Wild and Crazy Movie Review: Anna

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CREDIT: Shanna Besson

Luc Besson’s Anna features the most time-establishing title cards I have ever seen in one movie. We jump five years ahead only to ten minutes later skip back three years back (i.e., two years after when we began.) Do you think we skipped something important by shooting forward six months? It turns out you’re right, so let’s return to three months ago. This at first feels like self-parody (possibly intentional, possibly not), but it ultimately all slots everything into place and becomes the jigsaw puzzle construction that ensures this film’s modest pleasures come into focus. We needed some sort of experimentation to liven up this otherwise straightforward take on yet another “poor Soviet village girl self-actualizes by becoming a KGB spy/double agent/triple agent,” which there probably aren’t that many examples of, although it feels like there’s a ton. It’s that whirligig approach that makes Anna fun enough. Also, it features montages set to “Pump Up the Jam” and “Need You Tonight,” which is hardly groundbreaking but plenty welcome.

I give Anna 30 Helen Mirren Cigarette Drags out of 50 Helen Mirren Russian-Accented Sick Burns.

Movie Review: Teenagers Who Just Want to Have Fun Get Caught Up in a Generation-Spanning Revenge Plot in ‘Ma,’ a Tonally Wild and Ambitious Horror Mash-Up

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis, McKaley Miller, Corey Fogelmanis, Luke Evans, Gianni Paolo, Dante Brown, Missi Pyle, Allison Janney, Kyanna Simone Simpson

Director: Tate Taylor

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: R for A Multitude of Torturous Weapons, Sloppy Teen Partying, and Deeply Disturbing Secrets

Release Date: May 31, 2019

In terms of how closely its advertising matches the actual product, Ma fits in one of the most satisfying of cinematic molds. It is very much the movie that the trailers have promised you, but it is also oh so much more. I am reluctant to go into any more detail because of how satisfied I was to discover everything as it was revealed to me. Even my “Recommended If You Like” section below is a bit of a land mine, as the mere mention of predecessors that Ma resembles could constitute a spoiler. But suffice it to say that in this stew of theoretically clashing flavors, Octavia Spencer is more than able to handle all the tones and motivations she is required to convey.

It should go without saying that if you’re a high school student, it’s probably not the best idea to party in the basement of a random woman who you know only because she buys you alcohol. But teenagers are known for making boneheaded decisions, and Sue Ann’s (aka Ma’s) house seems a lot safer than the alternative of drinking in the woods. Also, these kids don’t realize that they are characters in a horror movie and thus being lured into a trap. Furthermore, Sue Ann is remarkably savvy about understanding the way young people communicate, both in person and through social media. Just when you think she is going to go in for the kill right away, you realize that she is actually playing the tangled, multifarious long game. Ultimately, she becomes reckless in ways that threaten her upper hand but that keep the audience satisfyingly stunned and entertained. This is a wild, risk-taking movie that takes inspiration from plenty of classics that have come before it but that also stands on its own as a truly unique and deadly specimen.

Ma is Recommended If You Like: Carrie, Misery, Saw, Sharp Objects

Grade: 4 out of 5 Cases of Booze

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ is a Love(s) Story Like No Other

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CREDIT: Claire Folger/Annapurna Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2017.

Starring: Luke Evans, Rebecca Hall, Bella Heathcote, Connie Britton, Oliver Platt

Director: Angela Robinson

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: R for Getting It On Unapologetically

Release Date: October 13, 2017

I think every man, woman, boy, girl, or whatever personal nomenclature you prefer should go and be inspired by Wonder Woman. I also want to recommend just as wholeheartedly Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, the story of Wonder Woman’s creator and his inspiration, but fair warning: William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans) lived an unprecedented life, by any era’s standards. His biography is not absolutely necessary to understand the context of Diana Prince, but it is enlightening. His story is also alarming, but also ultimately joyous, and that is true especially in light of the Wonder Woman film so pointedly emphasizing Diana’s prerogative to protect all life.

To get right into it: Marston did not come into comic books through publishing or 9-to-5 hackery, but rather psychology and academia. He is noted for developing DISC Theory, which proposes that all human behavior can be categorized as either dominance, inducement, submission, or compliance. To be clear, this is not just sexual behavior he is talking about, but all human behavior. If you’re wondering if a guy like this would be intrigued by sexual bondage, then your instincts are correct. However, if you’re also thinking that this part of the story has nothing to do with the creation of Wonder Woman, you clearly have not read her early issues. Marston is also famous for inventing an early lie detector prototype, and now that are you are remembering the Lasso of Truth, it should be abundantly clear how his ideas have lived on.

But while all that history is important to the film, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a love story through and through, and an unapologetically nontraditional one. Marston and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall), a fellow psychologist, lived with another woman, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote), lover to them both. If this arrangement sounds like misogyny lurking underneath a supposed ally of women, well, this staunchly feminist does not see it that way, and neither do its staunchly feminist characters. Instead, Bill, Elizabeth, and Olive, in their decision to live together in defiance of society’s standards, are positioned as self-sacrificing heroes ahead of their time. This is true perhaps in the sense that as the inspirations of an iconic fictional character, the ladies’ legacy lives on. But it is not exactly true (at least not yet) in the sense that polyamory is still far from normal.

Personally, I do not object to polyamory on any moral grounds, but rather, because I find the prospect emotionally exhausting. But damn if Professor Marston doesn’t have me cheering for those who believe in it. There is no doubt that this trio are in fact deeply in love with each other. A series of lie detector scenes make that effervescently clear. These moments may be cinematic contrivances, but I don’t care, as they are so entertainingly bold! Indeed, it is rare to find any major theatrical release whose social and romantic politics are so unapologetic, and for that, it should be cherished.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is Recommended If You Like: Wonder Woman comics – the classic and the obscure stuff, Jules and Jim, Shakespeare in Love, Secretary

Grade: 4 out of 5 Lie Detectors

This Is a Movie Review Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

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What up with Disney ransacking its vault to remake its own animated hits into (mostly[-ish]) live-action versions? This is not an inherently bad idea. These are stories that have been told over and over (often in fairy tale form) and will continue to be told over and over, so why not spruce them up with some 21st Century Pizzazz?

What does new-flavor Beauty and the Beast offer over the 1991 toon? Belle’s an inventor, but that does not factor in too much. There is an “exclusively gay moment” for Le Fou, but it is so inconsequential that you might need a study guide to locate it (I certainly did). So ultimately, this is about some legends of acting and singing giving it a whirl. Nothing earth-shattering, but we’re in good hands.

I give Beauty and the Beast 3 Rose Petals out of 5 Snowy Days in June.