Archive for the Drama Category

To Leslie

Posted in Drama with tags on January 30, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

There’s an appealing lo-fi aesthetic to this immersive character-driven drama. Screenwriter Ryan Binaco (3022) was allegedly motivated to pen a tribute to his mother’s life. He reportedly drew inspiration from the 1970 movie Wanda by Barbara Loden as well. However, this portrait of a troubled American mother experiencing questionable mental health also suggests other films of that decade: A Woman Under the Influence and The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds. Accomplished TV director Michael Morris (Bloodline, Better Call Saul, 13 Reasons Why) directs.

Leslie Rowland is a single mother from West Texas. Right at the beginning, we see TV news footage of her winning $190,000 in a local lottery. Leslie’s numbers were her son’s birth date. She happens to be an alcoholic and squanders the winnings on liquor and drugs. Six years later, Leslie is penniless and living a nomadic lifestyle without a permanent home. After being kicked out of a derelict motel, she returns to her hometown, ostensibly intending to rebuild her life. Leslie reunites with her estranged 20-year-old son James (Owen Teague). He’s currently in construction. The tall, slender Teague recalls a working-class John Travolta circa the Saturday Night Fever era. James agrees to take her in temporarily, provided she doesn’t drink. Unfortunately, she has difficulty making good on that promise.

Redemptive dramas about alcoholism can feel a bit manipulative. Yet To Leslie supersedes its histrionic subject with authenticity. Leslie soon alienates her son and is forced to move back in with bitter ex-friends (Allison Janney and Stephen Root). That soon falls apart. A chance meeting with Sweeney (Marc Maron), the manager of a rundown motel, might prove to be a blessing. Sweeney’s co-worker is an idiosyncratic man named Royal (Andre Royo), who owns the property. These thoroughly realized characters confirm that a complicated plot is unnecessary when you sincerely detail human emotion. This is a compelling study of addiction in blue-collar Middle America. The emotional saga captivates at every turn.

When we talk about the depth of an actor’s work, it’s hard not to consider the disparity between an actor’s background and the personality of their role. Andrea Riseborough is a British actress born in Wallsend, near Newcastle. She attended the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2005. Riseborogh completely embodies this hard-drinking West Texas woman. You’d swear the producers simply picked up a local barfly from “The Lone Star State” and cast them in a movie. Riseborough is that convincing. Playing a drunk can feel like a “rite of passage” for an actor. However, her depiction here is elevated beyond common portrayals.

Andrea Riseborough has always been a chameleon. It’s easy to forget she’s been acting for two decades. She made her feature debut in 2006 with a small part in Venus starring Peter O’Toole. She has had prominent roles in many films, including Oblivion, Birdman, Nocturnal Animals, Battle of the Sexes, The Death of Stalin, Mandy, Possessor, Amsterdam, and Matilda The Musical. She often looks and acts like an utterly different individual. She gives a transformative performance here. A grassroots campaign amongst Riseborough’s fellow actors heralded her work in this picture few had seen before January 24. When the Oscar nominations were announced that morning, she earned a nod for Best Actress. Her nomination may have been a surprise, but her achievement is most assuredly deserving of acclaim.

To Leslie is available to rent on iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.

01-26-23

Aftersun

Posted in Drama with tags on January 26, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Aftersun is a moisturizing lotion applied to the skin to soothe sunburn and avoid peeling. The symbolic title announces a deceptively simple movie with significant depth. It opens with rewinding home video footage of a vacation at a modest resort in Turkey during the summer of 1999. The videotape reignites the memories of that trip for an adult woman (Celia Rowlson Hall). 11-year-old Sophie (Frankie Corio) is a precocious and perceptive youth on the cusp of adolescence. She’s on holiday with her dad. Calum Paterson is about to turn 31, so there is an age difference of less than 20 years between them.

Calum is a loving and supportive presence in his daughter’s life. The saga presents a series of seemingly random and inconsequential events. The account is a study in simplicity. They swim in the Mediterranean, play a game of pool, shop for a rug, and eat ice cream. In these warm interactions, we gradually explore the dynamics of this father-daughter duo. However, something is amiss. It’s subtle. At one point, Sophie tries to get Calum to join her on stage for a karaoke version of “Losing My Religion,” but he isn’t feeling it. It is implied they used to sing this together on holidays in the past. You’ll have to look closely to identify clues suggesting melancholia.

Aftersun is a gentle wisp of a recollection. A fond reminiscence of happier times. This was one of the most acclaimed releases of 2022 and appeared on over a hundred critics’ top 10 lists. It even garnered a Best Actor Oscar nomination for star Paul Mescal. He gives a nuanced performance, as does actress Frankie Corio, who plays his daughter. I was impressed by their relaxed chemistry in this thoughtful pastiche of flashbacks. Two things of note: (1) Calum was young when he became a father. (2) He’s now separated from Sophie’s mother. This portrait will affect you more if you identify with Sophie’s situation.

Aftersun is a profoundly personal picture. Charlotte Wells is a talented filmmaker who clearly understands the power of restraint and patience. That this is her first feature makes it one of the most self-assured directorial debuts of 2022. The chronicle perfectly illustrates “show, don’t tell.” As such, the delicacy of the screenplay is the more profound meaning between the lines. This is a profoundly personal picture. The evocation of a mood is compelling. But be forewarned. The nostalgia of this trip is an intimate reflection that builds to an ambiguous conclusion. It may hit you like an emotional ton of bricks or leave you asking a question that does not have a definitive answer.

01-24-23

All Quiet on the Western Front

Posted in Action, Drama, War with tags on January 22, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Author Erich Maria Remarque’s realistic depiction of combat from the perspective of young soldiers in the trenches was a best-selling 1929 novel. As a German veteran of World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front connected with soldiers and civilians across the globe. It sold 2.5 million copies in 22 languages in its first 18 months in print. In 1930, the publication became a landmark work of American cinema. Lewis Milestone won the Oscar for Best Director, and the production won Best Picture. It was even reworked again as a TV movie in 1979 starring Richard Thomas.

I didn’t feel like the book needed another adaptation. So this version directed by Edward Berger wasn’t high on my “to see” list. It debuted on Netflix on October 28th and briefly occupied the Top 10 for a couple of weeks. It was overshadowed in popularity at the time by The Good Nurse, a drama starring Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne. Then on Tuesday, January 19th, the BAFTA awards were announced, and this feature got a staggering 14 nominations, more than any other. My curiosity was piqued.

The story follows a teenager named Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) and his friends Albert Kropp (Aaron Hilmer) and Franz Müller (Moritz Klaus), who voluntarily enlist in the German army. There they make friends with a more experienced solider named Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (Albrecht Schuch). They’re full of patriotism to represent their country, but that excitement soon dissipates as they face the brutalities of war. Witness their youthful, almost angelic faces caked in soot, with only the whites of their eyes shining through. This portrait emphasizes the humanity that shines through the dirt and grime.

All Quiet on the Western Front is a faithful adaptation of a German novel with German actors speaking their native language. It took nearly a century for a German rendition of Remarque’s seminal tome to come to fruition. The fact that the book was banned in Nazi Germany for its anti-war position didn’t make that journey any easier. The production looks good. Cinematographer James Friend offers up breathtaking imagery. It’s a beautifully photographed, handsomely mounted period piece that effectively illustrates the notion that…are you ready? War is Hell.

That sentiment is a timeworn cliche at this point. The production doesn’t have any novel ideas to add. However, it does at least provide an experience. Feel the visceral thrill of combat immersed in the muddy trenches. It has a palpable “you are there” aesthetic. As such, the account repeatedly reminded me of the Sam Mendes picture 1917 in both style and subject matter. Even star Felix Kammerer is a dead ringer for 1917‘s George MacKay. I loved that film, and I likewise appreciate this one too. However, there are long stretches over the course of this 148-minute movie where nothing happens. This narrative is significantly slower and less cinematic than 1917. In the shadow of that epic, this chronicle feels more than a little “been there done that.”

Nevertheless, the upcoming Oscar nominations will be announced on Tuesday, January 24th, and this is becoming a real contender. It’s a German movie, so at the very least, it’s a guaranteed lock for a place in Best International Film, but it’s likely to get cited in other categories. We shall see.

01-19-23

Women Talking

Posted in Drama with tags on January 19, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

From its title, you expect an inspirational tribute to female empowerment. Sadly Women Talking is more frustrating than satisfying. Here’s why.

This chronicle is based on a scandal that occurred among the Mennonites of Manitoba Colony. Mennonites are Christians formed during the Protestant Reformation. Neither Catholic nor Protestant, they are often closely associated with the Amish but an entirely separate entity. This particular religious community of European descent resides in the eastern lowlands of Bolivia. Inspired by actual events, the incident was recounted in the novel of the same name by Miriam Toews. Between 2005 and 2009, over a hundred girls and women woke up to discover that they had been raped in their sleep. At first, the men told them it was the work of ghosts or demons. Ultimately the perpetrators were caught in the act. The victims discovered that men in the settlement had sedated them with cow tranquilizer. The felons were eventually arrested by local police and taken to jail.

Women Talking is simply that, a discussion amongst mothers, daughters, wives, grandmothers, and children. Understandably, they were outraged. The unspeakable crimes have mainly occurred before the film’s outset, although we see some individuals waking up with bruises and no recollection of what happened. The remaining men have now gone to town to bail the criminals out. They have instructed that the women must forgive their abusers before they return. If they do not, they will be forced to leave the colony and “denied entry to the Kingdom of Heaven.” Oh boy. Are you frustrated yet? It gets even more maddening. The female survivors have assembled in a barn. They have three choices, of which they will pick one (1) Do nothing, (2) stay and fight, or (3) leave.

A celebrated cast breathes life into a dreary debate set on a theatrical stage. Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, and Judith Ivey present a variety of personalities. They imbue director Sarah Polley’s screenplay with confidence. Producer Frances McDormand also appears as a woman less aligned with the other protestors. She’s onscreen for perhaps 5 minutes. Meanwhile, Ben Whishaw portrays a quiet schoolteacher smitten with Mara’s character. He’s also on hand as a sympathetic representative of the patriarchy who can read and write, unlike the women. He’s ostensibly here to take down the notes and indirectly remind us that “not all men.”

The artificial construct of Women Talking is not without precedent. 12 Angry Men famously threw a group in a room and had them argue. That outstanding drama focused on the questionable guilt of an accused. In this account, there is no doubt. The men are clearly guilty, and the dialogue examines what to do. That changes things considerably. The eight endlessly pontificate on their various options. One’s enjoyment will be how much you appreciate listening to indecisive people speak in circles about an issue for 104 minutes but not do anything. I had hoped that “stay and fight” might include securing machine guns and mowing down their violent attackers. I wondered what an actress like Sigourney Weaver or Linda Hamilton might have done in a movie 35 years ago.

The persecuted gather for a well-meaning drama of morally unimpeachable politics. The ladies finally make a decision, but it’s too little too late. It fails to provide the necessary catharsis, a moment where horrific crimes are thoroughly addressed. Dear ladies, actions speak a lot louder than words. Or, to put it another way, “women doing” is more inspiring than “women talking.”

11-30-22

Emily the Criminal

Posted in Crime, Drama, Thriller with tags on January 6, 2023 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Emily Benetto is facing a mountain of crippling debt from student loans. She also has a felony conviction, preventing her from getting a regular job. The details are sketchy. We hear it’s from an assault. She mentions she fought a lot with an ex-boyfriend. That ambiguity helps us side with her. Longtime best friend Liz (Megalyn Echikunwoke) pledges to get Emily an interview at a prestigious ad agency, but those promises keep going unfulfilled. Emily falls more easily into a credit card scam where she poses as a “dummy shopper.” We’re introduced to a nefarious Los Angeles underworld that includes a mentor named Youcef Haddad (Theo Rossi).

As the title suggests, Emily the Criminal is a character study — at least initially — about a crook. Not one that is born and raised but recently brought about by her plight. She is a scrappy young woman, defined by her current situation. Emily’s ability to adapt is impressive. As her circumstances become ever more dangerous, she meets them head-on. The situations continue to escalate, but so does she. She refuses to be a victim. Despite her less-than-savory behavior, she isn’t a figure that incurs our hatred. Although she doesn’t incur respect, either.

Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, Ingrid Goes West) is fascinating as the main protagonist. The individual occupies this gray area where we know her actions are wrong on an intellectual level, but we want her to succeed from an emotional standpoint. To inspire that nuance of feeling is rare. The actress continues to make an impression. When this drama became available on Netflix on December 7, it promptly entered the Top 10. At the same time, she was portraying Harper Spiller, a straitlaced lawyer in a marriage fraught with tension, in the vacation drama The White Lotus on HBO Max.

Emily the Criminal is also a competent thriller. Any discussion of the most promising directorial debuts of 2022 would include John Patton Ford. He has fashioned a compelling tale. In detailing her journey, Emily will meet a cadre of various individuals. It will get intense. Her self-defense weapons expand from pepper spray to a taser to a box cutter. The last of which is considerably more lethal. There is a dubious lack of guns, however. Some of the interactions could have gone much worse. Take a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief before enjoying this view of LA. Aubrey Plaza keeps us enrapt. The actress maintains a blank stare, a face inexplicably conveying both fear and indifference to everything around her. That keeps us a bit detached, too, but we still feel compassion. Ford’s screenplay pleads for understanding. This is an unvarnished portrait of humanity. It may not be inspiring, but it is real.

01-04-23

Emily the Criminal is on Netflix (since December 7). It originally premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival on January 24 and was released to theaters on August 12.

Matilda the Musical

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Family, Music, Musical with tags on December 30, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand why UK author Roald Dahl is considered a national treasure. I’m an aficionado of the legendary author’s work too. He wrote James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, and The Witches. All were made into fine films. I wasn’t as familiar with Matilda, which was published in 1988. You will likely follow this meandering account better if you’re well-versed in the original text. It has a beloved following, particularly in the UK. It’s been adapted into a 1996 film directed by Danny DeVito, a two-part special on BBC Radio 4, and a 2010 West End/Broadway musical by Tim Minchin. This is the cinematic adaptation of that musical, directed by Matthew Warchus (Pride), from a screenplay by Dennis Kelly.

Matilda the Musical is an overstuffed production with a lot of characters. Matilda Wormwood is a precocious five-and-a-half-year-old girl. Yet the child isn’t appreciated by her mom and dad. “My mummy says I’m a lousy little worm,” she laments. Her father wanted a boy and continues to refer to Matilda as one. Actors Stephen Graham and Andrea Riseborough are amusingly festooned in tacky clothes and goofy hair. I cherished their campy presence. Due to her parents’ lack of care and concern, she seeks solace at the local library. She’s a voracious reader. There she tells a parable to Mrs. Phelps (Sindhu Vee), the librarian. Matilda’s tale is about a renowned acrobat (Lauren Alexandra) and escapologist (Carl Spencer) couple who long to have a baby. Frequent cutaways dramatize this external circus saga throughout the film.

The movie finally hints at a coherent story when Matilda is admitted as a student at Crunchem Hall. The sweet but timid teacher Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch), sees her potential. It’s hard to believe this passive instructor is portrayed by the same actress who was the fierce lieutenant in The Woman King and the new 007 in No Time to Die. Talk about range. Meanwhile, Headmistress Agatha Trunchbull (Emma Thompson, unrecognizable under prosthetics) does not like kids. She considers them maggots. As a matter of fact, it’s the school’s motto. However, Matilda is a willful girl with a powerful brain that develops a knack for telekinesis. Matilda and Trunchbull are destined to face off. Any wagers on who will win?

Matilda’s personality could use tweaking. Actress Alisha Weir is indeed effective in the title role. When she sings, “Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty,” an optimistic ode about her sad life, I felt her sorrow. To Matilda’s credit, she is surrounded by negative influences and still finds the strength to champion her fellow students. However, she comes across as a tad self-righteous and conceited. She solves a ridiculously complicated math problem to the bewildered shock of Miss Honey and shrugs it off like it’s no big deal. Then she puts on airs by listing all the novels she read that week (Nicholas Nickleby, Jane Eyre, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Of Mice And Men, The Lord of the Rings, Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, and…The Cat in the Hat.) We get it. You’re a prodigy, but a touch of humility goes a long way. The rebel in me was silently rooting for Agatha Trunchbull.

I miss the subversiveness of Roald Dahl. The author is weird. What makes his books so interesting is the dark sensibility that saturates his irreverent tales. His chronicles often feature a child narrator against villainous adults. Matilda is no exception. Sure the adults are evil on the written page. Agatha Trunchbull competed in the hammer throw at the ’72 Olympics. When she likewise hurls a young student by her pigtails, it is an outrageously bizarre sight., However, the scene is silly, and the savagery is ephemeral.

Dahl’s aesthetic has been considerably undermined by a bright, colorful exhibition infused with spoonfuls of saccharine sentimentality. The vigorous dance numbers are fabricated and edited within an inch of their life. One group sequence highlights jittery step patterns in detailed precision. When the youngsters dance and sing to “Revolting Children,” it is a spectacle to behold. The scene is frenzied and intense but employs slow motion, too, with CGI flying paper planes and streamers. The presentation veers from excellent to exhausting in a scant 3 minutes. I longed for the comparative calm of the earlier ditty, “When I Grow Up.”

I love musicals, but Matilda wasn’t made for fans of the golden age (the 1930s through the early 1950s). It’s for young theater geeks raised on TikTok, where the triumphant, hyper-edited, special effects-enhanced displays of choreographed demonstrations can be uploaded onto social media platforms and then go viral. The picture is best enjoyed for the production numbers. They are impressive, but they overshadow a disjointed and cluttered mess of a story. Matilda the Musical is a collection of catchy songs and high-energy dancing in search of a focused narrative.

12-26-22

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on December 27, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

An effective whodunnit needs a good setup, and Glass Onion — the sequel to the 2019 mystery film Knives Out — intelligently delivers. Let’s start with the title, which was inspired by the third track on the 1968 double album The Beatles (aka The White Album). The song was a self-referential composition that toyed with fans who sought to decipher hidden meanings in the Fab Four’s work. “Well, here’s another clue for you all….” John Lennon sang. It appropriately plays over the end credits.

In this account, the “Glass Onion” is the bar where five close friends hang out and meet future billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). These associates called themselves the disruptors. The inception of Miles’ successful Manhattan tech company, Alpha, had its humble origins at this dive. In the present day, Miles is hosting a murder mystery party at his estate on a private Greek island. A giant translucent sphere sits atop his compound. He invites his long-time pals for a friendly get-together. These innovators include Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), supermodel turned fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson ), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), men’s rights streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), and co-founder and ousted Alpha CEO Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe). Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) also has an invitation and joins the group along with Birdie’s assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) and Duke’s girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline).

Director Rian Johnson has crafted a clever puzzle for people who love to solve mysteries. A crackerjack screenplay punctuates the chronicle. Johnson shrewdly drops critical information in seemingly casual dialogue. The main story culminates about halfway through after Benoit Blanc easily solves the challenge of the fake murder. However, it isn’t long before the game becomes deadly, and one of their own is killed for real. The chronicle then flashes back and gives us the background leading up to their little soiree. It is here that the salient particulars of the plot unfold. The interconnected details of the past of these various individuals are exposed. Their sordid histories reveal that everyone has a motive.

Glass Onion is a sparkling delight that surpasses its predecessor. Ok, so the denouement may not be a jaw-dropping shocker, and Benoit Blanc’s presence is reduced to focus more on other characters. It’s an intricately assembled ensemble piece of amusing personalities. Every actor gets to shine, albeit some more brightly than others—lots of witty gags. The funniest moment is a realization that Kate Hudson’s character makes regarding someone’s identity after that fact had been well established. However, Janelle Monáe gets the juiciest part. She suitably shines in her role. The surroundings are opulent, the cast is fun, and the jokes are funny, Glass Onion provides layers and layers of fun.

11-29-22

The Whale

Posted in Drama with tags on December 21, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

The Whale is a manipulative, exploitative piece of theatricality. The casting of Brendan Fraser in this role plays into that. The actor used to be thin, and now he is not. That should have been enough to play the part of an obese man. Yet director Darren Aronofsky stacks the deck. The account features an admittedly outstanding performance buried — quite literally under pounds of prosthetics — in a bad film.

The Whale is a fable about regret. Charlie is a reclusive English instructor who teaches remotely via Zoom. (He keeps his webcam off.) Set solely inside the confines of a modest and darkened home, he has isolated from the world. Nevertheless, he desperately wants to reconnect with his estranged teenage daughter, Ellie (Sadie Sink). He’s having a particularly rough week. He is suicidal. This is a chronicle where we watch an individual punish his own body. When the story opens, we find him slumped in a chair watching pornography, coughing and wheezing to the point that he has ALMOST — and there’s no other way to say this — masturbated to death. That’s just the opening 5 minutes.

Darren Aronofsky makes a lot of questionable choices. The filmmaker has a fascination with grotesqueries designed to shock. Too many to list them all. We’ll see Charlie naked in the shower, struggling to simply stand up, and gorging on a meatball sub which causes him to vomit. Charlie shoves so much into his mouth without chewing that he chokes violently. His nurse and best friend, Liz (Hong Chau ), is there to save him by jumping on his back like a trampoline. It’s an embarrassingly ridiculous scene.

Brendan Fraser’s achievement as a 600-pound fellow is an act of self-loathing and shame. The display is effective because it feels genuine. Charlie sees the beauty in everyone else’s life but his own. He constantly apologizes for his existence. His sensitive portrayal is the re-emergence of an actor who left Hollywood. He received a standing ovation when the picture had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September. I’m glad Fraser has found peace and critical acclaim within the industry. If he wins the Oscar, I’ll cheer. I love that real-life narrative. However, I’m reviewing a movie, not how his comeback story makes me feel.

The Whale is stagy work that relies on frequent guests who drop by the house. The acting is (mostly) good. Ty Simpkins portrays Thomas, a Christian missionary, that is surprisingly sympathetic. Samantha Morton shows up as Charlie’s ex-wife, and she hints at the dramatic interactions that could have made this saga tolerable. Ellie — as their teenage daughter, however — is a piece of work. She’s a sociopath with all the earmarks of a future serial killer. She hates her father and verbally abuses him in a way that’s hard to stomach. It gets physical too. At one point, she drugs her father with a dose of Ambien that could have killed him. When confronted with that reality, she defensively shouts, “but it didn’t.”

The Whale is a punishing endurance test about a victim who has lost the will to live. Ultimately Samuel D. Hunter’s screenplay does offer a conclusion. The audience has been pummeled for the better part of two hours only to present an ending that isn’t earned. It’s hard for the audience to accept what’s being given after being relentlessly force-fed unpleasantries. Brendan Fraser does his best with the words on the page. It equally rests on the shoulders of actress Sadie Sink, whose shouting, one-note depiction is always operating at peak volume. There’s no room to shift gears when necessary to get the audience to embrace the ersatz emotion the director is now putting down. The Whale is a fraud — a vile movie further defeated by tacked-on sentiment.

Triangle of Sadness

Posted in Comedy, Drama with tags on December 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Satirizing the upper class is very in right now. Parasite won Best Picture in 2020. The Menu has been entertaining moviegoers in cinemas for the past month. TV series The White Lotus just completed its second season on HBO. Glass Onion — the sequel to Knives Out — hits Netflix on December 23. Triangle of Sadness is the latest opus by Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund. It secured the Palme d’Or — the highest merit — at the Cannes Film Festival in May. His movie The Square took the award in 2017.

Östlund’s sensibilities are dark but with a humorous undercurrent. The script explains that a “triangle of sadness” is the furrowed brow of wrinkles due to tension in the face. An alternate explanation is that our sorrowful tale is conveniently divided into three parts. The through line that unites all three sections is a young dating couple, Carl (Harris Dickinson) is a male model, and his girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) is also a model. She is an influencer, and they’re invited on an ocean liner in exchange for promoting it on social media. Beauty is their ticket into this world of elites.

Through them, we get to know some of the wealthy vacationers on board the luxury yacht. There’s a lonely tech billionaire (Henrik Dorsin), a Russian fertilizer tycoon (Zlatko Burić) traveling with his wife (Sunnyi Melles) and mistress ( Carolina Gynning), a sweet elderly married pair (Amanda Walker & Oliver Ford Davies) who amassed a fortune manufacturing hand grenades, and a poor German woman who has suffered a stroke and repeatedly says “In Den Wolken” which means “in the clouds.”

In an upstairs-downstairs scenario, we also see scenes of the crew working hard to cater to the guests’ whims and desires. The head of the crew is Paula (Vicki Berlin), who believes no request is too absurd. The ship’s drunken captain (Woody Harrelson) is a self-proclaimed Marxist. But the most noteworthy individual is a “toilet manager” named Abigail, portrayed by Filipina actress Dolly de Leon. If the Academy truly exists to honor the best performances regardless of Hollywood status, they will nominate the heretofore unknown. She makes the most memorable impression in a supporting role for 2022. Her brilliant performance is the kind of depiction that often gets overlooked. Later the ship encounters rough seas, the power goes out, and pirates attack the ship. Only a select few survivors can escape. They wind up on an island.

To give more plot details would be to ruin the surprise of what occurs. Ruben Ostlund’s screenplay is a companion to Force Majeure (2014) and The Square (2017). The trilogy collectively mocks the 1%. I was riveted by the twists and turns of how the narrative in his latest develops. The story touches on class, race, and gender to comment on celebrity, wealth, and inequality. Yet it unfolds organically, which compels the viewer to keep watching. It’s a long production (147 minutes) but never dull. I will admit in one extended sequence, the people on the boat get sick, and there’s a lot of regurgitation. It goes on for far too long, but that’s the purpose. You’ll either be repulsed or amused by the exaggeration. It’s outrageous. I wasn’t a fan of that patience-testing display. However, everything else succeeds. The objective isn’t subtle, but it is intelligent and funny.

12-01-22

Triangle of Sadness is available to rent on digital retailers like Amazon Video, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube Movies, Google Play, and more.

She Said

Posted in Biography, Drama, History with tags on December 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

She Said concerns Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times. The reporters broke the story that exposed film producer Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse and sexual misconduct against women. The scandal was a watershed moment for Hollywood and ushered in the #MeToo movement. The conversation would not end with Weinstein. Their coverage was the impetus that reexamined sexual harassment and changed the fabric of the workplace forever.

The newspaper drama is part of a grand tradition. This is the latest addition to a category that includes All the President’s Men and Spotlight, but the film could learn a thing or two from those classics. Watching people hunt down the details of a story while waiting for cell phones to ring so they can interview people and subsequently type up their findings can be rather dull. Our interest in a work of cinema demands both great performances from actors and a crackerjack screenplay.

This news event could form the basis for a gripping movie. However, She Said is a matter-of-fact recap. How two women at the New York Times got victims to go on record to share what happened to them presents the basic facts. It’s a sensible by-the-numbers retelling of a newsworthy event. However, it isn’t particularly innovative or ambitious. I didn’t learn anything new. Nevertheless, Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan are compelling. I respect their craft.

However, the approach could’ve cut a lot deeper. Directed by Maria Schrader from a script by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the account is adapted from the 2019 book of the same name by Twohey and Kantor. She Said draws attention to a sobering truth. The first documented case occurred in 1984. Harvey Weinstein’s behavior would go unchecked (some might even say subsidized) within the industry for over three decades. Over 80 women eventually accused Weinstein of such acts. The screenplay has plenty of condemnation toward Weinstein, but It fails to hold Hollywood accountable. Rape charges would finally be filed in 2018. He’s now serving a 23-year prison sentence, but he’s also facing up to 135 years behind bars if convicted on other charges,

This journalism procedural is an efficiently made celebration of how the truth came to light, but it isn’t incisive or revelatory. On the plus side, the narrative dutifully applauds the brave women who stepped forward and told their stories. Jennifer Ehle as Miramax employee Laura Madden and Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins, Harvey Weinstein’s personal assistant, are the highlights. Ashley Judd even appears on screen as herself. It also celebrates Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who tirelessly worked to help make that happen. I’m encouraged that justice was served in this case and that a major Hollywood studio like Universal Pictures financed a movie about it.

She Said is currently playing in theaters, where it has earned $5.7 million since November 18. On December 6, it was made available to rent on digital platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and Vudu.

12-08-22