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Posts Tagged ‘Adam Brody’

Ready or Not, directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, opens with a young couple, Grace and Alex (Samara Weaving and Mark O’Brien), enjoying their wedding day – he is a member of an extremely wealthy family who have made their money from publishing various different games, she from a somewhat more humble background. Naturally she is nervous about being accepted by her in-laws, who are for the most part quickly established to be comic-grotesque super-rich types. Only after the vows and the party does her new husband broach the delicate topic of an unusual family tradition – when anyone marries into the clan, they have to play a game at midnight. The rich and their eccentric ways! Not wanting to offend her new kin, Grace agrees, and ends up having to play hide and seek with them all. Still a little bemused and amused by her relatives’ funny little ways, Grace heads off to find somewhere to hide for a bit, fully aware this is a game she can’t actually win. Meanwhile, her new father-in-law (Henry Czerny) is gravely handing out crossbows, elephant guns and axes to the assembled members of the family, as they prepare to go in search of her.

Thus Ready or Not manages to contrive an undeniably brilliant moment for a black comedy-horror film; it’s just a shame that the publicity for the film (and, come to think of it, any meaningful review) is virtually obliged to give it away in advance. (It’s good to know that autumn and spring are still the natural homes for modestly budgeted genre movies, which is also what Ready or Not is.) Decent movies have been built around less striking revelations. Of course, the problem which arises when you come up with one brilliant moment for your movie script is that you then have to provide it with a decent context – which in this case means coming up with a scenario where it seems at least remotely plausible for something like this to happen, and then also a climax which resolves the situation in a reasonably satisfying manner.

The film certainly has a lot going for it when it comes to constructing this sort of narrative scaffolding. For one thing, it is notably polished and well-shot for what is still essentially a low-budget movie – the various gore effects which ensue as the story gathers pace and the body count racks up are also very acceptable. It also has an unusually strong cast for this sort of thing. Samara Weaving (who, weirdly, appears to be some sort of genetically-modified hybrid clone of both Emma Stone and Margot Robbie) is a relative newcomer, but still carries her section of the film rather well – elsewhere there are well-judged turns from Adam Brody, Czerny, Melanie Scrofano, and Nicky Guadagni (as a particularly unhinged member of the clan). Different things are required from different sections of the cast – Weaving does a lot of running, breathing hard, and contending with jeopardy, while everyone else gets the blackly comic stuff – but that doesn’t change the fact that they are all at least up to scratch. The plum veteran role in this particular movie goes to Andie McDowell as the mother-in-law – while McDowell has not quite transformed herself into Meryl Streep, it is still a very reasonable turn.

That said, the film still has to sort itself out the rest of the script, and this is a bit tricky – we’re up against the problem of people in horror movies not acting remotely in the way that real people do, to some extent. Just why are the members of the Le Donas family quite so desperate to hunt down and kill their newest member? What’s going on with this family tradition? And, given the extensive estate the film takes place in, why doesn’t Grace just hole up somewhere until dawn (at which point the game concludes)? Well, the movie manages to divert your attention away from some of these things by positioning itself as a kind of extravagant tongue-in-cheek satire, which helps a bit, but it doesn’t completely remove the need for solid narrative carpentry. In the end the film more or less gets away with it: the big reveal is terrific, as mentioned, but the rest of the film just about qualifies as good enough.

The fact that it arguably peaks at the end of the first act shouldn’t detract from the fact that Ready or Not manages to pull off one of the trickiest combinations in cinema by managing to be a horror comedy film which is pretty successful when it comes to both genres. Now, I must qualify this by saying that it is not what I would call appreciably scary – it is a horror movie by virtue of its Grand Guignol stylings and increasingly spectacular eruptions of gore and violent mutilation as it continues. If you like watching the blood spray freely and flesh get shredded, then this film should meet your needs, although this (coupled with a lot of casual profanity) probably rules it out as a good choice for a family outing. The scenes with the various family members engaging in the hunt with differing degrees of enthusiasm and skill are genuinely amusing, though – their casual irritation as the events of the film take an unfortunate toll on the domestic staff of the mansion I found to be particularly droll.

On the other hand, I have some sympathy for the view that a truly great horror movie can’t just function solely in terms of being mechanically scary and dousing the screen in fake blood – it has to be about something resonant and probably timely; the genre functions as a kind of social history on those terms. If there is a deeper theme to Ready or Not than ‘rich people are weird and horrible’ then it’s a little difficult to make out what it is. Not that this isn’t in and of itself valid – there is, after all, a very long history of the bad guys in horror stories coming from the upper echelons of society and preying upon the flesh and blood of the lower orders. But there doesn’t seem to be much new going on here beyond that simple idea. If you took out all the splatter and profanity, you could probably rewrite Ready or Not as an episode of the 1960s incarnation of The Twilight Zone and it would be at least as effective.

So, then, not a truly great horror movie, or a classic comedy, but it is fun and passes the time very engagingly – the direction is capable, the performances generally well-pitched, and if the script is a bit inconsistent that’s only because the writers haven’t yet quite figured out how to convert a great premise into a great movie. Much promise on display here anyway.

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For some reason I’m always surprised when I turn up to the local arthouse and find the screening I want to attend packed out. I suppose this is because part of me still associates the idea of arthouse cinema with minority interest. Now, this may still be the case, and it’s simply that the arthouse management is just very good at maximising their return on a single screening: one day this week, for instance, it’s showing six different films at various times on its two screens. Most of these are only showing once, which will obviously lead to a good turnout for those particular showings. But I still wonder if the multiplexes might not benefit a little from casting their nets a little wider. (One should not complain too much: the coffeeshop has relented on its No Jason Statham policy and is showing one of the great man’s films for the first time since the summer of 2010. But more on that in a couple of days.)

So I arrived quite late and was forced to sit right at the front, and so received the closest thing to the IMAX experience you’re likely to get in suburban Oxford. (Given the rather inadequate rake of the smaller screen at the Phoenix this does have things to commend it.) The film which I saw at such close quarters was Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress. Formerly a critical darling after films like Barcelona and Metropolitan, Whitman has spent thirteen years making this film. Well, probably more like a few months actually making, after over a decade finding-the-financing. Is it a surprise that this particular film struggled to find funding? Well…

This is a comedy set on an American university campus, and like most films with this kind of setting it is concerned with the lives of students who spend lots of time in various bars, restaurants and bedrooms but apparently hardly any studying. It is somewhat distinctive, however, in that the bars, restaurants and bedrooms in question exist in a world which has only a nodding acquaintance with the one in which we live.

Upon transferring to Seven Oaks University, Lily (Analeigh Tipton) finds herself adopted by a clique of fellow students, led by Violet (Greta Gerwig). Violet and the others are not simply concerned with the sort of empty hedonism so much of university life revolves around. They have resolved to do good works and bring about the betterment of their fellow students. If you think this sounds wacky and unrealistic, you ain’t seen nothing yet: the kind of good works they are engaged in include helping suicidal and depressed students by giving them free doughnuts, going out with plain-looking and generally useless men as a sort of charitable venture, and attempting to launch their own dance craze.

This is mostly going on in the background of the story of the various romantic and emotional travails which beset Violet, Lily and the others. Pertinent features of these include fictitious careers in Strategic Development, the peculiar sexual practices of heretical mediaeval cults, oddly-scented soap, and some really atrocious spelling.

If, by this point, you find yourself thinking ‘Good God, this sounds like the most whimsical movie ever made!’, you may not be that far from the truth. However, Damsels in Distress produced a rather unusual response in me: after seeing a film I am generally very secure in my opinion, often to the point of blinkeredness. I can’t honestly understand why anyone seeing Quatermass and the Pit wouldn’t love it as much as I do, or at least appreciate its obvious virtues, just as I honestly can’t get into the same headspace as someone who didn’t consider Bruce Almighty a horrendous waste of time, money, and talent.

Now, I enjoyed Damsels in Distress rather a lot: it looks very nice, skips along perkily and doesn’t outstay its welcome, and it’s engagingly played by the young cast. Greta Gerwig in particular gives a terrifically well-rounded performance with obvious star quality, and I look forward to seeing more from her in future. There are some extremely sharp and funny lines in Stillman’s script and I laughed a lot. Of course, this doesn’t change the fact that the film bears virtually no resemblance to reality. The young women speak in such an affectedly mannered way and behave so improbably, and the young men are so ludicrously incompetent (one of them has managed to get to university without knowing the names of colours) that it’s impossible to take any of it remotely seriously. This is so obviously the case that it’s clearly a choice on Whitman’s part – the whole film has a deeply ironic sensibility.

On the other hand, Damsels in Distress is so obviously and completely detached from the real world that I can totally understand the objections I recently heard from someone who’d seen it (for free, no less) and come to the conclusion that it was one of the most intensely irritating films he’d ever seen. It is so mannered, so knowing, and so relentlessly quirky that I suspect it could rub anyone up the wrong way if they didn’t come to it in the right frame of mind. In short, there’s a strong case to be made that no matter what its virtues, Damsels in Distress is also colossally smug and annoying.

I don’t really know. I think that, either way, Damsels in Distress is attempting to walk an incredibly thin tightrope in its attempts to be intelligent and emotionally involving and yet at the same time exaggeratedly frothy and ironic. To what extent it succeeds is, I think, up to the individual viewer to decide. Certainly I don’t think it has anything of very great import to say about the university experience or relationships in the real world, except in the broadest and most epigrammatic terms. But as a slightly silly piece of entertainment, and something refreshingly different from anything I’ve seen in years, I thought Damsels in Distress hit the spot very agreeably.

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