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Schultz reviews: 'Promising Young Woman,' 'Fatale' and 'Monster Hunter'

Schultz reviews: 'Promising Young Woman,' 'Fatale' and 'Monster Hunter'

Carl Schultz

 

 

“Promising Young Woman”   Distributed by Focus Features, 113 Minutes, Rated R, Released December 25, 2020:

An important and heartbreaking subject is given a disappointingly banal treatment in “Promising Young Woman,” a new movie from Focus Features which examines the dangers, and the possible effects, of date rape.

In “Promising Young Woman,” Cassie Thomas is a woman with a mission.  A waitress in a busy coffee shop, still living at age 30 with her loving and supportive parents, Cassie was once a gifted medical student at Forest University, but dropped out after the suicide of her best friend.  Seems the friend had been sexually violated during a date, probably multiple times, but her rapists walked free when the school’s administration learned the girl had been drinking and decided her accusations carried less weight than the attackers’ denials.

Now Cassie prowls the singles bars at nights and on weekends pretending she’s intoxicated, and avenges her late friend--and herself--on any sexual predator who tries to take advantage of her in her own supposedly inebriated condition.

An offbeat, often off-kilter social commentary wrapped inside a thriller in the tradition of 1974’s “Death Wish,” “Promising Young Woman” would--and should--be able to stand on its own as either a cautionary tale or an unusually potent drama.  But static pacing, a lack of focus, a wandering plot, and a persistent (and inappropriate) framing as jet-black comedy disrupt the flow of the film and knock it off balance.  The picture suffers from the absence of a consistent tone:  Different scenes seem to build toward different conclusions, and as a result the film’s overall impact is diminished.

With plot holes aplenty and more than one “hey, wait a minute” moment, “Promising Young Woman” is just not well plotted or even well thought out, contributing to its uneven pace.  And during the third act, as Cassie hatches a contrived plan to finally avenge her late friend en masse at the engagement party of one of her long-ago attackers, all logic goes out the window and the film begins to live on raw emotion alone.  The ending is clever in an “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” kind of way, but more appropriate to a horror picture and mostly unsatisfying as a viable dramatic resolution.  

The first effort for writer, director, and co-producer Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman” is still a noteworthy feature film debut for a promising new filmmaker, and contains a number of compelling scenes and provocative ideas.  The movie’s just sunk by its lack of balance and overall vision.  

The picture’s saving grace is a handful of genuinely sympathetic performances, especially from Carey Mulligan as the avenger Cassie and Bo Burnham as the former medical school classmate with whom she begins a cautious and reluctant romance.  Their scenes together are the real highlight of a picture which is actually about something else entirely.

Best known as an actress, director Emerald Fennell plays the younger Camilla Parker-Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall and second wife of Prince Charles, in television’s “The Crown,” now streaming on Netflix.  Co-star Bo Burnham, also a talented comic, musician, and motion picture director, was the filmmaker behind the critically-acclaimed 2018 coming-of-age comedy “Eighth Grade.”  “Promising Young Woman” was co-produced by director Fennell, co-star Mulligan, and actress Margot Robbie, who reportedly once intended the movie as a vehicle for herself.

Filmed over 23 days in spring of 2019 and containing brief appearances by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Alison Brie, Alfred Molina, and former SNL regular Molly Shannon, “Promising Young Woman” is rated R for strong violence including sexual assault, language concerns throughout, and some drug use and sexual content.

“Fatale”   Distributed by Lionsgate Entertainment, 102 Minutes, Rated R, Released December 18, 2020:

In “Fatale,” high-powered LA-based sports agent Derrick (Michael Ealy) suspects his real estate broker wife is having an affair, and during a business trip to Las Vegas decides to indulge in a casual extramarital tryst of his own.  After reconciling with his wife on his return to Los Angeles, their home is burglarized, and the police detective in charge of the investigation is none other than Valerie (Hilary Swank), the focus of Derrick’s Las Vega fling.  

As the investigation deepens, Valerie reveals herself to be an emotionally damaged and mentally unstable individual with a drinking problem, and she manipulates the hapless sports agent into a rapidly descending spiral of blackmail, madness, and murder.

Except as a cautionary fable along the lines of the 1938 grindhouse classic “Sex Madness,” the viewer’s enjoyment of “Fatale” might be directly tied to an individual ability to imagine actress Hilary Swank as a femme fatale, a beautiful seductress whose sexual allure enchants and ensnares her lovers, a position filled in years past by smoky screen sirens such as Lauren Bacall, Lana Turner, and Kathleen Turner.  That’s not a criticism of two-time Academy Award winner Swank or her abilities as a performer--Bette Davis or Meryl Streep likely would’ve had the same issues.  

Directed by Deon Taylor from a script by David Loughery (“The Intruder”), “Fatale” otherwise might seem familiar indeed--the picture treads in the lurid footprints of “Body Heat” in 1981, “Fatal Attraction” in 1987, and “The Postman Always Rings Twice” in both 1946 and 1982.  Having already given us “Traffik” in 2018 and “Black and Blue” in 2019 and collaborated with screenwriter Loughery on 2019’s “The Intruder,” director Taylor plainly has a knack for this kind of stylish and contrived nonsense.  He might be the Douglas Sirk of the New Millennium.

Originally scheduled for a June 19, 2020 release, “Fatale” is still another movie delayed more than once before finally coming out on December 18.  By the time you read this it should be available on video on demand, but you’ll probably want to wait until it’s streaming somewhere for free.  The movie is rated R for language, violence, sexual content, and scenes of drinking.

“Monster Hunter”   Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, 103 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released December 18, 2020:

Our shared international passions for both video games and gigantic existential monsters are combined in “Monster Hunter,” the new movie from Sony Pictures Releasing which incorporates elements of each.  But while the movie promises both thrills and spectacle, it delivers on only one of the two.

In the New World of the future, humans coexist with varying degrees of amity with kaiju--enormous creatures similar to the interdimensional behemoths that menace humankind in the popular “Pacific Rim” series of pictures.  Back on earth in more or less the present day, a storm blows US Army Captain Natalie Artemis and her squadron of soldiers toward a cosmic portal which connects our contemporary planet to the New World.  Guess what happens.

A live-action version of the 2018 video game “Monster Hunter: World” directed by the filmmaker behind the six (count ‘em) ”Resident Evil” pictures, “Monster Hunter” turns out to be about as deep and compelling as either, or each...which honestly isn’t saying very much.  The movie mostly delivers the goods in the computer generated optical effects department, but otherwise could be one of a dozen other movies consigned to the discount DVD bins at Walmart every month.  In other words, James Cameron has no reason to lose any sleep over this one.

Written, directed, and co-produced by Paul W.S. Anderson and starring his statuesque Ukrainian-born spouse Milla Jovovich (who’s also the star of Anderson’s six “Resident Evil'' pictures), the solitary saving grace of “Monster Hunter'' is its association with with the Japanese Toho film studio, which singlehandedly invented the kaiju genre of films with their production of the original “Godzilla” in 1954 and dozens of sequels.  After 66 years in the monster business, these guys know how to make ‘em rock.  Otherwise, file this one under S for Silly.

Also featuring performances from a colorful array of international action stars, rap artists, and a virtual army of stunt performers, “Monster Hunter” is rated PG-13 for sequences of creature action and violence.  In accordance with contemporary motion picture tradition, expect many sequels.

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