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Nicolas Cage in One of the Craziest Movies of 2018

Charmaine Blake



Nicolas Cage sings a deranged rendition of The Hokey Pokey while smashing a homemade pool table to smithereens with a sledgehammer in Mom and Dad, and even for a performer whose big-screen persona has been partially defined by out-there insanity, its an instantly classic moment of unhinged mania in the Oscar-winners career. Better still, its emblematic of the film as a whole, as this gonzo comedy begins with an act of infanticide-via-speeding train, and only gets wilder from there.

Such madness is to be expected from not only Cagea star who revels in the over-the-top potential of every gesture, expression and quiet-to-LOUD line readingbut also Brian Taylor, who (along with frequent partner Mark Neveldine) previously directed the two action-on-speed Crank films and the Cage-headlined Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Cage and Taylor are a match made in gonzo cinema heaven, and Mom and Dad (in theaters January 19) is a fitting vehicle for their artistic impulses, which skew toward black-and-blue humor and violence, and seem to be fueled by a concoction of bad mescaline and schizophrenic nightmares. Theyre kindred crazies, amused by murderous absurdity and aroused by go-for-broke delirium.

Rest assured, those qualities are on full display in their latest collaboration, which concerns a sudden, uncontrollable desire on the part of parents, worldwide, to murdertheir children.

That wave of filicide begins with a mother leaving her infant child in a car parked astride train tracks as a speeding locomotive approaches, and soon spreads across the nearby cookie-cutter suburb where Brent (Cage) and wife Kendall (Selma Blair) reside with their teenage daughter Carly (Anne Winters) and adolescent son Josh (Zackary Arthur). At breakfast in a kitchen also populated by their Chinese housekeeper Sun-Yi (Sharon Gee) and her daughter Lisa (Adin Alexa Steckler), the clans bickering is intense, with everyone expressing disgust with each other: Carly with Brents suggestion that he was once a virile horndog; Kendall with Brents jokes about the aforementioned baby murder; and Brent with Carlys comment that shes on the rag. Its a tense household, and considering that Taylor prefaces this scene with a credit sequence full of scuzzy 70s-era color-coded split screens, its clear that were in exploitation terrain, where things are about to explode.

Cage is a whirlwind of paternal wrath. His Brent is the embodiment of head-of-household bitterness run amok

That detonation doesnt come immediately, as the filmmaker first lays out the many ways in which Carly is an unbearable teenincluding her smart mouth, her indignant eye-rolls, and her phone addiction, the last of which is visualized via images of her texts and social-media screens appearing on top of Kendall as the mother and daughter chat in the car. Josh is only somewhat more tolerable, a layabout who leaves his toys everywhere and whose idea of fun is to store a dead animal in Brents beloved Firebird Trans Am. Its thus no surprise that, upon exiting the front door and gazing upon his bland planned community, Brent is struck by a memory of happier glory-days-gone-by, when he tore about in his sports car with a topless woman on his lap while heavy metal blared from the speakersa reverie of euphoric badass-paradise lost.

After Carlys friend Riley (Olivia Crocicchia) is spied at school listening to profane hip-hop and buying drugs in the bathroomleading her teacher (Joseph D. Reitman) to opine, You kids need to go to churchthings go really haywire, with police cars racing up to the front doors and parents congregating outside a gate, trying to fetch their kids. When one boy complies, leaping over a fence despite the best efforts of police to stop him, hes promptly stabbed to death with car keys, thereby initiating a mad pursuit across a football field by parents (resembling feverish zombies intent on slaughter) after their sons and daughters. The reasons for this mayhem arent initially clear. Yet TV broadcasts that suddenly segue to white snow, as well as the soundtracks electronic buzzing and bleeping, suggestas do panicked news anchorsthat adults have somehow been psychologically corrupted by a bioweapon (or, per Dr. Oz, is it just humanitys answer to pig-savaging?) Think Halloween: Season of the Witch, except with the signal targeting fathers and mothers parental cortex.

Mom and Dad has no interest in proffering a literal answer to its central mystery; instead, it treats its premise as a means of corrosive satire, in which the traditional roles expected ofand played bymen and women are exposed as fatally unfulfilling. For Brent and Kendall, choosing lives of diminishing-returns domesticityhe as the breadwinner whos constantly earning less bread; she as the career-sacrificing homemakerhas wrought little more than regret, unhappiness and rage. Their homicidal urges, as well as those of other parents, are presented as a manifestation of their misery at having negated their own sense of selves for an unrewarding existence spent caring for narcissistic brats with little common decency and no respect for their elders.

This situation invariably leads to a centerpiece in which Brent and Kendall attempt to off their offspring, and Taylor orchestrates it with glee, employing high- and low-angled shots to convey his adult characters psychosis, bifurcated compositions that highlight the familial schisms at work, and hyperactive edits and computerized noises to create an atmosphere of volatile dissonance. Far from off-putting, theres a giddiness to this aesthetic assault, which comes replete with droll musical choices like Roxettes It Must Have Been Love as Kendalls sister, having just delivered her first child, tries to squeeze the life out of its still-attached-by-an-umbilical-cord bodyat which point Taylor segues to a shot of fathers staring furiously at their newborns from the other side of a hospital nurserys window, their malevolent thoughts legible on their silent faces.

Blair dives into this material with gusto, initially pitching her performance a few notches below hysterical and then dialing up the sinister volume until, finally, she transforms into a 21st century Mommie Dearest. Its Cage, however, that truly kicks Mom and Dad into outrageous overdrive. Vacillating on a dime between tranquil cheeriness and screaming/weeping fury, and verbally raging in his usual oddly-syncopated manner (I was gonna grab the world by the balls, and squeezeboy!), Cage is a whirlwind of paternal wrath. His Brent is the embodiment of head-of-household bitterness run amokas well as a case study in why kids must eventually escape their mothers and fathers graspand one who eventually finds himself trapped in a cycle of extinction-level annihilation once his own pa and ma (Lance Henriksen, Marilyn Dodds Frank) decide to visit. Its a turn thats bug-eyed cartoonish and unpredictably menacing, and to see Cage stalking his progeny with a Sawzall electric saw while crowing Saws All!stretching out the vowel sounds to the point of lunacyis to witness the actor in all his peerlessly eccentric glory.

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New Movie Reviews

Why ‘Love, Simon’ is so important, and why you need to see it (twice)



Everyone loves “Love, Simon,” and all that it represents

Image: Twentieth Century Fox

The recently released Love, Simon is not only making LGBTQ+ history; it’s also elevating the rom-com genre in unprecedented ways.

It’s been met with a choir of critical praise so far. Mashable’s own MJ Franklin showered it with love in a review that called it “a gotdamn delightful romcom, and gay as hell.” In a perfect summation of the movie’s far-reaching impact, he wrote: 

“[Love, Simon is] a heart-wrenching, empathy-expanding look at what it means to be a gay teen AND it’s a universal story about the awkward, messy attempts of navigating high school, AND it’s a hilarious comedy in it’s own right.”

Voices all around the internet are in agreement: Love, Simon is not only a triumph of cinema, but a huge leap toward a long overdue and desperately needed cultural shift.

Why is it so important? For one, it’s probably the first rom-com with the power to save literal lives. 

Data indicates that LQBTQ+ teens are at a much higher risk of attempted suicide or suicidal thoughts. As a recent report from CNN noted, a 2015 study conducted in the United States found that 40 percent of high school students who identify as “gay, lesbian or bisexual or questioning” had “seriously” considered suicide at one point or another. (It’s important to note those numbers donot include transgender teens.)

Non-profit organizations like Dan Savage and husband Terry Miller’s It Gets Better Project have worked hard to provide everyone who identifies as LGBTQ, and youths in particular, with the support system needed to combat this too-common sentiment. But a mainstream Hollywood movie that addresses the joys of gay high school experiences as well as the difficulties has the potential to reach people on a much larger scale.

And that’s not to mention the important fact that this stellar, young cast isn’t just diverse in terms of sexual orientation, but also race:

In 2016, groundbreaking Best Picture winner Moonlight shined a bright light on the especially isolating experience of being gay, black, and male in America, from youth to adulthood. That stark portrait and its success sparked an important conversation that Love, Simon continues in its own uniquely impactful way.

It should go without saying, but Love, Simon is not just an important film for LGBTQ+ people. As Franklin put it, “calling it a gay teen rom-com seems to do Love, Simon a disservice because it’s so much more than that.” This movie reflects reality by showing a broad spectrum of love and coming-of-age issues, including those of straight people. 

Heterosexual people and their relationships still dominate mainstream culture, and LGBTQ+ folks have had no problem identifying with the universal experience of love depicted in all those rom-coms. Love, Simon steps out of that heteronormative mindset, but it’s still for everyone.

Representation in mainstream culture leads to normalization. As a gatekeeper of what our culture views as “normal,” Hollywood has the power to breed life-changing empathy toward LGBTQ+ folks in those who struggle to see outside their own heterosexual lives.

New Movie Reviews

Ready Player One review Spielberg’s shiny VR caper isn’t worth playing

Charmaine Blake



Flashy adaptation of the book is full of pop culture references and striking visuals but a thin plot and shallow characters

With the help of Van Halens Jump, Steven Spielbergs Ready Player One launches its video game adventure story at full speed. The year is 2045; the place is Columbus, Ohio. Our hero, Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), fills in the details while climbing past his grungy homes of his town, the stacks, where trailer parks are piled on top of each other sky-high. Things are so miserable in Wades world, everyone escapes to play in an immersive virtual reality game known as the Oasis. Its Steve Jobs-like founder, James Halliday (Mark Rylance) is worshipped like a god until his death some years before. However, before he left the mortal world, the benevolent creator left behind a series of games that would reward the winner with the Willie Wonka-like prize of the keys to his virtual kingdom.

Thats a lot of story to race through in two hours and 20 minutes, but Spielberg paces his movie to fly past the films explanations of events as quickly as possible. The conflict is straightforward and simple: our hero and his friends must outplay the corporate bad guys led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and beat him to the three keys that would control the game. Some scenes are just too bloated with with trivia to have any real weight. The information isnt given in a casual, conversational way, but in a pretentious manner, as if theyre trying to impress you with minutiae.

The Ernest Cline novel on which its based on is perhaps best known for its many pop culture references. The film follows suit with a soundtrack filled with an upbeat selection of greatest hits from the 80s, with a few interlopers from the 70s. The deepest cut is perhaps Princes I Wanna Be Your Lover, but the rest are songs you likely know the lyrics to. Its tragic that all history of pop culture post-1989 seems to have been lost, but anyone who remembers the 80s may feel nostalgic spotting artifacts from their past. A DeLorean! Theres Batman! Thats the … Holy Hand Grenade? Theres even a few nods to Spielbergs movies, like when a T-Rex chases a car in Jurassic Park. Its easy to get distracted by these cameos on the edge of the story.

The film mimics video games weightless camera, creating a floating point of view around fight scenes and chase scenes. While thrilling to watch, its a style that left me queasy from motion sickness. The spinning is sometimes so fast, its tough to figure out which player is winning or who is fighting who. With too much movement, momentum is lost. The audience has to regain its footing in the story before running off towards the finish line.

While the movie is visually whimsical with its design and neon colors, the weakness of the source material still pokes out. Plot holes remain, despite screenwriter Zak Penn and Spielbergs efforts to liven up the visuals and punch up the dialogue. Im not sure I have a great understanding of how the game mechanics are supposed to work. If movement is required to move an avatar in the game, how do people play in the Oasis while standing in their living rooms?

For a movie about the heros journey, theres no arc for any of the characters. Theyre all already heroes, the big bad is evil from start to finish. Sheridan isnt given enough to act on. Wade and his teammates are almost interchangeable, save for a few differences in height and race. The grown-ups seem to enjoy their roles a bit more than the very serious group of young gamers. Mendelsohn has some fun playing a slippery villain, and Rylance is reliably childish as the Wonka/Jobs hybrid.

Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke in Ready Player One. Photograph: Jaap Buitendijk

Unfortunately, Ready Player One has a noticeable girl problem: it cant see female characters as just other people. For as skilled and resourceful as Art3mis/Samantha (Olivia Cooke) is, her avatar is that of an impossible pixie dream girl a creature with a svelte body, anime-inspired big eyes, weapons training and the person who knows and loves almost every reference Wade makes. Of course, shes damaged with a birthmark on her face, and hes the only nice guy who can see that shes truly beautiful. Samantha is the artificially programed Eve to Wades Adam, but worse because she never gets the chance to sin.

Those who come away cheering for Ready Player One will likely have enjoyed the films many references, the storys breakneck speed and playful visual design. Others may want to unplug from the paint-by-number characters and shallow plot. The film has much to say about our present-day fixation on nostalgia. So many characters pine to go back to their 80s future, but some of us want to see whats next. Theres no leveling up or cheat codes that can help with that.

  • Ready Player One is released in the UK and US on 29 March

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New Movie Reviews

John Krasinski’s ‘A Quiet Place’ will make you scream, and then turn your own screams against you

Charmaine Blake



Real-life couple John Krasinski and Emily Blunt make for a stellar onscreen couple as well.

Image: Paramount Pictures

It’s not easy to make an entire room full of movie fans scream in terror. But John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place did just that Friday, thrilling the SXSW crowd with impeccably crafted scares, surprisingly effective drama, and one hell of a satisfying ending.

By the time the credits rolled, my hands hurt from clenching them so tightly. I let out a long breath I didn’t know I’d been holding. And then I felt compelled to applaud, loudly, at what I’d just seen. Judging by the dazed looks on the faces of the critics around me, I wasn’t the only one. This is that kind of movie.

For the most part, A Quiet Place lives up to its title. Krasinski and Emily Blunt play the parents of a family living out their days in near-silent isolation, lest the slightest noise attract the monsters that have already demolished most of the rest of the human population.

The film’s genius is in the way it weaponizes that absence of sound. The quiet of A Quiet Place has nuances and textures – there’s a difference in the silence a father hears as his family tiptoes around an abandoned store, versus the silence his deaf daughter (Wonderstruck‘s Millicent Simmonds) hears when she’s in the same scenario.

When sound does intrude, it’s horribly jarring. My tension spiked with each crash or yell. When those noises attracted the monsters – which are so brutally efficient that they leave little more than a blood smear behind – that’s when the audience would start to scream.

Even more harmless, mundane noises take on an outsized significance. The roar of a waterfall starts to sound like comfort and liberation, because it’s loud enough that the monsters can’t hear over it. A song played on an iPod feels downright decadent, and almost unbearably loud. Dialogue starts to seem strange to our ears, after so many conversations executed via sign language. (The same applies, unfortunately, to the score, which feels unnecessary at best and overbearing at worst.)

All this tension puts us in the same mindset as the characters: They can never let their guard down, so we can’t either. Krasinski and his brilliant sound team even manage to turn our own bodies against us – I was acutely aware of my own gasps and signs, and frequently found myself covering my mouth so I wouldn’t yelp in shock.

Still, none of this would really matter if we weren’t at least a little invested in these characters’ fates, and here this cast does some of its most elegant work.

A Quiet Place doesn’t spend a whole lot of time dwelling on who these people are (if any of them have names, I don’t know what they are) but the actors capably convey their characters’ personalities in a few deftly sketched strokes. Blunt in particular shines, building an entire emotional arc out of an unguarded smile, a weary frown, a squaring of the shoulders.

In essence, A Quiet Place is a feature-length version of that scene in every horror movie where the protagonist creeps down a dark hallway toward an unknown threat, and we grit our teeth with a mixture of eagerness and dread.

Half the time, the payoff, when it comes, hardly seems worth the fuss. A Quiet Place is the all-too-rare movie where it does. This may not be the deepest or most ambitious horror movie in recent memory – there’s not much here beyond that brilliantly simple core concept. But as a delivery vehicle for sheer, visceral terror, it’s one of the most brutally effective.

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