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Zola Review | An Imaginative, Darkly Comedic Adaptation

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In October 2015, A’Ziah “Zola” King’s 148-part saga of a trip to Florida took Twitter by storm. The viral story was hilarious, suspenseful, and disturbing at times, all told through Zola’s compelling and singular voice. It brought about a new kind of storytelling via social media whose influence lives on in Twitter and newer platforms like Instagram and TikTok. Film is certainly not a new medium but Janicza Bravo’s feature based on the thread offers an experience so fresh and imaginative, it feels like a new form.

Zola (Taylour Paige) befriends Stefani (Riley Keough), a patron at the restaurant she works at. Despite Stefani’s unapologetic use of blaccent and over-the-top ratchedness, the two women (one black and one white) have an instant connection after bonding over stripping and frenemy activity on social media. When the two are together, their surroundings fade as they appear alone in a beautifully lit hall of mirrors. The chemistry between the characters during their first encounters is not unlike the meet-cutes of the rom-com genre. Mica Levi’s music box-like score, along with the film’s shiny visuals, convey a dreamy setting at the beginning that soon becomes a nightmare as the story unfolds.

Stefani invites Zola on a “hoe trip” to Florida, where their plan is to dance and make a ton of money. The women are accompanied by Stefani’s boyfriend Derrick and her shady “roommate” X, played by Nicholas Braun and Colman Domingo. Both characters are contrasting figures in Stefani’s life, with Derrick being hilariously weak while X is terrifyingly controlling. Domingo’s enigmatic performance and flip-flopping accents further prove that he is one of the best character actors working today. 

As soon as the four arrive in Tampa, it is clear that this trip is not what Zola expected and we watch her navigate through a dangerous weekend that, as she says, is “full of suspense.” Bravo gives us a brightly colored palette and Twitter sound effects to capture the outrageousness of the twisty story. Still, it’s Paige’s performance that keeps the film grounded. Paige can adeptly deliver Zola’s sharp wit in Bravo and co-writer Jeremy O. Harris’ script but it’s her more silent moments that give the movie depth. Twitter gave us Zola’s funny take on a night gone wrong, but Paige and her expressive eyes show us her at her most vulnerable. Keough has the difficult task of portraying a woman that will make you laugh, cringe and even feel sorry for her despite all of her wrongdoings. It’s a bold performance (particularly when the movie changes its POV for a bit), but Keough is able to give the character balance and avoids becoming a full blown caricature. 

Not only does Zola tell an entertaining and raucous story, it also exposes the facade of social media presence. Vibrant costumes, candy-colored visuals, and even a car ride turned mini music video all give the impression of a fun and sensory experience but under the surface is a dark story. People’s real lives are different from what they put on their social media accounts and Bravo uses contrasting elements to shed light on the duality of online and offline lives. Zola also breaks down another facade in the form of Zola and Stefani’s interracial friendship. Stefani immediately endears herself to Zola but eventually, her bad intentions come to light. Stefani’s blatant cultural appropriation is played for laughs in the beginning but her betrayal toward Zola is a reminder that in modern society, there are still strides to be made between white women and women of color. Just like Zola says, “the same bitch that wanna smile in your face be the same bitch that gonna come for you later.”

★★★★☆

Zola is now playing in limited U.S. theaters and will be released in UK cinemas on August 6th.

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Comedy

Reese Witherspoon and Alexander Payne to Reunite on ‘Election’ Sequel, ‘Tracy Flick Can’t Win’ for Paramount+

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Election was a film that not only left a cultural footprint on indie filmmaking, but it also put Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Nebraska) on the map and was the first major lead role for Reese Witherspoon (Legally Blonde, Wild). Now, her iconic and unforgettable character, Tracy Flick is returning to screens but this time for a streaming service. 

According to multiple outlets, Witherspoon will return as the high achieving go-getter in the sequel film, Tracy Flick Can’t Win based on the 2022 novel of the same name for Paramount+. The film will see Payne return to direct with a story that places the titular character as a diligent assistant principal of a public high school in suburban New Jersey still struggling to find her way to the upper echelons of academia and the public school system while still embodying her type-A self. Election was a high school-set film released in 1999 that earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay catapulting Witherspoon to stardom. 

Witherspoon will produce the film under her flourishing Hello, Sunshine banner. She will next appear in the third season of the AppleTV+ series, The Morning Show alongside Jennifer Aniston as well as the romantic comedy, Your Place or Mine with Ashton Kutcher. 

Payne is currently filming The Holdovers starring Paul Giamatti which plays as a Breakfast Club-esque movie set during the holidays. The Holdovers marks another reuniting for Payne as he re-teams with Giamatti who starred in his film, Sideways.

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‘Violent Night’ Review | A Violent Delight & Bloody Christmas Caper!

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HO HO HOLY HUMBUG!! Violent Night is an instant Christmas Classic packed with Festive Fun and Christmas Carnage! Tommy Wirkola blends gnarly bloody action with laughs and a magical story about believing. David Harbour Sleighs! as Santa Claus. 

From 87North, the bare-knuckle producers of Nobody, John Wick, Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, Bullet Train and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw comes a coal-dark holiday action-comedy that says you should always bet on red. When a team of mercenaries breaks into a wealthy family compound on Christmas Eve, taking everyone inside hostage, the team isn’t prepared for a surprise combatant: Santa Claus (David Harbour, Black Widow, Stranger Things series) is on the grounds, and he’s about to show why this Nick is no saint!

(from left) David Harbour and John Leguizamo on the set of Violent Night.

Review

Santa Claus Has Had Enough of Christmas

This Holiday Season, Santa Claus is coming to town in this ultra-violent sugar cookie-coated tale from writers Pat Casey and Josh Miller whilst directed by Tommy Wirkola who infuses his gore-soaked humour into this familiar holiday tradition that’s full of festive fun, ferocious fights, action-set pieces involving Christmas ornaments, Ice-skates, and a Nutcracker. “Violent Night” is sure to be a Christmas Crowd pleaser that’ll ultimately make you think twice about candy canes and the Christmas tree star whilst also being a fantastic homage to the seasonal genre classics like “Home Alone” and “Die Hard”.

“Violent Night” introduces David Harbour as Santa Claus, a cynic washing away and drowning his frustrations with booze on Christmas Eve, he’s feeling burned out by a world with too much greed and too little Christmas spirit, and he’s ultimately disgusted with the world’s consumerism. Harbour perfectly slips into the jolly red suit and into the role of this cranky, brutal, and savage version of Santa Claus, making it look effortless as he goes from a despairing drunk to a bloodthirsty warrior on the battlefront truly capturing some of the best Seasons Beatings with gruesome and inventive kills. However, Harbour also provides some of the film’s endearing, heartfelt moments when he magically goes down the chimney, eating decorative cookies, and interacting with Trudy played by Leah Brady definitely thawed out this jolly man’s heart.

David Harbour as Santa in Violent Night, directed by Tommy Wirkola. © 2022 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Snow Way Out

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Lightstone residence. The Lightstone family, are an affluent and dysfunctional bunch gathering for Christmas at the countryside mansion of Gertrude Lightstone played by Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation franchise). It’s a lavish estate that has been funded by the profitable family business. Jason Lightstone (Alex Hassell), his estranged wife Linda(Alexis Louder), and their daughter Trudy (Leah Brady) travel to the family and are joined by Jason’s alcoholic sister Alva (Edi Patterson), her new boyfriend and wannabe-action-star Morgan Steele (Cam Gigandet), and Alva’s influencer son Bert (Alexander Elliot).

However, Just as Santa arrives there to deliver gifts — and takes a break to sample some fine liquor along with his cookies — the criminal mastermind called “Mr Scrooge” (John Leguizamo) breaks in with his gang of minions, intending to steal $300 million from Gertrude’s vault. But the money appears to be missing, and the Lightstones are taken, hostage. John Leguizamo plays Scrooge, the leader of the mercenaries with skill and energy which is a perfect rival for Harbour’s Santa. Alongside his gang of mercenary minions aptly identified with Christmas codenames such as Candycane, Sugar Plum, Gingerbread, and Krampus provide some of the most hilarious and bloody moments.

(from left) Sugarplum (Stephanie Sy), Gertrude (Beverly DÕAngelo), Alva (Edi Patterson), Morgan Steel (Cam Gigandet), Frosty (Can Aydin), Bert (Alexander Elliot), Linda (Alexis Louder), Peppermint (Rawleigh Clements-Willis), Scrooge (John Leguizamo) and Gingerbread (AndrŽ Eriksen) in Violent Night, directed by Tommy Wirkola.

Feliz Navi-Dead

“Violent Night” truly has its Season’s beatings as it’s jam-packed with ferocious fights and bloody deaths. The fights are incredibly well done, and the choreography and stunt of the action sequences are a work of art. Though at first, when the shooting begins, Santa doesn’t want to get involved. But once he recognizes Trudy’s involvement and realizes her goodness and innocence including her belief —which he dutifully looks up on a magical “Naughty and Nice” list—he determines that he must fight for her safety.

This movie is also rightly named “Violent Night” as it ultimately leaves pools of blood on the floor and blood spattered on the walls which in turn make the snow red. Throughout each action-set piece Santa batter’s the mercenaries with fists and heavy objects; stabs one with knives, sharpened candy canes and, well, anything with a point; and have their necks and body parts slashed or impaled on the likes of everything from axes and sharp Christmas ornaments to ice skates.

One sequence perfectly captures the essence and pays homage to “Home Alone”. it’s full of innocence, fun, and games as the traps that Trudy set are lethal.

© Universal Studios Violent Night, directed by Tommy Wirkola.

Final Thoughts

HO HO HO

“Violent Night” is ultimately a story about Santa saving Christmas yet again, however this time with an onslaught of grisly holiday surprises. The movie’s heart is the magic of christmas, and even Santa doesn’t fully understand it, we see that magical force at play several times as he magically evaporates and whisks up a number of chimney flues and that his sack has the ability to store an endless number of gifts that he can magically pull out just by reaching in. The film also incudes a sountrack of festive themes and a creative use of Christmas songs which will leave audiences crying with laughter. Writers Pat Casey, Josh Miller and director Tommy Wirkola blends such gnarly bloody action with laughs and a magical story about believing.

“Violent Night”  Ultimately achieves a perfect blending of genres and totally exceeds expectations, truly making it a wildly entertaining holiday horror caper. With it’s impressive body count, explosions, bloodshed, heart, and overall holiday cheer, “Violent Night” most definitely earns a spot on the Nice List! and If your able to see this in cinemas, do so as the experience on the big screen is epic. I intend to make this a part of my annual holiday movie watchlist from here on out.

“Violent Night” is now showing in Theatres!

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Keke Palmer to Lead ‘Moxie’ for Amazon Studios

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Coming hot off her success in Jordan Peele’s Nope, Keke Palmer has found her next big theatrical project. According to an exclusive from Deadline, Palmer will star in Moxie, an action-comedy film for Amazon Studios that will be written by Heather Quinn (Werewolf by Night) and directed by Bert (Hawkeye, The Great).

Moxie follows a foul-mouthed stripper, played by Palmer, who angers the FBI in a major way before becoming the best candidate for their new agency program. Bert, who is one half of the female directing duo, Bert & Bernie, will set off to direct this project solo but with her comedic tendencies in projects such as The Great, Our Flag Means Death and Troop Zero, she brings the necessary chops to propel this project to the next level. Palmer has been highly coveted since appearing in Jordan Peele’s latest earlier this year, even drawing rumors to play Rogue, a mutant within the X-Men in the MCU.

In addition to her role in Nope, Palmer voiced one of the lead characters in Pixar’s Lightyear released earlier this year and is set to host Saturday Night Live this weekend on NBC. She’ll next appear in Aziz Ansari’s directorial debut, Being Mortal alongside Ansari, Seth Rogen and Bill Murray. 

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