The Dig is a beautiful film. Perfectly acted by Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes, meticulously crafted, and wonderfully shot. Through elegant cinematography, we get an engrossing story filled with wide and exterior camera shots of the English countryside. A treasure waiting to be told.
Director Simon Stone's (2015's The Daughter) little film truly is a hidden gem waiting to be dug up. Our story follows a true-life tale of an excavator, Basil Brown (a meticulous Fiennes), and his team discovering a large wooden ship from the Dark Ages while digging up a burial ground on a woman's (an elegant Mulligan) estate. Coming off a hot awards streak with Promising Young Woman, Mulligan gives another rousing performance completely different from her portrayal in director Emerald Fennell's Me Too revenge thriller. Here, Mulligan is soft-spoken, warm, and incredibly moving with her gentle portrayal as Edith Pretty. Pretty is a mother, who has been struggling with health conditions that affect her heart. Stone's movie reimagines the events of the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge, in Suffolk, England — playing loosely to the true-life story, but also allowing the actors (Fiennes and Mulligan) to take the narrative down their own path.
These creative narratives play out well for this 1930's storyline, always pointing our audience in the right direction. During the film, Brown uncovers two early medieval cemeteries that date from the 6th to 7th centuries. One of the cemeteries had an undisturbed ship burial with a wealth of Anglo-Saxon artifacts. Now, most of these objects that Brown and his team dug up are held by the British Museum. I am not sure if this movie will get any Oscar nominations come March 15th, but if it does, I hope The Dig receives nominations for cinematography, production design, and costume design. Through Mike Eley's luscious cinematography, Stone's vivid direction, and Mulligan and Fiennes' moving performances, we get one of the first special treasures to come out in 2021.
The Dig is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Brief Sensuality | Partial Nudity.
Streaming on Netflix
Directed by Simon Stone
Starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes, Lily James, Johnny Flynn, Ben Chaplin, Ken Stott, Monica Dolan, Arsher Ali, and Joe Hurst.
A Double Feature Review!
Beanpole (Дылда) is a haunting and bleak picture of the tragedy of war. Russian director Kantemir Balagov studies the heartbreaking realities of lives shattered by war and the toll it takes on oneself. Through daunting greens, yellows, and reds, we see broken lives trying to survive each day and slowly picking up the pieces they have left behind. One of 2020's best films. With heartache and heavy-handedness, Beanpole will strike you to your core. It's emotional ravenous cutting one from the inside out. Balagov's historical drama follows two women fighting to survive and longing for hope. The film follows the conclusion of World War II in Leningrad, however, wreckage remains in the besieged city, and lives are broken. Iya (a strong Viktoria Miroshnichenko) is a tall blonde nurse who struggles with PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) after being recently discharged from the military. Her nickname throughout the film is beanpole — due to her thin frame and tall stature. During Iya's episodes of paralysis, her body stiffens and is trapped in a state of being frozen in time. Iya also takes care of her son, Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), while living in a communal apartment.
Then suddenly, tragedy strikes and turns Iya's world upside down. After Masha (a captivating Vasilisa Perelygina) returns from the front, she reveals to Iya (her close friend) that she wants to have children but cannot because she is barren. This emotional dynamic between Iya and Masha coils back-and-forth through jealously, guilt, and confusion. Shown as somewhat symbolically, we see the wallpaper in every room slowly peeling away, representing the broken fragments of life. Beanpole is a hard film to look away from — captivating through sadness and shattering realism. We watch our two main leads (Iya and Masha) push through the unbearing weight holding them down. This engrossing film will linger on your soul, eating away at your last hope for humanity. Yet, Beanpole provides us with a message of perseverance and solace at the end. As the wallpaper continues to peel, Iya and Masha manage to pick up their fragments of healing and slowly put them back together. Hope finds a way.
At 28-years-old, Balagov's film premiered in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Balagov received the Cannes Best Director Award and FIPRESCI Prize. Beanpole was also selected as the Russian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 92nd Academy Awards, making the 2019 December shortlist.
Beanpole is rated NR (Not Rated).
Directed by Kantemir Balagov
Starring Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Timofey Glazkov, Olga Dragunova, Andrey Bykov, Ksenia Kutepova, Igor Shirokov, and Konstantin Balakirev.
Song Without a Name
A beautiful and heartbreaking black-and-white Peruvian film; that depicts an Indigenous story. Song Without a Name (Canción sin nombre) is a hidden gem from writer-director Melina León; that will bury itself inside your psyche and will never let go. Song Without a Name is a haunting and tragic story of loss. It's incredibly impressive that this was León’s directorial debut, and it is also one of the best films of 2020. León's masterful film receives a five-star review from me. Song Without a Name is a desperately sad but ultimately important story. Striking a chord through dreamlike black-and-white shots, we see an emotional narrative being pulled at our heartstrings. Set in the 80s, we follow Georgina (a captivating Pamela Mendoza), an Indigenous Peruvian woman who is heavily pregnant and is expecting to go into labor any day now. Georgina has heard of a supposed "charity clinic" offering free maternity services through a radio ad. Being that Georgina and her husband Leo (Lucio Rojas) are poor, this route would be the best financially suitable for them.
Georgina is grateful to have found a place offering free maternity services, and after she has her baby there, she is told to go home. Confused, Georgina demands to see her newborn daughter. The doctors say that she has gone to the hospital for checkups, and they force Georgina out of the building, locking the door. Georgina pounds the door, kicking and screaming to see her newborn daughter. It's an agonizing scene because you know something is not right deep down, just like Georgina. She and Leo return the next day, pounding and kicking at the locked door. Yet, Georgina notices that the clinic is now an empty shell, cleaned out. Being that Georgina is of Indigenous status — unfortunately — makes her less than human in the eyes of authority figures. Once Georgina finds out that her baby has been sold for adoption to wealthy buyers from abroad through fake papers, she decides to go to the journalists for help. She contacts Pedro (a versatile Tommy Párraga), a journalist; who is put on this human interest story by his editor. Pedro is also a gay man in secret and could be killed for it if word got out. León's narrative was inspired by her father, who was a reporter and investigated a similar child trafficking case.
As Pedro digs for answers to find Georgina's baby, he discovers a devastating revelation of corruption and deception. Shot through the eyes of minority figures, we see their struggle against racism and oppression. Just like director Alfonso Cuarón showed us in his 2018 masterpiece, Roma. In Cuarón's Roma, we follow the story of Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio), an Indigenous Mexican woman, who's a domestic worker. León, like Cuarón, are telling stories of minority groups too often left in the shadows. Aparicio more recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, where she talked about how "a role in Alfonso Cuarón’s film showed me how art can provide a voice for the disenfranchised." I think why Song Without a Name also struck an emotional chord with me was because my wife Glynis is Peruvian, and we recently experienced two miscarriages. I am also heartbroken when León's masterful film did not make it onto the 93rd Oscars shortlist for Best International Feature Film. This black-and-white gem needs to be seen, and I'll help try to be a voice for it. Your psyche and soul will be aching for Georgina and her journey to make peace with tragedy. A waterfall of tears will succumb you by the end of this film.
Song Without a Name is rated NR (Not Rated)
Directed by Melina León
Starring Pamela Mendoza, Tommy Párraga, Lucio Rojas, Ruth Arma, and Maykol Hernández.
A Double Feature Review!
Babyteeth is a powerful little film about life and death. A messy, yet rewarding, coming-of-age film strongly acted by Eliza Scanlen and Toby Wallace. Wonderfully written and creatively directed, Babyteeth knows how to sink its teeth into the essence of humanity. Babyteeth is an Australian coming-of-age dramedy that packs in an emotional punch on the audience — examining areas of death and mortality. Director Shannon Murphy's debut feature film is an incredibly poignant picture, inviting one to enjoy the little moments while they last. Our story follows Milla (a strong Scanlen), a 16-year-old girl who falls in love with a 23-year-old drug dealer named Moses (a cunning Wallace), right before finding our her cancer has come back.
Milla comes from a wealthy family, and her parents (Essie Davis and Ben Mendelsohn) don't approve of Moses or his background. Murphy both examines Milla's relationship with her parents, Moses' relationship with his estranged mother, and how they cross over with each other. Family is messy, and Murphy excels at showing us these chaotic relationships throughout the film. Babyteeth dodges all of the clichés that weigh down coming-of-age pictures, instead focusing on our two shining leads, Scanlen and Wallace. Their chemistry blends well together as we feel the emotional weight of the ending result slowly sneak up on us. Through high energy, powerful acting, and heavy material, Babyteeth is a beautiful picture that blossoms before our very eyes.
Babyteeth was winner of 9 AACTA Awards, including Best Film, Best Direction, Best Lead Actor (Wallace), and Best Lead Actress (Scanlen).
Babyteeth is rated MA-17 | Now Streaming on Hulu
Directed by Shannon Murphy
Starring Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn, and Emily Barclay.
Promising Young Woman - My 400th Review!
Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman is a thrilling pitch of black humor, with a dash of revenge. Powerfully acted by Carey Mulligan, who gives a tour de force to the role of Cassie. Fennell's directorial debut will have you hooked from the first frame, shattering your psyche by the end. Through its killer soundtrack, unapologetic storytelling, and timely themes, this is a movie every man should watch. Promising Young Woman takes the term 'nice guys' and kicks it to the curb. Promising Young Woman is a film that has been on my brain ever since the final frame dropped. It's a movie that sticks with you, haunting you to your core. Fennell's debut feature film is a knockout, fueled with a strong cast, eye-candy production design, and a chilling score. From the moment your ears hear composer Anthony Willis' string quartet eerily playing the song "Toxic", you'll have chills down your spine.
Dripping with tension, Willis' score keeps our audience focused and on edge. Mulligan is a force to be reckoned with in this picture, as we follow her story all the way until the end. I really don't want to give too much away, so I'll only share this: the film follows Cassie, a young woman who was traumatized by a tragic event in her past, lives a double life where she seeks out vengeance on those who have crossed her path. Promising Young Woman is a movie that tackles rape culture during this 'Me Too' era, examined with deep perspective and thought-provoking themes. Accompanying Mulligan are actors Bo Burnham and Laverne Cox — plus we get appearances by actors Adam Brody, Sam Richardson, Alison Brie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Connie Britton, Max Greenfield, and Chris Lowell. A fresh and totally wild film, Fennell's thrilling picture will have you gobsmacked by the end. Plus, Mulligan and Burnham delivered one of the funniest, most cheerful scenes of all 2020 — from the inside of a pharmacy. Promising Young Woman is an undeniable thriller and a film that I hope continues to succeed during this awards season. Don't miss out on Fennell's fascinating film because, in the end, you won't know what hit you.
Promising Young Woman has 3 Film Independent Spirit Award noms, 4 Golden Globe noms, 9 Hollywood Critics Association (HCA) noms, 6 Critic Choice Award noms, and was included in the National Board of Review's (NBR) Top 10 Films of 2020, winning Best Actress (Mulligan).
Promising Young Woman is rated R (Restricted) For strong violence including sexual assault | language throughout | some sexual material and drug use.
Directed by Emerald Fennell
Starring Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham, Laverne Cox, Adam Brody, Sam Richardson, Alison Brie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Connie Britton, Max Greenfield, and Chris Lowell.
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