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A promising young woman (2021) 👍

Emerald Fennell, who wrote, directed, and co-produced A promising young woman, made many good choices when writing the screenplay. Let’s start with things not shown, like what Carrie Mulligan’s character1, Cassie, does with all the men picking her up (or does she pick them?) under false pretenses. What is that red streak dripping down her arm walking home the morning after? Are the red, black, and blue notches she jots down with her gunner pen for each man a matter of convenience or a code for their fate? How much of a psycho is she?

Another good choice: the (never-shown!) sexual assault that underpins much of the plot is set in a medical school. Medical education selects for conformity, which is on one hand understandable (why fight windmills and ruin your chance for a secure and often lucrative income?) but on the other leads to willful blindness to many misdeeds.2 Some may be surprised by the bad turns some seemingly good characters take by the end of the movie, but to anyone who’s gone to medical school it would have been true to personal experience. Parallels to other nice-guy professionals — lawyers, let’s say — draw themselves.

Yes, the movie is topical, drawing on current events, trending hashtags and rising fears. Thankfully, that doesn’t stop it from being damn good, and well worth a rewatch or two.


  1. Carrie Mulligan is, of course, the best Dr. Who companion that never was, and an integral part of the best Dr. Who episode ever made. I wonder sometimes if Sally Sparrow and Larry Nightingale would really have been Doctor’s companions — or at least had a spinoff series of their own — if Mulligan hadn’t been such a great actress with other opportunities presenting themselves soon after Blink

  2. During one memorable residency interview I (as the applicant, not the interviewer) was asked a question on (un)professionalism. My impromptu answer was about my own silence to a misdeed witnessed as a medical student in Serbia, with a young inpatient being kept in the dark about her diagnosis of advanced multiple myeloma, and us as students shrugging our collective shoulders as she peppered us with questions about bone health. Not my proudest moment as a med student, doctor, or a human being, but I ended up matching to that very program so, yay? Bad deeds rarely go unrewarded. 


Conspiracy — Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the anatomy of intrigue

Yes, real life is messy, yes, there is more stupidity than evil in the world, and no, there are no billionaire/vampire/reptile cabals running the show behind the curtains (if only). Yet individual humans do have needs, and some of those needs are secret, and when meeting a secret need involves more than one person, when each of those persons is tasked with keeping their role a secret, and when that role is exacting revenge, well then, you have a genuine conspiracy.

There have been many conspiracies in my lifetime, most of them having to do with Serbian politics: the conspiracy by the heads of Serbia and Croatia to break up Yugoslavia; the conspiracy by parts of the Serbian surveillance apparatus to overthrow Slobodan Milošević; the conspiracy by the Serbian mafia-political complex to assasinate the prime minister; the conspiracy by parties yet unknown to hide the numbers of Serbian Covid-19 victims… You cannot fault the average Serb for seeing conspiracies everywhere, and you can empathise at least a tiny bit for being sceptical of masks, vaccines, the existence of the virus itself.

The last time the average American was exposed to a big conspiracy that was named as such was in 1974, and it was so bungled and comically inept that you cannot fault them for thinking conspiracies are relegated to history books. This is what Ryan Holiday suggests in his book, while unravelling the conspiracy by Peter Thiel to secretly bankroll civil lawsuits against Gawker Media until they are bankrupt. But is this true? After all, weren’t Purdue Pharma, Ferguson PD, the 25th amendment gang, and the Capitol insurrectionists, to name a few, all involved in more or less successful conspiracies?

“The idea of a conspiracy,” Thiel is quoted saying in the book, “is linked with intentionality, with planning, working towards longer-term goals. In a world where you don’t have conspiracies maybe also those things disappear.” Holiday adds: “The truth is that Gawker already believed we lived in that world. And so do far too many people.”

I object to that evaluation of my fellow humans, because most people are well aware of the fact that we do indeed live in a world full of conspiracies. If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that people over-read them. But they are conspiracies perpetrated by multinational corporations, rouge state officials, the actual states, and, Holiday’s book now tells us, condescending billionaires.


Dune (1984) 👎

It aged better in my mind than it did after a rewatch, the version in my mind being conflated with the book and the game. What it gains on the aesthetics it loses on the incoherent plot, which at the same time has too much exposition and leaves too much unexplained.1 Also: Sting?!

You could say that this is a classic example of a long book being better suited to a TV show than a movie, but there was a TV show and it wasn’t much better. Maybe the new movie will be it? Or maybe HBO, Amazon, Netflix or Apple need to pour money into a serialized version, three of the four having a track record for funding good sci-fi.


  1. Apparently, David Lynch didn’t have the final cut and had an hour of his movie chopped of by the studio. But since he had also ran out of money I doubt much could have been done to make the final battle decent, or the last third of the movie comprehensible. 


Shin Godzilla (2016) 👍

Equal parts of man versus monster and man versus bureaucracy in this low-budget high-quality remake. Though googly-eyed, the monster is more alien, more menacing, and more destructive than the recent American version. So is the Japanese bureaucracy, which is, in the end, a bigger threat to the country than Godzilla will ever be.


The Year Earth Changed (2021) 👍

A soaring orchestral score. Drone shots of empty squares and promenades. Surveillance camera footage of animals running amok. Stuck onto this skeleton are a few soundbites of scientists explaining humanity’s inhumanity towards wildlife; redundant, but required to elevate this from a long Youtube video into a… long Youtube video with a Message.


Our towns (2021) 👍

Drone shots of oversaturated greenery zipping accross the screen to the rythm of athmospheric EDM” could describe almost any documentary made in the last decade, but “Our towns” has a note of localism that’s pleasing to my mind. The movie promises us stories of eight towns across the country that failed and/or bounced back. That is a tall order for a single town, life being complicated and things not falling neatly in line for a comprehensible narrative. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t even try to spin a story, giving us instead a few lessons: that local newspapers are important for the life of a community; that people want to live in neighborhoods from which they can walk to work, school, shops, and nature; that despite your best efforts, a decision from up above (to close a factory, move an interstate, etc) can ruin a town; and that small towns owe their prosperity — if they prosper at all — to the people who could have been anywhere else but chose to be there.

True, there is nothing there you wouldn’t know from reading Jane Jackobs, A Pattern Language, or even @WrathOfGnon tweets. But maybe just maybe this movie being on HBO and coming from a writer of The Atlantic means those ideas are seeping into circles that have so far preferred centralized planning.


Kong: Skull Island (2017) 👍

Like Godzilla but with a better story, better scenery, better acting, and, yes, better monsters. A thoroughly fun movie that The Guardian critic hated. What’s not to love?


Godzilla (2014) 👍

Having babies and toddlers in the house takes you out of the popular culture loop for a while, so I completely missed this challenger to the Marvel Cinematic Universe1 when it came out. But now that the fourth installment is available for streaming and one of the said toddlers is of age to watch a PG-13 movie (i.e. almost 9), HBO Max is finally paying itself off.

Most Japanese versions of Gojira/Godzilla are in their hearts cinéma bureaucratique — you come for the thrill of monsters destroying Tokyo, you stay for the drama of humans battling red tape. There is no deeper layer to this American version — you come for the monsters and stay for the monsters, and you skip all the dialogue unless you’re into cringing. If there is a subtext to the movie it is this: most of the protagonists are highly competent US marines who fail to prevent giant monsters from destroying the liberal mecca that is San Francisco.

The monster battles truly are fun, though.


  1. The MonsterVerse, apparently, which comes with its own official logo and everything. Surely there was also a slide deck full of charts pointing upwards 🚀 


The Tree of Life 👍

Samsara with a bit of a backstory and Jessica Chastain — perfect for the nights when you’re feeling pretentious1 but don’t have four hours to spend on the Snyder Cut.

Directed by Terrence Malick, 2011.


  1. Whereby I use “feeling pretentious” to mean more poetically inclined than usual, to the point of resembling a film student, liberal arts major or, God forbid, a creative writing professor, who for the most part don’t only have occasional bouts of pretentiousness but are, let’s be honest here, full-blown snobs. Indeed, the divisive reviews of this movie on IMDB map perfectly to the reviewer’s pretentiousness index on the day they viewed it (as in, if someone goes to see a Woody Allen movie and instead stumbles into The Tree of Life wouldn’t you expect them to leave a bad review, not being in the right mind set; also: of course the Cannes jury gave it their top award, since being in France AND going to a festival are both major pretentiousness boosters). 


The Undoing 👎

A mini-series is usually the better format for a book adaptation than a movie. Not so with HBO’s The Undoing. The stretched-out plot and meaningless flashbacks just barely fill out the six hours allotted. Twenty years ago it would have been an enjoyable 100-minute psycho-drama, also staring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, and Donald Sutherland. With less Upper East Side lifestyle porn, perhaps, but also with fewer unnecessary scenes of violence.

It is difficult to understand why things didn’t work out, because the first episode — easily the best one of the show — had such promise. Squeeze the other five into Acts II and III, and you would get a much more engaging story. Sadly, it is only the three hundred million dollar flops that get do-overs these days.

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