Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Amazing Grace (2006): A Review (Review #1294)

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AMAZING GRACE (2006)

William Wilberforce is a relatively little-known figure, but his importance cannot be understated. His eventually successful efforts to abolish the slave trade throughout the British Empire merits more than praise. It should be a better-known story. Amazing Grace, a biographical film that deals mostly with Wilberforce's life and work, is perhaps a bit disjointed and could have done better in telling his story. On the whole though, Amazing Grace works exceptionally well, with strong performances that elevate the at-times jumbled narrative.

Shifting between 1791 England, fifteen years prior and two years after the opening, Amazing Grace chronicles the life of William Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd), Member of Parliament best known as 'Wilber' to his friends. Two friends in particular, Henry and Marianne Thornton (Nicholas Farrell and Sylvestra Le Touzel) think young Barbara Spooner (Romola Garai) would be perfect for our somewhat serious Wilber. Barbara and William are not amused at first, but find they are kindred spirits, and Wilberforce tells her his story.

Image result for amazing grace 2006Wilberforce is a powerful orator in Parliament, forever tussling with his opponents while aiding his fellow young MP William Pitt (Benedict Cumberbatch). However, Wilber is undergoing a spiritual transformation, embracing Christianity and contemplating retiring from politics. It's at the urging of Pitt and Wilberforce's old mentor, friend and pastor John Newton (Albert Finney) that he stays in office, convinced by them and others that he can lead a crusade against the evils of slavery.

Wilberforce is a powerful abolitionist campaigner, yet continues to be frustrated in ending this evil due to the political machinations of Lord Tarleton (Ciaran Hinds) and His Grace the Duke of Clarence (Toby Jones). Wilberforce however, has allies, including itinerant preacher Thomas Clarkson (Rufus Sewell) and Olaudah Equiano (Senegalese singer Youssour N'Dour), a former slave whose narrative bring attention to the 'peculiar institution'. Wilberforce also receives unexpected help from Lord Charles Fox (Michael Gambon), an old political hand who switches sides to join Wilberforce's abolitionist movement.

Wilberforce has secret health issues that cause him intense pain, but his spiritual strength, coupled with the love of Barbara and the encouragement of Newton, push him on until through some clever political maneuvering the Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade finally passes. 

Image result for amazing grace 2006Perhaps Amazing Grace's greatest flaw is in the structure of Stephen Knight's screenplay. I am puzzled as to why the film opted to start in 1797, then jump back fifteen years, then return to 'present day'. This creates a sense of unsteadiness to make a viewer wonder where he/she is in terms of story. I think a more straightforward telling of Wilberforce's moral and especially spiritual transformation would have worked better. At least there could have been a structure where Wilberforce meets Spooner and tells her his story in a lengthy flashback before going back to them.

I think this is what Amazing Grace was going for, but it did not quite pan out.

Knight's screenplay, to its credit, does have wonderful moments of both wit and insight. When Fox crashes Wilberforce's meeting, shocking everyone, he calmly takes the head seat and wryly asks, "Any of you saints drink?" After a momentary silence, Clarkson replies, "Well this one bloody does", whereupon he takes a swig and offers the bottle to Fox.

Later, as a now-blind Newton meets Wilberforce one last time before the crucial vote, he tells William of his deep pain, regret and shame at having been a slave trader. "We were apes. They were human", he concludes, and the impact of his whole monologue hit us powerfully.

Michael Apted got extraordinary performances from his whole cast. While his role was small, Albert Finney shows why he was among the best actors of his generation as John Newton, the repentant and guilt-ridden man who wrote Amazing Grace and was set free. Gruffudd was exceptional as Wilberforce, this man driven by a commitment to his God to do good works for His Glory. There were a few moments of lightness that I wish had been explored more but on the whole Gruffudd reminded people that he has great skill. Garai made Barbara a much more modern woman, sharp and shrewd and unwavering in her own convictions and passions.

Amazing Grace was an early film for Cumberbatch, and to be honest I preferred him when he was an actor versus when he was a 'star', relying less on the power and timbre of his baritone to make Pitt into a young man in a hurry. His final scene is quite moving and effective as he looks upon death and wishes he had his friend's firm faith. Sewell showed he could be sympathetic as Clarkson, firm abolitionist and radical who liked a bit of liquor from time to time.

While their roles too were small, Jones, Gambon and Hinds were excellent as the politicians locking horns and playing a high-stakes game on the issue of slavery. High praise should also go to N'Dour, who in a rare acting performance made Equiano a man of quiet dignity after all he endured.

Amazing Grace is a strong film on an exceptional figure. Perhaps not the biopic William Wilberforce merits, but a good portrait of a man who did so much good for the Glory of God and His very fallible creation.

1759-1833


DECISION: B+

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Lion King (2019): A Review

THE LION KING (2019)

In the year of our Lord 2019 we have seen three Disney animated films remade into live-action versions. Some were shockingly awful (Dumbo). Some were passable but unnecessary (Aladdin). Now I have the third one, The Lion King.  This remake was unnecessary too, but there seems to be an appetite for watching the same film remade almost beat-for-beat if not shot-for-shot. This The Lion King is also passable, with some beautiful African vistas.

It also put me to sleep, so there's that.

In a case of 'if you saw the original you saw the remake', The Lion King involves young Simba (Donald Glover, JD McCrary as a child), lion cub and heir to the throne of the Pride Lands. His father Mufasa (James Earl Jones, reprising his role from the original animated version) guides him to be a good king.

There is, however, a serpent in our Garden of Eden. It is Mufasa's brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor). He plots to take the throne by any means necessary, up to and including both regicide and deceiving young Simba into thinking he was responsible for Mufasa's death.

As a side note, this is the second time Ejiofor has worked with a Disney property that went from animation to live-action, having costarred in the Sleeping Beauty re-imagining sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.

Now in self-imposed exile, Simba hooks up with warthog Pumbaa (Seth Rogen) and meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner), who live by the creed 'Hakuna Matata' (No Worries). With that philosophy, the Pride Lands become desolate until Simba's friend/love interest Nala (Beyoncé Knowles-Carter) finds him and urges him to return to the Pride Lands and take up his destiny.

It's a battle for the Pride Lands between Uncle and Nephew until only one is left to complete The Circle of Life once again.

Image result for the lion king 2019There is nothing overtly wrong with The Lion King. Jon Favreau, returning to animal-centric Disney remakes after the unexpectedly pleasant The Jungle Book, can make a film where we soon forget that animals talk.

There is a slight difference though between The Jungle Book and The Lion King in that the latter has little to no sense of originality versus the former using the original as the basis for its version.

I think it is because The Lion King opted to have all the songs from the original animated version, with only two new songs for Oscar consideration. There's the closing song, Never Too Late, written by original Lion King songwriters Sir Tim Rice and Sir Elton John. The big push will be for Beyoncé's contribution, Spirit, which plays when Simba and Nala race back to the Pride Lands to face off against Scar.

As a side note, I sense that whenever Queen Bey wants to be considered a 'serious artist', she will use her full name versus just 'Beyoncé!' She did that with the atrocious Obsessed, and she does so here on her way to her inevitable Best Original Song win (or at least her belief of an inevitable Best Original Song win). I was not impressed by Spirit and think most people would not know what it was, let alone where it came from.

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I think that by sticking so close to the original, The Lion King did itself a disservice. Take for example young Simba's boastful song I Just Can't Wait to Be King. The song itself is fine (as it was the first time we heard it). However, seeing a 'real' tiger cub sing it in a more realistic setting does not add anything to song, story and/or film. In fact, it ends up looking a bit odd to have such a proud, almost arrogant song 'sung' by a 'live' animal, especially one that can't give much if any emotional expression.

Faring worse is Ejiofor, whose Be Prepared seemed both superfluous and oddly out-of-place. I hate comparing two versions, but since this version is almost a shot-for-shot remake it can't be avoided. Jeremy Irons' version of Be Prepared was a mix of menace and mirth, delighting in his own wickedness. Ejiofor's, on the other hand, seemed rote and unenthusiastic. Worse, it didn't seem to actually fit into the story or visuals despite being in the original.

Fortunately, I did not recognize many voices, not even Queen Bey's, so it wasn't too distracting to hear them speak. They were fine, though the comedic styling of Rogen and Eichner didn't win me over.

As I said, I fell asleep at a certain point in The Lion King, but surprisingly that does not mean I hated the film. I thought of it as one of those Disney True Life Adventure documentaries with talking and singing animals. I'm hard-pressed to imagine those who know and love the original version would think this version is better, but perhaps for those unaware of the original this version would work.

Hopefully when they get around to seeing the original The Lion King, they will find that you can feel the love tonight better when it is drawn than when it is CGI.

DECISION: C+

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana: The Television Movie


THE ROYAL ROMANCE OF CHARLES AND DIANA

It's a Battle Royal between competing television specials on Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales. The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana premiered three days after Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story. Curiously, while A Royal Love Story premiered before The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana, the latter received higher ratings. I think I can see why, as The Royal Romance is on the whole better acted and written than A Royal Love Story, even if it has its own rather cheesy and perhaps ghoulish moments.

As young Prince Charles (Christopher Baines) endures one tawdry princess-in-waiting after another, waiting in the wings is Lady Diana Spencer (Catherine Oxenberg), young and innocent daughter of Earl Spencer (George Martin). His Royal Highness and Lady Diana meet cute in a bucolic countryside where Diana literally falls for the Prince. As she watches over Earl Spencer along with his second wife Raine (Barbara Caruso) after his stroke, Charles is watched by the ever-efficient aide Mr. Griffiths (Ray Milland).

Soon her joie de vivre wins the heart of our older future King. She is not afraid of him and treats him like any man: throwing him off boats and teaching him a little tap-dancing. As their romance blossoms, they hit a few snags. Angry ex-suitors to the Prince of Wales, a voracious press and their 13-year age gap. True love, however, will not be denied, and he proposes when he returns from an Indian trip.

Diana gets a little royal training by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (Olivia de Havilland), though Diana is not afraid of doing things as she sees right. An attempted assassination on The Queen (Dana Wynter) and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh (Stewart Granger) will not stop the House of Windsor from completing their tasks, a valuable lesson to Diana just before her fairy tale wedding.

Image result for the royal romance of charles and dianaThe Royal Romance has a major plus in Baines and Oxenberg, the latter best known at the time for her role on the primetime soap opera Dynasty. Perhaps Oxenberg had a leg up on the competition, as she is surprisingly a royal herself being the daughter of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia and a distant relation to the Windsors.

Oxenberg manages to not just look like Diana, Princess of Wales but also makes her besotted love for the Prince rational as opposed to insipid. She also has a very gentle manner when it comes when acting alongside others, particularly veterans like Milland and de Havilland. Oxenberg shows that behind the soft manner there is a bit of steel, such as her comment that in order to have time with Charles, she should create an organization so that he can schedule her in.

She and Baines work well together, making the romance believable. When working without Oxenberg, Baines has a more fictionalized Prince to play, one almost comical in his frustration to find true love. However, he does well as a future monarch who quietly yearns for love.

I imagine that Milland, Granger and de Havilland were brought in as the 'name' players, and while their roles were relatively small they did well. Of particular note is de Havilland, who did come across as regal as The Queen Mum.

Surprisingly, The Royal Romance manages to do well despite having four screenwriters. Oftentimes so many people on one project makes things incoherent, but here at least they kept to a more lush, romantic even sappy story which is what I figure people wanted back then.

Image result for the royal romance of charles and dianaOne element that did work well was a montage of reactions to the infamous photo of Lady Diana accidentally baring her legs. Consisting of brief shots of everyone involved, it managed to be humorous and horrifying depending on who was doing the reacting.

Despite some positives we do have some surprising negatives, ones that in retrospect come across as eerily prophetic and some that even then are somewhat silly. There is a clear element of 'fairy tale' in The Royal Romance that make the real-life story almost too unbelievable. At one point, Charles asks Diana, "Do you believe in fairy tales?" to which she replies, "Yes I do, I always have", a case of gilding the lily. From impromptu tap dancing to crazed exes, sometimes The Royal Romance came across as spoof.

There were other elements that make The Royal Romance less than what it could be. The subplot about Diana's parents' divorce seem to come and go, leaving Holland Taylor with essentially little to do as Diana's mother Frances Shand Kydd. Caruso and Martin's performances both during and post-stroke are more likely to cause giggles than tender emotions to where Earl Spencer's recovery plays almost as camp.

The sugary music does not help, nor does its 'love theme' Will He Love Me? that plays often and sounds rather comical in its earnestness.

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Somehow, the image of Prince Charles standing before a portrait of Henry VIII as he is about to be reunited with his 'one true love' now looks as subliminal messaging. Taylor's Shand Kydd at one point tells Diana, "Divorce and second marriage is difficult for everybody". Many a true word was spoken decades before this royal romance went into the pits of Hell.

The film does end on a romantic note, but why CBS opted to have a plug for books on royalty plugged by Stewart Granger with the Library of Congress I cannot venture a guess.

The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana is a pleasant diversion that now looks as real as a fairy tale given how true life played out. Good acting by Oxenberg and Baines makes up for some bad acting and a determined stab to be lush and romantic. While now we know that the royal romance was a poisoned chalice, on the whole it is light entertainment with a hint of kitsch.

And to answer the question in the 'love theme', the answer is "No".

6/10

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. A Review

MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL

While Mom expressed interest in seeing Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, she also expressed puzzlement at its subtitle. "Mistress of Evil? I thought she became good in the end. Did she go back to being evil?" Well, yes and no. As I look back on Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, I can somewhat admire the determined effort to give us more on the story of the dark sorceress being less villain and more misguided.

Admiration, however, is not the same as recommendation.

Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is not pleased that her adopted daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning) decides to marry Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson, replacing Brandon Thwaites). Aurora sees this as the joining of two kingdoms, but Maleficent is dubious. Nevertheless, she attempts to mix with her future in-laws, King John (Robert Lindsay) and Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer).

The tension soon breaks out into total war, with Maleficent accused of cursing the King to sleep as she once cursed Aurora. Maleficent flees but is injured by Gerda (Jenn Murray), Her Majesty's henchwoman. She is rescued however by Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who is also a winged creature. He wishes to come out of the shadows and coexist with humans, while his second-in-command Borra (Ed Skrein) wants war, the Magneto to Conall's Professor X. Maleficent is now the Mystique of this group, wavering between them.

We learn that Queen Ingrith, with her own dark past against the fairy folk, has genocide on her mind, culminating with a wedding day massacre. Her war against the Moor folk costs many lives, but The Queen did not count on their resourcefulness, sacrifice and on Maleficent returning in all her power. Aided by Maleficent's right-hand crow-in-human-form Diaval (Sam Riley), Maleficent and Ingrith have a literal battle royale but as in all fairy tales, there is a happy ending.

Our Aurora and Philip united at last, Maleficent departs, but promises to return for the christening.

Image result for maleficent mistress of evil movieI remember giving Maleficent a positive review, but Mistress of Evil is met with a more jaundiced eye. It could be due to my having nodded off briefly during the film. It could be due to some almost uniformly bad acting. It could be due to a mangled script that seemed pasted together from other stories as to border on parody.

I put it down to a combination of all those and more.

Mistress of Evil did not seem to know what it wanted to be: allegory, fantasy, even comedy. It shifted from one to the other without a real sense of self. Take for example Geoff Zanelli's score. At times it seemed almost cute and whimsical, suggesting we should be laughing at certain points that did not lend themselves to straight-up comedy. Other times it wanted to be bold and action-packed, but ultimately it ended up being far too much.

I'm not going to bash the actors, with perhaps the exception of Pfeiffer who went out of her way to be over-the-top as the true 'Mistress of Evil'. It got to where Jolie ended up almost irrelevant as the title character. Fanning had nothing to do so perhaps her almost whimpering Aurora can be forgiven. Same with Dickinson, who looked bored knowing Prince Phillip was a nothing role, though to be fair he had his shirt perpetually opened to showcase his fit body.

Ejiofor, Skrein and Riley did what they could with the little material they had with their cliched roles. Out of the three I think Riley did best attempting to be a bit of comic relief, but he had a leg up given he'd been in Maleficent and was no stranger to the goings-on.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is entertaining enough I suppose if you ask little from it. It has a lot of pretty colors. It just does not have enough in it to be particularly good. Mind you, I don't think it's terrible or anywhere near the worst film I have seen this year.

It just doesn't have enough Maleficent or Evil to be a Mistress of Anything.

DECISION: C-

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story

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CHARLES & DIANA:
A ROYAL LOVE STORY

As it premiered three days before The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana, I have opted to review Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story first.

We all can look back on such television films as CBS Network's Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story and its ABC rival, The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana, with a hint of bemusement at how innocent the public was, accepting the Archbishop of Canterbury's assertion that "this is the stuff of which fairy tales are made". Released a year after His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales married then-Lady Diana Spencer, A Royal Love Story went deep into creating the mythology of 'obscure yet titled lady captures the heart of a future king', feeding perhaps a public fascination with both the power of love and the power of monarch.

Now in retrospect this tale of "the marriage of the century" looks almost ghoulish in how it presented a fairy tale that ended up as a horror film. A Royal Love Story even has moments that, in hindsight, look cartoonishly awful, not that the actual production didn't do that already. A Royal Love Story is surprisingly flat, with some actors pretty embarrassed to be there and nothing that suggests that it is either royal or a love story.

Lady Diana Spencer (Caroline Bliss), daughter of Earl Spencer (Charles Gray), is fascinated by Charles, Prince of Wales (David Robb). For the moment, Charles is more involved with his sister Sarah (Susan Skipper) but she essentially rejects him.

Charles is slightly despondent at not having a wife, knowing the pressures the future Princess of Wales will have adds an extra burden to his loneliness. He is also devastated by the assassination of his great-uncle Lord Louis Mountbatten (David Langton), who is his 'honorary grandfather'. Diana comes, hesitantly at first, then they fall in love.

This delights Charles' grandmother Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (Mona Washbourne) and pleases Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (Margaret Tyzack). With some help from Charles' friends, Andrew Parker-Bowles (Jeremy Clyde) and his wife, Camilla (Jo Ross), the two lovebirds spend time together as Diana navigates her new life as first fiancee and later future Queen of Great Britain.

Image result for charles and diana a royal love storyWith the span of nearly forty years, A Royal Love Story isn't even good as kitsch entertainment. The story drags as neither Diana or Charles appear to have anything to motivate what is supposed to be said 'royal love story'.

Instead, we see some almost disturbing moments. The opening title sequence for example juxtaposes Lady Diana running after Charles, perhaps literally, with a royal hunting party. It seems as I said almost ghoulish given what happened in the end to start out this way. However, I do not know if director James Goldstone and/or screenwriter John McGreevey intended to send out some kind of subtext.

We also have the very unfortunate plot development of the Parker-Bowles being good friends and nurturers to this fairy tale romance. Again it's not fair adding what we know now to what no one outside this circle knew then, but I wouldn't blame anyone from laughing if they were to see Camilla Parker-Bowles giving comfort and romantic advise to a lovelorn Diana.

The scenes of their supposed love affair are stilted and almost boring, not helped by the lead performances. Either The Prince of Wales has a very curious tone or David Robb was directed to try and sound like James Mason. Leaving apart the Mason-like speaking Robb did, his Prince Charles didn't have any actual emotion. Bliss, to her credit, looks like Diana, Princess of Wales. However, sometimes she was unintentionally hilarious, as when attempting to show a mix of shock and horror when photographers tricked her into posing where her skirt didn't cover her bare legs. When she has her 'breakdown' at the hounding press, she was equally if unintentionally hilarious.

Robb and Bliss, even with their best efforts, have no connection.

Washbourne, in her penultimate role, was miscast as The Queen Mother. For some reason she came across as a washerwoman rather than a jolly regal lady. Christopher Lee looked simply embarrassed to be there as Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. To be fair he had very limited screen-time, but in the few scenes he was in, Lee looked so ill at ease, as if he knew it was all for some quick cash and hoped to appear as little as possible to avoid damaging his reputation.

Gray sounds as if he was going to do the Time Warp and Rod Taylor as Charles' aide really had nothing to do. Again, in fairness they had little material to work with, so one cannot put all the blame on them. Hopefully they all made enough out of this snoozefest.

Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story is more A Royal Slog

2/10

Monday, October 14, 2019

The Goldfinch: A Review



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THE GOLDFINCH

I should be open and upfront about any biases I have, and I have a major one against Ansel Elgort. Maybe it's just his name: Ansel Elgort. Maybe it's that I do not find him talented in any way and find the fact he has a film career most puzzling. My disdain on Ansel Elgort is so great that I have stubbornly refused to watch Baby Driver despite the lavish praise for the film, causing major irritation from many a fellow film reviewer (I'm looking at you, Sarah).

However, I have lifted my Ansel Elgort boycott when it comes to The Goldfinch, one of 2019's biggest bombs. I figure I lifted said boycott due to a perverse sense of schadenfreude with regards to Ansel Elgort, but it extends to more than just Ansel Elgort. The Goldfinch presented itself as an upper-class high-art Oscar-caliber film, a lavish adaptation of a surprisingly divisive novel; the fact that the film was greeted with disinterest to downright hostility intrigued me.

Was The Goldfinch the artistic and cinematic disaster its reputation insisted it was? Was the vitriol it received warranted? Could Ansel Elgort convert me into liking him?

Yes, absolutely and hell to the no.

Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) survives a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In the chaos, he takes a painting, Carel Fabritius' "The Goldfinch".

The exact reason he took "The Goldfinch", like a lot in The Goldfinch, is unclear.

First staying with the WASP, aloof and cold Barbour family due to his mother being killed in the blast and his father having run off earlier in his life, Theo finds his life upended when his white trash father Larry (Luke Wilson) and his even trashier white trash girlfriend Xandra (Sarah Paulson) suddenly show up to come whisk him away from the Barbours.

Image result for the goldfinchNow in a desolate Las Vegas exurb, he eventually finds a friend in Boris (Finn Wolfhard), a Ukrainian or Russian emigre who teaches him to drink and both pop and crush pills for highs. They develop an intense bond, though the exact nature of said bond, like a lot in The Goldfinch, is unclear.

Larry attempts to use Theo to get more money, but the plot flops and Larry is killed off-screen. As Xandra isn't exactly the mothering type and has no legal responsibility to/for Theo, he runs away back to New York, taking shelter with Hobie (Jeffrey Wright), the antiques dealer and restorer who is connected to another bombing victim Theo met and interacted with on that fateful day.

Now as an adult, Theo (Ansel Elgort) is Hobie's protege, selling and restoring antiques with and for him. He's engaged to Kitsey Barbour (Willa Fitzgerald) of the Barbour family, an engagement that will go on even after Theo discovers she's been unfaithful to him with a former classmate whose actions got Theo into trouble and which was the reason he and his mother were at the Met on that day.

An evil antiques buyer, Lucius Reeve (Denis O'Hare), who had been sold a fake piece by a knowing Theo, now threatens Theo when he makes a connection between Theo and a newspaper article revealing that "The Goldfinch" was being used as collateral for a drug deal, thus revealing that not only had "The Goldfinch" not been destroyed as was once thought but that Theo had it.

Theo is in somewhat of a panic until Boris (Aneurin Barnard) shows up. He makes a shocking revelation: he switched "The Goldfinch" right before Theo ran away from Las Vegas and has been using it as collateral on various drug deals. Now in an effort to atone for their separate sins, Theo accompanies Boris to Amsterdam to retrieve "The Goldfinch", leading to killings but what I'm told is redemption.

Image result for the goldfinchIn architecture, the expression 'structurally unsound' suggests a building that not only is unsteady but in danger of collapse. A good description of The Goldfinch as a movie is that it is 'structurally unsound'. It meanders through various plots and characters without really bothering to tell us anything about them. The film goes from past to present, often for long stretches, without grounding us into how one connects with the other.

Worse, it expects us to not only remember but care about people we barely saw.

Take for example Platt, the oldest Barbour child. He pops in once as a teen, yells something obscene that angers his WASP father, then leaves. We don't see this "Platt" until perhaps an hour later, where he tells us of family deaths of people who never behaved as human to begin with but whom we are supposed to care about.

The 'evil' antiques buyer, apart from being hilariously over-the-top in O'Hare's performance, didn't seem to know if he was merely a dupe for a duplicitous Theo or a con in his own right.

As a side note, Lucius Reeve sarcastically calls Theo a 'wunderkind'. A true snob would have pronounced it 'vunder-kind' versus 'wonder-kid', but that's just me.

The man Kitsey is cheating with is supposed to be Theo's frenemy, whom we saw him interact at the most twice. How could we possibly remember who he is, let alone care? Despite this, Theo keeps to the engagement? It does not make any sense.

Over and over The Goldfinch puts in things and instead of clarifying things only makes things more confusing to incomprehensible. The film suggests that Theo took "The Goldfinch" more out of confusing directions from Hobie's partner than from a genuine desire to have it for his own or to remember his mother by. As such, it makes his holding on to it more irrational.

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Things get more confusing with regards to Theo himself. At the risk of indulging in stereotypes, tween boys fascinated by Queen Anne furniture and Glenn Gould's Beethoven recordings don't strike me as unwilling to bond with Russian teenage boys. I genuinely didn't know if Theo and Boris were lovers or meant to be, probably because The Goldfinch does not know either.

The film is clear that Boris is at the least attracted to Theo and most likely in love with him: Boris does kiss him on the lips before Theo runs off. However, when they meet again neither appears to harbor any actual interest in the other, let alone any romantic or sexual inclinations. They don't even appear to be friendly, let alone friends. Like a lot in The Goldfinch, something or someone is introduced only to either be forgotten or dropped without mention.

This is one of those times when I confess I never read Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. As such, I cannot vouch for how close or far screenwrither Peter Straughan strayed from the source material. I'm going to guess that it stayed slavishly close to it, which may explain why The Goldfinch is such a bore.

The Goldfinch is absolutely convinced it is 'art', 'deep', and 'moving' despite any evidence to support that. The various voiceovers from Ansel Elgort along with the increasingly pompous statements Ansel Elgort is made to say declare it so. The first line heard in voiceover, "In Amsterdam I dreamt of my mother again", intentionally or not evoked memories of Rebecca: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again".

The Goldfinch does what a lot of bad artsy films do: confuse whispering the dialogue for deep performances. The whispering got so bad that I literally could hear girls' giggles from the theater next to us, or maybe they were inside the theater. I know that I would have been howling with laughter at the news of Larry's death if I weren't bordering on unconscious.

Image result for the goldfinchThere is not a good performance anywhere in The Goldfinch. Oakes Fegley came closest, his Theo being the closest to a genuine human being. It was not a good performance, as he was too pouty and pseudo-intellectual before the bombing, but I have to look for something good. Finn Wolfhard and Aneurin Barnard (the latter so good in the shamefully overlooked Citadel) had almost unintelligible "Russian" accents, unless they really did keep calling Theo "Porter".

As for Ansel Elgort, it's another bad performance. I suppose he's pretty but his efforts to play anything: haunted, angry, lovestruck, hurt, scared, what have you, all looked fake. His efforts at emoting in Amsterdam were comically bad.

As a side note, I point out that we have the following names in the cast: Oakes Fegley. Finn Wolfhard. Ansel Elgort. And to think, once the names 'Troy Donahue', 'Tab Hunter' and 'Rock Hudson' were considered offbeat.

The adults, Nicole Kidman and Jeffrey Wright, did themselves no favors, but I put it more to director John Crawley's insistence that they whisper everything. Luke Wilson and Sarah Paulson apparently were not directed to whisper all the time but to on occasion shout, making their white trash so cartoonish even genuine white trash would think they were uncouth. Wilson's 'anger' when he can't his hands on Theo's money is hilarious. Perhaps to match him, Paulson's reaction to Larry's death is equally hilarious.

If I can compliment anything in this fiasco it is Roger Deakins' cinematography.

The Goldfinch perhaps would have worked better as a miniseries than a feature film. There is simultaneously too much and nothing going on. Lousy performances, a jumbled to incoherent story with boring characters, you watch the entirety of the film waiting for something to happen only to see some last-minute rushing about in some oddball crime caper.

The Goldfinch really should have been called The Turkey.

DECISION: F

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows. The Television Miniseries

Image result for life with judy garland me and my shadowsLIFE WITH JUDY GARLAND: ME AND MY SHADOWS

The release of the biopic Judy inspired me to revisit a previous telling of the tumultuous life of the legendary actress and singer Judy Garland. Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows won Emmy Awards to both actresses that played Garland, a surprising and rare feat even if it ultimately lost Outstanding Miniseries. Based on the memoirs of Garland's daughter Lorna Luft, Life with Judy Garland is as powerful and moving as its subject.

Narrated in voiceover by Cynthia Gibb as what I figure is the adult Lorna Luft, Life with Judy Garland notes that a lot of our lives begin before we are even born. As such, we go to 1924's Grand Rapids, Michigan where little Frances Gumm makes her stage debut with an endearing (and repetitive) rendition of Jingle Bells. Frances' mother Ethel (Marsha Mason) pushes for her "Baby" and the rest of the family to go to California to pursue job opportunities.

Left unsaid but hinted at is the idea that the journey could be a result of avoiding the almost open secret of Frances' father Frank (Aidan Devine) being homosexual.

Now as 'Judy Garland' (Tammy Blanchard), she astonishes wily and cantankerous MGM boss Louis B. Meyer (Al Waxman) and finds champions in producer Arthur Freed (Daniel Kash) and music head Roger Edens (John Benjamin Hickey). Judy struggles with self-doubt, aggravated by the slimming and sleeping and pep pills she's being made to pop. Surrounded by glamorous beauties and repeatedly told how she doesn't measure up in terms of looks and weight, not even her best pal Mickey Rooney (Dwayne Adams) can help. Her insecurities all but explode when her heart is broken by Artie Shaw, who tells her he loves her...only to run off with Garland's more erotic rival Lana Turner.

Image result for life with judy garland me and my shadowsJudy Garland (Judy Davis) finds a savior in director Vincente Minnelli (Hugh Laurie), who like her father may also be homosexual but who also fathers their child, Liza (Edens casually suggests Minnelli might not be 'the marrying kind' and later Garland herself shouts about how her The Pirate costar Gene Kelly 'has all the sexy costumes').

Garland makes the effort to get off the pills but ultimately collapses back into dependence.

Now growing older, she finds a new champion in Sid Luft (Victor Garber), B-movie producer and brawler. Their marriage produces two children: Lorna (Allison Pill) and Joseph, born the night before she lost Best Actress for her comeback film, A Star is Born. Almost guaranteed to win, cameras were at her hospital room waiting for the announcement only to have Grace Kelly's name announced. Instantly the camera crew pushed and prodded Garland and her small entourage, uninterested in the pain of her peers' rejection and public humiliation.

From there, Garland stumbles from one comeback and fall to the next, with Lorna and Joey in toe. Her television show is cancelled, partially due to the network brass' near-hatred for her. Her newest boyfriend Mark Herron (Martin Randez) ends up looking with desire at their pool-boy. Almost always broke and now fully dependent on pills, Garland's needs and inability to cope overwhelm Lorna, who at 13 has essentially a nervous breakdown trying to care for Garland, Joey and herself.

An unhappy separation between Garland and Lorna eventually heals, and Judy's three children wish her a happy 47th birthday via telephone as Mama is in London with her newest husband, Mickey Deans (Hume Baugh). However, two weeks later Garland dies, but despite that, Life with Judy Garland ends on a triumphant note, with Garland's three children looking on as Mama belts out Get Happy for their own private performance.

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I think Robert L. Friedman was right in ending Life with Judy Garland this way when he adapted Luft's memoir as it gives the miniseries a happy ending, and I think more reflective of how Garland saw her life: not one of perpetual misery and heartache but one where sunlight entered through the shadows. It's almost a sense of closure to see Liza, Lorna and Joey seeing their mother on stage in one of her iconic numbers, one that tells us to Get Happy.

In terms of performances I think there's little to no doubt that Tammy Blanchard was so spot-on as the young Judy Garland. From the moment we see her, Blanchard so looks like that young girl who danced down the yellow brick road. It is not just in her appearance but in Blanchard's manner, the quivering and insecure girl desperate to be loved. I'll grant that maybe once or twice her outfits, complete with bows on her hair, made her look slightly ridiculous, as if attempting to look too young.

However, Blanchard's performance was deep and moving, bringing to life not just Garland's own insecurities but how people, sometimes without meaning to and sometimes deliberately, reinforced those negative opinions.

Davis also manages to both look and act like Garland, adding her own almost unhinged manner whether brawling with Sid or attempting to mask her disappointment in losing Best Actress. Davis could accurate mimic Garland's performing style, but she also in scenes both dramatic and comic show the full range of Garland's personality: the hurt, need, ego and yearning that so drove her.

Image result for life with judy garland me and my shadowsThe miniseries is also helped invariably by the supporting cast.  Mason does quite well as Ethel, harsh without being sadistic. She even allows a little sympathy for this stage mother when she remarks how dismissive Judy was when she told Ethel about her pregnancy. Laurie does an impeccable American accent as Vincente Minnelli, even if he sounds nothing like the real Minnelli. Laurie makes Minnelli someone who genuinely cares for Garland but who cannot save her from herself. Hickey has a nice Southern drawl and gentle manner as Edens, although given how often he and Garland's BFF Kay Thompson (Sonja Smits) show up together the miniseries leaves a curious suggestion they are a couple even though they weren't.

Garber too was a standout as Luft, this tough guy with a tender heart. His scenes with Davis were in turns romantic and tempestuous, and he never fails to get you on his side.

However, perhaps this is a flaw as it almost romanticizes Sid Luft. Then again, it should be remembered this is his daughter Lorna Luft's memoir, not a straight-up biopic on Garland. This is clear at the miniseries' last half-hour, which focuses more on Lorna than on Judy. That is correct as Life with Judy Garland is more Lorna Luft's story, and Pill does a wonderful job as the young girl trying to keep it all together.

After all, it's called 'Life with Judy Garland', not 'The Life of Judy Garland'.

It does also to its detriment pass on some myths as facts, such as the oft-told but debunked story of how Garland's three Wizard of Oz costars kept shutting her out from their dance down the yellow brick road until director Victor Fleming would shout, "You three hams, let that little girl in there!"

Neither Blanchard or Davis sang but lip-synced Garland's own vocals. This is by no means a detriment, for their lip-syncing is not only spot-on but works exceptionally well with both Blanchard and Davis.

Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows has the benefits of strong performances all around courtesy of Robert Allan Ackerman. Even if it is ultimately Lorna Luft's own story, it is probably as good and as close to a genuine Judy Garland biopic as we are likely to have.

Frances Ethel Gumm, we hardly knew you...

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1922-1969
9/10

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Addams Family (2019): A Review (Review #1290)

THE ADDAMS FAMILY (2019)

The delight in any version of The Addams Family is how decidedly and unapologetically off-kilter they are while in so many ways being the embodiment of a pleasant bourgeois family. They have a perfectly normal manner to them while being highly eccentric by most standards. This version of The Addams Family is not bad, but it isn't much of anything really.

After escaping 'the old country' due to mobs railing against them, Addams Family patriarch Gomez (Oscar Isaac) and matriarch Morticia (Charlize Theron) seek refuge in the 'worst' place possible. Obviously, it's New Jersey, specifically a former insane asylum with an evil spirit shouting "GET OUT!" much to their delight.

Here they raise their children: daughter Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz) and son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard). Wednesday begins to wonder about 'the outside world' while Pugsley trains for his Mazurka, which appears to be the Addams Family version of a bar mitzvah.

The immediate outside world consists of the perfectly colorful world of Assimilation, run by Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), host of Margaux's Remodeling Intervention.

If nothing, The Addams Family is not subtle.

Margaux is appalled at the Addams' ghoulish world versus her pristine and profitable one, as they could put a damper on her television and marketing business. She plots to get rid of the Addams and prevent Wednesday from influencing her daughter Parker (Elsie Fisher) from going goth. The Mazurka and Margaux stories collide as the latter plots to storm the Addams home during the former when the entire extended family comes. Ultimately, the extended Addams Family opts to stay in Assimilation, finding it all wonderfully weird.

Image result for the addams family 2019In retrospect, The Addams Family felt like the pilot for an animated television series, and I can see this being spun off into a series. However, that's a bit of the negative, in that The Addams Family, while in some ways pleasant, does not have much going for it.

It's as if Matt Lieberman and Pamela Pettler's screenplay (with story credits by Lieberman and Erica Rivinoja) could not find one overall story so they opted to have a couple of stories floating about. Moreover, they seemed to go overboard with the message of 'tolerance' and 'acceptance' I think they were going for.

A town called 'Assimilation'? Really? The 'villainess' name being "Needler"? Was she 'needling' others? The notion that the Assimilationists could be whipped up into a frenzy of fear and hatred by people they had little to no interaction with seems a stretch. Doing shout-outs to the television series, down to ending the film with the familiar Addams Family theme song in almost sing-along fashion, does not help in making this version its own take on the material.

It is not as if The Addams Family doesn't have some positives. I did like the animation and in particular some of the details. Of particular note is Wednesday's design, which added nooses to her pigtails, a nice touch to her macabre childlike manner. Moretz was strong in her characterization, keeping to Wednesday's decidedly monotone and morose manner which in her is always endearing.

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I thought well of Isaac as the lovelorn Gomez and Theron was surprisingly light as the morbid Morticia. A surprising twist and perhaps the only genuine moment of laughter is when family majordomo Lurch bursts into a surprisingly falsetto version of R.E.M.'s Everybody Hurts, a song whose earnestness seems ripe for irony and spoofing.

On the whole though, The Addams Family, while not terrible, isn't something to rush out to see. I figure some children will like it, albeit really young children will find it more scary than delightful. I don't know if it tried too hard to stretch whatever story it wanted to tell, but the most I could say about this Addams Family is that it would make for a nice animated show pilot.

Unlike Wednesday or Pugley's newest schemes, The Addams Family is not threatening or harmful but not likely to work either. 

DECISION: C-

Friday, October 11, 2019

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore: A Review


ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE

It's a curios thing that in the midst of Marvel Cinematic Universe fanboys all up in a rage because Martin Scorsese does not think the MCU films are 'cinema' I find myself watching an early Martin Scorsese film that does not involve gangsters in any way. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore was later adapted for television as the sitcom Alice, a rare time when a television version of a hit film became a critical and commercial hit on its own. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, grounded in strong and surprising performances, develops a portrait of a woman in transition from dependence to independence and genuine love.

Alice Hyatt (Ellen Burstyn) has always planned on being a professional singer but got sidetracked by life. Now with a young son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter) and a difficult-to-abusive marriage to Donald (Billy Green Bush), she struggles to keep the peace internal and external. Quickly she is widowed and decides the best thing to do is leave Socorro, New Mexico for a career in her old hometown of Monterey, California.

First stop is Phoenix to make money as a singer. However, after a brief stint working in a club and getting wooed by Ben (Harvey Keitel), Alice and Tommy flee when Ben turns out to be married and abusive to his wife Rita (Lane Bradbury) right in front of them.

Now on to Tucson, where Alice reluctantly takes a waitress job at Mel & Ruby's Diner. Eventually, she finds an occasionally wonderful and difficult romance with David (Kris Kristofferson), a local rancher and a friend in fellow waitress Flo (Diane Ladd). In the end, Alice finds what she was looking for: contentment amidst the Arizona desert.

Image result for alice doesn't live here anymoreThose who remember the television show Alice may be surprised at how different Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is from the show. This is a darker tale, one that has abuse and strained relationships between the characters. For example, Mel himself (Vic Tayback) not only has a generally minor role but is actually not as harsh as his television version. Flo and Alice start off on a bad note, and Alice and Tommy's relationship has moments of tension and anger.

However, there are also genuine moments of mother-and-child love, such as when they laughingly escalate a water war. Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore is a remarkably true-to-life film, where the characters are flawed and have genuine reactions and emotions to real-life situations.

Holding center court is Burstyn, who won her only Oscar as of this writing for her performance. It's easy to see why she won: her Alice is a complete and relatable person. She can be angry and loving, snapping at Tommy one moment and gently holding him another. Whether crying when leaving her best friend Bea (Leila Goldoni) for the last time or making a friend in Flo, Burstyn's performance seems less like acting and more like living. In short, she creates a figure we can understand, relate to and even accept as authentic.

It's a credit to any actor or actress that their performance makes the character wholly authentic.

It's pretty wild to see Harvey Keitel play sweet and charming, even goofy, as the lovestruck Ben. If Robert Getchell's screenplay hadn't made Ben into a monster one could easily have seen Ben as a true romantic figure for Alice. In fact, he could easily have played the Kristofferson role and it's surprising Keitel didn't or hasn't done more romantic leads.

As a side note, I am not convinced that whole section was necessary. It felt almost as if the entire Phoenix section could have been cut without it really affecting the film.

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It's also somewhat surprising to see Kristofferson playing a generally gentle, soft and kind romantic figure. I think he is one of the few leading singer/actors in the 1970's who could be simultaneously masculine and delicate, who could be macho without coming across as aggressive or arrogant. His performance is also quite strong. Granted that now his one genuinely angry moment may appear almost violent but I think the film does great in showing him not as a villain but as yet another flawed figure.

Ladd was wonderful as the brassy Flo. She didn't tell anyone to 'kiss my grits!' but she more than held her own. Lutter was also excellent as Tommy, creating another genuine tween: sometimes goofy, sometimes maddening, but someone who felt real. The film also has an early appearance for Jodie Foster as Audrey, Tommy's fellow guitar student who lives a bit on the wild side.

Scorsese keeps things flowing well, drawing great performances out of his cast and in the early sequence deliberately drawing from The Wizard of Oz to evoke a sense of nostalgia in this story of a woman who came into her own. You end up understanding and liking these characters and want them to succeed.

Personally, I prefer the television adaptation to the original film version. Part of it is probably because that is what I am more familiar with and probably because it is lighter than the film. However, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, with strong performances and a sense of authenticity not found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is an excellent film if a bit too long and a touch meandering.

There is a new girl in town, and with some luck and love life's gonna be so sweet...   

DECISION: B-

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Chairman Mao's All Stars: The NBA and China. Some Thoughts

Image result for steve kerr
I don't follow the National Basketball League. Apart from LeBron James, I probably wouldn't be able to name any NBA players, let alone their teams.

As such, I have very little vested in the recent brouhaha over the NBA's decision to placate the Chinese Communist government by not just condemning a pro-Hong Kong protesters tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morely but by begging forgiveness of the Chinese for said tweet.

I am, however, most intrigued by the league's reaction, along with various NBA coaches and players to this whole imbroglio.

The NFL's most political act is just having various players kneeling during the National Anthem as protests. I don't know if either the National Hockey League or Major League Baseball ever really involve themselves in non-sports matters. In fact, I think both MLB and its television outlet, MLB Network, work hard to stay away from political commentary altogether, but I cannot be certain. The entire Houston Astros lineup could be made up of Commies and I wouldn't know.

The NBA is another matter. Outside of ESPN, the NBA is the most, depending on your point of view, politically obnoxious or conscious sports league.

This is the same organization that decreed the term 'owner' verbatim due to the, to my mind, curious notion that the term 'owner' is racist or has racist overtones. Personally, the notion that NBA players, who are majority black, would consider themselves 'owned' or 'property' is insulting to the memory of actual slaves.

The players are quite wealthy. The players are free to leave. The players are in now way 'slaves', so to push to change the term 'owner' seems so outlandish, let alone to suggest that those who own the team are somehow slaveholders in any fashion.


The NBA is filled to the brim with players and coaches who never shrink or shirk from expounding on political matters. Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr in particular believes himself a man of courage and principle when it comes to holding court on his political activism.

Kerr would not go to the White House because he finds President Donald Trump so appalling, which is his right. Coach Kerr finds the President's word and actions 'unacceptable'. Thus spoke Kerr:

"There can be a lot of things that happen that are just really difficult to just say all right, we'll put that aside and go visit and shake (Trump's) hand. It doesn't feel right".

Again, Kerr is within his right to talk about whatever he wants and see or not see anyone he wants.

However, when it comes to the Chinese, to their long history of human rights abuses from The Great Leap Forward to Tienanmen Square right down to their current crackdown, Kerr opts for silence. He even offered the somewhat curious suggestion that he needed to hear first from his brother-in-law, a Chinese history professor, before commenting on this whole situation.

Me Oh Mao!

I imagine Coach Kerr, a man of principle and courage who would not so much as touch President Trump's hand, would have no difficulty whatsoever shaking Chinese President Xi Jinping's hand with a big grin on his face regardless of how much blood said hand actually had. He'd probably give President Winnie-the-Pooh a big bear hug if he could.

It's also a pretty safe bet no NBA player would dare take a knee during the Chinese national anthem.

Then again, any Chinese basketball player who took a knee during the Chinese national anthem as protest would not probably get million-dollar endorsement contracts. More than likely he would get a nice reeducation camp bunk for his troubles.

The NBA is a business, one that will protect its valuable Chinese market to the detriment of the values it insists it fights for here in the States. It does not care if it offends a few American fans with their politicking. It cares deeply if it offends the Chinese because unlike in the United States, offending the Chinese in any way will cost them deeply.

People like Kerr, James, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and it appears the majority of NBA players, coaches, "governors" and fans are not courageous in any way. They think they are but they are not because their 'courage' costs them nothing. There is no cost to their brand of courage as it requires no sacrifice or risk of any kind.

It cost the NBA nothing to skip out on Charlotte because the North Carolina state legislature was looking at legislation on transgender bathroom use. It cost the NBA billions to skip out on China because one person voiced support for Hong Kong protesters.

It appears the courage, convictions and honor of the NBA and people like Kerr can be bought with the right amount of yuans.

One can be 'courageous' when there are no repercussions to said 'courage'. Their brand of 'courage' does not hurt them in any way. It actually benefits them, particularly in praise, applause and Arthur Ashe Courage Awards. They are celebrated and feted, proud members of 'The Resistance', lights of truth as America fades into darkness and totalitarianism.

When it comes to actual totalitarian states, the NBA finds itself suddenly mute. The NBA and Steve Kerr, apparently, cannot hear the cries of Hong Kong protesters over the ding of cash registers.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Brightburn: A Review


BRIGHTBURN

Here's the pitch: Clark Kent as Damien. That pretty much sums up Brightburn, a film that has many possibilities and promise but squanders them on cheap horror and poor decisions.

Tori and Kyle Brenner (Elizabeth Banks and David Denman) yearn for a child in Brightburn, Kansas but have had trouble conceiving. Just then, something crashes on their farm.

Move on ten years later and their adopted son Brandon Brenner (Jackson Dunn) is now celebrating his twelfth birthday. He is basically a good kid, but one with some difficulties with his peers, looking longingly at pretty Caitlyn (Emmie Hunter) and beginning puberty.

He also starts hearing something ominous coming from the barn, something that appears to take possession of him. Brandon soon begins growing angry, and you wouldn't like him when he's angry. He starts taking vengeance on those who deny him or stand in his way, the voices telling him to 'Take The World'. He then begins a killing spree that takes more gruesome turns and takes out foe and family, until after a 'mysterious' plane crash on the farm leaves him the only survivor.

Image result for brightburnBrightburn has potential in exploring the mythos of the superhero as villain rather than hero. It certainly makes no bones about essentially stealing the Superman origin story and making it a horror story. If co-writers Mark and Brian Gunn had opted to explore how Brandon's childhood shaped him into using his powers for evil rather than on jump scares and horrid and explicit killings Brightburn may have been the film they thought they were making. 

Instead, Brightburn opted for the path of least resistance, giving us rather graphic deaths that are more suited for slasher films than alleged explorations into the dark side of supernatural powers. We see one of his 'enemies' literally pull a massive piece of glass from her pupil and another person's jaw ripped in a particularly grotesque manner. I wrote down 'gruesome' and 'grotesque' repeatedly, and the graphic nature of the killings took away from the ideas Brightburn thought it was exploring.

When Kyle appears to about to do the 'unthinkable' (and frankly, director David Yarovesky shot in a way that made it far too obvious of what he was planning), I think Brightburn could have plunged into that old debate about whether one would kill a Hitler as a child. Instead, not only was there no tension but it went for yet another act of Brandon butchery.

As a side note, it's unfortunate that the nature of the killings took a somewhat repetitive nature: Brandon would look on menacingly over his victim in a ski mask that seemed to borrow elements from the Ood on Doctor Who, the victim looked on fearfully, then is dispatched.

The Gunn's screenplay could not even keep things straight, as Brightburn never made clear whether this was Brandon's puberty kicking in or the small amount of bullying he went through or the spacecraft possessing him to do acts of evil. It seemed to want it every which way, and their decision to not go one way all the way undercuts whatever genuine thoughts Brightburn might have had.

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It's a shame given that Brightburn has some surprisingly good turns from the main cast. Jackson Dunn was quite strong as Brandon, whether gentle or angry. He had a haunted quality in the beginning mixed with an eerie detachment when killing someone. He knows how to hover menacingly over others.

Denman was also quite strong as Kyle, the father who knows that his otherworldly 'son' is growing more dangerous. It's to his credit as an actor that his 'sex talk' with Brandon had a nice touch of humor, a momentary respite from the wild goings-on. I think this is Banks' best work as a dramatic actress as Tori, who loves her son no matter how crazed he gets. It's unfortunate though that by the end I felt she was slipping into farce.

It's more a pity that the supporting cast was saddled with a collection of totally dumb characters, but to their credit played the parts as well as could be played.

Finally, my negative view on Brightburn are compounded by the film's score, which seemed to go out of its way to be 'creepy', and the vague suggestion that there will be a sequel or even a whole Brightburn Cinematic Universe.

Brightburn is a good idea for a film done in by cheap horror tropes. I might be more forgiving if not for the teasing of more films in this world. More's the pity.

DECISION: D-