Emily Blunt in a scary Quiet Place; Jason Clarke as hapless Ted Kennedy and soldiers turning bitter in World War I
Here’s another distinction, of sorts, for Black Panther. It’s already the biggest super hero movie ever and now among the top 10 biggest movies of all kinds. The Wall Street Journal has just named it the prime symbol of a negative trend: the rise of behemoth movies that are so big and soak up so much of the money at the box office that smaller films fall away. It’s a big worry as total movie-going audiences keep shrinking. But what a lot of pressure to put on a young movie.
It looks like the new ones this week are all in that “smaller” category.
A Quiet Place: 3 stars
Journey’s End: 4
Final Portrait: 3 ½
The Miracle Season: 2 ½
A QUIET PLACE: Despite its name, this movie is actually pretty noisy. You’re constantly listening for sounds and even the little ones can be thunderous. Lives are at stake because there are creatures about that hunt by sound. They may be space aliens (we’re not told much about them); they look like giant insects and will come crashing in and gobble you up if they hear you. So this farm family in New York state can’t talk (they use sign language, even when playing monopoly). They can’t drop things or, as the young boy finds out, play with buzzing toys. As a movie concept it’s pretty simple but it gives us one of the better scare fests in some time, though you have to suspend quite a bit of logic to really feel it.
John Krasinski, directed it and stars along with his real-life wife Emily Blunt, as his wife, and Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds as their children. They feel like a real family and we feel every bit of their duress, whether they’re looking out for each other, cowering or arguing. Try doing that silently. The actors manage it perfectly. They communicate their emotions as well as the silent-movie actors of old used to. Emily gets an extra onslaught of peril, first when she steps on a nail and can’t scream and later when she goes into labor. Those plot points feel manufactured, just to up the film’s terror, but they work. The film becomes intense. Two quibbles though: it takes too long to really get going and we have to look at the monsters much too long. (Scotiabank, Marine Gateway, suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
CHAPPAQUIDDICK: If you’ve been watching the CNN series on the Kennedys you’ll find this a worthy sidebar. It’s not a documentary; it’s drama that plays like one. You’ll find out more than you probably ever knew about the mishap that destroyed the future for the third Kennedy brother. Ted couldn’t run for president after it. For some he seemed a coward when he drove his car off the side of a bridge, didn’t stay around to rescue his passenger, campaign worker Mary Jo Kopechne, and despite the urgings of his aides delayed even reporting the accident until next day. The film is clear and pointed in showing his failings, though not so much about some of the suspicions. What exactly was going on with her, for instance.
Jason Clarke, Australian, is totally believable as the Massachusetts rich boy/politician. He even looks like him much of the time. The film explores his vulnerable psyche. He’s close to whimpering when he accuses his father of always favoring his brothers. Joe, the family scion, is played wheelchair bound and stroke-afflicted by Bruce Dern, whose only response when Ted tells him of the accident is “Alibi”. The best his aides can come up with are excuses. Their meetings to plan their approach for the media are the most interesting parts of the film. This is backroom politics at work. The story is old history now, but still relevant. It was never that well-known because it happened the same weekend at the Apollo moon landing. The scriptwriters drew on testimony from the inquest. Clancy Brown, Olivia Thirlby, Ed Helms and Kate Mara, as Mary Jo, are in the cast. (International Village and two suburban theatres) 3 out of 5
JOURNEY’S END: I can well see why this film is here. It’s about World War I and comes to mark the 100-year anniversary of its end. In fact, the central event in the film, a big German assault, happened just about this time of year back in 1918. The story about soldiers struggling with the horrors of war has been acclaimed ever since it first appeared as a stage play (starring a young Laurence Olivier) in 1928. It’s been performed in three previous movies (one in Germany) and in countless theatrical productions. It’s timeless. But we’ve seen so many films now about that war, and about soldiers suffering what we now call traumatic stress syndrome. That raises a nagging feeling that we’ve seen it all before.