2/28/2020

Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray Review: Penelope (1966)


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A daffy cutie with any number of disguises at her disposal, at the start of director Arthur Hiller's underrated 1966 film, Penelope Elcott (Natalie Wood) poses as an elderly woman to rob her husband's bank before she switches wigs and clothes once again and makes her getaway.

Visiting her longtime shrink Dr. Gregory Mannix (Dick Shawn), shortly thereafter, she recounts every mundane detail of her day before startling him completely with, "I stuck up my husband's bank." He doesn't believe her, of course — few men do throughout the film — but Penelope sets him straight when she retrieves $60,000 from her purse.

Turning him into an accomplice of sorts, Gregory asks her to chart her history as thief, which begins with a disturbing flashback where her professor (Jonathan Winters) chases her around the classroom in an attempted rape that's played for laughs. Stripped down to her underwear, when she makes her escape, Penelope discovers that she's accidentally come away with his watch fob. Listening intently, the shrink tells our feisty protagonist that she's the opposite of a klepto.

Robbing others thereafter as sport, she steals not because it's a compulsion but because she enjoys it. Using theft as her means of exacting feminine justice, Penelope dishes it out whenever she feels like she's been taken either advantage of or for granted. From the horny matron of honor who tried to seduce her husband on their wedding day to another woman who comes onto him in a swimming pool, Penelope steals something from each of the offenders, feels better after the surge of endorphins, and moves on.


Based upon the novel by Howard Fast, which was published under the pseudonym of E.V. Cunningham, Penelope was adapted for the screen by George Wells. After years of writing musicals for MGM producer Joe Pasternak (who also produced Penelope), Wells had been given more opportunities to branch out, showing what he could really do with smart, sophisticated, and subversive material like Party Girl, The Gazebo, and Where the Boys Are. And while Hiller's Penelope never fully comes together overall, the script by Wells is an absolute high point. It's so inspired that I began imagining how it could be tweaked here and there to be remade today, as this fine, flawed, forgotten feature deserves a second look.

Filled with irresistibly quotable one liners like "you should've known me in the days before you knew me," that Wood lets roll off her tongue with easy wit, the veteran performer is so brightly effervescent in Penelope that one imagines she could've saved the film's producers a fortune in lighting costs.

Unfortunately, this was not so. Described by the actress as one of the most difficult professional experiences of her life — as she was going through a lot of personal turmoil and became so stressed she broke out in hives — it's both sad and a credit to just how gifted Natalie Wood is that we don't see a trace of this pain in her performance throughout.


Harshly judged by critics upon its initial release, while some lashed out at Wood's perceived lack of comedic timing and skill, others, like Variety, focused instead on her contribution to the film as "a nice clothes-horse for Miss [Edith] Head's glamorous fashions." And while it's true that the star looks amazing in the designer's $250,000 wardrobe, even without all of the excess, she's an absolute delight.

Elevated by Dick Shawn, who has far better chemistry with the actress than the actor playing her husband in the form of Ian Bannen, Wood especially charms in Penelope whenever she shares a scene with an instantly likable, then up-and-comer Peter Falk. With a crooked smile and an ever-present twinkle in his eye, Falk's turn in Penelope as an amused New York detective trying to solve the bank job serves as a great warm-up to his iconic role as Columbo, whom he played just one year later in a TV movie before the series premiered in 1971. No stranger to playing cops and heavies in smaller parts, by 1966, Falk was moving up.

First crossing paths with the actor when Wood shows up to watch a reel of robbery footage and her image overlaps with her disguised as the thief onscreen, the two have an unexpected rapport that's quite fun to watch. They liven up the proceedings once again later on when Falk spends the day with the beauty he unabashedly flirts with as he teaches her how to blow bubbles with her chewing gum.


Tonally all over the place, while the film's plot arc concerning her past as well as the robbery's aftermath is in desperate need of sharpening — since the running gag that nobody believes Penelope goes on for too long in the last act when she confesses yet again — Hiller's film is still far more entertaining than its awful reputation would lead you to believe.

Given a shiny new Blu-ray transfer from Warner Archive that sparkles with as much brilliance as an emerald necklace swiped by Penelope as payback, the film, which has been given new life thanks to TCM, looks better than I've ever seen it before.

Though it uses the original vintage art from the film's release, which enlisted her sexuality to sell tickets, the disc's cover calls attention to the fact that her early near nude scene opposite the lascivious Winters in Penelope is one that's fraught with danger, not fun.

Still, it's easily forgotten when we watch Wood, disguised as a redhead, hop into a cab after the film's opening robbery sequence. Donning the second wig that we've seen thus far, Natalie Wood throws her head down below the frame, removes it, and flips it up to reveal the brunette chameleon who — regardless of any false artifice onscreen or advertising off — lets us know that no matter what, she's been there all along.

A box office disaster, Penelope was the last film Wood made before she took three years off from acting, before she returned to the screen in 1969's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. And while Penelope isn't nearly as funny as Sex and the Single Girl or as important as her most famous dramatic works, which paved the way to a more naturalistic style of female acting in the late '60s, it's still worthwhile in its own right. Natalie Wood might have thought she was terrible in the film, but long after she captivates Falk and Shaw, once she takes the money and doesn't run, she manages to steal our hearts as well.



Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

2/27/2020

Movie Review: The Whistlers (2019)


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Told to put his finger in his mouth like a gun and let the bullet come out of his ear, a Romanian narcotics detective playing both sides of the law tries to learn the whistling language of La Gomera in writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu's The Whistlers.

Employed like morse code so that the police think that, instead of criminals passing mellifluous messages back and forth, it's simply birds singing in the open air, the study of "El Silbo," practiced on the "pearl of the Canary Islands," is a novel approach to the con man movie subgenre. Enticed by the prospect of watching Porumboiu's shady characters converse through foreign sing-speak versus traditional film noir double speak, what we assume will be a big part of the grift at the start of The Whistlers becomes little more than a barely used gimmick by the time we reach the end.


A handsomely made homage to vintage noir, '50s westerns, and Hitchcockian tales of suspense, nonetheless, what the film lacks in substance, it strives to make up for with sensory sleight of hand. Using a dynamic soundtrack, bold use of color, and Edward Hopper inspired production design and blocking to distract us whenever our mind starts to wander, Porumboiu ensures that Whistlers remains visually and audibly interesting, even when it doesn't make a lick of sense.

Working as much for the underworld as he does with the police, the film revolves around Cristi, a Bucharest narcotics detective (played by Vlad Ivanov) who finds himself dominated by a trifecta of women, each trying to pull him in a different direction. In addition to the Catholic guilt he gets from his beloved mother (Julieta Szönyi), who's just hoping her middle aged son will settle down, Cristi is torn by his allegiance to his demanding boss Magda (Rodica Lazar), who wants to lock up the man that the alluring femme fatale Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) wants him to break free.


Paying tribute to the women of noir with allusions to Marlene Dietrich's no-nonsense roles in the formidable Magda and the overt influence of Rita Hayworth's Gilda on her Whistlers namesake, as often is the case in the genre, Marlon's well-played, underutilized siren is easily the most exciting character in the entire film.

Hindered by its convoluted structure, which swings back and forth in the timeline as it shifts from one character's point-of-view to the next, The Whistlers threatens to confuse its viewers to the point of apathy for at least half of its ninety-seven minute running time. And once we finally deduce as much as we can about who Porumboiu's underwritten characters are, what's going on, and why, we realize that the movie's reliance upon smoke and mirrors wasn't just a style choice after all, but a necessity.


Attempting to use the coded whistling language as a motif for the film where the ensemble players say one thing and mean another in an effort to double cross before they are double crossed, Porumboiu follows suit — wielding noir, Hitchcock, pop and operatic music, and even John Wayne iconography in the exact same way — to distract us from Whistlers's threadbare plot.

Hoping to reward our patience for sticking with the confounding film until we've reached the end credits, in a dazzling (if all too brief) final sequence straight out of To Catch a Thief, The Whistlers lights up the Canary Island night sky with fireworks, opera, and colored lights.

The result of placing his fingers in his mouth and firing his ideas at the screen, while it's clear that Porumboiu has a strong vision for the type of film he wants to make — if not the plot — by the time we've deciphered his ultimately empty message, we don't feel much like whistling along.


Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray Review: It Started With a Kiss (1959)

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When Maggie Putnam (Debbie Reynolds) volunteered to sell raffle tickets at a charity ball, she had every intention of winning a date with a handsome, eligible millionaire attendee. Instead, she won an Air Force staff sergeant and a car.

Meeting and marrying the persistent Joe Fitzpatrick (Glenn Ford) in a 48 hour whirlwind after he rips the back of her dress and the two reenact the famous scene from Bringing Up Baby where Cary Grant marches behind Katharine Hepburn in unison to cover the missing fabric, Joe and Maggie's courtship might not be the most romantic but there's a fiery heat between the pair. It was so sizzling in fact, that Joe and Maggie's romance in director George Marshall's 1959 sex comedy It Started with a Kiss extended beyond the screen for Ford and Reynolds.


Getting a taste of life as a military wife when she joins Joe in Spain, even though the money minded social climber is crazy about her husband, she begins to fear that the only thing they have in common is lust. You can't say she didn't warn him, however, as on their very first date, Maggie told Joe, "you can trust things, not people," before adding, "love is no reason to get married."

Trying to reassure her that she didn't make a mistake, Joe reluctantly gives in to his bride's proposal that the two embark on a sex free one month honeymoon in order to see if there's more between the two than what's between the sheets.

"You mustn't make love to me. If you do," Maggie warns her husband, "I'll leave."

"Oh, this is murder!" the sexually frustrated Joe exclaims from the couch. "I won't bother you. I may cry a little during the night but I won't bother you."

Responsible for the Air Force's increased water bill, Joe takes one cold shower after another to keep his libido at bay. Unintentionally breaking the major general's orders not to show any vulgar displays of wealth that could fit the European stereotype of a boorish rich American, once the car he won trying to secure a date with Maggie arrives, Joe finds himself in hot water as well.


Also drawing the ire of a congressional committee investigating wasteful spending in the military, Maggie and Joe hit the road for awhile. Taking in the beautiful sights of Spain, they make the acquaintance of a macho, celebrated bullfighter Antonio Soriano (Gustavo Rojo) and a sultry marquesa (Eva Gabor) who in turn, set their sights on them.

Treated like one of Soriano's bulls that needs to be tamed — if not by the Air Force or a bullfighter, then by her husband — the sexist characterization and arc of Reynolds' Maggie has aged the otherwise escapist comedy quite poorly when viewed with modern eyes.

Acting like a bullfighter in pursuit of his future bride, when he first meets Maggie, Joe corners her in her ticket booth before he grabs her by the arm — causing her to rip her dress — then follows her back to her workplace with the torn fabric but refuses to give it to her until she agrees to go out with him.

While, of course, this is played simply for laughs, regardless of the year, this aggressive "meet cute" is anything but. Radiating chemistry, however, despite the fact that they simply smolder on celluloid, you find yourself agreeing with Maggie that there might not be much else holding this pair together besides sex.


Painted with a one-dimensional brush as the latest in a long line of 1950s How to Marry a Millionaire style husband hunters, it's a good thing that Maggie is vibrantly brought to life by Debbie Reynolds because our superficial lead needs her warmth, humor, heart, and empathy to make us care.

Made shortly after the divorce of Reynolds and Eddie Fisher — who left his wife for his subsequent bride Elizabeth Taylor — and at the same time that Glenn Ford's marriage to Eleanor Powell fell apart, the film's two stars bonded quickly on and off the screen, which eventually inspired Ford to propose to his leading lady for real. Understandably marriage shy, although the shoot for It Started With a Kiss and their next 1959 film together for George Marshall (The Gazebo) occurred at a rough time in their lives, Reynolds turned down his proposal because it was just too soon but the two remained friends for life.

The genuine tenderness the pair shares elevates the film at its weakest moments and helps keep viewers involved. Kiss became a huge box office hit for MGM, undoubtedly spurred on by all of the romantic "scandals" of the day, which soon enveloped Eva Gabor in the headlines when she found herself embroiled in a scandal by association as well.


While there isn't all that much to recommend this vapid time waster —save for perhaps interest in it as a fascinating time capsule of evolving sexual mores due to its frankness — the stars make the picture sing even when it shouldn't. Given a gorgeous transfer to Blu-ray by the fine folks at the Warner Archive Collection, seeing the film in 1080p makes the beautiful setting of Spain even more dazzling by default. A must for Batman purists and academics, the bright red, forty-thousand dollar, one-of-a-kind concept car in Kiss — a 1955 Lincoln Futura — was later repainted and customized by George Barris to serve as Adam West's Batmobile for the 1966 series and film.

Though not nearly as winning as other Debbie Reynolds pictures of the era, including her '59 reunion with Ford and Marshall in the superlative Hitchcockian Gazebo, fans eager to see the lovable star's take on a '50s sex comedy will feel like they hold the winning raffle ticket when they watch her shimmer (and shiver) with Ford in HD.


Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

2/20/2020

Movie Review - Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band (2019)


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"Whatever happens," Bob Dylan told The Hawks when the folk singer went electric in 1965, "don't stop playing." A maxim that helped the guys hired to back him up keep playing through scores of boos, jeers, and occasionally projectiles launched onstage, when Bob Dylan thinks back on his bandmates in Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band, he says, "they were gallant knights for sticking behind me."


As we learn in Daniel Roher's documentary, however, it turns out that one knight in particular — Robbie Robertson — had been living that adage since he joined his first band at thirteen, just weeks after he discovered rock 'n roll music in a vivid experience he calls "his own personal big bang." Quickly evolving beyond the few chords he'd learned from his maternal ancestors at the Six Nations Indian Reserve, the guitar prodigy went from playing in a Toronto based band to writing songs for Ronnie Hawkins at fifteen to joining his backing band The Hawks one year later. When he auditioned for Hawkins, he promised the "Bo Diddley" singer "you'll never have to tell me to work harder," and Hawkins knew from experience that this was true.

Learning the ropes of the band and the road from drummer Levon Helm  —  who Robertson calls so gifted that "he just seemed to glow in the dark"  — shortly into his tenure with The Hawks, he and Helm took on the responsibility of hiring new musicians to join the group including Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, and Garth Hudson. Soon surpassing their leader, the five Hawks eventually went off on their own. And after a detour serving as knights of Bob Dylan's electrical round table, they reunited once more, moving into an ugly big pink house in Woodstock, New York (chosen by Dylan's manager Albert Grossman) where they recorded their legendary 1968 debut Music from Big Pink, not as The Hawks this time, but The Band.


Chosen both for its lack of pretension and the fact that they were getting known around town by the same description, the story of this band of five brothers is given the premium documentary treatment in Canadian filmmaker Roher's first feature length work (beyond one sixty-three minute doc he made a few years earlier). Lovingly crafted, it's a wonderful stepbrother to one of the all-time greatest rock docs in the form of Martin Scorsese's 1978 release The Last Waltz, which chronicled the final concert The Band ever performed on Thanksgiving night at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom in 1976.

Sharing one particularly memorable Hawkins related anecdote with Waltz, in Once Were Brothers, Scorsese talks about the reason he made his doc the way that he did. Choosing to shoot the band from the stage and largely ignore the the audience, Brothers executive producer Scorsese notes that he wanted to tell the story of The Band through the way that they related to one another as men and musicians.


Once Were Brothers is missing Waltz's communal feel, unintentionally, yes, as sadly there are only two remaining members of The Band still alive (Robertson and Hudson) but also, largely by design. In a way, perhaps it's best appreciated as not only a companion to Waltz but also a continuation of Robertson's critically acclaimed bestselling memoir Testimony (which I found myself requesting from the library as soon as I pressed stop on the film). Although it doesn't take away from the beautiful craftsmanship of the movie, which features thoughtful interviews with subjects ranging from Hawkins and Dylan to Scorsese and Springsteen, rare performance videos, and gorgeous, candid, often unreleased archival photos (mostly shot by their first and most vital photographer Elliott Landy), its scope is largely limited to Robertson as well as his contemplative wife Dominique.

With the revelation that Garth Hudson was interviewed for the doc but "for reasons that are difficult to discuss," Roher explains he couldn't use the footage in the final cut, the film's production notes offer more questions than answers about its overall construct. An exciting discovery as a Band fan nonetheless, I'm really hoping that Hudson's scenes will be included as Blu-ray bonus material, along with a tie-in book featuring all seven hundred pages of interview transcripts Roher compiled, since only sixty were used in the one hundred and two minute film. (I mean, talk about a testimony right there!)


Wisely subtitling the documentary Robbie Robertson and The Band to acknowledge its Robertson-centric perspective, at the start of the movie produced not only by Scorsese but also Brian Grazer and Ron Howard, Robertson seems as wistful as he is resigned. Playing in The Band was "a beautiful thing," Robertson acknowledges, before following it up with "so beautiful it went up in flames," as he ponders their inevitable, tragic end.

And while it would've benefited from additional points-of-view, especially as their relationships grew more tempestuous due to alcohol and substance abuse — resulting in car wrecks, tour drama, and loss of creativity — Robertson is such a charismatic and articulate interviewee that Roher should consider making a follow-up film devoted to his post-Band career as a solo artist, film composer, and music producer. Including a fascinating anecdote by Springsteen about the first time he heard Music from Big Pink (and had what sounds like his own big bang experience with the record) as well as a thrilling oral history from Robertson on the origins of their beloved hit "The Weight," this substantive film delivers the goods.


Instantly reminding me of Ernesto Guevara's Motorcycle Diaries description that, rather than "a story of heroic feats, or merely the narrative of a cynic," it tells the tale of "lives running parallel for a time with similar hopes and convergent dreams," the moral of Roher's film is one of perseverance, passion, as well as loyalty, and brotherhood indeed.

Having played together over a sixteen year period where, even at the toughest of times, music was the glue holding them together, Once Were Brothers puts us right there — not only onstage with The Band but offstage through Robertson's eyes  — where, no matter what happened, they kept right on playing, until they finally had to stop.


Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

2/11/2020

Movie Review - To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You (2020)


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AKA: To All the Boys 2; To All the Boys I've Loved Before 2

Told by his biology teacher — just before dissection — that the octopus set before him has not one but three hearts, high school junior Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo) leans over the table, scalpel in hand, but can't make the cut. Handing the knife to his girlfriend and lab partner, Lara Jean Covey (Lana Condor), Peter lets her take control.

Understanding that whichever way she slices, at least one of those hearts will break, in a perfect metaphor for the love triangle our To All the Boys I've Loved Before heroine finds herself in in the sequel P.S. I Still Love You, Lara Jean knows that sooner or later, she'll have to decide.

Nervous and excited to begin her first real relationship with her formerly fake boyfriend Peter Kavinsky, at the start of P.S. I Still Love You, the two go on their first official date and promise never to break each other's hearts. Unfortunately, it doesn't take long for their vow to be put to the test.


Wrongly assuming that she'd endured all of the fallout from her kid sister mailing her childhood love letters to her five biggest crushes (which comprised the first film's plot), Lara Jean is stunned to receive a reply from her sixth grade love, John Ambrose McClaren (Jordan Fisher). A flattered and flattering letter, John Ambrose's words stir up long dormant feelings she hadn't thought about since she was eleven years old.

Yet while the letter he wrote her is conflicting enough — especially since Lara Jean assumed that her love for Peter would make her immune to anyone else's charms — it's nothing compared to the butterflies she gets when, of all the senior living centers in all the world, John Ambrose walks into hers.

Volunteering at the senior residence after school, as opposed to all of the cool kids (like Peter) fulfilling their eleventh grade requirement goofing off at the local market, Lara Jean is so shocked when she comes face-to-face with the charismatic young man that she knocks over a candy dish and trips on a floor full of skittles.

Once the two begin working alongside one another, they fall into their old rhythm as if no time has passed at all. Soon she's placed in the precarious position of lying by omission — at least a little bit — to each of the boys growing more and more attracted to her every day, while she figures things out. Torn by both, although she's far more intellectually compatible with the sensitive, studious, equally nerdy John Ambrose than the popular Lacrosse player and hearthrob Peter, Lara Jean's boyfriend brings out her fun, playful side like nobody else.


Missing her mother now more than ever — and threatened by Peter's closeness with his ex-girlfriend and her ex childhood best friend, Genevieve (Emilija Baranac) — Lara Jean tries her best to navigate her feelings of insecurity, attraction, confusion, and love in this heartfelt adaptation of the second book in Jenny Han's bestselling trilogy.

Directed and shot by the first film's talented cinematographer Michael Fimognari in his feature filmmaking debut, P.S. I Still Love You opens with a homage to Adventures in Babysitting. Paying tribute to the '80s teen movies our heroine loves, perhaps because they remind her of her mom, the film keeps the feeling of nostalgia alive with a soundtrack full of cover versions of Gen X's most popular songs.

A gorgeously rendered production lensed with color printer cartridge bright punches of magenta, yellow, and cyan that swirl together as Lara Jean experiences the various shades of love, while P.S. maintains the cozy vibe of the first film, its look evolves right along with our protagonist.

In one of four visually dazzling sequences (which also includes what appears to be Spike Lee style double dolly shot), the palette deepens to explore sea green and midnight blue. The shades come to exquisite life in an emotionally charged scene set inside an aquarium when, much like the octopus, Lara Jean realizes she's linked to two hearts as well as her own.


Benefiting not only from the natural chemistry of Condor and Centineo — which is stronger in this film — but also the addition of the charming Fisher along with scene-stealer Holland Taylor as an advice-giving retired Pan Am "showgirl of the sky," the energy and warmth of the Love You's affable cast generates true sparks.

More easily upbeat than this contemplative, introspective sequel where we worry about her breaking the boys' hearts as well as her own, while the romcom-ready plot machinations of the first film make it my favorite entry of the Lara Jean saga so far, there's still a lot of joy to be found in this one.

Refreshingly wholesome, unlike some of the mixed messages served up in '80s teen comedies, P.S. offers a positive portrayal of burgeoning hormones and teen sexuality, which Lara Jean addresses by blurting out where she stands on the matter with hilarious results. Produced with care by Jenny Han, To All the Boys remains that rare film series that parents can feel not only safe but eager for their children to watch.


A stellar production with standout cinematography, which makes sense considering its Fimognari's strong suit (he'll pull double duty in the final film as well), To All the Boys screenwriter Sofia Alvarez adapted Han's young adult novel once again, along with P.S. newcomer J. Mills Goodloe.

The latest in a long line of above average female-centric romantic comedy served up by Netflix over the past two years, while it's hard to see our favorite young couple hit the rocks in this second installment of three, P.S. I Still Love You reminds us that sometimes it takes three hearts to find the right beat . . . or an octopus.

Related:

Text ©2020, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reservedhttps://www.filmintuition.com  Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Also, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made off my site through ad links. FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy or screener link of this title in order to voluntarily decide to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique. Cookies Notice: This site incorporates tools (including advertiser partners and widgets) that use cookies and may collect some personal information in order to display ads tailored to you etc. Please be advised that neither Film Intuition nor its site owner has any access to this data beyond general site statistics (geographical region etc.) as your privacy is our main concern.

2/07/2020

Movie Review: The Assistant (2019)




She watches their faces flash by on each newly printed headshot. One attractive girl — the apple of someone's eye somewhere — quickly replaces the next until they start to blur together, kind of like the women she sees either waiting to meet her boss, washing away their tears in the bathroom, or retrieving an earring that she'd rescued from his office floor . . . before she cleaned his stained couch.

A busy worker bee that most would prefer not to see or hear (kind of like her boss who's never seen), after only five weeks of work as the lowest rung on the office ladder, recent Northwestern graduate turned production office assistant Jane (Julia Garner) is in a position to see it all.

The first to arrive and one of the last to leave the New York City office where she eats all of her meals and spends her weekends, Jane has discovered, as we all do, that at work, there's the tasks you complete because they're written down in your job description and the ones that the culture of the office dictates that you do.


A Jill of all trades that might as well be a Jane of all trades (since the interchangeable anonymity of our protagonist recalls girls toiling away around the globe in offices like hers we might only come to know as Jane Doe), in The Assistant, her duties run the gamut.

There's typing, faxing, light cleaning, and phones of course, but in an office like Jane's, with so much going on both under her nose and behind closed doors, her tasks quickly slide from the realm of business into more uncomfortably personal terrain. More than just putting away prescriptions and arranging travel, in the course of one stressful work day, which is captured in full detail in Australian documentary filmmaker Kitty Green's painfully real, darkly revealing docudrama, Jane is thrust into situations that go above and beyond an assistant's call of duty.

Pushed — by two male coworkers with more seniority — into taking a phone call from the frazzled wife of her boss when she wants to know where her husband is, who he's with, or why he's put a block on her credit cards, Jane is also forced to look after the children when she drops in announced. From morning to night, she becomes the unwilling buffer between her boss and all of the women in his life.


There's the ones who stop by for their appointment whom Jane might see next collecting jewelry they'd left behind by the stained couch (that the men in her office joke they would never sit on) or perhaps crying into a paper towel, but there are others whose presence is far more unexpected. While the former — the walking headshots  — are starting to weigh more heavily on her conscience, it's the arrival of the newest beauty, a barely legal girl fresh from Boise flown in to be a glorified assistant and put up at a fancy hotel, that sends off alarm bells in Jane.

Urged to sign employee forms the young woman doesn't begin to understand before she's given a desk in what appears to be a merely decorative post, the inconsistencies of Jane's day — including filling out blank checks to most likely be used as hush money — send the conscientious assistant straight to HR.

Gaslit, threatened, and badgered to look to the other way by keeping her head down in order to move up professionally, in a chilling scene played with faux friendly, matter-of-fact menace by Matthew McFadyen, writer-director-producer and co-editor Kitty Green gets everything right in her fictional feature debut.


The result of meticulous research, including interviews with women working in not just film but every industry, the feel of the film is so universal that as soon as Garner began flipping on garish, buzzing fluorescent lights, I was mentally transported back to a similarly soul-sucking office job I held when I was Jane's age. And while, with the New York headquarters and by now, a very identifiable modus operandi, one can't help but conjure up images of Harvey Weinstein throughout Jane's day, the film would ring just as true if it was set in Boise at a trucking office or upholstery store twenty years ago, long before anyone had even heard of #MeToo.

Nonchalantly showing us everything through Jane's eyes, from the moment she gets up at o'dark thirty to catch a ride into the city from Astoria to eat cereal over the sink standing up, the film sets the tone of the monotony, untapped potential, and dread that comes with the job. Like one of those dreams you have where you swear you spent all night at work, even before Jane settles in at her desk, we feel Green and Garner's sincere intensity as we watch the gifted young actress who first caught our attention on The Americans immediately vanish into the everywoman role.

Easily the strongest film I've seen so far in 2020 and one that I'm sure we'll be still talking about by the year's end, in her first time at bat as a fiction filmmaker, Kitty Green is wise enough to know that to drive her point home, she doesn't need her characters to make a big speech.


Treating Jane like a blurred headshot, we watch as she's forced by office protocol to send multiple apology emails to her unnamed, unseen boss whenever he phones her to chew her head off about some perceived slight. Observing all of the drama from their desks where they're more freely able to goof off, the men in her area stand behind her as she takes to the keyboard each time, coaching her on what to write.

"I appreciate the opportunity to work for this company and will not let you down again," she types and we feel the sardonic pain of each word. A low level employee who just wants to go about her day and do her job, in the masterful The Assistant, Jane is everyone on the bottom rung. Not quite ready to ask herself how much longer she can keep her head down and pretend not to see what's going on, Jane knows that soon the time to do just that will come.

Despite their attempts at deflective humor, Jane recognizes that her coworkers all know just how rigged the system is in the end. Even with a title change or salary bump in their future, on this otherwise random day, it sinks in that in her boss's exploitative playground, they're all guilty by association, and there's no real way to rise above it or move up. In this world where tyrants are protected, Kitty Green's Assistant reminds us that we're all just headshots.


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