Our movie guy, Paul McGuire Grimes from Paul’s Trip to the Movies, gives us his thoughts on Mank (out on Netflix), Sound of Metal (on Amazon Prime), and Happiest Season (on Hulu).
The American Film Institute has twice proclaimed Citizen Kane the greatest film of all time in their Top 100 countdowns. The new film Mank is another examination of the film. The title “Mank” is the nickname for Citizen Kane screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz played by fellow Oscar winner, Gary Oldman. It’s 1940 and Orson Welles is given carte blanche to make any movie he wants and given total creative control over it. Mank’s screenplay is on a tight deadline for Welles, but his broken leg and alcoholism are getting in the way of finishing his script which poses as a scathing take down of William Randolph Hearst, played ferociously by Charles Dance.
Starring: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lili Collins, Charles Dance
Gary Oldman is one of the best actors working today. He’s a chameleon fully giving into Mankiewicz and his messy life. Oldman is notably older than Mank was at the time, but there’s a timeless element to him that helps him fit into the Golden Age of Hollywood. He delivers a powerful monologue showing Mank to be difficult but not wholly unlikable.
Amanda Seyfried gives the best role of her post-Mean Girls career as Hollywood starlet Marion Davies. She’s funny, flirty, and makes Davies someone who can hold her own around Mank.
Mank may not be a Fincher that blows you away on first viewing, but you may come back to it again with a greater appreciation. It’s a little slower much like movies were at the time, but Fincher gives you a lot to think about with the state of Hollywood and politics of the 1940s and today.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
SOUND OF METAL (Amazon Prime)
Riz Ahmed gives one of the best performances I’ve seen all year in Sound of Metal. Ahmed plays Ruben a heavy metal drummer who tours with his girlfriend Lou played by Olivia Cooke. One day he realizes he can no longer hear. He can’t hear the coffee pot drip, the water running in the shower, or the sound of an audience. He’s reluctant at first but agrees to attend a program for the hearing impaired. As a recovering addict, Ruben struggles accepting his new reality.
It’s worth noting that Sound of Metal comes with an impeccable sound design as the film is specifically made for the hearing-impaired with its subtitles and use of American Sign Language. Frequently there are even times where the ASL isn’t subtitled bringing us closer to Ruben’s perspective when he first arrives at the program. The film offers something exclusive to hearing impaired audiences which is rarely featured in movies. It’s special and showcases the beauty of ASL and Marder proves hearing abled viewers can still understand the thrust of those conversations without dialogue.
Sound of Metal features a character who faces tremendous unexpected loss. It’s not just the loss of his hearing, but the loss of his identity and loss of the only life he’s known. He’s that vagabond artist living in an RV playing the drums at high volumes. He can no longer play if he can’t hear his own music. Add in the fact he’s a recovering addict and he’s on the brink of mental collapse. He can’t admit that his life is forever changed.
Riz Ahmed gives a deeply intimate and vulnerable performance. It’s wisely one of restraint despite the character’s erratic behaviors. Ruben goes through the various stages of grief: denial, anger, acceptance and more. Not always in the order and not always in a forward motion. Ahmed isn’t the only reason why this movie will nestle in deep. Paul Raci is beyond moving as Joe, the director of the deaf program Ruben enters. The character’s a former addict who can speak to Ruben on a variety of levels and Raci’s ever present sensibilities ground him well.
Sound of Metal may fly under the radar but will be one of the best movies you’ll see this year and you’ll be glad you gave it a chance. Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, and Paul Raci all give award worthy performances that will sit with you and open your mind about the hearing impaired or those with a different disability and how our world doesn’t make it easy for them.
RATING: 5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS
HAPPIEST SEASON (Hulu)
Move over Netflix and Hallmark as Hulu has one of the best new Christmas movies you’ll see all year with Happiest Season. Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis, play Abby and Harper, a couple trying to figure out their Christmas plans. As Abby, Kristen Stewart doesn’t really care for Christmas and is ambivalent about celebrating at all. Both of her parents have passed away, so she’s not beholden to family traditions. The same can’t be said of Harper and her obsession over the season. She invites Abby to go back home to her parents’ house for Christmas, but there’s one big problem hanging over them as Harper has not come out as gay to her overly conservative parents played by Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen. Garber’s character is running for mayor of their hometown, so appearances and the perfect lifestyle are constantly under a microscope.
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Mary Steenburgen, Victor Garber, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Dan Levy, and Ana Gasteyer.
One of the many reasons why Happiest Season works so well is that its grounded in honesty. Duvall and Holland’s script is inspiring, heartfelt, and still extremely funny. Their title can be taken literally or ironically as they showcase the full range of emotions that come out at Christmas as it could be Loneliest Season, Stressful Season, and so forth and all of those holiday truths are represented here. The sneaking around and pretending becomes too much for Abby to deal with while Harper resorts back to playing the straight daughter that everyone knows and loves. That charade becomes damaging for everyone involved.
Before you go and think that this premise seems too sad and depressing for a holiday movie, Happiest Season is full of holiday humor like any good Christmas movie should be. We have madness and mayhem and cringe-worthy family moments. The biggest laughs come from Mary Holland as sister Jane whose nutty quirks make her the film’s biggest scene-stealer. Dan Levy pops up as Abby’s best friend. He’ll remind you of his Schitt’s Creek character but a little less eccentric. Levy always makes me laugh, and he’s also given the film’s most powerful monologue.
Happiest Season is that heartfelt Christmas comedy much like The Family Stone that will have you in tears, and then drop a good one-liner to have you laughing right after that. It’s messages about appearances and living your true authentic self are constant reminders. We have to try to stop being perfect, stop trying to live up to other’s impressions of us, and remember that everyone’s story is different.
RATING: 4 out of 5 TICKET STUBS