Friday, 25 November 2022

What I'm Watching: November 2022


A quick recap of my month in movies, media and streaming, including three recent Netflix titles, Inside Man, The Good Nurse and The Wonder, Maria Schrader's #MeToo expose film She Said, Chloe Okuno's Euro thriller Watcher, and HBO's second season of The White Lotus

She Said (In theatres)

A biographical drama that recounts the New York Times' investigation into Miramax cofounder Harvey Weinstein, She Says is Hollywood seeking to dip into its own recent past and thrust the women in the eye of the #MeToo storm to the forefront of the narrative. The story is centred around Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan, who play investigative journalists Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor respectively. 

Kudos to director Maria Schrader, for crafting such a compelling and captivating story out of what is ostensibly a series of people making or taking phone calls, writing emails and knocking on doors. 

It's not easy to make the procedural, day-to-day feel cinematic, and that shows in She Says' camerawork – it's very locked down and basic, as we follow Kazan and Mulligan as they do day-to-day things, like walking through the newsroom, sitting in the corporate canteen or cooking dinner in their pokey apartment kitchens. 

Instead of technical, She Says shines on an emotional level – it's hard not to get caught up in the stress, the tension and the frustration of their investigation, as they try to peel away the delicate layers of lies, that have built up over decades of misdeeds. Met with cul-de-sac after dead-end, there's some gratification in watching the pieces of the puzzle slot together – even if we know how this story ends.  

Kazan and Mulligan make for two excellent leads; they're never showy, just driven and determined, before some glimpses of relief slip through at the end. Jennifer Ehle is particularly memorable too, as Laura Madden – one of Weinstein's long-suffering victims. 

Having worked in a newsroom for a couple of years – albeit one that is nowhere near as slick or as busy as the New York Times! – it was fun to see story take shape, as it is in lots of journalism films. Highly recommended, and sure to be in the conversation come Oscar time. 

Inside Man (Netflix)

Boy oh boy, this has to be one of the most frustrating shows I've seen in a long time. 

The initial concept itself is fine, it's the journey thereafter that really gets on your tits. Essentially, everything that happens in this four-episode miniseries stems from a really confounding and avoidable misunderstanding, between an English vicar (David Tennant), his son's maths tutor (Dolly Wells), a muckraking crime journalist (Lydia West) and a death row prisoner in Arizona (Stanley Tucci). 

There's promise in the premise, but every character at every turn makes boneheaded choices that serve only to heighten the drama, even if it flies in the face of conventional logic. As much as I love him and he brings a committed performance, the main culprit here is Tennant. He plays a vicar who, in service of someone who truly doesn't deserve it, blows up his whole life. 

Then, on other side of the dual narrative is Tucci's smug death row prisoner. This character has potential too – despite being on death row, he 'works cases' that are strange or unusual – but showrunner Steven Moffat keeps his cards close to his chest, and we're given a fairly shallow level of insight into who this person is. 

The White Lotus season two (Binge)

The White Lotus was my favourite show of 2021, and based on the first four episodes of this second season, it hasn't lost any of its lustre in the last 12 months. 

Season two sees the show jetting off to Sicily, where we meet a whole new ensemble of insufferable rich white people as they check into the exclusive White Lotus resort. 

There's too many characters to detail all their idiosyncrasies here, but suffice to say, there's a lot to chew on – from the supposedly picture-perfect couple who harbour some messed up marital issues behind-the-scenes, to three generations of messed-up men on a journey of familial rediscovery by way of toxic intergenerational trauma. 

My White Lotus season two MVP so far is Aubery Plaza, closely followed by Haley Lu Richardson. Plaza's character is very much in her wheelhouse, but there's depth and nuance that she isn't afforded too often in other projects. Jennifer Coolidge's Tanya is the only returning character from season one, as vapid billionaire who sort of floats through life and mistreats those around her, including Richardson's harried personal assistant. 

What else is there to say other than if you're out of the White Lotus loop, it's time to make a reservation on your sofa and see what all the fuss is about.

Watcher (Prime Video)

Scream queen Maika Monroe is back in familiar territory in Watcher, a modern take on the classic Hitchcockian thriller. Monroe plays Julia, an American woman who moves to Romania with her husband Francis, after he takes a marketing job at his firm's Bucharest office. 

Isolated and alone, Julia spends her days cooped up in their dingy apartment – and soon realises a shadowy figure across the road is creepily watching her from their darkened window. Meanwhile, a vicious serial killer stalks the streets and dominates the news headlines, leading to Julia feeling like the person watching her has sinister intentions. 

An uncomplicated, no-frills thriller, Watcher is more about frayed nerves and frightened glances over your shoulder, than schlocky kills. Like most of the people around her, we spend most of the runtime questioning Julia's frame of mind – is this all in her head, or is there really someone following her? 

That the answer is actually quite straightforward is perhaps the scariest thing about it. Monroe is great, as always, and Burn Gorman (Torchwood, Pacific Rim) is seriously creepy as Julia's supposed stalker. This one has been unceremoniously dumped on VOD here in Australia, but it's well worth a look if horror and thriller is your kind of thing. 

The Wonder (Netflix)

Come for Florence Pugh, stay for Florence Pugh. Sebastian Lelio's period drama is a fascinating film, in that you're plunged into a mysterious scenario – Pugh plays an English nurse dispatched to rural Ireland to care for Anna, young woman who claims to have not eaten in months – and asked to make sense of it all. Is this a religious revelation or an attempt at devious deception? The Irish villagers are convinced it's the former, but Pugh's pragmatic nurse soon finds herself preoccupied with proving that Anna is not being entirely truthful. 

Aside from a perplexing first and final shot, The Wonder is a fairly straightforward narrative – a person arrives from out of town only to be confronted with distrust and scepticism – so it's the technical elements, such as cinematography and production design, as well as Pugh's lead performance, that hold your attention. There's some interesting themes at play here, largely concerned with the interplay between belief and reason, faith and science. 

It's not overlong, clocking in at 109 minutes, but it is achingly slow at times. I think if this film didn't have Pugh as both a drawcard and ultimate MVP, it wouldn't be worth your time. But as it turns out, it's another notch on an already impressive belt. 

The Good Nurse (Netflix)

What are two Academy Award-winning actors doing slumming it in this Netflix movie, you may ask. Jessica Chastain, only a few months on from her Best Actress accolade, surely deserves something with a bigger profile, right? 

Well, 10 years ago, this film would've been thrust into cinemas and made something of a splash. Nowadays, it's just another Netflix film that kind of came and went over a weekend. 

Which is a shame, because it's pretty good! Chastain plays the titular nurse who starts to suspect her new colleague, played by Redmayne, is the cause behind a series of mysterious deaths on the ICU ward where they work. 

Based on a true story, The Good Nurse is a slick piece of counter-programming to recent projects that have glorified or fetishised serial killers. Here, Redmayne is viewed as an unglamorous and inscrutable monster – one who doesn't come furnished with a tragic or teary backstory.

It's perhaps a little long, and the third act doesn't build to a crescendo; it's more of a downbeat fizzle. But on the whole, this is worth a look – a solid three-star dramatic thriller. 

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