Could You Make the Choice? M. Night Shyamalan Puts Certainty on Trial in KNOCK AT THE CABIN
If your expectations for Knock at the Cabin are based solely on M. Night Shyamalan’s previous film, Old (2021), those expectations probably aren’t high. Despite its fascinating concept, Old is stiff and awkward with unbalanced performances and an unrefined script. You might be tempted to make the same judgment about Knock at the Cabin after watching the first five minutes. The movie opens with stiff, over-rehearsed dialogue and awkward closeups that create an uneven tone and set a low bar for the rest of the movie. With vintage horror aesthetics in the opening credits and a creepy yet playful score, it’s difficult to tell whether or not Knock at the Cabin is taking itself seriously. But gradually, and then all at once, the tone becomes deadly serious. As the plot develops, it’s clear that Knock at the Cabin doesn’t suffer from the same problems as Old. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film is a vicious, relentless mind game propelled by surprising and intense performances. With a script that gets exponentially better along the way, Knock at the Cabin far exceeds expectations.
“She Said” Forgoes Explicit Trauma and Emotional Manipulation in Order to Respect Survivors of Abuse
When a story about a crime or scandal breaks, you can bet that there’s a movie producer somewhere who’s already in negotiations over the rights to that story — and I can’t blame them. Humans are naturally curious, and there’s something inherently intriguing about the psychology of serial killers and the complex webs of events behind white-collar crimes. In October of 2017, when journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published a story that exposed the crimes of Harvey Weinstein, producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner had acquired rights to a movie version of the story within a few months. The hasty move seems, at first glance, exploitative and unethical. Why would anyone be in such a rush to make a movie about such a personal and traumatic topic? Can you make such a movie that doesn’t exploit the painful memories of the survivors? But after watching She Said, it’s clear that Gardner and Kleiner, along with director Maria Schrader and writer Rebecca Lenkiewicz, had one goal in mind: to give voice to the survivors in a truthful and respectful way. Weinstein, who is now behind bars, received more than enough attention both before and after the allegations broke. She Said works to shift the conversation about sexual abuse in Hollywood from the perpetrators to the survivors.
“Wakanda Forever” Has the Narrative Power of a Modern-Day Epic (Spoiler-Free Review)
When you settle into your reclining theater seat with your favorite movie snacks to watch the anticipated Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (preferably in an IMAX theater, which is definitely worth the extra dollars), you can expect a strong story brought to life by a dedicated cast. While the movie honors the late Chadwick Boseman and the character he brought to the screen in the first Black Panther movie (2018), Wakanda Forever isn’t stuck in the past. Nor is it a sluggish transitional sequel, as the second installments in film franchises often are. It’s an exciting, emotionally gripping, aurally immersive, and visually impressive Marvel movie that is, on every level, a modern-day epic. It follows the stylistic and aesthetic patterns set by its predecessor, keeping director Ryan Coogler’s vision for Wakanda alive. It also introduces a few new characters to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), the ruler of a stunning underwater kingdom. But the glue that holds the colorful costumes, otherworldly sets, and epic fight scenes together is Shuri (Letitia Wright), princess of Wakanda and sister to the late King T’Challa. Her story and development are what make Wakanda Forever, the second longest movie in the MCU, worth every minute.
Content / trigger warning: Blonde contains flashing and strobing effect imagery that may be triggering to those with photosensitivity.
Blonde is rated NC-17 for some sexual content. It contains frightening and intense images involving abuse, assault, and abortion. These topics are briefly discussed in the review below.
Blonde isn’t the feel-good biopic you’re looking for. Nor is it a sentimental tear-jerker. Andrew Dominik’s 2-hour and 46-minute adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates novel is difficult, depressing, and demanding. It’s the kind of movie that made me tell my parents, “Don’t watch it, you won’t like it” (although the MPAA rating alone would have been enough to turn them away). But as I watched, I also felt that I, as a critic, wasn’t supposed to like it. With so many unconventional stylistic elements at play and so much controversial content, I felt like the only “correct” review I could give would be to call the movie problematic and pretentious. However, that review wouldn’t be genuine. There are certain shots, sequences, scenes, and techniques in Blonde that really don’t work — and yet, I found myself completely engaged with the film, not wanting it to end. It wasn’t until the JFK blowjob scene when a male critic in the audience burst out laughing (to my extreme annoyance, as I was sympathizing with Marilyn’s perspective and admiring what the scene had to say about sexual power dynamics) that I figured out what Blonde was doing right. It was making me aware of myself as a woman, as a critic, as a movie lover, and as a human. Blonde gave me one of the most powerful and visceral experiences I’ve had at the movies in a long time. For that reason, I don’t want to focus on all the little things that didn’t work. Instead, I want to focus on a few big things that it got right. After all, any movie that makes you more aware of yourself has to be doing something right.
Somewhere Between Myth and Reality, There Is "A Pure Place" [Chattanooga Film Festival]
One of the scariest things about cults is that they can form right under our noses. Cult leaders need to psychologically isolate their followers in order to maintain control, but they don’t have to keep everyone on a remote island in order to do so. Still, perhaps the best way to illustrate the intense psychological control that cult leaders achieve is to tell a story about a cult that’s geographically isolated from the real world. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate how a deeply disturbed man could earn the trust and respect of a whole community of devout followers is to confine that man and his followers to a remote location that seems to exist in a universe of its own. In Nikias Chryssos’s A Pure Place, a sickeningly imaginative film that he wrote with Lars Henning Jung, the entire population of a remote Greek island is under the spell of a charming and charismatic leader named Fust (Sam Louwyck). This deeply disturbed (but powerful) man is utterly obsessed with cleanliness, and he’s positioned himself as a savior who will lead the people to a pure place that’s free from man’s worst enemy: dirt. In addition to following Fust, the community also worships Hygeia, the Greek goddess of cleanliness. The cult is intense and otherworldly, so separated from the real world that Fust’s twisted desires have become the only law. The one thing connecting this mysterious island to the outside world is the product that Fust’s followers make in his factory: soap.
Part Expressionist Melodrama and Part Campy Horror, “The Attachment Diaries (El Apego)” Sends Mixed Messages About Trauma and Mental Health Issues [Chattanooga Film Festival]
Content/trigger warning: The Attachment Diaries deals with sexual assault, self-harm, mental illness, and abortion. These subjects are also briefly discussed in the review below.
The Attachment Diaries is a difficult movie for two reasons. First, it focuses on a handful of difficult topics (including abortion, which has just become more relevant than ever in the United States), and it presents those topics in a blunt and, at times, irreverent way. Second, it’s difficult because it asks us to think about imperfect people in imperfect situations. The film appeals to very raw and carnal emotions, asking viewers to indulge in the thoughts and feelings that we aren’t supposed to think and feel. It’s a good thing that The Attachment Diaries is so masterfully shot, because it may take several viewings to make sense of it.
Human Factors is a French / German drama written and directed by Ronny Trocker. After its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in 2021, it was described by critics as an “utterly intelligent thriller” and a “deviously constructed puzzle film [that] plays cat and mouse…with the viewer.” But these descriptions are deceptive. Human Factors doesn’t belong in the same category as psychological thrillers like Psycho (1960), The Sixth Sense (1999), A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Get Out (2017), all of which are fairly easy to follow even as they set the stage for groundbreaking plot twists. Unlike those films, Human Factors is not easy to follow. It’s less playfully deceptive than it is confusing, and it doesn’t play “cat and mouse” with us so much as it doubles back on itself to ensure that we’re paying attention. This is not to say that Human Factors is a bad movie. On the contrary, it’s well-written, wonderfully acted, and masterfully put together. But since it has been described as a psychological thriller, it’s important to let viewers know what they’re really in for. If you watch Human Factors expecting something like Shutter Island (2010) or Fight Club (1999), you’re going to be disappointed.
As Writer, Director, Editor, and Lead Actress in “Maybe Someday,” Michelle Ehlen Tells an Honest Story About Breaking Up and Moving On
Maybe someday I’ll take a vacation. Maybe someday I’ll reconnect with my best friend from high school. Everyone has their “maybe someday” — and for Jay (Michelle Ehlen), the subject of the feature film Maybe Someday, her wish for the future is to restore her relationship with her wife, Lily (Jeneen Robinson). But Jay knows that before she can make things work with her wife, she has to take some time to herself. So, she packs up a duffle bag and makes plans to move, at least temporarily, to Los Angeles, where she’ll focus on her photography career. On the way, she decides to visit her best friend from her teen years, Jess (Shaela Cook), and ends up staying with Jess for a while as she finds her emotional bearings. The majority of Maybe Someday takes place during this extended visit. As Jay confronts formative moments from her past and grapples with heartbreak, she also befriends a very unlikely sidekick, Tommy (Charlie Steers), a wannabe standup comedian who complicates the gay best friend stereotype. All the while, Jay holds out hope that her “maybe someday” wish will happen sooner rather than later.
A House Divided: As Various Viewpoints Fight for Dominance in “House of Gucci,” Lady Gaga’s Immersive Performance Is Lost in the Shuffle
Money. Family. Power. Betrayal. Scandal. Murder. When the trailer for House of Gucci dropped in the summer of 2021, it promised all this and more. The ambitious film was set to bring one of the most infamous scandals in the history of fashion to life, complete with all the glitz, glam, and drama that only Hollywood can achieve. And if the subject matter alone wasn’t enough, the all-star cast garnered immediate attention from the masses. The ensemble would be led by none other than Lady Gaga, with supporting roles filled by Adam Driver, Jeremy Irons, Jared Leto, Salma Hayek, and crime-drama veteran, Al Pacino. To top it all off, Ridley Scott would direct. The theatrical release came and went in November, and you can now watch the Gucci drama unfold from the comfort of your home on Blu-ray, DVD, or digital. But does House of Gucci live up to expectations? What’s behind all the decadent style that’s so evident in the trailer? Does every second of the two-hour, thirty-eight-minute movie captivate and dazzle audiences as much as the trailer did? It’s a tall order to fill. House of Gucci needed more than a luxurious production design to tell the story of Patrizia Reggiani, an ambitious woman who married into the Gucci family and later coordinated the murder of her ex-husband, Maurizio.
If you want to avoid a horror-movie situation, it’s probably best to stay away from isolated cabins in the dead of winter. Stephen King was certainly onto something when he set The Shining and Misery in snowed-in Colorado abodes. The strange, frigid silence of a snowstorm is the perfect backdrop for stories about isolation and hopelessness. That’s why director Damien Power was so drawn to No Exit, a novel by Taylor Adams, which also takes place during a blizzard in Colorado. In Power’s film adaptation of the book, which premieres February 25, 2022, on Hulu, Power makes the most of the snowy, isolated setting. He creates the ideal setup for the heroine, Darby (Havana Rose Liu), to undergo intense physical and psychological distress.
"Our embodied spectator, possibly perverse in her fantasies and diverse in her experience, possesses agency...finally, she must now be held accountable for it."