SHE SAID (2022) – Important Movie on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Is Must-See Viewing

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SHE SAID (2022) is the type of movie that I don’t feel like criticizing one bit because its subject matter— sexual harassment of women in the workplace— is so important.

In other words, while the movie is far from perfect, it’s still a film everyone should see. Period. So, let there be no ambiguity about that. SHE SAID is a must-see movie for everyone.

SHE SAID is based on both The New York Times investigative reporting by reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, and their book She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement, and while it chronicles their investigation into Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, an investigation which eventually led to his arrest and conviction, the story in general is really about how pervasive sexual harassment is in the workplace and how deeply rooted these attitudes against women are engrained in men, especially but not limited to, men in power. The screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz makes this abundantly clear, and rightly so, as its take on this subject is spot on.

I found SHE SAID to be a very somber and unsettling movie because the story it told not only was true but exposes horrible things regarding the way men treat women that sadly are ongoing.

SHE SAID basically follows the two New York Times reporters, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) as they painstakingly and persistently follow leads and search for victims to speak on the record and for proof to back up their claims as they try to tell the story and expose the abuse and harassment propagated by Harvey Weinstein over the years.

The film gets this right, as we witness how frightened Weinstein’s victims are, and how not only are they afraid to talk, but so many of them signed settlements which legally prevented them from talking. It also prevented them from ever working again in the movie industry, as Weinstein would make sure they couldn’t.

The more Twohey and Kantor learn about Weinstein, the more emotional they grow, because they know what he has done and continues to do, but they can’t get anyone on record to speak about it, and so they persist and go to nearly superhuman lengths to seek out and find both the proof and on the record accounts they need. They also have to deal with Weinstein, who with his connections learns they are investigating him, and he intimidates the women who are thinking of speaking out, and there are also anonymous violent and vulgar threats against Twohey and Kantor.

What the film doesn’t get right— and again, because of the subject matter, I encourage everyone to see this movie in spite of this— is a cinematic style. While the content held my attention throughout, both the writing and by-the-numbers directing by Maria Schrader kept this from being a powerful film in its own right. For example, the movie SPOTLIGHT (2015), which covered the Boston Globe investigation into the Catholic Church’s child molestation crimes and its subsequent cover-up, was a phenomenal movie in its own right on top of its riveting subject matter. Not only did it feature a strong cast and powerhouse performances, but the writing dug deep into the reporters writing the stories, and the film also had villains, portraying the Catholic Church as being stubbornly out of touch with its victims. It never got melodramatic. It stuck to facts. But it also went for the jugular and really hit hard with its message of just what happened and was continuing to happen.

SHE SAID doesn’t quite do this. While I applaud the choice the movie made not to ever show Weinstein speaking on camera, and we only see the back of the actor’s head who is portraying him, the sad side effect of this is we never really feel the ugliness and vulgarity of the man. Not that we have to. In terms of story and making its point, we don’t need more of Weinstein. But we need something. Because the movie is almost all Twohey and Kantor and their reporting. Why isn’t this enough? Well, technically it is, but as a movie, the two hours spent watching SHE SAID are nowhere near as riveting as watching SPOTLIGHT.

And the story does give us some family background on Twohey and Kantor, but their backgrounds aren’t what is missing. It’s the process of their investigation which needs more dialogue and angst. The drama is flat.

Carey Mulligan is a terrific actor, and she nails the experienced Megan Twohey, who while growing increasingly rattled by this investigation also is dealing with a newborn at home. She also has a great scene in the movie, where at a meeting at a bar, a guy comes over and hits on them, and when she tells him they’re not interested, and he persists and becomes vulgar, she lets him have it and tells him to f*ck off! Mulligan has wowed me since I first saw her in DRIVE (2011) and THE GREAT GATSBY (2013). She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress for her phenomenal performance in PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020), and she also was pretty darn good in the more recent THE DIG (2021), in which she co-starred with Ralph Fiennes.

Zoe Kazan is also exceptional as Jodi Kantor, the less experienced of the two reporters, but the one who initially started the investigation. She also has her share of potent scenes, like when she inadvertently mentions to one of the victims’ husbands what supposedly happened with Weinstein, and the husband says his wife has never mentioned this to him. I’ve enjoyed Kazan in the horror movie THE MONSTER (2016) and even more so in the romantic comedy THE BIG SICK (2017).

The supporting cast is very good. Andre Braugher turns in a fine performance as executive editor Dean Baquet. The way he confidently pushes back against Weinstein provides some of the more satisfying moments in the movie.

SHE SAID is a very good movie, and while it has its flaws, its content is must-see viewing, and its perspective on sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be heard, acknowledged, and understood, and changes need to continue to be made.

I give it three stars.

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RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

Best Movies of 2021

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Here’s a look at my TOP 10 LIST of BEST MOVIES from 2021.

As I did last year, I’d like to put an asterisk next to this list due to the pandemic. One of the drawbacks of not seeing movies at the theater, is that we don’t all get to see the same movies, as lots of smaller, obscure releases don’t always make it to the various streaming services. So, as much as I enjoyed watching movies once again this year on Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, and Disney +, to name a few, I didn’t get to see many of the movies that didn’t make it to these streaming services.

Hence, I know there are a lot of films from 2021 that I did not see, that I would have seen had I been able to go to the movie theaters like I used to before the pandemic struck in March 2020.

So, with that being said, here are my TOP 10 movies… all watched at home on streaming services…. from 2021:

10. THE TOMORROW WAR

One of the things I miss most watching movies at home, is that movie theater feeling. THE TOMORROW WAR, a science fiction action movie from Amazon Prime starring Chris Pratt, was one of the few movies I saw this year that by itself captured that movie theater feeling. This action-packed tale of humans travelling into the future to help battle invading aliens didn’t always make sense, but it was a fun ride, so much so that I could almost smell the buttery popcorn wafting through the air!

9. FEAR STREET: PART THREE – 1666

My take on this Netflix horror trilogy was completely opposite most folks, who found the third installment to be the weakest. For me, it was the best, mostly because the trilogy’s wraparound story about a witch’s curse I thought was pretty lame until this final installment where we find out its origins, and the writers flipped the story on its head, giving new insight into what really cursed the town. I really liked this revelation. The entire trilogy is uneven at best, but it finishes strong, so much so that it’s the only horror movie from 2021 to make it into my Top 10 List.

8. NO SUDDEN MOVE

Atmospheric crime thriller by director Steven Soderbergh, starring Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, and Brendan Fraser, makes for a compelling flick.

7. MOXIE (2021)

I really enjoyed this comedy drama directed by Amy Poehler about an awkward teen played by Hadley Robinson who draws inspiration from her mom’s activist past to take on sexism at her high school. Very satisfying, strong screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu, well-directed by Poehler, who also plays the mom.

6. THE UNFORGIVABLE

Sandra Bullock delivers a transformative performance in this Netflix drama about a woman, played by Bullock, who after serving a twenty-year prison sentence for shooting a sheriff, tries to reunite with her younger sister who has lived with a foster family the past two decades and has no memory of her older sister, while fending off threats from both those who hate her in general because of her crime, and from the adult sons of the man she killed. Dark, depressing stuff, but fiercely acted by Bullock.

5. GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE

One of my favorite action movies of the year. I loved this movie! It’s basically nothing more than female assassins kick ass, but the action is all so stylized and expertly choreographed. It contains some of the best action sequences I saw all year. Wonderfully directed by Navot Papushado, who charges this one with energy and pizzazz.

4. THE DIG

Wonderful period piece from Netflix, this one is much better than it sounds. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes co-star in this tale of the historic archeological dig in the English countryside at Sutton Hoo at the outset of World War II. Awe-inspiring, awesome movie.

And now, drum roll please, for my TOP 3 MOVIES from 2021:

3. THE COURIER

Another period piece, THE COURIER was actually filmed in 2020 but wasn’t released until 2021. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Greville Wynne, a British salesman who because of his dealings in the Soviet Union becomes an unlikely spy for Britain just before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Another topnotch performance by Cumberbatch, who seems to be able to play these dramatic biographical roles in his sleep.

2. THE SUICIDE SQUAD

Hands down, both my favorite action movie and superhero film of the year. Hailing from the DC Universe (sorry, Marvel, they bested you this year!) this “sequel” to 2016’s SUICIDE SQUAD is far superior to the first film. While Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, it’s Idris Elba as Bloodsport and John Cena as Peacemaker who steal the show. The real star however is writer/director James Gunn, who works the same magic he wielded with Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, creating an energetic, innovative, and nonstop laugh-out-loud actioner that never quits. This tale of supervillains turned superheroes is a must see for all superhero movie fans, although it is rated R for some pretty intense violence and language. A helluva fun ride.

And now, drum roll please: my Number One movie from 2021:

1. DON’T LOOK UP

Adam McKay’s sharp satire is so on-point that it is far more disturbing than funny. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as scientists who discover a large meteor on a collision course with Earth that will wipe out all life when it strikes in six months, but the President, played by Meryl Streep, won’t have any of it and plays fast and loose with their science, while the media simply isn’t interested in a negative story. Try as they might, they simply can’t get their message out. Eventually, when the meteor becomes visible to the naked eye, the president’s political party and followers adopt the ideology that those who want people to look up are doing so for political reasons, and their rallying cry becomes, “don’t look up!” A sad commentary on where we are as a nation in 2021 after suffering from four years of a presidential administration that also played fast and loose with the facts during a world crisis.

So, there you have it. My top 10 movies from 2021.

Coming soon, my Worst 10 Movie List from 2021.

Until then, as always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020) – One of the Best Movies From 2020

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(Carey Mulligan in PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020))

It took me a while, but I finally caught up with PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020), one of the more heralded films from 2020, now currently streaming on HBO Max.

I wish I had caught this one sooner.

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN opens in a bar with a group of guys talking about a female co-worker in a rather disparaging way. They spy an attractive young woman who is drunk and about to pass out sitting alone. The one “nice guy” in the group approaches her, asks if she is okay, and then offers to bring her home. Instead, they take a detour to his apartment, where he offers her another drink and then begins to make out with her even though she is too drunk to respond. As he begins to undress her, she repeatedly and weakly asks, “what are you doing?” The guy ignores her question, until she says loudly this time, “What are you doing?” and he looks at her, and she’s staring at him, and she’s stone cold sober.

From this moment on, the film never looks back.

The young woman is Cassie (Carey Mulligan), and she’s just turned 30 and is living at home with her parents working in a coffee shop, after quitting medical school years earlier, even though she really wanted to become a doctor. And she quit medical school to take care of her best friend, Nina, a fellow medical school student, who was raped by a male student while his friends watched. And he got away with it because the school decided it was a “he said, she said” thing and that was that. The incident literally killed Nina as she never recovered and later committed suicide.

Cassie ventures through night clubs pretending to be drunk, and each night she’s picked up by some “nice guy” who offers to take her home but instead tries to have sex with her, and each time she turns the tables on him and shows him that in reality he’s not such a nice guy.

But then another old friend from med school Ryan (Bo Burnham) walks into the coffee shop and recognizes Cassie. He eventually asks her out, and after some hesitation, she says yes, and things go well, until he mentions that one of their old friends Al Monroe is about to get married. This news jolts Cassie because Al Monroe is the guy who raped Nina. And suddenly, Cassie’s need for vengeance rises to a whole other level.

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time, and had I seen it when it first came out back in December 2020, it would have easily been one of my favorite movies of the year.

Emerald Fennell’s screenplay won the Oscar last year for Best Original Screenplay and rightly so. The story nails the way a lot of men treat and talk about women, but better yet, what it feels like for women to be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment. It’s also empowering to watch Cassie turn the tables on these cowardly predators. That being said, I found this one to be a nail biter throughout, because as I watched Cassie go to these bars, I feared that one time she wouldn’t be able to turn the tables on the “nice” guy.

And later while some of the vengeance scenes are played to elicit nervous laughter, for me the overwhelming emotion throughout this story was sadness, for what happened to Nina, and for what Cassie was doing, in effect not living her life because she was hyper-focused on avenging and finding meaning in her friend’s death.

The script is tight throughout, is filled with hard hitting and memorable dialogue, and never misses a beat.

Likewise, Carey Mulligan knocks it out of the park as Cassie. I’ve been a fan of Mulligan’s for a while, and she has delivered a string of memorable performances in such films as DRIVE (2011), THE GREAT GATSBY (2013), MUDBOUND (2017) and most recently in THE DIG (2021), but I’ve never seen her as singularly focused and powerful as she is here as Cassie. It’s hands down the best performance I’ve seen Mulligan deliver yet. If this were a lesser movie, Cassie would be tearing into these men with knives and other sharp weapons. In PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, she tears into them with words, and it is quite the sight to see her shred these people with the power of her words as she attacks them with truths that cut through them as assuredly as if she were wielding a dagger.

Mulligan makes Cassie an admirable avenger throughout, but one I couldn’t stop worrying about knowing the dangerous waters in which she was swimming.

Bo Burnham is effective as new boyfriend Ryan, who like every other male in the movie seems like a nice guy, but you keep waiting for his true self to be revealed, and Burnham is really good at keeping those suspicions in line.

Clancy Brown and Jennifer Coolidge are excellent as Cassie’s worried and awkward parents. Brown gets one of the best scenes in the movie when he tells Cassie just how much he and her mom have missed her.

The film has a great supporting cast, which includes Alison Brie, Laverne Cox, Adam Brody, Christopher Minztz-Plasse, Max Greenfield, and Christopher Lowell, who all contribute in small roles throughout the movie.

As I said, Emerald Fennell won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and she also directed PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN. Her direction is every bit as good as her screenplay. She keeps things stylish, lively, and disturbing throughout. And sad. I just couldn’t shake an overwhelming feeling of sadness throughout this movie, which is less about one woman’s avenging spirit and more about the cruel world in which women are forced to navigate.

The film’s conclusion, where Cassie seeks final revenge on Al Monroe the night before his wedding, is the most disturbing sequence of all in a film that is full of uncomfortable moments and reveals. It packs quite a jolt, but it works. The best part about the ending, and the film in general, is had this been a male dominated revenge tale, the final scene would have been a bloodbath. Here, that’s not the case. What ultimately happens is consistent with the main theme of this movie, with the males getting away with their crimes thanks to a society which consistently looks the other way, but in the final reel, the film has one last chess move that for the sake of this story, offers some semblance of satisfaction, although it’s hardly a happy ending. But it works.

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN could easily be dismissed as just another “empowered women” movie where the women are always right and the men are always wrong, but that would be missing the point. The men’s views and attitudes towards women in this movie are always wrong, and these attitudes and views are never right. These are views and attitudes that are downright shameful and ugly. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN simply exposes these views and attitudes as it tells the story of one woman who wanted to make sure that those responsible for ruining the life of her best friend Nina never forget her name.

And after the events in PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN, they won’t.

Neither will you.

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