Working Title, Episode 1


Smrithi Sambamurthy

This is the first installment of “Working Title,” a podcast where TALON staff member Rachel Ning shares her thoughts, opinions and impressions of select films. In this episode, Rachel speaks about her top five winter break watches, including “West Side Story,” “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary” and “The Daytrippers.” 

by Rachel Ning, TALON Organizations Editor

This is the first installment of “Working Title,” a podcast where staff member Rachel Ning shares her thoughts on select films. In this episode, Rachel speaks about her top five winter break watches, including “West Side Story,” “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary” and “The Daytrippers.” 

Rachel: Hello, and welcome to “Working Title,” a podcast where I take you through some of my favorite filmography finds and important pieces of visual media that I think deserve a moment to shine. 

I’m Rachel, and today I’m going to be talking about my top five watches of winter break. Every single break that we have from school, whether it be Presidents Day Break, Thanksgiving break or winter break, I try to watch as many movies as I can. And this time during winter break of 2021, I managed to watch 37, which was a new high for me, which is exciting. 

These movies are ranked in no particular order, because I love them all so much, and I’m a super indecisive person, so I couldn’t rank them. 

The first one that I have on my list is “West Side Story” directed by Steven Spielberg. This was supposed to come out in December of 2020, but obviously, because of COVID, and restrictions and lockdowns and stuff like that, it was delayed a year, so it came out in December of 2021. A quick summary of the plot is that we’re essentially following this modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet, as we follow these two rival gangs in the 1950s and ’60s in New York City, the gangs being the Jets who are white, and then the Sharks who are Puerto Rican. Conflicts arise when two people from each of the gangs fall in love, so we’re essentially just following the two characters Maria and Tony and the forbidden love that they have. 

As I said, this is the Steven Spielberg adaptation, reimagination, if you will, of the 1958 Broadway version as well as the movie that came out in 1961, and I’ve really just absolutely fell in love with this movie when I watched it. I watched it two times in theaters within, I want to say four days or something. 

The acting in this movie was just absolutely phenomenal. There were a lot of standout performances, and specifically Rachel Zegler, who played Maria, the main character, as this was her first big acting gig ever, and she really, really did such an amazing job. I’ve personally been following her since around 2017 via her YouTube channel, and it was just amazing to see her thrive on the big screen, and her performance was just amazing. She made me cry, she made me laugh and made me feel everything that she was feeling. 

Some other people that had really good standout performances were Ariana DeBose, who plays Anita, as well as Mike Faist, who plays Riff, and again, they both did absolutely outstanding jobs. Something else that I really want to point out is the cinematography done by Janusz Kamiński, I think that’s how you pronounce his name. It was super, super sharp and really well done. Steven Spielberg and him have been longtime partners in a lot of films like “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan,” and you can tell that they mesh really well together, and the results are just absolutely stunning. You’re absolutely immersed into the movie, like all those fight scenes, and all the fun scenes as well, like the dancing in the gym. The moment that Tony and Maria meet, it was just absolutely insane, like the way that the camera was moving, and giving you an aerial view, but also giving you close ups with the people, and I just think that was a really, really well done job by both of them. 

Also, the soundtrack, needless to say, was absolutely amazing. The lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and music by Leonard Bernstein, I feel like those are just two names that you can’t go wrong with. And I feel like it really shows in this movie, how amazingly iconic this piece of work was. The original Broadway show came out in 1958, decades and decades ago, and the ability that “West Side Story” has to still be a presence in today’s culture and media is a big telltale sign to how important the story was, and how prevalent it still is in the 21st century. 

The next movie is “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” which was a 2020 release, directed by Eliza Hittman, and is essentially about these two teenagers Autumn and her cousin Skylar, as you follow them along on their journey from Pennsylvania to New York City to help get Autumn an abortion for an unplanned pregnancy. 

This type of movie maybe isn’t everyone’s cup of tea; it’s a very quiet and understated movie. The screenplay is very short and concise in the way that it decides to execute itself as there’s not a lot of dialogue, it’s mainly just emotions portrayed by the actors. It’s super intimately shot, and it makes you feel like you’re walking beside Autumn and Skylar, going through what they’re going through, seeing the people that they’re seeing, and there’s this one specific scene that I really wanted to point out (no spoilers!). 

At the beginning of the movie where Autumn decides to pierce her nose at home, and she takes the ice cube, takes the needle, and you know does the thing or whatever. But I think where a lot of movies would cut off is where she’s about to take the needle into her nose, and then it would cut away and then show you the character just with her nose already pierced. But this movie, you stay with her while she’s prepping everything from the alcohol all the way to when she successfully pierces it, which although it is a little bit of an uncomfortable scene, it would definitely make a lot of people a little bit squeamish, it shows how much care was put into every single shot of the movie and how Eliza Hittman really wanted you to immerse yourself into these characters and stick by them no matter what. 

The movie obviously centers around abortion, which is a sensitive and potentially touchy subject for a lot of people, but Eliza Hittman does such a good job of making it with a lot of care and humanity. And not only Eliza Hittman, but everyone that was involved in the movie, all the actors, all the actresses, you can tell that they really cared about this subject and really wanted to tell it in a just way that wasn’t harsh, and really took its time. And I think that does really show, and it’s just absolutely amazing. After I finished this, I had to just sit and marinate with it for a little while, which I think is a really big sign that it does what it needs to do and what it wanted to do, and impacts the audience in the right way. 

On a lighter note, the next one is “The Daytrippers,” directed by Greg Mottola. This is a 1996 comedy, and it centers around the D’Amico family and the chase they go on throughout New York City to try and find their daughter Eliza D’Amico’s husband, after she finds a mysterious love letter that is addressed to her husband, Louis. 

This is just a super funny movie, and the character chemistry was so well done. All the characters played off of each other really well, and I think a big factor to that was how different each character was designed. Liev Schreiber, who is one of the supporting actors, does such a good job playing this naive yet booksmart character, and he stole the show every time he was on screen, and I absolutely fell in love with his character. 

This is kind of a short movie, it’s 86 minutes long, so  an hour and a half, if you will, but it does a really good job of pacing itself. There are a lot of detours in this wild goose chase dynamic that this family goes on, but there are also some parts that are fleshed out and longer and really take their time. But then there are again, other parts that are kind of just, “Go, go, go” and gives you that rushed feeling. And the family dynamics and chaos in New York City, that all does show and flushes out really well, and I think it truly is just a hidden gem movie, that a lot of people should be talking about more, because I haven’t heard a lot of people talking about it. 

I think this is a type of movie that a lot of people would enjoy. The director, Greg Mottola, also directed the iconic movie “Superbad,” so I think if you like “Superbad,” I would definitely try and check this out. 

The next one is a documentary special, it’s not necessarily a movie. It’s the “Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts,” which obviously came out Jan. 1, 2022, and was a super anticipated release that a lot of people were looking forward to. For those of you who don’t know what it is, it’s kind of just an in-depth movie-by-movie reflection of all the “Harry Potter” movies through interviews with the cast, and they all take place on the set of “Harry Potter.” It’s just a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the first movie release, and it’s just an absolute straight shot of nostalgia. 

I waited up all night to wait for this to be released, and the moment that I did, I watched it and I cried. I feel like it encapsulates how important “Harry Potter” is, to me, and to everyone that has been a fan of it for a long time. It was really nice to see all the actors’ perspectives,  movie by movie, and get these little tidbits of behind-the-scenes and these little fun facts. And it just led to so much nostalgia for me and so much excitement and happiness, because “Harry Potter” has been such an important part of my life for such a long time. It made me kind of emotional, seeing everyone back together, and afterwards, I realized how much I had missed these characters in this world, so I decided to binge watch all the movies with my mom, which was an amazing decision. It was so much fun.

I came to the realization that I have started every single new year for the past  three or something rewatching, the “Harry Potter” series, which was unintentional, but I think I’m going to start making it  a tradition for myself, because I always really enjoy it, and it always starts my new year off right, and I want to continue that.

The last movie I have to talk to you guys about is “Before Sunset,” which is the second installment of the “Before” trilogy, directed by Richard Linklater, and it came out in 2004. So in ” Before Sunset,” we are revisited by the two characters that we met in “Before Sunrise,” which was the first installment of the trilogy, the two characters Jesse and Celine, and we see them in Paris this time, as Jesse is on a book tour, and he runs into Celine. 

These are all directed by Richard Linklater, and I feel like if anyone should take away one thing from Richard Linklater is his demography, and the way that he directs is that he quite literally likes to take a lot of time, perfecting his craft and figuring out what he wants to do with his movies. So in the “Before” trilogy, we are still following Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke [the actors] throughout the 20 years, and we do see them age in real time, and there’s just something about it that is so tranquil and peaceful, and you can feel the longing that the two characters feel for one another. There are these beautiful, long bouts of dialogue in these long shots of Europe that are just absolutely stunning, and the landscapes that Linklater has decided to film on are just stunning. 

It is kind of a “nothing happens” movie, but I love it in that sense, because you’re just able to dedicate so much time into these characters, and really understand both of their point of views and why they feel the way that they feel about each other. A lot of the time, it seems like you’re with the characters ,not watching them through a screen, and I think that is really what makes the movie so well. For example, there’s the scene a little bit at the beginning of the movie where these two characters settle down at a coffee shop, and we really begin to see them start to catch up with one another. It really does just feature really long shots, and not really a lot of cutaways, and I think that makes you really feel like you’re with the characters, you’re kind of in with the conversation. 

It almost makes you feel like you want to contribute to the conversation, which I think is a really beautiful thing, because it just shows how realistic the dialogue and the way that these two characters interact with one another are, which is something that I love so much about this second one. Because in the first one, you’re kind of just meeting these characters, they’re pretty young, they don’t really know what they want in life, they’re just beginning to figure out who they are, and in this one, they’ve started to settle down. They know what they want in life, they are pursuing these careers that they’re super passionate about, and you get to hear these exciting conversations that they have with one another about these new passions and motivations that they have in their life. 

It’s a really interesting thing to follow these characters as it almost feels like you’ve known them for such a long time, and it’s like you’re catching up with an old friend that you haven’t seen in a while. So the “Before” trilogy is a really beautiful series of films, and I had been waiting so long to watch it, and I finally decided to watch them over winter break, which I think was a really great decision. I’m really thankful that this piece of work exists because I think it’ll be something super interesting to revisit, when I’m their age when they were in “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and finally, “Before Midnight.” I think this is just a really timeless film that you can constantly revisit at different points in your life and relate to the characters in different ways and see the character’s point of views in different ways. 

I really hope you were able to take away maybe a couple of movie recommendations from this episode, or maybe just get a feel for different kinds of movies out there. Thank you so much for listening, and I hope to see you again in the next episode of “Working Title.”