Capsule Review: After Class

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

Most mothers will do almost anything for their child. In After Class, this includes stealing money to pay for school. An unnamed single mother (Youfeng Zhang) works as a janitor at a school, cleaning the messes the kids leave behind as her daughter, Sumin (Yiyi Sun), watches her peers from afar, unable to join in since her mother cannot afford the tuition. Sun brings a natural wide-eyed innocence to Sumin, instantly endearing us to her, and Zhang sells the mother’s increasing desperation as she tries to provide the life her child deserves despite lacking the adequate funds.

As it turns out, some children will do almost anything for their mother. A small white lie about the source of their money results in drastic consequences for Sumin and her mother, and the conclusion to the film, despite its inevitability, is devastating.

After Class is an easy film to look at, with its shots often framed beautifully by the bleak school hallways, the mother small in the distance as she mops the floors. Some plot beats feel a little too easy or contrived, but the strong performances and strong emotional current throughout the film ensures that we don’t want to think to hard about plausibility, and After Class successfully—and horrifically—brings to life the realities of socioeconomic privilege and the sacrifices we make for family.

After Class Trailer

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Interview: Trish Petrovich, Costume Designer for Hallmark and Lifetime

Interview by Anna Harrison

Trish Petrovich has cemented herself as the go-to costume designer for Hallmark and Lifetime movies such as A Sugar & Spice Holiday and A Timeless Christmas. Here, she sits down to talk with Anna about her career path, her research methods, and various projects.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

Episode 104: Rescreening Once Upon a Time in the West

“When I was young, I believed in three things: Marxism, the redemptive power of cinema, and dynamite. Now I just believe in dynamite.”

Sergio Leone

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor Rescreen Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West and provide a First Impression of the next Rescreening episode title, Jacques Demy’s Donkey Skin.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Once Upon a Time in the West is currently streaming on Kanopy and Prime Video

Donkey Skin is currently streaming on the Criterion Channel

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Promising Young Woman

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman shows a lot of guts for a debut feature. As it should, to be nominated for so many awards. A play on the “promising young man” that a judge dubbed Stanford rapist Brock Turner, Promising Young Woman shows the flipside of that judge’s words, focusing on the victim’s upended world rather than the perpetrator’s. Well, sort of.

The film opens with an apparently very intoxicated Cassie (Carey Mulligan) attempting to maintain consciousness at a bar. A young businessman named Jerry (Adam Brody), under the guise of getting Cassie home safely, takes her to his place and quickly takes things to the bedroom, despite him being a “nice guy” (aren’t they always) and her nearly slipping into unconsciousness. And then, in a flash, Cassie sits up, revealing her sobriety and scaring the bejesus out of Jerry.

This is how Cassie spends her free time: luring the “nice guys” to attempt to take advantage of her before shocking them into self-reflection. (Are we supposed to buy that these guys like Jerry get so spooked they never attempt anything bad again?) An admirable goal, though it strains the imagination to believe nothing unsavory ever happens to Cassie after her revelations.

Cassie, we learn, dropped out of med school years ago after an unspecified incident happened to her best friend, Nina—though it doesn’t take much head scratching to figure out what transpired even before the whole tale is unspooled. Cassie lives with her parents and works at a coffee shop, where Gail (Laverne Cox, delightful), her token black friend (now “updated” to be trans to pretend that the movie is hyper woke and inclusive despite Cox being one of two named characters of color in the entire film), encourages her to get out and live her life.

The titular “promising young woman” could refer to both Nina and Cassie, the former implied to have committed suicide and the latter now letting her life fall by the wayside while obsessively seeking revenge on behalf of Nina, who never appears on screen and remains a phantom, brought to life only by her mother’s grief, played devastatingly by Molly Shannon, and Cassie’s anger. On the one hand, the choice to leave Nina as a ghost in Cassie’s mind gives us a harrowing glimpse into how her trauma affected those closest to her as they struggle in the wake of her death; on the other, does this not play into the very thing the film tries to warn against—the way the victims are so often left by the wayside in favor of espousing how tragic it is a young man’s life will be ruined because of one stupid decision? It’s a thorny dilemma, one with no clear cut answers, but Promising Young Woman’s solution to this issue left me uncomfortable at times, though I suppose you could argue that that is the point.

The film takes a turn when Cassie reconnects with Ryan (Bo Burnham, charming as usual) and, very slowly, they begin a relationship. The cotton candy palette of the film changes from unnerving when contrasted to Cassie’s grief to appropriate when she falls in love. Then, of course, Cassie backslides upon revelation that the main perpetrator of Nina’s assault is getting married soon, and the bright colors once again turn sinister. (There is also an excellent string cover of Britney Spears. It bops.)

Promising Young Woman is a difficult film to parse. It takes big swings, and sometimes misses; I greatly admire Emerald Fennell for taking those swings on her first film, but the delicate subject matter means that the misses hurt more than they would otherwise: for example, the film displays the brokenness of the justice system, then relies on said system to give comeuppance to rapists. How can we feel good about that? The myriad tonal shifts are purposeful, though some of them feel a bit too abrupt—but Cassie’s trauma doesn’t allow her for graceful changes, and I applaud Fennell for crafting a female character that is allowed to come off as unlikable at times. It’s a film where I can justify most of the ideas, but I don’t necessarily enjoy them, most especially the controversial ending. Still, the movie sticks with you, due in no small part to the eye-catching aesthetics and Carey Mulligan’s ever-superb performance. 

Yet, for all the ways this film was memorable, I wish it had said something a bit more profound. At the end of the day, I was left with little more nuance than your average Twitter thread; it is the images and performances that will stick with me, not the words. The film relies too much on staid ideas and “gotcha” moments, offering only slightly more than your average revenge fantasy. For all that Promising Young Woman tries to be subversive and radical, it treads little new ground in the script, making it all the more frustrating because the film shows so much potential and—dare I say—promise.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

BAFTA 2021 Awards Wrap Up

Written by Alexander Reams

Well the last big awards show before the Academy Awards took place, and while most of the winners were expected, as always there were some surprises. Without further ado, let’s go through the winners. 

Nomadland took home Best Picture after taking home almost every single award thus far, and Chloé Zhao continued her win streak for Best Director. At this point I would say Zhao is a lock for the Oscar, but after last awards season, my confidence in the guilds was slightly broken so it’s hard to say anything is a lock, but Nomadland taking Best Picture and Director is as close to a lock as can be. 

Promising Young Woman expectedly took home the award for Best British Film, and to some surprise, Best Original Screenplay. While you can never count out Aaron Sorkin, I feel that he has lost a lot of steam in this awards season and Emerald Fennell has picked up what Sorkin has lost and is looking like she will be taking home the win for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars.



After winning most of the awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Nomadland’s winning streak did not continue here, instead Florian Zeller’s The Father took home the award, giving the film a big push to take home the award. Anthony Hopkins also took home the award for his performance in The Father, beating Chadwick Boseman for what seems to be the first time this awards season. While I am glad Hopkins has gotten some recognition, I don’t think it will be enough to push Hopkins over to win the Oscar against Boseman. 

For the rest of the acting categories, Frances McDormand took home the award for Best Actress for her role in Nomadland, Yuh-Jung Youn won for her role in Minari, who has now become the frontrunner to win at the Oscars. Daniel Kaluuya continued his winning streak for his thunderous role in Judas and the Black Messiah. Something to remember with the Best Actress race is that Andra Day won the Globe, Carey Mulligan won the Critics Choice, and Viola Davis won the SAG award, and none of these women were BAFTA nominees, so McDormand got a big push, but seeing as Davis won the SAG, I would go with her on my Oscar ballot. Thomas Vinterberg’s film Another Round won Best Film not in the English Language, and will most likely continue this streak at the Oscars. Best Animated Film went to Soul as expected, as well as Best Original Score. 

Best Cinematography went to Nomadland, pushing Joshua James Richards ahead of Erik Messerschmidt’s cinematography in Mank, the race is still close but after this I’m leaning toward Richards to take home the Oscar. Best Editing went to Sound of Metal surprisingly, Alan Baumgarten and Chloé Zhao have been battling it out for the award throughout the season, and now with Sound of Metal’s win, that pushes it as a more serious contender than before. Sound of Metal also won Best Sound, at this point I don’t know any other film that could take home the award at this point, the film has runaway with the award.

Mank won in Best Production Design, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom won in Best Costume Design and Best Makeup and Hair, all of these were expected wins. Best Visual Effects went to the runaway winner, Tenet, Nolan films have always had an interesting history at the Oscars, but I think Tenet’s win is almost a lock.

Family Viewing

Written by Michael Clawson

80/100

Atom Egoyan’s strange and fascinating sophomore feature Family Viewing premiered in 1987, two years before the watershed for independent film that was Sex, Lies, and Videotape‘s debut at Sundance 1989. Family Viewing might not be anywhere near as well-known or historically consequential (I haven’t heard of it being considered as such, at least), but the themes it probes clearly echo those found in Steven Soderbergh’s first film. Released at the height of the VHS era, both movies reflect the technological moment in which they were born, and meditate on how the creation and consumption of moving images might inform how intimately we connect and relate to each other (or fail to). That said, where Sex, Lies, and Videotape contains warmth and sensuality, Family Viewing is dark, uncanny, and sometimes almost comically absurd, with a faint current of sadness running beneath its surface.

18 year-old Van (Aidan Tierney) lives in a condo with his father Stan (David Hemblen) – their rhyming names fits with the movie’s overall peculiarity – and Stan’s girlfriend Sandra (Gabrielle Rose). According to his dad, Van’s mother deserted them when he was young. The movie opens in a nursing home where Van regularly goes to visit his maternal grandmother Armen, who has lost the ability to speak. It’s at the nursing home that Van meets Aline (Arsinée Khanjian, who Egoyan went on to marry and cast in many of his films), a phone sex worker whose mother shares a room with Armen.

At home, Van argues that Armen ought to be living with him and his father, an idea that his dad doesn’t entertain. Scenes at the condo are shot as if we were watching a sitcom, and deliberately rigid acting by Tierney, Hemblen, and Rose reinforces that feeling. While the emotional distance between Van and his father seems vast, Van is close with Sandra to an eyebrow-raising degree; their faces come so awkwardly close to each other when they talk, it’s as if they’re on the verge making out. We come to learn that Stan has a lust for making sex tapes with Sandra that verge on sadistic, and is taping over home videos from Van’s childhood as he feeds his habit.

Van and Aline become more involved with one another after Aline leaves town for a stint with a client; in an unsettling sequence seen through the eye of a surveillance camera, we watch her engage with the client in a hotel room. Aline’s mother passes while she’s away, and Van takes it upon himself to see to her burial, while also devising a scheme that allows him to bring his beloved grandmother into his care. The film then morphs into something of a thriller after Stan catches wind of his son’s maneuvering and hires a PI to track Van down. The movie’s lurid streak crests when Van discovers something disturbing on his dad’s dirty home videos.

To swap Sex, Lies, and Videotape out for a completely different point of reference, Family Viewing’s odd and troubling vision of emotionally empty domesticity sometimes brought David Lynch’s Rabbits to mind. The cool temperature does rise a bit by the end. It looks like Aline, Van, and Armen might be on the brink of becoming a makeshift family, one with genuine feeling exchanged between its members.

Family Viewing Trailer

Family Viewing is currently available to stream on Kanopy

Cherry

Written by Alexander Reams

82/100

Cherry is the first effort from Joe and Anthony Russo after achieving superstardom with their work in the MCU. This film was highly anticipated, and most have panned the film. Cherry is based on the semi-autobiographical memoir from Nico Walker, and follows Tom Holland from a college student, where he meets his future wife, Emily, played by Ciara Bravo, to serving in the Army and witnessing death and destruction on a level that few have witnessed. After all of this trauma, he returns home and becomes addicted to hard drugs along with his wife. 

This sort of story has been told before. Someone comes back from war and has negative side effects to what they saw. What sets it apart from the others is the style that the Russo Brothers. They approach the film not as much from a character perspective but the audience, they put the audience in the shoes of the Russo Brothers, they want the audience to see what they saw as they were making it. It is an interesting perspective, and one that I found worked for what the Russo’s are trying to convey. 

Tom Holland and Ciara Bravo, who gained some recognition for her supporting role in the short lived TV show “Wayne”, are brilliant and heartbreaking in their roles. Tom Holland was clearly trying to shed the “Peter Parker persona” he gained stardom for, and does it well, all the while showing the world that he can be more than the iconic web-slinger. Ciara Bravo is fantastic, and her chemistry with Holland–electric. 

One of my favorite DP’s working today, Newton Thomas Sigel, shot the film, and provides some brilliantly executed scenes, especially during the Iraq sequences. With beautiful wide-shots, he never goes too close until absolutely necessary. The few flaws I have with the film are minor technical aspects, including a few aspects of the screenplay that I just could not follow and few that did not make sense, however they aren’t fatal enough to destroy the film, just enough to take me out of it. The narration is my main issue, it is so in your face and brash in moments that it felt like a TV movie, however the moments that did this were very few and far between. The Russo’s crafted a heartbreaking journey as well as a great analysis on society’s treatment of veterans and what can happen when they aren’t taken care of after their service to this country.

Cherry Trailer

You can watch Cherry on AppleTV+

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Capsule Review: A White Horse

Written by Anna Harrison

75/100

A White Horse takes its time as it unfurls, taking the old adage “show, don’t tell” to heart. Director Shaun O’Connor and writer Paul Cahill tread lightly, giving the audience flashes of insight that eventually add up to a heartbreaking conclusion, one handled with deftness and empathy; they never spell out exactly what is going on in The White Horse, and its impact is stronger for it.

The film largely follows one conversation between Bridget (Amber Deasy) and her mother (Cora Fenton). Bridget has escaped from a psychiatric hospital and found her way to a phone booth, where she calls home to talk to her parents. The close-up shots create a feeling of claustrophobia and confusion, never letting us fully orient to the world around us—especially for Bridget, cramped in that small phone booth. The actors give excellent performances, conveying the complicated family bonds with the subtlest of gestures, and adding a sense of desperation to the short.

A White Horse serves as a harsh reminder about certain aspects of mental healthcare we would rather sweep under the rug; though A White Horse is set in the 1970s, its message—very, very unfortunately—still rings true today, and the gut punch of an ending refuses to let us forget that.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

SXSW 2021 Capsule Review: Soak

Written by Alexander Reams

51/100

I was not a fan of this film. The filmmaking is juvenile, and the story director Hannah Bang is trying to tell is presented poorly and sloppily. Though South Korea’s night time looks gorgeous, and the production design and lighting is great. Other than that, the film was extraordinarily middling. A 16 year old tries to bring her runaway mother home. A simple plot, and oftentimes those can be the best executed because they can be open to new ways of telling the story as well as the viewers interpretation. The most complimentary thing I can say about this film is that DP Heyjin Jun does a fantastic job of showcasing a rain soaked South Korea. My main issues lie with the screenplay and the lead actress, Do Eun Lee. Lee does her best with what she is given, which isn’t much. The film wants to convey ideas of forgiveness and loss, but it’s dialogue between Do Eun Lee and Chaewon Kim is basic and only operates at the surface level. I wish I had enjoyed this film more the poor writing and acting that constantly bombard the film kept me from ever being able to lean in.

Soak Trailer

Soak played at the SXSW 2021 Film Festival.

You can connect with Alexander on his social media profiles: Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.

Episode 103: 1921 Retrospective: Orphans of the Storm / Destiny / The Phantom Carriage

“I am profoundly fascinated by cruelty, fear, horror and death. My films show my preoccupation with violence, the pathology of violence.”

Fritz Lang

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: Cherry & Pelé. Then they look back 100 years to three 1921 Feature Films: Orphans of the Storm, Destiny, and The Phantom Carriage.

Streaming links for titles this episode

Orphans of the Storm is currently streaming on Kanopy and Prime Video

Destiny is currently streaming on Kanopy

The Phantom Carriage is currently streaming on Criterion Channel

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