Wonder Woman 1984 director Patty Jenkins made rather controversial comments on streaming releases, saying that “all of these films that streaming services are putting out” look like “fake movies to me.” It’s quite a hypocritical comment to say, especially when her last film was indeed released on streaming (for 31 days, but still) and looked like one of the fakest things to have ever come out during the new decade but ok, I guess. Of course, many critics have called out her elitism, with reason, as streaming services allow for more creative freedom, which seems to be the number reason that attracts filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee to work with studios like Netflix. Marriage Story wasn’t a fake movie (and played really well on the big screen). However, we can discuss the authenticity and ethics of The Irishman’s PS2 de-aging, which caricatures its main characters. There isn’t one person that clearly did not find a then 76-year old Joe Pesci saying to a then 76-year old Robert De Niro, “What’s the problem, kid?” as their de-aged faces did not match their older bodies.
But those aren’t fake movies—they’re legitimate pieces of film made by legitimate filmmakers who want to legitimize streaming services as a new and exciting place for creative content. When major studios churn out the same CGI-filed blockbusters one after another, many turn to streaming services to look for the best in new entertainment. And then there’s the other side of the spectrum: The Kissing Booth and Princess Switch series and He’s All That, for example, look and sound like total fake movies. It’s shameless content destined to feed an algorithm so they can attract gullible teens looking for pure escapism inside a protagonist’s totally improbable fake life. The latest addition of fake movies is Stephen Herek’s Afterlife of the Party, which looks and sounds like the fakest thing imaginable. This is only exacerbated by the fact that Victoria Justice plays the main lead, and her acting skills are about as convincing as my forever broken Winnie the Pooh lamp.
Herek is an experienced filmmaker, having directed the first in The Mighty Ducks franchise, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Disney’s 1996 remake of 101 Dalmatians and the great 1993 adaptation of The Three Musketeers, and so to have him direct, this egregious piece of content feels like a travesty, as his talents are pitifully wasted for a fake movie on moving on and apologizing for their errors, as Justice plays Cassie, a 25-year old egotist who loves to party. She lives in her apartment with her best friend/roommate Lisa (Midori Francis), and they have a conflicting relationship together. Cassie wants to party her heart out, while Lisa thinks what she’s doing is irresponsible and dangerous. One morning, as Cassie suffers from a hangover, she slips and falls in the bathroom, hitting her head on the toilet seat in the process, and immediately dies. When she wakes up, she is welcomed into the “In-between,” a place set between Heaven and Hell, as Cassie still has amends to make up before she can go up (or down) and live the rest of her Eternal life. The rest of the film is as predictable as you’d think: Cassie will go back to Earth and make amends with her dad (Adam Garcia), mom (Sofia Garcia), and best friend in the hopes that she will become an Eternal angel and will finally rest in peace. But, of course, she finds ways to make amends, and everything ends the way it should, right?
Yes, everything ends the way it should, without an ounce of originality. Herek sets up fake drama as a pretext for Cassie and Lisa’s rift before the main character bites the dust, but we all know, deep down, that this fake drama will be resolved through one (or two) conversations. They’ll meet again, Lisa will be frightened, and then they’re going to have a good time until Cassie says something out of line, go back to fighting a bit and fully make amends before Cassie’s time is up. It’s written on the wall as soon as Cassie fights with Lisa during the film’s opening sequence. The same can be said when Lisa doesn’t have the courage to sign up for a job interview that could skyrocket her career…where do YOU think this will end up? None of it is original: everyone has seen it before. Heck, remember that 2008 rom-com with Eva Longoria, a freak accident caused her to die, and then she started to haunt her ex-boyfriend’s relationship? Neither do I, but Afterlife of the Party follows that same quasi-plot of a spirit-like presence coming back into the lives of the people she has not made amends with. It’s not the same structure, but these films both feel oddly familiar.
Though Afterlife of the Party does have something Over Her Dead Body did not have: an emotional core. And while Justice can’t act convincingly, she is boasted by decent supporting actors, including a scene-stealing Midori Francis as her best friend. Francis seems to be the only actress giving a damn here and with enough acting experience to make her role somewhat convincing and interesting. Hell, I didn’t care one bit about Cassie’s journey from egotist to a somewhat open and carefree friend, after the fact, as Justice didn’t give me one reason to root for her redemption actively. Instead, she goes through the same character beats most egotists do in situations like these and will ultimately get what she deserved after learning two or three facile elements that will provide some closure for the three holes in her life she did not get a chance to say how sorry she was.
There is nothing original and/or new Afterlife of the Party presents. All of its situations and fake drama the film creates are borrowed from infinitely better films (how Cassie teleports herself from one location to another, which has the same aesthetic traits as in the Wizarding World franchise), or, dare I say, real movies. Nothing seems real in Afterlife of the Party, save for some emotional depth with Midori Francis’ character, but nothing else. Algorithmic-driven films should be condemned as “Fake Movies,” as they’re only there to appease a certain demographic so they can consume the product while feeding the algorithm, so it can say to Ted Sarandos or the bigwigs at Netflix to make more of these products. At the same time, legitimate cinema, like Vivo or Army of the Dead, gets buried under a sea of Fake Movies. If you’ve complained about Patty Jenkins’ comments on the content streaming services releases, you haven’t seen Afterlife of the Party. I have spoken.
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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YOU'LL LIKE HER WHEN SHE'S ANGRY