Friday, November 25, 2022

The Rental

Movie Name:
The Rental
Year of Release: 2020
Director: Dave Franco
Starring: Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss
Genre: Drama, Thriller, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
Dave Franco has established himself as a solid and reliable actor, with films that range from "If Beale Street Could Talk" from Barry Jenkins, to "Fright Night" from Craig Gillespie with quite a few disposable titles in between (including the terrible Michael Bay feature "6 Underground" and even the recent J. J. Perry's "Day Shift"). "The Rental" is his feature directorial debut, whose script he wrote with Joe Swanberg, who previously wrote "Drinking Buddies", amongst others. The film follows a group of friends, more specifically two couples who decide to rent an AirBNB in Oregon, and have a weekend getaway. Charlie who is coupled with Michelle is the CEO of a startup. His brother Josh brings along his girlfriend Mina, who works with Charlie. Upon arrival at the rental, they meet the caretaker Taylor, who is the brother of the owner. Mina is somewhat miffed at Taylor and at the situation itself, since she thinks the owners are racists since she was unable to book the property, and only a few minutes later Charlie did so without issues (and she takes issues with some of Taylor's remarks as well). During the first night, Michelle proposes that the group experiments with some acid, though she herself abstains from doing so since she's tired. Charlie, Mina and Josh try it out, and while Josh passes out, Mina and Charlie end up making out and eventually having sex. The following day while taking a shower Mina discovers a hidden camera in the shower head, and quickly alerts Charlie. Not wanting to raise suspicions on their tryst, they choose not to disclose it. Later that evening Michelle calls Taylor to come over and fix the hot tub. Josh realizes his dog has gone missing. Things quickly escalate when Mina brings up the hidden camera with Taylor, who is unaware of it, and as an argument is generated, Josh bursts in and violently attacks Taylor. While Charlie is able to defuse the situation, and subsequently the group discusses what they should do, a masked individual gets in the bathroom and kills Taylor. 
"The Rental"'s most successful aspect is how economically driven its narrative actually is. Dave Franco quickly establishes the rapport and relationships between the characters (very similar to the archetype of your typical B-movie), giving a threadbare dimension to all of them, or at least just enough for us to understand who these characters are and some of their context/background which subsequently justifies their later actions. The film also succeeds in creating a progressively uncomfortable environment, though it could have benefited from leveraging more the isolation and seclusion of the house, and also the claustrophobia and voyeuristic aspect that peppers the modus operandi of the killer itself (and the fact that they're somewhat trapped in that house and area). The quick escalation of the killings is quite effective, and the fact that the ominous figure is never explained or further clarified, also adds up to the tone of the narrative itself. The central cast is equally solid in their performances, creating a sense of verisimilitude to the relationships between themselves, the same going for Toby Huss' supporting performance as the possibly racist Taylor. The cinematography from Christian Sprenger is effective, as is the score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, while the production design from Meredith Lippincott succeeds in creating the environment of a posh cabin, with some faint echoes of other horror features that also take place in cabins. Worth watching. 

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Une Fille Facile/An Easy Girl

Movie Name:
Une Fille Facile/An Easy Girl
Year of Release: 2019
Director: Rebecca Zlotowski
Starring: Mina Farid, Zahia Dehar, Benoit Magimel, Nuno Lopes, Clotilde Courau, Loubna Abidar, Lakdhar Dridi, Henri-Noel Tabary, Cedric Appietto, Mickael Migliorini
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Director Rebecca Zlotowski who made a name for herself with the well received "Grand Central", followed that film with "Planetarium" with Natalie Portman and Lily Rose-Depp, which failed to ignite much interest or even good reviews. "Une Fille Facile" was the follow up, and premiered at the Cannes Film Festival where it was well received. The film follows the story of two cousins during a Summer in the Cannes area. Mina is the narrator and through her we learn that her cousin Sofia is visiting and has had to deal with a fair amount of challenges. Mina's mom is a cleaning lady, and Mina spends most of her time with her best friend Dodo, with both of them having some ambitions to go into acting. However when Sofia shows up, she starts disrupting Mina's tranquil existence, mostly because of her spontaneity and candid approach to flirtation, sexuality and seizing the moment. Sofia soon starts flirting with an older man by the name of Andres, who is enjoying the area in the company of his friend Philippe in an opulent yacht. And while the flirtation soon escalates to a slight affair, Mina who is only 16 also witnesses all from afar, trying to understand if this type of dynamics is indeed what is expected of women as they navigate relationships with men. She's simultaneously fascinated by the power Sofia, her beauty and approach hold over men, as she is slightly repulsed by what she thinks is the commodified aspect of those relationships.
"Une Fille Facile" is an interesting film in the sense that it illustrates the relationship between two young women, in a way that is non-judgmental or virulent in any way. While at a first glance it may be tempting to judge Sofia's character for her approach to relationships, Mina who is the narrator of the story, and who is in fact becoming an adult, manages to give a different side to Sofia's existence. And while to a certain extent Sofia's approach may be considered as the dark side of relationships which Mina gets to witness, and while there is indeed a commercialization of feelings and sexual intimacy, she also soon realizes that Sofia (and herself), have the power to choose what, when and how they want to do whatever concerns their actions, desires and appetites. The film and the script however does fail to render Sofia in a more compelling way, illustrating her for the beauty she is (much like Romy Schneider's in Jacques Deray's "La Piscine" or Ludivine Sagnier in Fran├žois Ozon's "Swimming Pool"), but never truly investigating or showcasing more beyond the facade. The observational aspect of the narrative is interesting, but it also registers the film as superficial and inconsequential, and not necessarily because there isn't a large epiphany for the characters, but mostly because in this particular journey they go on, and that we go on as viewers, there isn't much of a sense to who these women actually are. Mina Farid, Benoit Magimel, Nuno Lopes and the luminous Clotilde Courau do solid work, while Zahia Dehar fails to give more to the character than its obvious physical beauty. It's an interesting watch, though not necessarily a very memorable one.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Trucker

Movie Name: Trucker
Year of Release: 2008
Director: James Mottern
Starring: Michelle Monaghan, Nathan Fillion, Benjamin Bratt, Jimmy Bennett, Joey Lauren Adams, Brandon Hanson, Bryce Johnson, Maya McLaughlin, Matthew Lawrence, Ricky Ellison
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
James Mottern's "Trucker" is in fact his directorial debut, and the film had its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, followed by a series of film festival performances until its limited release, where it was greeted with solid reviews. The film focuses its attention on the story of Diane Ford, a long-haul truck driver. Diane is very focused on her driving career, with her personal relationships coming in the shape of sporadic flings/encounters, aside from a long standing and platonic friendship/relationship she keeps with Runner, a married neighbor of hers. Her existence is thrown into disarray when she's suddenly confronted with the fact she has to take care of her son, who has spent all of his life with her ex-husband Len. Len is in fact battling cancer, and though he does have a new partner, she is also experiencing some issues with her own family, therefore preventing her from taking care of Peter. While Peter is not very excited to stay with Diane either, the both of them slowly start learning a bit about each other and how they can live together.
One of the best things going for "Trucker", much like Victor Nunez's "Ruby in Paradise", is the fact that the film doesn't have or aspires to have many pretensions about the story that is telling. Diane, the central character, has chosen to lead a life on her own terms, where she's not encumbered by emotional or family ties of any sort. The fact that she drives a truck from city to city, also allows her to distance herself from any roots she may want to potentially create, with a place or with people or even with a job (she owns her own rig). The closest relationship she has is with Runner, who is married, whom she keeps at an arm's length particularly because she knows that he is indeed married, and therefore the potential to fall into something more serious is immediately sabotaged. However has the narrative evolves and her son comes into her life, she suddenly comes to the realization her sheltered existence can't stay the same forever, and that she has left footprints behind, ones that now she has to accept and come to terms with. It's a film with faint traces from Hal Ashby's style, one that doesn't glamorize these characters' lives, opting instead for a frank depiction of someone who suddenly has to grow up and accept her responsibilities. The characters in the film could have been flushed out a bit further, the same going for their interactions and exchanges, but the central relationship between Diane and Peter comes across transparently and with tenderness. The film is a solid showcase for the talented and versatile Michelle Monaghan who made a tremendous impact in Shane Black's "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", and subsequently has been featured in Ben Affleck's "Gone Baby Gone" and Duncan Jones' "Source Code", but who is well deserving of further lead roles. The cinematography from Lawrence Sher is solid, as is the score from the always fantastic Mychael Danna. Worth watching.

The Good Nurse

Movie Name:
The Good Nurse
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Tobias Lindholm
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Eddie Redmayne, Nnamdi Asomugha, Noah Emmerich, Kim Dickens, David Lavine, Ajay Naidu, Alix West Lefler, Devyn McDowell, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Maurice J. Irvin, Shaun O'Hagan, Gabe Fazio, Maria Dizzia, Bruce MacVittie
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Another release hailing from Netflix, this time around from director Tobias Lindholm, who has made a name for himself both as writer, by having co-written the script for Thomas Vinterberg's "The Hunt", as a director with the well received "A Highjacking" and "A War" (he also directed a few episodes of the David Fincher led "Mindhunter" in the interim). "The Good Nurse", which is based on the book by Charles Graeber, traces some of the real life events of Charlie Cullen, a currently incarcerated serial killer who has been convicted of killing at least 29 people, and is serving 17 consecutive life sentences in prison. The film opts to focus its attention on Amy Loughren, a single mother and nurse, who works in the ICU at Parkfield Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. She works long hours to make ends meet, and she herself has a critical medical issue. She has told no one at the hospital this situation since she fears dismissal. On top of this she also has to continue working long hours for additional time until she becomes eligible for health insurance (her medical visits themselves are enormously expensive). Some help comes in the shape of Charlie Cullen, an experienced nurse, who quickly befriends Amy, helping with her some tasks in the hospital and even with her own children at home. However soon after he joins the hospital, two patients unexpectedly pass away. Both of whom were being tended to by Amy and also Charlie. A police investigation starts as to what exactly happened with one of those patients, but due to the lack of cooperation from the Hospital's Administrative Board and the fact that the patient's body has already been cremated, there isn't much they can do. However with the most recent deceased patient they can perform an autopsy and gather more information. As the information gathered accumulates, the suspicions towards Charlie increase, as they realize this pattern has been repeated before.
"The Good Nurse" is a film whose narrative deftly moves forward and quickly establishes its main characters. One of its issues though lies with the fact that it tries to be a social agenda type of film, emphasizing the tremendous cost of healthcare in the US, and how even a working parent can't make ends meet, married with the somewhat shady dealings from these Hospitals' Administrative Boards. On top of these two socially driven topics it then also ties them with a thriller of sorts, where the question is raised if indeed this nurse has been consistently killing patients from institution to institution. All these threads don't get equal attention and time, and they eventually contribute to the fact that the narrative feels somewhat stunted. Which is to say, Amy's life is briefly given some insight, just enough to understand her challenges, though we never really know how she got there and why is it that she doesn't have more support. The same going for Charlie, whom we barely know much about, aside from the fact that he has some issues with an ex-wife and visiting rights with his children. The police investigation is also not given much room to actually be more than an episode that illustrates the obstacles brought forth by the Hospital Administration. It's ultimately a surprisingly shallow script, and one that is not entirely sensical (according to the narrative, if Amy was indeed such good friends with Charlie, why wouldn't she come to him first as opposed to what the film illustrates), and eventually one that doesn't fulfill the whole aspect of giving some dimension as to what drove Charlie or even what he got out of his relationship with Amy. While the director manages to create a strong sense of pacing and style, the narrative itself unfortunately just doesn't match his storytelling abilities. What is left is indeed the strong performance from Jessica Chastain who is back to her solid work (hopefully she has moved past Oscar bait material), with good support from Eddie Redmayne and Kim Dickens. The cinematography from Jody Lee Lipes is solid as is the score from Biosphere. Watchable but forgettable. 


Friday, November 11, 2022

Malnazidos/Valley of the Dead

Movie Name:
Malnazidos/Valley of the Dead
Year of Release: 2020
Director: Alberto de Toro, Javier Ruiz Caldera
Starring: Miki Esparbe, Aura Garrido, Luis Callejo, Alvaro Cervantes, Jesus Carroza, Dafnis Balduz, Sergio Torrico, Manel Llunell, Maria Botto, Manuel Moron, Francisco Reyes, Frank Feys, Ken Appledorn
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
"Malnazidos" is the first film directed by the team of Alberto de Toro and Javier Ruiz Caldera, though both of them have extensive experience in film making, with de Toro previously focused on editing and Caldera with considerable experience in directing. The film which takes place during the Spanish civil war, more specifically in 1938, follows the story of Jan Lozano, a former attorney now a lieutenant, whom we initially encounter about to be shot (he's a Nationalist). He is saved since his uncle is a General, who quickly assigns him a mission to deliver an important letter to the Sixth Brigade, one that is situated on enemy's lines. He is assigned a driver to get him to the location, but while on route, they get captured by a small group of Republicans. They soon find themselves tackling a series of zombies, including members of the Republicans larger squad. These zombies turns out are a result of experiments that the Nazis have been doing in the country and they all have to unite forces not only to defeat the zombie menace, but also prevent it from spreading throughout the country and world.
One of the most interesting things about "Malnazidos" is the fact that unlike Tommy Wirkola's "Dead Snow", it places the zombie threat not in the present timeline, but actually during the Spanish Civil War, which in many ways was the preamble for what World War II turned out to be. The film plays itself out as an economical B-movie, with the main set of characters quickly established without much background information, save for the essential in order to clarify their motivation. It's a film where the directors manage to illustrate the relationship of complicity and support between the main characters, even if at times it comes the film itself comes across as a borderline tv film with some gore thrown in for good measure. Unlike Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" or even Zack Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead", where the zombie threat pervaded much of the action, the directors here are more interested in how the group of soldiers are interacting with each other and how their relationships evolve, with the zombie threat playing more of a background role in the proceedings. It's a film that moves fast and accomplishes its purpose of being entertaining, peppered with some humor. The cast is uniformly solid, as is the production team, with highlights going to the cinematography from Kiko de la Rica. It's a watchable feature even if not a particularly memorable one. 

Hitman

Movie Name:
Hitman
Year of Release: 2007
Director: Xavier Gens
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper, Ulrich Thomsen, Henry Ian Cusick, Michael Offei, Christian Erickson, James Faulkner, Joe Sheridan, Eriq Ebouaney
Genre: Action, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
Xavier Gens started his directorial career with shorts and music videos, before making his feature debut with two films premiering the same year, one of them being "Hitman". "Hitman" is an adaptation by Skip Woods (who also wrote Dominic Sena's "Swordfish" and Joe Carnahan's "The A-Team"), of the video game by IO Interactive. The film follows the adventures of Agent 47, whom we soon learn was trained since a young age to become a lethal hitman. He has been working for a secretive entity only known as "The Organization". Following an engagement in Russia, he is informed that he failed to complete his mission. When he has to clean up the situation, he suddenly realizes he is being set up and that he has become a target himself. As he digs deeper, he realizes The Organization was hoping to gain influence with a new government, and ordered him to kill a duplicate of the President, and were planning to get him to take all the blame for the assassination. Agent 47, with the assistance of a woman who has also been impacted by the situation, traces the root of the conspiracy, removing all the obstacles that show up in the interim. 
While the video game series in which this film is based has had a lengthy existence, with the most recent release dating 2021, the film adaptations have no fared quite as well (there's a sequel with Rupert Friend, which premiered in 2015). Xavier Gens' take on this character is sadly devoid of much perspective, both in terms of giving the character an inner life and some dimension/motivation, but also in terms of how the film itself is shot and staged. The tone of the film suggests the character is somewhat monolithic and incapable of feelings, deeply contrasting with the violent aftermath of his actions, however there's never an exploration of why this regimented life for the agent exists or what life beyond the assignments he actually has. While in the narrative the character rebels against being a puppet for "The Organization, the way the film portrays him, is indeed akin to that of a puppet. The same goes for the supporting characters, which are barely sketches, with Olga Kurylenko's character in particular being offensively objectified (why does she spend 75% of her screen time topless). The film features over the top violence, but never cartoonishly funny such as Michael Davis' "Shoot' Em Up", opting instead for an overly serious tone which is supposed to marry the precision and insightful planning of the agent. Which is to say, there isn't much humor, and the film ends up being dour and sad utilization of the always reliable Timothy Olyphant, who always brings quirkiness and energy to his roles, the same going for the underutilized Dougray Scott. There's not much to highlight from the production team, the same going for the film itself. Forgettable.

Just Like Heaven

Movie Name:
Just Like Heaven
Year of Release: 2005
Director: Mark Waters
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Mark Ruffalo, Donal Logue, Dina Spybey, Ben Shenkman, Jon Heder, Caroline Aaron, Ivana Milicevic, Rosalind Chao, Ron Canada, Willie Garson
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
Following the success of "Mean Girls", director Mark Waters quickly returned with another comedy, only this time around with a bigger emphasis on the romantic aspect of it. "Just Like Heaven" follows the story of Elizabeth, an overworked and ambitious doctor who is on her way to get the job of her dreams in the hospital where she's currently stationed. She barely has time for anything in her life, however her sister sets her up on a blind date. On her way to that date, she suffers a dramatic car crash which results in her being in a coma. Into this narrative walks David Abbott, a landscape architect who has also been through a recent traumatic event. He's looking for a place to rent in San Francisco, and through sheer coincidence, uncovers a fantastic apartment that is only available to rent on a month to month basis. He's happy to take it on, and soon moves in. However much to his horror and surprise, Elizabeth starts appearing in the apartment all the time. It is her apartment he is occupying. She doesn't think she's a ghost, but she can't explain what's happening and can't remember what happened to her. They embark on a journey of uncovering what happened to her in the hopes they can both move on. 
"Just Like Heaven" tries to make a dramatic premise for a storyline into a "meet-cute" type of romantic film. And that turns out to be one of its biggest issues. It tries to make light of the fact that this character had a nearly fatal car crash, is lying in a coma (always looking great though), and its quasi ghost persona is roaming around trying to connect with someone she was meant to be with, while also saving herself. While Pedro Almodovar also tackled the premise of women in a coma in his wonderful "Hable con Ella/Talk to Her", his much more layered narrative allowed for those women to come to life by contextualizing who they were prior to their dramatic medical issue. Almodovar also built a series of relationships connecting those two women, which further explained how they related to the men in their lives and how they both had a web of connections that informed who they were. Sadly in this "Just Like Heaven", both characters are stunted puppets servicing some romantic comedy tropes (the same going for the supporting characters), never truly making these characters come to life beyond the very limited archetypes they represent. The cast tries their best to bring this story to life, with Reese Witherspoon once again playing the overachiever, Mark Ruffalo the disheveled yet sensitive romantic interest, Jon Heder the eccentric supporting character, and Donal Logue and Dina Spybey as the friend/family archetypes. Sadly it's a film that doesn't work, from the tone to the production itself, with some lackluster visual effects (and good luck finding an apartment that size available in San Francisco). One to skip. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Cabin Fever

Movie Name:
Cabin Fever
Year of Release: 2002
Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Rider Strong, Jordan Ladd, James DeBello, Cerina Vincent, Joey Kern, Arie Verveen, Matthew Helms, Eli Roth, Tim Parati, Hal Courtney, Dalton McGuire, Dante Walker
Genre: Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
Though now writer/director Eli Roth is a well known and celebrated film maker, "Cabin Fever" is in reality his feature directorial debut, which had its premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in 2002. The film follows the story of a group of college friends, who decide to go unwind and spend a weekend in a remote cabin in the woods for Spring Break. While there they come in contact with a hermit by the name of Henry, who has become infected by something his dog was carrying. The group decides to push him away, and when he attempts to take their car to seek help, they eventually kill him. The next day some of the members of the group set out to find some help to repair the car, while the sensitive Paul who has always had a crush on Karen, stays behind trying to comfort her for what happened with Henry. When things start getting more intimate, she realizes she has an infection in her groin. As it worsens, the group decides to isolate her in a nearby shed, for fear of contamination. As events escalate and the infection progressively spreads throughout the group, Paul discovers that Henry's dead body ended up on the water reservoir and has in fact contaminated the water supply. 
"Cabin Fever"'s setting immediately brings to mind Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead". However and unlike that series, this film goes in a slightly different direction, one that is not so reliant on the paranormal, but one that instead relies on a few different horror movie tropes that hark back to even John Boorman's "Deliverance" (or for that matter, Wes Craven's "The Hills Have Eyes"), case in point, people on remote and isolated villages who are vile, violent and racist (to name but a few of the terms with which they're characterized). What gives "Cabin Fever" its distinct flavor is the fact that the director sets a horrific set of events in motion, each perpetually worse than the previous, while also playing with the tropes of the genre itself (turns out these teenagers are not so innocent, and the people in the remote village, are not all overwhelmingly so vile). However and while the director keeps a brisk pacing to the events taking place, with the film at times playing like a taut B-movie, it still lacks more dimension to its characters, not to mention some insightful humor and a more distinct tone/point of view (for instance, akin to what Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino did with their "Grindhouse" films). The cast is uneven in their quest for success in bringing these characters to life, but the film is nonetheless watchable, though not necessarily memorable. 

Friends with Money

Movie Name: 
Friends with Money
Year of Release: 2006
Director: Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener, Jennifer Aniston, Joan Cusack, Jason Isaacs, Simon McBurney, Greg Germann, Timm Sharp, Jake Cherry, Scott Caan, Bob Stephenson, Marin Hinkle, Ty Burrell, Troy Ruptash
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon Prime

Synopsis and Review
After "Lovely & Amazing" which premiered in 2001 to solid reviews, writer/director Nicole Holofcener tackled a few directing jobs for reputable shows (including Alan Ball's "Six Feet Under"), before resuming her feature directorial career with "Friends with Money", which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The film follows the story of a group of friends, 4 women who have known each other for quite some time. With the exception of Olivia, who is single, all the women are married. Jane is a fashion designer, who is having issues with getting older, and who has a supporting husband who wants to have another child (and who everyone thinks is gay). Christine is a screenwriter, and is tangled up in a renovation & expansion project with her house, and is constantly fighting with her husband, who seems to really not care or even bother with her, Finally there's Franny, who lives off a trust fund with her husband Matt. Olivia in the meantime has quit her job as a teacher, and now makes ends meet by being a cleaning lady. Her friends are all going through their own challenges, but are also concerned about Olivia's relationships so much that Franny in particular decides to set her up with her personal trainer. 
"Friends with Money" has the clear benefit of having a terrific cast, one that is capable of making all these characters imminently watchable and viewable. However, what they can't really do is actually make these characters particularly interesting, and therein lies the problem with the narrative and the film itself. While there's a somewhat contemplative tone to the film, the feature never truly questions any of the status quo of these individuals, what made their lives what they are, and why they stay in the relationships they have. Even the slightly homophobic tone that happens throughout the film towards Jane's husband ("he's clearly gay", as if that was possibly the worst thing in existence), never goes beyond that, nothing is ever truly explored about that character, aside from a flirtatious episode he has with Ty Burrell's character (and that episode itself and where it leads, is also of questionable taste in terms of what it hints at). Some possible emotional probing almost occurs with Christine and her relationship, but that is also wrapped up and quickly settled. In the end, Olivia's journey which seems the most distinct of all, particularly for all its challenges, also remains unsatisfying not because of its uncertainty, but mostly because her ambitions, longings and aspirations remain opaque and never truly rendered. It's a surprisingly shallow film, which never truly works neither as a satire nor as a dramatic vehicle. The saving grace for this film is indeed its cast, with everyone managing to make this enjoyable and watchable, particularly Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Joan Cusack and Jason Isaacs, even if there's not much to it. It's watchable, but sadly not memorable. 

The Northman

Movie Name:
The Northman
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Robert Eggers
Starring: Alexander Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, Claes Bang, Anya Taylor-Joy, Ethan Hawke, Bjork, Willem Dafoe, Gustav Lindh, Elliott Rose, Phill Martin, Eldar Skar, Olwen Fouere, Edgar Abram, Ingvar Sigurdsson
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Writer/director Robert Eggers has returned after the well received and celebrated "The Lighthouse". "The Northman" is a passion project from its lead actor Alexander Skarsgard, and its narrative is based on the legend of Amleth, a medieval Scandinavian legend, who turns out was also a direct inspiration for William Shakespeare's Hamlet. The film follows the story of young prince Amleth in the 9th century. His father recently returned from overseas conquests, fears his time is at hand, since he was seriously injured in his last excursion. As he prepares Amleth to take over, even in his young age, he is betrayed by his half brother who murders him, and wants to kill Amleth as well. Amleth manages to escape and promises revenge. Years later, now an adult, Amleth is involved with a Viking group in taking over and pillaging small kingdoms. After taking over a village, he's warned by an oracle of what lies ahead, namely of his quest for revenge, what has since happened to his uncle and mother, and how his life is going to be tangled with that of a young maiden. Amleth sets a plan in motion, which includes pretending to be a slave and going to Iceland in order to fulfill his destiny. On his route he meets Olga, a young captured woman who claims to be a sorceress, and they eventually become slaves for his uncle, Fjolnir. Amleth bides his time, observing his mother who has since bore a son for his uncle, deepening his relationship with Olga, and setting his plans in motion. 
"The Northman" is a deeply immersive film, thanks mostly to the director and his production team who manage to create a fiercely compelling and gritty look, representative of medieval times. At a time where many TV shows such as "Game of Thrones" and even "Lord of the Rings", seem to have mapped out what is perceived to be the Middle Ages or something fantastical akin to that, this film opts for a visual that simultaneously tries to be more realistic, but also and personally, something that instantly reminded me of John Boorman's "Excalibur". The medieval legend at the core of the narrative isn't of course a profoundly different tale than many medieval revenge tales that have bee tackled on screen. What is indeed quite rewarding about this feature is Robert Eggers' point of view, one that combines a formal and distinctive aesthetic flair, with a cast that tries to embody these characters the best way they can. And while the story is indeed visibly and vividly brought to life, the fact remains that most supporting characters end up being sketches, while the female characters are for the most part largely flat and have almost nothing to do (Nicole Kidman's Gudrun has one moment in the entire feature, in what is her interaction with her adult son, whereas Anya Taylor-Joy's Olga doesn't even get that). The film largely remains focused on Alexander Skarsgard's capable hands, with the actor solidly illustrating both the ferocious warrior, but also the wounded soul and son, one who is trying to respect his father's wishes, but also one who wants to fulfill his destiny. While the antagonism between the main forces never truly crystalizes into something memorable, the narrative is nonetheless peppered with striking events and episodes. It's a beautifully rendered film, one that could have indeed benefited from some additional character development, but nonetheless one that is ambitious, and showcases Robert Eggers ability to draw good performances from his cast. The cinematography from Jarin Blaschke is wonderful, as is the production design from Craig Lathrop. Worth watching.