Annihilation

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Alex Garland

Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Benedict Wong, Gina Rodriguez, and Tuva Novotny.

Alex Garland maybe one of the greatest names in contemporary science fiction cinema. As a screenwriter he has given us the likes of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd, and Never Let Me Go. His directorial debut, Ex-Machina, was adult sci-fi at its best, and showcased how his flair with a camera was equal to his skill with a pen. For me, the big shame of Annihilation is that I didn’t see it in the big screen. Rumours are that the studio behind it thought it was too intellectual to sell to modern day cinema goers, so sold it to Netflix instead. It’s a shame as much of the joy of the movie lies in the details, which are harder to spot if you’re watching on your phone. Yes, I did end the film confused about some things, but that’s the point of a film like this, you’re supposed to question what you saw, it’s supposed to provoke discussion. Too often are audiences treated as dumb, so it’ll be a shame if this becomes the norm for studios.

Annihilation is the story of Lena, played by Natalie Portman, an ex-soldier who is now a teaching academic in the field of biology. Her husband, Kane (Oscar Isaac), is still a soldier, and has been away for two years. Lena fears the worst, but one day Kane shows back up out of the blue. He has no idea where he has been, or how he got home. He starts to become ill and falls into a coma. A government agency soon step in, and tell Lena that Kane was a part of a team who entered The Shimmer, a permeable membrane that has settled around a national park in Florida and is slowly expanding outwards. Kane was the only member to come back. In order to find a solution to what is wrong with Kane, Lena joins a team of three other women scientist to enter The Shimmer.

Annihilation is an ambitious movie. There are ideas in this film that go beyond the normal blockbuster. It follows themes of self-destruction, and re-birth, and explores what it is that drives us as humans. It’s not a perfect film though, it juggles its ideas well for the most part, but doesn’t pay everything off at the end. The thing about it though, is that I saw it last night, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Maybe, it’s too soon to write a review for it, because it really is a film that needs to gestate in your mind. I think this might be my first review with slight spoilers, as it’s a hard film to write around.

It’s a truly feminine film. I mean that in the sense that it’s a feminine story. Nothing happens in this film for no reason, so the fact that it’s four women scientist going into The Shimmer is important. Each moment of this movie is like a puzzle piece, and you need them all to unlock the film. I’ve seen a lot of people who’s questions after the film seem to be on the nature of The Shimmer, on whether it’s an extra-terrestrial weapon or not, I think that misses the point. The questions I was asking were about identity. Is Lena still Lena? I honestly believe the answer to that is yes, and no. Sticking with the themes of destruction and re-birth, Lena isn’t the same Lena as the beginning of the film because she has gone through something, and is now irreversibly changed.

The film is gorgeous to look at. The dreamscape that is The Shimmer, looks incredible. At points being fantastically beautiful, and at other points being terrifyingly hideous. Both the production design and the cinematography are incredible. The special effects can leave something to be desired, especially at the climax of the film, which almost lets the whole thing down. Portman is terrific in the central role, but too many of the other roles feel underwritten. There’s one moment where another character tells Lena all of the groups secrets, and that seems to be it for their development. I’m still mulling over some of the science, and I can’t quite believe it holds up, which isn’t usually a problem as it is just a film, but the ideas of this film are rooted in their science.

Garland has stretched himself, and his budget, and created a fascinating watch. It’s ambitious, but doesn’t always nail it’s ambitions. It’s definitely a film that will stay with me, and that’s what I want from my sci-fi. It’s an emotional story that didn’t quite connect with my emotions. It’s a cerebral film, which will keep you thinking.

7/10

After thoughts: Spoilers Ahead

– The thing that bugs me most is the tattoo. It’s obviously important. It switches from character to character, and Portman has it on her forearm at the end of the movie. If this tattoo is supposed to represent that she’s a doppelgänger then why did she have it before entering the lighthouse. Does that mean she was already a doppelgänger before she entered? I could be part of the DNA being refracted, but Tattoos aren’t programmed into our DNA.

– My overall feeling is that the Lena who came out The Shimmer is the original Lena, but also completely different. The way our body works is that cells constantly replicate and die. So the person you are in five years time is still you, but every cell will be different. Lena’s cells had started to replicate with the mutation so by the end she is a completely different person whether she is a doppelgänger or not. This is a physical manifestation of the battle she is having with herself, and how what she goes through changes her, echoing Sheppard’s dialogue when she talks about the death of her daughter, saying she mourned for two lives, her little girl, and the person she once was.

– The film can be read on many levels. The two I like the most is as a metaphor for cancer. In particular cervical cancer, which is mentioned at the beginning of the film, and which I think ties into the design of the tunnel at the lighthouse. The other way is it looking at it in a very Jungian fashion. Karl Jung talks about how we have to deal with trauma in the sub-consciousness in order to over come it, well this film could be looked at as journey into Lena’s sub-conscious where she has to battle her own self-destructive behaviours in order to overcome the mistakes she has made.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Steven S. DeKnight

Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Rinko Kikuchi, Cailee Spaeny, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, and Tian Jing

 

In 2013, when the first Pacific Rim was released, the film was a breath of fresh air. Guillermo Del Toro showed the bloated Transformers franchise how giant, fighting robots  should be done. I loved the way the film transported me back to being a kid, playing with action figures, and watching Saturday morning television. The first film wasn’t an out and out hit, but it made enough money, especially in China, for a sequel to be green lit. Del Toro returns with a producers credit, but the man calling the shots this time around is Steven S. DeKnight, fresh off of ushering Daredevil to the small screen. John Boyega is also taking a more active role in production as a producer. I went in hoping I was going to get more of what I loved from the first movie, and I left pretty happy.

Pacififc Rim: Uprising is set 10 years after the events of the first movie. The breach which allowed the Kaiju (giant monsters) to enter our world from a parallel universe has been sealed, and the world is attempting to recover now that the threat has gone. Boyega plays Jake Pentecost, the son of Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost who sacrificed himself at the end of the first movie. Jake is a drop out from Jaeger academy, a self-professed hustler who steals junk parts to sell to those who are building their own Jaegers (giant robots). When he meets Amara Namani, played by Cailee Spaeny, a young girl who has built her own Jaeger, they draw the attention of local law enforcement and are soon arrested. Facing prison, Jake decides to re-enlist in the Jaeger programme, and train a new batch of recruits, which now includes Namani. He tells his sister Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and old frenemy Nate (Scott Eastwood), that the programme is waste of time, but soon a new threat emerges.

This film is heaps of big, dumb, fun. Of course, it’s all complete nonsense, that’s part of the point. It’s the simplicity of the plot which allows you to just lean back and enjoy yourself. The world building of the first movie was done so well that you enter this movie believing the world you’re in, and buying into the premise. It’s giant robots fighting giant robots, and giant robots fighting giant monsters. It’s essentially Power Rangers on steroids. There’s a human element to the story too, which drives the plot, and gives the spectacle enough personality that you can connect to the humans inside the robots, and therefore connect to the robots. It’s a similar trick to what Jon Favreau pulled off with Iron Man with the inside the helmet shots of Tony Stark. It’s this balance of spectacle and character which really puts the Transformer franchise to shame.

The film looks fantastic too. The CGI has improved, and by giving the robots distinct looks and traits, you actually know which one is which. DeKnight handles all the action incredibly well, and every time a fight broke out I had a huge grin on my face. The returning cast are all brilliant; Rinko Kikuchi returns as Mako Mori, in a brief but effective turn. We also have the return of Burn Gorman and Charlie Day, as Dr. Herman Gottlieb and Dr. Newton Geiszler, respectively.  These two are great fun whenever they’re on the screen, and their chemistry together is a joy to watch. The newcomers do well too. Cailee Spaeny injects an equal amount of bravado and vulnerability into a character which could have easily been too precocious. Scott Eastwood doesn’t stretch himself too far, but is charismatic and likeable. The real star of course is John Boyega. Oozing charm, and natural star power, he easily own the movie.

The main problem with this movie is that it isn’t quite as good as the first one. It gets off to a wobbly start. The first twenty minutes feels too forced, and I worried that I was going to be annoyed by the new characters. The jokes don’t seem to quite land, and the voice over felt too heavy handed. It also lacks the gravitas of the first film. Boyega’s speech isn’t as good as Elba’s cancelling the apocalypse speech, which the film kind of acknowledges. It also lacked the weight of the first film. When the pilots are moving the Jaegers in the first film it felt laborious, as if there was more of a tangible connection between man and machine. The movement in Uprising felt too light and nimble. The biggest thing of all it misses is the Del Toro touch. When I think of the first movie I think of young Mako in a blue coat walking through the wreckage of her city holding one red shoe. It was such a striking image, and sadly Uprising offers nothing as profound as this.

Uprising is an entertainingly stupid watch. A proper popcorn movie which asks you to leave your brain in the foyer, and just enjoy yourself. It’s a rollercoaster ride. It’s not going to stay with you for long afterwards, and it’s not going to change your life. It’s not even as good as the first film, but the charming cast, and the briskness in which it has been directed all amounts to an enjoyable experience. Another film is teased at the end, and I, for one, would certainly buy a ticket for that.

 

7/10

Unsane

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Steven Soderbergh

Starring: Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Jay Pharoah, Juno Temple, and Amy Irving

 

Thank the fates that Steven Soderbergh came out retirement. The indie superstar director who came to prominence with Sex, Lies and Videotape, and became a big player in Hollywood with the likes of Erin Brockovich and Oceans 11, would be sorely missed in the current cinematic landscape. It’s hard to pin point Soderbergh’s particular style, from Contagion to Magic Mike the director is always trying something new. My favourite film from Soderbergh is the two part biopic Che, which of course is a million miles away from the romp that is Logan Lucky. Unsane is mooted as his first horror movie, although it shares a thematic thread with Side Effects, both films dealing with the issue of not being able to trust your own mind. What has made Unsane stand out is the fact that Soderbergh decided to shoot the whole film entirely on an IPhone. It’s a decision that for the most part works, and for this movie feels like a smart creative choice, rather than just a gimmick.

Unsane is centred around Claire Foy’s Sawyer Valentini, a young woman who has just moved to a new city to start a new job. She’s cold with all those around her, not looking to become friends with any of her new work colleagues, and asking dates for one night stands, no strings attached, and definitely no contact afterwards. We soon find out that Sawyer has been a victim of a stalker, and that the reason behind her move was to get away from him. She still sees him everywhere though, so she decides to get herself some help. She visits a councillor who asks her to sign some papers. Signing without reading, Sawyer soon finds herself involuntarily committed to a mental institution. Things get worse when she starts seeing her stalker as an employee of the hospital.

As Sawyer Valentini, Claire Foy gives a tour-de-force performance. Fresh off her role as Queen Elizabeth II in Netflix’s The Crown, Unsane gives her a chance to really show off her range, and she gives it her all. From hysterical, to cold, to obviously seductive, this is a role which could come across as unlikeable, but Foy taps into some raw emotions which have you rooting for her all the way through. The way she starts at a place of such stead-sureness, and how she lets the inner doubt slowly creep into her face is an acting masterclass. She creates a character that is entirely believable, and helps us feel like she could be any one of us. Joshua Leonard does well in the stalker role, walking the fine line between threatening and pitiful. Jay Pharoah is great too, instantly likeable and charasmatic as Sawyer’s only friend in the institute. There is a suprise cameo too, but that felt a little distracting.

The use of an IPhone works really well. It makes everything in the frame seem tight and claustrophobic, perfect for a film about someone who feels trapped. The slight change in focus, and the auto white balance also add to a sense of uneasiness. If the aim of the film is to make us question how sane Sawyer is, these factors are an effective dynamic in telling that story. Technology is also a big part of stalking these days, so seeing everything through an IPhone lens does feel fitting. There is also some nice touches of social commentary, especially in regard to how private mental health clinics work in the US. Soderbergh does well to almost strip Foy of her humanity the second she steps into the hospital. She becomes just another number, or just another product on the production line.

If Soderbergh does mount some tense moments, the film doesn’t really hang together as a whole. The pacing is a little off, and some scenes feel like they go on forever. It’s also a little too predictable, it plays with the idea of Foy’s mental health without ever really paying it off. I’ve had this problem with some of Soderbergh’s over films, like Contagion. You leave feeling like you’ve had an amazing starter, but not like you’ve had a full meal. It also, for me, wasn’t scary enough. It’s tense and unsettling in parts, but I didn’t feel like the tension was ratcheting up, again probably more of a pacing issue. I think it also stumbled whilst balancing on the line of scary because it could happen to you, and just downright unbelievable. Too many moments where characters are in shock because they thought something like this could never happen, but as an audience member you’re thinking “nah, this really could never happen.”

Unsane is worth watching to see how Soderbergh utilises the IPhone camera, and for a huge performance from Claire Foy, but really offers little else. It’s tense in parts, but never lives up to the sum of those parts. It shows a lot of promise early on, but kind of meanders into nothingness.

5/10

Ready Player One

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Steven Spielberg

Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Hannah John-Kamen, Mark Rylance, Simon Pegg, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki, and Philip Zhao.

 

Steven Spielberg is back! Back a few short months since The Post was released, and back doing what he does best; making huge, family blockbuster spectacle. Ready Player One is based on the best selling novel by Ernest Cline. I haven’t read that book, but from what I had heard was that it’s a novel full of 80’s pop culture references, that can sometimes feel like just a list of references. Who better to adapt that story then, than Steven Spielberg? Arguably the creator of iconic 80’s pop culture, he has done well to craft this into an engaging tale, whilst avoiding being too self-referential.

Ready Player One is set in the year 2045. The world has become so overcrowded that in the fastest growing city in the world, many people live in a place known as The Stacks. A trailer park where the caravans have been placed on top of each other. Here, we find Tye Sheridan’s Wade Watts, named by his deceased father to sound like a super heros alter ego. Wade lives with his aunt, and a string of her abusive partners. The only place he can go to escape is the OASIS. A virtual reality world where you can be whoever you want to be, and do whatever you want. When the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday played by Mark Rylance, dies, he leaves behind an Easter egg hunt for three hidden keys. Whoever finds all three keys will become the sole owner of the OASIS, and inherit all of Halliday’s wealth. When Wade becomes the first player to find the first key, he becomes the target of Ben Medelsohn and his company IOI, the worlds second largest tech company, who are out to gain control of the OASIS for themselves.

For all of the futuristic technology being used on-screen and behind the camera, this feels like an old-school family blockbuster, and it’s fantastic. This isn’t so much Spielberg reinventing the wheel, but using new technology to show everyone else how this type of film making should be done. It’s brilliant, entertaining, family spectacle. If I wanted to be harsh, I could compare the film to Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, but this film is so much more than that. It’s so much more than just the sum of its references. Yes, they are great fun, and I think I’d have to see the film another five times to catch even half of them, but the joy is in the way that Spielberg and screenwriters Zak Penn and Ernest Cline use them. There are vast battle sequence which are incredibly Easter egg heavy; you have Freddy Krueger, Masterchiefs, Batman, and many more,  but Spielberg doesn’t linger on them. If anything their addition makes the film seem more realistic, who wouldn’t want to play as Batman in a VR world. It’s a film rooted in nostalgia (the warm feeling you get when the amblin logo shows up at the front of the film), but if you came for the references you’ll leave in love with the characters.

Tye Sheridan deserves a lot of credit for the way he manages to inject so much personality with just a voice over. The first half of the movie takes place mainly in the OASIS, which mean that we see a lot of animated versions of the main characters, and not a lot of the human element. The performance capture work is fantastic, and Sheridan is an engaging and likeable lead. Olivia Cooke, best known for some great work on Bates Motel and Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, also shines along with Lena Waithe’s H. As the movie progresses, the real world starts to come more into view, which thematically fits the movie perfectly, as the themes of friendship, sacrifice, and living in the now start to come more into focus. The tone is expertly handled by Spielberg, what might suprise some is how funny the movie is, but Spielberg knows how to walk the line between laughs and raising the stakes. As the film enters its final act, you’re really rooting for the main protagonists. It helps that you’ve got Ben Mendelsohn on villain duties, this is the kind of role he could do in his sleep, and he’s perfect here as the head of a villainous company which has shades of the original RoboCop movie.

Zak Penn does incredibly well adaptating the book. In the novel there’s a task where Wade enters a Monty Python movie, where he can win the task by quoting the movie off by heart. A fun idea, but not very cinematic. Here, Penn has them enter a different movie (I won’t spoil which one), a movie which one of the characters hasn’t seen. The joy here is that the audience know the rules of this movie, and it becomes increasingly funny as the character does all the wrong things. It’s a scene which garnered the biggest laughs of the film, testament to how well it’s been adapted. If the novel has been accused of just being a list of references, I didn’t feel that here. This is a film with a lot of heart, thanks to great lead performances, and some welcome supporting performances from Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg. The movie looks great, and is packed with toe-tapping 80’s tunes. I saw the film in 3D and it looked amazing. Maybe, even the act of putting on your 3D glasses, similar to Wade putting on his VR headset, made the film even more immersive.

After mis-steps with The BFG and Tin Tin, Spielberg delivers one of his best family blockbusters, retaking his throne as the king of family friendly entertainment. This film is a blast from start to finish. Containing plenty of action, laughs, and heart, it uses its futuristic set-up to deliver some old-school thrills. You’ll want to go straight back into the cinema after it’s finished. If not to catch some more Easter eggs, than to spend some more time in this world, and with these characters.

9/10

Tomb Raider

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Roar Uthaug

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Derek Jacobi.

We’ve seen a Lara Croft movie before. The Angelina Jolie vehicle was a terrible adaptation of the video game, which has aged horribly. The sequel was even worse. In recent years the games have rebranded, with a more realistic feel, taking Lara’s story back to the beginning. Tomb Raider takes its cues from these more recent games, functioning as both a gritty reboot, and an origin story. Alicia Vikander is now in the lead role, transitioning from OSCAR darling to action star, and Norwegian director Roar Uthaug is the man behind the camera. I had a lot of faith going in, but it turned out to be a bumpy voyage.

Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft (Vikander), a young woman making her own way in modern day London. She regularly attends kick-boxing lessons, and struggles to make ends meet with a job as a bicycle courier. We soon find out that she’s actually the daughter of Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who has been missing for 7 years. Lara is in line to inherit his fortune, but is unwilling to sign him off as dead. When she uncovers a secret room within the grounds of Croft Manor, she discovers that her father disappeared whilst searching for an ancient Japanese tomb, one which he believed housed a terrible evil. Lara sets off to Japan to uncover the truth behind her fathers disappearance.

This version of Tomb Raider is a hell of a lot better than the last one we got. The route they’ve decided to go down is the same one James Bond went down with Daniel Craig. If the Angelina Jolie movies were equivalent to Bond during the Pierce Brosnan era, than this is definitely Craig era. It’s gritty, and grounded in realism. It even shears off the supernatural edge that the games still retain. It strips Lara of everything that makes her iconic. There’s no ponytail, no dual gun toting, and definitely no shorts. This time around Lara has to earn all of it, and the film is better for it. We don’t even see inside Croft mansion. It’s a good place to start, but the film spends too much time layering on the grit, that it forgets that it’s supposed to be fun.

If the quick pitch for this film is Indiana Jones meets James Bond, with a female lead, than the final product doesn’t match the idea. We spend so much time with Lara wallowing in the loss of her father, that you wonder if the film makers realise they are making a film called Tomb Raider. It should be fun, it should be slightly ridiculous, and it should feature more tombs. When the film started I thought we might get a female empowerment movies along the lines of Wonder Woman, but the film never really plays up to that. The film makers make smart choices, the video game Lara became a nerd sex symbol, but they never sexualise Vikander, and they give her friendships not romantic relationships. It’s the story though that lets it down, by having her pining over her father for so long, it robs the film of its independent woman kicks-ass message.

The real joy of Tomb Raider is Vikander’s performance. She makes a fantastic Lara Croft. She’s talked about her extensive training regime to get in shape, and it’s paid off. She is completely believable in the role. If anything she is let down by the script. She gives Lara a charm which doesn’t seem to be there on the page, and the only reason half the jokes land seems to be through her just willing them to. Walter Goggins makes a great villain too, and when the two of them face off against each other it makes for some of the best scenes in the movie. The action is all serviceable, and they’ve matched the aesthetic of the new Tomb Raider games perfectly. It’s a shame that we’ve seen all the best bits in the trailer, including the last shot of the movie.

Tomb Raider is a serviceable action movie, but its majorly let down by the story and the script. It’s competently enough directed, but never gets the heart racing. If they had leaned more towards an Indiana Jones tone, they could have gotten so much more out of it. Alicia Vikander shines, but in a better film she could have made her version of Lara iconic.

6/10

Mom and Dad

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Brian Taylor

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert T. Cunningham, and Olivia Crocicchia.

 

Nicolas Cage is hit and miss, but you can’t deny that he always swings for the fences. He always goes big. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s glorious, and when it doesn’t it can make terrible movies much more entertaining. It’s been awhile since his 90’s heyday, but every now and then Cage delivers a barnstrormer of a performance, such as his great Adam West impression in Kick-Ass. Here he teams up with director Brian Taylor, best known as one half of the director duo that bought us Crank, Gamer, and has previously worked with Cage on the disappointing Ghost Rider sequel. Taylor specialises in high energy, high concept films designed to offend, and they don’t come more high concept or offensive than Mom and Dad.

 

Mom and Dad is a very simple concept. It centres around parents Brent and Kendall Ryan, played respectively by Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair. They’re both going through their own version of a mid-life crisis, worrying about growing old, and dis-liking the people they’ve become. They have two children; teenage daughter Carly, played by Anne Winters, and young son Josh, played by Zackary Arthur. When American parents start randomly killing their own offspring, Cage and Blair are affected as well, and will do anything to murder Carly and Josh.

 

The aim here is to make a zombie movie, or a horror movie along the lines of The Crazies, but instead of the undead it’s parents after the kids. It combines elements of the Dawn Of The Dead remake, with Stephen Kings Cell, and a streak of satirical black comedy. It doesn’t hit the same heights as the former film, but is much more entertaining than the adaptation of the latter. I found there’s almost two films to review here, the first half of the movie, and the second half. The first half is terrible. Focusing on the relationship between Selma Blair’s Kendall and her on screen daughter Carly. The characters aren’t particularly likeable and the dialogue is generic, bordering on cheesy. There’s an attempt to give these scenes some kinetic energy with some fast paced editing, but it’s jarring, grating, and annoying.

It takes Taylor awhile to settle on a tone, trying to invoke 70’s exploitation movies, but the first half comes across as a stale horror movie. The satirical comedy is either just not funny, or too obvious. Wow, teenagers like iphones. The high bar for this kind of movie is still Shaun Of The Dead, and this film doesn’t come close.  The worst thing is the soundtrack, annoying and distracting in equal measure, it’s even more inconsistent in tone than the film. There’s also a distinct lack of Cage in the first half of the movie.

 

Its in the second half of the movie that you really get what you came for. If you’ve seen any of Taylor’s previous films you will know his style, innapropriate camera angles, quick cuts, and an almost over-exposed colour palette. Its bold, brash, and crude. The first half of the movie hints at violence but you don’t really see it, the camera cutting away at the last minute. In the second half Taylor really embraces the schlock factor of this b-movie. There’s an intense scene in a hospital room, which will thrill and offend in equal measure. We also get a lot more Cage, with him and Blair becoming a really good onscreen duo. Cage dials it up to 11, and the film is all the better for it. The films last half an hour is a great cat and mouse game between the parents and their kids. It’s fun, tense, gory, and funny. It’s in this last half hour that the film starts to really deliver on its premise.

 

This film isn’t great. If you’ve seen the trailer you kind of know what you’re going to get going in. It’s a shame that the movie takes so long to deliver on the promise of the trailer. It’s not for the easily offended, but if you can make it through the first 50 minutes, there is a lot of fun to be had in the last 30 minutes. Especially, a great overblown performance from Nic Cage,

 

4/10

Love, Simon

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Greg Berlanti

Starring: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Keiynan Lonsdale, and Tony Hale.

 

Greg Berlanti’s cinematic career may have gotten off to a bumpy start with 2010s Life As We Know It, but since then he’s gone from strength to strength on the small screen. He’s been the main creative force behind CW’s DC universe, producing Arrow, The Flash, Legends Of Tomorrow, and Supergirl, as well as working on shows such as Blindspot, and Riverdale. His return to the big screen sees him adapting the novel “Simon Vs the Homo Sapien Agenda.” I’m a fan of Berlanti’s TV universe but I’ve never read the book. I do know that Berlanti applies the same formula to all his shows, every episode has to have action, laughs, and a whole lot of heart. That formula is on full display in Love, Simon.

 

Love, Simon is the story of Simon Spier, a normal high schooler who enjoys hanging out with his friends, listening to music, and loves his family. He has a secret though, he’s gay. Whilst struggling to deal with how to approach his sexuality another kid at the school anonymously comes out on social media. Simon starts to privately email the individual calling himself Blue, using the pseudonym Jacques. As their online relationship begins to bloom, Simon starts to fall for his new pen pal, whilst trying to figure out who the person on the other side of the keyboard actually is. Along the way trying to figure out how to reveal his secret to his friends and family.

 

The film is completely warm, and charming. Berlanti balances the laughs and feels perfectly. The years of TV have honed his skills, and he takes his audience on an emotional rollercoaster of a ride. The characters are relatable, believeable, and immensely likeable. The casting is spot on, and by using some of the best young actors working on TV today, the friendships all feel honest, and there is a real sense of chemistry between them. When it first started, I was worried that the style of the film was cleaving to close to the generically perfect teenage life, but Berlanti uses this to show us the Hetero-normal life that Simon is living, and makes us feel both Simon’s dread at the idea of coming out, believing that everything he loves will change if he does, and the unfairness of the situation. If at times the film does feel too cookie cutter, it’s to serve a heart-warming story with a great message.

 

The direction is good throughout. Berlanti recalls recent coming-of-age story Perks Of Being A Wallflower, and rom-com 500 Days of Summer, balancing his teen drama with hilarious fantasy sequences. It’s a refreshing story as well. It’s something not seen too often, a great teen rom-com, viewed through different eyes. It’s incredibly refreshing. The performances are all good as well. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel make the most of their supportive parents roles, whilst  Simon’s group of friends are a charismatic bunch. Nick Robinson though is fantastic. He carries the film incredibly well, bringing both the warmth and charm to the character of Simon, and makes him feel 100% real. I have to mention the soundtrack as well, executively produced by Jack Antonoff, it’s great, and actually seems like the songs teenagers listen to.

 

I was was completely charmed by this movie. It manipulated me in all the right ways. I laughed, I cried, and felt every moment of tension. It’s a fantastic coming-of-age story, combined with a great coming out story. It’s about a character finding his identity, and has a brilliant central message. Berlanti has owned his own corner of the small screen, here’s hoping that he continues to branch out and make movies as likeable as this one.

 

8/10