Bros is a romantic comedy like most others you’ve seen in the past few decades, but what sets itself apart comes from how this is the first film released by a major studio to feature an almost entirely LGBTQ+ cast for a wide theatrical release. This is the one aspect about Bros that gets touted most, especially by its director Nicholas Stoller and co-writer/star Billy Eichner, but to a certain point you can clearly tell that this is something getting to Eichner’s own head. Yet there’s still much to love about how Eichner and company care about how they want this film to provide a voice for gay viewers within mainstream film, and on that end, Bros is very cute all around.
My heroes are Dame Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I consider their creations of Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes superheroes of the highest magnitude. I love that Rian Johnson honored their canon by giving us another prime example of the vintage murder mystery. I bleed the basic concept of a crime, a set of suspects, and a race to solve it.
Which is why I’m genuinely a fan of this year’s No Exit. This is a film that plays by the rules but brings a modern sensibility. It’s a tight little thriller with fantastic acting and direction. And because we’re in the streaming age this is probably the first time you’ve heard of it. It was released with only a tiny bit more fanfare in February than the usual streaming dump but it still slipped out. Time to fix it.
The movie centers around Darby (Havana Rose Liu), a recovering drug addict released from rehab to go see her mother who is in the hospital. Trapped in a snowstorm, she gets stranded at a visitor’s center with an older married couple (Dale Dickey and Dennis Haysbert), a weirdo (David Rysdahl), and a charming traveler (Danny Ramirez). While looking for a phone signal, she discovers a kidnapped girl (Mila Harris) in a van. Thus the stage is set for a plot that twists and twists as things prove far more complicated than they seem.
Like I said, this is a vintage example of the things I love. It’s a simple set up that mostly exists as a framework for the acting and directing. It’s based on a book by Taylor Adams–unread by me–but it’s virtually a stage play. It works so well as just a simple scenario. The stakes just keep increasing. The heroine has two ticking clocks: Saving the girl and getting to her mother. As things get worse on both fronts, it’s easy to care. Adding in nature as a threat–I love snowstorms for this– showcases the formula at its best.
I have to give a lot of credit to the cast. Liu is a real find. She’s good at playing someone trying to think through a nightmare. I also liked Rysdahl and Ramirez as the two very obvious suspects both for being the person you least and most suspect. But the real stars for me are character actor legends Dickey and Haysbert. Dickey is an actress you know but not by name , especially from her terrifying work in Winter’s Bone. She kills here. Haysbert is better known thanks to 24 and his ad work and if you have taste Far From Heaven and here he gets to deliver a very different turn.
If I’m this enthusiastic, why just a 3.5/5? Well for one thing the budget on this shows. Exteriors are far less than convincing, and I’d only really call the direction by Damien Power fine. It’s honestly not much more than tv level. Compared to Andrew Patterson’s wild work on The Vast of Night on an even smaller budget, it’s a bit meh. It’s also not more than a genre exercise. It’s got nothing more to say beyond playing with the tropes. This isn’t any more of a meal than comic book movie.
But this deserves better than being dumped on Hulu. It’s genuinely gripping and well-acted. It deserves to be found.
The start of Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman is one that already feels very indicative of an entire culture that’s been enabling men to be at their absolute worst, especially regarding their treatment of women – even after the prominence of the Me Too movement in recent years. But the moment you see Carey Mulligan finally arise to put the supposed “nice guy” back in his place, Fennell’s film starts to show its true colours – and that’s all among the most admirable aspects that shines thoroughly in this new take on the rape and revenge story. What follows from then on, what Promising Young Woman will provide will not leave your head either.
In the starring role is Carey Mulligan, playing Cassie Thomas. We’re introduced to Cassie at a bar, seemingly drunk, before being taken in by a man that introduces himself as a “nice guy,” perfectly setting the tone for this would-be revenge thriller. Cassie, having been traumatized by the rape and eventual death of her best friend Nina, seeks to exact vengeance upon those who have led her down this path. What soon follows is not any other revenge thriller but rather an interrogation of rape culture, taking on that same structure we’ve come to recognize over the years. What’s happened to Nina is thankfully never shown in the film, but in seeing how her tragedy is what pushes Cassie on
Emerald Fennell’s goal is an admirable one; and during its peaks, Promising Young Woman takes such a bold stance with regards to how people are far too willing to cast doubts on an accusation of rape – and ultimately where it leads. From the first moment onward, you’re seeing the perfect way in which a supposed “nice guy” can really have that cover blown off by what they’re ultimately tempted to take upon themselves (as shown again through a brilliant scene with Christopher Mintz-Plasse later on in the film), contrasting the fantasy that many rape-and-revenge thrillers of the past have created. We’ve seen in the film’s marketing, every man’s worst nightmare is getting accused of rape – but why must that overpower the fact that women in Cassie’s position have feared men who take that “nice guy” stance to their advantage?
At the center of this film is a career best performance from the always wonderful Carey Mulligan. In how she personifies Cassie, that vengeful spirit damaged by a person whom she loved so much having been taken away from her so cruelly after what she had undergone, Mulligan puts her all into that role. She manages to be both endearing and intimidating in the best possible ways, like the best-crafted heroes of these revenge films can be, going from Ms .45 or Lady Snowblood, leaving you with that idea she could easily be among those ranks. There’s never a moment where she’s onscreen where you’ll ever find yourself looking away out of fear, but curiosity for what she’ll do to the next man who dares cross her.
Surely enough, this movie will prove itself divisive – with the look of a rape-and-revenge thriller it can’t quite escape that feeling it’ll be exploitative and not enough at the same time. Nevertheless, there’s a refreshing feeling coming out from Fennell not showing Nina’s rape, because it’s something we’d seen too many times but the effect upon which it has left upon Cassie can still be felt. In seeing how it all adds up, Cassie has now turned towards the destructive, towards the people around her – but even to her own self. But there comes a question we ask ourselves about the devastating reality which the film’s ending proposes to its audience. Personally, I cannot say I am sure that it entirely works – but it becomes near impossible to delve into what the film proposes at said moment without spoiling it for those who have not seen it, so I cannot say much at the very moment.
Although I acknowledge my reservations about the direction in which the film had gone ultimately keep me from loving it, I can’t help but feel as if there will be many important talks about the way in which we approach rape culture coming forth as a result of how Promising Young Woman puts many of these positions to the test. In its moments of dark comedy it still flashes you with a more devastating picture, one that combats the culture which has only been perpetuated over the years by constantly buying into the “nice guy” mirage. At its very best, you still have a film that perfectly replicates the look you’d want a film of this sort to take on, but I can’t shake off that feeling that where it becomes too much, it turns itself into too little at the same time. When Emerald Fennell comes out with a new film, I do look forward to seeing how it will turn out.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Focus Features.
Directed by Emerald Fennell Screenplay by Emerald Fennell Produced by Margot Robbie, Josey McNamara, Tom Ackerley, Ben Browning, Ashley Fox, Emerald Fennell Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Clancy Brown, Jennifer Coolidge, Laverne Cox, Connie Britton Release Date: December 25, 2020 Running Time: 113 minutes
Perhaps the best word of advice prior to watching The Platform would be to watch it without having eaten a huge meal before viewing it, because this isn’t so much a delicious film to leave sitting in your mind after the images that it shows you. This isn’t a film for those with a weak stomach but in how Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia would show you even the most disgusting aspects of humanity on the spot, The Platform already feels like a daring experiment too. In fact I have not quite seen a satire much like this, one that feels so unafraid to delve into the worst of humanity but also one that blends that perfectly with entertainment value in order to create a bizarrely disgusting delicacy.
A modernized adaptation of the ancient Greek play by Sophocles, which has been adapted into operas, television, and the cinema, Sophie Deraspe’s Antigone tells the story within modern day Montreal, now as a tale of an immigrant family. I’m always impressed to see how timeless stories of the sort can be reinterpreted for new generations, but seeing what Sophie Deraspe does with Antigone is stunning. Rather than simply going for a word-for-word approach with an updated setting, her take on Antigone isn’t only a nice reinvention for the modern age. It’s an adaptation that reaffirms the timeless quality of its source material by finding a path that’d assure its long resonance.
There’s something scary about the mere thought that what you’re witnessing in Queen & Slim could be very well happening today. Yet there’s a greater resonance that comes forth from how the stories of many black lives across the United States have been immortalized – most often not for their achievements, but as symbols against racism after their lives have unjustly been cut short. In this feature debut from music video director Melina Matsoukas, Queen & Slim tells a story of a modern day Bonnie & Clyde – lovers who are on the run from the law, after having been thrusted into a life or death situation. What soon follows is a harrowing, if occasionally frustrating tale of life or death, with a dash of social relevance within today’s political climate.
It’s always astonishing to me how a director like Takashi Miike is able to push himself into making so many films compared to his own lifespan. There’ll come a point where I’d even find myself asking about how he remains so consistent with having made so many films with that same distinguishable style – but the fact that he’s still able to provide so many of these films would be more than enough to say that the Japanese film industry would never be the same without him. With his latest film, First Love, Takashi Miike does not quite enter new territory just yet but it does not make his films any less entertaining than they always are to watch. But even the tamest of Takashi Miike’s style of filmmaking can also have some of its more interesting aspects to observe and with First Love, he still provides an entertaining ride from start to finish.
Todd Phillips’s origin story for Batman’s famous archenemy has already been called many things, from being a deranged film all about everything that can push a man too far to a dangerous film that would do more harm than good purely from the reputation of its lead character alone. Yet unlike most other comic book-based films of its era, it’s also unique on the count that it’s played at the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion at the former. But given the sort of character that the Joker was known to be among moviegoers of all sorts and those who have closely followed the comics, it was always set to be difficult to try and explore how he had come to be for he was simply known to be a character that always enjoyed violence for the fun of it. Yet knowing that writer-director Todd Phillips never took any direct inspiration from the comics when crafting a story of how he had come to be, seeing how he would experiment around a character of this sort was set to be quite the ride – and it turns out rather worthwhile too.
Everyone’s first impression of Jacob Tremblay is best summed up by what they thought of him in Lenny Abrahamson’s Room. Though I wasn’t so much a fan of the film, it was clear that there was a lot of potential waiting to be realized coming out of the young actor but seeing the sort of turn he goes for in Good Boys would only reassure one’s belief in his own talent. In this Seth Rogen-produced comedy, Jacob Tremblay goes unabashedly foul-mouthed, yet he still remains every bit as lovable a sweetheart as you could ever imagine him to be. It seems almost impossible based on the core concept of the film, but as Rogen’s touch would have done for many of his best comedies prior to this, there’s still a lot of heart to be found amidst the raunchiness that the film indulges in. If you’re still out there wondering what the sight of something that seems so innocent could run into the moment it comes into contact with Rogen’s brand of comedy, it’s easy enough to say that Good Boys will leave you little to worry about – for it still reaffirms the talents of its three leads.
For some reason, DC’s DTV animated movies exist in two tiers. There’s the A tier which includes their big hyped films like the movies set in their shared universe or that adapt A-list comics or both as the upcoming Batman Hush will. These are given hype at the cons, talked about years in advance, and treated as events. These films often decently crossover to mainstream fans and they should as they are often great.
Then there’s the B-tier. These are announced a couple of months earlier. They’re not by the big names as the A-tier movies often come from well known writers with a-list casts. They’re spat out, usually for kids. This is where you find the Lego movies, the Batman/Scooby Doo movie, and the unbearable Batman Unlimited films.
And it’s strangely where you find Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. On paper this should be an A-tier film. It’s based on an excellent and popular graphic novel that teams two iconic properties. But it was given to the b-team and received a weirdly low key release. So which is it?
The film tells a vintage crossover story. Ra’s Al Ghul (Cas Anvar) and Shredder (Andrew Kishino) team up because each has something the other wants. Batman (Troy Baker) investigates but discovers Leonardo (Eric Bauza), Raphael (Darren Criss), Donatello (Baron Vaughn), and Michaelangelo (Kyle Mooney) are also investigating, mistaking them as a threat. They fight. They realize there’s a misunderstanding. They team up. This template is as safe and reliable as it gets and I’ve got no gripes.
With a solid story, this movie ultimately only really matters on one count: Does it satisfyingly blend the two franchises? On that, I’m happy to say it’s a winner. Given that the TMNT were created as a parody of Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil and Batman, they logically blend in, especially with both having ninja clan leaders as villains. The movie starts the interactions early in its 87 minutes and doesn’t let up until the end.
Of course it gives you every fight you’d ever want to see. Want to see Batman fight Shredder? He does so twice. The Turtles fight mutated versions of Batman’s rogues gallery. As the title promises, Batman and the Turtles throw down and it’s great. This movie exists as a fight scene delivery device and they’re pure fan glee.
But the film is smart enough to know the real fun is in the small interactions. Science nerds Donatello and Batgirl (Rachel Bloom) geek out together. Batman clashes hard with Raphael. Michelangelo annoys everyone while endlessly cracking jokes. And inevitably the villains don’t get along.
So yeah on a script level this is far from a miss. It definitely satisfied someone who was at midnight showings of the Dark Knight trilogy and at the 1990 TMNT on day one. Animation wise, it’s decent. There’s a definite upgrade in the flow during the action with talking scenes rather static. Everything has a very stylized look that I wouldn’t call pretty but it works. Wouldn’t call this theatrical grade animation the way the recent Death of Superman duology, which I saw that way, was but it looks solid.
Voice acting is strong. While it’s not star heavy the way some of the films are, it’s a nice blend of talented voice actors and solid face actors. Baker is an excellent Batman and Joker. The Turtles are all solidly themselves with Mooney’s Michelangelo as hilarious as you remember him. I’ve also got to praise that we at least once get to enjoy Bloom as Batgirl, almost impossibly perfect casting.
This is a fun time but it’s definitely still a modest film by its nature. This won’t replace the live action entries in either catalog and there’s better Batman animated movies for certain. But it’s what you hope you’ll get, a solid hour and a half distraction. Is it an A or B? Eh, I’ll put it between.
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