Luce

First Hit: I left the theater slightly confused about this film, and today, the following day, I’m still confused.

The confusion about this film is around the question; what was the coalesced point?

To set the stage, Luce is a young black senior in High School. His parents Amy and Peter Edger (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth respectively) adopted Luce as a seven-year-old orphan boy from a war-torn country. Amy couldn’t pronounce his name, so Peter suggested giving him a new name, they came up with Luce, which means light.

Luce (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is smart, and from the beginning of the film, he’s shown in this light by always doing his homework, getting excellent grades, being head of the debate team, and giving amazing speeches. Despite this, there is a sense and feeling that all this is a show by Luce, that there is an underlying agenda. So what is it?

This film touches on multiple issues, but because it doesn’t focus on one, the point is never crystallized.

Is the film about Harriet Wilson’s (Octavia Spencer) perceived dislike for Luce and others? After completing a writing assignment where the students were to take on a character and create a story, Luce chose to write about revolution and violence. Upon reading this, Wilson goes into his locker, finds and removes a bag filled with illegal fireworks. Attempting a discussion with Luce turns into an antagonistic argument. Discussing this with Amy, Wilson shares her concern that something may be going on with Luce and that they need to pay attention.

Amy and Peter’s discussion of this issue leads to highlighting some of the difficulties in their relationship through how they each attempt to elicit the truth from Luce but fail. His response is that he loves the subject of the class but Wilson is out to get and demean people.

That Wilson is black, Luce is black, and Luce’s closest friends are of mixed races. Was the film about racism? Yes and no. The film talks about racism, and in a scene when Luce enters his teacher’s home, Wilson gives him a sure fired lecture on what it means to be black and black in today’s society. So is this what the film is about?

Is the film about the truth? The film addresses fact in multiple ways, from the absence of telling or sharing information to outright lies. When Amy and Peter attempt to get information about the paper, and even the fireworks from Luce, there is a dance of misguided parries of questions. That Amy and Peter speak being truthful, the not sharing of the information they know with Luce is deceitful in its own way. When Amy and Peter lie in front of Wilson and the school principal, truth flies out the window.

Is the film about manipulation and control? Towards the end of the film, Wilson brings this subject out into the open by stating that Luce might be manipulating all of their behaviors. This is a good step in the movie because I, and maybe others in the audience, suspect this from the very beginning. However, Luce, when needing to seem sincere and apologetic, he makes his behavior very believable.

There are examples (or instances) of manipulation, one being with Luce’s possible girlfriend Stephanie Kim (Andrea Bang). At one point, Amy seeks to speak with Stephanie about what happened to her that caused Wilson to demean her in class. Stephanie begins telling a story about an event at a party. Her telling the story is powerfully believable. But was it real or was this really manipulation of Amy by Stephanie? Or, was all of this created by Luce? Was any of this genuine, part of it correct, or was the subject a way of manipulating people?

When Wilson queues up Stephanie to share the truth of a sexual incident at a meeting with Amy, Peter, Luce, and the school principal, what happens appears to be manipulated. And is it manipulation by Luce when he calls Amy “mother” or “Amy” based on what is going on at that moment?

The whole film is always on the edge of sharing the truth about Luce, the strain between Amy and Peter about adopting versus having their own child. The law around the searching personal property, how some people seem to have a light shined on them naturally, or is it really earned? How race factors into perceptions of people.

The ending gives little clue to the real intent of the film and only slightly more about Luce.

Harrison Jr. is very successful at creating an enigma of a person. His smooth transitions in a single scene from accepted kindness to a penetrating stare and back again were excellent. Watts was solid in this role as a mother, protector, and caring, engaged parent. Roth was fascinating as the father who carried resentment of not having his own child but also loving his adopted son, Luce. Spencer was almost as enigmatic as Luce. At times, I believed she had a slight grudge, and at other times, she felt thoroughly sincere. Bang was convincing in her telling the story of an incident to Amy, yet also elusive in what her true feelings were. J.C. Lee wrote the screenplay from his play. I’m not sure why I ended up with confusion after seeing this film. Was the basis of my confusion the screenplay or the direction by Julius Onah.

Overall: The film had promise, and I’m not sure what it delivered.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

First Hit: Not everyone will appreciate and engage with this film, and I did.

This film runs and works on many different levels, and it only works because of the fantastic performance of Kate Blanchett as Bernadette Fox.

I laughed out loud numerous times and in a theater with only thirty people, often I was the only one. However, as the film went on, others seemed to join me as the amazing Blanchett showed us the complexity and depth of this character. One such scene is when she walks into a store, comments to the sales staff that they have a wonderful Chihuly, and the salesgirl is stupidly stunned because she has no idea what Bernadette is referring to. Because I’m aware of Chihuly’s work, I saw it right away and therefore was fully prepared, got her reference, and felt that I was in on the joke as it evolved.

Bernadette is married to Elgie (Billy Crudup), and they have got a young teen daughter named Bee Branch (Emma Nelson) who is getting ready to go to boarding school for her high school education. They are living in Seattle because Elgie created a technology product company that was purchased by Microsoft. He continues to work with Microsoft developing new high tech innovations.

Early in the film, we see that Bernadette’s quirky behavior and Elgie’s work patterns have created a deep divide in their relationship. The story also points out how close Bee Branch and her mother are. Dutifully Bernadette picks up Bee Branch from school each day, and this is where we learn how disliked Bernadette is with the other mothers when Audrey (Kristen Wiig) makes fun of her and her quirkiness to anyone who is within earshot. Audrey and Bernadette, who live next door to each other, have a relationship filled with animosity.

One of the quirky things Bernadette does is use her phone to dictate all the things she wants to be done. These commands go to a personal assistant in India. An example of the types of orders she gives the assistant include “I need a fishing vest,” and one arrives at her home via Amazon.com. There are other scenes with this assistant in which Bernadette is writing an antagonist email to someone, or requesting medication that will help her not get seasick, and making a dental appointment along with other life tasks.

Although she’s afraid of being around people and doesn’t like boats, Bernadette and Elgie agree to take Bee Branch to Antarctica as a middle school graduation reward.

One day while Bernadette is visiting the Seattle Library, a young woman comes up to her and asks to take a picture of her. Bernadette is clearly annoyed because of the intrusion, and the woman insists that Bernadette is her hero because of what she brought to the world of architecture. The woman mentions an online video of Bernadette’s career.

Arriving home, Bernadette grabs her computer and begins to watch the video, and we get the opportunity to know more about Bernadette’s artistic and creative architecture skills. For the audience, it is a moment where we begin to understand this fantastic creative person.

But it is when Bernadette meets up with one of her former associate architects (Laurence Fishburne) that Bernadette’s story spills, and I mean spills, out of her in one long rant. The power of her being able to talk to a fellow architect, who will understand her, is powerful. After a long spilling of her story, I loved it when Fishburne says something like, “is that it”? “Are you finished”?

He tells her what the audience is slowly learning, she needs to get back to work, creating. However, through her quirky life and other incidents, her husband has become increasingly concerned about her behavior. But it’s when the FBI contacts him and tells him that Bernadette’s online assistant is really a Russian operative who is going to steal all their money that he sets up an intervention.

How Bernadette resolves her struggles with her neighbor Audrey, her husband, and her internal demons is the rest of the film and story.

Blanchett is absolutely sublime as Bernadette. It is by far and away the best performance of the year by an actor (or actress). I loved how she pulled me into her madness and how I fully understood what she was going through. Wiig was outstanding as the long-time neighbor who tried to put on a superior face about her family life only to realize that there was envy about Bernadette and Bee Branch’s relationship. Nelson was outstanding as Bee Branch. I loved how her faith in her best friend, her mom, was successfully tested. Crudup was excellent as the distracted focused but loving husband and father. Holly Gent and Richard Linklater wrote an engrossing screenplay and were deeply rewarding and entertaining. Linklater also directed the film.

Overall: If you go to see this film, you’ve got to be ready to accept and dive into Bernadette from the beginning, because if you do, you’ll be rewarded in the end.

The Kitchen

First Hit: At the beginning, this film had promise, but this promise fell away to mediocrity in the end.

The idea of three housewives taking over their husband’s gang-related activities because the husbands were jailed had intrigue and promise.

Kathy Brennan (Melissa McCarthy) is married with two children. Her husband, Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James) is part of the local Hell’s Kitchen crime group that fleeces businesses for protection. He’s probably the least aggressive of the three men.

Ruby O’Carroll (Tiffany Haddish) is married to Kevin (James Badge Dale) who is currently the leader of this local crime group. His mother Helen (Margo Martindale) provides her son with direction about the band of thieves he runs. Her husband started the group, and therefore, she still holds some power over the neighborhood.

Claire Walsh (Elizabeth Moss) is married to Rob (Jeremy Bobb) who is a brutish bully of a man, and he regularly beats Claire and is a primary thug in this Hell’s Kitchen enforcement group.

The three men get caught by the FBI while robbing a local business and are sent away. The new temporary leader of the enforcement group said they will continue to financially provide for the wives while their husbands are doing time. However, the stipend is not enough. So the girls get together and decide they can become an enforcement group, thereby overriding their husbands' protection club.

Upon hearing that Rob, Claire’s husband, is in jail, Gabriel O’Malley (Domhnall Gleeson) comes back to the neighborhood and announces his return by shooting and killing a man who is attempting to rape Claire.

Teaching the three women how to efficiently cut up and get rid of the body, he becomes their primary enforcer. However, Claire wanting to never be bullied again, learns to kill and is exceptionally competent at this and cutting up bodies - she's a natural.

As the three women build their protection business, the old group comes after them. But are stymied because as the women take over another neighborhood, the local mafia head Alfonso Coretti (Bill Camp) calls for a meeting, and a deal is created between his group and the girls. Together they neutralize the original Hell’s Kitchen group and gain support by providing protection and labor jobs for the community.

There’s a side story that is hinted at and finally brought to life that Ruby is having an affair with one of the FBI investigators Gary Silvers (Common). This, to me, creates an unnecessary distraction and side story and is not required to advance, what could have been, a good story.

Ruby slowly tries to take over the group that Melissa, Ruby, and Claire started together, and the writer used this FBI link as a significant part of the reason for the takeover by Ruby.

When the women’s husbands get out of jail early, there is trouble as expected, and the conflict doesn’t end well for the husbands.

This story is about women taking charge and with Ruby’s link to a male FBI agent seemingly having some influence, took away the power and guts of this story.

Additionally, I thought the movie was too long by taking too much time to prove points. Also, I didn’t believe the FBI piece of the story needed to be even part of the film. There easily other ways to create motivation for Ruby.

Another part of the film which didn’t quite work was that the director, Andrea Berloff, didn’t ensure each scene was correctly set in the 1970s. For comparison to this sort of attention to detail watch Quentin Tarantino’s latest film and this one – the aspect isn’t there in this film.

McCarthy is strong as the Irish woman who, loves her children, works at creating a good home life, but when push comes to shove, she is tired of playing second fiddle. Haddish is equally strong in this role; however, the whole FBI relationship back story just wasn’t needed. There were other ways she could claim her race, sex, and power. Moss was outstanding as the pushed around wife who wasn’t going to take it any longer. Having been a punching bag for her husband, she commits to protecting herself and does this in spades. But it was her eyes and facial expressions that sold both sides of her really well. Camp was great as the honorable mafia head that kept his integrity in tack by honoring his agreements. Gleeson was excellent as the guy who finally got to have a relationship with Claire that he always wanted. Martindale was instrumental as the once-powerful wife and mother to her family’s mob protection group. She gets her comeuppance. Berloff wrote and directed this film, and as I’ve previously stated, the story lost its effectiveness by adding the unnecessary Ruby and Gary Silvers relationship. The film also ran out of steam and probably needed pruning.

Overall: This film had potential, showed it at times, but ultimately failed to deliver.

David Crosby: Remember My Name

First Hit: David is very honest about his life in this self-narrated film.

Being old enough to have seen David playing in the Byrds and have listened to his music in subsequent groups Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, I was looking forward to seeing what he had to say about his very public life.

My favorite singer songwriter is Neil Young, and about two years ago it was made public that Neil and David had ended their relationship. The relationship with Graham Nash had, I believe, already ended. Why? What happened? What’s up?

The film didn’t do a lot to uncover the cause of the breakup of his friendships with people he’s made music with for over forty years, but it did open the door to seeing how all these relationships could have failed, while Crosby takes full responsibility for his part in what has happened in his life.

Late in the film David says, I don’t have a relationship with any of my former musician friends. It was sad.

Much of the early part of the film was about how Crosby slid into his drug induced disrepair. How he treated women, relationships, and his attempts to right these wrongs. He loves music as indicated when if given the choice to have a full, complete and happy family life or music, not both, he would pick music.

He drives us through LA and Laurel Canyon sharing the haunts the Byrds played in Hollywood and then the places they lived. He shows us the house in Graham Nash’s “Our House” about his moments with Joni Mitchell, prior to Graham becoming Joni’s boyfriend and the subject of “Our House.”

David talks about the death of Christine Hinton his love while with the Byrds and how this drastically affected his life. It crushed him. He also talked about how Roger McGuinn and Chris Millman of the Byrds kicked him out of the band. He spoke about how, when Young stopped by and sat on the hood of his car and played David three songs that convinced David to support Young joining Crosby, Stills & Nash.

David was never one of my favorite musicians, however, I felt for David and the earnestness from which he shared is struggles including, jail time, drug addiction and his love and appreciation to his current wife Jan.

Director A.J. Eaton did a great job of folding in archival footage and interviews with some of David’s friends, former friends, his wife Jan, and David himself.  

Overall: I loved this film because I grew up with David as part of my life, my music life, and he seemed open and honest to who he was then and now.

Fast and Furious: Hobbs and Shaw

First Hit: A real waste of time to sit through this confusing, nonsensical story.

Granted, there are moments of out-loud laughter, but it is mostly a poorly constructed film and story with little focus or value.

It begins confusingly with a group headed by Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), an MI6 field agent, and a small group of people breaking into a building and/or a truck of some sort to steal a 4-inch glass vial that has some liquid in it. This vial is protected by some computer lock which Hattie is hacking so that she can free and take possession of the jar.

Then, she is attacked by Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), a former rogue MI6 agent, who is part human, part machine. He and the computer entity he represents want the substance in the vial as well. Lore wears a black armored suit that looks similar to the Black Panther suit and rides a motorcycle that bends and does odd things. He is being controlled by a machine that has installed parts into his body that allows him to be strong, quick and analyzes possible punches thrown at him so he can deflect and counter punch. Brixton appears to enjoy these powers.

During the initial scuffle with Hattie, Brixton and his two fellow motorcycle riders manage to kill most of Hattie’s team but fail to get the vial. Hattie has managed to insert the contents of the vial into her body. The liquid materials are supposed to melt the internal organs. I never figured out why the contents didn’t make her insides mush.

Meanwhile, Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), a federal agent working for DSS, is contacted by CIA agent Locke (Ryan Reynolds) who convinces Hobbs he has to go to London and help retrieve this deadly vial of substance. He says OK and makes a point to say he always works alone when Locke says he’ll be teamed up with someone.

At the same time Hobbs is being recruited, so is Shaw (Jason Statham), a former British Special Forces assassin-turned-mercenary. We know Shaw had no love for Hobbs because of a previous encounter when Hobbs jailed Shaw in LA.

When Shaw goes to a prison to visit his mother Queenie (Helen Mirren), we learn that Shaw’s sister is Hattie. During this visit, Shaw and Queenie talk about how Queenie wants Shaw to reconcile with his sister.

When Shaw and Hobbs discover they’ve been teamed up together to recover Hattie, the drug, and to neutralize Brixton, the never-ending competitive macho conversations begin and only to predictably cease at the end of the film. Yes, some of the dialogue is funny, and some of the sight gags are clever, but mostly the setups are ridiculous and the action stupefying.

The film does try to make it personal and heartfelt; Hobbs getting closer to his Samoan family while introducing his daughter to her relatives, and Shaw reuniting with his sister and then, together, seeing their mom in prison.

But the action and heartfelt stuff is pressed, makes little logical sense (like stringing 5 cars and trucks together to pull down a helicopter), and quite frankly wasn’t interesting or exciting. However, what confused me the most was; if this stuff in the vial was supposed to turn someone’s insides to mush and the vial contained enough to threaten the world, why wasn’t Hattie affected by putting the entire vial into her body?

Johnson was his typical self in that he’s gregarious, charming and depends on his brute strength and muscles to solve the problem. He’s the same here, and it is good enough. Statham is adequate in his role of using more brains than brawn but ends up using his brawn trying to show up Hobbs. Kirby was one of the best characters in this film. I enjoyed her the most, but this bar was a low hurdle to clear. Elba was mediocre in this role. It seemed to depend too much on the technology that was inserted and really didn’t allow for a character to emerge. Kevin Hart was a joyful interlude because of his small role as an air marshal on a plane Hobbs and Shaw were on. He asks them to allow him to join their team, and I immediately thought of Joe Pesci’s role as Leo Getz in the “Lethal Weapon” films. But alas they didn’t follow this route. It could have made the movie funny. Reynolds’ brief role was right and probably the only other part that I enjoyed in this film. His sarcastic way of delivering his lines is always fun to watch. I don’t understand why Mirren took this small role. Chris Morgan wrote this ill-conceived screenplay from his own story. David Leitch did what he could, but this film was stupid on paper and as wrong on the screen.

Overall: Ill-conceived and poorly executed, this film just doesn’t work.