FlixChatter Review: Malcolm and Marie (2021)

I’ve always been fascinated by two-hander type films which relies on the performances of only two actors for the entire duration of the film. It’s quite tricky to pull off, but perhaps Malcolm & Marie‘s filmmaking style could just be the norm for the next year or two, given the restrictions of the pandemic. Apparently this is one of the first movies to be developed and completed entirely since Covid-19 spread into the US.

The film takes place primarily in a single evening, when filmmaker Malcolm (John David Washington) and his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) returns home following a celebratory movie premiere as he awaits reviews of his new film. From Malcolm’s chipper mood, it’s safe to assume the film is poised to be a critical and financial success. As Malcolm keeps rattling off about all kinds of things, Marie’s mood is rather somber, which is a telltale sign that their relationship isn’t as rosy as the movie posters have us believe. 

I know from experience of living with the same person for nearly two decades that one of the main reasons couple argue is presumption. Malcolm presumes that even though he had left her out of his thank-you speech that she’s cool with everything. He also presumes that when Marie says ‘she’s fine’ that she is in fact, fine. Malcolm’s presumption extends beyond what’s transpired that evening, but also throughout his relationship with Marie… as we learn from their constant bickering that last through the night. It doesn’t take long for me to form my opinion about each character. Though initially I find Malcolm to be a cool guy at first, soon I became irritated by his arrogance and condescending manner. I find myself shaking my head quite a bit at his serious lack of empathy, which turns bad situation to worse. Marie is a bit harder to read at first as she’s pretty quiet in the first act, but later she lets her feelings known and we start to see the crux of the problem.

Writer/director Sam Levinson has cast two of the brightest young actors working today in top form, which is crucial in making this talky film work. Zendaya in particular is mesmerizing in the most dramatic performance I’ve seen her in. She and Levinson had worked together in Euphoria (where she won a Best-Actress Emmy award), and you could sense there’s a mutual trust between them as she’s really confident in the role he’s crafted for her. It’s an emotionally-authentic performance where she’s not afraid to appear unglamorous and even unhinged at times. Props to John David his willingness to play an unlikable character, constantly putting his girlfriend down if she doesn’t get some of the film/filmmaker references he incessantly spewing. Marie calls him a narcissist and she is not wrong in her assessment. As I’ve only seen John David in two films prior to this, this affirms his chops as a dramatic actor as there are moments where he truly let ‘er rip as more and more revelations about their relationship bubble to the surface.

Hollywood always likes to make films about themselves and this film falls in that category, but framed from the perspectives of a couple who works in the industry. It’s interesting that the director and male lead are connected with Hollywood veterans – Sam Levinson is the son of Barry Levinson, the Oscar-winning director of Rain Man, and John David (JD) Washington is Denzel Washington’s son. I watched a Q&A via Zoom (thanks to Film Independent) where the filmmaker talked about how the script was fluid enough to allow for improvisation during filming. It also allows for the actors to inject their personal experiences into the story.

Now, I applaud the innovative approach to writing and filmmaking though it isn’t always effective. Their conversations is is a bit all over the place as the pair just keep rambling on and on. Long monologues seem intriguing at first, but after a while it lost its luster and it feels over-indulgent and showy. Some of the topics are fascinating (to me anyways, though I don’t know how many people care so much about how Malcolm feels about William Wyler), but some get too repetitive and perhaps over-indulgent. Malcolm’s constant lashing out at his critics feels like a not-so-subtle jab at film criticism, is that Levinson’s way of telling off his own critics? Interesting that even though Malcolm may act like he wasn’t affected by the negative reviews, his bitter reaction proves otherwise. The part about how filmmakers of color are perceived is one that stood out to me, definitely a commentary of a current hot button issue.

Stylistically speaking, this is a beautiful film to look at and everything is well-lit. The house itself is architecturally amazing to look at. Marcell Rév‘s cinematography work illuminates the beauty of the two actors, yet it feels emotionally distant somehow, perhaps a commentary of the couple? Despite their beauty (and perhaps because of it), the film also feels bit claustrophobic and suffocating as it’s just the two of them on screen. The black/white visual also adds to the monotony of being confined to a single location. I do enjoy the music by Labrinth which has a cool vibe and something I expect a popular yuppie like Malcolm would listen to.

It’s been a few weeks since I watched this movie, and I’m wondering just what does Levinson want to say with this story. It’s an ambitious and inventive filmmaking showcasing a pair of charismatic performers, but in the end it’s neither a profound nor riveting character study it wants to be. I can’t help comparing it to Marriage Story where the characters’ situation are similar but there is a much clearer and more satisfying story arc. Honestly, I don’t really know how I feel about Malcolm & Marie’s relationship at the end, and frankly I don’t give a damn that much one way or the other.

Have you seen Malcolm + Marie? Well, what did you think?

THE LIGHTHOUSE (2019)

Directed by: Robert Eggers
Screenplay by: Robert Eggers, Max Eggers

In his best performance to date, Robert Pattinson plays a lighthouse apprentice assigned to a much older keeper played by Willem Dafoe. Set in Nova Scotia in the 1890’s, this film takes place in an isolated lighthouse. As a never-ending storm rages, the men fight to maintain their sanity.

By using time appropriate set and costume design, director Robert Eggers creates a film visually fitting the time it is placed. He also chose to use 35mm black and white film at 1.19:1 aspect, which is the presentation of film used at the time. This heightens the eeriness and increases the tension felt between our two players by focusing on the claustrophobic nature of being trapped in the small frame and therefore the lighthouse.

This film is beautifully shot by Jarin Blaschke (The Witch). He is highly skilled at what he does, almost to the point it doesn’t even feel like artistic choices being made. The choices all seep into the background and one is able to focus on film without being pulled out. The editing is also well done. There are times when one isn’t able to make sense of what they are seeing and it adds to the mania of the characters and the observed discomfort.

To top it off there are so many influences, the film feels a bit crowded and disjointed. From Roman mythology, classic power struggle and Jungian psychology, this film has numerous underlying themes that play off of and against one another. This makes for a difficult watch but is a very rich and worthwhile film for genre enthusiasts to tackle.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen THE LIGHTHOUSE? Well, what did you think? 

TCFF 2016 Reviews: ‘Oxenfree’ + ‘The Eyes Of My Mother’

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‘Oxenfree’ Review

oxenfree Many of us may remember that expression we used at the end of our games of Hide and Seek – “Olly, Olly, Oxenfree!” The longing to return to juvenile games and stories is a theme in “Oxenfree,” the feature film that had its world premiere at the Twin Cities Film Fest last night. I had the pleasure of being in attendance with the director (Dan Glaser) and actors Steven Molony (Aaron), Paul Vonasek (Roy) and Timothy Lane (Benjamin). Undoubtedly there were many family and friends in attendance as the cast and crew received loud applause when the ending credits rolled.

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Oxenfree tells the story of three estranged foster brothers who return to the family cabin to rediscover the ruins of their childhood kingdom “Oxenfree.” Shot in the Fargo/Moorhead area, I appreciated the beautiful fall scenery throughout the movie. As it only features three actors (aside from a brief appearance of Kelli Breslin as Katie, Aaron’s girlfriend), the strength of this movie really comes from the actors’ camaraderie. It’s obvious these young men enjoy working together and their affinity for each other makes their characters more believable.

The one quibble I had with the film was that it didn’t seem to be able to decide whether it was a comedy or a drama so at times it seemed stuck in a muddling middle. (Even the actors at times looked confused about how to play a scene.) After Roy reclaims his “throne” (an old toilet) in the middle of the forest, he takes a cell phone call from his wife. And then moments of levity like this diverge into a medical drama concerning one of the other brothers. The production value of this movie was there, it just seemed like the script needed a little more work.

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Am I saying I didn’t enjoy the film? I am not. One of the strengths of a film fest is to see movies at many different levels of development. During the post show Q&A, Timothy Lane (Benjamin) talked about how this was the first film he has acted in and discussed the technical side of learning to act on camera. Paul Vonasek also shared how they came up with part of the plot – “We didn’t really look alike but we wanted to do a movie together so that’s how we came up with the idea of being foster brothers.” Oxenfree isn’t going to change your life but was it an enjoyable way to spend a cold and rainy evening? Yes.


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‘The Eyes Of My Mother’ Review

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Writing and directing a film that is both beautiful and horrifying isn’t easy- especially on the first try, and especially at the young age of 26 (which makes me, at 28, feel like a total underachiever). But newcomer Nicolas Pesce has managed it with his already critically-acclaimed movie, The Eyes of my Mother. While it has its flaws, it is an incredible debut, and it’s a promising start to what will hopefully be an illustrious career for Pesce.

The Eyes of my Mother is about Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), a young woman who tragically loses her mother an early age, and, through the trauma and following isolation, develops an unnerving hobby. I won’t say much more, for fear of spoiling the plot, but I will say that Francisca’s mother used to be a surgeon, and the two of them would practice dissections on cows, so the girl knows how to use a knife. I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest from there.

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The movie begins on a tense note, and is able to hold that suspense throughout most of the film, thanks to both Pesce’s skillful directing and the cast’s strong acting. There is very little background music, which creates an unnerving atmosphere. There are frequent shots from the first-person perspective and just over the actors’ shoulders, obscuring their faces, creating both an air of uncertainty and an opportunity for the actors to demonstrate their acting abilities by relying solely on their line delivery. Shooting the film in black and white was an excellent choice as well; it enhanced the shadowy scenery, and the starkness made the tone even more unsettling.

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That’s not to say the movie is without flaws. It’s a relatively short film, clocking in at only an hour and sixteen minutes, which doesn’t allow much time for character development- and in a movie where so much of the film centers around one character, it was especially needed. The short runtime also meant certain plot points weren’t properly explained. Ambiguity in horror movies can be a powerful tool, but too much can confuse the audience and take them out of the experience.

While The Eyes of my Mother isn’t a perfect movie, it is still a stunning first film from a promising young talent, and I look forward to seeing more from him.



TWIN CITIES FILM FEST ANNOUNCES AWARDS FINALISTS!

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Moonlight,’ ‘Blood Stripe’ and ‘Iron Will’ lead 2016 awards contenders…
many finalists are set to screen during TCFF’s closing weekend!

Check out the full list of finalists here


Check out some of the studio features
playing in the final days of TCFF!

Stay tuned for more TCFF reviews and talent interviews!


Question of the Week: What’s your favorite contemporary black & white films?

This week’s question is inspired by Sin City: A Dame to Kill For screening Tuesday night. Boy it’s been ages, almost a decade to be exact, since the first film was released.

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To be honest with you, I don’t remember much about the story but the visual certainly is striking. The graphic novel came to live onto the screen, the term ‘graphic’ here has double meaning as the violence truly was quite explicit. Yet the stylish way it was filmed somehow made it somewhat more palatable if you will, enhancing that fantasy element to the noir story. So I kind of expect more of a visual feast with this sequel and not much else, but who knows it might surprise me.

So it got me thinking about other contemporary black/white films released in the past decade. Naturally the first thing that came to mind is Schindler’s List, but that was over twenty years ago. If we’re looking at just in 2000s decade alone, there are nearly 250 films in either partial or entirely done in black & white (per Wiki). Here are a some of beautifully-shot B&W films I’ve seen just in the past 10 years:

Memento
Memento (2001)

AngelA
Angel-A (2005)

SinCity
Sin City (2005)

TheArtist
The Artist (2005)

CaesarMustDie
Caesar Must Die (2012)

Nebraska
Nebraska (2013)

There are some recently-released ones I still want to see like Control, Persepolis, Blancanieves, Much Ado About Nothing, Frances Ha, Ida, etc. Hopefully I’ll get to those soon.


So what’s YOUR favorite modern Black & White films you saw recently?