I Care A Lot (2020)

Do you like movies that present a look at a horrible practice that is probably happening more often than we realize? Enter guardianship!

The practice, when a court appoints someone as a guardian over someone that can’t “take care of themselves” in various aspects of their life. It’s usually a good thing, and most of the people that do it are underpaid and overworked and often underappreciated. But there are bad people out there, and I Care a Lot takes that version to the extreme.

Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) has a scam going on where she has ingrained herself into the local eldercare system, with a doctor (Alicia Witt) and judge (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) seemingly helping her grift, though the judge is an unwitting participant. Marla has a wall of her “stable” of old folks she’s a guardian over. and a history of liquidating the assets of those in her charge to fund her “business.”

When a spot opens up in a complicit nursing home, she works he doctor contact to find an ideal case, and seems to identify an older woman named Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest) that has no family and is “struggling with memory issues.” The background research shows her as being clean and, using the doctor’s testimony, and the judge’s belief that Marla is actually doing the right thing, she is appointed as Jennifer’s guardian, immediately places her in the care facility, and begins the process of liquidating her assets.

But when a cab shows up to Jennifer’s house for a pickup as they are painting it for sale, it is very confusing to Marla’s deputy/girlfriend Fran (Eiza González), as Jennifer doesn’t have access to her cell phone at the care facility and the cab driver wouldn’t indicate who had called him. Turns out, Jennifer isn’t who she claims to be, as she has a son Roman (Peter Dinklage) who meets her weekly, leading to him using his resources to figure out where his mother is.

A lawyer shows up to Marla’s office, trying to convince her to release Jennifer and move on, and when threats don’t work, he offers her money. He then shows up in court, but won’t release who he is actually working for and can’t produce any documents showing that Jennifer hired him. When Marla questions Jennifer about the lawyer, she realizes what is happening and warns Marla that she is in danger.

Roman sends his goons to the care facility to recover Jennifer, but they are captured by police. As a result, and after Roman has Marla’s doctor friend murdered, Marla has Jennifer placed in a more secure facility as retribution.

Fran tries to convince Marla to run, and Marla starts to make preparations. While chatting on the phone, Fran realizes she hadn’t grabbed their passports so she heads off to do that, and Marla is attacked and drugged and thrown in her trunk, while Fran is attacked at their apartment. Marla meets Roman face-to-face, is not intimidated, and asks for $10 million to release his mother and return some items she had stolen. He decides that she should die, and his goons try to kill her, leading to an escape and a decision to plot revenge.

I won’t spoil the rest, but Roman should have known not to mess with “gone girl.” She murdered Neil Patrick Harris in cold blood after all. The movie’s payoff was not terrible, though it did require a lot of suspension of disbelief as to capabilities of the people involved. It is a movie, and not real life, but at the same time, the last third of the movie is so far out there that it kind of mitigated some of the good things that had happened earlier in the movie.

I feel like the movie could’ve been more of an indictment against the guardianship practice had it not went to this extreme conclusion. Among the people complaining about the movie are members of the disability community, who the threat of guardianship is not some light story resolved through shenanigans. While it is true that the vast majority of people that perform this important function in our society, there are likely unscrupulous people out there that are taking full advantage like Marla, though maybe not to the same, fictionalized extent.

While not based on a true story, director/writer J Blakeson admits that it is based on real cases. One such story is very similar to the first of Marla’s cases that we have experience with, albeit without the violent altercation depicted in the movie. The eldercare community has long warned of these types of relationships, and it is definitely something that has attracted the attention of Congress.

I feel like Blakeson tried to do this going in, but the conclusion to the movie negates all the good work he tried to do during the first part of the movie. Does it make for a better movie for wrap it up the way he did? Yes. But does it make a better story? I’m not 100% sure.

As with other movies that I’ve been watching lately, I’ve added the movie to my Flickchart, and it ended up fairly close to the top at #328. I tried to judge it based on what it was and not what it could have been, and, as I stated above, it is ultimately an exciting movie. In my list, it settles right between 8 Mile and Road Trip, which seems to be accurate. It is not a scientific ranking, obviously, and Road Trip might be a little high, but that was a fun movie too!

As for some of the others in the movie, Gone Girl is the in the top 40 of my list, which is why Rosamund Pike captured my attention in this movie. The others have been in other movies, though not really any that would be on the same level. I have also not seen the other two movies directed by J Blakeson, though if I came across them, I probably wouldn’t necessarily avoid them. Nevertheless, if you enjoy the people in the movie, I’d encourage you to watch it, and it’s available right now (and probably forever) on Netflix.

Until next time…

Thor (2011)

As my wife and I navigate a rewatch of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (much too slowly in my opinion), the third movie we watched* was Thor, Kenneth Branagh’s foray into the MCU. This movie has always been a bit lower on the list when it comes to the 23! in the so-called Infinity Saga, but I’ve always viewed it as a decent introduction to the character of Thor.

*We skipped the Edward Norton The Incredible Hulk because it felt kind of detached from all the others, especially with Mark Ruffalo showing up as Hulk in The Avengers.

Unlike some of the other members of the Avengers, Thor didn’t really have resonance in my childhood, either through the old Iron Man and X-men cartoons or other media. I’ve never been much of a comic book reader, so this Thor movie was the first real introduction to the character.

I was vaguely aware of the Thor from Norse mythology, though where I gathered that knowledge is hard to pinpoint. It’s not like there are blocks of instruction on non-classical mythology in school, though I feel like I happened across it somewhere, which helps to explain my surface knowledge of Egyptian mythology as well (though a lot of that might have come much later with the Assassin’s Creed Origins video game).

From the cast list, this movie has enough to interest me even beyond the title character. Anthony Hopkins gets to play Odin, Thor’s father and ruler of Asgard. Idris Elba shows up as Heimdall, the all-seeing sentry of the Bifrost, though his role expands in later MCU movies. Natalie Portman, Padme Amidala herself, shows up as scientist Jane Foster, and Kat Dennings, star of one of my favorite dumb sappy movies Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, is on hand as her grad student Darcy.

Then there’s Thor, Chris Hemsworth, who didn’t really have much of a profile before he became Thor. That’s something that the MCU movies did really well, at least in the beginning, was taking mostly unknown actors – Robert Downey, Jr. aside – and making them huge names. And while Chris Hemsworth may not be on par with some of the other actors that play the “tentpole” Avengers, he does an adequate job of playing Thor, though this is more apparent in the later iterations of the character, specifically in Thor: Ragnarok and the final two Avengers movies.

Upon this rewatch, I realized that I had kind of forgotten the beats of the movie, even though I had sort of just rewatched it not long ago. Compared to some of the later movies in the Infinity Saga, there wasn’t really a “big bad;” whereas Iron Man faced off against Obadiah Stane and Ivan Vanko in his first two movies, Thor’s primary enemy is himself. Sure, he goes to fight frost giants, deals with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and the giant guardian thing sent to Earth, but before Act 3 can resolve himself, Thor has to “sacrifice” himself to save his friends in order to prove himself worthy to wield “meow meow” (Mjölnir).

When Odin banished Thor to Midgar (Earth), he removed his powers, but allowed him to prove himself worthy of the powers again. At first, Thor thinks he can simply walk in and grab Mjölnir and return to Asgard and that is that. He’s humbled when he’s no better than the locals who can’t lift the hammer from its current resting spot, and sets out to help Jane Foster in her research.

It’s only when Lady Sif and the Warriors Three arrive on Earth in an attempt to return Thor to Asgard to stop Loki does he realize that, though mortal, he must help his friends. Though we don’t know if Thor knew this when he “died” defending them, the magic of Mjölnir brings him back to life and restores his powers, allowing him to defeat the guardian sent to Earth by Loki to destroy him.

Upon his return to Asgard, he realizes that Loki, his trickster brother, was responsible for almost everything that transpired. He helped ice giants sneak into Asgard, which prompted Thor’s trip to Jotunheim which led to his banishment. He also convinced Thor that Odin had died due to a broken heart at Thor’s betrayal, when instead he was simply in a temporary coma. That doesn’t stop Loki from seizing power, however, and the only way for Thor to prevent Loki’s destruction of Jotunheim and other realms is to destroy the Bifrost, leading to Loki’s apparent death and preventing Thor’s return to Jane on Earth.

Entering this rewatch, Thor was ranked #650 on my FlickChart, which now seems absurdly low. This ranks it 21st of the 23 movies of the Infinity Saga. Looking at that list now, however, I can see some movies that are ranked a little high – Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1 stands out in particular – and I don’t really think that Thor: The Dark World is one of the worst movies that I have ever seen (currently #1123).

After re-ranking Thor after this rewatch, it moves up overall to #281, right between Hellboy and The Princess Bride. It remains 21st among the MCU movies, but that could change as some of the others get shifted around over the next couple of weeks as we work our way through. The MCU films all seem to clump up around the 150 mark, however, as I tend to enjoy a lot of these movies more than some other “better” movies.

Thor, like most of the MCU movies, is currently streaming on Disney+, which is where I watched it. While it is not my favorite MCU movie by any stretch of the imagination, it is a much more solid movie on the whole upon this, my third (at least) watch of the movie, and if you haven’t watched it in a while, it might be worth checking out again… if only to compare it to the dreadful Thor: The Dark World and the much, much better Thor: Ragnarok.

Until next time…

The Little Things (2021)

The first “big” movie released in 2021, The Little Things took a while to get to the big screen.

Originally conceived by writer/director John Lee Hancock in 1993, it passed through the hands of some Hollywood director elites before settling into being helmed by the man that ended up making it. Denzel Washington came along for the ride first, followed by Rami Malek and Jared Leto, bringing three former Oscar winners together for the film.

Unfortunately, the movie fails to live up to the hype caused by its cast, and for most of the 2 hour-plus runtime, feels like another movie that preceded it by two decades, though not necessarily on paper.

In summary, Denzel Washington plays disgraced former Los Angeles homicide detective Joe Deacon, who is toiling away as a Deputy Sheriff in Kern County, California. When directed to return to the LASD for some evidence, he decides to stick around as a serial killer claims their last victim. Rami Malek plays Jim Baxter, the lead detective on the serial killer’s trail, a man who is running out of time before his boss calls in the feds to help.

Throughout the story, we eventually come to learn why Deacon is disgraced, but not before he aids in the case and helps to narrow down who the killer might be. Jared Leto is Albert Sparma, a weird dude that catches Deacon’s attention as a suspect, and eventually, Baxter and Deacon “solve” the case in their own way and try to return to their lives.

The movie, with its grim murder scenes and numerous victims, felt alarmingly like Se7en, the 1995 crime drama from David Fincher that starred Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as two homicide detectives haunting down a deranged killer. But where Se7en succeeded, and The Little Things failed, could be in the revelation of the killer.

I’ve seen Se7en numerous times, and it is one of my all-time favorite movies, despite the appearance of Kevin Spacey. Nevertheless, his killer in that movie has a real motivation for his crimes – the seven deadly sins that give the film it’s title – which is quite a departure from the killer in The Little Things. Sure, there seems to be some similarity between all the victims, but we are never provided any kind of motive for the actions, which ends up making the ultimate payoff feel a little bit of a let down.

And because of that, the whole thing feels like a bit of a waste. With such star power in the lead roles, you would expect The Little Things to be much more compelling. Instead, it feels formulaic and not unlike any other generic movie from the “neo-noir” genre of crime thriller. Placing the movie in the 1990s doesn’t really help either. Malek, LEto, and especially Washington all deserved more from this movie.

When ranking the movie on my FlickChart, it settled in a #675, between Shaun of the Dead and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s also the 11th best Denzel Washington movie I have rated (of 17), failing to overcome Training Day and finishing just ahead of The Pelican Brief. Washington has been better in a lot of similar movies; Man on Fire is highly underrated in this genre for him, as is The Equalizer.

As for Malek and Leto, I haven’t seen enough of their movies to really provide any real rating, though the movies they won Oscars for – Malek as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody and Leto for Dallas Buyers Club – were both better than this movie despite their flaws. Bohemian Rhapsody isn’t really even that good – I have it ranked #503 – but Malek is much better in it, fake teeth and all.

The Little Things is currently in theaters and is also streaming on HBO Max through the end of February or so. If you’re a Denzel Washington completist, it may be worth your time, but otherwise, I wouldn’t rush to see it. Prior to COVID-19, January tended to be the dumping ground for movies that never really came together, at it seems like this one fits that bill.

Until next time…

All the President’s Men (1976)

We interrupt the rewatching of movies I’ve seen before with a movie that I had yet to watch.

The movie opens with the Watergate break-in on June 17, 1972, which we all know is the thing that led to President Richard Nixon’s downfall. Nixon is a few months away from being renominated for the 1972 election – an election he would win pretty handily (520-17 EVs) – but the paranoid guy that he was, he wanted to ensure that he won.

But we didn’t know at the time that this break-in, at the DNC headquarters within the hotel, would eventually come back to pointing to people close to the president.

Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) is a relatively new reporter for the Washington Post, and he is assigned to start digging into the burglary to see if there is anything else there. Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) starts digging up his own side of the story, and they are eventually assigned to work the story together.

At first, it seems pretty innocuous, but eventually some of the reporting starts pointing at CREEP, or the Committee to Re-Elect the President (apt name for a Nixon enterprise). There’s an interview with the “bookkeeper,” who indicates that there was a “slush fund” used to pay operatives working for CREEP, and that some pretty high up people at the White House were in charge of it. Former CREEP Treasurer Hugh W. Sloan, Jr., who had testified to a grand jury about some of the stuff happening, seems to indicate that White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman was personally authorizing payments from the CREEP slush fund.

Woodward and Bernstein piece everything together, receiving confirmation from Woodward’s “deep background” source “Deep Throat,” who all but confirms their suspicions that Haldeman was involved. The pair convince Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) that the story is solid, despite denials from everyone involved. When the article runs the next morning, everyone in the White House denies the story. However, as more information continues to come out, the story continues to build, and it eventually leads to the discovery of the Nixon Oval Office Tapes, which prompts his resignation on August 9, 1974, nearly 18 months after the Haldeman revelation was initially published.

The movie is based on Woodward and Bernstein’s book from the time, though it only covers the period from the break-in to the second inauguration of Nixon on January 20, 1973. In “real life,” Woodward and Bernstein continued to add to their initial story and build out the entire criminal conspiracy directed by Haldeman with Nixon completely knowledgeable about what was happening. Dozens of White House officials were implicated, and many went to jail, and Nixon resigned instead of facing impeachment, which would have likely led to his removal.

The movie seemed apt in our current political environment, except that the modern Republican Party doesn’t seem to want to coalesce around removing an even more dangerous president in Donald Trump. If the current GOP leadership reached the same level of disgust with our current president, they would have removed him after his first impeachment in early 2020, let alone the more recent one after President Trump incited an insurrection at the Capitol earlier this month. Those same Republicans are going to feel awfully silly as the cases are built against the insurrectionists, which thus far have seemed to point a lot of fingers towards the lies the majority of them were spreading about the 2020 election results.

Instead, President Trump gets to limp to the end of his presidency, banned from Twitter and increasingly alone in his delusions, fighting hard to hold onto a job that he doesn’t even pretend to care about. As over 350,000 Americans have died in the past 11 months thanks to his poor management of the coronavirus pandemic, his sole focus since he lost re-election has been to spin up conspiracy theories about how it is impossible that he actually lost the election to President-elect Joe Biden. A majority of Americans will gladly celebrate his departure on January 20th, and (hopefully) we can return to a government that isn’t run by Twitter outburst.

I don’t think we will ever know the full scope of the Trump administration’s crimes, especially as the focus of the Biden administration is to initially focus on getting us past the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic disaster it has wrought. But I hope the modern-day Woodward and Bernsteins at the various media outlets keep digging for the truth long after Trump is gone. It may not end up being enough to prevent the worst from happening, but if we don’t hold (soon-to-be) former President Trump accountable for his crimes and other ethical lapses, the next tyrant will likely be better at it and get away with far worse.

As mentioned, I had never seen this movie before, and I don’t really know why I hadn’t. It could be that my pre-1980 movie watching has been pretty limited. Nevertheless, it was easy to see why this movie is considered so monumental to both movie history and American history, and why it was added to the Library of Congress back in 2010.

As a movie set in 1973, it holds up even today, and if you are into loud typewriters and the lack of cellphones, it’s still pretty easy to watch. The random bits of sexism are a little jarring under a modern eye, but it’s no worse than some of the behaviors shown on contemporary shows like Mad Men.

The movie was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning four – Best Art Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, and Best Supporting Actor for Jason Robards. It lost Best Picture to Rocky (another movie I haven’t seen), and neither Redford or Hoffman were nominated for their roles. That’s understandable, however, as the things that it did win, especially screenplay, were a better representation of the movie.

After ranking the movie, it ended up at #185 on my FlickChart. It is the 38th movie from the 1970s that I have watched and ranked, and is third among the decade, behind Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange and just ahead of The Godfather. Overall, it settled between Boiler Room (#184) and Batman Begins (#186), which is probably appropriate given my taste in movies.

I would anticipate that we’ll see another similar movie in a few years about the Trump administration, though who knows what stories will be told. However, political movies are often hard to appreciate if they run counter to your personal political alignment, so it will be interesting to see if whatever the “Trump movie” ends up being is one of the best movies of 2024 or whatever. I personally would be perfectly fine with just burying the Trump presidency from our collective memories, but unfortunately, I don’t think that is going to happen.

Until next time…