Sunday, April 14, 2024

Skyscraper

Movie Name:
Skyscraper
Year of Release: 2018
Director: Rawson Marshall Thurber
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Chin Han, Roland Moller, Noah Taylor, Byron Mann, Pablo Schreiber, McKenna Roberts, Noah Cottrell, Hannah Quinlivan, Adrian Holmes, Elfina Luk, Kevin Rankin
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Rawson Marshall Thurber who started his career with the Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller starrer "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story", has since gone on to direct big action tentpoles, including the comedic "Central Intelligence", which was his first collaboration with Dwayne Johnson, followed by "Skyscraper" and the more recent "Red Notice" (the latter, a Netflix release). "Skyscraper" follows the story of Will Sawyer, a former FBI agent who is currently working as a private security consultant. His latest assignment is reviewing the security for the world's tallest building, the tower named "The Pearl" located in Hong Kong. He got that assignment through a former colleague of his who recommended him for the job. His wife and two children are with him on the tower, specifically on the residential part of it. Will is given a tablet that provides him with complete control over the Pearl's systems, by the owner of the tower itself, Zhao Long Ji. Will and his friend Gillespie are robbed on their way to an offsite security center, but Will had the tablet with him all along, which turns out is what the robbers wanted all along. Gillespie attacks Will, and in the ensuing fight gets killed, not before telling him who's behind the robbery and what's coming. Turns out an international terrorist by the name of Botha, is going to attack the tower, possibly destroy it in the process, as he wants something that is stored in it. Will loses the tablet after a second attack, while Botha and his team start a fire of epic proportions in the tower, where the Sawyer family is located. As Will witnesses the fire he goes back in hoping to save his loved ones.
Rawson Marshall Thurber's "Skyscraper", which he also wrote, is a bit like a "Die Hard" in lite mode: meaning less inventive, more destructive, and with less compelling characters. The writer/director tries to give the central hero a more vulnerable spot, with his physical challenge, however that just isn't enough to truly give a better understanding of who Will Sawyer actually is. He's apparently a security operations person who married quite well, since his wife is a medical doctor, who is also an army veteran, and a linguist/polyglot. And while Sarah Sawyer isn't a somewhat passive player in the narrative, this film could have been a lot more interesting if the balance of focus oscillated between these two central characters. Even Bonnie Bedelia's Holly was able to establish herself swiftly and efficiently in John McTiernan's muscular "Die Hard", even if her screen time was very limited. "Skyscraper" however goes into a direction that brings to mind the catastrophe films of the 1970s, such as "Earthquake" and "The Towering Inferno", where the spectacle of destruction trumps creating interesting characters. The main villain of this film comes across as a cardboard thug, without much nuance or humor for that matter, never exhibiting the intelligence and even cruelty Alan Rickman brought to his Hans Gruber in John McTiernan's film. It's a film that tries to piece together references from better films, but sadly doesn't necessarily know how to juggle character development and action set pieces. What's left is somewhat of a hollow exercise, with great production values, but wasting the charismatic presence of Neve Campbell who could have easily taken this film in a better direction. Dwayne Johnson is competent in the role, but there's also nothing particularly unique on his take of this character. The cinematography from Robert Elswit is impeccable, as is the score from Steve Jablonsky and the production design from Jim Bissell. It's not a bad film by any means, it's just not a particularly memorable one.  

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Viral

Movie Name:
Viral
Year of Release: 2016
Director: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman
Starring: Sofia Black-D'Elia, Lio Tipton, Travis Tope, Michael Kelly, Colson Baker, John Cothran, Judyann Elder, Brianne Howey
Genre: Drama, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are a directing duo who made a name for themselves with their feature directorial debut, "Catfish", which led them on to other directorial engagements, including two films of the "Paranormal Activity" franchise. "Viral" follows the story of Emma Drakeford, a high school student who recently moved to a suburban area in California, with her older sister and parents. Her older sister Stacey is more outgoing and already has a boyfriend, while Emma has an undeclared interest on their neighbor Evan, who also goes to the same high school. Their father Michael is a teacher at their school, and their mom is currently traveling for work, though that particular relationship is somewhat strained. While at school Emma notices her best friend Gracie is acting a bit oddly, until she has a dramatic seizure just outside of school. Gracie ends up vomiting blood on another student who was trying to help her. Reports start emerging on the news that there is a "worm flu" spreading throughout the area. Things start escalating rather quickly, but Stacey pressures Emma to go to a party, where an infected student starts attacking and infecting attendees, including Stacey who becomes infected. As the military becomes involved, everyone is advised to stay indoors. Evan shows up at Emma's door looking for a place to stay as his stepfather is also infected. Emma is desperate to try to save Stacey, and eventually one infecting parasite is removed from her body. However the whole area is ordered for evacuation as the military want to dramatically sanitize it. 
"Viral" is reminiscent of a series of better films that seem to influence much of its narrative thread. The most obvious reference is of course David Cronenberg's "Shivers", but there are elements of Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later", James Gunn's "Slither", George Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" and to a lesser extent, Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion". The film illustrates how the viral infection aggressively spreads throughout the community, always from the perspective from the teenage sisters who are left to their own devices, as their father goes off to get their mother from the airport and then becomes blocked from coming back into the area in which they live. Sadly the filmmakers don't spend much time illustrating who these characters actually are, and that includes both the leads and supporting ones. Aside from the fact that one of the sisters wants to party, for the remainder of the narrative they are either trying to understand how the virus propagates, or avoiding being contaminated by it. The virus is a hybrid type of situation, where the infected behave as zombies, but are also under the domain of the viral creature (a brood type of situation, similar to James Gunn's "Slither"). The film lacks a closer attention to these characters, but also fails at building a scenario that is as ominous as the facts that are actually occurring (these adolescents are witnessing the disintegration of everything they've known in their lives, not to mention of everyone they come in contact with, and yet none of this registers properly with them). There is an aspect of survival mode to this narrative (as it does with any zombie film), but that also comes across as undercooked. The filmmakers had all these paths and venues to venture out, but they opted for a bland illustration across all the possible scenarios the script presents. In the end the film comes across as a mediocre cousin of Robert Kirkman/Frank Darabont's "The Walking Dead". It fails to elicit the sheer terror that David Cronenberg was able to muster with "Shivers", and displays none of the humor James Gunn was able to bring to "Slither". The cast is unremarkable, save for the always solid Michael Kelly, whose presence is all too brief. The production team is competent, but unremarkable. It's a forgettable and rather generic exercise. 

Anatomie d'une Chute/Anatomy of a Fall

Movie Name:
Anatomie d'une Chute/Anatomy of a Fall
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Justine Triet
Starring: Sandra Huller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, Antoine Reinartz, Samuel Theis, Jehnny Beth, Saadia Bentaieb, Camille Rutherford, Anne Rotger, Sophie Fillieres
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"Anatomie d'une Chute/Anatomy of a Fall" is one of the most awarded films of 2023. It has won numerous accolades including the Palm D'Or at Cannes, several Cesars, a BAFTA and an Academy Award. It's been a triumph for writer/director Justine Triet, following a series of well received films that flew somewhat under the radar. The film follows the story of Sandra Voyter, a novelist who lives with her husband and son in a chalet near Grenoble. We first witness her in the chalet, interacting with a student who comes for an interview that has to be rescheduled, since Sandra's husband starts playing music very loudly and on a loop, which makes conversation virtually impossible. Sandra's son, Daniel, has a visual impairment, and as the student leaves, he takes his guide dog Snoop for walk. As Daniel is coming back to the chalet, he notices a body lying on the floor and not moving. He realizes it's his dad and screams for his mom. The police is called and an investigation begins on what exactly has happened. Sandra maintains it must have been an accident. Sandra's old friend and lawyer, Vincent, hints at a possible suicide, which Sandra somewhat corroborates since Samuel her late husband, had stopped taking antidepressants a while back, and had attempted an overdose on aspirin a few months earlier. After conflicting testimonies from Daniel, the revelation of a head injury on Samuel, alongside a recording of an inflamed fight between Sandra and Samuel the day before the incident, leads to Sandra being indicted on charges of homicide.
One of the most remarkable things about "Anatomie d'une Chute/Anatomy of a Fall" is the fact that while the premise of who was responsible for the death of Samuel seems to be a driving force for the narrative, what is really intriguing about the whole feature is the fact the director takes us on a journey of unveiling who these characters actually are, what their relationships are based of, and that is in itself the base of this film, more so than the suspenseful aspect of who is the responsibly party for that dramatic event. The film is filled with interesting nuances and details that slowly reveal who Sandra is, and the type of relationship she and Samuel cultivated. These details that pepper the narrative make it that much richer, including the fact that the couple spoke in English, since Samuel was French and Sandra is German, therefore they communicated in a language that was a compromise for both, where one did not have to rescind their own cultural identity. This of course changes once Sandra has to stand trial, as she needs to communicate in French for an audience who does not know her. The details behind the relationship with her husband due to their son's accident also emerges, all these details providing a breadth of color to how their lives had been shaped, and simultaneously illustrating Sandra's personality. The director is able to capture all these events with a clinical eye, never attempting to make the film too sentimental, nor a Hitchcockian type of exercise. It's an exploration of a troubled relationship, of the bitterness and resentment that has grown between two people, that is perfectly illustrated in the heated exchange Sandra and Samuel have, which is the strongest exchange between two characters of the entire film (and possibly one of the best illustrations of the dynamics and relationship of a couple ever captured on film). Some of the supporting characters of the feature don't get as much attention as Sandra, or even Daniel, but this is their narrative, of this couple that had been on this path for quite some time. The cast is uniformly fantastic, with highlights going to Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud, Milo Machado-Graner, and Antoine Reinartz. The production team is solid, but not particularly memorable. It's a wonderful film, worth watching. 

Sunday, April 7, 2024

There's Something in the Barn

Movie Name:
There's Something in the Barn
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Magnus Martens
Starring: Martin Starr, Amrita Acharia, Kiran Shah, Townes Bunner, Zoe Winther-Hansen, Jeppe Beck Laursen, Henriette Steenstrup, Marianne Jonger, Paul Monaghan
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Magnus Martens has been crafting a career for himself by directing high visibility TV shows, which has included "Agents of SHIELD", "12 Monkeys", and more recently the "Walking Dead" universe, with two shows of that domain which includes "Fear the Walking Dead" and "The Walking Dead: World Beyond". "There's Something in the Barn" follows the story of an American family, the Nordheims, who move from California to Norway, since the father has inherited property in that country from a recently deceased uncle. Bill Nordheim shows up with his second wife (since his first wife has passed away), and his two children (from his first marriage), and they settle in the farm from his family in the area of Gudbrandsdalen. Nora, the teenage daughter is angry at him and her new mother, since she essentially feels removed from her life in the US and her friends there. Lucas the son in the meantime, familiarizes himself with some of the folk tales from the area, which includes traditions regarding elves and how to best live with them. Lucas starts witnessing some unusual activity in the property's barn, and suspects it's from their own elf. That turns out to be the actual case, but as Bill starts pressing his Christmas related activities around the farm, bringing noise and people into the property, the more Lucas fears they're disrupting and enraging the elf. When Lucas explains his thoughts on keeping the elf content, his family disregards him, until after the Christmas party things get more and more raucous, with some bloody outcomes.
The biggest problem with "There's Something in the Barn", is the fact that it truly never commits to anything, it lacks conviction on what is showcasing on the screen. While the premise for the film is ripe for a dark and brutal B-movie, the film tries to be somewhat funny, with the angle of the well meaning but oblivious father who is adjusting to a different culture, which never truly congeals into something comedic (the typical fish out of water narrative, with the central characters trying to adjust to new habits). When it tries to be brutal and violent, the film is rather anemic, never truly taking the action to the next level, unlike what Eli Roth for instance did with his recent "Thanksgiving" feature. The film almost comes across as a slightly R-rated pilot for a TV show, with plenty of warm feelings to boost, but one where the character establishment is minimal, and where the tone is difficult to place (is it trying to be "Northern Exposure", is it trying to be "Supernatural", hard to grasp). The cast for the most part is also quite forgettable, led by Martin Starr who usually makes compelling supporting appearances in various films (for instance in Judd Appatow's "Knocked Up"), but who is clearly uncomfortable with the lack of a more substantial script on this one. The production team is also quite unremarkable, with the visual effects being rather unpolished, the same going for the makeup effects. It doesn't come across as a funny B-Movie, with snarky humor, it's instead a rather bland and toothless film that doesn't fulfill what it set out to be: entertaining. 

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Night Swim

Movie Name:
Night Swim
Year of Release: 2024
Director: Bryce McGuire
Starring: Kerry Condon, Wyatt Russell, Amélie Hoeferle, Gavin Warren, Jodi Long, Nancy Lenehan, Eddie Martinez, Elijah Roberts, Ben Sinclair, Ellie Araiza, Rahnuma Panthaky, Ayazhan Dalabayeva
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
"Night Swim" is the first release from the merger of Jason Blum's production entity Blumhouse, and James Wan's Atomic Monster. It's also the feature directorial debut for Bryce McGuire. The narrative focuses on the Waller family, comprised of father Ray, mother Eve, and children Izzy and Elliot. They're seeking a new permanent residence, after Ray has been forced into retirement from a professional career in baseball, following his diagnosis with MS. They decide to go with a house that has a pool in the backyard, since they've been advised that swimming and water exercise may help with the illness. As the family starts to settle, they realize they have to do some major cleaning in and around the pool area. Ray scratches his hand while unclogging it, prompting some dark water to surface, and they have to resort to a pool specialist for some help as a result of that. The specialist informs them that the pool is somewhat self-sustaining since it takes its water from an underground spring located in the area. The more time Ray spends in the pool the better he seems to be feeling. However some strange occurrences start taking place, starting with the disappearance of the family's cat, followed by Izzy and Elliot getting attacked by something in the pool itself. The family decides to throw a pool party to get more familiar with the community and some of the neighbors. During the party, the realtor who presented them with the house, tells them that the house's previous owners lost their daughter in that pool. During the same time, Ray and one of the neighbors, engage in a harmless aquatic game, but some entity possesses Ray and forces him to almost kill one of the kids they were playing with. Eve becomes more and more concerned, and decides to investigate what happened with the previous owners.
Creating effective horror/thriller features can be a challenging task, since the goal is typically to marry enough character development, with an original premise where the scares are effective and keep the audience focused on what's coming next. James Wan and Leigh Whannell have been able to do so with "Insidious", and James Wan has also been able to do so with "The Conjuring" franchise (with varying degrees of success). Bryce McGuire with "Night Swim" does have a good premise in place, with the nuclear family once again being threatened by a supernatural entity in the apparent placidness of their new home. Sadly and in this case, this entity and its existence is poorly expanded upon and illustrated. Whereas with Tobe Hooper's "Poltergeist" for instance, there was an illustration of the progressive escalation that the menacing entity was producing, with "Night Swim" there's a realization that the menace is located within the pool, but not much additional context is actually provided about the legend surrounding the pool (its mysticism), or for that matter the characters that are now being targeted by it. There's nothing particularly memorable or distinctive about these characters, aside from the fact that the parental figure has a disability that is rendering him in a precarious situation. Even for a slight B-movie of sorts, which this film tries to be, this character development is remarkably thin, with the interactions between the family members also feeling underdeveloped and under-illustrated. The supporting characters are equally very generic and there's not much color to them at all. What's left are some interesting details from this universe that the characters get pulled into from the pool, but even that feels a bit undercooked. The cast tries their best to bring these characters to life, with highlights going to Kerry Condon and Wyatt Russell. The production team is solid, with highlights going to Charlie Sarroff's cinematography, Mark Korven's score and Hillary Gurtler's production design. It's not a particularly memorable film. 

Good Grief

Movie Name:
Good Grief
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Daniel Levy
Starring: Daniel Levy, Ruth Negga, Himesh Patel, Luke Evans, Celia Imrie, Arnaud Valois, David Bradley, Mehdi Baki, Emma Corrin, Jamael Westman, Kaitlyn Dever, Yoli Fuller, Noé Besin
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
After making a name for himself with the fantastic show "Schitt's Creek", actor/writer/producer/director Daniel Levy has finally planted his feet firmly on the ground of the feature world (since the ending of his show, he acted in small parts for Clea Duvall's "Happiest Season" and more recently Justin Simien's "Haunted Mansion"). "Good Grief" is his first foray into the feature world, which has had the production support from Netflix, who has also released the film. The narrative focuses on Marc, an illustrator and painter, who lives in London with his affluent and well known husband Oliver. Oliver has made a name for himself as an author of a popular series of young adult novels, which Marc has illustrated as well. While celebrating Christmas with a well attended party at their house, Oliver bids farewell to the group, since he has to go to Paris for a book signing. Moments later Marc listens to agitation on the street not far from where they live, only to realize the car in which Oliver was at has suffered an accident, which results in his death. The following year, Marc deals with the grief of that loss, with the help of his best friends, Sophie and Thomas. He also uncovers a few things Oliver had left behind, namely the fact that he left him a note admitting to have met someone else, and that for all intended purposes he had been living a second life in Paris, in an apartment he had been leasing there. With the advice of his financial consultant, he decides to give up that lease, but before doing so, decides to go to Paris with Sophie and Thomas, without disclosing to them the story behind that apartment. Those next days in Paris reveal themselves to be a catalyst for Marc's bottled feelings, the same going for his friends, also dealing with their own relationship issues. 
What was always so particularly well done on "Schitt's Creek" was the ability the show had to progressively uncover who all the central characters were, while not necessarily making them more endearing or even palatable. They had their quirks, but were also eminently human, flaws and all, which made them that much more captivating (and funny). "Good Grief" somehow attempts to illustrate a character study, but can't avoid falling into the trappings of clichés that once again feel a bit tired and repetitive. Case in point, the affluent gay couple in which one the partners suddenly finds himself uncovering an unexpected betrayal, while the best friends include the quirky and slightly immature gal pal, and the gay male best friend, who has been pining for the central character all along. All the central characters, who are either 40 or reaching that age, seem to be depicted like stunted in their development and maturity, and while the event that jumpstarts the film is indeed dramatic, the narrative itself doesn't look inwards, but chooses instead to go on a substantially more superficial direction, a slightly gayer version of Ryan Murphy's "Eat Pray Love". Which is to say, the film illustrates more of Marc's journey to get over the pain, which in itself is a perfectly feasible motif to capture on film, but we never actually get a sense as to why he and Oliver were together, and what is it that he is indeed mourning. The betrayal almost comes across as a soap opera motif, to jumpstart that self healing moment, without truly posing the question as to why it actually happened, and what was that Marc had been unaware of in that relationship. Ironically enough, there's more heartbreak and intimacy in Andrew Haigh's "Weekend" and "45 Years", both films that capture the relationships of two couples, at different times in their existence, but that are so effective at demonstrating closeness, frailty and even secrets. For all the time that is spent with these characters not much is uncovered from their motivations and even the arc they get to experience is very limited. What is left is a collection of some moments that promised more, such as Marc's interactions with Theo and Oliver's presence, but the film ultimately just doesn't add much. The cast tries their best to bring these characters to life, with highlights going to Arnaud Valois, Luke Evans, Kaitlyn Dever (who is capturing a bit of Anna Faris' character from Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation"), and the luminous Celia Imrie. The production team is solid, with a highlight going to Ole Bratt Birkeland's cinematography. It's watchable, but ultimately a forgettable endeavor. 

Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Pale Blue Eye

Movie Name:
The Pale Blue Eye
Year of Release: 2022
Director: Scott Cooper
Starring: Christian Bale, Harry Melling, Toby Jones, Timothy Spall, Gillian Anderson, Simon McBurney, Lucy Boynton, Fred Hechinger, Harry Lawtey, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Joey Brooks
Genre: Crime, Mystery
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Scott Cooper is back, once again collaborating with lead actor Christian Bale (this is their third collaboration, following "Out of the Furnace" and "Hostiles"). "The Pale Blue Eye" takes place in 1830 and follows the story of retired detective Augustus Landor, who lives by himself, and somewhat isolated in the West Point area (near Buffalo, NY). He is a widower, and his daughter Mattie ran away a few years back. He's tasked by West Point's Superintendent Thayer with uncovering what happened with one of the young cadets from the institution, one by the name of Leroy Fry, who was found hanged. Landor is informed that after the hanging, Fry's heart was actually removed from his body. While examining the corpse, he finds a fragment of a note, which indicates he had gone to the locale in order to meet someone. Landor enlists another cadet from the Academy, Edgar Allan Poe (who is also a poet), to help him uncover what has happened. As their investigation continues, another cadet is found hanged, this time around with heart and genitals removed. A third cadet also disappears. Landor assumes the third one fled the institution since he assumed he'd be next in line to be killed. Landor and Poe suspect that the family of Dr. Daniel Marquis may be involved in what is taking place, particularly his son and daughter, as she suffers from random seizures and some ancient rituals may be involved in attempting to cure her from those. As Landor and Poe get closer to unveiling what is taking place, their own lives become dangerously close to being jeopardized. 
"The Pale Blue Eye" is a film where there's much to admire, though writer/director Scott Cooper also leaves some aspects of the narrative slightly shallow in terms of development. The director is able to set in motion a series of unexplained murders, in somewhat of an isolated area, within the confinements of a strict military school. It brings to mind at times the setting for Rob Reiner's "A Few Good Men", only in the case of Scott Cooper's film, the action takes place over a century before the events of the Aaron Sorkin adaptation. The film is successful in illustrating the ties between the different characters, providing just enough color to some of them which the actors bring even further to life with their committed performances. There should have been a bit more attention to some of these characters, namely the female characters, embodied by Gillian Anderson, Lucy Boynton and Charlotte Gainsbourg, all of them excellent performers, who sadly have very little material to work with. Those characters themselves deserved a bit more time just to fully bring them to life, aside from their typified aspects and range (Gillian Anderson for instance plays the matriarch who is modeled a bit after Mary Tyler Moore's character from "Ordinary People", but not as icy, whereas Lucy Boynton's Lea could have benefited from being shown a bit more about her demeanor). The central aspect to the narrative hangs on Landor and Edgar Allan Poe's relationship, which is indeed well defined and characterized, though Allan Poe comes across a bit one note, whereas Landor is a far more well rounded character: he has something about him that marries the clinical eye of the researcher, with the bruised man whose life has brought him more pain than he can handle. The cast is uniformly solidly, with the stupendous Christian Bale creating another solid character, with great support from Toby Jones, Timothy Spall, Gillian Anderson and the luminous Charlotte Gainsbourg. Harry Melling's version of Allan Poe is not memorable, with the character coming across as a bit gratuitously aiming to be slight/eccentric, but falling more into a cliché, than an actual real, dimensional character. The production team is solid, including Masanobu Takayanagi's cinematography, Howard Shore's score, Stefania Cella's production design, and Kasia Walicka Maimone's costumes. An interesting film from an underrated storyteller. 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Dune: Part Two

Movie Name:
Dune: Part Two
Year of Release: 2024
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Charlotte Rampling, Dave Bautista, Stellan Skarsgaard, Florence Pugh, Christopher Walken, Léa Seydoux, Souheila Yacoub, Roger Yuan, Giusi Merli, Alison Halstead, Dylan Baldwin, Tim Hilborne, Anya Taylor-Joy
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review
Following the commercial and critical success of "Dune: Chapter One", Denis Villeneuve had the opportunity to finish the adaptation of Frank Herbert's iconic novel. "Chapter Two", though originally slated to premiere at the end of 2023, was moved to 2024 for audience purposes (and for the ability of the cast to properly promote the film), the film has turned out to be a resounding success (again, both commercially and critically). The narrative picks up right after where the prior chapter had ended. Paul and his mother Lady Jessica, are continuing their path with the Fremen, after Paul has defeated one of theirs. The leader of the Fremen group, Stilgar, believes Paul may be the prophet that has been predicted to come according to the Fremen lore. Lady Jessica is put through a challenge of drinking the Water of Life, therefore also becoming the new Reverend Mother in the process (the Water also impacts the fetus she carries within her). This Water is a fatal poison for males and the untrained. While a part of the Fremen group believes in the lore, Chani and her friend Shishakli, believe the prophecy to be something fabricated, without actual relevance in their actual world and the challenges they face. Paul and Chani in the meantime fall in love, while Paul also becomes increasingly knowledgeable and adept of the Fremen's habits. In the meantime, the Harkonnen's are also in motion, with the Baron replacing his nephew Rabban with the younger and more ruthless Feyd-Rautha. Feyd-Rautha orders an attack on Northern Arrakis, forcing the Fremen, including Paul, Chani, Stilgar among others to move South to meet with the larger contingent of fighters located there. In the meantime, the Emperor who engineered the destruction of the House Atreides', suspects Paul is still alive, and that in itself can be an enormous challenge to his ruling. Paul drinks the Water of Life, and everything starts to dramatically change after that. 
"Dune: Chapter Two" is a film that remarkably excels across a variety of levels that Denis Villeneuve and his creative team set out to fulfill. On one hand it's a deftly executed political allegory, one that illustrates that no sacrifices are too big to stay in power, or at least influence the direction of power. It's also a very pertinent illustration of the unbridled lust for political and economical power, and how that blinds the sense of humanity that inherently exists within individuals. On a smaller scale it's also a genuine love story between two individuals with different backgrounds, who while recognizing their differences, upbringings, and points of view, still have a communion of soul, based on who they are and where they've met in life. And finally it's also a rather interesting take on the power of belief, of creed, and how that in reality can move hordes and change the fate of so many (and in this case of an entire planet). It's a richly layered narrative, where there's a variety of characters who impart some influence on the main narrative, all of which are ripe with interesting key plot points, but that director chooses not to spend so much time with, since the film is ultimately an illustration of Paul's journey, and how his journey morphs with Chani's and the planet Arrakis itself (and finally the entire Galaxy which has been presented to the audience, and in which all these characters exist). These interesting but brief plot points, while adding to the context that is being built, also leave some of these characters somewhat underdeveloped, which is where the film falters a bit. The director chooses to spend time on the relationship that is blooming between Paul and Chani, and those other narrative aspects of the film end up losing some needed attention, but nonetheless, the way the momentum is kept and how all these threads merge into a coherent and exciting narrative is remarkably well done. Visually the film is impeccably crafted, continuing the remarkable aesthetic that had already been constructed for the first chapter. The entire production team is flawless, starting with the entire cast who uniformly creates compelling and memorable characters, particularly Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Charlotte Rampling. The cinematography by Greig Fraser, score by Hans Zimmer, production design by Patrice Vermette and costumes by Jacqueline West are all equally remarkable. It's a nearly flawless film worth watching and savoring. 


Sunday, March 17, 2024

Oppenheimer

Movie Name:
Oppenheimer
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr., Josh Hartnett, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Jason Clarke, Kenneth Branagh, Macon Blair, Tony Goldwyn, Alden Ehrenreich, Scott Grimes, David Krumholtz, Tom Conti, Michael Angarano, Matthew Modine, Dane DeHaan, Josh Peck, Jack Quaid, Benny Safdie, James Urbaniak, Rami Malek, Olivia Thirlby, Casey Affleck, James Remar, Gary Oldman, Josh Zuckerman, Alex Wolff, Tim DeKay, Gregory Jbara, James D'Arcy
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
After the relative disappointment of "Tenet", Christopher Nolan took his time to find another studio partner, and tackle a biopic of one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer (the "father" of the atomic bomb). The film has obviously been a massive hit, both critically and commercially, and I deliberately wanted to have some distance from all the noise, to consume the film and view it hopefully in an unbiased manner. The narrative tracks and focuses on the life of Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, but more specifically on the period of time in which he assembled a group of engineers and experts in order to build what essentially became the atomic bomb. In parallel we also witness a different time period (in the 50s), where through the machinations of Lewis Strauss, we observe a hearing Dr. Oppenheimer goes through in order to keep his clearance status, when Strauss was intent on destroying his credibility. Throughout the multiple timelines the film focuses on, we also witness Dr. Oppenheimer's relationships with a few women in his life, firstly with the volatile Jean Tatlock and then with Kitty, who becomes his second wife and partner through all these ordeals.
Biopics are always a challenge, in the sense they can either go very academic and try to encompass too much of the subject's life, while not revealing much about the person behind the myth, as was the case with Sir Richard Attenborough's "Ghandi" (or even "Chaplin"), or they can sometimes veer towards the anecdote, which was the case of the lamentable "The Eyes of Tammy Faye", from Michael Showalter. "Oppenheimer", much like most of Christopher Nolan's films, decides to make the narrative more intricate, by both placing multiple timelines occurring simultaneously, but also by defining the tone of the film as a mix of Oliver Stone's "JFK" and Sidney Lumet's "12 Angry Men". On one hand there's much detail focused on the process by which the atomic bomb was construed, including his own recruitment, and how Dr. Oppenheimer went about bringing other engineers and scientists to the initiative. Simultaneously there's the conspiracy aspect of the narrative, where we witness the downfall of Dr. Oppenheimer's reputation, thanks to the Machiavellian doings from Lewis Strauss, and all the voices involved. The way the film is constructed is even similar to what Oliver Stone did with "JFK", where there's a different tint and color for the time periods (or even character angles) that are being tackled. You would think that with such a lofty time run (the film goes on for 3 hours), eventually something about Dr. Oppenheimer would come through, sadly the film goes for the lofty big message (which is a fair one), and fails to actually capture who that person actually is (or was). During the film we learn he was a womanizer (we never get an understanding why, or what did he pursue in doing so, aside from the pursuit itself), that he maintained difficult relationships with the women in his life, and even with the male friendships. The film fails to humanize who this individual with lofty ideas was. In the pursuit of clarifying the intellectual effort of creating something that killed thousands of people, the film somehow missed the aspect of documenting what is the burden of carrying such a legacy within oneself. The supporting characters also come across fairly lackluster, with the women in particular having little to do, whereas the supporting male characters, aside from Robert Downey Jr.'s Lewis Strauss, either falling into "cheerful sidekick" (of sorts) or "reptilean and possible foe" (of sorts) camps. There are things to admire in this film, and some of it is tied with the director's ability to stage certain scenes, and some of the performances, including Robert Downey Jr. and Florence Pugh, however this pseudo biopic-thriller, doesn't necessarily provide an emotional reward or connection to these characters. Nor is it a riveting document as Oliver Stone or Sidney Lumet's films that were mentioned before turned out to be. There are good ideas, and the production team is impeccable, but this isn't an entirely satisfying feature. 

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Movie Name:
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom
Year of Release: 2023
Director: James Wan
Starring: Jason Mamoa, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Amber Heard, Randall Park, Temuera Morrison, Dolph Lundgren, Martin Short, Jani Zhao, Pilou Asbek, Indya Moore, Vincent Regan, John Rhys-Davies 
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 2
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
James Wan's first major stumble comes in the shape of this sequel to "Aquaman". The original film was a surprise monster hit for the studio and the creative team, and of course a sequel was set in motion to capitalize on that, even if the creative team handling the DC characters has since changed. The sequel finds Arthur/Aquaman as the ruler of Atlantis, continuing to face challenges when it comes to the relationship with the surface dwellers. His challenges have also increased, since he divides his time between Atlantis and the surface, living with his father and taking care of his newborn baby since his union with Mera. To make matters worse, Black Manta is intent on getting his revenge for the death of his father, and manages to locate an ancient artifact, a dark trident which in reality is tied with Atlantean history. Turns out that trident belonged to King Atlan's brother Kordax, who led the kingdom of Necrus, and was defeated by Atlan as he tried to do an uprise. The Black Manta, influenced by the dark trident, starts putting a plan in motion which includes further disrupting climate patterns and create a massive planetary extinction in the process. In order to locate the Black Manta, Arthur has to resort to his imprisoned brother Orm, and leverage his assistance to tackle these challenges. 
I've always counted myself as a fan of James Wan, particularly his partnership with Leigh Whannell, and the stories they've been able to tell with very few resources (the "Insidious" franchise for example). "Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom" is somewhat perplexing, in the sense that for a film with this type of budget, it looks surprisingly cheap and even amateurish in certain details of the production design, something that also becomes particularly noticeable in the transitions between the outside shots and in studio shots (which are meant to be seamless). It's as if though the creative team couldn't wait to get through this experience, and the attention to detail was all but gone. The presence of Mera and actress Amber Heard (whose performance is indeed wooden and unmemorable) is minimized, but never explained (at some point it gives the impression Arthur is a single father, but all of a sudden Mera pops into the frame). All these aspects are surprising for someone with the talent and vision of James Wan, who typically primes for being able to create a universe that is coherent, believable and populate it with characters that even at their worst definition, still have something to say. That seems to have been eradicated in this film, where the narrative/plot is barely intelligible, and where the references to other films, both visually and narratively are also a mixed bag with various results. There are references to George Lucas' "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones", Andrew Stanton's "John Carter", Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, and even Richard Fleischer's "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", but these disparate sources, don't congeal into something coherent, or for that matter, interesting. All the clichés of the comic book formula are there, including the villain who is intent on revenge (and that's it, there's nothing else to him), the bumbling scientist with a conscience, the villainous brother who turns out not to be so bad, and the list goes on. All these characters barely make a dent, and even with Jason Mamoa's cool vibe and Nicole Kidman's attempts at bringing some emotional depth, it still fails to give the film any actual sense of drama, fun or adventure. It's quite possibly one of the most poorly written comic book films yet, with a mediocre production team, where even some of the visual effects look rushed and lack polish. Avoid. 

Poor Things

Movie Name:
Poor Things
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef, Jerrod Charmichael, Margaret Qualley, Christopher Abbott, Hanna Schygulla, Kathryn Hunter, Suzy Bemba, John Locke, Keeley Forsyth, Vicki Pepperdine 
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things" is a reunion of sorts, in the sense he has assembled some of the same creative team he leveraged for his celebrated "The Favourite" (namely the screenwriter Tony McNamara, cinematographer Robbie Ryan and lead actress Emma Stone). The narrative is an adaptation of the novel by Alasdair Gray, and follows the story of Bella Baxter, whom we first encounter under the tutelage of Godwin Baxter, a medical scientist/surgeon, whom we also soon discover to be the one responsible for Bella's existence. In one flashback we realize Bella killed herself by leaping off a bridge, and Godwin brought her back to life, but he also replaced her brain with the one of her unborn baby. As Bella's socializing develops, in parallel with her cognitive skills, Godwin encourages his assistant Max to document Bella's intellectual growth, and as a result they become close. Max proposes marriage to Bella, which she accepts, however she decides before settling into marriage to discover what lies beyond London, and to do so with the shrewd Duncan Wedderburn, a lawyer Godwin hired to oversee the nuptial contract. They have a strong sexual connection, something Bella enjoys exploring. Duncan who's somewhat of a cad, and never attaches himself to anyone, starts developing feelings for Bella, and fearing his inability to control her in Lisbon, smuggles her onto a cruise ship. There Bella continues her intellectual growth, making friends with two other passengers, who both provide friendship and intellectual stimulation. She also starts seeing Duncan for who he is, leading to more arguments. Things come to a dramatic halt when they port in Alexandria. 
Yorgos Lanthimos has the ability to leverage the abstract and apparently absurd to make great points about human nature and life itself. His narratives marry both the beauty of what being human is all about (the ability to love and be kind), with the grotesqueness, vile, and violent things people are able to do, sometimes all in the same situation. "Poor Things" walks that terrain, bringing to mind François Truffaut's "L'Enfant Sauvage" to mind, in the sense that Bella is akin to a child that is being socialized, but who quickly blooms to a woman, with her own mindset, someone who doesn't want to be trapped by the patriarchy of Victorian society or by the taboos of what society considers "acceptable". Yorgos Lanthimos smartly avoids falling into the trappings of doing a "Forrest Gump" or a "Being There" type of narrative (the simple minded central hero who shows everyone that a simple take on life is the solution to all problems), opting instead for a tale where Bella grows into her own abilities, understanding how the world works, but still remaining herself, with her own unique point of view informed by her life experiences and her ambitions. All of these topics could potentially come across as either too philosophical or even pedantic, but to the director and his creative team's credit, the film has a momentum and beauty to it, one where all the pieces come together perfectly, and where humor is always present. There are certain pacing issues with the film, particularly when the narrative lands in Paris, but the director manages to bring back that rhythm. The cast is impeccable, with Emma Stone creating yet another fantastic character, with solid support from Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Christopher Abbott and Hanna Schygulla (who is always a pleasure to see). The production team is impeccable with highlights going to Robbie Ryan's cinematography, Shona Heath and James Price's production design, Holly Waddington's costumes and Jerskin Fendrix's score. A wonderful film from one the most interesting film makers currently working. 

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Underwater

Movie Name:
Underwater
Year of Release: 2020
Director: William Eubank
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Jessica Henwick, Vincent Cassel, John Gallagher Jr., T.J. Miller, Mamoudou Athie, Gunner Wright
Genre: Action, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
William Eubank made a name for himself with the films "Love" and "The Signal", though he has also maintained a steady career as a cinematographer. "Underwater" follows the story of Norah, whom we first encounter getting ready for her day. She works at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in a research and drilling facility operated by Tian Industries. She's a mechanical engineer, and is soon fighting for her life, when what she assumes to be a strong earthquake, sends a ripple effect through the rig destroying parts of it, forcing her and her colleagues Rodrigo and Paul to make an attempted escape in rescue pods. However the pods have already been deployed and the only person left is Captain Lucien. They all manage to get to another control base, where they find Emily and Liam, who have also been unsuccessful at contacting the surface. They end up agreeing on using pressurized suits to walk one mile across the ocean floor to another one of the plaftorms, Roebuck 641, where there are additional escape pods. Rodrigo is the first to perish due to a malfunction in his helmet. Paul and Smith while investigating some escape pods uncover a creature that attacks them. While Smith kills the creature, after examining it, they all realize it belongs to an undiscovered species, one that is apparently quite aggressive. As the team sticks to their plan of walking to the platform with the rescue pods, they start getting attacked and killed, with Norah eventually finding herself in a situation where she has to make some difficult decisions for the sake of herself and her team mates. 
"Underwater" is a film that immediately brings to mind Ridley Scott's "Alien" but also, George P. Cosmatos' "Leviathan" and James Cameron's "Abyss". The last two because they take place underwater, and the first because, as most audiences know, it basically has set in motion one of the most iconic series ever captured on film, where a menacing entity destroys and nearly kills every single member of a space crew. "Underwater" has a very similar storyline, where a small team has to escape not only the aftermath of an earthquake, but also the attacks of a menacing and alien-like creature. William Eubank smartly weaves the narrative as a claustrophobic endeavor, where the peril surrounds the survivors at all times, from the pressurized water, to the alien creatures that surround them and can attack at every step. The darkness of the terrain is also leveraged to great effect since it renders the survivors almost completely blind/unaware of their surroundings, and therefore that much more vulnerable to attacks or even the terrain in which they're standing. There's definitely an aspect of a slick B-movie to "Underwater", particularly since the director (and the writers) never give these characters that much dimension, aside from succinct explanations as to why they're on the rig, and also the typification of their behaviors (the resourceful lead, the joker who doesn't last very long, the stoic captain, and the list goes on). The director is smart in not letting the narrative fall into the trappings and the shlock of "Leviathan", but also fails to explore more about these characters, making them in the process less memorable and their complicity less effective (unlike what James Cameron brought to his under-appreciated "The Abyss", where the group of characters felt part of a family). The cast tries their best to bring these characters to life, including Kristen Stewart, Jessica Henwick, Vincent Cassel and John Gallagher Jr., who are the highlights of the cast, however they're underserved by a rather undercooked script (that at times, even in the character design references, feels like a literal ripoff from "Alien"). The production team is solid, with highlights going to Bojan Bazelli's impeccable cinematography, Naaman Marshall's production design, and Dorotka Sapinska's costumes. It's a watchable, but also quickly forgettable endeavor. 

Damsel

Movie Name:
Damsel
Year of Release: 2024
Director: Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Starring: Millie Bobby Brown, Ray Winstone, Robin Wright, Angela Bassett, Brooke Carter, Nick Robinson, Milo Twomey, Nicole Joseph, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Genre: Action, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 4
Watch it on Netflix

Synopsis and Review
Juan Carlos Fresnadillo made a name for himself with the somewhat underrated "Intacto", which came out in 2001, and went on to direct the solid sequel to Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later". Since then he tackled the Clive Owen fronted "The Intruders" and some TV movies, but nothing that allowed for his talent and point of view to come across. "Damsel" follows the story of Elodie, a young woman whose father agrees to marry her to a Queen's son, since their region and people are impoverished, and this union will bring some much needed money influx. While initially unsure of the situation, Elodie agrees with it for the well being of everyone. When they get to Aurea and meet the rulers, there's a certain aloofness from the Queen, but Elodie and her betrothed start chatting and eventually notice some chemistry between each other. Elodie's stepmother warns her not to go through with the wedding. She suspects the Queen is up to no good. Elodie goes along with the wedding ceremony, which is followed by a ritual that takes place in the mountain. After the ritual takes place, the prince carries Elodie in his arms, and throws her into the chasm. She survives the fall, and as she recovers, she realizes more young women have befallen prey of that sacrifice, and that in reality there's an enormous dragon intent on killing her to fulfill an arrangement the Queen's family made generations ago. She has to devise a way to overcome several obstacles if she wants to survive. 
The script for "Damsel" comes from Dan Mazeau, who also wrote the story for Justin Lin & Louis Leterrier's "Fast X", as well as Jonathan Liebesman's "Wrath of the Titans". Which for all intended purposes means that this film ends up being rather flimsy in terms of character development and even situational development. As much as Juan Carlos Fresnadillo has a vision and a style, there's only so much he can bring to a narrative that is rather insipid and not particularly revolutionary. Elodie, the central character, is meant to symbolize a rather more empowered princess, someone who is more emboldened, and not quite so passive when it comes to taking ahold of her destiny. However most of that emboldening is illustrated in the early scenes where we witness her chopping wood, and later on as she's dealing with the threat of a herculean Dragon, she MacGyvers something with her own hair in order to lure the creature in. As far as who this princess actually is, that's something that's never really uncovered or even alluded to, the same going for the supporting characters. The always wonderful Robin Wright and Angela Bassett (and also Ray Winstone) are settled with rather stunted characters, which while they do bring some regality and nuance to their depiction, they're not the focus of the narrative, nor their characters have that much to offer. It's a rather formulaic type of storyline, which Juan Carlos Fresnadillo manages to bring to life with fairly decent visual effects and production design, but that sadly just isn't particularly memorable. The cast, in addition to Robin Wright, Angela Bassett and Ray Winstone, isn't particularly memorable either, though Shohreh Aghdashloo does make a convincing Dragon voice. Larry Fong's cinematography is solid, as is David Fleming's score, Patrick Tatopoulous production design, and Amanda Monk's costume design. It's a rather forgettable endeavor stemming from an uninspired script. 

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Totally Killer

Movie Name:
Totally Killer
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Nahnatchka Khan
Starring: Kiernan Shipka, Olivia Holt, Julie Bowen, Lochlyn Munro, Charlie Gillespie, Randall Park, Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, Liana Liberato, Kelcey Mawema, Stephi Chin-Salvo, Anna Diaz, Ella Choi, Jonathan Potts, Nathaniel Appiah, Zachary Gibson, Nicholas Lloyd, Kimberly Huie
Genre: Comedy, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Nahnatchka Khan has had a lengthy career writing for a series of popular comedy shows including "Malcolm in the Middle", "American Dad", and even the ones she has created, including "Don't Trust the B--- in Apartment 23", "Fresh Off the Boat" and "Young Rock". Her feature directorial debut was the Ali Wong penned comedy "Always Be My Maybe" and "Totally Killer" is her sophomore directorial endeavor, a slasher and comedy hybrid of sorts. The film focuses on the story of Jamie Hughes, who has doting and loving parents. She is at times at odds with her  well meaning mother, who has enforced in her the need to be self reliant and be dexterous in her self defense. Turns out their hometown had a series of killings in 1987, where three teenage girls named Tiffany, Marisa and Heather, were assassinated by someone who became known as the Sweet 16 Killer (because each of them was stabbed 16 times). Jamie's mom is attacked and killed the same way as the girls from 1987, not without offering some fight. Jamie mourns her death, in the company of her best friend Amelia who in the meantime has been creating a time machine for a school project. When Jamie is chased by the killer and hides in the time machine, he inadvertently stabs the machine, which activates it and sends Jamie all the way back to 1987. And right before the killings occur. Jamie figures she has an opportunity to change the past, and save all those girls, but nothing is as simple as she thinks, starting with her parents, particularly her mom who is not as doting, kind or friendly as she always presented herself to be. Jamie has to convince Lauren, her best friend's Amelia mother of who she is, and figure out how she can save the girls and also return to her timeline. 
This mix of "Back to the Future" (from director Robert Zemeckis), with slasher film genre, with "Heathers" (from director Michael Lehman), has indeed much going for it. It's script is also layered with the clash of what these days is considered politically correct, versus what was typically dished out in the 80s (and 90s and 2000s). All these references, clashes, winks, make the film both a satire for the present and past times, and for the most part the film hits the mark on many of these aspects (there are even visual nods to "A Nightmare on Elm Street"). Where the film does lose a bit of its momentum is in the characters themselves. The creative team seems to have really posited their focus and attention on recreating the 80s to perfection, that they forgot to give the characters a bit more than just one paragraph descriptions of who they are and what constitutes their motivations. Particularly when Jamie goes back to the 80s (where a solid score comes into play, with songs from Echo and the Bunnymen for instance), the group of mean girls she comes in touch with, including her future mother, are barely defined, aside from their snarkiness. The film manages to hold one's attention thanks to Kiernan Shipka's central character, but even her is somewhat generic, nothing indicating what makes her particularly distinctive or even insightful (and maybe that's the point). Ultimately the film does hold an entertaining value as recreation of various sources from the 80s, but it could have been so much more. The cast is solid, with Kiernan Shipka getting solid support from Olivia Holt, Julie Bowen, Jonathan Potts and Randall Park. The production team is a bit uninspired, but the score from Michael Andrews is worth highlighting. It's watchable but also easily forgettable. 

Bottoms

Movie Name:
Bottoms
Year of Release: 2023
Director: Emma Seligman
Starring: Rachel Sennot, Ayo Edebiri, Ruby Cruz, Havana Rose Liu, Kaia Gerber, Nicholas Galitzine, Miles Fowler, Marshawn Lynch, Dagmara Dominczyk, Punkie Johnson, Zamani Wilder, Summer Joy Campbell, Virginia Tucker, Wayne Pere, Toby Nichols, Cameron Stout
Genre: Comedy
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7
Watch it on Amazon

Synopsis and Review
Following her well received directorial debut, writer/director Emma Seligman is back, again with the collaboration of lead actress and co-writer Rachel Sennot. "Bottoms" follows the story of two best friends, PJ and Josie, both of whom are unpopular lesbians at their High School. They've never had sex and pine for popular cheerleaders Isabel and Brittany. They have an altercation with the popular jock Jeff at the local fair, where as a result he pretends to have been physically harmed. This spirals into a rumor that both girls were in Juvie during the Summer. When they get threaten with expulsion, they make up a story that whatever happened was just a warm up for a feminist self defense club they're planning on starting. They actually follow through with the club, with the help of the always helpful Hazel, though PJ and Josie are secretly hoping this gives them the opportunity to get closer to their crushes. In order to further give credibility to their club, they ask their checked out History teacher, Mr. G. to be their advisor. The club starts gathering more attendees, and the girls continue to cement the reputation of what supposedly happened during their time in Juvie. And while the brutal training continues, they do attract the attention of Tim, another jock who suspects that there's more to it than what PJ and Josie have been indicating. Everything comes to a halt when the club goes too far, with some vandalism included, which results in mutual accusations within the club members. However that's just the beginning of more issues they encounter.
"Bottoms" is, much like Olivia Wilde's "Booksmart", a fresh take on the high school experience, since it gravitates to a female point of view, with the added layer that its heroines are both gay and thankfully, quite unapologetic about it. It's a film that looks heads-on to the clichés of the high school comedy genre, and literally flips it, allowing for girls to take center stage, and be just as messy, horny, and with questionable decision making process, just like her male counterparts. With the slight difference, that these characters actually feel more relevant and authentic, more so than so many of the typical high school comedies. Both "Booksmart" and now "Bottoms" rest the architecture of their narrative on the dichotomy and yet complimentary traits of its central duo, and both also fail to address or give much for their supporting players to do, but in the case of "Bottoms" this fight club is both anarchic and quite funny, with plenty of physical comedy (brutal as well), thrown in for good measure. The script doesn't shy away from the awkwardness of these two best friends, and the fact that even though they're somewhat detached from reality at times, it still doesn't stop them from moving ahead with their plans (even if these plans take a life of their own it seems). All these pieces gel together, even if the film does adhere to some of the clichés, including the expected epiphany that their friendship was the glue keeping the club together, and that sometimes love does bloom where you least expect it. The cast is uniformly solid, easily playing off each other, particularly Rachel Sennot and Ayo Edebiri. The score from Charli XCX and Leo Birenberg is spot on, as is the cinematography from Maria Rusche. It's a funny film from a new directorial voice, worth following with attention.