‘Men’ Review

Alex Garland’s newest film is a stylized incoherent film that tries to fill in the cracks of its narrative with poignant symbolism.

CREDIT: A24

7/10

Alex Garland has been steadily creating a body of work worth noting down as one of the best of the last couple of years. I was a big fan of his first film, Ex Machina. I found his style and approach to the overarching narrative to be exquisite. It is easily one of my favorite films of all time plus who doesn’t love watching Oscar Isaac dance in that iconic scene. He would continue on with his next film, Annihilation, which polarized audiences with its mixed reviews. I have heard great things about his FX show, Devs, but have yet to sit down and actually watch it. Needless to say, when the first trailer was released for Men I was eager to watch it. Well, let’s talk about this new horror film from writer and director, Alex Garland.

Men, written and directed by English filmmaker, Alex Garland. The film marks Garland’s return to the silver screen after 2018’s Annihilation. The film stars Jessie Buckley, Rory Kinnear, and Paapa Essiedu. In Men, we follow the journey of Harper (Jessie Buckley) who relocates to the English countryside after her husband commits suicide. Well, the story is not as straightforward as it sounds since a constant presence of toxic men appears around the town that begins to harass her. As Harper tries to figure out what is happening she also must confront the nature of her past marriage and the effects of toxic masculinity that surround the nightmare she is living in.

As always I want to start with the positives because I dislike filling my reviews with constant negativity. I hope that with even the worst experiences I have with films I try to find something that works within the film I am watching. Sometimes there are films that have only one thing that I found captivating and it is important to me to point it out. Jessie Buckley is an incredible actress and her very nuanced work within this film is beyond captivating. It reaches into the deepest levels of your heart and finds a way to universally connect with you. The same can be said about Rory Kinnear’s multiple roles that manage to get so far under your skin to make you uncomfortable. Rob Hardy’s stellar photography throughout the film really captures the visual motifs and atmosphere of the area that Harper is inhabiting. Finally, throughout the film the sound design, visual effects, and score work so well together to form a really creepy tone for the film.

Nonetheless, Men is far from being the perfect film and is Alex Garland’s weakest film to date. The script even though providing interesting themes can never find a coherent execution to present them. Alex Garland has a lot of interesting themes to explore like toxic masculinity and the generational culture of toxicity, but the film never finds a way to concisely represent it. The film’s pacing drags throughout the second act of the film. Once the film reaches its third act it repeatedly beats you over the head with its imagery that the message gets lost within its use of symbolism. As great as the frames looked the message behind the frames constantly got lost within the shuffle of the execution. Even though it doesn’t work for most of its runtime, Men is still an interesting film that is deserving of a rewatch to fully capture what the film is saying. The third act is a glorious display of horror, but we will see what the road leads for Alex Garland. I am still on his hype train, and I am looking forward to what comes next from his directorial efforts.

Watch Men in theaters.

‘Deep Water’ Review

Deep Water is an incoherent film that loses itself that does not hold its weight throughout its messy script.

CREDIT: Hulu

3.5/10

Normally there are a lot of films that fall under my personal radar at times. There are exceptions to the rule and one of them is when I get sick. That was the case when I was able to sit down and watch Adrian Lyne’s Deep Water. The genre of erotic thrillers is some of my favorites dating back to films like Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale. Also, the film includes two actors who I am big fans of, so easily this should be on my radar to consume? Well, I relatively felt nothing when the trailer for the film was released. Therefore, I bit the bullet and put myself through this new Hulu release.

Deep Water is directed by Adrian Lyne and written by Zach Helm and Sam Levinson. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith. The film stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas as a married couple who have an open marriage. The cast also includes Grace Jenkins, Dash Mihok, Rachel Blanchard, Kristen Connoly, Jacob Elordi, and Lil Rel Howery. The film was originally supposed to release two years ago but after two delays, it finally arrived in homes in the US via Hulu.

In Deep Water, Victor and Melinda Van Allen, played by Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas look to open their marriage to other lovers in order to fix their loss of love. Victor lets Melinda take on other loves outside of him as long as it does not end up in her leaving her family. Their daughter, Trixie, is a normal little girl who does not understand the situation at hand. Most of the time, open relationships work and should not be so taboo when all parties are consensual. That does not seem to be the case in this picture because some of Melinda’s lovers end up disappearing or dead. The film unravels as it decodes a murder plot and the troubling aspects of love.

What can I say about Deep Water that has not already been shouted from the rooftops of film twitter? Deep Water does not work as a psychological thriller or a drama. Adrian Lyne tries his best to direct a film out of a poorly written script. The characters feel so one-dimensional and some of the dialogue leaves one puzzled instead of intrigued. I found the cinematography to be exquisite with its beautiful use of lighting and excellent camera movements. Sadly, filmmaking is not just a visual format and a good movie does not include just beautiful photography. Its pace drags itself across metaphorical concrete as it struggles to wrap itself up. Once it reaches the final shot, there is not much catharsis to feel. The performances are fine but both actors have been in better work. The execution could work more if there was a better script for Lyne to direct. The movie misses its mark by a long shot and ultimately felt like a chore to get through.

Watch Deep Water on Hulu in the US and Amazon Prime Video internationally.

‘X’ Review

Ti West’s X misses its mark but makes up with a thriller coated in grindhouse elements.

CREDIT: A24

7/10

Ti West is back with another horror film and it’s not your standard slasher flick. What’s a way to make horror a bit more interesting nowadays? Well, how about we make it a grindhouse-type slasher flick revolving around filmmakers trying to make porn in the 70s? That right there is enough to get me into the theater for your new film. I will say that the trailer for this film did enough to get me excited. It did not completely sell me on the film but it poked my interest. I never watched a Ti West film before but I was willing to see what X would offer in the horror genre.

Ti West’s X stars Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, and Stephen Ure. In X we follow the journey of a group of filmmakers including director Wayne, cinematographer RJ, Lorraine, and their fellow actors. Things are not that simple though as the group embarks on a trip to shoot their next porn flick in rural Texas. Maxine one of the main actresses is in a relationship with the director. Actors Bobby-Lynne and Jackson are together but not really as they are on and off. RJ and Lorraine are together even though she feels uneasy about pornography. The group arrives at the farm with problems with the owners, but once they are settled they begin to roll cameras. Of course, there would be no movie if things went easy as bodies begin to drop. The group must find a way out of the farm and find out who is killing them.

X is not your standard slasher as it is beautifully stylized by writer and director Ti West. The grindhouse elements perfectly match the atmosphere of this horror film. The performances by the very talented cast perfectly encapsulate the characters living in this time period. Ti West competently understands how to portray the porn boom period of the 70s. The themes of aging and a time-consuming industry that slowly manipulates people into working in it are profoundly examined within Ti West’s film.

Sadly X does not work all of the time as it drags itself throughout its second half to wrap up its story. The story between the elderly couple feels too underdeveloped to care about enough to see how it concludes in the third act. There are some brutal kills and it has its entertaining aspects, but the film meanders too much in its second act struggling to wrap itself up in the third. I appreciate a lot of what Ti West is doing within his unique film, but it leaves too much to desire. Maybe we will get more when his prequel film Pearl makes its way to the silver screen. Even if it does not work most of the time, I still highly recommend watching X if you are looking for a fun stylized slasher film.

Watch X on video on demand on most major video platforms.

‘Pleasure’ Review

Ninja Thyberg’s directorial debut is a raw and visceral look at the adult industry through the eyes of the female performer.

CREDIT: Neon

8.5/10

The world of the adult entertainment industry is not the most manageable space to exist inside. Pornography has been wildly accessible to everyone once the age of internet porn became so prevalent in our modern society. Luckily, the world of porn has been following in a more independent view since the boom of OnlyFans. Sadly, it has not always been like this with a history of on-set abuse, predatory behavior, and websites not being as controlled as they should. Many documentaries have tried but failed to provide a look into the industry without demonizing the profession of sex work. That is where Ninja Thyberg’s highly anticipated feature debut Pleasure comes in to give much-needed insight into the industry.

Pleasure has had quite the journey to the silver screen since being selected to screen at Cannes Film Festival in 2020. The film would then make its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The film’s distribution rights were purchased by A24 soon after its premiere at Sundance. After a period of silence throughout last year, news broke that the film had been sold to Neon instead. It seems that A24 tried to cut down Ninja Thyberg’s vision to an R-rated cut of the film compared to the unrated cut Neon is distributing. Now, on a limited release run through the United States Pleasure can finally be seen exactly as Ninja Thyberg intended.

In Pleasure, we follow the journey of an up-and-coming Swedish adult entertainment actress Bella Cherry (Sofia Kappel), who moves from Sweden to the US in hopes of becoming the next big porn star. The film also stars Revika Reustle, Evelyn Claire, Chris Cock, Dana DeArmond, Kendra Spade, and Jason Toler. Bella lives in a model house with her fellow models who she warms up to become friends. Bella is set on working and does not want to spend much time networking or making friends even though that is what you need to do to make it in her industry. Life inside of the industry becomes complicated as she starts to lose roles due to her hesitancy to do fewer vanilla genres of porn like experimenting with anal or hardcore sex. Lines begin to be blurred as boundaries get pushed and the industry’s manipulation is felt on her journey to become the best in the porn industry.

Pleasure is an effective examination of the adult entertainment industry for the variety of women who suffer at the hands of a predatory workplace environment. Ninja Thyberg expertly directs a captivating and profound film out of her genius script that destroys the male-dominated fantasy of porn. The use of the camera as a tool to turn the mirror back to the audience is an exemplary motif that never becomes redundant. Kappel is a star in the making as she embodies her role as Bella Cherry. The effectiveness of Pleasure is also found in its refusal to sugarcoat what life in the industry is like. Its portrayal of sexual assault and manipulation is brutal but never to the point of exploitation. The film’s cinematography is powerful through its use of shaky camera movements and naturalistic lighting. Ninja Thyberg has arrived as one of cinema’s most effective voices working right now.

Watch Pleasure in theaters nationwide.

‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Review

The newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a messy film that is coated in the stylistic approach from Sam Raimi.

CREDIT: Disney

6.5/10

At this point in time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a well-established part of our lives as it has permeated the zeitgeist enough to stay for a decade and some change. Disney/Marvel has dominated the film industry with their expansive shared universe that now branches into their streaming service with shows like WandaVision and recently Moon Knight. To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of these films. Over the years, I have seen the films become more and more complacent with their formula. Even though I am not a big fan of these films, there is a good amount that I enjoy inside their 28 film catalog. Doctor Strange is one of those films, and I will go as far as to say it is in my top ten of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Obviously, when word about the sequel was on its way I highly anticipated its release.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is directed by Sam Raimi from a script by Michael Waldron. Originally the sequel was going to be directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson who worked on the first film. Scott Derrickson left the project at the beginning of 2020 citing creative differences as the reason for his departure. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, and Rachel McAdams. This time around, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) must deal with the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home which gave the first taste of the vast multiverse making its way to Earth. Doctor Strange must embark on a journey with a new friend, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who is being chased by demons that are ordered by Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) or as known as Scarlett Witch. Doctor Strange must travel throughout the vast multiverse to find a way to save Chavez from the ruthlessness of Scarlett Witch as she searches for her lost children.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a stylistic spectacle brought to life by horror legend, Sam Raimi. The film excels in the visual department as it keeps the momentum of its visual effects while employing the stylized camera movements from Raimi’s arsenal. Danny Elfman provides one of the best scores to grace the comic book movie genre. I especially loved the use of it during a fight scene where literal musical notes are used as weapons. The film does well in bringing a new feel to a shared universe that has long felt stale. Sam Raimi’s visual aesthetic is at the forefront and for better or worse it helps keep the audience enthralled.

On the contrary, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is far from perfect. The writing feels unbalanced as its first-half works better than the subpar second half of the film. Characters like America Chavez are one-dimensional and leave more to desire from their journey in the picture. The character of Scarlett Witch continues on with the various problems I found within her show, WandaVision. There is potential within the film that is pushed aside to settle with a clunky third act. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a fun time at the cinema as we continue the journey of everyone’s favorite sorcerer. Even though it does not work most of the time, the Marvel machine does not stop as audiences patiently await the next installment in this vast universe.

Watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in theaters worldwide.