Equals Movie Review 0 29

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This is a guest review by regular contributor Maria Rachel.

Dystopian expression has always been a reaction to what an author, or artist finds troubling in his or her own era. In books like Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, movies like Soylent Green with Charlton Heston, or The Ultimate Warrior with Yul Brynner, and even short stories as aged as The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, the objective is presenting a philosophical warning to readers and watchers.

Equals is an ultra-modern film produced by A24 and DirecTV that attempts to continue this classic dystopian model. Iconic pieces from the past spend a great deal of time describing the impetus behind the creation of utopias-gone-wrong. They reveal much regarding the necessary human longings, characteristics, and natural drives that are snuffed, thereby resulting in an unsustainable society. Equals assumes that from present society’s exposure to the themes posited and explored in previous dystopian works, a future reflecting an evolved “tech culture” is likely.

The movie does a wonderful job taking present-day fears of impersonality, the loss of physical human connection, and the Vulcan-like trait of conquering life with logic and order, instead of experience and wonder, to the extreme. The underlying fear in Equals is the compartmentalization of every facet of existence due to the over-reliance on, and gradual approval of, technology determining the course of every human action. This results in a world of extreme productivity, but an entirely suppressed human spirit. Equals basically instils fear by saying that in the future, all interaction must be “systems-approved,” and “without the unauthorized use of emotive viruses.”

Director Drake Doremus has an impeccable way of arranging the Equals universe so that every detail reflects and symbolizes the empty containers future humans have become. Lights are dimmed, as are hearts. Colors are bland, as are the character’s lives. All people are plasticine and perfect, like a new smart phone and flesh-colored skin.

Philosophically, Equals matches the intent of dystopian art and commentary in every way possible. This is true even when the gradual decay of the setting’s idealistic monoliths begin. In all of its perfection, the subversive “powers that be” in this particular future cannot completely eliminate the occurrence of unacceptable human emotions. Through edicts and social conditioning, they have equated feelings like love, wonder, happiness, and joy to the terror of catching an incurable virus.

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Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart), are two respected members of this all-equal society who have the unfortunate fate of noticing each other in a way that is not approved by the collective. The strange and mutual feelings break through the character’s conditioning slowly, but soon invade every part of their thinking. This cascade of hopeful human-ness conquering fear and control, is where the movie both succeeds and falls short.

From the perspective of present day audiences, it’s wonderful to see the near mystical way that future people begin to understand that quelling feelings by prescription, is like holding back a tornado with a local ordinance against wind. The disappointing element however, is the choice of which characters experience the storm.

Simply posited, would the rediscovery of the power of emotion happen if either of the characters were not exceptionally attractive? Like a dormant seed finding the perfect soil to re-emerge, the rediscovery of feeling is good! How valuable and sacred is that seed really, unless it brings a desert back to life? In this particular future, how would the joy of having the freedom to explore feelings be universally beneficial unless it could happen to anyone, regardless of attraction? In other words, how can the infatuation with perfection that created a future devoid of feeling, suddenly be the cause of the rejection of that future?

Equals is an aesthetically interesting and engaging production. It sensitively uses modern movie-making technology in a way that would make the most recognized names in the genre, especially in the distant past, extremely envious. It would have been vastly more successful, had the seed and inextinguishable nature of love been portrayed as more spontaneously occurring, instead of being “discovered” by oblivious worker bees.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 198

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 222

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10