Film Review: WIDOWS (USA 2018) ***1/2

Widows Poster

Set in contemporary Chicago, amidst a time of turmoil, four women with nothing in common except a debt left behind by their dead husbands’ criminal activities, take fate into their own hands, and conspire to forge a future on their own terms.


Steve McQueen


Gillian Flynn (screenplay by), Steve McQueen (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »

Drama heavyweight director of critical hits like HUNGER and 12 YEARS A SLAVE attempts an action packed pyro-technics thriller WIDOWS with quite an impressive cast of heavyweights headed by Viola Davis.

WIDOWS is that rare action movie centring on women proving that they too can carry an action film.  The script is by GONE GIRL author Gillian Flynn.

Veronica (Davis) lives an idyllic life in Chicago, ensconced in the loving arms of her husband, Rawlins (Liam Neeson), and in their luxurious condo.  But Rawlins bought that cushy life robbing people, unknown to Veronica, a teacher in the Chicago education system.  (There is no scene of Veronica at her work.)   When a job with his gang goes fatally wrong, Veronica’s life falls to pieces.  With a local crime lord (Brian Tyree Henry) and his muscle (Daniel Kaluuya) pressing her to pay Rawlins’s $2 million debt,  Veronica realizes her late husband’s shady business sees only one option: round up the three other women who had slept for years next to these seasoned criminals, and make a plan left by her husband to win their lives back.  There is also a side plot involving the crime lord running for office against another crooked white politician Tom Mulligan (Colin Farrell).  

The film’s most interesting character is Tom Mulligan.  Tom exerts a power both within and beyond the law, pushed by his father (Robert Duvall).  Tom appears to be a worthy candidate but deep inside, he is fed up of the father’s dynasty in Chicago and wants out.  It is not surprising that the film is at its most interesting when McQueen deals with the drama rather than the action as in the film’s best scene – the confrontation between Farrell and Duvall.

To make the heist film more personal, the film interweaves the lives and hence, problems of the 4 widows that undertake the heist.  Each have their own burdens.  The other three are played by Michelle Rodriguez, Cynthia Erivo, and Elizabeth Debicki all of whom shine in their roles.

McQueen has achieved the rare feat of being able to elicit unforgettable performances – not from a  few but from his entire cast.  The best two performances belong to Farrell who is aided by the most intriguing written character and GET OUT’s immediately recognizable Daniel Kaluuya who demonstrates how smooth violence can be executed.

As this is McQueen’s first action flick, one can see him trying too hard at times.  The romantic scenes are a bit too livid for comfort, all the kissing scenes involving the tongue.  This results in the kissing scene (mixed race) between Viola Davis and Liam Neeson that would make quite a few quite uncomfortable.  Credit for trying.

As a thriller, WIDOWS contains quite a few plot twists.  Well written and inserted into the storyline, they serve to enrich the drama rather than just being there for the sole purpose of surprise, a tactic that seems now too common in most Hollywood thrillers.

WIDOWS premiered successfully at the Toronto International Film Festival to general favourable reviews.  WIDOWS should not only please McQueen’s fan base but extend his career into the Hollywood mainstream.



Movie Reviews

Directed by Ryan Murphy

Cast: Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, Viola Davis, Billy Crudup, Richard Jenkins, Viola Davis, Ali Khan
Review by Joshua Starnes


Happily married Elizabeth Gilbert (Roberts) takes a right turn in her life by enduring a painful divorce and proceeding to take a round-the-world journey of self-enlightenment and fulfillment.


Do you know what the most interesting thing in the world to you is? You. Do you know what the least interesting thing in the world to anyone else is? You.

That’s not entirely true because people have relationships and empathy, but I think we can safely call it 95% true. So how do you get around that problem in a story that is essentially about you? As an author or filmmaker you can either make your ‘you’ stand-in so likeable and/or universal that everyone else sees themselves in it and goes along for the ride out of shared experience. Or you can make your stand-in such a vehicle for ridiculous wish fulfillment that everyone else comes along to pretend the have the shared experience.

A lot of movies like “Eat Pray Love” like to pretend to themselves they’re the first kind of story, without realizing (or actively) ignoring the fact they are the second, resulting in something that is simultaneously preachy and shallow, which is about as aggravating as it sounds. Try imagining one of the ‘Real Housewives’ of wherever explaining to you what you need to do reach spiritual enlightenment. Well, maybe not that shallow but certainly that immature.


Liz (Julia Roberts) isn’t happy with life. She doesn’t know why, she just is. She married her goofball husband (Billy Crudup) too early to realize that wasn’t what she wanted and the affair she has with a young actor (James Franco) doesn’t make things any clearer. Her only solution is to check out of life: travel to several countries (all beginning with the all important letter I) so that she can spend some time focusing on herself and what it is she really wants.

The thing is what Liz really wants is to be 20 again, with the wonderful expanse of life ahead of her and none of the cynical realizations of maturity to keep her from enjoying it. If that sounds really, really hard to relate to, it is. Liz maybe the most unlikeable character Julia Roberts has ever had to play, not because co-writer/director Ryan Murphy (“Glee”) is trying to make her so (and eventually redeem her) but because everything the film does pushes her in that direction.

I suspect that’s because his eye is less on his characters than it is on the loving, beautiful travelogue he has put together of Italy and Indonesia and India. Especially Italy. Sure, it’s the part of the movie that’s supposed to be about giving in to physical pleasures as a real thing not to feel guilty about, but it also seems to be the only part of the movie anyone making it really understands because it’s the only part that doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. I swear to God, they spent longer lovingly lighting the spaghetti under Robert Richardson’s watchful eye than they did trying figure out why on Earth anyone would ever like Liz.

However as it moves into its spiritual journey, with Liz embracing her inner ashram in India and her attempt to balance the competing desires of her heart of India, “Eat Pray Love” reveals itself to be the con man it is. It knows people want to have their cake and eat it too, and it’s going to do its best to give it to them, while spinning just enough spiritual platitudes to make sure you’re not really paying attention to the smoke and mirrors.

After a year of discovering herself Liz literally runs into a dashing Brazilian ex-pat (Javier Bardem) in Bali with all the finesse of a Harlequin romance and has to wonder if it was all for naught and all she really needed was someone else to make her happy after all. It’s the sort of thing people rake “Sex and the City” over the coals for but at least they had the honesty to be up front about it.

There are some descent supporting performances scattered in “Eat Pray Love” from Richard Jenkin’s sloganeering Texas pilgrim to Viola Davis as Liz’s publisher and one and only model of sanity in the world. But they’re not enough to turn the tide that is all, all about Liz.

“Eat Pray Love” is the shallowest of shallow wish fulfillment, which wouldn’t be so obnoxious if it wasn’t trying to gussy itself up with the clothing of enlightenment. But maybe I’m the one who’s cynical. If I met the supermodel of my dreams on a beach in Bali, I’d probably get over any personal problems I had, too.


Film Review: FENCES (USA 2016) ****

fences_movie_poster.jpgDirected by Denzel Washington

Writers: August Wilson (screenplay), August Wilson (play)

Stars: Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Mykelti Williamson

Review by Gilbert Seah

FENCES is the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize source material by August Wilson, who passed on in 2005. His only demand for consent of his play being filmed was that it be directed by an African American. So, when Denzel Washington came on board, Wilson could not be too pleased in his grave.

FENCES has been produced twice on Broadway with James Earl Jones in the title role in the first production and Washington in the title role in the second. Both won Tonys for their performances. Washington does justice in his directorial debut, with Viola Davis, playing his long-suffering wife of 18 years. Davis also won a Tony for her performance in the second production on Broadway, and she just shines in her role in the film. The 2016 Best Supporting Actress Oscar is practically hers.

As the film opens, Troy (Washington) is working his garbage collection job with his buddy Bono (Stephen Henderson). The camera is proud to span the streets of the city filled with the vintage cars of the 50’s period when the story is set. There is not only two or three cars but a dozen or more – to show that director Washington spares no expense to take his film out into the open. There are as many sets as there are story set-ups. But the film still feels stagey – not for any fault of Washington but for the well written dialogue that come out of the actors’ mouths as written by August Wilson.

The film looks stagey. This is expected as the film is based on a play. The same can be said for all Neil Simon film adapted plays (THE ODD COUPLE, MURDER BY DEATH, THE CHEAP DETECTIVE) or for Norman Jewison’s adapted play films like A SOLDIER’S STORY and AGNES OF GOD. At least film audiences get a chance to see a good play – when adapted to the screen. And FENCES is more than a proficiently adapted play on film with the play’s two stars reprising their roles – and performing their best as well.

As an African American film, FENCES is more positive compared to the other recent ones like MOONLIGHT, THE BIRTH OF A NATION and LOVING. The main character, Troy a black worker believes in the working class system. In fact when he complains that he should be given the position of driver of a trash truck as only whites have been given that opportunity, the complaint gives him the promotion. But Troy is his own worst enemy. He enforces the system he believes in but not for his two sons, For them, hard work achieves results and nothing else. When his younger son is offered the chance of a football scholarship, he resents and prevents his son the opportunity. But it is when he cheats on his wife Rose (Viola Davis) that all hell breaks loose. Sample of confrontation scene as shown in the trailer: Troy: It’s not easy for me to admit that I’ve been standing in the same place for eighteen years! Rose: Well, I’ve been standing with you! I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot as you! This marks the film’s best segment – well worth the price of the admission ticket.

The film, a bit dated, shows the tragedy of the black working class, but it can be apply to white working class folk as well. FENCES has many good reasons to be seen – Viola and Washington’s Oscar winning performances, the convincing period setting, but most of all August Wilson’s brilliant written words performed on screen. It is seldom that a hardworking American hero with good heart is laid bare faults and all – due to the fact that no human being can be perfect. The film opens Christmas Day.



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Happy Birthday: Viola Davis

violadavis.jpgViola Davis

Born: August 11, 1965 in Saint Matthews, South Carolina, USA

Married to:
Julius Tennon (23 June 2003 – present) (1 child)

[on why she’s not inspired to direct] I can’t deal with actors! I can’t deal with myself. We’re neurotic and miserable… I love doing what I’m doing, but while I’m doing it, I’m miserable.

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