TOGETHER (2021)

August 26, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. As expected, we are beginning to see an influx of “pandemic” movies and TV shows. What wasn’t expected is the unique and creative approach in this one from Co-directors Stephen Daldry (THE HOURS, 2002) and Justin Martin. The script is from Dennis Kelly and the writing, directing, and acting all work together seamlessly to create quite an unusual viewing experience.

The weight of the movie rests on the outstanding performances from James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan (GAME NIGHT, 2018). They don’t simply break the fourth wall, they outright obliterate it. These two characters, whose names we never learn, talk directly to us viewers at least as often as they do to each other. The story begins in March 2020 on the first day of COVID quarantine, and carries through for a full year. As we open, the relationship has admittedly run its course, though as the days go by, circumstances can change things. The two are joined in the house by 10 year old son Artie (Samuel Logan), who spends an inordinate amount of time hovering in the background, hearing the two adults say things he shouldn’t hear. They appear to devote very little time to the boy’s stress … although their own feelings are front and center.

It’s a bit off-putting at first as we adjust to the couple speaking directly to us. On top of that, the sharing of personal information and the overlapping dialogue of their caustic exchanges meant to hurt, make this feel a bit like we are intruding. But the conversations are so relatable since we’ve all experienced the uncertainty and frustration wrought by the pandemic. In a short amount of time, we understand these two. He shares the story of his early confrontation with a grocery clerk over his son’s food choices, while she explains the guilt associated with an ailing elderly mother during a lockdown. Their “mushroom” story is certainly one for the ages, and again, provides much insight into these two people of distinctly opposite political spectrums.

Daldry and Martin filmed this in just 10 days, and with the entire piece taking place on the lower level of the couple’s flat, the film has a definite stage feel – accentuated by the long takes and aura of live performances. The dialogue stands in for action, and Ms. Horgan’s explanation of the reality of “exponential growth” in regards to COVID is one of the most stunning math classes you’ll attend. This is a case study of personalities and the relationship effects of a pandemic, and it is infused with enough dark comedy to keep it entertaining, rather than depressing. Some similarities exist to the SXSW film THE END OF US, though this one is quite a different viewing experience.

Bleeker Street is releasing TOGETHER in theaters on 8/27/21 and digitally on 9/14/21

WATCH THE TRAILER


BLACK SEA (2015)

January 21, 2015

black sea Greetings again from the darkness. One of my first favorite TV shows as a little kid was “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”. Each week I sat wide-eyed in front of the tube (yes, it was actually a cathode ray tube back then) anxiously awaiting underwater adventure. It wasn’t until later that I discovered Irwin Allen’s 1961 movie of the same name, and more importantly, Jules Verne’s novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”, which featured the wild exploits of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus.  Since then, count me in for just about any movie based aboard a submarine (Down Periscope being a rare exception).

Director Kevin MacDonald is best known for his excellent 2006 film The Last King of Scotland (with Forest Whitaker’s Oscar winning performance as Idi Amin). This time he works with a script from playwright Dennis Kelly to deliver a gritty, tense thriller that is lacking any traditional Hollywood fluff … it’s a down and dirty look at greed, desperation and the survival instinct.

Inherent to a story based aboard a submarine is the immediate and constant threat of claustrophobia and death. This one adds another element of danger by blending a crew of Russians and Brits with the goal of bringing back millions of dollars in gold locked away on a sunken German U-Boat in the Black Sea waters. Lest you think the Russians are just another group of southern California actors faking the accent, director MacDonald confirmed that he cast actual Russian actors – including Grigoriy Dobrygin (A Most Wanted Man), Konstantin Khabenskiy (one of the most popular actors in Russia), and three others named Sergey, which MacDonald acknowledged contributed to on-set confusion. This decision elevates the onboard tension between adversarial characters to an armrest-gripping level. Yet another slightly psychotic Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom) role doesn’t hurt, either.

Jude Law continues the second phase of his career – far removed from his pretty boy early films – as a tough, revenge-seeking sub captain fired by his long-time employer. Should you doubt Law’s acting range, I would recommend not just this film, but also last year’s Dom Hemingway (a raucous ride). Law’s performance here is very strong as he transforms from a p.o.’d former employee to an eye-on-the-prize, win-at-all-cost treasure seeker. The onboard tension mounts every time there is interaction between the Russians and Brits, and Law’s character attempts to mediate. The progression of this three-way dynamic is fascinating to watch as it unfolds.

To provide that true underwater feeling, MacDonald filmed some scenes onboard an old Soviet submarine that is moored in the River Medway in Kent (UK). We never have that feeling of Hollywood soundstage; instead we as viewers share in the tight space and constant dread. This combination of characters, setting and mission deliver an intense thriller that is sure to please, and feels uncommonly welcome this early in the year.

The pinnacle of submarine movies is Das Boot (1981), a must-see for any movie lover. Other popular sub films include Crimson Tide (1995), The Hunt for Red October (1990), and K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), and for those of us who are fascinated by life (and possible death) under the sea, we gladly welcome a new entry to the sub-genre, especially one as well made and tension-packed as Black Sea.

watch the trailer: