Drama

REVIEW: Judas and the Black Messiah

Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated: R
Runtime: 126 minutes
Director: Shaka King

*If you are not familiar with the true story of Fred Hampton and Bill O’Neal, the following review will contain some spoilers for the movie.

Judas and the Black Messiah is a biographical drama film directed and produced by Shaka King, from a screenplay written by King and Will Berson. It is based on a story by King, Berson, as well as Kenny and Keith Lucas. It stars Daniel Kaluuya, Lakeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Algee Smith, and Martin Sheen. While the story is seemingly about Hampton (Kaluuya), the film concentrates on William O’Neal (Stanfield) who was essentially forced to work for the FBI to infiltrate and spy on the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. O’Neal eventually became the organization’s chief of security and then supplied the floor plan of the building where Hampton was staying. This led to a raid in which Hampton was killed. 

Kaluuya as Hampton gives an electrifying performance that is as riveting as the man himself. His delivery of the speeches are intense and have conviction. What the film does extremely well is show how Hampton had an ability to bring potential enemies and rivals together. He knew that there was strength in numbers and that they could turn heads to their ideas if they came together. The title is an allusion to former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s statement that they, “…must prevent the rise of Black Messiahs.” In Hampton’s case, they did so by enlisting O’Neal, a “Judas,” to infiltrate and betray him. This obviously ties into the biblical story when Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver to Pontius Pilate which led to Jesus’s crucifixion and Judas’s suicide. This film makes Judas the lead character and Stanfield does a fantastic job. The film doesn’t absolve O’Neal for his part in killing Hampton; rather, it humanizes him. Stanfield plays a conflicted man who wants to dedicate himself to the cause of Black liberation but also does not want to go to prison. Our natural inclination might be to vilify O’Neal for killing Hampton, but the film shows reasons to sympathise and how we might learn from his mistakes. Tragically, O’Neal also took his own life, again aligning himself to the biblical Judas. 

Outside of these two men, the supporting cast is strong as well. Plemmons is great, with the best performances coming from Fishback as Deborah Johnson. The film really shows how big of an impact women had to the Black Panther organization. Fishback is fleshed out extremely well and her relationship with Hampton indicates that Johnson was a strong woman who wants to stand with Hampton but also will tell him when he isn’t as good as he could be. Fishback hits every note perfectly and is as charismatic as Kaluuya. Their chemistry makes the final tragic moments of the film even more painstaking.

Daniel Kaluuya stands surrounded by fellow Black Panthers as he sets to give a speech in a scene of Judas and the Black Messiah | Warner Bros. Pictures, 2021.

The film does have a few issues with its historical accuracy of certain details; O’Neal has stated it was fairly easy to get close to Hampton where the film says it was difficult. The writers also took some liberties regarding O’Neal’s relationship with Mitchell. Hampton and O’Neal are not accurately represented in the film as the former was 21 and the latter was 17. Stanfield and Kaluuya are 29 and 31, respectively, which may seem a little jarring as neither actor feels the age that the two men really were.

Additionally, in real life, Hampton did open his eyes when the building was raided but still keeps this scene simple. Instead of a big climactic scene with FBI agents running in guns blazing, the film shows him sleeping. By keeping Hampton sleeping when he is killed, (whether intentionally or unintentionally) the film seems to parallel Fred Hampton’s murder with the infamous killing of Breanna Taylor in 2020. The final flaw is in showing how the FBI was involved. Though purposeful, it can take away a little from the film’s overall pacing.

Judas and the Black Messiah succeeds with its story, the acting, the ending, its message, and the majority of its details. The performances by the entire cast alone is reason enough to watch this movie multiple times. The film highlights how citizens can be manipulated or influenced to turn on their fellow citizens with use of propaganda and other tactics. Will society continue to allow this to happen or will they stand up and fight? That is up to the viewer to decide.

Judas and the Black Messiah was released in theaters where theaters are open, and is available to stream on HBO Max.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Minari

A24
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 115 minutes
Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Minari (미나리), which literally translates to “water dropwort” is a drama film written and directed by Lee Isaac Jeong. It stars Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, and Will Patton. It is a semi-autobiographical take on Chung’s upbringing where a family of South Korean immigrants try to make it in rural America during the 1980s.

This film takes inspiration from the Bible, of a family trying to find a new life. In the old testament, the Hebrews left Egypt as “strangers and exiles on the earth and were seeking a homeland,” and they were immigrants coming into the promised land, and the Yi family is no different. Jacob and his family traveled from California to Arkansas to start their own garden/farm. His wife, Monica, wants the family to do well; especially for David, their son (Kim), who has a heart murmur. Their views coexist, but do clash when certain things happen that may or may not put the family at risk. To be successful in this new land, he has to make choices and deal with the consequences; whether that be joy, pain, laughter, or heartbreak.

Chung’s direction is able to accurately capture what some immigrants have to go through when they come to the United States. Even if one does not connect with the religious aspects or the immigrant aspects of the film, the film taps into what almost every human does, restlessly seeking for that sense of belonging. As humans, we are looking for the perfect job, the friend group, the people that accept us who we are and help us succeed. People may not always get along but good people that push through the differences will endure. Eventually, Monica’s widowed mother, Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn) comes to live with them. Yuh-Jung is so good the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress seems well within her reach. She is dramatic when she needs to be, and her comedic timing was on point, though unexpected. Yuh-Jung has to flip back and forth and she does that fantastically well. Both Yeun give strong but vulnerable performances as the parental figures and Kim is adorably wonderful as David. Not only is David basically the director’s point of view, he ends up being the one that the audience follows even if they are not an immigrant or Asian themselves. David is an Americanized child and is always on the outside looking in. He does not know the struggles that his parents are going through as a lot of non-immigrants do not understand about immigrant families.

Alan Kim and Steven Yeun appear in a scene of Minari | A24, 2021.

Even when this film does show how racism does exist with the many Americans around the Yi family, Chung simply shows this as part of the family’s journey. Their journey is about a family trying to make it in a place that some would say they do not belong in. Chung then shows the immigrant experience of learning to assimilate but they also try to bring along the things that remind them of home. To the Yi family, it’s Minari.  When immigrants come to this country, there is always a conflict of the cultural aspect versus the new one that they are trying to assimilate into. Why would immigrants want to go somewhere where they are instantly put into an uphill battle? Because it’s worth it to make a better life for the next generation, and this is why this film is a beautiful representation of immigrant life. As the film shows, the Yi family goes through a rollercoaster of events and still endures.

Overall, Minari succeeds with its story, its acting, its message, its ending and some of its details.  The only small issue is that the film can feel a little slow at times. However, the ending is definitely worth it; it is about a family that asks for empathy without overdoing it with specific acting scenes. It’s not a political statement rather it’s only showing what humanity looks like. Watch it.

Recommendation: Go See It!

REVIEW: Our Friend

Gravitas Ventures
Rated: R
Runtime: 124 minutes
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite

Have you ever watched a movie and as the the credits start to roll, you’re just so thankful that this film exists–the kind of film where you feel a real sense of how important it is, and how much it can comfort and validate some, but then also bring potent awareness anchored in empathy to all others?

I can count on one hand how many movies have achieved that level of impact for me, and Our Friend has just been added to that small list.

Based on actual events and on an award winning article by Matthew Teague, Our Friend talks about a family’s struggle dealing with the terminal illness of their wife and mother, and the selfless love shown by their close friend in taking care of so much of the natural fallout that comes with such a predicament.

This is likely going to be an emotionally heavy movie for most. That can be daunting, and I do believe that you have to be in the right mood to watch this, but to not watch it and write it off as “depressing” would be a major disservice to the film… and to yourself. One of the most beautiful things about Our Friend is its way of showing the sincere, but often overlooked details in the life of any of person hit by cancer. It jumps head first into the realm of tragedy, but it also shows it within the context of a lifetime of love, friendship and mistakes. It shows the perspective of multiple, integral members, including one of the sweetest takes of motherhood I’ve seen put to screen. It offers a glimpse of how difficult this disease truly is, and what hardships and tender moments can occur between diagnosis and death. It even shows the subsequent disarray to a home once a homemaker is sick, the likely insecurity of the partner, and the desperate hope for relief, even if it’s just in the form of a friend doing the dishes. The end result is overwhelmingly touching, shockingly relatable, and worth recommending to everyone I can.

The fact that it’s based on true events makes for a major highlight in and of itself. A lot of the time, that same phrase at the beginning of every movie might be met with numbed, accustomed minds, but this time it hit differently (and incidentally, it isn’t revealed to be a true story till the end). The fact that these delicate emotions were felt and these good deeds done, causes me to think of the friends that would perhaps be there for me if our family ran into tragedy. The film shows how the type of friend to drop everything and commit to caring for you during an illness likely may not “have their own life together” in the popular sense, that they may even be running away from their present, but all the same, they are there for you and always will be; they are unquestionably heaven sent. After the film ended, thinking on those individuals drove me to tears.

Casey Affleck and Dakota Johnson in a scene of Our Friend | Gravitas Ventures, 2021.

Dakota Johnson (Peanut Butter Falcon) plays Nicole Teague, and Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) plays the husband who ends up writing the article largely centered around the goodness of their friend, Dane Faucheux, played by Jason Segel (I Love You, Man). All three actors do an absolutely wonderful job capturing the vulnerability and complexities of such roles. The roles themselves are shared seamlessly amongst each other. I don’t know how this movie being originally released in 2019 will affect its chances come award season, but there are some definite areas in this film deserving of widespread praise. That goes for the expert writing (Brad Ingelsby) and directing (Gabriela Cowperthwaite) as well!

I could go on, but I just want to reaffirm how passionately I feel regarding the importance of this movie. This goes back to responsible movie watching for me (which kind of sounds tool-ish of me to say, and please don’t take me too seriously). However, the concept has become a big deal to me over years of watching mindless comedies, heartless action thrillers and corny romances. Sincerely speaking, if we could choose films more often that capture humanity to this caliber, all of the sudden cinema could be considered less of a lazy passtime, and more of an art that’s demanding of our attention and improvement. Though it’s not one I picture revisiting anytime soon (honestly, it’s really tough to watch), I will be forever grateful to have seen Our Friend.

Recommendation: Go See It!

https://youtu.be/GTWqGLnOxtA

ROUNDTABLE REVIEW: Malcolm & Marie

Editor’s note: Like all of the “Roundtable Reviews” we’ve done before, we chose a movie that has been getting a lot of buzz mixed with a lot of controversy. Malcolm & Marie features two of the hottest and most in demand actors in Hollywood, and puts them front and center in this intimate drama. This film might be Zendaya’s most rigorous role since shedding her Disney Channel shell, and John David Washington’s career is ever onward and upward. What can this man not do?

NETFLIX | Rated: R | Runtime: 106 minutes | Director: Sam Levinson

CJ Marshall: The Christmas episode of Euphoria should have prepared you for this project. Malcolm & Marie exists more as performance art than an actual film. It’s like a high budget “sponsor me” skate video. The end product has killer performances and a great soundtrack, but it has no purpose other than to showcase the formidable talent of its creative forces. They absolutely killed it on the technique angle. Zendaya has never looked or acted more mature and she wears it well. The uncomfortable (Euphoria’s trademark), voyeuristic vibe is contrasted with the constant nudging and winking of Levinson’s dialogue–the film engages in the very techniques and tropes that it seems to be critiquing. All of that would be more interesting if there were a point to be made. It’s conflict for the sake of conflict, dialogue for the sake of dialogue, and filmed–beautifully I might add–in black and white for the sake of black and white. In the spirit of this film I’ll offer up one of the more ubiquitous critiques: Malcolm & Marie insists upon itself.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

The Formal Review: When the trailer for Malcolm & Marie dropped, you knew that the film would be about a relationship filled with both love-making and insults that might be similar to your average couple stuck together in quarantine. The film definitely hits each one of those checkboxes with each argument showing a deeper problematic layer in their relationship. The most obvious comparison for anyone to make is to 2019’s Marriage Story. While similar, that film is more about one man’s side of a divorce whereas this film is more of a power struggle between two people. From a stylistic perspective, Malcolm & Marie has a lot more compelling aspects when compared to Marriage Story, from beautiful cinematography, and great use of music to move the story along. The acting by Washington and Zendaya is on point in perhaps their best roles yet. While one may not enjoy argumentative relationship type movies (is that a genre now?)… this film has more to it than simply a display of that to enjoy time and time again. Full thoughts coming later on.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

Parker Johnson: Malcom and Marie claims to not be a love story, but “a story about love.” When I saw that phrasing in the trailer, my guard immediately went up. That seems to be code for “terrible people spend the runtime yelling at each other, and yet still claim they love each other.” When early reviews went up, my suspicions were confirmed. But, because of my love for Zendaya, I was determined to watch this movie. And I have to admit, it was incredibly well made. The staging and cinematography were great, and the acting was pretty incredible. Zendaya’s character had a monologue that literally left my jaw hanging off the floor. However, the relationship between the two titualar characters just felt so mean spirited and cruel to each other, that it left me feeling very uncomfortable and waiting for the film to end. But maybe that was the point of the movie…? I don’t know. It was a well crafted film, but in the end, it didn’t convince me that these two really cared about each other, nor that it was a “movie about love.” So it”s going be a “skip it” for me. However, it made me even more excited to see Zendaya in Dune coming out later this year!

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: The Little Things

Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated: R
Runtime: 127 minutes
Director: John Lee Hancock

“It’s the little things that are important. It’s the little things that get you caught.”

I don’t believe writer/director John Lee Hancock expected this line to have a meta element to it, yet here we are. I’ll yank the low hanging fruit out of the tree and say he should have followed his own advice. The little things are important in a film, especially in a murder mystery. It’s the lack of a little thing here or there that keeps The Little Things from being the major experience it should have been.

All of the elements are there on the presser kit. Hancock is a solid film maker and Denzel Washington is arguably the greatest actor of his era. Pairing them with talented thespians such as Rami Malek and Jared Leto should have been a winning play. Instead we get bases loaded and a full count heading into the end of the game. Oh yeah… and you’re down by one run. How you accept the film’s end is what will determine whether that last swing was a strikeout or the home run.

It’s not for lack of trying. The film is appropriately dreary and creepy, drenched in that Fincher-esque green tint that gives the film that icky serial killer vibe we’ve all appreciated since the seminal Se7en (and yes, I spell it that way because it earned it). Denzel gets to look and act his age while being a tortured soul to boot. He employs a physicality I haven’t seen in him before. His trademark swagger is buried under a mountain of regret and sleepless nights. Still, you can’t take your eyes off of him. Rami Malek is so pensive and understated in his role that he’s either given one of the great performances of his career, or he had no clue what he wanted to do with his character. I honestly can’t tell you which it is. Jared Leto came to party like he always does, and we all know that the only thing that stops Leto is a script. Saying anything further will spoil what awaits you.

Denzel Washington and Rami Malek in a scene of The Little Things | Warner Bros. Pictures, 2021.

I don’t know if I can recommend The Little Things as a theater experience. I think this one would go down smoother through HBO Max. If you’re a subscriber you’ve already paid for it anyway. I say that because I can say, without spoiling any plot points, that this movie isn’t what you think it’s going to be. The film defies expectation but doesn’t replace what you’re anticipating with a better alternative. It didn’t work for me because the characters aren’t given the opportunity to earn what Hancock is asking of the audience by the end of the film. It feels like a curveball when the moment called for some heat straight down the middle. 

It’s the little things that cost you the game.

The Little Things is showing in theaters where theaters are open, and is streaming on HBO Max.

Recommendation: Maybe a Matinee

REVIEW: Pieces of a Woman

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Runtime: 128 minutes
Director: Kornél Mundruczó

We’re at that time of year when movie studios (COVID pandemic aside) begin to churn out what we movie fans like to call “Oscar-bait,” a movie that has the look and feel of an award worthy movie, and one you could easily be swayed into thinking is Oscar worthy. But before you take the bait, look beyond the shimmer and sheen of a movie that has all the tools to be special, and you’ll begin to see why these movies are usually passed over by the general public and long forgotten just weeks after their debut.

Still excited to read this review? FYI, I will be touching on minor spoilers, emphasis on minor.

Pieces of a Woman debuted in September 2020 at the Venice International Film Festival, and was picked up by Netflix for a limited theatrical release in December, then debuted streaming shortly thereafter. The movie stars Vanessa Kirby as Martha, who gave a particularly strong performance, Shia LaBeouf as Sean, and Ellen Burstyn as Elizabeth (Martha’s mother). The premise of the movie surrounds the tragedy of Martha and Sean losing their baby during childbirth, and the subsequent relational struggles between the couple, and Martha and her mother.

The story is very compelling… at least parts of it are. I can’t think of many movies that have attempted to tackle such a personal and intimate tragedy such as this. And as I mentioned before, the performances are quite strong. Pieces of a Woman really highlighted Vanessa Kirby’s talents as an actress, more so than her more prominent roles in the two blockbuster action movies she co-starred in (Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and Hobbs & Shaw). But outside of the partly compelling story, and the well acted roles, I don’t have much good to say about this movie, and all of it hinges on the execution of what should have been a better movie.

Where Pieces of a Woman fails, is exactly where Oscar-bait, Marriage Story (2019) failed for me as well. In its attempt to tell a strong, moving story, the writer (Kata Wéber) fails to give the audience a purpose in experiencing this tragedy with her characters. I understand that some readers might think me naive, or unqualified to be talking about a movie that portrays a grieving mother who is attempting to deal with one of the worst tragedies a mother could ever experience… and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with them. But my criticisms lie solely with the purpose of the story, and the goal the writer/director was hoping to achieve. Because outside of watching a couple’s and family’s life fall apart in the most painful ways, why were we meant to suffer with them when there was no purpose to the suffering other than for suffering’s sake?

Shia LaBeouf and Vanessa Kirby in a scene of Pieces of a Woman | NETFLIX, 2020.

Martha and Sean’s decision to have an at-home birth conducted by a midwife was never explained, other than “just because.” Martha and Sean’s deep relationship issues, which clearly started long before the birth and death of their baby, are never mentioned. The beginning of the film depicts the existence of a loving and caring relationship between the two main characters, only for the movie to jump ahead and show how deeply broken these two individuals are. I would prefer to see their journey to that point instead of skipping the details on how and why many couples who lose a child end up getting a divorce after. There is too much fighting, too much yelling, too much pain without enough background or context to justify my subjection to this 2 hour movie. The film does make an attempt at some type of message of healing at the end, but the message fell flatter than Sean’s complete and unexpected disappearance half way through the movie.

If you want your audience to willingly suffer along with your characters you must provide a strong justification as to why they will. You must provide a story that can instill hope and optimism in the audience that not every couple that loses a child ends up separating; not every mother that loses a child succumbs to the crushing weight of that burden; not every life is destroyed when tragedy befalls it. Real life provides ample enough examples of that already. I don’t need reminding that the weight of life is nearly unbearable. I need encouragement that WE CAN bear it. Sadly, Pieces of a Woman is NOT that movie.

Recommendation: SKIP IT

REVIEW: Hillbilly Elegy

NETFLIX
Rated: R
Runtime: 115 minutes
Director: Ron Howard

Every now and then Netflix really surprises me. The good kind of surprises. Like a Christmas gift. You know… the kind that you’re hoping for, maybe even asked for, but not sure you’ll get. That was Hillbilly Elegy for me. Over the last few years Netflix has shown their ability to produce and distribute high quality films worthy of the big screen. Such films like ROMA, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, or Mudbound. Netflix’s “throw everything against the wall and see what sticks” strategy for their original content has created a bloated and overwhelming catalogue of both good and bad content. Most of their originals are very forgettable, things I would never consider watching twice (and regret even watching once). But I will give credit where credit is due, and all credit to Netflix for picking up the distribution rights to Hillbilly Elegy, and showing us the type of quality entertainment they are capable of providing.

Hillbilly Elegy is based on the 2016 best-selling memoir (of the same name) by J.D. Vance, which sold well over 3 million copies, and reached the New York Time’s Best Seller list twice. The movie was directed and co-produced by Ron Howard, and Vanessa Taylor adapted the screenplay. It stars Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, Owen Asztalos, and Haley Bennett. Both Adams and Close give Oscar worthy performances in this movie. Some of the best of their careers.

I wasn’t familiar with J.D. Vance’s memoir, or the story behind the movie. And even after watching the trailer, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the movie. It seemed like a regular family drama kind of film, but nothing to get me too excited. What really drew my interest to the movie, though, were Amy Adams and Glenn Close. Their character transformations were stunning, and for that reason alone I chose to sit down and spend two hours on this movie. And I’m so glad I did.

Hillbilly Elegy tells the true story of a low working-class family from Jackson, Kentucky that picks up and moves to a small steel town in Ohio where J.D.’s grandparents live. J.D. is the younger of two siblings being raised by a single mom who is battling a serious drug addiction. The movie goes back and forth between J.D.’s life as a student at Yale Law School and his memories of growing up in a broken family. J.D.’s mom, Bev (played by Amy Adams) struggles to keep a steady job, or even a steady relationship due to her frequent substance abuse. Her personal instability leads to a very unstable life for her two children. Bev’s mother (played by Glenn Close) is well aware of her daughter’s inner demons and does what she can to help. The family drama plays out with J.D. and his sister in need of guidance and structure, and a mom who is struggling to even keep herself alive.

From left to right: Haley Bennett, Glenn Close and Owen Asztalos in a scene of Hillbilly Elegy | NETFLIX, 2020.

Any viewer should be advised that the scenes of intense family drama are very raw and unfiltered. These are the real stories depicted in J.D.’s memoir, and the very real life he and his family endured. In spite of the Vance family’s circumstances and struggles, in spite of their dire financial situation, in spite of an America that seems to have forgotten about these, the deplorables, J.D. and his family are able to overcome. Hillbilly Elegy is one of the most inspiring films I have ever seen. On multiple occasions the movie brought me to tears. Through all of the pain and anguish endured by every member of this family, the underlying messages of family, faith and forgiveness drove deep into my heart, and have stayed with me for weeks after. Ron Howard has directed some classics throughout his career in Hollywood (Willow, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Solo: A Star Wars Story), and I’d confidently add Hillbilly Elegy to this list.

If you’ve happened to see the poor ratings posted by Rotten Tomatoes, you’ll notice a cavernous discrepancy between the movie critics and the audience. The majority of audience members enjoyed the movie, with an 86% approval rating. The politically motivated criticisms of a non-political movie by overtly biased critics has left an unfair and underserved smear on what is an incredible film. I unequivocally and wholeheartedly recommend this movie. Without a doubt, Hillbilly Elegy is my number 1 movie of 2020.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: White Lie

levelFILM
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 96 minutes
Director: Yonah Lewis

White Lie is a 2019 Canadian drama film written and directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas. The film stars Kacey Rohl, Amber Anderson, Martin Donovan, and Connor Jessup.

The Story/Direction

White Lie centers around a college student named Katie (Rohl) who lies about having cancer. The story is absolutely fascinating and also horrifying. As a society, we usually will feel sympathy toward people with cancer, but this film twists that sentiment on its head. Why does Katie try her best to keep up this lie? Directors/writers Calvin Thomas and Yonah Lewis don’t really tell you. There are clues that it could be a coping mechanism, but that’s not a guarantee. The film only tells the character’s story over the course of the five days. This felt very true to be a comment on society as a whole; we often feel open and willing to give money to someone suffering. But then there are cases similar to the one in November 2017 where three people fabricated a feel-good story, created a GoFundMe page titled “Paying it Forward” and furthered the scheme by doing numerous local and national media interviews, including one on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The Characters

We’re not sure why the aforementioned couple chose to con so many generous people, just as we don’t know why exactly Katie goes down this same path. But to see this character unwind is absolutely fascinating. Rohl gives a powerful performance as Katie. You can’t help but hate the character and be fascinated with her at the same time. The movie takes place over the course of five days, but the journey the audience takes is an emotional one. As the film starts the music creates this tense environment that will make the viewer lost trust in Katie. She is sick, but everything is not as it seems. She has a GoFundMe page to help her fight her battle with melanoma skin cancer. The problem is Katie doesn’t actually have cancer. She goes through an elaborate scheme to forge medical documents, fake medication, and pretend to go to weekly chemo treatments.

Not only is Katie fooling the generous people who are donating to her GoFundMe, but she’s also lying to her girlfriend Jennifer (Amber Anderson) about her condition as well. As it goes with all lies, cracks begin to appear. Katie then has to keep everyone believing her story which becomes more difficult as the film plays out. Anderson really shines in the film with her limited role.

Kacey Rohl and Amber Anderson in a scene of White Lie | levelFILM, 2019.

The Flaws

There is a slight flaw with this film as the end result is known. We know that the lie will eventually fall apart. However, it’s the journey to that finale which makes this film interesting. This is what makes the story more fascinating than boring. There are similarities to the film’s ending and that of The Godfather (1972).

Overall…

White Lie may play with the ideas of victim-shaming which may be triggering for some and hinder their enjoyment of the film. However, the film’s main purpose is to question the idea of blind validation without looking more into whatever the case is. You can’t judge someone without knowing all of the details and that’s what this film does. It does not ask its audience to judge Katie and that’s what makes it such an interesting character study. A must see if you’re interested in the psychology of human behaviors or if you just love a good story.

Recommendation: STREAM IT

REVIEW: Promising Young Woman

Focus Features
Rated: R
Runtime: 113 minutes
Director: Emerald Fennell

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.

Carey Mulligan in a scene of Promising Young Woman | Focus Features, 2020.

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!

REVIEW: Let Him Go

Focus Features
Rated: R
Run Time: 114 minutes
Director: Thomas Bezucha

There’s something about Kevin Costner and the romanticism of “The Old West”. Say what you will about the true history of western expansion, but there are few cinematic motifs burned into our American psyche as strongly as the romantic western. Costner’s been behind a lot of the good ones, and Let Him Go owes a lot to that tradition.

The film begins with George and Margaret Blackledge (Costner and Diane Lane) mourning the loss of their son. His widow then remarries for security instead of love, which places their daughter-in-law and grandson in the clutches of unscrupulous matriarch Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville) and her family of thugs. A simple request for custody of the boy escalates into a matter of life and death.

The film’s narrative hangs on the western framework: The old gunslinger who doesn’t sling his gun anymore, the firebrand who can hold her own, a family of criminals who answer to no one, and wrongs that must be righted with blood. Let Him Go rises above that standard fare on technical merit alone. Guy Godfree blesses the screen with gorgeous shots of Montana. Even the Dakotas look beautiful in frame despite their relative barrenness. This material is elevated even further by the sensitive direction of Thomas Bazucha and the performances of Lane and Costner. The rapport they display and the tenderness they show would be strong enough for the best of dramas. The resolve (and willingness to take it “there”) they display is strong enough for any white hat who’s ever been early to the showdown. These characters don’t reach the mythic heights of more traditional films, but the DNA is recognizable.

That’s the real strength of Let Him Go–particularly in Margaret’s character. So much of the story hinges on her decisions. George is there to be the strong shoulder and the voice of reason, but what is reason to a mother who can’t escape her loss? What is reason to a man who wants to help his wife with that escape? This is the dynamic that drives the film, and they nail it pitch perfect. The title “Let Him Go” becomes both a plea and an order that references the boy and his father all the same. The couple are at odds in how to reach a resolution, yet they know they have to carry each other above all else. It’s powerful stuff.

Kevin Costner and Diane Lane appear in a scene of Let Him Go | Focus Features (2020).

Let Him Go isn’t going to be the feel-good hit of the winter lockdown. What you should expect to see is a solid, assured piece of mature film making. Balance is the name of the game here. The movie is just as tender as it is terrifying. At times it sprawls like the wide open plains and canyons. In other moments it provides warm intimacy. The intimacy and the tender moments are welcome, because a love this strong and a hurt this deep come at a price, and like all Westerns, that cost must be paid….in full.

*Disclaimer: Let Him Go was released in theaters where theaters are open. If you are near an open movie theater, it might still be available to go see. If not, the film is already available to rent or purchase through VOD services.

Recommendation: Go See It!

Scroll to top