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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Mid(d)winter movie recs

Time off from school and proximity to multiple Cinemark theaters meant I got to catch up on some of the latest movie releases over winter break. From a sultry English summer story in “Saltburn” to two very different takes on a New England winter, I’m recapping three new films. 

“Saltburn”

It’s 2006 at Oxford University, and scholarship student Oliver Quick (Barry Keoghan) is on the fringe of the social scene until a seemingly chance encounter leads his wealthy classmate Felix Catton (Jacob Elordi) to invite Oliver to spend the summer at his family’s ancestral Saltburn Manor. Oliver can’t refuse the offer, a decision that propels him into a more glamorous social circle. The guest becomes obsessed with Felix and his family: his mother, Elsbeth (Rosamund Pike); father, James (Richard Grant); sister Venetia (Alison Oliver) and cousin Farleigh (Archie Madekwe). As Oliver tries to keep up with the Cattons’ luxurious lifestyle, strange happenings unfold at the estate. 

“Saltburn” is an exciting and fresh sophomore film from writer/director Emerald Fennell. Like her debut film, “Promising Young Woman,” “Saltburn” is brimming with twists and style, anchored by a strong cast and a killer soundtrack. While some of the characters were a little thinly written, Keoghan brings his all to the screen (even though he seems a little too old for the role), and Elordi is electric. The montage of the pair smoking cigarettes around Oxford at twilight is cinematic and beautifully done. Pike steals the show with some of the funniest lines. 

With unlikeable characters and some daring plot choices, I’d recommend skipping “Saltburn” if you are easily grossed out or offended. Even if it stumbles as a satire, the mix of black comedy and psychological drama makes the film an entertaining treat for audiences. 

“Eileen” 

Based on Ottessa Moshfegh’s 2015 debut novel, “Eileen” follows a 24-year-old woman named Eileen (Thomasin McKenzie) working as a secretary at a boys’ juvenile correction facility in Massachusetts in the winter of 1964. The young woman leads a lonely, repressed and isolated life — her mother is dead, her older sister has moved away and her dad is an emotionally abusive man with a drinking problem. Eileen’s dreary daily routine is abruptly interrupted when a new psychologist, Rebecca (Anne Hathaway), arrives at the prison and begins looking into a recent murder. The two begin a twisted relationship, uncovering dark secrets about their community and each other. 

The grainy opening credits of “Eileen” immediately set the scene for a dark, thrilling period piece. “Eileen” isn’t the easiest watch — I was left in unsettling suspense as the film crept towards the climax. While it succeeds in creating a grim, cold atmosphere, and McKenzie and Hathaway are well-matched, the plot leaves too much under the surface to be satisfying. The disturbing storyline boils steady and slow until the last few scenes, where it quickly spins out of control. All things considered, “Eileen” is creepy and cinematic fare, even if it’s not particularly memorable.

“The Holdovers”

The premise of “The Holdovers” is straightforward: a group of adolescent boys unable to go home for the holidays need to “hold over” winter break at their New England boarding school, the fictional Barton Academy, until the new year. Curmudgeonly ancient civilizations teacher Paul Hunham (Paul Giamatti) is in charge of the motley crew, led by Angus Tully (newcomer Dominic Sessa), a moody smart-alec with a troubled home life. 

Barton’s head chef, Mary Lamb, is played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph, who just won a Golden Globe last week for Best Supporting Actress in this role. Lamb, too, is holding over while she grieves the loss of her son, who died in the Vietnam War. Unfolding over a couple of wintery weeks in 1970, Paul, Mary and Angus form an unlikely connection, revealing more about their complicated pasts and future aspirations. 

I haven’t heard many people talk about this film, but it was definitely my favorite new release. “The Holdovers” has a cozy throwback feel — a little bit like “The Breakfast Club” or “Dead Poets Society.” While the plot takes some unexpected turns, at its core, the film is a heartwarming story of self-discovery and intergenerational connection. You can’t help but root for its protagonists. 

The pacing and plot structure are unusual; the narrative is set up with a mischievous group dynamic before abruptly switching to that of a road trip film, which felt a bit jarring. But pushing that aside, the film offers a hilarious journey with three touching performances. Perhaps especially appealing to Middlebury students are the snowy shots of Barton (filmed at Deerfield Academy in western Massachusetts), many of which resemble our own wintery campus. And while it missed capturing the fraught nature of the early ’70s, I found “The Holdovers” to be the winning combination of fresh and familiar. 

These movies may be leaving theaters, but they are available now on streaming platforms. Happy watching!


Charlie Keohane

Charlie Keohane ’24 (she/her) is an Editor at Large. She previously served as the SGA Correspondent and a Senior Writer.   

She is an environmental writing major and a psychology minor from Northern California. Outside of academics, Charlie is a Senior Admissions Fellow at the Middlebury Admissions Office. She also is involved with the women’s track team and hosts Witching Hour, a radio show on 91.1 WRMC. In Spring 2023, she studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, watching Greta Gerwig movies, polar plunging, sending snail mail, and FaceTiming her rescue dog, Poppy. 


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