Review: ‘Happiest Season,’ starring Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Daniel Levy, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen

December 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis in “Happiest Season” (Photo by Jojo Whilden/Hulu)

“Happiest Season”

Directed by Clea DuVall

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Pittsburg area, the romantic comedy “Happiest Season” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: A closeted lesbian invites her live-in girlfriend to a family Christmas gathering, and the girlfriends agree to keep their romance a secret from the family during this visit.

Culture Audience: “Happiest Season” will appeal primarily to people interested in seeing a Christmas-themed comedy about families where the central couple happens to be members of the LGBTQ community.

Pictured from left to right (in front) Asiyih N’Dobe and Anis N’Dobe and (in back) Burl Moseley, Alison Brie, Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Mary Holland, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen in “Happiest Season” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

There’s a certain formula that romantic comedy films have when they take place during the Christmas holidays and much of the plot revolves around a family get-together: Siblings have rivalries, couples have relationship problems, and at least one person in the family has a big secret that they’re desperately trying to hide. “Happiest Season” (directed by Clea DuVall) follows a lot of the same formula, except that it’s a rare Christmas-themed movie that has lesbians as the central couple in the story. Sony Pictures Entertainment’s TriStar Pictures was going to release “Happiest Season” in theaters until the company sold the movie to Hulu.

In “Happiest Season,” which takes place in the Pittsburgh area, the big secret is that one of the women in the lesbian couple still hasn’t told her family that she’s a lesbian and in a live-in relationship with a woman whom her family thinks is a platonic, heterosexual roommate. Harper Caldwell (played by Mackenzie Davis) is a journalist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and she’s been living with her girlfriend Abigail “Abby” Holland (played by Kristen Stewart), who is working on getting her Ph. D. in art history at Carnegie-Mellon University. Abby and Harper have been dating each other for a little more than a year and have been living together for the past six months.

Harper and Abby are both in their late 20s, smart and very friendly, but Abby is a little more introverted than Harper is. They have a very loving and respectful relationship, but they come from different family backgrounds. Abby is an only child. Her parents, who died when she was 19, were completely accepting of her sexuality when Abby told them that she’s gay. Harper is the youngest of three sisters, and her parents are very traditional and image-conscious. Harper has been afraid to tell her family that she’s a lesbian because she thinks that her parents will disapprove and reject her.

Harper’s parents Ted Caldwell (played by Victor Garber) and Tipper Caldwell (played by Mary Steenburgen), who live in a suburb of Pittsburgh, raised their children to be over-achievers. And now, Ted (a city councilman) is running for mayor, so Harper becomes even more conscious of the scrutiny that her family will receive because of this political campaign. It’s one of the reasons why Harper wants to delay telling her family about being a lesbian and the true nature of her relationship with Abby.

One evening, Abby and Harper take a romantic stroll during a guided Christmas tour of the neighborhood. Harper impulsively steers Abby on a detour to hop up on a stranger’s rooftop so they can get a romantic view of the city and make out with each other. But the occupants of the house hear people on the roof and almost catch Abby and Harper.

Abby barely escapes when she slips on the rooftop and finds herself hanging from the eaves of the roof. Harper tries to rescue Abby, but Abby falls into an inflatable Santa Claus in the front yard. The two women are able to run off just as the occupants of the house go outside and see the two intruders. This slapstick moment is a foreshadowing of some of the wacky-but-predictable physical comedy that happens in other scenes in the movie.

After this rooftop misadventure, Harper invites Abby to meet Harper’s family for the first time during the Christmas holidays. They plan to stay at Ted and Tipper’s family home for five days. Even though Abby says that she’s “not much of a Christmas person,” she agrees to the visit because she wants to meet Harper’s family.

Abby had committed to pet sitting for some friends during this period of time, so she has to find someone who can substitute for her on short notice. She enlists the help of her openly gay best friend John (played by Dan Levy), who is a literary agent. He agrees to take on the responsibility of pet sitting while Abby goes on this family visit that will be a turning point in her relationship with Harper.

John is somewhat stereotypical of a sassy and flamboyant gay man who usually has the role of a “tell it like it is” sidekick. However, John is also a confidant who has a lot of compassion and knows the true meaning of loyalty in a friend. Abby is going to need it, considering what she goes through in this story.

Abby tells John a secret: She plans to propose to Harper during this family holiday visit. John is skeptical of marriage, which he calls an “archaic institution,” but he’s happy for Abby and he wants the best for her. Abby explains to John why she wants to marry Harper: “It’s not about owning [her]. It’s about building a life with her.”

During Harper and Abby’s car trip to Ted and Tipper Caldwell’s home, Harper finally confesses to Abby that she’s been lying to her about what Harper’s family knows about Harper’s sexuality. Harper tells a shocked Abby that not only is her family unaware that Harper is a lesbian who’s been dating Abby, the family also doesn’t know that Abby is a lesbian too. As far as Harper’s family knows, Harper and Abby are two heterosexual women who are platonic roommates.

At first, Abby wants to back out of the trip, but Harper convinces her not to because she promises Abby that she will tell her family the whole truth after the holiday season and after the mayoral election. Harper says that she couldn’t live with the guilt if she thought her father would lose the election simply because some people wouldn’t vote for a mayor who has a child from the LGBTQ community. It’s fairly obvious that the city where Ted wants to become mayor has a lot of politically conservative voters.

At the Caldwell family home, Abby meets Ted and Tipper (who is obsessed with getting perfect photos for her Instagram account), who are somewhat condescending to Abby. They repeatedly call her “the orphan” and show gushing sympathy to her, as if she’s a little lost child. And because Tipper doesn’t know that Abby and Harper are sleeping together, Tipper tells Abby that she will be staying in a separate bedroom, which predictably leads to a few scenes of Abby and Harper sneaking into each other’s bedroom and trying not to get caught.

Ted is consumed with his mayoral campaign. One of his goals is to get the endorsement of a high-powered and influential donor named Harry Levin (played by Ana Gasteyer), who gives the impression of being a rich snob. One of the people who works with Ted in his campaign is Carolyn McCoy (played by Sarayu Blue), who is described as super-efficient and someone who is very concerned about the image projected by Ted and his family.

Because Ted and Tipper have had high expectations for their children, it’s created a fierce rivalry between Harper and her oldest sister Sloane (played by Alison Brie), who has inherited her parents’ fixation on presenting an image of having a perfect life. Sloane and her husband Eric (played by Burl Moseley) have twins who are about 7 or 8 years old: son Magnus (played by Anis N’Dobe) and daughter Matilda (played by Asiyih N’Dobe), who live such a regimented life, they come across almost like little robots.

Sloane and Eric used to be high-powered attorneys, but they gave up their jobs in the legal profession to make gift baskets for a living. However, pretentious Sloane refuses to call them gift baskets. Instead she uses this description when talking about her and Eric’s job to Abby: “We create curated gift experiences inside handmade, reclaimed wood vessels.” She also brags that Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop “picked us up and sales have been through the roof ever since.”

Harper’s other sister is Jane (played by Mary Holland, who co-wrote the “Happiest Season” screenplay with director DuVall), who has a bubbly personality but is somewhat nerdy and socially awkward. Jane, who is single with no children, has been working on a sci-fi fantasy novel for the past 10 years. Although it’s not said out loud, Ted and Tipper think of Jane as the “disappointing” child because she’s not as accomplished as her two sisters are and she has a tendency to be clumsy. Her parents think that Jane is handy when it comes to figuring out computer problems and Internet access in the house, but that’s about it.

Of course, a romantic comedy about a couple with honesty issues usually has additional complications, such the presence of ex-lovers who might or might not want to rekindle a past romance. In “Happiest Season,” Harper has not one but two people from her dating past who cause discomfort in different ways for her. The appearances of these two exes will have an effect on Abby too.

First is Harper’s ex-boyfriend Connor (played by Jake McDorman), whom Harper dated when she was in college. Connor doesn’t know that Harper broke up with him because she’s a lesbian, and he still has lingering feelings for her. Harper’s other ex who comes into the picture is a doctor named Riley (played by Aubrey Plaza), who was Harper’s first girlfriend when they were in high school together. Harper and Riley’s breakup, which is described in the movie, was very painful and it set the pattern of Harper being dishonest about her true sexuality to most of the people in her life.

And what do you know, both of these exes just happen to be at the same restaurant at the same time when the Caldwells and Abby are there for a family dinner. Connor was secretly invited by Tipper, who wishes that Harper and Connor would get back together. Riley is at the restaurant by sheer coincidence. Riley and Connor end up in other social situations with Harper and Abby, together and separately. And, as expected, Abby is jealous of Connor, while Harper gets uncomfortable when she sees Abby and Riley becoming friendly with each other.

Except for the lesbian aspects of the movie, “Happiest Season” doesn’t do much that’s different from a lot of predictable romantic comedies. There’s some over-the-top slapstick in the movie that might or might nor be amusing to viewers. This type of cheesy physical comedy somewhat lowers the quality of the movie, but it’s nothing that’s too detrimental to the story.

The romance between Harper and Abby is convincing, with Davis and Stewart handling their roles with great aplomb. Abby’s character is written with more realism and grace than Harper’s character, who is very selfish and immature during some pivotal moments in the story. Some of the best scenes in the film are those between Abby and John, as well as Abby and Riley.

“Happiest Season” works best when it touches on issues about the true meaning of family and the cost of living a lie. The movie doesn’t have any heavy-handed preaching though, and there are plenty of comical scenarios to balance out the more emotionally dramatic moments. “Happiest Season” isn’t an exceptionally well-made romantic comedy, but it has enough charm and entertaining performances to please viewers who like sentimentality with some slapstick.

Hulu premiered “Happiest Season” on November 25, 2020.

Review: ‘Seberg,’ starring Kristen Stewart

February 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristen Stewart in “Seberg” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Seberg”

Directed by Benedict Andrews

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States, France and briefly in Mexico, the biographical drama “Seberg” has a racially diverse cast of white and black characters representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: The film tells the story of American actress Jean Seberg, who was the target of FBI surveillance because of her support of left-wing civil-rights groups such as the Black Panthers.

Culture Audience: This movie will appeal mostly to fans of Jean Seberg, Kristen Stewart (who plays Seberg in the movie) and people who like movies that have a very Hollywood version of real-life politically related events.

Jack O’Connell in “Seberg” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

The title of the “based on true story” drama “Seberg” should have been renamed “Seberg and Some FBI Guy Who Tried to Warn Her That They’re Out to Get Her.” That’s because even though the movie is supposed to be about American actress Jean Seberg (played by Kristen Stewart) during the first few years that she was the target of a political FBI intimidation campaign, much of the movie also focuses on the life of fictional FBI agent Jack Solomon (played by Jack O’Connell), one of the people tasked with making her life hell but he has a guilty conscience about it.

It’s one of the many disappointing choices made by the filmmakers of “Seberg,” which was directed by Benedict Andrews and written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse. Based on the end results of how this movie was made, the filmmakers didn’t think Seberg was fascinating enough to show a more well-rounded view of her life, and instead they gave a lot of screen time to show the personal life of a fictional FBI agent.

Because Jack Solomon is a fictional character and the filmmakers want to make sure that his personal story is given almost as much weight as Seberg’s, the movie cheapens her real-life ordeal by spending so much time on backstories/subplots for other characters that were invented for this movie. There’s even a cliché “good cop/bad cop” duo that is the epitome of trite screenwriting.

Seberg was 40 years old when she died of an apparent suicide in Paris in 1979. The movie mainly depicts the years 1969 to 1971, when Seberg was one of the people targeted in the FBI’s then-secret COINTELPRO campaign, which investigated and harassed high-profile and influential people involved in left-wing politics. Because of the Freedom of Information Act, the media revealed details of COINTELPRO, which was under the leadership of then-FBI director Herbert Hoover, a known right-winger. The exposé of COINTELPRO happened after Seberg’s death.

“Seberg” begins with a brief scene with the actress filming her first movie, 1957’s “Saint Joan,” which was a critical and commercial flop, but that rough start to her movie career is not really mentioned in “Seberg.” The movie also skips over her turbulent first marriage to French attorney-turned-film-director François Moreuil (they were married from 1958 to 1960) and their contentious collaboration when he directed her in the 1961 film “Time Out for Love.”

Also omitted from the story is how she met and married her second husband: aviator/novelist/left-leaning political diplomat Romain Gary, who was 24 years older than Seberg. Gary was her husband from 1962 to 1970. (She gave birth to their son, Alexandre Diego, when Gary was still married to his previous wife.) And the movie definitely doesn’t show what happened to Jean after her much-maligned “Saint Joan” film debut, when she went on to experience international stardom with her breakthrough co-starring role in the 1960 French New Wave classic “Breathless.”

Instead, “Seberg” skips over all of that to show Jean, Romain (played by Yvan Attal) and their young son Diego (played by Gabriel Sky) at their home in France, where Jean says goodbye to them as she leaves to work on a movie in Los Angeles in 1969. (During most of her career, Seberg lived in France and made French and American films, so she spent a lot of time in the U.S. for work.)

While she’s headed to Los Angeles, two FBI agents (who are invented characters for this movie) are shown eavesdropping and doing surveillance recording of an African American political radical named Hakim Jamal (played by Anthony Mackie), who is a Black Panther supporter but not an official member of the Black Panther Party. (The Hakim character is based on the real-life Raymond Hewitt, who was a member of the Black Panther Party.) One of the FBI agents is the aforementioned Jack Solomon, and the other is Carl Kowalski (played by Vince Vaughn).

It’s established fairly early on in the movie who’s the “good cop” and who’s the “bad cop.” While Jack takes a more open-minded and methodical approach to his work, Carl takes a more aggressive “witch hunt” approach. While they’re spying on Hakim, the name of Jean Seberg comes up because the FBI has noticed that she’s been donating large sums of money to left-leaning civil-rights groups such as the Black Panthers and the NAACP. Carl thinks that the FBI should start spying on Seberg too, but Jack doesn’t want to rush to judgment and wants to see if there’s proof that she’s a threat to the U.S. government.

While sitting in the first-class section on the plane to Los Angeles with her agent Walt Breckman (played by Stephen Root, in another of the movie’s fictional character roles), Jean notices a commotion on the plane. It’s Hakim, who’s very angry with a flight attendant because Betty Shabazz (Malcom X’s widow) has been seated in the coach section, when Hakim says that Betty should be in the first-class section. It’s a “don’t you know who she is/show some respect” moment that catches the flustered flight-attendant off-guard.

The flight attendant tells Hakim that she can’t make the accommodation without a first-class ticket, and Hakim gets even angrier and says that he will pay for the ticket himself and he’s not going to sit down until the matter is resolved. Hakim makes it clear that he thinks the flight attendant is being racist. Jean is intrigued by Hakim’s fiery passion and tells him that he and Betty can have her and Walt’s seats. Walt looks slightly horrified.

The next thing you know, after the plane disembarks, Hakim is among a group of Black Panthers on the tarmac holding a photo op with the press.  (Remember, this was back in the 1960s, when people were allowed to be in certain areas of an airport where they can’t go now.) Jean sidles up to the group and holds up her fist in a “Black Power” gesture with them to show her solidarity.

Of course, this bold move doesn’t go unnoticed by Jack and Carl (or should we say Mutt and Jeff), who now know that Jean Seberg has definitely made it known to the public that she supports the Black Panthers, who were considered enemies of the state at the time. And in case viewers haven’t figured out that Carl is a racist, he makes it clear when he speculates why Jean wants to hang out with Hakim and the Black Panthers: “Who knows? Maybe she’s got a taste for dark meat on the bone.”

And wouldn’t you know, it isn’t long before Jean shows up in the middle of the night at the house where a married Hakim is staying to meet with other radical activists. While alone in the house, Hakim and Jean spend a little time flirting, and then they hop into bed together. The FBI has recorded it all.

Carl is infuriated and immediately wants to put Jean under intense surveillance, since he’s decided she’s now a “danger to society.” The movie implies that what really triggered the FBI witch hunt against her wasn’t the monetary donations to activists but because this famous white actress slept with a known black radical.

Carl takes this information to his superiors, and it isn’t long before the FBI approves of spying on and harassing Jean Seberg. While she’s away from her rented home to work on a film set, Jack breaks into the home and plants a bugging device on her phone. Meanwhile, as Hakim and Jean continue their hot’n’heavy affair, Hakim warns her that because he’s under FBI surveillance, she’ll become a target too.

At first, Jean doesn’t believe Hakim, but she eventually finds out the hard way how correct he was. Jean starts hanging out more with radical activists and donating money to their causes. She doesn’t believe in violence and instead chooses to support causes such as educational programs for kids and raising money to help improve low-income African American communities. Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale (played by Grantham Coleman) makes a very brief appearance in the story.

Hakim is more than happy to take Jean’s donations, but he tells Jean: “You’re running in here with nails looking for a cross to die on … You’re playing with fire.” We’ll never know if the real Jean Seberg ever received this type of corny lecture, but the words are particularly cringeworthy, considering that the real Jean Seberg starred in “Saint Joan,” a movie where she played French heroine Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake.

Another thing that Hakim says to Jean that sounds straight out of Hokey Screenwriting 101 is when he tells her his philosophy on civil-rights activism: “One mind at a time. If you can change that, you can change the world.” He sounds more like Mother Teresa than Malcolm X.

There’s also a soap-opera-ish subplot where Hakim’s wife, Dorothy Jamal (played by Zazie Beetz, in a thankless role), finds out about the affair. How does she find out? Carl and Jack call her anonymously and play her a recording of Jean and Hakim having sex.

Not long after Dorothy confronts Jean about the affair (and Dorothy is a lot calmer about it than most spouses would be), Jean and Hakim end their fling. But the wheels have already been set in motion for the FBI to make Jean’s life miserable. She’s followed everywhere she goes, and she knows her house is bugged. And one day when she’s away at work, a bumbling FBI agent kills her Chihuahua because the dog won’t stop yapping when the agent is snooping around the house.

Speaking of FBI agents, the movie wastes a lot of time showing the personal lives of Jack and Carl. Jack’s wife Linette (played by Margaret Qualley) is a medical student who becomes increasingly disturbed by the signs that the FBI is harassing Jean Seberg. How does she know? Because Jack brings home FBI files that show the FBI is stalking Jean, and her leaves this paperwork indiscreetly out on the kitchen table. When Linette asks Jack about these files, he snaps at her and tells her it’s none of her business. There are also a few unnecessary scenes of Jack and Linette socializing with friends.

Meanwhile, Carl is every bit the jerk at home as he is on the job. His wife and young daughter cringe in fear when he loses his temper, which is pretty much any time they don’t do what he tells them to do. It turns out that Carl has a particular hatred of left-wingers because his adult son (who lives in San Francisco) has become a radical hippie. Did viewers really need to know all of this information for fictional characters? No.

“Seberg” then goes to even more ludicrous levels when Jack takes it upon himself to anonymously call Jean and warn her that the FBI harassment will get worse unless she disassociates herself from the civil-rights movement. Jean’s response is to yell an obscenity at him. You can’t really blame her, because she doesn’t know if the call is a prank or not, since Jack doesn’t identify himself.

The constant surveillance and harassment take a toll on Jean’s mental health and her marriage. She starts to drink heavily and she becomes very paranoid. While on a film set, she demands that a cameraman be fired because she’s convinced he’s a spy planted by the FBI. She yells at people who she thinks might be staring at her too long. And there’s one melodramatic scene where she’s tearing up a room while looking for surveillance, and she ends up in a sobbing heap on the floor.

While in Mexico filming a movie, she has an affair with a local man. And when the FBI hears about her pregnancy, they make sure to plant a story in the media that Hakim is the father. The scandal resulted in a tragedy that won’t be revealed in this review if you don’t know what happened in real life.

Stewart gives a hit-and-miss performance in this film. She’s at her best in the first half of the story, when there are glimpses of the passions that drove Jean to do what she did, knowing that she would risk her reputation and career. But when Jean goes through her downward spiral in the second half of the story, Stewart’s performance becomes a not-very-convincing caricature of a woman having a nervous breakdown. And FBI agent Jack does something at the end of the movie that defies all credibility of what someone in his position would do.

Unfortunately, because the movie skips all of Jean’s life before she got involved in radical activism, it doesn’t provide any context over what led her to this point and how she came to have these political views. Her relationship with second husband Romain is also an incomplete sketch, since viewers never see how Jean and Romain fell in love, as a basis of their marriage that’s tested during this traumatic period in their lives.

The movie’s supporting actors, costume design and production design are all very good, but those assets are wasted on an uneven story that oddly seems too concerned with making a heroic figure out of one of the FBI agents who willingly participated in this psychological torture.

Amazon Studios released “Seberg” in select U.S. cinemas on February 21, 2020. The movie originally had a very limited U.S. release in December 2019, to qualify for awards.

Review: ‘Underwater,’ starring Kristen Stewart

January 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristen Stewart in “Underwater”
Kristen Stewart in “Underwater” (Photo by Alan Markfield)

“Underwater”

Directed by William Eubank

Culture Representation: The movie’s characters are a predominately white, educated crew of underwater explorers (with one African American and one Asian) who are tasked with drilling for resources in the deep ocean when they come under attack and fight for their lives.

Culture Clash: Telling a story with an implied environmental message, “Underwater” shows what happens when deep-ocean creatures fight back against humans who plunder their territory.

Culture Audience: “Underwater” will primarily appeal to those looking for a suspenseful sci-fi/horror movie that won’t be considered a classic but will provide about 90 minutes of escapist entertainment.

Kristen Stewart in “Underwater” (Photo by Alan Markfield)

Kristen Stewart: action hero? Taking massive cues from Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character in “Alien,” Stewart goes from brainy, introspective crew member to kick-ass warrior, as she takes on deep-sea monsters in the sci-fi/horror film “Underwater.” After starring in the 2019 comedy reboot fiasco of Columbia Pictures’ “Charlie’s Angels,” Stewart (who’s been making mostly arty indie films for the past several years) has taken another step into major-studio action fare—but in 20th Century Fox’s “Underwater,” she’s going for scares instead of laughs.

During the opening credits of “Underwater,” there are flashes of media headlines and news reports about unconfirmed sightings of mysterious creatures in the deep ocean. According to the headlines, a major corporation named Kepler has been mining the deep oceans for resources, and hasn’t been giving full explanations for why employees have apparently disappeared from the underwater drilling sites. These elaborate, high-tech facilities (which are seven miles below the ocean surface) look like a cross between a factory, a spaceship and an underground bunker. They’re so high-tech that the Kepler workers living in these facilities for weeks or months at a time don’t need to wear oxygen masks or submarine suits when they’re in the building.

Within the first five minutes of the film, we’re barely introduced to Stewart’s mechanical/electrical engineer character Norah Price (who looks pensive as she brushes her teeth, muses about her isolation in a voiceover, and thinks about her broken love affair with her former fiancé) when the facility is hit with a massive explosion that kills many people in the crew and destroys the emergency equipment. Six of the surviving crew members, including Norah, find each other and agree to a desperate plan to walk across the ocean floor to an abandoned facility named Roebuck, in the hopes that Roebuck’s emergency equipment still works so they can escape or call for help.

The other five crew members are crew captain Lucien (played by Vincent Cassel), a take-charge Frenchman who has a 14-year-old daughter waiting for him at home; marine biology student Emily (played by Jessica Henwick), an inquisitive type who scares easily; operations expert Smith (played by John Gallagher Jr.), who’s in a romantic relationship with Emily; systems manager Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), a solid guy who has a dorky side; and wisecracking Paul (played by T.J. Miller, who can’t seem to break out of his typecast as a supporting character who’s socially awkward and talks too much). They soon find out what caused the explosion (Hint: It wasn’t faulty equipment.)

Because the frantic action begins so early in the film, the “Underwater” screenplay by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad doesn’t leave much room for character development. The actors do the best that they can with the generic characters and mostly forgettable dialogue that were written for them. The movie’s biggest asset, under the choppy direction of William Eubank, is the way it ramps up suspense, even if there are glaring plot holes the size of the ocean where these crew members are trapped. The visual effects for the sea monsters also achieve their intended impact, but the creatures’ very existence in the ocean (much like Godzilla) requires a huge suspension of disbelief. And cinematographer Bojan Bazelli serves up some compelling shots that might give some people the feelings of dizziness or claustrophobia if the movie is watched on a big screen.

However, the “Underwater” filmmakers don’t want viewers of this movie to think too hard, because then you’ll start to ask questions that unravel the plot, such as: “How could creatures of this size and quantity escape detection for so long?” Even if one company tried to cover up the existence of these monsters, their impact on the environment would be noticed already by too many marine biologists and people who work directly in the ocean. Monsters in outer space make more sense if they’re supposed to be undetected by humans on Earth. And at least in the world of Godzilla, millions of people in that world know that Godzilla is a creature that lives in the ocean. In “Underwater,” these monsters are a total surprise to the unlucky crew members who encounter them.

Just like a lot of movies whose plot is driven by suspense, “Underwater” also has a “race against time” element because (of course) the survivors are running out of oxygen. But this plot device is conveniently ignored when these so-called trained underwater professionals waste a lot of oxygen by talking too much. Paul, the annoying motormouth, is the chief culprit. In order to enjoy this movie, you can’t pay attention to the screenplay’s inconsistencies in how their underwater suits are supposed to work.

And since this is a horror movie, not everyone is going to get out alive. But there will be moments of further disbelief when certain characters go through things that would kill someone in real life, and then they survive, and you’re left wondering, “How are they still alive…and with their hair still neatly in place?” And—this is no joke—you can see freshly applied beauty makeup on one of the actresses’ faces after her character has supposedly gone through underwater hell. There must be some industrial-quality waterproof lipstick they have in that underwater bunker. There’s also a small stuffed animal that gets carried around as a good luck charm that somehow doesn’t get lost or destroyed during all the mayhem. “Underwater” is not a movie made for people who pay attention to these kinds of details.

“Underwater” is certainly not the worst horror film of 2020, and the movie’s ending should be commended for not being a total cliché. However, if you want a horror flick with memorable characters and a solid plot, then you’ll have to look elsewhere.

20th Century Fox released “Underwater” in U.S. cinemas on January 10, 2020.

2018 Toronto International Film Festival: ‘Outlaw King’ is opening film; ‘Jeremiah Terminator Leroy’ is closing film; more gala, special presentations films announced

August 14, 2018

The following are press releases from the Toronto International Film Festival:

TIFF announced today that the World Premiere of “Outlaw King,” David Mackenzie’s anticipated  period drama chronicling the rise of 14th-century Scottish hero Robert the Bruce, will be the Opening Night  Gala Presentation for the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival ®  on Thursday, September 6, at Roy Thomson  Hall.

This epic David-versus-Goliath tale reunites award-winning director David Mackenzie ( “Starred Up,” “Young  Adam”) with his “Hell or High Water” actor Chris Pine, who takes on the starring role of the legendary Scottish  king who leads a band of outlaws to reclaim the throne from the clutches of the English crown and its army.  The film also stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, and Billy Howle.

“TIFF’s Opening Night Film,  ‘Outlaw King,’ tells a powerful story that is rich in drama, excitement, romance, and  adventure,”  said Piers Handling, Director & CEO of TIFF. “Audiences are promised a thrilling journey back in  time, as David Mackenzie masterfully unwraps history with taut dramatic flare and brings to life the true story  of Scottish hero Robert the Bruce. Gripping performances led by Chris Pine and Aaron Taylor-Johnson make  this a classic, entertaining, and action-packed Festival opener.

“Thank you, TIFF , for welcoming our film into the world. The Festival is the perfect launch pad for our realistic  epic, and we are delighted to be the first Scottish film ever to open Toronto,” said director David Mackenzie. “I  cannot imagine a better place to have our World Premiere. Scotland and Canada’s histories are bound  together, forged in the crucible of the struggles of history, bringing this day an affinity and sensibility that I  hope will translate to a profound, visceral, and riotously entertaining experience. We have an amazing cast and  crew working at the top of their game, and we are really looking forward to spreading some Scottish goodwill  on the great city of Toronto.”

“Outlaw King” follows the untold, true story of Robert the Bruce, who transforms from defeated nobleman to  outlaw hero during the oppressive occupation of medieval Scotland by Edward I of England. Despite grave  consequences, Robert seizes the Scottish crown and rallies an impassioned group of men to fight back against the mighty army of the tyrannical King and his volatile son, the Prince of Wales.

Filmed in Scotland, the project was made with the full support of Creative Scotland and the Scottish  government. The film opens in select theatres and launches globally on Netflix November 9, 2018.

The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6 to 16, 2018.

For film synopses, cast lists, images, and more information, see  tiff.net/galas.

Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy
Laura Dern and Kristen Stewart in “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy” (Photo courtesy of TIFF)

The Toronto International Festival announced today that the World Premiere of “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy” will close this year’s Festival. From director Justin Kelly,  “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy” is based on one of the most  famous literary gambits in American history. Adapted from the memoir  “Girl Boy Girl: How I Became JT LeRoy” by Savannah Knoop,  the film  promises a boundary-breaking Closing Night Gala bursting with intrigue.

“With  ‘Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy,’  Justin Kelly brings to the screen a truly unbelievable story that captivated a  nation,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF. “The storytelling is powerful and the characters are vivid,  really evoking the idea that you have to see it to believe it.”

“I am beyond honored that my film ‘Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy’ will premiere at TIFF as the Closing Night Film,”  said Justin Kelly, director of “Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy.” “I can’t wait for people to see the fascinating true  story behind JT LeRoy, brought to life via incredible performances by a total dream cast.”

This captivating true story goes beyond the headlines to reveal the most compelling literary hoax of our  generation. Laura Albert (Laura Dern) is an author who writes under a fictionalized persona, a disenfranchised  young queer man named JT LeRoy. When her debut novel becomes a bestseller and JT becomes the darling  of the literary world, she comes up with a unique solution to preserve her anonymity while giving life to her nom-de-plume. Enter her boyfriend’s androgynous sister, Savannah Knoop (Kristen Stewart), who connects  with Laura’s punk, feminist, outsider universe and agrees to be JT in the public eye. Together, they embark on a  wild ride of double lives, infiltrating the Hollywood and literary elite — and discovering who they are in the  process.

“Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy” is a film by Elevated Films, The Fyzz Facility, Ingenious Media, Aquarius Content,  Fortitude International, Sobini Films, Thirty Three Productions, LBI Entertainment, and Buffalo Gal Pictures. It  is produced by Patrick Walmsley, Julie Yorn, Thor Bradwell, Gary Pearl, Cassian Elwes, Giri Tharan, Mark Amin,  and Dave Hansen. It stars Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Diane Kruger, Jim Sturgess, Kelvin Harrison Jr.,  Courtney Love, James Jagger, and Dave Brown.

The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6 to 16, 2018.

For film synopses, cast lists, images, and more information, see tiff.net/galas.

The Toronto International Film Festival ®  today unveiled its second batch of titles premiering in the  Gala and Special Presentations programmes in September. Four Gala Presentations and 22 Special  Presentations have been added to the selection of titles already announced.     “We’re rounding out the lineup of Galas and Special Presentations with some of the most exciting films of the  year,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF. “Audiences won’t want to miss these premieres from a mix of  newcomers and global heavyweights.”    This second announcement brings the total for Galas and Special Presentations to 44 World Premieres, 9  International Premieres, 12 North American Premieres and 11 Canadian Premieres.

The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6 to 16, 2018.

The Toronto International Film Festival ® today unveiled its second batch of titles premiering in the  Gala and Special Presentations programmes in September. Four Gala Presentations and 22 Special  Presentations have been added to the selection of titles already announced.     “We’re rounding out the lineup of Galas and Special Presentations with some of the most exciting films of the  year,” said Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of TIFF. “Audiences won’t want to miss these premieres from a mix of  newcomers and global heavyweights.”

This second announcement brings the total for Galas and Special Presentations to 44 World Premieres, 9  International Premieres, 12 North American Premieres and 11 Canadian Premieres.

The 43rd Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 6 to 16, 2018.

GALAS 2018  

Green Book
Peter Farrelly | USA
World Premiere

* Closing Night Film *
Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy
Justin Kelly | Canada/USA/United Kingdom
World Premiere

The Lie
Veena Sud | Canada
World Premiere

*Opening Night Film *
Outlaw King
David Mackenzie | USA/United Kingdom
World Premiere

SPECIAL PRESENTATIONS 2018

22 July
Paul Greengrass | Norway/Iceland
North American Premiere

American Woman
Jake Scott | USA
World Premiere

Baby ( Bao Bei Er )
Liu Jie | China
World Premiere

Boy Erased
Joel Edgerton | USA
International Premiere

Driven
Nick Hamm | Puerto Rico/United Kingdom/USA
North American Premiere

Duelles (Mothers’ Instinct)
Olivier Masset-Depasse | Belgium/France
World Premiere

A Faithful Man ( L ‘homme fidèle )
Louis Garrel | France
World Premiere

Gloria Bell
Sebastián Lelio | USA/Chile
World Premiere

Hold the Dark
Jeremy Saulnier | USA
World Premiere

Kursk
Thomas Vinterberg | Belgium/Luxembourg
World Premiere

Legend of the Demon Cat – Director’s Cut
Chen Kaige | China/Japan
World Premiere

Mid90s
Jonah Hill | USA
World Premiere

A Million Little Pieces
Sam Taylor-Johnson | USA
World Premiere

Never Look Away ( Werk ohne Autor )
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck | Germany
North American Premiere

The Quietude ( La Quietud )
Pablo Trapero | Argentina
North American Premiere

Skin
Guy Nattiv | USA
World Premiere

Teen Spirit
Max Minghella | USA
World Premiere

Tell It to the Bees
Annabel Jankel | United Kingdom
World Premiere

Viper Club
Maryam Keshavarz | USA
World Premiere

Vision
Naomi Kawase | Japan/France
International Premiere

Vita & Virginia
Chanya Button | United Kingdom/Ireland
World Premiere

Wild Rose
Tom Harper | United Kingdom
World Premiere

For film synopses, cast lists, images, and more information, see tiff.net/galas and tiff.net/specialpresentations

Festival tickets go on sale September 3 at 10am (TIFF Member pre-sale September 1 from 10am to 4pm). Buy  tickets online at tiff.net , by phone at 416.599.TIFF or 1.888.599.8433, or in person at a box office. See box  office locations and hours at tiff.net/tickets .

TIFF prefers Visa.

Social Media:

@TIFF_NET

#TIFF18

Facebook.com/TIFF

About TIFF

TIFF is a charitable cultural organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world through  film. An international leader in film culture, TIFF projects include the annual Toronto International Film Festival  in September; TIFF Bell Lightbox, which features five cinemas, major exhibitions, and learning and  entertainment facilities; and innovative national distribution program Film Circuit. The organization generates  an annual economic impact of $189 million CAD. TIFF Bell Lightbox is generously supported by contributors  including Founding Sponsor Bell, the Province of Ontario, the Government of Canada, the City of Toronto, the  Reitman family (Ivan Reitman, Agi Mandel and Susan Michaels), The Daniels Corporation and RBC. For more information, visit tiff.net.

The Toronto International Film Festival is generously supported by Lead Sponsor Bell, Major Sponsors RBC,  L ’Oréal Paris, and Visa, and our Major Supporters the Government of Ontario, Telefilm Canada, and the City  of Toronto.

This film is eligible for the Grolsch People’s Choice Award. Vote for your favourite films at tiff.net/vote .

The Gala programme is made possible through the generous   sponsorship of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts .

August 21, 2018 UPDATE: 

The Toronto International Film Festival ® today announced two new films that will premiere as part  of the Special Presentations programme in September. The World Premiere of Neil Jordan’s “Greta” and the North  American Premiere of Brady Corbet’s “Vox Lux” will cap off the Festival’s Special Presentations and bring the total  for the programme up to 24 titles.

“These are two films that explore nuanced narratives with exceptional leading women,” said Kerri Craddock,  Director of Festival Programming at TIFF. “‘Greta’ and ‘Vox Lux’ both offer strong directorial visions, rich  performances, and engaging stories. They complete the package of the Special Presentations programme.”

Neil Jordan’s “Greta” tells the story of a young New York woman named Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) who strikes  up an unlikely friendship with an enigmatic widow named Greta (Isabelle Huppert). The older woman’s motives  are gradually revealed to be sinister and the film quickly descends into an exploration of loneliness, obsession,  and manipulation. “Greta,” co-written by Jordan and Ray Wright, also stars Colm Feore, Maika Monroe, and Stephen Rea.

In musical drama “Vox Lux,” Brady Corbet’s second feature as writer-director tracks its heroine’s path from  childhood tragedy to a life of fame and fortune. Starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law, the film begins with teenage sisters Celeste (Raffey Cassidy) and Eleanor (Stacy Martin) who survive a violent incident that changes  their lives. The film is both a riveting character study and a perceptive survey of the cultural shifts that have  shaped a generation.

2018 Cannes Film Festival: Cate Blanchett president of jury, which also includes Kristen Stewart, Ava DuVernay, Denis Villeneuve

April 18, 2018

Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart, Ava DuVernay
Pictured from left to right: Cate Blanchett, Kristen Stewart, Ava DuVernay (Photos: Getty Images)

Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett has been named jury president for the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival, which takes place May 8 to May 19, 2018, in Cannes, France. The jury will decide who wins the Palme D’Or (the Cannes Film Festival’s biggest award), as well as the awards for feature films that are in competition at the festival, such as Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director.  Other film-industry VIPs who are on the jury include actress Kristen Stewart (“Twilight,” “Personal Shopper”), filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“A Wrinkle in Time,” “Selma”), filmmaker Denis Villenueve (“Blade Runner 2049,” “Arrival”) and actress Léa Seydoux (“Spectre,” “Blue Is the Warmest Color”). The jury will reveal the prize list on May 19 during the closing ceremony.

As previously announced, Oscar-winning actor Benicio del Toro is the jury president for the feature films competing in the category of Un Certain Regard.

The following is information provided in a Cannes Film Festival press release:

2018 CANNES FILM FESTIVAL JURY

Cate Blanchett – President
(Australian actress, producer)

Chang Chen
(Chinese Actor)

Ava DuVernay
(American writer, director, producer)

Robert Guédiguian
(French director, writer, producer)

Khadja Nin
(Burundian songwriter, composer, singer)

Léa Seydoux
(French actress)

Kristen Stewart
(American actress)

Denis Villeneuve
(Canadian director, writer)

Andrey Zvyagintsev
(Russian director, writer)

Chang Chen – Chinese Actor
Chang Chen made his film debut in the late Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day. He rose to fame in the Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000. His film credits include Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together (1997), 2046 (2004), The Grandmaster (2013), Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Three Times (2005) and The Assassin (2015), Tian Zhuangzhuang’s The Go Master (2006) John Woo’s Red Cliff (2008-2009), The Last Supper directed by Lu Chuan (2012). In 2017, he returned for Yang Lu’s film Brotherhood of Blades II and recently played in Forever young by Fangfang Li.

 

Ava DuVernay – American Writer, Director, Producer
Nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe and winner of the BAFTA and EMMY, Ava DuVernay is a writer, director, producer and film distributor known for the historical drama Selma (2014), the criminal justice documentary 13TH (2016) and the recent Disney’s cinematic adaptation of the classic children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time. Winner of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival’s Best Director Prize for her film Middle of Nowhere, DuVernay amplifies the work of people of color and women directors through her film collective ARRAY.

 

Robert Guédiguian – French Director, writer, producer
The work of Robert Guédiguian, an activist filmmaker, celebrates the city of Marseille where he grew up. Acclaimed by critics when he first started directing in the 80s, he met public success with Marius and Jeannette, which won the Prix Louis-Delluc in 1997. His film credits include Marie-Jo et ses deux amours (2002) Le Promeneur du Champ de Mars (2004), Le Voyage en Arménie (2007), Lady Jane (2008), L’armée du crime (2009), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (2011). His latest film in date, The House by the Sea (2017), received enthusiastic response from critics and audience.

 

Khadja Nin – Burundian Songwriter, composer, singer
Youngest of a family of eight Khadja Nin studied music at an early age, before leaving Africa to go to Europe. Her albums are a mix of occidental popmusic, African and afro-cuban rhythms. She gained wide recognition and success with « Sambolera Mayi Son ». “Ya…” (“From me to you”) is a wonderful tribute to Mandela and the video of her song “Mama” was directed by Jeanne Moreau. International Artist, she became a Unicef and ACP Observatory on Migration Good Will Ambassador. She was awarded the Prize “Prix de l’Action Feminine” by the African Women’s League in 2016. She has been committed to support ordinary heroes.

 

Léa Seydoux – French Actress
Rising to fame with Christophe Honoré’s The Beautiful Person in 2008, Léa Seydoux is an award-winning actress, notably the Palme d’or for Abdelatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour in 2013. She successfully alternates between author and mainstream films. Her film credits include Rebecca Zlotowski’s Dear Prudence and Grand Central, Benoît Jacquot’s FarewellMy Queen and Diary of a Chambermaid, Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent, Sam Mendes’ Spectre, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster and Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World.

 

Kristen Stewart – American Actress
Kristen Stewart has been playing roles since an early age and received widespread recognition in 2008 for The Twilight Saga film series (2008–12). Her film credit includes Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Equals by Drake Doremus (2015), Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ang Lee (2016), and several Festival de Cannes Selections On the Road by Walter Salles (2012), Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) and Personal Shopper (2016) both by Olivier Assayas (2014) as well as Café Society by Woody Allen. She directed her first short film Come Swim in 2017.

 

Denis Villeneuve – Canadian director, writer
Internationally renowned and recently two-time Academy Award winner for Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve made his debut at the National Film Board of Canada in the early 90’s. His first feature, Un 32 août sur terre (1998) was invited to Cannes. He returned there with Next Floor (2008), Polytechnique (2009) and the Oscar nominated Sicario (2015). In 2010 Incendies was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. In 2017, Arrival was nominated for 8 Oscars and 9 BAFTAs, including best movie and best director.

 

Andreï Zvyagintsev – Russian Director, writer
Multi-award winning filmmaker Andreï Zvyagintsev has already become one of the most respected directors in Russian and international cinema. He directed his first feature film in 2003 The Return which won him a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. He has continued to write and direct award-winning feature films The Banishment (2007), Elena(2011) and Leviathan (2014). His most recent film Loveless won the Jury Prize at the Festival de Cannes 2017, and was among the nominees at the Golden Globe and 90thAcademy Awards.