Mr. Movie

Mr Movie: ‘The Goldfinch,’ ‘Hustlers’ and ‘Don’t Let Go’

The Goldfinch (Official trailer)

Theodore “Theo” Decker was 13 years old when his mother was killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tragedy changes the course of his life, sending him on a stirring odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption.
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Theodore “Theo” Decker was 13 years old when his mother was killed in a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tragedy changes the course of his life, sending him on a stirring odyssey of grief and guilt, reinvention and redemption.

‘The Goldfinch’

The story is complex. Theo is 13 and with his mom at a museum. They’re standing in front of a Dutch masterpiece titled The Goldfinch. It’s her favorite. He’s impressed but is actually more impressed with the lovely red-headed girl standing in front of the picture with a man.

Theo wants to stay to allegedly to gawk at the picture but really to gawk at the girl. His mom takes off and says she’ll meet him in the gift shop. Then a terrorist sets off a bomb, and mom and a lot of other people die. Circumstances have Theo ending up with the picture.

No one knows he has it and it assumed lost in the blast. Theo keeps it hidden away for years in a backpack wrapped in newspaper. Though the film bounces a bit between past and present, the second half of the film has Theo as an adult.

Guilt over his mother’s death has haunted him all of his life and he’s a lot less innocent.

“The Goldfinch” is written by Peter Straughan who picked up an Oscar nomination for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and got nominated for an Emmy for “Wolf Hall,” and it is directed by John Crowley who was behind the camera of “Brooklyn.” Both men have done excellent films and are quite skilled at storytelling.

The complexity of the characters, and the psychology of the story, and the timespan involved makes this is a tough story to tell. With so much to say, by necessity it has to drag a bit. With help from an excellent cast they manage to make it come together.

Nicole Kidman is the woman who takes the now orphaned Theo in, Oakes Fegley (“Pete’s Dragon”) is Theo as a boy and “Baby Driver’s” Ansel Elgort takes on the character as an adult. Jeffrey Wright plays Theo’s mentor and Luke Wilson is his no-good gambling father. Golden Globe winner Sarah Paulson and Finn Wolfard (“Stranger Things,” “It” and “It Chapter Two”) also star.

I cannot say enough positives about the acting but it is Fegley’s young Theo who is the most impressive. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue but gets most of his milage out of showing the hopelessness of being a teen living on a dead end street in the Las Vegas desert with a dead end parent and his also dead end girlfriend.

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Jeffrey Wright, left, and Oakes Fegley in a scene from "The Goldfinch," in theaters on Sept. 13. Macall Polay Associated Press

Also of note is the chemistry between Fegley and a very regal Kidman, and Fegley and Wright who play the only adults in Theo’s world that seem to get him.

Criticism of the movie has been scathing. So I am in the minority. I loved “The Goldfinch.” Most critics have not. The complaints range from the movie’s 2:30 length to a shallow screenplay to actors giving little depth to what should have been somewhat deep, complex characters. The screenplay criticism is understandable. Most of the time screenplays based on books are chopped up into chunks and shrunken down to the basics.

Many who read Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel — upon which the movie is based — may find it chunky. But from the reviews I’ve seen of the book and its 800 pages, it’s kinda chunky, too.

Since it picked up a Pulitzer, make that good chunky.

I agree the movie “The Goldfinch” is a bit chunky, and even a little clunky, but it is also a brilliantly filmed, wonderfully acted film done in a way that made me wish I’d read Tartt’s novel.

But at 800 pages and with the time heavy constraints that I, and most of you have these days, the movie seems to be the best option.

▪ Rated R for mature themes, language, drug use and mature themes. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12, at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

▪ Rating: 4 out of 5

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Jennifer Lopez, left, and Constance Wu in a scene from "Hustlers." Alison Cohen Rosa Associated Press

‘Hustlers’

“Hustlers” is based on a true story and is gleaned from a New York magazine article on a group of ladies of the night. Just after the recession of 2008 and into 2013, the group stalked Wall Street bars and strip clubs looking for wealthy johns to bilk. They’d find a guy, slip him a date rape drug, and other substances and when he was pretty much helpless, they’d rack up huge bills — drinks, dances, sex, etc. — on his credit card or credit cards.

The film stars Constance Wu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) and Jennifer Lopez. Both actresses and their costars are very, very good. In fact, this is the best acting I’ve seen from Lopez. She finally gets a chance at a role that is deeper than being a main character is a romantic comedy or a dumb drama.

Lopez is very good at being very bad. Her character, Ramona is drop-dead gorgeous and angelic looking but inside she has a dark, self-absorbed heart. It’s a very good, and very believable performance.

The problem Lopez and her also very good costars encounter is a pretty basic story that contains about an hour of interesting material. The other 49-minutes is fluff and padding. The article shows these women as greedy souls with almost no conscience. “Hustlers” endeavors to give them a heart that doesn’t exist.

The article was written by Jessica Pressler. It has an edge and shows women who feel no remorse for their crimes. The film gives Wu’s character a conscience that she didn’t possess. It feels as phony as the scam perpetrated upon the victims.

That’s surprising because “Hustlers” is written and directed by Lorene Scafaria. She did one of my all-time favorite nobody-heard-of-or-saw-it movies “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.” By the way, if you can find it, it stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley and is really terrific. Scafaria also did “The Meddler,” a wonderful art house hit that starred Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne and J.K. Simmons.

It’s too bad with their limited release, more people didn’t get a chance to see those movies.

“Hustlers” is wide-release and it will attract more viewers than all of Scafaria’s other films combined. I love her writing and storytelling skills, and while Scafaria gets exceptional performances out of this most excellent cast, her movie is one huge disappointment.

Once you leave the theater and are scratching your head and wondering why this film is getting such a good buzz, see if you can find “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” or “The Meddler” on whatever web-based movie sites you use.

They will not disappoint.

▪ Rated R for language, sex, nudity, drug use and mature themes. It’s playing at the Fairchild Cinemas Pasco and Queensgate 12s, at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12 and at Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.

▪ Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5

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David Oyelowo and Storm Reid in "Don't Let Go." Sundance Institute TNS

‘Don’t Let Go’

I love movies about time. When done correctly, they’re fun. Good ones don’t happen that often because the twists it takes to make anything involving time, or time travel somewhat believable often prove to be a film’s undoing.

“Don’t Let Go” is about time. I like the movie and am giving it a positive recommendation. However, it has a few of those head scratching plot twists that almost ruin the movie.

Almost.

David Oyelowo (“Selma”) is detective Jack Radcliff. He’s the perfect uncle to his niece Ashley who is wonderfully done by “A Wrinkle in Time’s” Storm Reid. Her father and mother are not exactly responsible parents. Daddy often “forgets” to pick Ashley up from school or a movie, and mom is a non-presence in her life, too. So Uncle Jack picks up the slack.

Then Ashley, dad and mom are murdered.

Devastated, Jack is determined to help solve the murder. Of course, that is a conflict of interest but his partner and best friend, and those trying to figure out what happened to his family, share information with him. And then the phone calls start. It’s Ashley from the past, not knowing she’s going to die.

At first Jack thinks he’s losing his mind but as the calls persist, he starts using clues from his conversations with Ashley — who is clueless about her fate — to find out who did the dastardly deed.

There is a lot to like about “Don’t Let Go” and it starts with the chemistry of Oyelowo and Reid. While they don’t share many face-to-face scenes, their phone calls are riveting. Credit writer/director Jacob Estes for a superb script that gives the two actors believable dialogue in a totally unbelievable concept.

Or to put it a different way, while this isn’t really about time travel, it is about the past reaching out to the present. And as a friend once put it, films like this make you wish you, too, could go back in time and not see the movie.

For some reason, Estes adds a weird thread to the story that leads to the unraveling of an otherwise very interesting — but predictable — mystery. It is the concept that eventually gets you to let go of “Don’t Let Go.”

And maybe after getting his movie done, edited and set for showing, Estes — like my friend — thought about that bizarre, and unnecessary thread, and wishes he could go into the past and change the story.

If he doesn’t, I do.

▪ Rated R for mature themes, violence and language. It’s playing at the AMC Classic Kennewick 12.

▪ Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5

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