Tag Archives: Chloe Grace Moretz

Superb Horror, Rushed Actioner — “Shadow in the Cloud”

The first half of “Shadow in the Cloud” is one of the most perfect pieces of cinema I’ve seen. It nails an atmosphere of mounting dread with the precision of early Spielberg and an assured retrowave aesthetic. Chloe Grace Moretz plays Maude Garrett, a pilot in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force who boards a B-17 Flying Fortress as last second crew. It’s the middle of World War II, and her mission is to ferry a satchel across the Pacific. What’s inside that satchel is confidential.

She’s soon parted from her charge and locked in the plane’s bottom turret. The bomber had a crew of 10 and several turrets. One was on the belly, guarding the plane’s exposed underside. It overlooked thousands of feet of empty air. This is where the first half of the movie takes place.

On her radio, Maude overhears how the crew of men speak about her. They talk about fucking her, dismiss her concerns, challenge her mission, and refuse to believe her sighting of an enemy plane. Worse yet, there’s something climbing across the plane, a lurking shape that’s tearing out key parts piece by piece. When they won’t even believe the ordinary when she says it, when they charge her with hysteria simply for reporting what she sees, how can she report what seems impossible?

Moretz realizes a spectacularly written screenplay in what becomes a riveting one-woman show. Writer-director Roseanne Liang puts on a clinic of horror cinema. The sky is dark, full of shadows and lightning. Unsettling details mount: hydraulics hanging out under the plane, a hole in the turret’s glass, a shorn screw as thick around as your finger. What she hears on the radio with the crew, Maude imagines visually for us in deep reds and blacks.

The first half of “Shadow in the Cloud” is one of the best horror experiences I’ve had in my life. Then the second half happens. The second half feels rushed. There’s a reason the most effective moments in “Jaws” are the ones where we can’t see the shark. The moment that one-woman show changes into a more traditional action movie, it loses something key.

That rhythm of Liang’s dialogue, Moretz’s performance, the atmosphere of being trapped and disbelieved, and the awesome texture of Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s synthwave musical score combine to create something genre-defining, but it loses its magic when the film has to move on to resolutions. It’s still a solid film, but when you go from all-time great to OK, you can feel that swing as a viewer.

The second half of “Shadow in the Cloud” does hold onto that magic for a while, largely through Moretz’s performance. There’s also an audacious sequence under the plane that’s so driven and ambitious, and shot so creatively that I couldn’t have cared less if the seams of a low budget peaked out here and there.

The problem is more that the first half is so patient, exact, and grounded, and the second half accelerates without paying off on that pace. What was a mastercraft becomes a solid action B-movie, albeit one without enough rhythm or time. Many of the beats of the second half are good ideas, though your mileage on one particular twist may vary. The ending is just shoved into too short a time that makes it feel checklisted and predictable when the first half was anything but.

That truly unique, assured aesthetic that fuses war movie, “Twilight Zone”, “Amazing Stories”, 80s horror, Hitchcock, and social commentary together feels sidelined. The script shifts from nearly all-dialogue, expertly written, to very little, most of which we’ve heard before. It goes from Moretz absolutely living and breathing the rhythm of the movie, to the scenes rushing her and the other actors. There are times that the last half hints at a punkier, more meta, even cartoonish attitude that could’ve taken over, but it doesn’t have the time to make this shift fully enough.

That first half is so good that none of this stops “Shadow in the Cloud” from being a movie I like and recommend. It’s just that first half is a cinematic holy grail. It is magic. It’s what you sit down and hope every movie is as a critic. Forty minutes in, the thought was forming that this goes up there with “It Follows”, “Alien”, “The Orphanage”, “Ravenous”, “John Carpenter’s The Thing”. Almost nothing achieves the tension this can. I mean, look what it can do in two minutes:

And the second half is a sillier, often rushed action movie. It keeps the thread on its social commentary, but even this can feel rushed at points. It may have been more effective in a film that was able to sustain that early energy. Moretz carries the first 40 minutes of the film through the dialogue, and Liang through patient, stylized directing. If they’d found a way to carry it this way through the last 40 minutes (or extended it to 60 or so minutes to allow that same textured approach), I think it also could have capitalized on what it set up in other ways. This could’ve made that social commentary even more effective. I also think if they’d managed that, I’d be calling “Shadow in the Cloud” one of the best films I’ve ever seen.

Do half a film that’s utterly perfect and half a film that’s uneven and rushed equal a good film? Yeah, no question. Some films don’t start well, but come together in the end and we’re perfectly fine with calling them good. A movie that starts perfectly, but doesn’t bring all those strengths through in the end will be enjoyable in different ways. It may challenge our concepts of what in the storytelling makes it satisfying, but I’m deeply glad I watched it and got to see something as spellbinding as that first half. A lot of good, more consistent films never even approach 5 minutes like that, let alone 40.

I’d also point out that a 40-minute first half and 40-minute second half equal an hour-and-20 minute movie. Take that, kids who don’t think they’ll use math as adults. You’re not sacrificing a whole evening to take a chance on “Shadow in the Cloud”. The film as a whole is so wild, opinions on how well it carries through that initial energy and tone are going to vary a lot.

This is something I know I’ll go back and watch, even if the viewing experience does feel inverted. It is so unique, knowledgeable about the genre foundations on which it stands, and deeply ambitious and creative. Those first 40 minutes are one of the most rewarding movie experiences I’ve had. As I sit with it longer and longer, I like “Shadow in the Cloud” more and more. It’s just so much of what I want to see on screen, even if the conclusion doesn’t pull through.

I’ll certainly keep an eye out for Roseanne Liang. Anyone who can write and direct that singular a stretch can make a great film.

For her part, Moretz is proving she wasn’t just a child actor with an off-kilter taste in projects. Few actors can carry a project alone on-screen for this long, few actors can haul a film ahead regardless of whether it loses its footing, and few actors embody the social commentary of a project this effectively through their character.

“Shadow in the Cloud” is available on Hulu, or see where to rent it here.

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New Shows + Movies by Women — May 7, 2021

It’s a good week if you’re a fan of British things, with a new mystery series in Acorn and Sundance’s “The Drowning”, an immigration drama on Netflix in “Sitting in Limbo”, and a romantic comedy in “Love Sarah” on Hulu.

The biggest news is “Star Wars: The Bad Batch”, though. It continues the story of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”, a hit among diehard fans with storylines that matured as the animated series built up its own lore. Star Wars fandom is always dicey to navigate, but early reviews on “The Bad Batch” are very favorable.

There’s also a new Tina Fey-produced comedy in “Girls5eva”. It boasts a pretty strong cast, though many might miss it because Peacock hasn’t exactly broken through as a streaming service.

For me, the most exciting entries are “Shadow in the Cloud”, because who doesn’t want to see Chloe Grace Moretz shoot down Nazis to synthwave backbeats, and “Rosa’s Wedding” from Iciar Bollain, one of Spain’s best filmmakers.


Star Wars: The Bad Batch (Disney+)
co-showrunner Jennifer Corbett

As the Empire pumps out its clone soldiers, it occasionally experiments with new ideas. As one does. They develop a “bad batch” of experimental clones, whose loyalties are torn during the prequel trilogy’s infamous Order 66. The show follows what happens after, as they fight on both sides of a growing war.

Jennifer Corbett was a writer on “Star Wars Resistance” and “NCIS”. She showruns with Dave Filoni, who was lead director on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”.

Season one of “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” will run 16 episodes, with the first two available this week and a new one premiering each Friday. I believe most will be a 20-30 minute format, but the first is a special 70-minute episode.

You can watch “Star Wars: The Bad Batch” on Disney+.

Girls5eva (Peacock)
showrunner Meredith Scardino
mostly directed by women

A 90s girl group has faded into obscurity after being a one-hit wonder. That is, until that one hit is sampled by a rapper. This could be their comeback.

The series has a strong musical cast headed up by singer Sara Bareilles and Renee Elise Goldsberry, who won a Tony for her featured role in “Hamilton”. This is balanced out by experienced comedy actors Busy Phillips and Paula Pell.

Showrunner Meredith Scardino has written for “The Colbert Report”, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, and “At Home with Amy Sedaris”,

Five of the eight episodes are directed by women: “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “The Mick” director Kat Coiro directs the first ep. She’s also directing half of Marvel’s upcoming “She-Hulk” series. LP and “GLOW” actress Kimmy Gatewood direct two episodes apiece.

You can watch “Girls5eva” on Peacock. The streaming platform comes included in many cable and satellite packages, so you may already have access to it.

The Drowning (Acorn TV, Sundance Now)
directed by Carolina Giammetta

A woman has slowly recovered and rebuilt her life since losing her son, Daniel. Eight years have passed, when she thinks she catches sight of him again.

The four episode British mini-series is directed by Carolina Giammetta. She’s directed on “Vera” and “Shakespeare & Hathaway”.

You can watch “The Drowning” on either Acorn TV or Sundance Now. It’s premiering on both jointly.


Sitting in Limbo (Netflix)
directed by Stella Corradi

“Sitting in Limbo” recounts the struggle of Anthony Bryan to remain a British citizen during the Windrush scandal. The 2018 scandal involved the illegal detention of Caribbean immigrants to the UK, many of whom were subsequently illegally deported. Many had lived their entire lives there, but lost their jobs, homes, passports, and medical care, and were denied re-entry. Many had been born British subjects due to centuries-long colonial occupations by the U.K., and had direct legal rights to live in the U.K. as citizens.

Stella Corradi was a director on BBC series “Trigonometry”.

You can watch “Sitting in Limbo” on Netflix.

Shadow in the Cloud (Hulu)
directed by Roseanne Liang

Chloe Grace Moretz stars as an agent transporting intelligence during World War II. Her ride is a B-17 Flying Fortress, a bomber so large it required a crew of 10. The big problem is that something’s hitched a ride along with them, and it’s killing the crew one by one.

This is Roseanne Liang’s second narrative feature as writer and director. She got her start in the industry as an editor.

You can watch “Shadow in the Cloud” on Hulu.

Rosa’s Wedding (HBO Max)
directed by Iciar Bollain

At 45, Rosa decides she’s done catering to everyone else’s needs. A costume designer by trade, she visits the tailor shop where her mother once worked. Then it strikes her – she’ll start her own business.

Iciar Bollain was an actress in the 1980s-00s, but her last role was in 2012. She’s shifted to directing and writing over the course of her career. Her “Take My Eyes” is known as one of Spain’s best films. The film that centered on a blunt portrayal of domestic violence won seven Goya Awards (Spain’s equivalent of our Oscars), including Best Picture and Best Director.

“Rosa’s Wedding” saw Bollain nominated as Best Director and for Best Original Screenplay alongside her “Take My Eyes” co-writer Alicia Luna.

You can watch “Rosa’s Wedding” on HBO Max.

Love Sarah (Hulu)
directed by Eliza Schroeder

A woman pursues her mother’s dream: opening a bakery in the Notting Hill neighborhood of London. She enlists friends and family to help her accomplish this.

Director Eliza Schroeder also co-wrote the story for the screenplay. This is her first feature film.

You can watch “Love Sarah” on Hulu.

Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.

If you like what you read on this site, subscribe to Gabriel Valdez’s Patreon. It helps with the time and resources to continue writing articles like this one.

Superior Denzel — “The Equalizer”

Equalizer 2

by Gabriel Valdez

An early shot in The Equalizer shows a beautiful woman rising from her seat on the bus. She waits to exit, and the camera pans around to reveal Robert McCall’s face. We’d expect any male character in this shot to be staring straight at her – we’ve seen that reaction thousands of times from thousands of antiheroes. Instead, Robert’s eyes are cast down, reading his book, which we’re later told is Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

That Robert is played by Denzel Washington only heightens a moment like this – Washington’s perfected the fine balance required in playing monk-like antiheroes. The Equalizer is a late 90s/early 00s style of action movie. It’s heavy on character and a consciously grim cinematic atmosphere. Many of director Antoine Fuqua’s visuals will remind you of Tony Scott’s best films from that era – like Enemy of the State or Denzel’s own Man on Fire.

Robert McCall is a former CIA operative. Assassin is the more apt term. He has left that life behind, eking out an intentionally simple existence at a Home Depot-like store in Boston. He goes out of his way to help those around him – he trains a co-worker who wants to lose weight and become a security guard, he recovers a ring stolen from one of the cashiers. He also has trouble sleeping, so he spends nights at the local diner catching up on all the novels he once intended to finish with his wife.

Equalizer 1

He has few companions at the diner, but encourages underage call girl Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz) to pursue goals beyond the life she leads. Robert himself has taken a personal oath of non-violence, but when Teri is viciously beaten by her employers – the Russian mafia – he’ll “make an exception.” Most of the plot follows the cat-and-mouse game Robert plays with a Russian mobster named Teddy (Martin Csokas). Teddy is a filmic marvel as a villain, crazed, unfeeling, brutal yet intelligent – but always in the service of a larger strategy.

What’s striking about The Equalizer is the nature of its violence. We look at Bourne and Bond and marvel at fight scenes that are choreographed like dances. The action in The Equalizer isn’t awesome – it’s terrifying. Robert always gives the villains a chance to do the right thing, but when they inevitably refuse, watching him in his element is like watching the shark in Jaws. There’s no malevolence or anger. There’s barely any effort to his violence. His face is blank, as if you’ve caught him meditating. He feels like a force of nature, unavoidable once he’s set upon you, the outcome already decided. All that’s left is for the bodies to go through their motions.

The action scenes are very well done, but they aren’t all about the action. They’re about the terror of violence, the unfeeling places it takes Robert to, and how wary he is of letting that part of himself take over.

The Equalizer is based on an 80s TV show of the same name, starring British character actor Edward Woodward. There are numerous nods to that 80s style, from the driving, industrial score by Harry Gregson Williams to the patient, sparse presentation of the action. I would never have guessed, however, the stunning nuance Denzel shows in reinterpreting Woodward. Denzel’s great, we all know that, but he doesn’t look, speak, or act like a wily British character actor. The show’s obscure – no one would have blinked if he’d made this one more hard-nosed Denzel role. What he translates so perfectly, however, is the inner emotion Woodward gave Robert McCall. Skin color, accent…none of it matters one bit. This is the very same character.

Equalizer 3

I also have to wonder how The Equalizer will be viewed in certain communities in the U.S. Both in an early B-plot and in a later moment aimed at putting pressure on the Russian mafia, Robert leans on a corrupt Boston police force. He holds badges up to cops’ faces and tells them they’ve betrayed what it means. This is nothing new for this sort of movie, and I remember the original TV series having moments like this. At a time when African-American men are being shot in Michigan, in Missouri, and choked out in New York by police officers free of repercussion, it strikes a chord to see a black actor of Denzel’s magnitude hold a badge to a white officer’s face and hold him personally accountable.

I suspect there are communities that need to see these moments, not because they directly solve anything, but because movies are about escapism, and escapism is about challenging what we find insurmountable in our everyday lives. To see a black actor like Denzel seek out and tear down police corruption will lend some viewers courage. It may make others uncomfortable. At the very least, it will become one more avenue to talking about change. And that’s what The Equalizer is ultimately about – Robert is admirable not for his skills and capacity for revenge, but rather for how he restrains that urge and pursues bettering the situations of those around him.

The Equalizer is a stylish, thoughtful action movie, contains one of Denzel’s best and most nuanced performances in years, and is about as perfect an adaptation as you can get.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does The Equalizer have more than one woman in it?

Yes. It stars Chloe Grace Moretz, Haley Bennett, Melissa Leo, Anastasia Sanidopoulos Mousis, and Luz Sanchez.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Nope. There’s a hospital bed scene in which a woman asks Teri who beat her up, but I don’t think it passes the letter of the law.

3. About something other than a man?


Can it be forgiven? This is a tough one. There are two kinds of hardboiled thriller. One contains an intersecting B-plot about the cops or PIs investigating the battle between protagonist and antagonist. This is often where these films will include a female detective who at some point interviews another woman. This year’s underseen Sabotage is the perfect example of this.

This in itself isn’t always the best solution – why can’t one of the leads be a woman? – but it at least expands the roles for women in the genre.

The second kind is the limited-perspective thriller, where every single scene centers around your main character and his adversary. This lends itself to sparser, more ‘mythic’ narratives. That’s what The Equalizer is.

If every scene centers around your main character, and your main character’s a man, you’re probably not going to pass the Bechdel Test. This is as much a component of the genre’s restricted perspective as it is any fault by the filmmaker.

Even this year’s In the Blood, a flawed-but-fun direct-to-DVD thriller in which Gina Carano busts up a Caribbean island in order to rescue her kidnapped husband, doesn’t technically pass the third rule of the test.

The dynamic between Csokas’s villain and Denzel’s hero does investigate how men seek to control both themselves and others – in the case of the Russian mob, this means controlling women as an outlet for both sex and violence. This also means that two of your five female characters are prostitutes.

The Equalizer could have given women more agency without losing a thing. It’s a very good movie, but you can still like a movie and insist it should have done better.