It’s been a while since Disney hasn’t made a film that felt like a pure cash-grab and earnestly tries to capture a child’s imaginative spirit. Lena Khan’s directorial debut, Flora & Ulysses, is, truly, one of Disney+’s best movies which tells a smaller “superhero” story for younger children who do not watch the MCU (yet). Flora (Matilda Lawler) is an extroverted child who loves superheroes and comic books but hates that the characters aren’t real…until she meets a superhero of her own. After an accident involving a vacuum cleaner, a squirrel named Ulysses develops flying powers and can write poetry. Ulysses will have to face a villain of his own in animal control officer (Danny Pudi) with a mission to eradicate rabid squirrels from the city. What follows is a surprisingly enjoyable and hilariously funny adventure that the whole family will enjoy.
Flora & Ulysses works so much because it understands exactly how children think while watching a movie: they want pure entertainment that’ll sweep them away in a quasi-probable world. A flying, poetry-typing squirrel isn’t so far-fetched from reality (some squirrels do fly). The child performances from Matilda Lawler and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as William Spiver make sure the story is extremely grounded in reality. Lawler’s portrayal of Flora is so pure that a child can easily attach to every wonder she sees in the world through her father (Ben Schwartz)’s superhero, Incandesto. When you’re a child, everything seems so easy; you live in a “bubble” free from any pain and anguish (even when faced with death and grief, parents usually simplify the term to their child. “X is in a better place now,” they’ll usually say) with a spirit so incredibly innocent and freeing that makes every day feel like an adventure. Lawler perfectly represents a child’s spirit and has terrific chemistry with Ainsworth as the hysterically blind William Spivey, whose physical comedy is on point.
Most successful children movies that successfully incorporate physical comedy (or, should I say “slapstick”) understands how childish it needs to be: if it’s crude, sadistic, and inappropriate and constantly involves bodily humor (Fred Savage’s Daddy Day Camp is a great example of just that), chances are that your physical comedy will likely suck and your target audience will want to do something else. Flora & Ulysses goes back to the essence of burlesque (taking direct inspiration from Buster Keaton’s highly exaggerated stunts) to create its slapstick, relying exclusively on the human body’s physicality to craft fantastic slapstick. One chase sequence, in particular, involving Ben Schwartz’s tranquilized hand, is the film’s highlight. The mixture of verbal and physical comedy in this sequence is spot-on and showcases a director who fully understands how a child perceives cinema and the world as something that will bring them joy and laughter. And this film is filled with joy and laughter through its adult and child performances. Ben Schwartz is notably hilarious here, especially during sequences that involve tranquilizer darts. I won’t say anything else beyond that. You’ll have to see it for yourself.
Of course, the story itself is inherently formulaic, and the film follows a traditional 3-act structure that features basic character progression. Still, you have to remember that this film is predominantly aimed at small children who cannot yet watch Marvel movies. The superhero antics that involve Ulysses saving people are well-realized and give a taste of emotional catharsis that is always found in superhero movies. I guarantee that your child (and yourself) will enjoy this highly entertaining introduction to superhero cinema, with terrifically charming child performances and fun adult characters (and a highly caricatured Danny Pudi) that’ll keep a kid constantly engaged and possibly bring an adult back to a time where they were younger, where their eyes widened in front of a big (or small) screen when a film would start. This is how I felt during Flora & Ulysses, and I am positive other people will feel the same effect. If you have Disney+, this is the original film you have to watch immediately.
Flora & Ulysses is now available to stream on Disney+ (with no additional fee required)
Do Revenge Review | A Revenge Tale Through the Eyes of Gen Z
‘Do Revenge’ does a lot of things right. Maya Hawke steals the show in this Gen Z revenge tale.
I stand by the fact that Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart is not only the best high school comedy ever but the most authentic portrayal of Gen Z and the landscape of the current world. Do Revenge is an attempt at taking down the affluent and the powerful while harkening back to blasts from the past such as Clueless, Mean Girls and a dash of Promising Young Woman. Is it always firing on all cylinders? No, but the film is a blast and deserves credit for not being like other high school movies.
Do Revenge opens with Drea (Camila Mendes), who is currently sitting pretty atop the illustrious high school food chain, giving a Cher Horowitz-like monologue about the measurement of success in high school. Off rip, we are brought into the 21st century and “PC culture” at one of these enormously lavish house parties. Indeed Do Revenge is one of those high school movies. For all of the genre tropes the film tries to surpass — or, at the very least, acknowledge in a tongue-in-cheek manner — it can’t escape them all (more on this below).
But Drea’s (very expensive) bubble is burst when a video sent to and meant for her boyfriend Max (Austin Abrams) is leaked to the entire school. This leads to Drea becoming an outcast of sorts and she meets Eleanor (Maya Hawke), a fellow outcast, and the two do revenge. Furthermore, it’s nice that unlike a film such as Spider-Man: No Way Home, which had a college admissions plot that’s laughable at best, there’s weight to why what college you attend matters — at least at the beginning of the film. The plot of Do Revenge revolves around the fact that neither of the main characters can go out and seek justice on their own. Drea is on especially thin ice with her admission to Yale being put on the line. The dilemma she faces is something the live-action Spider-Man films — or comic book films with high school characters in general — but luckily, Drea doesn’t manipulate the whole world to get her way (just her entire high school!).
When dealing with such wealthy characters, it requires a suspension of disbelief from viewers (unless you are that wealthy) that watching enough Disney Channel shows will give you. That didn’t completely stop my mind from wondering: Why are the parents never around? and: How did these kids get all of this alcohol? Furthermore, there is an absurd number of kids at the various house parties. There’s more at the parties than at the school’s assemblies. You have to see the sheer juxtaposition in order to really understand what I’m saying.
Without going into detail, the second half of the film — while messier — provides the actors a chance to shine. Hawke takes this opportunity and runs with it, delivering the perfect amount of camp needed for her ridiculous monologues. The same cannot be said of the rest of the class. Mendes is a steady 1A. and serves the role well, but there’s so much untapped potential (not to the fault of Mendes). The most complex part of her character is only lightly touched upon.
Alisha Boe of 13 Reasons Why — a series known for its extremely accurate representation of high school — commits the cardinal sin of dating Brea’s ex, Max. Boe was a highlight of the aforementioned 13 Reasons Why but I can think of 13 reasons why she should’ve been in Do Revenge more. Max, the crowd-pleasing class president of his school who’s going to peak in high school is by far the worst part of the film. Hats off to Celeste Ballard, who co-wrote the script, for attempting to make Max somewhat “layered” by showing he has more interests than the ones forced on him by his parents, but it’s completely out of Ballard’s hands once the film is shooting, and Abrams plays Max like Rumplestilskin in Shrek Forever After and is only more of a threat to the slightest degree (don’t underestimate the power of a smartphone). I appreciate the effort to make him the posturing high school “activist” that he is, though.
That’s also not the only occasion of Do Revenge attempting to say something bigger than the film it is. The film often seems like a surface-level dark comedy and I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not it’s successful in delivering its messages. The themes of race, class, identity crisis and misogyny are all sitting there for the taking, yet Do Revenge doesn’t do strong politics. And hey, who am I to judge? Politics and art don’t always have to be forced together but all I’m saying is if you can’t handle the heat, why are you in the kitchen?
The final twist occurs after what seems to be the resolution of the film feels like a desperate swing back to the anti-misogyny rhetoric that’s far too black-and-white to be taken seriously. Add to the fact that none of these characters are particularly likable (I doubt any of these characters would consider themselves a “particularly ethical person,” as Patrizia Reggiani said in House of Gucci) and it makes it hard to root for anyone. And yes, I know that the characters being unlikable is partly by design, but it doesn’t work for the same reason a heel vs. heel match in professional wrestling rarely works: Who do you root for? The charisma of Mendes and Hawke makes the film watchable; that doesn’t make their characters likable.
There are also quite a few twists and turns that come into motion in the second half. Not to be that guy, but it’s about as obvious as the twist of Don’t Worry Darling and I figured it out from the first conversation between a certain two characters (you can check my notes if you don’t believe me). And I’m no genius, it just requires the slightest bit of attention in the first 20 minutes of the film. And while I’m not expecting the true-to-life realism of a documentary with a film like Do Revenge, the film goes to Promising Young Woman-levels of ridiculous contingency plans.
It’s clear that Do Revenge owes a lot to high school films that have come before such as Clueless and Mean Girls. On top of the voiceover dialogue that is sprinkled throughout, the soundtrack filled with modern pop is aided by newer artists that fit the themes of the film. There is some crossover — both Clueless and Do Revenge use “Kids in America,” but I think we could retire this one — but Do Revenge features the likes of modern-day bangers like Olivia Rodrigo’s “brutal” and MUNA’s (feat. Phoebe Bridgers) “Silk Chiffon” also make an appearance in the film (tempting me to give the film an automatic five stars). The song choices are perfect for the overly-dramatic and very sensitive Gen Z population.
To end on a positive note, Do Revenge far exceeds Bodies Bodies Bodies‘ usage of Gen Z verbiage. I love the latter even more than this film, but the duo of Jennifer Kaytin Robinson — who also directed the film — and Ballard make the dialogue work for the most part. It’s balanced and not too on the nose. Best of all, they don’t throw the word “triggered” into random sentences, and when terms like that are used, it has a cheekiness to it that you can feel — slightly healing the inevitable cringe caused by hearing Gen Z’ers speak.
I don’t want this review to sound overly negative because don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Do Revenge. I’m willing to let a lot of nitpicks go but I almost wish the film committed to its best variable: Maya Hawke and if it was a tad bit shorter. The second half picks up the pace a bit but suffers from overstuffing and trying to be one step ahead of its audience. It fails on both ends but remains one of Netflix’s better original films and is exactly that: original.
Do Revenge is streaming on Netflix.
See How They Run Review | Agatha Christie Meets Wes Anderson in Meta Whodunnit
No, The Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” is (unfortunately) not used in See How They Run — Tom George’s new film starring Sam Rockwell and Saoirse Ronan.
First things first, the greatest mystery heading into See How They Run was: Is “Lady Madonna” played in the film? Sorry, Beatles fans, but the classic single does not appear in the film at all. As disappointing as that is, See How They Run is anything but. Filled with a stellar cast, great cinematography and a screenplay that is filled with a cheekiness that not only keeps the audience guessing but keeps a smile on their face throughout.
When Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody), a big Hollywood producer, is sojourning in London in an effort to adapt the stageplay production of The Mousetrap into a film, hijinks pursues when crew members begin dropping like flies. This puts Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and rookie Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) on the case as they try to get to the bottom of who is committing these crimes.
2022 is the year of whodunnits as the Murder on the Orient Express — a real adaptation of Christie’s novel — sequel, Death on the Nile, hit theaters earlier this year. Now we have See How They Run before Glass Onion — which I consider a spiritual sequel to See How They Run due to its Beatles-inspired title — hits theaters and Netflix this fall. I can only speak to the two I’ve seen, but even still, See How They Run blows Death on the Nile out of the, well, Nile.
You see, See How They Run is attempting to defy the genre norms — ironic coming from a Disney project (albeit under the Searchlight Pictures banner). “Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, in my opinion, [is a] second-rate murder mystery,” says Köpernick in the opening voiceover. He proceeds to use the classic line from Singin’ in the Rain, “seen one, seem them all” when describing the genre of whodunnits. I guess that’s why he wanted to try and create something more with his adaptation of The Mousetrap; a theme that reoccurs throughout.
And I think it’s also safe to say that director Tom George has done something different with his film. See How They Run is much like a Wes Anderson production with an Agatha Christie novel as its backdrop. From the set design to the symmetry you find in Anderson’s films to the witty dialogue, See How They Run almost feels more indebted to Anderson than to Christie. The film culminates at a luxurious mansion during the wintertime as snow falls to the ground. There’s something whimsical about its aesthetic and only comparable to a stageplay (sort of like the snow in Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley adaptation or Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel).
None of this is to say that George doesn’t leave his own impression on the film. There’s a genius use of side-by-side shots, even going up to placing four different perspectives like the boxes in the Brady Bunch intro, that show you both sides of over-the-shoulder shots. While they find their way into the film on more than one occasion, the usage feels fresh and unlike anything seen in this genre; old Westerns and some martial arts films are the only ones I can think of.
One thing that doesn’t quite buck the trends of the whodunnit is the relationship between Stoppard and Stalker. The two have the generic “veteran and the rookie” dynamic that you’ve seen repeatedly, with Ronan playing Stalker as rather clumsily a la Ana de Armas’ character in No Time to Die and Judy Hicks in Scream 4, with a hint of the wide-eyed, “happy to be here” cliché. That said, Rockwell and Ronan are both terrific actors who make a trope that’s had its mileage used up many moons ago work. We know how special Ronan is, but can we acknowledge how great Rockwell has been in two of Searchlight Pictures’ recent films (Jojo Rabbit and See How They Run)? The rest of the ensemble is fine and simply serve the roles well without doing much more to stand out. The exception of course is Brody, who’s always able to make chicken salad out of chicken crap.
And the most crucial element of a whodunnit is its ending. No need to fear, no spoilers will be shared here, but I’m pleasantly surprised to hear myself say that I didn’t see the ending coming. See How They Run throws plenty of red herrings at you — some more obvious than others — but I’ll be the first to admit that the possibility of the big reveal was dismissed in my mind the one time it even crossed it. Maybe that speaks to my own intelligence, but I thought that See How You Run does a good job of selecting its culprit.
See How They Run is an easy recommendation because of its breezy runtime and the all-star cast. The editing of the first act alone, done by the duo of Gary Dollner and Peter Lambert, brilliantly hooks the audience in while keeping the pace up at all times. It’s also important to keep in mind that this is George’s first feature-length directorial effort, and if this is any indication, he has a bright future ahead of him. See How They Run is a whodunnit minus the self-seriousness of a Poirot mystery. As great as those are, it’s always nice to have the light alternative on hand. For as much criticism as Disney can receive for its monopoly on the film business, their acquisition of Searchlight Pictures at least gives original films like See How They Run a chance to be seen by a wide audience. Even after writing this review, I remain disappointed in the fact that The Beatles’ song “Lady Madonna” isn’t featured in See How They Run. The same cannot be said about the end result of the film itself. Great stuff that I can’t wait to revisit.
Searchlight Pictures will release See How They Run in theaters on September 16.
‘Love in the Villa’ Review | A Surprisingly Enjoyable, Albeit Predictable, Romantic Comedy
“Love in the Villa” works because of Kat Graham and Tom Hopper who infuse much-needed life inside a contrived plot.
From the director of Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and Killing Season (yes, you’ve read that correctly) comes Love in the Villa, Netflix’s latest Hallmark movie. However, this one isn’t bad compared to many of Netflix’s romantic comedies. Of course, it re-treads things everyone has seen before, but the chemistry between its lead actors and some interesting aesthetic choices make for a surprisingly enjoyable time at the movies.
Now the gist is extremely formulaic: third-grade teacher Julie Hutton (Kat Graham) gets dumped by her boyfriend Brandon (Raymond Ablack) the day before she leaves on a trip to Verona. When she arrives at her villa, everything goes wrong. There seemed to have been a mix-up between Villa owner Silvio (Emilio Solfrizzi) and Julie, who has double-booked the apartment with Charlie Fletcher (Tom Hopper). So, of course, they hate their guts as the movie begins…and then…well…you can probably guess what will happen here.
Yes, they’re going to fall in love by the end. Isn’t that the point? So there are virtually no surprises here, so one will look elsewhere to find enjoyment in the movie. Thankfully, the lead performances from Kat Graham and Tom Hopper effectively save the entire thing. Their chemistry is so fun to watch that I immediately forgot about most of the film’s flaws. That’s how good they are—and even if you’re not a fan of movies with repetitive plotlines, Graham and Hopper’s chemistry may win you over. They’re genuinely funny together, especially when they go to “war” to claim their place in the villa, and some surprising amounts of physical comedy work very well.
Johnson has always been a gifted visual filmmaker and uses neat tricks throughout his filmography and in Love in the Villa. He keeps the camera moving during fast-paced car scenes or even utilizes staggering corkscrew shots to signify to the audience that Charlie’s disdain (or love?) for Julie is driving him mad. I didn’t expect Netflix’s latest Hallmark movie to be this visually sophisticated, but here we are, and it’s a pleasant surprise.
Those two elements make the movie as enjoyable as possible, even if the rest of the film leaves little to be desired. For starters, this movie contains CGI cats. Why not real cats, you ask? I don’t know, but it certainly doesn’t look good. Of course, CGI cats superimposed on digital matte paintings isn’t a match made in heaven, but they’re so noticeable it almost gives the CGI mountain lion from Netflix’s last mega-production, Me Time, a run for its money. Yeah, it looks that bad.
Secondly, this is a movie where you know exactly where it will end as soon as it starts. I’ve already summed up the plot, so it’s pointless if I write it up again, but it’s as predictable as you think it will happen. Most rom coms are precisely like that, which makes them falter at a great length, and Love in the Villa is as paint-by-numbers as you may think. There are no surprises, which makes the entire thing feel pointless. If you’re looking for safe entertainment, it’s probably the most inspired choice on Netflix right now, but if you’re looking for something more challenging, this isn’t it.
It doesn’t help that the movie is almost two hours long—there’s a lot of material here that could’ve been left on the cutting room floor, particularly a subplot in which they go to a vineyard or when the exes come back (because they always do). But they don’t necessarily matter to the main plot because you know they will end up together in the first place. So why not just cut to the chase and give the audience what they want instead of throwing in a faux subplot when you’re not fooling anyone?
Regardless of these moments, Love in the Villa still works. It’s not going to win anyone over looking for something with more depth, but Graham and Hopper are just so fun to watch together that it becomes a rather breezy film. Steven Johnson seems to be a usually maligned filmmaker, but his style works surprisingly well for a movie like this and blends itself well with its lead performances. It’s certainly not an Oscar contender, but it gets the job done. And you can’t fault it for that.
Love in the Villa is now available to stream on Netflix.
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