‘Don’t Worry Darling’ Movie and 4K UHD Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit Correspondent, Tony Farinella.

Don’t Worry Darling” is a film that immediately caught my attention when I saw the trailer for it back in the summer.  I was impressed with Olivia Wilde’s feature film debut in 2019’s “Booksmart,” and the trailer for “Don’t Worry Darling” made me excited to see what she was going to do with her sophomore directorial film, especially considering the actors she had attached to the project.  The trailer didn’t give away too much, but it looked stylish, interesting and worth checking out.  However, as I’m sure many of you reading this are aware of, the film was not without controversy.  If you are interested in gossip (personally, I’m not), you can Google it and read about it.  I’m going to be reviewing the film on its own merits.

Florence Pugh plays Alice, a 1950’s style housewife, and she’s madly in love with her husband Jack (Harry Styles).  Her days are routine and structured, but she always looks forward to the moment Jack comes home from work at Victory Headquarters, so they can be together. They have a healthy and active sex life.  When the subject of having children is brought up, her friend Bunny (Olivia Wilde) is quick to shoot it down, as she proclaims they only have time for each other.  Jack works a lot in this utopian experimental society where all the men work and all the women cook, clean and shop.  It is the 1950’s to the core.  The men seem happy and the women seem happy as well.

However, it is all turned upside down when Margaret (KiKi Layne) is shunned from their community for not following the rules.  There is a very specific set of rules for women.  They are not to ask too many questions about their husband’s work or venture off to the headquarters.  Margaret has done something to leave her on the outside looking in when it comes to this community. Alice meets their leader Frank, played by Chris Pine, in a chilling performance.  He is a charismatic cult leader, and all of the men are looking to impress him and stay on his good side.  He has a personality where people are drawn to him and his every word. Pine really leans into this, and he’s magic on screen.  Alice, however, is starting to suspect that something is not right about Frank or Victory Headquarters.

DON’T WORRY DARLING Copyright: © 2022 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Caption: (L-r) OLIVIA WILDE as Bunny, NICK KROLL as Dean and CHRIS PINE as Frank in New Line Cinema’s “DON’T WORRY DARLING,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Don’t Worry Darling” is truly a tale of two movies.  You have the first hour, which is a little sluggish and bland, but it’s necessary to set up this world the filmmaker and writers have created. You have the second half where things are revealed to the audience, and the film starts to let us take a peek into the inner workings of the characters and their backstories. As a viewer, I admired the fact they didn’t spell everything out to us.  The ending is even ambiguous, which I appreciated.  All in all, though, I found the film to be Wilde paying homage to a film like “The Stepford Wives” or the works of Jordan Peele.  She touches on themes of toxic masculinity, obedience and the price people will pay for the good life.

The strongest part of the film, far and away, is the performance of Florence Pugh.  She’s one of the finest young actresses working today, and she is intense, emotional and incredibly powerful in each and every scene.  In my opinion, it’s a performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Without her performance, this film doesn’t stand a chance.  She’s the star here, and it’s a performance which is so raw and vulnerable.  The cinematography is also beautiful, and, in 4K, it is colorful, vibrant and full of life.  It’s a great-looking film.

DON’T WORRY DARLING (L-R) OLIVIA WILDE as Bunny and NICK KROLL as Dean in New Line Cinema’s “DON’T WORRY DARLING,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The film is flawed, however, as there are pacing issues and it does have a lot of ideas but doesn’t always know where it wants to go with all of them.  When the film works, it works extremely well.  When the film doesn’t work, it’s a bit of a slog to sit through and a little too stylish for its own good.  They had a lot of ideas here, as mentioned, but not all of them are fully fleshed out or given the time to really shine on screen. Overall, though, I admired the ambition behind this film, and I left the experience feeling like I had seen a thought-provoking and multifaceted film that doesn’t get everything right, but the things it does get right are quite impactful and meaningful. If they had a clearer vision for this film, I would have liked it a lot more.

* * * out of * * * *

4K Info: “Don’t Worry Darling” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  It is rated R for sexuality, violent content, and language, and has a running time of 122 minutes. It also comes with a digital copy of the film.

4K Video Info: The HDR is mesmerizing on this film.  A lot of the film uses natural light, and it looks fantastic in 4K. The movie stars look like movie stars, and you also get to feel like you are really living in this world with eye-popping visuals.

4K Audio Info:  The Dolby Atmos soundtrack was the right choice for this flick. There are a lot of great bubblegum pop love songs played throughout this film, and they sound flawless here. The dialogue-heavy scenes are also easy to understand and hear without any issues.  Subtitles are included in English, French and Spanish.

Special Features:

The Making of “Don’t Worry Darling”

Alice’s Nightmare Deleted Scene

Should You Buy It?

This is a tough one.  I have a feeling this film might gain cult status down the line, but as of right now I can’t recommend you buy it at full retail price.  When it goes on sale, I think it’s worth picking up.  This is an example of a film which was doomed from the start because some audiences and critics made up their mind on it before they ever sat down and watched it.  It’s a shame because this is a good movie, and I liked it.  Not everything here works, but it’s hard to deny the work of Florence Pugh and the directional eye of Olivia Wilde.  It’s far from perfect, but I think with repeated viewings, it is a film that people will appreciate in the future. There is a lot to like here, but I also can’t ignore the bloated plot.  It is a stylish looking film, but at times, it has too much style and not enough substance.  It would have benefited from a healthy balance of both.  The 4K looks and sounds really, really good.  I was very impressed with what Warner Brothers did with this 4K release.  The lack of special features is not surprising, considering the drama surrounding the film.  For now, I’d recommend you stream it on HBO Max and buy it in the future.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘DC League of Super-Pets’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

DC League of Super-Pets” is a film which, on paper, sounded like it would be an enjoyable and entertaining animated film for families to enjoy on a rainy day.  I was especially drawn to the cast of the film, which features such actors as Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Natasha Lyonne, Keanu Reeves and Olivia Wilde. However, this feels more like a 10 to 15 animated short than it does a feature length film.  There isn’t a lot of material for the actors to work with here as far as the story is concerned.  It also appears that some of the actors are phoning in their voice performances.

The film opens up by introducing the audience to Superman (John Krasinski) and his best friend, Krypto, a Labrador Retriever, voiced by Dwayne Johnson.  They do everything together, including their daily walk-o’clock.  Krypto, however, is starting to become jealous when he notices that Superman is spending an awful lot of time with Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), and worries he will be left behind.  After all, who is Krypto going to watch The Great British Bake off with?  He’s feeling left out and drowns his sorrows with ice cream and Taylor Swift songs to deal with the pain.  Meanwhile, Superman is hoping to get a buddy for Krypto, so he doesn’t depend on him so much.

While looking for a friend for Bark Kent (Krypto’s day-to-day dog persona), he stumbles into a shelter with a variety of animals, such as a boxer named Ace (Kevin Hart), PB, a potbellied pig, voiced by Vanessa Bayer, a turtle voiced by Natasha Lyonne, and a red squirrel voiced by Diego Luna. The one bad egg in the bunch is a hairless Guinea pig named Lulu, who has been under the guidance of Lex Luthor (Marc Maron). She was a test subject at LexCorp, and now has evil powers of her own, which help her capture The Justice League.  It is up to all of the animals to work together in order to save The Justice League and stop Lulu.  They now have superpowers of their own which they must harness for good in order to restore peace.

This should have been a film which hit just the right notes in terms of appealing to young kids and also having some adult humor as well.  There is adult humor here, but it feels very on-the-nose and not at all natural or organic.  All of the flying around mixed with the superhero powers makes the film feel very tedious to sit through at times.  There is a story behind Ace becoming a shelter dog that adds some layers to his character, and there are also individual moments in the film which are funny and work within the structure of the film.

Overall, though, I can’t imagine too many kids getting all of the adult jokes which are forced into ‘DC League of Super-Pets” periodically.  I also can’t picture parents or adults enjoying the stuff intended for kids.  The film ends at around 95 minutes even though it has a 105-minute running time.  It still felt too long, and I found myself clock-watching.  It’s a case of a film where they thought as long as they had the right voice actors and the DC name attached to it with pets, they were good to go.  They didn’t take the time to actually craft a script which was worthwhile, interesting or well-developed.  They got lazy when it came time to putting the screenplay together.

I had high hopes for this one, but in the end it fell flat.  What is most frustrating about “DC League of Super-Pets” is the potential that can be seen here for a good movie.  There are some backstories and relatable moments which work quite well, but they are not consistent enough throughout the course of the film. It’s an example of an average movie with good scenes sprinkled throughout.  There is a good movie waiting to come out, but it never fully gets on track because of mediocre writing, lackluster voice work and a very lazy plot.  This is a film with a ton of potential which could have been one of the better animated films of the year, but is instead instantly forgettable.  It’s truly a shame, as this is one of the best casts I’ve ever seen for an animated film.  They should have utilized this cast and gave them interesting things to say in a comedic fashion.  Kevin Hart is subdued and for good reason (when you discover his character’s backstory), but no one really stands out here.  Kate McKinnon even seems to be reaching here.

* * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “DC League of Super-Pets” is being released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment.  The film is rated PG for action, mild violence, language and rude humor.  It has a running time of 105 minutes.  It also comes with a digital copy of the film.

Video Info: The 4K of the film is very bright and colorful.  I will say this—the 4K looks simply stunning with its vivid colors. Certain animated films really pop on 4K HDR, and this is one of them.

Audio Info: The Dolby Atmos track is also on point throughout the film, as it never gets too high or too low, even during the action scenes.  It’s just right. Subtitles are included in Canadian French, English and Latin Spanish.

Special Features:

How to Draw Krypto

Behind the Super Voices

Super-Pets Animation 101

Find the Easter Eggs

The World of Super-Pets

Deleted Scenes

Should You Buy It?

I think it’s safe to say from reading my review that the answer is no.  I felt very bored and disinterested while watching “DC League of Super-Pets.”  As stated in my review, the plot is run-of-the-mill and the characters are so underdeveloped. I love animals, as my wife and I have four of our own.  I know they are animated here, but still; they can be cute and funny in animated form.  Another problem with this film is you know certain actors are voicing the parts.  When you can clearly notice their voices, that’s a problem. It means they haven’t really allowed themselves to get into character fully.  Instead, they are simply reading lines right in front of them without any change to their delivery or speech. This is an average film.  It’s a one and done film for me.  For everyone else?  I can’t recommend you check it out, even as a rental.  The film looks and sounds great, but that isn’t enough to make it worth watching or owning.

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

‘Don’t Worry Darling’ – Well, Actually, You Probably Should

Going into “Don’t Worry Darling,” I wondered if the hype for this film had inadvertently hurt it. This is the second directorial feature from Olivia Wilde whose first film, “Booksmart,” was one of my favorites of 2019, and people like myself became ever so excited to see what film she would tackle next. It also features quite the cast with Florence Pugh, Harry Styles, Chris Pine and Nick Kroll among others, and the trailers have shown it to have a very striking look. In recent months, the behind-the-scenes stories have taken an annoying precedence over everything else such as Wilde’s relationship with Styles which started during production, or the on-set conflicts between her and Pugh which led to what was allegedly quite the screaming match. It also had the added pressure of being promoted as a serious Oscar contender and raising everyone’s that high can ultimately lead to an inescapable disappointment even if the end result is not bad.

Well, “Don’t Worry Darling” has now arrived at movie theaters everywhere, and this allowed me to watch the film outside of all its gossip and with a full audience in attendance, For the record, I think Wilde is still quite the director as she gives the proceedings a beautiful visual look thanks in part to cinematographer Matthew Libatique, the music score by John Powell is unlike others he has given us in the past and is quite effective, and there are many strong performances to be found here throughout. But when all is said and done, Wilde and her fellow filmmakers have given us a film with a story which is old, old, old. Despite everyone’s best efforts, the plot here represents a path which has been walked and trodden down far too many times.

As the film opens, we are taken back to the 1950’s where a several married couples are enjoying an evening of endless fun and drunken games in their hometown of Victory, California. Among them is Alice (Florence Pugh) and Jack Chambers (Harry Styles) who love one another to such an infinite degree as a certain scene at the dinner table will show you. As Jack gets into his car to drive to work, we see the other husbands doing the same and at the exact same time. It should go without saying how this is the first sign of things being too good to be true. While the husbands work their butts off at work, their wives stay at home either taking care of the kids or preparing the best dinner anyone could ever hope to eat, assuming it was not accidentally burnt to a crisp. Everything seems to be going in unison, and it’s only a matter of time when someone upsets the balance of things.

For Alice, it doesn’t take all that long before she realizes something is amiss. One day she cooks eggs and bacon for her husband and discovers some of the eggs are hollow. She notices a plane crashing into the mountains while others claim complete ignorance. Like all the other husbands, Jack never tells her exactly what he does for a living. And yes, there is that one neighbor who acts like Kevin McCarthy in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” or Crazy Ralph in “Friday the 13th” as she tells anyone who is listening, “We’re being lied to! Don’t you see?” Of course, not enough people bother to listen to such cryptic warnings until it is too late.

By this description, it should be plainly obvious as to where “Don’t Worry Darling” is going, and is painful for me to write that Wilde is unable to bring anything new or fresh to the material. A friend of mine has compared it to M. Nigh Shyamalan’s “The Village,” and I don’t blame him. For me, it is a combination of “The Village” and Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky” as the revelations characters make here are never the least bit surprising, and the line between what’s real and what is not is stunningly lackluster. I even kept waiting for one or more characters to throw up their arms and scream out loud, “TECH SUPPORT!” No such luck though.

Heck, “Don’t Worry Darling” even reminded me of season eight episode of “The Simpsons” entitled “You Only Move Twice” in which Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie leave Springfield and move to the all-too perfect town of Cypress Rock. Homer gets to work for a surprisingly sympathetic boss named Hank Scorpio who is later revealed to be a supervillain bent on creating a doomsday device. Of course, this is all lost on Homer who barely registers the chaos Hank is wreaking on the world. Then again, who wants to quickly admit the perfect world they live in is not all that perfect?

Things become even more obvious as we get to know the Hank Scorpio of this movie, Frank, played by the always terrific Chris Pine. Frank is the founder of this utopia everyone lives in called the Victory Project, and he demands everyone’s loyalty in the most passive-aggressive way. But while he encourages the wives not to question their husbands’ work and to keep their distance from the project’s headquarters, he’s also gleefully daring them, Alice in particular, to get to the truth about the project just to see if they possibly convince anyone else of it.

Even as the movie staggers through the bleeding obvious, there was one thing which kept me engrossed from start to finish: the performance of Florence Pugh. She is dynamite here as Alice and so emotionally raw that it was impossible to take my eyes off of her. Even if the chemistry between her and Harry Styles, who is good but not great here, is a bit lacking, she makes up for it and helps elevate this material to a level it doesn’t deserve to be at. I also loved the scene between her and Pine at the dinner table in which they essentially play a mental chess match with one another as Alice tries to make everyone see through the web of lies they are caught up in.

It really sucks to say “Don’t Worry Darling” will forever be upstaged by its behind-the-scenes stories as they now prove to be far more interesting than what unfolds here on the silver screen. Again, Wilde is not a bad director, and I know she will rebound from this. While the hype machine may have gone into overload on this cinematic endeavor, it still does not change the fact that this is a case of “been there, done that.”

* * out of * * * *

Exclusive Interview with Adrian Favela about ‘Wrong Turn’

He received national attention for playing the starring role of Pepe in the award-winning film “Requiescat,” and he co-starred opposite Laurence Fishburne in the upcoming theatrical release of “Under the Stadium Lights.” And now, you catch Adrian Favela in the horror film “Wrong Turn” which is debuting on digital and physical media and serves as a reboot of the long-running franchise. In it he plays Luis, a member of the LGBT community who is vacationing with his friends in Virginia where they go hiking around the Appalachian Trail. But as the title implies, they go in the wrong direction and find themselves at the mercy of a community of villagers who are not the least bit happy to deal with outsiders.

I got to speak with Adrian over the phone while he was in Los Angeles, and we talked about how this “Wrong Turn” reboot proves to be a lot more grounded in reality than its predecessors ever were. We also talked about his character and the others are a bit different from others the horror genre typically has to offer.  

Ben Kenber: This “Wrong Turn” film was not at all what I expected. It feels a lot more grounded in reality, and the characters including yours are not your typical horror movie cliches. Your character of Luis Ortiz is part of the LGBT community and has a boyfriend, and this is something we do not always see in a film like this. How do you feel about that?

Adrian Favela: I think it’s really amazing. We don’t always get to see other LGBT characters represented in a non-stereotypical way. The way Alan B. McElroy wrote the script, he made the characters very normalized and I think that’s really special. I have tons and tons of fans reaching out saying how represented they felt, and I really truly feel special for that.

BK: I love the scene where the characters including yours are in the bar and this redneck-like character comes up to insult them. In the process, we come to discover how educated you and the others are.

AF: Yeah, I loved the idea behind it. Instead of the typical dumb kids in the woods doing dumb things, it was really smart everyday people in a terrible situation which I really appreciate.

BK: I expect most actors in horror films to overact or emote to a ridiculous extent. How did you and the filmmakers work at keeping your character so grounded?

AF: Originally what he (director Mike P. Nelson) did to make us all really blend into the characters is he made all of the cast hang out and become really good friends before we even started shooting, so that really grounded us in the space. So, when got to the points of huge emotions, we run into a big ravine scene with Gary and Luis, when you actually know the person next to you personally, it really opens you up to new emotions. It’s not like the fake emotions that you want to put on for show, but it is also your own personal emotions that you are able to attach to the character and magnify the extent of what Luis is going through. So, it was really cool and special. Mike also is huge on horror with heart, so he wanted us to dig within ourselves so it’s not just like, oh somebody died, let’s run away. It’s like, somebody died, let’s feel what happened.

BK: I read that when you auditioned for this film, you had to act in a blank space and pretend things were there when they were not. How did you go about doing that?

AF: Through the audition there was traps, there was the character Adam getting sucked into the hole by chains, and snakes, etc. It was one of the craziest auditions I had ever seen. So, the way I really approached it was I wanted just to take to my imagination. I really have to sell the idea these things are happening to me, but if you do it in a way which is too structured, you get lost and you’re trying to play something compared to seeing somebody living in this imaginary world. I think that’s what ultimately helped me book the role, just taking to my imagination and playing in the space.

BK: Were you at all familiar with the “Wrong Turn” franchise before you were cast in this reboot?

AF: The first one came out when I was around 10 (years old) and I remembered watching bits of it with my dad and just being absolutely horrified. It was burned into my mind. I don’t know if you’ve seen the first one where they are chopping up the person on the table. I was just remember being mind blown and horrified and had nightmares for months and months. So, when I got the audition I was like, oh my god, is that the movie which just horrified me my entire childhood? (Laughs.) It was like a full circle.

BK: This film was shot in the wilderness. What challenges did this present to you and the other actors?

AF: It was definitely really tough. I will say the terrain was really brutal. There are some real falls which made the final cut. We were out in the place called Hocking Hills. It is a state park, and it is full of caves and caverns. The trails were really, really thin, so we’re filming with tons and tons of crew and we’re just trying to act and not fall down the hill at the same time (laughs). The night shots, especially the outer foundation area, it was in the middle of the night and there were no lights. I remember being carted to set and you couldn’t see anything in front of you. It was just the headlights, and it was insane. It was brutal, but it really kept us in character for what these characters were actually going through.

BK: It really shows up onscreen. You really can’t fake that.

AF: Yeah (laughs).

BK: What I liked about the screenplay is how it does not reveal its secrets right away. When you first read it, did you get all the information you needed, or was it a situation where the filmmakers revealed things to you as production went on?

AF: The original script is a little bit different than the final cut of the film, but we still got the same idea. In the original script we found a reveal at the very end that a ton of time has passed and Jen has been in the Foundation for months. This is why she is so incredible at her kills and survival skills. I was very surprised at how they approached it. I think the approach that Michael did was absolutely perfect. It explains to the audience that there is a time lapse happening. It says right at the top that this is six weeks prior (to what we just saw in the prologue). That way we were just led in, and it all leads up to when Matthew Modine’s character finds Jen.

BK: Did you have a small role in Olivia Wilde’s “Booksmart?”

AF: Yeah, there was this casting for a bunch of party guys. The original script of “Booksmart” was supposed to be something along the lines of a female version of “Superbad.” It was a crazy (party) scene, and they ended up cutting all that out. It was definitely a bummer, but it was really cool to see everybody working and that kind of giant cast ensemble feeling and how to work in that space.

BK: “Booksmart” was one of my favorite movies of 2019, and it’s the kind of teen movie I like best as it takes the problems adolescents go through more seriously as opposed to joking about them endlessly.

AF:  Yeah, ”Booksmart” was incredible. When I saw the final cut of it, I was like wow, this movie is amazing.

BK: Did you get to work with Olivia Wilde at all?

AF: Yeah, just a bit. I met her. She was super, super kind and loving and sweet. You don’t always get that with directors, so it was really cool to see her giving her everything.

BK: How do you feel about the response this “Wrong Turn” has received thus far?

AF: Of course, we are going to get mixed reviews. Horror always has mixed reviews (laughs).

BK: Yes, I tend to moderate my expectations when I watch any movie these days. There have been many horror movie reboots over the years, but this is really one of the better ones.

AF: Oh, thank you!

BK: This film has the same screenwriter as the original “Wrong Turn” film, Alan B. McElroy, and this is the same man who wrote “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.” This is a guy who clearly knows how to put a fresh spin on a long running horror franchise.

AF: I think the thing with “Wrong Turn” was it was moving in a single direction for so long. We had the standard of the flesh-eating cannibals and the classic tire pop as they are moving toward West Virginia. I think what Alan B. McElroy did was he flipped it on its head. Instead of giving you the same path, he flipped it in a new direction. At the end of the day, horror fans are really, really, really smart fans. They know everything. We pulled a lot of the flesh-eating cannibals and we traded it for food for thought which I think was really smart and an interesting move and something you don’t always see in horror. If you go into this film with an open mind and an open heart for something new and something fresh, I think you will find it in this film. But if you are looking for something along the lines of, I want to see a flesh-eating cannibal, you might not like it (laughs).

“Wrong Turn” will be available to own and rent on VOD, Digital, DVD and Blu-ray starting on February 23, 2021.

‘Booksmart’ is an Instant High School Movie Classic

Booksmart movie poster

Looking back at my high school days, I wonder if I got into enough trouble as a kid. I was a good kid for the most part, a pretty good student, and was and still am a firm believer in karma. Still, a lot of my fellow classmates who constantly got into all kinds of mischief, some of which involved police involvement, seem to be doing much better in life than me. The other day, I read an article about how the kids who were really into heavy metal back in the 1980’s have since turned out to be well-adjusted adults. Perhaps if I had discovered Metallica in elementary school instead of high school, I would feel well-adjusted as well. Besides, neither Megadeath nor Motley Crue came even close.

I bring this up because these thoughts went through my head as I watched “Booksmart,” an American coming of age comedy which has at its center two females who have been best friends since childhood and are now one day away from graduating high school. They have been model students, paid far more attention to their studies than partying, and they have since been accepted to some of the best colleges America has to offer. But with one day of high school left, they begin to wonder if they haven’t fooled around enough in the past four years. What results is a film which has been described as a female “Superbad,” and it is one of the best coming-of-age films I have seen in some time.

It is made clear from the start how best friends Molly Davidson (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy Antsler (Kaitlyn Dever) have spent more time studying these past four years than they have getting wasted every other weekend. Molly is the student body president, but she is nowhere as popular as the vice-president, Nick Howland (Mason Gooding), who only went for the position because it involved planning parties. Amy came out as gay two years ago, and she is harboring a huge crush on fellow classmate Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) which could go unrequited. But while they have accomplished so much, these two young women are typically spurned by their fellow classmates as being too pretentious.

Molly ends up convincing Amy to go to Nick’s party, the biggest end-of-the-school party of all, after she makes a shocking discovery. While she and Amy have gotten into good schools, Molly discovers her fellow classmates who looked to have been partying their scholastic years away have also gotten accepted to prestigious institutions as well. How is this possible? Well, Molly isn’t sure, but she sees this party as their last chance to have the fun they somehow denied themselves during their time in high school.

Like many great movies, “Booksmart” isn’t so much about the destination as it is about the journey. Molly and Amy’s determination to get to Nick’s party is quickly thwarted by the fact they have no idea where it is. As a result, they are forced to endure detours to other parties they did not plan on going to, cell phones which are quickly drained of all their energy, and teachers who either have unexpected side jobs or have forever sworn off drinking certain smoothies from Jamba Juice.

“Booksmart” marks the feature directorial debut of Olivia Wilde, an actress as strikingly intelligent as she is fiercely beautiful. She has said “The Breakfast Club,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Dazed and Confused” and “Clueless” served as inspirations for this film, and she has taken the best parts from each of them and created something which feels wonderfully unique. It has many laughs and heartbreaking moments which we can all relate to as, regardless of the advances in technology, our high school years were always emotional battlefields which left us with psychic scars which never fully heal.

Along with a cleverly crafted screenplay by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman, Wilde takes the time to explore the various personalities high school has to offer, and of the cliques they have long since been consigned to. But as the story goes on, these same individuals get a chance to peel back the façade given to them by their classmates to where we see people trying to survive these rough and tumble years as rumors about their supposed behavior still spread like wildfires which can never be easily put out. It’s moments like these I always cherish in high school movies as no one is ever what they appear to be on the surface, and this is what I think “Booksmart” is truly about; looking past what you think you see to discover what is really there, and making us see we are all the same.

Both Davidson and Antsler are perfectly cast as Molly and Amy to where they make you believe they have been best friends forever. We root for them as they look to live their last night as high schoolers to the fullest, and we feel for them as they eventually realize they may never see each other again for the longest time after this year is over. And yes, the two have a tense confrontation when they reveal truths which should have been confronted ages ago, and Wilde sticks the knife in deeper by muting their conversation as the looks on their faces is enough to illustrate the painful truths and grudges which have now forced their way to the surface.

Another memorable performance comes from Billie Lourd as Gigi, a gleefully blissed-out individual who somehow shows up at every high school party Molly and Amy are at. She is a riot throughout and inhabits her character with such wonderful abandon to where I believe Silberman when she said extra scenes were written for Lourd as everyone was really impressed with her performance.

In addition, there are some nice cameos from Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow who play Amy’s parents and have prepared a dinner with food names which need to be heard to be fully appreciated. Jason Sudeikis has some choice moments as school principal Jordan Brown who shows up unexpectedly throughout the film. And Diana Silvers has some strong scenes as Hope, a seemingly mean school girl who eventually lets her poker face down.

Wilde also has wonderful collaborators in Dan the Automator who composed the energetic film score, and cinematographer Jason McCormack who gives the visuals a reality we can relate to as well as a fantastical quality when our heroines slip into their imaginations to where one dance sequence looks like it was shot by Benoît Debie.

“Booksmart” arrives in theaters one year after “Eighth Grade,” a film about the worst year in our lives. “Booksmart” isn’t quite as brutal as it takes place in a time when the divisions between teenagers begin to disappear as they are all about to advance to another, and more vulnerable, stage in their lives. Still, it proves to be as entertaining, thoughtful and at times as heartbreaking. While it may invite easy comparison with “Superbad,” it is by no means a gender reversed remake of it. I don’t know how many out there think it is, but it is worth pointing this out here.

In a time when summer blockbusters and superhero movies reign supreme at the box office, a movie like this can get buried too easily. Here’s hoping “Booksmart” gets the audience it deserves in one way or another. And after you have watched it, you will agree that panda bears will never, ever be the same.

* * * * out of * * * *

 

‘Deadfall’ is an Effective Thriller with Strong Performances and Beautiful Cinematography

Deadfall movie poster

Deadfall” is a riveting thriller which held my attention from beginning to end, and sometimes that’s all I ask of certain movies. This one came out under the radar back in 2012, premiering on VOD first and then debuting in a few theaters, and it is no surprise in didn’t catch on with audiences as a result. But while it may not break any new ground in the crime drama genre, and I did have a couple of issues with the script, I did admire the performances from the entire cast. Also, director Stefan Ruzowitzky does strong work in keeping the level of tension high throughout the proceedings, and this is enough for me to give the movie a solid recommendation.

“Deadfall” opens with Addison (Eric Bana) and his sister Liza (Olivia Wilde) driving through a snowy landscape while on their way to the Canadian border. They have just robbed a casino which didn’t go exactly as planned (things like that never do), and their situation gets even more precarious when their car crashes which forces them to split up. The car crash which opens the movie is a hair raiser and pretty nasty, and it reminded me of how deer are more fascinated with oncoming headlights than they have any right to be.

Meanwhile, Jay (Charlie Hunnam) has just been released from prison and is contemplating the possibility of meeting up with his parents June (Sissy Spacek) and Chet (Kris Kristofferson) for Thanksgiving dinner. But things get bad for him as well after he accidently injures a former colleague severely, and he ends up on the run rather than run the risk of going back to jail. While driving through blizzard conditions he comes across Liza who is shivering due to the lack of warm clothes, and he quickly saves her from freezing to death. From there, you know all these characters’ paths will eventually cross with one another by the movie’s end.

The first thing I want to point out is how beautiful the cinematography in “Deadfall” is. It was shot in Canada and director of photography Shane Hurlbut does incredible work in capturing the snow’s beauty as well as how unforgivingly punishing it can be. Even as I watched this in a very nice air-conditioned screening room, I found myself wanting to put my jacket on. This became even more so while watching poor Olivia Wilde walk through a blizzard while wearing a miniskirt. After watching her in “Deadfall,” you cannot say she is not brave actress.

As for the performances, the best one was given by Eric Bana as Addison. The actor has left an indelible impression on us in movies like “Chopper,” “Black Hawk Down” and “Munich,” and he makes Addison a very charming bad guy. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Addison’s a psycho and someone we would all be best to keep our distance from but you can also understand why some of the characters in “Deadfall” hang out with him a lot longer than they should. Bana proves to be very unpredictable in the role, and you can never be sure at certain times if he’s going to be naughty or nice.

Wilde also delivers a strong performance as Liza, and she once again proves what a fiercely intelligent actress she is. Throughout “Deadfall,” we watch as she takes Liza from seeming like a lost girl to becoming a person whose confidence in their self continues to build. The relationship Liza ends up developing with Jay helps start the process of freeing her from Addison’s Svengali hold, and Wilde creates a fascinating portrait of a woman who manages to come into her own by the movie’s end.

Charlie Hunnam, best known for his work on the television show “Sons of Anarchy,” looks appropriately tough in the role of Jay. As we watch him getting released from prison at the movie’s start, he looks more than capable of boxing any opponent into complete submission. But the strength of Hunnam’s performance comes from those shades of vulnerability which his character cannot keep hidden. While prison has made him hard, it has not robbed him of his soul. Jay has made some foolish mistakes in his life, but Hunnam makes you care about him to where you cannot help but be deeply involved in his plight.

Kate Mara is also very good here as police officer Hannah, but she is unfortunately saddled with a father who treats her poorly because she’s a girl. Treat Williams plays Hannah’s dad, but while he’s always good, his character feels like an unnecessary addition to “Deadfall.” All we see him do is talk down to his daughter even when we can tell she is absolutely right about everything she sees going on. It’s the stupidity of characters like which really gets on my nerves.

You also have to give credit to Ruzowitzky for taking the time to cast Sissy Spacek and Kris Kristofferson as Jay’s parents. It’s astonishing to realize these two actors have never worked together before, and they bring an authentic down to earth flavor which helps ground the movie’s story in a reality we can recognize. Kristofferson’s part is a little underwritten, but it’s still fun to watch him here.

“Deadfall” ends on a somewhat frustrating note as there are a lot of loose ends left over and the fates of certain characters are left unresolved. Still, I found it to be a very entertaining movie thanks in large part to the terrific performances of the entire cast. And yes, the cinematography was incredibly beautiful, and especially for a movie which cost only $12 million to make. It alone reminds me to bring layers of clothing the next time I visit a blizzard-ridden city as I have been spoiled by the sunny California weather for far too long.

* * * out of * * * *

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT THE INTERVIEW I DID WITH STEFAN RUZOWITZKY FOR WE GOT THIS COVERED.

Olivia Wilde Discusses Playing Liza in ‘Deadfall’

Olivia Wilde in Deadfall

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2012.

Olivia Wilde might seem like just another pretty face in Hollywood, but she continues to give the characters she plays a strong intelligence they might not otherwise have. If you look at her performances in “Tron: Legacy” and “Cowboys & Aliens,” you will realize she has put a tremendous amount of thought in how she approaches her roles to where you leave the theater incapable of forgetting the effect she had on you. The latest example of this is “Deadfall” in which she portrays Liza, the sister of Addison (Eric Bana) whom she is on the run with after a casino heist gone wrong.

Deadfall movie poster

For Wilde, the role of Liza represented a huge departure for her. She had just finished playing Dr. Remy “Thirteen” Hadley on the television show “House,” and Liza took her in a completely different direction.

“Liza was so different from anything I’d ever played before, and I think I was really attracted to playing someone a little more broken,” Wilde said to Sophie A. Schillaci of The Hollywood Reporter. “I had spent many years on ‘House’ playing this very tough woman. I had played tough women in movies, and I realized that was something I was gravitating toward because it’s probably something I aspire to. But I’m interested in exploring people who really don’t have their act together completely.”

At the beginning of “Deadfall,” Addison and Liza’s car crashes in the snow which forces them to separate and go on the run towards the Canadian border. Liza, wearing little more than a miniskirt, almost freezes to death until former boxer Jay (Charlie Hunnam) rescues and later starts up a relationship with her. I got to attend the movie’s press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, and it was fascinating to hear Wilde talk about the relationships Liza had with each of these men and how deeply they affected her.

“Well I think with Addison she’s a perpetual child, she’ll always be his little Liza,” Wilde said. “So that established what the dynamic was like in that she’s very dependent on him. She’s terrified of him and yet she is still very drawn to him. But the romance between Jay and Liza allows her to be a woman, and you really see her coming into her own. So naturally in the writing they were very different relationships, and that kind of did the work for me.”

There was also the question of how deep the relationship between Addison and Liza went. At the start of the movie they look to be as close as a brother and sister can be, but as the story continues it looks like there is a lot of sexual tension between them. While it is not entirely clear if their relationship is an incestuous one, a kiss the two share at a Thanksgiving dinner seems to imply there might be. This led Wilde to talk more about the research she did for this role.

“That (kiss) kind of underlined the tension between them,” Wilde said. “I heard someone say that the relationship between passion and rage is very close, and there’s a violence to our upbringing in our lives that I think could just easily fall over into sex. It was really helpful to read about incestuous relationships and to know quite a lot about how that tends to happen, and yet it’s a very subtle part of the film. There are only one or two spots where it’s hinted at, and I’m glad we didn’t over explain it because it does leave it a bit of a mystery, but it adds so much to the story.”

All actors need to take the time to research the similarities and differences between them and the characters they play. For Wilde, it made her realize that her life could have been much different if she was more like Liza in “Deadfall.”

“I feel very lucky to not be Liza,” Wilde told Jay Stone of the National Post. “It makes me really appreciate having a very loving family and healthy upbringing and not having been abused. It’s a horrible problem that exists in many families. One of the reasons we’re doing this as actors is to reflect humanity, to show these types of people on screen and bring light to them in a certain sense.”

We’re going to see a lot more of Olivia Wilde in the future. Up next for her is “The Longest Week” in which she stars opposite Jason Bateman, “Black Dog, Red Dog” with James Franco and Chloe Sevigny, “Her” directed by Spike Jonze, and “Drinking Buddies” which is the project she is most excited about being a part of. As long as Wilde continues to bring that same level of thoughtfulness and intelligence she brings to movies like “Deadfall,” we will have so much to look forward to.

SOURCES:

Sophie A. Schillaci, “Olivia Wilde Sheds Her ‘Tough Woman’ Image for ‘Broken’ Character in ‘Deadfall’ (Video),” The Hollywood Reporter, December 7, 2012.

Ben Kenber, “Interview with the Cast and Director of Deadfall,” We Got This Covered, December 7, 2012.

Jay Stone, “Deadfall’s Olivia Wilde feels ‘lucky not to be Liza,'” National Post, December 7, 2012.

‘Tron: Legacy’ Digs Deeper into the World of the Computer

Tron Legacy movie poster

“There is no better moment than this moment, when we’re anticipating the actual moment itself. All of the moments that lead up to the actual moment are truly the best moments. Those are the moments that are filled with good times. Those are the moments in which you are able to think that it is going to be perfect, when the moment actually happens. But, the moment is reality, and reality always kinda sucks!”

-Lewis Black

I include this quote up above because it more or less symbolizes what I feel about the promotion Disney did for the long-awaited sequel to “Tron.” The company overhyped it to an alarming degree, making several different movie trailers and spent a good three years promoting it. With this kind of marketing, many may go into “Tron: Legacy” thinking it will be one of the greatest movies ever made.

As for myself, I weary of the hype and try to go into most movies with little to no expectations whatsoever. In fact, I think it’s better to watch most films with the lowest expectations possible. With the hype which has greeted movies like this or the “Star Wars” prequels or even “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” it is way too easy to be incredibly disappointed by the finished product. Nothing ever does come out as well as it does in our imaginations.

Well, reality may suck, but “Tron: Legacy” did not. I walked in expecting a fun time, tickled to death Walt Disney Pictures even bothered to make a sequel to a movie which was not a huge box office success back in 1982. At the very least, this sequel, which has been in the making for over 25 years, is more of a continuation of what came before. What it may lack in a fully coherent storyline, it more than makes up for with amazing visual effects, a fantastic score by Daft Punk, and a pair of great performances from the always reliable, and no longer underappreciated, Jeff Bridges.

So, here’s the story behind “Tron: Legacy:” after saying goodnight to his son Sam, Kevin Flynn rides off to Encom to work on a new digital frontier which will revolutionize the world of technology. Instead, he disappears without a trace. Shift to more than 20 years later, and Sam has become a rebellious young kid with strong technology skills he gleefully uses to thwart the executives at Encom who intend to profit and exploit Flynn’s work, work which Flynn wanted to make available to everyone for free.

Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) comes to Sam’s domicile one night to inform him he got a page from his dad the other night, and that it came from a line at Flynn’s Arcade which has been shut down for 20 years. Sam goes to the arcade to see what’s what, and we all know what happens from there as he gets sucked into “the grid” the same way his father was, and he is forced to fight for his life by hurling discs and racing light cycles in games which are deadlier than ever.

The premise behind “Tron: Legacy” is actually quite interesting. Kevin Flynn ends up developing a more advanced version of his Clu program who, of course, looks exactly like him. Together, they work to create the perfect system meant to bring about a new kind of life form, but somewhere along the line Clu grew resentful and comes to see a world of perfection far more different than his creator does. Soon afterwards, Clu turns against Flynn, making himself the ruler of all programs, and Flynn is trapped inside “the grid” with no way out.

Throughout, we watch as Clu coldly eliminates those programs which do not meet his high standards. It’s an interesting Frankenstein motif in how a creation runs amuck despite the master’s best intentions, and we all know what this leads to). It also reminded me of a line from “Star Trek: First Contact” which the Borg Queen says, “You’re an imperfect being created by an imperfect being. Finding your weakness is only a matter of time.”

The visual effects are unsurprisingly amazing, and they clearly reflect how far technology has come since the 1980’s. This time, they are much more fluid to where not everything is shown going in a straight line, and this gives the action scenes far more friction than they had in the original. The use of dark and neon-like colors doesn’t feel dated, and the costumes have been given a much-needed upgrade. There’s no more of those bulky suits which Sark’s guards and the MCP had, and the digital world presented here is a dark one and very un-Disney like.

By having “Tron: Legacy” focus on Flynn’s son, it seemed like Disney was desperately trying to court the youth demographics and would have been happy to cast the hottest teen or young adult heartthrob the role. Garrett Hedlund, however, turns out to be quite good and holds his own with Bridges. It’s not a great performance, but he does solid work here and keeps his character from becoming some annoyingly whiny brat whose daddy issues get the best of him. He does, however, have the disadvantage of saying the movie’s cheesiest lines like “this isn’t happening” and “this can’t be good.”

Another actor I enjoyed was Olivia Wilde who plays the warrior program, Quorra. She is a strong and engaging presence here, and her role as a Data-like figure eager to learn about the real world leads to some of the movie’s more intimate, as well as some of its funniest, moments. And yes, she does kick serious ass in the action scenes, easily derezzing those evil programs without even breaking a sweat.

But one actor I truly got a kick out of was Michael Sheen who plays Castor, the owner of the End of The Line Club. Stealing every scene he is in, Sheen holds nothing back as he gleefully hams it up as the life of the party, completely unbound by the soulless machinery at his disposal. We never really did see a program like this in the original “Tron,” did we?

And then there is Bridges who remains one of my all-time favorite movie actors. His performance here reminded of just how good he was in the original as he never let the special effects overwhelm his work as Flynn. Even though he was acting against a green screen more than he wasn’t, he makes himself feel like part of the reality to where it seems like nothing is impossible for the Oscar-winning actor. Oh, and if you listen close enough, there is a line designed to remind you of his famous role as The Dude. Trust me, you will know it once you hear it.

Yes, “Tron: Legacy” does have plot holes and some wooden dialogue, but so did the original. Thankfully, none of the dialogue is as cringe-inducing as the kind George Lucas gave us in the “Star Wars” prequels. Also, the story does get slowed down by exposition which could have been shortened. All the same, I’m glad the writers didn’t get lazy and bring back the Master Control Program (MCP) as if it was never defeated back.

Joseph Kosinski made his directorial debut with this sequel. In the past, he has received acclaim for the “Mad World” commercial for the video game Gears of War, and he has since gone on to direct “Oblivion” and “Only the Brave.” For my money, he does a much better job of blending actors with special effects in a way Lucas never could, and he does well in keeping “Tron: Legacy” from becoming overly-cheesy or infinitely monotonous.

The soundtrack by Daft Punk is infinitely awesome, and the duo is a perfect fit for this kind of material which serves as their first official film score. Like the brilliant score Wendy Carlos did for the first film, their music is a strong mix of orchestral and electronic elements which, and brings a strong sense of humanity and emotion to a wholly technological world.

Could “Tron: Legacy” have been a better film? Sure, but why can’t we just be happy Disney took the big risk of making this sequel? For what it is, I enjoyed it and admired the fact it was made by people who respected its predecessor. More than two decades is a massively long period of time to wait for any sequel, but “Tron: Legacy” was worth the wait for me, and I would certainly be open to seeing it again.

Still, I have to wonder, can human beings really exist in a digital world even though they are users instead of programs? Can a program actually be brought into the real world? Oh, who cares! I had fun!

End of line.

* * * ½ out of * * * *