Set in 1960s Boston, Eileen stars Thomasin McKenzie as the title character, an assistant working at a juvenile detention center. Eileen spends her days taking care of odds and ends at the prison and her nights by taking care of her alcoholic and emotionally abusive father. When psychologist Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) joins the prison staff, Eileen is smitten. Rebecca is blonde, well-dressed, well-mannered and speaks in a lilting Mid-Atlantic accent. Eileen and Rebecca form a close bond that turns sinister as they take an interest in a local criminal case.
Directed by William Oldroyd and based on the novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen is a solid drama with two very captivating leads. McKenzie and Hathaway play off each other much like Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett do in Carol (2015). There are somethings about the film that worked and some things that didn’t. The LGBTQ storyline is left ambiguous which is a bit of a disappointment. There is a tonal shift that takes this from dramatic love story to murder mystery. Earlier scenes hint at something being afoot but the story’s twist will still catch viewers by surprise. New Zealand born actress Thomasin McKenzie really nails the Boston accent. She doesn’t overplay. Instead it’s a bit more subtle and natural which Massachusetts locals, like myself, will appreciate.
Eileen premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Update: Eileen has been acquired by NEON and will be released theatrically in Fall 2023.
It all started with a pinky finger. One day Michael J. Fox noticed one of his pinky fingers was randomly twitching. That twitch progressed to more involuntary movements in his body. His body became something foreign to him. Something he was fighting against instead of working with. The loss of control was worrisome. In 1991 when Fox was 29 years old, he was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease that affects body movements. He spent the next several years hiding his condition, choosing to conceal his hand or constantly keep it in motion to distract from what was really going on. As one of the biggest names in pop culture at the time, thanks to his roles in Back to the Future, Teen Wolf and Family Ties, it must have been difficult to grapple with this new condition while also wanting to continue thriving in his career. There is so much more to Michael J. Fox than his Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Directed by Davis Guggenheim, STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie blends biographical documentary style and narrative storytelling to paint a portrait of an extraordinary man. The film contains a lengthy sit down interview with Guggenheim and Fox, footage of Fox’s present day life with his wife and family, re-enactments and archival clips. I was particularly impressed with the film’s transitions and how they found just the right clips to match the narrative. Fox is depicted as an empathetic figure but not one who wants or needs your pity.
STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie will stream on Apple TV+.
STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Saúl (Gael García Bernal) is a gay wrestler who performs for his local lucha libre matches. Wanting to evolve from his typical role as a El Topo, he develops the persona of Cassandro, a flamboyant “exótico” whose feminine energy taunts his more macho luchador opponents in the ring. Exóticos usually elicit boos from the audience and ultimately lose the match. But Cassandro wants to change that. As Saúl/Cassandro works with a new trainer on his skills, he grapples with his relationship with his in-the-closet boyfriend, his distant and homophobic father and his ailing mother.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams, Cassandro is based on the true story of wrestler Saúl Armendáriz, known as the Liberace of lucha libre. Gael García Bernal delivers one of the most spirited performances I’ve ever seen. He truly embodies this character, giving Saúl gravitas and Cassandro verve. The film conveys a strong message of acceptance and joy in individual expression. This one will be a crowd pleaser for sure.
Cassandro premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“Cults are living creatures that feed on people’s anxieties. If you are too pure and sincere, you may end up in a place that is different from where you had set out to be in the first place.”
In the 1980s, Japan experienced an occult boom, an after effect of the Cold War and a result of the growing disenchantment in the country’s government. It was during this time that self-imposed guru Shoko Asahara transformed his yoga school into a doomsday cult: Aum Shinrikyo (“Supreme Truth”). Hundreds of members followed Asahara’s every word and command. What started off as a quest for spiritual enlightenment took a deadly turn. After a disastrous run for local government, Asahara soon transformed AUM from a cult into a terrorist organization, one that would ultimately be involved in the deadly Tokyo subway sarin attack of 1995.
Directed by Ben Braun and Chiaki Yanagimoto, AUM: The Cult at the End of the World examines the complicated history of AUM and its leader Shoko Asahara. Interviews with former members, including a high ranking monk, loved ones who started a Victims Association and those affected by various sarin attacks, really drive home just how dangerous this cult was in its time. Cult documentaries have gained a following in recent years and anyone fascinated with mind control and cult mentality will find a lot to be horrified by in this film. Apparently AUM is a touchy subject in Japan and the directors made it their mission to handle with delicate topic with great care.
AUM: The Cult at the End of the World premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Actress and model Brooke Shields achieved a level of fame that is unparalleled today. From the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Shields was a recognized face on television, film and advertising. From adolescence she was considered one of the most beautiful girls in the world. Unfortunately, this lead to her becoming one of the most sexualized children in all of entertainment history. Shields garnered controversy with her ad campaign with Calvin Klein and provocative roles in films like Pretty Baby (1978) and Blue Lagoon (1980). Powerful men in the industry took advantage of Shields’ beauty, fame and passive nature. And behind Shields’ controversial success was her mom and manager Teri Shields, who believed that her child really special and that Brooke should be shared with the world.
Director Lana Wilson’s Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields is an eye-opening documentary about Shields’ extraordinary life and the dangers minors face in the media. Produced by ABC News Studios, this doc will be released in two one-hour segments. The first hour is incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Although its clear there was backlash even then about Shields and how her mother was handling her career, it’s still shocking to see just how much these industries were allowed to get away with. It shines a much needed light on some hard truths. The second half explores Shields’ adult years including her two marriages, her battle with postpartum depression and how her career evolved over time. The biggest surprise is when Shields reveals that she was raped at the age of 20 by someone in the film industry (who goes unnamed).
Talking heads include Shields herself and her close friends including Laura Linney, Drew Barrymore and Judd Nelson. A one time watch at best.
Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.