Tag Archives: Virginia

VIFF 2019 Review: The Death Of Dick Long

Death Dick Long

The Death Of Dick Long is a dark comedy of two friends trying to hide the truth about their friend’s death, and hilarious results abounding!

 

DISCLAIMER: VIFF 2019 has ended, but I will continue to post reviews of the films I’ve seen as many will be released in theatres later this year or next year.

At first you’ll think I saw The Death Of Dick Long because of the title. In actual fact, I’ve heard so many lewd jokes in my life, I’m no longer charmed by it. I’m actually more bored with lewd humor. As for the film, I found the film to be funny in a bizarre and dark sort of way.

The film begins with Dick Long playing in his band Pink Freud with his bandmates Zeke Olson and Earl. The night consists of playing and partying, especially with fireworks. However overnight, Zeke and Earl leave a severely-wounded Dick by the entrance of the emergency room of a hospital and take his wallet for the sake of ‘anonymity.’ It’s now up to Earl and Zeke to hide everything.

Earl loads up his truck with several items. He tells his casual girlfriend Lake that he’s leaving for a family emergency, but goes to work. Zeke showers to get all the blood off him and lies down next to his wife Lydia to think he slept the whole night with her. Upon waking up, Lydia asks Zeke to drive their daughter Cynthia to school. When she asks for cash, he accidentally pulls out Dick’s wallet . He gives her cash, but puts Dick’s driver’s license on the counter. Before he takes the daughter to school, he sees Dick’s blood from last night on the backseat. He covers it with a sheet to make like nothing’s happening.

Over at the hospital, Dr. Richter, the doctor who discovered Dick at the door, has learned that Dick has died overnight. He notices that his wounds are severe anal wounds and he calls the police over it. The case is handled and investigated by Sherriff Spenser, a vet in the town police department, and she enlists her young inexperienced trainee Officer Dudley to help solve the death.

However Zeke and Earl learn you can’t keep things secret for long. Zeke drives Cynthia to school, but stops to fill the car up with gas. Cynthia leaves the car to go the store and talks with Officer Dudley. Zeke notices Dick’s blood soaked through the cloth and onto Cynthia’s dress. Zeke then rushes in to take Cynthia without Dudley seeing and gives her the wallet.

Before dropping Cynthia off, he makes a call to Earl to see him immediately. Earl has to be away from his girlfriend Lake for the day. The two scrub all the blood off the seat from the car while Cynthia is bathing. Earl offers to drive Cynthia to school and then calls Dick’s widow Jane to see if she knows anything. She knows nothing and thinks Dick is either missing or just away for a long time. This allows Earl and Zeke to fake a scenario that the car was stolen. They try dumping it in the river, but the river is too shallow and it only falls in halfway.

Sherriff Spenser and Officer Dudley get into the case, which they assume it to be a murder, but are unable to keep it a secret from the rest of the town. Word hits Lydia and she calls Zeke in fear of her life. Zeke insists the car is stolen, but he still has to meet with the police. Spenser and Dudley arrive at his house to ask him the questions. The questioning is to be brief as forensics have turned up some positive results. However Cynthia’s in the room. Whenever Zeke tells a lie, Cynthia is the first to point it out and to correct. Lydia is there hearing it all. Lydia tells Cynthia to watch television as she tries to get to the bottom with Zeke about his inconsistencies and demands the truth. Zeke confesses the truth of Dick’s death, by breaking down. Lydia is heartbroken. However Lydia is soon horrified when she learns of the shocking details of Dick’s death and demands that Zeke leave.

Zeke meets up with Earl in a bar and the two resolve that they won’t run away. However there’s a need for tactics as they learn Spenser and Dudley will be heading over to the Olsons for further questioning and then to Jane’s house to tell the news of what happened to Dick. Zeke rushes over to Jane’s house and she finds him in the stable drunk and shirtless. Zeke reassures Jane that Dick’s not having an affair and agrees to take her to his house. There, Officer Dudley and Lydia are there demanding answers. Dudley even just noticed the drivers license of Richard Long on the counter. Zeke agrees to do so with Lydia and Dudley sitting at the dinner table. The various conflicting stories of Zeke and Lydia spiral out of control with Zeke running out with Dudley chasing after him. Lydia is the one to break the news to Jane. Meanwhile Zeke is at Dick’s stable attempting to free Dick’s horse Comet before he will surrender himself to Dudley.

The final scene shows the aftermath. The big shocker to Dudley from Spenser is that Zeke has been released, feeling keeping him incarcerated before the trial would cause more harm than good to Lydia, Cynthia and Jane. Zeke may be a released man before the trial, but he still tries to maintain a closeness with Cynthia despite Lydia wanting him out of their lives. Even Jane’s life is not the same. The film ends with Zeke meeting up at a hotel room with Earl and Lake. The two talk about what the next plan is for all three to survive the aftermath of all this.

This film is an ambitious attempt at a crime comedy. You have a man left for dead at a hospital and you wonder what’s going on. You have the two trying to cover it up and hide from the law, but fail in a spectacularly hilarious way. You have law enforcers that are two opposites– one experienced and relaxed and the other inexperienced and both excited but nervous– at getting the job done. It tries to do it in a slow-but-steady manner. It’s not the most entertaining, but it does it well and will keep your intrigue. Mind you the story of Dick’s death will keep you intrigued, if not weirded out. The whole story leaves you wondering from the very start what’s the main motive of the cover up? Is it their involvement in his death? Or is it because of Dick’s humiliating death? It is bizarre.

Now the redneck stereotype is one people often get a laugh out of. However there are many times in entertainment where the redneck stereotype is often reduced to cartoonish or stock characters. Here, the characters are more three-dimensional. Yes, they have their idiotic moments and comedic moments common with the ‘redneck’ we’re familiar with, but they are more down-to-earth and have more dimension. They come across as common people. One thing that’s surprising is you see a multi-racial couple. Usually redneck couples are nothing but white.

The rednecks aren’t the only characters with more dimension in this film. The police force whose lack of intellect doesn’t come across like your typical stocky ‘dumb cop.’ They are dim-witted, but they don’t cross the line as cartoonish either.

Finally another difference from your typical redneck comedy is the ending is very much in sync with human feelings. The story is about a hilarious way of covering up a friend’s humiliating death and failing, but the human factor is there at the very end. Zeke may have failed in spectacular fashion, but he still knows he has to deal with a daughter he loves very much and a wife who turns against him that faithful night. We have Jane, Dick’s widow, trying to live her life, but it’s hard. Everything changed that night. The film ends Earl and Lake: the two people in the world that understand Zeke and what happened that night best. I think the ending is what best made the film work in being a redneck comedy with actual dimension.

The film is directed well by Daniel Scheinert. He’s the director best known for Swiss Army Man. Here he doesn’t shine as a director, but he does piece together the story by Billy Chew in a way that works. The acting also made the story work. Janelle Cochran and Sarah Baker were good at playing their roles of the two officers with different personalities and different approaches. Michael Abbott Jr. and Andre Hyland were good at playing Zeke and Earl. They did a good job of playing rednecks that had dimension instead of coming off as cartoonish. Virginia Newcomb and Jess Weixler were also good as playing the redneck wives who did lack some smarts at first, but would appear headstrong but hurt in the end.

The Death Of Dick Long is a humorous redneck crime story that is able to make a comedy out of a manslaughter incident, but doesn’t forget the human factor either. This is the least cartoonish ‘redneck comedy’ I’ve seen, and it works.

DVD Review: Loving

Loving

Loving is the depiction of Richard and Mildred Loving–played by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga– and why they fought for their love.

DISCLAIMER: In the next while, you will see a lot of film reviews that have been delayed for the longest time. I’m passing them off as DVD reviews.

“Can’t you just go and speak to Judge Bazile? We ain’t hurting anybody.”

Loving was actually the very first film I saw in 2017. Pardon the delay of the review. It’s still worth reviewing as it is a unique film, and not just because of its subject matter.

Richard and Mildred Loving want to marry. It’s the right time; they’ve been dating for a long time she’s having a baby. Problem is Mildred is black and Richard is white and they live in Virginia where interracial marriage is forbidden by law. They travel to Washington, D.C. to marry, but it causes problems as the couple are raided by the police and told their marriage certificate is not valid.

The couple were tried in the court of law in Virginia and they plead guilty. They received a suspended sentence, but decided to move to Washington, D.C. Life in Washington doesn’t work out for them as the oldest of their three children was hit by a car. The child survives, but Mildred decides she prefers the calm life of the country and wants to move back to Virginia. Especially since their families are there. In addition, Mildred writes to Robert F. Kennedy of her situation. Kennedy sends her letter to the ACLU. Bernard Cohen, a lawyer associated with the ACLU, agrees to contest the marriage ruling in the state of Virginia, but is slapped by disapproval in the court based on Virginia’s constitutional law.

Mildred then has Cohen take the case to the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1967, the US Supreme Court overturned their convictions and ruled that the criminalizing of interracial marriages violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The Lovings could now live in Virginia without fear of threat and love each other peacefully.

This film is of a relevant topic. Interracial marriage is a topic that still develops some heated discussion in the United States today. Many countries like Canada, the UK and even France don’t see interracial love as much of a problem. However there are still a significant number of people in the United States that look down upon it. Even seeing how Richard’s mother was disapproving of the marriage and even telling Richard he ‘did a wrong thing’ really gets one thinking at first how someone, including many millions around the world, can think loving a person of a different race is ‘wrong.’ Even hearing how the courts of Virginia ruled that: “God created the continents to keep the races separate and that they don’t mix.” I thought that was bizarre that they thought that but the courts in the Commonwealth Of Virginia considered that to be the truth. Me, I’d demand they pull out the Bible and show me where marrying someone of another race is a sin. Which of the Ten Commandments did that violate?

I was anticipating the subject of race to be included in the film. I know the prime topic of interracial love would be the prime topic but I figured the topic of race would be present too,, especially since this is in Virginia. The topic of race was not focused too heavily. However there were some moments when the subject of race was present. Like the case when Richard was going for a beer with his brothers-in-law from Mildred’s side of the family. I remember one of them questioning “You think you’re black?’ That too had me thinking about the racial divide in the US that still hits today.

The most surprising thing about Loving is that it wasn’t as dramatic as one would expect it to be. In fact the film appeared less focused on the events and more focused on the people Richard and Mildred Loving. It focused on the two as a couple, but mostly on both Richard Loving and Mildred Loving as individuals. Richard was seen of having the personality of a man who’s both hard and sensitive at the same time, but fearful of what would happen. Possibly because he’s white and he knows about a lot of racism that he could be subject to hate and even violence for. Mildred, whose actually half-black and half-Native American, was seen as a person who was soft and smart, but always optimistic. She had that look on her like she had nothing to lose and whatever else to gain.

It first seems like an odd choice to be more focused on the people instead of the events. I often wondered too about why it was done so. Over time, I saw it as something that made sense. We should not forget that it was the Lovings’ love for each other that made this happen. Sure, history will record Richard and Mildred for making history for their interracial marriage, but they made history because of their love for each other. The feelings for each other are made very obvious to us as are their feelings towards the events in their lives. This angle of focus was a very good choice in making such a film. We more of a look at the couple that made history rather than the history they made.

I admire writer/director Jeff Nichols for using that angle in creating the story of the Lovings. It is a unique angle and keeps their story from coming off as a made-for-TV movie. The portrayals of the Lovings by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga were excellent and very telling of Richard and Mildred both as individuals and as a couple. The other actors in the film didn’t have such well-developed roles, but they did own the scenes when they had them, like Sharon Blackwood as Richard’s disapproving mother and Nick Kroll as Bernie Cohen the lawyer. The score from David Wingo didn’t occupy too much of the film, but its presence helped with the storytelling.

Loving is an excellent film that shows a focus to a story many know, but a focus overlooked. It’s also a film relevant now as interracial marriage is still a hot topic to many today.

VIFF 2016 Review: Harold And Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story

harold-lillian

Film researcher Lillian Michelson and storyboard artist/set designer Harold Michelson are the subject of the documentary Harold And Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story.

Yes, we know too much about Hollywood couples. Harold and Lillian Michelson are a couple that won’t come to most people’s minds. Nevertheless they’re worth knowing in Harold And Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story.

Harold and Lilian Michelson were a power couple in Hollywood, but a couple the masses never knew. Those in Hollywood not only knew them, they wanted them for their movies. Harold was a storyboard artist who drew the images for most of Hollywood’s best movies from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s continuing into the 80’s.The start of his legend began with The Ten Commandments and led to even bigger films like Ben-Hur, The Apartment, Cleopatra, The Birds, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, The Graduate, Catch-22, Fiddler On The Roof, Hair, Spaceballs, and ending with 2003’s Duplex. Harold was also a set designer for Star Trek: The Movie (for which he received his first of two Oscar nominations), Terms Of Endearment, Spaceballs and Dick Tracy.

Lillian Michelson was a film researcher. Her research helped contribute to films like Fiddler On The Roof1941, Reds, Scarface and Rain Man to name a few. Her research was very intense as she would go searching about all information related to the place and time of the story including as far as what people would wear in a certain time. One example of how far she’d go for her research: Lillian even interviewed an actual drug lord from Colombia for Scarface. She was that fearless. She even owned a library full of research materials for films she worked on: a library she would constantly have to fight for a space to have it all kept.

Harold and Lillian were also a dedicated couple who kept a solid marriage for 60 years. Harold was well to do but Lillian was raised an orphan. The age gap of 11 years didn’t stop Harold from taking a liking to her and they married in 1947 when Harold was 28 and Lillian was 17. Harold decided to pursue life as a storyboard artist in Hollywood after returning from the war. An Army Sargent saw the drawings Harold drew of the war and thought he would make an excellent artist. Lillian had nothing really to lose as her first pregnancy cost her a telephone company job; this happened during a time women didn’t have the right to sue for their job back. Lillian would mother three children including an autistic son. Harold was frequently away at work and this caused friction in their marriage. Lillian, bored with motherhood, found an opportunity to become a film researcher and the rest is history. Their marriage was strong and committed and went through the ups and downs until Harold died in 2007. Lillian retired in 2010 and now lives in a Hollywood retirement home.

This documentary is a mix of things. This film mixes the love of Harold and Lillian with their accomplishments in Hollywood. It takes you into what they achieved in film and fits it with the films they were a part of. Sometimes you’re led to think they helped make the film’s greatness. The film tells of the times where they were getting their start in the business: Harold having to spend time as an apprentice in the Hollywood system before his rise and Lillian chasing an opportunity because of the limited chances for women at the time. This film also tells the stories of their own lives where they had to both play spouse and parent, including a parent to an autistic son. We also see how Harold would take his storyboard illustration style he used for his Hollywood books and include it in his own personal diary of his marriage and family life in all its triumphs and struggles.

It’s interesting how when you watch this film, you learn how much these two are responsible for some of the best films to come out of Hollywood. You’d be shocked to see how many films Harold was a storyboard illustrator for: Ben-Hur, The Graduate, The Birds, Cleopatra, Fiddle On The Roof, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, etc. You often feel he helped make that era of Hollywood. Learning about all the films Lillian did research for starting with Fiddler On The Roof, and most notably Scarface and Rain Man, you not only develop an appreciation for her too but her profession. The words of gratitude from such big names like Danny De Vito, Mel Brooks and Francis Ford Coppola leave you convinced they may have been the best ever. Even learning about all the research materials she had and continuously fought have a space for, you feel it deserves its own permanent library.

Kudos to Danial Raim for making a very intriguing, very entertaining documentary. This is the third documentary he directed, wrote, edited, produced and cinematographed. This documentary finally exposes Hollywood’s best kept secret in both the films they made and the love they had. However I will admit there are some areas where I felt the editing could have been done better. Most of the time, it goes from the story to the movie they created to the people they worked with in the right order. Nevertheless there are times when the order doesn’t seem to go right. Rare in the film but noticeable. I personally feel this would be a good film to release at the box office. However I’m a person who’s interested in some of the stories of Hollywood movies past. It’s hard to know what exactly makes for a documentary that has what it takes for a box office release. Even those nominated for the Oscars and win don’t exactly explain it all. I think this documentary is best for channels like B.C.’s Knowledge Network or TCM.

Harold And Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story is more than just a story about a Hollywood couple. It’s also a film that gets you understanding their behind-the-scenes jobs and leaves you thinking they were the best ever in their professions.

Movie Review: Joy

jennifer-lawrence-joy-trailer

Joy stars Jennifer Lawrence as inventor and Home Shopping Network personality Joy Mangano.

Don’t ever think that the world owes you anything, because it doesn’t. The world doesn’t owe you a thing.

I’m sure before you go to see Joy, you’ll think you’ve seen all the rags-to-riches stories you’ve had to. However you’re in for a surprise.

The film is first set in the 1960’s when Joy Mangano is a child. She’s very creative and very inventive. Fast forward to 1989. Joy Mangano is the breadwinner to a household of four generations of family: her grandmother, her divorced mother and father, her overachieving half-sister, her ex-husband and her two children. She works as a ticket agent at a major airline. Not exactly an admirable job for someone that was valedictorian when she graduated.

“How did it go wrong?” Joy ponders. She was an inventive girl but that all changed when her mother and father divorced. It was like her creativity went with her. She married a wedding singer with high hopes but his dreams fell apart and so did their marriage, albeit left amicable enough for him to still live in Joy’s house. Hey, he’s broke! Actually all the family’s lives appear unchanging as her father is dating the wrong women and her mother escapes the pain of divorce by locking herself in her bedroom and watching soaps. The one thing that stayed solid and has kept on going right over they years was Joy’s friendship to Jackie, her best friend since grade school.

One day, her father dates a new woman: an Italian woman named Trudy. She comes from a wealthy background and takes the whole family on the family yacht. A wine bottle breaks and Joy is left to mop it. She gets her hands cut trying to remove the broken glass from the mop. While recovering from her cuts, that’s when her inventiveness comes back. She has an idea for a self-cleaning mop and she’s willing to design it with something as simple as paper and her daughter’s crayons. Her mother is discouraging of her to chase her dreams but her grandmother is more supportive.

However she knows the difficulties of making something and merchandising it. She knows there’s someone who has a patent for something similar and has to agree to pay a certain percentage. She knows she will need financial support. Trudy is willing to offer but she’s very stern with whom she’s willing to support. She knows she will need a place to get the mop made. Her father offers her space in his workshop and women hired to make the mop. She even finds a factory willing to make the parts.

Then comes the advertising. She’s unable to get a deal and is subject to advertising her mop in K-Mart parking lots which is illegal. However she catches the attention of Neil Walker, CEO of the shopping channel QVC. He is impressed with the product and is willing to get it advertised on the channel. However everything goes wrong when first advertised as the salesman, who is considered the top salesman of the channel, does everything wrong and there’s no sale. Joy however doesn’t quit and negotiates with Walker for her to sell the product herself on the channel. When she does the commercial, she is very nervous. However a helpful phone call from Jackie while live on the air is just the boost she needs and it works. Her mop is a hit and it succeeds in getting her mops sold and paying her off.

However it doesn’t end there. Her success happens as her grandmother, the person who believed in Joy all along, dies. Then there’s news about excessive production fees paid. Joy goes to the factory and finds out a lot of bad truths about what has been happening and what’s being planned. Feeling helpless, Joy is about to file for bankruptcy until she finds out a certain truth and settles the score.

The movie isn’t just simply about a rags-to-riches story about a woman who was able to make it as a tycoon. It’s also a reminder that even in tight economic times, the American Dream is still achievable. Even in cases where there are obstacles thrown in your face like an advertiser who doesn’t do their job right or even lawsuits left, right and centre, it can still be done. We shouldn’t forget that Joy Mangano was making this all happen during the recession of the 90’s. I remember that recession well as I remember young adults like myself at the time received a lot of neglect from the job markets. Joy was not only able to create a ‘better mousetrap’ but be able to make it sell. Sure she faced a lot of common business challenges and hard blow of the business world and yes, she may have thought of giving up but she prevailed in the end. Now she’s the one in control. The film shows that this is still very much possible today.

One thing I will have to say is that doing such a film of a person achieving the American Dream has been done countless times. For one to do such a story differently, they would have to make the right choices. David O. Russell tries to make some unique choices such as having the story told by the grandmother’s point of view, even in time periods when the grandmother is deceased. Even the ending where the story progresses to the present but flashes back to just after Joy won her legal dispute is another unique choice in storytelling. However it makes one question whether those were the right choices. I can understand the attempt to tell a story differently but did they work? I don’t think they were the best choices.

David O. Russell sure has made a name for himself in the last five years with films like The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle. This is a new challenge for him to direct and co-write with Annie Mumolo a story about a female inventor and media personality. Not something I would normally associate with Russell. I will admit this is not his best work. There are times I even wondered if David O. Russell is the right director for such a movie. Nevertheless it’s still very professional despite some of the glitchy storytelling choices. I do give him and Mumolo kudos for telling this story of a woman who starts in a situation familiar with most Americans and turning it into a relatable success story. That is one of its best points. Even the human element of Joy Mangano is another excellent part of the film. The film is not just about a woman wanting to make a success of herself for her own purposes but also being someone for her own daughter to look up to. Joy goes from someone mocked by her half-sister in front of her own kids to being someone for her kids to look up to. That element is another plus.

No doubt Jennifer Lawrence owned the film. Of course the Hunger Games movies have made her a household name already at 25 but it’s Russell who knows how to bring out the best in Lawrence’s acting. In her third movie directed by Russell, she again masters a character many years older than her and comes out shining and in excellent style. Robert de Niro was also good as the trying father. However the biggest scene stealer of the supporting players had to be Isabella Rossellini as the new mother-in-law who means business. Actually all the actors in the film from those that played family members to Bradley Cooper as Neil Walker did a good job with their characters and made them entertaining to watch.

Joy is a good story about a woman who would not give up until she succeeds even after everything that could go against her was thrown at her. However it’s also a reminder that the American Dream is still possible even in the toughest of times. Not exactly the best film from David O. Russell but definitely worth seeing.