Review in Brief: I Care a Lot (2020/21)

You can easily see why I CARE A LOT has been a divisive film. One ever-reliable truism to fall back on when talking about what makes a compelling film is that a protagonist doesn’t have to be likeable but they do have to be interesting. Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) is awful, but she is fascinating. She has an evil-genius hustle of taking advantage of rich elderly people without relatives, until she makes the costly mistake of targeting Mrs Peterson (Dianne Wiest) and in doing so attracts the attention of a Russian mobster (Peter Dinklage). The film moves at a pace, is crisply directed and J Blakeson’s screenplay provides plenty of acerbic exchanges that make the most of Pike’s strengths, particularly in a delicious battle of wits and veiled threats between Marla and Chris Messina’s mob lawyer. When the plot goes for broke any kind of dark social commentary is lost in the chaos, but Pike still sells the whole thing admirably. SSP

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Review in Brief: The Mitchells vs the Machines (2021)

Between INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE and now THE MITCHELLS VS THE MACHINES, Sony Pictures Animation are in a league of their own. Nobody else is creating animated features with this energy, emotion and visual uniqueness quite like them. Aspiring filmmaker Katie’s (Abbie Jacobson) plans to start college and “find her people” are scuppered by her dad’s (Danny McBride) insistence that they bond as a family one last time on a road trip. Oh, and there’s the small matter of a worldwide robot uprising as well. Writer-directors Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe and their animation team bring to life a vivid and beautiful CG/hand-drawn hybrid world and a story that’ll leave you crying with laughter and just plain crying, especially if you’re from a family of weirdos yourself. This is one of the great dysfunctional family films about parents and children who mean well but continually fail to communicate, who are ultimately both helped and hindered by modern technology along the way. SSP

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Review in Brief: Nomadland (2020)

Arguably no filmmaker since Agnés Varda has blended elements of documentary and fiction together as effectively as Chloé Zhao. NOMADLAND’s narrative is loose and meandering, but only to reflect the Nomad on-the-move, purposeful and yet purposeless lifestyle. Following industrial collapse and personal bereavement, Fern (Frances McDormand) sets out across the USA living in a van, taking on seasonal work as she goes and forming unbreakable bonds with fellow members of the Nomad community. Like Zhao’s previous films it’s all about living an unconventional life to the fullest off-grid, and the strongest and most memorable scenes simply place the camera to capture real Nomads recounting their journey and experiences and exploring their connection to the planet. Add to this an unadorned, stripped back and honest central performance from McDormand and stunning, massive American landscapes bathed in magical light delicately captured by DP Joshua James Richards and before you know it you’re having your own spiritual experience while watching. SSP

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Review in Brief: Run (2020)

Non-specific spoilers for RUN ahead. If there’s one mystery-thriller movie trope that really needs to die, it’s the Convenient Incriminating Evidence Box. Aneesh Chaganty’s sophmore feature is far less assured than SEARCHING, being about 50 minutes of a decent thriller and a complete collapse into bad information reveals and sub-Shyamalan twists in the final 40. A wheelchair-using teenager waits for the freedom of her college acceptance letter as her mother continues to care for her around the clock, but soon becomes suspicious of her behavior and motives. The first plot twists you guess from this setup will probably be correct. As Chloe, Kiera Allen proves herself a real talent, fearlessly throwing herself into the demands of the role and bringing a nuanced mix of vulnerability and strength to balance out Sarah Paulson’s genre-driven over-acting. This really comes off the rails towards the end, but not in un-entertaining ways. SSP

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Review in Brief: Promising Young Woman (2020)

With PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN writer-director Emerald Fennell has crafted one of the most challenging and keen-edged debut films in years, and it’s making just the right kinds of people mad. Cassie (Carey Mulligan) spends her evenings pretending to be blackout drunk until a “nice guy” offers her help and inevitably tries to take advantage of her until she instantaneously “switches” from intoxicated to sober and turns the tables on the would-be predator. The motivation for this twisted pastime is revenge for the system failing Cassie’s best friend Nina who was raped at college years before, and soon she begins to enact her master plan for vigilante justice. Men will carry on doing this unless you confront them about it, and you hope along with Cassie that new boyfriend Ryan (Bo Burnham) turns out to be different to all the others. This black as pitch, scathing and brutal, but it’s compelling as can be, cathartic and has the most satisfying, gasp-inducing denouement in 2020 film. SSP

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Crip Camp (2020) Review

https://www.thefilmagazine.com/crip-camp-documentary-review/ SSP

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Review in Brief: Baby Done (2020/21)

A lot of New Zealand comedies have a very distinct feel, and BABY DONE from writer-director team Curtis Vowell and Sophie Henderson echoes the voice of its producer Taika Waititi. This is deadpan-funny, heartfelt and unafraid to make its protagonist a challenging personality to spend the allotted time with. The film grows beyond quirkyness for the sake of it with a mature look at a difficult time in any woman’s life, all through the prism of an immature character’s view of the world. The performances, particularly from leads Rose Matafeo and Matthew Lewis as an expecting couple (the former unready to surrender her youth, freedom and passion for climbing, the latter excited at the prospect of fatherhood and exasperated by his partner’s actions) are pitched about right for this bittersweet and grounded story. Not every moment lands or hits the right tone, but overall this will leave you uplifted, fulfilled, even enlightened. SSP

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Review in Brief: Judas and the Black Messiah (2020)

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH tells a heightened version of a story that everyone should know, and tells it with righteous anger. Unfortunately some elements of the film’s abundant style do admittedly get in the way, like the depiction of the real shoot-outs as flashily violent Scorsese-esque set-pieces, losing grounding in the process. Why they wanted Martin Sheen under distracting prosthetics as J Edgar Hoover instead of casting someone who actually looked like him is perplexing as well. Daniel Kaluuya is mesmeric as young Black Panther leader Fred Hampton but it is LaKeith Stanfield as reluctant FBI informer Bill O’Neal who has the tougher, more restrained role and is tasked with keeping the whole thing on the tracks. Reconstructions of O’Neal’s only TV interview are powerfully employed to reinforce the imagined but plausible scenes and so we end up with a slippery and difficult portrayal of complicated men. SSP

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Review in Brief: Minari (2020)

There’s no debate, MINARI is an American film – what could be more American than a tale of a family buying a farm and dreaming of living off the land? It’s astounding that the film features two of the first Korean (and the first lead of East Asian descent) acting nominations in the history of the Oscars with Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung, and there’s no weak link in this effortlessly grounded ensemble. The way the beautiful arable imagery is captured reinforces the romance of the American Dream just as what this family has to go through almost completely shatters it. The observational family domestic scenes gently enthral, the themes are universal and the wider socio-political context packs a punch. About the only thing that doesn’t seem completely necessary is the added jeopardy of the finale, though director Lee Isaac Chung waiting to go out with a bang with his story is understandable. SSP

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Review in Brief: Sound of Metal (2019/20)

SOUND OF METAL will leave you spent, physically, emotionally, and if you can hear, aurally. On the cusp of success, metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) loses most of his hearing and must reconcile his new life with the help of a deaf community. He not only has to learn to be deaf, but to learn to live in the moment and just be. Is the jarring sound of metal, which is all that the implants Ruben eventually receives actually offer, better than no sound at all? The film is delicately directed, crisply edited and a game-changer in its sound design, conjuring a whole new world of challenges for its protagonist, a raw and vulnerable Ahmed. The passage with Ruben adjusting to his new life and priorities, gently guided by Paul Raci’s Joe is certainly the film’s most satisfying, but poignant peaks and technical flourish can be found throughout this punchy and powerful story. SSP

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