Welcome back to our weekly segment on Pop Culture Reviews where critic and writer Terrence Sage collects his thoughts on the films he watched during the past week!
Blue Valentine (2010)
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Faith Wladyka, John Doman
They don’t make deteriorating relationships look so honest, sad, and all-around encompassed like Cianfrance does. Blue Valentine is an intimate portrait of a couple (played by the delightful Gosling and Williams) from the beginning of their courtship right to the heart-breaking end of their marriage.
Every element of this film sucks you in as we’re shown the full range of not only their actions but different stages of their relationship. American rock band Grizzly Bear provide the score for the film which evokes feelings of intense melancholy whilst leaving us a little room for hope and better times ahead for Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams).
Cianfrance’s direction provides a level of intimacy and closeness to Dean and Cindy which greatly immerses viewers in the film. His decision to show the tough trials and tribulations the couple faced throughout their relationship just further twists the knife, as life gets very real for these two but you can’t look away. A genuine classic and the heartbreak film.
Director: Randal Kleiser
Starring: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Eve Arden, Frankie Avalon, Joan Blondell
An absolutely positively cheesy white American rock and roll goodness of the highest degree. In the dreamy Summer in 1958, we have Danny and Sandy and their romance coming to an end…or so they think! What follows is a catchy ride through Rydell High School between the Greasers and Pink Ladies with plenty of great songs along the way.
When you’re not tapping your foot to the songs, it’s a story of companionship, how people need one another, and to follow your heart. The entire cast is good in their trope-like roles and gives you a moment to round out their minimal arcs at some point before the car flies off into the happy-ever-after.
Grease is a classic musical romcom that truly has everything you could ask for from a small piece of rock and rolling America.
Director: Noah Hutton
Starring: Dean Imperial, Madeline Wise, Babe Howard
A science-fiction film that takes on 21st-century capitalism and pretty much exists as a dark mirror to our current livelihoods and works culture. We follow Ray (Imperial), a decent protagonist who has the look and personality of a ’70s mobster-type. Ray is introduced to the world of cabling because like any down-on-his-luck individual trying to do the right thing, Ray needs money to support a loved one. It’s here that we get to see the quirky and almost drone-like nature of this gig economy that you can effectively see the similarities in big corporations we have around now. The clashing of nature and technology begins when he slowly understands what’s being asked of him out in the field (nature), and along the way learns the dangers of this job both personal and far-reaching.
In the grand scheme of Lapsis, there’s plenty to love about this film as we look into one of the fastest-growing economies in a world that is just like our very own. Although some plot lines are muddled and half-baked, the film themes of human versus technology, the exploitation of monopolies, and “We are the 99%” movement are very clear. Just as there is a victory for Ray, it ends abruptly but viewers should be able to read into the film’s ending and make their own conclusions.
Lapsis isn’t unique in its exploration of the capitalist societal structure, and the cast doesn’t particularly stand out in any way, but the film is still an enjoyable ride through a world that is all too familiar.
Director: Panos Cosmatos
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy
Cosmatos’ neon-soaked mayhem Mandy is a film less concerned with its plot and more with the feelings and atmosphere built up along the way. An ultraviolent revenge tale following Red (Cage) who is out for bloody vengeance after his peaceful life with Mandy (Riseborough) is destroyed by outsiders.
Mandy has the pacing of a snail covered in molasses, and doubled with the fact that pretty much nothing happens until the climax of the film, it feels like an astronomical miss for Nicholas Cage. The action-thriller felt less like watching a film, and more so a thinly veiled music video that was spread out among segments.
This has all the makings of a great heavy metal, balls to the wall, bloody revenge good time for a revengeful Nicholas Cage to exact vengeance on religious and alien psychos, but the journey to get to the action filled finale just doesn’t feel justified at all. Mandy is a lacklustre snooze.
Holy Spider (2022)
Director: Ali Abbasi
Starring: Mehdi Bajestani, Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Arash Ashtiani, Forouzan Jamshidnejad
In Abassi’s Holy Spider a journalist (Ebrahimi) investigates a string of murders committed by a serial killer (Bajestani) specifically targeting sex workers inside the Iranian holy city of Mashhad.
Cannes 2022 Best Actress winner Zar Amir Ebrahimi’s stupendous performance as journalist Areezo Rahimi, and Mehdi Bajestani’s haunting portrayal of a broken serial killer are two truly unforgettable performances from last year. We follow Rahimi into the underbelly of Mashhad, filled with drugs and sex work whilst also following the killer in his day-to-day.
Based on the true story of Saeed Hanaei, Holy Spider is one of the harder-to-watch films I’ve seen of late, and the third act and subsequent ending is filled with its own chilling ideas to leave you with. A truly gruelling thriller that carries universal messages with uncomfortable physical and verbal sequences.
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)
Director: Joel Crawford
Starring: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek Pinault, Harvey Guillén, Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winstone, Samson Kayo, John Mulaney, Wagner Moura, Da’Vine Joy Randolph
One of 2022’s biggest surprises coming right at the end of the year in the form of a sequel to a spin-off of the Shrek films could not have been on any cinephiles’ bingo cards. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is a truly dazzling animated film, chock-full of humour for all age ranges that makes the occasional reference to Shrek canon.
The film’s emotional journey of learning to love and appreciate what you have already in life is sure to resonate with every single viewer. Every character plays their part and the message rings clear through it all even with a highlight-worthy villain (Moura) on our lead character’s tail.
Weathering with You (2019)
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Starring: Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Shun Oguri, Tsubasa Honda, Sakura Kiryu
Makoto Shinkai made his return to cinema roughly three years after Your Name. (2016) with Weathering with You, a gorgeous and almost overwhelming weather-based anime which felt severely undercut by the choices we are left with by the time it ends.
The plot’s unpredictable nature made it a very enjoyable experience along with the very young adolescent love at its core. Naturally, the main draw is the breath-taking animation and the way it heightens both the dramatic beats of the story and the more quieter ones.
The ending and decisions made by Shinkai unfortunately leaves a bad taste in an otherwise gorgeous and emotional film.
Click here to read Terrence’s thoughts on the films he watched last week.