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Official Competition Review | Penélope Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Oscar Martinez Star in a Winner

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Thank you to Official Competition‘s director duo, Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat, for giving the world a gift it didn’t know it needed: Penélope Cruz attempting to floss. Somehow, that’s not even the strangest thing that Cruz’s character does in the film, but more on that later. Official Competition, starring the trio of Cruz, Antonio Banderas, and Oscar Martinez, is a fantastic film about the psychology of acting, pissing contests, and filmmaking as a whole. This is a film that no one will see, but one that everyone should be. It’s sharp, funny, and emotional.

Kicking off with what sounds like a descriptor of most old, rich people, a portrait of a sad clown is shown in the background of birthday gifts. These gifts are for Humberto Suárez (José Luis Gómez), who turns 80 at the beginning of the film. Suárez is a millionaire with “no prestige,” and he begins pondering the emptiness of his life — sort of like the Anders Danielsen Lie monologue in The Worst Person in the World. So, with all of that money and resources at his fingertips, what does he do to fill that void? He decides to make something that’ll last far longer than his time on earth: A film. But not any film, oh no. Like the group of hippies in X, Suárez wants to make a good film (though not a good, dirty movie as is the case in X).

A still from Official Competition, courtesy of IFC Films.

Suárez, with all of that money in tow, brings auteur visionary Lola Cuevas on board to direct his film, who’s a decorated actor/director. After spending even more money securing the rights to a novel that explores the conflict between two brothers — a novel that Cuevas insists on doing a “loose adaptation” of — Cuevas assembles her cast and wants to bring in two of the best working actors, Iván Torres (Martinez) and Félix Rivero (Banderas). Iván is your classic stage actor, into method acting and always going deep into the psyche of his characters. Félix, on the other hand, is not as into the whole “method acting” thing and couldn’t give a damn about creating a character’s backstory. Félix is the sort of blockbuster actor that we see today that would have clauses in his contract preventing him from being hit in the face. Anyways, the two actors are clearly on opposite ends of the spectrum, resulting in some strenuous rehearsals full of pissing contests, faking cancer, and destroying trophies.

While the whole trio of actors is great, Cruz stands out as the wacky auteur director. She’s demanding — she makes Iván repeat the very first line of the script at least 20 times — but there’s clear passion behind her techniques. Furthermore, Cruz portrays whatever Lola is feeling through her intense eyes. There are times when Lola is so fed up that she looks like she’s about to explore (and she does on occasion), but there are other times when she’s able to restrain herself. The last few minutes really put her acting on display, and she’s just fantastic. Lola is also a very sexy character, but it’s interesting to see the restraint she has for herself (unless she’s proving a point about kissing to the boys). But even when a character like Félix, who thinks he can have and deserves everything in the world, is shut down and humbled by Lola on occasion.

A still from Official Competition, courtesy of IFC Films.

Banderas and Martinez are the perfect foils for each other. They are the complete antitheses of each other, but it makes for some great scenes. Even though Offical Competition runs under two hours, it has such compelling sequences that could just be Félix or Iván screaming into the air or delivering a fiery argument beneath a five-ton rock hovered above them. The best is saved for last, as the two actors go through the entire final sequence of their film within the film and it’s just fantastic. The sequence is around five minutes long, with only one noticeable cut, and you’ll actually want to see that film just from what the bare-boned rehearsal shows.

All of the bickering and one-upping comes to a head when the film has a production party a few days before the shooting of the film starts. The cast and their families assemble as the Suárez is reintroduced into the film — you’ll likely forget he was the vessel driving this production by this point — and then something completely unexpected happens. It’s certainly a swing, not one that I was expecting, and I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it. For some, it’ll be a win for their favorite character (depending on who they favor), but it seemed like an abrupt change of pace for a film like this.

In the age of blockbusters and tentpoles taking up the auditoriums of your local theater in the summer season (and year-round, quite frankly), it’s a shame that a film like Official Competition will be relegated to arthouse theaters where and if you can find them. This is a fantastic and unique film that deserves to be seen featuring three fantastic performances and an interesting look at the psychology of acting, even if this is a heavily-dramatized version of that. I highly recommend venturing out and catching this film if you have the chance. Official Competition, for me, is like this year’s Bergman Island. Maybe not quite as good as Bergman Island, but Official Competition brings a dive into the world of filmmaking and is a delight to watch. Like Lola, this film is a winner in my book.

Official Competition is playing in select theaters now courtesy of IFC Flims.

FILM RATING

Andrew is an entertainment journalist and film "critic" who has written for the likes of Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, Film Focus Online, /Film and The Hollywood Handle among others. Leader of the Kaitlyn Dever Fanclub.

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Adventure

Arthur the King is an Epic Masterpiece

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Arthur the King movie poster (Lionsgate Films)

Here follows the review of Arthur the King, a story of deep connection between people and dogs. Not all heroes wear capes, some have wagging tails and would cross a river (and jungle) for you.

Plot

Desperate for one last chance to win, Michael Light convinces a sponsor to back him and a team of athletes for the Adventure Racing World Championship in the Dominican Republic. As the team gets pushed to the outer limits of endurance, a dog named Arthur comes along for the ride, redefining what victory, loyalty and friendship truly means.

Arthur Foundation

Mikael Lindnord raced through a jungle in Ecuador and after feeding a few meatballs to a stray dog made a friend for life. The dog followed Mikael and his team through the rough terrain. Mikael named the dog Arthur and took him back home with him.

Arthur and Mikael Lindnord (Photo taken by Krister Goransson)

The Arthur Foundation collaborates with various organizations in different countries that work towards animal welfare.

Click on the following links to reach out to Mikael Lindnord.

Movie Review (no spoilers)

The movie is based on the memoir, Arthur – The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home by Mikael Lindnord, who was the athlete who participated in the Adventure Racing World Championship in Ecuador. It is important to note in the movie they refer to him as Michael Light. Even though the original race took place in Ecuador, the movie changed the location to the Dominican Republic. The original race took place in 2014, while in the movie the race takes place in 2018.

Mark Wahlberg portrays the part of the Mikael and delivers an excellent performance alongside Simu Liu, Nathalie Emmanuel and Ali Suliman. Ukai, a stray dog, was a real champion portraying the role of Arthur. The film takes us through picturesque locations in the Dominican Republic. The suspense was felt at every turn and corner and you are kept glued to the screen with a gripping storyline. The story balances the journey of Mikael and Arthur and eventually joins their path like a jigsaw puzzle.

Mark Wahlberg as Mikael Light (Lionsgate Films)

A fictional backstory is provided of Mikael’s competitive journey as well as the journey that Arthur took to get to Mikael. The movie successfully tells a deep story of connection between dogs and people. If you want to know more about the real story, you can check your local bookstore or Amazon for a copy of Arthur – The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home

This movie is a 5 out of 5 for me. The connection between Mikael and Arthur is brought to life in this epic masterpiece. Arthur found a home in the heart of Mikael and thanks to Mark Wahlberg and Ukai, this film adaptation of ‘Arthur – The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home’ became a memorable movie.

The trailer doesn’t spoil any of the important scenes of the movie. Arthur the King has a runtime of 1 hour and 30 minutes. There is no post-credits scene so no need to wait till the end.

Arthur the King Official Trailer (Lionsgate Films)

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Entertainment

A Must-See Satanic Panic Horror – Late Night With the Devil

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Written and directed by Cameron Cairnes & Colin Cairnes, Late Night With the Devil follows a late night TV host Jack Delroy, fighting the plummeting viewership of his show by welcoming in people from the occult in order to change that, but of course, everything doesn’t go as smooth as planned.

David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy Late Night With the Devil (2023)

David Dastmalchian has appeared in a lot of films however always in smaller roles including The Dark Knight, Prisoners and more recently The Suicide Squad. This film allows Dastmalchian to take on the lead role of Jack Delroy, the host of the late night show at the centre of this film, and he genuinely does a great job. There’s a real range of emotions which his character goes through during the course of this film and he depicts them so well.

If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you’re going to really appreciate the use of practical effects in this. There’s plenty of stretchy and gooey gore for all of the horror fanatics that will have you shouting at the screen. 

From left to right: Laura Gordon, Ingrid Torelli, David Dastmalchian, Ian Bliss

If you want to hear my full thoughts, check out my review over on YouTube and let me know your opinions in the comments.

Late Night With the Devil will be released in cinemas from 22nd March and on Shudder on 19th April.

FILM RATING
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Reviews

‘I Love You, Guys’ Review | A Poignant Exploration of Celebrity Vulnerability and Human Resilience

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We are living in an era where celebrities are worshipped like deities and sometimes, people forget that he or she is also a normal human being. If we feel happy or sad at certain moments, they do as well and even though a lot of people always surround them, they get vulnerable too. Although a lot of filmmakers forget to show that aspect of their lives, Billie Melissa Rogan takes the bold approach of showing the truth. Her directorial debut, ‘I Love You, Guys,’ is a poignant story about a celebrity fighting her inner self to maintain her celebrity image. The result is a stunning piece of art that resonates long after the end credits roll in.

The short film opens with a profound close-up of the young singing sensation named Sky (Becky Bush). She has made a name for herself by making and singing really exceptional songs. As a result, she is adored by her fans. Even though it feels like Sky has everything she wants, viewers see her submerged in a bathtub as she tries to battle her anxiety. Just then, Sky gets a phone that she’d be performing state-side. Now, that’s where we get to know about her vulnerable state for the first time. Although she says that she is really happy with the above-mentioned news, her face tells a different story. Despite her impending stardom, Sky has not started to feel the massive weight of mounting pressure, a sentiment audiences get to see in her conversations with bandmate Ryan (Pedro Leandro) and girlfriend Taylor (Celi Crossland).

Becky Bush in a still from ‘I Love You, Guys’ (Jumpcut Studios)

As the story moves forward, we get to know that ‘I Love You, Guys’ is about the fragile nature of the human spirit as much as it is about celebrity culture. It not only navigates themes of depression, it also highlights the turbulent emotional journey of Sky. One of the best aspects of the film is how Rogan masterfully brings Cory Varney’s screenplay to life. She managed to capture every minor detail of Sky’s emotions with utmost precision. Despite the fact that it is her first-ever film as a director, we get a sense that we are watching a flick helmed by a seasoned filmmaker.

Another aspect that makes this film such a compelling watch is its cinematography. Jenni Suitiala has done a phenomenal in showing expressions through vibrant colors and Rogan has made full use of the settings to give viewers a visually striking film. Whether it is heated arguments or silent moments of despair, each frame feels authentic and draws audiences into Sky’s personal life.

Apart from Rogan’s direction, Varney’s script is this film’s biggest strength. The writer has undoubtedly done a stunning job of showing the humanity of these characters. There’s a reason why Sky’s struggles feel very personal and it is because we have endured such moments in life. Moments where we doubt ourselves even when we know we are more than capable of doing a particular thing. Not every smiling person is happy. Sometimes he or she is smiling just so that no one finds out about the tough times they are going through.

A still from ‘I Love You, Guys’ (Jumpcut Studios)

Acting-wise, Becky Bush has given a performance that is surely going to open several doors for her. She delivers a magnificent performance by infusing Sky with a beautiful balance of vulnerability and strength. The way she manages to convey an innumerable amount of emotions is spectacular. I believe this is one of the most apt depictions of mental turmoil. Meanwhile, Pedro Leandro and Celi Crossland are just as spectacular. Every interaction between the characters feels genuine and nuanced.

All in all, ‘I Love You, Guys’ is a testament to how resilient a human spirit can be. In just 15 minutes, Rogan, Varney, and Bush take viewers on a journey that’s thought-provoking and talks about a subject that no one talks about. The writing, direction, and performances achieve a lot more than just viewers’ attention. The film offers a compelling examination of the human cost of pursuing fame and success. A poignant story that touches on themes of ambition, relationships, and self-discovery.

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