Tag Archives: Drama

Movie Review: The Whale (2022)

Coming to theatres 2022 from A24.

In parts languid and lyrical, Darren Aranofsky’s The Whale (B) takes its sweet time to arrive at its cathartic thesis, but patient viewers will be rewarded by floodgates of emotion. Brendan Fraser is dexterous and expressive as Charlie, a 600-pound man attempting to reconcile with a broken family as he contemplates a life that has become adrift. The cavalcade of people in Charlie’s orbit include a memorable Sadie Sink and Samantha Morton as his estranged daughter and wife, respectively; Ty Simpkins as a mysterious missionary; and Hong Chau as the protagonist’s friend and caregiver. Incidentally, Chau is a wonderful foil and purveyor of some of the best lines of dialogue. The director films most of the action in the confines of a claustrophobic apartment and in stark close-up. His work is a glorified character study with a few additional sparks stoked by familial and religious conflict. Aronofsky and Fraser generate intense empathy and an indelible central character in the complex Charlie, alternately optimistic and at sea. It’s a soulful drama that will be sure to spark discussion.

Movie Review: The Fabelmans (2022)

Welcome to the Young Steven Spielberg Chronicles, where the proverbial alien is a spouse in a loveless marriage, the cliffhanger action revolves around how quickly one can thwart high school bullies and where home movies captured for the screen can reflect destiny profoundly. Spielberg directs and co-writes his own autobiography as a coming of age drama, changing his family name to The Fabelmans (A-) as one mildly manipulative way to keep tiny flickers of details privately veiled. The film is a rich origin story of an auteur-in-training shaped in unequal measures by his drive to make movies and his reckoning with his formerly fantasy world parents becoming increasingly estranged. Gabriel LaBelle is fully convincing in the central role, often opposite Michelle Williams as his dreamer mom, in an effectively showy and emotional performance. All actors are wonderful including Paul Dano as the pragmatic dad who can fix everything but his family and Judd Hirsch as a scene-stealing uncle who’s a former silent film actor and circus showman and a certain real-life director with some sage advice. Spielberg’s greatest filmmaking gifts are all on display here: depicting wide-eyed wonder, pivoting from triumph to dread within the same sequence and contemplating Big Issues while consistently conjuring entertaining imagery. Strangely, the only underwhelming elements are John Williams’s pretty but subtle score and the mostly perfunctory films-within-the-film. Overall this work is a glorious making of a man with unexpected intrigue. With a lofty screenplay, Spielberg’s co-writer Tony Kushner elevates the tale to the stuff of legend, and in the process the director himself has made a really great Steven Spielberg movie.

Movie Review: She Said (2022)

All of the spotlights and president’s men can’t make this story surprising again. Maria Schrader’s investigative journalist saga She Said (B-) is an imminently watchable but not terribly original drama about a pair of New York Times reporters sleuthing into the misconduct of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, whose character’s face is never visible in the frame. The film is buoyed by two effective central performances, Carey Mulligan as Meghan Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor. Both women are courageous portrayals of strong working mothers on a quest to improve the lives of others through a cathartic chronicle. Others in the ensemble, except the outstanding Samantha Morton and Jennifer Ehle as compelling corporate sources, don’t make much of an impression. The combination of people playing themselves and cloaking the antagonist as basically an “over the shoulder” stand-in didn’t really work. There aren’t a lot of new bombshells in the screenplay, and the story doesn’t tell us a whole lot about the intrepid reporters; but the crafts are uniformly strong with a clean, glossy sheen to the proceedings. There are shots aplenty of peering through glass, so the viewers can feel like voyeurs to the procedural in minutia. The film is a strong teaching tool for future journalists and builds to the inevitable triumph setting the #MeToo movement into motion. For all the sensational scandal it breaks into the open, the approach is a bit tame.

Movie Review: Bones and All (2022)

Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet make fine young cannibals in Luca Guadagnino’s audacious and astonishing ‘80s-set body horror romance Bones and All (B+). This walk on the wild side chronicles a twee twosome who feast on flesh, and there’s generally sufficient allegory to transcend the most gruesome episodes. Opposite the mesmerizing central couple who very comfortably occupy their pulpy roles, Mark Rylance is also absolutely unhinged as a terrifically terrifying man-eating mentor. Guadagnino guides his story gracefully into truly dark territory and finds sufficient humanity in his curious macabre. This offbeat road trip follows in the tradition of Bonnie and Clyde and Natural Born Killers and will not be for all tastes. 

Movie Review: My Policeman (2022)

Now streaming on Prime Video.

The crushing waves depicted in gallery art and in the seaside Brighton, England milieu imply a story with more ferocity than what we actually get in Michael Grandage’s rather staid romantic drama My Policeman (C). A contemporary cast –  Linus Roache, Rupert Everett and Gina McKee flash back to a love triangle in the 1950s between their characters played by Harry Styles, David Dawson and Emma Corrin respectively. It’s the classic gay artist meets closeted cop meets straight teacher tale, and this type of soapy story rarely ends with everyone happy, although there are some tiny twists in the final act that make events a tad more intriguing. It’s a handsome production; but in a film so buoyed by the need for compelling performances, none are particularly remarkable. The audience learns little about being a policeman, a museum curator or an educator and even less about what motivates their psychologies. Dawson is ostensibly the standout and feels like a real person in his role, and Styles vanquishes himself with a performance a touch better than his most recent tentpole effort. Some of the film is pretty and picturesque, but its tepid melodrama makes for a largely listless affair.

Movie Review: Armageddon Time (2022)

Now playing in select theatres from Focus Features.

Foisting an often unflattering, unremarkable personal memoir on the masses is a sure fire way to open oneself up to bruising judgment, especially when the memories intended to move or inspire simply feel dramatically inert. Writer/director James Gray’s Armageddon Time (C-) leverages his wistful recollections about being 12 years old in Queens, New York in the 1980s to moralize about the enduring state of affairs in the world. The retro atmosphere is all there, from toting metal lunchboxes, riding on the subway, touring the Guggenheim and playing in Flushing Meadows, but the film rarely gathers steam in any of its locales. Banks Repeta is the central boy learning retconned lessons about white privilege as he watches his Black friend played by Jaylin Webb get in trouble for mutual troublemaking. It feels like the protagonist isn’t really there; he’s just watching himself be an unsure tween, longing for better choices he could have made. Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway are believable but oddly written as the parents; the viewer will be unsure what to make of them exactly, and they have very little to do or say. Even a nice portrayal of the sage family grandfather by Anthony Hopkins feels perfunctory. There are indeed some life lessons lurking beneath the heavy handed plotting, but there are few revelations to draw viewers into this feature as essential viewing.

Movie Review: The Good Nurse (2022)

Now playing on Netflix.

There’s a film history of deadly horrors in hospitals, where scalpels to the neck and syringes to the temple are among the go-to medical murder weapons, but a real-life sick bay slayer committed crimes with a much more understated approach. An engrossing drama with hints of a suspense thriller, Tobias Lindholm’s The Good Nurse (B) is wonderfully acted by Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne as two professional caregivers embroiled in a crime scene. Chastain plays an overworked single mom who is working the ward round the clock and counting down to her one-year mark of employment to qualify for health insurance to beat a secret pesky heart palpitation issue, a convenient plot point for a character primed for stressful sequences. She’s marvelous and relatable in the protagonist role. Redmayne is wonderful too as an often endearing character who clearly harbors issues under the surface. His simmering cauldron of an acting approach is a deft balance and consistently absorbing to watch. Nnamdi Asomugha and Kim Dickens are additional standouts in the ensemble as a police investigator and risk manager, respectively, demonstrating the frustrating boxes of the corporate medicine machine when patient care goes wrong. The film’s formula feels familiar, but Lindholm elevates the proceedings with creepy true-life conventions and by orchestrating high pedigree acting. His film is highly watchable as his primary characters get in your bloodstream.

Movie Review: The Inspection (2022)

Coming soon to select cities.

The leviathan feats of surviving Marine boot camp or trying to change the mind of a stubbornly homophobic mother both get an “inspired by true events” treatment in Elegance Bratton’s 2005-set The Inspection (B-). Jeremy Pope plays a gay man who has been battling life on the urban streets since teenage estrangement from his mom (a memorable Gabrielle Union against type), so signing up for a punishing 13 weeks in Parris Island basic training is a desperate attempt to finally be a hero. Pope is the revelation here, bringing tremendous empathy to the central performance, who is a misfit times three in his strange new environment. Bratton’s film, while gorgeously shot and often deeply felt since it was based on some of his own story, tends to feel a bit like Full Metal Jacket meets Moonlight, with many story elements done much better before. Raúl Castillo is intriguing as one of the good guys; there are others who feel a bit like stock characters. Ultimately it’s absorbing in some unexpected ways even though much of the terrain has been trod before.

Movie Review: Causeway (2022)

Premiered at Toronto International Film Festival, Streams and plays in limited theatres November 4 on Apple TV+.

Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree Henry are the marvelous acting partners you didn’t know you needed headlining Lila Neugebauer’s debut film, the psychological drama Causeway (B). Lawrence is raw, effective and enchanting as a wounded veteran who reluctantly returns to her hometown of New Orleans where she befriends a similarly broken mechanic played with compelling and sometimes comic, nervy charm by Henry. As the soldier rehabilitates from her trauma and learns to feel again, her new bond of friendship helps reshape her worldview. Like other character study duets – Once and Leaving Las Vegas come to mind – there’s poignancy in the quiet observational moments and superb connection between actors giving their all to lived-in performances. The director creates renewal below sea level in her frequent water allusions, and viewers will feel like they are swimming in talent. The narrative could have used a bit more momentum at times, but fans of intimate stories and indelible characters will find this one quite rewarding.

Movie Review: Till (2022)

Now in select theatres.

A tribute to the all-encompassing possibilities of a mother’s love, Chinonye Chukwu’s true story Till (B) is as much the journey of Mamie Till Mobley, splendidly played by Danielle Deadwyler, as that of her son Emmett Till, endearingly portrayed by Jalyn Hall. The film transcends many historical nonfiction conventions on the strength of Deadwyler’s brilliant embodiment of a woman experiencing hopelessness and empowerment in the wake of overpowering tragedy. Chukwu creates a handsome mid-1950s production design and a contemplative and convincing story with strong ensemble work across the board. Several narrative threads and characters could have used some fine tuning, but the overall effect is moving and motivational. Deadwyler is an undeniable discovery for those who may not know her as a household name in the movies, and she has contributed mightily to this gripping and emotional tale.

Movie Review: TÁR (2022)

Lydia Tár, exquisitely portrayed by Cate Blanchett, is a fictional female maestro of a major German orchestra, but a series of challenges threaten to derail the composer/conductor’s unfettered authority over both her craft and reputation in Todd Field’s fascinating psychological drama TÁR (B+). Field paints on an intimate and exacting canvas with occasional shades of bitter dark comedy, tackling contemporary topics about gender roles, cancel culture and the curation of one’s personal narrative. Blanchett builds a complex character, and it’s clear the music pulsing through her soul is as second nature for her as the English, German and conductor’s wand she wields, sometimes in the same breath or continuous shot. Opposite exquisite co-stars such as Noémie Merlant and Nina Hoss, she creates an icy and indelible character, fascinating on or off the podium. The unconventional soundscape by Hildur Guðnadóttir adds to the film’s off-kilter grandeur, buoying an absorbing character study and morality tale and marked by handsome production design. Once viewers get past a tinge of pretension, it’s all rather more delicious than expected. Field’s patient, singular vision including his keen writing and crisp direction is vital to creating the epic and essential space for Blanchett’s command performance. 

Movie Review: Blonde (2022)

Now on Netflix.

Some like it heavy handed. Blonde (D-), Andrew Dominick’s rough and tumble fictionalized fantasia about movie actress Marilyn Monroe played by Ana de Armas, is so consistent in its depiction of dehumanization that it simply devolves into a tedious task. The film traces the icon through a traumatic childhood, touching on her pinup years and following her through two troubled marriages before that candle burns out long before the legend ever did. Dominick gets some credit for experimenting with traditional biopic tropes as he endlessly circles, underscores, outlines and dog ears his facile thesis. It’s altogether more sad than sexy and definitely more irritating than enlightening. The talented Ana de Armas is fully committed to the role but is forced into story beats equal parts dumb and degrading. The notion that the Marilyn we know was simply an illusion and that we the viewers are shallow voyeurs doesn’t make for much of a movie experience. No amount of fun house film stock, morphing aspect ratio, or swerving and unnerving shifts from black and white to color can mask the jaundiced jackhammer behind this bleak, pulverizing and ultimately pointless exercise.