Tag Archives: Alia Shawkat

Being the Ricardos (2021) Review

BEING THE RICARDOS

Being the Ricardos

Time: 131 minutes
Cast:
Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball
Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz
J.K. Simmons as William Frawley
Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance
Tony Hale as Jess Oppenheimer
Alia Shawkat as Madelyn Pugh
Jake Lacy as Bob Carroll Jr.
Clark Gregg as Howard Wenke
Director: Aaron Sorkin

In 1952, Hollywood power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz face personal and professional obstacles that threaten their careers, their relationship, and their hit television show.

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Being the Ricardos was a upcoming major awards contender that I had been hearing about for a while. I will admit though that despite not knowing much about it outside of some of the people involved, I was a little sceptical going in. First of all, it was a biopic movie focussing on notable film/tv people, and the movie looked like prime Oscar bait. Also the movie is written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, whose work could be a mixed bag at times, especially when it comes to whatever he directs. Still, it received Oscar nominations for the performances from Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem and J.K. Simmons, so I thought I should check it out, and went into it open minded. Unfortunately, I just don’t think that the movie was particularly good.

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I should state first of all that I am not familiar with Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz or the show I Love Lucy, and went into this movie quite blind. However, even as someone who didn’t know of the subjects beforehand, I just didn’t find the film all that interesting, and I found it fairly dull. If the story of Lucille and Desi in real life was interesting, it certainly didn’t survive being compressed and repackaged into the biopic formula. The story of the movie follows Lucille and Desi over one stressful week, it seems simple enough but somehow the storytelling is very flawed here. The story as it was told just felt so disjointed, while the series of events play out over this particular week, it jumps across multiple points in time with an overreliance on flashbacks and flashforwards which muddles everything. To give context to all these events messily crammed into this movie, characters spent a lot of time stating facts about each other or clunkily discussing historical and cultural elements. For whatever reason, there is this present-day faux documentary framing device running throughout the movie where older versions of the three lead show writers for I Love Lucy are being interviewed. Every so often, the movie would just cut to these talking head mouthpieces, and every time this happened, it would be so disruptive and annoying. The dialogue was already on the nose and obvious, but the fact that they practically spoonfeed us the story by flat out telling us what is happening, it almost feels patronising. Count the number of times you hear “what you’ve got to understand is…” from one character alone.

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Even as someone who aren’t familiar with the true life events, there’s some handling of the history that felt very off. The prime example is this inconsequential aspect where Lucille Ball is rumoured to be a communist. Even within the plot of the movie, it plays a very small part, but from the very beginning of the film it is fixated and focused on so much, to a quite frankly weird degree. You really get the feeling that this is getting into the writer’s own politics over the actual true events. The way that subplot is resolved towards the end in a scene with Javier Bardem on a phone call in front of an audience is hilariously absurd and ludicrous. I didn’t really learn anything from this storyline, the only thing that I can say coming out of it is that I’m confident that Aaron Sorkin would’ve been a supporter of the Hollywood Blacklist. Speaking of Sorkin, you can definitely feel that it’s a movie from him, and I mean that in a bad way. You really do feel like he’s really going for an Oscar here, and it somehow makes the movie even worse. His scripts always seem to have this self-perception of cleverness but it is especially grating here, the faux documentary framing device being an example of one of his decisions that make it harder to watch. Even when you put all of that aside, I just found myself so unengaged by the film as it progresses through the events. I couldn’t be emotionally engaged with the characters, and there was nothing keeping me invested in the story. There was just something dispassionate and underwhelming about the whole experience.

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I would love to say that the acting elevates the movie. While it’s the best part of the movie, its not enough to save the movie. The acting is mostly decent, but much of the cast feel like they are playing caricatures rather than real people. Nicole Kidman is pretty good as Lucille Ball, even if it definitely doesn’t rank amongst her best performances. I will say that annoyingly with the writing she’s given, Lucille does feel like another ‘Sorkin protagonist’, much like how Sorkin wrote Steve Jobs and Abbie Hoffman. To Kidman’s credit though, she comes across as being a fully formed human, especially in contrast to the other actors. It’s just that there weren’t any times throughout the film where I felt that it was anything beyond a decent performance. Javier Bardem is the co-lead in this as Desi Arnaz. He’s fine enough, but like Kidman, its definitely not one of his best performances. Questionable casting choice aside, he is a bit of a caricature and is very hammy. Definitely not bland or boring, but nothing great. The chemistry between Kidman and Bardem just wasn’t there, which is a big mark against it considering that the relationship between the two people was a key part of the movie. J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda are serviceable in their supporting roles, but don’t get much to do with the writing that they are given.

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Being the Ricardos is directed by Aaron Sorkin, and this film is further proof that Sorkin is at his best when his scripts are directed by anyone else. While the direction is competent, its done so blandly and lacks any kind of personality, especially on a visual level. Even his last two movies had more to them. The costumes, hair, makeup, presentation is nothing special, everything feels like they’re on autopilot.

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I’m sure that the actual story of these people is quite interesting. However, what is presented here is a functional but uninteresting, bland and occasionally grating to watch biopic that fails to engage, from the writing through to the direction. Even the performances aren’t good enough to elevate the movie beyond an average biopic. I’d only recommend this movie to people who want to catch up on the Oscar nominations from this most recent awards season. For what it’s worth, Being the Ricardos was by far the worst movie of this year’s Oscar season that I’ve seen.

Green Room (2016) Retrospective Review

Time: 95 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Graphic violence, drug use and offensive language
Cast:
Anton Yelchin as Pat
Alia Shawkat as Sam
Joe Cole as Reece
Callum Turner as Tiger
Imogen Poots as Amber
Patrick Stewart as Darcy Banker
Macon Blair as Gabe
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

In the Pacific Northwest, teenager Pat (Anton Yelchin) takes part of punk rock band, The Ain’t Rights, at a night and drug club. Their tour to try and get famous fails badly with hatred. Unfortunately, for them, their tour eventually turns into something very nasty when they are witnesses at a crime scene. Since the notorious club owner, Darcy Banker (Patrick Strwart), is now on the case of the incident, The Ain’t Rights start to work together to try and escape the club alive and make it back to Washington, D.C., before Darcy finds them.

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Green Room was often wildly praised upon it’s release, called one of the best films of 2016. If you looked at my prior review of Green Room though, you know that I thought it was decent but wasn’t quite loving it. After watching Jeremy Saulnier’s previous movies, Murder Party and Blue Ruin, I decided to give it another shot, as there are some things I quite liked about the movie despite my disappointment with it. Maybe there was something I missed on the first viewing or something, but I loved the movie the second time around. It’s such an effective and brutal thriller, which although is rather straightforward is given such a grim and standout style and infused with so much energy and tension that it really works.

As this is a retrospective review, there are going to be spoilers for Green Room, so if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend checking out the movie first. Green Room isn’t a movie that requires multiple viewings to understand, it’s not Mulholland Drive or anything. At it’s core, it’s a straightforward thriller and what you see is what you get. However, watching the movie the second time around, I recognised a lot more about what was happening. For example, there’s a scene where one skinhead stabs another, and I only realised watching it a second time that it was to deal with the police when Yelchin’s character made a call about a stabbing. So I have a feeling that my rather mild reaction to the movie came from my mood at the time and so I didn’t get the full experience back then. Green Room is short at around 90 minutes, that already seems like the right length of the movie with the straightforward premise but they really utilise that time incredibly well. The film first quickly established the characters and their situation, not enough that you understand these characters know them that well, but we get to spend enough time with them that we get to know the general idea about what they’re all about. At the point around 17 minutes into the movie, the main characters discover the body, and from that point till the end of the film, Green Room maintains the tension very strongly. Until the third act, the movie is full of a bunch of failed attempts at getting out, with the tension piling on and the much more experienced people closing in. By the time it reaches the last 30 minutes, only 2 of them are left, and it was gratifying seeing the survivors finally adapting to their seemingly impossible situation, and turning the tables on the people after them. Jeremy Saulnier is familiar with having protagonists that aren’t really capable for their situation that they have to deal with. Murder Party has a mild mannered guy who willingly goes to a ‘murder party’ and gets caught by a bunch of deranged killers. Blue Ruin followed a main character who was trying to pull off a revenge despite having no experience at all at killing or violence. Green Room is following a punk band who is going up against highly trained skinheads after willingly performing in front of neo Nazis and coming across something they shouldn’t have seen. Unlike some horror movies, the mistakes that are made by the characters here feel genuine and realistic, not just forced and contrived ways for the protagonists to be held back. The decisions they make aren’t actually necessarily stupid, but really the best that they could come up with in their situation when they’re stressed out and can’t think rationally. Really the only downright stupid thing the characters do in the movie is outright perform “Nazi punks fuck off” in front of a bunch of Nazis (and performing at a Nazi bar in the first place was bad enough). There aren’t many problems with the movie that I can think of aside from the lack of depth from some characters. I guess the ending is a little abrupt, but that wasn’t a huge problem, it wasn’t like there was much else to show in the story. Macon Blair’s character is going to call the police, Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots’s characters made it out alive and the rest of the skinheads are dead. There wasn’t that much else to show.

The cast of Green Room all did great jobs in their roles. You don’t learn a ton of things about the characters outside of a little bit about Pat (Anton Yelchin) and Amber (Imogen Poots). The two actors who shine the most in the movie are Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots. The late great Anton Yelchin gave one of his best performances as the band member who gets the most screentime (and really the only survivor of the band), with his character going through a lot (including his arm pretty much being cut to ribbons). Poots also gives one of her best performances as a skinhead who is stuck in the middle of the situation when her friend Emily is killed, which the band comes across. Throughout the film, Amber is shown to be very capable and dangerous, yet still quite vulnerable in her situation, a really great balance overall. The rest of the band characters played by Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole and Callum Turner did great as well, they don’t have much to work with, but they really sold the fear that the characters had. I remember being rather underwhelmed by Patrick Stewart’s villain after all the hype that was building up to him. He never had a big moment where he stood out or did anything really significant. However I think I was getting the wrong impression of what he was going to be in this movie. When you hear the idea of Patrick Stewart playing a Nazi skinhead gang leader, you’re immediately thinking about something completely ruthless, intimidating and scene stealing. However like the rest of the characters and the story, he and the rest of the villains all feel grounded. Stewart’s character is seemingly forced to deal with a situation, his actions aren’t driven by hate or pleasure but they’re rather calculated, he’s just calm throughout and really just blows his top a bit for like 5 seconds in like the first act briefly. He’s in command of the whole situation until the third act when he loses control and tries to do something to survive which results in his death. Another standout on the Nazi side of the characters is frequent Saulnier collaborator Macon Blair, he’s a skinhead whom at the end decides to surrender and helps the 2 remaining survivors.

It was great watching Jeremy Saulnier’s direction evolve watching his past 2 films. While Blue Ruin started him off with his distinct style and direction, with Green Room he perfected his style and direction. It’s going to be interesting to see how it changes in Hold the Dark. Like in Blue Ruin, the cinematography is stunning, but that has also improved, he’s filmed so many scenes incredibly well, especially the more thrilling scenes. The whole set design feels great, the movie just has this very grimy and unpleasant vibe which really benefited the movie immensely, since that’s really what it was going for. This film starts with tension in the first act and unlike Blue Ruin which has the tenseness defused in the second act, from the point that Pat finds the body, the atmosphere and tension is maintained throughout right till the end. Even when the film has a scene or two focussing on our protagonists having a quiet moment, or focussing on Patrick Stewart and the neo Nazis, none of the tension is deflated. All of Saulnier’s films has some brutal violence, (again, haven’t seen Hold the Dark yet) but so far this is the most violent of all his movies. The violence that is on screen is brutal and unflinching, likely to provoke a reaction from the audience. The first 30-40 minutes alone had Pat’s arm being cut up to an incredible amount, as well as a Nazi’s belly being sliced open by Amber. And that’s only counting the first 40 minutes of the movie. This is probably one of the most graphic depictions of violence I’ve seen in a movie, though it doesn’t feel overdone or anything like that, it feels appropriate for the tone of the movie.

Green Room I consider now to be a great thriller. Jeremy Saulnier’s previous movies were test runs, but with Green Room he got it all right, with some solid performances, a simple yet effective script, and Saulnier’s unflinching direction. Some of the characterisation could’ve been a little stronger and some depth could’ve been given to the characters, but on the whole, Green Room succeeds at being a brutal and effective thriller, and probably one of the standout films of 2016.

Green Room (2016) Review

Time: 95 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] Graphic violence, drug use and offensive language
Cast:
Anton Yelchin as Pat
Alia Shawkat as Sam
Joe Cole as Reece
Callum Turner as Tiger
Imogen Poots as Amber
Patrick Stewart as Darcy Banker
Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Members (Anton Yelchin, Alia Shawkat) of a punk rock band and a tough young woman (Imogen Poots) battle murderous white supremacists at a remote Oregon roadhouse.

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Green Room was a movie I heard a lot about, countless people were praising this movie. The premise had potential and it had a good cast with Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart. It’s the first film by Jeremy Saulnier that I’ve seen, and from what I’ve heard he is a great director. Having seen Green Room, I can say that because of its excellent direction, it is a pretty solid movie overall. However I think I might be missing out on something, as aside from that aspect, this movie wasn’t that great to me.

Green Room’s plot isn’t really anything special. A group of protagonists are stuck in a room with the antagonists trying to break into that room and kill them. It has a very simple plot but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With that said, I must’ve been missing something on this movie because not a lot of it really connected with me. I just really wasn’t that interested in the movie, plot or characters to be perfectly honest. The characters are fine and do their jobs but they aren’t that interesting or engaging. I only really started somewhat engaging with the movie when the characters are put in the Green Room situation, and even then I wasn’t always paying that much attention. Not to say that this movie is boring because it wasn’t (aside from a lot of the first act), but I only really payed attention whenever it was an ‘action’ sequence, and considering this is a thriller, I feel like I should be more engaged in the movie throughout, even when nothing is happening. The writing isn’t bad, it’s just okay, it’s the writing of a typical above average thriller.

The characters really weren’t really that great or interesting but the acting in this movie is generally good. The main cast weren’t all on the same level, the best of them were Anton Yelchin and Imogen Poots, those two were really good in their roles. Patrick Stewart plays the lead of the neo-nazi gang. He is good in the movie but he didn’t really leave as much of an impression as I thought he should. Stewart acts his role very well but I feel like he should’ve been presented as being more threatening than he actually ended up being because aside from him being played by Patrick Stewart, ultimately I barely remember his character.

While the plot and story didn’t really interest me that much, I will praise the direction by Jeremy Saulnier, it really is the reason to see this movie. The cinematography is excellent, every scene is framed greatly, this movie just looks perfect. I’d even go so far as to say that his direction is flawless. This film also doesn’t hold back, when it’s violent, it is really violent, and the intense scenes are very tense. So I have to give Saulnier a lot of praise, because his direction is what makes the movie work.

Green Room is okay, but it’s the fantastic direction that moves this movie from being okay to being decent. I didn’t love this movie like other people did, writing-wise this movie just didn’t connect with me that much, or interest me for that matter. Maybe a rewatch might change things but from the first watch, it was decent, that’s it. While Green Room wasn’t as great as I thought it would be, I think it’s worth a watch if you’re interested. The direction, as I said, was truly excellent, so if there’s anything that Green Room has done it has shown off Jeremy Saulnier’s talents, and it has interested me enough to check out his other movies.