#Oscars: “The Banshees of Inisherin” (2022) starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, & Barry Keoghan

Set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland in 1923, THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN follows lifelong friends, Padraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), who find themselves at an impasse when Colm unexpectedly puts an end to their friendship. A stunned Padraic, aided by his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and troubled/young neighbor, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), endeavours to repair the relationship, refusing to take no for an answer. But Padraic’s repeated efforts only strengthen his former friend’s resolve and when Colm delivers a desperate ultimatum, events swiftly escalate, with shocking consequences. -Synopsis

“Banshee” is the anglicized term for “bean sí” from old Irish meaning “woman of the fairy mound” or “fairy woman.” She is a spirit in Irish folklore who heralds the death of a family member, usually by screaming, wailing, shrieking, or keening. The Banshees of Inisherin, original title The Banshees of Inisheer, was intended to be the 3rd installment in a series of writer/director Martin McDonagh’s plays dubbed the Aran Islands Trilogy, which incl. The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Lieutenant of Inishmore. This is Farrell’s 3rd project w/ McDonagh (after In Bruges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012)). Gleeson was also in In Bruges; he and Farrell are close pals IRL This is Farrell’s 3rd project w/ Keoghan (after The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) and The Batman (2022)). Keoghan and Farrell lived in the same apt while shooting in Ireland; Keoghan admits he drove Farrell crazy by leaving messes and eating all of Farrell’s favorite cereal. Farrell, who Keoghan calls an older brother figure, said the experience was like “living in the episode of The Real World.” LOL! When this film premiered at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival, it received a 15-minute standing ovation.

Pádraic Súilleabháin: Do you know what you used to be?

Colm Doherty: No, what did I used to be?

Pádraic: Nice! You used to be nice! And now, do you know what you are? Not nice.

Colm: Ah, well, I suppose niceness doesn’t last then, does it?

In the Irish culture, comedy is usually also mixed w/ tragedy; this film is an example! It opens up w/ a rainbow (no joke) behind a smiling Padraic, who is planning to meet Colin for a beer at the pub; this is their ritual almost everyday at 2PM. The settings are gorgeous, the production design is spot-on (creating a lived-in world), and the acting is great all-around. Colm’s home was shot on the island of Achill in County Mayo, which is craggy/rugged, to reflect his moral quandary. However, Padraig’s scenes were filmed on the flatter, more uninteresting island of Inishmore. The J.J. Devine Public House (the bar) was built for the film on Achill; since a planning permit had NOT been acquired, it had to be demolished when the film wrapped. All of the main characters’ sweaters were made by the same elderly man, who knitted them by hand.

Pádraic: I am not putting me donkey outside when I’m sad, okay?

Padraic (a simple man) has animals, Colin (who is more complex/troubled) has music (violin/composing), and Siobhan (practical/lonely) has books. Jenny, the miniature donkey- also named Jenny- had never been in a movie before. She was NOT a trained animal actor and seemed to hate the experience. Farrell joked: “She was the biggest diva on set.” There is a brief shot of Siobhan’s books: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, Irish idylls by Jane Barlow, Waverley by Walter Scott, and The Golden Dream by RM Ballantyne. Dominic doesn’t seem to have anything to look forward to, though he is NOT as “dim” as people think. He comments: “faint heart and all that” after irritating Siobhan; this is a referral to the proverb: “A faint heart never won a fair lady.”

Dominic: Me, I pay no attention to wars. I’m again’ ’em. Wars and soap.

Even in such open spaces, viewers noted feeling the claustrophobia of the characters. The loss of one friend could be a tragedy, some viewers commented, as there aren’t many people around to know! There is no romance (or even potential for some romance) in this story, as one critic sadly noted. The elderly (perhaps witch-like) woman frightens the community w/ her premonitions. The priest is only around on Sundays and doesn’t know how to deal w/ Colm’s “despair.” The local policeman is often drunk and V abusive, esp. to his son Dominic (perhaps the most tragic character).

[1] At first, I was relating to Gleeson’s character, because I’ve felt like him. Life is too short to spend on relationships that don’t add value. But as his behavior gets more and more extreme… […] we start to realize how unwell he is and sympathies shift to Farrell’s character. Until we start to realize how selfish he actually is and how much his own actions are driven more by wanting to be liked than by concern for his friend. […]

The standout of the cast is Kerry Condon as Farrell’s sister. She’s an antidote to the male angst pervading this little Irish village.

[2] Reflecting the friction and war taking place over the water, and the reasons for it, with four outstanding performances, although Barry Keoghan absolutely knocks it out of the park, a film to get you thinking about what it means to get along, and the repercussions when two tribes don’t, even over the most trivial of torments.

[3] It is a well told dark comedy that keeps you wanting more, in a time when Ireland was full of despair, not long after the war of Independence and a long-suffering period that brought about a post-colonial inferiority complex (still hasn’t been addressed to this day), a struggle for an identity, a repressive church, superstitions, isolation, mass emigration, poverty and to top it all off- a brutal civil war.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“The Woman King” (2022) starring Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch, Sheila Atim, & John Boyega

The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Inspired by true events, The Woman King follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca (Oscar®-winner Viola Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life. Some things are worth fighting for. -Synopsis

This historical drama’s title comes from the fact that the people of Dahomey believed in a legend of two kings, a man and a woman who are equals; Nanisca (Viola Davis- at the top of her game) is expected to be crowned a Woman King by King Ghezo (John Boyega- a galaxy way from his Star Wars role). Producer Maria Bello (who acted w/ Davis in Prisoners) was visiting Benin (a West African nation) when she heard the story of the Agojie; she returned to the US, convinced she’d found a great movie pitch. The project stayed in “development hell” for 7 yrs, first at STX (which only offered a $5M budget), then at TriStar. Only after the huge success of Black Panther (2018) was this film greenlit (w/ a $50M budget). Davis and her husband also served as producers; they have a production company.

The actors trained for 4 mos. to get in shape for the action scenes; they’d lift weights for 90 mins, and then train for 3.5 hrs. w/ a stunt coordinator (on martial arts, the use of swords and spears, and did cardio). Most of the department heads are either women or people of color (POC): cinematography, production design, editing, makeup, hairstyling, costumes and visual effects. The screenplay is by Dana Stevens; her work includes: Fatherhood, the adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ novel Safe Haven, City of Angels, For Love of the Game, Blink, and Life or Something Like It. The movie (directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood) began shooting in South Africa (late 2021), but was interrupted by the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. Production had to shut down for a few weeks; the extra time was used to rehearse the big battle. Prince-Bythewood has said in (recent) interviews that she directs only those movies that she is passionate about.

Izogie: Rule number one: Always obey Izogie.

[she gives Nawi a strict look]

Izogie: I am Izogie!

Unlike Top Gun: Maverick (2022), which also centers on a strong/middle-aged leader and an ensemble of younger “warriors” (pilots), The Woman King is a balanced blend of action and character drama. How much do we know about Rooster (Miles Teller), Hangman (Glen Powell), Phoenix (Monica Barbero), Bob (Lewis Pullman), etc? They have little character development, as Maverick- and to a lesser extent- Penny (Jennifer Connelly)- is the obvious star. In this film, we get to know (and care about) 3 different warriors under Nanisca’s leadership: Nawi (Thuso Mbedu- a petite/20s South African actress in her 1st movie), Izogie (Lashana Lynch- a British actress recently in the Bond franchise), and Amenza (Sheila Atim- a British-Ugandan actress known for Shakespearean theater roles). Izogie brings in moments of (needed) humor, 19 y.o. Nawi is the newbie/audience surrogate, and Amenza is thoughtful/spiritual. Though Nanisca is their experienced, tough, and respected general, she has suffered trauma in the past. Each the women fights in her own unique way, specializing in different weapons.

Nanisca [to Nawi]: Your tears mean nothing. To be a warrior, you must kill your tears.

This a film focused on women, though there are supporting roles for a few men also. Boyega does a fine job (as expected), perhaps channeling Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy (from his African prince role in Coming to America), as some viewers commented. He says “my love” in a different way when he addresses each wife. The (fictional) white/Portuguese-speaking slave trader, Santo (Hero Fiennes Tiffin- nephew of actors Ralph and Joseph Fiennes), is welcomed by King Ghezo, but fails to maintain in good relations w/ him. Yes, the main villain is named Hero- LOL! Santo was perhaps loosely inspired by Francisco Félix de Sousa, a Brazilian slave trader who helped King Ghezo gain power IRL; these events are portrayed in Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde (1987). I don’t want to give too much away, but there is another male character who adds flavor to the story. I smiled, I cried (3x), and it stood up to re-watch! You can rent this movie (Amazon Prime).

#Oscars: “Top Gun: Maverick” (2022) starring Tom Cruise, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, & Val Kilmer

After thirty years, Maverick is still pushing the envelope as a top naval aviator, but must confront ghosts of his past when he leads TOP GUN’s elite graduates on a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those chosen to fly it. -Synopsis

I know what y’all (regular readers) are thinking: “You watched this movie!?” Heck yeah, I watched it for Glen Powell (looking gorgeous, BUT should’ve gotten more characterization)! Powell (who plays Hangman) lobbied for the role of Rooster (which went to Miles Teller- sporting a thick mustache). Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw is the grown-up/pilot son of Goose (played by Anthony Edwards in the 1986 movie) who is NOT on the best of terms w/ Pete “Maverick” Mitchell when this story starts.

Maverick [to younger pilots]: You think up there, you’re dead, believe me.

There is a diverse ensemble of attractive (and super-fit) young pilots; we don’t know much about them, as this story is concerned re: Maverick and the (impressive) action. I learned that a few scenes btwn Rooster and Phoenix (Monica Barbero) were cut. Bob (wears glasses, doesn’t swear or drink) is played by Lewis Pullman, son of actor Bill Pullman. Maverick is still in the rank of captain; he takes risks and bucks authority, though Adm. Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) covers his back. Ed Harris and Jon Hamm (who some thought looked older than Cruise- LOL) play two of the experienced Naval officers who are NOT quickly impressed by Maverick’s skills/charm. Many viewers were emotional after seeing Maverick and Iceman (in poor health) reunite!

Iceman: One last thing, who’s the better pilot, you or me?

Maverick: This is a nice moment, let’s not ruin it.

Unlike in the 1986 movie, we see a much better romance! Maverick (single/no kids) reunites w/ his former gf, Penny Benjamin (Jennifer Connelly- good in any role), a bar owner/single mom to a teen daughter. Penny was “the admiral’s daughter” mentioned in the original movie (a few astute viewers noticed). There is a V cool scene where Penny and Maverick go sailing on her boat; the actors are actually doing the work! Their love scene looked tame, BUT this has a PG-13 rating.

The opening of the movie is nearly identical to that in the 1986 movie. There are many call-backs (nostalgia); some will find it touching, while others will think it’s repetitive. The cutting-edge plane that Maverick flies past the speed of Mach 10 is sleek and expensive. The “fight” btwn Rooster and Maverick during one of the training exercises is (potentially) deadly, yet V exciting. In the 3rd act, there are some surprises (which I didn’t see coming). Who is the enemy? We don’t know, as the filmmakers chose to keep it apolitical. No doubt that this movie (filmed in 2018) is a technical achievement which became a box-office hit. If you want to check it out, it’s streaming on Amazon Prime (Paramount+). Powell looked V happy promoting the movie- that’s good enough for me!

Spoiler-Free Review: “The Menu” starring Ralph Fiennes, Anya Taylor-Joy, & Nicholas Hoult

Painstakingly Prepared. Brilliantly Executed. -A tagline for the movie

A young couple travels to a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises. -Synopsis

Chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes- who always does a great job) is at the top of his field; the multi-course meals at his restaurant (located on a small private) island cost $1,500. Elsa (Hong Chau) is the manager (AKA right hand) of the chef. Chau is a Vietnamese-American actress who just received an Oscar nom for Best Supporting Actress for The Whale (2022); she is having success after age 40 (quite rare in Hollywood). A young couple, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) and Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), are two of the guests; Tyler is V excited, being a foodie/fan of Chef Slowik. John Leguizamo plays a character called George Díaz, simply credited as “Movie Star.” Leguizamo based his character on former action star, Steven Seagal, whom he called a “horrible human” due to a V bad experience while working w/ him on Executive Decision (1996). The references to Diaz playing a cook in one of his movies may be a nod to Under Siege (1992), where Seagal played a cook- LOL! George is accompanied by his young assistant, Felicity (Aimee Carrero). A well-known food critic, Lillian (Janet McTeer), and her editor, Ted (Paul Edelstein), are among the guests; she’d written V positively re: this restaurant. Three jovial 30-ish Wall Street bros (played by Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, and Mark St. Cyr) want to spend their money and have a new experience. A tense/posh older couple, Richard (Reed Birney) and Anne (Judith Light), round out the group of 12 diners.

Tyler [eating some oysters]: You have to try the mouthfeel of the mignonette.

Margot: Please don’t say mouthfeel.

This movie (which I saw recently on HBO Max) premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on September 10, 2022. It was released November 18 in the US in 3,211 theaters (the widest release in Searchlight’s history). The director, Mark Mylod, has mainly worked in TV (Succession). One of the screenwriters, Will Tracy, came up w/ the idea of the story while on his honeymoon in Bergen, Norway, when he took a boat to a fancy restaurant on a private island. Tracy realized that diners were stuck (trapped) on the island until the meal was done!

Elsa: Here, we are family. We harvest. We ferment. We slaughter. We marinate. We liquify. We spherify. We gel.

Margot: [to Tyler] They gel?

Elsa: We gel!

There are many references to restaurant Noma (Copenhagen, Denmark), starting from the location, idea, concept, and ending w/ the menu itself. Several of the beach shots were filmed at Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island (Georgia). The food layouts were prepared by the famed French chef, Dominique Crenn, the ONLY female chef in the US to attain 3 Michelin stars for her restaurant, Atelier Crenn (San Fran). At one point, Chef Slowik insults Richard by calling him “donkey,” a reference to (famous/abusive) chef Gordon Ramsay. The kitchen team were trained to actually create the dishes, broken down station by station, as one would see in a real restaurant.

Chef Slowik [introducing the dessert course]: The s’more. The most offensive assault on the human palate ever contrived.

This is a social satire that makes fun of the uber-wealthy, esp. pretentious foodies and the celeb chefs who cater to their needs. I heard that Triangle of Sadness (2022) deals w/ similar themes. The look is sleek/ultra-modern and cold. It’s moody, atmospheric, and (often) tense. However, some of the occurrences are preposterous! The characters act like those in a horror movie in one scene, then turn goofy in the next one. This movie has been called “silly” by critics/viewers; I think it’s a waste of talent and under-cooked (pardon the pun). I was impressed esp. by Fiennes and Taylor-Joy (who have good chemistry), though some others were under-developed.

[1] This is a movie that plays on something everyone has come across in their lives: obsession. The movie starts out as a seemingly eerie thriller/suspense type movie with weird and unique quirks, but slowly devolves into something much more wild and very obviously takes it too far.

[2] I think I understood what The Menu was trying to convey with its deeper meaning, but I still came up disappointed. Anya Taylor-Joy and the rest of the cast gave great performances, but there was little that really brought the movie together.

[3] The entire cast gives great performances with Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy truly being the standouts as they playoff each other very well. Each character purposely reflected a personality type that, if you ever worked in service, you would encounter and come to know very well.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

Spoiler-Free Review: “Decision to Leave” (2022) starring Park Hae-il & Tang Wei

From a mountain peak in South Korea, a man plummets to his death. Did he jump, or was he pushed? When detective Hae-joon arrives on the scene, he begins to suspect the dead man’s wife Seo-rae. But as he digs deeper into the investigation, he finds himself trapped in a web of deception and desire. -Official Synopsis

If I cannot avoid it, then I embrace it.Park Chan-wook (director), when asked re: modern technology in this film

This film (streaming on MUBI) is the official submission of South Korea for the Best International Feature Film category of the 95th Academy Awards in 2023. I’d previously seen The Handmaiden, also directed by Park Chan-wook (who is in a league of his own); here we find a V different (yet also compelling) story. I was curious to see it, as I heard it was a blend of mystery, noir, and (slow burn) romance. The inspo for Decision to Leave was the Swedish crime novel series The Story of a Crime by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, which is re: aging police detective Martin Beck and contains social critique. At first, Chan-wook didn’t like the idea of using text messages; he’d considered a period piece (where the characters send hand written letters). When he decided on a modern setting, he put in a smart watch, voice recordings, and translation apps. Chan-wook used cell phone POV shots to show that the characters are NOT only looking at the screens, BUT to give a sense that they’re looking at the other person.

I envisioned it to be slow and gradual, but the actor [Hae-il] held the look for a moment too long before asking for the pattern to unlock her cell phone. -Chan-wook, when asked re: the possible “love at first sight” element

Jan Hae-joon (Park Hae-il) is an experienced cop in the big city of Busan; he’s in middle-age, wears custom-tailored suits, BUT can also run/fight better than some of the younger men. He’s a “dignified” man who is perhaps TOO invested in his work; one reviewer was reminded of Det. Vincent Hanna in Michael Mann’s Heat. Like many modern marrieds in South Korea (as my friend explained after her recent trip to Seoul), he and his wife (a scientist) live/work in separate cities, so see each other on weekends. The femme fatale is Song Seo-rae (Tang Wei, co-star of Lust, Caution), who reminded me of those beautiful/mysterious women of classic Hollywood. Both of the leads are able to portray vulnerability so well! It’s obvious that some of the authorities are suspicious of Seo-rae b/c she is Chinese (a foreigner) and much younger than her wealthy/powerful husband. There is a younger cop partnered w/ Hae-joon who provides comedy, as he has a LOT to learn and improve upon in his work.

This film is esp. well-edited and creatively shot, as many critics noted. There is much natural beauty to admire, going from city to mountains and- finally- the sea. There is no doubt that these filmmakers have an unique take, as they embrace, yet also subvert, the tropes of the crime drama. I esp. enjoyed the (gentle) romantic scenes in the 2nd act; Chan-wook said he was inspired by David Lean’s Brief Encounter. Many viewers were reminded of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, though the director said that wasn’t an influence.