Shook and unsettled. That was how I felt after watching Promising Young Woman back in November. I rarely feel either of those emotions watching movies nowadays (especially during a raging pandemic when so little is genuinely knocking my socks off), and after it ended, it felt like entire scenes were seared directly into my brain. I kept thinking about Writer/Director/Producer Emerald Fennell’s debut feature for weeks on end, and kept coming back to what an incredible achievement it was to behold.
I finally received another chance to watch it again this week and hoped it was all hyperbole or something I was just remembering differently. I thought I would feel less shook knowing exactly where it was going. Less unsettled. But those same scenes and moments just struck harder. They echoed and reverberated more powerfully. I still felt the ground give out below and the wind get knocked right out of me. That is what kind of an unforgettable and uncompromising experience Promising Young Woman is. It makes for one of the very best films from last year – and one that might even be hard to top this year too.
A mysterious catastrophe has destroyed the Earth as we know it as humanity is slowly poisoned by radiation. With little hope for survival, Arctic-stationed Scientist Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney) refuses to evacuate. He wants to stay behind so he can warn the team on the Aether spacecraft orbiting Jupiter to not return. But impending radiation, bad connections, cancer and a young stowaway named Iris (newcomer Caoilinn Springall) all stand in the way of Lofthouse sending his warning.
The Midnight Sky is George Clooney’s most ambitious and large scale directorial undertaking to date. He has mainly gravitated towards period pieces in the past (and whatever the hell Suburbicon was supposed to be), so it was a bit of a surprise to hear he was taking on a meditative science fiction doomsday thriller. I feared he might be in over his head, but my concerns practically vanished within seconds of the film beginning. Everything about the look of this film is great, with the meticulously detailed Production and Set Design really standing out. The Special Effects are strong, but slightly dodgy in some cases (yet still some of the strongest of any Netflix film). The majority of action beats are appropriately thrilling as well, although two are a bit too chaotically confusing for their own good. And the Score by Alexandre Desplat is simply wonderful — alternating between whimsy, melancholy and white knuckle thrills on a dime. Everything about the way The Midnight Sky looks and sounds is terrific.
Jennifer (Jessica Rothe, of the Happy Death Day series) and Sol (Harry Shum Jr., of Crazy Rich Asians and the Shadowhunters TV series) meet, fall in love, get engaged and start planning their happily ever after. But all of their planning changes in an instant when Sol finds out he has liver cancer.
All My Life is based on the true story of two young people from Toronto who fell in love and had all of their plans changed overnight after a terminal cancer diagnosis. The film takes some liberties with their story and changes many of the details (for one, Toronto is no longer a part of the story), but the main love story and cancer elements remain the same — as does the GoFundMe fundraiser that helped the pair get married substantially earlier than planned. It’s a beautiful, romantic and downright heartbreaking love story that will make you smile just as much as it will make you emotional.
When the film hits on those beats, it is truly wonderful. But when it misses them entirely, it just ends up feeling long-winded, melodramatic and far too cliched for its own good.
Retired Sheriff George Blackledge (Kevin Costner) and his wife Margaret (Diane Lane) live on a ranch in Montana. Their only son dies suddenly, leaving them devastated and wanting to spend more time than ever with their young grandson Jimmy. So when their widowed daughter-in-law marries into the dangerous Weboy family years later, it becomes imperative that George and Margaret stay in Jimmy’s life. But the Weboy clan, lead by matriarch Blanche (Lesley Manville), may have other plans.
I once described Kevin Costner’s career to a friend as being characterized by him playing either a cop, a cowboy or a fish. Sure I may have only been half-joking about the fish being a go-to (justice for Waterworld!), but the number of movies where he plays a cop, a cowboy or some combination of the two is downright staggering. Let Him Go is one of those films were he gets to combine the two, in a grizzled, “I’m too old for this shit” fashion that I am certain will delight his fans.
But for the non-fans and just about everyone else, Let Him Go might be a bit of a tougher sell. Because while the trailer may suggest it is a nail-biting thriller about the lengths people will go to for family, it hews much closer to a slow burn — one that simmers and fizzles out far more than it should.
Oliver (Azhy Robertson) is 8-years-old, friendless and on the autism spectrum. He is non-verbal, so he communicates by writing and typing on his phone and tablet. One night, he awakens to a children’s story on his phone called “Misunderstood Monsters”. The story revolves around a monster named Larry, who longs to be loved and have a friend to play with. As Oliver reads the story, weird things start happening in his room. He thinks nothing of it, but Larry is desperate to make a new friend and will stop at nothing to make sure it’s Oliver.
Prior to this year, I never put a whole lot of thought into the “kids in peril” genre, specifically as it relates to horror movies. The films were either good or bad, and the decisions made by the characters usually landed somewhere between asinine and completely outrageous. Of course I saw myself in the kid characters, but I never really saw myself as one of the parents. But now that I have a child of my own, all I could see when I watched Come Play was how much I related to the parent characters and their struggle to keep their child safe. It was something I could suddenly empathize with, and something I actually understood versus something I merely had an understanding of.
And when I think of it that way, Come Play becomes the kind of visceral, eye-opening experience that I am not sure I will be able to ever watch again while my son is growing up.
It has been a few weeks since I watched The Trial of the Chicago 7. And in that time, I have continually put off writing the review. Not because I did not like it and not because I did not want to discuss it. No, the reason I kept procrastinating was because of the nagging feeling I had every time I thought about the film, some nervous tick that kept telling me I should like it much more than I did; how I should be reflecting more fondly on such an important work. That feeling kept manifesting every time I even considered writing and reduced me to staring at a blank page when I should be writing endlessly on this future Oscar-nominee. Part of me wonders if Aaron Sorkin ever feels the same way.
He probably doesn’t. The man is a legendary Oscar-winning writer — to go along with his multiple Emmy and Golden Globes wins — who is more creative than I ever will be. There’s no way he has ever just been caught up in staring at a blank page, unable to get the words out, right? It would be pretty wonderful if he did, if only to make bouts of writer’s block seem a whole lot more acceptable for the rest of us. It’s doubtful he would ever admit that though.
The Way I See It centres on Pete Souza, the former White House chief photographer for President Ronald Reagan and President Barack Obama, and the images he took during their presidencies. While the film does spend some time on Reagan, it mainly chronicles the time Souza spent with Obama – using some of his public speaking talks to bridge the gap between important events alongside his pointed commentary on President Donald Trump.
My go-to buzz word when describing documentaries is “fascinating”, no matter the subject or context. The Way I See It certainly fits that fascinating mold, but the content within it seems substantially important enough that calling it fascinating is just not enough. It digs in deep past other surface level documentaries of its ilk and is captivating for the entirety of its running time. Watching Souza in action is what I imagine it would be like watching a painter creating Renaissance master works. He knows just how to compose the perfect shot and just when to take it. And his access to such intimate and candid moments of Obama, his family and his staff is simply mind-blowing. I had seen some of Souza’s photos in passing before, but seeing them being celebrated here as documented history is a moving experience all in itself.