Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Red Dragon: A Review

RED DRAGON

Things have come full circle now, as Anthony Hopkins recreates for the second time his most famous role. There is however, the pesky detail that Red Dragon is essentially a remake that had another actor in the role of gentleman serial killer Hannibal Lecter. As most people don't remember Manhunter, the previous adaptation, Red Dragon has a little more leeway in its telling. With mostly strong performances Red Dragon does well in its telling.

FBI forensics officer Will Graham (Edward Norton) barely survives his encounter with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins), who had been working with the FBI on a missing person case. Graham's PTSD forces his retirement, but FBI Special Agent Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) talks him into merely consulting on a new case.

It is that of a serial killer nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy", and despite his misgivings Graham finds himself delving deeper and deeper into the case. However, to solve the case he needs the help of two people he despises. One is tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who made Graham's life miserable especially after publishing photos of a barely alive Graham. The other is Lecter himself, who takes this opportunity to taunt Graham.

Lecter and the Tooth Fairy however may be more involved than the former lets on. They've secretly communicated, putting Graham's family in danger. As Graham closes in on the Tooth Fairy, we find it is Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes), who is currently making awkward pursuit of blind coworker Reba McLane (Emily Watson). Dolarhyde has a fixation with the William Blake painting The Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun, believing it has the power to change him into a powerful being. With Lecter playing both sides against the other, Graham and Dolarhyde come to a dramatic conclusion.

I think one of Red Dragon's qualities is that it managed to bring back Ted Tally, who had adapted The Silence of the Lambs, to adapt the earlier Thomas Harris novel. He added elements that establish both Lecter's murderous calm and the Lecter-Graham relationship. In the pre-title sequence we know what Lecter has done to the unfortunate flutist who couldn't play in tune. We also see that Graham is both intelligent and naïve when it comes to the wolf at his door.

Brett Ratner is not known as one of the best directors around, but I was surprised at how good Red Dragon was under his supervision. He moved things well and did not give in to some of the more gruesome aspects of the story. 

To be fair though, no matter how much music is cranked up, you can't make someone literally eating a painting look scary. It looks comical, and Red Dragon loses a bit of steam after Francis and Reba have their sexual encounter. It revives slightly at the concluding standoff between Dolarhyde and Graham, but by now you pretty much expect this "twist".

Red Dragon has very good performances on the whole. Norton is either blessed or cursed with a seemingly eternally youthful face, but here it works. His Will Graham is a haunted, tormented figure, one who is simultaneously appalled and lured by the darkness of human depravity. His scene where he attempts to explain to his son what caused his breakdown is a strong bit of acting, and he gives Graham an assurance that allows him to stand toe-to-toe with Lecter, betraying little fear.

Keitel is equal to the task of Special Agent Crawford, professional and rational. Hoffman is unscrupulous as Lounds, making his end if not scary at least surprising. I thought he wasn't taking the situation as seriously as Red Dragon was asking, but nothing horrible. Watson too handled her American accent and the blindness well, though I think nowadays there would be calls to have Reba played by a blind actress.

I think it was the villains who seemed to veer a bit into spoof. Fiennes' Dolarhyde was more buff than usual but at times I found myself suppressing chuckles when he was arguing with the "Red Dragon" or attempting to be menacing. Seeing him devour the painting was also a bit hard to swallow (pun intended). Hopkins for his part was running on fumes, almost a bit camp as Lecter. Perhaps Lecter fatigue was finally setting in. It wasn't terrible but not as calm as controlled as his first effort. Anthony Heald, who along with Hopkins returns to recreate his role from The Silence of the Lambs, continues to make Dr. Chilton a most obnoxious and arrogant fool.

I was surprised at how well Red Dragon holds up even if the ending seemed a bit too much (why did the Grahams not verify whose corpse was in the burned-out mansion?). While The Silence of the Lambs will always be a hard act to follow, it should be noted that Red Dragon technically precedes it. As such, we can be a bit more forgiving.

DECISION: B-

HANNIBAL LECTER FILMS

Manhunter

The Silence of the Lambs

Hannibal

Hannibal Rising

HANNIBAL LECTER TELEVISION SERIES

Hannibal

Clarice

 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Birds of Prey: A Review


BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN)

I genuinely don't know what to make of Birds of Prey, this addition to the DC Extended Universe. It's colorful, loud but it is also repetitive and unnecessarily long despite being less than two hours long.

Our unreliable narrator Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) tells us that after her breakup with the Joker, she finds herself hunted by everyone whom she has wronged now that she is no longer under his protection. That's a lot of people in Gotham, but it ultimately narrows down primarily to two. One is Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a Gotham City Police Detective who despite cracking major cases always loses credit to her male partner.

The other is Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), criminal kingpin who also goes by Black Mask. His psychopathic nature gives Harley a run for her money, but now she is the one on the run. To save herself she offers to return a teen pickpocket, Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), to him. She stole the Bertinelli Diamond from Roman's right-hand man Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), unaware of how important the diamond is. 

Etched in the diamond are the account numbers of the exterminated Mob family, which will give the owner a mass fortune. Sionis wants it to rule Gotham, but his plans are now up against not only an unstable Quinn and relentless Montoya but Helena Bertinelli aka The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who seeks revenge for her family's execution. Into the mix is also Dinah Lance aka Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett), a singer at Sionis' club who has been shanghaied into being his driver. 

With Sionis now after all of them for various reasons, it's up to this ragtag group to join forces.

I figure Birds of Prey screenwriter Christina Hodson was attempting to echo Harley Quinn's voice through the rambling narrative, flashbacks and eccentric worldview. However, she and director Cathy Yan didn't know when to rein things in. The lengthy stream-of-consciousness manner to Quinn's voiceovers takes on less of a demented manner and more of a dull one. It takes a full eight minutes before we actually start the film, and that's after a three minute self-consciously cute animated opening where we hear Harley talk about her abusive childhood and bad romance with Joker.

Birds of Prey soon takes on a convoluted manner where things seem to spin wildly out-of-control. We have Harley for example about to raid the police station to get Cassandra, then pause to get her narrating of what happened prior involving the stolen diamond and Dinah's rescuing of Harley from being taken advantage of. Yes, I know it comes from Quinn's crazed point of view but soon it becomes rather repetitive. I felt taken for a ride as I had to sit through yet another tangent.

Add to that a certain repetitive nature in the fight scenes. It seems that every time someone was about to get into a brawl, it had to be accompanied by a song and slow-motion. Yes, at times it was visually arresting, such as a deliberately cinematic fight at the police station with the sprinklers going off and the battle at the theme park ride The Booby Trap (which I figure was a pun). However, again it becomes rote and predictable. One or two fight scenes with this kind of set-up would be fine, but why did almost all of them have to have them?

In terms of performances they vary wildly. Robbie knows Quinn well and delivers a strong performance as our unhinged yet weirdly peppy criminal. Anyone who can shout "YOU KILLED MY SANDWICH!" with intense sincerity is going for gold. You can also see flashes of Harleen Quinzel pop out, particularly whenever she adopts a calm tone to psychoanalyze the person's motives or actions. On the opposite end is McGregor, unleashing his inner camp demon as the wildly theatrical Roman Sionis. With no filter to hold him, McGregor is relishing the outlandish over-the-top cartoonish nature of his villain.

I would think McGregor was playing a spoof version of a villain, but there it is. 

The other Birds of Prey were on the whole well-acted, even if Winstead's mob version of Grand Duchess Anastasia seemed a bit blank. Perez did well playing it mostly straight (and no that's not a bisexual joke). 

I think a major issue with me is that for a film called Birds of Prey, the actual creation of the Birds of Prey seemed almost an afterthought. As I have little to no knowledge of comic books, I was surprised that the Birds of Prey were a vigilante group which Harley has contempt for. I thought it would be her own Legion of Doom, but the mixing of the anticrime Birds of Prey and the master criminal of Harley and her new apprentice Cassandra seems a curious mix.

Birds of Prey is a bit too violent for my tastes and while one can appreciate the effort to be that mix of wacky and whacked-out, it didn't quite pull it off for me. It's a bit of a letdown, especially as it takes over an hour for all of them to finally come together. Lots of noise, lots of color, lots of tangents but not a lot there.   

DECISION: F 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Hannibal: A Review

 

HANNIBAL

It took ten years but at long last Hannibal Lecter was able to say, "Hello, Clarice". Whether this quote, misattributed to The Silence of the Lambs, came specifically from Hannibal or was included in Hannibal due to its popularity I cannot say. Hannibal is a curious film, curious in that it adds nothing to the Hannibal Lecter mythos, a lot of style but very little substance.

Ten years after Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) escaped American justice, he is living in Florence. His frenemy FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) is still enduring the patronizing of men. After a botched drug bust that she is blamed for, she is contacted by Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), the only Lecter victim to survive. 

Verger, a wealthy child molester who disfigured his own face while under Lecter's drug-fueled therapy, hopes to lure Lecter out of hiding to enact his revenge. This revenge plot eventually ensnares Italian detective Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini), who endangers his life when he learns of the $3 million dollar reward. Despite a last-minute warning from Starling who has through her own detective work found Pazzi, he is murdered by Lecter.

Now Lecter starts his own plan to meet up with his unofficial muse, a plot that traps Verger in his own plot and gets Starling's nemesis/former lover Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta) to literally take a bite out of himself. The cat-and-mouse game ends for both Hannibal and Clarice, but not in the way one would think.

For all the talk of the gore Hannibal indulged in, I found it a surprisingly dull film. I think it has to do with how long Hannibal is: at over two hours it felt as if the wheels were just spinning until we got to the most talked-about moment. Even this infamous moment where Ray Liotta's character is fed his own brain is not as graphic as I thought it would be. Other elements, such as a flashback where Verger slashes his own face, is shot in a manner that is gruesome but not perhaps as visually horrifying as it could have been.

That isn't to say that Hannibal is restrained: in quite a few ways it seemed to be overtly sadistic with its killings, and I can see how audiences may have found it far over-the-line. However, thinking back part of me thinks "killer pigs" is hilarious than horrifying. OK, they're boars, but it still just seems such an absurd way for Verger to get revenge: by feeding Hannibal Lecter to cannibal boars.

Hannibal spends far too much time with its various subplots to where it is almost a traffic jam. There's the botched drug bust, a seemingly endless Italian subplot, the Verger subplot, all of which are supposed to connect but have a hard time doing so. It takes a full thirty minutes for Lecter to finally appear outside of a flashback, and then over an hour before he and Starling even make contact. I think screenwriters David Mamet and Steven Zaillian as well as director Ridley Scott thought they were making an arthouse horror film, but instead they made a slog.

It says quite a lot that in the opening title sequence, a flock of pigeons form to make Hannibal Lecter's face.

There is also a curious thing of there being absolutely no character to care about. Verger is a child molester (his claims of redemption through Christianity rather dubious). Pazzi is a greedy, almost corrupt cop. Kregler is a sexist pig who demeans Starling (as a side note, why would Starling, one of the stronger female characters, even contemplate an affair with Kregler even if it was in the past). 

Oldman was going for a full-on performance, and it's to his credit that he was unrecognizable in his voice (his face wildly disfigured). Still, there seemed to be something almost hammy about his role. It's to his credit though that it was, given that everyone else in Hannibal acted all this with such stern seriousness that they came across as fully aware of how "important" all this was when one would think their characters would be more scared than somber. 

Oddly, only Andrea Piedimonte as Italian officer Benetti seemed to have any sense of fun or reality into this. Actually, I take some of this back: Ray Liotta's diminishing capacity when drugged is oddly funny too.

Literally, cannibal boars!

The two lead performances are also an issue. Let's say that Julianne Moore originated the role of Clarice Starling and pretend Jodie Foster's version in The Silence of the Lambs didn't exist. Moore's Starling was not human. She was remote, cold, all business. There didn't seem to be an ounce of humanity, of vulnerability, of any emotion within her. This Clarice Starling mistook "hard" for "strong", and moreover her accent was excessively strong to where it seemed deliberately exaggerated. 

Hopkins was essentially coasting through Hannibal, making Lecter almost dull. He is meant to be scary but he seems oddly more amused by the goings-on than a force of true evil. 

Hannibal, I think, might disappoint some Hannibal Lecter fans. It is a poor follow-up to one of the great films, and you wonder why anyone was involved in all this. Dull, slow, slightly pretentious, Hannibal is more graphic and more boring than it should be.

DECISION: D-

HANNIBAL LECTER FILMS

Manhunter

The Silence of the Lambs

Red Dragon

Hannibal Rising

HANNIBAL LECTER TELEVISION SERIES

Hannibal

Clarice

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ginger and Fred: A Review (Review #1460)

GINGER AND FRED

Ginger and Fred is not often remembered as part of Federico Fellini's oeuvre, probably because it is less fantastical than what he is known for. While Ginger and Fred is more grounded in reality, it still has those Felliniesque touches that the director was known for. It is also a tender, sweet story of that beautiful thing called the past.

Thirty years after their heyday as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers impersonators, Amelia Bonetti (Giulietta Massina) aka "Ginger" returns to Rome to appear on We Are Proud to Present..., an Italian television Christmas special spectacular. This variety show features impersonators, interviews with guests eccentric and heroic and a cavalcade of oddities from dancing midgets to a cow who has anywhere from 15 to 18 tits.

Amelia is a bit appalled by the gaudiness all around her, but she also has hopes for her reunion with Pippo Boticella aka Albert Light aka "Fred" (Marcello Mastroianni). While Amelia has moved on, married and had children since she and Pippo broke up in every way, he looks disoriented and disheveled. Pippo is also displeased by what he sees as almost obscene television, yet can't help also be fascinated by the overtly sexual nature of television: both programs and commercials.

As they prepare for their special appearance, Amelia observes the sadness behind Pippo's outward frivolity as she learns that he may not be in the best of health. Despite this an a stumble by "Fred", they are a hit. However, especially for Amelia, this was a one-night only appearance, yet as they part at the Rome train station you sense an enduring love between Ginger and Fred.

Ginger and Fred is a very sweet, tender, nostalgic story about loss. Fred looks upon the guests on We Are Proud to Present... with more contempt than enjoyment. He is displeased that they will be followed by an admiral, finding the celebration of a war appalling. Yet he makes up randy verses about the girls hawking pizza. Ginger, however, is grounded in reality. She too finds a lot of this surprisingly tawdry, but unlike Fred accepts that things have changed. 

She for example is confused by a transvestite who thinks can get pregnant, but Ginger treats her with if not kindness at least respectfully. She is also proud of her work and is fully professional. She is clear on wanting to rehearse and the importance of it versus winging it. She is not one to hang on past glories, but also wants to journey at least once to the past, where Fred would sweep her in his arms.

Ginger and Fred also looks like a sly critique of Italian television and television in general. We Are Proud to Present... has a production crew thoroughly uninterested in the performers save for getting them on stage. Early on, a production assistant is clearly bored with all these "has-beens": her monotone voice, her lack of interest all make clear that for the television crew it's a job, not a calling.

We Are Proud to Present... does give Fellini a chance to show some grand visuals along with the opening Rome train station scene. You also have various characters speaking almost simultaneously. However, Fellini crafted a loving tribute to two of his best collaborators.

Massima is beautiful as Ginger. She crafts in her performance a woman aware of the present, reminiscent of the past but not a slave to it. She has doubts about appearing among the eccentrics to downright vulgar (among the guests on this Christmas special are a good-looking young Mafia boss and the creator of an edible underwear company who brought living models). However, Massima also makes Amelia a professional, one who is there to perform, and see her Fred one more time.

I couldn't help but wonder if when a punk rock wig is mistakenly placed on Ginger, if Fellini was making a subtle comment on how the present is tainting the past, but that's just me.

Mastroianni is equal to the task as Pippo/Fred. He shows that beneath an almost frivolous exterior is an angry man, hurt and haunted, mourning the loss of Amelia personally and professionally. We can see shades of the Continental charmer Pippo was, but also see the ill man that he is. It's never overtly stated whether Pippo is in poor health physically or mentally, but either way you see a man at the end and in his own way defiant.

Ginger and Fred may be a shadow Giulietta and Federico, a loving farewell to a time and place where grace and elegance were the norm. I found myself charmed by this sweet, simple story of old vaudevillians taking one last turn on the dance floor. More grounded than most Fellini films, Ginger and Fred is a charming story.

DECISION: A-

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Manhunter: A Review


MANHUNTER

Hannibal Lecter has become an iconic figure, the embodiment of sophisticated evil. While it was The Silence of the Lambs that brought Lecter his status, many people do not realize our wicked cannibal psychiatrist made his literary and cinematic debut in another project. Manhunter, the first cinematic version of Thomas Harris' Red Dragon, has been lost in the shuffle of Lecter-related work. While it is a bit dated and more interested in style than substance, there is enough in Manhunter to make it worth a viewing.

Former FBI criminal profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) reluctantly comes out of retirement to just consult on a new serial killer case. His former boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) needs Graham's help on a gruesome case the FBI agents nickname "The Tooth Fairy" for the killer's penchant of biting his victims.

Graham works methodically, but the Tooth Fairy case is connected to his last case. That case nearly killed him and left him emotionally traumatized. The Tooth Fairy case brings him full circle, as he has to confront Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), the cannibal who nearly killed Graham last time. Lecktor may have insight into the Tooth Fairy case, but he isn't about to let a chance to get back at Graham go by.

As a side note, Manhunter opted to change the spelling from "Lecter" to "Lecktor".

The actual Tooth Fairy, after a lot of detective work, is eventually identified as socially awkward Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), who has already killed Graham's nemesis, tabloid reporter Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang) as part of Lecktor's revenge. It's a race now to save both Graham's wife and son from Lecktor's machinations and Dollarhyde's blind coworker Rita (Joan Allen), the Tooth Fairy's next potential victim.

There is not much in Manhunter to suggest it is anything more than a B-Movie with suggestions of creepiness but not much in terms of gore. This is actually a plus in writer/director Michael Mann's adaptation, as he resists the temptation to be graphic in terms of the on-screen violence. Even the moments that suggest horror (like a scene where a tween accidentally sees crime photos) are quite restrained. 

Whether this is what audiences want or not I cannot guess at, but Manhunter is not interested in the crimes themselves, let alone the gory details. Instead, it is meant as an exploration of Will Graham's tortured psyche. Perhaps that explains why Petersen is restrained and almost passive in Manhunter, displaying a man who doesn't display much.

As played by Petersen, Will Graham is a still man, one who doesn't want to let the past haunt him but which still does. I think people may find him a bit emotionalless and remote, but I think this is how the character is meant to be. As such, his general passivity works.

Manhunter may also disappoint Lecter fans because the bad doctor does not feature prominently in the film. It takes a good twenty-three minutes for him to even appear, and Cox doesn't play him as a major threat, let alone a psychopathic criminal genius. Instead, Cox makes Lecktor into the cliché of someone who thinks he is a psychopathic criminal genius.

A lot of the performances in Manhunter are surprisingly quiet, stripped of grandiose manners. Up to a point this is good, but at times it seems unrealistic. Kim Greist as Will's wife Molly seems merely slightly perturbed at having to hide out with her son to avoid the dangerous Tooth Fairy. There's little to suggest anger or fear, merely inconvenience.

I think it is because Manhunter is more interested in the investigation: the forensics, the actual detective work, than it is in plunging into both the horrors of Lecktor and Dollarhyde or the psychological toll on the FBI agents. Manhunter is quite respectful of how the note from the Tooth Fairy to Lecktor is quickly investigated. 

Manhunter is also a film that is awash with visual splendor: deep blues and greens dominate the film, along with a synthesizer score and songs that make it play like a Miami Vice spinoff. One senses that Mann was trying to go for some great visual moment, but the concluding confrontation between Graham and Dollarhyde to Iron Butterfly's In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida didn't feel as cinematic as he wanted it to. The visuals also become dominant when Dollarhyde spies Rita with a fellow coworker. He sees something almost erotic, while the reality shows something quite innocent.

If one thinks on Manhunter, some things just seem so odd. Rita opting to make love to Dollarhyde make her look like a tramp (and despite her work, the casting of the sighted Allen would now be called "problematic"). It doesn't seem to fit, as does Lounds' harassment of Graham and his abduction.

Manhunter feels and looks like an 80's film. This isn't a slam on it, just an acknowledgment that it is a bit dated now. However, it isn't a bad film and has a nice visual style that can be appreciated.       

DECISION: C+

HANNIBAL LECTER FILMS

The Silence of the Lambs

Hannibal

Red Dragon

Hannibal Rising

HANNIBAL LECTER TELEVISION SERIES

Hannibal

Clarice

Monday, February 15, 2021

Aaron Hernandez Uncovered. The Television Documentary


AARON HERNANDEZ UNCOVERED

The NBC-owned Oxygen Channel has jumped onto the Aaron Hernandez bandwagon with its two-part series Aaron Hernandez Uncovered. This documentary has two benefits. First, it's the only one so far to feature the participation of Hernandez's long-term fiancée Shayanna Jenkins. Second, it is the only one to not feature Daniel SanSoucie, the man who claims to be Hernandez's first known same-sex lover. If one reads between the lines you can see the hand of Hernandez's attorney Jose Baez in both of these situations, but I'll touch on that later. Aaron Hernandez Uncovered is a surprisingly informative series, even if one senses it attempts to dress up some of Hernandez's more seamy sides.

In four parts: What Started It All, On Trial for Murder, Accused Again and The Final Chapter, the documentary series takes a generally more sympathetic view of Hernandez the man. In Part One, we see Hernandez happily playing with his puppy while at the University of Florida, cheerful in the dog licking his face and mouth. We hear from Jenkins that Hernandez was "the class clown" with a bright smile. This is a Hernandez not usually seen: one with a more upbeat personality whose only real flaw is that he kept bad company.

Hernandez did have a troubled background that he brought to both the University of Florida and the New England Patriots. His father Dennis' shocking early death seemed to have killed something in Aaron himself. As he continued on in his career and life, he could not get away from the thug life that held fascination for him. In the words of one of the reporters covering the Hernandez case, he was "a thug that got lucky". 

It was the lure of this thug life that ultimately brought down the NFL tight end. Despite warnings from his circle of friends such as fellow teammate Brandon Spikes, Spikes' then-girlfriend now-wife Lela Spikes and Jenkins herself, Hernandez couldn't cut off the people he'd known. That helped bring Hernandez to the horrifying crimes he was convicted and charged with. It also brought about his suicide.

Aaron Hernandez Uncovered has Hernandez's defense attorney Jose Baez as a "consulting producer", which should at the least raise eyebrows as to whether the documentary will be more advocacy for the late tight end than truly objective. Baez remains stubborn in his insistence that the police targeted Hernandez early on due to his name, refusing to consider the two other men who were with Hernandez and the late Odin Floyd that fateful night. 

This seems to be echoed by Jenkins, who also thinks Hernandez's fame put a target on his back. Jenkins has a strong dislike for Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a witness for the prosecution. Kraft testified that Hernandez told him the evidence would prove he was at a club when Floyd was murdered, leading jurors to wonder how Hernandez knew the time Floyd was killed to begin with.

Jenkins comments on Kraft's lack of loyalty after years of them going to Kraft's house and telling them how much he loved them.

Bits like those, while understandable, also make me wonder whether Aaron Hernandez Uncovered isn't a bit of a whitewash. However, that isn't to say or suggest Aaron Hernandez Uncovered is pro-Hernandez propaganda. To its credit, it features people who are intensely hostile to Hernandez. The trio of reporter Michelle McPhee and sports talk radio hosts Gerry Callahan and Kirk Minihane are pretty open about their disdain for Hernandez.

It was McPhee who went on the Kirk & Callahan Show to essentially out Hernandez as gay, throwing in some double entendres about "tight ends" and "wide receivers". None show an ounce of sympathy towards Hernandez, with Callahan and Minihane particularly dismissive of how Hernandez's CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) was a potential cause for Hernandez's actions.

Anyone watching Aaron Hernandez Uncovered comes away with a deep respect and admiration for Shannaya Jenkins (who receives special thanks as Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez, which struck me as odd as I thought they had never legally married). Jenkins is eloquent and dignified throughout her interview, giving us insight into her life with Hernandez and the agony of the trials. Mostly maintaining her composure, Jenkins makes a good case for her man. The Aaron she knew was a good man: loving fiancée and devoted father. He, however, was also too enthralled with people she knew better to stay away from.

The documentary gingerly avoids asking Jenkins flat-out whether she knew exactly what was in the trash Hernandez asked (or told) to throw out, or even if she perhaps suspected that in that trash was the missing gun. This again may be due to Baez's participation, but ultimately one is deeply impressed by Jenkins. She appears elegant, with a soft demeanor that belies a will of iron.

Baez's participation also makes one wonder whether Aaron Hernandez Uncovered wants to throw doubt into the various cases. Both he and fellow defense attorney George Leontire hold to Hernandez's innocence long after Hernandez's death. They may believe it, but it seems a bit odd to continue to dismiss why Hernandez kept finding himself in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.

Aaron Hernandez Uncovered gives us a better insight than some other Hernandez-related documentaries. It may be a bit more sympathetic to him given that the police appear to be the only ones to care about Odin Lloyd. However, with Shayanna Jenkins giving us her insight and little to no focus on the salacious same-sex life of Aaron Hernandez, Aaron Hernandez Uncovered is a strong series on this case. Its only real flaw is the appearance of collusion between the filmmakers and the defense. A minor point perhaps but one that didn't sit right with me.   

7/10

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Wild Mountain Thyme: A Review

WILD MOUNTAIN THYME

For the longest time I planned to watch the Wild Mountain Thyme screener, yet for the longest time I resisted, resisted, resisted. Something just held me back from watching it. At last, however, I plunged into director John Patrick Shanley's adaptation of his play Outside Mullingar. I think my instincts proved correct yet again, as Wild Mountain Thyme is a mess, trading in stereotypes, frustrating about what it wants to be and downright nonsensical at times. 

And even that I might forgive if it not for the fact that it's so unbearably boring.

With occasional narration from future dead man Tony Reilly (Christopher Walken), we learn that Irish farmers Anthony Reilly (Jaime Dornan) and his neighbor Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) appear perfect for each other. Rosemary has carried a yearning for Anthony since childhood, but Anthony is more hesitant about it. While the Reillys and Muldoons get along pretty well, there's a slight disagreement on a small strip of Reilly land that technically belongs to Rosemary, forcing them to open two gates every time Da and Son Reilly cross it.

Tony despairs about his puzzlingly shy son, so much so that he's decided to deed the farm not to Anthony but to Anthony's American cousin Adam (John Hamm). Adam may also inherit Rosemary, something that Anthony is not keen on but not making any steps to prevent. For her part, Rosemary seems equally hot and cold with the idea of the Yank coming to invade. One moment she flies to New York City for one day to get Adam to accompany her to her first ballet, the next she's all but forcing Anthony to tell her why he won't love her.

Once we learn the reason Anthony says he won't marry her, the audience that has managed to stay awake will wonder whether Anthony is literally insane or, well, that's really the only explanation. However, all's well that ends well for our White Swan Rosemary and honeybee Anthony.


A lot of criticism has been thrown at Wild Mountain Thyme on two main points: accents and Anthony's reason for not marrying Rosemary despite having feelings for her. On the first point, the various Irish accents range from the plausible to the downright bizarre. Dornan has a bit of a leg up on Irish accents being that he is actually Irish, but his accent seems exaggerated to sound "Hollywood" Irish. The British Blunt let hers come and go, sometimes going too strong and sometimes not strong enough.

Walken, however, had nothing other than his cadence to pass off as Irish. It isn't to say that he didn't try: his farewell to Anthony is a good effort though as directed by Shanley it veers towards quiet parody. One can forgive Dornan for his performance: he is more a good-looking man who can speak. To be fair, he does look lost and confused, and I oddly became fixated on the streak of grey hair, wondering if it was real or added for character. Blunt, too did her best, wandering accent aside. However, she delivered her lines the same way Dornan did: with no sense of conviction or enthusiasm. Few people have been as mismatched as Dornan and Blunt. They look like they're almost trapped in a parallel universe, perpetually confused versus hiding deep romantic yearnings.


On the second point, well given Dornan's performance his oddball rationale didn't come across to me as sincere or shocking. It came across as someone just saying the first thing that came to mind to stop from admitting he was really gay, a virgin or both. It was strange on so many levels, but not on the level of infuriating or outlandish that a lot of my brethren hold it to be. It's a mix of both Shanley's limitations as writer/director and Dornan's as an actor that Anthony didn't seem to believe his own whacked-out confession. It didn't anger me or cause me to break out into giggles.

Instead, it made me think "Is he for real?" in every variation of the phrase: sarcastic, puzzled, you name it. 

Wild Mountain Thyme has a lot of atmosphere, and that's another major issue. It's all too self-consciously cute, too naked an effort to be whimsical and oh-so-twee with wild tales of funny Irishmen telling tales of Anthony proposing to donkeys and Americans renting Rolls-Royces to drive to farms. The movie shifts wildly between wacky and maudlin. It also has wild leaps of logic, such as Rosemary's almost rash decision to fly to New York to see a ballet for the first time.

Because apparently going to say Dublin for such an endeavor is too far-fetched.

I think Wild Mountain Thyme tried desperately to build it up as a light Irish romantic comedy, but it ended up being so deadly dull. Curiously, if it had dropped the Irish whimsy and been a straightforward romantic drama, if it had focused more on the potential love triangle versus trying to build one up with a clearly disengaged Hamm (who probably thought how lucky he was to sound like the American he is), Wild Mountain Thyme would have been better than it was.

There is simply no buzz around Wild Mountain Thyme.