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Op-Ed: Films That Go On Strike

Labor unrest is not uncommon in any category of work. It is associated with blue-collar jobs and fights with unions seen on the streets with picket lines that play out in public. It has been part of building an industrial state where if the pay and conditions are better, the quality and comfort of the work bring equilibrium to the business. As we enter the next month on the SAG-WGA strike, this is still felt within Hollywood as the questions of AI, residuals, and writers’ rooms are still being fought with the next decade of streaming still looking to usurp up network TV spaces and movie theaters. Speaking of strikes, several movies internationally have used historical labor unrest as the scene for the film.

Strike! (1925)

Russian legend Sergei Eisenstein made his debut before his world-famous The Battleship Potemkin with this story about a factory in crisis with its workers revolting against the harsh realities. It begins with a quote by Vladimir Lenin: “The strength of the working class is organization. Without organization of the masses, the proletarian is nothing.” In its pro-socialist themes, episodes of the disruption set in 1900s Russia dissect the old ways of what it was like before the Revolution of 1917. Using Eisenstein’s Soviet montage theory, the action is pieced together for maximum effect to enlarge its power.  

The Organizer (1963)

Marcello Mastroianni stars as a labor union activist in 19th century Italy who arrives in the city of Turin to help complaining workers organize a strike and protest the long working hours and lack of safety. But Mario Monicelli’s tragic-comedy finds only disorganization amongst the group who only know about submission and the leader who is constantly on the run from the police. There is skepticism from all corners going into uncharted territory with the activist’s savvy confidence and the fear of physical reprisals the workers only know of. A happy ending is nowhere to be found. 

Tout Va Bien (1972)

In his period of radical filmmaking, Jean-Luc Godard brought Yves Montand and Jane Fonda on as a married journalist couple who cover a strike at a sausage factory. Still fueling himself from the events of May 1968, Godard creates a unique staging with the camera pulling back and showing all the rooms at the same time, using a Brectian technique from theater staging. With long takes, Godard is able to placate the struggle between the workers and the management, and the demand for social upheaval against the growing consumerism of 70s France.  

Norma Rae (1979)

Sally Field won her first Oscar as the titular character who leads a push to form a union in the factory where she works due to terrible working conditions. Loosely based on a real-life figure named Crystal Lee Sutton, Norma Rae is about fighting the system where they stubbornly refuse to make changes and see the renegade worker as a threat. The famous scene of Rae standing up with the word “Union” to the workers is the same as what happened in Sutton’s story, leading up to the unionizing of the factory.

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Movie Review: ‘Amerikatsi’ Brings Armenian Cinema to a New Audience

Director: Michael A. Goorjian
Writers: Michael A. Goorjian
Stars: Michael A. Goorjian, Hovik Keuchkerian, Nelli Uvarova

Synopsis: Charlie escapes the Armenian genocide as a boy by fleeing to the United States, but he returns as an adult and is arrested. He watches an Armenian couple from his prison cell, finally learning about his homeland.

During the lengthy period in which the Cold War raged on, the tensions between the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc figured prominently in a number of Hollywood blockbusters. For most, the slightly jingoistic action films of the 1980s serve as the most obvious example of anti-Soviet propaganda. Top Gun (1986) and Red Heat (1988) heavily emphasized the fact that Soviets were unemotional, robotic killing machines who lacked warmth and psychological depth. In thinking back on this period, we tend to forget about the light, fluffy comedies that attempted to view Soviet politics through a satirical lens. They were often guilty of presenting a somewhat glib analysis of the ideological and cultural differences that separate Americans from their Soviet counterparts but they serve as valuable socio-historical documents. In the modern day, the average American’s perception of post-Soviet states has radically altered, so it’s more than a little surprising to see a contemporary film that echoes the thematic concerns of Moscow on the Hudson (1985). 

In mounting a highly sentimental, feel-good comedy about the clash between American and Soviet Armenian culture, director Michael A. Goorjian must have known that he was out of step with the times. Here, he attempts to construct a delicate fable about a naïve American Charlie Bakchinyan (Michael A. Goorjian), who repatriates to Armenia in the wake of World War II. He has Armenian ancestors but his family was forced to flee Turkey during the Armenian Genocide. While in Armenia, he hopes to gain a deeper understanding of his cultural identity. He is placed in peril after befriending Sona (Nelli Uvarova), the wife of a powerful government official. As a result of this innocent flirtation, he is imprisoned on bogus charges. Initially, he responds to being isolated from the outside world by growing despondent. However, his spirits begin to improve when he realizes that he can observe the day-to-day life of a young couple living in an apartment that is located across the street from the prison. 

The plot of the film is pretty standard Hollywood fare but Goorjian makes an admirable effort to inject the story’s skeleton structure with dashes of Armenian dark humor. He casts himself as an archetypal wide-eyed American but finds room to complicate the binary between freedom-loving Americans and overly censorious Armenians. Most of the Armenian characters in the film are viewed through a sympathetic lens and while the film doesn’t offer up a sophisticated dissection of the political corruption that plagued Armenian society during this period, it thankfully avoids indulging in too many stereotypes. Then again, you can’t blame the viewers who yearn for a more dense, thematically complex picture, that might have included a more intellectually rigorous critique of Stalinist policies. 

Amerikatsi’s virtues really come to the fore during lengthy sequences in which Nerses Sedrakyan and Avet Tonoyants’s production design is allowed to take center stage. They have clearly taken great pains to accurately represent era-appropriate interior design trends and color schemes. One naturally assumes that they weren’t working with a massive budget, so it’s very impressive that they managed to invest every location featured in the film with so much texture and pathos. All of this effort also helps to infuse a relatively conventional plot with a much-needed personal touch. This sort of skilled craftsmanship is often undervalued and there is something appealing about the fact that the imagery in this film has a tactile, visceral quality that is missing from a lot of modern cinema. You can tell when something has been precisely constructed and the ‘little things’ really do play a role in elevating Amerikatsi beyond some of the limitations that typically hold period pieces back. 

There is also something to be said for the small scale that the film operates on, as Goorjian could never be accused of overstuffing the plot. The languid, measured pacing ensures that scenes play out in a naturalistic fashion and largely avoid straining for effect. He finds a delicate balance between mainstream comedy and culturally specific comedic references, without sacrificing the opportunity to jerk tears out of audience members. It’s not going to revolutionize Armenia cinema but it might go a long way in bringing elements of their national cinema to a wider audience. 

Grade: B-

Movie Review: ‘Nandor Fodor and The Talking Mongoose’ is a Muddled Mess

Director: Adam Sigal
Writers: Adam Sigal
Stars: Simon Pegg, Minnie Driver, Christopher Lloyd

Synopsis: When famed paranormal psychologist Dr. Nandor Fodor investigates a family’s claim of a talking animal, he uncovers a mysterious web of hidden motives. Soon, everyone becomes a suspect in his relentless pursuit of the truth.

You know that a movie’s script is in trouble when the film’s title is the most eccentric part of the script. Based on a “true” story, Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose is being promoted as a dark comedy, but after watching it, I wonder if they are describing the color of black they chose when printing the script. There’s simply nothing quirky, grim, weird, or even macabre about the picture other than the cruel trick of convincing critics and viewers alike to sit down and watch. 

Suppose that’s the case, then well done.

Simon Pegg stars as “famed” Dr. Nandor Fodor, a parapsychologist – he would make an excellent host on the Paranormal Reality Television Network – who investigates the events that go beyond the typical human scientific understanding. Pegg plays Fodor as courteous and kind, yet almost uncomfortable and socially awkward in nearly any human interaction, as you may suspect with any outcast. Due to this, Fodor lacks acceptance inside academic circles in this version.

Dr. Fodor has a colleague, Anna (Minnie Driver), who is his loyal confidant. The good professor has her read his mail with the ability to summarize anything in a few seconds. They come across a letter from the Irving family, who claims a talking mongoose and an adventure in the name of scientific discovery is born. Dr. Fodor and Anne head to Irving’s farm at Cashen’s Gap near Dalby on the Isle of Man to investigate. 

While this town would have benefited from the other invention of the television set, the main subject of Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose is not uncommon in history. The phenomenon of speaking animals has been reported all the way back to ancient Egypt and ancient Greek fables. Writer and director Adam Sigal has taken a “true” story and wrote an original script as an homage to the events that occurred. 

However, Sigal’s script focuses on how the event affects the main characters, revealing what can be described as a stretch, “haunting” back stories like the last words Fodor’s father said to him. Yet, this is a single occurrence and unravels the professor. This would have been far more effective if this was a pattern to delve deeper into Fodor’s backstory, but that’s left unexplored. The same goes for Driver’s Anne, who does not explain why she’s a believer, which would have led to a sense of wonderment the film lacks.

Sigal’s is too straightforward for such an entertaining premise and only offers surface-level insight into character actions and behaviors. From the moment Fodor and Anne step into the tiny British Hamlet, the plot is obvious, and there’s no beard to keep the viewer guessing. 

This is a cynical view, which I admire, especially when the script has the paternal Irving practically push Fodor into a cave to discover by “chance” missing items around town or the fact their daughter is the most gifted ventriloquist since Darci Lynne, which is odd. And if you still haven’t put it together since you never get to see the mongoose in the first place, I admire your patience. 

I will take one thing back, though, since Anne claims the family is respected around town and is wealthy, so why would they make it up? Well, fame is addictive, and for that matter, can you ever have enough money? The premise is that the talking small terrestrial carnivore that may be real doesn’t offer enough weight to hang your hopes or interests when immersed in the experience.

If anything, the role is tailored by Pegg, who does what he can to make the role, at the very least. Driver is in the unforgiving role of a woman supporting the titular subject but isn’t afraid to speak her mind; a little bit of that dame character who’s a spitfire from the era. Finally, special attention should be paid to Jessica Balmer’s Voirrey, who is by far the most interesting character the film has to offer.

Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose cannot figure out what type of movie it wants to be. Instead of focusing on making a movie with a bold and daring point of view, the focus is far too safe, and the result is a rather humdrum cinematic experience on multiple levels.

Grade: C-

Podcast: Fall Movie Preview (2023) – Episode 550

This week’s episode is brought to you by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. Follow us on social media for our chance to win a FREE digital code!

This week on the InSession Film Podcast, with the Fall festivals in full swing, we wanted to talk about the films we’re most looking forward to as the Fall movie season begins! If the reactions out of Venice and Telluride are any indication, this fall season could end up being really special and there are so many great films on the horizon that could make 2023 a spectacular year for film.

On that note, check out this week’s show and let us know what you think in the comment section. Thanks for listening and for supporting the InSession Film Podcast!

– Fall Preview (5:20)
To begin, we talk about Jeff Nichols’ The Bikeriders, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, Emerald Fennell’s Saltburn, Andrew Haigh’s All of Us Strangers and Sofia Coppolla’s Priscilla, among others .

RELATED: Listen to Episode 516 of the InSession Film Podcast where we discussed our Top 10 Movies of 2022!

– Fall Preview Cont’d (43:24)
As we continue our fall preview, we take a look at The Holdovers, Hit Man, The Killer, Zone of Interest, The Boy and the Heron, Maestro and Ferrari to name a few.

– Music
Midnight Special – David Wingo
Concerto Grosso in B Flat, Op. 6, No. 7, HWV 325 : 1. Largo – Alexander Titov

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InSession Film Podcast – Episode 550

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Movie Review: ‘The Equalizer 3’ Balances Violence and Beauty

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Writers: Richard Wenk, Michael Sloan, and Richard Lindheim
Stars: Denzel Washington, Dakota Fanning, Eugenio Mastrandrea

Synopsis: Robert McCall finds himself at home in Southern Italy but he discovers his friends are under the control of local crime bosses. As events turn deadly, McCall knows what he has to do: become his friends’ protector by taking on the mafia.

Sadly, I’ve never been a fan of The Equalizer franchise, whether film or television. There are certainly worse ways to spend your time at the movies. After all, you have a legendary megastar in Denzel Washington. It’s a story tailor-made for mass audiences, centered around a virtuous character who stands up for those in need. You also have a director with a solid connection to its star, who entertains with some nifty camerawork and excellent hand-to-hand combat scenes. However, the series’ third installment benefits from a fish-out-of-water story and the gravitas of its star, eventually making The Equalizer 3 the most entertaining entry.

The story continues to follow Washington’s Robert McCall, who allows himself to be captured inside a fine Italian winery by a few bad guys. That’s the plan, you see, as he wants the owner, who is using the establishment as a front, to be close enough to see the whites of his target’s eyes. The former Marine and officer for the DIA is an expert in spotting and exploiting human weakness. As he does with the two armed men, with one standing too close, he equalizes them.

That’s until he leaves, and some little brat shoots him in the back with a rifle. Knowing what would happen to him if he’s caught at the compound, he tries to put a bullet in his head, but he’s out of ammunition. Robert manages to drive far enough until a local cop named Gio (From Scratch’s Italian heartthrob Eugenio Mastrandrea) finds him passed out in his car and delivers him to a local seaside town physician (Remo Girone). While being nursed back to health, Robert now takes a shine to the town and the people but discovers that the local Gomorrah is muscling their way into the area and forcing them to give up their land so it can be developed into a commercial property.

This is reportedly the final Equalizer installment (and I’ll believe that when I see it), and Antoine Fuqua sends the franchise out on a high note. The opening sequence is engaging and very exciting, if not a bit too brutal. Not just the actions but also how Washington draws in the viewer with his calm and stoic chess-like maneuvers. McCall has always been a thinking man’s action star, never panicking because he relies on his excellent training and can spot the ones who lack training or have holes in their protocol.

A lot has been made about The Equalizer 3 being an unofficial sequel to Man on Fire, with Dakota Fanning taking on the role of Emma, a CIA operative with connections to Robert, but she doesn’t know it. It’s nice to see them on screen together again, and Fanning more than holds her own in scenes with the Hollywood icon. She has a particular nostalgia factor that works. However, it’s a fairly standard role with a nice little payoff.

While the film is known for its cathartic action and combines a certain dark humor, what makes The Equalizer 3 work is the sense of community and acceptance, which was missing in the first two films. Instead of Washington’s Robert looking out for those being bullied, we get to know the ones he’s helping immensely more than in the other films. The viewer can experience the culture, relaxation, history, food (even the gifting of a lemon, a typical area gesture, which is a nice touch), and beauty of the locale.

This obviously isn’t Il Postino, Cinema Paradiso, or Big Night. Still, that touch makes a difference where the viewer can care about the outcome, not just for the ones that need protecting but also for the main character. It’s that “rooting” factor, often dismissed and hard to create, that Fuqua and writer Richard Wenk manage to accomplish here. The Equalizer 3 is a bit formulaic, even manipulative, but the action scenes work, and most importantly, the meaning and message behind them ring true. It’s the best installment of the series, giving the viewer a visceral and poignant kick to send off the franchise in style.

Grade: B-

Movie Review (Venice Film Festival 2023): ‘El Conde’ Needs More Horror Bite

Director: Pablo Larraín
Writers: Guillermo Calderón and Pablo Larraín
Stars: Alfredo Castro, Catalina Guerra, Paula Luchsinger

Synopsis: Centers on Augusto Pinochet who is not dead but an aged vampire. After living 250 years in this world, he has decided to die once and for all.

Pablo Larraín reimagines Augusto Pinochet as a sullen 250-year-old vampire in the horror satire El Conde, which sounds like an intriguing premise that might lead to metaphorical riches. However, rather unfortunately, the film never uses its satirical and vampiric forces to its full potential, opting to use its premise as its main gateway rather than saying something new about the topic at hand. 

Chilean cinema has been on the rise recently, with names like Manuela Martelli, Maite Alberdi, Hugo Covarrubias, and Sebastián Lelio being notable and highly acclaimed. However, the one leading the pack is Pablo Larraín. Beginning his career and giving great first impressions by making dramatic political features that explored Chile’s government and life under harsh rule, Larraín made a big name for himself. He seems fascinated by history’s draining past and hopeful future, hence his recent focus on dream-like and nightmare-bound pictures centered around historical figures, such as Jackie and Spencer. However, Larraín is somewhat switching gears for his latest piece of work, El Conde, where he takes satire and horror into a pot and mixes them with his usual storytelling trademarks. While a couple of elements work exceptionally well on paper, its execution is less than the sum of its parts. 

With the satirical El Conde, Pablo Larraín seeks to play with what we know about two unforgivable figures in history; one of them is Augusto Pinochet, and the other is the person who guides us through this tale via narration, later to have an appearance that serves as a final (and unfunny) blow in the comedic strands of this film. The Chilean filmmaker doesn’t want to be realistic or even pinpoint accurate in its depictions. But instead, he wants to do so in its messaging and metaphors. Larraín reimagines the cruel and heartless dictator as a sullen 250-year-old vampire that, after decades roaming around the world and ruining everything he touches, wants to plunge himself into the final slumber. And, of course, the comparison between the aforementioned general and the blood-sucking beast is immediately recognizable as unduly “on the nose”. He feeds on the blood of the innocent to keep himself alive. Yet, it is absorbing enough to get us interested in this history play, at least on paper. 

The titular count (played by Jaime Vadell) wallows through his deserted housing, lamenting his immortality as a fanged creature. The estate is supposed to be his version of Dracula’s mansion in Transylvania. Still, the location is a grimy dump without any sense of life, contrasting with the beautiful black-and-white and shadow-centered cinematography by Edward Lachman. This showcases how the man has sold his soul to gain power and riches, ransacking everything he could for his benefit. However, a deal with the devil is a double-edged sword, hence why he now lives in isolation and grue, only having his occasional flights to the town as a form of escape – and even that depresses him even more because he sees that the country hasn’t “acknowledged” his “great” actions. Larraín sneaks in a cheeky, darkly comedic joke about the count going to the presidential palace to see if they have built a statue of him. 

After seeing him suffering and lying in his bed, you may think that the director might hint at adding some sympathy toward the count. But there’s no such care for this detestable and depraved man. What’s really at stake here is that Pinochet’s five children come to visit him after rumors that someone is stealing the hearts of young women across Chile. Things start to dwindle when they realize that their father’s loyal butler, Fyodor (Alfredo Castro), might be hiding some secrets of his own, as well as the inclusion of a young nun, Carmencita (Paula Luschsinger, who rocks facial resemblance and hairstyle to Renée Jeanne Falconetti’s in The Passion of Joan of Arc – with facial expressions and all), is seducing her father, when she was supposed to do an exorcism on him. This confrontation between father, kin, and associates turns into an even more satire-dependent episode of Succession, although without the nuisance and sharp witty writing the series has. 

It is a game of chess, none of them purposefully being in 3D because they fear what might happen if they cross the line; they just want a taste of that money and treasures that Pinochet has stored. Now, everything I have just described sounds like the concoction of polished and fascinating satire that has more bite than the fangs of its lead character. However, and rather unfortunately, the opposite happens. After seeing much of his work, I know that Larraín has the gift to provide a sharp story about similar topics, as he has done before in No (2012) and Neruda (2016). Because of his focus on the premise, instead of moving the story along, El Conde never reaches its vampiric and satirical possibilities. Saying that it is heavy on premise is an understatement; nothing much happens in the film, but there’s still an excessive amount of details being thrown at us both by Larraín’s visual language and the narration. 

Larraín wants to get out everything he can from that fundamental idea of having Pinochet as a loathing vampire that there’s not much room yet to add substance to this tale. Many metaphors and juxtapositions are tossed around from left to right, yet they arrive with zero subtlety or ambiguity; everything is entirely in your face. The biggest issue isn’t the lack of perspicacity in each topic and its central farcical gag. It is that this high-concept play on historical figures doesn’t have anything new to say about Pinochet and how life was in the country during his reign of terror, mainly when the feature-film debut of Manuela Martelli, Chile ‘76, released earlier this year – whose opening scene alone contains more depth that the first hour or so of El Conde

In addition, for Larraín’s first foray into horror, he needs much work to make the images and the atmosphere more gripping. He may deliver some shocking and provocative scenes that a satire should have. However, I don’t believe he nailed the essence and appeal of what makes films within that genre great. While everything looks splendid, what happens doesn’t have a more profound sensation of dread and angst that makes you want to be interested in the violence of stealing beating hearts or the satirical irony of its comedic quips. 

Grade: C

Video: Top 5 Movies of Summer 2023


Watch as JD recaps the summer movie season and discusses his Top 5 movies of summer 2023!

Movie Review (Venice Film Festival 2023): ‘Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person’ Lacks Any Real Depth

Director: Ariane Louis-Seize
Writers: Christine Doyon and Ariane Louis-Seize
Stars: Sara Montpetit, Noémie O’Farrell, Félix-Antoine Bénard

Synopsis: Sasha is a young vampire with a serious problem: she’s too sensitive to kill. When her exasperated parents cut off her blood supply, Sasha’s life is in jeopardy. Luckily, she meets Paul, a lonely teenager with suicidal tendencies who is willing to give his life to save hers. But their friendly agreement soon becomes a nocturnal quest to fulfill Paul’s last wishes before day breaks.

Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person uses a 2000s indie drama-comedy mold to tell its story about a vampiric entity meeting a lonesome teenager willing to give up his life to save another. But that same mold it uses as a backbone makes Ariane Louis-Seize’s debut feature lose the sense of identity and uniqueness that arrives with its fascinating title. 

Vampirism is back on the big screen and pop culture after a long hiatus induced by people tired of the Twilight franchise (which isn’t as bad as most people say – they deserve some kind of reexamination). In recent years, you have seen more and more projects that involve vampirism, and that’s without counting the ones in pre-production (or that will be released later in the year), like Pablo Larraín’s El Conde, Chloe Zhao’s Dracula, and Robert Eggers’ Nosferatu. This year alone, there have been more films about vampires than I would have imagined coming into the year. Although some weren’t that good, some even turned out as awful horror pictures), I still appreciate that the classic blood-sucking beast is appearing more often on the big screen in various forms. 

Another has made its way through the fall festival circuit, Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person, taking an indie drama-comedy form to tell its vampirism tale, much like Warm Bodies did for zombies. Premiering at the Venice Film Festival, Ariane Louis-Seize’s directorial debut goes for the deadpan comedic jugular rather than delving into the bloody mayhem or high-action-centered sequences. Instead, it serves as a conversation about life, death, and loneliness while somewhat defying some of the regularly seen vampire tropes due to its modern setting. The film begins on a weird and unexpected note; a family is celebrating the birthday of one of their daughters, Sasha, by gifting her a piano, which she plays without missing a note. And it is her first time touching one and a clown doing a magic performance. It is hard to pinpoint the film’s tone exactly, whether we should laugh or cringe. 

But one line on the three-minute mark gives us the clue that matches its title: “I can’t take this anymore. When do we eat him?” The family is eager to kill the clown and suck his blood. But the young girl is hesitant to do so; she is scarred by the whole thing, which gives her PTSD – her fangs haven’t arrived because of this. Her parents talk to plenty of psychiatrists (and psychologists) to help their daughter, but to no avail. Sasha can’t seem to shake off the image of a dead human body. A few years later, we see that Sasha (now played by Sara Montpetit) still plays the piano, doing so on the streets for some quick cash and living with her parents. 

Sasha continues her defiance against killing, even if it means that she dies because of starvation. Her parents are supplying her with the daily blood supply. But time is running out; she isn’t going to be living with them for the entirety of their lives, nor will they be able to provide as time passes by. That’s when they decided to cut Sasha off and force their daughter to move in with her sister Denise (Noémie O’Farrell), who doesn’t give out free samples of the crimson red unless someone helps her with the “dirty job” of finding, and eventually killing, a random person. Of course, Sasha doesn’t want to do so; she even interrupts one of Denise’s hunts by blasting the car’s horn. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Sasha is starving for blood and doesn’t know what to do. 

Eventually, Sasha ends up in a suicide prevention group to express her feelings about the matter to an unknowing group. There, she meets the person who is potentially changing her life, a young kid who would deliberately sacrifice his life to save another’s, Paul (Félix-Antoine Bénard) – a desolate teenager with suicidal tendencies. They make a friendly agreement to seal the deal. However, Sasha believes that before she bites his neck and relieves the pain he has been bottling up for years, she must fulfill some of Paul’s last wishes. This setup leads the vampire and the teenager on a journey to help Paul leave a mark on the world before the deepest sleep. Throughout their journey, individually and collectively, the duo encountered a couple of scenarios that help them reflect on their ongoing situations. 

Sasha and Paul’s dynamic is obviously weird given the circumstances under which they meet and considering that the former is a vampire. However, both of them are quite similar on the inside. They are two meandering lost souls who, for one reason or another, are devoid of life. The film doesn’t give them many moments in which they could find themselves, or their place in the world, together. It is focused more on separate contemplation. This loosens the effect of their slowly building relationship, even with the occasionally charming moments where they connect with one another through similar emotions about loneliness, death, and fractured family dynamics. 

Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person (a great title that gets everyone’s attention) has been prepared and tuned in a mid-2000s indie drama-comedy mold, specifically those that center around two lonely people. Think about films like Igby Goes Down, Broken Flowers, or Garden State, but instead, one of the leads is a vampire who doesn’t want to kill, and the other is a suicidal teenager. While Louis-Seize plays with vampire tropes and cliches a bit in her debut film, making a killer beast into a humanist, she doesn’t do the same with the film’s structure and plot development. She uses the aforementioned films, as well as her own preoccupations with death, as inspiration to help her construct the backbone of this story. However, those same inspirations cause this vampire movie to lose the tremendous identity of its unique title. It causes each beat to be handled in ways that make you think about ten other films that came before it. 

That precisely isn’t a complete deal breaker, as you get some equally funny and pleasant moments with Sara Monpetit’s leading character. But you get the sensation that when it comes to developing the film’s ideas, it comes out rather vague – the movie’s focus inclining toward the aesthetic of a vampire picture rather than its themes. While my desire for a more in-depth conversation about the burden of immortality that vampires face (and its intertwining with a person seeking help in a world that doesn’t want to) might have affected my anticipation for what Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person offered in the grand scheme of things, I still believe that beneath the surface of its indie drama-comedy mold, there’s a more profound and endearing film. 

Grade: C

Women InSession: 1939 in Film

This week on Women InSession, we take a look back at one of the best years in film as we travel back to 1939 cinema! From Gone with the Wind to The Wizard of Oz to Stagecoach to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, among many others, 1939 is considered by many to be the best year for movies. It was no small task, but we had a great time talking about what made this year so special for film.

Panel: Kristin Battestella, Amy Thomasson, Zita Short

On that note, check out this week’s show and let us know what you think in the comment section. Thanks for listening and for supporting the InSession Film Podcast!

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Women InSession – Episode 51

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Criterion Releases: September 2023

As summer turns into fall, as film festivals begin to push out releasing movies that couldbe considered for Oscar contention, we have more and more newcomers and re-releases from Criterion. There are two of those re-releases: a milestone in the Australian New Wave and a modern fairy tale from the 80s. The three newcomers include a new film from Orson Welles, a biopic on one of the major figures in 1950s rock n’ roll, and a recent documentary on a rock iconoclast who is known by many names, including Ziggy Stardust.

The Trial (1962)

Orson Welles adapted Franz Kafka’s novel about a singular office worker (Anthony Perkins) who is accused of a crime that is not specified but he claims his innocence. Jeanne Morneau and Romy Schnieder co-star, along with a young Italian actress named Paola Mori, who would be Welles’ last wife. Divisive upon release, the film has since gotten a retrospective that is more positive, reflecting Welles’ continuing artistry with cinematography and production design which he later said was one of the best movies he ever made, even over Citizen Kane. 

Walkabout (1971)

Funny that I wrote a little blurb on this movie with my previous piece about heat waves. The sun and the harsh Outback are only part of the story from Nicolas Roeg. It is also a coming-of-age story about the new world – two kids who escape their father’s murderous behavior – meeting the old world – a teenage Aboriginal (David Gulpilil) who shows them his way of living and surviving. The transition into adulthood via the red landscape is getting the 4K-UHD reedition that will absolutely light up the screen.

La Bamba (1987)

Lou Diamond Phillips as 50s rock icon Richie Valens is a sensational performance with Esai Morales as his half-brother adding beautifully layered emotion from writer/director Luis Valdez, a legend of Chicano cinema. Seen in a span of a few years, Valens is portrayed as a poor Mexican-American teen who falls for the new genre and immediately rises to stardom to where he stands alongside Buddy Holly – before that fateful evening now known as “The Day The Music Died.” The band Los Lobos bolsters the soundtrack that recaptures the period which was a watershed moment in American history, especially amongst the Mexican-American community, while also realizing the amount of talent totally lost in 1959. 

The Princess Bride (1987)

The second re-release of the month is Rob Reiner’s comedy from legendary writer William Goldman which remains a culturally significant film in the last forty years. Robin Wright, Cary Elwes, Chris Sarandon, Mandy Patinkin, Peter Falk, and other notable names are part of an incredible ensemble with eclectic characters that remain very memorable. It is a fairy tale story that hits everyone’s heart; even newbies to the film have eaten it up that have made the film continuously relevant.

Moonage Daydream (2022)

From Brett Morgan, documentarian of Jane and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, the life and career of David Bowie come alive, the first film with permission from the singer’s estate. It is a magical voyage through his prism in the 60s and 70s as Bowie rockets to stardom with his persona, which was unlike any other in history. Bowie’s own words narrate his evolution as an artist, working in London and West Berlin, bringing in those influences which elevated Bowie to permanent superstardom in this touching tribute to an iconoclast. 

Follow me on Twitter: @brian_cine (Cine-A-Man)

Podcast Review: Gran Turismo

On this episode, JD and Brendan review the latest film from Neill Blomkamp in Gran Turismo, starring David Harbour, Orlando Bloom and Archie Madekwe!

Review: Gran Turismo (3:00)
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Writers: Jason Hall, Zach Baylin
Stars: David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Archie Madekwe

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InSession Film Podcast – Passages

Podcast: Dune Part Two Delayed / Video Games We Want As Films – Episode 549

This week’s episode is brought to you by Koffee Kult. Get 15% OFF with the code: ISF

This week on the InSession Film Podcast, we talk a little box office as Oppenheimer closes in on $1 billion, we discuss Dune: Part Two and give our thoughts on the trailer for Zack Snyder’s Rebel Moon! Plus, we talk about the video games that we’d like to see as films!

On that note, check out this week’s show and let us know what you think in the comment section. Thanks for listening and for supporting the InSession Film Podcast!

– Box Office / Dune: Part Two / Rebel Moon (5:20)
In the first segment, we talk about the insane box office numbers for Barbie and Oppenheimer as they continue to grow and break records. The latest news for Dune: Part Two brings up some frustrated talking points as it relates to Warner Bros. and their tactics surrounding that movies. As for Rebel Moon, you have to admire that Zack Snyder doesn’t care that he’s wearing his influences on his sleeves.

RELATED: Listen to Episode 516 of the InSession Film Podcast where we discussed our Top 10 Movies of 2022!

– Video Games We Want As Films (43:24)
We did this exercise back in 2016 when Warcraft came out, but since it’s been awhile, we thought it would be fun to bring this back up and talk about the video games we think would be great on the big screen. The video game genre has been a little disappointing over the years, however; there are some games that still lend themselves to immense potential. And we wanted to talk about a few we’d like to see in the near future.

– Music
Paul’s Dream – Hans Zimmer
Halo Theme Song – Katlan Youssef

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InSession Film Podcast – Episode 549

Next week on the show:

Bottoms / Teen Movies

Help Support The InSession Film Podcast

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Movie Review: ‘You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah’ is a Sweet Sandler Affair

Director: Sammi Cohen
Writers: Alison Peck and Fiona Rosenbloom
Stars: Idina Menzel, Jackie Sandler, Adam Sandler

Synopsis: It follows Stacey Friedman as she prepares for her Bat Mitzvah, but her plans comedically unravel and threaten to ruin the event.

Did Adam Sandler buy his kids a movie instead of throwing them a Bat Mitzvah? I have a soft spot for films starring Adam Sandler under the Happy Madison brand. For one, the Sandman is so loyal to his friends and colleagues that he creates scripts and productions based on beach locales for an extended holiday. Sandler consistently hires and casts friends and family in roles, keeping them in the black for decades, not to mention lead roles for Spade and Schneider. He even has faith in his nephew, who has directed a couple of films from time to time.

I’m not saying these men and women aren’t worthy or untalented. In fact, far from it. (I refuse to be another critic to kick Schneider back to the ground.) However, when Sandler cast his children in lead roles in his latest comedy, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, I was worried for the sole reason that the Gen Z/Millennial cinephile would unleash a snark cannon on some defenseless teenagers. Yet, to my mild surprise, not only do the Sandler girls hold their own, but they practically shine.

Adapted from the Fiona Rosenbloom YA novel of the same name, the story follows Stacey Friedmann (Sunny Sandler), a young woman on the verge of the biggest day of her adolescent life: her Bat Mitzvah. It’s such a big deal in her eyes that she creates a presentation, with the help of her best friend Lydia (Samantha Lorraine), for Stacey’s parents, Bree (Idina Menzel) and Danny (Adam Sandler), to convince them they need to increase their budget.

How? By using her college tuition to book an international recording artist, Olivia Rodrigo, on a jet ski and some “old guy,” her dad would like to make her plan seem like a bargain (she’s referring to Sir Paul McCartney). Bree’s sister Ronnie (Sadie Sandler) smiles, and the Friedmans laugh. Still, they don’t understand—how else is Stacey supposed to get the Jewish high school bubby heartthrob, Andy Goldfarb (Dylan Hoffman), to ignore the “hideous” sequined dress her mom bought her, so he’ll make out with her on the dance floor. While at the same time, everyone busts a move on the dance floor to the hora?

It’s a delightful premise and a rite of passage. Watching You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah creates the type of humor you smile at when experience looks upon naive youth. Director Sammi Cohen captures and fills the source material with youthful exuberance and quirky adult characters who selflessly try to guide the next generation into making mature and positive decisions.

Working with a script by Alison Peck, Cohen captures something honest and refreshing about Stacey and Lydia, always acting their age and never stretching too dramatically outside their comfort zone. The way the girls are “twinning” in the film’s first act—crushing on boys, embarrassed by their parents, comparing themselves to others—and how their clique is lively, creative, caring, and intensely secretive.

Of course, you have your coming-of-age clichés, including Stacey’s crush liking Lydia, and most of the movie’s second half begins to feel like a revenge tale. Everything plays out as you think, and there’s no way it won’t end with anything other than “chicks before,” well, “Richards.” Distracting you from those tropes are well-timed supporting scenes from the paternal Sandler, who goes to a movie in public in a bathrobe and sleeps on a bench while his daughter tries on dresses. I also found Sadie Sandler’s Ronnie, the perfect snarky “too cool for school” teen, and the jabs at her father very funny. SNL’s Sarah Sherman is endearing, juggling amusing quirks and unbridled passion for her students.

You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah has its heart in storytelling akin to Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, with a sweet ’80s adolescent comedy vibe with dashes of the Sandman’s comedic sensibilities. You’ll even spot some Judd Apatow’s poignant moments, particularly in family scenes at home. 

Yes, the movie is a tad too long; any scenes with Luis Guzmán could have been left off without much complaint. The ending is sweet but sappy for this critic by ignoring the fragile nature of relationships. Yet, it’s a sweet Sandler family affair. You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah has a good message that will amuse parents familiar with their relatable child misfits and teenagers, connecting with the exaggerated coming-of-age themes.

Grade: B

Women InSession: Memento

This week on Women InSession, Kristin Battestella is joined by our own M.N. Miller to discuss Christopher Nolan’s brilliant 2001 film Memento, starring the great Guy Pearce! Memento is one of Nolan’s best films and it’s a staple among our panel on the show. Which is to say, we had a great time giving it a deep dive.

On that note, check out this week’s show and let us know what you think in the comment section. Thanks for listening and for supporting the InSession Film Podcast!

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Women InSession – Episode 51

To hear this Extra Film episode and everything else we do, download our apps on the Amazon Market for Android and the Podcast Source app on IOS devices. The mobile app covers all of our main shows, bonus podcasts and everything else relating to the InSession Film Podcast. Thanks for your wonderful support and for listening to our show. It means the world to us.

Podcast Review: Passages

On this episode, JD is joined by Josh Parham of Next Best Picture to discuss Ira Sachs’ new film Passages, starring Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw and Adèle Exarchopoulos!

Review: Passages (3:00)
Director: Ira Sachs
Writers: Mauricio Zacharias, Ira Sachs
Stars: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adèle Exarchopoulos

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InSession Film Podcast – Passages

TIFF 2023: Films To Watch Out For

Following the Venice Film Festival, filmgoers and critics will be going to Toronto for the 48th Toronto International Film Festival. For North America, some of the films which are showing in Venice will also come to Toronto while others will make their premiere and kickstart their Oscar campaign. Last year, it was Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans which won the People’s Choice Award. While the award has a great track record in terms of getting Oscar nods, it does not guarantee wins, as The Fabelmans found out. Here are a few of those films that will come to Toronto and grab people’s attention. 

Anatomy Of A Fall

After winning the Palme d’Or, director Justine Triet’s procedural thriller makes its entrance to North America, following the story of a writer who has to prove her innocence for the death of her husband. However, the only witness who could attest to it is her blind son, making the job even more difficult. Triet took inspiration from the real-life Amanda Knox trial in Italy, with the setting in France, the defendant from Germany, but more confident in speaking English. Once again, Neon has the distribution rights of the Palme d’Or winner, following Parasite, Titane, and Triangle of Sadness.

The Boy And The Heron

The first animated film to open the festival, Hayao Miyazaki’s comeback ten years after his last film (and announcing his retirement) is highly anticipated and already acclaimed in his native Japan. There wasn’t a trailer, synopsis, or casting list before the movie made its premiere; only a poster of the film was shown. Maybe it is good to not reveal the plot details and let viewers just hop on Miyazaki’s ride as he led us within Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, and his Oscar-winning Spirited Away.

The Holdovers

Alexander Payne is back for a rebound after the failure of Downsizing with this 1970s-set dramedy of an unpopular teacher (Paul Giamatti) who stays behind to look over students who can’t go home for Christmas. In particular, he watches a rebellious student (Dominic Sessa) and gets help through the period with the school’s main cook (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). It’s great to see Payne and Giamatti back together following their success in Sideways. Payne got the idea after watching a 1930s French film; I can only assume it was Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite, set in a boarding school. 

Next Goal Wins 

This film has been a long time coming. Filmed in 2020 right before the COVID lockdown, Taika Waititi’s real-life sports comedy got delayed due to COVID, a recasting and reshoots, Waititi’s time away to make Thor: Love and Thunder, and Searchlight Pictures’ decision to move the release back a year more. Michael Fassbender, who also stars in David Fincher’s The Killer, plays a soccer coach who reluctantly takes on the job of manager of the American Samoa national team, dead last in FIFA’s rankings and embarrassingly defeated 31-0 in a World Cup qualifying match. Elizabeth Olson and Will Arnett also star in this underdog story, as one can be in real life.   


George C. Wolfe directs this biopic about one of the most important figures of the civil rights movement who wasn’t as visible because he was always in the background. Coleman Domingo is Bayard Rustin, the man who organized the March on Washington in 1963, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have A Dream” speech. However, Rustin was never seen in the foreground due to being subject to discrimination for being gay. Chris Rock, Glynn Turman, and Jeffrey Wright also star with Barack & Michelle Obama as executive producers; President Obama himself posthumously gave Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. 

Follow me on Twitter: @brian_cine (Cine-A-Man)

Movie Review: ‘Bottoms’ Embraces The Weird

Director: Emma Seligman
Writers: Emma Seligman and Rachel Sennott
Stars: Rachel Sennott, Ayo Edibiri, Ruby Cruz

Synopsis: Two unpopular queer high school students start a fight club to have sex before graduation.

Yes, Bottoms slaps, punches, claws, cuts, and maims in ways that will leave bite marks with sharp teeth. This Emma Seligman comedy refuses to place itself in a box, going beyond its standard satirical tropes within its premise. It’s a teen comedy that blends Horatian and Juvenalian satire, transforming into something unexpected and invigorating. Notably, it’s a wicked commentary on victimization and socialization.

The story follows two unpopular best friends, PJ (Rachell Sennott) and Josie (Ayo Edebiri), who have been cruelly shunned by their classmates, and even school officials, for not being as popular as other students. They have been best friends since their moms split the bill for babysitters, relying on each other through thick and thin.

Both PJ and Josie are gay, and their high school crushes, Isabel (Havana Rose Liu) and Brittany (Kaia Gerber), hardly interact with them, to the point where they might not even know they exist. That is until Isabel walks away from her star quarterback boyfriend, Jeff (Nicholas Galitzine), who constantly has a wandering eye and cheats on her with a refined group of older women.

Jeff becomes an obstacle when they give Isabel a ride, and the car barely grazes his knee, but he claims a serious physical injury just before the big rivalry game. Principal Meyers (Wayne Pere) is ready to expel them, conveniently ignoring that they were offering Isabel a safe ride. He claims they are starting a school club that teaches other teenage girls self-defense. Meyers tells them to “beat the shit out of each other while reading the Vagina Monologues” and sends them on their way.

Bottoms was written by Seligman and one of the film’s stars, Rachel Sennott, the director’s frequent writing partner, and all-around muse. The talented and versatile actress excels at embracing unlikable roles and winning over audiences with authentic portrayals of the exaggerated misbehaviors of teenage or young adult females. Sennott was born to play the star of an independent cringe-comedy.

From her portrayal of a young Jewish female caught between her sugar daddy and girlfriend at a funeral in Shiva Baby to her almost methodical techniques as the maddeningly annoying Gen-Z teenager in Bodies Bodies Bodies, Sennott embraces assertive behavioral imperfections. Her role in Bottoms brims with temerity, and her attitude is so full of piss and vinegar that you might fear she’d spin uncontrollably off her axis. Sennott has a mean streak in virtually all of her performances that is inherently magnetic.

The Bear’s Ayo Edebiri’s character serves as the film’s conscience, consistently thinking that starting a female fight club to meet girls is a wrong, if not hilarious, idea. Edebiri expertly delivers timeless deadpan deliveries, showcased in full display in Bottoms. She captures the sympathetic sweet spot for the gay, sexually oppressed female teenager who feels trapped as an outcast. If anything, Josie is the most submissive of the group.

Bottoms offers a fresh take on teen comedy, similar to how Assassination Nation shook up the teen horror genre. While some might playfully call it “Gay Fight Club” or “Not Another Gay Teen Movie,” Seligman and Sennett’s film both embraces and satirizes those film tropes, creating something wonderfully invigorating for a modern-day teen comedy, culminating in its shockingly brash and brutally dark comedic finale.

And this is what makes Bottoms such original comedic content. Furthermore, Marshawn Lynch’s classroom, where he credits feminism, was invented by a man, and his students stand in a cell tucked away in a corner. The way Nicholas Galitzine presents himself as a chaser of the Gen X tale or Miles Fowler’s Tim embodies the coming-of-age teen villain. They accept these women only after contributing to the overall toxicity problem that the film turns its critical eye toward.

Bottoms is perfectly encapsulated by a line near the film’s beginning in which the announcement over the loudspeaker states, “Could the ugly, untalented gays, please report to the principal’s office?” The line isn’t just a microcosm of the deliberately wild and zany takes on victimization; it also reflects how harshly judges often lack the maturity to be true to themselves. A case in point is that some choose labels, or in this case, uniforms, to fit the idea of what society wants them to be, which explains why the male villains never take off their high school football uniforms.

Bottoms embraces that awkward, authentic freakiness of high school self, venturing into the wild side even for the most fervently absurd—a hilarious and distinctive comedy with facetious humor for the modern, audacious teenage female.

No matter the orientation.

Grade: A-

Movie Review: ‘Golda’ Squeezes Out Every Ounce of Drama

Director: Guy Nattiv
Writer: Nicholas Martin
Stars: Helen Mirren, Zed Josef, Claudette Williams

Synopsis: Focuses on the intensely dramatic and high-stakes responsibilities and decisions that Golda Meir, also known as the ‘Iron Lady of Israel’ faced during the Yom Kippur War..

Golda is an exceptional historical drama that unfolds like a tightly wound political thriller and showcases a virtuoso performance by Helen Mirren in the titular role. Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. However, the film leads to a stunning scene between Golda Meir and Henry Kissinger (the outstanding Liev Schreiber), which might be one of the year’s best.

Around the 72-minute mark, after ignoring the mighty United States’ pleas for a cease-fire, primarily related to oil price increases, Mirren unloads a demand on Schreiber’s Kissinger that sends shivers down the spine and raises the hairs on your arms. “You must decide, Henry, side with me, or I will create an army of orphans and widows, and I will slaughter them all. Whose side are you on? You must choose.”

For a fan of the genre or a historical junkie, it’s as riveting a scene as you may see all year. Never before has the red handset being slammed back into its base reverberated more with anticipation of dire consequences. Even for the Soviet Union and the United States, who were squeezing the first and only female Prime Minister of Israel into a ceasefire, these two superpowers were no match for a weathered and chain-smoking old Jewish bitty in sturdy orthopedic shoes.

Directed by Academy Award winner Guy Nattiv, Golda follows the controversial political figure over a 21-day period in 1973, which involved Meir’s Israel and the Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. (Yes, the war lasted 19 days, but the film covers a few days after the conflict “officially” ended.) Meir had the impossible task of preventing her country’s all but certain annihilation.

That’s because she and her citizens were stuck between several rocks and hard places from different angles. For one, Israel and Meir were just not fighting the war with the heavily armed Arab nations. For one, the threat of Soviet involvement was always lingering. In a political chess match, Meir continually attempts to involve the United States, despite Kissinger’s objections because the United States must remain neutral because of its dependence on foreign oil.

Golda was written by Florence Foster Jenkins’ scribe Nicholas Martin, and his script is brilliantly paced while juggling multiple storylines about how the war affects people abroad and at home. Most of the film is told on numerous fronts. For instance, when in Meir’s house, she shows a vulnerable side with her assistant as she suffers from chronic and debilitating physical ailments. Another,  which is the film’s central narrative, goes back and forth to her tribunal, deciding if her decisions were indeed lawful.

Another from the political offices and makeshift war room went over political strategies, displaying the strength and creativity most political figures could only dream of possessing. Finally, involving what is possibly the film’s most visually stunning scene, a military operation bunker, where Meir has to make choices that even Sophie would find herself running away from.

And this is where the marriage of page to screen between Nattiv, Martin, Mirren, and the director of photography Jasper Wolf’s gorgeously claustrophobic and intimate cinematography becomes harmonious cinema. You can practically feel the cloud of smoke Meir blows in the camera’s face as she listens in real-time to the demise of the Israeli soldiers she deploys into all but certain ominous outcomes.

The way Martin’s script layers themes of anxiety at home, where Meir is constantly aware from the stenographer’s mood as she has a loved one involved in the fight, circles back to a devastatingly effective scene—Mirren’s delivery of astute and enlightening political observations like “Knowing when you lost is easy; knowing when you won is hard,” and “Just remember all political careers end in failure.”

Many claim that Golda can be putting it politely, dry, or even dull. While that’s understandable, this is a film with a limited budget. The team here squeezes every ounce they can with the funding and story available to them. And while the criticisms of casting Mirren as a Jewish hero and icon are legitimate, it’s hard to argue how Mirren inhabits the real-life figure’s weathered mind, body, and soul.

Grade: B+

Movie Review: ‘Jules’ Feels Incomplete

Director: Marc Turtletaub
Writer: Gavin Steckler
Stars: Ben Kingsley, Harriet Sansom Harris, Jane Curtin

Synopsis: Milton lives a quiet life of routine in a small western Pennsylvania town, but finds his day upended when a UFO and its extra-terrestrial passenger crash land in his backyard.

The “Baby Boomers” are the most significant labor force cohort in the United States, so movies tailored for the age range of 57 to 75 will never go away any time soon. The AARP genre of films has become popular of late. From the Book Club franchise, Going in Style, and Poms, these movies are designed to take the family’s matriarch to a show on Mother’s Day Sunday matinee.

While most of these films offer a pleasant way to spend a lazy afternoon, if that’s your thing, the best ones have some underlying thematic value regarding a generation’s worth, not only appreciated but the need that our elders have to offer.

Unfortunately, Jules offers very little in that department, which is a shame considering the talent involved, including a legendary lead, two respected comedic character actors, and a director whose feature film debut, Puzzle, was an unexpected gem. Sadly, this science-fiction comedy lacks imagination beyond its one-note joke.

Directed by Marc Turtletaub, Jules tells the story of Milton (Ben Kingsley), an older adult, quietly living out his life watching endless episodes of CSI reruns on basic cable in a small Western Pennsylvania town. He’s estranged from his son, and his daughter is worried about him since he leaves newspapers in the freezer and a can of vegetables in the bathroom medicine cabinet. 

Milton’s significant daily activity is going down to the community center to propose changing the town’s slogan to the political leaders into something grammatically correct, and he’s not the only one. That includes Sandy (Harriet Harris), who wants to propose community outreach so she can connect with the younger generation. 

We also have the neighborhood busybody, Joyce (Jane Curtin), who’s worried about how her fellow older adults present themselves but fails to understand that her abrasiveness pushes people away. However, that is all about to change when an alien spaceship crashes into the back of Milton’s rural property, and they meet an extraterrestrial who goes by Jules.

Jules was written by Gavin Steckler, whose most significant contribution to film and television was the USA Network series Playing House. And that sums up my experience with the film—it feels like a pilot for the easy-going and breezy network that was never produced. Steckler’s script offers a buddy concept and some mildly odd escapism that’s light-hearted and approachable. Yet, while the script does generate some empathy and relatability, the interaction never reinforces the film’s themes to produce deeper, more profound outcomes and develop the characters in significant ways that are desperately needed.

Yes, Jules has some lovely moments, such as how Kingsley portrays Milton’s warm nature. I am also thrilled that Harris has a significant role here. The veteran character actress, best known for being the hilarious, no-morals agent Bebe Glazer on Frasier and the doomed wife of Sammy in Memento, is the film’s emotional center.

Harris is involved in the picture’s best scene. However, to justify my issue with the film’s uneven mix, it combines an odd, out-of-place solo rendition of “Free Bird” with Curtin’s Joyce. Finally, when the film builds to the script’s payoff, the finale must be more varied, and the final 15 minutes feel needlessly lengthy. Not only are the connections between the three main subjects never established, none are made outside their bubble. The emotional void between the trio is as vast as space itself.

Jules has its heart in the right place for all intents and purposes, but very little is accomplished with a film that is less than 90 minutes long. Along with the film’s lack of a complete third act, this comedy does little to no favors in terms of exploring what makes life worth living.

Grade: C-

Podcast: “How It’s About” Movies – Episode 548

This week’s episode is brought to you by Koffee Kult. Get 15% OFF with the code: ISF

This week on the InSession Film Podcast, we discuss the best movies that exemplify Roger Ebert’s profound quote of “it’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it’s about it,” and why we live by that ethos! We also discuss a little Blue Beetle box office and rant out a possible Thor 5.

On that note, check out this week’s show and let us know what you think in the comment section. Thanks for listening and for supporting the InSession Film Podcast!

Blue Beetle Box Office (2:16)
In the first segment, with the disappointment of Blue Beetle‘s box office, we wanted to talk about its impact and how we hope it has an Elemental type run long term.

RELATED: Listen to Episode 516 of the InSession Film Podcast where we discussed our Top 10 Movies of 2022!

– How It’s About Movies (21:40)
Roger Ebert will always be the GOAT for many reasons, but among them for us, is his legendary quote about a movies’ execution. It’s easy to judge any movie on what it’s about, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. So many movies are great, not because of what’s on the page or what it is as an idea, but because of its execution. A movie’s direction, performances, score and overall sincerity will always carry its quality. And here we talk about some movies that best exemplify that specifically.

– Thor 5 Rant (1:31:22)
It was reported last week that Taika Waititi is working on Thor 5, and we had some thoughts on this given our love of the Thor character over the years. We’re ready to move on from the Waititi Thor movies.

– Music
About Today – The National
Shallow – Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga

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InSession Film Podcast – Episode 548

Next week on the show:

Gran Turismo / Racing Movies

Help Support The InSession Film Podcast

If you want to help support us, there are several ways you can help us and we’d absolutely appreciate it. Every penny goes directly back into supporting the show and we are truly honored and grateful. Thanks for your support and for listening to the InSession Film Podcast!