Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Simple Favor and Short Takes on White Boy Rick

                               Dangerous Intertwinings

                                                 Reviews by Ken Burke
                                             A Simple Favor (Paul Feig)

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): A middle-class (at best) perky-on-the-outside, more-troubled-on-the-inside suburban single mother raising a young son while running a sparsely-watched (I can relate to that) cooking video blog for other moms suddenly becomes close friends with a highly-sophisticated PR director for a large design firm who's married to a college professor/not-yet-consistently-successful novelist, living in a huge house beyond their means while being loving-if-situationally-distant parents of their own young son.  However, the women’s early-afternoon martini sessions are suddenly cut short with the disappearance of the “rich” friend, resulting in the increasingly-assertive poorer one doing some investigative work resulting in the tragic location of her new confidant, drowned in a Michigan lake.  While that would seem to be the end of this story (along with increasing connections between the formerly-mousy-mom and the handsome widower, as they bond over mutual child care) halfway through its running time, it’s merely a narrative pause for the audience as there’s a lot more to unfold here as this movie propels us through a series of constant revelations, shifts of tone, and realigning-allegiances, although to say more here violates my no spoilers pledge.  So, unless you’re ready to delve into the no-holds-barred-review below right now, I encourage you to seek out A Simple Favor for yourself (easy to do, as it’s readily available in thousands of theaters; although, you may find, like I did, a certain sense of unintentional déjà vu because the husband noted above’s played by Henry Golding, also the male lead of Crazy Rich Asians [John M. Chu; review in our August 30, 2018 posting], while the plot involves a missing female coupled with a car being pulled out of a lake as in Searching [Aneesh Chaganty; review in our September 12, 2018 posting]).  Beyond those minor quirks, though, you’ll find A Simple Favor features a marvelous blend, where excellent acting offers us a constant stream of wonderfully-offbeat humor then taken to a higher level of interest by the consistently-more-complicated plot delivering a thriller with a minimum of bloodshed, making for terrific entertainment.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: (I’ve had to put about half of this summary into spoiler-alert-mode because of great twists and turns here you should see for yourself if you’re interested.)  Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) at one level is a happy-enough-Target-shopping-housewife/single-mom (more just below on why she’s a widow) with a very young son, Miles (Joshua Satine), and a video blog (vlog, in Millennial-speak) on cooking tips for women like her but also an update-site for concern about the disappearance a few days ago of her new (already best?) friend, Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), the sophisticated, snappy-dressing, vulgar, self-absorbed (she tells Stephanie never to say “I’m sorry”) mother of Miles’ friend, Nicky (Ian Ho), who, upon meeting Stephanie immediately invites her over for mid-afternoon-martinis.  Emily’s the PR director of a top-notch-designer-firm, is married to Sean (Henry Golding)—a once-successful-author who hasn’t been able to follow up his hit first novel—admits to Stephanie that despite the luxurious Nelson home her family’s bordering on bankruptcy, and appears to be passionately-connected to Sean when he comes home (even though later we get reports from neighbors they fought all the time).  Soon these 2 women are seeing each other frequently, their sons also spend a lot of time together, Stephanie easily loosens up over gin about her past life (married but shared sex with a recently-discovered half-brother from her father’s affair [Emily starts calling Stephanie a “brother-fucker”], leading to her husband willingly slamming his car into a freeway concrete barrier, killing both himself and the half-brother) but is surprised when she attempts to take a photo of Emily, only to have her companion angrily insist it be immediately deleted (at least we’re not back in the days of The Godfather [Francis Ford Coppola, 1972] where unwanted photos at Mafia events result in ripped-out-negatives or smashed cameras).  After a couple of weeks of this new-found-bonding, Emily calls Stephanie to ask “a simple favor” (just as with the film reviewed below, the title’s easily worked into the dialogue) of picking up Nicky from school, keeping him for a bit while Sean’s in London with his sick mother, Emily’s off to a business meeting in Miami, but when Emily doesn’t return Sean’s thrown into a panic (even though Emily already told Stephanie about her college-English-teacher-husband’s involvement with his teaching assistant).  Records of Emily’s rental car plus a tip to Stephanie’s vlog lead the hunt to Michigan (another connection to the review below) where the car’s found in a lake with Emily’s distressed, dead body inside, putting some questions in our minds due to Stephanie sneaking into Emily’s office where she finds a not-so-attractive-photo of Emily, inscribed with “Gotta Have Faith.

 As a result of frequent contact through mutual care of their sons, Stephanie and Sean draw closer (even though she spies on him at his campus, seeing him kiss the T.A.), despite the concern of a local police officer, Detective Summerville (Bashir Salahuddin), about why Sean recently took out a $4 million life-insurance-policy on his wife.  To allay Stephanie’s likewise-suspicions, Sean explains he and Emily did this to protect Nicky (given their publically-unknown-but-valid-financial-borderline-situation, brought on by extravagant spending well beyond their means) inspired by how Stephanie’s basically living on the hefty insurance payout she got when her husband died (I have to assume the investigators somehow didn’t rule it as a suicide).  Stephanie’s passion with Sean grows to the point of her moving in with him, but then weird things happen:  Nicky says he’s recently seen Mom, Stephanie’s attempt to remove the huge collection of Emily’s clothes from her closet mysteriously results in all of them suddenly reappearing.  ⇒Unnerved by all this, Stephanie tracks down the artist who painted a provocative nude portrait of Emily, finding out some vague information about her friend’s background as a kid at a Michigan summer camp, so she travels there, does some research, finds mention of twin sisters Faith and Hope McLanden (both played by Lively as adults), tracks down their mother, Margaret (Jean Smart), who tells Stephanie how her long-ago-teenage-daughters set fire to part of the huge family house, killing their father, then disappeared.  Using her vlog to request a meeting with Emily, Stephanie hosts the supposed dead woman at her gravesite to share martinis, Emily explaining how she really is Hope McLanden, her sister Faith was a heroin junkie (another inadvertent connection to the review below), their triplet Charity died in childbirth, their abusive “Christian” father beat Faith (not the first time, surely) after the girls ran off to a lakeside-beach-party with Faith’s boyfriend and other pals, whereupon the arson/murder led to the twins leaving home with promises to keep in touch but Faith drops out of sight until the present time when she contacts Hope/Emily demanding money or else she’ll tell the cops about their sordid past.  Emily first concocts her own disappearance as a means of gaining the insurance money (without Sean’s knowledge), but then one day while swimming in the lake she kills her sister, then sinks her in the rental car where for all practical purposes she’s mistaken for Emily.  (Further,, Sean’s warned Stephanie Emily’s a pathological liar; we see proof of that as she tells Stephanie the drowning was accidental while we see the flashback, showing it was murder.)⇐

 From this point on, there are constant twists and deceptions, great fun to watch as they play out, but you shouldn’t learn anything about them if you want to first enjoy this movie in a theater during its current successful run.   ⇒Complications abound until the plot’s conclusion, beginning with the insurance company’s reluctance to pay off given Stephanie’s discovery of the twin sister.  Then, Stephanie’s mad at Sean because he obviously still has interest in his T.A., so she and Emily plot to have him arrested for insurance fraud, with Emily faking an injury, suddenly reappearing to accuse Sean of abuse, forcing her to fake her death, leading to his arrest (not great for his academic career), then release on bail.  However, Stephanie switches teams, conspires with Sean against Emily by placing microphones in her home, then faking a shooting of Sean followed by Emily confessing her murder of Faith (because she’s aware of the ruse, had already disabled the mics), but her intention’s now to kill them both, making it look like a murder/suicide beginning with a pistol shot to Sean’s shoulder; Stephanie counters with how a button-looking-camera on her blouse has live-streamed all this, prompting Emily to run away until she’s clipped by a car driven by another parent from the school, leading to her arrest.  Encountering this story like the docudrama reviewed below, we get pre-final-credits-intertitles telling us Stephanie sold her now-hugely-popular-vlog for a large profit (Two Guys should be so lucky) then went on to another career solving cold-case-crimes, Sean finally wrote a second novel (a big success, although panned by some critics as being preposterousyet based on the events of this movie) leading to him and Miles moving to CA where he’s now head of the English Lit program at UC Berkeley (chock full of TA’s, I’m sure), Emily’s in prison for 20 years (a mild sentence, in my opinion, for 2 murders and her other crimes, especially when compared to the 30+ years for “White Boy Rick” noted in the review below, just for dealing large amounts of cocaine) but she's happy enough there, enforcing her will on other prisoners.⇐ *

*If you’d like to explore a 6:52 video summary of ... Favor, also filled with spoilers, I invite you to do so because this site—as with Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark—is partially intended for those who just want to know what happens in a given movie without investing their time/money to actually watch it (not ideal for the industry, I admit, but supportive of viewers with restricted funds).

So What? After stories such as this one and the intensely-serious (magnificent, 5-star-worthy) Revolutionary Road (Sam Mendes, 2008), you’d probably want to think twice about living in the anxiety-ridden/death-haunted suburbs of NYC (even if you could afford it)—this one’s set in Warfield, CT where Stephanie was at home with the mundane aspects of (what for her is) middle-class-life until she discovered much more action and attraction (dangerous as it may be) in a different part of her neighborhood ⇒(although we get no clue in those closing intertitles about why nothing further developed between her and Sean, only that she’s now dating someone from “the city” while he’s gone off to the Left Coast).  Still, Stephanie and Sean manage to survive their traumas, even as they put us through the wringer in the process (ultimately, Frank WheelerLeonardo DiCapriodoes too, in … Road, after enduring equal duress).⇐  It’s amazing a movie with actual death, attempted murder, and other unsavory aspects could also be so funny, but this one succeeds at both comic and thriller levels, thanks to the marvelously naïve responses of Stephanie to much of what’s around her—at least until she gets wise to Emily’s tricks, then matches her blow for blow until the end—and the caustic remarks of Emily, generally showing little regard for anyone else on the planet except for her little son.  The constant shift in tone between our laugh-out-loud-reactions to what’s being said on screen vs. the effective mystery plot Stephanie slowly uncovers allows us to understand—if not fully accept—the past/present events shaping Emily, with their dangerous aspects for all 3 of the major characters, never allowing us to easily predict whose alliance with whom is genuine (at least for the time being), punctuated with the confrontation scene of Emily and Stephanie casually meeting in a cemetery, sharing martinis served from the top of a gravestone.  There’s nothing substantial here in terms of themes buried beneath the surface nor implications of commentary about current sociopolitical events; it’s all just an intriguing, well-written, well-crafted diversion for pure entertainment’s sake, yet done so well it leaves you feeling you’ve stumbled onto one of the best cinematic experiences of 2018, easily worth the same number of stars I often assign only to more substantial explorations into the complex cinematic wilderness.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Many film critics, including me obviously, would agree if you might decide A Simple Favor is one of the best of this current year (although not truly of standard Oscar-caliber across most categories, despite the marvelous experience of watching it, even though there’s little of lasting value besides the initial marvel of how unexpectedly-satisfying the dialogue, plot twists, and resolution are—helping us appreciate the value of well-developed-diversionary-entertainment [even if the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has decided to scrap their proposal for an Oscar competition for Best Popular Film, so I doubt A Simple Favor will get much Oscar attention, except maybe in the Best Adapted Screenplay category, taken from Darcey Bell’s 2017 novel of the same name]), with those surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes offering an 83% cluster of positive responses while the folks at Metacritic come up with a 68% average score (seemingly not much to brag too loudly about but still a relatively-supportive-reaction from those tallied at this often-stingier-critics-amalgamation-site).  Audiences were even a bit more in favor, with this whimsical-yet-unpredictable-movie coming in at #3 for domestic (U.S.-Canada [no tariffs were implemented—yet—in the collection of these ticket sales]) box-office-revenue on … Favor’s opening weekend, giving it a total of $17.3 million (plus another $3.6 million from international markets), setting it on a solid course to potentially keeping expanding from its current coverage of 3,102 domestic theaters.  Given all the bitter news emanating from the U.S. Eastern seaboard lately with devastation and death tolls from Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas, consternation a bit further north in Washington, D.C. with rape accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the cultural-silliness-cut-with-Hitchcockian-levels-of-suspense in … Favor make it a useful escapist experience with no rhetorical undertones, just a marvelous thrill ride (with humor through to the end, even in those delightful pre-credits-“wrap-ups” of the main characters’ post-current-narrative-lives).

 I’ll bring these comments to their own closure with my suggestion for a Musical Metaphor—my preferred strategy for transitioning out of how I've offered a review’s meanderings—using song to offer a final perspective on what’s come before, even if I have to stretch the concept of “metaphor” to the breaking point at times.  With this movie, nothing obvious came to me (I’m open to suggestions in the Comments section at the very end of this posting) beyond how the filmmakers began their own work, so I’ll copy now they accompanied the opening credits, using a French-language-version of “Music to Watch Girls By” (here called “Ça C’est Arrangé” [roughly translated as “It’s all worked out” or “It’s not a problem anymore,” as best I understand it, although the sites I’ve consulted offer huge options of somewhat-similar-interpretations of this phrase, ambiguous as it may be to the English original]) by Jean Paul Keller (from this movie’s soundtrack album, also on the 1967 Pop À Paris Vol. 5 album) at %2Cwn, but if you’re as monolingual as I am you might prefer the Andy Williams vocal version (from his 1967 Born Free album) at, accompanied in this video by clips from a number of 1960s movies where ogling the female form (as long as it didn’t go any further than that, Judge K.) was considered a relatively harmless pastime (although some feminists [including male allies] then and now might disagree, as only the female body was being sexualized), encouraged by more outgoing women (at least as presented in popular media imagery) for the benefit (probably also the manipulation, given the scant options of power open to women of that era) of willing males—which I present to you with a certain level of trepidation, not wanting to undermine in any way the serious issues raised by the #MeToo movement against any form of sexual harassment but also acknowledging how the frequent use of French songs in this movie’s soundtrack are intended to whimsically imply/parody the stereotypical allusions to France regarding romance, affairs, cavalier attitudes toward sex (by everyone of any gender identity), as well as imply how we’re watching the forged-from-fire callousness and power-plays of Emily as she’s challenged, ultimately tested by an emerging-from-service-to-others-attitude (always the first to volunteer for her son’s school activities, usually willing to do several jobs) from Stephanie who grows into a much more self-assured-presence, even as she has to get ruthless for awhile to accomplish it, in a society that can still rarely accept success achieved without assertion.
(a bit long for) SHORT TAKES (but there’s crucial ground to cover) 
(please note that spoilers also appear here)
                           White Boy Rick (Yann Demange)

Based in history, this story starts in 1984 Detroit where a father struggling to provide for his 2 teenage kids makes a living selling guns in his crime-ridden neighborhood when his son’s recruited by FBI agents as an informant on a local drug gang, leading to a lot of double-crosses I’ll try to be vague about even as you can easily get the facts online.

Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

 Discounting documentaries (Three Identical Strangers [Tim Wardle; review in our August 16, 2018 posting]) I haven’t run into as many “Based on a True Story”-films lately as I did earlier this year so here’s one beginning in 1984 Detroit (appropriately grim with lots of snowy winter scenes or rain in other seasons, desaturated colors in the visuals, run-down-neighborhoods, immediacy through handheld-camera) where Richard (Rick) Wershe Sr. (Matthew McConaughey) attempts to support his 2 teenage kids (Mom divorced him a few years ago), Dawn (Bel Powley) and Richard Jr. (also Rick, hereafter noted as RJ [not to be confused with longtime-Two Guys in the Dark-contributor rj, of central Texas, nothing like the protagonist in this filmI can only hope], played by novice actor Richie Merritt), by buying guns at bargain prices (often over the state line in Ohio), then selling them for a tidy profit back in the ‘hood, not necessarily legally, certainly with little regard for how they’ll be used.  Rick Sr.’s under surveillance by FBI agents Alex Snyder (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Frank Byrd (Rory Cochrane) who pressure RJ into working with them as an informant on a powerful drug gang run by Johnny “Lil Man” Curry (Jonathan Majors), along with brother Leo “Big Man” Curry (YG), first by purchasing, then selling cocaine as part of Johnny’s operation, which RJ’s surprisingly good at given he’s a 14-year-old with no prior experience (except what he knows about junkie-Dawn).  Rick Sr.’s initially not OK with this (guns are fine—“a Constitutional right”but not drugs, unnoted in that revered document) yet has little say given the pressure from the FBI agents along with local cop Mel “Roach” Jackson (Brian Tyree Henry).  There’s humor here occasionally, mostly resulting from RJ’s increasing swagger (including a diner scene where he’s secretly taken Grandpa’s car for the night, watches it being stolen, then he and Dawn rush into the parking lot firing their [illegal] pistols to no avail as if this is a normal reaction anyone would have to such a situation), although the ongoing attitude is ragged, with tensions between Rick Sr. and Dawn (she moves in with her zonked-out-boyfriend until Dad and RJ finally show some semblance of human concern, dragging her out of her drug den, forcing her to go cold turkey at home); Rick Sr. and his father, Ray “Roman” Wershe (Bruce Dern), always yelling at each other; anger in various members of Johnny’s gang, either internally or at local rivals—although RJ’s grandmother, Verna Wershe (Piper Laurie), shows compassion for whatever fury’s boiling over around her, including RJ getting shot in the stomach in 1985 by a supposed friend—he barely survives in the hospital—under the assumption RJ’s an informant (though, oddly enough, nothing further comes of this, no follow-up or retaliation attacks).

 Rick Sr.’s a reasonably-successful (if sleazy) businessman, showing his manipulation skills at the opening scene’s gun show, browbeating the seller of fake AK-47s by threatening to have him shut down for not realizing he’s been talking sales with underage-RJ, then instructing his son on the skills of “upselling” to convince Johnny he needs to sweeten the price of these weapons by adding silencers, all the while dreaming of going legit (also becoming more successful) by opening a video store (which he finally does, but we get nothing further on how that works out).  RJ’s the true hustler in this family, though, becoming a successful dealer in Johnny’s outfit, having an affair with Johnny’s wife, Cathy Volsan-Curry (Taylour Paige)—also Mayor Coleman Young’s niece, another reason the law wanted to see how far Johnny’s criminal empire extended—even as RJ’s now fathered a baby girl by Brenda Moore (Kyanna Simone Simpson), then emerging as a successful dealer on his own after his clandestine-data-gathering’s put most of Johnny’s crew behind bars (along with Young’s brother-in-law plus some corrupt cops) as the FBI agents no longer need his services nor provide him with the hefty cash-cuts of his previous deals.  ⇒All this goes sour fast, though, in 1987 when RJ’s arrested, gets no help from Snyder and Byrd with the trial judge (she claims they tried, Rick Sr.’s not convinced), is sent away at age 18 under harsh Michigan law for life without the possibility of parole, which finally gets us to the point of why we’re supposed to care about him (maybe the rest of his family, too).  Pre-final-credits-graphics note RJ was instrumental in bringing down a large number of drug crooks, even as he remained incarcerated long after those he helped send to prison were released (Rick Sr. and his grandparents died in the meantime, but his daughter visited him in jail, now has children of her ownnot clear on her name, maybe Kenisha, but can only find verification of a son, Richard Williams, so I’m somewhat sloppy on this aspect of the story; sorry for any mistakes), although when Michigan law was changed RJ was finally granted parole in 2017. (What those intertitles don’t tell you is he was immediately sent to a Florida prison for his involvement in a car-theft-ring while in the MI jailalthough apparently he confessed to save his mother and sister from prosecutionwhere he’s still locked up, due for another parole on Christmas Day 2020; yet, I admit acknowledging this Florida-legal-wrinkle would undercut the intended feel-good-impact of what we get in this current film's final updates.)⇐  If you want to know more of RJ’s story—a man called “White Boy Rick” since the mid-‘80s because of his unique presence in an otherwise-all-Black gang—you can get a short statement from him (3:06), along with an extensive news report (39:41) about Rick, plus a comparison of history vs. Hollywood.

 What might matter most to you, though (depending on how you feel about the competing scenarios of RJ serving the longest sentence in MI history for a non-violent-crime, especially when he was forcefully recruited into the drug-milieu by law-enforcement-officers vs. the parallel-reality he was already involved with criminal acts prior to his FBI-dictated-actions due to the influence of his father while RJ voluntarily continued his law-breaking-ways after his informant days until he was arrested, largely because he’d become intoxicated with the wealth provided by drug dealing [none of which the real Wershe Jr. denies; he just feels he’s served enough time for his mistakes, especially given the extensive aid he provided in the prosecution of much-more-professional-underworld-characters than he’d ever intended to become]),⇐  about this film is how compelling it is to watch, given it’s another one of those many cinematic situations of recent years where you can learn all you need to know about the story from the Internet or other sources without ever watching any of White Boy Rick.  Critics as a whole haven’t been overly impressed (RT 60% positive reviews, a rare tie with MC's 60% average score), although many praise McConaughey’s usual solid presence in this mostly-unattractive-role while even more seem to be quite taken with Merritt’s debut.  I’ll agree about McConaughey (who can be impactful falling backward into a swimming pool in a car commercial), although you’ve seen him in this mode many times before, yet I’m not as overwhelmed by Merritt’s screen presence (especially because this plot demands he be in practically every scene).  There’s raw talent there for sure, but his lack of nuanced-delivery (expressions, vocal range never seem to change) forces me to think of Sofia Coppola attempting to be Mary Corleone in The Godfather Part III (Francis Ford Coppola, 1990) where at times she feels right for what’s written as a naïve, limited character yet at others she just seems like the director’s daughter, brought in a last-minute-replacement for ailing Wynona Ryder, out of place among the amazing talent surrounding her.  Merritt comes off better than that, although he too at times feels like an actual person from a documentary on the subject spliced into a dramatic narrative.  My movie-loving-wife, Nina (a huge McConaughey fan—as am I) started quietly apologizing to me halfway through White Boy Rick for advocating our attendance because even for her normal-audience-responses the dialogue sounded silly at times, the delivery—even from the pros—felt forced, even the editing seemed choppy, but (while I agreed) I was interested enough to see where it all went (having not yet read any bio info about Wershe Jr.), although an even-shorter-version than the current 116 min. would have been welcomed, so I bear Nina no ill-will (ever, not just on … Rick).

 There’s also a documentary on this topic (available at iTunes; otherwise I know nothing about it) called White Boy (Christopher Shawn Rech, 2017) which may or may not be more worth your interest than this current feature, although audience response to Demange’s version was restrained at best for its premiere last weekend, taking in only about $8.9 million domestically despite playing in 2,504 theaters, barely making a run so far at recovering its $29 million budget (of course, except for A Simple Favor just about all other income then was limited by the combined haul of The Predator [Shane Black; “(2018)” often noted with the title to distinguish it from the earlier Predator {John McTiernan, 1987}] at $24.6 million [international markets added $30 million more] and The Nun [Corin Hardy] at $18.2 million [now up to $86.4 million domestically, $231.2 worldwide], neither of which I have the slightest interest in seeing, so White Boy Rick wasn’t such a bad choice after all [agreement with Nina this clunky film does get better the farther it goes, even though it takes a bit of audience endurance to accept the journey], given there’s almost nothing else out there I haven’t seen already enticing my attention otherwise, especially Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again [Ol Parker], despite its current global gross of about $383.7 million, following on Abba’s long-awaited [?] return to recording [I just hope they don’t have enough sales success to spawn another Momma Mia! …; I’d love to see the Greek islands someday but through some other experience, please]).  OK, that’s enough about White Boy Rick, so let’s cut to the Musical Metaphor which, for me at least, has to be Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” (from the 1976 Wild Cherry album) at (a video from 1976 TV’s The Midnight Special) in that it fits RJ’s situation with Johnny’s gang (despite the twist of Wild Cherry being—to my eyes—primarily a White band with just a couple of Blacks on backup sax and stage moves), especially as he saw himself in his later teenage years as easily accepted by the Detroit Black underground just as this song’s vocalist brings boogie and funk to rock ‘n’ roll in the disco era when it was such a huge hit, along with White Boy Rick’s post-drug-life—because he “Lay[ed] down the boogie [of living large on his cocaine profits]—leading to the aftermath of “that funky music [being his fate] ‘til you die [had parole laws not changed during his long years inside prison].”

 This is a much more upbeat song than the overall mood of the film, but it speaks to the income-high RJ experienced during his brief-triumphant-years, especially as he saw himself fitting so easily into a culture which on the surface seemed to have little use for him had he not provided an intro for himself when he sold Rick Sr.’s guns to them, proving he could “Play that funky music right, yeah.”

This image has nothing to do with the reviews posted here but instead represents other visual interests of mine
with the recent pictorial additions to our living room where we now celebrate reproductions of Pollock, Picasso,
Rothko, Rauschenberg, Monet, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling, along with many masks Nina's collected
over the years plus one of my paintings, 2 of her photos, the album cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club
, and, to cap it all off, a metal grilling tray full of artificial flowers
(plus some Oakland Athletics bobbleheads in front of the TV screen and many travel-acquired-items on the mantlepiece).  All of which represents our long-term project, brought to conclusion with the great help of our friend, Jim Graham, and his necessary 8' ladder.
 That’s it for me this time, with a notice you may not see anything new of Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark next week because Nina and I have plans that will keep us busy all weekend (another session of the marvelously-informative One Day University in San Francisco [I’ve forgotten what the lectures will be, making—hopefully–for a cluster of pleasant surprises]), followed by her 50th high-school-reunion (a momentous event in anyone’s life, especially because I didn’t make it to Texas for mine back in 2016), so unless I get to one of the potentially-interesting-upcoming-weekend-cinema-openings very early next week in order to provide you with commentary as September wraps up, I may just have to encourage you to refresh yourself with any of the several hundred reviews in the Two Guys archive until I maybe come your way again in early October (which may also be out of sync a bit, given I usually do my posting on Wednesdays but Oct. 3 is her birthday so keep your eyes on this site because I promise I'll return, hopefully sooner than later).*

*Also, I need time to meditate on my genetic heritage because’s just informed me that while my DNA hasn’t changed their analytical methodology’s been improved so now my percentage from Great Britain gone up from 11% to 71% while my Irish is reduced from 32% to 21%, Scandinavia’s down from 22% to 4%, Western Europe’s reduced from 9% to 2% while Spain/Portugal (formerly 13%), Italy/Greece (7%), and Eastern Europe (4%) have all been totally eliminated (fortunately, my 2% from Finland/Northwest Russia remains intact).  Of course, this doesn’t help much in reconciling results from 2 other tests, one of which says my minority inclusions are 15% South Asian, 11% Middle Eastern, 9% Native American, 8% Southeast European, the other one retaining my Scandinavian heritage at 39% and Italy/Greece at 10%, but with additional honors being Ashkenazi Jewish at .8%, Indigenous Amazonian also at .8%.  Anyway you slice this I seem to be largely Northern European which fits well with how I look, how I was raised (although Texas may well be a genetic group all to its own, similar to the Unknown Region readers Google’s been recently reporting in my monthly Two Guys traffic).  Being adopted with little knowledge of my birth parents, these DNA tests at best provide me with some clarity, some amusement, some dismissal, but I do have “evidence” I can use to claim just about any heritage I wish short of Sub-Saharan African or East Asian, greatly increasing my holiday celebration options. 
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*A Google software glitch causes every Two Guys posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to this Summary page; from then forward, though, this link is accurate.

Here’s more information about A Simple Favor: (13:13 interview with actors Blake Lively, Anna Kendrick, Henry Golden and director Paul Feig)

Here’s more information about White Boy Rick: (8:55 interview with actors Richie Merritt, Matthew McConaughey, Bel Powley, Jonathan Majors and director Yann Demange

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 4,236 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


  1. I also enjoyed Simple Favor and agree it is " intriguing, well-written, [and] well-crafted diversion for pure entertainment’s sake.." Sort of a 2018 Gone Girl with a vlog and strong sexuality. Gone Girl with Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck is still a favorite and involved many of the same elements, all exceptionally well done. Simple Favor takes advantage of architecture and ambience to add visual interest, one of the many strengths of the original Twilight. And we can't forget the parallels to Psycho where the beauty is knocked off early and deposited underwater in a 1957 Ford. Each film is only beginning when the star meets an untimely "end". So if you liked Gone Girl, Twilight, Psycho or just enjoy reality vlogs on youtube, Simple Favor may be a good choice.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for enhancing this review with a nice cluster of relevant references, all of which I agree with (although I'm the weakest on Twilight, which I've seen in an abundance of clips but never all the way through). Ken