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Happiest Season | Review

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It’s that time of year again, and even though its only November, Christmas movies are starting to be released as everyone puts up their tree and starts counting down the days. Now I’m not normally a fan of Christmas films nor am I really fan of rom-coms either, so, as you can imagine, I was very pleasantly surprised by how good Happiest Season is and by how much heart this film has.

Happiest Season follows Abby (Kristen Stewart) who plans to propose to her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) on Christmas at her parents’ annual holiday party but things don’t quite go to plan when Abby learns that Harper hasn’t come out yet to her parents. Abby and Harper have to pretend to just be friends to Harper’s family which creates problems for the couple.

The whole film is full of charm and joy but it also contains a lot of substance, which is very refreshing for a Christmas rom-com. At the film’s heart is Abby and Harper’s relationship, perfectly captured by the performances from Stewart and Davis. Stewart shows the frustration she feels about keeping Harper’s secret so well and she manages to shine in both the comedic scenes but also in the dramatic and sensitive scenes as well. Davis is very good too, but it does feel much more like Abby’s film than Harper’s. Whilst the film is anchored by Stewart and Davis, the supporting cast is filled with great actors; Alison Brie is so much fun as Harper’s older sister Sloane and Schitt’s Creek’s Daniel Levy is on great form as Abby’s best friend John. Aubrey Plaza, Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber also shine and provide lots more heart and laughter to the film.

As well as the impressive cast, the writing from Clea DuVall (who also directed) is really good too, with the film providing so many great quotable moments and many moments that made me laugh out loud. But the film also feels really tender and human as well and DuVall manages to juggle the comedic and sensitive scenes of the film really well and she handles the lesbian relationship at the film’s centre very well. Happiest Season can definitely join the list of fun, worthy Christmas rom-coms.

It’s just a lovely film and you can’t help but smile and laugh along with which is just what you’d expect from a nice straightforward Christmas film but Happiest Season has much more to offer than that as it grapples with ideas about sexuality and acceptance and family, thus creating a film with a lot of meaning and a lot of heart. For the first half of the film, it did feel a little bit generic and there was nothing too special about it as it shifts between some rather OTT comedy and trying to set up some really emotional and sincere moments but it was in the final act where the film really hit the mark and it really went somewhere and achieved something really strong and powerful.

Overall, Happiest Season is a nice, fun Christmas film with heartfelt performances and a great message that leaves you with that warm, bubbly feeling that you expect from a Christmas film.

3.5/5

Happiest Season is available on Hulu or available to rent or buy in many other countries now.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h58HkQV1gHY

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Comedy

Heartstopper Review | An Irresistible Gay Teen Drama

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Heartstopper

Based on Alice Oseman’s beloved graphic novels, Netflix’s bite-sized adaptation of Heartstopper continues to kick the door wide open for queer stories on the small screen. In the same vain as Young Royals and Dear Victor, Heartstopper’s exploration of queer teen romance is just as endearing, if not made more real and lovable by some incredible performances by Joe Locke and Kit Connor who play the show’s main high-school sweethearts.

Heartstopper owes its incredible binge-factor to its main focus on the story of two British teens at Truham Boys School, Charlie (Locke) and Nick (Connor) and how their entanglement perfectly represents the highs and lows of young romance. Manoeuvring alongside our main characters’ connection are some other, deeply adorable queer-centric stories – from a pair of secret lesbians at the nearby all-girls grammar school, to the perspective of a trans girl navigating life outside Truham; all of which tangle throughout the show’s eight chapters, giving a genuine take on teen love and friendship during the digital age.

Photo: Netflix

While Euphoria is a ridiculously over-the-top representation of high school life with actors well-in their twenties playing teens, Heartstopper instead follows leads and supporting characters that feel like real teenagers, which doesn’t help the waterworks when it comes to some incredibly emotional moments in the show.

What the show decides not to focus on is sex and swearing, which is usual when it comes to these kinds of stories. Instead, Heartstopper goes down a more wholesome route, diluting some of the web comic’s more serious topics in favour of a more family-friendly teen drama. That’s more than acceptable, but it may leave the show not exactly suitable for everyone for how young it is leaning, despite how charming it is. It’ll be interesting to see how the web comic’s strong fanbase take to these changes, but it feels like a good move for the most part.

That being said, Heartstopper brilliantly doesn’t leave out realistic aspects that come to growing up queer in Britain; our main characters are never far from bullies or trolls. With how young the show’s audience is targeting towards, this feels like a great move on showing how to approach these pressures that make-up everyday life for teenagers.

Overall, Heartstopper is easily destined to prove a success for Netflix; from the authentic feel of all the friendships and relationships depicted to the enjoyable ride that comes with all eight chapters, this show is a welcome addition to the increasingly queer canon that is flying into the mainstream.

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Action

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Review | A Meta Lucid-Trip

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Nicholas Cage stars as Nick Cage in the action-comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Creatively unfulfilled and facing financial ruin, the fictionalised version of Cage must accept a $1 Million offer to attend the birthday of a dangerous superfan (Pedro Pascal). Things take a wildly unexpected turn when Cage is recruited by a CIA operative (Tiffany Haddish) and forced to live up to his own legend, channelling his most iconic and beloved on-screen characters in order to save himself and his loved ones. With a career built for this very moment, the seminal award-winning actor must take on the role of a lifetime: Nick Cage.

‘Nicolas Cage’ (Nicolas Cage) greets ‘Javi Gutierrez’ with a ‘Palm Hold Fist’ salute as he arrives in Mallorca, Spain. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate

From filmmakers, Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a sincere, authentic, and hilarious love letter to Nicholas Cage. It’s also an absolute hoot and delightfully bonkers as we take a rollercoaster ride through his iconic filmography. Full of quirky and heartfelt moments, the film showcases the most uncaged performance from the man himself as, after all, it’s the role he was born to play.

Nicholas Cage is nothing less than a screen legend whose iconic pictures include The Rock, Face/Off, Con Air, Moonstruck, Honeymoon in Vegas, and Academy Awarding winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent builds upon that renowned work and twists and turns it with an imagined “Nick Cage”. He’s able to do any genre from romantic comedies, avant-garde films like Mandy and Wild at Heart, and big tentpole franchises such as National Treasure.

The film is a homage to his body of work and the genres that he’s worked in. He’s a man known for taking risks early in his career that paid off handsomely but in the later years, he’s taken to independent film work some heading straight to streaming. Mandy, Joe, Prisoners of Ghostland and Pig are among my favourites. Each is interesting ranging from unusual to insane.

In the movie “Nick Cage” is a fictionalised version of the star, imagined as a once-highly respected actor who has fallen on hard times and is craving a return to box office glory and prestige. But his waning career is only one of his problems. The faux Cage’s megalomania has poisoned his relationships with his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and daughter Addy (Lily Sheen), unfortunately, though he can’t see it as the fictional Cage is feeling unfulfilled and rejected. This is in contrast with the real Nicholas Cage who recently received his best reviews for his performance in Pig

Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate

Nick becomes frustrated and a little unhinged, when he loses out on a role that he’s desperate to inhabit so when his smarmy agent played by Neil Patrick Harris extends him a lifeline with an offer to attend a birthday party for a cool payday of one million dollars, Nick despite his instincts reluctantly agrees, and hops on a plane to meet the birthday boy/ cage superfan in picturesque Mallorca, Spain.

Upon arriving in Mallorca and being greeted personally by Javi, Nick is completely checked out until he discovers that he and his host have much in common and begin to bond. Both are cinephiles and share a love of everything from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari to Paddington 2.

That’s not all they have in common. The wealthy man is just as neurotic as his guest of honour and they both find themselves looking for inspiration from the actor’s famously bold audacious characters.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is an intriguing change of pace for Pascal, he inhabits the role of Javi, but as neurotic as he is the character turns out to be an international arms dealer and crime boss. Both Cage and Pascal have incredible chemistry together and truly form a bromance. They are so much fun together and unapologetic about their shared admiration. It is infectious.

Javi Gutierrez’ (Pedro Pascal, left) and ‘Nicolas Cage’ (Nicolas Cage, right) zooming through the mountains of Mallorca, Spain. Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate

VERDICT

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent was such a hoot & delightfully BONKERS!! a rollercoaster ride through Cage’s iconic filmography & full of quirky & heartfelt moments The most uncaged performance was suave in this meta lucid trip.

 

 

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Comedy

Sex Appeal Review | An Interesting Enough Premise Gets Squandered in Predictable Platitudes

A quasi-R-rated version of “The Kissing Booth” surprisingly works? Color me shocked.

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In a world filled with horrible teen coming-of-age comedies which re-tread John Hughes and other popular 80s comedies, Hulu’s Sex Appeal probably wouldn’t have worked. As it stands, the movie is interesting enough to make a distracting impression upon ourselves, but it’s nowhere near as sharply written as any of the mid-1980s/late-1990s coming-of-age comedies it keeps referencing. 

In any case, the best comparison I can give you is that its plot feels eerily (though not completely) similar to Netflix’s The Kissing Booth trilogy, though without any of the cringe and a legitimately compelling “best-friends” relationship. The “best friends” in question are Avery (Mika Abdalla) and Larson (Jake Short), who have had a close-knit relationship since childhood…until Larson decided to “make a move” at the age of 14, immediately rejected by Avery. Our female protagonist narrates the entire story like Joey King’s Elle Evans in The Kissing Booth and has a pretty narrow-minded view of everyone and everything. Basically, she only cares about herself. Avery will register for STEMCON, an annual youth scientist (?) convention, to which attendees will have to build an app that responds to their personal problems. 

Sex Appeal (2022) - IMDb

Avery’s “problem” is that she can’t have fulfilling sex with anyone and forcefully takes Larson as her Guinea Pig to experiment with diverse types of sex on him and her, to which we metaphorically see what happens inside IMAX-like dream sequences. A plot as preposterous as this shouldn’t work, but it kinda does. Of course, it’s a story we’ve all seen before, with the egotistical female character going on a journey of self-discovery and finally realizing that life doesn’t solely revolve around her, and that humans have feelings. By developing the app, she fails to realize the most important human element of all, love, because Avery is incapable of feeling love…until her experiment gets her to realize what love is and how it feels. 

Yes, director Talia Osteen and co-writer Tate Hanyok use sex as the driving force for Avery’s realization that her app should be all about love, and not all about sex. And she’ll learn this by having sex with someone she genuinely cares about but doesn’t want to admit that she has feelings for. Why? Because she had to focus on her studies? That feels like such a BS excuse, but the plot warrants it anyways. So yeah, once you get a gist of Avery and Larson’s “friendship that morphs into a quasi-relationship”, you can tell exactly where this movie is going, without fail. She has a non-existent relationship with her boyfriend (Mason Versaw), and can’t even feel love even if she also uses the app with him as they do it. Doesn’t she know what love is, or is she incapable of feeling it because she doesn’t want to? This is the central question Sex Appeal asks, and it surprisingly works twofold. 

Sex Appeal (2022) - IMDb

Firstly, the chemistry between Abdalla and Short is insanely palpable. In The Kissing Booth, the movie already doesn’t work because the chemistry between Joey King/Jacob Elordi/Joel Courtney feels unbelievable like they all belong in different movies (the writing is also a problem, but whatever). You can relate to Avery and Larson because their relationship feels real. And so it’s easier to get on board with an insanely predictable story if the acting holds the fort, to which it does greatly. Even the smallest supporting roles can bring surprising laughs to the mix, and genuine heart, which this movie has tons of. Its heart is in the right place, and the acting is decent enough for you to care about the characters’ plight, even if we’ve seen it all before. 

Secondly, the film’s aesthetic is original enough for the movie to rise above the platitudes it presents in its script for metaphorical sex sequences that are way more interesting than, say, if Avery and Larson solely had sex. Osteen prefers to open up the 2.39:1 frame to 1.90:1 during these dreamlike sequences to represent how Avery feels during the time she “experiments” on Larson, which ultimately makes her realize all the love she has for him, especially when she tries to do the same thing with Casper (Versaw) and, lo and behold, it doesn’t work. I appreciate the work of filmmakers who try different things than the usual paint-by-numbers coming-of-age sex comedy, without an ounce of creativity in its filmic representation of a protagonist’s state of mind, especially when it works, even if it may be on the nose for some. Sure it is, but it works nonetheless. 

So it’s surprising to see how engaging the movie is when the acting and the aesthetic work together and actually deliver a pretty good time at the movies, even if it’s a movie that we’ve seen before, done better. Where Sex Appeal fails in its story, it more than makes up for it through its creative aesthetics and terrific performances from Mika Abdalla and Jake Short, which in turn makes it a rather transfixing watch. It’s not the greatest movie in the world, sure, but it does its job right and the film’s heart is in the right place. What more can you ask for?

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Sex Appeal is now streaming on Hulu.

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