Schumer plays Renee, a supposedly “average-looking” and overweight woman who works in the basement of a renowned cosmetic company. Considered to be too ugly to work up top, she spends her days daydreaming about a better life. When she suffers a concussion at a spin-cycle class, she wakes up believing that she is insatiably gorgeous and the envy of the world. Her misplaced confidence sees her strutting her imagined “attractive” self from one situation to another, unaware that she actually looks the same.
CLICK HERE TO READ FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
Most significantly, Jonathan straddles two storylines that are never reconciled as clearly as writer/director Thomas Baldinger seems to have intended. The eponymous Jenna (Tracey Birdsall) is both Jonathan’s new love interest and his boss’ sister-in-law, yet none of the potential conflicts this could present for all three characters are addressed until well into the film’s second half. In an unexpected decision, the relationship between Jonathan and the boss, Joe (Garry Pastore), receives the most attention; I don’t recall the latter even sharing a scene with Jenna. Although using traits such as outright racism and homophobia to subsequently cast Joe as an antagonist feels unsubtle, there’s no inherent problem with this. However, drawing the audience’s attention to a pre-existing character dynamic and not resolving it is a glaring Chekhov’s gun waiting to be fired. Similarly, there’s a recurring joke about Jenna resembling a famous porn actress which doesn’t pay off despite Baldinger granting it substantial explanation and emphasis. An actual porn actress cameos as herself briefly, and once again WHO’S JENNA? fails to take advantage of its own setup by simply having its title character appearing onscreen with her.
By contrast, the film dedicates time to providing detail where it isn’t necessary. For instance, the opening sequence depicts Jonathan’s parents en route to the hospital for his birth, as well as revealing that their neighbours are expecting a child at the same time. While the dialogue and interactions between the two couples are hilarious, they don’t complement the main plot enough to justify the sequence’s existence. The neighbours’ son Andy (Joseph D’Onofrio) grows up to be Jonathan’s best friend, yet the fact that they share a birthday or even were childhood neighbours is never mentioned; likewise, their parents are never seen nor heard from during the present-day scenes. Meanwhile, after Joe blackmails Jonathan into closing their company’s account for a client named Kevin Steele (Michael Tota), the otherwise insignificant Steele is essentially given his own subplot. Thankfully, he’s an irreverent porn actor, which does offer some variety to the film’s humour, including an absurd sight gag that I won’t spoil.
There are at least three plot threads from WHO’S JENNA? that were engaging enough to warrant a more sustained focus, and it’s a testament to the acting that I believe doing so would be entertaining with any combination of the major characters. A tendency to mismanage time throughout the film limits each of these ideas’ scopes and resembles a proof of concept, but nevertheless, the strengths largely outweigh the weaknesses.
And the film makes the choice easy for audiences. If you liked the first Super Troopers then you will want to see this long-awaited sequel, and if you didn’t like it, then why would you bother? And so, stepping back into my [none of your business] year-old shoes from 2001, I came to part 2 with nostalgia on my mind and a grin on my face. And what a great time I had.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
Given that Landis is directing his own script, it should come as no surprise that ME HIM HER’s greatest strength is its writing. I loved that its central premise targeted Hollywood’s attitudes towards gay actors, an ongoing and complex issue to which the film smartly doesn’t try to offer an easy resolution. The decision to give Brendan (Luke Bracey)’s storyline a happy ending is important for affirming the script’s LGBT-positive message, but as a recent Indiewire article pointed out, there remains systemic pressure for relative unknowns in film and television to suppress parts of their identity to receive more job opportunities. Indeed, Brendan’s PR team cynically suggest in an early scene that when and how to come out is more important than the announcement itself, which he even follows outside of professional settings.
This mounting pressure and uncertainty is why both Brendan and the film need Cory (Dustin Milligan) to provide levity. Although his storyline is more predictable and unfortunately steals the focus away from Brendan’s, in my opinion it was necessary to achieve Landis’s desired tone. Cory at times feels like a character from a cartoon or comic, particularly during a Scott Pilgrim-esque swordfight sequence, and his outright wackiness is where ME HIM HER’s direction borrows most heavily from John Landis-era comedy. I found this was most enjoyable when Cory and Brendan were given the chance to play off each other such as in a brilliant scene reuniting with the latter’s parents; Bracey and Milligan have a dynamic that feels like the believable product of a long friendship, and typically led to strong one-liners. Nevertheless, Cory’s plot thread ultimately amounts to his attempts to get closer to Gabbi (Emily Meade) after a one-night stand, which was simply unengaging beyond leading to some of his zanier behaviour and as previously mentioned was given too much runtime.
My issues with the Cory-Gabbi plot are closely linked to ME HIM HER’s most glaring issue: strange and occasionally ill-advised directing choices. I felt that a dream sequence featuring the duo was shot so confusingly that it brought the pacing to a halt, and throughout the film lines of dialogue would be given subtitles or appear printed onscreen in huge letters seemingly at random and without any explanation. Meanwhile, Gabbi’s realisation of her bisexuality could’ve been explicitly paralleled with Brendan’s coming out, yet Meade seemed to become more passive and mumbled her dialogue during the second half outside of a single scene. As writer-director, Landis should have facilitated a greater consistency between the ostensible motivations from his script and the actors’ interpretations.
Overall, ME HIM HER reveals plenty of potential from Max Landis as a comedic auteur, and he should continue working within the genre so that the role of director feels more intuitive. With a script that manages to stay optimistic and funny while giving a nuanced take on a contemporary issue, it makes for a charming and easy watch.
It is unprofessional of me to rely on internet acronyms, however LOL... Hollywood have been celebrating retro storytelling for aeons, and it is simply a shift in perception that determines what qualifies as “retro”. A reliable measurement is generally 30-years, as proven by filmmakers in the 60s and 70's telling stories from the 30's and 40's (The Sting, Bonnie & Clyde, Chinatown), and filmmakers from the 80's and 90's celebrating the 50's and 60's (Stand By Me, A Christmas Story, The Outsiders) etc. And so we arrive at contemporary Hollywood, where the children of the 80's and 90's are the filmmakers of today, and they are telling stories that reflect their own upbringing. Suffice to say that “retro” is an ever-shifting perimeter that has always permeated cinema.
As for Spielberg's age (sorry) … LOL. The guy IS retro, not to mention being responsible for the majority of homages being paid today. He created some of cinema's most iconic characters and has watched the creation and evolution of videos games from an entirely adult perspective. From Atari's “Computer Space” ('71) to Ubisoft's “Farcry 5” ('18), he has witnessed the rise of the video game industry and has even contributed to it with games like “ET”, “The Dig” and “Medal of Honor”. And considering his precision with technologically sophisticated filmmaking (Minority Report, War of the Worlds, The Adventures of Tin Tin etc) I can't think of a more qualified candidate to direct the theatrical adaptation of Ernest Cline's cult novel READY PLAYER ONE!
Set in 2045 the film depicts a dystopian future where society is crippled by poverty, over population and corporate greed. To escape the wretchedness of their deprived existence, the citizens of the world spend most of their time inside a virtual utopia known as The Oasis. It is an online game universe where people can socialise, profit and indulge. There are no rules and the virtual world is populated with pop cultural references from the previous decades. When the creator of The Oasis died, he left behind an easter egg; a secret treasure buried deep within the game, and whosoever should discover it would, in turn, inherit his wealth and ownership of the entire Oasis. And so for several years the world has been invested in the quest for The Oasis, and giant corporations pour endless resources into acquiring the game's enormous value. To put it bluntly, READY PLAYER ONE is a science fiction adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The film itself is a treasure trove of pop cultural references and demands multiple viewings. It is so chocked with famous characters and references that no one viewer could possibly identify all that the film has to offer. From the obvious nods to Back to the Future, Godzilla and The Iron Giant, to more subtle treats from Say Anything, Tomb Raider, Christine and Knight Rider. The density of references is overwhelming and gamers and movie-goers alike have been treated to the biggest scavenger hunt cinema has ever seen.
Such is the nature of the story and its concept that there isn't any time for those pesky things like character development and subtext... and who needs 'em? READY PLAYER ONE doesn't need that level of depth, and its strength lies within its adventure. Much like Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark, or The Goonies (which he wrote) the film is a methodical point-to-point structure, with each advancement relying on the solving of a riddle. We know of our character only what we need to, and rather than adding extra convolution to the story, their personal motivations are simple. Hardship and oppression are the forces which drive all of these people, and delving into their own personal back stories would be a disservice to the narrative.
Spielberg embraces the intricacies of the READ PLAYER ONE universe with the skill and finesse that we should expect from him, and rather than being an out of touch codger (as many predicted) he proves to be an articulate and astute practitioner, blending his contemporary proficiency with his love of nostalgia. Of course he would not have made the film without the reliance of the source material and a stable of nerdish advisors... but hey, no captain steers their ship without deckhands.
While there's little room for stand-out performances, the cast is made up of a reliable ensemble. Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cook and Ben Mendelsohn lead the film and portray their live action characters as well as their online avatar counterparts. They all offer an appealing on-screen presence, with Mendelsohn indulging in a particularly maniacal villainous persona. They are supported by players such as TJ Miller, Lena Whaithe, Simon Pegg and an exceptionally dynamic Mark Rylance. Rylance has become Spielberg's unofficial muse, having previously given outstanding performances in The BFG and Bridge of Spies. He gives a fantastic turn as the meek and geeky video game developer who created The Oasis, and he taps into the nerd-like nuances to perfection.
Steven Spielberg has outdone himself with READY PLAYER ONE, and delivered a film that cannot be fully surmised with one viewing. It is richly textured, methodically detailed, and above all else.... incredibly fun. See it once at the cinema.... see it again at the cinema.... and then watch it over and over again in HD at home. I suspect it will continue to reveal its secrets for some time to come.
The new Swiss film The Divine Order tells the story of Nora (Marie Leuenberger), a meek and mild housewife who becomes a beacon of change in her small, traditional village during the early 1970s. While the world around them was changing with movements like black power, flower power, student marches and a sexual revolution, Switzerland was years behind, being one of the last Westernised countries to grant women the right to vote, let alone addressing the myriad of other social issues. Nora’s home village is sheltered from outside influence and life is simple. Men and women have their “traditional” roles to play, and life for the women was to serve their husbands and families without reservation.
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I doubt there will be a review in the world that doesn't compare the new film to the two lacklustre instalments starring Angelina Jolie in the early 2000s, and while I honestly don't care to pit them against each other, I will say just this... TOMB RAIDER '18 casts aside the comical facade and tackles the material in a darker, grittier and more violent manner, and for the most part it successfully sets itself apart from those former movies, establishing itself as a genuine stepping point for a new series.
The narrative serves as an origin story by establishing its protagonist's introduction to the world of tomb raiding. Her name is, of course, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina) and she needs no introduction... but alas, that's what we get. Working as a bicycle courier in London she is the daughter of a missing (presumed dead) business tycoon (Dominic West) whose fortune she has refused to accept, until it is made apparent that his assets will be dissolved if she doesn't. She discovers that he led a secret life as an archeologist, and that his life's quest was to discover the existence of the supernatural. She finds a secret message from him and learns that his last known whereabouts was on a lost island in the middle of the Devil's Sea. And so before signing the documents to inherit his fortune (idiot) she sets out to discover the truth about his disappearance, which – obviously – leads her right into the arms of great peril. A ruthless fortune hunter (Walton Goggins) waits her arrival, and has already enslaved hundreds of Japanese men to help find the legendary lost tomb of the evil queen Himiko, whose discovery will put the entire world in line for annihilation.
It's all very silly, and in fact the synopsis I laid out doesn't include many of the subplots, twists and various other interwoven intricacies. You would be right to think that it sounds more like the sort of convoluted storyline from a video game... oh wait.
TOMB RAIDER is a classic case of style over substance, and while it slathers on the action the way an over-protective mother applies sunscreen, it forgets about the important things like character development and substance. Director Roar Uthaug (The Wave) and writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alistair Siddons have put all of their energies into crafting an action-packed adventure to the point that they lost sight of the things that keep such an adventure remotely interesting. Lara Croft's character lacks dynamic, and the audience isn't given a reason to cheer for her. She is simply a two-dimensional woman with mad fighting skills.
The film takes countless stylistic notes from Raiders of the Lost Ark but - yet again - it takes nothing from Indiana Jones' structure, character arcs and intellectual writing. Perhaps it's the current state of action-orientated cinema that is responsible for the dumbing down of stories, or maybe it's a misguided sentiment that video games need to be adapted into films... whatever the case, TOMB RAIDER is a ridiculous movie riddled with plot holes, contradictions and continuity flaws. From an unintentional ever-changing island environment (lush jungle one minute, dry arid bushland the next) to a never ending supply of arrows for shooting, to illogical absurdities such as intricately built mechanisms to allow access to a place which was never supposed to be found (lets not mention that huge fucking entrance that screams “welcome to the lost tomb). Actually, the continuity blunders are insulting... for example, Lara scales a ragged cliff face to a cave where she spends the night. The following morning she wakes up, walks outside the cave and onto a sandy beach... hang on, what?
Alicia Vikander gives an undistinguished performance, which is no fault of her own. Her petite physique does not lend itself to the brand of action being delivered, and despite having an incredible physicality, she simply isn't convincing. Her solemn demeanour offers no charisma and her apathy comes across as feigned. As mentioned, hers is a two-dimensional character created to appease the current movement of female empowerment, which – in my mind – would be a brilliant opportunity to make her likeable. Perhaps, also, by neglecting her character's former sexiness, they have deprived the film of much needed magnetism and excitement (even Indiana Jones was sexy, with his open shirt and sweaty chest).
Gamers will probably want to pull me up on my criticisms, and I concede that the film's failings are likely to be the game's strengths... but I didn't just play a game. I watched a very average movie.
Much like film adaptation of Garland’s first novel, The Beach, by Danny Boyle & John Hodge, ANNIHILATION takes the basic premise from Jeff Vandermeer’s novel of the same name and spins a deeper, sturdier and altogether more impressive story using the threads of Vandermeer’s source as a springboard.
Set in the not-too-distant future it has Natalie Portman as Lena, a biology professor who, one year previous, lost her soldier husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac) and has been intensely mourning his death since. Mourning, that is, until he returns home with no recollection of where he has been nor what he has done since his disappearance. No sooner has Kane shown his face, he falls into a coma with no signs of waking up.
With a little investigation Lena discovers he was working on a research project in an ever-growing region of the Florida swaps known as Area-X, and Kane was the only person to have made it out alive. To better understand how to save her husband she volunteers to be a member of the next party to enter Area-X. From here the film takes a dark(er) turn and lays the foundation of a tightly wound sojourn into horror and the macabre without ever becoming explicit in either.
Falling into the same intelligent-sci fi category as Arrival and Solaris, ANNIHILATION is a film chock-full of big ideas. It’s a lofty story about grief, loss and science but it’s mostly about destruction; destruction of the self and ideals.
Portman, as one member of the 5-person all-woman research team, does intense, frightened fascination well but she is only one fifth of the powerhouse performances. Tessa Thompson and Jennifer Jason Leigh are both exemplary as the focussed psychologist and self-harming physicist respectively.
Garland slowly ratchets up the tension and gore until the final act where his mystery rounds out to perfect satisfaction and leaves us with the firm understanding that while his debut, EX-MACHINA was fantastic, ANNIHILATION is close to genius and cements him as one of the best, most exciting directors working in main-stream Hollywood today.
Two young lovers travelling through Europe find themselves in trouble when they hit and kill a young woman one night on a long stretch of country road. Desperate for help, they wander into a large homestead where the dead woman beneath their car becomes the least of their concerns. They immediately realise that the house possesses secrets when ghostly apparitions of dead women and a terrifying Nazi SS Officer begin tormenting their every move. Unable to escape, they must overcome their fears and figure out the house’s secret to survive the night. What ensues is a relentless haunted-house chiller with one very distinct plot device that sets it apart from the rest… a plot device that is best left unsaid for the benefit of an unsuspecting audience.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL REVIEW AT THE REEL WORD.
Elisabeth Moss and Octavia Spencer are exceptional as always, and I felt the latter deserved far more screen time, yet perhaps the film’s most pleasant surprise is the showcase it provides for Boyd Holbrook. An early scene sees Holbrook’s protagonist, ex con Mohamed “Mo” Lundy, presumed guilty and harassed by a stranger despite the former’s early release from prison literally being due to his newly proven innocence, signalling that viewers should resist making quick judgments of these characters. The criminal justice system becomes a central case study for how institutionalisation affects individuals, and I was pleased to find that THE FREE WORLD subverted my expectations by illuminating the depths of Mo’s character; it’s easy to imagine him being depicted much more superficially in a different film, for instance, Holbrook’s later role in Logan would highlight his adeptness at simply portraying a menacing villain. However, Lew’s screenplay carefully considers traits such as Mo’s conversion to Islam during his sentence and uses these to convey both how the experience shaped him, and how desperate he is to resist being defined by it.
Meanwhile, Moss’ Doris feels similarly trapped by her abusive marriage, and as alluded to above, the actress once again demonstrates why she’s so enthralling to watch. Even in early wordless scenes, a simple look from Doris suggests years of fear, pain and pent-up fury, which longtime fans of Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale will instantly recognise. As Mo and Doris’ friendship blossoms THE FREE WORLD assumes a slow, pensive pace that will likely leave some viewers restless, though I felt that the omnipresent buzz of Tim Hecker’s score and some beautiful cinematography by Bérénice Eveno compensated for a lack of narrative momentum. Nevertheless, I was curious to see whether the film would eventually adopt a greater sense of urgency, and while it undeniably did in its final forty minutes, this unfortunately took the form of generic action-thriller sequences which completely removed the subtlety I’d previously enjoyed. Similarly, after initially being impressed at how Lew had cast Mo and Doris’ relationship as a method of platonically reclaiming their own identities, I was frustrated when a romance between them was abruptly and awkwardly inserted. Aside from the romantic elements the plot’s conclusion is largely satisfying, but it ultimately fails to justify taking a visceral drama and distorting it into a different genre.
THE FREE WORLD features thoughtful performances at its centre and is refreshing when it allows the characters and audience to simply consider them. It’s plausible that the film’s problematic final third is intended to represent the lengths people are willing to go to escape marginalisation, but an earlier foreshadowing or mention of this idea would probably have avoided such a jarring tonal shift.
Watching this film reminded me of the nuanced interplay between institutions and individuals depicted in Ali Soozandeh’s Tehran Taboo, and I’d consider the latter essential viewing for anyone intrigued by the themes discussed above. By contrast, once it abandons its character-driven approach THE FREE WORLD loses its most interesting aspect and sadly becomes forgettable viewing.
THE FREE WORLD IS RELEASED ON DVD THROUGH EAGLE ENTERTAINMENT ON MARCH 21.
The Spierig Brothers (Predestination, Undead) follow up their disastrous entry into the Saw franchise – Jigsaw – with a recovery of sorts by the way of Winchester, a handsome-looking film that carries on the traditional haunted-house formula in the vein of The Woman in Black and The Changeling (among others). Exploiting the more scandalous elements of Sarah Winchester’s story, the film presents a straightforward narrative, borrowing heavily from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. We follow Doctor Eric Price (Jason Clarke), who has been sent by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to conduct a psychological evaluation of the reclusive widow (Helen Mirren). Upon his arrival he is faced with characters and circumstances that suggest a case of psychosis, but, of course, before long he is head-deep in an epic ghost story, of which only absolute belief of the paranormal will help him survive.
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