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Posts Tagged ‘Samara Weaving’

I don’t often get feelings of deja vu at the cinema, but I did the other day: there was an odd sense of detachment from reality, and not in a good way, rather akin to the atmosphere at the showing of Bloodshot (the last film I saw in March before lockdown kicked in). Not to put too fine a point on it, the various short films with messages like WELCOME BACK! and LET THE LIGHT OF CINEMA SHINE AGAIN! felt a bit disingenous given that Cineworld and Picturehouse are – as previously discussed here – closing their doors again as of Friday, and the local Odeon is going down to weekend openings only.

Given that the postponement of No Time to Die is at least partly responsible for this, it’s rather ironic that this was pretty much the only film for adults being trailed on the trip in question – trailers are intended to provoke a range of emotions, but I doubt irritation is quite what Eon had in mind (the same run of trailers also included one for Peter Rabbit 2, so my negative psychic energy gauge was pretty much topped up to the brim by the time the actual film arrived).

In the circumstances I suppose one should feel grateful to anyone who’s taken a chance on releasing a mainstream movie at all, as they’re in the minority – both the Odeon and the Phoenix in Oxford have been showing Akira every night this week, just to fill their screens, but much as I admire Katsushiro Otomo’s epochal cyberpunk vision, I doubt there’s the audience there to justify this. In line for a medal along with the makers of Tenet, The New Mutants, and a handful of others are the people behind Bill & Ted Face The Music, a film which has apparently been ten years in the making (now that’s just plain bad luck).

Was there a burning appetiteĀ  for a third instalment in this particular series? I’m not sure, but post the John Wick movies, Keanu Reeves is apparently ‘hot’ again, which I suppose amounts to the same thing. Dean Parisot directs this time around. The movie opens with the revelation that, nearly thirty years on, Bill and Ted have yet to write the song which unites the world and paves the way for utopia, with the result that reality itself is starting to unravel: figures such as Babe Ruth, George Washington and Jesus are popping out of existence and reappearing in the wrong places. This struck me as quite a hefty piece of exposition to casually dump on the audience as part of an opening montage, but the film is nothing if not breezy and fast-moving.

Anyway, we find Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Reeves) reduced to playing at a family wedding (a complicated dynastic history means that in the course of the ceremony the groom becomes his own stepfather-in-law, or something). They go on to unveil their latest effort at musical immortality, a prog-rock horror concerning the meaning of meaning which involves Winter throat-singing and Reeves playing the theremin, the trumpet and the bagpipes in quick succession (and, frankly, if the idea of this doesn’t at least make you chuckle, this probably isn’t the movie for you).

Pretty much their only supporters are their daughters, Billie (Samara Weaving) and Theadora (Bridgette Lundy-Paine): their wives (who, the film takes pains to remind us, are former princesses from medieval England) are doing their best to be supportive, but finding this hard, and Ted’s father still refuses to believe any of their stories about travelling in time or visiting the afterlife. Ted has even begun to entertain thoughts of packing the music in, monumental destiny or not.

Still, there is that pesky matter of the impending implosion of the universe to consider, and the duo find themselves summoned to the future to explain their lack of progress on the world-unifying-song-writing front. The song must be written, toot sweet, or an alternative prophecy will be entertained – one where the universe is saved not by Bill and Ted’s music, but their deaths…

What ensues is pretty much of a piece with the two original movies (which I must confess to not having watched in absolutely ages): it’s either deceptively clever or deceptively silly, depending on where you stand, but all put across with great energy and commitment by the players. Reeves and Winter spend most of the film travelling into the future trying to steal a copy of the song from themselves, which basically produces a series of sketches where they appear in increasingly preposterous prosthetic make-up. The script is surprisingly generous in the amount of time it gives to the daughters, who essentially reprise the plots of the first two movies as they assemble the greatest band in history to back their fathers up – this includes bass-player Death (William Sadler), despite an awkward split (musical differences) needing to be resolved.

All of this is telegraphing a climactic twist which is obvious virtually from the start, as we are now living in a cultural climate where it seems deeply problematic to suggest that two white dudes can actually achieve anything positive and noteworthy. But so it goes, and Bill & Ted Face The Music is mostly very engaging stuff, hard to dislike, and often very funny. There is something undeniably touching about seeing Reeves and Winter back together, and there’s no sense of Reeves leveraging his superstar status (which is not really surprising, given the plethora of stories about what a lovely human being he is) – this is the same double-act from thirty years ago.

In the end you can’t help feeling a bit sorry for a film which is so laid-back and cheerful making its debut in such awkward times: in any previous year, the upbeat final message about bringing people together through music would be an unexceptional one, but at the moment the world feels deeply and (in some ways) necessarily divided on all kinds of levels. A lot of classic science fiction films of all kinds share an essential kind of naivety – it’s perhaps one of the charms of the genre – so you can’t really criticise Bill & Ted Face the Music on these grounds. One could wish the film’s optimism were a bit less at odds with reality right now, though.

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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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