Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell) are a young married couple who have their whole lives ahead of them. That is, until a viral pandemic breaks out where those afflicted lose their memories. When Jude begins to show symptoms of the disease, the couple comes together to preserve their relationship and the memories that go with it for as long as they can.
Another movie about a pandemic? REALLY?! That was my thinking before I pressed play on Little Fish, Chad Hartigan’s rather timely sci-fi romance film. Much like everyone else, the real life pandemic has left me burnt out and languishing as I wait for some form of normalcy to kick back in. And after watching multiple documentaries and dramedies made about this moment in history that we are all living through – I was not immediately keen on taking another one in, even if it was based on a fictional event that was filmed well before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19.
How could I possibly get any enjoyment out of something that hits so close to home?
Darren (Kelly McCormack, who also Wrote and Produced) is a talented musician filled with ambition and big dreams. Unfortunately, she’s broke and stuck slaving away at odd jobs. After being let go from yet another part-time gig, she signs up for a “Sugar Daddy” dating website — and ends up getting into more than she bargained for.
Sugar Daddy is the kind of picture that grows on you gradually. I did not think much of it when I first sat down to watch, yet found myself drawn to Darren’s journey of self-discovery as the film moved through its initial set-ups. It is raw, unflinching and due to the 4:3 aspect ratio, highly claustrophobic. It is not hard to watch in the least (the framing does give it a very intimate and candid feel), but it also never gives the easy answers. Should we be cheering and hoping for the best for Darren, even as she treats everyone around her so horribly? She is not quite an anti-hero nor is she particularly likeable.
Alfred Chin (newcomer Taylor Takahashi) is a high school senior living in Queens. He goes by the nickname Boogie and he dreams of playing basketball in the NBA. His has the skills and the drive, but needs a scholarship in order to play college ball — but his stubborn attitude is just one of the many obstacles standing in the way of him achieving his goal.
There is a lot I admire about Boogie. The film is the feature directorial debut of Eddie Huang, the restauranteur who wrote the memoir that inspired the wonderful ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. He infuses his experiences growing up in an Asian-American family into the film, giving it a resonance and cultural expression missing from any number of atypical sports dramas of its ilk. Huang may not have been a sports prodigy, but the struggles Boogie deals with feel authentic and lived in. The soundtrack is great, and the film looks great.
When we first meet Anne (Deragh Campbell), a single daycare worker from Toronto, she is prepping to go skydiving for her best friend’s bachelorette party. The overwhelming experience and new sensation she felt jumping out of a plane changes her — she starts to be a lot more care-free at work and home, much to the chagrin of everyone around her. Very quickly, Anne begins spiraling and starts blurring the lines of what is socially acceptable and what is not.
After watching Anne at 13,000 ft. earlier this week, I immediately regretted skipping it at TIFF 2019. Writer/Director Kazik Radwanski has composed a terrific character study about a woman on the edge that is equal parts intimate and invasive. The film is shot entirely in close-up shots, and has a habit of shifting from absolutely riveting to completely unbearable in the space of a single breath. It always feels honest, and Radwanski never shies away from how uneasy a situation Anne is in — or how awkward she makes the people around her feel. It was a lot to take in watching on my computer monitor; I can only imagine how much more intense it would have been to watch on a theatre screen.
Malcolm (John David Washington) is a filmmaker and Marie (Zendaya) is his long-term girlfriend and muse. They are tired, hungry and getting home late after the biggest premiere in Malcolm’s career. He is on edge as they await the first trade reviews. She is not feeling too appreciated after Malcolm missed thanking her in his film introduction. What starts as some mild bickering quickly morphs into a fight that will test the strength of their patience and their relationship.
Finally, the release of Malcolm & Marie is upon us. The film was hyped as one of the first major motion pictures filmed and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic (which was reason enough to be curious), but it has also been the source of immense controversy recently due to the large age gap between Washington and Zendaya. In a pre-pandemic world, this might have only created a light discussion that did not get much traction. But in a world dealing with an on-going pandemic, it took on a whole new meaning and dominated the conversation around the film after the marketing started to kick into high gear.
Edee (Robin Wright) is looking for a change of scenery, far away from the city and the life she wants to leave in the past. She settles into a cabin in the remote mountain wilderness of Wyoming with some food and supplies, but deliberately chooses to have no car, no phone or contact with the outside world. While things start promising, Edee quickly becomes in over her head with how unprepared she is for the harshness of her new reality. A chance encounter with local hunter Miguel (Demián Bichir) changes everything as he begins teaching her the skills she needs for survival.
Despite being made before Covid became our harsh reality, Land ends up feeling like a movie tailor made for the feelings many of us are having daily. Loneliness, depression, isolation and hopelessness are universal themes for all of us right now, and they are some of the biggest themes coursing through Land’s veins. Robin Wright does an excellent job capturing all of it as both the film’s lead and as its director (her feature film debut!), really allowing us to feel every moment of Edee’s journey of self-discovery. The way she uses the space is terrific, whether it is by showing how confined Edee’s new home is or how small she is amongst the vast unexplored wilderness. The natural lighting allows for some truly gorgeous cinematography (the Canadian Rockies stand in for Wyoming, and they look stunning) and while it may seem trivial, it was refreshing to see a film like Land filmed with a steady, static camera and not a handheld or shaky cam.
The Blooms were an adventurous family who loved spending time outdoors. That changes in an instant during a trip to Thailand when Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) falls from a platform in a freak accident, breaks her back and becomes paralyzed from the waist down. While Sam and the family learn to cope and understand her new disability, they take in an injured magpie they affectionately name Penguin, or Peng for short. While this new member of the family is initially a burden on Sam, it slowly starts to aid in her recovery.
Penguin Bloom is an inspiring true story that would have really flourished if it were able to have a flashy physical premiere at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival. The cast would have attended, and the real life Bloom family would have been there too. I can practically feel the energy and thunderous standing applause at the Princess of Wales when the real Sam Bloom wheeled herself out on stage. It would have been a triumphant and vividly emotional moment. Covid robbed us of that, and instead it premiered online and in sparsely attended Lightbox screenings because the festival was only able to sell a set number of seats to each screening. A far cry from the days of 2000+ people crammed in at Princess.
I missed Penguin Bloom at the festival and ended up watching it on Netflix from the comfort of my living room a week ago. I was safe from Covid, but it was an even further cry from that theoretically triumphant premiere that was never able to happen.
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.