Every year I post what I think are the best films of 2022, based on what I viewed. This year is no different- I watched a lot and liked (not necessarily loved) a lot. Some of these picks are popular, maybe among audiences and/or critics, some little known, and some made it to Oscar nods. Either way, for this blog, it's my professional (critic) and personal opinion.
The Power of the Dog by Jane Campion, is a film I saw during the Mill Valley Film Festival last fall. I knew even thought it was early in the high brow movie season, it would be a strong contender and quite possibly the one to beat. While other solidly good films started filing in, Power of the Dog has remained my favorite, and I think, the best. It's a slow burn psychological drama/ a dark Western period. Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role as a cowboy and co-owner of a ranch, along with his brother played by Jesse Plemons. Cumberbatch's character is exudes toxic masculinity that threatens Jesse's character's new wife, played by Kirsten Dunst and her delicate teen son. The acting by the four leads is impeccable. The photography is enticing, and the story adapted by Campion and overall direction are stellar.
A Hero (go to full review HERE).
Drive My Car (go to full review HERE)
C'mon C'mon - Because director Mike Mills never disappoints and always delivers equal parts tenderness, intensity and delight, it's hard to say if this is his best yet. Maybe so with Joaquin Phoenix in the lead as Johnny, portraying an estranged brother his sister, Viv who's a single mom (Gaby Hoffman), and a neglectful uncle to his sister's young, quirky nephew Jesse (Woody Norman). When Johnny, who is a documentary filmmaker based in New York, visits his sister and nephew in Los Angeles, he ends up staying longer than planned to free up his sister to fly to Oakland in order to help her son's dad who is plagued with mental health issues. As a result of the uncle and son's quality time together, they develop a bond and Joaquin offers to bring him back to New York with him while his sister needs more time away. Their time in New York is equally parts fun and frustrating for them both, but the journey of reconnection and relationship building for all parties involved is an utter delight for the audience to experience.
Passing - Taking place in the late 1920s, light skinned childhood friends reunite as middle class adults- one, Irene, living as a Black woman in Harlem with her husband and two children, the other, Clare, living downtown passing as a white woman married to an established white man. In establishing a renewed friendship, the two become increasingly involved in each other's lives and insecurities. While Irene identifies, with Clare's "passes" as white becoming problematic for them both.
The film is the directorial debut for actor, Rebecca Hall who is also impressively adapted the script from the novel by Nella Larsen. It is shot beautifully and starkly in black and white, has a deliberate slow pace, with a nuanced story line, with equally nuance dialogue and plot. For some, all that slowness and nuance will serve to either intrigue or attract, while many more, I suspect, will probably less engaged. Either way, there is no denying that the casting. of actors Tessa Thompson and Ruth Nega in the lead roles is perfection. They both physically present as you would expect Irene and Clare to, and they are both immensely talented, embracing the complexity of their situations.
The Tragedy of Macbeth - What is there to say? It's two of the best actors of our time - Denzel Washington and Francis McDormand - robustly taking on two of the most iconic roles as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and under the direction of one of the prolific and talented directors, Joel Cohen. The only thing possibly better than their performances and Cohen's direction, is the cinematography and set designs. I do suggest before watching this film that you familiarize or re-familarize yourself with the original play by the Bard- Shakespeare- or at least availing yourself to the Cliff Notes. Otherwise, it will be like watching a foreign film without subtitles.
Parallel Mothers by the cinematic institution that is Pedro Almadovar, is not close to as good as his masterpieces, All About My Mother or Talk to Her, but not as disappointing as his more recent films. Parallel Mothers, with Penelope Cruz in the lead is as good as his 2019 film, Pain and Glory, starring Antonio Banderas. In Parallel Mothers, two women, Janis (Cruz) and Ana, meet in a hospital room where they are going to give birth. While they are both single and became pregnant by accident, the older, Janis is looking forward to what could be her last opportunity at motherhood. The other, Ana, who is a teenager, is scared and regretful. Janis is a source of encouragement and support, and later will continue to be so when their lives intersect, post pregnancy.
If Pedro had focused on that one story line, with maybe one subplot, this could have been an exceptional offering from the maestro. Instead, he bordered, per usual, on melodrama, and introduced one too many subplots that went unexplored. In fact, it was not until the film's end that he touches on historical and political issues, that seem much more interesting, but sadly only touched on. With that critique you are. probably asking why did Parallel Mothers make my list. It did mostly due to the strong performance by Cruz. This is not dissimilar to Banderas in Pain and Glory. If nothing else, it is always a pleasure to see Pedro bring out stunning performances from exceptional actors.
Woman is Loser (Go to full review HERE)
Summer of Soul (Go to full review HERE)
Don't Look Up - This might not be Adam McKay at his best, but his "not best" is better than most. This is a fun and thought provoking in a way that only McKay can deliver, and with a fantastic all-star ensemble cast. Two scientists, played against type, but pitch perfectly and delightfully by Leonardo Dicaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, warn the president of the United States (Meryl Streep) that the end of the world is at hand as a planet from a different stratosphere is headed earth's way. What ensues, in addition to a lot of laughs, is a reflection of modern day society, with no meeting of the political divide.
There are so many interesting and intriguing aspects to the Iranian film, “A Hero” by writer/director Asghar Farhadi. Not least of which is its creative premise, which is full of social angst and moral dilemmas, and the lead actor, Amir Jadidi. His performance is seamless, pure and utterly compelling. The movie and the performance hearken to the likes of masterpieces of the Italian Neo-realism era, such as “Umberto D” and “Bicycle Thieves.” Rahim (Amir Jadidi) is in prison because of a debt he was unable to repay.
Taking place in Shiraz, Iran and during a two-day leave, Rahim tries to convince his creditor to withdraw his complaint against the payment of part of the sum, but things don’t go as planned. Between the time he began his leave and inquired about the complaint against him, he found gold coins in a bag near the bus stop. Instead of using the found coins, he searched for the rightful owner and returned them. Initially his act of kindness was applauded in the community, with many supporting him in his request to have the complaint withdrawn. Just as quickly as people were on his side and championing his cause, they turned against him and things spiraled out of control. What should have been a simple request and seemingly simple right thing to do, becomes anything but simple. Initially, the audience believes there is just this one side to the story and they sympathize. But we quickly learn there is definitely many sides to the story, and right and wrong is not black and white. It is all the nuanced, messy in betweens where director Asghar Farhadi clearly excels.
Farhadi is best known for his 2011 stunning film, “A Separation,” which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film. With “A Hero” he shows even more growth and greatness. He conveys his universal themes and issues more straight forwardly, with less metaphors. Characters are neither bad nor good; they are flawed and human. Situations are not right or wrong; they are complex and challenging. But as unique as the story is, and as interesting as the characters are, one cannot understate the pitch perfect performance by Jadidi who is in almost every frame driving the plot and stealing your heart. While “A Hero” is a strong contender, if not a lock, for the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language film, it should actually be nominated in the Best Film category.
Available in theaters and on Amazon Prime.
Director/Writer: Asghar Farhadi
Stars: Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Sahar Goldust
Countries of Origin: France, Iran
MPAA Rating: ?
Run Time: 2h 7min
Don’t let the title fool you. “Women is Losers” is a winner - one of the best films of 2021 that you never heard of. It is a unique testament to the strength and resilience of women of color. Flying under the streaming radar, it is an indie gem that made some of the film festival circuit, including the Mill Valley Film Festival. Debut writer/director Lissette Feliciano creates a world in 1960s San Francisco in which her protagonist, Celina (Lorenza Izzo), a once dutiful Catholic high school girl, becomes inspired to make more of her life than her social limitations dictate. Her plans initially get derailed when both she and her best friend become pregnant. When her friend becomes the tragic victim of an unsafe abortion, Celine decides to move forward with her pregnancy, with little to no support from her parents or the young father who has recently returned from Vietnam and found himself in another relationship. Not surprisingly, being a single Latina mother, makes obtaining higher education and financial success seem all but impossible.
Despite these educational and emotional setbacks, Celina remains determined to get away from her abusive father’s household, break her family’s cycle of poverty, and make a better life for herself and her son. It would seem that her new bank teller job could be the launch pad to better things, especially when Gilbert (Simu Liu), the bank manager seemingly takes an interest in her professionally and offers free financial advice and career advancement. Ultimately, his motives become suspect and he proves more of a hindrance than a help, with his sexual advances and professional threats, but Celina finds a way to make use of the wisdom he has already imparted.
On the surface, the premise of “Women is Losers” could seem a downer, but such is not the case. This is largely due to the presentation and execution which is uplifting, creative and wholly engaging. More than all that, it is unexpected. Feliciano knows when to turn up the drama, without being depressing, but she also knows when to be poignant without being sappy or melodramatic. Likewise, she unabashedly weaves in politics and social issues, using the opportunity to educate the audience as well as entertain. All the while she seems self aware that this is a small film, with a small budget that can take creative chances. Shot entirely in San Francisco, she also wonderfully enlists cinematic and editing techniques similar to Adam McKay, a la “The Big Short.” This includes fast takes, talking to the camera, and asides with graphics and information about politics and history.
The little-known to unknown cast are solidly good, with a notable performance by Izzo in the lead. She’s in almost every frame holding her own with gusto and a wry sense of humor that’s a sheer delight! Although she has other roles under her belt, this should serve as a fantastic “calling card” project for her, with hopes of seeing her in much, much more. Also impressive, is her co-star, Chrissy Fit, who plays her best friend, Marty. Chrissy is best known for her small comic relief role in “Pitch Perfect.” For “Women is Losers,” she makes the most of her brief screen time, and really shows her acting range. While this film touches, sometimes explores, sensitive topics, like domestic violence, racism and sexism, it manages to be interesting and life-affirming. It’s well-worth seeking out and spreading the word about.
Available through HBO Max.
Writer/Director: Lissette Feliciano
Stars: Lorenza Izzo, Chrissie Fit, Liza Weil, Simu Liu
Language: English and Spanish
Production Company: Bowery Hills Entertainment
MPAA Rating: ?
Run Time: 1:24 min
Jumping off of critical acclaim and into arthouse theaters around the country, is one of the audience favorites from the Mill Valley Film Festival’s World Cinema category in 2021- “Drive My Car” by Ryusuke Hamaguchi. This deeply felt, observant film is adapted from a short story in Murakami Haruki’s “Men Without Women” collection. Two years after the sudden death of his wife, actor-director, Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima) who has been understandably inactive, lonely and depressed, is requested to direct a production of “Uncle Vanya” for an annual theater festival in Hiroshima. After driving there in his vintage Saab, he is told that it is mandatory he be chauffeured in his car. Although he is initially resistant to turn over his keys of his beloved car to Misaki Watari (Toko Miura), the young female driver assigned to him, he eventually relents after acknowledging that she is undeniably an excellent driver and a kind and respectful companion.
Throughout the play’s audition process and rehearsals, Yusuke and the film’s audience, get to know the play’s unusual ensemble, which includes Koji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), a young, handsome TV star, with limited experience and range that Yusuke oddly cast in the lead role usually reserved for middle-aged actors like himself. No one is more surprised and daunted by the casting than the young actor who was selected. Was this a set-up for failure? Given that it is revealed (to the audience) that the director recognizes Koji as having had some sort of romantic connection to Yusuke’s late wife, his motivations are suspect.
Over the course of the several weeks production, tensions rise among cast, director and producers. While relations in the rehearsal studio are sometimes fraught, conversely, a friendly, almost father-daughter type bond develops between Yusuke and his shy and quiet driver. She has become a bit of a respite to Yusuke’s theatrical challenges and emotional hauntings from the loss of his wife. During a spontaneous road trip the two take to Koji’s home village she left several years ago while also fleeing her own set of emotional demons, Yusuke is forced to reckon with painful truths about he and his wife’s relationship, and his future emotional well being. His accepting the director’s position, along with the unlikely pairing of Yusuke with Koji as friend and driver, proves to be exactly what he needed to launch him on a path of actual recovery.
“Drive My Car” is a slow moving and wonderful story, beautifully observed and executed, with love, loss and life at its core. The two lead performances are pitch perfect, along with a commendable and entertaining supporting cast. While the movie is about 30 to 40 minutes longer than necessary, it is wholly engaging and worth experiencing in your local arthouse theater or on streaming platforms.
Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Writer (s): Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Haruki Murakami (short story)
Stars: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Masaki Okada
Official Site: https://www.janusfilms.com/films/2040
Language: Japanese with subtitles
Run Time: 179 minutes
Racism and a pervasive broken prison system is explored through the lens of history in “Attica,” an unnerving documentary about the 1971 uprising at the maximum-security prison in Upstate New York. In the lead-up to the takeover, tensions were soaring between inmates and guards as prison conditions worsened. Such conditions included being relegated to up to sixteen hours a day in their cells, their mail being tampered with, almost non-existent medical, an inequitable parole system and overcrowding. Additionally, all of the guards were white to a predominately black and brown prison population who were relegated to the lowest paid jobs, and frequently harassed by the guards. On that fateful day on September 9th, the tables were turned as those same guards were taken hostage by the inmates, unharmed, but used as negotiation with state politicians.
Director, Stanley Nelson successfully presents the core grievances, the revolt, community emotions and national reaction through never-before-seen archival footage and fascinating interviews with former inmates sharing first-hand accounts and family members of the guards/hostages. While most of the documentary is very insular, focusing on living former prisoners recounting their angst and other emotions prior to and after the revolt, Nelson uses broader perspectives occasionally as well. In the early 70s, there was a burgeoning push for prison reforms, and activists such as Angela Davis and Stokley Carmichael were outspoken and relentless in equating the U.S. justice system and prison conditions to slavery. George Jackson who himself was sentenced to life over a ten dollar gas station robbery, soon became an prison advocate and a leader for his fellow inmates, extolling the harsh realities of life behind bars and the need for political reform around the issues.
Nelson’s film puts such activists and philosophies of the time in context of the uprising, as well as the state and national politics involved, with quotes from the then New York governor, Nelson Rockefeller, and President Richard Nixon. In some ways this is literally a hard film to watch, but an important part of recent history to know and witness. Most startling, but significant is the unflinching camera on the mostly black and brown dead bodies in the wake of the bloody massacre- 39 inmates gunned down by state troopers at the command of the governor and the approval of the president. No member of law enforcement was prosecuted for the killings during the retaking of Attica. It is to this day the bloodiest prison riot in history. 50 years later, the prison problems persist. “Attica” the documentary, coupled with current social justice activism and countless contemporary books chronicling the ongoing cycle of police brutality and need for prison reform, serve as reminders of how little has changed and how precious is the accountability of justice.
“Attica” premieres at the San Francisco Doc Stories Festival on Nov. 4; Airing on Showtime on January 6.
Director: Stanley Nelson and Traci Curry
Writer: Stanley Nelson
Stars: Clarence B. Jones
Production page & trailer: https://www.sho.com/titles/3472216/attica
Pivoting is still the name of the game for the film industry in general and film festivals specifically. The Mill Valley Film Festival (MVFF) is no exception or stranger to that. While last year they were able to successfully pivot to drive-in theaters and streaming platforms for its audience where many other festivals had to cancel altogether, this year they find themselves still adjusting to not a completely, post-Covid world. It is worth noting that Marin County in Northern California, where the MVFF hails from, has an extremely high vaccination rate. Zoe Elton has been with MVFF since its inception, and is the Director of Programming for much of that period. She is also the Founder of the festival's Mind the Gap, gender equality initiative.
The MVFF, going into its 44 year and a division of the CA Film Institute, has an impressive track record of launching new films and new filmmakers, and has earned a reputation as a filmmakers’ festival by celebrating the best in American independent and foreign films, along side high-profile and prestigious award contenders. Each year the festival usually welcomes more than 200 filmmakers, representing more than 50 countries. Screening sections include World Cinema; US Cinema; Valley of the Docs; Children’s FilmFest; a daily shorts program; and Active Cinema.
Last year, MVFF, unlike many film festivals did take place, but they had to pivot to drive-in and streaming only. Once again, for this year, they are gearing up for adapting to county health department guidelines while balancing the audience’s desires and expectations. I talked to Ms. Elton about the changes and expectations for this year’s festival.
PF: “MVFF 2020 was able to take place albeit in a different way due to Covid. How is it different, yet again, for this year?”
ZE: “It’s different this year because this year is actually different. It’ not like 2020, but it’s not 2019 either. Last year there was Covid, without vaccinations, plus the area was dealing with a lot of fires. It was crazy! Last year we had a limited offerings divided between online and even more limited drive-in screens. This year is a whole different thing again.”
For the organizers and staff, our muscle memory is that of last year, but yet we’re working with more. We’re doing in-theater and some online. On top of that, we’re all still working from home, so that frenetic energy of everyone working together in a busy office, is just not happening. And then what will next year bring? Probably a whole new set of unknowns. It’s all very weird, but yet we are excited about the films available this year and that the audiences are seemingly wanting to get back to the theaters.”
PF: “With limited independent, foreign and studio offerings, how many of your usual 200 films are you able to present?”
ZE: We have about 75 films this year. Of those, the movie studios were really pushing for screening in-theaters as much as possible this year, but because other festivals were delayed and our staff wasn’t traveling as much, we ended up with new layers of I-don’t-knows.
PF: “As a moviegoer and a film journalist who’s covered several festivals, I’ve always appreciated the unique feel of MVFF. It’s both big, yet community oriented and easy to navigate.”
ZE: “Wherever you go in Marin County, you see the mountains, Mt. Tamalpais, and there are Redwoods. The fact that we’re not in an urban metropolis and that the weather is great and you can be outdoors a lot, really makes a difference in the experience for patrons, festival staff and journalists. We are also unique in that we do not have film competitions. We have audience awards and we pay tribute to certain actors or filmmakers every year, but we don’t set up competitions, and I think that sets a more relaxed tone to the festival. We’re there to celebrate the art.”
While most of the festival is taking place in several Marin County venues, organizer’s are partnering for the second time with BAMPFA in Berkeley.
ZE: “Yeah, it’s kind of great to partner with a venue that is associated with the arts- the art museum, the University of Berkeley- so to select film titles that are most fitting for that specific venue is special. The flagship theater for the festival is the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, with the Sequoia Theater in Mill Valley as secondary. This is mostly due to the fact that The Rafael is bigger, with three screens and stages, and it’s the most secure for navigating Covid protocols.”
Mind the Gap is an initiative that launched in 2015. It’s dedicated to achieving gender equity in the film industry. The same year, the California Film Institute (CFI) began expanding the Mind the Gap initiative across the entire organization in order to provide an inclusive platform to showcase female-forward contributions in all aspects of the film industry, celebrate the dynamic achievements of women in film, and empower future filmmakers. Since its inception, Mind the Gap has embraced the intersectionality of its filmmakers and conversations within the fight for gender equity and the importance of intersectional perspectives and gender’s indisociable connections to other identity traits has become a cornerstone of the platform’s focus. (California Film Institute)
PF: “I’ve covered several festivals personally I’m impressed with the programming of the festival beyond films, that very involved not only in film community, but local Bay Area community. Things related to music, Bay Area films and filmmakers, and of course, there is Mind the Gap, a gender equity initiative with an initial goal of 50/50 by 2020. What was the inspiration for this lofty festival goal?”
ZE: “We started this initiative in 2015 when we realized that the needle in Hollywood in terms of the percentage of women that they hire as directors, and by extension, writers, producers, etc., was not moving at all. That put us in a soul searching moment, asking ourselves, what could we do? As a result, we committed to getting to 50-50 by 2020. While the pandemic upstaged us, nonetheless, we got to 57% women directors across all the MVFF programs in 2020. We proved that it can be done!”
PF: “This initiative goes beyond just gender gaps but am I right in that there is also a commitment to diversity?”
ZE: “As we program for the festival, we look out for filmmakers of color. While 50-50 is a great benchmark. It’s a great thing to maintain, but we want to take this concept and initiative to another level. We want to offer things that can be more palpable. To that end, we will be releasing information about the Mind the Gap Creation Prize, which is $10,000 grant going to a female filmmaker. This year’s recipient is a Black director.”
Mind the Gap this year embraces the topical theme of reconnecting with community. 2021Mind the Gap Award recipients are Nina Yang Bongiovi, “Producer of the Year” for Passing, and Jane Campion, “Innovative Artist of the Year.” Her film is The Power of the Dog. MVFF 44 starts October 7 and goes through October 17. Some of this year’s most anticipated selected films include Belfast, Bergman Island, The Lost Daughter, Queen of Glory, and Parallel Mothers. The prestigious opening night film is Cyrano by Joe Wright; the Centerpiece film is C’mon, C’mon by Mike Mills, and closing out the festival is The French Dispatch, the latest colorful and wildly creative installment from Wes Anderson.
Go to mvff.com for programming and ticketing information.
California’s 13th District representative to congress is rightfully feeling vindicated about now with all the issues swirling around the United States stand on Afghanistan. This is because in 2001 she was the lone congress member to vote against going into war there. This aspect of her career also makes the release of documentary about her career all the more timely. Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power is an intimate portrait of the strong and inspiring politician who has represented her district, that includes Oakland and Berkeley, since 1998. The film presents her long and impressive tenure as an outspoken advocate for racial and economic justice, and one who is willing to take on unpopular, possibly career-ending stands such as opposing the war, post the 9-11 attacks. To confirm her political impact, the film includes appearances and talking points from Representative John Lewis, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Senator Corey Booker, and CNN commentator Van Jones. They effectively drive home the point of Ms. Lee’s impact in the Black community, among all her constituents, and within the often volatile halls of congress.
As the highest ranking African-American woman in congress, with such a unique and stalwart reputation, it is not surprising that Ms. Lee would be the topic of a documentary, and done so by director Abby Ginzberg (And Then They Came, Soft Vengeance) who has a portfolio of documentaries focusing on politics and agents of change. That said, while Lee makes an understandable subject of interest, the actual film presentation does not rise above a charming portrayal. And that may be enough … for certain audiences and definitely to justify its creation. For those looking for something more politically charged, complex and engaging, this may be too tepid, but as a legitimate way for general audiences beyond the Bay Area to become more aware of Lee, her crusades, and what will be her legacy, Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power should definitely be in your cue.
Director: Abby Ginzberg
Stars: Barbara Lee, Corey Booker, Van Jones
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: None
Run Time: 1 h 22 min
Official Site/Trailer - https://speakingtruthtopowermovie.com/
Pre-purgatory and an Oddly Beautiful Life-Affirming Film
No one would blame you for entering the movie, “Nine Days,” based on the cast alone because it is a fine cast, headed up with Winston Duke (“Black Panther,” “Us”) Zazie Beetz (“Atlanta” TV, series, “Joker”) Benedict Wong (“Dr. Strange”) and Tony Hale (“VEEP” TV series). Likewise for the cinematography because Wyatt Garfield has created a stark, yet beautiful work of art within a very narrow landscape and a limited set. But stay for the film’s themes, creative premise and effective, moody aesthetic. “Nine Days” is a story of a somewhat nerdy and definitely reclusive man named Will, who is tasked with selecting one fortunate soul to be born and begin his or hers new earthly existence. There are five souls (in adult human form) vying for the coveted opportunity and being taken through a rigorous interview process and tests conducted by Will and his assistant, Kyo. Part of the process includes watching video of already existing humans navigating through life’s challenges and triumphs. Afterwards, Will fires questions at the “contestants” based on what they viewed, and establishes a series of hypothetical scenarios. Each of them have varying personalities and responses. One in particular, Emma (Beetz), continuously perplexes Will. In the end, the one chosen will be rewarded with an opportunity to become a newborn in the real world, while the others will cease to exist. It’s like purgatory in reverse.
Is “Nine Days” highly existential and metaphorical? Yes, indeed, but not annoyingly so or without merit. These such elements that can distract and detract from many films, our finely reigned in here, thanks in large part to a well constructed script by writer-director Edson Oda, and compelling performances by the ensemble cast. This heady, fantasy-like fare was no doubt a risk for a first-time director. Although it is quiet and slow, and sometimes does not consistently hold your attention, a character or a carefully crafted and delivered line draws you back in. “Nine Days” is also wildly imaginative and quirky in some of the best ways possible. Oda clearly does not believe in playing it safe and the risk paid off in this thought provoking, life affirming film about life, death and something in between.
Director: Edson Oda
Writer: Edson Oda
Stars: Winston Duke, Zazie Beetz, Benedict Wong
MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 2h 4m
Production Site/Trailer - https://www.sonyclassics.com/film/ninedays
In The Sunmer of Soul ( … Or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised) by first time filmmaker, Questlove, is a feature documentary about a legendary concert series promoting Black culture and pride during the summer of 1969 in Harlem. In it, he tries to right a wrong in which yet again, Black history had been erased from American minds and archives. A virtual cornucopia of Black music and comedy talent took to the stage over a 6-weekend period, with thousands in attendance. It was taped, but soon after the stage was cleared and summer long gone, the tapes were put in a vault never to see the light of day until now and thanks to the determination of Questlove. Interwoven with the footage, are several current day interviews with Harlem residents who attended the concert, and musical participants, such as Mavis Staples, Marilyn McCoo, Billy Davis and Gladys Knight.
More than a concert or music documentary, The Summer of Soul shines a light on the importance of history to our emotional and cultural well being, and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest. It also served as a catalyst to bring Black and brown communities together, with Puerto Rican residents in attendance and Afro-Latino performers sharing stage time. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and many more. Highlighting the concerts’ importance to the community in historical context is a key film theme as residents had been beaten down by poor housing conditions, drugs and racism, as well as coming on the heels of the deaths of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Likewise, the reasons for the concert being overlooked are explored. The obvious is white supremacy and the need to repress Black excellence, but also theorized is the fact that another big, multi-act concert was taking place at the same time one state over- Woodstock. Whatever the reasons, it is a relevant and appreciated that the concert footage has been unearth, restored and available for all to enjoy in-theaters and streaming on Hulu.
Most people would not put much credence on a relationship that begins in a club, even worse when one or both parties are drunk. Depending on your perspective at the end of “Monday,” a romantic drama by Argyris Papadimitropoulos (“Suntan,” “Wasted Youth”) that advice to avoid bar hook-ups will either be confirmed or re-evaluated. The packed party scene in an Athens night club full of a combination of work weary locals and free-spirited tourists is vibrant and sexually charged. Helping to create and perpetuate the atmosphere is American DJ, Mickey, played by Sebastian Stan. As he spins and scratches the tunes, he notices a vivacious and attractive woman dancing with no one in particular. It doesn’t take long for his friend, Argyris, to step in as matchmaker, pulling Mickey off the DJ stand and introducing him to Chloe (Denise Gough), the beguiling American woman that captured Mickey’s attention. Within seconds, a clearly drunk Chloe engulfs Mickey in a passionate embrace and kiss. Setting off sparks, the two instantly ditch the club for a nearby beach. Their naked nighttime romp lands them in a police station the next morning as clothes were not optional.
Although Chloe, who is an immigration attorney, has sobered up and declares that their one-night-stand needs to stay as just that, their are signs of weakness. Mickey is unabashedly smitten and not having it, enticing her away from a pre-scheduled flight back to America and convincing her to let their weekend romance become a relationship. Their Friday night and weekend of fun and frivolity becomes a metaphor for the magic of initial attraction. Likewise, the soberness of Monday mornings becomes its own relationship metaphor. After some time goes by, they move in, meet friends and exes, and experience each other’s flaws and phobias. This is especially true for Chloe who notices Mickey has commitment and maturity issues, in addition to a bit of a self-sabotaging nature when it comes to relationships and happiness. Are these red flags to take heed of and run from, or normal shortcomings to deal with and forge ahead?
While “Monday” is not quite as deep as other films exploring the woes and triumphs of coupledom, like old classics such as “Scenes From a Marriage” or Kramer vs. Kramer, or more recent contenders like, “Marriage Story” or the chatty Richard Linklater trilogy (“Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” “Before Midnight”), it is an enjoyable, believable and a somewhat fresh take on the genre. Writer-director Papadimitropoulos maybe doesn’t get all the aspects right of his American characters and he doesn’t flesh out a couple key scenarios, he does successfully capture a mood and mindset common between lovers. He also nails the casting. Gough and Stan have chemistry for days (or many weekends) and the two together or separately are worth the price of admission. Although Stan has a bit more notoriety than his female counterpart, neither is well-known or a celebrity, and that works in the film’s favor, lending to the authentic feel. Both are undeniably captivating in their own way and “Monday” is good enough to make for a sizzling weekend viewing.
MONDAY Opens in Select Theaters, on Digital Platforms and VOD on April 16th
Director: Argyris Papadimitropoulos
Writers: Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Rob Hayes
Stars: Denise Gough, Sebastian Stan
Language: English/ Greek
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 116 min.
Production Page: https://press.amcnetworks.com/ifc-films/shows/monday/