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.
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 the film. And not because I did not want to discuss it – though it seems like Film Twitter has discussed it to a point where I have serious doubts over whether it is worth entering into the discourse or not. No, the reason I kept putting it off is that there was some form of nagging feeling I had every time I thought about the film, some nervous tick that kept telling me I should like it a whole lot 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. Let’s be real here. 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.
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.
I had the opportunity to watch 6 Underground in the theatre last week, and tried my best to start writing the review on the train ride home. But with every word I typed, the more I got distracted. My pounding headache did not help, nor did the burning smell in the train car I was sitting in. It was so awful, so putrid that I could taste it. While it was not ideal conditions to write a review, I feel like it was an apt comparison to watching a Michael Bay film. Especially one like 6 Underground.
It is not that I dislike Bay as a filmmaker. Yes, I hate
the very existence of the majority of the Transformers movies (and was
so burnt out seeing the first four in theatres that I still have not even
bothered to watch Transformers: The Last Knight, or Bumblebee for
that matter), but I really dug Pain & Gain, have a special spot in
my heart for Bad Boys II and absolutely adore The Rock. For me,
that specific film is one of the best the 1990s have to offer – and it remains
one of my absolute most favourite action movies ever. The cast, the score, the
editing, the pulse pounding thrills. Literally everything in that movie is
working on overdrive, and I feel like Bay has not been nearly as precise,
nearly as dialed back nor as in tune with the macho-action bullshit as he was
when he was making The Rock back in 1996. Everything since has just been
so excessive and overdone. I admire his tenacity, but the majority of his films
have become the punchline in a bad joke.
And I mention this all in a long-winded preamble to say
that I actually really wanted to like 6 Underground. The trailer was
slick, the action looked suitably ridiculous, and my feelings on Ryan Reynolds
as an actor have been in constant flux since Deadpool.
So why is it that watching the film felt so exhausting? Why did this film, clocking in at 2 hours and 7 minutes, feel substantially longer and more drawn out than Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which clocks in at 3 hours and 29 minutes? How can that possibly happen?
I have been kicking myself for missing In Fabric when it screened during TIFF well over a year ago. I had scheduled it in for the second day of the festival and lined up diligently 40 minutes prior to showtime. It was my first year being a serious member of the press and I had quickly discovered that to maintain my schedule, it would involve a lot of running around between theatres and screens. Having already sat through 8 films by that point, I thought I had it all figured out. But I had not factored in the size of the screen and the number of seats for that particular screening, and stupidly thought that I would not have any issues entering despite the obscene number of people in line. My confidence took a bit of a hit when they cut off the line with ten people ahead of me. Somehow I held out hope that eleven magical seats would show up if I waited around, missing other potential screenings I could have ran into instead. But it was not to be for me, the few people ahead and the 100+ behind me.
TIFF made up for this by scheduling
multiple additional screenings of the film to meet the audience demand. As it
would turn out, I had other much more pressing movies to see literally every
single time they showed it. I was disappointed I missed out, but the
consolation was seeing literally everything else. A24 picked up the film for
release in the US soon after the festival (Mongrel Media picked it up for
Canada), so I assumed I would not have to wait all that long to see it. That
was September 2018.
Cut to December 2019. It is very cold outside, Christmas is coming, a whole other TIFF has come and gone, and I am just now finally seeing In Fabric. Some would call it a Christmas movie, so thematically the timing makes sense. But to say my expectations were super high would be an understatement.
I have been trying to write a review for Riley Stearns’ The
Art of Self-Defense for over a week now. I am at the point in my life where
free time is slowly dwindling down, and adulthood and the responsibilities that
come with it keep amping up. I do chores in and around the house, and by the
time I get to writing, I just end up staring at a blank Word document and
falling asleep. But in all of that time, I have not stopped thinking about
Stearns’ film. It has lingered at the back of my mind, popping up when I least
expect it and bringing me snide joy more times than I can count.
And I would like to think that would make Sensei proud.
But I also think that he would consider me less of a man for feeling this way. Probably
even less than that for using the words “snide joy” in a sentence.
If reading that sounds a bit toxic, offensive and more than slightly emasculating, than The Art of Self-Defense may not be for you. The tale of Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), his desire to learn how to defend himself, and his admiration and later obsession with the local dojo run by Sensei (Alessandro Nivola) starts off innocuously and humourously enough. But around the halfway mark, it jumps the rails and morphs into the bleakest, darkest satire imaginable – something that practically wrecks of toxic fumes. And it happens to be one of the funniest comedies of the year thus far.
Jimmie (Jimmie Fails) and Mont (Jonathan Majors) are friends who do everything together. Jimmie lives at Mont’s house, but dreams of moving back into the home his Grandfather built in the Bay Area back in the 1940’s. Despite another couple living there, Jimmie tends to the gardens and paints the windows and trim outside. When he finds out they are divorcing, he tries to buy the house. And despite finding out he does not have nearly enough money to pay for it, Jimmie is determined to make it his own.
In a strictly visual sense, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and easily one of the most gorgeous films of the year thus far. Every single shot from the opening frame right up until the closing credits is captured and composed beautifully. The colour palette used here is stunning and makes for a truly miraculous work of art. There was a lot of hype and excitement for the film coming out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and it is very easy to see why. I was practically mesmerized by Adam Newport-Berra’s breathtaking cinematography so often that I forgot what was actually going on within the story.