Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Favourite and Short Takes on Widows

 Women on the March! (men, we’d better get out of the way)
 In that my good buddy Pat Craig (to whom I send a big dose of some of my hopefully-healing-energy, given medical problems both he and his wife are struggling with at present) and I began this venture on Dec. 11, 2011 (I guess we should have started in November of that year to even better line up our elevens) we've just now completed 7 years of Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark, with a total so far (including this one) of 359 postings with 767 reviews, to which I—as the one who’s written just about everything we’ve ever published, although Pat did offer some year-end-opinions early on—will first quote Arlo Guthrie from his song, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” (on the almost-same-named 1967 album [OK, Thanksgiving wasn’t that long ago so here it is if you’ve got almost 19 min. to spare, reliving these anti-war-attitudes]) in saying “I’m not proud … or tired,” then I'm happy to follow with the more important statement of thank you to everyone who’s ever looked over these writings, even briefly—especially you folks from the mysterious Unknown Region which Google can't seem to find (scroll down to our readership statistics as the very last thing in each of our postings)—allowing this unorthodox commentary to have received well over 950,000 page views from all 6 of our hoped-for-continents (unless someone dying from boredom in Antarctica happens to stumble onto us), although we’d love it if we got more regular hits from South America or Africa, but we’re grateful for anyone, anywhere sharing what we pollute cyberspace with (down there at the end of this posting, I’ve also included along with our regular recap of where the traffic came from in the past week a second one of our all-time-pageviews, with the USA way out in front, France as a solid second).  Now, here’s what wisdom we have to offer to you this time around.
                                                   Reviews by Ken Burke
                 The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos)   rated R
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): In this history-inspired-period-drama (early 1700s) set in the court of England’s Queen Anne (with the title spelled in the British manner) we find an historical foundation enhanced with a lot of modern sensibility (or at least the honesty of depicting how such people probably acted and talked back then, highlighting their vulgarities accompanying the power-hungry-manipulations among those in command of a society [none of which seems to have changed much except today 24-hr. news cycles and social media “exposés” publically air all this dirt for the entire world to see/chatter about rather than just those directly observing the inner-palace intrigue]).  The Queen is beset with various physical and emotional (if not mental, like a certain “monarch” who’s now found his way to an attempted “royal” presence on the “throne” of England’s former colonies in that vast stretch between Mexico and Canada) problems, so many of the decisions about the ruling of the empire default to her cunning chief advisor, Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, whose coveted power-behind-the-throne-status becomes increasingly threatened upon the arrival at court of Sarah’s cousin, Abigail Hill, looking to restore her former aristocratic status, gambled away by her ne’er-do-well-father.  Despite her initial menial status as a kitchen worker, Abigail uses her wiles to quickly improve her position, putting her at bitter odds with Sarah, ultimately leading to fierce competition between them.  More details for those ready for spoilers are available in the review below which might be useful if you’d like to know more but don’t care to wait for a wider release of this film which is in very limited placement at present but likely to roll out to considerably wider availability given the critical praise it’s racking up.

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’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.

What Happens: We’re in the 1708 court of Great Britain’s Queen Anne (reigned 1702-1714, oversaw the creation of GB as a merger of England and Scotland in 1701) where war rages with France but Her Majesty (Olivia Colman) hardly cares about such a trivial matter as she’s consumed with her own ill health (gout mainly, causing great pain in her legs, difficulty walking), distracted by what seem to be serious emotional/mental problems from many of the affairs of state so decisions are often made in her name by her primary advisor, Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), a fierce administrator whose husband doesn’t appear until late in our story because he’s off at war, in command of all British troops, so her support for the military maneuvers are at odds with some in the court due to the attempts of the leader of the Loyal Opposition, Robert Harley (Nicholas Hoult), to prevent the Queen from raising taxes in further support of this international conflict (at least he has some concern for what’s going on in the empire while other members of the entourage amuse themselves with duck races or throwing fruit at one of their willing, giddy male members—nude except for his silly wig—for idle delight; the Queen’s not much better, spending much of her time in her bedroom playing with her 17 rabbits, representing the children she lost through miscarriages or after childbirth).  Sarah’s “reign” becomes complicated by the unexpected arrival of her cousin, Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), once a lady herself, now reduced to desperation because of her father’s debauchery, resulting in his destitution and her being given to a German man for awhile in settlement of a debt.  At first confined to menial kitchen dutieswhere she injures her hands while scrubbing the floors with lyeAbigail rides off into the forest to gather herbs to ease her pain which she then rubs on Anne’s legs during one of the Queen's bouts of misery, even though she wasn’t authorized to enter the bedchamber.  At first punished (whipped a few lashes) by Sarah for such impropriety, Abigail’s soon promoted to Sarah’s lady-in-waiting due to the success of her remedy, after which she begins currying favor with Anne just for her own benefit.

 As Abigail’s situation improves, she’s approached by Harley to leak important information to him (gathered from Sarah, of course, as Anne rarely realizes what’s truly going on in her realm, usually just making proclamations on Sarah’s instructions) to advance his own purposes, but she refuses, even tells Sarah about it at a day on the shooting range (live birds are thrown into the air to be fired upon for no useful purpose other than bloody target practice) where Sarah (showing her state of privileged/masculine-implied power is dressed in trousers and boots, whereas all other women in this film always wear dresses) essentially tells Abigail she cares not about such loyalty because she’s so entrenched in Anne’s favor nothing could undermine her intentions at court.  Frustrated by such arrogance, Abigail begins increasing her own sense of privilege, teasingly responding to Baron Samuel Masham’s (Joe Alwyn) advances, then accidently witnessing Sarah’s sexual dalliances with the Queen, whereupon she begins to give Anne more attention while Sarah’s preoccupied with her wartime strategies, gaining Anne’s confidence enough to join her in playing with the rabbits then massaging her legs, leading to a night in bed with Anne which Sarah angrily discovers when she enters the chamber expecting herself to be the object of Anne’s interest.  (Abigail also shares confidence with Harley, allowing him to publically praise the Queen for not raising taxes in support of the war, thereby undercutting what had been planned between Anne and Sarah to do exactly the opposite, leaving the monarch so befuddled she forgets her speech, then collapses at her podium.)

 Sarah demands Anne send Abigail away, but the Queen refuses as her affections are shifting, so Abigail secures her growing influence by poisoning Sarah’s tea one afternoon; when she goes out on a ride she loses consciousness, falls off her horse, is dragged quite a distance, injured badly by the ordeal.  When she awakes, injured, she’s in a brothel where she’s not allowed to leave during her recovery.  Anne, thinking Sarah’s purposely disappeared to annoy her turns ever more of her attention to Abigail, even sanctioning her marriage to Masham, which restores this former-outcast’s aristocratic status even as she could care less about her new husband (simply masturbating him on their wedding night with little interest in his advances).  Eventually, Anne decides Sarah must be found so she sends men out looking for her; once she’s located and returned (scarred) to court, she again demands Abigail be banished, even threatening to make public love letters to Sarah written by Anne (as damning in the court of public opinion then as revealed private emails have become in our time) unless Abigail’s sent away, Harley’s appointed Prime Minister instead of Earl Godolphin (James Smith), and the war's terminated (her change of heart on these last 2 items escapes me).⇐

 Suddenly (not clear to me why this happens either), Sarah burns those letters, allowing Anne to exile her from the court (although Harley’s given his new office, the war’s brought to a close [?]).  Emboldened by these events, Abigail (now a raucous member of the court scene) convinces the Queen that Sarah was stealing money which she sent to her husband, Lord Marlborough (Mark Gatiss); soon they’re both banished from the country by royal edict, leaving Abigail in Sarah’s old position of influence, a material conquest she greatly relishes.  However, she goes too far in the last scene, abusing one of Anne’s bunnies by pushing down on the little guy with her foot (no injury but clearly a discomfort for the animal), which Anne notices, then gruffly commands Abigail to massage her legs yet not to speak unless spoken to.  It’s clear Abigail continues to occupy a prestigious position at court, but she’s not savvy about military/political affairs as Sarah was so she’s likely to be reduced to being just a personal servant/concubine of Queen Anne, with neither particularly happy with how it’s all turned out.  Lanthimos wraps this up with a series of disturbing shots: a long closeup on Abigail’s unhappy face as she silently kneels before the standing Queen, rubbing her legs with no sense of pleasure at being brought into the monarch’s favor; an equally-long CU of Anne’s face, looking away from Abigail, seemingly getting nothing from the physical contact; then, a superimposition of their faces (but turned away from each other, in a reversal of the famous juxtapositions of famous actress Elisabet Vogler [Liv Ullmann] and nurse Alma [Bibi Andersson] in Persona [Ingmar Bergman, 1966] when those women’s personalities/memories seem to merge at times, despite Alma’s ultimate refusal of collapsing their boundaries) where these 2 British women seem linked by the events of their own making, displeased by the result; finally, there’s a further juxtaposition onto their faces of a couple of the rabbits, followed by more until they completely overtake Anne and Abigail, leaving us with just a screen full of bunnies up until the final fadeout.*⇐

*You might be interested in this short (11:35) informative, exploratory video with thoughts on the content and ending of The Favourite, but please be aware it obviously also contains many spoilers.

So What? This mysteriously-evolving, ambiguous ending shot makes for a useful metaphor on how Lanthimos has structured the rest of the film, giving us just enough on screen to raise our interests, yet intentionally not allowing the kind of explanatory closure we’re so used to from the sort of Hollywood product (even when that cinematic model’s followed by filmmakers from abroad) that doesn’t want us leaving the theater puzzled by what we’ve seen.  While I can offer no definitive explanation as to what's intended by the rabbits overtaking the Queen and her consort (although the women's mutual, superimposed misery seems clear enough), I can speculate that if these animals are intended by Queen Anne to replace her lost children (but with creatures simply benefiting from her food and occasional affection, yet seem to spend most of their days in cages stacked in her bedroom, available for her pleasure only when her melancholy moods need lifting) then possibly their dominance of our story at its conclusion simply implies how all that never stabilized nor remained for unhappy Queen Anne (always gobbling sweets, even though her medical advisors—including Sarah—try to convince her such indulgence is detrimental to both her weight and her overall health, as well as how the frequent vomiting this causes demeans her royal appearance) essentially overtook her happiness, her self-understanding, even her obligation to her subjects to be a better-informed, self-actualized monarch, respecting the obligations of her office in addition to enjoying the status such a position offered her with its many material extravagances.  (By contrast, Abigail’s shown to be enthralled—ultimately undone—by her fully-conscious-embrace of avarice, her petty-self-indulgence [unlike the distractions needed by Anne to lighten her misery], overly-responsive to her previous hard times due to her father; at least Sarah was more sincere in her caring for the Queen’s stability [and willingness to at least occasionally offer her monarch some personal pleasure], if for no other reason than the needed stability for a country caught up in war, although certainly her vicious attitude toward anything that went against her authority—especially her equally-scheming cousin—gives us little to admire about her most of the time she’s on screen.)

 Related to how we see little of Sarah’s personal life (only a brief scene with her husband as troops arrive to escort them to some unknown destination at the Queen's edict, not even a letter between them prior to that) because Lanthimos wants us to concentrate on her public plots and trials as the pseudo-queen,* this director also never mentions Anne’s marriage to Prince George of Denmark (from 1863 until his demise), even though he died in 1708, when most of this film’s narrative takes place.  Were it not for the reality that someone had to have impregnated her 17 times we’d have no sense she ever enjoyed a relationship with a man (for that matter, it’s only speculation in the historical records about Anne concerning a lesbian relationship with either of the other 2 main women in this film, with much of what we know coming from a damning biography of this monarch by Sarah Churchill, after their relationship ended in 1709).  Much of what we see here is more “inspired” by historical events (just as was stated in the opening graphics of Green Book [Peter Farrelly; review in our November 29, 2018 posting]) than more-factually-“based” on them, as so many other docudramas of recent release claim to be (you could hardly sense the events of The Favourite lasting more than a year, yet that War of the Spanish Succession [when Great Britain was in combat with Bourbon Spain and Hungary—not just France—aided by British allies including the Holy Roman Empire, the Dutch Republic, Habsburg Spain, Prussia, and Portugal] didn’t end for Anne until 1711, didn’t finally reach closure until 1714).  So, this conceit of historical speculation isn’t really so much focused on the chief events occurring in a specific past era (which it barely acknowledges, giving us a sense of 1708 Great Britain as largely consumed with self-serving-incidents of palace politics rather than raging conflicts in Europe engaging most of the continent [seemingly, almost to the scale of WW I]) as it is about intrigue within a power center (especially self-aggrandizing-minions abusing an incompetent leader), interpersonal rivalries, unscrupulous actions removed from moral hesitations, all of which become plotlines that could easily interest audiences aware of the latest behind-the-scenes shenanigans in Washington, Moscow, Riyadh, Brasília, or other world capitals, these palace-machinations of old appearing all too relatable today.

*Here’s a short anatomy of a scene (Sarah and Abigail in conflict on the shooting range) narrated by director Lanthimos, giving us insight into his intentions and procedures used throughout his film.

 However, unlike most of the civilized world (as least as I note in some detail just below), I’m not as overwhelmed with wonder by The Favourite as I’d hoped to be.  Certainly the acting command demonstrated by Colman, Stone, and Weisz is as award-worthy as their collective growing lists of wins/nominations would indicate, making it difficult to differentiate how to categorize them regarding lead or supporting roles (obviously, the marketing decision was to put forth Colman for lead, the other 2 for supporting where, historical trends—of awards results, not British royalty—indicate they’ll cancel each other out, possibly easing the way for Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk [Barry Jenkins; hasn’t opened near me yet, but advance-buzz is strong]) because they’re all crucial to the narrative, all share roughly equal screen time, although when a story’s about a monarch that character would normally have to be near-comatose to not be the principal entity the plot must revolve around, so it’s reasonably fitting the lead focus be on Queen Anne, especially in that Stone and Weisz already have acting Oscars whereas Colman’s never even been nominated for one (helping her chances for winning as well).*  I can’t say at this point where any of them will end up in terms of my season-ending-preferences for Oscar nominees/winners (there are still too many films in possible contention I’ve yet to see, including Toni Collette in Hereditary [Ari Aster], which was out quite some time ago), but all 3 of these ladies certainly deserve serious consideration for inclusion in their various final fives, as does the director (he also edited; not sure that’s among the film’s strongpoints), screenwriters Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, cinematographer Robbie Ryan (using a good number of very-wide-angle [“fisheye”] shots, which are intentionally-visually-distorting but give a good sense of the undercover-chaos infecting Queen Anne’s manipulative court).  However, the whole experience just isn’t that compelling for me (definitely, all those successful contributing elements give the film a sense of splendor, but just not cohesive enough that I’ll likely include it in my 2018 Top 10), possibly because it feels like a story that could be told about any dysfunctional political power center (and surely one day will be about the Trump White House), just with women as the schemers for a change, allowing them to be as devious as any men in oh-so-many-similar-scenarios.  I’m prepared to be pilloried for this outlier-position, but I just found little beyond what I was primed for in the trailer, no matter how well executed it all turned out.

*Surprisingly, Screen Actors Guild nominations (just announced) don't include King for Supporting Actress, even though she's way ahead in wins/nominations in Metacritic's tally (scroll down to Supporting Actress); not surprisingly, Stone and Weisz made that cut, as did Colman for Best Actress in a film (as did they all in those respective categories for the Golden Globes, along with King for Supporting Actress).  These SAG noms so often coincide with Oscar noms, but not always.

Bottom Line Final Comments: The latest issue of Entertainment Weekly (Dec. 14/21, 2018) offers 2 opinions (by Chris Nashawaty and Leah Greenblatt [sorry, but I can't isolate her comments; you'll have to scroll through her choices using the right green arrow]) on the Top 10 movies of 2018, with both of them picking The Favorite as #1; then there’s also an EW Critical Mass compilation of the 40 Best of the year (couldn't find a link for that; support the print industry, buy a magazine! [then look on p. 41]), based on averaging the numbers for each entry from IMDb, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes with The Favourite coming in at #5 sporting a 90 average (based on respective scores of 83, 92, 94—although EW's #4, the Fred Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor [Morgan Neville], also has a 90 average but it does have higher individual numbers at 2 of those cumulative sites), topped only by Roma (Alfonso Cuarón; 93), another doc, Minding the Gap (Bing Liu; 92), and Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda; 91).  All of which may contribute to why my tastes could have been a factor in my getting turned down 5 years straight for membership in the San Francisco Film Critics Circle (after which I stopped bothering to apply; however, if you scroll far down in the various awards connection under Related Links much farther below you’ll see they nominated The Favourite in 7 of a possible 7 categories but no wins so maybe I’m more in tune with them than they think I am) as I’ve yet to even have the time to see 2 of these above top 4, passed on both of the docs when they were in release earlier this year, don’t fully share this growing enthusiasm for The Favourite (currently at #2 for 2018 in the compilation of critics’ Top 10 lists [see the Metacritic-compiled-connection for that info in the Related Links section oh-so-far-below]), although I agree the acting quality of the 3 principal women in The Favourite is superb, well worth the recognition they’re currently getting (including Golden Globe nominations for Colman as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy Motion Picture, Stone and Weisz for Best Supporting Actress in any Motion Picture [along with an overall nom for Best Motion Picture—Musical or Comedy plus Tony McNamara for Best Screenplay, Motion Picture—even though that latter designation seems a little redundant]).  But, despite my inconsequential reservations, The Favourite’s been actively acknowledged as among “the favorites” by many awards-givers ever since its premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize as well as the Volpi Cup for Best Actress (Colman), while critical consensus is also quite high, with 94% positive reviews surveyed at Rotten Tomatoes even as the usually-more-reserved-reviews at Metacritic have yielded an astounding 91% average score (their highest for 2018 releases critiqued by both them and me).

 However, The Favourite won’t even be eligible for a nomination for a screenplay award from the Writers Guild of America (along with a good number of others because of nonconformity by its scribes to the WGA’s Minimum Basic Agreement [if you care to make any sense of that, here’s a summary of it], but I have no idea what its specific “nonconformity” was, although I think any of those excluded films can still be considered for Oscar nominations [maybe not; various music scores have been disqualified from Oscar competition for various infractions from that particular Oscar voters’ guild]), so there’s one area in which it won’t triumph.  Another one that’s yet to be seen is box-office-appeal, where it’s had little chance so far during its previous 3 weeks in release because it’s now only opened in 91 domestic (U.S.-Canada) theaters, providing a scant $3.5 million in box-office-receipts, but its exposure is sure to grow, fueled by all these laudatory comments (from everyone else, not quite as much from me).  Don’t get me wrong; this film has many stunning qualities (the acting especially—with all 3 of the primary women as leads as far as I’m concerned, category-competition-politics be damned!—but other purely-cinematic-aspects as well), is certainly among the films to take notice of this year (but how high on my list I’m not sure yet), and clearly is more fun (lots of laughs here, reasonable to call it [mostly] a comedy) than the usual, serious explorations into historical drama, so I’d definitely encourage you to see it whenever it becomes available in your area, but either don’t expect a superlative-cinematic-experience or feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in not seeing it that way.  (Although my position puts me in agreement with Joanna Langfield, whose comments are acknowledged by Rotten Tomatoes [mine aren’t; they didn’t approve me for membership either] who says: “As compelling as it is to watch, this film is also a reminder that sometimes you can respect the hell out of something and still be miserable as hell watching it”; while it wasn’t a miserable viewing experience for me, I do find resonance with Langfield in her further explanation: “… there will certainly be those who get off watching these three women destroy one another.  As much as I may admire the surroundings, I am not one of them.”  Me either.  These characters are all miserable, a sad result from many unfulfilled yearnings.)

 That’s enough from me for now, though, so I’ll conclude with my usual tactic of a Musical Metaphor to offer one last round of commentary on what’s just been discussed, this one being Bob Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately” (from his 1965 Highway 61 Revisited album) at com/watch?v=djdttyvYqtU (just the recording, plus the lyrics below the YouTube video screen)—although if you’d like a live performance here's one (1993, NYC, illustrated with Dylan photos; his delivery’s not as clear as on the record [no surprise] so maybe while you’re listening to him you’d like to open up another web browser on another screen to follow along with those lyrics).  Admittedly, as you listen you need to mentally substitute the thought of Goode (to follow that older British spelling from the film’s title) “Queen Anne” for “Queen Jane,” as if this song’s addressed to our agonized, befuddled monarch, who’s “tired of yourself and all of your creations [… aware that] all of your children start to resent you [… even as] all the clowns that you have commissioned Have died in battle or in vain And you’re sick of all this repetition [… because] all of your advisors heave their plastic At your feet to convince you of your pain Trying to prove that your conclusions should be more drastic […] And you want somebody you don’t have to speak to [rather than those women trying to curry favor in your bed, so] Won’t you come see me, Queen [Anne]?”  Do I make my point?
(truly) SHORT TAKES (for a change; I’m shocked I could really do it) 
(please note that spoilers also appear here)
                           Widows (Steve McQueen)   rated R
After a wealthy guy with a secret life as a thief is involved in a big robbery gone bad the victim of the heist (a crook himself) threatens the wife of the now-gone-thief unless she quickly comes up with $2 million, so she recruits 2 other wives from the botched job (plus a last-minute-addition to her crew) to help with an even bigger theft as tensions mount, stars deliver.

Here’s the trailer:

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

 Despite excellent critical support (RT 91%, MC 84%) along with a marvelous combination of respected, thought-provoking director (12 Years a Slave [2013; my rare 4½-star-review in our November 14, 2013 posting]); notable stars Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Robert Duvall, Liam Neeson; heritage of the 1993 British ITV series of the same name, Widows hasn’t made all that much of an impact at the box-office during its 4-week-run, surprisingly yielding only $38.2 million (despite playing in 2,803 domestic theaters at its height) vs. its production budget of $42 million (plus considerably more for marketing) despite the intended-attraction of a well-praised-cast plus the anticipated-appeal of an active crime story with a focus (as in The Favourite) on its female players for a change.  Still, with active interest from my women-enthusiast-wife, Nina, and the likelihood of Widows being a reasonable-review-companion for the film above, off we went on a weekday afternoon to see if we might find a generally-overlooked-gem(where we saw a trailer for The Favourite, soon to be in the suburbs, also a filmed “thank you” from McQueen prior to our screening in gratitude for us for coming out to a theater to see his film).  What we got on screen is a marvelous crime drama, which tosses you into its action immediately with intercut scenes introducing the primary characters—Veronica (Davis) and Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson), Linda (Rodriquez) and Carlos Perelli (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Alice (Elizabeth Debicki) and Florek Gunner (Jon Bernthal) in various domestic situations—along with a major robbery involving these guys and a few accomplices escaping a SWAT team, seemingly burned alive when their van ignites.  Soon, we add other major entities: a Chicago alderman, Tom Mulligan (Duval), stepping down for health reasons; his son, Jack (Farrell), running to replace him (continuing a family tradition, which includes corruption along with espoused community caring); his opponent, Jamal Manning (Brian Tyree Henry), who’s a crime boss along with being a politician (Chicago, remember?); Jamal’s brother, Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya), the enforcer who wants Veronica to return the $2 million stolen by Harry’s gang; Belle (Cynthia Erivo), a beautician who joins Veronica when she convinces the other women to carry out Harry’s next-planned-theft of $5 million so they can collectively get out of debt, stay alive.  How this all comes together makes for a riveting viewing experience, well-plotted (mostly), well-balanced among all these folks (and others left unmentioned in Short Takes territory).

*This article verifies female-led-movies brought in more money than male-led-ones worldwide 2014-’17, no matter their budget level, so Nina and I have every reason to continue seeking them out, especially because those passing the Bechdel test also did better than those that didn't pass.

 After the heist is in motion (from Jack Mulligan’s home safe, filled with graft money), Tom suddenly pops out of his room in this mansion, wounding Alice before being killed himself (the women are armed, taking this challenge very seriously); when they escape with their cash it’s taken from them by Jatemme (who’s been tailing them for awhile) but he’s also killed when they give chase, forcing him off the road; Linda takes Alice to an ER; Veronica drops Belle off, returns to their hideout where Harry shows up (he faked his death, was responsible for killing the rest of his gang because he’s actually working for Jack [against the Mannings], even though he planned to rob Jack next; he also has a secret lover, Amanda Nunn [Carrie Coon], with whom he’s got a baby, although Veronica found out about this), starts to kill Veronica but she shoots him first.  In the end, Jack’s elected as alderman, it’s not clear what becomes of Jamal (or if he sought any revenge against Victoria for his brother’s death), all the women seem rectified in their now-financially-stable-lives.⇐   An interesting story, written by McQueen (with Gillian Flynn, famous for Gone Girl [David Fincher, 2014; review in our October 9, 2014 posting]), where the men are corrupt (if not outright gangsters/thieves), the women are forced into a cunning crime no one assumes them capable of—although they find themselves required to exceed their intentions by committing 2 killings, but these guys aren’t missed much by us anyway (Jatemme’s a thug; Toms a MAGA-type-racist [his son has some honest ambitions for his constituents but he uses illegal methods to accomplish his intentions, admitting he hates his corrupt political life]).  Even though my star-ratings are the same here as for The Favourite (I considered going up to 4 but there are some bothersome plot holes I can’t ignore despite the solid acting, especially by Davis—as expected of this Oscar winner), I enjoyed Widows just a bit more, with its great pace, marvelous blend of screen time for all the major characters (with some useful subplots I haven’t even discussed here), and intriguing cinematic approaches such as the one where Jack’s traveling home with his campaign manager, explaining his disgust with his circumstances to her, yet all we see are angled-shots of the windshield as neighborhoods pass by, just as in the frantic theft scenes the editing’s active, moving us through the involved situations even as surprise events purposefully catch us off guard.  I’m impressed to find Widows has taken in an addition $26.9 million in international sales, but I do wish it had made a better impact where awards conservations are concerned, as it totally transcends the simple “big caper” crime subgenre it could easily be lumped in with.  I highly recommend attendance before it fades away, as I leave you with the Musical Metaphor of “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” by Eurythmics (from their 1985 album Be Yourself Tonight) at, Annie Lennox joined by Aretha Franklin (lyrics below the video screen if you like).
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AND … at least until the Oscars for 2018’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 24, 2019 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2018 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees for films and TV from 2018.

Here’s more information about The Favourite: (27:59 interview with director Yorgos Lanthimos, co-screenwriter Tony McNamara [with Deborah Davis], and actors Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, plus a brief appearance by costume designer Sandy Powell)

Here’s more information about Widows: (47:12 interview with director Steve McQueen and actors Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriquez, Elizabeth Debicki [begins with the same trailer used above in the review intercut with some brief commentary from those involved with the movie—audio runs a bit low much of the time unless you run it full blast])

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

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 5,800 (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:

Here’s a summary of our international audience over the last 7 years of our blog's existence:


  1. Favourite was an interesting film that captures your attention and respect. I believe Queen Anne's termination of the war was due to a major victory Lord Marlborough achieved leading primarily Dutch and some English soldiers in 1706's Battle of Ramillies. That battle crushed an arguably superior French led army.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for the clarification comment. Also, happy 2018 end-of-year-holidays to you with wishes for a marvelous 2019. Ken