Movie Review – Unsane

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EXPECTATIONS: A lean, mean, 70’s style exploitation horror film with a fantastic performance from Claire Foy.

REVIEW: Steven Soderbergh is known to be one of the greatest filmmakers to come from independent cinema with films like Sex, Lies and Videotape and King of the Hill. But he became a bigger name when he ventured into commercial filmmaking with crime films like Out of Sight, The Limey and the Ocean’s film series.

Since then, he’s produced various projects, helped boosting careers like the career of director Christopher Nolan, he balanced out his commercial projects with his experimental projects. The latter resulted with mixed results like the drama film Bubble; the sci-fi remake of Solaris and the comedy Full Frontal. When Soderbergh announced his retirement from feature filmmaking back in 2012 (although it was later claimed to be a sabbatical), it didn’t feel like much of a blow since his creative outlets would be fascinating regardless of the format, whether it is from television, theatre or the internet.

For his latest project, after his return to feature filmmaking with heist comedy Logan Lucky, he has mixed his commercial aspirations with his experimental sensibilities with Unsane, a horror exploitation film starring the talented Claire Foy. But what makes this film experimental is that the film was made entirely with the iPhone 7. Does the film succeed at being entertaining as well as showing what the iPhone 7 is capable of in terms of cinematic panache?

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The film follows Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a woman who has been relocating from Boston to Pennsylvania to escape her stalker, David Strine (Joshua Leonard) for the last two years. Despite having a normal office job and living healthy (due to her salad lunches) she is unable to live a normal life due to her seeing striking visions of her stalker.

Consoling with a therapist of her past events and her current condition, she unwittingly signs in for a voluntary 24-hour commitment to the Highland Creek Behavioral Center. Her stay at the facility soon gets extended when doctors and nurses begin to question her sanity. And just when things get worse, Sawyer believes that one of the orderlies is David. Without much support from her friends and family as well as in the facility itself, Sawyer will do whatever it takes to survive and fight her way out.

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Unsane is a very striking entry in Soderbergh’s filmography due to the fact that it is an entry where he ventures into pulp B-movie territory. With the script written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer (who have previously written comedies like Just My Luck and The Spy Next Door, no really), the story hearkens back to the old-school exploitation films like Shock Corridor and classic madhouse films like The Snake Pit, One Who Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Repulsion; so we are in familiar territory here. The film does venture into horror tropes in the third act, which could lose some of the audience, but Soderbergh lends it enough style to make it fresh, even when the script does show itself to be mildly problematic in retrospect.

But there are many elements that make Unsane stand out from its familiar trappings and flaws. One element is the film’s surprising thematic punch. Whether the film was uncannily released in a time that involves the era of Time’s Up and Me Too movements, the film is essentially a timely metaphor for how women are not believed and how they are subjected into harassment, how they are driven to doubt their experiences to the point of possible delusion, how men treat them in such a way that it affects every viewpoint of their actions, however trivial.

The opening scene of Unsane sets the tone rather quickly and succinctly; as it involves Sawyer talking to her boss and he offers her a work-related invitation or a moment in the film where even as something as seemingly small as not reading the fine print of a contract can be seen as scary. But the way it is executed gives off an underlying sense of tension that rings undeniably true.

It also makes some striking social commentary on disabled care and the medical profession that not only compels within the scope of the story but it also adds to the delusion of the characters and whether they are sane or not, resulting in more added tension. And what makes it all work is Soderbergh’s restraint in conveying these themes without rubbing it in one’s face.

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Another element that makes Unsane stand out is the direction by Soderbergh (under the name of Peter Andrews and Mary Ann Bernard). Utilizing the iPhone 7, the colours, the compositions and the shots lend the film a sense of grit and tact, which is reminiscent of 70’s exploitation films. And it also lends the film a creepy, voyeuristic vibe that implies that anyone out there would be using their cellphones to spy on them. And the specific idea is amusingly delivered by a high-profile cameo from a Soderbergh regular who states that “Think of your cellphone as your worst enemy”. The musical score by Thomas Newman compliments the vibe of the film really well, whilst sounding unconventional in that it doesn’t build up the tension, but it makes the tension pervade throughout.

The staging of the conflicts in the film are also quite unexpected. In one scene where Sawyer becomes incredibly destructive, the scene is shown in both the POV of Sawyer and from behind within the same shot. Now usually a scene such as this would be an opportunity for the actor to “carve a slice of ham” so to speak, but Soderbergh relies more on the filmmaking, rather than the performances.

But slyly enough, there is a scene where it is set in the room of quiet solitary confinement and it becomes like a stageplay of sorts, where the characters become quite confronting and vent their feelings towards each other and it gets quite thrilling like an action scene. And with the honest thematic punch, the scene becomes one of the most thrilling scenes in 2018. It is that good.

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The supporting cast of Unsane are all good sports from the charismatic Jay Pharoah whose character can be seen as sane even if his theories sound delusional; to the chameleon-like Juno Temple who gives another unhinged performance and Amy Irving (famous from 1976’s Carrie, another film involving the abuse of a woman) providing strong support as Sawyer’s mother. And of course there’s Joshua Leonard as George Shaw (or is it David Strine?). As much as is suitable to go into the details of praising his performance, it would venture into spoiler territory, but he is compelling here just as he was natural in 1999’s The Blair Witch Project.

But the biggest element that t makes Unsane worth seeing is the Queen herself, Claire Foy. Standing out to this reviewer ever since titular performance in the underwhelming Season of the Witch, I have enjoyed her work in The Crown and Breathe. And hearing that she is playing Lisbeth Salander in the upcoming film, The Girl in the Spider’s Web, Unsane is essentially the audition tape for it.

Foy gives an incredibly raw performance that conveys the gamut of emotions that Sawyer goes through perfectly.  What is notable about Foy’s performance is that it never feels like Foy is trying to endear herself to the audience. There is a righteous anger within her that makes her lash out physically or even as minor as saying something that passes off as passive-aggressive, even if it becomes irrational. All of this adds to the credence that her character may or may not be insane, and Foy conveys that convincingly. Whether she is angry at the position she is in or whether she is panicking at the supposed presence of her stalker, Foy’s performance is the solid foundation that makes Unsane work.

Overall, despite the familiar story and the minor script problems in the third act, Unsane is a lean, mean and powerful psychological horror-thriller that packs a timely thematic punch and features what could be Foy’s best performance.

Sidenote: Unsane not only amusingly ends on a freeze-frame (which is basically unheard of in the present day of cinema) and it features one of the shortest end credits reels in a very long time.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performance from Claire Foy

Game supporting cast

Soderbergh’s direction

Gritty iPhone cinematography and idiosyncratic musical score

CONS

Problematic third act

Script flaws

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: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, Amy Irvine, Polly McKie, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Gibson Frazier, Aimee Mullins
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Screenwriters: Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer

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Movie Review – Girls VS Gangsters

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EXPECTATIONS: The worst film of 2018.

REVIEW:

When one thinks of female filmmakers, you think of people like Ann Hui, who’s a fantastic filmmaker with films focusing on society in Hong Kong eg. Night and Fog, A Simple Life, Our Time Will Come and others. One could also think of Mabel Cheung, a wonderful filmmaker who makes passionate and graceful dramas like An Autumn’s Tale and Echoes of the Rainbow.

But if there’s one Hong Kong female filmmaker that people would like to forget, it’s Barbara Wong. Starting off promisingly with the hilariously open documentary Women’s Private Parts and the wholesome comedy/drama Truth or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat, she stumbles slightly with dopey comedies like Protege de la Rose Noire and Six Strong Guys. And then came Wonder Women, a film so bad that the egregious product placement actually comes across as a relief to the film itself.

She hasn’t really recovered since, although she’s found financial success in China with awfully manipulative melodramas like The Allure of Tears and The Stolen Years, the latter being so terrible that not only it plagiarizes better melodramas like A Moment to Remember, The Vow and Million Dollar Baby; it also plagiarized this YouTube video. No, that last one is not a joke.

Continuing on from catering the China rooster by petting and rubbing it in an abrasive fashion, we have the 2014 comedy/drama Girls (not to be confused with Kenneth Bi’s Girl$), a film about female relationships that is a rip-off of the Tiny Times franchise. In an interview promoting Girls, Wong says that “It’s difficult to make a film about female relationships. No matter if it’s a gossiping or fighting scene, you have to make it real.

Well, enter into Girls VS Gangsters, a sequel (no, really!) to the 2014 film. Originally meant for release in 2016 and delayed several times until it finally arrived (dumped?) onto cinemas in March of 2018. Will this film be a return to form for Barbara Wong? Will this film actually be empowering for women? Will this film be realistic in portraying female relationships?

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Continuing where Girls left off, Xiwen (Ivy Chen) announces that she’s finally getting married to Qiao Li (originally played by Shawn Yue, but is absent for some reason) and Kimmy (Fiona Sit) persuades her to take a fun bachelorette trip to Vietnam, where the third member of the group, the filmmaker Xiaomei (originally played by Yang Zishan, but is absent for some reason), is supposedly working on a project there.

The first obstacle for Kimmy’s plan arrives in the shape of Xiwen’s other best friend (and Kimmy’s mortal enemy), Jialan (Ning Chang) and her fiancé’s teenage sister, Jingjing (Wang Shuilin). Things quickly get worse on their first night in Vietnam, where Xiaomei has arranged for them to go to the extravagant house party of a wealthy mobster (Tran Bao Son).

After a wild night at the mansion that sees Kimmy eat a dead scorpion and end up in the bedroom of her host (with no prurience, because China), Xiwen, Kimmy and Jialan wake up the next morning to find themselves naked on a deserted beach, with Jingjing nowhere to be found. Worse still, Xiwen has an ugly new tattoo on her back, while the other two are handcuffed to a trunk full of gold bars that they’re soon told by a mysterious caller to spend.

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And it gets worse and worse and worse. Girls VS Gangsters is one of the worst films that his reviewer has ever seen. No joke. And yes, for those who are curious, this film is worse than Benny Chan’s Meow, which this reviewer has said was the cinematic equivalent of ultraviolent dysentery. Girls VS Gangsters is the cinematic equivalent of drowning in a cesspool of vomit WHILST having ultraviolent dysentery.

But as one that likes to live life optimistically, let’s begin with the positives. Yeah, there are none whatsoever. To put it mildly, let’s begin with the problems. Remember what director Barbara Wong said about female relationships having to be real? Well here in Girls VS Gangsters, the characters converse with each other while using gold bars as currency, they make rape “jokes” to each other, one being “if you can’t keep this secret, you’ll be raped 100 times”; the characters get attacked by Vietnamese gangsters; they all talk about men despite this being a female empowerment film; apparently all of this is real.

And then there’s the filmmaking. What filmmaking? The green-screen and CGI utilized in this film is grotesquely cheap; there is no story whatsoever, as it consists of nothing happening very loudly for two excruciating hours. And there are many filmmaking gaffes here that is so unbelievable that they are still on-screen. Some examples include the use of slow-motion so bad that it stutters; a case of bad ADR that is so noticeable that it comes from a character whose mouth is closed; action scenes where none of the actresses are even on-screen together or not on location at all; it just goes on and and on.

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The “comedy” is absolutely ear-piercingly terrible, even by China-market standards. The high point of the humour is apparently flatulence that not only happens three times throughout the film, but is actually a major plot point. Apparently, eating a deadly scorpion is funny. Vomiting on a corpse while it’s in the coffin is the height of hilarity and gay characters are downright hysterical because they’re gay. There’s even a God of Gamblers parody in the film that’s worse than anything in From Vegas to Macau III.

And speaking of China-market standards, there’s a cameo from boxer Mike Tyson. Yes, the Mike Tyson. The same one that was convicted of rape and is registered as a sex offender is starring in a film directed by and starring women. And he’s the best actor in this thing. If that’s not offensive enough, he’s portrayed as half African-American and half-Korean, who loves Korean dramas. No, really, that actually happens. It’s blatantly clear that the only reason his character is half-Korean is that no Chinese woman on film would ever like him unless he was. And it all leads to an embarrassing scene referencing the Korean drama, Descendants of the Sun. And there’s the racism that if you’re not Chinese, then all the races of Vietnam, Thailand and Laos are absolutely interchangeable, from the appearances, customs and even the geography.

And if they are interchangeable, so are the actresses. Fiona Sit, Ning Chang and Ivy Chen have all done good work in prior films. But in Girls VS Gangsters, they all play characters that are all narcissistic, petulant, sociopathic, manipulative, greedy, selfish and morally ugly shells of a human being that the audience will be begging for the usher to hand them barf bags and oxygen masks while seeing their performances.

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And let’s get into the stupid moments in the “plot” of the film. How does one of the characters take a dump without taking her pants off? How do the characters wear on Vietnamese clothing while they are handcuffed? If the characters were naked in the beach while being cuffed, where did they get their phones? Apparently, the characters can skydive without proper training and while consuming alcohol. For a character who wants to intentionally lose in blackjack, she clearly doesn’t know that nothing in blackjack can stop you from losing!

There’s so much more to gauge, criticize and rant about this film like the horrific musical number in the credits, but this review will never end. Many people say that excessive watching of films of the horror and action genre can lead to people turning into violent, psychopathic and angry beings. No, they don’t. Films like Girls VS Gangsters turn people into violent, psychopathic and angry beings because it is so tortuously poor, that you can feel your well-being and life force being sucked away seeing that humanity actually made a film like this and released it in cinemas.

It’s a film that’s so bad that Shawn Yue and Yang Zishan and even the constant cameo-appearing Barbara Wong decided not to appear in it, despite their characters making appearances. Everyone in this film should repeatedly smash themselves in the head with a gold bullion and be thoroughly ashamed.

P.S – Girls VS Gangsters was released in cinemas on International Women’s Day. If that’s not offensive, I don’t know what is.

Quickie Review

PROS

Really?

CONS

EVERYTHING!!!!!!

SCORE: ABSOLUTE ZERO!!

Cast: Fiona Sit, Ivy Chen, Ning Chang, Mike Tyson, Wang Shuilin, Fan Tiantian, Tran Bao Son, Elly Tran
Director: Barbara Wong
Screenwriters: Barbara Wong, Daryl Doo, Yingyan Hou, Zheng Shanyu

Movie Review – Re:Born

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EXPECTATIONS: A satisfying swan-song for Tak Sakaguchi.

REVIEW: If I heard someone told me that a movie star became famous because he was found by a director while doing underground street fighting, I wouldn’t have believed it. But that is the origin of the film career of the Japanese actor/writer/director/producer/martial artist Tak Sakaguchi.

From humble beginnings with short films with Yudai Yamaguchi, he got his first break with working with Ryuhei Kitamura on the zombie/martial arts/yakuza cult hit, Versus. And that started a fruitful collaboration where they worked together on many other films like Alive, Godzilla: Final Wars and Azumi.

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With other collaborations with martial artists and stuntmen like Yuji Shimomura, Seiji Chiba, he got a taste of going through the behind-the-scenes of filmmaking and became a director with films like Mutant Girls Squad, Be a Man! Samurai School and Samurai Zombie.

But in recent years, shocking news came about when he announced his retirement. Rumours of conflicts with film staff, family issues, health issues came about, but in a recent interview, the reason for his retirement was for him to focus more behind-the scenes, rather than being in front of the camera.

But now, he has come back for one last hurrah. Collaborating with regulars like director/action choreographer Yuji Shimomura, his ZEROS stunt team, fellow actors like Takumi Saito and Mariko Shinoda, he seems determined to make this a treat for his fans. Does Re:Born live up the the hype?

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A legendary covert soldier (Tak Sakaguchi) with a mysterious past now decides to once again unleash his beast inside of him to stand up for what he cares about when his adopted daughter is kidnapped, luring him out of his peaceful existence.

Well, that’s it for the plot synopsis because no one really watches these types of films for the plot; people watch these types of films for the action. And as the swan song of Tak Sakaguchi, Re:Born more than suffices.

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The action was formulated alongside Sakaguchi and Shimomura and fight choreographer Yoshitaka Inagawa to craft a style action fans have never seen, and the result is something called Zero Range Combat; which is basically a close quarters fighting technique, often involving small bladed weaponry, that uses speed and closeness to defeat opponents with pure efficiency.

And while that would sound very repetitive and quite frankly ridiculous in the context of action scenes involving a one-man army, Sakaguchi sells it, making the action scenes thrilling and quite believable.

There are action scenes of brevity that are just flat-out cool in their speed, like a sneak attack in the middle of a crowd that involves the ingenious use of a pen and a gun cartridge.

And there are one-on-one fight scenes involving the setting of a phone booth and a warehouse, one-man-army fight scenes in a forest (Sakaguchi’s favourite setting) but the stand-out one is a one-on-one fight scene between Ghost and the Abyss Walker (yes, really).

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Their movements, which are very loose and free-flowing, along with the dark cinematography by Tetsuya Kudo and composer Kenji Kawai’s imposing score, add a certain surreal and illusive feel, that it comes off as nightmarish. Or the free-flowing movements of the actors may come off as laughable, but it’s certainly one of the more original fight scenes that have come out in recent memory.

While the action of the film is great, how does the rest of the film go? Therein lies the rub. The supporting actors, which include Yura Kondo, Hitomi Hasebe, Takumi Saito, Akio Otsuka, all do what they can with their roles, trying to give the story a sense of credibility, but they all come off as superfluous; just means to an end, which is the action.

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The other cast members, who are involved in the action, fare better, including standouts like Mariko Shinoda, who obviously had a successful collaboration with Sakaguchi since working together in Sion Sono’s bonkers extravaganza, Tag; and of course Makoto Sakaguchi, the standout in films like Sion Sono’s rap musical Tokyo Tribe, as a sadistic soldier.

As for the story, it is simple in retrospect, but as told in the film, is needlessly convoluted to make it more important than it actually is, burdened with needless flashbacks, drawn-out scenes of self-introspection that drag the film a bit.

Overall, Re:Born is a more than sufficient entry to the action genre with Tak Sakaguchi and Yuji Shimomura doing what they do best: kicking ass and taking names, hundreds upon hundreds of them, with style.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic action scenes

Production values like the cinematography and musical score add to the film

CONS

Wasted supporting cast

Superfluous storyline

SCORE: 7/10

Cast: Tak Sakaguchi, Yura Kondo, Takumi Saito, Mariko Shinoda, Akio Otsuka, Orson Mochizuki, Kenta Akami, Masaya Kato, Rina Takeda (narrator)
Director: Yuji Shimomura
Screenwriters: Benio Saeki, Tak Sakaguchi

Movie Review – The Party

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EXPECTATIONS: A black comedy so barbed and sharp that I should see acid leaking off the cinema screen.

REVIEW: Black comedies can be a very hard genre to pull off. Since it dwells within serious issues that could potentially be seen as taboos in comedies, it requires a certain balance between empathy, humour and darkness. But like all films, they have to have a certain amount of humanity for the audience to cling on to.

Some comedies would have either have characters that can we can believe in and latch on to or the characters are so reprehensible that we can laugh at them as well as their predicaments. And this is where Sally Potter‘s latest film, The Party fits in.

With an embarrassment of riches ranging from the cast (including Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy and others) to the crew (including editor Anders Refn) and an acclaimed director in Sally Potter, The Party looks like to be a great change of pace for Potter’s filmography. Will it be fun like a party should be or will it stink like a party pooper?

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Shot in monochrome widescreen, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) hosts an intimate gathering of friends in her London home to celebrate her ascension up the political ladder. After her passive-aggressive best friend (Patricia Clarkson) and other stand-out characters arrive (Cillian Murphy, Cherry Jones, Bruno Ganz, Emily Mortimer), some of them have dramatic news to share, which could end up showing them to be party poopers.

And of course, the cherry on top could be an announcement by Janet’s husband (Timothy Spall), which could provoke a series of revelations. As the sophisticated shindig starts to peel away the layers, a night that began with champagne soon ends up with arguments, shouting and a pointed gun. Now it’s a party!

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The funniest part of the film, in this reviewer’s opinion, is the visual cue of a fox in the film, which was reminiscent of Lars Von Trier‘s horror film, Antichrist. Since The Party was edited by Anders Refn, who had worked on Antichrist as well as having both films being shot in monochrome, it seemed to be a sly poke on Antichrist, hinting that chaos would reign once the party starts.

The Party is only 71 minutes long, so this review is going to be short and concise like the film. Sally Potter and her cinematographer, Alexey Rodionov try really hard to make a small setting look well-drawn and distinct and The Party is really well shot, as the lustrous black and white accentuates the feelings and points of view of the characters: there is always a grey area.

The characters are all forward-thinkers and their cynical views could have been a drag to watch on-screen, even at 71 minutes, but thanks to director Sally Potter and the ensemble cast, it is great to see that them show empathy for the characters and that is what makes the audience stick through the film. Even if the titular party is meant to be a victory celebration.

Since the main trajectory of the film is politics, the humour itself could easily had aimed for easy targets like bigotry, Brexit, capitalism etc, but thankfully the humour is always grounded in character, and the seven characters assembled here are all wonderfully realized by the cast.

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On the female side, Kristen Scott Thomas is great as the repressed Janet, who is basically trying to remain composed with her many responsibilities as being a dutiful wife to her husband as well as her duties for her newly appointed position, and her many secrets. And we have Patricia Clarkson, who is entertainingly acerbic as April, delivering barbed lines of dialogue as if they were grenades; and of course the couple, Emily Mortimer and Cherry Jones, who are both endearingly grounded as the moody Jinny and the intellectual Martha.

On the male side, we have Timothy Spall, who’s facial expressions and seemingly monosyllabic deliveries are spot-on, being the so-called “patriarch” of the entire film. And we have Cillian Murphy, who is fantastic as the unstable member of the party and clearly doesn’t have the skills to stay composed as Janet. And last but definitely not least, we have Bruno Ganz, who is endearing as Gottfried, to the point of almost seeming delusional as he quotes lines upon lines of hippy New Age platitudes.

What weakens the impact of the film however is the ending. Although it does tie up most of the loose strands in the narrative, the impact of it all doesn’t really amount to much, in comparison to what had proceeded it.

Overall, The Party is a pitch-black, hilarious and satirical comedy with a fantastic cast and Potter’s assured filmmaking. Although the film may not have the impact that it could have, The Party was great while it lasted.

Quickie Review

PROS

Great performances from the ensemble cast

Humour is always grounded in character

Potter’s direction, Refn’s editing and Rodionov’s cinematography complement the story

CONS

Ending lacks impact

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: Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall
Director: Sally Potter
Screenwriters: Sally Potter

Movie Review – Love, Simon

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EXPECTATIONS: A light, honest, funny and heartwarming gay teenage romantic drama.

REVIEW:

Dear Blue,

Queer cinema has came through quite well back in 2017. We’ve had great examples like Call Me By Your Name, Battle of the Sexes and Moonlight; foreign entries like BPM (Beats Per Minute), Oscar-winning A Fantastic Woman and BAFTA-winning The Handmaiden and hidden indie gems like Princess Cyd, Beach Rats and God’s Own Country. All of these films have had critical acclaim and they are all arthouse darlings, but the majority of them were never meant for commercial appeal.

Enter 2018, where we have what is considered to be a genre milestone. The gay teen romantic comedy called Love, Simon. It is the first major studio film to focus on a gay teenage romance and by that alone, it has a lot to live up to. With a talented cast of young talent/veterans and director Greg Berlanti at the helm, (who’s directorial debut, The Broken Hearts Club: A Romantic Comedy, the perfect candidate), does Love, Simon live up to the hype?

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Based on the acclaimed book Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, Nick Robinson stars as Simon Speer, an average teenager who has his three best friends (Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) and they stroll through high school with all the trimmings like secrets, crushes, discrimination, boring classes, exams, the usual.

But Simon keeps a huge secret from his family, his friends, and all of his classmates: he’s gay. And the only outlet he has is with a closeted gay student at their high school, known only by the pseudonym “Blue”. Simon then proceeds to reach out to him under his own alias, “Jacques”. They confide very personal details, and soon he and Blue form a genuine connection, to the point that Simon wants to discover the identity of Blue. When that secret is threatened, Simon must face everyone and come to terms with his own identity.

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Does the film live up to the hype? For the moNick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Joey Pollari, Tony Halest part, it does, thanks to the humour and the wonderful cast. It must be said, it’s very encouraging to see such progress from a major film studio to make a gay character the lead protagonist of a film such as this. Though Love, Simon is much more of a coming-out story than a proper romantic comedy (or drama), it does lend a different perspective of the story, leading to something more gradual rather than just climactic.

Like the film itself, let’s begin with the complications. The characters, apart from Simon and Abby, do not really have much depth beyond the personas that they inhabit, despite the efforts of the cast. And there are script contrivances that hinder the impact of the film. One particular example is when two bullies come into the picture and it just felt forced, as if the script just needed to give the film more tension that it already had.

Speaking of tension, the film is a bit too squeaky-clean, considering the conflicts and complications in the story. With the use of social media, the current views of homophobia and bullying, the film could have used a bit more punch. Although the film does quite well in conveying the stress Simon with his friends and loved ones, especially the moments when his father would make comments that indirectly offend him, like calling someone “fruity”.

The musical score by Rob Simonsen becomes quite syrupy and overused as the film goes on, particularly in the third act. And there’s the character of Martin. The character is not really a flaw per se but he is a character (or a plot device) that can aggravate one to no end and it hindered the enjoyment of the film quite a bit. The intent of that character might be clearer in retrospect or on repeat viewings but one’s tolerance may vary.

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And now we can get into the positives. While the script may be flawed, it does a good job with subverting some cliches of commercial romantic comedies as well as commercial teenage films. And it deserve particular praise for not conforming to commercial tropes of gay films like flamboyant attitudes, constant abuse or tragic ends. Getting back into the Martin character, he is essentially the archetype for a romantic comedy, which is essentially the supposed lovable loser. But what Love, Simon does is to make Martin think he is the hero of the story, despite the fact that this is the story of Simon, and the filmmakers rip the archetype to shreds, which is a welcome sight to see.

The cast, including upcoming young talent and veterans, all do a wonderful job with inhabiting their characters. Nick Robinson is nuanced and sympathy as Simon. His character is meant to be one who experiences a lot of emotions and yet is trying very hard not to be noticed in doing so. While Robinson could have played the character as self-conscious or unlikable due to the actions of the character that occur in the second act, he easily engenders sympathy and becomes a winning lead.

Fellow Australian actress Katherine Langford gives an underplayed performance and lends a lot of needed depth to the role of Leah, Simon’s best friend. Alexandra Shipp is enjoyably spirited as Abby, who may or may not use her innate charisma as a cover for her discrepancies; while Jorge Lendeborg Jr. does what he can with his character, with his likable presence. Logan Miller aggravates to no end as Martin, although he does lend the role a sense of humanity, without turning the role into a complete cartoon.

As for the adult performances, Tony Hale and Natasha Rothwell are absolute hoots (Rothwell, more so) as the principal and school drama teacher, respectively. And we have Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel as Simon’s parents. Garner has always been a great actress (2007’s Juno is proof of that) and she delivers a great monologue in the third act that gets into the heart of what Simon is going through, as well as the hearts of the audience. While Duhamel gives one of his best performances as Simon’s father, lending good humour and pathos to the character.

Overall, Love, Simon is a sweet and likable comedy/drama with lovable characters, a truthful if flawed script, a gay protagonist worth cheering for and a huge stepping stone of inclusivity for the LGBT community on film.

Love, Harris.

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love-simon-movie

Quickie Review

PROS

Great performances from the cast

Honest, truthful storytelling

Some fun subversion of romance tropes

CONS

Very sappy at times

The Martin character

Story contrivances and lack of conviction

SCORE: 7/10

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Cast: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Keiynan Lonsdale, Joey Pollari, Tony Hale
Director: Greg Berlanti
Screenwriters: Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, based on Becky Albertalli’s novel Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda