His Dark Materials
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A brilliant modern day parable critiquing our voyeuristic, no consequences, social media- obsessed culture. Teens log onto an MMORPG that immediately uploads all their personal information to secure, untrackable servers. The Watchers then challenge the Players to perform all manners of dangerous or embarrassing stunts for money and notoriety. Should a Player fail a dare, all their winnings are lost, and should they "snitch," they are trapped in the game and their digital footprints fall into the hands of sadistic Watchers.
Shrinking violet Vee, goaded on by her daredevil bestie, Sydney, joins the game as a Player and quickly sparks a cult following after kissing crowd favorite Ian for five seconds. They team up and complete more and more escalating dares until the challenges get personal and threaten to destroy the simmering Host-Parasite friendship between Vee and Sydney.
The plot is as thrilling as a blindfolded 60mph motorcycle ride, and all the actors are well-cast: Emma Roberts is amiable with a tinge of awkward; Dave Franco is charming in a wolfish way; and even all the supporting friends have great moments of emotional depth. I'm really into cute, denim-overalled Kimiko Glenn who was recently in "Waitress" on Broadway. Her speaking voice is both twee yet resonant.
Wow, this is like the most feminist movie I've seen in a long time, and it came out a decade ago! Based on Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," Viola disguises herself as her twin brother Sebastian in order to play soccer at a rival school because her old school won't let her try out for the boys' soccer team after they cut the girls' team. The character updates are really quite clever, like with Malvolio being terrible Malcom's tarantula, Sebastian skipping school to chase his true bliss at a music festival, and the battle of the sexes plot is nicely balanced with transgressions and redemptions on all sides.
Amanda Bynes's "boy" mannerisms and 2000-era Justin Bieber wig are ridiculously bad, but she is still a committed physical comedienne. Lauren Ramsey as heartbroken Olivia is an earnest girl-next-door with bite, and I even found Channing all-over-your Tatum to be pretty sweet.
In 2005, I was blissfully enthralled by Natalie Portman in her follicular heyday, so I didn't quite appreciate the philosophical core of this visually and aurally stunning film. I love the high angle shots in the onyx, low-lit war room, with all those contemptuous whites of eyes staring up at the oppressive video feed of our corn-grilled chancellor. I love Dario Marianelli's soaring arpeggios and was surprised that I hadn't taken notice of him until "Atonement" in 2007. I love the brilliantly paced and lovingly lit second act when Evey is taken prisoner and we learn Valerie's heartbreaking story.
I must also give kudos to the impressive cadre of British thespians that I was unfamiliar with before. Stephen Rea's yammy face and the smallest twitch of his lips convey Inspector Finch's every disguised exasperation at the tyrannical government he's tasked to protect, and this time around, I was truly invested in his character arc. Ben Miles of "Coupling" is also quite high of power and forehead.
Natalie Portman's accent falls off at times, but the lispiness seems at least consistent, and her performance throughout is every bit as good as her Oscar-winning one, though I do think she plays too coy during her "confession" with Father Lilliman so that she seems to be toying with him to aid in V's plan instead of seeking asylum for herself.
Another girl-with-cancer movie from around the same time as "The Fault In Our Stars," but I liked it a wee better by virtue of it delivering on its promise that it wouldn't be a love story. The problem with the Dying Girl trope is that she has no other identity besides strength-and-detachment-derived-from-cancer. Rachel has one moment of whimsy when she mimics Greg's "subhuman" convulsions, but it's so early on, and we don't really see her transcend beyond Greg's erstwhile categorization of her as "Boring Jewish Girl Subset 2A" until the end, I guess, when her book sculptures reveal her romantic, creative, perhaps even tortured side, but even that emotional epiphany is more Greg's.
Olivia Cooke does give a beautiful strong-and-detached performance though. Sometimes, I think it's easier for actors to bawl uncontrollably than to try to NOT cry, and Cooke's big eyes well up for the duration of several, long uncut shots, but they never overflow.
Some other pretty glaring character development holes are Earl's and Madison's. As the other token minority of the titular triangle, Earl appears in the film to perpetuate some lower class black stereotypes for comedic relief; disappears; reappears to jive talk some sense into Greg; disappears; reappears to save Greg from a lunchroom brawl despite them being on the outs; then disappears again. One of Greg's narrations mentions how despite their disparate socioeconomic backgrounds, they still have the same taste in films and adventurous foods, and I was hoping there would be more to Earl's character/upbringing/aspirations and Greg's perception of him that could foil his knee-jerk obsession of typing all the other cliques at his school.
In re Madison: she's a nice-hot girl, and Greg is the stand-in for every "nice-insecure guy" who resents the "friendzone." He's the one who gets to judge her motives as controlling or disingenuous or oblivious when there's no backing for such projections since her motives are never made clear from a storytelling angle in the first place.
On the whole, the movie is funnier, more sardonic, more artsy (with all its movie remakes), and less saccharine than TFIOS, so it does have that going for it.
So inappropriate yet oh-so-satisfying. The parallels to religion, afterlife, and cultural strife are pretty astute, and isn't it just so great that some things in life will never change, like Nick Kroll always playing a douche? I was hoping we'd get to see the animated food clash with the real world voice actors in the end, but I'm guessing the studio's reprehensible decision to overwork and not pay their animators cut that denouement short.