Wednesday, September 28, 2022

"Don't Worry, Darling" and The Month in Reviews

[I review the new (and kind of controversial movie) "Don't Worry, Darling (yes, I will share the gossip), as well as the horror film "Goodnight Mommy" and the supernatural thriller "The Empty Man."  The Book of the Month is "I'm Glad My Mom Died" by Jennette McCurdy]


It's been a horror of a month - well, at the movies, anyway! Sometimes you need a little movie horror to take you away from the horrors of real life!


Don't Worry Darling (2022)

A woman with a seemingly perfect life discovers that all is not what it seems.

Okay so let's get this stuff out of the way first.

There are all kinds of burning questions surrounding the making of this movie.  Did Shia LeBeouf quit or was he fired from this film?  Did Florence Pugh and director Olivia Wilde not get along?  Did Harry Styles spit on Chris Pine?  And can Harry Styles act?

You might think, who cares?  But there is possibly something at work here that smacks of sexism in undermining a film in this way before it has even been released. According to Olivia Wilde, this is the kind of backlash a woman gets when a woman tries to step into a traditional man's role, here, as a director. And I agree that some of that might be happening here.  For one thing, you can count on one hand the number of successful female directors in Hollywood, and I don't think a male director would be getting the kind of negative outside-the-movie press that Wilde is getting.  Alfred Hitchcock was notorious for abusing his actresses, especially Tippi Hedren in "The Birds." He had a penchant for blondes and when she rebuffed him, Hitchcock used real birds rather than mechanized birds in that famous scene in "The Birds," where birds cover Tippi's head and attack her. Likewise, directors Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick and Werner Herzog, were notoriously difficult, but we never heard about their controversies at the time. But here we have a female director who is accused of things not even remotely like what those other male directors did and it's big news. 

Rant over. I rest my case.

Anyway, let's get to the important thing.  The movie.  

And I have to say that after seeing it, I have all kinds of other burning questions, the main one being...if men had the opportunity to design the perfect world, would it consist of mid-century homes with sunken living rooms, green bathtubs and stay-at-home wives who have dinner on the table every night when they got home and a desire for sex on said table? Duh.

Florence Pugh plays Alice, who is just such a wife.  She is married to Jack (Styles) and they live in the perfect 1950's desert community of Victory. Every morning, along with the other wives in the neighborhood, Alice stands out in front of her house and dutifully waves her husband goodbye as he and his fellow husbands head off to work in their cool vintage cars, out into the desert at the Victory Project, a top secret government project.  While they are gone, the women clean their homes, hang out the wash, take ballet lessons, shop and gossip. In the evening, they all party together.  All the women have to do is stay in their little town and never go out into the desert or show up at their husbands' work. Sounds pretty ideal for the husbands, right?

But then Alice starts to experience bits and pieces of strange memories.  Her friend, Margaret (KiKi Lane), appears to be having a breakdown, calls her and tells her that things are not what they seem and then commits suicide. While out riding in the town trolley, Alice sees a plane crash and goes out into the desert to investigate and finds a mysterious build. Then she wakes up in her bedroom with no recollection on how she got back home. When Alice tries to talk to her friend, Bunny (Wilde also stars), about her fears, Bunny tells her to keep quiet. And then Frank (Pine), the town founder, gives her a warning.  Something is not right and Alice soon discovers the secrets behind not only the Victory Project but her own life and it's not good.

As I said, after seeing this movie I have some burning questions of my own but sadly, I can't really get into them without spoiling the twist but let me just say when the twist came I thought, "What the hell?" I might have even said it out loud. And I laughed.  I don't think I was supposed to laugh.

With a screenplay by Katie Silberman who also wrote "Booksmart," Wilde's first directorial feature, this film is very much in the "Rosemary's Baby" and "Stepford Wives" thriller genre - a seemingly happy woman discovers that her life is not what it seemed and starts questioning her sanity but there are some huge stretches here. However, this story is not as smart as "Booksmart." There are holes in this story as big as the Grand Canyon, some bad directorial choices and more questions than answers, except I can answer this one.  Can Harry Styles act?  Surprisingly, yes.

And speaking of the acting, Florence Pugh can always be counted on to give a great performance and Wilde is also good in a smaller role. Pine can also be counted on to be very, very handsome. Just kidding. He was also good, though his role was not very complex. The whole ensemble is fine and the set design beautiful.  But the soundtrack was very annoying at times, the visuals used to show that Alice was losing it were distracting and monotonous, and I just wish the twist had made more sense.

Freud supposedly asked "What does a woman want?"  Disturbingly, this film appears to ask and then answer the question "What does a man want?"  And it's scary. Perhaps, the theme of this film is why Wilde was getting such a backlash. I liked the idea of this film, I just wish it had been better.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a stylish film that will take you on a journey, but sadly it's a journey with a lot of potholes. I like movies that make me think but I don't like to have to wrack my brain to understand what I just saw. Though I liked some things about this film, I can't really recommend it. (In theatres)

 


Goodnight Mommy (2022)


Twin brothers return home to live with their estranged mother and begin to wonder if she is really their mother.

Twin Elias (Cameron Crovetti) and Lukas (Nicolas Crovetti) move back in with their mother (Naomi Watts), a former actress, after staying with their father since their divorce. When they see her again, her face is fully bandaged as if she were wearing a ski mask.  She tells them she has just had plastic surgery.

The boys quickly sense something different about their Mother.  She has told them they can't go into her room or into the barn and she is drinking and smoking, something they don't remember her doing.  When asked to sing them the lullaby she always sang to them, she doesn't seem to remember it and she hardly acknowledges Lukas at all. Lukas also tells Elias that their mother had green eyes.  This woman has blue eyes. They both start questioning whether this is really their mother.

After Elias tells her she is not their mother, she slaps him.  Things are getting out of hand so the boys run away but are soon returned by two State Police troopers.  When they get back home, their mother has removed her bandages but the boys still don't believe she is their mother.

The next morning, Mother awakes to find herself tied to her bed with duct tape and demands to be freed.  She says she is their mother and when they ask why her eyes have changed color she explains that she wore green contact lenses as an actress and they are downstairs in her purse.  Lukas tells Elias he searched the purse and she is lying. So they leave their mother tied to the bed and run away again.  But Elias says he needs to go back to get his toothbrush and when he does he looks in his mother's purse and finds the contacts.

What is going on here?  Is she their mother or isn't she?

Things go from bad to worse but all is revealed in this scary and moody remake of an Austrian film. I am not a fan of remakes of perfectly good foreign films, but since I did not see the original, I guess I can't complain too much. As for the concept, is there anything scarier than children in jeopardy or Naomi Watts in a white ski mask?  But she is fine in this role. And speaking of children, I usually don't like child actors, especially the very precocious smart alecky ones, but these two boys are very good little actors, very believable and poignant.  

And speaking of believable, the film, directed by Matt Sobel with a screenplay by Sobel and Kyle Warren was compelling, and I bought everything right up until the very end, but then I had yet another "What the hell?" moment. But it was enjoyable getting there.

Rosy the Reviewer says...motherhood can be a horror story! (Amazon Prime)



The Empty Man (2022)


While investigating a missing person, ex-cop James Lasombra stumbles upon a sinister cult that is trying to conjure a supernatural entity.

The film begins in Bhutan in 1995.  

Day 1 - Four friends - Greg (Evan Jonigkeit), Fiona (Jessica Matten), Ruthie (Virginia Kull) and Paul (Aaron Poole) - are hiking on a mountain when Paul hears a strange sound.  When he goes to investigate, he falls down a crevice.  Greg gets down there to investigate and finds Paul in a catatonic state, staring at a skeleton hanging from the wall of the cave.  The group gets Paul out of there and Greg carries him to an empty house.  

Day 2 - some strange start happening. 

Day 3 - some really, really bad things happen.

Fast forward to 2018.  

Ex-cop James Lasombra (James Badge Dale) is grieving the death of his wife and son.  When Nora (Marin Ireland), his neighbor, tells him her daughter, Amanda (Sasha Frolova), has run away and left a message written in blood that says "The Empty Man made me do it," James begins an investigation and discovers that Amanda and her friends were into a local legend, summoning The Empty Man. To summon him, you find an empty bottle on a bridge and blow into it and think of The Empty Man. The first night you hear him, the second night you see him and the third night, he finds you. Oooh, scary.

So James goes to the local bridge, finds a bottle, ("Don't blow into it!)m he blows into it and when he goes underneath the bridge, he finds Amanda's friends dead, hanging from the bridge.

James had also found a brochure for the Pontifex Institute in Amanda's room.  When he researches it, he discovers it is a cult originating in Bhutan.  He goes to the institute and hears a talk by the leader who refers to The Empty Man and says he is an entity that gives his followers what they want as long as they do what he wants.

Remember that James blew into the bottle on the bridge?

Day 1 - James starts to hear what he thinks is The Empty Man. 

Day 2 - James starts to see what he thinks is The Empty Man.

Day 3 - Gulp.

This did not need to be two hours and 17 minutes, but I have to say it moved along and the 22 minute cold opening is literally a killer.  Starring mostly unknown actors, all very believable, the movie, written and directed by David Prior and based on the Boom! Studios graphic novel by Cullen Bunn, is clearly capitalizing on the Slenderman legend and the notorious murder of a young girl by his young followers but this film did not initially do well at the box office. However, it has since taken on its own cult status, and I have to say, it's compelling, even if at times there are some gaps in the plot. I almost said "What the hell?"

Rosy the Reviewer says...an eerie thriller and a cautionary tale.  Do you know what your teens are up to right now?  If you like strange and moody supernatural films, you will like this. (HBO Max and on VOD and on DVD)


***The Book of the Month***



"I'm Glad My Mom Died" by Jennette McCurdy (2022)


Actress Jennette McCurdy shares her story of growing up a TV child star.

You might not think that this fits into the horror theme this month, but child abuse is definitely horror and McCurdy experienced an exquisitely strange and sad bit of horror growing up.  Her mother desperately wanted her daughter to be a child actor and would go to extreme lengths to make it happen.  Jennette didn't really want to do that but wanted to please her mother, so went along with it. 

Ex-child actor McCurdy shares the story of her growing up years in Hollywood with an overbearing mother who worked to achieve stardom for her young daughter, and, wanting to please her mother, McCurdy endured endless auditions, eyelash tinting, daily weigh-ins, guilt trips and breast and vaginal exams from her mother until she was 17. Her mother made “Mommy Dearest” look like Mother of the Year. Though McCurdy achieved success (Nickelodeon’s “ICarly” and the spin-off “Sam and Cat” with Ariana Grande), it was not without a price. There was bulimia, addiction, and bad relationships. “Fame… I wanted [my mother] to be happy.  But now that I have it, I realize that she’s happy and I’m not.  Her happiness came at the cost of mine.  I feel robbed and exploited.” So no wonder she is glad her mother died because then she was free.

But McCurdy eventually sought help and found herself.  Though this is a grim tale of a lost childhood, a real life horror story, it's not unlike stories of other child actors. But McCurdy is a good writer and her compelling story is not without humor, though as one can tell from the title, the dark kind.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like candid celebrity memoirs and stories about overcoming the odds, this is for you. 


Thanks for reading!

See you again soon!

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