Viola Davis, Colin Farrell and the film ‘Widows’

Thanks to the British mini-series Widows (1983-1985). That 7-episode series inspired the film featuring an ensemble cast in modern-day Chicago, Illinois. The plot follows four women attempting to steal $5 million from the home of a prominent local politician to pay $2 million to a local crime boss. The women’s husbands were killed in a botched getaway attempt from that local crime boss. The film that resulted is Widows (2018).

Widows 7 - Screenwriter Gilliam Flynn, left, and Screenwriter & Director Steve McQueen(Screenwriter Gillian Flynn left, and Screenwriter/Director Steve McQueen of the film Widows).

Writing credits for the film go to director Steve McQueen and writer Gillian Flynn. The film opens with the depiction of a $2-million theft from a crime boss aiming for Chicago alderman named Jamal Manning. Manning (portrayed by Brian Tyree Henry) and his brother Jatemme (as portrayed by Daniel Kaluuya) are the initial crime victims who give Veronica (as portrayed by Viola Davis) the ultimatum to return the cash set on fire in one month’s time.

Widows 3 - Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning, left, and Brian Tyree Henry as Jamal Manning(Daniel Kaluuya as Jatemme Manning, left, and Brian Tyree Henry, right, as Jamal Manning in the film Widows).

The heist gone wrong was established by Harry Rawlings, as portrayed by Liam Neeson, husband to Veronica. The spouses Linda (as portrayed by Michelle Rodriguez), Alice (as portrayed by Elizabeth Debicki), and Amanda (as portrayed by Carrie Coon) died in the fire. For a significant portion of the film, it was presumed that Harry Rawlings had also died and left a book depicting his past crimes for Veronica to use for extortion purposes following his presumed passing.

Widows 2 - Liam Neeson as Harry Rawlings and Viola Davis as Veronica(Liam Neeson as Harry Rawlings and Viola Davis as Veronica in the film Widows).

Unable to gain a meaningful extortion from the criminal past of her husband, Veronica convinced Linda and Alice to participate in the detailed heist left behind by Harry Rawlings. Alice, under coercion by her mother (as portrayed by Jacki Weaver), enters almost immediately into an exclusive sexual relationship for money. The arrangement leads to the acquisition of plans used to execute the theft planned by the widows. Alice recruits a fourth of the widow heist in Belle, as played by Cynthia Erivo. Amanda as a new mother, and in a extra-marital relationship with Harry Rawlings, chose not to participate in the heist.

Widows 5 - Michelle Rodriguez as Linda, left, and Elizabeth Debicki as Alice(Michelle Rodriguez as Linda, left, and Elizabeth Debicki as Alice in the film Widows).

The home that Veronica and three ladies were do to rob was the home of current alderman of the eight ward of Chicago, Tom Mulligan (as played by Robert Duvall). Mulligan is a corrupt, bigoted, gruff old politician beset with the political sense of a criminal politician that expects and gives loyalty. Mulligan’s son, Jack, is running for alderman against crime boss Jamal Manning, and is complicit in the graft of his father. Jack Mulligan and Tom Mulligan have differing views for how to run Jack’s campaign for alderman, yet aims to keep the family (and his son) relevant to Chicago politics.

Widows 6 - LToR - Carrie Coon as Amanda, Cynthia Erivo as Belle and Robert Duvall as Tom Mulligan(From left to right, Carrie Coon as Amanda, Cynthia Erivo as Belle and Robert Duvall as Tom Mulligan in the film Widows).

Jack Mulligan reveals himself as the crook you hope he isn’t in the face of contentious conversations between he and his father. Campaign aid Siobhan (as played by Molly Kunz) serves on Jack’s inner circle, in fact aiming to talk truth about the nature of his leadership when Jack experiences self-doubt. The truth of Jack’s nature evolves over the course of the film, perhaps making the telling of his character one of the more relevant and rewarding of the entire film. A similar depth of narrative arc for Veronica and Alice are explored through the course of the film.

Widows 4 LToR - Viola Davis as Veronica, Colin Farrell as Jack Mulligan and Molly Kunz as Siobhan(From left to right, Viola Davis as Veronica, Colin Farrell as Jack Mulligan and Molly Kunz as Siobhan in the film Widows).

There is surprising depth of action and character through the course of this film. The audience reception to this film had to do with the side stories that gave the viewing some intelligence, in my opinion. My sense is the film offers more than it has too, with some clues and twists that ultimately pan out well if not exceptionally. I further enjoyed the means through which the traditional script for this type of film was flipped to allow for women, including minority women, to take leading roles. My grade for Widows is 3.75-stars on a scale of one-to-five.

Matt – Wednesday, September 04, 2019

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Remakes and Sequels in the Service of Story

Matt Lynn Digital recently reviewed the Disney animated movie Dumbo (1941). We did so anticipating the live action movie Dumbo (2019)‘s theatrical release in the United States on Friday, March 29th. Without making a fine distinction between remake and reboot, we at Matt Lynn Digital wanted to review why some remakes work well while also looking at why sequels, as a distinct thing from remakes, also are worth the time.

Remake - A Star is Born 1937,1954, 1976, & 2018(The movie A Star Is Born was first made in 1937 with remakes in 1954, 1976, and 2018).

Followers of the 2019 Academy Awards will recognize A Star is Born (2018) as a featured nominee for best movie. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga starred in the directorial debut for Cooper. Part of the success this movie enjoyed rested in starring a well known musician and actor (Cooper and Gaga) in featured roles executing their craft using contemporary film and musical take on a movie that had been made three times before. A Star Is Born (1976) with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, A Star Is Born (1954) with Judy Garland and James Mason, and A Star is Born (1937) with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March were others that succeeded with a similar compelling story.

Remake - The Wizard of Oz - The Wiz - 1937 & 1978(1939’s movie The Wizard of Oz was remade as The Wiz in 1978).

We at Matt Lynn Digital have ranked the movie The Wizard of Oz (1939) as the fourth best movie ever made. Starring Judy Garland and her friends the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion singing and dancing in the service of an adventure of rural versus city, labor versus management, poor versus rich, the music enhanced the telling of a story that has endured for many years. The same themes with a Motown soundtrack and an African American cast including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Nipsey Russell, Lena Horne, and Richard Pryor starred in The Wiz (1978). A powerful story serving powerful audiences are powerful reasons to remake a movie.

Remake - Annie - 1982, 1999, & 2014(1982’s musical movie Annie was remade in 1999 and 2014. All take inspiration from Little Orphan Annie of 1932).

The final look into remade movies includes the music filled song of looking towards tomorrow with family with Annie (1982). In reprising a heartwarming tale of the adventures of a young girl in finding her family, whereas The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz both reinforce getting back home, the original stars Albert Finney, Carol Burnett, Aileen Quinn and others. Annie (1999) rebooted the franchise for television with Kathy Bates as a notable star. Annie (2014) offered an entertaining review of the movie with a more robust and contemporary telling of the underlying story with stars Jamie Foxx, Quvenzhané Wallis, and Cameron Diaz. The 1982 and 2014 movies experienced commercial success. Each of these movies trace back to the comedy and drama Little Orphan Annie (1932).

The notion of making sequels to movies often is more creatively deliberate. It’s goals are often are not to retell a story with a more modern take or for a more modern audience, as we explored with some examples above. Instead, sequels seek to extend a story or take themes explored within a story to something more robust or fanciful.

Sequel - The Godfather - 1972, 1974, & 1990(1972’s The Godfather experienced sequels in 1974 and 1990).

The Godfather (1972) joins with The Godfather: Part II (1974) and The Godfather: Part III (1990) to tell the trials and tribulations of an Italian American mafia family with the surname Corleone. The story tells of how Vito Corleone became a major American criminal, how he died, and then how his youngest son Michael Corleone succeeded him and then became corrupted. The first two movies often are considered superior to the third movie in the sequence. Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro, and Talia Shire are notable stars in these movies.

Sequel - The Dark Knight - 2005, 2008, & 2012(2005’s Batman Begins was followed by The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises in 2008 and 2012, respectively).

The Dark Knight Trilogy of movies collectively refers to Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Katie Holmes, Gary OldmanMorgan Freeman, and Heath Ledger are notable stars telling the background story of Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), his becoming a crime fighter, and some graphic crime and violence he fights while simultaneously fighting his own emotional baggage wrought by the death of his parents at the hand of violent crime. Christopher Nolan became a director of worldwide reputation thanks to these movies.

Sequel - Jaws - 1975, 1978, 1983, & 1987(The 1975 blockbuster movie Jaws was followed by sequels in 1978, 1983, and 1987).

The movie Jaws (1975) led to three sequels, namely Jaws 2 (1978), Jaws 3-D (1983), and Jaws: The Revenge (1987). The first movie launched the career of director Steven Spielberg, who directed only the first movie. Roy Scheider starred in the first two movies, as did Murray Hamilton, and Lorraine Gary. Other notable stars in the original were Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss. The notion for all four movies was to extend the suspenseful interplay between unsuspecting folks on the beach, a hungry great white shark, and the engaging conflict the allows the audience to question who is the predator and who is the prey. Each movie in the series had a different director. Both the quality and originality of the series suffered from one movie to the next in this series, which is to say that this series demonstrates cases where sequels failed in the mission to extend the story into new and original places.

In walking through some notable remakes and movie sequels, my aim was to begin a dialogue for where one or the other is appropriate. Especially with some examples of  sequels, we are aiming to stake more ground for where sequels are not appropriate. For example, two sequels for Batman Begins seem justified, and a second sequel for The Godfather seems unwarranted. Multiple follow-ups for Jaws seem clearly unnecessary. The remakes of films largely seem justifiable reaches into new territory. What do you think?

Matt – Wednesday, March 27, 2019