Monday, October 30, 2023

Priscilla paints a humanizing portrait of its titular subject

Both a sense of entrapment and a disconnect from reality permeate the directorial career of Sofia Coppola. The Virgin Suicides, for instance, was all about a collection of teenage girls withheld from experiencing the real world. The Bling Ring was a story about ordinary teenagers searching for an exciting escape from their lives by breaking into the houses of celebrities and taking their possessions, in essence believing owning these items will make them like their famous idols. Meanwhile, Marie Antoinette recalls the life of the titular royal figure as someone totally detached from the reality of her subjects as she enjoys an existence of luxury in her lavish domicile. Even Coppola's low-key yarn 2020 On The Rocks continued these themes by following Rashida Jones as a woman trapped by the thought of her husband having an affair and bamboozled that everyone else finds her unreliable father so charming. How come nobody else can see the man she's known all her life?

These qualities, as well as a penchant for glorious production design, lending urgent verve to period pieces,  and an overall empathy for complicated women characters, have made Sofia Coppola's career incredibly fascinating to watch unfold. Coppola continues her biggest thematic fascinations with Priscilla, a motion picture that chronicles the relationship between Priscilla Presley and Elvis. Much of the discussion around Priscilla will inevitably center around comparisons between it and Baz Luhrmann's 2022 feature Elvis and understandably so given that they're both distinctive creative visions about one of the most prolific American musicians of all time. However, in the middle of all that discussion, let's also not forget to appreciate Priscilla as a standalone piece of art and another triumphant feather in Sofia Coppola's artistic cap.

Priscilla begins in 1959, as a fourteen-year-old Priscilla (Cailee Spaeny) is invited to attend a party involving Elvis Presley (Jacob Elordi). At this shindig, Elvis begins to immediately express a fondness for Priscilla, a relationship that Coppola frames from the start as incredibly creepy. The exchanges between a grown man and a 9th-grader are usually rendered by Coppola and cinematographer Philippe Le Sourd through these wide shots that go on and on. The lengthy nature of these images, particularly one chronicling the duo's first Christmas together, emphasizes the incredible awkwardness and stiffness between these two people. These are not starstruck lovers, this is a relationship built on an incredibly inappropriate and off-balance power dynamic from the start. This concept is impressively rendered in Coppola's hands while the emphasis on Elvis as a self-infatuated guy with a tendency for murmuring provides a great contrast to typical hagiographic pop culture portrayals of "The King."

From here, Priscilla chronicles its titular lead getting swept up in the life of Elvis Presley and becoming his go-to lover, to the point that she's asked to come stay at Graceland. This location is one we've all seen on postcards, in films, everywhere imaginable. Its go-to visual aura is one of cozy Americana, it's a depiction of lavish living that we're supposed to wish we could have. Within this story, though, Graceland is quickly transformed into a prison. It isn't long before Priscilla Presley finds that her life as Elvis's spouse is endlessly constrictive. She can't even play with her dog outside without being told not to "make a spectacle of yourself" while she's forbidden to have a job or bring any of her friends over. "No outsiders at Graceland," she's told. It's classic abusive behavior, cutting off your partner's external life so that they can only find value in you.

Its truly impressive how well Coppola and company transform the interior of Graceland, a place we've seen all our lives in media as so ritzy and glamorous, into feeling like such a suffocating nightmare. The emptiness of this vast space (captured in haunting wide shots) serves as a visual extension of how hollow Priscilla feels inside navigating this toxic relationship. An especially harrowing depiction of how draining and insulting this experience is for Priscilla comes in an early sequence showing her sitting down at a dinner table with Elvis and his cohorts. At this bustling meal, the camera lingers on just Priscilla's face as nobody asks her any questions about herself or even really acknowledges her existence. Cailee Spaeny does remarkable work communicating with the gentlest twitches of her face this sense of unease, of recognizing that she's being ignored. There are so many people around her, she's sitting next to one of the most famous singers of all-time...yet she's never felt so alone. It's a heartbreaking moment that offers such a subtle but moving window into Priscilla Prelsey's soul.

Speaking of her, Cailee Spaney is outstanding here as Priscilla Presley. Back in 2018, Spaeny suddenly showed up in four separate movies (Pacific Rim Uprising, Bad Times at the El Royale, On the Basis of Sex, and Vice), an abrupt uptick in cinematic appearences that had me wondering what was going on. No offense to Spaney's work in any of those films (she's pretty good in El Royale), it just led me to wonder "why is Hollywood so fixated on this one actor?" Priscilla is basically a feature-length demonstration of how there's been so much hype surrounding Spaeney. Whether it's handling the subtlest yet most meaningful pieces of body language from Priscilla or accurately portraying this woman across multiple stages of her life, Spaeny crushes the assignment. Playing opposite her is Jacob Elordi, a dude from Euphoria that the gays and gals on the internet can't stop talking about as a new heartthrob. Props to Elordi then for subverting that image by communicating palpable intensity and intimidation in his version of Elvis, which is more reminiscent of Daniel Day-Lewis's whiny Phantom Thread character than any other version of Elvis Presley I've seen in cinema. The way Elvis is always speaking out the side of his mouth or the way Elordi delicately injects this singer's Southern twang into his vocals without lapsing into a stereotype, these are all such great details underscoring a well-realized performance. Maybe I'll also join that Jacob Elordi fan club, even after being terrified and repulsed by this man's version of Elvis Presley!

Unsurprisingly, because this is a Sofia Coppola movie, Priscilla also looks gorgeous in terms of its visuals. The color scheme of the feature is full of beautiful-looking warm colors, with those hues providing an especially interesting contrast whenever they're utilized in toxic environments like Graceland. The overwhelming utilization of bright red in a climatic scene depicting Elvis Presley's Vegas hotel domicile, for instance, is downright inspired. Similarly creative are the ways this feature indicates the passing of time exlucisvley through imagery and not through didactic dialogue, such as the depiction of endless empty plates being picked up by a housekeeper outside of Elvis and Prsicilla's bedroom. These kinds of flourishes and creative touches tend to work towards those key themes of entrapment and disconnect from reality that has always been around in the works of Sofia Coppola. Whether you explore it as a fascinating extension of that director's thematic fixations or just as a standalone piece of cinema, Priscilla is bound to impress.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Killers of the Flower Moon Is Another Towering Martin Scorsese Achievement

When I was in a film noir class in college, I was told of this story that Orson Welles tried to mount a major movie in the 1940s with an all-Black cast that couldn't get any financing. The chief reason for this? Welles planned to have the film's characters stare directly into the camera and studio executives thought that was too transgressive. To have Black people get close-ups and gaze into the audience, like white lead actors do all the time, was just too much. I can't find any evidence of this story existing, maybe it's just one of those showbiz legends, but it does reflect a reality of who gets photographed and how. It's also a yarn that entered my head during Killers of the Flower Moon during moments recreating real-life photographs of Osage denizens like Mollie (Lily Gladstone) staring directly into the camera. Figures brutally erased from history are center-frame, gazing into the viewer's soul. 

Such images emerge in a narrative that begins with oil being found on land belonging to the Osage tribe, a collection of indigenous people residing in Oklahoma. This discovery allows this population access to new levels of wealth and attracts the attention of some incredibly scummy outsiders. This includes Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio), who travels to Oklahoma to join his uncle, William King Hale (Robert De Niro), in living in this territory. Hale puts on airs of being accepting and loving of the Osage, but he's always scheming ways to get more and more of that oil money for himself. One key part of this plan ends up involving a romance between Burkhart and Mollie, a connection that blossoms as more and more of the Osage are "inexplicably" murdered. The police (led by Sheriff King Shale) refuse to investigate. White folks are indifferent to the idea that indigenous people are dying off. Mollie and her Osage brethren feel like they're going insane. Killers of the Flower Moon is a cinematic testament to how normalized the horrors of colonialism and violence are in American history. The most unspeakable acts of brutality are just another day's work for the white characters here.

There are many unforgettable moments in Killers of the Flower Moon (penned by director Martin Scorsese as well as screenwriter Eric Roth), but one I especially can't get out of my mind is a tender moment in Killers of the Flower Moon when siblings Mollie and Anna (Cara Jade Myers) pause on a staircase to express their love for one another. The duo have a realistic sibling dynamic within Flower Moon, with the two sometimes being at odds with one another while ultimately always having each other's back. "You are my wealth," Mollie quietly reminds Anna while holding her close. There are no eyes on either of them, they just want to express their love for one another. It's such a beautifully-acted sequence accentuated by restrained but powerful camerawork.

It's also a moment that plays out as a great contrast to any instance where Ernest Burkhart and Willian King Hale are alone. Separated from others, there is no sense of fondness between these two people. Burkhart mostly seems intimidated by King Hale, while the latter character always has a crocodile grin cemented on his face around his nephew. In their exchanges, they only scheme. Whether it's funerals, town parties, weddings, or anything else, their sole focus is on hurting other people, particularly the indigenous Osage community. Mollie and Anna recognize that there is no replacement for the love between people. Burkhart and King Hale are terrifying husks of human beings driven by capitalistic desires. The way such personalities are just nonchalantly depicted on-screen is emblematic of just how chilling so much of Killers of the Flower Moon is. This is a film where racism is not a "surprising" quality, it's an element interwoven into every facet of American society.

Everywhere you look in Flower Moon, from condescending newsreels reporting on the Tulsa Massacre to the casual presence of the KKK in a local parade, one sees white supremacy and the dehumanizing of people of color. A scene shot from Mollie's point-of-view (accompanied by a powerfully written monologue told in voice-over) where we see all these white people spilling off of trains, eager to get a hold of that oil money, captures this hauntingly well. These individuals Mollie is eyeballing don't need to have Klan masks on to be intimidating, to be reminders of the entitlement of white people. The brutally frank depiction of racism and colonialism is also reflected in the matter-of-fact framing of any instance of white characters killing the various members of the Osage people. These horrific slayings are captured by Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto in extended single-takes and wide shots, usually with no accompanying music. You just hear bullets going off and footsteps trudging through grass or gravel on the soundtrack. It's a stark and bleak way of depicting these gruesome killings, a devastating portrait of these senseless actions devoid of any sensationalism. The "normal" way they're shot (with no extra flourishes like discernible color grading or slow motion) hideously communicates how, for the white killers, this is "justified" or "untroublesome" behavior. It's an ingenious bit of filmmaking that just makes your soul ache.

As someone who went through all my remaining Martin Scorsese narrative film blind spots in the month leading up to Flower Moon (save for New York, New York, that feature's not available anywhere!), it's impressive to see how his directorial prowess hasn't budged with age. This man still has such a precise visual sensibility and a gift for using cinema to render the normalized injustices of the real world. It's also intriguing to see shots in here that echo unexpected classic entries in his filmography, like a shot lingering on Mollie being berated by an off-screen Burkhart mirroring a similar image of the unnamed female lead of Who's That Knocking At My Door being yelled at by Harvey Keitel. However, I was also struck by how Killers of the Flower Moon allows Scorsese to deliver plenty of new images or bursts of filmmaking that feel unprecedented in his visual toolkit. He's still discovering new exciting ways to tell stories in this medium and it's making for such rich cinematic accomplishments.

Another standout in Killers of the Flower Moon, though, is easily Lily Gladstone. This performer's been crushing it from the get-go with her remarkable work in the 2016 Kelly Reichardt movie Certain Women, but boy is Gladstone operating on another level here. Just the way she's able to utilize the tiniest corners of her face or even her throat to convey powerful internalized emotions inside Mollie is enough to grip your eyeballs. Gladstone's facial expressions are a gift and she proves equally adept at making Mollie's pronounced displays of emotions compelling. A moment where she wails in despair after hearing devastating news will haunt my nightmares, there's just years and years of pain in that noise. There are plenty of memorable turns in Killers of the Flower Moon, including DiCaprio reminding us all that he's best at playing weasley scumbags always in over their heads. However, this is Lily Gladstone's movie, her performance is nothing less than a towering achievement. 

Martin Scorsese movies have always carried more than a pinch of outrage at the despicable behavior normalized in society. In Killers of the Flower Moon, though, this thematic motif is realized in an especially haunting manner, as the film's 206-minute runtime lets viewers witness the elimination of an entire society by way of powerful white people doing whatever they want. This is how genocide occurs, right in front of everyday eyes and through the actions of ordinary souls. Scorsese has taken a medium that's typically erased the hardships and humanity of non-White Americans and used it to shine a spotlight on often-ignored historical atrocities. Killers of the Flower Moon is not an easy watch, but that's precisely what makes it a staggering filmmaking achievement...along with that Lily Gladstone lead performance.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour hits glorious creative high notes


When I was on the cusp of becoming a teenager, I distinctly remember sitting in my bedroom, listening to the country music station 96.7 The Texas Twister, and hearing something unexpected on the radio. I was so used to hearing older or thirty-something dudes in this genre that the sudden presence of a voice that clearly belonged to a teenage girl took me by surprise. This wasn’t somebody singing about their “brand new girlfriend” or their desire to check ladies for ticks. This was a woman signing about romantic longing, the feeling that a single artist can take you back to memories of the past, or being invisible to somebody you can’t stop thinking about. I was raised to believe all teenage girl angst was just pointless drama, a bunch of blathering originating from how “emotional” ladies were. Hearing Taylor Swift’s voice on the radio, though, these problems didn’t sound like “blathering.” They sounded important. They sounded personal. They sounded like things I’d been through.

Save for the trials of Charlie Brown in classic Peanuts comics, I’d struggled to find pieces of pop culture that made me feel normal in being sad as a youngster. Wasn’t this supposed to be the best time of my life? It sure didn’t feel like it most days. The emotionally complicated ditties of Taylor Swift made me feel a little less alone in that moment. From there, me and this artist were inseparable. In my late Middle School years, I’d clutch my green iPod Nano loaded up with Taylor Swift songs and listen to these tunes as a way to calm me down when I got overstimulated. Yes, I’m a repellant white girl Taylor Swift fan and I have been for almost two decades. That doesn’t mean I worship everything Taylor Swift touches (the album Reputation is a total mixed bag and her working with David O. Russell on Amsterdam is a disgraceful moment in her career), but a lot of her tunes have resonated with me on a profoundly important level.

All that’s to say, the new concert movie Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour always sounded like something that would be up my alley. However, watching it (my first time watching the Eras Tour in any context), I was still blown away. I was prepared to enjoy the songs, but I was not expecting the level of visual razzle-dazzle this production delivered. For those not in the known, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour chronicles a filmed version of the Los Angeles stop of Swift’s Eras Tour, a concert experience where the titular singer delves into tunes from each one of her albums. From Speak Now to evermore to Lover and everything in between, they all get highlighted. Plus, nearly all of them are performed on stage with the same level of extreme visual maximalism, with the only restrained exception coming during a pair of acoustically sung tunes.

I found myself often being a total rube during Eras Tour, just going “woah!” or “wow!” at the sheer scale of the LED screens Swift was performing against or the quickness with which she changed into different costumes. It really does feel like some form of magic the way this conceptually limited stage space is constantly transformed into everything from a pool to an isolated cottage to a catwalk where Swift and her dancers can seductively strut their stuff. The uber-pronounced executions of the various songs, which are performed alongside everything from gigantic clouds (that initially looked like the head of the Rock-Biter from The Never-Ending Story) to people trapped in boxes, dazzle the eyes and provide great visual extensions of the assorted tunes. These are tracks that often encapsulate such BIG emotions and now the Eras Tour provides creative images that reflect the expansiveness of those feelings.

Just in terms of set-pieces and spectacle, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is a triumph, particularly in how it’s able to organically shift between so many different visual moods (like quietly ominous, sexually provocative, or cheekily playful, just to name a few) without missing a beat. But something else that I found impressive watching this film (at the risk of sounding like a press release) is how gifted Taylor Swift is at working a crowd. When she’s leading up to the introduction of the performance of the song “The Man,” for instance, it’s just so much fun to see her teasing the crowd with increasingly obvious hints about what ditty is next on the tracklist. Somehow, her displays of being emotionally moved by all the love expressed by the crowd also come off as shockingly genuine. Most impressively, though, when it’s time for her to perform sadder songs like “All Too Well,” she’s able to capture that intimate vocal quality that drew me to her in the first place.

When I was first listening to “Teardrops on My Guitar” or “Tim McGraw” in 2006, what emotionally transfixed me was that Swift totally sounded like she was singing directly to me. My mind immediately captured an image of me and Swift sitting in a room, her strumming away on a guitar and talking about her recent emotional woes. In that moment, it felt like only I was listening to these melodies in the coziest confines. Somehow, even though she’s performing in front of countless souls in the massive SoFi Stadium in the Eras Tour movie, Swift conjures up that quality again for her more low-key songs. Even as you can see endless seas of concertgoers in the background of certain shots, Swift’s vocals still make you feel like she’s singing this tune directly to you. It’s a gift that’s only more apparent when you’re watching her performing songs on a massive movie theater screen.

Speaking of which, the experience of watching Eras Tour in a cinematic setting certainly provides a stirring approximation of how sweeping it would be to watch her perform live in person. Even in my sparsely attended Saturday afternoon digital projection screening (no IMAX or Dolby Cinema flourishes!), the sound of roaring crowds came through loud and clear on the speakers. Meanwhile, director Sam Wrench and the various editors make sure the various songs are so crisply realized on-screen (no shaky or clumsy editing to undercut key emotional moments in the track list) that the sheer visual imagination of this particular concert is unmistakable. The team's versatility in terms of filmmaking chops also ensures that the unique personalities of each tune are nicely realized on the screen. More aggressive quick cuts dominate the editing of the various Reputation songs, for instance, while calmer editing and longer takes are the default visual norms for the quieter acoustic dittoes or folklore tracks. Cuts to the crowd are also used sparingly, which helps to quietly cement the idea that Swift's stage is like its own isolated world. It's sometimes nice to see the wide array of souls being transported live by the music, but the decision to keep the camera almost exclusively focused on the performers (rather than constantly cutting to the crowd or backstage material) heightens the immersiveness of all those elaborate backdrops. The simultaneously intimate and sweeping camerawork really makes viewers feel like they could get lost in all the intricate detail put into those sets!

Like the best pieces of camerawork or editing, these visual touches are so well-integrated into Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, you don't even notice them as they occur, they just work seamlessly into reinforcing the images and atmosphere on-screen. The flourishes in the editing and direction make it often breathtaking to watch Swift's musical prowess on a movie theater screen. The mind reels to imagine what it’d be like to be there in person watching this material unfold live and absorbing all that energy from the audience! Still, don't take that comment to mean that the movie version of Eras Tour, is an inferior product. Sam Wrench and company provide a fantastically rendered cinematic time capsule of this event. Their work deftly makes it clear why this specific musical shindig has become such a pop culture phenomenon.

Also, props to the folks who were in charge of whittling down what songs from the various eras of Swift’s career should be played in the concert. Inevitably, some of my personal favorites were excluded from the concert (“Welcome to New York”, “I Wish You Would”, “Picture to Burn (Homophobic Version)”, you shall not be forgotten), but that was always going to happen, they were never going to cram every single Swift classic into one concert movie. The songs they chose are a fantastic line-up of Swift hits and feature enough variety in sound and aesthetics that the concert doesn’t quickly become repetitive. The highest compliment I could offer Eras Tour is that viewers will be leaving the theater raving about their favorite performances, not grousing about what tunes didn’t make the cut.

If you’re not already a fan of Taylor Swift, I’ll be the first to admit that Eras Tour won’t be a movie that suddenly makes you a believer. Also, the nitpicky film critic in me must note that Eras Tour can’t quite stand up to the all-time greatest concert films like Stop Making Sense and Beyonce Homecoming. David Byrne and Beyonce, your concert cinema crowns are not being relinquished today. However, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is still an impressive cinematic experience providing enough spectacle to make the likes of Cecil B. DeMille grin with approving pride. It was a marvelous experience to witness the same qualities that made me immediately connect to Taylor Swift’s music on The Texas Twister in 2006 still so gloriously apparent on a movie theater screen in 2023. If you think you'd even enjoy Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour a little bit, go see it on a massive screen with friends and prepare to be blown away.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Lisa Laman's Fall 2023 Arthouse Cinema Catch-Up

It's officially autumn folks and that means the arthouse cinema is in overdrive! Your local arthouse theater is playing lots of movies of varying shapes and sizes and even the streamers are getting into the spirit by debuting some smaller-scale movies meant to stimulate the brain rather than take in billions at the box office. Yes, award season is upon us, which means it's time for yours truly to dive into a selection of recent releases in bite-sized reviews. Up ahead, you'll get reviews for six different movies, each brief but certainly informative on both the overall quality of each production and where you can watch them. Let's dive right in to this breakdown of fall 2023's arthouse cinema landscape!


You can throw as many famous and talented people as you want on a just can't salvage a piece of art that's broken from the very inside of its soul. So it is with Foe, which is headlined by some of the most talented young actors of the modern world (Saoirse Ronan, Paul Mescal, Aaron Pierre) and helmed by Lion director Garth Davis. This story (adapted from a novel of the same name by Iain Reid) concerns a rural married couple (Ronan and Mescal) in the future who learn that Mescal's character is being forced up into space is an absolute waste of time, pure and simple. Good actors like Mescal are misdirected and handed terrible American accents (why does the leading man of Aftersun sound like Aaron Paul now???) while any tension surrounding the central characters is nonexistent. It's impossible to get invested in such flatly realized individuals, who most often seem like they've wandered off from an Asylum version of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Meanwhile, the tepid visual scheme of the entire production just makes it easier for your attention to wander. There's lots of screaming, big displays of emotion, and "plot twists" in Foe. All that noise is ultimately as empty as the dystopic landscape the lead characters call home.

Mami Wata

One of the earliest shots of Mami Wata depicts protagonist Prisca (Evelyne Ily Juhen) standing in front of a giant body of water, her head so tiny at the bottom-center of the frame. Such specific placement combined with the way this character is just dwarfed by the ocean behind her instills an immediately arresting image that sets the tone for the visually gorgeous excursion that follows. Above all else, writer/director C.J. "Fiery" Obasi and cinematographer LĂ­lis Soares craft a visually extraordinary exercise with Mami Wata that makes great use out of the feature's default monochromatic color scheme. Those images are also in service of an engaging story that deftly explores conflicts between traditionalism and modernism as well as how misogyny can manifest in even the most seemingly relaxed men. The drama within Mami Wata is well-realized, but it's those endless black voids of the night or Obasi's reliance on engrossing esoteric imagery that truly make the film a must-see.

Mami Wata is now playing in select theaters. 

The Burial

Walk around on the internet sometime and you'll immediately find people declaring any movie they just saw as either the best thing ever or the worst piece of filth ever to be rendered with a camera. This isn't anything new nor is this observation exactly fresh, but it only gets worse every year with the way social media erodes social communication. The Burial is the kind of movie that requires more nuance to talk about in terms of ascertaining its overall quality. There's no denying it suffers from some key problems that tend to plague many streaming releases, namely an overlong runtime, and some occasionally uninspired visuals. More often than not, though, The Burial registers as something perfectly agreeable and even manages to absolutely nail its heaviest moments. A montage scene of members of a Baptist church group speaking in a courtroom and directly into the camera about their hardships faced at the hands of a gigantic corporation is especially deftly executed. Plus, it's a courtroom drama that allows Jamie Foxx and Tommy Lee Jones to engage in witty rapport and revel in their trademark silver screen personas. Even if it's sometimes more rudimentary than captivating, The Burial is a perfectly decent movie and the kind of pleasant cinema that can get lost in the hyperbole-laden discourse landscape of the internet.

The Burial begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video on October 13.

Fair Play

Emily Meyers (Phoebe Dynevor) and Luke Edmunds (Alden Ehrenreich) seemed to have the perfect relationship going in their time working at a Manhattan hedge fund. However, once Meyers gets a big promotion at the company that Edmunds believes he deserves more, their dynamic starts to fall apart. This is the crux of Fair Play, which writer/director Chloe Domont wants to function as a throwback to thrillers of the 80s and 90s. These titles weren't afraid to confront sex or twisted romantic relationships, much like Fair Play, but unlike those earlier works, this Dynevor/Ehrenreich never quite gets in touch with its wild side. Classic entries in the erotic thriller genre like Showgirls and Bound felt truly unpredictable because of their wilder creative inclinations. Fair Play opts to go down more standard routes for drama that are often watchable, but rarely gripping. By the end, Domont's work here comes off as a half-hearted tribute song to classic erotic thrillers rather than an exciting new evolution of the genre.

Fair Play is now playing on Netflix.

The Royal Hotel

The Royal Hotel takes viewers on a very harrowing trip down under, as Hanna (Julia Garner) and Liv (Jessica Henwick) take up a job at a bar (The Royal Hotel) situated in a remote part of the Australian Outback. Here, misogyny runs as rampantly as the booze, manifesting in quiet ways and also other manifestations as loud as an explosion. Writer/director Kitty Green instills an unshakeable sense of dread into The Royal Hotel that puts one right into the perspective of its lead characters. There's such underlying entitlement and hostility to every dude Hanna and Liv encounter, it's all-enveloping like a fog. Even in its quietest moments, The Royal Hotel has viewers on the edge of their seats wondering if Hell itself is just around the corner. These qualities ensure that The Royal Hotel will be like stepping into familiar memories for anyone whose had to deal with toxic behavior in a service industry position. They also cement this motion picture as another cinematic winner from the mind behind the excellent 2020 film The Assistant.

The Royal Hotel is now playing in theaters.

The Mission

After helming documentaries like The Overnights or Boys' State (either separately or together) that chronicled modern events as they unfolded, filmmakers Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine opt to reflect recent events long after they occur with The Mission. The story of slain missionary John Chau is a cautionary tale about how missionary work is used to further messiah complexes and colonialist narratives, but the documentary struggles to dig really deep into the darker elements of this tale (a lack of interviews with non-white experts in various indigenous cultures keeps things more surface-level). The presentation of this particular yarn also isn't anything to write home about, there's very little in the way of notable visual elements (beyond on-screen animation often evoking the imagery seen in the pop culture that inspired Chau's life-long for "adventuring"). I can't say I was bored by The Mission, but it ultimately doesn't have much to say nor really distinctive ways of communicating what themes it does carry.

The Mission begins its limited release run in theaters on October 13, it will begin to arrive in Texas theaters on October 27.