Review of “Widows”

A crew of armed robbers led by Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson) conduct big money heists in and around Chicago. They are very good at what they do, but one night their luck runs out. A shootout in a garage with police causes an explosion of compressed gas canisters, killing Rawlings and his three accomplices. Rawlings wife Veronica (Viola Davis) is left to grieve her loss, but she also has a much bigger problem. The target of Rawlings last job was gangster turned aspiring politician Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry). Rawlings and his crew stole $2-million and Manning wants it back to use in his campaign for a seat on the Chicago Board of Aldermen. Manning give Veronica one month to come up with the money or he’ll kill her. Manning’s opponent for the seat is Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), the son of long-time alderman Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall). Jack is reluctantly following in his father’s footsteps but is just as corrupt and bigoted as him. Manning and Mulligan are in a tight race and that $2-million could be important in the final push to election day. Rawlings kept a notebook of all his jobs, including his next one that has a potential take of $5-million. Veronica recruits the widows of Harry’s crew: Linda Perelli (Michelle Rodriguez) and Alice Gunner (Elizabeth Debicki). The fourth widow Amanda Nunn (Carrie Coon) has a newborn baby and doesn’t want to be involved in the plan. Each woman has their strengths and weaknesses and Veronica is the leader despite rubbing her partners the wrong way. A fourth woman, Belle (Cynthia Erivo), who babysits for Linda and works at a hair salon that’s being shaken down by Jack Mulligan, joins the crew as a driver. The group of inexperienced robbers have just a few days left before the one-month deadline passes and must learn to work together as a team to pull off a complicated plan to save their lives.

“Widows” is a smart heist movie. It shows us almost all the parts of the plan but holds just enough back to allow for a few surprises. The film also drops personal nuggets about the main relationship in the story, between Harry and Veronica, that are mysteries at first. As the film moves along, we get explanations to these mysteries and reasons for moments of drama and sadness. Director Steve McQueen has taken what could have been a very average crime flick and turned it into a relationship drama between the four women and the ghosts of their husbands. The amazing thing is it works no matter what part of the story is the highlight at any given moment.

Viola Davis gives a masterpiece of a performance as Veronica. The grieving widow shows us flashbacks to better times with her and Harry. We also get a look at their darkest time during the loss of their son. It’s a tough and intense performance that was likely emotionally tiring for Davis. She is called upon to cry approximately a dozen times throughout the film. Veronica rarely smiles when she’s on screen. The one time she does, it looks like it takes all the strength she has. Davis is a warrior and a leader as Veronica. She isn’t always the most likable character, but her motivations are understandable. She is under the gun, literally, and has a plan in place to get Manning his money. She can’t waste time with weakness, mistakes and stupidity. Despite her own inexperience as a thief, Veronica must put on a brave face. In quiet times alone in her home, Veronica can barely get out of bed, but somehow finds the strength to lead her crew. While this may not be the kind of film that gets Oscar recognition, Davis deserves serious consideration for best actress.

The rest of the supporting cast is excellent. A standout is Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning, the brother and bloodthirsty enforcer for Jamal Manning. He has a crazy look in his eye all the time. He gets in people’s faces to intimidate them and is quick to pull the trigger. Kaluuya doesn’t have many lines in the film, but his character doesn’t need many to get his point across. A simple wave, smile and wink have the opposite of those gestures usual meanings when Kaluuya’s character uses them. He’s a bully but can also back up his threats by carrying them out. You may have loved his character in “Get Out,” but you won’t be a big fan of Jatemme Manning in “Widows.”

The story of “Widows” doesn’t stick to one topic. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker that might have been a problem; however, Steve McQueen handles the various topics in the film with an even hand and laser focus. While the heist planning and execution is the focus, the story veers into politics and the corruption Chicago is famous for. The family dynasty at risk, the kickbacks, the payoffs, the quid pro quo, all is on display in the film. Embedded in the corruption is racism and misogyny. Davis delivers a line about no one believing the women have the balls to pull off the job and she’s right. Mulligan uses a group of women business owners as a prop during a campaign appearance but doesn’t let them speak. Mulligan has a female assistant that is frequently referred to in derogatory terms or ogled like a piece of meat. A couple of the wives are used and abused by their husbands. One of the wives becomes an escort to make ends meet. While her client appears to be a decent guy that can afford to pay for her company, he winds up treating her more as an employee than a partner. It’s a movie with many messages and most of them are powerful men suck.

“Widows” is rated R for some sexual content/nudity, language throughout and violence. There is a brief sex scene that shows a man’s bare backside and a woman’s breasts. There are some bloody shootings and a scene where stabbing is used as torture. There is also a scene showing the aftermath of domestic abuse. A mother slaps her adult daughter. Foul language is common.

“Widows” doesn’t waste time trying to convince us anyone in the film is a good guy or a bad guy. The real villains wear suits and the women commit a crime to save their lives. There is no black and white in “Widows” only varying shades of grey. It’s a tense film with the looming dread of death hanging over all the characters. Who lives and dies is always in doubt. While you may question whether a group of inexperienced people could pull off such a complicated robbery, you will be thrilled by all the planning, details and the execution. It’s a fantastic film and you should see it.

“Widows” gets five stars.

The holiday weekend sees most releases opening on Wednesday. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Creed 2—

Green Book—

Ralph Breaks the Internet—

Robin Hood—

The Front Runner—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest news in TV, movies and streaming available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Black Panther”

The latest Black Panther and newly crowned king of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), is faced with a challenge right after taking the throne: The ruthless arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) is meeting a buyer in an underground casino in South Korea with a Wakandan artifact made from vibranium. T’Challa’s best friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) urges him to capture Klaue and bring him back to Wakanda to face trial for his crimes including W’Kabi’s parents’ murder. T’Challa, his former lover and Wakandan spy Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and head of the all-female bodyguards for Wakandan kings known as the Dora Milaje, Okoye (Danai Gurira) go to South Korea in an effort to capture Klaue. There they discover the buyer of the artifact is CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). After a violent car chase through the streets of Busan, Klaue is finally captured; however, not long after he is broken out of agent Ross’ custody by Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan). During his time serving with US Special Forces he picked up the nickname Killmonger due to the ease and efficiency with which he took enemy lives. There is a connection between T’Challa and Killmonger that could upset the peace and security of Wakanda and the rest of the world.

The pressure on writer and director Ryan Coogler to make a great “Black Panther” movie must have been intense. Not only is this the biggest budget film of his career, it also is the first superhero film to feature a lead character (and most of the cast) that is a person of color. “Black Panther” also has the added burden of being part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) where audiences expect the movies to not only be good but fit in with the rest of the continuity established by the 17 previous films. It is a responsibility that must have kept Coogler up at night. All that lost sleep and stress was worth it as “Black Panther” is a great addition to the MCU. It also gives a level of legitimacy to a film genre that is often looked at as being of lesser importance when compared to dramas that usually don’t involve super powered people.

The world of “Black Panther” is one of the best and most fully developed of all the MCU. The film provides a quick history of the mythical African nation of Wakanda before showing us why and how the rest of the world is unaware of the technological marvels the country has produced. The reason for the secrecy is to protect Wakanda’s people from those that would try to invade the country and steal its natural resources, namely the magical metal called vibranium. There’s a scene in the film that supports the idea of foreigners taking from other cultures what doesn’t belong to them. The Wakandan city that is shown is a mixture of modern structures with natural elements incorporated within them. There are also people that live outside the city in a natural setting in homes made from the surrounding elements. The scenic design of Wakanda is a nice mixture of slick modern buildings and modest homes along with a high-tech mining operation that appears to be mostly automated. There is obviously a great deal of care taken to give the fictional country a fantastic but believable appearance.

“Black Panther” also finds the right mix of drama and humor. The interplay between characters never feels forced. While we are told these characters have known each other for years, it actually seems they have. There is an ease to the interactions between T’Challa and his sister, the technical genius Shuri (Leticia Wright). It’s playfulness with a tinge of competitiveness that often comes out in gentle teasing and the occasional obscene gesture. Danai Gurira’s Okoye and T’Challa have a friendly but professional relationship that feels rooted in deep respect. Okoye is a proud warrior and willing to lay down her life to protect the King. There’s a fierceness to Gurira’s performance that makes her electric to watch. Lupita Nyong’o’s Nakia has a deep emotional connection to T’Challa despite their love affair having ended. She also has a commitment to fight injustice no matter where that may be found and believes Wakanda should do more to fight for freedom of the oppressed.

Fighting oppression is a theme that runs through “Black Panther” and is part of the conflict between T’Challa and Killmonger. What method to take is the main issue. I believe this, along with the groundbreaking nature of the film, is why it is so strongly resonating with audiences across racial and economic lines. The crowd in the showing I watched was incredibly diverse in terms of color and age. I’ve never seen more elderly people at a movie and certainly never at a superhero film. Families of various ethnicities were sitting together and enjoying the film. It was an amazing sight. I hope the success of the film will help diminish the idea that movies featuring primarily people of color don’t make money at the box office. It doesn’t hurt that “Black Panther” is part of the massive MCU; however, the wide age range of the audience shows if the movie is seen as treating its audience with respect and honesty, a broad cross-section of people will come to see it.

Clearly I loved the movie but there is one complaint I have regarding Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue: He wasn’t used enough. This is the second MCU film he’s been a part of, the first being “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” In “Black Panther” Serkis has been let off the leash. Klaue is a maniac with little to no fear when face to face with T’Challa as Black Panther. He’s a whirling dervish of evil and one-liners. His personality is much more upbeat and he clearly enjoys being a bad guy. Serkis is of course best known for his motion capture work as Caesar in the recent “Planet of the Apes” trilogy, Gollum in “The Lord of the Rings” and as Supreme Leader Snoke in the last two “Star Wars” movies. His use in the MCU has been brief and unsatisfying until the out-of-control Klaue was set loose to create havoc. That said, we need more Klaue and it seems unlikely we’re going to get him. Without spoiling anything it appears, short of some kind of special Wakandan magic that Klaue is not coming back for any more appearances. This makes me more than a little sad. I’m sure Serkis who recently released his first directorial effort called “Breathe” and is putting the finishing touches on his take of The Jungle Book called “Mowgli” to be released later this year has plenty on his plate to keep him busy; but I will miss him chewing the scenery as Klaue.

“Black Panther” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence and a brief rude gesture. There is a car chase where several vehicles are destroyed. We see a couple of people get shot. A couple of flying vehicles are blown up. Black Panther and Killmonger engage in hand-to-hand combat on a couple of occasions. T’Challa also fights another person in ritual combat to take the throne. He is stabbed a couple of times and gets thrown off a very high waterfall. Another character is stabbed in the chest. The rude gesture is a middle finger raised. Foul language is scattered and mild.

The stakes are raised in “Black Panther” in a way that feels more honest and satisfying than in other MCU films. While the safety and security of the world are at stake as in most MCU films this time it seems far more important and real. Perhaps the real oppression of ethnic and religious minorities in the US and around the world make this story hit home a bit more realistically. Whatever the reason, “Black Panther” has raised the bar for the superhero genre and for film in general. It’s time to open our eyes to movies from and about people of color the same way we do with films from and about people that look like me.

“Black Panther” gets five stars.

This week there are three new films coming to a multiplex near you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Annihilation—

Every Day—

Game Night—

Listen to The Fractured Frame where ever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Get Out”

Chris Washington and Rose Armitage (Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams) are a young couple in love.  They are headed to a weekend away with her parents Dr. Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon, and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener), psychiatrist, at their secluded home deep in the countryside.  Before leaving, Chris was concerned about how Rose’s parents would react to him being black; but the couple greets him with open arms while Mr. Armitage is trying too hard to make Chris feel welcome.  Chris meets Georgina and Walter (Betty Gabriel and Marcus Henderson), the housekeeper and groundskeeper respectively, and notices the pair act a bit odd in a way that could be considered hostile.  Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) arrives home from medical school, gets drunk, and behaves somewhat aggressively towards Chris.  Missy does hypnotherapy and offers to place Chris under hypnosis to help him quit smoking.  Chris declines but Missy does it anyway, making Chris relive the night his mother died in a hit and run accident when he was 11.  This is the weekend of the annual family garden party with numerous guests expected to arrive.  One of those guests is Andrew Logan King (LaKeith Stanfield) who is also black.  When Chris approaches him, King also behaves oddly.  Chris attempts to secretly take a cell phone picture but the flash goes off.  King attacks Chris and has to be restrained by several guests.  Chris sends the photo to his friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent, and he recognizes the man as someone that has been reported missing for six months.  Chris tells Rose they have to leave but the Armitage family has other plans.

 

“Get Out” is the first feature directed by Jordan Peele, best known as half the comedy team of Key and Peele.  Should the film be successful (and early indications are it will be), comedy’s loss will be moviegoer’s gain as this first outing is about as good a thriller and social commentary you can get and Jordan Peele will likely be directing many more movies.

 

Part of what makes “Get Out” extra creepy is the normalcy of most of what happens.  A young couple of mixed race, the man meeting his girlfriend’s parents for the first time, the clash of cultures that is desperately being played down as much as possible, the awkward efforts to make the outsider feel comfortable, all of it is given this added veneer of effort and “everything is going to be alright” that screams to the audience that it won’t be close to alright.  These small touches I believe are what built up the dread in me as the events unfolded.

 

The film is filled with great performances from the entire cast.  Daniel Kaluuya shines as Chris.  You can see his desire to run away during every second of his time at the Armitage house.  He sticks out like a sore thumb during the garden party and feels like an animal in a zoo being looked over and appraised.  He can feel it but he brushes it off as his just feeling uncomfortable around a bunch of white people.  Kaluuya is a very talented young actor with an impressive list of credits on British TV as well as films and theatre.  If you have Netflix, check out his lead role in the episode of “Black Mirror” called “Fifteen Million Merits.”  His portrayal of Chris will likely have him doing even more work in movies in the US.

 

While the role of Chris’ friend Rod is small, Lil Rel Howery makes the most of his screen time.  Howery provides most of the comic relief in the film and it is all perfectly timed to relieve tension and prepare us for the next horror that is to come.  Howery is a stand-up comic with a special on Netflix and now perhaps a new career playing the funny best friend in movies.  Director Jordan Peele allows Howery to take over a scene and flex his comedy muscles while also making his character a TSA agent, something that already is the subject of more than a few jokes.  Howery is a joy to watch and he makes his brief appearances memorable.

 

While I don’t want to give too much information about what’s really happening in the story that makes it a thriller/horror film, I do want to complement the way the scarier aspects of the story are structured and introduced.  Not until late in the film do we gain a full understanding of what’s happening and when we do it hits with enormous emotional force.  Throughout the film we see the seeds of the plot being sown but don’t understand what’s going on right before our eyes.  When we finally have all the pieces of the puzzle, the reveal is especially satisfying in its twisted nature.  Most horror/suspense films show you the boogeyman, or reveal its existence, early on.  “Get Out” keeps its cards very close to its chest and only shows them when the time is perfect.  It’s a terrifically structured story and mystery written by Peele.

 

“Get Out” is rated R for language, bloody images, sexual references and violence.  The bloody images and violence is largely saved for the last 30 minutes or so of the movie.  During that time there are some fights, weapons used, parts of a surgical procedure are shown, there’s a bloody stabbing, a person hit by a car and some shootings.  The sexual references are very mild.  Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

 

“Get Out” is not just about thrills as it also makes a commentary about race and class in America.  When confronted with the fact their daughter is dating a black man, the parents try extra hard to show they have no problem with him.  Dad even takes Chris aside for a tour of the house and says he’d have voted for Obama a third time; but we all know this merely a smoke screen for his true feelings just as many whites profess their lack of racism despite incidents of racial hate being on the rise.  Some put on a happy and non-judgmental face to those of a different race then continue to judge and stereotype them behind their backs.  The movie puts a twist on that two-faced behavior that is more immediately dangerous but no less deadly.  It also does so without diminishing how tense and entertaining the film is.

 

“Get Out” gets five stars.

 

There are three new films coming out this week.  I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

 

Before I Fall—

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rgEzpE93so

 

Logan—

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RH3OxVFvTeg

 

The Shack—

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExPfhBQ6ps4

 

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.