*MOVIE RECAP: KNIVES OUT

I finally got around to watch KNIVES OUT, which I completely missed when it was out in theaters last year, and it took me a while to make time to stream it.

Everyone has compared it to an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery, with some sprinkles of CLUE (1985), and referring to it as a whodunit. But I don’t really think of it as an actual whodunit in the traditional sense — it does, however, feel like one of those murder mystery throwbacks from the 70s.

At the center of the story, we have a renowned crime novelist Harlan Thrombley (Christopher Plummer), who, the morning after his 85th birthday, is found dead in his mansion. Harlan’s dysfunctional family gathers around the family estate prepping for the funeral and waiting for the reading of the will. While at the same time, world-famous detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) is mysteriously summoned to join the police investigation regarding Harlan’s death — and everyone seems to be a suspect.

This is not a politically subtle film — We have a bunch of New England WASPs engaging with some relevant cultural and sociopolitical issues of our times. Most notably, the manner in how they interact with Marta (Ana De Armas), Harlan’s young nurse/caretaker. The family pays lip service to Marta at every chance they get, telling her that they will take good care of her and say how much they love her and appreciate her. But none of them seems to remember which country she is from, as they keep naming different countries when referencing her birthplace. Once the family learns that Marta is a beneficiary in Harlan’s will, their true colors come out.

This is an essential film for these politically charged times we are living through. Particularly, in our age of the anti-hero; Here we have a story where the good triumphs and the bad get what they deserve, where examples of white entitlement are presented in the form of a multi-generational family that has benefited directly from their social status. Their xenophobic worldview is coming into direct collision with Marta, an immigrant character who, in a way, represents a new version of the United States and the culture shift this country is currently undergoing.

The Thrombleys appear to be fixated on maintaining their status quo at all costs. They have never really earned or achieved anything on their own without Harlan’s financial assistance of some kind. We get to see how the family’s projection of success is a mirage — Harlan’s wealth had shackled his family and prevented them from achieving success. Removing them from his will was Harlan’s way of freeing them so they could forge their path and achieve success on their own.

In a way, this feels very much like a rare film when compared to most mainstream movies made nowadays. Especially since this is an original story and not an adaptation, it tackles entitlement culture, immigration, and the meaning of what being an American truly means. And it does so in a direct yet satirical and playful manner, which I found admirable. Kudos to Rian Johnson for writing and directing such a complex film. I almost forgave him for how he treated Luke Skywalker.

The final shot of the movie is just perfect; it captures the whole theme of the film beautifully; There, we have Marta, this immigrant girl, standing on the mansion’s balcony looking down at the entire family, as they all look up in disbelief…

KNIVES OUT was a refreshing and entertaining movie-watching experience — The right balance of comedy, drama, and lots of tension. It is well written, character-driven, with all-around top-notch performances from the all-star ensemble cast—an exceptional film.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

KNIVES OUT (2019)

*TV SERIES RECAP: MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL (Season 1, 2 & 3)

If I had known how delightful this series was going to be and how much I would enjoy it, then I would have jumped on it much earlier. Although weirdly enough, I am glad it took me this long to binge through the entire first three seasons — it took me about two weeks to power through all 26 episodes. I Binge-watched at least two episodes every evening for two weeks straight.

Ever since MAD MEN came to an end, I have been craving for another well-made, engaging throwback series set in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is precisely that show.

New York, New York, Baby! We get a heavy dosage of my beloved city, which is the principal setting for the series. Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan) is an Upper West Side Manhattan housewife who stumbles into standup comedy by accident. Domestic life is not something she is excited about. Midge also seems ambivalent about motherhood, plus her husband has left her for his secretary. She has no choice but to pursue a living and become independent of her husband. Comedy was not a career you would seek out in the ’50s, but Mrs. Maisel pursues it against all the odds. And throughout the first three seasons, we get to see her honing and shaping her standup skills.

Hard to avoid the parallels with Joan Rivers and how Rivers began to make her mark in standup comedy in the 1950s. Even the way Rivers would dress on stage is almost identical. Perhaps Joan Rivers is a loose inspiration for Mrs. Maisel, but the similarities are definitely there.

The series leans pretty heavy on New York Jewish culture. They are depicting particular aspects of everyday life during that period. We see how much value and effort Midge puts into her appearance: She measures her body proportions every single day, tracking them religiously. The vanity aspect is a big part of the series. The effort women made to look good, even at home, striving to always look their best, like putting on makeup right before going to sleep. Midge works hard at her beauty, and her beautiful dresses are an extension of the character’s personality.

The casting is perfect. Midge’s business manager Susie (Alex Borstein), is excellent; her street-smart personality complements Midge nicely. Susie’s character development is equally as crucial as Mrs. Maisel’s. Although Susie is not as attractive as Midge and has a rougher personality still, Susie has to find ways to navigate similar issues and difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated 1950s world.

Midge’s father, Abe Weissman (Tony Shaloub), is a complex character, just as compelling as Midge. The ensemble of supporting characters is fantastic: Rose Weissman (Marin Hinkle), Moishe Maisel (Kevin Pollak), and Shirley Maisel (Caroline Aaron) are all hilarious in every scene they appear together.

Lenny Bruce (Luke Kirby)

Luke Kirby, like Lenny Bruce, is phenomenal; I feel like he should have his own spin-off biopic and expand further on the legendary comic. Jane Lynch (Sophie Lennon) became one of my favorite characters, glad she became a regular as the series progressed. Midge’s husband, Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen), is pretty engaging enough that I kept finding myself rooting for him to make things work with Midge.

The writing is exceptional. I admire the distinct look and feel of the show; the colors and period sets are gorgeous. The garment district warehouse scenes are well executed. The particular showbiz aspect of the period is fascinating.

Rachel Brosnahan is now a star; her performance exudes charisma. I am sure Mrs. Maisel’s journey in the series will eventually lead her into the Johnny Carson show and possibly the infamous Johnny Carson couch.

Joel Maisel (Michael Zegen), Midge Maisel (Rachel Brosnahan)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel cannot escape criticism for ignoring and pushing aside specific cultural issues of the period. Picking and choosing which battles to fight and showcase is totally the showrunners’ prerogative. However, the show is set during a crucial time in the history of the United States. A higher level of seriousness and sensitivity should be applied when dealing with real-life issues.

I realize that this type of show is now considered to be a “dramedy” style show; nonetheless, Mrs. Maisel has a unique opportunity here to tackle some crucial issues in upcoming seasons and remain as charming and entertaining as the first three seasons have been. While at the same time figuring out ways to be more grounded in reality.

The way season three unfolded and ended gave the writers and producers of this show a unique opportunity to highlight some of Midge’s obvious character flaws and address those flaws and her lack of sensitivity and urgency towards real-life issues in a more profound manner. Let us hope that is the route they decide to take.

Extremely excited for season four…

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Season 1,2 & 3). Streaming on Prime

*MOVIE RECAP: THE VAST OF NIGHT

The more I think about this movie, the more I like it. THE VAST OF NIGHT feels like a familiar sci-fi story: Smalltown USA, cold war 1950s vibe, sightings in the sky, mysterious radio signals, and two kids as the central characters….. plus, the whole thing takes place in one single night.

Apparently, this film was rejected by a bunch of film festivals before finding a spot with Amazon Studios. It was pretty remarkable to hear how first-time writer-director Andrew Patterson self-funded this film.

We have Everett (Jake Horowitz), a local teenage radio DJ who plans to get out of this small town and make it in LA, where big things are happening in radio. We have Fay (Sierra McCormick), a high schooler who works as a telephone switchboard operator. She has no concrete plans of leaving her small-town life and feels like she is stuck there with no college prospects.

The chemistry between Fay and Everett is excellent; there is this platonic thing going on that works great. Sierra McCormick is remarkable in all her scenes; she has this unique and subtle screen presence — there is this cool scene early in the film where Everett and Fay are walking together, discussing the technology of the future. I thought that was a well-executed scene.

Fay picks up a strange noise while working at the switchboard, which coincides with sudden blackouts that seem out of the norm for this town. Pretty soon, both Fay and Everett realize something strange and unexplained is happening.

There is a mysterious phone call to the radio station from Billy (Bruce Davis), a former member of the military. This caller has first-hand knowledge of those strange signals and alludes to having been part of a secret government project. He reveals that personnel chosen to work on those secret projects were all Black or Mexican to ensure nobody will take them seriously if they ever try to go public.

Then, we have Mabel (Gail Cronauer), an elderly lady who calls Fay and Everett and tells them that she also has knowledge of these strange signals and requests to meet with them in person at her home.

I admire how this movie was shot — there are many interesting, complex shots, long takes, and tracking shots that worked nicely. The cars, the clothes, and even the eyeglasses worn by the characters capture the vibe of the 50s beautifully. The whole Twilight Zone, Outer Limits mood, is skillfully done. Even the name of the radio station is pretty neat; WOTW …. (War of the Worlds?).

But what I found most refreshing was how there is this sociopolitical theme building slowly underneath the story. We have two white teens coming into contact with two black characters who have direct knowledge of this phenomenon, but nobody will take them seriously due to their social status.

True lovers of cinema will undoubtedly enjoy this movie. It is an excellent alternative from all those mainstream movies out there.

The Vast of Night is a perfect example of how low-budget, independent, self-funded films can be well made and find an eager audience. Aspiring filmmakers and screenwriters, such as myself, should pay close attention to this film.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

THE VAST OF NIGHT (2019) Streaming on Prime

*Project 11: Alex Smith

Man, was I moved by this ESPN documentary-style piece on Alex Smith. I had no idea how close he came to losing his leg and how a flesh-eating bacteria almost took his life.

I remember how excited I was for the 2018 season with Alex Smith as our starting Quarterback, and how well the team was playing with him during the first half of the season; The Redskins were on top of their division — The team seemed to be flowing well, and on their way to make a playoff run….. things looked extremely promising.

Then, Alex Smith suffered what appeared to be a career-ending injury, eerily similar to Joe Theismann’s career-ending leg injury back in 1985, which occurred on the same date as Smith’s injury (November 18). 

From that point on, everything fell apart for the 2018 Washington Redskins football team. However, most importantly than football, it almost ended the life of Alex Smith.

It was an incredibly revelatory experience watching this Project 11 piece. Learning how Smith’s unique predicament took the doctors by complete surprise. How unfamiliar they were with this infection, plus there wasn’t anyone with a similar experience that they could use as a reference point to lean into, especially an infection like this within the sports world.

Watching him in the hospital fighting for his life. How incoherent he seemed after the infection took over. The gruesome images of his leg, and then, 17 surgeries later attempting to reclaim his life. It was such a catastrophic ordeal for him and his family. 

His recovery has been remarkable, to say the least.

I was always an Alex Smith fan, and after watching this documentary piece, it is beyond evident that we should not count him out, and we definitely have not heard the last from him.

 I am rooting like hell for Alex Smith.