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How It Ends Review | Sundance Film Festival

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We’re now getting to the point where lots of the films that were made during lockdown are starting to be released and How it Ends is a pre-apocalyptic comedy/drama that sounded really good on paper and was one of my most anticipated films for the entire Sundance Film Festival but the finished product is just a complete waste of potential and lacking anything interesting or exciting.

How It Ends is set the day before an asteroid is set to destroy the world and Liza, played by co-writer and co-director Zoe Lister-Jones, is invited to one final wild party before the world ends. But after her car gets stolen and wanting to tie up loose ends she has with family and friends before the apocalypse, she journeys across Los Angeles by foot. She’s not alone though as she’s accompanied by her quirky, metaphysical younger self played by Cailee Spaeny. The two of them tour across the city running into a whole host of familiar faces along the way before the world is set to be destroyed.

The film starts off fairly interesting and it began with a few jokes that I found quite funny and it immediately sets off with this quirky tone and for the first twenty minutes or, so I was quite entertained by it. The film has quite a short runtime of just 82 minutes and so the first quarter of this film was intriguing and set it up to be a really interesting film.

But that’s when it starts to go downhill. Once Liza and her younger self begin their journey across LA it very quickly becomes clear that the rest of the film isn’t going to be anything exciting or entertaining at all. The rest of the film just became a series of socially distanced celebrity cameos. The two lead characters would turn a street corner and bump (not literally) into another familiar face that you might recognise and then proceed to chat to them for a few minutes.

They meet some interesting characters along the way including Olivia Wilde, Helen Hunt and Bradley Whitford who looks like he’s just walked off the set of his other pandemic-made film Songbird. And very quickly, these short snippets get tedious and dull as the majority of the jokes don’t land and it just becomes uneventful when you’ve got the same sort of thing happening over and over again.

On paper this film sounded quite similar to 2013’s This Is the End which actually really surprised me with how good it was but the reason why that film worked and How It Ends doesn’t it because This Is the End was actually a lot of fun and really entertaining. How It Ends had so much potential to make a really fun pre-apocalyptic film with lots of celebrity cameos but instead it just became scene after scene of unfunny encounters with another random actor that you might recognise from a couple of other things.

Whilst it’s impressive that they managed to shoot this entirely during the pandemic, it is very clear that this is the case. Every time the two leads encounter another person they’re always standing a couple of metres apart and sometimes the blocking and framing wasn’t particularly good, probably due to the nature of everyone involved trying to adhere to social distancing rules.

How it Ends had so much potential but it just took all the fun out of the end of the world. It sets itself up to be a really enjoyable and entertaining time but ultimately it doesn’t deliver on any of that and is frankly quite dull to sit through. It’s not the worst film made during the pandemic but it’s definitely not the best.

★★☆☆☆

How it Ends premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival in the Premieres section.

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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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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?

FILM RATING

Sex Appeal is now streaming on Hulu.

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