REVIEW: “HOW IT ENDS” (2021) SXSW Online Film Festival

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Shot entirely during the pandemic, “HOW IT ENDS” takes on a delightfully quirky look of a one young woman’s journey of her last day on earth. While it was a bit chilling to note was how the streets of LA were essentially a ghost town, it definitely ended up playing in the movie’s favour. Being that the movie was very minimalistic due to pandemic restrictions, directors Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein use this to their advantage as it aptly adds to the general aesthetic of the idea that it’s all about to end.  

With the jist of the story being that an armageddon-type meteor is speeding towards a collision course with Earth and will extinguish all life as we know it. Liza (Zoe Lister-Jones), and her younger metaphysical version of herself (Cailee Spaeny), charmingly referred to as “YS,” take to the streets of Los Angeles on a journey to find one last party and instead find themselves on a journey of self-discovery as well. Initially, Liza has no interest whatsoever in attending this party and just wants to hang out by herself and get stoned, eat a pile of pancakes, drink some wine and let it all go. Liza’s only problem is well, Young Liza, who pressures her(self) to attend the Apocalypse Party being thrown by Mandy (Whitney Cummings).

How It Ends’ is an interesting and hilarious concept. Some of what makes this film so charming is the realization that until she set out on this journey, no one could see or knew about her ‘YS’, or so she thought. Running into an eclectic cast of characters along the way is all part of the fun and delight here. From a reconciliation with her mom (Helen Hunt), or realizing she wants to tell her ex-boyfriend Nate (Logan Marshall Green), that she really does love him — to hashing out a long overdue grudge with her friend Ali (Olivia Wilde), or stopping by her dad’s (Bradley Whitford), it’s all in a days work when it’s the last day on earth. By using characters and having a metaphysical younger version of themselves works hugely in the film stories favour as it turns out they meet others with the same along the way, only adds to the delight.

While Lister-Jones might be doing triple duty here as a writer/director and lead of the film, its truly Cailee Spaeny that carries us up and off, elevating the entire movie and delivering an impressive performance that I just couldn’t take my eyes off. Truly they are brilliant together, forming an aura of pure enjoyment and putting a smile on every viewers’ face. Keep an eye out for the standout cameos as well as so you don’t miss the appearances by: Finn Wolfhard, Logan Marshall-Green, Fred Armisen, Bradley Whitford, Sharon Van Etten, Olivia Wilde, Lamorne Morris, Helen Hunt, and Colin Hanks.

Honestly, if it ever comes down to the time where all life is about to end, and earth itself is about to cease to exist… you realize you’re left with nothing but yourself, and all the unfinished business you’ll need to deal with so you can die in peace. Doing something that you might regret later is an inevitability of life, but making amends with it shouldn’t be left to an extreme chance or to the very last moment when everything is about to end… and this is a message I can get behind.

Grade: B

@pegsatthemovies

Review screening : Courtesy of 42 West PR and SXSW Film Festival

REVIEW: “RICHARD JEWELL” (2019) Warner Bros.

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The title of this film “RICHARD JEWELL” is our subject matter as well. Jewell is a security guard who was hailed as a hero for finding a pipe bomb and thus preventing a bigger tragedy in 1996 during the time of the Atlanta Olympics. The film focuses on the events of the bombing itself and what takes place in the life of Richard Jewell post-bombing.

Imagine being falsely accused of a terrorist act that killed and injured people. Imagine that you are the FBI’s primary suspect. Imagine your name and face are spread across every possible media outlet. Imagine your belongings have been searched and seized as evidence – right down to your mom’s underwear. Lastly, imagine all of this occurs mere days after your actions actually saved lives and you were hailed as a hero across all of those same media outlets.  Well that imaginary man is actually Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), a humble but rather over-zealous security guard whom yes, imagines himself a law enforcement officer as he never fails to tell us.

We first meet Richard as a supply clerk at a law firm in 1986. His awkward ways and surprising efficiency catches the eye of attorney Watson Bryant (Sam Rockwell), a quasi-connection that comes into play a big part in both of their lives a decade later. We then jump ahead 10 years to find Richard being fired from his campus security job at a college due to not only his odd behaviour, but his escalating over-zealous focus on following protocol to a point of pulling people over off-campus as a police officer would. Fortunately for Richard, the Olympics are coming to Atlanta, so finding work as a security guard is pretty easy.

Pan to Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. Crowds of people are dancing at a Kenny Rogers concert and two days later we have Sly & The Family Stone and people dancing the Macarena. As one of the on-site security guards, Richard spots a suspicious backpack that turns out to be holding the pipe bomb that detonates minutes later, creating turmoil and tragedy at the site.  In hindsight we see that thanks to Richard, it wasn’t worse and as the viewing audience, we know that Richard’s actions saved lives and he definitely is not responsible for planting the bomb. And it’s because of knowing this, that we have the feeling of being in Richard’s shoes – thanks in part because of the Oscar-worthy performance here by Hauser as well.  Every time we hear Richard say “I’m law enforcement too”, it’s heart-breaking to us and gives an opening for the FBI to try and manipulate him. The scenario of a single white male living at home with his mom, carrying his gung-ho dreams of a career in law enforcement while collecting guns, knowledge on bombs and police procedure, makes Richard Jewell the perfect patsy.

Two key supporting roles come courtesy of Oscar winner Kathy Bates as Richard’s mother Bobi, and Nina Arianda as Bryant’s paralegal Nadya. Bates starts out as a loving and simple mother to Richard, but her press conference captures the character in a new light. It’s a strong and heartfelt performance. Arianda on the other hand, brings some warmth sprinkled with welcome sarcasm to her role. Once again, Hauser is spot-on in every scene, and when the four are all together, it’s a pleasure to watch. Hauser and Rockwell are especially good in their scenes together as the ‘wronged man’ contrast with the take-no-bull attorney and somehow actually gives a touch a humour in this otherwise not so humourous story.

With Jon Hamm having perfected the role of the cocksure agent-man and this one being no different as he plays FBI Agent Tom Shaw, the man totally focused on proving Richard Jewell was the perpetrator. The depiction of Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) is a bit curious, being that the uproar is over what some interpret as a reporter trading intimate relations for a scoop, yet the contempt here seems focused more on the idea of trying this case in the public eye while lacking any real evidence outside of a profile. Perhaps the viewer reaction to this is just a sign of the times we are now in.

Leading me into the fact that with four-time Oscar winner Clint Eastwood directing yet another story of a working-class hero, or essentially as he would like us all to see it. While the film deserves to be commended, the story being true as it is, as well as the wonderful performances by the entire cast, it was not lost on me on or many I saw the film with-of the political propaganda side of this film in the times facing us in our present situation. Staunch Republican that he is, Mr. Eastwood was sure to make note at what could be construed to believe to be perfect timing of the fact of the FBI made a huge error is their assessment of Richard Jewell and as such are not to be trusted. Same point being made with the media – aka ‘fake media’. Perfect timing Mr. Eastwood for more political rhetoric to keep in tune with the division of this country. Taking the hero story to the next level as we all know human beings make mistakes – and while there is cause to find total fault with the mishandling of this case, it goes without saying that they are not always wrong. No one would want to find themselves in Richard Jewell’s shoes, hence this story does deserve to be told even if it feels like a two-headed coin spin by Eastwood here.

Both Richard Jewell and Kathy Scruggs have passed, him in 2007, her in 2001, so we will never know their take on all this today.

Grade: B

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Media Screening: Tuesday, December 10, 2019 ~ Courtesy of Warner Bros. 

“RICHARD JEWELL” IS OUT IN U.S. THEATERS NOW // WORLDWIDE TO FOLLOW JANUARY 2020

REVIEW: “BOOKSMART” (2019) Annapurna Pictures

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Every decade comes with its own teen movies.  ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’, ‘Clueless’, ‘Superbad’ or any and all of John Hughes films can be par for the course of this genre.  Most are fun and years later you can give them a watch as a reminder of fun moments in life.

“BOOKSMART” might be another one that some will no doubt, add to their list.  Early word of mouth was mostly positive so going in early also and fully expecting to enjoy it, I was dismayed when the film was making “Funny, huh? Wasn’t that funny?!?” noises despite nothing particularly funny happening. Olivia Wilde gets points here though, for making a very colorful and energetic movie that might indeed convince a lot of people through sheer high spirits that it’s a great comedy. But instead it felt just strenuous to me, trying too hard to cover the fact that the funny, clever, witty material you found in all those John Hughes films, wasn’t actually there.

The premise is while some might find ridiculous, can actually happen. Two bookworm protagonists Molly (Beanie Feldstein) & Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), are horrified to discover that after all their sacrifices for the future, all the party-hearty types at their high school ALSO got into Ivy League schools. This would make sense if it took place in a wealthy community where everyone was a “legacy” student thanks for their family’s donations. But the movie makes a point of singling out two characters as the only “truly rich” ones here. Those two, Nick (Mason Gooding) & Gigi (Billie Lourd), like every character save the two lead girls, are complete “SNL”-style caricatures. What’s worse, they all also seem to be played by actors who are about a decade too old, once again apart from the two lead girls.  Add in the trying to be cool character Principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis), who side-lines as a Uber driver role, the crazy girl Triple A (Molly Gordon), who actually is one of the few that brings along the laughs, the poor rich kid with no friends and has to buy them routine character Jared (Skyler Gisondo), and wrap it all up with the lonely oddball teacher Miss Fine (Jessica Williams), (who’s name can explain the entire character to you) that ends up at a school party and sleeps with the over-aged 19 yr old senior student Theo (Eduardo Franco) that really is just weird and oh-so-wrong!

Even so, the premise and the casting and everything might have worked if “Booksmart” were an outright farce. But it seems to be aiming to be sorta-kinda “real,” while the characters nonetheless behave like no teenagers past or present. Everything here is so over-amped and contrived for effect, yet the ingenious comedy situations and bright lines that approach might have served are nowhere to be found.

While it’s can be very lively and somewhat well-crafted movie, it nonetheless felt completely phony and unfunny for the most part.  It’s not boring, but I have no idea what people who like it are responding to, beyond the fact that its being lauded as the “‘Superbad’ for high school senior girls” which is probably good enough for many, though it should be aiming for more.  You could say it tries for a mix of “Superbad” and John Hughes, but those movies do a much better job turning recognizable teenage life into farce with some heart, and if Wilde intended something similar, on the whole she misses the mark.

‘A’ for effort, in the ‘C+’ average range for derivative/uninspired content and it’s no brilliantly put together film like last years brilliant ‘Eighth Grade’ .  It’s like a student paper with a very splashy cover but nothing original or thoughtful inside.

Grade: C+                                                                                                                                                      @pegsatthemovies

 

Review Screening: Tuesday, May 7, 2019 ~ Courtesy of LAFTV Film group                  ‘BOOKSMART’ IS NOW PLAYING NATIONWIDE//WORLDWIDE RELEASE FOLLOWING