All Too Well: The Short Film

Written by Alexander Reams

95/100

An Upstate Escape

The First Crack in the Glass

Are You Real?

The Remembering

We all dream of that perfect relationship, looking across somewhere and seeing that one person that changes their life, and not even knowing it. Such is the case with the cultural phenomenon, iconic singer/songwriter, and cat parent Taylor Swift. Rumored to be about her tumultuous relationship with actor/sexiest man alive/ guy whose eyes are too wide for his face, Jake Gyllenhaal, All Too Well could definitely be considered a music video, but it’s not, it elevates itself constantly. From the performances to the gorgeous 35mm cinematography to the brilliant visual storytelling by Swift. 

“Are you for real?” This opening line is followed by a simple but gorgeous opening shot of Sadie Sink, Her, and Dylan O’Brien, Him, in bed together. A shot that is very reminiscent of Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. Soon after this, we are quickly thrown into a title card then the next major section of the film, An Upstate Escape. That has O’Brien and Sink in a car together, presumably in upstate, based on the title card and the visual around it. It’s fall, life is good for these 2, we are enjoying seeing them together. Here is where cinematographer Rina Yang shines, gorgeously tracking the couple as they explore the forest together, showing their connection as pure. 

Soon after we begin to see The First Crack in the Glass. Something as simple as Him letting go of Her hand. Something that clearly affects her and Sink conveys this emotion clearly. He does not see it as anything, for Her, it’s nearly everything. This first crack leads to more as she begins to see more and more issues with their relationship. Leading to a scene that lets O’Brien and Sink flex their acting chops in a way that neither has gotten a chance to before. 

Are you real?” A question that is asked at the beginning and is asked again but in a different way, a more heartbreaking way. She has begun to question the entire nature of the relationship, even after a seeming reconciliation between them after their argument, reflecting on the relationship. That ends in the exact way that you expect it to, and Sink takes this opportunity to rip our hearts out, combined with the brilliant cues of Swift’s music and direction. 

After this heartbreak she begins to reflect again, this time during social events, birthdays, knowing that he is not by her side anymore, and she misses that. She knows she shouldn’t but she does. At this point we jump over to his story, seeing what he has done during this time, instead of letting the emotions out he holds them in. An unhealthy coping mechanism yes, but it is one that men are always told to do, despite the resurgence in society for men’s mental health.

Thirteen years later, both have moved on, and are at different points in our lives, like all of us are. We cannot stay stuck in the past. Something Swift is able to convey subtly. He hasn’t moved on as much as we may have thought, the final shot of him still wearing her scarf from all those years ago. He never forgot her. This shot was very similar to the final shot in La La Land yet presents an entirely different message, here she has moved on, and he is somewhat stuck in the past. This is one of the finest films of 2021, and I did not expect to love this as much as I did. This is a fantastic debut and is a film that gets me actively excited for Swift’s next visual work.

All Too Well: The Short Film

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Procession

Written by Patrick Hao

74/100

Documentarian Robert Greene has had a career of self-reflexive documentaries that are almost openly hostile to the idea of honesty within the medium. In Kate Plays Christine, a documentary about an actress preparing for the role in a fake movie of a real-life journalist who committed suicide live on air. The film explores the ethics of exploiting such a tragic story while also untangling the real-life trauma of a story that has become lore and how that can completely engulf an actress portraying such a role. In Bisbee ’17, he chronicles and recruits an Arizona town to recreate the suppression of a massive worker strike leading to an illegal mass deportation. Many of the residents involved in the recreation have a direct lineage to those who directly led to the events. In doing so, the people involved directly confront the heinous past that runs through the town and their personal histories, presenting a form of atonement.

Robert Greene’s newest film, Procession concludes an unofficial trilogy of sorts within Greene’s filmography on the effects, purpose, and power of reenactment. With Kate Plays Christine it’s an actress reenacting the actions of another. With Bisbee ’17 it’s people reenacting the actions of their ancestors. Procession is about people reenacting their younger selves and the healing powers such recreation could have.

In this case, Greene focuses on six grown men who had been previously sexually abused by Catholic priests as children. Greene presents them with the opportunity to script scenes representing their abuse in whatever fantastical machinations they want. A hackier filmmaker would take a concept like this and make a saccharine film about catharsis. For Greene and his abundance of empathy, his film is a constant tension of self-doubt. The film constantly questions itself on the ethics of such recreation. And whether at the end of the day, this helps anyone at all.

The through-line is a collection of men working through their trauma through the collaborative nature of art. These are men who have suffered through similar abuses, although at different times, different parishes. Five scripted scenes are ultimately produced, with the sixth man choosing to want to be an actor in two of the scenes as his form of exorcism.

Greene is barely a character in this film, although his presence is always known. Greene would never let you forget this is an exercise in filmmaking. He does allow the five men producing the scripted scene total creative control. Thus, they get “film by” credits in the open titles. The surprise comes with how each story is told, each being conveyed differently. None of these are direct recreation of the worst moments of abuse. Rather, they are steeped in symbolism, all with varying degrees of overtness. But that should be expected with how we deal with trauma. Some of the more fantastical can even harken back to All That Jazz, another form of exorcism of demons through art by filmmaker Bob Fosse.   

It is incredible how Greene never feels like he is exploiting these subjects or their worst moments. Rather, because the men always seem to be in the forefront of the film, with total control, Procession becomes a real exercise in healing through art, through confrontation. For someone who has had been busy trying to reconcile if art depicting the real can ever be truly ethical, it is fitting for Greene to present a film that is deeply indebted to the therapeutic nature of art.

One child portrays each of the men as children in all the segments. We see this actor interact with the men throughout and be treated with such care that was never afforded to them. In return, he also empathizes with them, having to also get into the mental headspace of these men. This profound empathy exhibited had me bursting into tears. To think we can be in a world so cruel yet so kind, all at the same time.

Procession Trailer

Procession is available to stream on Netflix.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

The Killing of Two Lovers

Written by Michael Clawson

70/100

The Nest in flyover country; tense marriage and family drama dressed up as a crime thriller rather than a horror movie, set amid the barren, snow-dusted streets and fields of small-town Utah in winter rather than the gloomy British countryside. In other words, The Nest meets Wildlife (or Certain Women, except the gap between my fondness for that movie and Machoian’s is too enormous for me want to underline that connection). 

Machoian’s eye for the setting – the worn brick houses, the wide roads, the vast swaths of land – does a lot of the heavy lifting for me. I like that he uses long takes to not just sustain tension, but also to establish and explore space: it’s all the more difficult for David to shake the thought of his wife sleeping with another man when the house she’s doing it in is only an easy jog down the street. I also like his framing, like when David takes the kids to the park to launch rockets, and Machoian stages the action off to the left, all the negative space off to the right holding the unease that eventually releases when the daughter snaps. Other choices are poorly judged, like the extreme close ups when David and Nikki go out on their date.

A potential for violence is the film’s fuel for suspense, but I sometimes didn’t feel like David’s stifled rage and his fatherly gentleness were two sides of the same coin. It’s more like Machoian hints at David’s interiority only when he thinks he needs to shovel more coal in the fire of movie’s genre engine. At the risk of belaboring the comparison, where The Nest’s tension is diffuse and vague (my preference), the source of suspense in The Killing of Two Lover’s is more concentrated, and tapped in some minorly gimmicky ways.

The Killing of Two Lovers Trailer

The Killing of Two Lovers is available to stream on Hulu and rent or purchase on major VOD platforms.

Follow Michael on Letterboxd or connect with him on Twitter.

The Humans

Written by Patrick Hao

62/100

The number one hackneyed complaint that all critics make about plays adapted into movies is that it is too stagey. Stephen Karam seemed to have taken those criticisms to heart when he decided to adapt his own Tony Award-Winning play, The Humans, into a feature film. Karam’s adaptation opens with a low-angle shot of the towering Chinatown apartment building that the film takes place in. It’s the first of several invocations of 9/11 throughout the film.

The play ran for 95-minutes on Broadway. In a smart move, the film does not run for much longer than that as well. Not much has changed for the adaptation. The film still follows one family Thanksgiving in a two-story, crappy apartment in New York City. The apartment belongs to Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and her boyfriend Richard (Steven Yeun). They have just moved to this apartment and lack furniture due to a mishap with the moving crew. Coming to attend Thanksgiving are Brigid’s parents, Mark (Richard Jenkins) and Diedre (Jayne Houdyshell), her grandmother suffering from Alzheimer’s (June Squibb), and newly single and about to be fired sister, Aimee (Amy Schumer).

Like all family reunions, Thanksgiving from hell movies, this one features numerous squabbles, nagging, passive aggression, sarcasm, and bitter revelations, all with naturalistic performances from all the actors. Brigid is insecure with her lot in life. She is a creative who must make ends meet by bartending. Aimee is about to lose her job as a junior partner at her law firm and just ended a year-long relationship. Mark is dealing with the fallout of 9/11 and his own ineffectual masculinity. Meanwhile, Diedre’s own insecurities with her weight and lot in life are extended to her children.

All of this seems like a normal affair for a Broadway play. Karam is notable for his replication of normal human patter. He is also incredible at putting weight on every pregnant pause for its maximum impact. The ensemble cast is also helpful in delivering the undertones of every line. Feldstein’s natural emphatic exuberance being knocked down by the subtle drags of Houdyshell and the caustic resignation of Schumer makes for an especially fun dynamic.

Karam however intends to suffocate the characters with creeping dread and anxiety. The apartment aches at every movement and rumbles from the exposed pipes and heat. His camera fixates on characters for protracted periods of time, lulling the audience, allowing Karam to use sudden dialogue like jump scares. Often the empty apartment seems to be almost engulfing the characters on screen. It’s no secret that The Humans is going for a brutal mix of Repulsion and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

While Karam is impressive in how he’s able to layout the confines of the apartment, his stylistic choices become overbearing and discordant with the naturalism that he has his actors embrace. Other films that have trotted in the similar stylistic and thematic territory – the exquisite digital filmmaking of Pieces of April or the suffocating horror of Krisha – were able to find a better balance in the two. If anything, the style he chooses is successful in the ability it depicts the constant dissociation one uses to survive. The vacant stares are a result of defense mechanisms.

There is much to like in Karam’s adaptation of his own play. But it also feels like a playwright trying too hard to prove his bonafides as a filmmaker. Maybe instead of focusing on the bumps in the night, The Humans would have been better served at creating a lump in our throats.

The Humans Trailer

The Humans is streaming on Showtime.

You can follow Patrick and his passion for film on Letterboxd and Twitter.

Episode 122: Rescreening Letter from an Unknown Woman

“The highest reaches of the actor’s art begin, I believe, at the point where words cease to play a part.”

Max Ophüls, Director of Letter from an Unknown Woman

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Deezer | Gaana | Google Podcasts | iHeartRadio | JioSaavn | LibSyn | Player FM | RadioPublic | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

On Episode 122 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Max Ophüls Letter from an Unknown Woman.

Connect with us on your preferred Social Media Platform Letterboxd, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

Letter from an Unknown Woman Trailer

Letter from an Unknown Woman is able to purchase from multiple physical storefronts.

A La Cara (Face to Face)

Written by Alexander Reams

68/100

    “I don’t give a shit if you’re sorry.”

As a society we treat the people we find entertaining with such disrespect. Especially in this modern age when every “troll” can hide behind the clicks of a keyboard. Such is the case for the “antagonist” of the film, only known by his username, Alge68, and the person he has been trolling has had enough, the unnamed person who has been trolled goes to Alge68’s apartment to confront him. This is where the film shines, in its tension. There is a constant worry that one of these two characters will not be making it out of the film alive, and not an unwarranted worry, that is becoming a more common storyline in modern Hollywood, the crazed fan meets the subject of his fanaticism. Here, however, expectations are subverted at every turn, which makes the film memorable up until the credits roll, but the character development is nil, even by short film standards. While there is a lot to love, like the troll, there will always be a negative to every positive.

A La Cara (Face to Face) Trailer

A La Cara (Face to Face) is a Oscar qualifying short film that received the 2021 Goya Award for Best Fiction Short Film & has screened at over 90 international film festivals.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.

Nightmare Alley

Written by Taylor Baker

70/100

Four years on from Guillermo Del Toro’s Oscar winning film The Shape of Water he returns to the big screen with Nightmare Alley. A cautionary tale built around Bradley Cooper’s Stan Carlisle, who plays a carny that wants more out of life. After setting fire to a house on a hill Stan begins his journey. Worming his way down the literal and metaphorical road until he happens upon a carnival. There he happens into a tent to watch a creature called a Geek bite off a chicken’s head. In what may very well be a partial ode to Freaks, not just an homage to the novel it is based on and the film it shares the title of, he takes up a job offer from Willem Dafoe’s Clem Hoately.

In these early portions of the film with the carnival as the backdrop, Del Toro and cinematographer Dan Lausten are at their collective best, using the frame to capture the oddities, eccentricities, and characters that make up the community and place. As the film builds there begins to be a listless unmoored sense of camera movement where jump cuts don’t work in concert, fades don’t sync symmetrically, and a lack of cohesive visual control becomes apparent. It’s as if the decisions on how to compose and block the shots were made without considering how to build out from the last sequence. Which leads to a disjointed focus that keeps the viewer from staying buried in the narrative.

Stan goes on to strike up a relationship with Toni Collette’s Zeena, a tarot reader who resides at a permanent carnival location that his troupe arrives at. He learns tools of the trade from her and her partner Pete Krumbein played by David Strathairn. Ron Perlman, the aforementioned Willem Dafoe, and Mark Povinelli round out the rest of the major supporting cast at the carnival with the real focus of Stan being on Rooney Mara’s Molly whom he becomes besotted with. As he looks for a way out to do something more exciting and take Molly away an opportunity arises.

They take advantage of their chance and head out of the carnival they call home in a truck and head to the city where years go by as they work a mentalist act. Molly begins to miss her life from before as she becomes frustrated with Stan and his pursuit of more and ever-present dissatisfaction with the present circumstances. At this point in time, Cate Blanchett’s psychiatrist Lilith comes into the film as she’s attending the performance on behalf of a benefactor. After a particularly engaging sequence performed excellently by Cooper, they begin a sort of business relationship.

From there on out the stakes of the film are made clear, and we get fantastic though brief sequences with the likes of Mary Steenbergen, Richard Jenkins, and Holt McCallany. It has one of if not the most memorable finale sequence of the year. Nightmare Alley is Del Toro’s most tame film to date. That rings as an homage more than a distinctive work, but nonetheless a film that stands shoulder to shoulder among most of the year’s crop from popular filmmakers.

Nightmare Alley Trailer

Nightmare Alley will be available in wide theatrical release starting December 17th.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Winter’s Night

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

“Even when you’re with me, it doesn’t feel like you’re with me,” Eun-joo says to her husband, Heung-joo, near the end of Jang Woo-Jin’s spellbinding Winter’s Night. A late-middle-aged married couple who we meet as they visit the frozen-over landscape of Chuncheon, South Korea in winter, it’s achingly apparent that a vast emptiness has come between Eun-joo and Heung-joo since the days of their youth. After a day spent on a small island, an island where thirty years ago, they spent a single, indelibly wondrous night together, Eun-joo and Heung-Joo return to search for Eun-joo’s lost phone. After the sun goes down and the ferry stops running, they stay on the island for a cold, haunting, sleepless night, over the course of which both husband and wife separately encounter strangers that, through unassuming strokes of magical realism, seem more like ghosts from the couple’s romantic past than ordinary island visitors.

Heung-joo is the first to slip out of the room that he and Eun-joo rent for the night. He gets drunk on soju, morosely sings karaoke by himself in an empty restaurant, and meets a woman that appears to be an ex-lover. His wife, meanwhile, sorrowfully ventures out into the snow and meets a young couple that resembles her and husband at the earliest, most loving stage of their relationship. It’s as if Eun-joo and Heung-joo’s time together has collapsed on itself, and in their interaction with their past selves, they’re looking for what happened to the profound intimacy they once shared. The marvelously employed structuring device compares to the narrative gambits of Hong Sang-soo (helping that connection is the fact that Hong regular Seo Young-hwa plays Eun-joo; Yang Heung-joo plays Heung-joo), or to Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy. It might have been gimmicky had Jang not situated it in such a potently dreamlike environment, one molded through a modest yet splendid use of color: with neon light casting a soft pink and blue glow on the icy terrain, a luminous red shining around the perimeter of the temple where Eun-joo and Heung-joo shared a first kiss, the look isn’t too dissimilar to the oneiric second half of Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night. More certain than what the future holds for Eun-joo and Heung-joo are the poetic abilities of Jang Woo-Jin as a filmmaker.

Winter’s Night Trailer

Winter’s Night is currently streaming on Mubi.

Follow Michael on Letterboxd or connect with him on Twitter.

Being the Ricardos

Written by Taylor Baker

70/100

Being the Ricardos marks renowned screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s third feature film as director and in this writer’s opinion his most complete film to date. With his debut Molly’s Game he showcased his ability to competently present the screenplay he’d written when relying on some of Hollywood’s best actors, in Trial of the Chicago 7 his showy narrative looked flat and felt forced with ideas bigger than the characters taking the center stage. Being the Ricardos is a larger-than-life drama about one of television’s biggest couples on and off the screen, played by big movie stars, Javier Bardem plays Desi and Nicole Kidman plays Lucy both from the beloved 1950’s television show, I Love Lucy.

Here the flat sheen of the camera doesn’t seem as unintuitive as it had in Trial of the Chicago 7, it arguably looks similar to the way that television is shot. Which gives it some quotient of meta-analysis that feels true despite its possible incidentality. The major stumbling block is the presentation of Nicole Kidman who is playing Lucille at a range of ages. Beginning in her late 20’s through to her early 40’s. There’s an awkward uncanny valley experience as a viewer where due to her cosmetic surgery, Nicole’s face and the correlating special effects employed to deage it give one the feeling that she isn’t real in a number of scenes. Luckily she is often very good which more than makes up for those issues.

Javier likewise plays a range of ages, with great suavity, crooning in a nightclub, clambering on a conga drum, and playing his scenes in such a generally cool way that he seems unshakeable. J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda each play supporting characters both in I Love Lucy as Fred Mertz and Ethel Mertz respectively and as Vivian Vance and William Frawley in the film itself. Nina Arianda is especially good, playing her scorn and desire with unassuming deftness, dancing between big moments and whispers of annoyance effortlessly.

Being the Ricardos begins framed by a trio of writers in their waning years of life remembering and orating in a docu-style interview the events that occurred one week in their second season when a particular show announced at the end of their show that Lucille Ball was a Communist. Meanwhile, a tabloid has published that Desi, Lucille’s husband has been unfaithful and sleeping around in Hollywood. The film goes on to depict the couple and their small team that runs the show navigating the uncertainty of the show continuing in light of the accusations toward Lucy and separately but mirroringly Kidman’s Ball trying to find out if Desi is unfaithful to her.

There’s lots of range that each star gets to showcase, with the main players each getting their big moments and asides to perform for the audience. Sorkin going the route of metatextual films seems to be a good direction allowing him to use television and film history as the drama playground from the start to get bigger and more unconventional than other storytellers. Many filmmakers would have likely made a biographical film that was self-serious, Sorkin though made his effort into a cultural touchstone that metaphorically seems both enriching to the source material and cleverly conceited to grab a prospective contemporary audience and speak to them directly as storyteller. Though Sorkin’s direction doesn’t inspire awe or noteworthy cinematography it’s competent enough to allow the talent in front of the lens to work their way into our hearts and minds.

Being the Ricardos Trailer

Being the Ricardos will enter limited theatrical release on December 10th and begins streaming on Prime Video on December 21st.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

2021 Gotham Awards Wrap Up

Written by Alexander Reams

“Dread it. Run from it. Destiny arrives all the same.”

Well, folks, the time has come. Drink in the Movies is back, bringing you awards coverage for the 2021-2022 season, and tonight we begin with the 2021 Gotham Awards, the kickoff of almost every award season. 

Unlike most awards shows, I’ll give you the dessert first. After much confusion on who was leading the race here, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut, The Lost Daughter took home Best Picture, cementing its space in the tight Oscar race. Along with Best Picture, The Lost Daughter took home the Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award for Maggie Gyllenhaal, Best Screenplay, also Gyllenhaal, and Best Lead Performance (it was a tie but we’ll get to that later) for Olivia Colman, bringing its grand total to 4 wins. 

Best Documentary Feature was a runaway win for Flee, who has been sweeping up wins in not only Best Documentary but also Best Animated and Best Foreign Film. Despite winning multiple awards in the latter category, Flee was not nominated for Best International Film. Instead, those nominees were more focused on the even smaller foreign films, with a few Oscar hopefuls, Drive My Car, The Worst Person in the World, and Titane being on the forefront of that category with the former winning here. Ryusuke Hamaguchi has been quietly sneaking away Best International Feature wins from the other frontrunners. Quietly building steam, until now. Now, there are many eyes on this film, so MAYBE IT CAN FINALLY PLAY IN WIDE RELEASE (I would greatly appreciate it). 

There was only one other film that had more than one win, CODA, Sian Heder’s Sundance darling, which despite its wins at Sundance, does little more than cloy for us audience members to feel bad for these characters and that includes Troy Kotsur, who won Best Supporting Performance for CODA. Who should’ve won? That is a question whose answer should be so clear I don’t have to ask it, alas I do. I digress, Reed Birney for Mass should’ve won, and not as much for him but to bring attention to the film so that attention is on the one person who should be nominated, Jason Isaacs. The brightest point of CODA is Emilia Jones’ performance, who in any other year would never win, but in a weak year for Breakthrough Performer, she takes home the gold, not much more to say on that. 

Before I get to the “So What?” Best Lead Performance was a tie, you know Olivia Colman won, and the other was Frankie Faison in The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain. I haven’t seen the film but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for it now. 

Now. So What? Well, the Gotham’s aren’t the most accurate when predicting Oscar nominations, so don’t rush to Gold Derby to change your predictions, but they can help with thinning out the crowds, and at least begin to eye in on possible nominees. I would recommend looking at The Lost Daughter a lot more, especially in the Adapted Screenplay category. Flee has been a lock for some time now, in one category or another. This is not the award show that should make you rush and change your ballot, in fact, I implore you not to. For now, we awards junkies should be celebrating the fact that awards season has returned, and this is only the beginning. 

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter. Or see more of his work on his website.