HCAF22: ‘Women Talking’ Review

Women Talking carries an important and topical discussion but is held back by its lackluster pace and uneven structure.

Courtesy of United Arts Releasing

5/10

The final piece of my coverage on the 22nd Houston Cinema Arts Festival is about a film that has been highly spoken about for a while now around the awards circuit. Women Talking had its premiere at the 2022 Telluride Film Festival and also had other film festivals screenings like Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival. It managed to garner a good amount of hype and because I did not have the chance to travel to New York for NYFF this year, I was excited to watch this film at HCAF this year. We also had part of the supporting cast in attendance for a post-screening Q&A moderated by one of the programmers of the Museum of Fine Arts at Houston. Yet, even with all the excitement built around this film, Sarah Polley’s Women Talking did nothing to move the needle for me.

Women Talking is based on the novel by Miriam Toews that is inspired by a real-life story of Mennonite women in Bolivia. The film’s script is written by Sarah Polley who also directs the film. Its cast includes names such as Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, and Frances McDormand (who also serves as a producer). The movie’s cinematography is provided by Luc Montpellier and its score is composed by none other than Hildur Guðnadóttir. Women Talking has been named one of the best films of 2022 by both the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review. Along with those accolades it has also been nominated for Golden Globes Awards, Critics Choice Awards, and Screen Actors Guild Awards,, and several people are awaiting news of possible Academy Awards nominations.

In Women Talking we follow a group of women living in a Mennonite community who have been physically and sexually assaulted, and are tasked with making the decision to stay or leave the colony forever. The film tackles a struggle of faith and examines the violent power struggle of structural misogyny. Women of all ages meet together to discuss democratically their reasons to stay or leave. As the final day approaches to make their decision, the women find themselves struggling to make a decision that benefits them. A fight against violence and their lack of freedom create an interesting concept that is lost on a lackluster execution.

Even though Women Talking has an interesting concept and great performances from Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, and Rooney Mara it’s held back by an uneven pace. I found myself to be really drawn to the first act but it never recovers from a pace that drags its feet until the credits roll. I loved Hildur Guðnadóttir but I felt that it did not match the visual language provided by the film’s color palette and cinematography. The script is fine and there are some really clever uses of dialogue that stand out but the biggest problem lies in its editing. The second act becomes too redundant and I feel with shaving off about around 10 to 15 minutes you’d have a better-structured narrative. While I did not like Women Talking you cannot deny its importance in the conversations had within the film. That’s why this will continue to live in the public whether or not it’s the best-made film or not.

Watch Women Talking in theaters as it continues its wide theatrical release.

HCAF22: ‘All The Beauty and The Bloodshed’ Review

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is a carefully crafted documentary that highlights the life and activism of an incredible artist and human.

Courtesy of NEON

8/10

One of my favorite aspects of the Houston Cinema Arts Festival is the documentaries that they include in their program. Last year Luchadoras was one of my favorite films of that year, and even though it hasn’t been released yet, the film was one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. This year they screened the 2022 Venice International Film Festival’s Golden Lion winner, Lauren Poitras’ All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. As always most of the films are screened at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. It is safe to say that not only is All the Beauty and the Bloodshed one of the best documentaries but films in general of last year.

Laura Poitras examines the life and activism of photographer/artist, Nan Goldin. Nan Goldin embarks on a fight against the Sackler family who are at the forefront of the opioid epidemic. The film aims to balance out by discussing Goldin’s life and her fight against the rising death toll of opioids. Poitras includes several of Goldin’s photographic works and archival footage of her life. The documentary tries to show off in several chapters how each part of her life has led to her biggest battle yet against the Sackler Family. Nan Goldin is trying her best to make sure that no museum or art exhibits continue to take money from them. She organizes protests like throwing massive amounts of prescription pill bottles into fountains inside the museums. Poitras also includes archival and present interviews with those who have suffered from the Opioid Epidemic. One of the most chilling scenes is one of Goldin and her protestors having a Zoom meeting with the Sackler family and unloading their experiences and frustrations against them.

For better or for worse, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed lays all of its cards on the table and even if it may not always work to its advantage, the film finds a way to stick with the audience until the credits roll. The film starts really strong as it puts you right into the belly of the beast with the first of many protests orchestrated by Nan Goldin’s Prescription Addiction Intervention Now advocacy group (P.A.I.N.). I enjoyed that we link her life and experiences coherently enough with her activist past and present. Yet, the biggest problem I have with the film is that it began to lose me in the second act. The photographs even though having their important purpose really do find a way of distracting the viewer and ultimately slowing down the pace. By the time we get to that eruptive third act you’re locked right back in, but it feels more like a relief that the film ended more than the catharsis one hopes for during the film. That could also be expected as the fight against the Opioid Epidemic continues even with these major victories. Nevertheless, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is impressive but its structure keeps from becoming greater than it is.

Watch All the Beauty and the Bloodshed in theaters nationwide as it continues its theatrical release.

HCAF22: ‘The Inspection’ Review

The Inspection is an impressive directorial debut that loses its steam but is held afloat by its important thematic discussion of family, sexuality, and moving on.

Courtesy of A24

7/10

For the second year in a row, I had the privilege of attending the 22nd Houston Cinema Arts Festival on behalf of The Nerd Corps as part of the accredited press. I loved attending last year and watching films such as Red Rocket and Luchadoras to name a few. It’s definitely hard to hold up this year’s festival to the last as we had a lot of great moments including getting to meet Sean Baker. Nevertheless, that is not to say that this wasn’t a good year for HCAF because the Houston Cinema Arts Society always manages to bring some gems to the Houston Metropolitan area! Opening night included Elegance Bratton’s The Inspection which was quite an underrated film from last year.

The Inspection is written and directed by Elegance Bratton. The film stars Jeremy Pope, Gabrielle Union, Bokeem Woodbine, and Raúl Castillo. The movie’s original score is composed by Animal Collective, and Bratton’s visual aesthetic is provided by the director of photography, Lachlan Milne. This is Elegance Bratton’s feature directorial debut and it is being distributed by A24. This film is special to Bratton as it is inspired by his real-life experiences of being homeless for a decade after his mother kicked him out of their home for being gay.

Elegance Bratton’s film takes a different approach though and showcases the journey of our protagonist Ellis French who joins the Marines after being kicked out by his mother, Ines. Ellis understands that life as an out gay black man will not be easy and the film showcases that notion as it provides obstacle after obstacle for Ellis French to handle. He develops feelings for Rosales and must deal with the toxicity of his fellow marines along with his commanding officer, Laws. Ellis is not the only one to overcome obstacles while in basic training, many of his fellow marines like Ismaili are falling under the pressure put on them. While all this is going on Ellis must also deal with the estranged relationship with his mother and her refusal to see her son as an out gay man.

I wasn’t completely a fan of The Inspection but I found myself really enticed by its visual language, and performances, as a directorial debut there is a lot of promise here for Elegance Bratton’s career. Jeremy Pope along with Gabrielle Union delivers one of last year’s best performances. Their chemistry is unmatched and they are undeniably the film’s standouts including Raúl Castillo. I was in love with the score provided by Animal Collective and felt that it matched the beautiful visual aesthetic provided by The Inspection’s rich lighting. Its story did not completely enthrall me and the pace held it down during the second act, but by the time we reached the concluding act, I was back on board with the film. There’s room for improvement but for his first feature film, Elegance Bratton provides a tense and tender look into a very real issue. The answers aren’t clear to Ellis and Inez’s relationship but sometimes it’s not always up to the son to put in all the effort. The thematic approach makes watching the film well worth the small number of flaws it has.


Watch The Inspection on video on demand through most rental services like Apple TV, Amazon, and YouTube.

NashFilm53: ‘Wannabe’ Review

Crafted with excellence and a pastel color palette, Wannabe, is a poignant look at the constraints on art placed by predators.

Courtesy of USC

8/10

The music industry much like the film industry is a space plagued by the predatory actions of some men with too much power on their hands. It’s a toxic environment that exists not only in the music industry but in a lot of aspects of the entertainment industry. Things are changing for the best but at times it feels like the progress is so slow that a lot of women continue to report misconduct in their work. Josie Andrews aims to explore that in her short film, Wannabe. A girl group of singers caught in the middle of slow traction is forced to the decision of working with the man who sexually assaulted one of their members or ignoring all that to chase their dreams of stardom. An important narrative unfolds itself through the use of tense storytelling and sharp cinematographic value.

Josie Andrews’ Wannabe is not an easy film to experience as it deals with a heavy trauma that leads our protagonists to a crossroads. Brilliantly directed by Andrews, the film never shies away from showcasing the inner and outer conflicts being experienced, coated in a rich visual style that highlights the glamour of the music industry inside the ugliness that surrounds it. Our protagonists are stuck making a decision that could change the trajectory of their careers. Josie Andrews and team masterfully craft a message beyond its runtime that even with the conclusion that’s made, the pain will continue to linger. I loved this film and hope for nothing but the best for the incredibly talented team that worked on this short.

VIFF2022: ‘Triangle of Sadness’ Review

Ruben Östlund’s award-winning film, Triangle of Sadness, is a poignant commentary on class structures.

CREDIT: Neon Rated

10/10

It wasn’t long ago that I experienced my first film from Swedish director Ruben Ostlund, Force Majeure. I was left captivated by such a profound film that managed to capture conflict in a way that I have never seen before. Östlund is not the type of filmmaker that comes up out of the blue. His style and precise storytelling abilities are one of a kind, so it was no surprise that I was eagerly awaiting the next film from one of the few directors who has won the Palme d’Or twice in their career. The social satirist has not disappointed yet, and I have experienced my second favorite film of the year. Ruben Östlund has delivered once again thematic messages worth noting as we dissect the parasitic relationship of classism.

Triangle of Sadness is written and directed by Swedish filmmaker Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure, The Square). The film stars Thobias Thorwid, Harris Dickinson, the late great Charlbi Dean, Jiannis Muostos, Vicki Berlin, Dolly De Leon, Timeleon Gketsos, Alicia Eriksson, Woody Harrelson, and Zlatko Buric. Ostlund pairs up with frequent collaborator cinematographer Fredrik Wenzel who was responsible for directing the photography of his last two films. This is Ruben Ostlund’s English language debut film and marks his return to the silver screen since 2017’s The Square.

The film follows a couple, Carl and Yaya, both supermodels who are having a hard time with the power dynamics of their relationship. The couple is invited on a super-rich private cruise through their influencer lifestyle. The boat is filled with an eager crew destined to make money off their potential tips, a Russian oligarch, tech mogul, arms dealers, and a Marxist drunk captain. Well, things of course do not go well as they rarely do in Östlund’s filmography. The ship goes under with some of the crew and guests arriving on a “deserted island” where the limits of their lavish lifestyles are tested. Lines get drawn and the structures of classism are explored as the characters begin to switch roles with each other.

What Östlund is able to craft is nothing short of perfect as the Swedish auteur finds invigorating ways to dissect his favorite subject, power. Triangle of Sadness’ technicality is superb as its visual language and framing are so exquisitely unique to Wenzel and Östlund. The film is also paired with fluid editing by Östlund and Mikel Cee Karlsson. Where Triangle of Sadness excels the most is in its intelligent screenplay that dissects the parasitic relationship of class and the role that privilege plays in power. Östlund takes his time yet the film feels like it’s rightfully paced to the beats he’s trying to play. One cannot simply leave out the marvelous performances by Harrelson, De Leon, and sadly Dean who passed away earlier in the year. One sits and wonders what greatness such a young and talented actress was destined for. Once again Ruben Östlund’s storytelling abilities shine bright in the most chaotic of ways and the quietest of moments. The film is a monstrous achievement that explodes through its narrative structure to create one of the best films I have seen this year. One thing is for sure when you sit down to watch this where it deserves to be seen, on the big screen, make sure to sit out on buying that large popcorn. Let’s just say that you have been warned.

Watch Triangle of Sadness in theaters on a limited release and when it expands to a wide release soon.