Love Wedding Repeat (2020)

Love Wedding Repeat (2020)

Directed by: Dean Craig. Starring: Sam Claflin, Olivia Munn, Freida Pinto. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: April 10, 2020.

Love Wedding Repeat is a meditation on how love revolves around chance and fate – described by occasional narration from The Oracle (Penny Ryder), but it’s realy just a standard and often annoying comedy with romance infused.

Jack (Sam Claflin) is aiming to help his sister Hayley’s (Eleanor Tomlinson) wedding day go on without a hitch, as Jack juggles an angry ex-girlfriend, Amanda (Freida Pinto), a misplaced sleep sedative and the girl that got away, Dina (Oliva Munn), as we see alternate versions of the same day.

The film’s based on the 2012 French film, Plan de table, so the alternate timelines always seemed to be the intention of this film, but the one alternate version feels like a cop-out to stretch this film to feature length. Basically, there are only alternate versions because of the sleeping pill in play because of an uninvited guest, Marc (Jack Farthing), trying to ruin the wedding. We see two main versions of the day play out when at the halfway point it goes into the alternate version.

It feels half-baked as the film tells most of its arc in the first hour and then realizes the character dynamics aren’t that deep and it runs out of ideas, and then gives us the, “Alright, what if someone else took the sedative?” The real shame about all this alternate timeline mumbo jumbo is that they switch to a different version of the day as soon as the film seems to be getting interesting. I was actually excited to see where the film would go, and then they reverse back.

I didn’t find this film well-written by Dean Craig (who also directs), as the scenarios, dialogue and character dynamics all felt weak. We do get a taste at several different outcomes but those possibilities are contained to a montage – making it feel like that multiple timelines episode of TV’s Community – but it all feels like an excuse to make a feature film out of a thin premise. That said, the second half is more tolerable than the first version of the day, as the characters aren’t as annoying. This is especially true for Sidney (Tim Key) who learns to listen in this half. He’s a quirky talkative type whose role seems tailored for James Corden or Ricky Gervais in their heydays.

Love Wedding Repeat article
Joel Fry, Sam Claflin, Freida Pinto and Jack Farthing in Love Wedding Repeat. (IMDb)

I disliked everything about the first half, as the characters are boring and the comedy is just putting everyone in uncomfortable situations to see their boring reactions, and most of the comedy is played on their over-politeness to stay in these situations. That’s the case at the beginning of the film when Claflin’s Jack and Munn’s Dina have just spent a weekend together in Rome and he’s about to tell her he likes her when a guy from his past stops that from happening and he’s too polite to tell him to bugger off.

Now, the wedding’s three years later where Jack gets a second chance, but this is an annoying comedy where everything goes from fine to bad very quickly. A lot of the uncomfortable situations are born from who you sit beside at a wedding; like when Munn is sat beside Sidney and he barely let’s Jack talk to her. These situations are more uncomfortable for the audience because the scenarios aren’t funny. I did chuckle a couple times during the film, but the laughs are not memorable.

Some of the film’s characters are useless, like Jack’s ex-girlfriend Amanda. Freida Pinto is fine, but she’s just there as another obstacle between Jack and Dina. Worse yet is Amanda’s new boyfriend, Chaz (Allan Mustafa), who is so unfunny because the only thing he ever talks about is how he’s insecure about his penis size and that grows tired quickly.

There are so many character dynamics going on that it just disguises that there’s not much happening in this film. Most of the film is just Jack trying to get with Dina and it’s boring, though the brother-sister dynamic between Jack and Hayley works fine.

There are some aspects I liked in the second half of the film as the schmaltz is dialed up between every couple, and some of it hits. The first half just had so much humour that fell flat on its face, but there’s nothing in either half of the film that made me care about what happened with these characters.

Okay, I suppose I liked Hayley well enough that I cared to know if her wedding was ruined or not, but even she feels very one-note, but Eleanor Tomlinson did a good job in the role. Olivia Munn is also fine, and Sam Claflin does his best as a very dull character. Though, there is one very weak aspect of the film that is just the cherry on top. Out of everything that happens, we never even see the wedding itself. We only get Love Repeat. No wedding for you.

Score: 38/100

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019)

Directed by: Jim Mickle. Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Michael C. Hall. Runtime: 1h 55 min. Released: September 27, 2019.

This film contains spoilers. 

Netflix’s In the Shadow of the Moon is a film has ambition that threatens to knock it down, but its originality keeps it standing for the most part. Boyd Holbrook plays Thomas “Locke” Lockhart, a Philadelphia officer who develops a lifelong obsession to track down a mysterious serial killer (Cleopatra Coleman) whose crimes defy explanation as she resurfaces every nine years.

The character work in this film is strong, as Locke’s wife gives birth the same night a serial killer surfaces and multiple people in Philadelphia die mysteriously of brain hemorrhages and their necks are branded with a three-pronged mark. That night lives in Locke’s memory and then he becomes more obsessed nine years later when she returns for reasons that become clear later.

The film starts in 1988 and goes forward nine years each time, so this spans several decades. Boyd Holbrook gives a memorable turn as Locke. He shows the effect his obsession has on him over the years as it affects his life and career. It’s just interesting what one night can do to a man. He also tries to care for his daughter Amy (Quincy Kirkwood as a child; Sarah Dugdale as an adult) but is literally unable to as the years pass because this obsession is eating him alive. I thought Locke was fascinating.

Bokeem Woodbine is also good as Locke’s partner Maddox. He doesn’t have much to do because it’s Locke’s show, but they are a good pair. Cleopatra Coleman is memorable as the mysterious killer as we try to understand her motives. She’s in a hood for most of the film and shows acting chops when she’s given the chance. The other actor of note in this is Michael C. Hall (TV’s Dexter). The character’s fine, he’s Locke’s brother-in-law, Detective Holt, and he’s a bit of a dickhead who goes against Locke at every turn. His Southern accent is also a strange creative choice, as it’s set in Philadelphia (though, it’s really filmed in Toronto).

In the Shadow of the Moon, article
Cleopatra Coleman in In the Shadow of the Moon (IMDb).

The story is intriguing, too. I love the first 18 years of the film and its set-up when people start dying randomly. The detective work and police work in the first 30 minutes is also great as everything in this opening worked for me. I honestly thought it would be the next great detective film looking for a killer whose crimes make little sense. The crimes do make little sense but we get answers by the end of it all. The detective work is consistently there but it eventually becomes more about Locke’s obsession than detective work, but it’s still interesting watching this all unfold.

After the one-hour mark, the film starts to get into the high-concept part of its story. Writers Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock tip their hand too much in one of the years where it becomes clearer how she’s doing the crimes and coming back every so often but finding out the “why” is still enjoyable.

One reason I didn’t love the second half as much is it’s because it’s not as enjoyable watching his life unravel, because he’s likable. The ending is satisfying because of the different turns it takes as Locke learns her motives, and the voice-over narration wraps it up in a tidy bow. I like it because it feels unique and it blends strong detective work and enough science fiction to make it accessible for both genres.

Score: 70/100

The Two Popes (2019)

The Two Popes (2019)

Directed by: Fernando Mereilles. Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jonathan Pryce, Juan Minujin. Runtime: 2h 5 min. Released: December 20, 2019.

Behind Vatican walls, the conservative Pope Benedict (Anthony Hopkins) as he aims to step down from the Papacy, and the liberal future Pope Francis (Jonathan Pryce) as they find common ground to forge a new path for the Catholic Church.

Blending comedy and drama and strong dialogue from writer Anthony McCarten, The Two Popes is fascinating as it shows Pope Francis’ past life as Jorge Borgoglio (through actor Juan Minujin) as we see his mistakes and his humanitarian efforts, as he tries to improve himself as a person. It’s intriguing learning about his past life, as most of us only know him as Pope Francis.

The film feels like we’re given a tour within the Vatican walls as we get a glimpse into a very human friendship that grows from understanding and compromise. The cinematography (by César Charlone) is immersive as it feels like a documentary crew going through the Vatican.

Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce work so well together and their chemistry is phenomenal, and they create such an interesting story just through their dialogue as they discuss various topics, especially when Borgoglio seeks permission to retire but Benedict won’t let him because he knows he’s his true successor.

The Two Popes, article
Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes. (IMDb)

They have some great comedic moments in this film, as well, especially when they dance the tango. That’s what their acting feels like – a pair dancing a compelling tango. My only complaint is slow pacing and if anyone isn’t interested in what the characters are talking about, it could get boring. Hopkins and Pryce maintained my interest, though and it’s more entertaining than I thought it would be.

I think this is the poster boy of a good film that would be forgotten in a very strong year for films. There’s a scene in the credits that I don’t consider a spoiler, as Benedict and Francis bond over the 2014 World Cup between Benedict’s home country of Germany and Francis’ home country of Argentina.

This is the funniest scene of the film for me and it shows how funny them just talking and bonding is, and how sharp the dialogue is. That’s also on the great chemistry between the two. Truthfully, The Two Popes is a strong film, but if the whole movie were just the two Popes commentating the 2014 World Cup, that would be a masterpiece.

Score: 75/100

The Perfection (2019)

The Perfection (2019)

Directed by: Richard Shepard. Starring: Allison Williams, Logan Browning, Steven Weber. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: May 24, 2019.

Some spoilers follow.

When troubled musical prodigy Charlotte (Allison Williams) seeks out Elizabeth (Logan Browning), the new star pupil of her former school, the encounter sends both musicians down a sinister path with shocking consequences. Y’know, I absolutely love movies with a twist.

But with The Perfection, there are about four or five twists sprinkled throughout the film. These are not small twists, either; they are twists that subvert expectations at every turn. I could barely figure out what film it’s trying to be, and when I thought I had figured it out, director Richard Shepard and co-writers Eric C. Charmelo and Nicole Snyder say “Psych!” and change the direction of the film. The changes feel organic to the story, however, and they are rarely frustrating.

The Perfection article
Allison Williams in The Perfection. (IMDb)

That’s what makes The Perfection one of the most unique horror films I’ve seen in awhile as it blends romance, a stalker movie, a virus film, as well as another genre which would border on spoiler. I’ll just say that some characters get their comeuppance and that aspect doesn’t work as well as the others. The third act twists are intriguing, but one aspect is a disturbing pillow to swallow. It’s the only direction of the film I don’t completely love as it becomes slightly too dark for even my tastes, and I think if it was handled in a different this would be in my Top 10 of 2019. (For reference point, this would probably still make my Top 30 out of 200 films.)

Allison Williams and Logan Brown are both great here. Williams plays so many layers convincingly that I swear after this and Get Out, I could never trust her. Steven Weber also turns in a memorable performance as the music teacher who thrives on perfection. It’s a film that is separated into distinct chapters and tones and they are balanced well. The Perfection is a wild, wild ride and it takes so many risks, even if they don’t all pay off. It also never feels like a gimmick where it’s only about its twists, because it gives thought to its characters. It has backbone and for a film that could be very standard, it takes an utterly crazy path, the road less traveled. It’s audacious to its last shot. Truly, the last note I wrote for this film in my notebook was: “Honestly, what the fuck?”

Score: 75/100

The Irishman (2019)

The Irishman (2019)

The IrishmanDirected by: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci. Runtime: 3h 29 min. Released: November 27, 2019.

Martin Scorsese brings an all-star cast of Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci to the little screen in Netflix’s The Irishman, a mafia movie that follows Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a mafia hitman who recalls his career and his involvement in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino).

The good in The Irishman are in its performances. De Niro is threatening and such a presence as Sheeran. Pacino plays a great union leader in Hoffa, and he gets most of the angry explosions that Joe Pesci has become known for. Pacino’s also perfect at convincing certain people that he’s nice, as well. Pesci plays Russell Bufalino, the head of the Buffalino crime family. He’s threatening and powerful but stays calm and collected throughout the film, and he’s more threatening for it.

The most interesting part about this for me is Frank’s relationship with his daughter Peggy (played by Anna Paquin when she’s older). Paquin does a great job as the character because while she only has seven words of dialogue, her stares at her father speak a thousand words, and just her general disapproval and suspicion of his involvement in Hoffa’s disappearance. In the scenes when Peggy is a child, we can tell she’s scared of him because of his reputation and just the fact that he curb stomps a dude right in front of her because the man pushed her (De Niro stomping near the guy’s head is the least convincing thing in this film). Frank’s relationship with his daughter was the only time I felt emotionally connected to the film.

That’s not to say that the dialogue is bad or anything, Scorsese writes and directs the film like the master that he is, there just aren’t a lot of moments in this film where I could get emotionally attached to the characters. They’re all criminals, but they’re well-sculpted characters. The mafia action scenes – when Frank would just casually walk up to someone and shoot them in the face – are great. The more complex ones like Frank shooting someone in a restaurant off-screen and then getting into his getaway car is also exciting. The scenes in this film that I loved, I truly loved, as everyone from the starring trio to Ray Romano and Jesse Plemons are well-cast and enjoyable to watch.

The Irishman article
Al Pacino in The Irishman. (IMDb)

The film just literally feels like I took all day watching this. I thought there were more than a few boring stretches in this 209-minute film. I don’t have anything against long movies, but this just feels like it drags. I’d be bored, it would hold my attention for 45 minutes, then I’d be bored again. The crime saga admittedly feels aimless at first as Sheeran recaps his career and it only gets fascinating when Jimmy Hoffa comes in but that’s not until 80 minutes into the story. De Niro’s point of view is a good way to get into this story, but I really feel like the first 80 minutes could have been done in half the time and this would me a much better film at 170 minutes.

It spans different decades and when the stars are younger, the film uses de-aging technology. It’s distracting at first as De Niro’s blue eyes are distracting and Pesci’s head looks too big for his body, and they still walk like old men. As it jumps around through its timeline, it becomes more fluid and less noticeable. That also could be just because it’s three and a half hours and you might forget they’re using de-aging technology. I think The Irishman is a good movie, just not one I’d ever be interested in watching again.

Score: 60/100

In The Tall Grass (2019)

In The Tall Grass (2019)
In the Tall Grass poster
IMDb

Directed by: Vincenzo Natali. Starting: Laysla de Oliveira, Avery Whitted, Harrison Gilbertson. Runtime: 1h, 41 min. Released: October 4, 2019.

Based on the novella by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill, In the Tall Grass does not overcome a complicated story. The set-up is simple enough. A pregnant Becky (Laysla de Oliveira) and her brother Cal (Avery Whitted) are on their way to San Diego. When they pass through an anonymous rural area in Kansas (actually filmed in Toronto), a little boy named Tobin (Will Bouie Jr.) calls for help from a tall field of grass.

Like many horror stories, this is born from a “What if?” What if a kid shouts for help from the depths of some very tall grass and claims he can’t get out? Unfortunately for Becky and Cal, they decide to help and soon find there’s no way out.

The film’s similar to The Blair Witch Project in the way that characters lose all sense of direction. Characters could hear someone else right next to them, and then all of the sudden it sounds like they’re on the other side of the field. Coming with losing sense of direction, also comes the sense of time being lost. There’s a sense of it being a time loop occasionally, but it’s more-so blurring past and present while in the field. This is really what allows the film to be confusing.

The only rule the grass has is that if something dies, the grass doesn’t move it around. Otherwise, it has no rules. It throws the timeline of events out of whack constantly, so it’s tough to follow. The film starts with Tobin calling Becky and Cal into the field. They try to find him and get lost, and the initial exploration of the grass has fine tension. Things get interesting when ex-boyfriend Travis (Harrison Gilbertson) comes looking for Becky.

He finds their car beside a Church across the street from the grass and goes into the grass looking for them. I thought Travis would get lost and someone would look for him, and then someone would come looking for that person… It would be like a chain of people looking for people in this field. What happens in the film is more creative, surely, but also more confusing.

This film has the weirdest patch of grass in the world, though. In the centre of it, there’s a large rock that Ross Humboldt (Patrick Wilson), Tobin’s father, claims that if you touch it, you’ll know everything the tall grass knows. Since this field is across the street from that Church, it’s really like a worship rock. The film has religious undercurrents through it, where some aspects feel inspired by the Bible.

In the Tall Grass article
Laysla de Oliveira and Avery Whitted in In the Tall Grass (IMDb).

Compared to Stephen King’s other works, this feels like Children of the Corn and Pet Sematary in the way that there is sacred ground and everything seems to be reborn here when it becomes part of the Earth, which is an intriguing idea.

The characters themselves aren’t intriguing. Becky is fine and I like her character growth. Cal can be annoying. Tobin is just a kid trying to get out of the tall grass. There’s some okay character tension between Cal and Travis but it’s rather weak drama. Travis tries to make up for past mistakes with Becky, which is noble, I suppose.

The film’s horror is very much about the unknown, and the grass makes me think twice about going into random fields or corn mazes, or anywhere I can’t see five feet in front of me. The film has a cabin fever vibe as the characters start to get stressed out by their surroundings. The giant worship rock also brings an “absolute power corrupts absolutely” theme.

There are some strong horror scenes, like one 10-second part I played back a couple times because the visual is just gnarly, but the film is hurt by nonsensical storytelling. I got antsy for them to escape the grass. Not because I cared, because I wanted this to be over. I will say, though, that the production value is strong and the settings of the film are nice, and Craig Wrobleski’s cinematography makes the grass a character in its own right.

Some of the horror is the grass slowly, menacingly billowing in the wind. We got enough of that in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening. Yet, In the Tall Grass does not have nearly the same amount of entertainment value, and feels a lot of its pacing feels like watching grass grow.

Score: 50/100

Hold the Dark (2018)

Hold the Dark (2018)
Hold the Dark poster
IMDb

Released: September 28, 2018. Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier. Starring: Jeffrey Wright, Alexander Skarsgård, James Badge Dale. Runtime: 2h 5 min.

After the death of three children suspected to be killed by wolves, wolf expert Russell Core (Jeffrey Wright) is hired by Medora Sloane (Riley Keogh), the mother of the latest missing boy to track her son down in the Alaskan wilderness, or at the very least kill for the wolves for vengeance.

In “Hold the Dark,” Core takes the job to try and help find the boy and give a family closure. He understands and respects nature, and he’s remorseful about hunting and killing a wolf and writing about it. Medora wants the wolf to suffer. To that, Russell replies: “Natural order doesn’t want revenge.”

As for everyone else, revenge is on all their minds. The only one who wants that more than Medora is her husband Vernon, played with a menacing calm by Alexander Skarsgård. It’s the kind-of blankness that’s unpredictable – he could be emotionally vulnerable one minute, and then just relentless the next. He’s introduced in a memorable fashion on his tour in Iraq (the film is set in 2004).

Hold the Dark featured
Jeffrey Wright in “Hold the Dark” (IMDb).

I thought this might be something like Joe Carnahan’s “The Grey” but don’t make that same mistake of thinking that. This is a genre-bending piece in a league of its own in terms of uniqueness. The only real similarities there are the wolves and the frozen tundra, and James Badge Dale. Here, he plays Donald Marium, a city cop in the town of Emery that’s close to Keelut, the small village where the disappearances occurred. He’s like the face for the mainland, and the people in Keelut like to be left alone. Medora thinks of Keelut as truly Alaska, as she says about Anchorage “that city is not Alaska.” Vernon’s friend named Cheeon (Julian Black Antelope) is one of the most memorable characters here as someone with a dislike for outsiders.

The mystery of the film is capable, and twists in the first act really made the screenplay unpredictable. Frankly, some of this was hard to think of what direction it was going in because some of it just went way over my head. Macon Blair’s writing is smart, but the characters are so complex it’s hard to fully understand their psyches and their darkness. But they help paint a cool look at human nature. They are intriguing characters that deal with their grief in their own unique, intense ways, but I had more questions than answers by the end of it all.

The story didn’t completely work for me, but the cinematography (by Magnus Nordenof Jønck) looked great and the performances from everyone are truly top-tier, especially from Jefferey Wright, who captures his character’s loneliness and remorse well.

No matter how strange or bizarre the film becomes, it’s grounded in realism. That’s something I love about Jeremy Saulnier’s style. His films always feature violence that’s brutal and raw (at least with “Blue Ruin” and “Green Room”) – and with William Girardi’s dark source material, he has a lot to work with in terms of violence. A mid-film set piece is the film’s best scene, and the carnage in it is bonkers. This is my least favourite film by Saulnier – but that’s not a bad thing.

Score: 65/100