If there’s one thing that five years of film school taught me, it is that every director should adopt a “show, don’t tell” approach as much as possible. Alfred Hitchcock even went out and developed a quasi-theory based on the Kuleshov effect called “pure cinematics,” in which one gaze or look from an actor can convey so much more than any dialogue spoken by any of them. He dubs it “pure cinematics” because it’s the purest cinematic expression you can ever achieve with the camera’s power, editing, and how the actor perceives the camera he’s looking at. Look at his remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much as an example and Doris Day’s magnificent reaction when she sees the gun being pulled out of the curtain—no words, just an agonizing scream, and fright on her eyes to convey the expression of fear and anguish.
Nick Stagliano certainly didn’t listen to Hitchcock when he made The Virtuoso, starring one of the greatest expressive actors of our time, Anson Mount, the only good part of Marvel’s disastrous Inhumans series. In that show, he represented many expressions only from his non-verbal emotions since his character’s voice can end the world. In The Virtuoso, Mount’s titular character has to painstakingly explain everything through inherently pointless voiceover, as he completes a mission from his mentor (Anthony Hopkins) to assassinate someone named “White Rivers”—whom he has no idea what/who he/she is. But guess what? It doesn’t really matter because before you can grasp what’s going, The Virtuoso will put you to sleep quicker than you can say “White Rivers.”
Oh, God, oh God. It’s been a while that a film has been more tedious than this—hell, the last time I was this bored at a movie was during James Gray’s Ad Astra, another movie that doesn’t know how to use voiceover in a thoughtful light (it made everything sound like Willem Dafoe’s parodic Carson Clay’s Playback Time in Mr. Bean’s Holiday). When you overexplain every minute detail of The Virtuoso’s operations, it makes it look as if you don’t trust the audience’s intelligence. You already know he’s doing a mission to kill someone (visual cues tell us that he’s a contract killer)—why do we need to know everything about him, even the most baffling, fruitless moments? The Virtuoso walks into a house’s parking lot and babbles, “Your first concern on a night assault is dogs. The fact that it’s been quiet so far can be misleading. On nights like this, only the most cruel of owners leave their dogs out.”
All of that could be fine if a dog were showing up, but there isn’t sooooooooooooooooooo why talk about it, then? There might be a dog? Is that it? Who cares?!? No, really, who cares? Even if there were a dog (and if there was no voiceover), the tension would’ve been amplified a tad more. The film already has a cold atmosphere, evidently exposed by its brooding cinematography; it doesn’t need any voiceover narration pronounced by any character. Heck, the characters are already explaining the plot as it goes along, so why must we know everything that’s going on in the protagonist’s mind every two seconds? If your voiceover will add nothing to our appreciation of the movie or will worsen the overall atmosphere, don’t use it. Scrap it. Already you have a somewhat interesting shell of a movie if the narration was stripped from it—I mean, the plot isn’t any good, but it would’ve held my attention.
Look at Ridley Scott’s theatrical cut of Blade Runner, an infamously terrible cut, botched by a phonetic voiceover narration from Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard, because the studio didn’t think the audience would be able to understand what was going on, solely through expressions. When the Director’s Cut (and Final Cut) hit shelves, it was reappraised and lauded as a sci-fi masterpiece, compared to its initial release—and Scott only made minor changes to the story (he removed the “happy ending” and stripped the narration). Stripping the voiceover made for a better film, where audiences could interpret what was conveyed visually rather than orally. The same thing could’ve been used with Ad Astra and The Virtuoso, whose voiceover narration botches the entire quality of the film.
Anson Mount has proven himself a skillful (and highly expressive) actor from his tenure in Inhumans and Star Trek: Discovery. He and Anthony Hopkins are the only good parts of this terribly drab movie. Hopkins has one incredible 10-minute monologue sequence where he continues to prove he’s one of the greatest actors working today (who highly deserved his Academy Award for The Father, even though whatever happened that night wasn’t his fault). Mount superbly holds his own during many sequences, particularly when he has to confront one of his targets (played in a fun cameo by Eddie Marsan), as he laces his drink with…Viagra (don’t ask). It’s still a terribly anticlimactic film, particularly when you see the big “twist” coming from a mile away. As soon as Mount enters a diner and sees Abbie Cornish as a waitress, you almost certainly know that it’s WHITE RIVERS. Hell, they could’ve just written it on her forehead because of how terribly obvious it is. Stagliano and co-screenwriter James C. Wolf don’t even make any effort to hide it—as they’re too busy giving endless amounts of dialogue for The Virtuoso to blabber on and on to put their audience to sleep.
Minus one memorable action sequence, packing the extreme grittiness and schlock-like qualities reminiscent of S. Craig Zahler’s extreme-violent pictures, The Virtuoso is a terribly uneventful (and predictable) bore, ruined by a terrible voice-over narration that undermines every single thing happening in the movie. Anson Mount, Anthony Hopkins, David Morse, Eddie Marsan, and Abbie Cornish are all great actors who all deserve better than whatever they thought The Virtuoso offered them…oh, probably a big paycheck. That usually does the trick.
The Virtuoso is now playing in select theatres and available to rent on video-on-demand.
Choose or Die – A Miss For Netflix
Netflix’s home page suggestions can always be hit or miss, and unfortunately its latest release ‘Choose or Die’ falls into the category of the latter. Captivated by Asa Butterfield on the poster, I was curious to see what this film had to offer and begrudgingly it didn’t have a lot.
We follow Kayla, a broke student who has a lot to deal with in terms of her family situation and being the sole provider for herself and her mum. She then stumbles upon a retro video game from the 80s which forces her to choose and ultimately leads to various chain reactions of horrific events involving people close to her.
The premise of the film sounds interesting, however, I think it swings and misses quite early into the film’s first act. Eddie Marsan sets the tone and trail of interest for Choose or Die as we are introduced to this sadistic game and the chain of events it will inevitably pursue.
Choose or Die doesn’t make it easy to empathise with its characters, finding any connection to Kayla or Isaac was difficult. This ‘are they aren’t they’ subplot lingers throughout the film’s narrative but adds nothing to the overarching story. The supporting characters, such as Thea and Laura, are much more interesting and genuinely have you intrigued as to what decisions they will make.
What stood out to me was the violent and gore-like scenes of 80s horrors, with some pretty good stomach churning special effects make-up. Those intense scenes, one involving a rat, had me genuinely glued to the screen, anticipating what may happen next. Choose or Die’s strongest component are the early moral decisions Kayla has to make and ultimately demonstrate Meakin’s passion for the horror genre.
The way in which this film is shot, felt very “student-esque” with its lackluster camera movements and setting. The set design lacked little depth, except for Isaac’s room which is full of detail, therefore making the world feel small and less three dimensional. An element which pulled me out of this cinematic experience, was the fact that this was evidently filmed in the United Kingdom, and the cast contained predominantly a lot of British actors doing an American accent so I wasn’t fully immersed into this world.
Meakins clearly uses his passion for the horror genre to influence this film’s dark tone, from it’s leading characters’ moral compass as well as the gorey visuals that inevitably come with those decisions. The whole world feels cold and derelict, be it the place in which Kayla cleans or the housing estate of which she lives in, this is an unwelcoming world that no-one wants to comfort you in.
Choose or Die isn’t a film that will stick out as one that defined 2022, however I’m sure someone will take something away from this film, be it’s reference to 80s gaming or the violent and graphic elements that the director is clearly passionate about.
Anaïs in Love Review | The Worst Person in France
Right on the heels of the stellar film, The Worst Person in the World, a film about a woman named Julie (Renate Reinsve), who is in a transitional state in her life and going through a millennial “mid-life” crisis. Enter Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet’s Anaïs in Love, a film about a 30-year-old woman named Anaïs (Anaïs Demoustier) who is down on her luck and can’t find true love. Both Joachim Trier’s capper to the Oslo trilogy and Anaïs in Love tell authentic stories about millennials, and while the latter doesn’t pack quite as much of an emotional punch as The Worst Person in the World, it’s a strong character piece about not just finding what you want in life, but taking it.
The similarities between Julie and Anaïs, while perhaps a tired comparison, are too prominent to ignore (lead actress Anaïs Demoustier could even be mistaken for Renate Reinsve in a certain light). For one, they are similar in age; perhaps resulting in their similar struggles. While Anaïs doesn’t go on quite as experimental of a sexual journey as Julie, neither can find true love. Neither feel ready for kids—at least at the beginning of their respective films. The former can’t even sleep in the same bed as another guy (or ride an elevator, for that matter), much less stay committed to a guy. They also both work in a bookstore but this similarity isn’t as important as it was amusing for me. And yet, despite wanting someone who knows what they want, Anaïs struggles with this.
Anaïs Demoustier is a great leading actor and plays the character of the same name with the right balance of indecision and innocence. There’s also a wide-eyed, cheery aura about her akin to a young child. Take, for instance, the scene where Anaïs first encounters Emilie. She is overjoyed to be speaking with her, and she’s overjoyed as if she has just seen a face that she won’t forget the time or place where they met (yes, that’s a Beatles reference). Demoustier is an experienced actress with plenty of credits to her name, yet she is someone that I was not familiar with coming into Anaïs in Love but am now eager to check out some of her other roles as she is really good in Anaïs in Love.
Opposite Demoustier is Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as Emilie, the woman that Anaïs falls in love with in the film. She is also great, with her playing the more mature one in the “fling.” At some point in the film, she exclaims that at the age of 50, she’s no longer scared by much, if anything at all. It’s a reflection of what Anaïs strives for, and yet, in the end, Emilie is not able to hold back as much as she’d like. But Bruni Tedeschi’s cherry on top comes in the form of a monologue towards the end. What is said will not be spoiled here, but both Bruni Tedeschi and Demoustier give great performances in this scene. It’s by far the most human and relatable part of the film, and applause is deserved for the directing, writing, and acting in this particular scene.
Imagine this: You’re sleeping with someone and then end up falling for their partner. As absurd as it sounds, this is exactly what happens to our titular character, Anaïs. Emilie is one of Anaïs’ favorite authors and just so happens to live with Daniel (Denis Podalydès). After following her to a stop on her book tour, Anaïs only falls harder for Emilie like a teenager and their first love.
Smartly, Anaïs in Love doesn’t just hand the audience what they want. Reading the synopsis of the film, it’s clear that Anaïs is going to fall for Emilie at some point or another, but Bourgeois-Tacquet takes her time getting to this—the two don’t have a substantial encounter until about an hour in—and as Billy Joel said, “she only reveals what she wants you to see.” There is a lot of scenes of “sexual tension” as the kids say, and it does eventually pay off, but one can appreciate the choice to make the film a marathon, not a sprint.
Within the span of a few months, there have been two movies for millennials that are going through crises. While it doesn’t quite reach as much of millennial life as The Worst Person in the World, Anaïs in Love tells a story of love and maturing on its own terms; and that’s quite special. Excellent film and one that should not be slept on.
Anaïs in Love is in select theaters now and will be available on VOD Friday, May 6.
Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness | Non-Spoiler Review |
If nothing else, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a reminder of how the theatrical experience and the MCU go together like Al Pacino and screaming. With the sheer number of MCU projects to keep tabs on, it can feel overwhelming and redundant in all honesty. For as well-acted as Moon Knight is and as unique WandaVision was — at least for the first eight episodes — but something about a tentpole film needs the big screen to fully do it justice. No, Multiverse of Madness is not as good of a multiverse movie as Everything Everywhere All at Once, but Sam Raimi’s stylistic panache bleeds through enough to make it feel different than other MCU projects; at least for portions of Multiverse of Madness.
Maybe it’s just the comfort of seeing a character such as Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has really grown into the likable hero that the MCU needs to lead them into the foreseeable future. His first outing was rough; it felt as if the MCU was trying to force him into being the next Tony Stark like the WWE did with Roman Reigns and John Cena way back when. But over time, with cameos in Thor: Ragnarok and a prominent role in Infinity War, Cumberbatch and the creative teams have worked to make the character more likable. They have succeeded for my money, and while Cumberbatch is capable of so much more, he’s a really good Dr. Stephen Strange for what it’s worth.
Joining Strange on his quest across the multiverse are Wong (Benedict Wong), the Sorcerer Supreme, and newcomer America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez). The former plays the same role he has in all of his other appearances, that’s not a critique as much as an honest observation. The banter you’ve been hearing since Infinity War (perhaps the first Dr. Strange film as well, I loathe it and didn’t rewatch it ahead of time) is found in the Multiverse of Madness. Gomez brings much-needed youth to the forefront, and while she is a damsel in distress and the MacGuffin of the film, her energy and chemistry with Cumberbatch make her a stand out.
Promos for the Multiverse of Madness made it appear as though this was Wanda’s origin story. There’s a brilliant line about how Wanda bending the rules gets looked down upon as compared to when Strange does, and the conflict between the two is gripping. Elizabeth Olsen has come so far as Wanda and is becoming one of the best parts of the entire MCU. This is her best performance by a long shot, even better than WandaVision, due in big part to the turn she takes. There isn’t much more to say without spoilers, but it’s the Elizabeth Olsen show.
[Insert Raimi camera swerve] In regards to Sam Raimi’s vision, for those concerned, there are the signature camera movements expected from a Sam Raimi film. And there are some actual horror elements for what feels like the first time in the MCU. It’s not a PG-13 horror film on the same level as Lights Out, but it’s a refreshing change of tone when the scenes of horror play out. And leave it to the creator of the Evil Dead franchise to have a character covered in blood for an entire fight sequence. Many directors have come and gone in the MCU, but Raimi undoubtedly makes his presence known more than the rest.
Again, Everything Everywhere All at Once really nailed the multiverse in a way that makes it hard to top. There’s an emotional weight in that film that is absent from the Multiverse of Madness. Yes, I get it, Wanda is still recovering from the events of WandaVision and Dr. Strange is dealing with the aftermath of past decisions in his first solo venture and Infinity War, but the film keeps up a fast pace and doesn’t stop to marinade in the sorrow for very long. One similarity the film does share with Everything Everywhere All at Once is how Wanda channels other variants of herself. No, there are no paper cuts or chewing gum from beneath a desk, but it was a similarity worth noting.
Perhaps above all of the other minor issues that are found in the Multiverse of Madness—a lackluster script, spotty CGI, failing to set something exciting up for the future of the MCU—the biggest one of all is that for as good of an effort as Raimi puts in to make the film feel outside of the box, the Multiverse of Madness still fits into that box more often than not. It’s very much a dog scared of its own shadow in the way that Raimi’s style only carries the film so far. There is some extra gore, a few PG-13 jump scares, and far more dark elements than other MCU projects, but the action sequences feel like an MCU action sequence and the film very much follows a linear three-act structure.
The film hits the ground running, getting right to its first action sequence within minutes, but it follows the basic formula of a nightmare proceeded by the hero waking up in a panic, attending some mundane event (a wedding in this case) before it is interrupted by some big force that requires the help of a superhero. From there, Strange fights the giant squid which reminds me of the giant eye in The Suicide Squad. Oh, and to clarify, that nightmare “wasn’t just a dream, it’s the multiverse” as America Chavez states.
Another common flaw that the film, with just about every other MCU movie, has is that there are no real stakes. Not every film needs world-ending stakes, but being that this is a sequel film to an established character, you could play with the audience. For example, how fun is it to watch professional wrestling if you’re sitting there thinking, “Hey, this stuff is fake!”? There has to be suspension of disbelief in the case of professional wrestling, and MCU movies need to add stakes in films that don’t have the scope of films like Infinity War or Endgame.
In the end, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a really cool comic book flick. You can’t take away the fact that it can sometimes feel different from other MCU projects and is likely the closest thing the MCU will make to a horror film. And while it doesn’t always work or land with the emotional punch it wants, the film is able to entertain and is unlikely to bore casual MCU viewers. It should be stated that while there are some awesome cameos, don’t go in expecting cameo galore (the best one shines in the post-credits scene, by the way). Danny Elfman’s score also kicks all kinds of ass with a guitar riff that features the level of tenacity The Edge had on Love is Blindness. Good stuff, Marvel.
Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness will be released on May 6.
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