Licorice Pizza: Approaching womanhood in boyhood tales

An otherwise endearing story misses the mark at depicting complex women

In director Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, an ambitious teenage boy meets a young woman who is still figuring her life out. The teenager, Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) tries to ask Alana Kane (Alana Haim) out, but she rejects him for good reason: she claims to be 25, a good 10 years Gary’s senior, but she’s known to lie. What follows, however, is a rocky but heartfelt friendship as the two come of age in 1970s Los Angeles. There is no strong plot to speak of. The central conflict comes from the highs and lows of Gary and Alana’s friendship, one that is riddled with jealousy despite the agreement that their relationship is platonic and professional.  

Gary and Alana’s banter and the clash of their personalities propel the story forward. As they get to know each other and learn more about themselves in the process, the audience is on the journey with them, and comedic scenes keep viewers engaged. But at the end of the day, Licorice Pizza exists for the audience to spend time with the characters without the rules of a classic film narrative. Changes come and go, as they do in life, and so the crux of the film becomes determining the true nature of Gary and Alana’s feelings for one another. However, in my watching of the film, I ultimately became most concerned with determining the nature of its relationship with women. In several scenes, Alana loses her agency and autonomy to the whims of men, both willingly and unwillingly. 

In one scene, Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper) leans over her as she drives a truck, attempting to “help” her pass a car on a narrow lane, getting uncomfortably close to her face. In another, Gary is tempted to touch Alana while she sleeps, but he doesn’t give in. Other times, Alana willingly sexualizes or exposes herself for the attention or validation of her male peers. There is an odd trend of Alana seeking the validation of the boys and men around her. This isn’t to say that no female character can ever have this trait, especially considering it happens frequently in reality, but the difference in how she and Gary are represented leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Gary’s inner life is rich. He’s goal-oriented, confident, and always on the lookout for a new business venture. He feels strongly about Alana and enjoys her company, but he doesn’t rely on her validation and attention the way she relies on his. There are moments when he is jealous of the attention she receives from other men, but he never has to be as physically vulnerable as she does. 

Alana can be endearing because of her relatability as a young woman who is unsure of her future, spending her time with friends to pass the days. Gary can be endearing because of his strong ambition and his dedication for her. But the way Alana is written as needing male validation with no arc that allows her to seek validation inwards makes her character feel incomplete. In other words, Alana feels like a victim of the male gaze, in that she only exists to do something for the men on screen, behind the camera, and in the audience, rather than existing as a complex character in her own right.  

Ultimately, my feelings towards the film are mixed. Women can be insecure and flawed, and deserve to be represented as much as confident, strong women are. Alana is all these things, but her womanhood is tied so much to the men around her, it makes it hard to fully enjoy the film as a slice-of-life, character piece. That said, each character had a distinct essence to them, with their individualized quirks and personalities. The film deals with themes of growth, unrequited feelings, and friendship, all of which make for a lovely coming-of-age tale. But ultimately, the male gaze (as well as some racist jokes), get in the way.  


‘The Lost Daughter’: a journey through the troubles and small triumphs of motherhood

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s stunning debut highlights the harrowing responsibility that comes with motherhood 

The Lost Daughter, director Maggie Gyllenhaal’s brilliant debut, follows troubled main character Leda Caruso, both in present day (Olivia Colman) and 20 years prior (Jessie Buckley). On a vacation in a small Greek town, Leda meets a handful of quirky characters, but soon finds herself drawn to Nina (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter. As a quick glance over at Nina soon manifests into something bordering on obsession, Leda can’t help but think of her own life and her children when she interacts with Nina. Viewers are soon taken on a journey that jumps between the past and present, offering tidbits of information regarding what exactly Leda is so haunted by every time she looks at Nina and her young daughter. 

The overall ambience of this film is creepy — but not in the ways you would expect. There are moments, such as the scene where a massive bug flies into Leda’s bedroom and settles on the pillow next to her in bed, that are nightmarish. While nothing majorly distressing happens, there is a constant air of anticipation that lingers throughout the film. Viewers are waiting for something to happen, something more than the small albeit unnerving occurrences that are scattered throughout the film. These off-putting moments, such as Leda’s near-panic attack at the toy store, her constant dizzy spells, and the glares she receives from Nina’s family, may leave viewers unsatisfied, especially those seeking a climax resulting in violence or the like. But these small moments appear to play an important role in portraying Leda’s current headspace, which is, to say the least, detached and ridden with anguish.    

Leda is the full package in terms of character complexity: she is a troubled mother who is relatable, at times detestable, and (more often than not) hilarious at the most inappropriate times. Colman fans who thoroughly enjoyed the actress’s role as the haughty godmother in Fleabag will resonate with the older Leda, especially for her sharp quips. Buckley delivers an equally memorable performance as a young mother who is attempting to juggle both a career in academia and the needs of her two young daughters. While Colman and Buckley are the obvious stars of the film, viewers certainly shouldn’t discount Johnson’s performance as the sensual, overwhelmed young mother who displays eerie similarities to Leda. While Nina doesn’t offer a lot of thought-provoking dialogue, her body language and enigmatic stare somehow manage to compensate for this.  

Overall, this film confronts the reality of exhausted mothers who are on the brink of a breakdown, and instead of sugarcoating it by offering a happy ending where past faults are reconciled, the ending is left open to interpretation. Somehow, this uncertainty lends itself beautifully to the final scene, where Leda is seen, once again, on the same beach as is shown in the beginning. 

What makes this narrative truly noteworthy is its refusal to redeem (and even explain) Leda’s poor choices. Instead, it offers a space for troubled characters to be vulnerable without imposing a message of morality. These characters are purposefully messy, just as messy as life itself is. Motherhood assumes many different forms, and this film pays special attention in highlighting the complex nature of being a caregiver. It takes into account both the rewards and the difficulties of having children, though definitely focusing more on the latter.

At the end of the day, The Lost Daughter will leave you with more questions than answers.  The audience doesn’t necessarily receive a cut and dry explanation regarding why certain characters act the way they do, and that’s the point; we’re left to sit with these odd, imperfect people and simply allow their stories to unfold, for better or for worse.


Visuals by Catherine Reynolds


Dune: Villeneuve delves back into sci-Fi

Denis Villeneuve offers a masterclass in world-building, but falls short emotionally

Denis Villeneuve’s last film before Dune, Blade Runner 2049, demonstrated the director’s mastery of sci-fi world-building and emotionally engaging filmmaking. It left a tremendous impact on me, and I couldn’t wait to see him transport audiences yet again to another expansive, futuristic universe. Dune focuses on Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto Atreides and Jessica Atreides, a Bene Gesserit. In this universe, the Bene Gesserit are a creed of spiritual women with supernatural abilities passed down from daughter to daughter. However, Jessica believes that Paul may be the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy, a boy with incredible abilities, including being able to accurately see the future. In the film, this boy is referred to as Kwisatz Haderach.

House Atreides, one of the many wealthy and powerful families within the Galactic Padishah Empire, is ordered by the emperor of the known universe sent to occupy Arrakis and take over the production of spice. Spice is an invaluable substance that allows for interplanetary travel, but acts as a psychoactive drug when consumed on its own. Arrakis was previously controlled by House Harkonnen, an oppressive, tyrannical family who cared little about the native people, called Fremen. Duke Leto wishes to change this dynamic and have peace with the Fremen, while still occupying their land for profit.

Denis Villeneuve is very skilled at world-building, which is one of the aspects of the film I enjoyed the most. The cinematography is not only beautiful, but the slow editing speed allows the audience to explore the spaces at their own pace. This is especially true for all the outdoor sequences on Arrakis, which elegantly present the endless desert landscape and the potential of finding the coveted spice that conceals itself in the sand. Villeneuve’s portrayal of Dune is carefully constructed, and the visual details that go into each scene lead me to appreciate the setting even more.

But Dune isn’t all style and no substance. In the film, Villeneuve explores the novel’s themes of colonialism, as well as destiny and fate, as Paul attempts to understand his place in Arrakis as the apparent messiah of the Fremen. Of course, the aspect of Dune where Paul explores his abilities and his place in the prophecy works in tandem with the thematic exploration of colonialism. Dune is a very thought-provoking film, as it offers a deeply detailed construction of a sci-fi world, but also doubles as a criticism of the harm associated with how 21st century countries have come into being.

Additionally, actors Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson, who portray Duke Leto and Jessica, deliver masterful, gripping performances, which were definitely highlights of the film for me. They had excellent chemistry as loving parents, but also as individuals with loyalties to old orders, ensuring that their son takes on both roles that they expect of him as the future duke and Kwisatz Haderach.

However, the film did fall short on engagement towards the latter half. A lot of lore and backstory from the novel was left out, and yet the film still felt incredibly long. It had some emotional elements missing in the sense that I stopped feeling connected to the characters. After House Atreides is faced with extreme danger, and after the world of Dune and its politics are introduced, the film becomes a little less captivating. I imagine that the film will make more sense with the release of the sequel, but without it, it is oddly structured as a stand-alone film.

Overall, Dune offers incredible cinematography, and Villeneuve builds a beautiful and fascinating world, but falls short when it comes to keeping the audience engaged after a certain point. I would still recommend seeing it for yourself, especially for fans of science-fiction and fantasy.


Screenshot taken by Catherine Reynolds


‘Titane’: Hard to watch, easy to feel

Director Julia Ducournau’s latest horror film explores the monstrous relationship a person can have with their body

Off the heels of the successful and widely-talked-about film Raw, director Julia Ducournau continues to be fascinated by body horror, a subgenre of horror that deals with the human body in gory, disturbing, and intense ways. If anything, she levelled up the repulsiveness of her images to further explore the monstrous relationship between a person and their body. Don’t get me wrong, I was expecting and looking forward to this; I deeply admire Ducournau’s undaunted gaze. But Titane was an intense, shocking experience despite my preparedness.

Titane follows Alexia, a woman with a metal plate embedded in her skull after a childhood car crash, who now makes a living stripping at car shows. Viewers soon discover that she is responsible for several recent deaths. After an attempted murder goes wrong, she then steals the identity of a missing boy, Adrien, who hasn’t been seen in a decade. In disguise, she reunites with the boy’s father, posing as his lost son. If that wasn’t enough, Ducournau takes a fantastical, anthropomorphic (the application of human traits to non-human subjects) approach to Titane, where Alexia has special connections with vehicles. In between murder and identity theft, Alexia has sex with a car and quickly becomes pregnant with its child. Her stomach is protruding and scarred, and she leaks motor oil which underscores the fantastical horror element of this entire scenario. Meanwhile, Adrien’s father, Vincent, injects himself with steroids in an attempt to delay the effects of ageing. The rest of the film follows Alexia and her volatile relationship with Vincent, who believes that his son has finally returned home.

The film is difficult to digest. A sudden wave of emotion and intense imagery left me confused about what to think and feel. Despite the grotesque nature of its plot and style, Titane is somehow also about the validity of human love and connection. Despite the disconnect between mind and body, the war Alexia’s body rages on her and the way Vincent treats his own body, and their mutual distrust, their hearts still find a connection. This delicate aspect of the film is almost confusing once you realize it’s there. It’s hard to tell if there is real love between the characters, or if it’s a product of delusion and manipulation. As the film closes, it becomes evident that there is a certain beauty in the bond formed between Alexia and Vincent, despite their relationship forming under false pretenses.

In regards to the body horror that was featured in the film, there was also a fascinating display of gender fluidity. Alexia’s terrifying pregnancy parallels the disconnect between who she was and who she is trying to become: someone’s son. There is something to say about the clash between flesh and metal, love and alienation, hostility and isolation. It almost feels like three movies in one, but I think that demonstrates Ducournau’s skill at interweaving genres, visceral feelings, and images that conflict in compelling ways.

All in all, Ducournau explores the nasty parts of being human, and leaves the audience with the message that our bodies control us more than we control our bodies. Titane is thought-provoking, but don’t expect to understand this movie upfront, or even for a while after. It’ll leave you shocked or confused or uncomfortable, just as I felt. This film requires time to percolate in your mind, even multiple viewings. In the end, don’t watch this film if you have a weak stomach for gore or uncomfortable images.


Screenshot of Titane


Mank sets out to pay homage to Citizen Kane

David Fincher’s latest film falls flat in revealing Herman J. Mankiewicz’s inner life

Mank was hard to sit through. This is both surprising and disappointing to me, as an avid fan of director David Fincher’s work. But when it comes down to it, Mank simply doesn’t pack the punch it needed to keep me engaged.

The film follows Hollywood screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he heals his broken leg in a far-away lodge, writing what would become Citizen Kane. Meanwhile, we jump sporadically into various moments of his past, exploring the people who’ve inspired the script and significant events that affected the writer. These flashbacks, which make up most of the film, attempt to reveal Mankiewicz’s inner life.

The problem is that the flashbacks are confusing and feel disconnected from each other. More generally, Mank has a big editing and writing problem — the entire structure is off. The introduction of flashbacks and the end of “present-day” scenes lack motivation; nothing in a previous scene clearly triggers the succeeding flashback. At points, it almost feels random.

And while you’re trying to figure out the connections between scenes, the excruciatingly long dialogue sequences only add insult to injury. Everything seems so convoluted as characters talk a whole lot about nothing, only making me wonder “Why is this here, and what am I supposed to be learning?” It seemed as though the real story of the film was hidden somewhere in these flashbacks, but the confusing back and forths only make it difficult to know what exactly that is.

I believe that Mank’s structure fails itself because it tried too hard to pay homage to Citizen Kane. The black and white cinematography and 1940s sound is done well and works as intended, but it should have been kept at that.

The reason Citizen Kane’s heavy use of flashbacks works is because the story supports that structure. It’s about a journalist interviewing people who knew the titular character after he died. Its structure is what helps make the story so dynamic. The film also makes explicitly clear the connection between the present scene and the flashback. Mank falls flat relying heavily on flashbacks because its story just doesn’t support it, or at least it didn’t need it. There is no doubt that Fincher can direct complex films, he’s made an admirable career out of it. He just lost something with Mank.

Fincher has had an ability to adapt real stories and novels and transform them into thematically rich pieces; The Social Network is about the development of Facebook on the surface, but really, it’s about friendship, loyalty, betrayal, and the fine line between ambition and greed. Zodiac follows journalists’ and detectives’ search for the Zodiac Killer, but it’s really about the consequences of obsession.

Mank just doesn’t have the same spark. Obviously, it would be ridiculous to assume that every film needs to be deeply philosophical, political, or personal, but Mank seemed like it was setting up something more. When I compare Mank to Fincher’s previous work, I don’t see the same strength in his themes.

Ultimately, Mank is confusing and long, which makes it hard to care about. There is no attempt to connect to its characters, to make them likeable, or to make themes and plot clear.  It’s harsh to say this, especially as a fan of David Fincher, but at the end of the day the descriptors “confusing” and “boring” are accurate, and that is just a bad combination to have.


Tenet: it won’t let you breathe, but it’s beautiful to look at

Christopher Nolan’s love affair with time continues, with mostly confusing results

Christopher Nolan is infatuated with time. Many of his films have manipulated time in different ways to try to show his audience that it’s not as linear as we understand it to be. While some have delivered greater results than others, like Inception and Memento, it’s clear that Nolan has no interest in telling a straightforward story. Tenet continues this theme and it ends up being Nolan’s most ambitious, but also his safest, movie in years.

Tenet doesn’t let you breathe. From the beginning of the 150-minute film, Nolan showcases his characters in exposition-heavy dialogue scenes that try to advance the plot without spoon-feeding its deeper elements. Meanwhile, Nolan is throwing John David Washington’s character, literally called The Protagonist, in various scenes across the world as he searches for answers regarding his mission.

But even when Nolan does try to clear up the convoluted plot, you can barely understand what the characters are saying because of poor audio mixing, whispered dialogue, and Kenneth Branagh’s sometimes-incomprehensible Russian accent as the oligarch antagonist, Andrei Sator. When all you hear is bass mixed with murmurs, it may be a sign that the movie is too loud.

Without giving too much away, The Protagonist and Neil (Robert Pattinson) team up to stop a potentially catastrophic disaster that could end human life on Earth. That’s all I’ll say. But even with a central plot so simple, Nolan manages to make it convoluted while rarely offering a slower pace to absorb what’s actually going down.

Nolan directly implicates his love affair with time in Tenet as well,, but his interpretation of it isn’t as intriguing as it was in many of his previous films. In fact, his storytelling is so obscure that it’s easier to just accept the banality of the plot than to try and decipher it.

Yet, even with these story-telling plunders, Tenet remains captivating, largely thanks to a great performance from Washington and excellent action sequences that make the audience feel like they’re watching a scene out of some futuristic Call of Duty game. Yes, the action doesn’t stop, but because of that, it makes the two-and-a-half-hour movie seem shorter than it actually is. It’s a fun experience, but shallow.

Tenet is Nolan at his safest. He knows all he has to do is come up with an ambitious plot and expensive action sequences to get the masses flocking to the theatres (despite a pandemic). It’s by no means Nolan’s greatest film — in fact, it probably ranks among his worst — but it’s still a visual feat and a fairly good time.


Horse Girl: Approaching ambiguity in film

Alison Brie loses her grip on reality in Horse Girl

Jeff Baena’s film Horse Girl focuses on a woman named Sarah who slowly loses her grip on reality. She is portrayed by Alison Brie as an awkward and shy woman, and we get a sense of Sarah’s daily life working at a crafts store by day and watching supernatural crime shows at night. At home, she’s pitied by her mean-spirited roommate Nikki, played by Debby Ryan. Nikki organizes a last-minute birthday party for Sarah who was going to spend the evening alone, and later that night she has a strange dream. Soon, Sarah begins to have recurring blackouts and starts to see people from her dreams in real life.

First and foremost, Alison Brie is spectacular. Her performance is believable, strong and moving. No matter how crazy Sarah’s delusions get, you never doubt that she believes them. Brie makes her character’s descent into madness feel rooted in real emotion. John Reynolds charmingly accompanies her as Darren, Sarah’s love interest who accidentally fuels her fantasies. Horse Girl was co-written by Baena and Brie, which marks the actress’s debut as a screenwriter. She is previously known for her stunning range of work in TV shows like GLOW, Mad Men and Community.

Despite being engrossing throughout its runtime, Horse Girl fails in achieving some ambitious goals that would have been integral in making the film memorable. There were plenty of interesting ideas: it’s a character study, it shoots for ambiguity through a possibly unreliable narrator, and it discusses conspiracy theories and issues related to mental illness. 

On a technical level, the film is perfectly fine. There are cool zoom shots, and I particularly like some of the imagery in the film and how it depicts Sarah’s state of mind towards the end. There are some tonal shifts throughout the film as the atmosphere becomes darker and crazier, but these changes are justified because they make sense according to Sarah’s perspective. Additionally, the transitions were smooth.

Horse Girl is a bit slow to start but ambitiously grasps at many big themes, which I respected as a viewer. However, it was this attempt to capture so many ideas that led to my biggest issue with the film: the ambiguity, or lack thereof. Baena seems to be trying to puzzle the audience and make us wonder if Sarah’s delusions might be real. There are some suggestions that create this ambiguity, like scratches on walls or strange people who believe her theories, but the most compelling evidence was introduced too late in the story. Because of this, I was never convinced that any of the strange events were outside of her mind, despite the fact that the film is trying to set it up to be vague. This made the ending, although interesting, less impactful. When it came to themes of conspiracy theories and mental illness, they were not explored in-depth enough to feel like anything was truly being said about it.

All in all, Horse Girl is a fascinating study of one woman’s mind and the film stays committed to her perspective. It was not life-changing by any means, despite its attempts at tackling ambiguity and dark themes, and it isn’t as mind-bending as it would like to be. Yet, it’s a fun ride nonetheless. It’s worth it for Brie’s performance alone.


The visceral horror of Come and See

Elem Klimov’s historical epic is a deranged and frightening showcase of human evil

A common criticism aimed at modern war films is their general disregard for historical accuracy. Films like Pearl Harbor or Enemy at the Gates, while entertaining, are often embellished or glamorized in order to make the subject matter more palatable for mainstream audiences. The fact of the matter is that war is messy. Lives are lost, cities are destroyed and soldiers and civilians are left with lasting psychological effects. Rarely will a film seek to capture the absolute horror of combat in a truthful and authentic manner. There are, of course, some exceptions, one of which is the 1985 Belarusian film Come and See.

Set during the Nazi occupation of Belarus, a landlocked Eastern European country between Poland and Russia, Come and See tells the story of a young teenage partisan named Flyora. Against the wishes of his mother, Flyora joins the Soviet resistance movement and soon becomes entangled in a hellish conflict.

Director Elem Klimov has stated that in making this film, he wished to properly convey the sensory experience of war to the viewer. To achieve this, the director consulted Soviet writer Ales Adamovich to collaborate on the film’s script. Adamovich fought as a partisan during the Second World War, and his book I Am from the Fiery Village was used as the inspiration for the film’s events.

The director’s characterization of Come and See as a sensory experience is an apt one. Whether it be the terrifying reverberation of a dropped bomb or the ominous droning of fighter planes circling the sky, the film’s sound design shakes you to the core. The imagery is similarly harrowing, and the camera will often linger on disturbing scenes, amplifying feelings of discomfort. Fans of Ari Aster’s Hereditary and Midsummer will find these techniques very familiar. The result is an overwhelming and visceral journey into the depths of depravity that will affect you profoundly.

Visually, Come and See is distinct for its frequent use of POV shots. This was a purposeful decision made by Klimov and cinematographer, Aleksei Rodionov, to place the audience at the center of the events unfolding. The close-ups of the actors directly addressing the camera are incredibly impactful and make the characters’ anger, fear and anguish feel all the more real. It’s a reminder that war is a human conflict first and foremost, and that there were very real people affected by the ramifications.

As the film progresses, we watch as protagonist Flyora gradually undergoes a stunning visual transformation, with his hair turning grey and his face becoming lined with wrinkles. Flyora’s transformation is not only a physical delineation of the effects of war, indicating the immense stress he is undergoing, but it also represents his loss of innocence. Flyora begins the film as an eager boy ready to join the Soviet resistance, but by the end he is left battered and emotionally scarred, robbed of his youth.

The film went through numerous delays during production, with the USSR’s State Committee for Cinematography,  at one point rejecting it, believing the film promoted an “aesthetics of dirtiness.” Nearly 35 years later, Come and See has garnered a reputation among critics as being one of the greatest and most accurate depictions of war ever put to film. It is a haunting representation of the indelible effects of war and an assessment of mankind’s capacity for evil. It is a gut-wrenching watch from start to finish, but one that should absolutely be seen.

Come and See is playing at Cinema Moderne as part of their “M: Les Maudits” Series dedicated to cult and genre classics. Screenings take place on Feb. 28 at 9 p.m. and March 8 at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are available online or at the box office. For more details visit


Birds of Prey: Cathy Yan takes flight

Absolutely all over the place, loud, bright and crazy

Prior to Birds of Prey, Cathy Yan was a relatively unknown director. Yan’s directed three shorts and one feature before, but has pretty much remained off the map. Until now.

With this Harley Quinn-focused DC film, the director makes quite the entrance into Hollywood. If I were to describe the style of the film in one word, it would be “manic.” The film was full of colourful, saturated images that burst with a soundtrack consisting of original and covered hip-hop and pop tracks. However, the film’s writing fell short.

I absolutely loved the look of Birds of Prey. It doesn’t shy away from vivid colour palettes, distinguishing it from other DC films. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), breaks the fourth wall, and Yan depicts this with on-screen text inspired by comic book aesthetics. The soundtrack to Birds of Prey is definitely awesome on its own, featuring songs from artists like Doja Cat, Saweetie, Charlotte Lawrence and more. It adds an extra level of energy to a film that’s already full of it. However, during some scenes, the music was overbearing and distracted from the story itself. Often, these songs played during fight scenes, and since they don’t always carry along the plot, watching them felt like a music video rather than a film.

The premise is very simple, Harley Quinn goes after teenage thief Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) to save her from Gotham’s new evil menace: the Black Mask. Cain swallowed a diamond containing information valuable to Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). However, this premise was overly convoluted due to the non-linear structure of the film and its fast-paced editing. The non-linear storyline didn’t seem to add anything valuable to the film and instead made it a little rusty. There were offbeat tonal changes. Some scenes felt very out of place, particularly those with violence against women (which was included in the film to emphasize the intensity of the villain’s character.)

The performances were fun and hilarious, with Robbie and McGregor in the lead, and Basco, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Chris Messina supporting. Robbie gives an exaggerated and amusing performance. McGregor takes the cake, managing to play an awful person while still being ridiculous and weird. In terms of acting, everyone is on their A-game and delivers the right amount of absurdity without being irritating.

Ultimately, I loved Birds of Prey’s sense of personality. The film was obviously from Harley’s point of view, and everything in the film supported that, from the loud music and wild colouring to its odd story structure. Even the production design feels like it belongs in a Harley Quinn movie, including weird, provocative decor, abandoned amusement parks, and colourful nightclubs.

Even with its issues, Birds of Prey knows Harley Quinn well. The film was all over the place, loud, bright and crazy. But in the end, Yan wasn’t afraid to use her own style and because of that, Birds of Prey is a load of fun.



Illustration by @joeybruceart


The Irishman is a marvel of a film

Strong themes make this long film worth the watch

Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman is a complicated film. Bound to the confines of a nursing home, truck-driver-turned-hitman, Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) narrates several decades of his life, discussing entering organized crime and the hits of his career. Sheeran enters this world through a Pennsylvania mob family, the Bufalinos, and along the way meets Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino), the leader of a labour union with connections to organized crime. On the surface, The Irishman is a story about a man climbing the ranks in the criminal world. Underneath, there’s so much more to it, with themes of guilt, loyalty, relationships and family.

Although the premise is simple, several chapters in Sheeran’s life are depicted nonlinearly. The timeline of the film is edited expertly by Thelma Schoonmaker, who has been Scorsese’s editor for over 50 years. With that in mind, The Irishman takes very striking liberties with its editing, from abrupt music cues and cuts, non-simultaneous intercuts, out-of-place jumpcuts and shots that only make narrative sense once the movie is over. At some points, the time jumps can be confusing, making some scenes difficult to follow, but the film was easy to understand even with that uncertainty. Needless to say, the editing was risky and seemingly unusual at times.

The film had a great sense of time, place and character. Everything was thought of meticulously, slowly building up to a climax in the film’s final scenes. Of the three and a half hours, the first two were fantastic, and the last 15 minutes were extraordinary. The pacing was strong and the tension was there. But, there was a lump in the middle that lost my interest and was difficult to get through. I’ll admit, it is a very long movie, and it does feel that way. For young people who didn’t grow up with Scorsese gangster flicks, it could even seem boring and hard to finish. It took me more than a day to watch it, so don’t be afraid to take your time.

The Irishman could be interpreted as a simple gangster flick, but it transforms into something more. We feel Sheeran’s family crumble as his daughter rejects him, his friends become more and more powerful and difficult choices about loyalty emerge. By the end, you realize it’s a story about relationships and, sadly, regret. It asks questions about growing old, and makes you wonder if Sheeran’s actions were actually worth the loneliness they would cause later on.

The core message of the film could have been conveyed in two hours. But, Scorsese made it three and a half, and somehow, none of that time feels unwarranted. Sure, it’s slow, but it takes its time with each scene. It allows dialogue to flow, it allows actors to become cemented into their performances and it allows the scene to resonate with the audience.

The Irishman is a refreshing break from the onslaught of films that are paced way too quickly, and for that reason, I think Schoonmaker and Scorsese did it right. 


Marriage Story: all good things must come to an end

Director Noah Baumbach captures the complexities of life and love

When I first saw the trailer for Marriage Story on my Netflix feed, I was certain that it was going to be a cheesy, sappy, love story. I was wrong. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Directed by Noah Baumbach, Marriage Story recounts a couple’s struggles as they go through a divorce.

Watching the film feels all too familiar. It begins with two monologues, performed by a married couple, Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) respectively. Each monologue depicts the heartwarming personalities of either individual, as they read aloud what they love about each other. Snippets of their romanticized, wholesome marriage set the scene; a house full of books, creatives living in New York City, family board game nights. They live an ideal life. What could possibly go wrong?

Like all good things, the viewer observes Charlie and Nicole’s relationship inevitably come to an end. The couple begin the separation process amicably, but it ultimately does not end this way. As lawyers get involved, the divorce becomes unpleasant, aggressive and heart-wrenching.

The film touches upon the realities of relationships and divorce while raising numerous issues that impact families and individuals in relationships alike.

The characters are charming, the plot is interesting and relatable and yet, I remain troubled. As the plot develops, the viewer learns of Charlie’s affair. Although Charlie cheated, the viewer is not mad at him for it. Instead, we are left feeling infuriated at Nicole and her decision to go through the divorce with lawyers, and therein lies a bigger problem.

Marriage Story demonstrates the realities faced by many mothers and parents. As mentioned by Nicole’s lawyer, Nora, mothers have a higher bar to meet. Charlie is a good father, a seemingly nice person with a charming personality, and thus, we neglect the fact that he cheated. Instead, we empathize with him, with the distance between him and his son, and at the thought that he may lose the money he uses to pay his staff at the theatre company.

The compliments and personalities of the characters from the opening scene linger in the back of the viewer’s mind, making it all the more difficult to grasp their divorce. It is safe to say that at this point, much like in our own lives, we are invested in their relationship and hoping they will rekindle their love.

In one heart-wrenching scene, Charlie and Nicole are moved to tears after a vile argument. Adam breaks down, sobbing, after wishing death and illness on his soon-to-be ex-wife. Guilt, regret, and sorrow are among the unpleasant emotions the viewer is left feeling after being privy to such an intimate and pivotal point in the couple’s relationship.

Anyone who has experienced the ramifications of divorce, be it firsthand or secondhand, will experience a melancholic familiarity in Marriage Story. Baumbach captures the complexities of life through the depiction of a compelling family dynamic, all while raising pertinent issues surrounding notions of parenthood.

Marriage Story is real and raw. The characters fight and sob, but do not makeup. There is no fairytale ending. The closing credits begin and, not unlike the characters, we are not left feeling closure, but rather the type of lingering sadness you get when you know something is over, and are left remembering how good it once was.


Film still from Marriage Story


1917: A beautiful film on the tragedy of war

An immersive technical marvel with no shortage of emotion and intensity

The film 1917 is one of the best movies I’ve seen in the last few months. Everything from the tragedy the characters faced to the illusion of a long-take left me in astonishment. It’s a film that is absolutely fantastic on every technical level while also exploring the trauma of war.

I believe that 1917 can credit its emotional effect on audiences to two reasons: the performances by Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, and the bold choice by director Sam Mendes to make the film look like one single shot. The Film has a very simple concept: two British soldiers are given a mission to deliver a message across enemy territory in order to stop an attack. However, there are rich visual details and emotional tones surrounding the story, which is what really builds the movie.

First, the performances by Chapman and MacKay were absolutely phenomenal. They inhabited their characters so well, creating people that were perfectly realistic, tragic and beautiful. Even though I only knew their characters, Blake and Schofield, for two hours, they offered the audience such an intimate connection during that time that it makes you feel like you’ve known them for a lot longer.  For two “unknowns” — which was why Mendes wanted to cast them in the first place — they make themselves not only known, but embedded into your mind and your heart. Their performances will haunt you in the best way possible.

If you’ve already heard a thing or two about 1917, you might have heard the word “seamless.” When describing 1917‘s editing and cinematography, that word is used accurately. Mendes approached his film with the idea of it being in real-time and it was an excellent choice. Following the characters during every minute of the film made it thrilling, tense and, above all, an immersive experience. You feel like you’re witnessing the lives of these two young soldiers, and brought along to experience the horrors of war yourself.

The film’s editor, Lee Smith, stitched together every shot seamlessly. Additionally, it had an incredible score by Thomas Newman that only added to the film’s powerful emotional effect. Even listening to the score without the visuals has the power to tell this tragic story. The striking and beautiful cinematography, done by the remarkable Roger Deakins, in addition to the musical score, completely engulfs you.

In the end, I was grief-stricken by the film’s events, but in awe of its technical wonder. I do believe that it deserves the hype it has in terms of its Golden Globe win for Best Drama Motion Picture and Best Director of a Motion Picture, and its 10 Academy Award nominations including Best Cinematography, Original Score, Director and Production Design. If you can see 1917 in theatres, do it whether it’s in IMAX or a regular theatre. The experience is worth every penny.


Graphic by @joeybruceart

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