Culture Representation: Taking place in various countries in Europe from 1789 to 1815, the dramatic film “Napoleon” (a biopic of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Napoleon Bonaparte rises from humble beginnings to become emperor of France, but his life is plagued by power struggles, marital problems, and deep insecurities.
Culture Audience: “Napoleon” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Joaquin Phoenix, director Ridley Scott and history-influenced war movies that put more importance on battlefield scenes than crafting compelling stories.
The long-winded “Napoleon” is a film that acts as if epic battle scenes are enough to make a great war movie. Overrated director Ridley Scott continues his awful tendency of shaming female sexuality more than male sexuality. Napoleon has an American accent. Historical inaccuracies aside—and there are plenty of these inaccuracies in the movie—”Napoleon” (which clocks in at a too-long 158 minutes) is ultimately a very superficial film that is more style than substance.
Although people can agree that “Napoleon” star Joaquin Phoenix is a very talented actor, there’s no legitimate reason for why he has an American accent in portraying a well-known French leader such as Napoleon Bonaparte, when all the other “Napoleon” cast members portraying French people do not have American accents. (They have British accents.) It wouldn’t have been that hard for “Napoleon” director Scott to require Phoenix to not have this phony-sounding and distracting American accent in this movie and instead have Phoenix be consistent with the other cast members’ accents for those portraying French people. It’s just lazy filmmaking, albeit on a very big budget for this overpriced film.
“Napoleon” takes place from 1789 to 1815. He was emperor of France from 1804 to 1814 and part of 1815. Napoleon died in 1821, at the age of 51. The movie has some moments of unexpected comedy, but a lot of that comedy is unintentional. Many lines of dialogue in the uneven “Napoleon” screenplay (written by David Scarpa) are so cringeworthy, they’re funny—as in, viewers will laugh at the dialogue, not laugh with it. The relationships in the movie are presented as very shallow, with poorly written conversations as flimsy substitutes for what are supposed to be meaningful emotional bonds.
As an example of the type of junk that viewers have to sit through when watching “Napoleon,” there’s a scene where quarrelling spouses Napoleon and Josephine (played by Vanessa Kirby) have one of their many arguments during a meal at a dinner party in their palatial home. Josephine calls Napoleon “fat” in front of their guests. Napoleon replies, “I enjoy my meals. Destiny has brought me here. Destiny has brought me this lamb chop!”
Napoleon’s courtship and subsequent marriage to Josephine are portrayed as fueled primarily by lust on his part (and his desire for her to give birth to a male heir) and desperate gold digging and social climbing on her part. Napoleon met Josephine after she was released from prison and essentially destitute. Napoleon gets Josephine’s attention when he sees her playing cards at a dingy nightclub and stares at her like a stalker. Their relationship in the movie consists of a few robotic-like sex scenes and more scenes of them having a dysfunctional and twisted rapport of insulting each other.
“Napoleon” makes it clear that petulant Napoleon and manipulative Josephine got some kind of sexual arousal from their war of words/verbal abuse, where each tried to assert control and dominance over the other. Very little is shown about how Josephine and Napoleon were as parents. Kirby and Phoenix give very capable performances, but neither performance rises to the level of outstanding, due to the substandard screenplay and the bloated direction for “Napoleon.”
Napoleon and Josephine were both admittedly unfaithful to each other during their marriage, but Josephine’s infidelities are repeatedly shown on screen, while Napoleon’s infidelities are not shown on screen and almost excused. The overwhelming sexist tone of this movie is that Napoleon deserved more sympathy for being cheated on, while Josephine is portrayed as a heartless “harlot” who deserved very little or no sympathy. It can’t be blamed on sexism in the 1700s and 1800s. “Napoleon” director Scott made the choices on what to show and what not to show in this movie.
Even though he is an unfaithful husband, Napoleon hypocritically thinks that he’s entitled to his infidelities, while Josephine gets no such entitlement. Napoleon’s jealousy goes beyond the norm and crosses the line into obsessive possessiveness. A scene in the movie shows Napoleon abruptly leaving his military duties on the battlefield to go home to Paris, to show Josephine that he “owns” her, after he hears that she has another lover. When Napoleon is later asked why he made such a sudden (and temporary) departure from his military command, Napoleon replies: “My wife is a slut.”
Napoleon was famous for his abrasive and cocky personality in real life. In this movie, Phoenix depicts not only that unlikeable side to Napoleon but also portrays Napoleon as an emotionally wounded man-child whose feelings get hurt if Josephine doesn’t act as if she’s a submissive wife who worships him. When Josephine doesn’t get pregnant as fast as he wants her to get pregnant, Napoleon blames her and acts personally offended that her body is not conceiving and delivering the heirs that he wants in the timetable he expects them to be born.
Napoleon’s family members are side characters who ultimately exist to react to his ego and whims. Napoleon’s younger brother Lucien Bonaparte (played by Matthew Needham) benefits from Napoleon’s political power. For a while, Lucien is Napoleon’s trusty sidekick, but then Lucien disappears for large chunks of the movie with no real explanation. Napoleon’s mother Letizia Bonaparte (played by Sinéad Cusack) was strong-willed and meddling in real life, but in this movie, she’s an underdeveloped and sidelined character.
“Napoleon” (which was filmed in Malta) becomes a repetitive slog of battle scenes on the field, his marital problems, and the occasional exile. It’s all formulaic at a certain point. Napoleon’s opponents and allies are nothing but hollow historical figures in this movie, which has admirable costume design and production design. Napoleon’s trusted political adviser Paul Barras (played by Tahar Rahim) has a hopelessly generic personality before he disappears from the story. British military commander Arthur Wellesley (played by Rupert Everett) has some of the most embarrassingly terrible lines in the movie.
Yes, the action scenes in “Napoleon” are visually impressive. But there are plenty of war movies with better action scenes. What happens in between those scenes are watchable moments at best and disappointing missed opportunities at worst.
Apple Studios and Columbia Pictures will release “Napoleon” in U.S. cinemas on November 22, 2023.
Some language in Italian and French with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place from various parts of the world, the action film “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) who are connected in some way with government operations or criminal activities.
Culture Clash: IMF (International Mission Force) rogue agent Ethan Hunt is once again on a mission to save the world from deadly villains.
Culture Audience: Besides appealing the obvious target audience of “Mission: Impossible” fans, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Tom Cruise and spy thrillers with death-defying action stunts.
By now, most movie fans know that the “Mission: Impossible” movie series, starring Tom Cruise as IMF rogue agent Ethan Hunt, will have a lot of amazing stunts and action sequences. Cruise famously does his own principal stunts for these films. The “Mission: Impossible” movie series (based on the TV series of the same name) began in 1996. Instead of slowing down with these movies, Cruise seems determined to do even more outrageous stunts. In “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” the stakes get even higher when Ethan and all the main characters face the challenge of an entity that can create false images and alter people’s perceptions of reality.
As already shown in the movie’s trailer, Cruise’s biggest stunt in the film is driving custom-made Honda CRF 250 off of Norway’s Helsetkopen mountain, where he fell 4,000 feet into a ravine before opening his parachute about 500 feet from the ground. There are more stunts (some using obvious visual effects) involving planes, trains and automobiles. The movie also introduces a few intriguing new characters who will be appearing in more than one “Mission: Impossible” movie.
Directed by Chistopher McQuarrie, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” is the seventh film in the “Mission: Impossible” movie series and the third consecutive “Mission: Impossible” film that McQuarrie has directed, following 2015’s “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” and 2018’s “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.” Cruise and McQuarrie are the producers of “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” which was written by McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen. It’s the same writing, directing and producing team behind “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two,” which is set for release in 2024.
“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” is the most ambitious of the “Mission: Impossible” movie series so far but in some ways is also the most ridiculous. In trying so hard to outdo its predecessors, the movie gets into cartoonish territory when characters don’t get any injuries in crashes and explosions that would kill or maim most people in real life. Some of the plot also gets too convoluted. Despite these flaws, what a thrill ride it is. This action-packed and suspenseful film mostly earns its total running time of 156 minutes, even though “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” still could’ve benefited from tighter film editing. (For example, the movie’s opening credits don’t happen until 28 minutes into the film.)
“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” opens with a Russian submarine getting blown up after getting hit with a torpedo. The submarine’s video monitors and other computer systems were hacked by a mysterious entity that can create illusions to confuse the submarine’s occupants. These illusions caught the occupants off guard, which led to the torpedo destroying the submarine and everyone inside.
This all-powerful hacking tool is essentially on a computer flash drive, which is called a key. It should come as no surprise that every major terrorist group and every major governmental superpower is looking for this key, which is being sold to the highest bidder. Ethan works for a secretive government operation called International Mission Force (IMF), which gives him a new task in each “Mission: Impossible” movie. In “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” Ethan and his team have been tasked with finding the key before it gets into the wrong hands.
Ethan agrees to accept this mission, but he disagrees with the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, whose last name is Denlinger (played by Cary Elwes), who is also the head of a mysterious spy group called The Community. Denlinger (who is based in Washington, D.C.) thinks the U.S. government should be able to control this entity. Ethan thinks that the entity should be destroyed. Denlinger doesn’t know that IMF exists until he meets Ethan.
For this mission, Ethan is once again joined by his two trusty sidekicks who are computer technology experts and hackers: Luther Stickell (played by Ving Rhames), who is calm and logical, is Ethan’s oldest friend. Luther’s nicknames are Phinneas Freak and The Net Ranger. Benji Dunn (played by Simon Pegg), who is jumpy and neurotic, often follows orders from Luther.
Returning to the “Mission: Impossible” franchise are mercenary Ilsa Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson), who has complicated relationship with Ethan; Eugene Kittridge (played by Henry Czerny), who was in 1996’s “Mission: Impossible” movie and who is now the director of the CIA; and the morally ambiguous Alanna Mitsopolis (played by Vanessa Kirby), also known as The White Widow. There’s a very memorable sequence on a train that involves Alanna/The White Widow.
During this globetrotting hunt, Ethan and his team go to various places, including the Arabian Desert, Abu Dhabi, Amsterdam, Rome and the Austrian Alps. They are being hunted by operatives from the U.S. government agency Clandestine Services. A Clandestine Services operative named Briggs (played by Shea Whigham) is leading this hunt. Briggs is a gruff taskmaster who likes to bend the rules, while his relatively new subordinate Degas (played by Greg Tarzan Davis) is very by-the-book and wants to follow the established protocol.
The movie’s chief villain is a mysterious agitator named Gabriel (played by Esai Morales), who has his ruthless sidekick Paris (played by Pom Klementieff) do a lot of his dirty work. Ethan and Gabriel share a past that has to do with a woman named Marie (played by Mariela Garriga), with this shared past explaining some of Gabriel’s motivations. Paris is the one who is most often seen trying to kill Ethan and a cunning thief named Grace (played by Hayley Atwell), who becomes Ethan’s reluctant and often untrustworthy accomplice in this race to get possession of the key.
One of the ways that “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” stands apart from so many other action films is that it doesn’t play into tired stereotypes of having a principal cast of people who mostly under the age of 40. Likewise, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” also defies that action movie stereotype of having just one leading actress (usually someone’s love interest in the movie) among a slew of male leading actors. In “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One,” there are four strong women who have prominent roles in the movie.
Klementieff is a standout among “Mission: Impossible” villains. Her menacing Paris character is in stark contrast to the sweet-natured outer-space alien Mantis that Klementieff played in Marvel Studios’ superhero “Guardians of the Galaxy” blockbusters. In many ways, Paris outshines Gabriel, since Gabriel is more of a psychological villain than someone who can barrel through streets in a high-speed car chases or cause mayhem with an arsenal of weapons.
Atwell also holds her own in the action scenes, although some viewers might find Grace’s intentionally duplicitous personality a little annoying. Rhames and Pegg continue their sometimes-amusing rapport as Luther and Benji. Cruise does some of his best stunt work ever in the movie. If stunt work had a category at the Academy Awards, then Cruise would be a certain nominee if not winner for “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.” It’s a breathtaking thriller that delivers beyond expectations for action scenes and spy intrigue. However, the “Mission: Impossible” filmmakers need to remember to have some of these action scenes more grounded in the reality of human frailties and the realistic consequences of being in these death-defying situations.
Paramount Pictures will release “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” in U.S. cinemas on July 12, 2023, with sneak previews on July 10, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and briefly in Washington, D.C., the dramatic film “The Son” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A workaholic corporate lawyer, his ex-wife and his current wife struggle with understanding the depression of his 17-year-old son from his first marriage.
Culture Audience: “The Son” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s stars and don’t mind watching movies about mental illness that awkwardly handle this serious subject matter.
A talented cast can’t save “The Son,” a sloppily edited drama that mishandles issues about mental illness in a turgid and manipulative way. This is writer/director Florian Zeller’s sophomore slump as a feature filmmaker. Zeller triumphed with his feature-film directorial debut “The Father,” his stellar 2020 drama for which he and co-writer Christopher Hampton won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. “The Father,” which is based on Zeller’s play of the same name, is a story told from the perspective of an elderly British man who has dementia. Anthony Hopkins portrayed the person with dementia in the “The Father,” and Hopkins won an Oscar for Best Actor for this performance.
Zeller brought Hopkins in for a short scene (which lasts less than 10 minutes) in “The Son,” and this scene is one of the highlights of this very uneven and ultimately disappointing movie. “The Father” and “The Son” are not similar to each other all, except for the fact that both movies are based on Zeller’s stage plays of the same names, and both movies are about families coping with a loved one who has a mental illness. The title character in each movie is the one dealing with the mental health issues.
Zeller and Hampton teamed up again to co-write “The Son” screenplay. “The Son” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival. It also made the rounds at several other film festivals in 2022, including the Toronto International Film Festival, the BFI London Film Festival and AFI Fest in Los Angeles. Being at these high-profile festivals might seem like the “The Son” is a “prestige picture,” but it’s more indicative of the movie’s star power than the quality of the film. “The Son’s” clumsy treatment of a complicated issues such as depression is a lot like what you would see on a TV-movie made for a basic cable network.
“The Son” covers a well-worn topic that’s been the subject of numerous movies and TV shows: A workaholic father’s absence from home ends up causing resentment from some of his family members, and he might spend the rest of the story trying to mend any broken relationships caused by his lack of attention to his family. Arguments, grudges and sometimes physical altercations then happen. And then, depending on how predictable the story wants to be, a truce is usually called and people go on a path toward healing.
“The Father” was told from the perspective of the title character, but “The Son” is not told from the perspective of the title character. Instead, “The Son” puts most of its efforts in showing the thoughts and feelings of the son’s father. Up until a certain point in the movie, “The Son” is a formulaic story of a family damaged by divorce and not knowing how to deal with mental illness. But perhaps in a misguided effort to not have a typical ending, “The Son” does something so off-putting in the film’s last 15 minutes, it essentially ruins the movie.
In “The Son,” Peter Miller (played by Hugh Jackman) is an ambitious attorney who works at a corporate firm in New York City. Viewers will soon see that Peter (who is in his 50s) is highly motivated to succeed, and he expects excellence from himself and everyone around him. Peter lives in an upscale New York City apartment with his second wife Beth (played by Vanessa Kirby), who’s about 20 years younger than Peter. Beth and Peter, who’ve been married for less than two years, are parents of an infant son named Theo (played by twins Felix Goddard and Max Goddard).
Conversations in the movie reveal that Beth and Peter had an affair while he was still married to his first wife Kate (played by Laura Dern), who was devastated when Peter left Kate to be with Beth. Peter and Beth met (ironically enough) at a wedding, and Beth knew from the beginning that Peter was married. Peter and Kate have a 17-year-old son named Nicholas (played by Zen McGrath), who is also emotionally wounded from his parents’ divorce. Kate has full custody of Nicholas, who lives with her in New York City.
Peter will soon find out how much Nicholas has resentment toward him and how depressed Nicholas is. It starts with a worried phone call from Kate, who tells Peter that she recently found out that Nicholas stopped going to school for almost a month. Nicholas pretended to her that he was going to school, but he was actually just spending time walking around the city, according to what he confesses later. When the school tried to contact Kate by phone and by email about Nicholas’ absence, Nicholas was able to intercept those messages until the truth came out.
Kate also tells Peter that she and Nicholas no longer get along with each other. “He’s not well,” Kate insists. Kate also ominously hints to Peter that Nicholas could be dangerous. She describes how Nicholas once looked at her with so much hatred, she thought he might physically hurt her. “He scares me, okay?” Kate says to Peter about Nicholas.
It’s reached a point where Kate (who feels helpless and confused) has reluctantly agreed to Nicholas’ request to live with Peter for the time being. Nicholas tells Peter why he wants to live with him when he describes how he fells about living with Kate: “When I’m here, I get too many dark ideas. I want to live with my little brother. Sometimes, I feel like I’m going crazy.”
Peter’s way of handling Nicholas’ problems is to try to find a logical solution. Peter tries to be understanding, but he often talks to Nicholas like a prosecutor interrogating a defense witness in court. At this point, Peter isn’t fully aware that Nicholas has a mental illness. Peter thinks Nicholas is just being a rebellious brat.
In one of the movie’s several emotionally charged conversations, Peter demands that Nicholas tell him what’s wrong. On the verge of tears, Nicholas tries to explain to Peter why he’s been skipping school: “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s life. It’s weighing me down.”
Peter tells Beth what’s going on with Nicholas and asks her if it will be okay if Nicholas lives with them for a while, even though it’s obvious that Peter has made up his mind that Nicholas will live with them. Kate and Peter also agree that Nicholas (a loner who has difficulty making friends) can transfer to another school. What they don’t do is try to get him into therapy. Peter is the type of person who thinks the family can solve this problem on their own.
At first, Beth is reluctant to have this troubled teen living with them when she’s already busy taking care of a newborn child. However, Beth agrees to let Nicholas live with them (they have an extra bedroom that Nicholas will have to himself) because she sees how much Peter wants to help Nicholas, and she doesn’t want to interfere in this father-son relationship. Beth has only known Nicholas for two years, so she feels she doesn’t have the right to make parental decisions about him.
The rest of “The Son” is a back-and-forth repetition of Nicholas seeming to improve while living with Peter and Beth, but then something happens to show that Nicholas is not doing very well at all. Eventually, Peter finds out that Nicholas self-harms by cutting himself. Peter and Kate go through various stages of denial, guilt, sadness and anger, while Beth has her guard up and doesn’t really want to deal with the family problems when they get too intense. Beth also has stepparent insecurities about how much a spouse cares about any children from a previous marriage, compared to how much the spouse cares about any children from the current marriage.
“The Son” has a not-very-interesting subplot about Peter getting a job offer to work for a U.S. senator from Delaware named Brian Hammer (played by Joseph Mydell), who wants to hire Peter for Senator Hammer’s re-election campaign. The job would require Peter to spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C., so Peter has to decide whether or not to take the job in the midst of all of his family problems. “The Son” uses this subplot as a way try to create some suspense over whether not Peter will accept this job offer. This decision isn’t as suspenseful as the movie wants it to be.
The Washington, D.C., area is also where Peter’s unnamed widower father (played by Hopkins) lives, so there’s a gripping scene where Peter visits his father while Peter is in the area to meet with Senator Hammer. It’s in this scene where viewers find out more about Peter’s family background and why Peter has the parenting style that he does. Even though Peter doesn’t want to admit it, he’s a lot like his father, when it comes to letting work get in the way of spending quality time with his family.
But unlike Peter, his father is cold, cruel and unapologetic for making work a higher priority than his family. Peter tells his father that Nicholas is now living with Peter, and this new living arrangement seems to be helping Nicholas with Nicholas’ problems. Instead of being concerned or empathetic about Nicholas, Peter’s father accuses Peter of telling him this information to make Peter look like a better father.
Peter denies it, of course. This unfair and paranoid accusation stirs up some deep-seated resentments, and Peter reminds his father how selfish he was not to visit Peter’s mother when she was dying in the hospital. Peter’s father responds this way: “Just fucking get over it.” Even though Hopkins has a standout scene in “The Son,” too many other scenes in the film are mired in predictability.
“The Son” puts so much emphasis on Peter, he’s the only main character who gets a backstory. The movie reveals nothing about the backgrounds of Kate and Beth, even though Kate has been Nicholas’ primary caretaking parent after the divorce, up until Nicholas began living with Peter and Beth. Viewers will never find out how Kate’s own upbringing affected her parenting skills.
The movie also gives no information about Nicholas’ background to indicate how long he’s been having these feelings of depression. Several times in the movie, Nicholas tells Peter that he blames Peter’s abandonment and the divorce for feeling depressed, but it all seems too convenient and intended to put Peter on a guilt trip. If Peter had been too busy with work to notice Nicholas’ problems, then what indications did Kate see? Don’t expect the movie to answer that question.
Instead, the most that viewers will see about Nicholas before he moved in with Peter are several cutesy flashbacks of a 6-year-old Nicholas (played by George Cobell) in happier times during a vacation that he took with his parents in Corsica. “The Son” keeps showing flashbacks of this family of three taking a trip on a small boat, and Peter teaching an adorable Nicholas how to swim in the sea. These superficial flashbacks are examples of lazy storytelling that doesn’t give viewers a chance to get to know Nicholas as a well-rounded person.
“The Son” gives no information about what Nicholas’ personality was like a few years before the divorce. It’s possible that he had depression when his parents were still married, but that information is never revealed or discussed in the movie. “The Son” brings up a lot of questions about Nicholas that the movie never answers. It’s a huge misstep in how this movie portrays its title character.
Considering these limitations, McGrath gives a compelling but not outstanding performance as Nicholas. A few times in the movie, Nicholas is described as looking “evil,” but the expression on his face just looks like he’s pouting and glaring like a spoiled child who didn’t get his way. People with enough life experience can see that Nicholas has depression problems, but he’s also very manipulative, and he knows how to make his parents (especially Peter) feel guilty about the divorce.
As for the other principal cast members, Dern gives an authentic performance for her underdeveloped Kate character when expressing the anguish of a parent who goes through what Kate goes through in the movie. Kirby gives some depth to what is essentially a “trophy wife” role, but so little is known about Beth, there’s only so much that Kirby can do with this often-aloof character. Beth also complains to Peter about how he spends more time at work than at home, which kind of makes her look like a ditz that she didn’t know he was a workaholic when she married him.
Ultimately, “The Son” comes across as a showboat movie for Jackman, because it spends so much time showing Peter’s life outside the home, as well as Peter’s feelings about his own “daddy issues.” Peter is supposed to be American, but Jackman’s native Australian accent can sometimes be heard in his performance of Peter, especially in scenes where Peter is shouting or arguing with someone. Jackman certainly delivers a heartfelt performance, but a lot of it seems overly calculated too, much like how the movie handles the most sensitive scenes.
Unfortunately, “The Son” has much bigger problems than actors trying too hard to be noticed in obvious “awards bait” roles. The movie’s editing is haphazard and sometimes baffling. For example, there’s a scene that’s interrupted by a five-second flashback of Peter and 6-year-old Nicholas frolicking in the water on that vacation. This brief flashback is so random and out-of-place, it makes you wonder why Zeller made such amateurish editing decisions for “The Son” when “The Father” was so brilliantly edited.
The last 15 minutes of “The Son” are what will really turn off viewers the most. The way the story ends is gimmicky and could easily be interpreted as crass exploitation, for the sake of having a “surprise” plot twist. If “The Son” intended to be respectful of people who deal with the same issues as the ones portrayed in this substandard movie, then “The Son” torpedoed any good will by conjuring up a truly awful ending that cannot be redeemed.
Sony Pictures Classics released “The Son” in select U.S. cinemas on November 25, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on December 16, 2022, and on January 20, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and briefly in London, the dramatic film “Italian Studies” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.
Culture Clash: A British woman, who’s a book author with amnesia, wanders around New York City and tries to befriend a group of teenagers who are complete strangers to her.
Culture Audience: “Italian Studies” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching meandering films that don’t have much of a plot.
“Italian Studies” is a misguided stream-of-consciousness drama about amnesia. Too bad the filmmakers forgot to make it an interesting movie. “Italian Studies” is an annoying and repetitive bore that’s trying desperately to be “artsy” and “meaningful,” but the movie ultimately isn’t very creative, and it has nothing to say.
Written and directed by Adam Leon, “Italian Studios” is essentially a 78-minute film where actress Vanessa Kirby plays a character who walks around and acts confused in New York City and briefly in London. In the movie, Kirby portrays a book author named Alina Reynolds, a Brit who has amnesia and no identification on her.
Don’t expect the movie to reveal how Alina got amnesia. Alina doesn’t find out her name until about halfway through the film, but she doesn’t do what most people with amnesia would do if they found out their names: Use that information to find out more about herself, where she lives, and if she has any loved ones who are looking for her.
Instead, the movie wastes a lot of time showing Alina, who is in her 30s, being fixated on hanging out with teenagers who are complete strangers to her. The teens, who are between 15 to 18 years old, are all part of a loosely knit social circle in New York City. Most of them are played by non-professional actors and most of the teenage characters in the movie don’t have names.
Some sections of “Italian Studies” try to go for a vibe that’s similar to Larry Clark’s 1995 teen movie “Kids,” by having several scenes of the teens partying and talking about their lives. The teenagers in “Italian Studies” aren’t as hedonistic as the ones in “Kids,” but they have the same concerns that a lot of teenagers do about finding their identities and where they can get acceptance from other people. Unfortunately, almost all of the teen characters in “Italian Studies” (including Maya Hawke in a small role as a character named Erin McCloud) are forgettable and don’t have distinct personalities. Expect to see these rambling teen scenes go nowhere in “Italian Studies.”
“Italian Studies” also has many scenes that drag out the repetition of showing Alina’s amnesia without her doing much to find out who she is. Before she finds out what her name is, Alina remembers that she was staying at a motel and the room number. She goes to the motel and asks the front-desk clerk (played by Sam Soghor) to give her a spare key to her room because she lost the key. When the clerk asks for her name, she says that she can’t remember, and she doesn’t have any ID on her.
Not surprisingly, the clerk gets suspicious and doesn’t give her the room key. Alina gets irritated that he won’t just hand over the key, which is an indication that not only has she lost her memory, she’s also lost her common sense. This is obviously a motel that doesn’t ask for photo IDs when people check in to get a room, which is why the motel has no record that her identify was verified before they gave her a room. Even if the motel has this lenient check-in policy, Alina should still know that motels don’t just hand out keys to anyone who asks, so her entitled attitude is not justified at all.
There’s another time-wasting sequence about Alina having a white poodle that she left outside on the street and tied to a street post when she went into a convenience store. When she left the convenience store, she forgot to take the poodle with her. It isn’t until an untold number of days later that Alina remembers that she had a dog, and she tries to find it. For anyone who’s not interested in seeing this movie, the good news is that she eventually finds the dog, which was being kept at the convenience store.
“Italian Studies” has some random moments that look like they were put in the movie as filler. While walking on a street in New York City, Alina passes by two young Hasidic Jewish men (played by Misha Brooks and Luca Scoppetta-Stern), who repeatedly ask her, “Are you Jewish?” She answers, “I don’t know.”
In other scene, Alina steals some candy from a convenience store, because she’s hungry and has no money. Not once is she shown making any realistic attempt to find out who she is, or even try to get substantial help in finding out her identity. (This movie takes place in the 21st century, when the Internet and cell phones exist.) Most people with amnesia would seek help, in order not to reach a point of desperation where they have to steal food because they have no money.
A moment that looks “only in a movie” phony is how Alina meets a teenage stoner named Simon Brickner, played by an actor with the same name. They’re in a fast-food place that sells hot dogs. Simon asks Alina if she can buy some of the hot dogs that he recently purchased there. He explains that he used a credit card to buy the hot dogs, because the place has a minimum monetary amount required to use a credit card. Therefore, Simon bought more hot dogs than he can eat, so he wants to resell them.
Alina declines the offer because she’s already eating her own hot dog. (It can be assumed she had a little bit of cash with her, because later in the movie she’s run out of money and steals candy for food.) Alina then tells Simon that she’s actually a vegetarian. Simon asks her why she’s eating a hot dog if she’s a vegetarian. She replies, “I’m taking a break.”
During this conversation, Simon asks if Alina wants to hang out with him. She says yes with no hesitation, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world for a person in her 30s with amnesia to not care about finding out who she is, and hang out and party with a teenager instead. The scenes with Simon and Alina are boring and very self-indulgent.
Viewers learn more about Simon than Alina in this movie. He’s a motormouth 18-year-old who’s not very smart and doesn’t know what to do with his life. He lives with his parents, he has no job, and he has no plans to go to college. Simon likes to smoke a lot of marijuana, which he shares with Alina. Simon keeps his marijuana stash hidden inside a book at a local library, because he says that his mother searches his room.
According to Simon, his parents think that Simon is a loser, and he despises his father, whom Simon calls “an asshole.” Simon also has a younger sister. (His family is not seen in the movie.) Later, there’s a cringeworthy part of “Italian Studies” where Alina makes out with Simon. It just shows that not only as she lost her memory and any common sense, she’s also lost good judgment.
The only reason why Alina eventually finds out her name and occupation is because a woman approaches her on the street and gushes to her about how much of a fan she is of her collection of short stories called “Italian Studies.” The adoring fan also tells Alina that she saw Alina doing a reading of “Italian Studies” two years ago. Because of this conversation, Alina finds out that she’s a successful author, and “Italian Studies” is her first book.
And so, off Alina goes to a library to find her “Italian Studies” book and to see if it could lead to more clues about her identity. It’s at the library that she finds out her name, but the movie is so stupid that it leaves out something that anyone with amnesia would do: Look at the part of the book that lists the author’s biography information.
The movie shows that the book is dedicated to two people named Ade and Richard, but Alina just ignores that information too. She also doesn’t think about contacting the book publisher, which is information that’s also listed. Instead, Alina wants to autograph the book.
Another library patron (played by Joshua Astrachan), who’s sitting at the same table, sees Alina writing in the book, and he tells her that she shouldn’t be doing that. She replies with indignation that she wrote “Italian Studies,” and then tries to shame him for daring to question who she is and why she’s writing in the book. It’s one of many indications of how Alina—amnesiac or not—is an unpleasant and somewhat arrogant person. Alina haughtily tells the man before she leaves the library in a huff: “You’re a cold world. A signed book is a warm world.”
More tiresome and incoherent scenes ensue as Alina hangs out with Simon and his group of acquaintances and friends. She finds out from some of the teens that her next book that she was working on before she got amnesia was going to be a novel about teenagers, so she was interviewing real teenagers as research. She decides to continue this research by interviewing Simon and his friends, who know that she has amnesia, but they don’t seem to care much at all. When one of the teens tells Alina that it isn’t very original to write a young-adult novel about teenage issues, Alina has this obnoxious reply: “Go fuck yourself!”
One of these teens in Simon’s social circle is a talented singer named Lucinda (played by Annabel Hoffman), and Alina becomes fascinated with her. After Alina sees Lucinda singing at a party, she starts showing up at places where Lucinda sings, such as a nightclub and a recording studio. Alina tries to befriend Lucinda, who is a little confused over why this older woman, who’s a stranger, is paying so much attention to her.
Alina tells Lucinda that she thinks Lucinda is very talented. Lucinda’s reaction to Alina is polite caution. Alina also keeps asking Lucinda’s friends for more information about Lucinda, and where Lucinda is if Lucinda isn’t there. It’s all very stalkerish, but none of this creepy behavior is questioned by anyone in the movie.
In fact, it seems like none of the filmmakers questioned the half-baked, irritating and pointless scenes that pollute this entire movie. As the amnesiac Alina, Kirby is hindered by playing such a vague, prickly and unrelatable character. It’s difficult to root for this protagonist. The acting in this movie is not very impressive.
To make matters worse, the dialogue in “Italian Studios” is atrocious and often very unbelievable. The end of “Italian Studies” abruptly throws in a scene that shows if Alina found any of her loved ones or not. But by the time this final scene stumbles into the movie, most viewers will have emotionally checked out and not care at all.
Magnolia Pictures released “Italian Studies” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 14, 2022.
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in 1856, in a rural area of Schoharie County, New York, the dramatic film “The World to Come” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two farmers’ wives have a secret love affair with each other while unhappily married to their husbands.
Culture Audience: “The World to Come” will appeal primarily to people are interested in well-acted dramas about LGBTQ romances and how people cope with being in unhappy marriages.
The dramatic film “The World to Come” skillfully immerses viewers into a world filled with layers of oppression for the story’s two female protagonists. The two women are stifled by being in miserable relationships with their husbands; society’s bigotry against same-sex romances; and living in an era where wives could be considered property by their husbands. It’s a story that shows in understated yet poignant details how someone’s greatest love and passion could also be that person’s greatest heartbreak.
Directed with emotional intelligence and sensitivity by Mona Fastvold, “The World to Come” is based on Jim Shepard’s lyrical short story in the 2017 collection, each titled “The World to Come.” Shepard and Ron Hansen adapted the short story into the movie’s screenplay, which is told from the point of view of a farmer’s wife named Abigail (played by Katherine Waterston), whose diary entries are read in voiceover narration. The movie takes place primarily in 1856 in a rural area of Schoharie County, New York, but “The World to Come” was actually filmed in Romania to capture the type of landscape that no longer exists in that part of New York.
Abigail is an introvert who begins keeping a personal diary of her thoughts, after her husband Dyer (played by Casey Affleck) suggested that she keep a business journal for the farm, such as tools lent out and outstanding bills. Abigail begins her diary in January of 1856, and her subsequent voiceovers over the next several months are told with the dates in chronological order.
Dyer, just like Abigail, is quiet and unassuming. They seem to have an ordinary life with their daughter Nellie (played by Karina Ziana Gherasim), who’s 4 years old. But a tragedy strikes that puts both Dyer and Abigail down a path of depression and emotional turmoil.
By February of that year, Nellie has died from diphtheria. Abigail and Dyer, who are already introverted people, become more withdrawn from each other. Not long after Nellie’s death, Dyer becomes ill with a fever, which puts the productivity of the couple’s farm in jeopardy. (They are the only apparent people who work on the farm.)
Abigail barely has time to grieve while taking care of her ailing husband when another farmer couple moves nearby and unexpectedly changes Abigail’s and Dyer’s lives. Tallie (played by Vanessa Kirby) is a vibrant redhead, while her husband Finney (played by Christopher Abbott) is a brooding control freak. During this very depressing time in Abigail’s life, she writes in her diary: “I have become my grief.”
Dyer eventually recovers from his fever, but he and Abigail remain emotionally distant from each other. They refuse to discuss the death of their daughter, because it seems to be too painful for them to even talk about it. Abigail is expected to help Dyer with farm duties, but soon she’ll have someone who will be taking up a lot of her time and attention.
The first time that Abigail is shown talking about Nellie’s death to another person is in her first conversation with Tallie, who has stopped by Abigail’s home for a neighborly visit. Abigail and Tallie’s first conversation happens to be on the day that would have been Nellie’s fifth birthday. When Abigail tells Tallie this information, unbeknownst to the two of them, it’s the birth of something else: a budding romance between Abigail and Tallie.
The two women become fast friends and eventually confide in each other about their deepest feelings. But the respective marriages to their husbands are never that far from their minds. It’s easy for anyone to see that the passion has dwindled in Abigail and Dyer’s relationship. Tallie and Finney’s relationship is not as easy to read, although Tallie tells Abigail: “I suppose he’s unhappy with me because I have yet to give him a child.”
As Abigail says in one of her diary entries that she reads in a voiceover: “Finney and Tallie’s bond confounds me. At times, when their eyes meet, they seem yoked in opposition to one another, while at other times there seems a shared regard.” Abigail remarks in her diary about her growing romantic feelings about Tallie: “There is something going on between us that I can’t unravel.”
Abigail becomes fully aware of how deep her feelings are for Tallie after Tallie becomes ill from being caught in a snowstorm. Abigail becomes distraught over wondering if Tallie will recover. The snowstorm killed about half of the chickens on Abigail and Dyer’s farm, so the couple will be experiencing some hard times in the near future. However, Abigail is more worried about Tallie’s recovery than the farm’s financial loss from the snowstorm.
Tallie seems to appreciate Abigail’s introverted nature when Tallie tells her: “It’s been my experience that it’s not always those who show the least who actually feel the least.” And Abigail describes their blossoming love affair this way in her diary: “I imagine that I love how our encircling feelings leave nothing out for us to wander or seek.”
One day, Tallie gives Abigail an atlas, which is almost symbolic of their wishful thinking of how they could run off together and travel around the world. By the month of May, Tallie and Abigail’s romance of hand holding and hesitant kisses turn into more passionate displays of affection, and they eventually become secret lovers. Their infidelity to their husbands doesn’t come without feeling guilty about it, but Tallie tries to brush it off by telling Abigail: “I hear intimacy builds good will.”
Dyer and Finney can’t help but notice that their wives are spending more and more time together, sometimes for several hours a day. Dyer expresses frustration that Abigail’s devotion to Tallie has come at the expense of Abigail doing work on the farm. Dyer is annoyed, but he doesn’t become abusive about it.
By contrast, Abigail starts to see signs that Tallie is being abused, such as bruises and how Tallie seems genuinely fearful of Finney, while Tallie tries to pretend that everything is fine. Abigail also tries not to think about something Tallie told her soon after they first met: Finney is thinking about moving further west with Tallie. Later in the story, the two couples have dinner together at Tallie and Finney’s home. And it becomes very clear how cruel Finney can be.
The romance of Abigail and Tallie isn’t really a “sexual identity” story, because the movie never makes a point of declaring what their sexual identities are. There’s no big speech or enlightenment moment that Abigail and Tallie have about why they fell in love with each other. Viewers can speculate that Abigail and Tallie are closeted lesbians or bisexuals, or viewers can speculate that Abigail and/or Tallie don’t care what gender their love partner is. In 1850s America, there really were no specific terms for LGBTQ people, and the subject of any non-heterosexuality was so taboo that it was rarely discussed out loud.
“The World to Come” is really about showing how two lonely people met each other and filled a void in each other’s lives. In Tallie and Abigail’s private conversations, it’s clear that Tallie is more sexually experienced and less sheltered than Abigail, even though Abigail is older than Tallie. Abigail mentions that she married Dyer out of convenience, because he was the older son of a neighbor. By contrast, it’s hinted that Tallie is very aware of her allure and had her pick of suitors before she married Finney. It’s implied that Abigail was probably a virgin when she got married, while Tallie was not.
These hints about their sexual history provide some context for what happens later in the story and how Abigail and Tallie react to obstacles that inevitably occur in their relationship. Abigail is the only person who makes Tallie happy, and vice versa, but Abigail has the added emotional agony of losing a child. It explains why there’s a desperate way that Abigail wants to cling to her relationship with Tallie, no matter what the cost.
Waterston, Kirby, Affleck and Abbott all give commendable performances in their roles. As the story goes on, there’s a noticeable change in the personalities of Abigail and Tallie that Waterston and Kirby express in poignant ways. Abigail starts off very shy and unsure of herself, but becomes more determined and outspoken after she falls in love with Tallie. Meanwhile, Tallie starts off as more of a fun-loving free spirit, but she slowly loses her confidence under the burden of being in an abusive marriage.
Affleck’s Dyer stays on a fairly even keel of being a mournful spouse who has trouble expressing his emotions, but Dyer is someone who hasn’t completely lost his humanity and compassion. Abbott’s Finney is the most complex person of the four because, just like many abusers, Finney has a charismatic side and is skilled at fooling people into thinking that he isn’t as bad as he really is. There’s a scene in the movie that also realistically demonstrates how people who suspect domestic abuse often don’t want to be involved in reporting it or helping a suspected victim.
“The World to Come” is not a groundbreaking film, nor is it going to appeal to people who aren’t interested in deliberately paced dramas that take place in the 1800s. Some viewers might also be slightly annoyed by the film’s constant voiceovers by Abigail. However, her writings are a subtle nod to how articulate and intelligent Abigail is, considering that she was not a wealthy woman with the means to get a higher education, in an era when women were discouraged from being as educated as men.
Fastvold’s unfussy directing style is exemplified by the technical choices made in the movie’s costume design, production design and musical score, which all complement the creative aspects of the film without being overwhelming. The farm folks in this story live simply and quietly. If the movie had made Tallie and Abigail’s romance a big melodrama, it wouldn’t ring true for this rural culture of people who live discreetly and don’t want to call attention to themselves.
The actors in this movie’s relatively small cast make the most out of this intimate snapshot of a year in the life of these four people who have been damaged in some way by disillusionment. Tallie and Abigail experience glimmers of hope and a purpose to live because of the unexpected love that they found with each other. But it’s a love where people will inevitably get hurt, and decisions are made on how much of that love is worth any personal sacrifices.
Bleecker Street released “The World to Come” in select U.S. cinemas on February 12, 2021. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is March 2, 2021.