Australian actress Frances O’Connor makes both her directorial and writing debut with Emily, a pseudo-biopic about revered writer Emily Brontë that intentionally fudges the facts surrounding the 19th century author. Though her lone novel Wuthering Heights is widely regarded as a literary classic, details of Brontë’s personal life weren’t especially well-documented before her untimely death at the age of 30. That means making her the subject of a biographical drama calls for inferences to be drawn from what is written about Brontë and for extrapolations to be rendered under artistic license. I’m neither an English nor a history major, so I didn’t go into this movie expecting to pick it apart for accuracy but simply to get the sense of how this reclusive young woman concocted such a galvanizing piece of literature seemingly out of nowhere. What I got was a bundle of period piece clichés and a story that always seems at odds with itself.

We meet Emily Brontë (Emma Mackey) on what seems to be her deathbed, with sister and fellow writer Charlotte (Alexandra Dowling) trying to get answers before it’s too late about how she conceived of Wuthering Heights. We’re taken back years in Emily’s life to her 20s, where she fosters a relationship with her other sister Anne (Amelia Gething) and gets into trouble with her brother Branwell (Fionn Whitehead) while Charlotte is away at school. One day, handsome clergyman William Weightman (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) joins her father’s parsonage as a curate and begins teaching French to Emily. There doesn’t seem to be much of a spark between the two at the outset but over the course of their lessons, an affection develops between Emily and William. Due to the latter’s position in the church, a relationship would be potentially deemed scandalous and must be kept a secret from friends and family.

The largest miscalculation O’Connor makes in Emily is laboring under the regressive notion that the audience will only be interested in Brontë’s life if she has an attachment to a fetching suitor. There’s more than enough at the edges of this rote romance involving Emily’s family life to justify a story solely about them rather than shoehorning in a man about whom very little is known. Although Emily’s sisters don’t get nearly enough screen time to develop their characters and define their influence on her life, Branwell factors into the storyline and his kinship with Emily serves as the film’s sole instances of insight into Emily’s character. I can’t imagine this was O’Connor’s intent but I half-wondered if she was steering us towards a love triangle between William and Branwell; after all, Emily has practically no chemistry with William, while Branwell seems to invigorate her spiritually and creatively.

Mackey and Whitehead make the most of their scenes together, tapping into a mutual mischievous streak that infuses this otherwise murky and morose tale with some much-needed personality. The film’s best scenes are in their minute moments of bonding, whether they’re spinning around the lush countryside in an opium-tinged splendor or heckling William with bleating noises during one of his sermons. Emily’s terse interactions with Charlotte and genial exchanges with Anne are breadcrumbed throughout the narrative but there’s no good reason for these notable figures to be as sidelined as they are. Jackson-Cohen is positively a bore as the staid hunk with whom Emily inexplicably falls in love; though his character here isn’t nearly as monstrous as the one he played in The Invisible Man, he’s just as imperceptible (albeit for a different reason).

While Emily is an easy enough film to take in aesthetically, O’Connor stumbles when it comes to finding its central message. Too often, she relies on montages that don’t convey much meaningful information and are pedestrian in terms of visual storytelling. Abel Korzeniowski’s musical score swells, time speeds up but not much of an impression is ultimately left from these sequences. O’Connor also traffics in some pretty dodgy banalities that tend to plague this genre; characters run around in the rain so often in this film that I started to subconsciously beg them to stay inside. Elsewhere, she attempts to incorporate other genres, as with an awkward and mean-spirited seance scene that briefly indulges the supernatural but doesn’t tie back to the plot later on. A more honest inquisition into the life of this solitary novelist would hold true cultural value but Emily too often takes the easy way out.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Creed III, a sports drama starring Michael B. Jordan and Jonathan Majors following the titular heavyweight as he dukes it out with a childhood friend-turned-foe who resurfaces after serving a long sentence in prison.
Also playing only in theaters is Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre, a spy action comedy starring Jason Statham and Aubrey Plaza involving a team of special agents who recruit one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars to help them on an undercover mission.
Available to rent is Palm Trees and Power Lines, a coming-of-age drama starring Lily McInerny and Jonathan Tucker about a disconnected teenage girl whose relationship with an older man starts out promisingly but gets more complicated over time.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Notes on the 2023 Oscars

Best Picture

Somehow, someway, sci-fi oddity Everything Everywhere All At Once is poised to take home the big trophy on Oscar night this year. Its ascent to surefire Best Picture winner by way of numerous other top awards this season flies in the face of several Oscar conventions: it’s weird, it’s funny, it’s chaotic and it came out in April. I needed to see it twice in theaters to unpack its heady concepts and whirlwind pace and while it’s not quite my personal favorite of the pack, I’m certainly a big fan and welcome its weirdness into the annals of Academy Award history. Box office juggernaut Top Gun: Maverick is the only one I would consider a dark horse but A24 should have this in the bag with Everything Everywhere. Lovely to see my top film from last year, Tár, in the running, even if it doesn’t have a chance.

My Prediction: Everything Everywhere All At Once
My Vote: Tár
Overlooked: Glass Onion

Best Director

It’s just about as surprising that The Daniels are the favorites for Director that the film they made together is the favorite for Best Picture. They’re going up against heavyweights like Steven Spielberg, who earns his 9th Best Director nomination here, but their idiosyncratic collaboration inspired the year’s most bold and bizarre cinematic vision. Who would have predicted that the pair of goofballs whose previous project was centered around a flatulent corpse would win Best Director with their next movie? Not me.

My Prediction: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
My Vote: Todd Field
Overlooked: Kogonada – After Yang

Best Actor

There are 16 first-time Oscar nominees spread across the four acting categories and 5 of them can be found here. Much has been made of Austin Butler’s commitment to playing The King, specifically the lingering effect that studying Elvis’ accent has had on his normal speaking voice, but Brendan Fraser seems to be the favorite at this point. His return to the spotlight with an overwhelmingly tragic performance seems to have voters enraptured and no one loves a comeback story like Hollywood. Between After Yang, The Batman and Banshees, Colin Farrell had an incredible year and his work in Banshees is some of the finest of his career.

My Prediction: Brendan Fraser
My Vote: Colin Farrell
Overlooked: John Boyega – Breaking

Best Actress

The biggest surprise here is Andrea Riseborough, whose To Leslie was given practically no awards attention prior to this nomination but seemed to benefit from fervent Twitter buzz last month. She’s a terrific actress and it’s a good movie, so I’m happy to see her here. However, this is going to come down to Cate Blanchett, who has been nominated for 8 acting Oscars (and won twice) before, and Yeoh, who stars in the movie with the most nominations this year. While I don’t think Tár has much of a shot in Picture or Director, it has a strong chance here with what I would likely consider Blanchett’s best performance.

My Prediction: Cate Blanchett
My Vote: Cate Blanchett
Overlooked: Rebecca Hall – Resurrection

Best Supporting Actor

My Prediction: Ke Huy Quan
My Vote: Ke Huy Quan
Overlooked: Rory Kinnear – Men

Best Supporting Actress

My Prediction: Angela Bassett
My Vote: Kerry Condon
Overlooked: Nina Hoss – Tár

Plenty of new faces here when it comes to nominees and lots of pleasant surprises. Brian Tyree Henry was the best thing about Causeway and I’m thrilled to see him included here after watching his career steadily take off since Atlanta. The dual Banshees nominations in Supporting Actor, along with the dual Supporting Actress nominations for Everything Everywhere, does my heart good. Hong Chau was also fantastic in The Menu but she was one of the best things about The Whale as well; I’m glad she’s finally finding the right movie roles. Ke Huy Quan is arguably at the center of an even bigger comeback story than Brendan Fraser’s and incidentally, he’s outstanding in Everything Everywhere, so he seems to be a lock for Supporting Actor. The Supporting Actress race seemed to be up in the air for a bit but consensus has circulated around Angela Bassett, whose win would be the first for a performance in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film.

Best Original Screenplay

My Prediction: Everything Everywhere All At Once
My Vote: Tár
Overlooked: Flux Gourmet

Best Adapted Screenplay

My Prediction: Women Talking
My Vote: Glass Onion
Overlooked: Marcel The Shell With Shoes On

Best Animated Feature Film

My Prediction: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio
My Vote: Turning Red
Overlooked: Wendell & Wild

Best International Feature Film

My Prediction: All Quiet on the Western Front
My Vote: All Quiet on the Western Front
Overlooked: Hit The Road

Best Documentary – Feature

My Prediction: All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
My Vote: Fire of Love
Overlooked: Aftershock

Best Documentary – Short Subject

  • The Elephant Whisperers
  • Haulout
  • How Do You Measure a Year?
  • The Martha Mitchell Effect
  • Stranger at the Gate

My Prediction: The Elephant Whisperers
My Vote: —
Overlooked: —

Best Live Action Short Film

  • An Irish Goodbye
  • Ivalu
  • Le Pupille
  • Night Ride
  • The Red Suitcase

My Prediction: Le Pupille
My Vote: —
Overlooked: —

Best Animated Short Film

  • The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
  • The Flying Sailor
  • Ice Merchants
  • My Year of Dicks
  • An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It

My Prediction: The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
My Vote: —
Overlooked: —

Best Production Design

My Prediction: Babylon
My Vote: All Quiet on the Western Front
Overlooked: The Whale

Best Cinematography

My Prediction: All Quiet on the Western Front
My Vote: Tár
Overlooked: Top Gun: Maverick

Best Costume Design

My Prediction: Elvis
My Vote: Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris
Overlooked: The Woman King

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

My Prediction: The Whale
My Vote: The Batman
Overlooked: Blonde

Best Original Score

My Prediction: Babylon
My Vote: The Banshees of Inisherin
Overlooked: The Batman

Best Original Song

My Prediction: “Naatu Naatu”
My Vote: “Naatu Naatu”
Overlooked: “New Body Rhumba” from White Noise

Best Sound

My Prediction: Top Gun: Maverick
My Vote: Top Gun: Maverick
Overlooked: Kimi

Best Film Editing

My Prediction: Everything Everywhere All At Once
My Vote: Everything Everywhere All At Once
Overlooked: Ambulance

Best Visual Effects

My Prediction: Avatar: The Way of Water
My Vote: Avatar: The Way of Water
Overlooked: Nope

Enjoy the show!

Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania

Phase Five of the Marvel Cinematic Universe gets off to a fun start with Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania, the third and likely final standalone movie for the other Avenger named after an insect who’s not Spider-Man. The first two entries seemed to be self-aware of the fact that Ant-Man is not the most impactful Marvel hero out there and as such, the stakes were appropriately low compared to the galaxy-level consequences of the Avengers movies. These days, I tend to tire from the humongous scale of the larger superhero epics and prefer the “smaller” stories but the first two Ant-Man films always felt too insignificant to leave an impression. Quantumania is unquestionably on a much bigger stage, tasked with building a world we’ve only seen glimpses of in previous MCU fare while also setting up the new big bad for the next batch of Marvel projects. It turns out that the little guy is up to the task.

We’re reintroduced to Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) as he adjusts to life as a celebrity after his substantial contribution to reversing the Blip in Avengers: Endgame. His now-teenage daughter Cassie (Kathryn Newton) is also trying to find her way, dabbling with activism and quantum physics on top of her regular school life. The latter hobby leads her to create a sort of GPS for the Quantum Realm, allowing her to explore the area without actually going there. When Scott’s girlfriend Hope/Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) and her parents Hank (Michael Douglas) and Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer) observe Cassie’s new invention, all five members of the family are sucked into a portal from the satellite and are transported to the Quantum Realm. Separated during their trip, Scott and Cassie must reunite with Hope and her parents to get back home while avoiding an all-powerful adversary in the process.

One area where Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the most recent MCU movie before Quantumania, struggled was in building a compelling new setting by way of the murky underwater city of Talokan. The Quantum Realm has been seen briefly in the first Ant-Man as something of a cosmic purgatory where Scott lingered for a moment of peril but in this sequel, we get to see much more of the universe. That gives way for some vivid new locations to be unveiled and plenty of neat creature design to fill the always-busy frame. We meet all sorts of strange characters, like a telepath whose head glows when he gets inbound thought messages from others and a Kirby-like slime being whose ooze can be ingested to allow outsiders to understand Quantum Realm languages. There’s even a talking broccoli, though he’s sadly not voiced by Dana Carvey.

The antagonist of Quantumania was first introduced in the finale of Loki, a TV series that I would consider a prerequisite going into this latest MCU movie, as the variant He Who Remains. For the first hour of Quantumania, he could be called He Who Remains Nameless, as the movie always seems to cut away from any character right before they say his name. Eventually we find out: it’s Kang The Conqueror, a Multiverse-hopping tyrant played with prestige and menace by Jonathan Majors. Unlike Thanos, whose appearances leading up to Avengers: Infinity War were relegated to brief scenes and post-credit teasers, Kevin Feige and his team at Marvel Studios are showing us more of this supervillain up front before his inevitable clash with the Avengers. This is an auspicious start for Majors in these MCU films and I’m looking forward to seeing how his character develops over time, so to speak.

My Quantumania quibbles aren’t much different than the ones I tend to have with the rest of these movies. The lighting, especially in close-up, is inconsistent, the editing is incoherent at times and unlike the MCU output from last year, the third act is back to generally being a blur of clunky CGI action. But fans of the series likely won’t mind much of this because it’s potentially irrelevant to their experience and they aren’t new issues anyway. For me, this is the best of the three Ant-Man standalones because it finds new ways to flesh out this character — there’s a visual motif during a “probability storm” sequence that brought this home for me — in unpredictable ways. As a trilogy capper, Ant-Man And The Wasp: Quantumania sends the underdog hero out on a high note and sets up as many future adventures as the box office can justify.

Score – 3.5/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Cocaine Bear, an action comedy starring Keri Russell and O’Shea Jackson Jr. based on the true story of a bear who goes on a killing rampage in a small Georgia town after ingesting a duffel bag full of cocaine.
Also coming only to theaters is Jesus Revolution, a faith-based drama starring Joel Courtney and Jonathan Roumie covering the true story of a national spiritual awakening in the early 1970s and its origins within a community of teenage hippies in Southern California.
Streaming on Netflix is We Have A Ghost, a family horror comedy starring David Harbour and Anthony Mackie about a family who finds a ghost named Ernest haunting their new home and turns him into an overnight social media sensation.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup


Streaming on Apple TV+ starting this Friday, the new psychological thriller Sharper is a movie about con artists that cons itself into thinking it’s sharper than it really is. Inspired by genre greats like The Grifters and House Of Games, the film has a titillating structure with character-focused chapters that reveal narrative context slowly but it falls apart when all the cards are on the table. These kinds of movies are often only as good as their final twist and the third act here, which tries to tie all these characters together for one last bit of backstabbing, simply doesn’t hold up against scrutiny. Even if the characters they play aren’t likable, the qualified cast is certainly engaging enough on-screen and does what they can to keep us invested through the myriad plot developments.

We first meet Tom (Justice Smith), a young man running a rare and used bookstore in Manhattan who helps Sandra (Briana Middleton) find a hardback copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God one day and a romance develops soon-after. Then we learn more about Sandra’s past as it relates to Max (Sebastian Stan), a seedy con artist — “I don’t watch movies, they’re a waste of time,” he snarls at Sandra — looking to settle a score with his family. That includes his overbearing mother Madeline (Julianne Moore) and her billionaire boyfriend Richard (John Lithgow), who let Max crash with them during an especially fraught time in his life. As more is revealed about Madeline and Sandra in the ensuing chapters of the narrative, allegiances shift and the lives of the five principal characters converge in unpredictable ways.

During a literary pop quiz of sorts, Max quotes the “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” line from Anna Karenina and while the way in which the family at the center of Sharper is unhappy isn’t exactly unique, the circumstances behind their unhappiness are intentionally labyrinthine. That’s due to the thorny screenplay from writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka, which piles on layers of complicating factors to the ever-revolving story but doesn’t add much nuance or empathy to their characters in the process. The inhabitants of this tale are mostly miserable, money-flush Manhattanites, blithely resentful of how much wealth they’ve acquired while still bitterly dependent on it to destroy others when they so choose. There are times when it’s possible to care about these people but they certainly don’t make it easy.

While the players in con movies can’t all be as effortlessly charming as the swindling stars of Ocean’s 11, it’s not too much to ask that the structure of the duplicitous storyline adds up to something in the end. Sharper certainly sports surprises and twists along the way that keep the audience on their toes like this sort of film should but once you’ve lived inside a movie like this for an hour and a half, it’s not difficult to be able to guess how the final rug-pull will play out. Director Benjamin Caron does his best to distract us with a timeline that moves back and forth but can’t stick the landing when it counts. Fortunately, no matter where we are in the story, the film is always visually tantalizing, thanks to Danish cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen. One thing it’s difficult to say about most Apple Original Films is that they look bad; like the products they design, Apple clearly understands that a glossy appearance is imperative.

Apple TV+ releases are typically bolstered by casts of instantly recognizable stars and Sharper is no exception. While Moore and Stan are the actors whose stock is likely the highest right now, both of their characters are incredibly difficult to root for at any point in this story. The prickly performances are in line with the steely vibe that Caron is going for but it doesn’t give them a chance to show off their star power much either. Smith and Middleton fare much better in roles that give them the opportunities to show warmth and passion in a film that typically seems too cool for that sort of thing. Sharper is slick and smart in spurts but watching it, one can’t help but be reminded of the puzzlebox mysteries that pulled it off better.

Score – 2.5/5

More movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, the latest Marvel installment starring Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly which finds Scott Lang and his family going on a new adventure within the Quantum Realm and pits them against a mysterious new foe.
Also playing in theaters is Marlowe, a neo-noir crime thriller starring Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger about a private detective who is hired to find the ex-lover of a glamorous heiress in 1930s Los Angeles.
Screening at Cinema Center is Paris Is Burning, a 1990 documentary which chronicles the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in the drag scene of New York during the 1980s.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup

Knock At The Cabin

Due to the overwhelming popularity of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan has been pigeonholed as a director whose films always have a twist ending. While some of his movies after those two initial breakouts have indeed had third act rug-pulls, the majority of his work tends to be based on an elevator pitch of an idea that begs resolution. The Happening‘s was “why are people spontaneously killing themselves?” Old‘s was “what’s going on with this beach?” After Earth‘s was “who told Shyamalan it was a good idea to make this movie?” His latest high concept contraption, Knock At The Cabin, sports another tantalizing quandary but instead of the open-ended mystery that Shyamalan typically favors, there are really only one of two possible general resolutions for this specific gambit.

The story is set around a family of three — fathers Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), along with their seven-year-old daughter Wen (Kristen Cui) — as they vacation at a secluded cabin in the woods. While collecting grasshoppers, Wen is approached outside the cabin by Leonard (Dave Bautista), a hulking second grade teacher who exchanges questions with her. Things get more ominous when three others in Leonard’s group — Sabrina (Nikki Amuka-Bird), Adriane (Abby Quinn) and Redmond (Rupert Grint) — also emerge from the woods brandishing makeshift weapons. Wen runs inside to warn her dads of the approaching quarrelsome quartet, who force their way into the cabin after a struggle and make a severe claim: that one of the three family members must willingly sacrifice themselves in order to prevent a closely impending apocalypse.

It would stand to reason that the rest of Knock At The Cabin from that point on would be a psychological thriller, wherein the family being held hostage would engage in a battle of wits with the interlopers to gain the upper hand. But that’s already making the assumption that the invaders are incorrect and misguided in their conviction that the world will end very soon if this sacrificial act isn’t carried out. Shyamalan instead spends most of the running time setting up a binary equation where we won’t know whether or not the apocalyptic premonitions are founded until the very end of the movie. Not only does this limit the scope and impact of the inevitable conclusion but it makes the preceding events more redundant than they needed to be. Leonard poses the question “will you make a choice?” to the family repetitively and takes action when they routinely refuse to commit the necessary penance; in the immortal words of Rush: “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

After Old, Knock At The Cabin is the second movie in a row that Shyamalan has adapted from existing source material; this time, he’s recruited co-writers Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman to bring Paul G. Tremblay’s novel The Cabin at the End of the World to the screen. While Old was seemingly affected by the fact that it was shot during the COVID-19 pandemic, with unappealing cinematography and awkward editing that tried to disguise that the actors weren’t on set at the same time, Shyamalan’s latest effort isn’t marred by the same issues. The camerawork by Jarin Blaschke and Lowell A. Meyer has some flashy tricks up its sleeve but mainly settles for a handsome yet foreboding palette upon which these characters can express their anxieties and intentions. A few sequences, like one in which two characters struggle for a gun in a thumbprint-locked safe, crackle with an energy that isn’t sustained throughout the movie.

Bautista continues a streak of acting wins following last year’s Glass Onion and a smaller part in Dune: Part One that will likely be expanded in Dune: Part Two later this year. As the main spokesman for the four antagonists, he proves that he has the dramatic chops to lead an ensemble chamber piece like this. As with other wrestlers-turned-actors, filmmakers have learned how to use his oversized frame to their advantage. Leonard is positioned as a gentle giant whose hand is forced by supernatural circumstances; in his introductory scene with Wen, the pair even take turns plucking flower petals to invite allusions to Frankenstein. Shyamalan is able to create suspense for a few minutes at a time but the longer Knock At The Cabin goes on, the more obvious it becomes that he loses sight of the story that he ultimately wants to tell.

Score – 2/5

New movies coming this weekend:
Coming only to theaters is Magic Mike’s Last Dance, the conclusion to the Magic Mike trilogy starring Channing Tatum and Salma Hayek Pinault following the titular male stripper as he heads to London with a wealthy socialite who lures him with the offer of a lifetime.
Streaming on Amazon is Somebody I Used To Know, a romantic comedy starring Alison Brie and Jay Ellis about a workaholic whose trip to her hometown reunites her with an ex-boyfriend and finds her meeting a young woman who reminds her of the person she used to be.
Premiering on Netflix is Your Place Or Mine, another romantic comedy starring Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher about a man who looks after the teenage son of his best friend while she pursues a lifelong dream as they swap houses for one life-changing week.

Reprinted by permission of Whatzup