Quick takes on I Care a Lot and other films

Eternal Beauty has been on my watch list since it first premiered at a film festival in 2019, but I’ve just recently had a chance to see it. It stars the incomparable Sally Hawkins (how does she not have more awards in her closet?!) as Jane, a woman struggling with schizophrenia. Her particular hallucinations come in the form of whispers from inside the walls, voices from the radio telling her to do things, and she hears her apartment phone ring constantly, with a man on the other end telling her he loves her and always will. We learn as the film goes along that she is not the only one in her family suffering from mental illness, but she’s definitely been the person who has taken the fall. Several key events are happening at this particular point in Jane’s life: her domineering mother is dying, her older sister’s husband is having an affair, and her younger sister’s life is falling apart. With all this going on, Jane meets someone. Mike (David Thewlis) is also schizophrenic, and it is obvious to everyone that they aren’t very good for each other, obvious to everyone except Jane and Mike. The film is sort of a dark comedy drama, but I was uncomfortable laughing at some of the humor, because much of it poked fun at Jane’s illness, through her behaviors. Other times, her sickness was most definitely not funny, and took on an almost scary theme. As the film progresses, we learn more about Jane and how her life has taken her to this point. It’s a very good picture, and I was reminded a lot of Hawkins’ previous film Maudie. Like that one, this movie is very good but not necessarily great, but her performance is definitely worth the price of admission. I firmly believe she is one of those transcendent kind of actors that makes everything she’s in better. 3 stars for the film, 5 for her performance, balances out to ★★★★

Judas and the Black Messiah is a gripping movie, based on the lives of Bill O’Neal and Fred Hampton in the late 1960s. Bill (Lakeith Stanfield) is a two-bit hood who’s latest scam is pretending to be a cop in order to steal cars. He is caught red-handed, but rather than send him to jail, he is recruited by FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) to infiltrate the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers. Their ultimate goal is to get close to Panthers leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), who is seen by J Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) as a real problem. Fred is a captivating speaker who articulates the anger black people are feeling over the recent murders of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Bill ingratiates himself quickly, and it isn’t long before he is running security for Fred. Bill seems moved by the things Fred says, but stays the course with the FBI for his promised riches and rewards when the job is done. Unfortunately Hoover isn’t looking for an arrest; he wants to put a final end to Fred’s calls for revolution. It is a captivating movie, and while I certainly don’t condone Fred’s calls for violence against the police, the film does a great job of explaining the anger behind his words. Stanfield is fantastic as a conflicted Bill, but Kaluuya’s Fred Hampton steals the show. Anytime he is in the scene, the camera is his to command, and his presence is felt through the screen. Tremendous performances, showing a damning moment of authoritative violence in our country. ★★★★

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is (yet another) story about someone stuck inside the same day, Groundhog Day style. This time it is wrapped in a teen drama and, like Palm Springs last year, features two people reliving the same day over and over instead of one. When the movie starts, Mark has already lived the same day a 1000 times or more, and knows everything that will happen down cold. He does good things for the passersby on the streets, but his latest goal is to get a kiss from a cute girl he saves from getting beaned by a beach ball at the pool, but no matter what he tries, it never works. One day, before Mark can step in front of the rogue ball, a new girl steps in front and deflects it, before walking to her car and driving away. Knowing she isn’t part of the loop, Mark hunts her down, and lo and behind, finds that Margaret has been living the same day over and over too. They decide that maybe they’ll be able to get out if they map out all of the magical moments that happen around town, things like an eagle catching a fish clean out of a lake, a janitor who sits at a piano when he thinks no one is around and plays beautifully, and kids who find joy in lighting up their new tree house. Mark has long ago accepted that he may never get past this day, and almost enjoys it, but Margaret seems to struggle, for a reason that becomes known in the latter part of the movie. It’s a cute film, maybe a little too cute for my taste. It’s not as good as either of the previously mentioned movies with this premise, and while there are some laughs, it isn’t as funny or as endearing as those. However, worthy of a single viewing. ★★★

I Care a Lot is ridiculous, implausible, but damn it’s a good time, with an all-star cast showing off their talents. Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) is a predator of the elderly. She’s in league with an unsavory doctor who tips her off to old people who are showing dementia, and then Marla gets the courts to grant her guardianship. With these powers, she puts the old folks in a home, auctions off their house and goods, and pays herself out of all the money coming in. Things are going well until she gets the wrong lady under her care. Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) has nothing wrong with her, but Marla is still able to fool the courts and gets Jennifer under her care. Jennifer was supposed to be a “cherry,” with no living family on record to fight Marla, and thus when Jennifer eventually died, all her finances would go to her guardian. Unfortunately, Jennifer has a hidden past, and a son that very much wants to ruin Marla’s day. The unnamed son (Peter Dinklage) has a ton of money, a few thugs, and a very good, dirty lawyer who all try to intimidate Marla, but she’s having none of it. She knows there’s more to Jennifer than there seems, and wants much more money than she’s being offered to walk away. I enjoyed this movie much more than I was expecting. There aren’t any good guys here, it is just bad guys vs bad guys, and no one to root for, but they are all deliciously bad. That, I think, is the crux of the bad reviews online, no “good guy” to get behind. The finale stretches believability quite a bit, but the film is a blast. It is blacker-than-black comedy teamed up with wild thrills. ★★★★½

I’ve been hearing amazing things about Nomadland for quite awhile, and I won’t say I was disappointed, but, for my tastes, it wasn’t the end-all-be-all film I was expecting. Frances McDormand plays Fern, an older woman who’s recently lost everything. She and her husband worked for the same company in rural Nevada for years, but the company closed up (pretty much eliminating the town that depended on it), and then Fern’s husband died. Fern’s lost her house and is now living out of a van, taking on a nomad lifestyle. She moves place to place and takes work where she can get it, such as seasonal packaging at an Amazon distribution center, cleaning at an RV park, or the occasional restaurant job. The film is about Fern’s grieving process for her husband and former life, but it also plays out as a quasi-documentary, with Fern meeting and talking with others in similar situations. There are a few young Bohemians, but for the most part, it is an elderly crowd who, like Fern, have lost houses or in some cases, willingly chose the nomad life to see the country before they die. It did not surprise me to learn that many of the people in the picture were fictionalized versions of themselves, real-life nomads out on the road. We learn about the risk, perils, and rewards for this kind of living. This is probably why it did not grab me; I’m generally not a big documentary person. This film is heavy on facts and light on story, and while McDormand is excellent (as always), it’s just not my cup of tea. ★★★½

  • TV series currently watching: WandaVision, Fargo (season 4)
  • Book currently reading: Dune by Frank Herbert

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