‘Women Talking,’ Audience Listening

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Women Talking, ooh, Women Talking! (Credit: Michael Gibson/©2022 Orion Releasing LLC. All Rights Reserved.)

Starring: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, Frances McDormand, Sheila McCarthy

Director: Sarah Polley

Running Time: 104 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Discussions of Abuse and Assault

Release Date: December 23, 2022 (Theaters)

What’s It About?: Women Talking is indeed about a group of women who are talking. What are they talking about? Let’s dig into it.

These women are members of a Mennonite colony, which means that they’re rather insular and isolated by nature. And with their current set of circumstances, they’re even more isolated than usual. The men in their community have been severely abusing them, and it’s time to decide what to do about that. Their options are: do nothing, stay and fight, or leave and start anew. None of those choices are perfect, but they’ve reached a breaking point and something must be done. So these very opinionated women hash it out for as long as necessary until they can come to a solution that enough of them can go along with, while Ben Whishaw plays the one kindly man who stays behind to take the minutes.

What Made an Impression?: One of the first things you’ll notice about Women Talking – unless you’re too drowsy to notice – is how hypnotically desaturated the color palette is. It’s liable to lull you to sleep; I’ll leave it up to you all to decide whether or not that’s a positive. I will say that I felt transported, which is one of the best (if not THE best) ways to feel sleepy at a movie theater. I was whisked away into a mysterious land, where the secrets flowed forth like a geyser.

The other major element of Women Talking that is impossible to ignore is Hildur Guðnadóttir’s rustic score that I would label “thriller lite.” It captures the sense of needing to run away while you’re sitting still. There’s also a vibe to those plucking strings that can best be described as The Temptation of Comfort. Stillness and chaos, bound together.

And as a final note, I will register my surprise at how much of a peek we get at the outside world, particularly in the form of a census worker driving by and calling out for the members of the community to come and be counted for the 2010 population. These Mennonites mostly eschew modern amenities, so even knowing what year it is feels like a betrayal of their trust. But that beckoning, that frisson, is what this conflict is all about. The times they are a-changin’, no matter what year you decide to live in.

Women Talking is Recommended If You Like: 12 Angry Men, but if it were set in a barn

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Votes

SNL Review December 1, 2018: Claire Foy/Anderson .Paak

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CREDIT: Will Heath/NBC

This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Love It

The War in Words – Before Mikey Day joined the SNL cast, he was a part of the short-lived variety show Maya & Marty, and the best thing about that show was an earlier version of “The War in Words,” and it’s just as hilarious the second time around. The correspondence between Day’s World War I soldier and Claire Foy’s possibly unfaithful, definitely puzzling wife proves the viability of the letter-writing format in sketch comedy. Information is initially withheld, and then gloriously revealed, as the wacky world comes more and more into view with successive missive.

And in the sphere of Cut for Time sketches that I love, Beck and Kyle continue their satire of cheesy family sitcoms with “Cars.”

Keep It

Netflix – Jokes about Netflix having a bottomless amount of content and automatically throwing money at whatever is pitched to them are nothing new, but there is plenty of energy and unique style to this parody. Positioning “the Endless Scroll” as approaching the Singularity is certainly an apt way to put it. Plus, as “Officer Winslow” proves, it is always appreciated to see a dark take on Family Matters. While this doesn’t quite strike me as a classic immediately, it’s one of those bits that might gradually grow on me and reach that status eventually.

The Park Hyatt Argentina is certainly emblematic of the problems of Trump-era cold openings, but I do enjoy the silliness of the Giuliani and Putin impressions…Claire Foy’s Monologue is short and sweet enough to not make much on impact, positive or negative…Dad Christmas makes the scuzzy jokes you would expect about divorced kids getting shipped around for the holidays…Michael and Colin‘s highlights include the “very legal & very cool” Russian prostitutes Craigslist listing and the three cows in a trenchcoat (you can never go wrong with the “3 small things in a trenchcoat” joke)…Leslie Jones isn’t actually giving up sex, but she is making a joke about her chiropractor excusing her from twerking…As “economist” Jules, Beck Bennett might be the quote master of the season (“But if you have a roof over your heads, how are you going to see the stars?”)…The Holiday Message From the Women of SNL is most amusing when I mishear “Mueller” as “Mother” (and also, of course, when Leslie apparently mixes up Bigfoot and Santa Claus).

Leave It

Willy Wonka/Good Morning Goomah – Here are two sketches with promising germs of ideas, based on questions raised by classic movies, that are far from fully fleshed out. Specifically, those questions are: what’s the deal with all the grandparents in Willy Wonka sleeping in the same bed? And: what’s going on with the mistresses in Goodfellas and other gangster movies (and real-life mafioso society)? The answers we get are pretty much exactly what you would expect. The bed (and house) rocking in Willy Wonka is certainly explosive, but not particularly insightful. Meanwhile, Kate, Claire, and Aidy certainly sink their chops into ther goomah performances, but there are no surprises along the way.

Morning Joe is just a mess of an unfocused talk show sketch…HSN benefits from Cecily Strong’s committed breakdown, but ultimately it’s a whole bunch of shouting.

Claire Foy

On a scale of hosts that my mom is super excited about, I don’t think Claire Foy has convinced too many Crown obsessives to suddenly become SNL nerds. Although maybe she has enticed some SNL fans to check out The Crown, because if nothing else, this episode does show off her accent skills. Alas, it doesn’t show off much else of her talents.

Anderson .Paak

On a scale of artists I’ve heard plenty about but haven’t heard that much from, I think I’ve heard more of Anderson .Paak’s music than I’ve realized. I just don’t know what the names of those songs are! His two performances here are enjoyably energetic and righteously rhythmic, enough so to convince me to dive a little deeper into what I’ve been missing.

Letter Grades:

Park Hyatt Argentina – C+

Claire Foy’s Monologue – B-

Netflix – B

Morning Joe – C-

The War in Words (BEST OF THE NIGHT) – B+

Dad Christmas – B-

Anderson .Paak ft. Kendrick Lamar performs “Tints” – B+

Weekend Update
The Jokes – B
Leslie Jones – B-
Jules – B

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – C


Anderson .Paak performs “Who R U” – B

Good Morning Goomah – C

A Holiday Message From the Women of SNL – B-

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ is a Textbook Example of How Not to Reboot

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CREDIT: Reiner Bajo/Sony Pictures Entertainment

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvia Hoeks, LaKeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps, Claes Bang

Director: Fede Álvarez

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Violence and Sexual Content, But Relatively Mild by This Series’ Standards

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Where do you go if you’re an iconic character whose creator isn’t around anymore? For the supernaturally proficient hacker Lisbeth Salander, that worry applies twofold. Stieg Larsson, the original author of the Millennium book series, passed away in 2004, with all three of his Salander-starring novels published posthumously. With the books proving immensely popular, the series was eventually continued about a decade later by David Lagercrantz with The Girl in the Spider’s Web and The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. I haven’t read Lagercrantz’ entries, so I don’t know how they compare to Larsson’s work, but I do know that they haven’t been the sensations that the originals were.

Similarly, the film edition of Spider’s Web is arriving with much less fanfare than David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptation (or even the Noomi Rapace-starring Swedish-language version). Dragon Tattoo got mostly strong reviews and cracked $100 million at the box office, but it proved to be too expensive and brutal to immediately continue on as a franchise. Still, it does director Fede Álvarez (Don’t Breathe, 2013’s Evil Dead remake) no favors to be working with a version of Salander that is so far removed from Larsson and Fincher’s conceptions. To be fair, in order to truly succeed, it would have to succeed, so the problem is really that Spider’s Web is ultimately too generic. Dragon Tattoo featured brutal, hard-to-watch moments of abuse, but they made for striking, unforgettable characters. Spider’s Web, alas, reduces Salander to a standard-issue avenging angel caught up in inscrutable international intrigue.

Don’t blame Claire Foy, who is certainly willing to be as unapologetic and deeply committed as is necessary to embody Salander. And don’t blame Sylvia Hoeks as Lisbeth’s long-lost sister or LaKeith Stanfield as an enterprising agent. (Sverrir Gudnason, however, is not a particularly inspiring Mikael Blomkvist.) But do blame the not-particularly-deep story they are caught up in. Ghosts from the past and not-so-legitimate government authorities have caused problems for Salander in the past, but this time, they do not offer much unique to say about the human condition.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is Recommended If You Like: Cookie-cutter sprawling mystery thrillers

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hacks

This Is a Movie Review: ‘First Man’ Captures All the Stresses of Neil Armstrong’s Trip to the Moon


CREDIT: Daniel McFadden/Universal

This review was originally published on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Lukas Haas, Shea Wigham, Brian d’Arcy James, Pablo Schreiber, Olivia Hamilton, Ciarán Hinds

Director: Damien Chazelle

Running Time: 141 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for the Psychological Fallout of Preparing for Space Travel

Release Date: October 12, 2018

There are a few things I want to say about First Man, Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong biopic. First of all, it’s the best I’ve ever seen a film portray the stresses of going up into space. That certainly is not to say that the likes of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 have made takeoff and its aftermath look like a cakewalk, but in focusing on one individual, First Man burrows in and exposes so many extra levels of intensity. We’re right there with Neil as he staggers to the bathroom following a stint in a g-force simulator, and when he endures multiple tragedies. This is a man who must deal with the accidental deaths of multiple colleagues as well as the loss of a young daughter from disease. Accordingly, Ryan Gosling plays him as a man wearing the weight of the world on his face for basically 2 hours straight.

Next, I have plenty to say about Claire Foy as Neil’s wife, Janet. She gives a hell of a performance, displaying the sort of fiery emotion and desperate toughness that you can’t look away from. She is definitely enough of her own person that we can clearly see her as more than just a wife and mother. But this is very much Neil’s film with everyone else orbiting around him, and as such, Foy is playing The Wife. One example of such gender disparity between lead and supporting roles is not in and of itself a bad thing, but it is part of a Hollywood history that favors men’s over women’s stories. This is an issue that is better discussed than pontificated upon, so please, let’s continue to have these conversations. And let’s not place too much blame on First Man in the meantime, but instead work to expand what stories are valued by the historical record.

Finally, a note on some technical matters. Composer Justin Hurwitz triumphs with a quiet, but forceful score that gives First Man the stamina it needs to maintain its intensity over 2-plus hours. It is a bit of a lullaby that plants the expanse of space right into our souls in a way similar to how it surely felt for Armstrong. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography, on the other hand, while similarly technically accomplished, is more than a little exhausting. A constant (subtly vibrating) handheld setup is just too much to bear for such a significant running time. That’s just one little bit of too much intensity in a film that’s otherwise so acutely calibrated.

First Man is Recommended If You Like: Intimate Biopics

Grade: 3.75 of 5 G Forces


This Is a Movie Review: Steven Soderbergh Captures Claire Foy Possibly Losing Her Mind in His Latest ‘Unsane’ Experiment

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CREDIT: Fingerprint Releasing/Bleecker Street

This review was originally published on News Cult in March 2018.

Starring: Claire Foy, Jay Pharoah, Joshua Leonard, Aimee Mullins, Amy Irving, Juno Temple, Polly McKie

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: R for Pill-Induced Distortion, Unsanitary Use of a Tampon, and a Violent Spree

Release Date: March 23, 2018

Steven Soderbergh has made a career out of messing around with the standard bounds of cinema, often in ways that could come off as a gimmick in the hands of a less assured director. His latest, Unsane, sets itself apart with its iPhone 7 Plus 4K cinematography (credited to Soderbergh himself). Smartphone photography is certainly advanced enough to make a feature film look as professional as it ought to, so for those who are capable, the smartphone option simply deserves to be added to the docket of available cameras. Thematically, an iPhone fits Unsane’s story of a woman committed to a mental institution against her will, as it compresses the depth of field and lends a dull sheen that lingers in the uncanny valley between intimate and detached.

Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is a businesswoman rising up the corporate ladder, but she is haunted by a troubled past and feelings of loneliness in a new city. The nature of her job is never fully specified (kind of hilariously), but it appears to have something to do with customer service, and she also appears to have power to hire and fire. She has been dealing with occasionally crippling anxiety caused by a stalker . After one particularly bad episode, she drops by for a therapy session, which leads to her signing some forms, which somehow results in her being committed to a mental facility and unable to leave, as she has been declared a danger to herself and to others.

Sawyer’s circumstances quickly become too sinister for this to be a simple mistake or an innocent misdiagnosis, suggesting that a conspiracy is afoot. A staff member (Joshua Leonard) appears to be her stalker in disguise – has he orchestrated the whole thing? Or is the truth to be found from the most well-adjusted resident (Jay Pharoah), who divulges to Sawyer that she is the victim of an insurance scam in which the institution forces people to be committed for as long as their coverage will pay for it? Or is it some combination of forces, working together, or simultaneously coincidentally all ganging up on Sawyer? Of course, there is also the possibility that this could all be in her head, as everything unspools from her point of view the whole time.

This could be a formula for devastatingly unsettling ambiguity, but Soderbergh is not especially concerned about questioning the nature of reality. This is more just a setup for him to explore his particular tastes in psychological and claustrophobic thrills. In many respects, Unsane is satisfying simply on a lurid and pulpy level. Soderbergh does definitely dig deeper than that, presenting in stark terms how both institutional and corporate life can be dehumanizing, their loss of morals too easily justified with a sweep under the rug. Those moments of carelessness and lack of empathy do not usually result in ordeals as dangerous as Sawyer’s, but the opportunities for abuse are there for those who want to take advantage of them.

Unsane is Recommended If You Like: Side Effects, Shutter Island, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Gone Girl

Grade: 4 out of 5 Medical Forms

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Breathe’ Advocates Overcoming Polio for the Sake of Picnics

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CREDIT: Laurie Sparham/Bleecker Street/Participant Media

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander

Director: Andy Serkis

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for the Medical Realities of Treating Polio

Release Date: October 13, 2017 (Limited)

It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do. After Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield)  is confined to a hospital bed due to paralysis from polio, he is all set to be resigned to a quick death. But then his wife Diana (Claire Foy) springs him out against doctor’s orders and gets him set up more permanently with a ventilator at home. They gradually become even more adventurous, lugging Robin (and the machine keeping him alive) along on a vacation to Spain and a medical conference in Germany. With Diana, their son Jonathan, dog Bengy, and plenty of other friends and family accompanying him on all these experiences, polio is no big whoop. He has plenty of reasons to live and remains unfailingly his slyly humorous self, now with an extra added gallows edge.

As dramatized in the film, Cavendish died in 1994 at the age of 64, 36 years after contracting polio, making him one of the longest-living responauts in British history. “Responaut” refers to someone who is permanently dependent upon a ventilator for breathing. It is also just a cool word in and of itself. Unfortunately, Breathe only uses that word once. It is simply an unconscionable fail to leave that opportunity on the table. This could have been a much more twisted and radical movie if its most commonly used word were “responaut.” I think the real Robin would have approved.

As it is, though, it is a perfectly agreeable film about defying the medical status quo and basking in the English countryside. The latter especially. Breathe would probably claim its raison d’ȇtre is the power of convincing medical professionals to go deeper and see towards the future. And indeed there are so many scenes of people being amazed that polio patients are actually able to go outside. But I see what Englishman Andy Serkis, in his directorial debut, is really up to. His message is clear: if you’re a Brit, paralysis is no big deal, so long as you can go out and picnic while taking in all the lush greenery, dense trees, beautiful fountains, and cricket matches. Do we have some stealth environmentalism going on here? Let’s learn from the past and not let Mother Nature contract polio!

Breathe is Recommended If You Like: Beautiful vistas, A Beautiful Mind, Inspiration to get yourself through medical school

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Disabled “Prisoners”