw moments that they cram into the trailer, like the paintball shoot out, the sex jokes, and the lowest common denominator bits. These are fine trailer fodder, but the movie could have been better without it.

The movie also has a really touching message about growing up and growing up too fast. It is about losing those friends that we grow up with and assume will always be there for us. It is almost a really great movie about young people growing up, but it clutters the movie. It drowns its message in the easy jokes.

Overall, it’s a pretty good time. There are some laugh out loud moments and a lot of nice characters. You could do worse than watch this movie some evening. Mostly my cup of tea. – B