Review: ‘Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,’ starring Anya Taylor-Joy and Chris Hemsworth

May 21, 2024

by Carla Hay

Anya Taylor-Joy, Tom Burke and Chris Hemsworth in “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (Photo by Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga”

Directed by George Miller

Culture Representation: Taking place somewhere on a post-apocalyptic Earth, the sci-fi/action film “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (a prequel to 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road”) features a cast of predominanly white characters (with a few black people and Asians) who are survivors of an apocalypse.

Culture Clash: Furiosa grows up from being an orphaned child to being a fierce warrior battling two major villains. 

Culture Audience: “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Mad Max” franchise, the movie’s headliners, and sci-fi action films that have stunning fight scenes and fascinating characters.

Tom Burke and Anya Taylor-Joy (seated in front) in “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (Photo by Jasin Boland/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” takes entirely too much time (about an hour) on warrior heroine Furiosa’s childhood. But once Furiosa becomes an adult, the movie kicks into a high-gear action spectacle that’s worth the wait. The dark comedic moments are a treat. This is not a movie for people who are expecting deeply intelligent dialogue. However, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (which clocks in at 148 minutes) satisfactorily delivers if viewers expect to be fully immersed in a chaotic, futuristic, post-apocalyptic world with unusual characters and brutal battles in the desert.

Directed by George Miller, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” (which had its world premiere at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival) was co-written by Miller and Nick Lathouris. The movie is a prequel to 2015’s Oscar-winning “Mad Max: Fury Road,” starring Tom Hardy as road warrior Mad Max and Charlize Theron as Mad Max colleague Furiosa. “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” takes place over a 16-year period before the events of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Miller directed the other previously released films in the “Mad Max” series: 1979’s “Mad Max,” 1981’s “Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior” (originally titled “The Road Warrior”) and 1985’s “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” all starring Mel Gibson as Mad Max. (“Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” was co-directed by George Ogilvie.)

The “Mad Max” stories take place in a futuristic time period in desert wasteland on a post-apocalyptic Earth. (The movies are actually filmed in Australia.) In this “Mas Max” world, life resources are scarce and society has devolved into anarchy where survivors fight over precious resources, and gangs are at war with each other.

Many of the gang members are held in captivity and forced to fight. They have shaved heads and are often covered head-to-toe with an ashy white substance. They have names such as Rictus Erectus (played by Nathan Jones), Scrotus (played by Josh Helman), Toe Jam (played by David Field) and Vulture (played by Ra Roman), but their personalities do not stand out enough for them to get any story arcs or backstories.

In “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga,” a young Furiosa (played by Alyla Browne) is 10 years old when a motorcycle gang kidnaps her from the Green Place of Many Mothers, a maternal community where women help raise each other’s children. Furiosa’s mother Mary Jabassa (played by Charlee Fraser) and the Green Place’s Vuvaline General (played by Elsa Pataky) frantically look for Furiosa. Mary doesn’t give up looking for Furiosa, and Mary’s fate is shown in the movie.

Furiosa is raised as an orphan by the motorcycle gang leader’s Dr. Dementus (played by Chris Hemsworth), until underage Furiosa (who is mostly mute for most of her screen time) runs away and disguises herself as a boy. Dr. Dementus is in a violent power struggle with Immortan Joe (played by Lachy Hulme), a crime overlord who wears a gas mask. The adult Furiosa (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), at 26 years old, teams up with Praetorian Jack (played by Tom Burke), a former driver of Immortan Joe’s War Rig, to find her way back home.

Of course, Furiosa and Praetorian Jack get caught in the middle of the villainous warfare and fight back in self-defense and revenge. Along the way, Furiosa and Praetorian Jack become close and develop a romantic connection. As time goes one, Furiosa becomes more talkative, but she’s still mainly a stoic character. Taylor-Joy’s expressive eyes and sturdy acting give Furiosa enough charisma to keep viewers interested. Burke also turns in a good performance as Praetorian Jack.

The action scenes and some of the weapons are inventive overall, but there are times when the violence in “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” become mind-numbing and repetitive. On a technical level, the movie’s production design and visual effects are the biggest assets.

Hemsworth’s portrayal of Dementus (who at times looks like a muscular and younger Rob Zombie) is a highlight. It’s a combination of menacing with some cheeky campiness. A running gag in the movie is Dementus’ attachment to a teddy bear that used to belong to Dementus’ dead son.

“Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” suffers from a bloated run time where viewers might start to feel a little cheated that adult Furiosa doesn’t make an appearance until an hour after the movie starts. (The movie’s trailers are definitely misleading, because they make it look like adult Furiosa will be in almost all of the movie.) The scenes with underage Furiosa are competently acted but mostly boring and not very informative. Despite this flaw, “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” is a fan-pleasing movie overall in the “Mad Max” franchise, even though the movie is not the most innovative in the series.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga” on May 24, 2024.

Review: ‘Living’ (2022), starring Bill Nighy

December 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Aimee Lou Wood (far left) and Bill Nighy in “Living” (Photo by Ross Ferguson/Number 9 Films/Sony Pictures Classics)

“Living” (2022)

Directed by Oliver Hermanus

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1959 in England, the dramatic film “Living” (a remake of the 1953 Japanese film “Ikiru”) features an all-white characters representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A terminally ill man has an epiphany and re-evaluates what he wants to do with his life.

Culture Audience: “Living” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of “Irkiru” and people who are interested in watching thoughtful movies about changing one’s own life while preparing for death.

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Alex Sharp, Hubert Burton, Adrian Rawlins and Oliver Chris in “Living” (Photo by Ross Ferguson/Number 9 Films/Sony Pictures Classics)

If you had only weeks to live, what would you do? The dramatic film “Living” poses that question, and has a protagonist who answers it. Bill Nighy gives a nuanced performance in this noteworthy British remake of Akira Kurosawa’s 1952 classic “Ikiru.” The deliberate pacing and contemplative nature of “Living” can be recommended to people who want to see a movie about someone facing mortality. “Living” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival and

Directed by Oliver Hermanus and written by Kazuo Ishiguro, “Living” (which takes place in 1959 in an unnamed part of England) begins with the introduction to the four businessman co-workers before they go on a train together to their monotonous office job for a company whose core business is never fully explained. Much of the movie contrasts the rigid, “button-down” environment of this office job and the personal evolution of the movie’s protagonist who tries to break out of the self-imposed rut that he’s been living in for many years.

The movie’s central character is a widower named Mr. Williams (played by Nighy), whose first name is never mentioned. It’s the movie’s way of still giving an air of formality to this character. Through conversations that the four commuter businessmen have in the movie, it’s made clear that Mr. Williams is a high-ranking executive at the company, and he is close to retiring. Mr. Williams is respected but also feared.

The four businessmen who work at the company are newcomer Peter Wakeling (played by Alex Sharp), who is in his 20s and eager to impress his co-workers; Mr. Hart (played by Oliver Chris), who is fairly quiet; Mr. Rusbridger (played by Hubert Burton), who is helpful to Peter; and Mr. Middleton (played by Adrian Rawlins), who is the apparent successor to Mr. Williams after Mr. Williams retires. Peter, Mr. Hart and Mr. Rusbridger are all in the late 20s to early 30s. Mr. Middleton is in his 60s.

The movie’s opening scene shows Peter on a train platform his first day on the job, as Mr. Middleton introduces Peter to Mr. Hart and Mr. Rusbridger. Peter tells an innocuous joke to make small talk. No one in the group laughs at the joke. Mr. Rusbridger advises Peter: “This time of the morning, it’s kind of a rule: Not too much fun and laughter, kind of like church.”

This serious attitude is even more evident in the office environment, where people speak in hushed tones and seem very conscious of following bureaucratic rules. Although the desks in the office are placed closed together, these co-workers seem emotionally distant from each other. The impression they give is that they have to be completely focused on work, and there’s no room and no tolerance for anyone to bring too much of their personal lives (or personalities) to the workplace.

Even if it’s never said out loud, it becomes obvious from Mr. Williams’ leadership style that he was responsible for creating this stuffy culture at this particular office. One day, during a dull meeting in a conference room, Mr. Williams tells his staff that he has to leave early for the day (at about 3:20 p.m.), and he says that Mr. Middleton can be in charge during Mr. Williams’ absence. As soon as the employees hear that Mr. Williams will be leaving early, the relief is noticeable on their faces, as if they know that when he’s gone, they can relax a little in the office.

The appointment that Mr. Williams has to go to is a visit with his physician Dr, Matthews (played by Jonathan Keeble). The doctor does not have good news to tell Mr. Williams. Tests results have come back that are “pretty conclusive,” says the doctor. Although the full details aren’t revealed until later, Mr. Williams has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. He has also been told that he only has six to eight months to live. This isn’t spoiler information, since this part of the story is part of the marketing for “Living.”

Mr. Williams keeps this information a secret from almost everyone he knows, including his adult son Michael (played by Barney Fishwick), Michael’s wife Fiona (played by Patsy Ferran) and Mr. Williams’ business colleagues. Michael and Fiona do not have a warm relationship with Mr. Williams. When these two spouses visit him, they (especially Fiona) seem to be more concerned about what kind of inheritance money they can get from Mr. Williams than his general well-being.

The implication is that for much of his life, Mr. Williams has been a cold and judgmental person who is set in his ways. And now that he is faced with the harsh reality of his imminent and painful death, he is seeing the consequences of not developing enough meaningful emotional connections. Michael, his closest living relative, barely tolerates him, which indicates that years of resentment (mostly unspoken) have built up between father and son.

Mr. Williams finds an unexpected bright spot soon after finding out the dark and devastating news about his terminal illness: A perky and talkative woman in her 20s named Margaret Harris (played by Aimee Lou Wood) is someone who used to work as a secretary in the same office as Mr. Williams. Shortly after the movie begins, it’s shown that Margaret has already given notice that she’s quitting to take a job as an assistant manager at a local restaurant called Four Corners.

One day, Mr. Williams invites Margaret to lunch, and they have a polite conversation where he tells her that he can write a letter of recommendation for her in whatever job she wants to have. Over time, after Margaret starts working at Four Corners, he makes a point of going there by himself so that he can talk to her because he’s lonely. They go on a few platonic dates, but Margaret isn’t really sure if Mr. Williams wants more than a friendship when he quickly becomes emotionally attached to her.

Meanwhile, Mr. Williams meets a bon vivant type named Sutherland (played by Tom Burke), who encourages Mr. Williams to loosen up and try things that Mr. Williams has never done before. If “Living” were a formulaic Hollywood movie, this would be the part of the story where Mr. Williams turns into a party animal or goes on wacky adventures, as part of checking off things to do on his “bucket list.” However, the quiet beauty of “Living” is that it doesn’t have those types of cheap gimmicks.

Instead, “Living” is more about the gradual discovery that Mr. Williams has about himself and understanding that even with a limited amount of time he has left to live, it’s never to too late to change. Throughout the movie, there are several flashback clips of Mr. Williams in his childhood. These flashbacks are artfully shown in a “vintage film footage” format. Mr. Williams’ childhood memories inspire the transformation that he has in this story.

“Living” is a movie that will frustrate or bore some viewers who want to see a flashier film with a lot of melodrama. Audiences should know before seeing this film that it’s an introspective character study rather than a story with major plot twists or surprises. Nighy’s performance is understated yet powerful in the way he portrays someone who chooses to suffer in silence but who makes a big statement toward the end of his life. Mostly, the movie does an admirable job of conveying the message behind the title: How someone lives is much more important than how someone dies.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Living” in select U.S. cinemas on December 23, 2022.

Review: ‘The Wonder’ (2022), starring Florence Pugh

November 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tom Burke, Florence Pugh and Kíla Lord Cassidy in “The Wonder” (Photo by Christopher Barr/Netflix)

“The Wonder” (2022)

Directed by Sebastián Lelio

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1862 in the Midlands of Ireland, the dramatic film “The Wonder” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Nightingale nurse from England is hired to go to Ireland to find out the reason why an 11-year-old girl has reportedly been able to survive for four months without eating and without any signs of starvation.

Culture Audience: “The Wonder” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Florence Pugh and movies that make pointed observations about how religion can control and influence people’s lives.

Josie Walker, Toby Jones, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Niamh Algar and Florence Pugh in “The Wonder” (Photo by Aidan Monaghan/Netflix)

“The Wonder” will test the patience of viewers with short attention spans, but the movie’s subtlety, nuances and Florence Pugh’s standout performance are great rewards for people who want to see a drama about religion and moral hypocrisy. This is the type of movie where some of the biggest revelations don’t happen in loud, bombastic moments but occur in hushed tones and whispers that are sometimes engulfed in shame.

Directed by Sebastián Lelio, “The Wonder” is based on Emma Donoghue’s 2016 novel of the same name. Lelio, Donoghue and Alice Birch co-wrote the adapted screenplay for “The Wonder.” Although the movie is set in a rural Irish community in 1862, many of the themes in “The Wonder” transcend time and location and can apply to the past, present and future of any community where religion is the driving force of how people live. “The Wonder” had its world premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival, and then had its Canadian premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

The beginning of “The Wonder” has an unusual location of a movie set of props where no one is present, but viewers can hear this voiceover saying: “This is the beginning of a film called ‘The Wonder.’ The people you are about to meet, the characters believe in their stories with complete devotion.” The camera then moves from the prop-filled set to a movie-set replication of the inside of train, as the story begins and transports viewers back to the year 1862.

On the train is the central protagonist of “The Wonder”: Lib Wright (played by Pugh), a Nightingale nurse from England, who is traveling by herself to the Midlands of Ireland. A devoutly Catholic community (which is unnamed in the movie) has hired Lib to watch over an 11-year-old girl named Anna O’Donnell (played by Kíla Lord Cassidy), who has been in the news for being a “miracle girl.” Anna has reportedly not eaten for the past four months and has no signs of starvation or any weight loss.

Lib is a compassionate and strong-willed nurse who is very skeptical that Anna hasn’t eaten any food for the past four months. When she arrives at the boarding house where she’ll be staying, she finds out that she has to share a room with a nun named Sister Michael (played by Josie Walker), who will be sharing the work shift duties of watching over Anna. When Lib expresses some disappointment that she will have to share a room with a nun, instead of having her own room, the boarding house’s matriarch Mrs. Maggie Ryan (played by Ruth Bradley) quips, “Welcome to Ireland.”

In her first meal at the Ryan family home, Lib is polite, observant and somewhat guarded about herself. The Ryan family consists of Maggie; her husband, Sean Ryan (played by David Wilmot), who works as a publican; and their five daughters (played by Darcey Campion, Abigail Coburn, Carla Hurley O’Dwyer, Juliette Hurley O’Dwyer and Carly Kane). Maggie tells Anna that the eldest four daughters are Sean’s daughters from his marriage to his first wife, who is now deceased. The youngest daughter is the biological child of Sean and Maggie.

Sean is on a five-man committee overseeing Lib and Sister Michael in the women’s job of observing Anna. The other men on the committee are Dr. McBrearty (played by Toby Jones), Father Thaddeus (played by Ciarán Hinds), landowner John Flynn (played by Brian F. O’Byrne), and Baronet Sir Ottway (played by Dermot Crowley). Dr. McBrearty is the most outspoken of the five men and is the one who’s most likely to give orders. It should come as no surprise that independent-minded Lib will clash with Dr. McBrearty the most.

In Lib’s first meeting in front of the committee, she is adamantly told that her job is to observe and talk to Anna and do nothing else. Lib is not allowed to give Anna any food, water or medical attention. Lib is concerned and uncomfortable with this command, but Dr. McBrearty reminds Lib that she’s being paid a considerable amount of money to do whatever the committee tells her to do. Lib is told that after 15 days, Lib and Sister Michael will be required to give separate testimonial reports about what they each believe is the cause of Anna’s seemingly miraculous condition.

When Lib meets the O’Donnell family, she finds a deeply religious clan who’s emotionally haunted by the death of Anna’s older brother Pat, who passed away nine months earlier. A recent photo of Pat in the family home shows that he was about 15 years old. Pat’s cause of death is never fully explained, but it’s described in the movie as being a sudden death.

Anna’s parents Rosaleen O’Donnell (played by Elaine Cassidy) and Malachy O’Donnell (played by Caolán Byrne) appear to be humble and unassuming. Rosaleen is very devoted and nurturing to Anna, whom Rosaleen calls “a jewel, a wonder.” However, Lib can’t help but notice that Anna’s parents accept money from people who want to see this “miracle girl” up close. Lib thinks this practice is distasteful, and she sometimes sends these visitors away because Lib is more concerened about Anna’s health.

The O’Donnells have a housekeeper named Kitty (played by Niamh Algar), who is in her 20s, and who has recently started learning how to read. Kitty might not have a lot of formal education, but she is very knowledgeable about her surroundings and the people in the community. Kitty is usually the one to tell Lib some of the personal backgrounds of the people in the community. In other words, Kitty knows a lot more than people think she does.

As for Anna, she’s a mostly quiet child who will answer any questions about her condition by saying that it’s all coming from God. When Lib asks Anna how she’s been able to not have any physical effects of not eating, Anna insists that she’s getting “manna from heaven.” Lib asks, “How does it feel?” Anna replies, “Full.” That’s not a good-enough answer for Lib, who is very doubtful that Anna has not eaten anything for the past four months. Lib is determined to find out why.

Someone else who wants to get to the bottom of this mystery is Will Byrne (played by Tom Burke), a reporter for the Daily Telegraph in England. Will is visiting this community to investigate, so it’s inevitable that Lib meets Will. Kitty tells Lib that Will grew up in the community but moved to England for his university education and to pursue a career in journalism. According to Kitty, Will’s parents were so heartbroken that he left Ireland and didn’t keep in touch with them, so his parents locked themselves in their home and starved themselves to death during the Great Famine.

The Great Famine, which devastated Ireland from 1845 to 1849, resulted in about 100,000 people dying from starvation and disease, stemming from blighted potato crops that also caused an economic crisis. The village where the O’Donnells live was hit hard by the Great Famine, which is why Anna’s seemingly miraculous starvation survival has a particularly emotional resonance in this religious community. The voiceover in the beginning of the movie comments: “The Great Famine casts a long shadow, and the Irish hold the English responsible for all that devastation.”

It doesn’t take long for Lib to become frustrated by her employers’ orders not to help Anna in any way. One night, when she’s off-duty and hanging out at Sean’s pub, she angrily asks him: “What kind of backwards village imports a professional nurse for something like this?” Sean responds with equal ire and says to Lib, “Prove it’s nonsense, and then fuck off [and go] home.”

There’s some underlying tension between the Irish villagers and anyone they consider to be an “outsider,” especially those from England. Will, who has now made England his home, experiences a certain amount of mistrust from the villagers too, because Will is considered somewhat of a “traitor” to abandon his Irish home to move to England. At first, Will and Lib seem to be in hostile competition to find out what’s going on with Anna, but Lib and Will eventually discover that they actually like each other, and they bond over their “outsider” status in this village.

And who exactly is Lib? She slowly reveals information about herself to certain people. Viewers find out that she served in the Crimean War. After the war, she was married to a man who disappeared and is presumed dead. And she is in deep emotional pain over the death of her baby daughter, who passed away at three weeks old. Lib later confides in Anna that Lib’s husband left Lib shortly after the death of their child.

When Lib is alone in her room, she takes out a towel that has a pair of baby booties and some liquid opium. She has a secret self-harming ritual of getting high by drinking the opium and pricking an index finger until she sees blood. She then sucks the blood so that no stains appear anywhere. When Anna shows Lib a bloody tooth that has fallen out of Anna’s mouth, Lib wonders if Anna is also engaging in self-harm.

Observant viewers will notice that it’s mentioned early on in the movie that Anna has stopped eating since her 11th birthday. “The Wonder” has recurring themes and references to being reborn and people going through different transitions of life and death. Certain people in the story are obsessed with who is going to heaven or hell and who might be stuck in purgatory.

Lib, whose birth name is Elizabeth, is asked by Anna if she likes to call herself by any other names, such as Elizabeth, Beth or Liz. Later, after Lib reveals something about herself, Lib will ask Anna if she could be another person, what her name would be. Anna says she would choose the name Nan.

“The Wonder” often reflects the slow pace of a rural village, so this movie might be too sluggish for some viewers. However, the performances of the cast members are admirable, while the mystery of Anna’s condition can keep viewers curious enough to find out what will happen next and how the movie will end. Pugh is a solid anchor for “The Wonder,” which is not a movie that has her flashiest, awards-bait role, but it’s testament to how talented she is that her portrayals of various characters seem so natural.

Even though Pugh performs the role of Lib in an authentic way, others part of the “The Wonder” have a few authenticity flaws and disappointments. For example, this community is ruled by the teachings of the Catholic Church, but “The Wonder” inexplicably does not show enough of Father Thaddeus’ influence on this community. Father Thaddeus is a mostly silent member of the committee that is supervising Lib and Sister Michael. It’s an unfortunate waste of the talent of Oscar-nominated actor Hinds.

Lib also does something very dangerous toward the end of “The Wonder.” And how it’s staged in the movie looks rushed and somewhat hard to believe. The movie doesn’t deviate from the book in what happens, but the cinematic version of this conclusion seems crammed quickly into a movie that took its time to linger on other less meaningful parts of the story. These flaws are minor and don’t ruin “The Wonder,” which is a distinctive psychological drama that effectively portrays the conflicts that can occur between comforts of religious faith and the discomforts of harsh reality.

Netflix released “The Wonder” in select U.S. cinemas on November 2, 2022. The movie premiered on Netflix on November 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Mank,’ starring Gary Oldman

February 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman in “Mank” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)


Directed by David Fincher

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1930 to 1942 in Southern California, the dramatic film “Mank” features an all-white cast of characters who are are involved in some way in the movie industry.

Culture Clash: Alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. “Mank” Mankiewicz has personal and professional conflicts while trying to complete the “Citizen Kane” screenplay, the 1941 classic film directed by and starring Orson Welles.

Culture Audience: “Mank” will appeal primarily to people interested in dramatic depictions of Hollywood film history from the 1930s and 1940s.

Tom Burke in “Mank” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

A lot of visual flair, technical precision and above-average acting went into the creation of the dramatic film “Mank” (directed by David Fincher and written by his late father Jack Fincher), but it’s the type of movie that will still leave some viewers cold. The movie certainly has compelling performances, snappy dialogue and impressive cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt. “Mank” is a feast for cinephiles who appreciate the art that came from the Golden Age of Hollywood. But “Mank” is a famine for people who want to see movie characters with relatable emotions that are not motivated by greed or ruthless ambition.

Any disdain or apathy for “Mank” might come from people who don’t care about what the movie industry was like in 1930s or 1940s, or who don’t want to be reminded of how racially segregated America was back then. And people could also be turned off from “Mank” because they don’t want to see this part of American history glorified in a movie that recreates the racist and sexist bubble of Hollywood willing to give an alcoholic, difficult screenwriter so many chances to work on prestige projects because of his white male privilege. These are all valid reasons for people not to like “Mank,” which doesn’t try to rewrite history, but the movie also doesn’t try to make any insightful commentary on the rampant racism and sexism in Hollywood and society at large that didn’t allow anyone but white men to be the top filmmakers during this era.

“Mank” is filmed in black-and-white and in a style that emulates exactly how a biographical film about Mankiewicz would have been made in the 1940s. That’s the decade when Mank (who died in 1953, at the age of 55) was at the height of his career, as the co-writer of director Orson Welles’ classic 1941 drama “Citizen Kane,” which is often named in film historians’ lists as the best movie of all time. The “Citizen Kane” original screenplay, which was loosely based on the life of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, was the only Academy Award won by the movie, which was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor. (Welles starred in the film as Kane.)

The Best Original Screenplay prize for “Citizen Kane” was also the only Academy Award won by Mankiewicz and Welles, who died in 1985, at the age 70. “Mank” essentially tells the story of the tortuous process of getting the screenplay completed and the clashes over creative control. It’s a story that could apply to how numerous other movies have been made under similar circumstances, but “Citizen Kane” just happens to be what many film experts consider to be a masterpiece.

“Mank” depicts Mank (played by Gary Oldman) as a talented and experienced screenwriter but also a hardcore alcoholic. He’s under pressure to finish the “Citizen Kane” screenplay by his deadline. However, his alcoholism and his conflicts with Welles threaten to derail the project. At first, Mank was willing to give full screenwriter credit to Welles for “Citizen Kane.” Much of “Mank” is about how and why Mank changed his mind and demanded co-writing credit.

The opening scene of “Mank” shows Mank checking in as a guest at the North Verde Ranch in Victorville, California, in 1940. His intent is to retreat to the ranch so that he can finish the “Citizen Kane” screenplay in relative solitude. Welles (played by Tom Burke) has given Mank a deadline to finish the screenplay in 60 days. Even though Mank is told that North Verde is a “dry ranch” (no alcohol is allowed), that doesn’t stop Mank from having a suitcase full of liquor delivered to his room.

Mank’s discomfort isn’t only because he’s told that the ranch has a ban on alcohol. He also has to use crutches, because he broke his right leg in a car accident. He’s introduced to the female typist who will be working with him: A British immigrant named Rita Alexander (played Lily Collins), who tells Mank that her husband (who’s not in the movie) flies Firebird planes for the Royal Air Force. Rita’s character, like all the female characters in “Mank,” are written to have only one purpose in the film: to be dutiful, passive, and willing to please the men.

Mank’s long-suffering wife Sara Mankiewicz (played by Tuppence Middleton) sometimes talks some sass to her philandering, hard-drinking husband. But ultimately, she caves in to societal pressure to be a wife who’s completely dependent on her husband. Later in the movie, Mank becomes infatuated with Hearst’s mistress Marion Davies (played by Amanda Seyfried), a famous actress who is all too aware that her good looks and her connection to Hearst are the main reasons why her acting career is thriving.

In an early scene in the movie, Sara is helping a very drunk Mank get into bed. She mentions their past courtship of him being a war correspondent who “ruined” her home. It’s a reference to when Mank worked for the American Red Cross News Service in Paris in 1919 and 1920, the year that he and Sara were married. There are not-so-subtle hints in Mank’s interactions with Sara that Sara knew she was marrying a “bad boy” and made the mistake of thinking that he would change after they got married.

In “Mank,” he spends more time with Davies than he does with his wife and children. It’s a commentary on what the filmmakers think his priorities were at the time. Davies is portrayed as a coquettish charmer who isn’t passionately in love with Hearst (played by Charles Dance), but she’s fond enough of him to let him treat her like his trophy girlfriend so that she can enjoy all the benefits that come with it.

Davies was born to a working-class family in Brooklyn, New York, so Seyfried really plays up these roots with a heavy Brooklyn accent in “Mank.” In real life, by all accounts, Davies had lost her Brooklyn accent by the time she became a Hollywood actress. But the accent that the Davies character has in “Mank” is meant to put a lot of emphasis on the fact that she came from a working-class background and she now hobnobs with the rich and famous.

The Brooklyn accent is also apparently an excuse for the “Mank” screenplay to have Mank utter a cheesy line of dialogue when he’s flirting with Davies. Mank sees her at a birthday party for actor John Gilbert (played by Nick Job), and Davies begins telling Mank some stories about when she used to live in Brooklyn. Mank says in a remark dripping with a bad pun/double entendre: “Your Flatbush is showing.” Mank’s lusty facial expression and tone of his voice leave no doubt what he meant by that comment.

In a scene that’s a flashback to 1930, “Mank” shows the misogyny of treating women only as sex objects. The scene takes place in a writer’s room. In the room are Mank, his younger brother Joe Mankiewicz (played by Tom Pelphrey), George Kaufman (played by Adam Shapiro), Sidney Pearlman (played by Jack Romano), Charles MacArthur (played by John Churchill), Shelly Metcalf (played by Jamie McShane) and Ben Hecht (played by Jeff Harms).

There’s a secretary in the room too, but she’s topless, except for pasties covering her nipples. It’s obvious that she’s expected to look this way and to do things such as sit on a man’s lap when he tells her to do it. The men act as if it’s perfectly normal for a woman to be treated this way in a work environment.

It’s easy to see that the screenplay for “Mank” did not want to rely on showing repetitious scenes of a drunken Mank struggling to finish the “Citizen Kane” screenplay on time because he procrastinates. These types of scenes are in the movie, but at a bare minimum. The movie is filled with flashbacks of how he got to know Davies and Hearst and how Mank was tentatively invited into their social circle. Toward the end of the movie, there’s a big costume dinner party scene where, in true Mank fashion, he shows up very drunk. And you can imagine what happens.

If Hearst was the inspiration for “Citizen Kane,” then Welles was the movie’s visionary creative leader. But the person who had the most influence on Mank’s career was MGM Studios co-founder Louis B. Mayer (played by Arliss Howard), who at times was like a exasperated mentor to Mank, if you believe what’s presented to this movie. Mank spends more time on screen with Mayer than he does with Welles.

The movie has several flashbacks to how Mank’s business relationship with Mayer evolved. In a scene that takes place in 1934, Mank introduces Joe to Mayer, who quips: “We only have one star here: Leo the Lion [the MGM mascot]. Many stars forget that. And now, they twinkle elsewhere.”

Mayer is depicted as someone who’s a control freak and only concerned about himself, but is skilled at deceiving people into thinking he has their best interests at heart. This duplicitous nature is shown in a scene, also in 1934, where Mayer is on stage at an auditorium and speaking to an assembly of MGM employees. Mayer explains that the Great Depression has negatively impacted the movie industry. And he tells the employees that he needs them to volunteer to take a 50% pay cut for eight weeks, for the good of the company.

At first, the MGM employees are angry with the news that their salaries will be reduced. Mayer tells them the other option would be to make staff layoffs. And he assures the employees that if they take the pay cut, when President Franklin Roosevelt opens the banks again, Mayer promises that he will pay all of the employees the compensation that they lost out on during this eight-week period.

The employees go from a potentially angry crowd to cheering for Mayer, who’s convinced them that he’s a compassionate boss who really cares about them. Mank is watching this from the wings of the stage and somewhat awed at how Mayer was able to turn the situation around so quickly. But when Mayer leaves the stage, he tells Mank that the speech was all for show and that he has no intention of making the salary reimbursement that he promised on stage.

As a way to seemingly fill up time in this 131-minute movie, “Mank” also takes a few detours into politics, with an entire subplot of how Mank was perceived as a Socialist and how it affected his career. The movie shows that Mank refused to sign an agreement stating that he would never join a writer’s union. The union was opposed by Mayer and MGM head of production Irving Thalberg (played by Ferdinand Kingsley), who put pressure on Mank to side with MGM. The way it’s shown in “Mank,” Thalberg was ready to accuse Mank of being a Communist if Mank didn’t comply with what MGM wanted.

And as if to make it abundantly clear that Mank was a left-wing liberal, there are some unnecessary scenes of him getting caught up on in the 1934 election for California’s governor. The race came down to conservative Republican Frank Merriam versus liberal Democrat (and former Socialist Party member) Upton Sinclair. Mank refuses Thalberg’s demand to contribute to MGM’s anti-Sinclair fund, Thalberg says in a threatening tone: “I hate to think what L.B. [Louis B. Mayer] might do if he finds out that you’re the only holdout.”

Mank replies defiantly, “You don’t need my donation! You don’t need anybody’s donation. You can make the world swear that King Kong is 10 stories tall and Mary Pickford is a virgin at 40, yet you can’t convince starving Californians that a turncoat Socialist is a menace to everything they hold dear. You’re barely trying.” Mank then walks out of Thalberg’s office like a future rapper who just dropped the mic.

On election night at the Trocadero nightclub, where a crowd is gathered to listen to the election results, a drunken Mank makes a $24,000 bet on who will win. It’s the kind of money that he knows could ruin him financially, but he bets it all anyway. Viewers of this movie who know who won the election in real life can easily guess which of the candidates got Mank’s support and how this scene ends.

There’s a minor subplot of how his younger brother Joe feels overshadowed by Mank. Joe is also the more cautious brother who expresses concerns to Mank about the repercussions that Mank will get from Hearst over the “Citizen Kane” screenplay. “Self-preservation is not politics,” warns Joe. Mank doesn’t seem to care. He replies, “I’m washed up, Joe. I have been for years.”

Despite this scene where the Mankiewicz brothers have this candid talk, the brotherly dynamic is often shunted aside, since this movie is just what the title says it is: It’s ultimately all about Mank. His wife is treated as a marginal character, while his children Don and Johanna have no bearing on the plot and are briefly in the movie.

Throughout the movie, Mank seems proud of his disruptive reputation, with the type of bravado of someone who knows he is not the target of racism and sexism. Mank was Jewish, but it’s implied throughout the story that because most of the major Hollywood studios at the time were owned by Jewish men, Mank didn’t get the type of anti-Semitism that he would’ve gotten if he worked in an industry that wasn’t controlled at the time by people who weren’t Jewish.

The movie is intent on making Mank look like a lovable rogue, without any real examination of how his awful actions might have damaged other people. “Mank” gives him somewhat of a “see, he’s not that bad” redemption arc when it’s revealed that he did an act of kindness to help his German immigrant employee named Fraulein Freda (played by Monika Grossman) by sponsoring her German family to live in the United States. When typist Rita is ready to quit in frustration over Mank’s heavy drinking, Freda tells her about Mank’s immigration assistance and that he’s a “good man.”

However, it can be argued that an act of kindness is truly noble when the person committing the act won’t get anything out of it in return. Would Mank have gone to the trouble of helping Freda if she didn’t work for him and if he didn’t need to use her services in some way? Viewers can make up their own minds about Mank’s character by other actions he takes in the movie.

Although “Mank” doesn’t goes as far to say that Mank and Davies had a sexual affair, the movie shows that the two did have some kind of intimate emotional affair. After all, Davies is shown as the one who gave Mank a lot of personal information about Hearst that ended up being used for the Kane character in “Citizen Kane.” As for why Sara stayed married to Mank, she tells him what she thinks of their marriage: “It’s never boring. Exhausting? Yes.”

People watching “Mank” might be surprised by how the character of Welles doesn’t have as much screen time as expected for a movie about the pre-production of “Citizen Kane.” And it’s too bad that Welles is only in the movie for about 15 minutes, because the showdown between Welles and Mank is one of the best scenes in the film. The two men have an explosive argument when Mank tells Welles that he wants co-writing credit for the screenplay.

It’s a battle of egos and power. Welles was a hotshot filmmaker at age 24 when he was given complete creative control over “Citizen Kane” in his contract with RKO Pictures. And he was very arrogant about it, by all accounts. Mank, who was 42 or 43 when he completed the “Citizen Kane” screenplay, had the advantage of being more experienced in Hollywood.

Mank declares to Welles during their argument: “I may be a loose cannon, but you, my friend, are the outsider.” Welles shouts back: “Who’s producing this picture? Directing in it? Starring in it?”

One of the better aspects of “Mank” is it that perfectly captures the tone, pace and voice cadence of movies from the 1930s and 1940s. It looks like a movie that could have been made back then, except the pristine technical aspects (such as the film editing) make it clear that the movie benefited from modern technology. “Mank” uses an eye-catching technique of identifying the year and location of each new scene by showing this information on screen as typing on a paper script with one of the era’s typewriters.

“Mank” director Fincher has immense talent for his attention to detail, when it comes to production design, costume design, a film’s visuals and getting the best that he can out of the cast members in the movie. Those superb qualities make “Mank” worth watching for people who want to immerse themselves in Old Hollywood. However, many of Fincher’s films have main characters who are selfish and/or obsessive to the point where much of their humanity is lost. And that is one of the main reasons why some people will want to avoid watching “Mank.”

Netflix released “Mank” in select U.S. cinemas on November 13, 2020. The movie premiered on Netflix on December 4, 2020.

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