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Everything, Everything

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Reviewer: Philip Price

Director: Stella Maghie

Stars: Amandla Stenberg, Ana de la Reguera, Anika Noni Rose, Dan Payne, Danube R. Hermosillo, Farryn VanHumbeck, Fiona Loewi, Françoise Yip, Nick Robinson, Peter Benson, Robert Lawrenson, Taylor Hickson

Released: August 18th, 2017

For a film about an unforgettable romance the worst crime Everything, Everything commits is not exactly searing itself into the minds of viewers as such. Everything, Everything is a fine enough teen love story, but it is also a very slight love story-never allowing us to become invested in the characters or passionate enough about their plight as it seems we should. Moreover, the film does this to itself as it very well could have allowed more time and dedicated more of that time to developing why our two leads do indeed fall head over heels for another. Alas, at only ninety-six minutes Everything, Everything only has so much space to divulge the complexities of our greatest of virtues. That isn’t to say the film doesn’t make good use of the time it does spend on our star-crossed lovers, but only that we get to the inevitable rather abruptly (which might otherwise be admired) leaving the remainder of the film and the risks these characters take for one another seem all the more drastic and irresponsible which is the last thing you want when your movie positions the kids as the heroes who are smarter than the adults that surround them. The point being, as with everything, ones reaction to Everything, Everything will largely depend on the stage of life that viewer is currently experiencing when taking it in. Being a young parent, but someone who still feels at least slightly in touch with youth/popular culture Everything, Everything played with my sympathies toward the conundrum our characters face while at the same time appreciating that were this to actually occur in the real world the parents would be more rational and the stakes nowhere near as dire. Young love wants to feel a little dangerous though, a little forbidden, and slightly scary-it is what gives it that rush of excitement and uncertainty; it is what makes it all that more memorable in hindsight and it is in these details, in the minutiae of such times, that Everything, Everything actually finds its success. Director Stella Maghie and the screenplay from J. Mills Goodloe (Age of Adaline) that was of course adapted from the New York Times Bestseller by Nicola Yoon doesn’t so much let her film stand on the shoulders of grand gestures or dramatic speeches, but more in the small, precise details of what makes love worth living for when you’re young and want nothing more than to feel indestructible. This focus on precise over big moments allows much of the underdevelopment and lack of any real arc to (mostly) be forgiven come the end of the movie. Still, you won’t remember much of it the next day.

Madeline “Maddy” Whittier (Amandla Stenberg or Rue from The Hunger Games) suffers from a rare condition called severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID), meaning her antibodies are not able to properly fight off infection. She has spent the majority of her life and all that she can remember about that life inside the house her doctor of a mother (Anika Noni Rose) has made into a fortress of cleanliness. With all the latest technology and necessary adornments Maddy could essentially want for nothing and go on living a risk-free life, but of course-life happens. The only people allowed inside the house besides Maddy and her mother is Maddy’s nurse, Carla (Ana de la Reguera), and her daughter Rosa (Danube R. Hermosillo). It is when new neighbors move in next door that hormones begin to rage and thus we witness Maddy rush into something as serious as her first serious relationship simply because she is desperate for something real, something palpable. Such a desire comes in the form of Olly (Nick Robinson), a self-proclaimed loser of sorts who likes to wear black (very much in contrast to Maddy’s consistent all-white aesthetic) and appreciates a person with a few good vices. Things begin innocently enough as Olly is rightfully curious about the pretty girl next door who doesn’t come outside and whose mom refuses Bundt cake because it didn’t come from her immaculate kitchen. Olly begins by making distant meet-cute gestures from his bedroom window which is luckily just across from Maddy’s. After a few days he writes his number on his window and the two begin texting. They learn what they can about one another and rather quickly decide they like one another. The flirting continues which only increases the need for each party to get more out of the other. Texting from each other’s bedrooms gets old quickly; it’s not good enough. Maddy guilt’s Carla into allowing Olly to visit where they’re still not allowed to touch, but will of course only increase that desire tenfold. Things escalate as one might expect, but despite knowing the relationship at the heart of the story will most certainly go the predictable way of a movie what we don’t know is what way the fate of Maddy will go. Is Olly truly setting himself up for heartbreak or is there more to the narrative than meets the eye?

As these things go, Everything, Everything is right down the middle in terms of ambition and execution. Everything here is done in competent fashion, but in a pleasant twist there are certain aspects that highlight the continually evolving way in which texting and social media are presented on screen that are intriguing on their own. These spontaneous bursts of inspiration paired with both Robinson and Stenberg’s dedication to the material and making it work give the film the fresh, lightweight feeling it incessantly possesses. It is in these inspired moments that Everything, Everything is made more endearing as they are unexpected, but undoubtedly appreciated. Maghie certainly has a vision for the material she’s been given and isn’t content to simply sit by and let what could have easily directed itself be done in such a manner. The first instance of this comes after Maddy and Olly begin texting one another. Rather than having her two actors stare longingly at one another through glass Maghie allows them to come together at an old fashioned diner, in a booth-not dissimilar from the model Maddy has been working on as part of her homeschool curriculum. Maghie then proceeds to shoot the remainder of the conversation in this environment as if the two are not only talking face to face, but also in a dream-like state. The set is very much a diner, but it is surreal. There are still phone tones going off in the background when each character begins to speak signaling this is still only a text conversation, but to remove that barrier and convey the state of minds these two individuals must feel like they’re in when talking to one another despite the obvious hurdle is what makes a viewer sit up and smile. Further down the road, Maghie again uses a technique much like Marc Webb did in (500) Days of Summer in the expectation vs. reality scene where, the second time Maddy and Olly meet face to face, the subtext of the dialogue the two are speaking to one another shows up at the bottom of the screen as if interpretations of what is actually coming out of their mouths. It’s nothing that is necessarily revolutionary, but it was pre-meditated and that is visible in the performances; lending what might have been an otherwise routine scene of dialogue that aforementioned fresh, lightweight feeling.

Adding to this tone the film carries throughout is the distinct sense of innocence it all possesses. For as old as Maddy is and as fast as things seemingly move this is still the first time Maddy is feeling many of these emotions, much less creating the opportunity for herself to experience them. Most importantly, while older audience members may condemn Maddy and Olly for being foolish in their young love, we like who these two are as people and despite what could easily be seen as faults or shortcomings-we want what is best for them. Maddy likes The Little Prince-it reminds her that, “Love is Everything. Everything.” while Olly is more of a Lord of the Flies guy that needs no reminding that he can have a poor outlook on life. Given his home situation though, this is to be understood especially as Olly is in his most formative years. Maddy presents the aura of an angel whereas Olly plays to his belief in the bleak, but neither are as clean cut in their categorizations as they’d have you believe and in the romance that evolves between the two of them they seem to genuinely find the secret to love and life in one another-balance. As for the adults, none of them are fleshed out enough to matter much, but we spend the most time with Maddy’s mom as Rose’s Pauline is at one time written and played as a more complex character than would typically be written in such a role while at the tail end of the film resorted to such a plot device that it’s hard for her to register as little more than as much. In our first real encounter with Pauline, Rose plays her as a surprisingly understanding figure than what we inherently anticipate to be a tyrannical, condescending parent. Ultimately though, she must uphold the law she has put in force and though her motivations are understandable and selfish to a degree that even teens in the audience might be able to fairly comprehend the perspective of living and actually being alive never comes across as valuable enough to justify consideration. All things considered, Pauline would have to have known the events depicted in Everything, Everything would happen eventually and that she would need to be prepared for as much. Such complications might seem slight prior to viewing the film, but afterwards such a detail is a sore thumb in the way of how the film chooses to resolve itself. The resolution isn’t necessarily unexpected, but it certainly doesn’t fall in line with the tone or romanticism that seemed so effortlessly expressed until it was forced to roll the credits; maybe if more time had been taken to flesh it out a more organic resolution might have presented itself. Maybe, maybe.

I love movies, simple as that. I watch them with an intent to write about them and have always enjoyed discussing the latest news and releases with others. I received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Mass Communications/Digital Filmmaking and combined those interests when I began writing about cinema. Hope you enjoy the reviews, Happy reading!

Movie Reviews

LFF Review 2018 – Madeline’s Madeline ★★★★

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Madelines Madeline Movie Marker

Director: Josephine Decker

Stars: Miranda July, Molly Parker, Helena Howard

Released: London Film Festival

Indie favourite actress/director, Josephine Decker premiered her third feature, Madeline’s Madeline at Sundance earlier this year where she received praise for her unconventional take on mental illness.

16 years old Madeline suffers from unspecified mental health problems which have created a wedge between her and her slightly over bearing mother (Miranda July). Spending most of her time alone, she finds comfort when joining an experimental theatre troupe and even develops a strong bond with its ambitious director, Evangeline (the psychotic Molly Parker). When Evangeline starts to use Madeline’s delicate mental state and personal issues with her mother as part of her play, the line between reality and illusion quickly starts to blur.

‘The emotions you are having are not your own. They are someone else’s. You are not the cat – you are inside the cat’. So begins 15 minutes of blurred and beautifully shot sequence that immediately puts the audience in a state of daze. When we are officially introduced to Madeline, we find an energetic young woman who would much rather disappear behind wild animals in theatre rehearsals than have any serious discussion with her mother. Sharing the screen is the interesting Evangeline, who is as passionate as inspiring but whose play doesn’t seem to make much sense to anyone, including herself.

The film’s stand out is the acting and nothing ever feels rehearsed. Helena Howard as Madeline is terrific and easily switches between the disturbed teenager, the cat, the seductress, the turtle and the actress, always bursting with energy and vulnerability.

The film has its witty moments, particularly when during an acting exercise Madeline decides to punish Evangeline for using her personal confessions by simulating a painful childbirth, in the hopes of terrifying the freshly pregnant teacher.

Decker also explores the interesting duality of the role of the artist. Often torn between the idea that creating is disappearing behind someone’s else story or on the contrary it is all about using real experiences to bring depth and authenticity, Decker seems to suggest it is a little of both and that both extremes could end up with either an artificial or violating result. No one understands what Evangeline’s play is about at first and when she finally finds substance that speaks to others (Madeline’s personal issues), she chooses to entirely focus on it instead of adding her own substance and ends up being kicked out by the troupe.

Madeline’s Madeline is visually stunning thanks to Ashley Connor ‘s imaginative cinematography and both Howard and Decker bring to life a condition that is still misunderstood and dismissed. The storyline does takes its time to emerge and the daze occasionally mixes with confusion. Howard keeps the audience in her mental maze throughout the film. It is messy, unusual and dense and maybe that was the whole point.

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LFF 2018 Review – A Private War ★★★

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A Private War Movie Marker

Director: Matthew Heineman

Stars: Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Tom Hollander

Released: London Film Festival 2018

‘ I see it so you don’t have to!’ Rosamund Pike, as war correspondent Marie Colvin, spits out at her Sunday Times editor Sean Ryan (Tom Hollander) towards the end of A Private War  as they argue on the banks of the Thames which rolls serenely past. She means the atrocities of war which she is compelled to return to time and again to report on despite hating her own compulsion. She does it, she believes, to give a voice to the ordinary men, women and children who are fodder for the military and political ambitions of dictators and leaders themselves safe in their palaces, well, until the mob gets to them and takes selfies with their mutilated corpse as we see later in the film.

Marie Colvin was a much celebrated war reporter who was killed in Syria in 2012 along with her interpreter/guide. She achieved fame in her lifetime for her fearless, uncompromising journalism but also for the black eye patch she wore after losing an eye in Sri Lanka when reporting on the Tamil Tigers in 2001. Her death will still be fresh in the minds of those who follow current affairs as will her extraordinary persona.

It’s a testament then to the tremendous power of Rosamund Pike’s performance that minutes into A Private War she becomes Colvin. The deep gravelly voice, the Long Island accent, the no nonsense, blunt manner of speaking are not only completely captured but taken possession of by the very English rose Pike.

She embodies Colvin with a natural ease which exposes the private vulnerabilities of a woman who could have been simplistically portrayed as a one of those annoying ‘strong, uncompromising women’ that Hollywood seems to think raises the female profile but real women find unbearable. Pike is not afraid to make the chain smoking, heavy drinking, conflicted Colvin unlikable at times. But it’s in the quiet, reflective moments of Colvin’s life when she is alone with her ravaged eye and light desire for the normal suburban life she rejected that Pike is at her most effective. This is a film about the psychological damage of seeing what the rest of us don’t have to as much as it is about the grotesque mess of war on the battlefield.

Colvin wants a child and considers it with the man (Greg Wise) she’s already divorced a couple of times despite having suffered two miscarriages. She may or may not be prone to seeking connection through other convenient liaisons. Her friend tells her she’s an alcoholic and she thinks about convincing a psychiatrist she’s sane so she can leave a rehab clinic she’s an inpatient in before she’s really up to it. She’s plagued by flashbacks and nightmares.
We learn all this about her but, like her, don’t have time to fully process any of it before she and we are whisked off to Iraq. There she meets a freelance photographer, Paul Conroy, (Jamie Dornan – Fifty Shades Freed) and the two quickly form a professional partnership with Colvin very much in the driving seat as to where they go and what risks they take. In one case this involves her confidently flashing a gym membership card to get through a heavily armed checkpoint. The friendship which builds between the two is not explored enough and Dornan is not given enough to do but when the inevitable danger which is foreshadowed throughout the film befalls them it’s intense and a swallow-hard moment.

Even though we know her death is coming , when it actually does, there’s a real sense of loss, largely due to Pike having brought Colvin to life so brilliantly beforehand. I predict we’ll be seeing a lot of Rosamund Pike during awards season for this timely film produced by Charlize Theron about a very modern heroine.

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LFF 2018 Review – Assassination Nation ★★★★

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Assassination Nation Movie Marker

Director: Sam Levinson

Stars: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse

Released: London Film Festival 2018

When Director, Sam Levinson started writing Assassination Nation over two years ago, he probably had no idea how shockingly relevant this dark comedy would be today. Written as his wife was about to give birth, he credits his fear of raising his child in an increasingly brutal country as the main inspiration behind this vivid satire, depicting the disastrous consequences of living online.

The city of Salem, Massachusetts is about to delve into chaos when a data hacker starts exposing highly porn-ified secrets of its population. Internet search history, digital photos and texts conversations are published. Political careers and marriages end. The hack reaches Salem’s high school whose principal is also targeted and forced to resign, despite claiming his innocence. In need of a scapegoat, the town’s authority (macho detective and police man) finds it in high school head girl, Lily (Odessa Young), whose affair with a married man,  just leaked. Lily and her friends must face the town’s growing hysteria that quickly turns into a blood bath of sexism and brutality.

The film’s core storyline revolves around Lily, who with her friends make up the popular clique of Salem’s High School. The 1990’s had their mysterious virgin nymphs (“Virgin Suicide”) and the 2000s, their bullying princesses (“Mean Girl”) but in 2018, the popular girls are fun, clever and most of all, nasty. Born in a comfortable middle class family, Lily has good grades and a cheeky talent for drawing. What Lily and her friend lack is a reliable grown up figure to look up to. Surrounded by threatening boyfriends and denigrating parents, the only grown-up who pays her some attention is her principal but even he cannot completely give in when she makes a clever accusation of the sexism of internet and social media while defending her pornographic art work.

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There is thin line between victim and executioner in Assassination Nation and Levinson strategically jumps from teasing to threats as if one didn’t exist without the other. Levinson seems less interested in exposing the already well established outcomes of the digital age than exploring the hypocrisy and shaming young people, and particularly young woman, face on a daily basis.

Half way between  Little Red Riding Hood and Nikita, and far from victims, these girls fight back with whatever they are threaten with, usually guns but at times razors and even a shovel. Full of extreme close-ups, the camera is intrusive, and if this closeness can be difficult at first, it quickly helps creates a real connection with those girls.  Surrounded by obvious and familiar characters (naïve head cheerleader, immature boyfriend, cheating husband…), and lifted by invigorating performances by Hari Nef (Bex) and Odessa Young (Lily), these girls can only shine in authenticity and it is hard not to root for them.

Salem’s utter obliviousness takes final form in the slushy sipping little brother, revealed as the hacker. Youngest and quiet, he seemed like a harmless addition to the dinner table and yet could bring a nation to its knee. The warning signs were there, adults chose to ignore them. The film ends with a public letter to a certain president of a certain powerful nation and a feminist call to action against any form of violence and misogyny.

The film will most likely not affect every generation in the same way and will probably swing between anti-sexist fantasy revenge to painfully relevant. Yet there is nothing in this film that can’t be traced back to a recent newspaper headline or twitter feed, regrouped to create a bloody picture of the modern America, kids are made to grow up in.

“Don’t take your anger out on me, I just got here.”

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