Saturday, December 8, 2018

Elf 15th Anniversary



Frankly I'm not a big fan of Will Farrell. After the first five years of listening to him scream, I lost any sense that it was humorous. "Elf" came out right about the time I started feeling like this was too much. It did manage to channel that maniacal loud voice into something that was a little bit more charming and I remember having a pretty solid reaction to the film. Flash forward 15 years and I went to see it for a second time, this was also a regular theatrical screening, in acknowledgement of the Anniversary. I still enjoyed it, but there were moments that I wanted to look away.

The movie starts and ends with Bob Newhart so it has that going for it. I've always been a fan. It also features a supporting role from Mary Steenburgen, whom I've had a crush on since I first saw her in "Goin" South" in 1978. Finally, it also features Zooey Deschanel, right before she became America's Manic Pixie Dream Girl of choice. She was much more subdued and she has a sweet, slightly flat singing voice that worked perfectly for what she was doing in this movie.

The parts that turned me off are mostly related to eating. The Coke chugging and belch are just annoying but the spaghetti with maple syrup was a bit too far and subsequently, the stakes get raised with added candy, chocolate and then hand shoveling it into one's maw. Definitely not funny and more disgusting than some gore I've seen in a horror film. Just the thought of the gum scene makes my stomach turn. One other thing that did not work for me was Peter Dinklage going all Hulk Hogan on Buddy. Another scene that just misses for me entirely.

What does work however are Buddy'd antics in the mailroom, his rocket like arm in the snowball fight and the decorating he does. The Toy section at Gimbals was lovely, as was his Dad's apartment after Buddy works it over. The relationship with James Caan feels like there is a scene missing but the emotional payoff at the end still worked for me. All of the cast singing "Here Comes Santa Claus" was just what I could use to help lift my Christmas spirits.

One other scene that works but will probably draw flack from the SJW out there. Buddy is so enamored of Jovie singing that he wanders into the ladies locker room. Not only is that a violation of her safe space, but the song she is singing and he joins in on is now notoriously labeled an ode to date rape. Sorry my friends, the song was perfect and the scene was really a sweet moment of innocence that was awkward because of society's way of viewing the intrusion, rather than the guileless affection that Buddy is showing.  Over all a mixed experience for me, but I was glad to be out of the house for a couple of hours and it is a Christmas movie, so that helps. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

LAMBracket: Best Christmas Movie – Play-Off #7

LAMBracket: Best Christmas Movie – Play-Off #7: From December 1st until Christmas Eve, here on the LAMB, we’ll be determining what is the BEST Christmas movie of all time. We’ve asked you all which films are the main contenders, and …

championed by Richard Kirkham from Kirkham A Movie A Day

If you are not considering The Muppet Christmas Carol as your choice for the best Christmas movie of all time, you must not have seen the film. Not only is it a great Christmas film, it is in many ways, the greatest telling of one of the most important Christmas themed stories of all time. Charles Dickens’ story has been filmed more than two dozen times, with distinguished Shakespearean actors and American Television Thespians. None of them can hold a candle to this version which succeeds because of two fantastic features. First, look at the title, “Muppets”. I have heard that there are people who do not appreciate The Muppets, I don’t want to know who those people are. The off kilter humor, the manic and deadpan delivery in the same scene, the plethora of weird characters are all things that make even the most mundane material watchable. Kermit the Frog is perfectly cast as Bob Cratchitt. Miss Piggy is surprisingly subdued as his wife and the mother of Tiny Tim. Meanwhile, subverting the proceedings by drawing attention to the narrative explicitly, Gonzo and Rizzo Rat are a Greek Chorus representing Dickens himself. You can’t beat that for creative story structure on this particular tale.


Muppets alone would be enough to elevate this to the status of Christmas classic, but there’s one other secret weapon here that should overwhelm any other objections, Michael Caine. In most versions of the story, Scrooge is ancient and closer to the end of life. Caine is closer to middle age, which means his arc of redemption will span the life of the Cratchit family more. Caine plays crotchety without being particularly old.We can accept that he has an old man disposition with a younger man’s vigor. He also sings. Maybe not the dulcet baritone that would be featured in a stage version of the story, but he has a “talk-singing” style that works perfectly for the amusing Paul Williams penned songs.
“Oh, Scroogey loves his money ’cause he thinks it gives him power,
If he became a flavor you can bet he would be sour “

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Superman 40th Anniversary



It was 40 years ago this month that I trooped down to the Chinese Theater in Hollywood with my band of friends and my girl, to see this comic book movie. More than a decade before the launch of "Batman", the D.C. Universe started with their most iconic hero. This was a highly anticipated film and we knew before we even saw it that there was going to be a sequel. This was the beginning of a comic book franchise that ends up setting a high standard with the opening two films and then trailed off with subsequent efforts. Regardless of how you feel about the revived D.C. films, the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films stand the test of time.

Unlike forty years ago, this trip to the theater was solo and on a Monday night of all times. The Fathom Event included an opening cartoon from Max Fleischer Studios, featuring an animated version of the Man of Steel. This efficient ten minute adventure looks like it was the template for the TV series to come. It certainly had all the tropes we expected including the opening narration. As it turns out it is available on YouTube so if you want to see it, gaze below.



With the appetizer out of the way, we are ready to begin our adventure. I have never made a secret of the fact that I am a nostalgia fan. Classic movies are one of my passions and one of the reasons is the period setting. "Superman" opens not with a pre-title adventure sequence like a James Bond film, but rather a simple curtain in black and white, being pulled open to reveal a movie screen, just like they used to do. The picture scrolls up like an old newsreel to the narration of a child reading the opening of what might be a comic book. Our viewpoint sweeps past a neoclassical skyscraper housing the Daily Planet, with a rotating globe on it's peak. We zoom out into space and we finally see color, and the John Williams Theme that may be one of the greatest movie themes ever. It is synced with titles that were hugely innovative at the time.


http://www.artofthetitle.com/title/superman/


You can read about the titles and look at them at the above link.

Most of you I'm sure have seen the film, so this is not really intended as a full review. I just want to highlight a few of the pleasures of this 40 year old treasure. The whole sequence on Krypton is imaginative and futuristic in the way movies have always been. The budget and effects are certainly bigger than the serials of the past, but the aesthetic is very much the same. The sentencing of the three Kryptonian criminals serves as an Easter egg for the second film and we get to the earth story with just enough background to see how Kal-El ends up with his powers.  Glen Ford is only in two scenes but he is terrific in both of them. The Norman Rockwell Kansas grounds our strange visitor from another world, and his adopted father gives him the values that will guide him with as much influence as his biological father's teachings will in the Fortress of Solitude section.

When Christopher Reeve finally emerges as the adult version of Superman, we get our first taste of flight in these movies. One of the advance tag lines was "You will believe a man can fly!", well I did, and it was thrilling. The long action sequence where Clark turns into Superman, saves Lois and the President as well as a neighborhood cat is just nicely paced fun. The real treat starts however an hour into the film, when Gene Hackman shows up and proceeds to steal every bit of every scene he is in. Hackman walks off with the movie in an out sized portrayal of Lex Luthor. The fact that he is surrounded by a band of idiots adds some comedy fun without diminishing the threat that the villain presents.

The special effects in the climax are dated and modern audiences might laugh a bit, but if you are in the grip of the movie you will hardly notice those little things. The models, rear projection and practical effects work just fine at giving Superman a task that makes some demands on his abilities. Forget how implausible the reversal of time is and just enjoy the moments when Lois looks at Superman when she has been rescued and doesn't even know it. This is another thread that leads us to the sequel. At the end of the credits, we are promised Superman II next year, boy do I hope that Fathom follows up on that forty year old promise.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Green Book



When I first saw the trailer and concept for this movie, I was tempted to refer to it as "Driving Mr. Daisy". There are some parallels to the Oscar winning film of 1989, but the superficial comparisons stop pretty quickly. Although the racial component is certainly a key component in the film, "Green Book" explores the relationship between the main characters in a much more diverse manner. Viggo Mortensen plays a man on the fringes of society in the urban jungle of New York circa 1962, but in many ways he represents the whole country at a moment in time when the world might change. Mahershala Ali is more mainstream in the City, but even there he is a lonely figure, who is an imperfect vessel for a message of change, but one that he has decided to deliver.

The movie is a polemic waiting to happen but it steps back from being a political film at it's core and instead focuses on the tentative friendship between the two men of such different backgrounds.  There is plenty of culture clash involved but it is not just the racial disparity of the Southern U.S. at this time. Both men are guilty of stereotyping and potentially violating the rules of the broader culture. As they negotiate around their differences, we see a more allegorical description of the U.S. and it's racial issues. These comparisons are more subtle than you might have imagined but they can be pretty effective.

While both actors are at the top of their game, it is Mortensen who has the meatier role and the greatest opportunity to make an impression. His Italian-NY accent seems to have been home grown rather than artificially induced. His physique is not a result of make-up and fat suit but rather real heft and weariness. Tony Lip may be a bit of a galoot but he is not a dumb galoot. His story arc requires him to alter in minor ways over the course of the film. He has a couple of moments of epiphany, but those have more to do with his assessment of Doctor Don Shirley than any self recognition or awareness. Tony's attitude toward black Americans is uniformed rather than malicious. The effect however can be just as devastating and that's why it was so important for average Americans to see what they were doing to themselves and their fellow citizens. Mortensen expresses much of that dawning awareness with his eyes and face. Although Tony is hired muscle, he needs to learn to contain that power to appropriate circumstances.

The script is very amusing despite being weighed down by potentially solemn subject matter. Credited as the screenwriter along with director Peter Farrelly  and actor Brain Hayes Currie, is Nick Vallelonga, the son of the real Tony Lip. He pieced together this story from multiple interviews with his father and the real Don Shirley. Certainly there has been some liberty taken in making the story more charming, but that is a result of a conscious decision to make the film entertaining as well as important. My particular favorite touch concerns the letters that Tony writes home to his wife Dolores. The prompting he gets from Shirley makes the notes both romantic and funny. They also provide one more way for us to discover that a reasonably intelligent man can change himself in subtle ways to be better.

This is a crowd pleasing film which does not seem to be getting the traction with audiences that it deserves. Maybe there has not been enough praise from critics, or maybe the audience just thinks they have seen it all before. I hope that this small outpost of opinion can influence a few of you to take a trip to your local theater and see a film that will give you hope without condescending to you. 

Movies I Want Everyone to See: Double Dipping with Musical films from the Oughts

 josie_and_the_pussycatsmusic_and_lyrics

We are taking a slightly different journey this week with MIWETS (Yeah, not a great acronym). I would not really say the films I am going to focus on are guilty pleasures but many film fans might turn their noses up at such crassly commercial projects. One film exploits a TV show comic book legacy and the other one comes from one of the most resented genres among movie fans, the romantic comedy. I think each film actually has some merits that could be discussed in a passionate way because I have seen some hate for these films online. Neither film is essential, seminal or serious in any way. The two movies have one thing in common that moved me to pair them like this. Each one is a version of a nearly extinct form of film making, the original film musical.

It is true that we occasionally get a musical in an animated movie, or that a stage musical is adapted for the big screen. Those are rare enough however that even Disney cannot be counted upon for regular versions of this form. In the 1980's, music videos were basically inserted into movies to make them musicals, think "Flashdance" or "Footloose". They worked well enough to bring in the music but audiences not used to actors breaking out in song would probably not go for a modern version of fifties style musicals. The safe bet has been to put stage musicals on the screen. The two films I am focusing on here try to varying degrees to use the format of "An American in Paris" or "A Star is Born". They take an original story that includes music and then adapt it to movie form. Both use a backstage perspective, so the songs are connected to public performances, and not just singing as the characters walk down the street. It is for the music and particularly the songs that I have included them in this series.

josie_and_the_pussycats_ver2The first film of today's double feature is "Josie and the Pussycats" from 2001. Roger Ebert put it this way: "Josie and the Pussycats are not dumber than the Spice Girls, but they're as dumb as the Spice Girls, which is dumb enough." He gave the movie a half star. While I have always appreciated Ebert as a film critic, I have not always agreed with him and this is one of those times. At this point in his life I think he had finally disconnected from the audience relationship that had made his work with Gene Siskel so effective, and he simply spouted off on something he did not get. In his review he even gets picky about the term subliminal versus subaural, and he got that wrong also. Subliminal refers to consciousness which is the correct way in which it is used in the film, subaural is below the ear, and means nothing in this context.
The film is a cute girl-empowering satire on marketing. It is not about how a band is put together or even how it might become successful, it is about how that band might then be exploited to sell other stuff. Is the movie subtle? Hell no, it is obvious and goes for very big jokes, most of them visual. It is clear that the brands in the movie are being marketed in product placement as a way of mocking that placement. Lots of other films or Television shows would be viewed as cutting edge for the type of humor that is attempted here and for trying to reach the audience that the film is trying to appeal to.  I can accept that others may not like the humor or that the story is a bit obvious but I am defiant in my belief that the music in this film is worthy and that's why I want people to see the movie.

I love a good title song, but a song that is part of the story and is integrated into the themes is the type of song I think makes a movie work as a musical experience.  "Josie and the Pussycats" has at least three great songs that make the story memorable.  Ebert wrote "The music is pretty bad. That's surprising, since Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds is one of the producers, and knows his way around music. Maybe it's supposed to sound like brainless pre-teen fodder, but it's not good enough at being bad to be funny, and stops merely at the bad stage." It's silly to get into a debate with a dead man but come on, just saying it without explaining it is the worst appeal to authority there is. Ebert was not a music authority, and to be fair, neither am I but I'm willing to at least explain my position. To start let's take "Pretend to be Nice":



This song has a very appealing guitar lick, a fun chorus and a wicked hook that keeps pulling us in. Yes it is pop, but listen to the refrain "pretend to be nice" when sung by the lead in a mock low key sexy voice. There is real sarcasm there. It fits in as an example of the kind of song a girl band might be expected to play. It is smarter than any Spice Girls song and I think that undermined the belief that this movie was about bad music, it was about mocking bad music by taking it's form and subverting it.

Example Number Two is "three small words". This is an up tempo power pop song that gives the Pussycats the perfect opportunity to insert a performance based music video into the film. Look and listen:


Anyone who doesn't appreciate that song just doesn't understand that Heath Ledger is the new Matt Damon.

The ultimate example of the musical bliss of "Josie and the Pussycats" however is not provided by the title group. Instead the greatest example of musical subversion is done by the Boy Band that the Pussycats are being used to replace in the movie. I think Ebert must have missed the lyrics or have been totally unfamiliar with the Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC. "DuJour", provides the moment of musical genius early on in the film and if you listen to the song you will know how to listen to the songs in the rest of the movie. Here is the final nail in the coffin of the naysayers for this film:


"just cuz i slip in back doors,
well, that doesn't make me, hey!"

That just summarizes the whole music scene of the early 2000s. Maybe it isn't something everyone should see, but it certainly isn't something that everyone should reject. I may come back and defend the story, actors and whole film in another place, but for now the focus is on the music and it works the way it is supposed to in the film.


After a brief intermission, it is time to move on to the second film in this musical extravaganza.


music_and_lyrics_ver2"Music and Lyrics" from 2007, is a much more conventional film. It is a romantic comedy that features music and both embraces and mocks the taste of popular culture. It features two of the most appealing stars of the last twenty years, Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, who between them have as many romcoms under their belts as anyone this side of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. This movie was moderately successful at the box office and has almost certainly a bigger audience than the first movie and it also has some great music designed explicitly for the purpose of the story.

The setting of the love story here involves the accidental meeting of two people who have complementary artistic skills but conflicting social skills. No one will be surprised by the development of the love story, it has the usual cute meet, slow romance, complication and then satisfying resolution. So it is all formula, but it is a formula that works because of the extra ingredients that get ladled on top. To begin with, Grant plays a semi washed up pop star from the 1980s. If you can imagine Duran Duran and Wham having children, the result would probably be the fictional band "Pop".  Here in the title sequence of" Music and Lyrics" is the video for their biggest imagined hit:




This is a pretty perfect spoof of 80s pop video. The little sideways booty snap would fit into almost any George Michael video of those times. The song is a lightweight confection that illustrates the weightlessness of music from that period. Even though it has no heft to it, there is still significance to it. People are moved by music and while we may not appreciate someone else's taste in songs, to that person the song matters. That is shown in a couple of ways in this film. First through the hysterical behavior of middle aged women reliving their wild teen years at nostalgia performances by Grant's character Alex Fletcher. Yet we also see that the music can be inspirational to the next generation when Cora Corman, a Britney Spears knock off hires Alex to pen a new tune for her because she was a fan of the video.

A short clip of her current music video tells us all we need to know about how deep she is:





The creative process is something that is hard to visualize on screen. Painters in films get montages of images swirling as they put their imagination on the canvas. Writers are usually depicted as reflecting on their "inner eye" and recalling the story they want to tell. In a romantic comedy about writing a pop song we get a nice sequence showing how a last minute demo track comes together as the two co-writers race against a deadline. Here is how it is envisioned in the film:




What you see is not a complete version of the song but the romantic comedy version of the creative process. It works at building character and also shows us how the two miss matched lovers are going to come together. I think it is a very effective sequence and it has the advantage of having something to do with the story. Later in the movie we will get a more complete version of the song that will help cement our happy ending and irritate all those who hate Romantic Comedies in the first place, but as a song, this piece of music works as it is intended.

There is one other link between these films. Many of the songs share a common composer; Adam Schlesinger. He is the genius behind the song that made "That Thing You Do" one of my "Perfect Films". Probably best known for leading his band "Fountains of Wayne" onto the charts with "Stacy's Mom", Schlesinger has contributed to a number of songs in films and his work makes both of today's movies something I want everyone to see. The songs are not simply pop music inserted into the closing credits, but they are integral parts of the movies that they come from. That seems like a better standard for a movie music award than how big the pop star is that wrote it.  If you can think of some songs from movies that drive the story, explain the characters or enliven the pace of the film, please share them. MIWETS is all about sharing the love.

Richard Kirkham is a lifelong movie enthusiast from Southern California. While embracing all genres of film making, he is especially moved to write about and share his memories of movies from his formative years, the glorious 1970s. His personal blog, featuring current film reviews as well as his Summers of the 1970s movie project, can be found at Kirkham A Movie A Day.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Stanley Kubrick's Sound Odyssey



While this is a movie blog, I have on occasion posted on concert events that are related to movies in some way. Today's post is just such an occasion. On Sunday I attended a performance by the L.A. Philharmonic of music featured in the films of Stanley Kubrick. The use of music in Kubrick films is a fascinating subject because unlike most film makers, after the midway point in his career, Kubrick largely abandoned the use of original orchestral music and integrated existing classical works into his films. Notoriously, for 2001 A Space Odyssey, the score composed by Alex North, a 15 time Academy Award nominee and a collaborator with Kubrick on the film "Spartacus" was not used. North had been shown about forty minutes of the movie on which to base his score. It was not until he watched the film in it's premier that he realized not a note of his composition was in the film.

Before the concert we attended a Upbeat Live talk by Bernardo Rondeau, one of the music curators for the soon to be opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. With his slides and historical citations, he led us through the evolution of Kubrick as a consumer of classical music and described some of the ways that he filmed to the music instead of trying to make the music fit the film. Famously, the waltz of the shuttle and the space station that opens the modern section of the picture uses the music of Johann Strauss to suggest a dance between celestial objects. It was a marriage of sight and sound that almost everyone agrees is a perfect fit.

The opening of the concert commenced with the tonal and ominous Atmospheres by Ligeti. This modern composer had been told that his music was used in the film in brief background sections but when he attended a screening, he took a stop watch and kept notes on how much of his music was used. That was one of the intriguing slides in the Upbeat Live Talk.

It is when the Richard Strauss "Also sprach Zarathustra" notes begin, over the MGM logo from that year, that the concert starts for real. Those notes and the combined visage of the moon, the earth and the Sun lining up produces the emotional power of these choices.

My hair literally stood on end. The impact of the live orchestra playing those notes in sync with the image on the screen was breathtaking and electric. 

On the Lambcast we recorded on Sunday, I'd mentioned that I was going to this event and one of the guests made a joke that it would be funny if a chorus came out and hummed or grunted the music from the monolith. That sound is actually a Ligeti Requiem, and guys it was performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, during the film clip of the monolith on the moon. It was eerie as hell and simultaneously beautiful. 

One thing I had not mentioned to my companions on the podcast was that the concert was to be hosted by actor Malcolm McDowell. The actor shared a number of insights and amusing anecdotes during the show. He added a special aura to the day which made the event feel so much more movie related. 

The Bartok and Pendereki music from "The Shining" was suitably ominous and the sequence where Nicholson is coming through the doors with an ax, actually do have some score under them. The best use of the music however, was in the blood flood from the elevator and the chase through the outdoor hedge maze. Watching those clips with the music immediately made me want to go home and watch the whole movie again, with the volume extra high. 

After the intermission. McDowell returned to share with us the fact that for the most part, the score for Kubrick's visual masterpiece "Barry Lyndon" was era appropriate. Handel, Schubert, Bach and Vivaldi all were played prominently throughout the picture. The harpsichord music was presented to us using an actual harpsichord and a variety of stringed instruments. It was an elegant sequence in the concert and it was one of the longer interludes of the day. 

Our conductor for the afternoon was Jessica Cottis, an Australian/British citizen who is well known in the UK for her work with the Scottish BBC Orchestra. It may be old fashioned of me to note that she is one of only two or three female conductors I have seen in symphony venue like the LA Phil at Walt Disney Concert Hall, but she was engaging and authoritative with the orchestra.

"Eyes Wide Shut" was Kubricks last film and he makes use of one more Gregor Legeti piece as well as a selection from Shostakovitch. There were a couple of nude clips included in the film selection and the family next to us were apparently a little surprised that their nine year old son and eleven year old daughter were getting a sneak peek. There were warning signs as we entered the venue that the material in the films contained nudity and mature themes. So the kids were freaked out a bit by "The Shining" clips and Mom was embarrassed by the "Eyes Wide Shut" moments, but the best was yet to come.

Malcolm McDowell told several stories about the making of "Clockwork Orange", including the fact that Alex' getup in the film was mostly his own cricket regalia worn with the protective codpiece on the outside. He also related a story about encountering Gene Kelly at a Hollywood Party a couple of years after the movie was released and Kelly, upon recognizing him, walked in the opposite direction. McDowell said he had assumed Kelly was angry about the way "Singin' in the Rain" was used in the movie, as the expression of joy for the antithesis of Kelly's use of the song and performance. He then said that he had met Kelly's widow nearly forty years later at an Academy function and she said that Gene had no anger with him, he was pissed that he did not get paid for the use of the song by Stanley.

"Clockwork" features Rossini, Purcell, and of course Ludwig Van Beethoven. The Rossini music is used during the break in where Alex murders the woman at the health spa. He uses a piece of art that is a giant phallus balanced by some equally large testicles. The two kids roared out loud when they saw him pick this sculpture up. The climax of the film involves Alex having sex with a woman to the strains of Ode to Joy. It is an amazing juxtaposition of tune and image and one I'm sure will haunt the family seated next to us for years to come. 


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Widows



A slow burn with a heist that does not carry much weight in the end. "Widows" is a quality film about a criminal enterprise, unfortunately, it is the political system in Chicago as opposed to the robbery that is at the heart of the film. The cast for the film is impressive and the story is full of unpleasant twists but there is something about it that holds me back from a strong endorsement. Those who want a slick crime film will be disappointed because this movie travels down some byzantine alleys and the thing that is around the next corner is usually a downer.

The grime and decay of the neighborhood featured in this movie should be enough to tell you this is not "Ocean's 4". There is nothing cute or charming or fun happening here. This is a story focusing on rich criminals robbing each other in the midst of urban decay and neglect. That the criminals are all politically connected should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with how things work in these big urban centers. One crooked deal makes way for another and the only thing more depressing is that everyone considers this de rigueur. The only thing that changes is who gets the power. This movie attempts to shift the power to a group of women by turning them into reflections of evil men. I'm not sure that is the best way to create a story of female empowerment.

It is a little hard to tell what the basis of the opening theft is. The story starts mid-crime when there is a shootout between the robbers and the security team for a local thug who has delusions of political grandeur. Half an hour later we see what happens to those crooks who were supposed to be providing security and got taken. They should have just asked to jump in the van and take off with the money. As it turns out, getting tagged and tracked down to a local warehouse is part of the plan. I can tell you that this detail was not included in the notebook containing the plans for all of the criminal masterminds plans. Viola Davis is an excellent actress and she shows her worth in a couple of grieving scenes. Her husband has been killed in the robbery and her moment trying to gather herself rings very true. In a flashback, we see another death that she mourns and again, it plays realistically although that death plays like a note from a producer on the film who is a little too "woke".

As the widows begin to plan their robbery, there are several tasks they have to accomplish. Michelle Rodriguez has a very solid scene where she gets caught in a lie and still manages to get a piece of human behavior awkwardly into the moment. Had it gone any further, the moment would seem unrealistic but the guilt and the loneliness of the two people involved really does provide some emotional core for what is otherwise a very cold film. Elizabeth Debicki has the only moments in the film that could be thought of as light. As she tries to get a proxy to buy guns for her, she uses a story that is grimly amusing. Unfortunately, as we have learned, physical abuse at the hands of a man is not a fiction in her life. Cynthia Erivo who I just saw in "Bad Times at the El Royale" is equally good here as a babysitter/hairdresser who gets recruited for the job and turns out to be just the right touch of bad ass under the skin.

As for the rest of the cast, well there are a lot of them and most are solid. Lukas Haas who I just realized was in "First Man", is a man with a cynically realistic view of romance who enables the women to get a key piece of information. Garret Dillahut makes a second appearance in a Steve McQueen film and this time he is a lot more sympathetic. Colin Farrel, Bryan Tyree Henry and Robert Duvall, dance around each other as political hacks with ambitions that confound each other. Jackie Weaver is the most cynical Mother you will ever hope to meet. It is Liam Neeson however who manages to turn a small roll into a strong performance and with one plot twist turn most of our assumptions around. What starts off as grief turns to long term resentment and finally to the worst sort of betrayal you can imagine. Finally, Daniel Kaluuya lurks in the background, menacing everyone with his crazy eyes and and reckless disregard for humanity.

The exposition that goes on in long conversations between the characters often reflects danger but it is not just physical danger but moral danger we are facing. Only the very last shot in the film provides any hope that the world might be an OK place to live.There was a point in the story where the worst crime we can see coming is directed at an animal, but at least the immorality of all of the characters is not taken out on the dog.