Some great, thought-provoking work and a dud (except for John Wick fans!).
Queen and Slim
103 minutes, 2019
Tables turned; same result
Matsoukas’ first feature is a remarkable achievement, tackling a host of racial/law “enforcement” issues from a singular point of view. Writers Lena Waithe and James Frey have fashioned a cautionary tale for the ages: What would happen if a black couple were pulled over by a bigoted white cop for swerving on the road only to have tensions rise causing the woman to be shot in the leg and her first-date beau manage to defend his new love by killing the bully with a badge?
From there, it’s a road/escape movie (Cuba via New Orleans being the plan) that aptly demonstrates the great divide in much of the South (and elsewhere, let’s face it). Turning themselves in is not an option: no jury would believe the “self-defence” explanation: black people cannot get away with killing an officer of the law—especially a Caucasian! And so the hunt is on for the “killers” who must be brought to justice (the film’s biggest irony). But once the video-captured scene of the confrontation goes viral, the on-the-run pair are seen as heroes to be protected by many along the journey (black and white).
The action is nonstop, with all sorts of calamities and close shaves along the way. The plot suffers a tad from far too convenient situations (both lose their wallets = cashless, now what? Slim fails to notice that he’s run out of gas…literally).
Playing Queen, Jodie Turner-Smith turns in an impressive performance as the “brains” of the duo. Daniel Kaluuya also fires on all cylinders as Slim, readily convincing as one who puts family first, with a close second to God (several images reinforce this, from a licence plate to discreet crosses).
All concerned have the courage to let the film end as it must, but with the hope that its message will give other “bullies with badges” pause: for what if every threatened black citizen defended themselves? JWR
Portrait of a Girl on Fire
122 minutes, 2019
Artists of all stripes will savour this tale of a paid-by-the-picture freelancer (Noémie Merlant firing on all palettes) being commissioned to capture the portrait of a nun (stoically then lovingly rendered by Adèle Haenel) who must leave her vows in order to marry a Milanese man after her elder sister had the audacity to jump off the cliff when faced with a similar predicament.
The writing (also by Sciamma) is fairly obvious, but the burgeoning love affair (forever doomed in those days) by the subject and painter is played out with style, depth and Vivaldi.
The subplot tale of servant Sophie’s (Launa Barjami dutifully subservient) needing an abortion adds further fuel to the “What now?” fire.
Claire Mathon’s varied-shot cinematography coupled with Julien Lacheray’s editing prowess are the cinematic icing on this narrative cake.
The final scenes speak louder than words about just why the “love that dare not speak its name” saddened/devastated so many lives. If only a few brush strokes could make the world a better place. JWR
109 minutes, 2019
In out current era of “social distancing,” it is intriguing to wonder if sexual predators like Roger Ailes (czar of Fox News) would have gotten away with sex-for-jobs “contracts” until he was #MeToo snuffed out in 2016. No one misses the pompous ass.
Charlize Theron knocks one out of the park playing distressed-anchor Megyn Kelly; Nicole Kidman is entirely believable as the distressed-confused Gretchen Carlson; Margot Robbie excels in every scene portraying Kayla Pospisil. But the real star of this sad-to-watch show is John Lithgow’s totally believable rendering of man-without-a-conscience, Ailes.
Surely, we are all done with that sort of sexual exploitation! (But until COVID-19 subsides, as human nature can’t seem to help itself…) JWR
John Wick - Chapitre 3 - Parabellum
131 minutes, 2019
A buffet of death
Without self-isolation, this film would likely never have come to the front of the line on JWR. But what’s a former kick boxer/stunt performer to do (Stahelski) when at the helm of the third episode in this deadly series?
Keanu Reeves mightily increases his body count as John Wick. Halle Berry is cold as ice and deathly calculating (along with her magnificent dogs) playing Sofia. Ian McShane is a well-mannered concierge/killer as Winston, while Laurence Fishburne plays the Bowery King with wry/rye humour. Asia Kate Dillon shines coolly as The Adjudicator.
Apart from the dozens upon dozens of professional thugs who can’t shoot straight (or Chapitre 4 would not be possible), the real victim of the film is Vivaldi, whose “Winter” from The Seasons accompanies one of the extended sequences of carnage.
Still, $327 million box office (and rising when COVID-19 ends) pretty much guarantees another trip to the party of unbelievable storylines drenched with a tsunami of special effects, copious killings and predictable betrayals.
Rock on, and remember the Parabellum mantra: “If you want peace, prepare for war!” JWR