Benedetta

Written by Taylor Baker

80/100

Few director’s filmographies are quite as varied in story and so consistent in theme as Paul Verhoeven. The director of RoboCop and Starship Troopers latest film Benedetta recounts a somewhat heightened version of the story of Sister Benedetta who joined the Pescian Convent in the 1600’s. More commonly known as the new lesbian nun movie, there’s a lot more going in the film, but that boiled down synopsis certainly encapsulates much of the narrative at play.

The film begins with Benedetta as a young girl on her way to the convent with her family. They encounter a rag tag group of bandits and after Benedetta’s mother’s necklace is stolen she insists that God will curse them. The one eyed man who’d stolen her mother’s necklace proceeds to get his lone eye pooped in by a bird nearly as soon as the words leave Benedetta’s mouth. Thus we’re introduced to someone who is quite possibly favored by or in tune with God.

Charlotte Rampling plays the Pescian Convent’s Reverend Mother. Who negotiates the prices that father’s must pay for their daughters dowries. After one such negotiation Benedetta is admitted to the Sisterhood, stripped out of her celebratory dress and of her Holy Mother totem. Benedetta seems a devout child between the bird poop miracle and her being pinned and unhurt after a large statue of the Holy Mother falls upon her. It continues to seem that she may indeed be favored by God.

After a number of years pass in mere moments within the film Benedetta saves a young woman named Bartolomea who flees her father by running into the shelter of the convent. Benedetta’s father must once again pay a dowry to the Reverend Mother. Bartolomea and Benedetta begin to become entangled and entranced with each other quickly. Observing one anothers nude bodies behind sheer sheets of linen hanging between their respective sleeping quarters. Their looks through those fabrics convey forbidden desire and longing.

These lustings mature to full sexual encounters before long with Benedetta becoming the Reverend Mother and Bartolomea seemingly her assistant or handmaiden of sort. Previous taboo idols are made into sexual implements, leading to a trial, torture, and plague. Verhoeven’s Benedetta seems formulaic and distinctly his own upon completion. But it’s many moments of intimacy, lust, belief, betrayal, and desire linger far more than it seemed they would during the runtime. Making not just the film but the performances of Virginie Efira and Daphne Patakia memorable.

Benedetta Trailer

Benedetta will be available in limited theatrical starting 12/3 and will be available on VOD 12/21.

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

Encanto

Written by Maria Athayde

80/100

Encanto is the 60th film produced by the Walt Disney Animation Studios and a welcome return to form. This is the best animation put out by Disney since 2016 Zootopia. It is another hit for Lin-Manuel Miranda who has a story credit for the movie. 

Encanto is a generational tale set in Colombia rooted in magical realism. As defined by the Encyclopedia Britannica, magical realism is a “chiefly Latin-American narrative strategy that is characterized by the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into seemingly realistic fiction”. This style immediately stood out to me and made me reminisce about my own youth and experience with magical realism literature and its brilliant authors like Jorge Amado, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of my favorite book of all time One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Isabel Allende. But never before Encanto had I seen this magic brought to life, on screen, in such a moving way. The movie per se tells the story of the Madrigal family and their magical gifts, their small town, and the real meaning of family. Encanto is a delight on every level, from the animation style, to the songs, and use of color. 

This movie is everything I wanted it to be and more. It expands the “Latinidad” that was missing from this year’s In the Heights, another Lin-Manuel Miranda project. I know it is cliche to say but you can’t be what you can’t see. Representation matters. Movies like Encanto and In the Heights are important. Even in a small way it shows us that we matter. A 2019 report, from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, found that an average of 4.9% of popular movies had Hispanic or Latino speaking characters between 2007-2019. The same report highlighted that these popular storytellers are predominantly male and white and that behind the camera “of the 112 directors across 2019” movies 1.8% were Hispanic or Latino. Hopefully, the success of these movies serves as a wake-up call to Hollywood who hasn’t caught up to the diversity push to advance Latino stories on screen.  

Encanto Trailer

Encanto is currently playing in wide theatrical release.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

House of Gucci

Written by Taylor Baker

50/100

House of Gucci marks Ridley Scott’s second film of 2021 after his box office failure but critical success The Last Duel in October. It’s also his second film this year built around the actions of Adam Driver, who plays Maurizio Gucci. The films story and events are based on the real life story and assassination of Maurizio by his wife Patrizia. Maurizio is the grandson of Guccio Gucci the founder of Gucci. His wife Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) gives one of the years most notable very BIG performances.

Dariusz Wolski who’s served as cinematographer on nearly each of Scott’s projects since Prometheus once again picks up the camera for Scott. Shooting lavish estates, landscapes, interiors, and boisterous if offkey performances from Lady Gaga, Jared Leto, and Al Pacino. There is a quality of flatness to the film that seems out of place, the chic clothing, the wealth, all seem cheapened and almost ugly. With moments among cows and other outdoor sequences appearing more beautified. If purposeful it’s an interesting choice that builds as we reach the penultimate and looming murder, but it’s so baked in to the film that the film itself starts to feel ugly.

The retelling of cultural titans straddling the Atlantic from the U.S. to Europe is something Scott recently did in All the Money in the World, which recounted the ransoming of John Paul Getty III. It notably also had thrust and intrigue, it casts an apt comparison for why Gucci fails. All the Money in the World was driven by human concerns, foibles, and seemingly real characters. House of Gucci on the other hand is a collection of hammy performances used seriously, rotating around a tamed Adam Driver who has a character reversal without explanation that is glaringly unearned. Interestingly among Money, Gucci, and The Last Duel it is the women who stand out and make the films, Michelle Williams, Lady Gaga, and Jodie Comer respectively. The difference is the men supporting Michelle and Jodie’s performances, stakes, and worlds made the material and vision coherently come to life. Which the combination of material, craftsmanship, and casting of Gucci failed to do.

House of Gucci loses its tone and pace in the early half and fails to coherently tie it’s characters emotional developments together by the end despite having plenty of runway to do so. Leto seems to be in a different picture than Driver, the same might be said of Irons and Pacino. Gaga nails being bigger than life while maintaining a consistent magnetism, but when she’s opposite Hayek, or acting “weak” the picture feels flimsy and begins to dissolve. Leaving us watching a star in the middle of a flashy rehashing that’s lost all intrigue and pull. House of Gucci is a messy overlong Oscar Nominee trailer, not the biopic juggernaut we’d all hoped for. 

House of Gucci Trailer

House of Gucci is playing in wide theatrical release.

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

Bruised

Written by Maria Athayde

50/100

Bruised is a mixed martial arts drama starring and directed by Halle Berry in her directorial debut.  This film is right up my alley. A sports drama lead by a female protagonist. It recounts the story of Jackie Justice (Halle Berry) a former MMA fighter with a drinking problem on a journey to make her way back to the cage. Part of what motivates this comeback is the reappearance of Jackie’s son Manny who she had not seen in years. Paired with a new trainer Buddhakan (Sheila Atim) Jackie starts to gain her old form back as she prepares for Lady Killer (Valentina Shevchenko) who she’ll fight in a flyweight title bout in Atlantic City. While she trains for the championship fight Jackie tries to manage her relationship with her volatile manager and boyfriend Desi, her son Manny, her mom Angela as well as her burgeoning relationship with Buddhakan.

All these components lead to a movie that feels too short and too long at the same time. There was no balance between what Jackie was inside the cage and who she was outside of the cage. I attribute this inconsistency to the cliché ridden screenplay written by first-time screenwriter Michelle Ronsenfarb. Everything horrible that could happen to a person including family trauma, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and self-doubt is carelessly dotted in the screenplay with no payoff. If this were a series instead of a movie all these additional layers would make sense but as it stands they make Jackie feel like an amalgamation of trauma and not a real character.  

Don’t get me wrong both in front and behind the camera Berry does the best with what she’s got. She embraces and embodies the physicality needed to play this character. Sheila Atim was equally mesmerizing as Buddhakan. The all-women rap soundtrack executive produced by Halle Berry and Cardi B was a historic first and the best thing to come out of this movie. Even with these qualms I anxiously await to see what project Berry takes on next behind the camera.

Bruised Trailer

Bruised is currently available to stream on Netflix.

You can follow Maria Manuella Pache de Athayde on LetterboxdTwitter, or Instagram and view more of what she’s up to here.

C’mon C’mon

Written by Taylor Baker

85/100

“Blah, blah, blah, blah.”

C’mon C’mon is a loving road movie of uncle and nephew walking side by side, ahead and behind, navigating their familial connection through different metropolises. Joaquin Phoenix plays Johnny, a radio journalist whose current project involves interviewing kids about their concerns, hopes, fears, and lives. In the early portion of the film Johnny calls his sister Viv (Gabby Hoffman) on the anniversary of their mother’s death. And in the course of the call he agrees to come out and take care of his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) so that she can tend to her husband Paul (Scoot McNairy) who moved to Oakland for a job and suffers from bipolar disorder.

Mills who directed 2010’s Beginners and 2016’s 20th Century Women builds out his newest film on expressly gorgeous cinematography shot by Robbie Ryan. The exterior shots of the various cities visited throughout the film in particular set the place and draw a interesting correlation between the very personal private experiences our characters are having against the congested freeways of LA, the clogged sidewalks of New York, and the urban sprawl of New Orleans. This in tandem with different quotations from various pieces and artists such as Kirsten Johnson (director of Cameraperson) whose quotation is on the differences of experience between the subject and the recorder allude to more meta filmic differences between the form, narrative, and style we’re witnessing coalesce before us maturing to a deep feeling of intimacy that is carefully built up over the run time by Mills.

C’mon C’mon simultaneously broaches on the loss of intimacy over time with family members, the differences of experience of the same events between youth and adult, and the many faces of compassion, love, and devotion. It’s a slow unflashy gorgeous piece of intimacy, that captures the longing and loveliness of the smallest moments in our day to day lives. Mills has been assembling one of the more intriguing if brief bodies of work over the last two decades with little attention, I hope for all our sakes he continues to make films a bit more expediently than once every 5 or 6 years.

C’mon C’mon Trailer

C’mon C’mon is currently available in wide theatrical release.

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

Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City

Written by Patrick Hao

32/100

It has only been about five years since Paul W.S. Anderson’s final film in his Resident Evil series, a seminal group of films in the canonization of Anderson as a vulgar auteur. One might say it is entirely too soon to have a brand-new reboot of the popular Capcom video game series. But in our current day cultural climate, five years is entirely too long to let a popular series with any sort of cache lay dormant. Thankfully, we are lucky enough to have Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City be directed by Johannes Robert, a filmmaker who may slowly be making a name for himself amongst the popular B-movie auteurs, who infuses enough style and skill into the reboot that it is merely underwhelming rather than outright bad.

This reboot is a more faithful adaptation of the video game series than the Anderson films series ever was to the point that it is pointlessly set in the year 1998 – the same year that the first two Resident Evil games are set. The film follows Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) as she goes back to Raccoon City to look for her brother (Robbie Amell) because there is trouble afoot in this town that used to be dominated by a pharmaceutical company called Umbrella. Meanwhile, her brother, a member of the Racoon City Police Department is exploring the Spencer Mansion with his fellow officers Jill Valentine (Hannah John-Kamen) and Leon Kennedy (Avon Jogia). A zombie breakout soon occurs, as all the characters try to survive. We all know what Resident Evil is at this point.

Roberts, who had previously directed the better-than-they-should-be, The Strangers: Prey by Night, 47 Meters Down, and 47 Meters Down: Uncaged, does not entirely rely on jump scares here. He creates an atmosphere that is filled with dread. His shot compositions suggest care. Unfortunately, the same care in composition is not given to the screenplay he wrote nor the production budget he has to work with. Rather than having a brisk sparse screenplay like a John Carpenter movie, the film is sunk by clunky exposition and fan service quips. If anything, the film does match the dialogue of an NPC in a video game series cheaply translated from Japanese to English.

It doesn’t help that the film is also filled with a cast of “who is that.” No offense to Kaya Scodelario, but there is a reason that Hollywood has spent ten years trying to groom her into a leading actress of worth only for her to star in a Resident Evil reboot. Her wooden bland charisma really just shows how great of a presence Milla Jovovich was twenty years ago. At least a game Donal Logue and Neal McDonough add much-needed presence and camp to supporting characters. However, this is not so much a movie but a collection of cut scenes from a video game.

In ten years, there might be a chance Johannes Robert will be amongst the names mentioned alongside Paul WS Anderson or Alejandro Aja as genre auteurs making “Termite Art.” He definitely has the panache of one. Resident Evil: Raccoon City, however, does not have the qualities that indicate it will be seen as an underappreciated classic.

Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City Trailer

Resident Evil: Welcome to Racoon City is currently available in wide theatrical release.

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

Episode 121: Lamb / The Last Duel / No Time to Die

“There’s nothing better than finishing something and looking at it. Whether it be a script or a movie, it’s this complete little thing that now exists and is hopefully immortal.”

Cary Joji Fukunaga, Director of No Time to Die

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

On Episode 121 of Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: House of Gucci & C’mon C’mon. Then dig into three New Releases: Lamb, The Last Duel, and No Time to Die.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Lamb and No Time to Die is currently available to rent and purchase on most major VOD platforms.

The Last Duel will become available for rent and purchase on November 29th.

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

Michael Clawson on Letterboxd | Taylor Baker on Letterboxd

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?

Written by Patrick Hao

65/100

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? That is the question as title of the film and the ethos of Georgian director’s Aleksandre Koberidze’s second feature. What he is really asking is what do we see when we look at everyday things – whether people, objects, forces – that mundanely fills in the periphery of our lives.

At the center of Koberidze’s two-and-a-half-hour mini epic, is a magical realist romance. We meet Lisa (Oliko Barbakadze) and Giorgi (Giorgi Ambroladze) as they quite literally bump into each other in a twee-est of meet cutes. They agree to go on a date. And when I say meet, I mean that the director, Koberidze decides to only shoot them from the knees down. He does not want the audience to get too familiar with these faces because soon, through a “curse”, their appearances completely change. Now Lisa and Giorgi are played by Ani Karseladze and Giorgi Borchorishvilli respectively. Not only that, Lisa, a pharmacist, and Giorgi, a soccer player, have completely forgotten their professional skills. More importantly, Lisa and Giorgi will not recognize each other at their meet up for their date.

While this is the central plot point that binds the film together, maybe only 30% of the film’s total run time is devoted to the actual progression of this story. Koberidze becomes prone to tangents, underscored by the director’s own coy narration of the things around him. His wandering camera eye becomes interested in World Cup fever, dogs, children playing soccer, and rambling rivers. Oftentimes, the camera remains wide with minimal movement, allowing action to move away from the center frame. He invites the viewer’s eye to wander and really explore what they’re thinking. I often found myself wondering whether the objects coming into frame were purposeful or just happenstance.  

In a sense, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is about the city of Kuitsai, whose old architecture makes it seem like a city stuck in time. Through the film, we slowly seep in the landscape of the city, one that is punctured by a roaring river and two bridges. The city, the tangents, the feeling of floating, all leads to a magical dream-like quality to the whole film. This film is actually quite comparable to the HBO show How To with John Wilson without being cinema verité.

It would all be more effective if these moments were not punctured by the incessant narration by Koberidze. At times, he offers funny wry remarks. But, when he digresses into a meta meditation on narrative and his own existential crisis, he undercuts the ethos of the film. Rather than an exploration of the beauty of the everyday and how magical it can be to be mundane, the last few moments of narration come close to just becoming an exercise in a filmmaker’s insecurities. Other than that, What Do We See When Look at the Sky is an incredibly charming and winsome film that comes close to justifying its full 150-minute run time. Sometimes its good to just stop and look up at the sky.

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky Trailer

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is currently available in limited in theatrical release.

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

Zeros and Ones

Written by Alexander Reams

34/100

There are few filmmakers with as big of a head-scratching filmography as Abel Ferrara. A man who broke out into the industry with his highly controversial and provocative Bad Lieutenant, with Harvey Keitel as a coked-up, corrupt, detective. Why? Well to quote the great Joe Swanson “Are you asking an Irish Cop why he’s corrupt”. Ferrara has always been a filmmaker that seemingly makes films by the mantra of “Because we can, and if we can, we do”. (Paraphrasing from Peaky Blinders).

Ferrara’s latest attempt to be politically relevant employs Ethan Hawke as not one, but two characters, identical twin brothers. One is a military man, one is an anarchist/revolutionary. The military man is J.J., arriving in Rome after a terror attack on the Vatican, where everyone is- and tell me if this sounds familiar- wearing masks, overly sanitizing everything, streets are barren of people. Why? It’s not specified, all we know is the terror attack on the Vatican. This is just the beginning of the nonsense. 

Ferrara is known for his very, let’s call it “stylistic” (and not pretentious for pretentious sake), films. From the coked-up insanity of Bad Lieutenant to his most recent collaborations with Willem Dafoe, what I have dubbed “Abel Ferrara’s The House that Willem Built”, a trilogy of films that include Pasolini, Tommaso, and Siberia. All of which center around Ferrara following Dafoe around in whatever character he is playing, some sort of weird elements, and cinematography that, while beautiful, can be visually confusing. An aspect that plagues Zeros and Ones like the supposed sickness that plagues the Vatican. 

The best aspect of this film is Ethan Hawke. Fully immersing himself in both roles as much as he can. He gets the idiosyncrasies of both characters down to a T. Hawke did not fail Ferrara, Ferrara failed Hawke. The script he procured could’ve used a lot more work, fleshing out the characters and the world that Ferrara wanted to create would’ve helped the film work overall. Ferrara failed to lead his technical team in every sense of the word. He took the fantastic cinematographer that is Sean Price Williams and turned his work into an incoherent, ugly mess. This film not only disappointed me but also frustrated me. Instead of trying to be relevant to the times, Ferrara should’ve instead focused on crafting a better film. I truly believe he could’ve made this great, but instead chose to rush production.

Zeros and Ones Trailer

Zeros and Ones is currently available to rent and purchase on most major VOD platforms.

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

The Power of the Dog

Written by Patrick Hao

90/100

For a film set on the plains of 1925 Montana, and shot against the beautiful wide vistas of Jane Campion’s home country of New Zealand, The Power of the Dog often feels hauntingly constrained. That is because Campion’s film is one of intense emotions caused by the unspoken, whether it is because of social mores or simply because they couldn’t.. The great director is no stranger to such themes in her oeuvre. She literally renders her lead character a mute in The Piano.

Reductively, The Power of the Dog has been described as a movie about toxic masculinity. And while that is true, the film is interested in the greater ways the oppressive forces of systems pray on people. The system at play here is never spoken of but is one of class, money, and gender. The film follows the brutish ranch hand Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his entrepreneurial brother George (Jesse Plemons), although you wouldn’t know they were brothers by looking at them. George is clean-shaven but for his mustache, concerned with respectability instilled by their wealthy parents. Phil is covered head to toe in dirt, and happily so. He is cruel, calling his brother Fatso with glee. While George handles business, Phil handles a group of ranch hands. Phil is concerned by how his men think of him which makes him resentful of the wealth he comes from. The push-pull of these two disparate men is palpable. At one point, Phil even describes their kinship as akin to Romulus and Remus. 

Their business finds them staying in an inn run by Rose (Kirsten Dunst), who along with her son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) serves the brothers and ranchers dinner one night. While George offers Rose kindness, Phil is outright cruel to the socially awkward Peter. Phil is threatened by Peter allowing himself not to be bound by traditional masculinity. This cruelty eventually extends to Rose, who marries George, as Phil becomes resentful to her as well. A psychological cat and mouse game brews between Phil and Rose, leading to Rose finding solace in alcohol. 

One set-piece after the other, Campion unfolds this piece of unnerving cruelty people can inflict on each other. George needs Rose to be a presentable wife to high society. Rose needs to live up to an ideal that she feels unable to reach. Phil too is not entirely the ideal man he wants to be, and as a result, lashes out on everyone around him. Caught in the middle of this struggle is the coming of age tale of Peter. He is intellectual, sweet, and sensitive. But, masculinity threatens to pull him away from his natural disposition. We learn that at one point, Phil used to be an intellectual as well, but strayed away for a life as a cowboy.

Campion moves slowly through these proceedings and it takes a while to truly understand what she is attempting to do. But, Campion is a master of her craft and once she latches on, she does not relent. This is psychological warfare after all, in which the interiority of all these characters gets magnified as the tension ramps. Campion is able to explore a gamut of thoughts just through a simple closeup. This is all underscored by another great score by Jonny Greenwood with his harsh dissonant chords, ratcheting up the tension of these mental tug of wars. 

The four central actors, Cumberbatch, Dunst, Smit-McPhee, and Plemons are all exceptional in this four-hander chamber piece, playing off each other. Cumberbatch in particular is physically rigid like a hardened wood, but when he speaks, his voice coils like a python. It is unnerving. Very soon it becomes a psychological Mexican stand-off between the four. With love, tenderness, bitterness, and resentment being the weapons of choice. 

By the end of The Power of the Dog, it becomes unsuspectingly devastating. It is as if Campion is able to instill in the viewer the same feelings of repressed emotions the characters are facing. The ache lingers long after the credit rolls.

The Power of the Dog Trailer

The Power of the Dog is currently playing in limited theatrical release and will begin streaming on Netflix on December 1st.

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