Movie Review – A Wrinkle in Time

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EXPECTATIONS: An ambitious and honourable failure that will appeal to children more than adults.

REVIEW: Fantasy films aimed towards children can be a very tricky proposition. Usually, films of this type aim to entertain the entire family but for ones that specifically aim for children, how does one critique a film like this? Judge the film for what it is? Or judge the film through the eyes of a child?

This is the conundrum of reviewing the latest fantasy film from Disney, A Wrinkle in Time. Director Ava DuVernay says in the introductory video that she specifically made for children between ages 8-12, which is quite perplexing, considering that a part of the audience would be adults that have read the book in their youth.

Nevertheless, it is the latest film from the acclaimed director, who is fresh off of Oscar-nominated documentary, 13th. An attempt to adapt Madeleine L’Engle‘s novel of the same name was made back in 2003, which L’Engle herself hated. But now, fans of the book will have their hopes up, considering the talent involved in the new film.

It is DuVernay’s first film with a $100 million dollar budget (the first for an African-American woman to have such a budget) and it is her first film venturing into genre territory. With a spectacular cast, big studio support and a beloved source material, this could be a great film.

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Like all fantasy films, they all start off with a discovery. And A Wrinkle in Time starts off with Dr. Alexander Murray (Chris Pine) and Dr. Kate Murray (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) discovering a new planet called Camozotz. Deep into the research to the point that it becomes an obsession, he discovers away to travel between planets via the tesseract, a type of space-travel. But he mysteriously disappears for years, with many people presuming abandonment or death.

Next, we follow Meg Murry (Storm Reid) and her little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), have been without their scientist father for five years now. And because of that, the two come into struggles of adjusting to their daily routine, particularly Meg when she’s at school.

But when three magical beings, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) inform the two about their father’s whereabouts, they all set out to venture to Camozotz to rescue their father from the impending evil, known as the IT department (voiced by David Oyelowo).

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In most cases, it is preferred that making a problematic film with huge ambitions is better than making a generic film that plays it safe. And in this case, A Wrinkle in Time is a noble failure in its aspirations.

Treating this film as a cup that is half-full, let’s begin with the positives. In the lead role, Storm Reid acquits herself quite well, as she believably conveys the dilemmas of Meg like her self-doubt, her stress and her anger. And she makes it easy for the audience to believe that behind her awkward demeanor lies a smart and resourceful girl who will one day be able to fully assert herself, despite the pandering screenplay that constantly reminds the audience that she’ll do so.

There are some scenes that transcend the conventions of studio film-making and aim for a surrealistic and extravagant grandeur that succeed quite well, like a scene set in a colourful neighbourhood involving dodgeballs or a splendourous scene involving a vast valley with sentient flowers.

The film becomes particularly effective when the dark nature of the plot kicks in, as the performances become entertainingly unhinged (although one particular performance is unintentionally funny) and the settings become more haunting. In one scene, the lead characters are dragged through a dark hallway by a malevolent force that reminded me of the old horror films and fantasies of the 80’s and early 90’s. In this reviewer’s case, Chuck Russell‘s A Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors.

And some of the supporting cast give good performances like Chris Pine, who has become more soulful over the last few films; Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives a good performance as always as the grieving mother of the Murray family, while Michael Pena fits the fairy tale vibe of the story quite well, careering through whimsy and villainy in a fun way.

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And now, treating this film as a half-empty cup, we get to the negatives. Despite the vast ambitions of the story, the potential for emotionally stirring drama from its thematic material and its fantasy genre leanings, under the directorial handling of DuVernay, the film is surprisingly inert and mundane.

Every event, obstacle or revelation that happens in this film feels utterly contrived and blatantly calculated. Some of the reason is due to the jarring editing, which cuts more frequently than it should, which negates the wonder of the settings. The pacing is quite slow in the first 40-50 minutes, as the characters barely progress in their journey, leaving one hoping the film would pick up the pace. It is because of these flaws that the audience feels more like an observer, rather than a participant in the adventure.

And for a $100 million dollar film by Disney, the special effects are wildly inconsistent. Particularly in a scene involving the characters meeting the Happy Medium, played by an off-putting Zach Galifianakis, where the green-screen is so noticeable, that the actors look incredibly silly, acting as if they are losing balance. Unfortunately, the only thing that is losing balance on screen is the film.

Another reason is the problematic script by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell, which dispenses one groaning platitude after another like “You are a warrior!” or “You can do this!” or this reviewer’s absolute favourite, “You just have to have faith in who you are!”. The pandering also goes to the musical score and the choices of music, which telegraph what the audience is meant to feel, rather than trusting the audience to do so. Children between the ages 8-12 don’t need to be pandered to, in order to get the message of the film.

Speaking of the script, there are many plot holes, inconsistencies and questionable character decisions that frequently take one out of the film. Here are just some that pervade through the story. Why aren’t the characters scared when they see such beings like a giant Oprah Winfrey? Why don’t any of the neighbours notice these beings appearing in the Murray’s backyard?

In a dramatic scene, Meg insists that she would never dream of abandoning her brother on the planet. But funnily enough, in an action scene that occurred just a few minutes earlier, she loses track of Charles Wallace while trying to outrun the IT. And the boy magically reappears at the end of the scene without bothering to explain how he survived. Excuse me?

In a particular scene, the characters are hungry and are invited to eat food by a suspicious character, and they avoid it, sensing danger. And yet, in the very next scene, they eat food that belongs to a stranger, who also happens to be very suspicious. Huh? There could have been some studio tampering or many rewrites that happened behind the scenes, but deep down, the only thing that matters is what’s on screen.

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The problematic script also affects many of the supporting cast suffer because of it, leading to some crummy performances. Oprah Winfrey, as Mrs. Which, is only given lines of proclamation to deliver and it gets to the point that it becomes laughable, like the character of Sphinx in the 1999 underrated superhero comedy, Mystery Men.

Reese Witherspoon, as Mrs. Whatsit, is given the most dialogue to play with but her attempt to portray whimsy just makes her quite annoying. Mindy Kaling, on the other hand as Mrs. Who, is given very little to do and the majority of her dialogue is quoting famous figures, including one that is an absolutely poor attempt of a joke. The quoting may have worked on the written page, but as spoken on screen, it comes off as, once again, annoying.

And then there’s the young actors. Levi Miller hasn’t really impressed with his roles in American films, despite giving good performances back at home with films like Better Watch Out and Jasper Jones. In the case of his performance in A Wrinkle in Time, he continues his unimpressive line with another bland performance as Calvin. But one shouldn’t really lay the fault on Miller, since the script never really provides a reason for Calvin to be in the film. He’s completely superfluous that if the film-makers were to cut him out of the script, the film would not be affected whatsoever.

And there’s the performance of Deric McCabe. In many Hollywood films, film-makers tend to lend problematic performances out of child actors. On the one end of the acting spectrum, they can surprise with their acting range, showing maturity beyond their years in a natural fashion. But on the other end, they can come across as phony, unbelievable and annoyingly precocious.

And it is unfortunate that McCabe’s performance ends up on the latter end. He plays to the camera as if he’s desperate for attention and his line delivery feels incredibly rehearsed to the point that it comes across as creepy. It also doesn’t help that the character is clearly a screenwriter construct. No child, no matter how smart he or she is, would ever speak the way Charles Wallace does in this film. And to make matters worse, his character becomes a figure of greater importance in the third act and is supplied with a major character change. And it is abundantly clear that McCabe is not up to the task, despite being unintentionally hilarious in doing so.

And in the end, it’s clear that DuVernay was not up to the task in bring A Wrinkle in Time to the big screen. It does have scenes of striking beauty, some good performances and moments of entertaining whimsy and oddness. Unfortunately, the script is all over the place, the direction lacks the drive to make the film emotionally stirring, some of the performances are not good and the visual splendour is surprisingly sloppy in places. And like Kaling’s character, Mrs. Who, let’s end with a quote.

“Is the glass half empty or half full?”

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Quickie Review

PROS

Storm Reid gives a good lead performance

Some good performances from supporting cast

Some visually stunning moments

Becomes more enjoyable when the story becomes more harrowing

CONS

Many plot holes, character inconsistencies and contrivances

Annoying performances from supporting cast

Sloppy CGI, particularly for a high budget film

Lack of passion in DuVernay’s direction

SCORE: 5/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis, Chris Pine, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, André Holland, Rowan Blanchard
Director: Ava DuVernay
Screenwriters: Jennifer Lee, Jeff Stockwell, based on the novel of the same name by Madeleine L’Engle

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Movie Review – Blockers

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EXPECTATIONS: A lazy, raunch-filled comedy that panders to old stereotypes.

REVIEW: When you see a film of any genre that has FIVE credited writers and a first-time director at the helm, alarm bells might be ringing in your head and not in a good way. A crew like that would imply major turns in creative control, leading to a mess of a film that can be summarized as having too many cooks in the kitchen.

But the minds credited can be very talented and if its an effective collaboration, then it is quite possible that we might have a great film on people’s hands. Case in point, 2018’s teen comedy, Blockers.

Directed by scriptwriter Kay Cannon in her directorial debut, she is mainly known as a scriptwriter for the successful Pitch Perfect films. And then you have screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are most known for the Harold and Kumar films; Eben Russell, who is another collaborator of Cannon’s as well as being her former partner; producer Seth Rogen, an A-list star as well as screenwriter as well as newcomers/brothers Jim and Brian Kehoe, in their film screenwriting debut.

That’s a lot of cooks for a film like this. But does the film succeed because of the many cooks of the kitchen or does it signal what is an ineffective comedy that would be better off being blocked from audiences?

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Julie (Kathryn Newton), Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon) are three high school seniors who are on the cusp of self-discovery and making their own paths through life. In other words, they are planning to go to prom and are making it a night to remember. And in order to do that, the three make a pact to lose their virginity on prom night.

When Lisa (Leslie Mann), Mitchell (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), three helicopter parents inadvertently discover the pact, they chuck a hissy fit, thinking that this could be a loss of their children’s innocence. They then reluctantly join forces for a crazy quest to stop the girls from sealing the deal; whatever it takes to block the cock.

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First off, what I really like about recent film trailers for comedies is that they feature alternate takes of comedic bits that do not feature in the film, which retains the freshness and spontaneity of the story. And thankfully, that is what happens in Blockers, as it presents jokes of improv and setpieces that are not spoiled in the trailers; notably the scene involving the parents and their vehicle.

Now for the nitty-gritty. Does the film work besides the many cooks involved? The answer is a resounding yes. Blockers succeeds as a comedy not only because it executes the best tropes of the raunchy comedy genre with skill and verve, but it also subverts the tropes of said genre as well, in addition to lending the genre a woman’s touch that is seriously lacking.

While the film is advertised as a film about young characters losing their virginity, the film itself is much more than that. It can definitely be seen as a story about young girls exploring their sexuality and transitioning from childhood to womanhood.  It can also be seen as a story about parents coming to terms with this rocky transition.

Now both of these stories are likely to have many stereotypes like the hot babe, the helicopter parent, the buzzkill, the nerdy girl, the horny male and so on. But the greatness of Blockers show that all the female characters have a great sense of agency, in contrast of featuring in films, as roles of a decorative nature. And they are the lead characters in a genre that is usually predominant with men.

While some of these stereotypes are present, they are not only played out hilariously (all the masculine roles are flipped upside their heads, basically), but like all great comedies, retain a sense of humanity that makes the humour stand out that much more, making it much easier for audiences to relate to.

And Kay Cannon does quite well in her directorial debut. While there are scenes where the joke does drag quite a bit (a scene involving vomiting) and the dramatic scenes feel quite jarring in how they are transitioned, she does show definite skill in delivering jokes on screen convincingly, particularly with visual cues and physical comedy.

There’s one scene in the film that involves graphic nudity and homophobia that is played off brilliantly, especially with the use of subtitles. And in another sequence that involves a character hiding from their child, the physical comedy is a hoot to see, as it reminded me of the physical comedy in Stephen Chow‘s blockbuster, The Mermaid.

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And let’s not forget the wonderfully talented cast that glues it all together. Starting off with the parents, Leslie Mann, who’s already proven to be a professional in comedies, is great as Lisa, the single mother who just can’t let her daughter go. Ike Barinholtz, who’s damn funny in many comedies as well as standing out in duds like Suicide Squad, is acerbic and unruly as Hunter, whose line deliveries are on-point, particularly in relation to Mitchell’s size and demeanor. Both of them deliver on a dramatic standpoint as well, lending a sense of credibility of the character’s motivations, even with the hijinks in place.

And of course there’s John Cena, who has sheer commitment in the physical comedy as well as capably showing the obliviousness and naivety of Mitchell in such a hilarious fashion. He could have been the standout of the film if one were able to see him.

And let’s not forget the young talent involved. Kathryn Newton, who’s had a hell of a career breakthrough in 2017 due to being in acclaimed projects like Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Big Little Lies and Little Women, shows great potential to be a great actress, as she capably shows wide-eyed innocence with a sense of a go-for-broke mentality that is quite appealing. She shares many scenes with Mann and the two have great chemistry; showing both love and animosity convincingly.

And there’s fellow Australian actress, Geraldine Viswanathan as Kayla, whose verbal dexterity and tomboyish attitude make her a force to be reckoned with. And then there’s Gideon Adlon, who makes her film debut as Sam and she does a good job of being endearingly awkward and shows flexible comedic chops due to how Sam tries cover up her secret. The supporting cast consisting of Sarayu Blue, Hannibal Buress and others do a great job, but there are two cameos in the film, which will remain unspoiled, that will stay with you after the film is over. The less you know, the better.

With the dearth of funny studio comedies recently and after the surprising success of Game Night, it is with great pleasure to say that Blockers is a great comedy with a a great script, subversive storytelling and genre execution and a fantastic cast that are sure to make you laugh and even make you feel a bit emotional.

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic cast, both established and new talent

Witty script that subverts tropes of teen comedies and is surprisingly heartfelt in its approach

CONS

Some flaws in Cannon’s direction

SCORE: 8/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Kathryn Newton, John Cena, Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, Gideon Adlon, Geraldine Viswanathan, Graham Phillips, Miles Roberts, Jimmy Bellinger, Ramona Young
Director: Kay Cannon
Screenwriters: Brian Kehoe, Jim Kehoe, Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, Eben Russell, Seth Rogen

Movie Review – Ready Player One

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EXPECTATIONS: Flash! Bang! Reference!

REVIEW: Of all the literature out there that caters to geek culture like the sci-fi extravaganza The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or the bonkers detective noir The Eyre Affair, very few of them are as controversial as Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. Although it is a best-seller and has some many popular reviews for it, many have said it is a major detriment to geek culture due to its pandering i.e. references, terrible prose and many claims of misogyny, racism and homophobia.

But like how life finds a way, the most terrible books can be adapted to become films. Critically acclaimed books adapted to be live-action films can result in critically acclaimed films. Sounds simple enough that you can assume that terrible books that are adapted to be terrible films. But can a problematic book be adapted to become a great film? This is where the director, Senor Spielbergo Steven Spielberg comes in.

All of Spielberg’s films can be fit into two categories, and it has been more apparent in recent years. In his filmography, he has The Post, Bridge of Spies, Munich and Lincoln; all films that have aspirations for gravitas and respectability. In other words, they are made “For Your Consideration”. And then we have films like The BFG, War of the Worlds, Minority Report, The Adventures of Tintin; all films that are made purely for entertainment value as well as being tentpole releases. In other words, they are made “For Your Money”.

Now we have Spielberg’s latest film, Ready Player One, an obvious entry for the latter category where he clearly thought he needed a bigger boat budget since his last highest-budgeted film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With all his talent and filmmaking skill to back him up, will be able to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear? Or will it be like taking dinosaurs off the island like in The Lost World: Jurassic Park; that being the worst idea in the long, sad history of bad ideas?

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The film is set in 2045 (in the future), with the world on the brink of chaos and collapse (like the present). But the people have found salvation in denial the OASIS, an expansive virtual reality universe created by the brilliant and eccentric Willy Wonka Steve Jobs James Halliday (Mark Rylance).

When Halliday dies (or does he?), he leaves his immense fortune to the first person to find a digital Easter egg (not the chocolate kind) he has hidden somewhere in the OASIS, starting a contest that entices everyone. And I don’t just mean a group of people, I mean what Gary Oldman yells in Leon: The Professional, which is EVERYONE!

Anyway, when a very likely young hero named Marty McFly Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) decides to join the contest, after witnessing his Aunt May Aunt Alice being assaulted by Uncle Ben her boyfriend (who is part of a long line of them), he is thrown into a reference-packed pop culture world filled with colour, fun and thankfully eventually, danger.

And of course, there is the evil megalomaniacal company IOI, headed by greedy CEO Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) wants to get this egg to satiate his greed, all of which is linked to earning higher profits because money! Everybody likes money! That’s why they call it money! The race is on, like Donkey Kong!

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Does Ready Player One fix all of its problems of its source material to become a legitimately great film that belongs to the pantheon of Spielberg’s filmography? The answer is 42 no. Although there are some fun sequences and genuine wonder to be had, the film itself is a pandering, noisy, visual mess with a thin plot and even thinner characters.

Let’s begin with the positives. The veteran actors, Ben Mendelsohn and Mark Rylance have fun with their roles as the sinister villain and the creator, respectively. But they are basically performances that they have done before. Mendelsohn basically does the generic, villainous Mendo performance, where he attempts an American accent and grimaces frequently, while having Scooby-Doo aspirations. If you’ve seen The Dark Knight Rises and Rogue One, you’ve seen Mendelsohn’s performance already. Same goes for Rylance, whose performance is similar to his one in The BFG, also directed by Spielberg.

Another positive is when Spielberg focuses on the wonder of film, particularly filmmakers that he admires, and this is when the film soars. In an extended sequence, the characters venture into a world of a particular horror film (which won’t be spoiled) and the reason the scene works not only because it is quite funny, it is one of the few scenes where it actually introduces the stakes for characters in a way that the pop culture references actually serve the story i.e. characters that know the film can survive the traps of the world while characters that don’t know the film will suffer.

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And now we get to the negatives, and like the horror movie the film references, this is where the blood flows. The characters (if you could call them that) are incredibly thin and boring, with no dimension or arc whatsoever, especially when the film is a hero’s journey. Tye Sheridan (who’s fantastic in indie films like Mud and Joe) comes off as bland while Olivia Cooke (who’s great in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and The Limehouse Golem) takes her role and lends it credence that clearly wasn’t in the script.

And the interactions between the two are pretty embarrassing and mildly creepy. Apparently, quoting pop culture references to each other quantifies as developing a rapport or a sense of chemistry. It’s quite reminiscent of Spielberg’s The Terminal, where Diego Luna’s character and Zoe Saldana’s character never meet, but they exchange messages to each other, much like Ready Player One, and in the end, they’re newlyweds, kind of like Ready Player One. It just comes off as forced and awkward.

And let’s not skim over the problem with the female characters, being that they can’t be seen as anything other than plot devices to serve the main character. Samantha (or Art3mis) has her own motivations involving her family but it only ends up being a means to an end, which is Wade. And of course in the OASIS, she’s an avatar with an attractive body, anime-like eyes and happens to be the person that actually likes Wade’s references. And she has a birthmark (Sure, Jan.) across her face that makes her vulnerable and she only gets over it when Wade does.

And there’s Aunt Alice, who’s a woman who’s been abused by countless lovers because that’s what all single moms do, like in Kingsman: The Secret Service. One of the challenges the characters must achieve in order to get the next artifact involves wooing a woman. Hell, the character of Aech can’t be taken seriously in the film because she’s in fact [SPOILER ALERT] a woman!

The rest of the roles from the heroes are interchangeable (apart from Lena Waithe, who’s amusing) and they come off as lame attempts at rekindling child roles from Spielberg’s prior projects like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. Yes, I see you, Short Round 2.0! And even Simon Pegg (who’s a geek thanks to projects like Spaced) is wasted here. Not Shaun of the Dead-Winchester wasted, but his talent sure is.

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And let’s get down to the nitty, gritty and pithy part of Ready Player One: the references. Now, like I said in my prior reviews (yes, I’m referencing myself), in order to find comedies funny, you have to engage with the humanity of the film and the same goes with the references. Do they serve the story? Do they serve the characters? Do they add a sense of fun?

Other than the extended sequence that ventures into a horror film, they don’t add much to the film, apart from being visually splendorous and that it can make people go Ooh, there’s The Iron Giant! Ooh, there’s Freddy Krueger! Ooh, there’s Chucky! Ooh, there’s the DeLorean! Ooh, there’s King Kong! Ooh, there’s Kratos! If you thought that was annoying, try experiencing my Ready Player One review 140 minutes of it.

But even with Spielberg’s handling of the visuals, the camerawork and visual information is so dizzying and assaultive that it becomes blurry, exhausting and nauseating. There’s just so much references flying around, that the filmmakers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.

And of course there’s the implications of the knowledge of the references in the film. Apparently, you’re seen as a bad person if you do not know what the references are, which is evident in a confrontation between Wade and Nolan. And it has the nerve to share lines of dialogue like how a fanboy can spot a hater. If this is the standard of how hero-villain exchanges go, then we’re kinda screwed.

Ready Player One isn’t a terrible movie but considering the talent (both in front of and behind the camera) and the potential from the novel (if not the execution) that could have been adapted, it doesn’t feel like anything like the OASIS in the novel. Instead, it should be thrown in the Boo Box in Spielberg’s Hook.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic visuals

Has moments of genuine fun and wonder

The cast do their best with what they got

CONS

Thin plot

Thinner characters

Overuse of pop culture references that come across as pandering

Problematic female character portrayals

SCORE: 5/10

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This review can be also seen at IMPULSE GAMER. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Mark Rylance, T.J. Miller, Simon Pegg, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao, Susan Lynch, Hannah John-Kamen, Ralph Ineson, McKenna Grace, Letitia Wright
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriters: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline, based on his book of the same name

Movie Review – Ava (Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2018)

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EXPECTATIONS: A unique, hard-hitting coming-of-age story.

REVIEW: Coming-of-age films are really coming along nicely (I know, that was lame) over the past few years, with many great films that understand what makes the genre such a well-liked genre. We have plenty of stand-out entries like Kelly Fremon Craig‘s Edge of Seventeen, Greta Gerwig‘s Lady Bird and Marielle Heller‘s The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

But in recent years, we’ve also have gotten more unorthodox or unique entries like Julia Ducornau‘s Raw or Jaochim Trier‘s Thelma, which both mixed horror tropes with womanhood and teenage angst beautifully; David Wnendt‘s Wetlands, which combined graphic raunchiness and bodily fluids to create a hilarious and compelling character study; Celine Sciamma‘s Girlhood, which shows the lives of young French black women; and then there’s Deniz Gamze Ergüven‘s Mustang, which shows the lives of young Turkish women living in a conservative (which is an understatement) society.

And among those prior entries, we have Lea MysiusAva, an off-kilter entry that combines teenage sexual exploration, loss of youthful innocence and filial relationships with surrealism with a strong visual eye. But does it rank well with films like Raw and Lady Bird?

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The film starts off in a crowded beach, where the titular character (Noee Abita) lies under the hot sun, where a black foreboding figure stands in the distance. It turns out to be a dog, but in the eyes of Ava, it hints of her impending fate, which is she is gradually becoming blind.

Her mother (Laure Calamy) reacts to the news by ignoring it, but Ava approaches the problem on her own terms, which leads her to prepare for the worst, as well as discovering new things about herself due to her turbulent teenage life.

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Much like the off-kilter entries of coming-of-age, Ava is a visually striking and thematically challenging piece of work that never sugarcoats the character and the conditions she lives in. Neither Lea Mysius or actress Noee Abita ever try to make Ava likable, but they do manage to engender empathy for her. Director Mysius gives the film a thrilling sense of anarchy, as we feel troubled, never sensing where Ava would go or end up in throughout the course of the film.

Shot on 35mm by cinematographer and surprisingly, co-screenwriter Paul Guilhaume, the film has a vibrant visual touch that meshes seamlessly with the subplot about the Ava‘s loss of sight. Dream sequences hinting of sexual discovery, worlds falling apart (in tandem with her sight) and especially her views about her mother are downright haunting, even with a visual cue that was reminiscent of a moment in Nobuhiko Obayashi‘s House. It could be a way that shows her deteriorating sight is a metaphor for her dwindling youthful optimism and both Mysius and Guilhaume do a wonderful job in conveying such psychological shades.

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Even with the visuals, the characters themselves are well-developed, intriguing and thankfully, real. The relationship between Ava and her mother, Maud, is quite similar to most mother-daughter relationships in coming-of-age films as they show estrangement and hostility, but in the case of Ava, it’s not about what is said to each other, but what’s not being said.

There’s a scene in the film where Maud tells Ava about falling in love, the film focuses on Ava and what she hears and the voice of Maud fades out and what the audience only hears is the mutterings of strangers in the distance. Not only that, Maud is out of focus in the shot as she goes on and on about her story, being oblivious about the fact that Ava is ignoring her.

This subtle approach does wonders for the film as well as the gradual character development, as it hints that to look for some sort of excitement or solidarity, Ava turns to a more radical approach like petty crime (which involves petty theft in a scene that is reminiscent of Bonnie and Clyde) and going out with rebels, leading to a path of prurience.

And of course, major credit goes to the actress Noee Abita. Following the path of young French female talent like Garance Marillier (Raw), Marine Vacth (Young and Beautiful) and Adele Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Colour), Abita is absolutely fearless as Ava. Considering the tolls that her character goes through (like sexual exploration) and her strikingly youthful appearance (her character is 13 years old but Abita was 17 during filming), Abita takes it upon herself to portray those facets as honest as possible and she pulls it off brilliantly.

But let’s not forget Laure Calamy as Maud, Ava‘s mother, who is a character that is just as complex and filled with contradictions as Ava. She isn’t exactly the lovable mother, but she isn’t the cruel mother either; nor is she either devoted or a slacker. But through it all, she tries her best to provide Ava a great vacation, but she’s preoccupied with her romantic entanglement. This provides a nice compliment to Ava‘s story, showing a contrast that makes it feel like Maud is going through a new chapter of her own, and Calamy does a great job in conveying those contradictions convincingly.

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As for flaws, the change in tone due to the visuals can be quite jarring, particularly during a scene that involves Ava and her boyfriend, donning mud and sticks to disguise themselves while robbing beachgoers. And there is also the more controversial elements like seeing the titular character go through stages of sexual exploration with the character’s age in consideration, which can be quite be upsetting to some.

And last but not least, the ending. It ends inconclusively, leaving Ava in the air, which will throw off some. But it does seem deliberate and in a way, it makes perfect sense, considering that it seems to reflect Ava‘s gradual loss of sight and how it hints that she would not know what is on the horizon after her sight is gone.

However the ending may be, it still doesn’t take away the fact that Ava is one hell of a  feature-length directorial debut for Lea Mysius. It’s hazy, it’s hypnotic, it’s unruly, it’s unpredictable and yet it’s grounded in reality and it has fantastic performances from Abita and Calamy. If you like coming-of-age stories with an experimental approach, Ava is your best bet.

Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performances from Abita and Calamy

Daring direction from director Mysius

Fantastic cinematography and visuals, thanks to cinematographer/co-writer Guilhaume

CONS

Controversial elements and jarring moments that don’t always coalesce

Lack of a real ending

SCORE: 7.5/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Noée Abita, Laure Calamy, Juan Cano, Tamara Cano, Daouda Diakhate, Baptiste Archimbaud, Franck Beckmann, Ismaël Capelot, Valentine Cadic
Director: Lea Mysius
Screenwriter: Lea Mysius, Paul Guilhaume

Movie Review – Double Lover (Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2018)

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EXPECTATIONS: A prurient, sexy and salacious hell of a time.

REVIEW: There are two pleasures in life that without them, we living things would never exist: gastronomy and sexuality. And there are many talented people out there that try their best to portray their interest for it on many artistic endeavours, especially in cinema.

Such talented auteurs out there are Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, The Third Man), Catherine Breillat (Romance, Fat Girl), Lars von Trier (Nymphomaniac); and we have the newcomers like Park Chan-wook (Thirst, The Handmaiden) and we have the terrible entries like the 50 Shades of Grey films. But the directors that do it right execute the portrayal of sex with character, style and most importantly, passion. And that is where French director Francois Ozon comes in.

Famous for his witty films about the human condition, whether it’s about strength, survival or sexuality, he’s made many great films like Swimming Pool, Frantz, Young and Beautiful and many others. And now we have the 2017 psychosexual drama Double Lover. Will it succeed in being a throwback entry to the days of Swimming Pool?

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The film stars Chloe (Marine Vacth), a former model who recently quit the modelling world due to her growing dissatisfaction with the modelling world. Recently, she has been having strong abdominal, ongoing pains and she thinks that they may be happening due to a psychological nature.

She decides to go on an appointment with a therapist, Dr Paul Meyer (Jeremie Renier). But little does she know, the sessions will go from awkward, intimate and eventually romantic. Not long after, they move in together and live happily until Paul’s past catches up to Chloe, taking her into a world of surrealistic sensual delights, body horror, mistaken identities and possibly clarifications of her own past.

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It’s been a while since Francois Ozon ventured into psycho-sexual thriller territory of Under the Sand and Swimming Pool but after a genre detour into subtle melodrama in Frantz, Double Lover marks a return and thankfully, Ozon hasn’t lost much of a step over time. Clearly influenced by acclaimed filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, David Cronenberg and Paul Verhoeven, Double Lover is jam-packed with gloriously lurid Ozon goodness.

From the beginning of the film, you can tell where Ozon is going with his storytelling, as the film opens during a gynecological exam with an extreme closeup of something pink and wet and then you realize what it is as it zooms back, you can’t help but laugh at the audacity. And it follows on by match-cutting from this POV to that of a blinking eye turned sideways, which is similar to a shot in Lars von Trier‘s drama, Nymphomaniac. And that’s just the first five minutes!

The pacing of the film is a lot like foreplay, slowly toying with the audience as it goes through the scenes where Claire goes through her therapy sessions with Paul, which are downright funny in how blatant they are. But when we see the double of Paul (also played by Jeremie Renier, duh!), it gets enjoyably frisky, as indicated by a shot that closes in on Chloe’s mouth as she climaxes and then zooms into the female body during orgasm, like the scene in a Fast and Furious film where the camera zooms into the car engine!

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And then the sex scenes gets psychologically surreal, like in a scene when Chloe fantasizes that she’s having a threesome with the brothers (or doubles), first as herself and then as a pair of Siamese twins. That would be a foursome, right? The bizarre, disorienting and prurient vibe that pervades throughout is supported by cinematographer Manu Dacosse (who’s done post-modern giallo films like Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears) and Philippe Rombi‘s careering score.

In contrast to films like Frantz and In the House, Double Lover is definitely a more unruly work of Ozon’s, as he turns the film in a mischievous circus of sensual and surreal delights that the story basically becomes second nature. Yet even with that in mind, the craftmanship in display thankfully is intact and he does keep his characters on track and the actors assembled all do a great job with what they’re given.

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Marine Vacth, who previously worked with Ozon on Young and Beautiful, is fantastic as Chloe, as she displays the many facets of her character like her fragility in the first act, her strength, her curiosity (finding out about Louis and sexual exploration) and definitely her duplicity (turning the tables on her oppression) very well. She’s quite reminiscent of both Stacy Martin and Charlotte Gainsbourg (both in Nymphomaniac as the same character of different ages, coincidentally) in both her youthfulness and her bravery in her acting and I can’t wait to see what she does next in the future.

As for Jeremie Renier, he’s clearly having fun in his dual roles of Paul and Louis, playing the cool, calm and collected side with ease and the Lacanian (yes, I got that term from Basic Instinct 2, sue me!), dark and aggressive side in an entertaining fashion and it only goes further when the two eventually meet in some shape or form. In what could be seen as sly, the casting of Jacqueline Bisset, the former sex symbol, has fun in her role (or roles?) while Myriam Boyer is a hoot as a neighbour who takes care of Claire’s cat (which funnily enough, is the same breed of cat that featured in Paul Verhoeven‘s 2016 film, Elle).

Double Lover is a great return to psychosexual territory that Ozon is known for and it is an entertainingly juicy time for erotica lovers, with great performances from the cast, great contributions by cinematographer Manu Dacosse and composer Philippe Rombi and very infectiously mischievous direction by Ozon. Like one of the characters in the film, strap on for a rewarding and sensuous ride.

Quickie Review

PROS

The cast give great performances

Ozon’s cheeky yet professional direction

Vibrant cinematography and an effectively careering score

CONS

The story is second nature

SCORE: 8/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Marine Vacth, Jeremie Renier, Jacqueline Bisset, Myriam Boyer, Dominique Reymond
Director: Francois Ozon
Screenwriter: Francois Ozon (loosely based on the novel Lives of the Twins by Joyce Carol Oates)