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Voyagers | A Ridiculous Piece of Psychological Sci-Fi

Unhinged and completely preposterous.

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*Warning: This piece contains spoilers for Voyagers.*

About twenty minutes into Neil Burger’s Voyagers, where the film’s two main characters, Christopher (Tye Sheridan) and Zac (Fionn Whitehead), stop drinking “the blue,” a medicine that suppresses their impulses and pleasure receptors, it becomes clear that the movie will start to veer off from a rather promising sci-fi confinement picture into something completely ridiculous and barely comprehensive. Before, it established a story of how a group of scientists artificially conceived astronauts will be the first generation of an 86-year long mission to reach a planet ripe for colonization. “The blue” is a drink that keeps the astronauts in check so they do not make irrational decisions. Once the two main characters take the blue, however, it’s a completely different story.

Zac becomes increasingly psychotic, thinking he can get (and do) what he wants and become the new chief officer, after the previous one, Richard (Colin Farrell), dies while on a repair mission with Christopher. The astronauts believe it’s an Alien, which allows Zac to instill fear in the minds of its gullible crew, to pit it against Christopher, who believes rationality will prevail. He’ll convince half of the crew that the Alien is “inside” the astronauts, and the only way they’ll be able to complete the mission is by finding and killing it. However, there is no Alien as it’s revealed that Zac murdered Richard to take control of the mission and have “free will” instead of control from drinking “the blue.” It’s now up to Christopher and Sela (Lily-Rose Depp) to regain control of the ship and kill Zac before he manipulates the crew further.

Voyagers' Review: 'Lord of the Flies' in Space, and in Cool T-Shirts -  Variety

With a concept this out-there, Voyagers could be the type of film conspiracy theorists revel in, as it showcases what they admittedly think is happening during the COVID-19 pandemic, where blue-drinking sheeple blindly follow instructions like a herd, but the free-willed spirits will ultimately prevail. What they don’t know is that rationality, science, and pragmatism always prevail, as conspiracy movements are a barrage of self-owns; they denounce the “controlled” and “brainwashed” sheeple when they protest their own brainwashed and crazed-up theories inside a herd, walking down in the same direction, blindly following their shepherds. Zac represents the fear-driven shepherd, who’ll manipulate and brainwash irrational astronauts to act on impulse after they’ve all stopped drinking the blue, which will result in hedonistic activities and pure hysteria, as he’s able to easily manipulate everyone by making them think an Alien is among the crew.

You’d think the crew would be able to think critically and exercise judgment when they see that Zac is responsible for Richard’s death. Still, even then, he’s able to spin it brilliantly by making them believe he did it because he “saw the Alien in him.” And people blindly believe him, through an “invisible enemy” that may infect the entire ship, but most notably out of fear. But here are the facts: there is no Alien, but there is a mission to complete and succeed for the third generation to arrive at the planet. Christopher will try to rationalize the crew, but unfortunately, he can’t stand up against a tyrant who wants total control over the mission under the guise of “free will.” Many sequences involving Zac, Christopher, and Sela are profoundly misogynistic, with moments of sexual assault disguised as “pleasure” for Zac. These scenes are terribly uncomfortable to watch and add nothing strictly to the main plot.

As an actor, Fionn Whitehead excelled in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk and Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. However, Voyagers is his most embarrassing film to date, playing an antagonist without any form of nuance or menace. He’s only evil because that’s his true nature. When he stopped drinking the blue, he felt more pleasure but revealed who he really is towards the group: a misogynist, self-serving asshole. Whitehead exudes those traits quite well, but the script he’s given makes his character feel more caricatural than anything else. Other actors seem fairly unengaged with its story, with Tye Sheridan continuing to prove he cannot carry a film nor make his lines feel urgent in any capacity. Zac’s mutiny feels like an urgent situation the chief officer must solve. Still, Christopher never feels pressured to regain control of the ship and nonchalantly tries to find strategies with Lily-Rose Depp, who is as bored as Sheridan is.

Sheridan impressed audiences in Ready Player One and Mud but barely held attention in films such as Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse or his tenure in the X-Men saga. As such, without compelling actors and a competent script, Voyagers barely holds attention. The only decent actor in this mess gets killed after twenty minutes of screentime, with his talents wasted as those were the only sequences where the film truly soared. Colin Farrell can be in a film for less than five minutes (see Artemis Fowl) and can still impact the audience. That’s how legendary an actor he is, but his talents shouldn’t be used for films like this.

“A film like this? What kind of film is this?” you may ask (or not). I have no idea. It desperately wants to comment on current world situations, where leaders exercise control over free will, but “free will” ultimately becomes control if more gullible people become brainwashed in what they think is “free will.” Here’s some food for thought: we’re not “free.” We must always abide by rules that govern our society while quasi-living in our own free path. Freedom or, in this case, free will isn’t earned by “awakened” individuals fighting against so-called tyranny when they are the real tyrants preventing society from emancipating itself through rationality & science. It’s only earned when we, as individuals, develop critical thought and stop letting the uncertainty of the outside world dictate our feelings. That’s legitimate free will and not the freedom to do what you want, when you want, at the peril of others for your egotistical self. If you may think I’m a pessimist or a bit of a downer, then that’s fine, but that’s what I grasped while watching Voyagers: a film that wants to raise awareness on the question of free will vs. control, but becomes a rather unhinged and incompetent psychological sci-fi film instead. You’re better off watching The Matrix, which asks the same overall question in a more thoughtful light.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwJkexUBSegu0026amp;ab_channel=LionsgateMovies
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One Fine Morning Review | Mia Hansen-Løve Knocks it Out of the Park Again

NYFF: Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest is no Bergman Safari and tackles mundane tragedies in everyday life.

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While I’ve only seen two of Mia Hansen-Løve‘s films — Bergman Island and One Fine Morning — I have become a fan. The former was one of my favorite films of last year for its commentary on artistic expression and stellar performances from all four of its leads (Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps, Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie). It’s a film that I’m dying for a Blu-ray release of — ball’s in your court, Criterion Collection — and I cannot recommend it enough since it’s available to stream on Hulu now.

But Hansen-Løve’s new film is no walk in the park — or venture through the Bergman Safari. Shifting gears from the easy-going demeanor of Bergman Island is One Fine Morning; a film that explores love, aging and everything in between. Hansen-Løve has a knack for pairing herself with some incredibly talented actors and has gone from Krieps to Léa Seydoux, one of the most reliable performers working today.

(L-R): Pascal Greggory and Léa Seydoux in One Fine Morning. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Sandra (Seydoux) is a single mother to her young daughter Linn (Camille Leban Martins). Life is anything but easy for Sandra as her father (Pascal Greggory), a famous author, has a deteriorating mental condition that is getting worse by the day. She has to balance moving him into an elderly home and a new love that arises, Clément (Melvil Poupaud).

Unlike other guys, Clément fulfills all of Sandra’s needs. Sandra, despite being a grown woman, shows vulnerability. She still sports a wide-grinned smile when she receives a text from Clément like she’s a teen texting her first boyfriend, but is still shown to also be a very lonely figure. Seydoux does a masterful job of portraying the sorrow behind a brave face that so many mothers do.

There’s also the tug of war between the morality of Sandra’s decisions. She’s technically doing nothing wrong by seeing Clément, but it’s the fact that he’s married and has a child that complicates things as he stays with a single mother and her young daughter. And Linn is a far smarter child than you think; she knows exactly what’s going on when Clément stays the night.

(L-R): Léa Seydoux and Camille Leban Martins in One Fine Morning. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

And the film really strikes an emotional chord, even if you haven’t been the mistress or have a young child. Sandra’s father and his struggle leave a profound mark. Personally, I remember times when visiting my grandmother in an elderly home where we’d say our goodbyes only for her to forget and begin walking down the hall calling my name. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s moments like those that really bring it home.

If there was one complaint to just get out of the way, I wish that the film further explored the relationship between Sandra and Linn. Linn is not thrown on the sidelines as much as June (Grace Delrue) is in Bergman Island — granted, that was a story about writer’s block and getting away from distractions — but there’s some untapped potential whether that means more scenes with Sandra or with Clément, whom we see she (adorably) gets along with in the film.

Everything else in Hansen-Løve’s film is excellent. From the score to the soundtrack selections — who knew that “LIksom en Herdinna” and “Love Will Remain” could be used so powerfully in a film? — and the subtle script, all of the elements work in unison. And the final scene is so touching. Say what you want about Hansen-Løve, one thing you cannot deny is that she knows how to end a film.

Hansen-Løve has done it again with an emotionally-driven character study that observes a single mother. Seydoux gives a great performance and is helped out by co-stars Poupaud and Martins. The film is powerful whilst portraying a mundane life with tragedies that can happen to anyone. One Fine Morning may not be quite as contemplative as Hansen-Løve’s last film, but it’s still far more emotionally gripping than a vast majority of what we see in American cinema. And for that, I applaud her and want to take a deep dive into her filmography.


One Fine Morning had its world premiere on May 20 at the Cannes Film Festival and will have an Oscars-qualifying run in late 2022 before having a wide release in early 2023.

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White Noise Review | Noah Baumbach’s Latest is Exactly That

NYFF: Despite some great performances, stunning set design and a lush score, Noah Baumbach’s latest is a disappointment.

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When I think of the term “white noise,” I think of some noise that just blends in with the rest of the background commotion going on at a given moment. Heck, there are machines that manufacture the sound for those that need it. For Noah Baumbach, one of the world’s best directors, his latest film attempts to tell a big story with his adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel of the same name; mixing in some timely comparisons to recent pandemics and political agendas, Baumbach’s film, unfortunately, isn’t loud enough and ends up becoming, well, exactly what its title suggests: white noise. 

White Noise follows Jack Gladney (Adam Driver) — a leading professor in an up-and-coming educational program (please catch the sarcasm), Hitler studies — and his family including his wife Babette (Greta Gerwig) as they deal with a catastrophic “Airborne Toxic Event” that dominates the news and the world much like a very recent pandemic. In addition to the near extinction event, tensions rise between the Gladneys as Babette has some medication issues and her daughter Denise (Raffey Cassidy). This leads down a path that can best be summed up by saying that men are vengeful creatures. 

There’s something weirdly entrancing about the world that Baumbach has created. A prime example of this is the supermarket where Jack, along with everyone else in his town, does grocery shopping. It blends this weird fake aesthetic a la the grocery store on Guy’s Grocery Games but also feels like a real store. I know those statements contradicted one another, but you have to see it to believe it. The posters residing outside of the Walter Reade Theater shared this old-school aesthetic and are gorgeous posters. 

(L to R): Adam Driver as Jack, Greta Gerwig as Babette and Don Cheadle (Murray)White Noise. Cr. Netflix © 2022

This grocery store is also where Baumbach works in his metaphors subtly (in addition to his usage of ”Can’t Help Falling in Love”). This isn’t always the case, as will be discussed, but the motif of American consumerism — Jack only buys name brand products while his friend Murray (Don Cheadle) buys the store brand items such as “Pretzel Rods,” which are fitting stored in plain white bags and bold font. 

In most other cases, Baumbach’s subtlety only goes as far as the conveyer belts in the supermarket. The film’s central plot revolving around the “Airborne Toxic Event” is a nifty metaphor for the pandemic that we’re still dealing with to some degree. And the film has nothing interesting to say besides calling for attention from its audience as they see images they surely remember (e.g. facemasks, hospitals and shelters being full, the spreading of misinformation). 

I know it’s easy to poke fun at conservatives and talk about their spreading of misinformation, but couldn’t this have been done any more gracefully than having the kids of the Gladney family randomly constantly spewing “facts” that you can’t verify while in a movie theater? In fairness, another film I liked that had equal rhetoric, B.J. Novak‘s Vengeance, simplifies its targets to the burlesque extreme. However, in the case of Vengeance, the clowning makes sense because the film never tries to hide the fact that the overall message is that “conservatives are gun-loving morons.” Agree with the message or not, the film never runs from that. White Noise, whether due to the fact it was written many years ago or that Baumbach simply didn’t want to dig in that deep, never attempts to scratch below the surface.

(L to R): Sam Nivola as Heinrich, Adam Driver as Jack, May Nivola as Steffie, Greta Gerwig as Babette, Dean Moore/Henry Moore as Wilder and Raffey Cassidy as Denise in White Noise. Cr. Wilson Webb/Netflix © 2022

This part of the plot also results in Babette becoming afraid of the outside world. The fearmongering has clearly set in after a while, but for as hard as White Noise tries to make its extinction event as much of a spectacle as the recent pandemic, it never hits that mark. The metaphor hits you over the head like a mallet and it’s really not that the film is speaking of the subject matter too soon, it’s just not done tastefully.

The only time where the pandemic metaphor is used effectively is in the touching existential crisis that the Gladneys face. The couple spends a lot of time worrying about their mortality. This could be due to the fact that Driver and Gerwig’s characters are both reaching an age where their children are going into their teen years right before their eyes and in most cases, that suggests you’re getting older. It’s natural to fear death, but what happens when a near extinction event occurs? While bleak, this is the most humane aspect of the film.

White Noise is a film that’s at its peak when it’s completely unhinged. There’s a dance number towards the end that’s the best of the film by a mile — though the Hitler-Elvis debate gives it a run for its money — and all of the performances are perfectly turned up to 11 — specifically from Driver and Gerwig. It’s moments like these that make the film watchable. The rest, however, is a different story. 

Despite the film’s over-the-top and comedic nature, there’s something endearing about the performances of Driver and Gerwig. For one, Driver playing a professor and a father that’s just a little bit dorky was a pleasant change of pace. It’s amazing that Driver, whom I first saw as Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens in middle school, is now one of the most versatile actors working. You also can’t go wrong with Gerwig in her husband’s films, and she gives a very real performance. I actually thought that she was Kristen Wiig in the early parts of the film. Regardless, these two are great. Add Cheadle to the mix and you have an excellent starring trio. Cheadle isn’t given a whole lot in the film, but the scenes and dialogue he shares with Driver are top-notch stuff.

From what I understand, the film is a pretty faithful adaptation of the novel. I bought a copy in advance of the film but opted to read it afterward when I heard this. And now, days later, I can say that the film does adapt the pages quite faithfully from what I’ve read. The only difference I’ve spotted is the POV change (the book tells it from Jack’s perspective.). Regardless, it perhaps could have punched up the source material a teensy bit. I heard that the third act, or at least the climax, differs from the novel. Even so, the film takes a very conventional route to its end that is then prolonged like a Peter Frampton guitar solo.  

(L-R): Don Cheadle (Murray) and Adam Driver (Jack) in White Noise. Cr: Wilson Webb/Netflix © 2022

To be clear, Baumbach is a wonderful filmmaker with the likes of Frances Ha and Marriage Story to his name. Those two films are so personal and feel real whereas White Noise feels distant. It’s like Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, which is a fine film on its own but it lacks the authenticity of his previous work and fails to live up to that standard. And sure, White Noise is a dark comedy/satire through and through — as evident in Jack’s inability to speak German as the dean of the Hitler studies program at College on the Hill — but the way it handles its subject matter that goes deeper than that begs the question of whether or not this really is satire, or at least an effective one. I certainly see how DeLillo’s book, assuming this is a faithful page-to-screen adaptation, is easy to translate into any era, but White Noise often feels like a misguided attempt at being relevant. It’s perhaps a tad more subtle than Don’t Look Up, but one is far more entertaining than the other.

And perhaps this is due to the fact that White Noise is the first project in Baumbach’s filmography that isn’t penned by him. The authenticity of his other films could be due to the fact that he’s wielding the pen and can tell the story his way.

All of this is sad to report because White Noise was a film that I was so excited to see that I jumped out of bed and got on a bus by 6:00 a.m. to be one of the first in line at Lincoln Center (I wasn’t even the first in line). After a near-three-hour wait — which is almost as much sleep as I got that night — I was so ready to once again be blown away by Baumbach. Unfortunately, you could really debate if the satire packs any punch at all. Outside of its aesthetics and perfectly overdone performances, White Noise is very little more than exactly what its title implies. 


White Noise held its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on August 31 and will be released in select theaters on November 25 and available to stream on Netflix on December 30. 

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TÁR Review | Cate Blanchett’s Performance Hits All the Right Notes

NYFF: Cate Blanchett steals the show in bloated musical drama that occasionally loses the beauty of its melody.

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For starters, the second time truly is the charm as my second screening of TÁR was (fortunately) not interrupted and called off due to issues with the projector. Imagine how confused I — and all of the Philly critics — were when the sound came on sans picture. In fairness, because TÁR is a film about a musical artist, I thought that the blank screen serving as the backdrop for a beautiful song was an artistic choice. I must not have been the only one, however, because it took about five minutes before it became clear that this was not the case.

Unfortunately, TÁR feels like a film that I should love because it’s one of these artistic “Oscar-worthy” films rather than a film that I fell in love with on my own merit. I can see it being a lot like last year’s The Power of the Dog, which I quite like to be clear. The film will resonate with many, and I’m truly happy for that, but it just did very little for me outside of its technical aspects and Cate Blanchett, who dazzles in her performance. Blanchett plays the fictional Lydia Tár and we examine the rise and fall of this world-renowned composer. But one performance can’t save a film that drowns itself out — much like the audacious musical performances in the film — by its crescendo. 

Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in director Todd Field’s TÁR, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

Blanchett is stellar as Lydia Tár and I think that we’ve finally found a common ground that everyone can agree on I’m sure that we’ve all played the role of a conductor in our heads as children — using pencils or our fingers instead of a baton — but Blanchett lives it in this performance. The sheer intensity that she displays whenever she is shown conducting in this film just pops off of the screen and it’s in these moments that I would find myself forgetting that Blanchett is playing a role and not actually a conductor. And it’s incredible that Blanchett can easily go from a more calm demeanor to completely unhinged while singing a song about her neighbor’s apartment going up for sale with an accordion (this is by far the highlight of the film). 

Florian Hoffmeister’s cinematography, when allowed to have some fun, really stands out. I’ve spoken with Hoffmeister, and that gave me a greater appreciation for the restraint that he shows in his cinematography. One of the instances of this is when Lydia stumbles out of a massage spa and the camera goes from being still to a jarring handheld camera style once she exits the building and the camera follows her. Hoffmeister also does an electric job whenever Lydia takes the stage. It only happens once or twice, but it’s the equivalent of following an NFL quarterback run out of the tunnel for musical artists. The film also ends with a wonderful tracking shot in a theater full of cosplayers.

Clocking in at nearly 2 hours and 40 minutes, TÁR tells the full story of its titular character. Not to be the guy who complains about the runtimes of films, but the film seems to be going for the Drive My Car effect of long-lasting scenes mostly made up of dialogue and only succeeds in the first half of the film. And it’s an admirable effort, sure. Writer-director Todd Field finds a nice balance in the beginning with plenty of scenes that likely last around 10 minutes, but they’re so intrinsically interesting — whether this is due to the performances or the writing is up to you — that the film flies by early on. Once the second half of the film begins, the film finds a much more methodical pace to settle on that teeters between intriguing and dull.

I had heard TÁR described as a “MeToo” story on a podcast or somewhere online, but while there’s no issue with a film handling that — The Assistant and Bombshell are both fine examples of this — TÁR film feels slightly out of touch. In short, Lydia gets wrapped up in a web of trouble that results in a very modern take of canceling. Videos taken from a class are snipped together and conveniently make it seem as if Lydia was vulgarly speaking about masturbation and touching one of her students inappropriately during the class (she was stopping his anxious foot-tapping). This type of editing would get you hired by Wes Anderson, that’s all I’ll say. And I know that this is a small nitpick in the grand scheme of things, but it took me out of the film. The video, paired with the suicide of a woman who reached out to Lydia on a number of occasions, gets her stuck in a web of legal trouble.

Perhaps TÁR is a warning about how you should treat others, or seeing how karma can indeed be a bitch much like Lydia is occasionally shown to be. Whatever the case, TÁR doesn’t exactly hit a home run with its point. For starters, it’s all just thrown in during the final half-hour or so of the film. Yes, the breadcrumbs are laid including a situation involving her assistant (and aspiring conductor) Francesca (Noémie Merlant), but it’s almost as if Field had heard a large number of stories where someone was canceled and chose to infuse all of them into the story. 

And all of this is a means to an end which in this case, is the fall of Lydia. By the end of the film, Lydia has gone from conducting some of the most acclaimed orchestras in the world to traveling in other countries and playing in some sort of event with Donnie Darko cosplayers in the crowd. It’s a tragic ending for a character who was on top of the world in the beginning, and I think it’s quite fitting. The final line spoken is a beautiful note to end on, “Sisters and brothers of the Fifth Fleet, it’s time I keep my farewell brief. Never was much with words, once you board this ship, there’s no turning back. The next ground your feet touch will be that of the new world. If any of you have lost your nerve, then step away now and let no one judge.” I just think how we get there is a different story. 

Cate Blanchett stars as Lydia Tár in director Todd Field’s TÁR, a Focus Features release. Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

The film’s just plodding; there, I said it. You can be an exciting film that moves at a snail’s pace (again, look no further than Drive My Car). TÁR does indeed move at a snail’s pace — especially in the second half — but lacks any urgency until the scenes with the orchestra playing kick in (which will wake you up if you’re at a 10:00 am screening). The first hour and a half are quite good — I had to take a bathroom break and clocked the time and was shocked by how much ground we had covered — and I was in for the ride during this time of the film. What happens between this and when the whole “cancel” subplot kicks in? I could probably struggle to put together a few ideas. And this comes just a couple of hours after the film ended! 

Perhaps due to the fact that TÁR is a film centered around a composer, there’s very little of Hildur Guðnadóttir’s score. Even early on in the dialogue-heavy scenes, very little, if any, music fills the background. This wouldn’t even be a complaint if not for it coming at the expense of Guðnadóttir, but the Oscar winner deserves better and perhaps the concept album that is set to release next year will change my opinion on things. I’d imagine that her talents were in turn used to arrange the actual music that Lydia conducts, I just wish she had even more of a presence.

TÁR is a case of a well-made film that’s perfectly on track to be a big Oscar player. Blanchett really elevates the film past its flaws for the most part, but the elongated runtime really hampers the film. If not for Blanchett, I think that the flaws would be far more glaring; I guess that’s just the benefit of having a generational talent at the forefront. And the attempt at working in a “MeToo” subplot feels too contrived and merely a passage to get the film on a crash course to its final crescendo. 


TÁR held its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on September 1 and will be released in limited theaters on October 7 before expanding on October 28. 

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