GUILLERMO DEL TORO'S CABINET OF CURIOSITIES -- Del Toro Does It Again With This Crazy, Weird Assortment of Stories
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Guillermo Del Toro is a filmmaker who likes to create weird and out-of-the-ordinary types of characters and stories. His early work --Chronos, The Devil's Backbone, and Pan's Labyrinth — are prime examples of this style. His last film Nightmare Alley, was a little more straightforward, though. He gets back to the weird and out-of-the-ordinary stories and characters with the help of some relatively known directors, actors, and writers who have a similar sense of taste in storytelling as Del Toro does in Cabinet of Curiosities.
Cabinet of Curiosities is an anthology series produced and hosted by Guillermo Del Toro. It features eight episodes from various directors, each with a distinct eye for the macabre, including Ana Lily Amirpour, Jennifer Kent, and Cathrine Hardwicke. They all happen to be female directors. This series is similar to The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents, albeit to another level. It is a bloody, gruesome show that goes beyond the boundaries of what can be seen on television or, in this case, streaming.
The best episode of the series is "The Murmuring," about a couple of bird watchers, Edgar and his wife (Andrew Lincoln, Essie Davis). They go to a secluded island to study birds but get more than they bargained for involving the previous residents of a house they are staying at on the island. This is episode eight, and I thought the direction by Jennifer Kent and the look and feel of the episode was good. The story is based on an original concept by Guillermo Del Toro and has some nice suspenseful moments.
"Dreams in the Witch House" has many moving parts, but like "The Murmuring," it has an underlying story that keeps the viewer in suspense. This one has some cool visual effects and creepy cinematography. Catherine Hardwick kept the story by Mika Watkins, based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, moving nicely. There weren't a lot of slow moments. The acting by all, including Rupert Grint (the Harry Potter franchise) and Ismael Cruz Cordova (The Rings of Power), was very good.
And "The Outside," directed by Ana Lily Amirpour and starring Kate Micucci, Martin Starr, and Dan Stevens, was a very interesting episode. It really uncovered a thing in this country and the world that has been going on for a while: how beauty is only skin deep, but people, especially women, are so concerned by it.
The worst of the eight episodes was "The Viewing," directed by Panos Cosmatos, not because of the episode's look but how it ended. It started interesting, the setting was beautiful and fascinating, and the cast was very good, but the ending wasn't there. Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart Ahn just dropped the ball on the ending of this episode.
Another episode with a bad ending was "Graveyard Rats," directed by Vincenzo Natali. The main character, played by David Hewlett, was engaging, and his plight was interesting to follow along with. The claustrophobia was pretty scary at times, and the rats were a bit creepy. It just didn't feel like it ended right.
"Lot 36," directed by Guillermo Navarro and starring Tim Blake Nelson, isn't anything special. I liked the performance by Nelson as this shady storage lot dealer and treasure hunter. I always like seeing him in films and television shows. It has some cool visual effects and a fascinating story based on a short story by Henry Kuttner.
Another episode called The Autopsy was bizarre, but it starred Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham. It's a pleasant surprise to see him in things these days. He's not in a lot of films or television shows anymore. The direction by David Prior was a bit disjointed, though. I just couldn't get a good feel for this episode.
"Pickman's Model" was one as I was watching it I had high hopes for. The cast, including Ben Barnes and Chrispin Glover, was pretty good in it, but the idea behind the story was the real aspect I liked. The director Keith Thomas, adapting another H.P. Lovecraft short story, did a good job showing the creepiness of the world he was setting up. It just didn't come all the way home for me.
Guillermo Del Toro has created a great series of creepy, weird tales of suspense and terror. He has assembled a great group of directors with unique storytelling styles. The cast in the episodes was very good as well. Actors like Nelson, Abraham, and Kate Micucci did an excellent job in their various episodes. This series captured the feel of classic shows like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents but added in Del Toro's signature flare for the dramatic and odd spine-tingling terror he is known for. These creators channeled him and his ideas of what is scary and creepy. The audience watching should be afraid while viewing these episodes. It is one of the best things I've seen this Halloween season.
Guillermo Del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities streams on Netflix beginning October 25, with new episodes airing daily through October 28.
THE RETURN OF TANYA TUCKER: FEATURING BRANDI CARLILE -- An All-Access Peek at the Life of a Flawed but Talented Woman
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Tanya Tucker was nine years old when she started singing at various events in Texas and Arizona. She was eleven when she officially got her first contract. Her father was never too far behind. He was always there to help her when she needed his advice and comfort. She is considered one of the old-time stars of country music, but when her father and mother passed, she didn't have it in her to sing — even when she was poked and prodded by some of the greats in the industry to get back on the road. The Return of Tanya Tucker: Featuring Brandi Carlile is about her journey after almost twenty years away from the business.
Brandi Carlile is a singer-songwriter in her own right. She convinces Tanya to come out of retirement to make a new album with her. This movie depicts how they made this album, produced the songs, and what transpired after the record was finished. All the while, Tanya is still struggling with her past drug abuse and dealing with various personal problems. Being in the industry for fifty years didn't necessarily make her welcome back after all her marital problems with Glen Campbell and everything being put in the tabloids for the world to see.
Like many singers and entertainers, Tanya struggled with substance abuse in no part to her husband, country music legend Glen Campbell. They were twenty-something years different in age. Due to these issues, she stepped away from Nashville and The Grand Ole Opry, where she made her name in the country music industry. After seventeen years, she came back with new energy and a vim and vigor of a young person half her age. She is sixty, though, so the years have made her a bit tired from time to time. Carlisle and company have to live with that while making this new album.
This film uses various techniques to tell Tanya Tucker's story. First and foremost is the album's production, new songs, and so forth, with a lot of talking heads and sitting around and talking about the arrangement of the songs on the album. The second part is archival footage of her as a child with her family or performing at various venues and her life with her husband, Glen Campbell. The third is after the album is finished, and she has to see what her life brings next, whether it's awards for the album, singing at tribute concerts for her friend Loretta Lynn, or just taking in this newfound success. She had to move forward with her life, and she did that.
All good documentaries have to draw the viewer into what is being depicted on screen, and this one uses Tanya Tucker's story and her music. Songs like "Delta Dawn," "Texas, Love Me Like You Used To," or her newest hit off the record they are making in the documentary Bring My Flowers Now can express her story. They get to the heart of this woman's life like no other way can. She is a storyteller in her songs — a rare gift for singers. Country singers have it more than others do, though. Even though I am not the biggest fan of country music, I was drawn to her story.
The Return of Tanya Tucker brings new and old audiences into the life of this woman who has struggled with her own demons. From relationships to substance abuse and poverty at a young age, she has experienced a lot of heartaches. She used these moments to bring the audience into her life via her songs. This documentary shows a different side to her where people can see into her life and process. That process helped bring her back to a place where people could express their love for her. Music is an expressive medium, and what you give as an artist can be returned tenfold by the fans and people buying albums and going to concerts. That's the ultimate show of respect. This film does a great job of showing all sides of this flawed but talented woman.
The Return of Tanya Tucker: Featuring Brandi Carlile is now playing in theaters.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
America hasn't been around as long as other countries in the world, but in its time as an established country, it has a long history. Human slavery has been documented, especially how these men and women got over to this country, but the history books are a bit murky on some of these events. Descendant documents one such event in the history of slavery and forced migration involving Timothy Meaher and the Clotilde sailing to Mobile, Alabama, and eventually burning the evidence in the river.
Descendant deals with the people still alive related to those on that boat captained by Bill Foster. It deals with who owns the property and land around the area called Africatown, once known as Plateau and Magazine. How does this all play into the reparations of what happened to the people? And what, as descendants, do these families deserve? These are huge questions once this ship is found.
Human decency is something everyone deserves, especially those who have been persecuted, like these people who were illegally transported from their homes in Africa to the United States. This journey caused a movement in this country that caused one of the worst instances of human trafficking in the history of the world. When you think of it, it's just a tragic event, along with many others, that caused a bad time in our country's history for many people.
This documentary has several talking heads, including some of the descendants of the surviving members of this boat trip to America: Lorna Woods, Emmett Lewis, Jocelyn Davis, and Zora Neal Thurston, the first Black Filmmaker in America. The main descendant, Cudjoe Lewis, survived and passed on this story to his relatives, which is how this story persevered in this community and the state of Alabama.
The documentary goes into a few other things besides the ship for slaves, though. It goes into land rights and ownership of property, how these people who still live in Mobile deserve to be honored, and environmental issues that continue to this very day to be a problem in the community. Once again a disrespect to the descendants.
Documentaries should inform and educate, and Descendant does just that. As someone who wasn't familiar with this story before, I was completely enamored by it and glued to the screen as these people were explaining this whole situation and how this community was affected by this one boat trip. These people suffered a lot for their history and deserve this opportunity to see their story depicted in this fashion. It's a tribute to their ancestors and a very good film on top of that.
Descendant is now streaming on Netflix.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
The Fall season brings Halloween, and with Halloween comes all kinds of horror films. Grimcutty takes a different spin on what people consider horror, similar to the new to-be horror classic Smile, which is in cinemas now.
Grimcutty plays off of parents' fears regarding the safety of their children and themselves. A mommy blogger comes up with the idea to take away electronic devices from her children to prevent anything bad from happening to them or their children after a bad encounter with her own children where they see a demon. This demon is the embodiment of their fear.
Asha (Sara Wolfkind) is your average high school teenager, hanging out with her friends and texting them at home. Her brother isn't much different than her. He is pretty normal as well. He plays video games on his computer and hangs out in his room doing stuff kids do. When fear of children who start cutting themselves starts getting around their parents (Shannyn Sossaman, Usman Ally), they start to take precautions. They take all the electronic devices from their children, but this doesn't go over well with their daughter.
If we know anything about technology, we know not having it at our disposal is rough. It's called FOMO: the fear of missing out. We can't stand not knowing what's going on in our lives via social media. I, for one, wouldn't know what to do without my phone and laptop, that's for sure.
The writer/director John Ross does a great job creating an atmosphere where missing our technology creates a real sense of loss. Teens are glued to their phones, so not having them at their disposal is generally a frightening proposition. The whole idea behind this film relies on this fear. And to some extent, it works. This idea isn't fun to think about. Throw in horror tropes, and you have a decent film with an interesting premise.
The cast, including the teens, all do a good job in this movie. They play along with this idea terrifically. This film could have gone down a campy road with a creature chasing after them, but it has a realistic approach with some genuine scares. The mix of different types of horror films plays into the characters' performances very nicely. I would be concerned if I had kids and there was a so-called killer on the loose, even if it were psychological.
Grimcutty proves the fear of losing our phones and computers is real, even though it takes a fantastical way of depicting it in the film. The psychological nature mixed with the killer aspect was a nice mixture of horror tropes. The actors played along very well in their performances. They could have phoned them in, but they didn't. They took the material seriously, and it showed in the end result. The director captured the right feel for this genre, and as a Hulu movie around Halloween, it'll work to scare kids and adults alike.
Grimcutty is now streaming on Hulu.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver have been established actors for decades now. Lately, they have been taking it easy or resting on their laurels, if you will. They haven't been in as many noticeable film and television projects as they had before. The days of the Alien franchise and Dave have gone by the wayside. That all changes with the new dramedy The Good House.
Hildy Good (Sigourney Weaver) is an aging real estate agent in Wendover, Massachusetts. It was primarily known as a fishing and claiming village before the upper middle class turned it into a well-to-do area on Boston's North Shore. The real estate industry is sparse, but the town is a small, tight-knit community where everybody knows everybody. Weaver's character falls back on a relationship she once had when she was younger with a local businessman Frank Getchell (Kevin Kline). There is more to this sleepy little town than meets the eye.
This film uses one particular filmmaking technique that has been used in comic books but not as much in movies, breaking the fourth wall. Weaver's character pretty much does this from the beginning of the film to the end. It's used like a crutch to explain significant aspects of the film, such as an alcoholism subplot, but she also uses it to talk about other characters.
This film is based on a book of the same name by Ann Leary. The screenplay by Thomas Bezucha, Maya Forbes, and Wallace Wolodarsky beats the alcoholism story to death. Weaver's character has had issues with this disease her entire life, but the filmmakers and writers make it out to be the end-all-be-all of her life. A few blackout scenes and an intervention make it seem worse than it actually is. The things she has to deal with in her life make it seem like a crutch for her, but it's more like a way for her to relax and take the edge off.
The actors try to talk with a Boston accent. At first, it comes across as jarring and comedic but eventually, I felt comfortable with it. The area the movie is filmed in is beautiful, especially during the fall months. The story spans quite a bit of time. Subplots involving a local artist (Morena Baccarin) and a psychiatrist (Rob Delaney) were interesting. A second about a conniving ex-real estate agent was the glue that held the movie together. It needed them.
The Good House is your typical dramedy. It has a few subplots that drive the narrative forward but struggles with the central theme for its characters. The alcoholism plot thread and breaking the fourth wall didn't seem to work for me. They seemed forced into the film, and I'm sure this wasn't supposed to be the case. Having not read the book, I don't know if these were meant to be depicted differently or not. They just didn't work very well. This movie wanted to give a message about alcoholism; instead, it just lost its way trying to tell its story.
The Good House is now playing in theaters.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Hocus Pocus 2 is the sequel to the 1993 cult classic Hocus Pocus, starring Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimi as the Sanderson Sisters. They disintegrated at the end of the last film. This film picks up in Selem when they were children, but it mainly focuses on three young ladies in modern-day Salem, Massachusetts. They had to find a way to bring these sisters back for the sequel, or there wouldn't be a second film.
Becca (Whitney Peak), Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), and Cassie (Lila Buckingham) are three typical high schoolers in Salem. They get picked on, and they're a bit odd, like teen girls can be. However, the history of the Sanderson Sisters and witches, in general, hangs over the head of this community. Inadvertently they bring the sisters back to life, who get up to their same old tricks again.
Once the sisters come back to life, the comedy and singing and dancing ensue. The three actresses take this opportunity of returning to flex their comedic chops in various scenes. They go to Walgreens, start drinking cleaning fluids, and get into things they shouldn't. Rather than brooms, a couple of the sisters use a Swiffer and Roomba to travel. This is part of the oddball comedy the film chooses to go with.
With the comedy also comes two inexplicable singing/dance numbers where the sisters sing "The Witch is Back," a take on "The Bitch is Back," and another big number. This isn't new, though, because they did "We Put a Spell on You" in the previous film. This is the type of thing this film is going for. It's not trying to be serious in any way. It's going with the campy absurd route, and that's what audiences can expect from this film. It's not going to be for everybody, but fans of the original might like it.
This sequel has a familiar cast of returning characters, but it also has a few new characters with notable actors portraying them. Tony Hale does double duty as a town mayor way back in the 1700s Salem carrying his pitchfork and a newer version of a similar role in modern-day Salem. Hannah Waddingham (Ted Lasso) plays a Mother Witch, the mentor figure for the Sanderson Sisters. Sam Richardson plays Gilbert, an archivist of the town and sisters.
This movie doubles down on the previous film from 1993, but this story doesn't necessarily resonate with a modern-day audience. It just comes off as campy and weird. I couldn't imagine adults actually enjoying this film in the least. The music numbers might entertain children or teens, which is why the film was put on Disney+ instead of being released in theaters like the original.
One redeeming element this film has is the director's recruitment of a good cinematographer, Elliot Davis. The movie looks really good, and some of the visual effects look quite nice. The technical aspects of the film show some potential for the director, Anne Fletcher. That's about all the positive feedback I can give for this movie sequel with awful acting and a terrible script for them to work off.
Hocus Pocus 2 is another prime example of why sequels, prequels, and reboots aren't always the best way to make films. Sure, there is a nostalgia factor where the teen girls who grew up with this film back in the day are probably mothers and aunts and maybe grandmothers, so they want to share this film with their young children, nieces, and grandchildren. I'm here to say it wasn't scary at all. There just wasn't a need to do this film. It doesn't say anything new or does anything to advance this franchise in any way. It's just another excuse to make a film and give paydays to actresses who don't need it. This is not a good film in the least, no matter who the target audience is.
Hocus Pocus 2 streams on Disney+ beginning September 30.
ON THE COME UP -- A Realistic Portrayal of Inner City Life From the Point of a 16-Year-Old Aspiring Rapper
Review by Dan Skip Allen
On the Come Up is the second film that adapts one of Angie Thomas's young adult novels, the other being The Hate You Give, starring Amandla Stenberg, at the time, an up-and-coming actress. This film also stars a new young actress Jamilia Gray as Bri or "Lil Law," a young 16-year-old girl involved in rap battles. She dreams of becoming a rapper and getting her family and herself out of Garden Heights, also the fictional urban setting for The Hate U Give.
Gray's character of Bri, or as she's also affectionately known sometimes as "The Garden Princess," is an aspiring rapper like her father "Lawless." She goes to weekly rap battles to try and make money and a name for herself. When she battles a popular boy Mylez and wins, she gets noticed by his father, "Supreme" (Method Man). Her mother (Sanaa Lathan, also the director) and her handler Boo (Divine Joy Randolph) don't think this is a good idea. But she does it anyway and goes with him to the ATL along with her high school friends Sonny (Miles Gutierrez), Malick (Michael Cooper Jr.), and Mylez.
This film is similar to The Hate U Give in the sense that it deals with a subject matter that is a hot-button topic in society. People target young African Americans and Latinos because of their skin color and the type of music they listen to or perform. The main character's involvement in rap music literally puts a target on her, her family, and her manager. This is the only way she knows how to make a better life for herself and her family. However, it causes unforeseen issues involving her school and the community at large.
The rap community has created some very powerful female artists like Nikki Manage, Cardi B, and Mary J Blige. These women represent a subsection of America that isn't heard from and is persecuted. Gray's character was trying to make a few bucks for her struggling family, which caused her to be targeted by the security at her school. Her life is what she uses to create her art, and also narrate this story, which is an interesting addition to the film. Hearing her words come out of her head as rhymes is a pretty cool way to show how she thinks.
I'm the last person that should be writing about rap music and how it has a message for a community who are underrepresented. It is a way to tell their stories, but it also has consequences for those who don't choose to use this kind of music to tell their stories. They are the ones that get caught in the crosshairs by the gangs that use this music as their anthem. There is just too much collateral damage when you write these violent lyrics. There has to be another way to get their message out to the public where people aren't getting killed by police or by rival gangs.
The characters in the film are indicative of the world the film tries to create. They aren't over the top or exaggerated in any way or shape. They represent this fictional community to a tee, from the high school kids to the people involved in the rap battles to all the gang-related people. There isn't one story in this film that is intellectually wrong in my eyes. The filmmakers and writers get this story right from point A to Z. Teens and adults alike from this community the film depicts will resonate with this material. That is the ultimate win for this film, its cast, director, writers, and those that get to see it.
On the Come Up hits theaters and Paramount+ on September 23.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Star Wars films and television shows were usually contained to the Skywalker Saga before Disney bought Lucasfilm and vowed to do stand-alone movies set in different eras a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. One of those films was Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, set directly before A New Hope, starring Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. The film was such a big hit with fans and critics alike. So Disney/Lucasfilm decided to spin Andor off into his own series. Andor has finally arrived, and it's worth the wait.
When we pick up Andor five years before the tragic events in Rogue One, he is trying to sell a piece of Empire Tech. He enlists the help of a woman he knows, Bix Caleen (Adria Arjona), to help him facilitate the deal with a contact of hers who deals in black market goods, Luthen Rael (Stellan Skarsgard). He has a different agenda for Cassian — one that has him making a decision he may regret for the rest of his life. He can decide to be a common run-of-the-mill thief or a member of something bigger than he can probably perceive.
Andor might be the best show that Lucasfilm has released on Disney+ yet. I know that might be blasphemy to some die-hard Star Wars enthusiasts, especially since they've released two seasons of The Mandalorian with a third on the way and Obi-Wan Kenobi. But Andor is such a gritty, dirty, grounded look at this world. It's about time that Lucasfilm has finally delved deeper into the seedier side of the Star Wars Universe. We have seen glimpses of this in the original trilogy and the Boba Fett show, also on Disney+, but nothing to this extent. This is the Star Wars I've been waiting for since I saw The Empire Strikes Back as a kid.
Tony Gilroy, who took over for Gareth Edwards midway through production on Rogue One, has returned to showrun this new production of Andor. He has grounded this series in a way that makes it authentic and raw as no other Star Wars project has been before. The main planet the series starts on has a workman life feel to it. All the supporting characters are like normal people going through their lives in the central city. They get up in the morning and work in factories, scrap yards, or whatever it may be. Andor travels through this world unbeknownst that even though he has friends, he also has enemies, and they are closing in on him.
This show has some of the best production design of any show I've seen all year, let alone the Star Wars projects. Setting this series in a normal world makes sense, especially when the show goes to other more familiar settings like Scarif and Coruscant, the Capital City World of the Galaxy. The show transitions from one grounded working world to two other planets where things are different: one where everything is big and industrialized, and the other is rural and more normalized. Both play an essential part in the series going forward. The show has a lot of characters to go along with all the different sets and locations. That makes it one of the more vast series there have been thus far from Lucasfilm and Disney. It's a sprawling adventure with intrigue around every corner.
Diego Luna is fantastic as this character in Rogue One, but in this series, he is still learning the ropes and who he can trust. Leaving friends behind isn't easy for him, but finding new ones like Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly) will help determine where he goes from the beginning of the show. Like all the Star Wars films and shows, the Empire plays a huge part in determining the outcome. Andor has some nasty characters that make up the antagonists: a Corps Policeman called Syril (Kyle Soller), and Dedra Meero (Denise Gough) are a couple of pieces of work that are a nasty thorn in Cassian Andor's side. There is also a droid that is pretty cool called B2EMO, voiced by David Chapman. It's hard to keep up with all the moving parts of the show, but it's fun to follow along with nonetheless.
When I first started watching Andor, I was instantly drawn back into the world of Star Wars. There is no other series of films or shows that looks exactly like Star Wars does. The characters are dressed like people you would see in these worlds as well. Andor was going to draw me in right away. It was just a matter of how much I would love this show. And I am here to say this is the best Star Wars I've seen in years. I loved the Cassian Andor character in Rogue One, but now I absolutely adore this character and the performance by Luna. Only seen four episodes so far, but the sky's the limit for this series.
Andor streams on Disney+ beginning September 21, with new episodes airing subsequent Wednesdays. Four out of twelve episodes reviewed.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Olivia Wilde has had a successful acting career, but it wasn't until she directed the film Booksmart that she finally got the critical acclaim she deserved. Don't Worry Darling is the follow-up to that coming-of-age comedy. That movie was a fun look at modern teens in America. This is a vastly different film from that one, yet more important than anyone could imagine — one of the most important films I've seen this year.
Alice and Jack (Florence Pugh and Harry Styles) are a young couple living an idyllic life in a subdivision called Victory on a cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere adjacent to a desert in California. They have a lovely house with a manicured lawn and a classic module car anyone would want. Their neighbors have the same thing with a few differences, like children or one of the wives might be pregnant. This is a life any young couple would dream of until something causes Pugh's character to question everything she thought she knew about her life and the perfect society she lives in.
Don't Worry Darling is a mix of The Stepford Wives and The Village — two films with twists that make the movies better without knowing anything about them. This film is very similar in that regard. Not knowing anything about it will make the overall experience much more rewarding. Even an enigmatic leader, Frank (Chris Pine), of the community is straight out of science fiction.
This film takes the physiological thriller to a new level. Sure it's a tried and true genre that has been overdone in the past, but not like this. This movie takes a subject of today's society and infuses it into this film which makes perfect sense. Mind manipulation is another trope in these kinds of films, but it is used to perfection to make the Pugh character come across as entirely crazy and unhinged. This way, she is more believable when the twist finally airs its ugly head. Pugh is fantastic in this role.
To make this world believable, the production value has to be perfect, and it is just that. The houses, cars, clothes, and hair and makeup are superb. The thing that drives this story forward is the score by John Powell is masterful in its subtlety and precise nature. It uses odd sounds to reflect the odd circumstances and the world these characters find themselves in. On top of that, the cinematography by Matthew Libatique combines with the production value to create a picturesque world these characters find themselves in.
This movie has so many important things that make it what it is but probably the most crucial thing that brings it full circle is the script by Katie Silberman, Carey, and Shane Van Dyke. They have created a story right out of the headlines.
All the negative press behind Don't Worry Darling will only strengthen its resolve in my mind because this story needed to be told in this way, with these actors. Styles specifically stands out in his role, and Pugh gives a great performance, as always. Wilde's direction is very good as well. She puts all the pieces together to make a masterful film the world needs to see. Audiences should ignore their feelings toward the behind-the-scenes drama between her and Styles. It will probably benefit from all the drama, though, because people will want to see what all the hubbub is about. If that means they get to see this great film, all the better.
Don't Worry Darling opens in theaters on September 23.
Review by Dan Skip Allen
Everyone should know who Norma Jean (aka Marilyn Monroe) is by now. She was a pin-up model and Hollywood starlet for years before her untimely demise in 1962. She symbolized everything considered beautiful during her time in the limelight. Women wanted to be like her, and men wanted to be with her. She is what everyone during this era wished they could be perfect, or that is what they thought she was. That was only on the outside. On the inside, she was tormented by pain and riddled with grief. She was a damaged woman, no matter how you looked at her. Blonde, the biopic about her life, doesn't pull any punches.
The film picks up her life as a child with an abusive alcoholic mother, Gladys (Julianne Nicholson). She was put into an orphanage and learned how to fend for herself at a young age. This helped her find work as a pin-up model, which parlayed her into a career in the movies. At this point in the film, Ana De Armas plays Marilyn Monroe. She becomes a big star with the help of Daryl F. Zanuck. This was when all the men started to be interested in her as a potential wife. Some were Joe Dimaggio (Bobby Cannavale) and Arthur Miller (Adrien Brody). She was never truly happy with anyone, though, including herself. She even had a fling with the President at the time John F. Kennedy.
The movie uses a few different styles to tell a story about this woman going through a lot of pain and suffering. Sometimes it's in color, and other times it's in black and white. Usually, her public life as a starlet and celebrity is presented in black and white, and her personal life is shown in color. These two aspects are two distinctly different sides of her personality: the one she chooses to show to the public and the one she hides because she is unhappy with it. She doesn't make good decisions in her personal life, especially regarding men.
Filmmaker Andrew Dominick also wrote the screenplay, so he has a way to depict this woman by showing how vulnerable she is on the inside and how glamorous she is on the outside. In a way, this is like a Jekyll and Hyde situation. The script had to show how the public perceived her and how she perceived herself. This is the crux of this film and this woman in a nutshell. The style was like the outside veneer of a used car with a new paint job. All glossy on the outside while being dirty and beat up on the inside. This story showed the warts and all look at this woman's life; it wasn't pretty like she was.
There were choices made as far as camera angles and various uses of symbolism within the lens of the film that were a bit off-putting. These were meant to show the trauma and difficulty she had as a child or the suffocation she felt as an adult. Water played a considerable part in these moments of the film. She is often shown drowning or trying to end her life. This was because she felt she could do nothing about her life and her lack of control in her relationships and the public eye. This isn't a PG version of her life. I wish we had gotten other biopics that chose this direction to tell their stories. I would much rather see a truer depiction of someone's life than a glossy inaccurate version. If people are turned off by the life a celebrity, musician, or athlete had, it is a better selection of who this person truly is.
Ana De Armas gives an awards-worthy performance as this gorgeous woman hurt by everything in her personal life but adored and revered by the masses in her life as a celebrity. She puts herself through so much as this character. There were many scenes where she cried and was in visual pain for the art. And that is a true dedication as far as I'm concerned. The physical abuse she takes from her various husbands was brutal to watch at times. She gives it all in this role and definitely should be considered in the running for Best Actress this year at the Academy Awards. She has turned into one of the best actresses working today. She can literally do it all, from comedy to action, and as in this film, drama is no problem at all for her.
Blonde isn't your typical biopic. It has some stylistic ways the director Dominick uses to tell the story of this tragic yet beautiful woman. The contrast of the black and white scenes with the color scenes was a masterful decision. It showed the dichotomy of this woman's life: the two distinct sides she's living with. The cinematography and many other craft departments on this film were on point and delivered a great look at this world she lived and worked in. De Armas was the glue for this film. She brought it all together in the end. Without this performance, all the stylistic decisions and camera tricks wouldn't have worked. She is a star; if this film didn't show that, none would. Finally, we have gotten a biopic that deserves to be talked about. Please, Hollywood, we need more like this one with a filmmaker who takes chances and hits them out of the park.
Blonde hits theaters on September 16 and Netflix on September 28.