FlixChatter Review: SERGIO (2020)


Directed By: Greg Barker
Written By: Craig Borten
Starring: Wagner Moura, Ana de Armas, Bradley Whitford, Brían F. O’Byrne

Sergio, is a biographical drama chronicling the life and work of United Nations diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello. Directed by Greg Barker, a man known for his career in television and documentary films such as Sergio (2009) and The Final Year (2017), it marks his first attempt at a narrative feature.

A decade after premiering his doc, Barker returned to Sundance with this adaptation. Making a film about a subject one has already explored so deeply could seem like beating a dead horse. Greg slows the pace, and injects this new film with a sense of poetic romanticism. Given the creative license Barker focuses on on the inner-emotions and Don Quixote like qualities of Sergio. He was a larger than life personality who believed that one could live in and create the future one wanted for tomorrow, today. And that by nations coming together we could bring about a better, brighter, freer global future. He believed the U.N. would be instrumental in achieving this dream and that he could help birth it.

Recounting the days, months, and years leading up to his death, this film’s emphasis on de Mello’s romantic life (with Ana de Armas playing the woman he loved), provides fresh insight into the life of a man many have already heard much about. After making a documentary I can understand the wish to focus on developing the personality of who Sergio was.

While it creates an engrossing story for general audiences who know next to nothing about its titular character, it conversely makes the film a bit drawn-out and lacking focus. This is disappointing for a film that is about a man who led his life with decisiveness and a singular focus.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen SERGIO? 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? 

FlixChatter Review – BOMBSHELL (2019)

Directed by: Jay Roach
Screenplay by: Charles Randolph
Starring: Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow

Bombshell follows a group of female news anchors as they confront Fox CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for sexual harassment and attempt to dismantle the toxic atmosphere he created as head of the network. Previously they all had served as clone-like soldiers in Ailes’ army of perfectly manicured blonde newswoman army. Each was complicit in and helped to build the culture, however they are eventually forced to decide which side they will take, pursuing the truth or following the network and Ailes.

From its opening scene, our lead character addresses the camera/audience directly (in news-like fashion) breaking the 4th wall. Bombshell toys with the “uncanny valley” hypothesis. While it is trying to warm you to the main characters by bringing you into the story both literally and figuratively (giving you a behind the scenes look at the inner workings at Fox) it leaves much unexamined. This choice was made to protect the Women whose testimonies were used to create this film, as all who participated in the settlement with Fox were forced to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Director Jay Roach also wrestles with this through his characterization of real life people he is portraying. Charlize Theron is uncanny as Megyn Kelly in Bombshell. She is well known for blending into a character and becoming unrecognizable and she once again does a stellar job as Megyn. There is a lot of empathy given to her character as she faces her many pitfalls over the course of 2016 which leads to this amazing performance. But at times it also feels a little creepy watching Charlize as Megyn.

The dichotomy of wanting to tell the story while protecting sources creates an underdeveloped narrative. The film isn’t able to fully delve into the complicated emotional nature of this subject as well as it should. Which in turn contributes to a lack of central structure throughout the film. This in no way affects how well the film is acted or how important it is to highlight these women but left me feeling like Fox was not being properñy held accountable.

Although it affected the film’s flow, I think this choice rang very true. Everyone who suffers sexual harassment suffers some silencing or minimizing of their experience. They must make a choice about how much they will share and how much backlash they can take when sharing their experience. In the end this film is very much about autonomy and commodification, selling sex as a brand, selling a candidate, as well as your identity/story, and the truth.

What Megyn Kelly did was very brave, especially in a pre-Weinstein, pre-#MeToo era. This is compounded because she is a hard working ambitious person who knew exactly what she was putting on the line by speaking up. The risk to her career and reputation was very real. There are so many moments that are so familiar, this film clearly portrays the way women have to navigate predators with power. It does a really good job of highlighting the grey areas of this morally complex issue. A person can be a mentor, a father figure, someone you respect and still act problematically. Each person ends up negotiating their limits and ultimately trying to do the right thing.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen BOMBSHELL? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – IN FABRIC (2019)

Written and Directed by: Peter Strickland
Starring: Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Fatma Mohamed, Gwendoline Christie

In Fabric is a twisted, highly stylized horror/dark comedy film. It follows a cursed dress’ journey as it leaves a department store and travels from person to person, wreaking havoc at every turn. Director Peter Strickland‘s love of 1970’s and 80s  exploitation films is no secret. His nuanced style reads like a highly abstract study of color, light and texture. I appreciate his attention to small details, such as the title sequences and soundtrack. The pops of red used throughout the film, whether from dresses, nail color, lipstick or blood is the same oversaturated color.  Which creates surrealist dream-like state with its vibrancy. 

Highly derivative, In Fabric takes hugely from the Italian Giallo genre, especially Argento’s Suspiria. Strickland has stated that this was unintentional as he was initially inspired by the haunting of clothes through the lingering of other people’s bodily secretions and the fact that buying second hand clothes taps into the idea of clothes that have survived through many other people’s lives. He has also said the highly tactile experience of old school department stores, in his youth, and their thin papered, extremely glossy catalogs were a huge inspiration for this work.

The store the dress is initially purchased from has a hypnotic power over people. This power is portrayed in its  advertisements, the strange rituals its sales people practice and the deranged way customers stream through shrieking, not dissimilar from black Friday shoppers. Although many elements seem exaggerated to the point of absurdity, the stilted interactions between Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) and the salesperson Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) are funny because the forcefulness and awkwardness of retail exchange is very real.

Fatma Mohamed + Marianne Jean-Baptiste

Luckmoore serves as the film’s Madame Blanche, a malevolent female spirit. Somehow this character takes the trope to the next level and if possible is even more mysterious and bizarre. Speaking indecipherable lines such as “Did the transaction validate your paradigm of consumerism?” and “The hesitation in your voice, soon to be an echo in the recess in the spheres of retail,” she serves as a scathing satire of retail exchange while also offering levity.

Overall, I liked the modern take on the Giallo genre, a welcome mix of  horror, comedy and shock eroticism. I especially liked the way Strickland made the genre his own adding mysticism and drawing from British humour and culture. The structuring of the film, however, made it a difficult watch and left me uncertain through much of its content.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen IN FABRIC? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – The Irishman (2019)

Adapted from the memoir I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman follows the real life story of Frank Sheeran. Sheeran, played by Robert De Niro, was a World War II veteran. While working as a truck driver through the 1950s, finds himself drawn into Russell Bufalino’s inner circle. At this time Bufalino had recently been promoted to Boss of the Pennsylvania-based Bufalino crime family.

The Irishman is an old school film, epic in its scale. It is at once as nostalgic and familiar as it is relevant and timely. Visually reminiscent of Coppola and Leone. Sharp dialogue, long takes, a perfectly curated soundtrack and attention to color immerse the viewer. The shifting from grey/sepia tones in 40s/fifties to a cooler more natural reading pallet as we move to the 80s and 90s was a really nice detail that helped show passage of time. Too often in film attention is paid to styles of clothes and cars appropriate to the time but not color especially the tone.

The use of visual effects in the movie – was impressive as the film flips between the past and present day/older De Niro, (what he looks like now). Although the use of CGI is apparent, it doesn’t pull the viewer out of the film or detract from the amazing performances. This is as much a credit to Scorsese’s careful implementation as the evolution of the technology itself.

I am not a big fan of Scorsese or De Niro. I was not anticipating this film as I felt like the crime genre had been worn out. Having watched Motherless Brooklyn shortly before, I wasn’t excited to watch another crime film. However, I greatly enjoyed this film and believe this is by far the best film both have made.

De Niro plays a reserved, soft spoken deliberate man. His drawn back approach is perfect for the character. On the other end of the spectrum, Al Pacino‘s character, Jimmy Hoffa is the exact opposite. A loud, brash personality who reeks of desperation. Pacino puts every ounce of energy he has become known for into this performance, giving it a level of natural charm and charisma. Lastly, Joe Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, a near silent, no nonsense character who “takes care of business”.

Although it possesses a daunting run time of 3 hours and 29 minutes, each scene felt well thought out and purposeful. Although it felt long winded it never felt bored or aimless. The editor Thelma Schoonmaker, known for cutting all Scorsese films utilizes cutscenes and splices to create tension through the movie.

Martin Scorsese, known for re-invigorating the gangster genre may also be the one to put it back to rest. His use of violence is not dissimilar from that in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. I think this is partially due to the fact that both films seek to express a period of time where the older traditions gave way to a modern generation. The friction and tension felt between the generational gap is expressed through an unfiltered physical violence. Although this film follows an individual from his youth through his elderly years, it also highlights the rise and fall of the mobster/teamsters union relationship. This juxtaposition of the growth of an individual and societal shifts at large was highly effective and extremely thought provoking.

The film was stunning on the big screen but could also benefit from the ability to watch at home once it is released on Netflix. Because it is packed with small details, there were many times I wanted to pause and replay scenes. The actors gave highly nuanced performances that were quite intense and it would have been nice to take a breather.

Rumored to be Scorcese’s final film, The Irishman is a fitting end to his filmography. Not only does it encapsulate his prior body of work but also serves as a beautiful showcase of several of the greatest actors of our time.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen The Irishman? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – MIDWAY (2019)

Directed by: Roland Emmerich
Written by: Wes Tooke

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 has inspired many films over the years, most of which center around fictional characters and cheesy love stories. The 1976 Midway is no exception so it was with guarded anticipation I awaited the release of Roland Emmerich’s Midway. I was concerned it would get caught up trying to emulate other popular war films like Pearl Harbor or Dunkirk. However, I think having a German director and Chinese production team offered an interesting perspective.

The film gives a relatively straightforward account of the key naval battles. Beginning with Pearl Harbor and ending with the battle of Midway, it also recounts Doolittle’s Raid on Tokyo (April 1942) and the Battle of Coral Sea (May 1942) which to my recollection were not well (if at all) examined in the 1976 version of Midway.

Although the film relies on a famous cast to get people in the theater, it does a much better job than its predecessor at accurately the battles, ships and planes used. The actors (Ed Skrein, Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, among others) played their roles with respect toward the heroic figures they were portraying. Focusing in on people of lesser rank allowed for deeper interpersonal development, although I didn’t think the film delved into relationships as deeply as it could have.

Many Hollywood based war films have a way of making the US service people look like helpless victims. This film makes sure to express the strength and capability of our country’s military personnel. Although it makes clear we were attacked and left at a great disadvantage it showcases the dedication and skill set of each service member while also expressing Japanese naval superiority.

The production value of the battle scenes are impressive. The bomber scenes concerning Dick Best are no exception. Well placed shots help to create the scale of an expansive world which draws the viewer further into highly realistic battle scenes. Unfortunately, the dialogue was uneven and the weak bits really drew me out of the film.

I felt this film gave equal respect to both US and Japanese service personnel, something that is not very common in war films. The screening I went to was mostly booked for a movie watching organization for veterans, one of whom served in the pacific during this time. It was a very unique and powerful experience watching this film alongside a person who experienced military action during the period portrayed in the film as well as other people currently serving in our armed forces. A timely film to watch, not just during Veteran’s Day. I already greatly respect and appreciate the sacrifices of people in uniform. I know that as a citizen of the US, I greatly benefit, even in ways I am not aware of. I really appreciated this film because it helped me refocus my gratitude.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen MIDWAY? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review – HARRIET (2019)

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons
Written by: Gregory Allen Howard and Kasi Lemmons

When I first heard a movie about Harriet Tubman had been greenlit, I was both excited and apprehensive. With the casting of Cynthia Erivo in the titular role, with Janelle Monae, Joe Alwyn and Leslie Odom Jr. supporting, I knew we would be in for powerful performances. This is the first biopic of an enslaved woman and thus I had a lot of high hopes.

Cynthia Erivo with Leslie Odom Jr.

The film portrays Harriet as the brave, selfless person our history books tell us she was. However, it delves deeper by sharing her backstory. Born in Maryland in 1820, Araminta “Minty” Ross grew up in slavery. She married a free man named John Tubman and assumed she would earn her freedom. When it became clear she would never be emancipated, she had no choice but to flee.

Upon arriving in Pennsylvania, Araminta chose the new name Harriet and befriends a woman Marie (Monae), a free-born African American woman who runs a boarding house for women who were former slaves. There is a somewhat uncomfortable confrontation scene upon Harriet’s arrival where she calls out Marie on her privilege, for not knowing what it is like being a slave.

Janelle Monae as Marie

At a later point she also confronts the leaders of the Underground Railroad who are wavering in the wake of heavy crackdowns on runaway slaves. She gives a very moving speech decreeing she will “give every last drop of blood in my veins to free them.”

This is a unique look at privilege and its many layers. Harriet Tubman is a person many might not suspect of having privilege, yet she feels a God given call to the service of those still enslaved. This commitment inspires others (seemingly more fortunate) to recommit themselves to the cause. This very timely message to look inward and reflect upon the gifts in our lives and the privileges we have. In a time of police brutality and political unrest, this call to accountability and service of others could not be more relevant.

Cynthia Erivo with Vondie Curtis-Hall as Rev. Green

This film doesn’t shy away from the brutality of slavery as many past films have done. However, it  falls into an all too familiar linear slant that many educational or biopics take, which greatly impacted the narrative flow and my viewing enjoyment.

Another aspect that impacted its watchability, was the characterization of Gideon (a character added purely for movie drama). He is the son of Harriet’s former owner and upon her escape embarks on a ceaseless hunt to reclaim her. The humanity and conflict portrayed by Alwyn is stupendous. It creates some compassion and understanding of the complex dynamic and confusing feelings the master/slave relationship must have brought about. The producers tried to romanticize this pursuit, which was an unfortunate and ultimately ineffective choice.

Joe Alwyn as Gideon

The films slow pace and attempt to capture Harriets lifelong achievements are its undoing as it leaves the end feeling rushed. But overall, this film does an amazing job highlighting a figure whose full historical impact has been eclipsed by others such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcom X.

– Review by Jessie Zumeta


Have you seen HARRIET? Well, what did you think?