Minari Review

by Elizabeth Saliba

Minari. A plant native to Korea that doubles as a weed and a vegetable. According to Lee Isaac Chung, director of the film holding the same title, Minari “grows very strongly in its second season, after it’s died and come back.” From the title of the movie to the countless nuances throughout the plot’s development, every aspect of “Minari” seems delicately intentional. For that reason, the film is up for six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Score.

“Minari,” set in 1980s Arkansas, and captures the experience of a Korean American family in search of a fresh start and the American dream. Jacob Yi, patriarch of the family, played by Steven Yeun, views their home on wheels and abundant farmland through rose colored glasses. Monica, played by Yeri Han, questions her husband’s optimism and his ability to support their two children, David and Anne, played by Alan Kim and Noel Cho. Jacob attempts to soften the family’s arduous life transition by inviting Monica’s mother, Soonja, into the picture.

The cinematography beautifully captures Jacob’s perspective through shots of radiant sunlight melting into vivid greenery. The soundtrack acts in harmony with the cinematography, tastefully adding another layer of emotion emitted by the natural landscape. If a scene is subtly building into a larger event, the soundtrack foreshadows through a dynamic sort of ambience that has to be felt for yourself to truly be understood. Piano solos, typically dominating the mood, were complemented by a light humming that made the viewer feel like a dainty piece of grass in an Arkansas field, whimsically overcome by the force of a light breeze. Similar melodies repeat in their own forms throughout the course of the move; like the plant minari, this symbolizes nuanced growth and development over time.

One of the highlights of “Minari” was the evolution of the grandmother-grandson relationship between Soonja and David. David, a first-generation Korean American child, had set polar opposite expectations for his grandmother, hoping for a cookie-baking, sweet-talking old woman when instead he got a foul-mouthed, highly-competitive jokester. This relationship adds a silver lining of humor to the serious circumstances the family faces. It also outlines an underlying identity crisis faced by David when assimilating to a new culture, which is emphasized by his preference of the American “water of the mountains”, otherwise known as Mountain Dew, over most anything else. 

Digging deeper into the idea of assimilation, Cheung presents the Yi family’s situation in a very interesting way. The viewer is provided no reference to Jacob and Monica’s previous life in Korea. The only presentation of their Korean heritage is through food and language, surface level things that can be perceived effortlessly. This seemed to remind viewers that the human experience is repetitive and familiar, despite surface level variations that are easy to label as stark differences among groups.

Overall, “Minari” was a very well done film. However, it would have been interesting to delve deeper into Anne’s experiences and perspectives. Anne was weighted with a great responsibility of taking care of David and appeared to be a poised, obedient, and selfless daughter. Nonetheless, she was just a child reveling through the family’s experience in her own way. Anne’s role as a side character (while all other family members take leading roles) seems to parallel the reality of being a side character in her parent’s eyes. 

It will be interesting to see how “Minari” is recognized at the Oscars after winning best foreign-language film at the Golden Globes. Controversy arose after this win; while the film did not meet the 50 percent English language requirement, “Minari” was filmed in the United States by an American director, and it was financed and produced by the American companies A24 and Plan B, respectively.  This categorization prevented the film from receiving Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture. In response, Chung told New York Times, “Maybe the positive side of all of this is that we’ve made a film that challenges some of those existing categories, and adds to the idea that an American film might look and sound very differently from what we’re used to.”

Consensus: 4.5/5

Promising Young Woman Review

by Olivia Sterenfeld

The previews are eye-catching and the plot, engaging. Without giving away too much, “Promising Young Woman” is about a woman, Cassie (Carey Mulligan), who devotes her life to seeking revenge after her lifelong friend, Nina, was raped when they were in medical school. At first glance, “Promising Young Woman” might seem like a cheesy revenge chick flick that exploits the societal issue of rape as a means of creating entertainment, which just seems ignorant.  After watching the first few minutes of the film, however, it proves to be much more, shedding light on the contrast between the ease with which bystanders forget about instances of sexual assault, while victims, and those who care about them, can’t help but remember.

“Promising Young Woman” receiving a Best Picture nomination may confound some, given that it is up against such realistic depictions of life as “Minari”, “Nomadland”, and “Sound of Metal”. The portrayal of Cassie is stylized: her schemes are always successful, making men she meets at bars feel foolish and acquaintances from medical school feel guilty; she keeps a journal full of tallies for every man she goes home with after feigning intoxication, dramatically scratching a tally mark into her journal after each conquest; her posture even comes across as stylized, such as in the first shot of her, alone on a couch in a bar, pretending to be too drunk to stand. It is important to remember, however, that not every movie aims to be realistic. Thus, these movies cannot be compared on the basis of realism. “Promising Young Woman”, alternatively, can be viewed as a subversive revenge movie, tackling the topic of sexual assault with the guise of thoroughly entertaining revenge. This presentation begs the question: Why must social issues be conveyed realistically? “Promising Young Woman” gets its point across and is able to be “dark” while still selling tickets to perhaps a larger audience than the typically slower, less stylized, everyday depictions that tend to accompany movies focused on serious social issues. The over-the-top quality of this film just might make it accessible to viewers who would not normally choose a movie about such a serious, important issue, reaching more screens and thus raising awareness for more people.

            The film successfully incorporates cliché and realistic moments, however, allowing for comedy and vengeful satisfaction, but also for occasions in which the viewer feels an overwhelming sense of empathy for Cassie and disdain for her targets. This movie does not discriminate on the basis of gender when it discusses Nina’s assault, forcing men and women to reflect. This seems to defy an expectation of only focusing on the men involved in rape, which would, in turn, make men the enemy. Many times throughout the film, men are portrayed as the enemy, and rightfully so. It is men who Cassie attracts and convinces to take her home when she is found alone and drunk at a bar. It is men who were involved in Nina’s rape. However, this does not cause Cassie to ignore the role unsupportive women also played in Nina’s experience, as can be seen in the scenes involving a female peer in medical school and the school’s dean of students.

 The dialogue can be cheesy, but this does not detract from the eerily realistic conversations interspersed between such clichéd moments. For instance, in conversations between Cassie and her love interest, played by Bo Burnham, the dialogue feels rehearsed, its lack of authenticity associating the film with traditional rom-coms. In other scenes, though, especially during conversations between men, the dialogue is so realistic that it becomes creepy, as though one is overhearing yuppies objectify women a few feet away in a bar. The combinations of cheesy and realistic dialogue and of antagonizing men but also blaming female characters lend the film to a subversive reading. Yes, this is a revenge movie, and, as such, yes, it is flashy and entertaining. But it also treats the issue of rape with solemnity and moments that feel authentic. Emerald Fennell, writer and director of the film, seems to have found the sweet spot between glitzy entertainment and nuances surrounding topical issues, namely rape and rape culture.

             The setting of the rape at the time that the main characters were in medical school seems odd. Based on typical portrayals of college as opposed to the norms of medical school, it would seem more fitting to situate the rape at the time of college. This incongruity is mainly because of how the characters refer to their medical school experiences. Several times, characters claim they blacked out every night in medical school, portraying it as one giant party. They also repeatedly note that they were “so young back then.” People typically attend medical school in their mid-twenties, and this movie takes place just a few years later, around the time of Cassie’s thirtieth birthday. The timing of medical school instead of college is perhaps used to impress the viewer with Cassie’s intellect, as though establishing her as only a college dropout instead of a medical school dropout would belittle her intelligence. This technique seems to demonstrate a need to prove to audiences Cassie’s credibility. In order for it to be convincing that a female character is shrewd, evidence that she has pursued a challenging degree and career is provided in order for her to be taken seriously. The choice of medical school instead of college, however, could be used to mock the bystanders: perhaps, their  justifications of their actions, specifically their reckless behavior, by attributing it to their immaturity while in medical school is meant to show the absurd nature of these repeated claims. As such, the film may use the setting of medical school to further expose the lack of validity behind characters’ claims of not knowing right from wrong as young adults in medical school as reasoning for either encouraging or remaining neutral about Nina’s rape.

Consensus: 4/5

Judas and the Black Messiah Review

by Jakob Mueller

Last year in film, there was one historical figure so important that he was portrayed in two of the films nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. That figure is Fred Hampton (depicted in both “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7”). 

“Judas and the Black Messiah” is a riveting portrayal of the rise of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) as a political and communal leader as he ran the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party. It also tells the parallel storyline of the infiltration of that same party by the FBI through informants and friends of Hampton such as Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), which leads to a tragic conclusion. This film has received widespread critical acclaim, and was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including 2 nominations in the Supporting Actor category for Stanfield and Kaluuya’s extraordinary performances. 

It’s hard to underscore the importance of this film enough, as it provides an alternative history towards that told by the US Government which painted the Black Panther Party as a dangerous threat to society led by violent, evil people. It’s successful in telling a story that creates sympathy around characters such as Hampton and those who followed him, while also functioning as a crime drama that illustrates the ways in which the US government tried to prevent cooperation among a vast array of groups without means and political or economic power. It’s script, nominated for an Academy Award for Original Screenplay, is one of the strengths of the film, creating characters that are layered and complex, and a story that is consistently engaging and enthralling. 

In addition, the performances in this film are phenomenal. Most every important character is given moments to showcase their acting ability. Daniel Kaluuya’s performance is one of the best of his career, as he is able to successfully give a deep sense of humanity and realism to the affective organizer, gifted orator, and deeply selfless individual that was Fred Hampton. He’s also able to grasp Hampton’s frustration, and his understandable motives for vengeance, and portray those phenomenally. It’s quite cliché to say that you feel like an actor is the character that they play, but it’s true here, Kaluuya just feels like he IS Fred Hampton. Stanfield’s performance, while sometimes more subtle than Kaluuya’s, given his secondary nature to the movement itself, is also phenomenal. The conflict within O’Neal is so easily expressed through Stanfield’s eyes, which is one of the most distinct aspects of his performance. Also deserving mention is Dominique Fishback, who plays Deborah Johnson (now Akua Njeri), as she acts in some of the most emotionally resonant scenes in the entire film and is completely revelatory in her performance. 

One place where this film has been undervalued by the Academy is in the category of Directing. Shaka King directs this film phenomenally, largely because he succeeds at pacing the movie quite well and establishing a somber, yet revolutionary and inspiring tone. His vision to depict Hampton as a deeply human character and to focus on the more personal aspects of his life adds a dimension of depth and attachment to this film’s characters that makes the conclusion all the more effective. His inclusion of real-life imagery often makes scenes even more powerful than they already were, as we’re reminded that these events actually happened.

The cinematography of the film stands out at many moments, but it certainly isn’t the most revelatory aspect of the film. The same can be said about the soundtrack and score of the film.  While the score is consistently good,  it’s not the kind that will stay with the viewer long after the film ends. 

There are few negatives to “Judas and the Black Messiah” if one is not politically predisposed to dislike the activist group that sits at the heart of this film, but there is one negative aspect worth mentioning. While the character of Bill O’Neal is interesting and Stanfield adds dimensions to the character through his performance, the viewer never fully comes to understand Bill, what he stands for, or who he is. The audience is not entirely given a reason to root against him, but they certainly don’t have a reason to root for him either. He is given little backstory, and the viewer must assume that many of his actions come out of his self-interest but are still left wondering why he continues to make these self-interested decisions as the film progresses. A slight improvement in Bill O’Neal’s motivations and screen time could certainly have improved the emotional effectiveness of this film and improved one of its most vital characters. 

This film is also extremely relevant because it has become the first film to be nominated for Best Picture that had an entirely black production team. If anything, this statistic points out the failure of Hollywood and the Academy to recognize artists and producers of color for years prior to this and continues to illustrate inherent privilege that white men particularly have within the film industry, as well as in everyday life. 

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the brilliance of the film’s title in adding an extra dimension of symbolism to the film’s story. It frames the sparsely known story (among many Americans) of Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers within the well-known story (among many Americans) of Judas and Jesus. Viewing the movie through this frame creates an entirely new lens of analysis of the film, and certainly provides an emotional appeal to Christian viewers. The film depicts Hampton as one who brings people of all walks of life together, and as radical as that may sound in a time like ours, it’s possible that it could be an effective tool to bring people together.  This is a film that I would strongly recommend for anyone to see. As I’ve stated, it is necessary viewing for its ability to recontextualize historical events and for its portrayal of a truly inspiring figure that is able to unite people across a multiplicity of lived experiences. Not only is the film an extremely effective learning experience, but it also manages to be a heartbreaking and honest portrayal of the ways in which this country actively works against the interests of its own people and seeks to divide instead of unite. For these reasons, it’s one of the best films of the last year and deserves all the accolades it has and will receive.

Consensus: 4.5/5

Godzilla vs. Kong Review

by James McCutcheon

The newest release in Warner Brother’s Monsterverse, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” smashed its way into theaters and streaming on March 31st, proving to be exactly what the film industry needed right now. The movie is full of enough spectacle to motivate people to get off their couches and see it on the big screen, something that hasn’t happened since the pandemic began. In its opening weekend, the film grossed $32 million domestically, the highest opening weekend since March of last year. But while the success of the movie is undeniable, the question must be asked: Is the movie actually any good?

No, it’s definitely not.

“GvK” is a sequel to “Kong: Skull Island,” and “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” but for the most part, the contents of those movies are completely irrelevant to this one. Pretty much everything the audience needs to know is explained in the opening title sequence, which shows a brief recap of all the titans (the title given to the colossal monsters in this universe) Godzilla and Kong have defeated, respectively. Now only the two of them remain.

The movie follows scientist Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who has a special bond with Kong. After being hired by the mysterious company Apex Cybernetics, the two must work with the disgraced professor Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to follow Kong into the center of the planet, the place where every titan comes from, all while evading an angry Godzilla. Meanwhile, two teenagers (Millie Bobby Brown and Julian Dennison) join forces with conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) to uncover the secrets hidden by Apex and discover what has provoked Godzilla.

The plot is dumb, and the characters are lame, but let’s be honest, no one paid to see “GvK” because they cared about the humans or the plot. Audiences saw this movie for one reason only: the fights. Viewers wanted to see the epic spectacle of two massive CGI monsters punch each other and destroy buildings, and that’s valid. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t seem to understand what makes for a great titan fight, which is scale and creativity.

Monster battles can’t just be big, they need to feel big. If the monsters are enormous and heavy, their actions need to be slow, and their punches need to feel powerful. A movie like 2014’s “Godzilla” does this wonderfully, shooting the monster battles primarily in low-angle shots, making the audience feel like a human looking up at their gargantuan size. When they aren’t shot from down below, the monsters are shot from far away so they can be seen towering over the city. If the monsters don’t feel big, then the fights don’t feel any different than two humans punching it out, stripping the battle of the very thing that makes it unique.

“GvK” unfortunately struggles establishing a sense of scale throughout the entire film. The first fight between the two monsters takes place in the ocean on an aircraft carrier. However, half of the fight takes place underwater with the two kaiju trying to drown each other. When the monsters are surrounded by nothing but open water, it is impossible to understand their immense size and power as there is nothing to compare them to. Their punches don’t feel slow because they are so heavy, but instead feel slow because of the water all around them. The only time their power can actually be felt is when they are trading blows on top of an aircraft carrier, a scene doesn’t even last 30 seconds before tossing the monsters back in the water.

The second fight scene between the two monsters is an improvement but is still poorly done. Putting the battle in Hong Kong seems like the perfect opportunity to display the monsters’ might. However, the majority of the fight is shot at the eye line of the two monsters. Rather than making them feel big, this just makes the city feel small. Additionally, Godzilla moves with an agility and speed that make the 80,000-ton beast seem weightless. The fight feels almost like the classic Godzilla movies in the worst way possible; as if the two monsters are just men in suits fighting on a miniature set, rather than two titans engaged in an epic showdown.

The other factor monster battles need to do in order to be effective is to be creative. The incredible size and power of these creatures allow for them to use their environment in ways that normal humans simply can’t. The more innovative the monsters are with their environment, the better the fight is. A great example of this is in “Kong: Skull Island,” where Kong uses a massive boat propeller and chains as brass knuckles, or when he rips a tree straight out of the ground to use as a bat. These sorts of moments are things that you can’t possibly get in any other kind of movie, and that’s what makes them so special.

This is just another aspect that “GvK” disappoints in. In the first fight, the option to put the monsters at sea seriously limits possibilities for creative environment usage. There is a moment where Kong picks up a fighter jet and throws it like a dart, but this instance ultimately feels unimpactful. The jet simply explodes on Godzilla’s tough exterior and the two titans move on, rendering this scene pointless. The choice to make the titular monsters fight in the ocean is a baffling one that reduces the quality of the battle in practically every way.

When the Godzilla and Kong battle again in Hong Kong, there actually is some notable improvements in this aspect. Kong rips the tops off buildings and uses them as shields and throws gigantic cranes like they’re sticks. However, Kong’s most used weapon in this fight is a giant ax that he just sort of finds one scene before the fight begins. This again contributes to the feeling that this fight is no different than if it were two humans. Finding comically large tools is far less rewarding for the audience than watching the monsters use their incredible strength and size manipulate their setting in ways no human could. This again contributes to the feeling that “GvK” doesn’t understand what makes monster fights different than human fights, and makes the whole movie feel like a missed opportunity.

While “GvK” fails as a monster movie, it doesn’t seem to matter. Despite the convoluted plot and the lackluster fights, “Godzilla vs. Kong” undoubtedly succeeds at being a blockbuster. It is mindless fun with great effects, terrible dialogue, and a budget that could feed a whole village. It’s big, loud, and packed to the brim with explosions. It’s been so long since there has been a big-budget action movie shown in theaters, and it feels so good to have that back. Sure, “Godzilla vs. Kong” isn’t a good movie by any stretch but seeing it in theaters is wonderful. If you want to watch this movie on streaming, watch “Pacific Rim” or “Kong: Skull Island” instead. But if you’re itching to have that summer blockbuster theater-going experience again, then I highly recommend masking up and buying a ticket. It won’t be good, but you’ll be happy you saw it.

Consensus: 1.5/5

Zack Snyder’s Justice League Review

by Will Johnson

“Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is an undeniably different film than what was released theatrically in 2017. After Zack Snyder stepped down the majority of the way through filming, Warner Bros. hired “Avengers” director Joss Whedon to finish the movie. He took the film in an entirely new direction causing the original release to feel like an incohesive combination of two different directors’ contradictory visions. Because of this complicated production history, the new version streaming on HBO Max is far more than just an additional two hours of runtime. Director Zack Snyder avoided any footage filmed by Joss Whedon which was reported to be roughly 90% of the theatrical release leading to entirely new subplots, characters, tonal choices, and visual effects. However, while it is certainly a better movie, this review will avoid significant direct comparisons between the two films. Being an improvement does not necessarily mean one’s work is good which is why this will be a look at how “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” stands on its own merits.

As the name implies, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” was directed by Zack Snyder and stars an ensemble cast consisting of Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, and Henry Cavill. The movie follows a group of superheroes, based on characters from DC comics, who must join together to fight against a cosmic threat. The premise itself is nothing new to those familiar with the superhero genre, but the dark tone sets the movie apart from the competition at Marvel.

Even from the opening scene, it is obvious that this film is crafted in Zack Snyder’s signature style which will appease the many fans who demanded this release for four years. Yet that also means that the four hour and two-minute film comes with all of the flaws of Zack Snyder’s action-packed filmography. Beautiful cinematography and phenomenal fight sequences are offset by odd structural choices, poor pacing, and an excessive amount of slow motion.

A major flaw in Zack Snyder’s films is overreliance on impressive visuals at the expense of individual scenes or even the overall story. As a director, he attempts to make nearly every shot a powerful moment that invokes awe and spectacle without the shot actually having any significance with regard to the bigger picture of the story. Due to this flaw in his directing, this film is guilty of having many shots that are chill inducing but are nothing more than that: just beautiful framing with little underneath. There are so many memorable shots that stick with you long after the credits finish rolling such Aquaman drinking and disappearing into the waves, Superman flying into space and observing Earth, or Cyborg staring out the broken window of his apartment are just a few of many that come to mind. However, Zack Snyder tries to make every shot feel grand and significant even when the scene it is in has little actual importance. This continually leads to confusion on what should be memorable which causes tiny, unimportant shots to stand out and larger scenes covering crucial plot points to feel forgettable. It was clear in many instances that the filmmakers favored style over substance as magnificent, indulgent shots are not reserved for scenes of high importance but are placed in nearly every scene within the film.

This film by no means needed to be 242 minutes. Many times, it feels heavily unedited, as if Zack Snyder wanted to include every single second of footage that he captured whether or not it was crucial to the story. Yet even with such an extensive length, the film still sometimes feels rushed, especially starting in Part 3: Beloved Mother, Beloved Son. Roughly an hour into the film, two main members of the Justice League still needed to be given full introductions. These introductions then appeared back-to-back disrupting the flow of the entire movie which is merely one example of many rushed sequences. Even though there are pacing and structural problems, the movie never collapses under the weight of all that it set out to accomplish which is an impressive feat. The film is able to catch its footing after introducing Cyborg and Flash and continue on with the main story with minimal halting afterwards. By tying Cyborg’s origin into the mother boxes and making Flash’s speed force crucial to the story, the two characters blend seamlessly into the narrative once they join the group. Therefore, initial introductions of many elements negatively impact the pacing but never halt the film entirely.

There is a formal structure set by six parts bookended with a prologue and an epilogue. But within each chapter and across the film as a whole, there is some extraordinarily messy storytelling. Character reveals are either slow-burning or wildly fast, and flashbacks invade the narrative at seemingly random times. Chapters range from highly linear to chaotically nonlinear. This is acceptable if watched as separate parts, or if it were released as a four-part mini-series as originally planned, but when put together it feels quite inconsistent.

Even though there can be complaints about the runtime and scenes that could have easily been cut, it does allow for much-needed character development. The action sequences are masterful and exciting to watch, but the reason this movie works is because despite the scope of the story, the characters remain very sympathetic. Delicate scenes like Diana making a pot of tea with Alfred serve as a reminder that these heroes are also human. Snyder strikes a balance between portraying the characters as physically invincible and showing them to be emotionally vulnerable.  While the character arcs are relatively simple, they show enough personal progression to keep investment high.

To dive further into the action, it should come as no surprise to Zack Snyder fans that the fight scenes are thrilling and well-choreographed and will be the highlight of the film to many. The reason the action works so well is because it understands an often-overlooked aspect of battles in film: momentum. No fight scene in this movie is simply characters beating down on other characters like a child smashing his action figures together. There is always a clear winning and losing side, and these sides are highly dynamic. An early example of this is the fight between the Amazonians and Steppenwolf on Themyscira. The Amazonians are initially on the defensive and are getting slaughtered, but by sacrificing land take the offensive. However, Steppenwolf returns from the sea and the Amazonians are forced to drag the motherbox behind their horses to barely evade its capture before the arrival of the entire Amazonian army. Momentum shifts in a clear visual manner making it obvious when to be fearful for the protagonists and when to sit back and take a breath. It also adds tension by never allowing the audience to fully believe the heroes will win which is consistent even through the final fight scene. On top of that, even though Steppenwolf is a relatively generic villain with underdeveloped motivations, he serves as a formidable and believable enemy for the Justice League. 

Overall, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” is a visually impressive epic that succeeds in telling its laundry list of plot points, even if it occasionally comes close to falling apart. Snyder Cut fanatics will be satisfied but even casual viewers will find significant enjoyment in Zack Snyder’s dark albeit flawed vision.

Consensus: 3.5/5

Malcolm & Marie Review

by Nathan Hirscher

This year’s award circuit is populated with sure-fire studs. Movies that were destined for Oscar nominations since they were in pre-production (“Nomadland”, “The Trial of the Chicago 7”, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”). At one point, “Malcolm and Marie” was a part of this group. 

Ever since its announcement amidst the pandemic, buzz surrounded this film. Zendaya, hot coming off a phenomenal and critically lauded performance on HBO’s “Euphoria”, John David Washington, the face of the next generation of action superstars, and “Euphoria” director Sam Levinson, an old-dog with newfound acclaim, all creating a movie together?! Over quarantine?! How can this movie possibly fail? Yet, by some metrics, it did. The relationship drama scored zero Golden Globe nominations, a negative Rotten Tomatoes score, and is on track to go without a nod at the Oscars.

The film chronicles the hours after a young couple, the titular Malcolm (John David Washington) and Marie (Zendaya), return home from the premiere of Malcolm’s directorial debut––a film which Marie quietly believes to be based on her own experiences, which Malcolm quietly denies. This small thread of conflict pulls out a yarn of baggage. The film is a rollercoaster of ‘I love yous’ and ‘I hate yous’ until both of the frustrated characters decide they’re too tired to argue on. 

It’s obvious why many critics didn’t love it: it’s a movie critical of critics. Levinson, Washington, and Zendaya collectively and pointedly deride the deep hypocrisy of the film industry, of critics, and of filmmakers. From an outsider’s perspective, this critique (despite how bluntly it is presented in the film) feels correct.

The film itself is expertly directed, crisply shot, and full of slick camera movements that inspire energy. Same with the editing. But, most importantly, the performances are massive. They are large. They are loud. Both Zendaya and John David Washington display a level of vulnerability we only come by every few years. The interplay and staging between the two are something to behold, as both performers, just by circling around a couch or by silently pacing the hallway, give the impression that they are holding back a sea of violent emotion. 

Whether they are screaming their hearts out or suppressing years of frustrated angst, these are two performers with complete control over their craft. One scene, with Marie submerged in a bathtub, trapped, and forced to take Malcolm’s assaults and apologies, stands out as one of the absolute best pieces of acting of 2020. 

But despite these positives, the film is frustrating. It’s exhausting. It’s a movie so obsessed with itself that it’s introspection loses its sting and veers into self-indulgence. The film decries Malcolm’s conceitedness and Marie’s self-pity yet is guilty of both of these vices. 

This film cannot be separated from its time. Unlike some films, which attempt to claw themselves out of the contexts in which they reside and transcend the ideas of the day, “Malcolm and Marie” firmly entrenches itself in the happenings of now. Hell, it’s a movie about being trapped with people and was released during a quarantine where people had to be trapped with others to remain safe. In this respect, the film accurately captures the angst of its time. However, it’s a film that infinitely retreats within itself; and, unintentionally, finds that it has nothing else to offer other than two frustrated people that don’t know how to empathize.

And perhaps that’s why it’s such a frustrating movie to watch. I would normally be head-over-heels about a claustrophobic film featuring two dynamic characters with destructive (and redemptive) qualities fighting it out with words as they try to understand each other. However, this film drained me. There are about four fights in this film that feel as if they could be the biggest relationship fight of all time. Once you crank it up to 11, the ceiling is set, and by the law of diminishing marginal returns, that same 11 feels less and less impactful every successive time it happens. 

After about the third fight, you begin to realize none of it matters. The fight will end, Malcolm will walk into another room, Marie will wipe away the tears and light a cigarette, then the next fight will start. A cycle.

I felt empty by this movie, as if there was a complete meaninglessness to every relationship and argument I could have. As if progress is impossible. Despite its superstar performances, “Malcolm and Marie” left me with a pessimism I wish I didn’t have.

Consensus: 2.5/5

WandaVision Review

by James McCutcheon

After a year and a half without any new Marvel movies and after the critical and commercial success of Disney+’s first original show, “The Mandalorian,” excitement for “Wandavision” was high. Early commercials for the show seemed to tease a bold new direction for the studio, with a vastly different tone and visual style. However, rather than a new direction, “Wandavision” proved to be barely more than a detour for Marvel and fell flat under its own expectations.

“Wandavision” stars Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany as the titular Wanda and Vision, two Avengers who are stuck in a sitcom world that isn’t quite what it seems. Simultaneously, in the real world, the fictional government agency S.W.O.R.D. tries to figure out what is going on in this sitcom reality and how to fix it.

While the premise of the show seems very different from Marvel’s other works, it shares a lot in common with many other Mystery Box tv shows. The term “Mystery Box” was made popular by J.J. Abrams to describe shows where the characters are faced with strange circumstances that cause them to discover a deeper truth occurring behind the scenes. These are the shows that make the audience wonder not only, “what will happen next?” but also “what happened before?” Think of shows like “Stranger Things,” “Twin Peaks,” or “Lost.”

Wandavision successfully encapsulates the spirit of this genre with its first few episodes, offering the audience eerie and mysterious scenes like the beekeeper emerging from the sewer, or the enigmatic voice on the radio that calls out to Wanda. However, “Wandavision” couldn’t maintain this atmosphere for long, and it’s clear why when you examine it in comparison to other mystery box shows.

Most shows in this genre are not tied to any other pre-existing material, so all of the twists and turns come as a shock. When you watch “Stranger Things,” you know that something is wrong with this town, but the reveal that there is an alternate shadowy dimension is a big reveal to the audience that comes as a surprise. “Wandavision,” however, takes place after twenty-four previous entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The MCU already has robots, aliens, and monsters all over the place. Because of this, big reveals don’t feel like game-changing revelations, but rather they feel like a return to the status quo.

And boy oh boy does this show return to the status quo of Marvel. By the final episodes, the show completely loses any resemblance to a mystery and replaces it with big CGI fight sequences filled with flying lasers and energy beams. If you were getting sick of Marvel villains that have the exact same powers as the hero, then get ready for double trouble, because both Wanda and Vision have to face off against baddies with identical power sets to them. 

Now before this review gets too negative, I want to make two things clear. The first is that I don’t hate Marvel. As a matter of fact, I’m a really big fan of Marvel movies. Hell, I cried during Endgame. I’m not trying to say that the fact that “Wandavision,” felt like a standard Marvel movie makes it bad. My issue with the show is that for a beginning that caused the audience to ask so many questions, it didn’t provide us with any interesting answers. How did this sitcom world form? Wanda did it with magic. How did Vision come back to life? Wanda did it with magic. Where did Wanda’s kids come from? Wanda did it with magic. Even the big reveal of the villain who was behind it, “all along,” didn’t actually have any impact. Agatha Harkness, the secret villain who disguised herself as the nosey neighbor Agatha, wasn’t the cause of any of the questions the audience had been asking. While the show acted like this was a big reveal, its only real impact was providing Wanda a bag guy to shoot lasers at in the finale.

The other thing I want to make clear is that I did not hate “Wandavision,” despite this review being largely negative so far. I think there were a lot of different aspects it accomplished extremely well. The more sitcom-heavy episodes were absolutely hysterical, especially the first two. The S.W.O.R.D. trio, Jimmy Woo (Randall Park), Monica Rambeau (Teyonah Parris), and Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) were a delightful addition to the show, even if the characters faded into the background for the finale. Wanda’s children practically appear out of thin air and literally grow up in the blink of an eye, and yet their family dynamic feels believable and organic. This is largely due to Elizabeth Olsen’s stellar performance as she reinvents her character for this show.

There’s no doubt that “Wandavision” has plenty to enjoy in its nine episodes for all types of viewers. Whether you are a big fan of sitcoms or a die-hard Marvel fanboy, this show covers enough bases that there is something for everyone. However in trying to cover all its bases, “Wandavision” stretches itself thin and fails to truly excel in any one genre, resulting in a lackluster finale that leaves a bad taste to walk away with.

Consensus: 3/5

Golden Globes 2021 Review

by Sam Jaccaci

After a lackluster year for movies in 2020, the Golden Globes faced the tall task of making an exciting award show with so few movies. Considered the Oscar’s more casual and more drunk counterpart, the Globes celebrates movies and television in a night of glitz and glamour. This year, due to COVID, the stars Zoomed into the event instead of attending in person, and vaccinated healthcare workers instead attended the show in person, which was a nice gesture. 

The actual event was a little shaky, to say the least. Technical errors and awkward moments were present, from Danial Kaluuya being muted for part of his acceptance speech to them accidentally playing off Chloe Zhao only 5 seconds into her accepting one of the biggest awards of the night, before turning the music off. Amy Poehler and Tina Fey’s hosting was a saving grace, as they brought a sense of familiarity to the event, joking about the nominees and rightfully calling out the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the voters of the awards, for not having a single black voter in their 87 members. This lack of voter representation came under scrutiny from the public, along with two critically acclaimed black-led projects, “Judas and the Black Messiah” and “Da Five Bloods” feeling forgotten by the Foreign Press. “Bloods” shockingly did not receive a single nomination despite the praise it received, and “Messiah” only received one nomination for Daniel Kaluuya’s portrayal as Fred Hampton, which he won for. These two films deserved best drama nominations at least, with both films having wonderful stories and engaging characters. “Judas” especially was one of my favorite films of the year, and I urge everyone to go and watch it.

The Winners:

“Nomadland” was one big winning film of the night. Directed by Chloe Zhao and starring Frances McDormand, this quiet and poignant film about a lone nomad traveling America in a camper picked up best drama and best director. Zhao is the first Asian woman and the second woman ever to win this award. I loved the film, with a realistic feel utilizing natural locations and actual nomads playing characters named after themselves, the film could be confused as a documentary due to its down-to-earth story and filmmaking techniques. With the momentum from the Globes and all other film festivals, Zhao looks toward the Oscars as a directing and best picture hopeful. Zhao directed “Nomadland” beautifully, and with “The Eternals,” the Marvel movie she directed coming out later this year, she’s on a path to becoming one of the most sought-after directors in Hollywood.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” was another more shocking winner. The comedy picked up best comedy or musical and best actor in a comedy or musical with Sacha Baron Cohen, two awards that fans of “Palm Springs” or “Hamilton” would say should have gone differently. 

Chadwick Boseman posthumously winning for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was the heartbreaking moment of the night. His wife accepted the award for him, and through tears, she said “he would say something beautiful.” Chadwick was a wonderful actor and will be missed by all.

In the television realm, “The Crown” won big, with 4 awards, as “The Queen’s Gambit” and “Schitt’s Creek” both picked up 2. All very popular shows, fan-favorite characters like Emma Corrin’s portrayal as Princess Diana, Anya-Taylor Joy as Beth Harmon, and Catherine O’Hara as Moira Rose all won acting awards.      

More winners included “Soul” winning best animated movie as well as best score. While “Soul” was a deserving film, another excellent animated film nominated was “Wolfwalkers,” an Irish 2D animated film focusing on people that turn into wolves that I highly recommend. Other winners were Andra Day winning best actress in a drama in “The United States vs. Billie Holiday,” Rosamund Pike winning best actress in a musical or comedy in “I Care a Lot,” Aaron Sorkin winning best screenplay for “The Trial of the Chicago Seven,” and “Minari” winning for best foreign movie, a controversial category to be nominated for as the movie is set entirely in America and features a Korean-American family who speaks Korean and English. Fans of Minari believed it shouldn’t have been in this category and should have been nominated for much more, a mistake they hope the Oscars won’t repeat.    

The Losers:

“Mank” and “Promising Young Women” were two movies up for 6 and 4 awards respectively and both went home empty-handed. While “Mank” had a great director with David Fincher and a great cast, a slow pace, and an only half-decent story made it lose its punch in the awards. A boring story was the least of “Promising Young Women’s” issue. Instead, the controversial film had a shocking ending that left audiences conflicted I personally didn’t love the ending and thought it took a lot away from the movie and its story, so I wasn’t heartbroken about it getting shut out.

With so few films coming out this last year and no theaters, it’s no surprise the Golden Globes had the lowest ratings in modern Golden Globe’s history. While the movies nominated are harder to find, they are still great movies that I highly recommend. You can find “Nomadland” on Hulu, “Mank,” “Trail of the Chicago Seven,” “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and “I Care a Lot” on Netflix, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” on Amazon Prime, “Soul” on Disney Plus, “Judas and the Black Messiah” on HBOMax, and much more.

Raya and the Last Dragon Review

by Sam Jaccaci

With a wonderful score, beautiful animation, and crisp editing, “Raya and the Last Dragon” soars in all aspects except story. The film focuses on Raya, a young warrior from Kumandra, a fictional land overrun by evil spirits that turn people into stone. Raya’s quest is to find a dragon to help fight the spirits and save her land. Raya was voiced by Kelly Marie Tran who did a stellar job bringing the character to life. Raya as a character and the world around her has a distinct style, mixing “Avatar the Last Airbender” with a little “Lord of the Rings”. 

Where “Raya” succeeds is the action, score, and visuals. The world, inspired by East-Asian architecture, comes to life blending photo-realistic aspects and a stylized more cartoony look to create amazing landscapes and unique visuals as the characters travel to different vibrant locations. As for action, the quick editing and exciting score make the fight scenes the most entertaining sequences in the movie, and I was blown away by how much fun the sword duels were.

However, despite the impressive technical aspects, it doesn’t save the film from the fact that the story and characters leave some to be desired. Before talking about the story, I feel like it should be reminded that this is a kid’s movie, and thus the story is one we’ve seen time and time again, a character whose job it is to collect an item to save the world. This simple plot leaves time for Raya to meet lots of characters along the way, forming a team that helps her. Raya’s partner throughout the film is the dragon Sisu, voiced by Awkwafina, who provides comedic relief, with certain jokes landing and others that took me out. While the comedic moments of Awkwafina’s performance varied in quality, moments when her character got serious is when she truly shined. With this film and 2019’s “The Farewell,” Awkwafina proves again and again that her dramatic acting abilities are excellent.

Other members of the cast included Gemma Chan and Benedict Wong who also gave strong performances that brought life to their characters. The choice of adding new characters often, combined with a short runtime, leaves little time to develop the characters. Raya herself is left on the sidelines while new characters get introduced and developed and her personal story doesn’t get as in-depth of look as one could have hoped for. Compared to a recent contemporary from Disney with “Moana”, “Moana” spends a long time on its protagonist and allows time for her to naturally grow without any rushing. Raya’s arc, on the other hand, felt a little rushed and shallow. Her journey of learning how to trust is shown through side characters, when I would’ve loved more internal struggle with Raya herself.

While a cliched story and basic dialogue are present, if you go into the film with an open mind, understanding it’s a film made primarily for children, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. With great action and visuals, but a story that could have focused more on the title character, Raya and the Last Dragon a solid film. With that being said $30 for the film is a steep entry, and unless splitting the cost with multiple people, I’d recommend thinking before purchasing.

Consensus: 4/5