REVIEW: “SWALLOW” (2020) IFC FILMS

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Not sure why IMDB had this noted as a horror/thriller and have since changed it as to be clear, this is not a horror film, but yes, it is a thriller of sorts. But please don’t go in expecting horror movie from “SWALLOW” as it’s clear Director Carlo Mirabella-Davis never meant it to be that. It’s more of a psychological drama mixed in with mental health, mixed in with a wife coming into her own. ‘Swallow’ truly fascinated me as I’ve never seen a movie like it and as strange as the film was, I was never bored.

‘Swallow‘ is a study of our main character Hunter (Haley Bennett), and a really good one at that. Hunter is a newly pregnant housewife who finds herself in marriage to Richie (Austin Stowell), one in which his parents feel she married above her stature in life. Richie is the youngest director at the firm that his father Michael (David Rasche) is in charge of and his mother Katherine (Elizabeth Marvel), is what one might want to call a ‘socialite’. Hunter – who is constantly and condescendingly reminded from the three of them that she is not from the same class as them, so she feels out of place. This film highlights profound consequences of trauma and what is clearly a form of PTSD and how it affects some mentally as Hunter – not really knowing who she is or what she is supposed to do, she starts to eat things – as in non-food items. It starts with a marble and then progresses to things that are much more dangerous like thumbtacks and batteries. When she goes to have an ultrasound her they begin notice all is not normal and find the foreign items inside which are removed by an emergency surgery. This infuriates Richie and his family to no extent, though they play the blame game more than anything and never try to find out why, they just want her to stop. They don’t understand she doesn’t know why she’s doing this and are embarrassed by her. Yet when having a dinner party pretending all is well and wonderful, Hunter finds out he has shared everything with those he works with and is beyond upset with him. She is also taken to therapy as well as having Luay (Laith Nakli), a male nurse, to take care of her but it’s more like he is there to watch her every move to make sure she doesn’t start eating household items again.

Be very clear here though as when Hunter is swallowing things, it has absolutely nothing to do with wanting to endanger the child as she really wants the child. The bigger issue rising within that we begin to see was that she hates being a housewife and the biggest issue of all, that she doesn’t know who she is in relation to her past. It’s a poignant way to showcase the point that even if you have everything of what so many people aspire to get – a handsome, successful husband, a big beautiful house, wealth, marriage, and not having to work etc., that it far from guarantees happiness. Her life completely encompasses the age old adage of “Be careful what you wish for”.

Acting wise you have to give major props to Bennett as she makes every scene gripping. On the outside she looks like an a pretty blonde without a care or thought in the world, but there’s something vulnerable about her and in her eyes you can see she is hiding some dark, ugly and sad secret. You really come to understand her motivations and why she does what she does. Stowell seems like the perfect husband on the outside, but we get glimpses that he’s really isn’t and he does well at portraying both sides. Marvel and Rasche do well and portray the overbearing, snobby parents very believably. And Nakli as the male ‘nurse’ will give you not only a great performance, but a wonderful backstory and surprise as well.

Overall, I adored the acting, story, and cinematography, again it’s a little strange maybe but oh so fascinating. A warning to some though, this films ending is very decisive and I can see what happens at the end might be a hot button for some, for me it was perfect where it went and is definitely empowering her as a woman. 

Grade: B

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Review screening: Courtesy oIFC Films

“SWALLOW” IS STREAMING ON TO HULU

REVIEW: “BATTLE OF THE SEXES” (2017) FOX SEARCHLIGHT

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“Battle of the Sexes” is the true life story of the behind-the-scenes of the now-famous exhibition tennis match between Women’s tennis star Billie Jean King (Emma Stone) and now has-been Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell).

The film goes into some major detail here and takes us through the paces of what lead up to this now famous match, but has some serious pacing problems throughout the first half and some overly drawn out scenes tend to make it drag in places. Surprising to me was the film being billed as a “comedy”, as it’s not funny in the typical comedic sense at all except for maybe the fact that you can laugh at how things were back then. With Riggs, once a successful tennis play, now a habitual gambler-schemer of bad business deals, who is lucky enough to have married into money with wife Priscilla (Elisabeth Shue), they smoothly slide over the actual first ‘Battle of the Sexes’ match between Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee) and Riggs, to which she then lost. In goes Billie Jean, whom at that point was leading the way in not only tennis, but fighting the good fight women’s rights and equal pay in tennis along with a great cast of supporting women’s players at the time who risked it all for equal pay.

Thankfully, things start to come together once King and Riggs agree to and start promoting the match and, which we see all the crazy fan-fare that was done at the time. By the end of all it and watching the match, even though you know the outcome, everyone in the theatre (men included) are cheering cfor Billie Jean as we watch her take control and realize what she truly accomplished, can get you a bit emotional to say the least. Stone and Carell are well-cast and do right by their characters. With Stone even going so far as to getting right the slighest things of say, getting the tennis stances of King & Riggs, something as a tennis fan, I notice. In particular, she nails King’s conflict with her own sexuality and the scenes between her and lover Marilyn Barnett (Andrea Riseborough) are eye-opening especially when you think of all it entailed at the time.

So the script and direction might be a bit uneven, but it’s good enough to make all of us cheer for King by the end and maybe even have a bit of a laugh as it regals us with truly how out of touch the sexism of the early 70’s now seems to us. Sure, there might be some slight deviations from the real events however, Carell does a fine job of recreating the 1-man flying circus that was Bobby Riggs with Stone providing a fine performance as one of the most influential Americans of the last century. Also we can note that when Bobby passed, Billie Jean noted they had become good friends after all in life and she was one of the last people he spoke with.

The history of it all whether you were there or not, is well worth seeing again.

Grade: C+
@pegsatthemovies

Media Review Screening: Friday, September 22, 2017 ~ Courtesy of LACMA/Film Independent
“BATTLE OF THE SEXES” is now playing at select theaters

Review: “WHIPLASH” (2014)

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Before I saw this movie, someone said to me “Oh, it looks like a jazz version of “FAME”. A more mis-informed statement could not be ever spoken! A “Fame” remake this movie is not..If you love music, most especially jazz and have heard all those stories about the inner circle of the jazz greats..this is your movie.. With my basic knowledge of music and somewhat better at knowing those stories, I was able to follow along well. But “Whiplash” is a quite darkly, somewhat disturbing movie about 19 y/o “Andrew” played superbly here by Miles Teller, who eats, lives and breathes being a drummer, who wants so badly to be ‘remembered’ in this life as one of the world’s best he will do and put up with almost anything..again, almost..  His journey through what was at times, hard for me to watch as I’ve experienced people in my life like this, is what this movie is about..to be specific about a year of said journey at New York’s elite Conservatorium of Music, Shaffer Academy. And that is about the only thing that would hold a similarity to something like ‘Fame’ is both being held at a music academy schools.

This film begs the question of how far an artist should be pushed to achieve greatness. It’s a devastating portrait filled literally with blood, sweat and tears, leaving our hearts pounding as fast as the intense drumming. The music is quite extraordinary too. “Terence Fletcher” (J.K. Simmons) is the conservatorium’s god maker; we immediately sense how vital it is to Andrew that Fletcher notices him. What follows was for me the hard part of watching as It is the cruel, callous way Fletcher operates that gets under our skin as he offers some of the students words of encouragement, elicits some personal information only before using it against them with biting undercut. Simply said, he is a monster disguised as a teacher. Bullying and abuse come in many forms not just student to student, but teacher to student happens far more often than we realize and this is in large, what this movie is about. The humiliation, bullying, and violence towards all the students in his class are all part of the mix with chairs being hurled, faces slapped and students stripped down to size. Watching blood drip onto the drum kit from Andrew’s overtaxed fingers and hands, while close to exhaustion, is unsettling to say the least.  whiplash 1

Just as it seems as though Andrew’s fortunes are looking up, when he is singled out by Fletcher and simultaneously gets a date with the pretty student he’s had a crush on for sometime “Nicole” (Melissa Benoist) who sells popcorn at the movie theatre he frequents, though neither opportunity turns out as expected. In the background is Andrew’s father “Jim” (Paul Reiser), a disillusioned, failed writer who quietly supports his son but clearly doesn’t understand musical aspirations or what drives him.  Teller drums with the passion of a man literally possessed, the physicality of the performance is truly astounding. As for Simmons, his performance is breathtaking as we are captivated by every tiny expression on his distinctive features. The way he turns from violent abuser to a gentle man is truly quite impressive. Having been a fan of his since his turn in HBO’s ‘Oz’ ~ this is a role of a lifetime.  whiplash 2

It occurred to me during one devastatingly harder scenes to watch that this movie can truly be as tense as any psychological thriller, complete with it’s own type of terrifying moments.  But it also has the operatic highs that only music can bring. For instance that show-stopping sequence at the end of the film when the music wins, is the moment when our hearts can soar and think maybe..just maybe it was all worth it in the end as we applaud.

The performances by Teller and Simmons are the soul of this film and what truly make this movie what it is. I hope that they garner the attention they deserve come nomination time.

Grade: B+
After seeing this film a second time last night at an Oscar screening with Dir: Damien Chazelle & J.K.Simmons doing a fun, lively Q & A afterwards.. I gotta up the grade to an A ~ as this film and most definitely it’s performances are Oscar worthy. jk whiplash 1

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(See grading scale)