Movie Review ~ She Said

The Facts:

Synopsis: New York Times reporters Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor break one of the most important stories in a generation — a story that helped launch the #MeToo movement and shattered decades of silence around the subject of sexual assault in Hollywood.
Stars: Carey Mulligan, Zoe Kazan, Patricia Clarkson, Andre Braugher, Jennifer Ehle, Samantha Morton, Sean Cullen, Angela Yeoh, Ashley Judd
Director: Maria Schrader
Rated: R
Running Length: 129 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review:  Will we ever know the full impact of the devastation caused by the actions of disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein? It’s not likely because the emotional trauma inflicted and multiple settlements over time have sent a ripple effect throughout Hollywood and beyond. The #MeToo movement may have reached its peak and plateaued (at least for a time), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t more threads to unravel or details to unpack over those that remained complicit throughout the years. We’re living in that post-Weinstein world, and it can be hard to rewind to five years before the story came out. 

The new movie She Said asks audiences to step back and watch as two dedicated journalists used their skill and empathy to topple a titan many (including his victims) thought was untouchable. New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey wrote the book ‘She Said’ is based on in 2019. They then became characters in this movie adaptation written by British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Directed by German actress/director Maria Schrader, it’s got the air of All the President’s Men but is less interested in being a Hollywood version of what journalism looks like and focuses its energy on the stories of the women that were victimized and their truth which had been silenced for decades.

After a bruising experience reporting on the 2016 Presidential election, Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan, Promising Young Woman) took time off to tend to her newborn when colleague Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan, What If) called her. The two knew each other from work, but it was limited to that. While Jodi, with her two daughters, could commiserate with Megan and her struggles with post-partum depression, she wanted to ask Megan how she handled asking women tough questions about abuse. This led to the women working together when Megan returned from maternity leave, investigating the long-standing rumors of sexual abuse between Miramax producer Harvey Weinstein and several women.

Some of these women have familiar names, and some aren’t. All were targets and, ultimately, survivors of Weinstein’s fixation and abuse of power. Through pure old-fashioned journalism (pounding the pavement, consulting historical records, protecting sources, using off-the-record conversations to assist them in finding paths forward when they hit a dead end), the two reporters constructed a well-researched case that painted the producer in precisely the kind of light everyone knew him to be. Until then, he had flexed his considerable reach to have these stories squashed by just picking up the phone. In 2017, after Trump was in the White House and the country was fed up with how the nation’s leader spoke about women, the public started to be unwilling to accept dismissals of lousy behavior between those in power and those who worked for them.

While Miramax was an international company with offices in places like London and Hong Kong, when you think of Weinstein, you think of Hollywood. In many ways, having a British screenwriter and German director helped She Said gain some objectivity in its subject, and that reflects in its perspective shifting. As the book writers, Kantor and Twohey couldn’t help but become characters, but they aren’t the showy roles like Robert Redford, and Dustin Hoffman took on in 1976”s All The President’s Men. That film is dynamite but revolves around a subject quite different than what is being exposed here. There’s no ‘gotcha’ journalism on display because it would betray privacy that was so pivotal. So, while we see the journalists at home, it’s for context rather than moving the story along. You can rest assured there are no scenes with Kantor’s husband complaining that she never is home to cook dinner or Twohey’s chastising her for missing out on a crucial newborn milestone.

The less-flash approach might give the impression She Said is a tad flat, and it does start to coast slightly around the halfway mark. It only becomes clearer later that this is a “just the facts” brand of entertainment, and it’s not that Schrader is purposely holding razzle-dazzle back; it’s that this is how it was, and no elaboration/embellishment is needed. Besides, how can you complain about anything when you have an entire cast full of marvelous performances? Mulligan and Kazan are excellent, as are Patricia Clarkson (The East) and Andre Braugher (The Gambler) as the NYT higher-ups that guide them with a steady hand to keep going.   The consistently excellent (seriously, always) Jennifer Ehle (Saint Maud) plays a pivotal role with grace but keep your eyes peeled for Samantha Morton’s ridiculously terrific work as one of the bolder Weinstein accusers. Morton’s (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) only got one scene, but it’s so ferociously good, she makes taking a sip of water so commanding. I swear I saw our entire audience clutching their sodas, all gulping at the same time she paused to have a drink. 

No amount of time could ever truly capture the details of this piece. I’ve read most of the books published on this scandal/movement and am still stunned by the number of influential people who looked the other way while this was happening. One of them is a producer on this film and while doing this feels like atonement, there is so much more that needs to be done to start to correct these errors in judgment. She Said is a small movie but a mighty one…and one of the year’s best. 

31 Days to Scare ~ Cursed

The Facts:

Synopsis: A werewolf loose in Los Angeles changes the lives of three young adults who, after being mauled by the beast, learn to kill it to avoid becoming werewolves themselves.
Stars: Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson, Milo Ventimiglia, Judy Greer, Mýa, Shannon Elizabeth, Portia de Rossi, Kristina Anapau, Solar, Derek Mears, Nick Offerman
Director: Wes Craven
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 97 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review:  Perhaps I’m getting more nostalgic in my old age, but I’ve developed a fondness for revisiting several films from my high school and college years that proved formative.  Steering clear of the true childhood classics from the ‘80s, I’ve focused instead on those late ‘90s to mid-‘00s features that launched (or sunk) numerous Hollywood careers.  What has surprised me most about these trips down movie theater memory lane is not the films that have held up nicely but the titles that improved through the years.  Some have gone from good to excellent, while others have moved in my mind from “bad” to “what took me so long to rewatch this?” 

Today’s example is Cursed, a werewolf movie with a Scream-vibe released in 2005.  Cursed isn’t a great movie; it’s been altered and chopped up too much from its original version, damaging the intended vision of director Wes Craven (Summer of Fear) and his production team.  It is, however, so much better than I had remembered it and absolutely not the dumpster fire it was classified as when it was initially released.  Based on an original screenplay by Kevin Williamson (The Faculty), the script went through numerous rewrites by various other screenwriters. Hence, it’s hard to figure out to whom the final product should be attributed.  Some might argue Miramax/Dimension Films producer Harvey Weinstein shaped the version released in theaters because he ordered so many changes during the over two years of production the crew endured.

Yes, that’s right.  Over two years were spent once filming began before the troubled production finally made it to theaters.  In that time, cast members were changed, storylines were cut/modified, and the special effects team was let go.  What audiences saw in theaters reflected that mess, and my recollections were of a film that wanted to get to the kills faster and faster.  It made little sense, with characters appearing and disappearing without much explanation.  We’ll likely never see that originally filmed version that tested either poorly or well (depending on who you talk to), but instead, we have a director’s cut which aims to restore some narrative order to the film.  In this reassembled package, something more in line with a movie Craven and Williamson would have collaborated on finally emerges. While it isn’t a showstopper on their resume, it has some excellent sequences.

Becky and Jenny (Shannon Elizabeth and singer Mýa) are at a carnival in Los Angeles and are warned by a psychic (Portia de Rossi) that one of them is in danger and to beware of a beast they know.  Shortly after, Ellie, a young professional (Christina Ricci, Mermaids), and her younger brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg, American Ultra) get into a car wreck with Becky on a deserted stretch of road in the Hollywood hills.  As the siblings try to help Becky, they watch as she is attacked by an unseen creature that they are both scratched by.  The next day, brother and sister exhibit strange behavior, such as an advanced sense of smell and lightning-fast reflexes. 

Doing some old-fashioned detective work at the library, it becomes clear to Jimmy that the creature they encountered was a werewolf, and now he and his sister are becoming similar beasts.  As the werewolf continues to attack friends of Ellie and Jimmy, there is an urgency to find out who the monster is and their plan in choosing their victims.  The list of potential suspects is long, and who in their circle of friends they can trust is shrinking rapidly.

You can see why Dimension Films were so key in making Cursed a variation of their popular Scream franchise, which had petered out right around the time Williamson turned in his original script for this werewolf whodunit.  Substituting out a flesh and blood serial killer for a hairy werewolf taking a bite out of a group of young adults in Hollywood was a good way for the studio to keep a proven business formula going without continually tapping the same well of characters.  Early test screenings provoked discussions that led to suggested changes that major players disagreed with, and that’s when the tinkering started to set the movie on its eventual collision course with post-production hell. 

While Cursed is undeniably silly at times (the reshot scenes are unfortunate, look at poor Eisenberg’s hideous wig in the newer footage) and major cringe at others (a subplot about Jimmy’s rumored gay leanings and how it plays out is beyond dated), it offers more than a few classic Craven passages that get the blood pumping.  That original car wreck is well-staged, ending with a horrific image only available in the director’s cut.  The centerpiece is Mýa’s lengthy chase scene through a parking garage where the creature pursues her.  This scene is edited masterfully and a real nail-biter.

Cursed is a case of ‘your mileage may vary’ on how well another viewer might receive it.  I found a rewatch of it seventeen years after it was released to poor reviews and lackluster box office, an eye-opener to how decent a film it is.  Maybe it’s because I know how much worse it could have been or know that a truly poor edit of Craven’s film is out there, but the Director’s Cut is the only way to see this film.  When searching for it, you’ll see the sanitized version if you see a PG-13 rating.  Hold out for the unrated version (or buy it here from Scream Factory), and you’ll be pleasantly surprised…and a little scared!