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The Lost City | Welcome to the Jungle – Review

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Globe-trotting adventures feel like as much of a rarity as erotic thrillers — thank God for Deep Water — and yet we’ve gotten Uncharted and The Lost City in less than two months. While those two films do share some similarities, being that they riff off of Indiana Jones-type adventure flicks, the former was based on a popular video game franchise while the latter is an original film about every writer’s biggest fear: Writer’s block. While this 110-minute adventure sails due to its leads and self-awareness, it’s dragged down by far too many lulls past the first 30 minutes. For as fun as The Lost City can be, almost comparable to cotton candy, it’s equally forgettable. I will be amazed if anyone can name the crown that Daniel Radcliffe is pursuing in this film any longer than five minutes after watching the film.

Loretta Stage (Sandra Bullock) is a best-selling author who writes the type of romance-adventure novels that your mom likely looked at in Barnes and Nobles. Like George R. R. Martin, Loretta has hit a bit of trouble when trying to write a satisfying ending to her 20-book series; spending her days locked in her house with enough champagne to fill a bathtub. Once she magically finds the inspiration to finish the book, titled The Lost City of D, she embarks on a book tour to promote it where she is kidnapped a la Taken by billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) who believes the lost city from Loretta’s books is real. Loretta’s cover model, Alan (or Dash), steps up to the plate to save Loretta and prove that you should never judge a book by its cover (very clever).

You can’t say that The Lost City doesn’t hit the ground running. Within 10 minutes Loretta is on her book tour, another 10 goes by and she’s kidnapped and we have our adventure. Brad Pitt shows up to be sexy and kick ass not even another 10 minutes after this. The opening act of The Lost City absolutely bops and draws you in hook, line, and sinker. What proceeds, however, is a choppy mess that is a mixed bag of some great moments between the two leads and a story so generic that the story, unlike The Lost City of D for much of its time in production, writes itself.

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum star in Paramount Pictures’ THE LOST CITY.

Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum make for a pair of two people that you would never imagine having any chemistry if they were paired up together, yet they kill it. The Lost City is almost entirely dependent on the two, and both of their characters are so far out of their elements in the film that you can’t help but chuckle when Loretta mentions her sequin tracksuit being a rental or Dash slapping an already-unconscious body after Brad Pitt knocks the person out. Both Loretta and Dash have a desire to prove themselves as more than they appear: Loretta wants to find fulfillment in something at this stage in her life while Dash wants to be seen as more than a pretty face; he’s reminded on numerous occasions that their situation of peril is not one requiring his shirt being ripped off.

Tatum is an actor whose career feels underappreciated. My generation may know him from G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, others may know him from Magic Mike or the Jump Street reboot, but when Loretta calls Dash on his bullshit while reciting his whole life story, it felt like a self-aware joke about Tatum’s actual story. Loretta says that Dash “got by on good looks,” “coasted through school,” and “moved to LA but realized being the most handsome man doesn’t make you a leading man.” Unfortunately, this sentiment rings true for many in Hollywood, and it does make Tom Holland, who has star power if nothing else. Long gone are the days of movie stars putting butts in seats, it feels like everything is about franchises (something Tatum would know).

Sandra Bullock and Daniel Radcliff star in Paramount Pictures’ THE LOST CITY.

Daniel Radcliffe plays the rich son that is out to prove himself against his siblings and parental figures trope that Antonio Banderas just played in Uncharted; though there’s a lot less slicing of throats in The Lost City. Nonetheless, Radcliffe chews up a lot of scenery when he’s on-screen. Mind you, there is no disappearing spell in play here, maybe it’s due to COVID restrictions, but Fairfax just disappears after the first 30 minutes. There’s a scene here and there of him reacting to a given situation, but he’s really not present until the last act. Maybe this was a conscious effort to focus the film on Bullock and Tatum, but when the antagonist, who is in high pursuit of these two, is just nowhere to be found, it’s weird.

Fairfax’s goons are about as insignificant as he is throughout the film, but you have to applaud the effort to find a “Jason Statham type” with Thomas Forbes-Johnson’s heavy who looks like Dr. Robotnik and sounds like Jason Statham.

Speaking of weird, all of the rage on Twitter is how Spider-Man: No Way Home used a soundstage and greenscreen in almost every scene. The Lost City won’t cross $1 billion, so not as many eyes will see it, but the same could be said here. Yes, the $74 million budget is like pocket change for a blockbuster like No Way Home, but it feels painfully obvious that Bullock and Tatum spend most of their time on soundstages in the film. It takes away any sort of suspension of disbelief that you may have while watching. Hell, the third act looks like it takes place in the same cave as Uncharted‘s while swapping the pirate ships for a tomb.

The PG-13 rating was completely unbeknownst to me upon writing this review. It’s certainly not surprising considering Sanda Bullock mutters “cheese and rice” enough times that you’ll quickly realize it’s unironic. It would also explain why both Bullock and Tatum are used as PG-13 eye candy including one fully-nude butt. It’s not like the rating changes my perception of the film as a whole, but it certainly would have explained some of the flat jokes and awkward dialogue that sounded like a teenager making his first raunchy jokes. A lot of the jokes are very low-hanging fruit; take Loretta’s book being titled The Lost City of D, for example. I know I can’t be the only one who rolled their eyes when someone said the “D” stands for “dick.”

More than anything, it’s a shame that The Lost City had to spoil its own biggest cameo/moment in the trailers. It did lead to some misdirection — as Pitt’s character doesn’t come off like more than a glorified cameo, even in the trailers — but I remember thinking to myself that the film was either moving way too fast early on or it was 80 minutes long. This leads to the top-heavy unbalance that the film has. It begins with such highs that nothing after these moments tops itself.

The Lost City harkens back to the days when sexy leads can carry a film with very little substance and make a ton of money on a small-to-mid budget. With The Batman still legging out, will The Lost City make gangbusters? Probably not, but the mid-budget rom-com starring Sandra Bullock, Channing Tatum, Daniel Radcliffe, and Brad Pitt certainly could be the “little engine that could.” As for the film itself, no one will watch the film for its plot; even despite the fact that it’s the closest thing to an old-school action rom-com of the past. So with that said, it’s a mindless fun time that does have some heart, specifically with Tatum’s character. What really needs to happen to take this franchise to the next level is Sony and Paramount working together to combine the Uncharted and Lost City franchises.

Paramount will release The Lost City in theaters on March 25.

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HORROR

Choose or Die – A Miss For Netflix

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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.

Lola Evans as Kayla and Asa Butterfield as Isaac

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.

Ioanna Kimbook as Grace in Choose or Die, seen here in the diner in one of the more grotesque decisive moments for Kayla

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. 

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Anaïs in Love Review | The Worst Person in France

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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.

A still from Anaïs in Love. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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.

A still from Anaïs in Love. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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.

Director Charline Bourgeois-Tacquet. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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.

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Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness | Non-Spoiler Review |

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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.

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

[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.

On left: Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Stephen Strange in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

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.

Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff in Marvel Studios’ DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

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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