I’m going to be straightforward with everyone right off the bat… Given, I still have quite a bit on my 2020 watchlist, but as of right now, Promising Young Woman is my choice for what would be Best Picture, indie film or not.
This film takes all the nuance and excitement of a femme fatale action-comedy, mixes it with the delicate emotions of a drama, and dashes it with the utterly nail-biting tension of a psychological thriller.
Promising Young Woman delves into some delicate and often polarizing issues as it follows a traumatized and hardened woman (played exceptionally by Carey Mulligan) who constantly puts herself in vulnerable situations with men, and then proceeds to teach them a lesson…of sorts. I won’t say more, but in case you think this movie is predictable just from the trailer, you’ll likely find that you’re wrong. These twists and turns WILL KNOCK THE WIND OUT OF YOU, and there will be inevitable group discussions throughout; if not, positively as the credits roll.
If you were a fan of the writing of The Crown, Killing Eve, or Call the Midwife, you’re in luck. The same Emerald Fennell writes and directs this with such natural precision on human behavior as well as such a sincere take on otherwise divisive subject matters. I’m convinced that even the crudest chauvinist wouldn’t be able to deny the ability this movie has to help one question, or at least analyze, their moral compass. It’s that good.
Again, Carey Mulligan performs beautifully here. She’s always been a very underrated but bankable actress, and this really feels like her moment to break into household familiarity (if enough people watch it). She’s subtly ruthless, even keel, and also charming. I’m not sure the movie would be anywhere near as impactful without her expert performance.
Other cast members include Alfred Molina, Alison Brie, Laverne Cox and Christopher Mintz-Plasse… Oh, and also Bo Burnham! Even though most of them have small roles, it’s the kind of lineup where you can feel that these people said to themselves early on, “This is a big deal, and I want in!”
To conclude, there won’t be any spoilers here, but the ending had me on a 30 minute phone conversation with my uncle who’s in law enforcement, because my mind was THAT blown and I was THAT invested. Go watch it, tell everyone about it, and then watch it again.
Recommendation: Go See It!
About the AuthorResident of Utah County, Ex Movie-Pass owner, and married with a baby! Good movies have been my go-to pastime for as long as I can remember; from my dad introducing me to gems such as Tommy Boy and Dumb and Dumber, to discovering the work of people like Paul Thomas Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg. These filmmakers taught me that cinema truly is an art form. Movies are my way of better understanding complex emotions and unfamiliar walks of life. Movies are a consistent and reliable way of connecting ourselves to the human race, and it’s often done marvelously. I love it!
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By Sam Cooley — 1 year ago
So, I would place director, Charlie Kaufman in the same category as David Lynch. Both have never really made a customary film with things like a linear plot, even tone, clear purpose, and actual resolution. Both are some of the most talented screenplay writers of our time that employ groundbreaking creativity, and both have the same effect on actors: that is, the actors will do anything to be in their latest film. If I could just lump them together, I would say, “They both have gained success making really weird movies.”
Kaufman directed and/or wrote films like Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (personal favorite), Anolmalisa, Adaptation., and Synecdoche, New York. All are extremely unique, are difficult (at least for me) to understand, and often involve elements dealing with human psychology and mortality. There’s also a recurring theme of puppets… In fact Anomalisa utilizes puppets for all of its characters, though it’s one of the most humanistic films I’ve ever seen. They all utilize music, poetry, literature, and just great original writing to really enrich themselves, and it’s all from the mind of Kaufman.
Though his latest release through Netflix, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, takes a turn for the more creepy, all of these elements (minus the puppets this time) can be found here. Whether some of those aforementioned quirks sound captivating enough to reel you in or make you shrug or sigh and cause you to overlook this film, I understand either way. This movie is not for everyone. I’m not even sure it’s for me.
In I’m Thinking of Ending Things, a woman and her new boyfriend take a trip to his parents’ rural, isolated farmhouse. What’s supposed to be a dinner with awkward pleasantries turns into a night that loses its grip on reality and exploits the woman’s dark thoughts on life and time.
Here’s some of things I love about it:
There’s this bizarre yet honest first person narration from the main character, played by Jessie Buckley, that truly feels like it’s out of a bestseller novel (the film is based off a book by the same name). This narration is interactive, constantly interrupted, and enhanced by a beautiful score.
The movie involves a lot of pastime with Buckley’s character and her boyfriend, played by Jesse Plemons, driving in a car on a snowy, lonely highway. Their discussions caused me to write down quotes that I thought were so insightful and relatable about little details in life. Unfortunately, most of those details are rather bleak, but like I said, the writing alone will keep you entertained for a good while. There’s some truly poetic monologues and dialogues.
There’s an unsettling figurative backdrop that leaves you waiting for a jump scare, but it never comes because it’s not that type of movie. Rather, the plot clumsily bumps into disturbing details of morbid animals, distorted time, and erratic behavior. There’s even quirky moments of genuine, relatable comedy that somehow isn’t out of place. There’s even a beautiful contemporary dance out of nowhere that feels clever and right. The whole thing makes your eyes widen, and I appreciated how the movie got me to feel just as uncomfortable as the main character.
Finally, to complement the great writing and direction, the acting is impeccable. Both Buckley and Plemons, as well as Toni Collette and David Thewlis, give great performances with a wide range of emotion and state of mind.
When it comes to what I didn’t necessarily enjoy, and what might make people stray away from watching is just how terribly vague and bizarre the movie is.
Most people like to have some sort of grasp of what is going on in the movie they’re watching. Maybe it’s just me, but this film will likely prove difficult to get a grasp. The whole time, you’re not sure whether there’s a supernatural haunting going on, there’s some sort of black hole that’s affecting time and space, one or more characters are losing their minds, or if you’re not even close and the whole movie is some sort of a metaphor. Trying to understand the movie just kind of leaves you in a blur. The secret may be to just not try too hard, and let the movie pass through you…or something. If you know the point of the movie, please comment below!
It ends up feeling like a bizarre dream you had the night before and you’re trying to recall later in the day; you’re left trying to remember vague scattered pieces. I have to admit, I have the same attitude in both scenarios: earnest effort to listen and see it through, but overall confusion. And there’s the same urge to move on and forget the story forevermore.
But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. If you’re a fan of Kaufman or you can appreciate a film for its qualities without requiring all the answers, give this a try. Otherwise, I think this may be irritating to a lot of viewers. Either way, I’ll leave the general invitation to give this a single watch.
Oh, and a warning: I’ve heard the word “horror” floating around to describe this film, but I would call it psychological suspense. DO NOT watch this with a group of friends expecting a unique horror film. Your friends will likely leave early and judge you for putting them through it.
Recommendation: STREAM ITPost Views: 720
By The Formal Review — 2 years ago
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a drama film written and directed by Eliza Hittman. It stars Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, and Sharon Van Etten. It was originally released in theaters on March 13, 2020; however, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, it only made a little over $16,000 and as such was released on digital at the beginning of April.
The Story & Direction
The film is about Autumn (played by Flanigan), a teenage girl from a small town in rural Pennsylvania who finds out that she is pregnant. Not having the best parental figures, she hides her pregnancy from them. Her small town only leaves her with a few options but she decides there is only one way out of her situation. She and her cousin, Skylar (played by Ryder), scrape together what money they can and catch a bus to New York to get an abortion. The film’s pacing feels similar to a thriller at times because of what these two girls go through.
The film is very solemn and relatively simple, yet it is an authentic story of a lower-middle-class teen facing an unexpected pregnancy and doing her best to deal with it. There have been other films such as 2007’s Juno that have dealt with the same topic, however this film feels very current and also very nonjudgmental towards this young girl who must make a very difficult decision.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is not meant to be a blockbuster but rather a film about choice. This film also looks into the discomforts that many girls and women feel with come-ons, harassment, and inappropriate behavior that can happen regularly. Men are not looked at in a positive light in this film, but it is meaningful in its portrayal. While not all men are similar to those shown in this film, there are definitely a good amount that are and these are the ones the film is representing. The film demonstrates that there are possibilities for men and/or boys to be scumbags no matter their age or location. Hittman shows this in the local supermarket where old men try to invite the main characters to a party while also dealing with their boss’s harassment. There are less obvious demonstrations of this from Autumn’s stepfather who describes their loving dog as a “slut,” who is “easy” to please. Their efforts to get help from a man has to be exchanged for something else in return.
Heavy, emotional themes are abundant throughout, and show how often our ability to make decisions about our own health is so often not our decision to make. Hittman shows all of this through Autumn’s story, even with the lack of a film score. The film’s silence makes the film pass slowly, but this helps to build up the plot and keep the film engaging throughout the entire runtime.
Autumn and Skylar are working-class teenagers in a man’s world. Their resources and opportunities are dependent on the men in their lives, for better or for worse; though in this movie’s case, it’s more of the latter than the former. At the beginning of the film, Autumn stands on an auditorium stage performing at a high school talent show. She is clearly one of the better performers as she follows an Elvis impersonator. She gets on stage and plays on her acoustic guitar a cover version of “He’s Got the Power,” by the Exciters. The song is supposed to be about a man who has a woman fall in love with him and changes her life. By looking at Autumn, one would think she would play a more lively version of the song but her version is filled with pain. When she sings the lyrics, “He makes me do things I don’t want to do and “he’s got the power—the power of love over me,” any viewer will know that her interpretation of that line is not the same as the original song. This is the only time in the film that shows her outgoing side, and a real effort to be herself, only for someone in the audience to mutter “slut” at the end of her performance, and her stepfather being forced to compliment Autumn on her performance.
It’s plain to see that Autumn does not have many friends, and her parents do not seem to care for her much either. Her cousin is the only one there for her in a world that would be so much more lonely without each other. Flanigan portrays Autumn as a person who expresses very little emotion, but it helps to make her more intriguing. Very little is explained about who she is through dialogue. Flannigan makes Autumn’s eyes mesmerizing as there is a mystery that is not given to the audience in an obvious way. There is no indication of how she became pregnant or who the father might be. Viewers have to see her story play out, and, unfortunately, end up having to assume the worst when it comes to her love life. The film shows numerous sexual predators, from boys at her school to men on buses and trains.
Both Flanigan and Ryder both gave amazing performances, with Flanigan’s being the standout. Each moment she had on screen was done so well. Each scene that they have together shows them becoming closer and closer as cousins and as friends. Flanigan is able to take single words and make them have meaning. There is even a scene that has no words but it is just as powerful. This scene shows Autumn and Skyler clasping hands, and given what is happening around them, you can just feel their friendship. Flanigan also shows her acting ability in a scene involving the Manhattan clinic where she is required to answer questions with the titular answers. This questionnaire pushes Autumn to answer very uncomfortable questions that most likely she has never been asked before. Over the course of the film, Hittman has brought her audience to care for Autumn. She shows Autumn dealing with many encounters with sexual predators, while she is able to push her feelings down and ignore them; however, like most of us, Autumn has a limit. She hits her limit when she has to talk to a counselor and ends up breaking down. This scene will tear any viewer’s heart out.
One of the most interesting bits of the film is that Autumn is seemingly awake for the entire film. She does not sleep for multiple days until she is back on her bus headed home. She feels absolutely relieved after her journey and after everything she has endured. Even though she is aware that her struggles are not over, she learns to take her victories when she can.
This film deals with a very heavy topic that may upset some who disagree with its overall message. It also can be difficult to watch, not only for its themes but also because of the grim feeling of the film. However, if neither of those things are big issues for you, then there’s not much else to critique regarding the overall quality of the film.
This film is not about Autumn’s love-life or how she became pregnant, rather, it is about her choice in the matter and the difficulties she faces once she has made a choice. This film is one of the best films I’ve seen that demonstrates women’s rights without it feeling forced. Hittman puts these two young teenage girls in a very believable situation and shows how life does not give easy paths for everyone. It’s a simple story with a very powerful message that can be viewed by almost everyone. In the case of the stay-at-home advisories, this film is definitely a stream, but if normal situations were in place, it would definitely be a “Go See It” in theaters.
Recommendation: STREAM ITPost Views: 899
By Rachel Wagner — 1 year ago
We watch movies for lots of different reasons. Sometimes it is to get our adrenaline pumping; other times it’s to have a good cry, and every so often it’s to connect with the human experience. Often these types of films can be labeled as ‘sentimental’ or trite, but if they have an emotional heft to them they can be just the ticket to help us process our own relationships and life challenges. Such is the case with 2 new films: Made in Italy, which is available in select theaters and VOD (video on demand), and Chemical Hearts, which is available on Amazon Prime Video. While neither film is perfect, they both have their heart in the right place and are worth a watch.
Made In Italy
Our first film is Made in Italy. Watching this film is the cinematic equivalent of eating a big bowl of pasta with a good friend: warm and comforting; it just works. The film stars Liam Neeson playing a father who is estranged from his son, an art gallery curator played by his real life son Micheál Richardson. Together they must work to renovate a house in Tuscany, all while finally coming to terms with the loss of their wife and mother years before.
This of course has extra poignancy given the real life story of Liam and Micheál losing their own wife and mother Natasha Richardson to a terrible accident in 2009. One can’t help but feel the experience of making the film was cathartic for the father and son, and we as an audience pick up on that catharsis and experience that along with them.
Plus we also get to see Neeson doing great work as he processes his grief and tries to connect with his somewhat bitter son. In the home they are renovating there is a wall of art he created after the loss and its presence throughout the renovation is a story all unto itself.
Made in Italy also has some sweet romance and the escapism to Florence we all need in these days of quarantine. If you like movies like Return to Me (2000) or Under the Tuscan Sun (2003) you will enjoy this movie. I don’t think it needed to be an R rated film as none of the language added much to the story, and Richardson can’t quite live up to the acting chops of his Dad but it’s a sweet and sincere film about a father and son that is definitely worth a watch.
Recommendation: Go See It!
While Made in Italy explores a father and son dynamic, Chemical Hearts dives into a more standard teenage love story, but it is no less heartfelt and sincere. The film stars Austin Abrams as Henry, a hopeless romantic teenager. It’s similar in a way to the Disney+ Stargirl (2020), but it’s better executed here. One day, to his chagrin, Henry gets assigned to work on the school paper with the new girl, Grace, played by Lili Reinhart.
Like Stargirl, this could have easily devolved into a manic pixie dream girl teen edition but Grace is better written than that. She is confusing and feels like a real teen struggling to deal with her feelings. Reinhart is also better than the typical manic girl with a warmth and honesty to her performance you don’t always see in this genre. Grace is more emotionally mature than Henry, and while he is delighted by his first love, she is worried about deeper things like the possibility of death and the fleeting nature of happiness, especially as an adolescent.
Even at 93 minutes Chemical Hearts did feel a little stretched out at times and there are moments when the pacing could have been improved. The film looks gorgeous with beautiful cinematography by Albert Salas but at sections that do feel a bit languid. Also, the teen romantic dialogue does get a little syrupy on occasion, even for me who loves that kind of thing.
With that said, Chemical Hearts is definitely worth watching, especially if you are a teenager or have teenagers in your life you will likely love it. Again I wish it was not rated R as the sensuality, language and drug use is not needed and could ostracize some of the very people who the film was made for. Nevertheless, mature teens should be able to handle Chemical Hearts and will hopefully gain some insight into trauma, romance and how human connection can help us through something as turbulent as growing up.
Recommendation: STREAM ITPost Views: 1,402