Review Round-Up: 'Happening' | 'Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery' | 'Speak No Evil' + More
There may never be a ''right mindset'' to watch certain movies but everyone should definitely reserve some time to think about director and co-writer Audrey Diwan's Happening (L'événement in French) afterwards as it will surely linger on your mind. Written with Marcia Romano and based on the novel of the same name by Annie Ernaux, its story follows university student named Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei) living in France in 1963. She ends up discovering that she's pregnant presumably from a one night stand so she begins to look ways to get an abortion, something which is still illegal at this time in the country. As the weeks go by and her window shrinks, Anne faces shaming and resistance as she tries to find someone to do the procedure.
As is implied above, Diwan's adaptation is very much designed to evoke very uncomfortable emotions when following this character whom you clearly understand when it comes to her personality and goals. Vartolomei portrays Anne spectacularly, whether its just determination through her eyes or frustration with her posture, latter feeling which then translates superbly well for viewers as well. She and impact of this story speak the same language throughout, while Diwan and editor Géraldine Mangenot control storytelling, pace and structure with precision, following their main character week by week, making the film resemble a time bomb about to go off. The result makes you squirm, feel, want to yell and care deeply, which is nearly everything that one would want from character-based drama.
Smileys: Anamaria Vartolomei, directing, editing, story
Frowneys: Nothing too awful
GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY
It's that time of the year again when we bring back strange accents, which of course means that Daniel Craig's Benoit Blanc returns to our screens and lives in order to solve a murder mystery. Writer-director Rian Johnson follows up his 2019 smash 'Knives Out' with Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, which I agree with him that it should be just called Glass Onion but that's neither here nor there.
Blanc gets an invite to tech billionaire Miles Bron's (Edward Norton) murder mystery game on his private island in Greece, along with Bron's longtime friends Andi (Janelle Monáe), scientist Lionel (Leslie Odom Jr.), politician Claire (Kathryn Hahn), Twitch streamer Duke (Dave Bautista) and his girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) as well as fashion influencer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and her assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick). After it turns out that Bron wasn't the one who invited Blanc, chaos ensues.
Most important thing of all is that much of what worked about the first film, works also in Glass Onion. Johnson's control of his cast in the frame is just as strong as he lets Craig to reach his comedic timing a bit more this time around, while Monáe is the one who stands out from new members since her character's arc allows her to play different shapes of her, something which she does excellently. Outside of the cast, Rick Heinrich's sets and Jenny Eagan's costumes are perfectly in sync with the story, both making distinct choices while always telling something about characters at the same time.
As a writer, Johnson still struggles slightly with dialogue when commenting on elements he doesn't seem to be too familiar with, such as internet fame, but one area in which he improves is the mystery of it all. His script keeps paying off things that have been established more frequently and he holds cards much closer to his chest, this then resulting in a second act twist and third act reveals being extremely satisfying when they roll around. How about we keep those Blanc cheques coming? I'm excited for another one of these.
Smileys: Screenplay, production design, costume design, Janelle Monáe
Frowneys: Minor issues with dialogue
SPEAK NO EVIL
Maybe you don't have to go full evil but it might be a good idea to speak up sometimes, even if you're in an extremely awkward situation. Psychological horror Speak No Evil (same title in Denmark) is a shining example of that as director and co-writer Christian Tafdrup can disturb your humanity in the most Nordic way possible. Danish couple Bjørn (Morten Burian) and Louise (Sidsel Siem Koch) meet another couple from Netherlands, Karin (Karina Smulders) and Patrick (Fedja van Huêt), while vacationing in Italy. They get friendly and later the Dutch couple invite Bjørn and Louise to visit them in rural Netherlands, them also bringing their daughter Agnes (Liva Forsberg) as Karin and Patrick also have a child of similar age, Abel (Marius Damslev) who they say was born without a tongue due to aglossia.
If you'd really want, you could probably get stuck in some of the character decisions and motivations that Tafdrup and his co-writer/brother Mads Tafdrup present as they can stretch the believability factor even in horror standards but those are also secondary elements for their experiments. At the end of the day, what works about the film is its hellbent ambition to be nasty, grimy and intentionally intolerable in its execution. The whole adult cast is game for it, Dutch couple's house and Sabine Hviid's production design reveal secrets slowly and the brothers' script examines blurry lines of politeness and cruel forgiveness often expertly. Director Tafdrup still leaves something on the table with his visual palette—just like with his characters—but he for sure shows an immense amount of promise in the genre space otherwise with his tonal intuition. Maybe it's time to go full evil with the next film.
Smileys: Atmosphere, screenplay
Frowneys: Some characterisation issues
As if we needed more movies here that you likely won't ever revisit again, let's talk about a character drama set in adult film industry. Director, co-writer and co-casting director Ninja Thyberg makes her feature debut with Pleasure (same title used in Sweden), which is co-written by Peter Modestij and adapted from Thyberg's earlier short film of the same name. Sofia Kappel also makes her debut and stars as Linnéa, 19-year-old Swedish woman who moves to Los Angeles with a goal to become a popular porn star under her stage name ''Bella Cherry''. We follow Bella's arrival, attempts to get further in her career through auditions and securing a talent agent, as she also forms a friendship with her roommate and colleague Joy (Revika Reustle).
Thyberg gets a lot out of the premise, authentic casting choices and clinical touch on her subject at first, this setup especially offering a window to a world rarely explored and even more rarely with audacious, unfiltered viewfinder. Kappel also hits her character's emotional highs and lows efficiently, until the story unfortunately loses much of its power after 30 minutes which lessens the impact of her acting dramatically. Thyberg and Modestij aren't quite capable to crack Bella's inner psyche in a way that would make her make sense when it comes to her ambitions, fascinations or relationships. This could be interesting if she was intentionally bland and naive but because the format is a fictional, narrative film, chances are that at some point filmmakers forgot to develop a layered character and instead got lost in the dark side of the industry she's involved in. Their trivial commentary about that industry here isn't worth losing the character in your character drama.
Frowneys: Story, characterisation
Sometimes a title can work as warning sign for a movie, exemplified when licorice, pizza or even vinyl records don't have much impact on story, setting or relationships. Paul Thomas Anderson writes and directs retro dramedy Licorice Pizza in addition to his with co-cinematographer duties (sharing the credit with Michael Bauman). In her first film role, Alana Haim stars as Alana, a photography assistant in her late 20s who on school picture day meets 15-year-old child actor Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, also making his debut) who quickly develops a crush on Alana. The film follows their adventures, partnership and romantic developments in San Fernando Valley in 1973 as they try to make something more out of their lives.
Considering that the two stars are both newcomers, it's quite a miracle that their acting is the one thing that shines in a film that otherwise has plenty of problems establishing anything compelling. Haim and Hoffman perfectly execute subtle looks and looking away while creating a natural banter between their characters. That is especially a miracle because Anderson's writing is often amateurishly poor, troubling for an accomplished filmmaker working with a $40 million budget.
That is truly a baffling number when Anderson invites seasoned actors for throwaway cameos and barely uses a shot where sets are more than nostalgia bait. His script isn't interested in creating believable characters with agency as they are often at the mercy of teenage boy's fantasies (seemingly Anderson's rather than Gary's), jokes in it don't work because they are all lazy punchlines with no setups and neither Alana nor Gary ever talk about anything that actually moves or inspires them. What a waste this sadly is.
Frowneys: Screenplay, story, characterisation, dialogue
THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER
Both love and thunder at the same time, in this economy? Maybe just once. Director-actor Taika Waititi follows up his reinvigoration of god of thunder in the MCU with Thor: Love And Thunder, also co-written by him alongside Jennifer Kaytin Robinson. Its story follows Thor (Chris Hemsworth) reuniting with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who finds out that she has cancer and simultaneously becomes ''Mighty Thor'' as she's able to wield Mjölnir. Meanwhile, Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) gets a hold of Necrosword, a powerful and destructive weapon, and embarks on a journey of vengeance, attempting to kill all the gods after losing his daughter Love (India Rose Hemsworth). Thor also recruits his old pals Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Waititi) as they try to stop Gorr.
What is upsetting is that much of that reinvigoration isn't really present in ''Thunder'', in fact it's the new addition in Bale who manages to keep his head above the surface. It's not a surprise then that the movie's most visually expressive scene—one in Shadow Realm—heavily features both the actor and character's best qualities. Otherwise Waititi constructs a pretty uninviting experience as tonal balance is nowhere to be found, visual style is rather appalling for a $250 million movie in the first half and as always, jokes don't get funnier when you repeat them 25 times (no more goats, please).
The artifice of MCU's filmmaking has never been exposed like this before as Waititi's direction seems to only be interested in putting his leads in front of a screen, doing 100 alternative takes and picking at random when editing it all together. There's no thought in his frames, one perfect example being the action choreography where nothing important is happening in the background, while Hemsworth and others are composed on top of it as they're playing a round of Quiplash. Where's the love for story, characters or entertainment?
Smileys: Christian Bale
Frowneys: Tone, directing, humour, stunt choreography