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Non-Review Review: Tag

Tag is a charming comedy that largely coasts off star charisma and a surprisingly heartwarming premise.

The plot is a compelling hook of itself. Inspired by a true story, Tag is the tale of a bunch of male friends who take one month out of every year in order to participate in a game of tag. This game has been going, on and off, for the better part of three decades. As the players get older, the pranks get more elaborate – the ruses, the feints, the misdirections, the ambushes. However, throughout the movie, the characters repeatedly stress that the game has also kept them together and in one another’s lives.

Touching.

This is a familiar set-up. It is the stuff of “overgrown manchildren” comedy, the tale of adult (and often even middle-aged) men who have the emotional maturity of children. Stepbrothers is perhaps the gold standard of the increasingly common comedy subgenre, which arguably includes films as diverse as Old School, Bad Neighbours and Knocked Up. Even indie comedies have gotten in on the act with movies like The Skeleton Twins, Cyrus or Adult Beginners.

While not strong enough or smart enough to rank with the best examples of the genre, Tag flirts with something resembling self-awareness. The movie is just cognisant enough of its underlying immaturity to keep the audience onside. Tag also benefits from a strange bittersweet quality, its joyous celebration of hypermasculine friendship gently flavoured with something resembling melancholy. It’s never entirely clear how much of that melancholy is intentional, but it permeates and enriches the film.

Renner, Renner.

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Non-Review Review: Escape Plan 2

Escape Plan was a rather disappointing exercise.

The first Escape Plan had a hell of a hook entirely separate to its central plot. Escape Plan brought together eighties action movie icons Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger for the first time as equals; not one cameoing in the other’s movie, not a sly wink or a nod, but as leads in an action movie together. This was the b-movie equivalent to Heat, an opportunity to watch two titans square off against one another inside the framework of a vaguely defined science-fiction b-movie. The results were underwhelming, the film feeling too late and self-indulgent.

Escapes and scowls.

Escape Plan 2 is just a bad movie.

Escape Plan 2 seems to assume that the appeal of the original Escape Plan was not in its combination of two iconic action stars collaborating as equals, instead suggesting that the audience for the original Escape Plan was really there for the reheated prison movie clichés that had been handled much better in other movies. And so Escape Plan 2 drops Schwarzenegger for an even more complicated escape from an even more complicated prison. This feels like a fundamental misunderstanding of what the audience wanted. An unsatisfying prison movie without the Stallone/Schwarzenegger team is just an unsatisfying prison movie.

It’s all going according to plan.

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85. Forrest Gump (#12)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode thrown in.

This time, Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump.

Forrest Gump is an unremarkable man who has lived the most remarkable of lives, a feather caught in the breeze of history. From his childhood in Mississippi through the turbulence of the sixties and seventies, Forrest Gump lives a life that intersects repeatedly with the biggest moments of the twentieth century, having a profound and unspoken effect upon the course of history.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 12th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Non-Review Review: Set It Up

Set It Up is a loving ode to the classic romantic comedies of the nineties, harking back even further to their antecedents, the screwball comedies of the forties.

The basic premise of Set It Up is straightforward. Zoey Deutch is Harper, the personal assistant to Lucy Liu’s Kirsten. Kirsten is a cutting-edge sports journalist, and Harper is an aspiring writer who found herself working as a personal assistant and has been unable to extricate herself from that situation. Glen Powell is Charlie, the personal assistant to Taye Diggs’ Rick. Charlie hopes to leverage his experience with Rick into a successful and prosperous career, if he can survive Rick’s temper tantrums.

Their chemistry is through the roof.

Following a chance encounter while picking up a delivery late one night, Charlie and Harper hit upon a cunning plan to escape the ridiculous demands of their bosses. Charlie and Harper will use the positions of trust afforded to them as personal assistants in order to trick their bosses into a relationship. Their logic is that a potential romance would eat into Kirsten and Rick’s free time, and thus afford Charlie and Harper more personal time. Charlie can reconnect with his increasingly estranged girlfriend, while Harper can try to become the writer that she always wanted to be.

It is perhaps churlish to describe Set It Up as formulaic, as the primary appeal of the movie is in watching a charming cast navigate a modern spin on a variety of classic romantic comedy tropes. There are perhaps moments when Set It Up leans a little too heavily into its genre trappings, and there are moments when its attempts to update genre conventions for the twenty-first century don’t exactly land. Nevertheless, the film is elevated by charming central performances and breezy yet witty script that understands the mechanics of the genre enough to know when to play with them and when to play them straight.

Will we see some PDAs from the PAs?

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Irony, Thy Name Is Gump: “Forrest Gump” and the Art of Earnest Irony…

Forrest Gump is a movie that I’ve never quite been able to wrap my head around.

On one level, it’s an incredibly sacchrine and simplistic exploration of the first fifty years of the so-called “American Century”, the turbulent second half of the twentieth century as navigated by a dim-wit with nothing but good intentions to guide his way. The eponymous character floats on the winds of history like a feather, a metaphor that bookends the film in a manner that is incredibly cloying. There is something undeniably condescending and overly simplistic in the notion of history in Forrest Gump, as a force that sweeps up men and nations without any rhyme or reason.

As such, it’s easy to be wary of Forrest Gump and its approach to history. Forrest Gump presents a very clean and sanitised accounting of the second half of the twentieth century, one in which there is absolutely nothing happening beneath the surface of American life, and in which there is no point even attempting to comprehend the myriad of forces at work on the country and its inhabitants. In this way, Forrest Gump plays as a trite moral fable. There is no point in even trying to understand the chaos that is the modern world. It is enough to be decent and oblivious, and things will work out fine.

At the same time, there has always been something lurking at the edge of the frame in Forrest Gump, beneath all the folksy trappings and the simplistic history lessons. It is too much to suggest that Forrest Gump has an edge, but it certainly has a point. Forrest Gump in many ways presents an avatar of the final fifty years of the twentieth century in its central character. The eponymous character is an embodiment of a certain American ideal, a personification of the American public that has been bewildered and confused by the speed and pace with which history seemed to move in that turbulent half-century.

With that in mind, there is something vaguely self-aware in Forrest Gump, something that perhaps simmers beneath the surface of the film. Gump is a likable and charming protagnonist, brilliantly brought to life by Tom Hanks in a performance that (deservedly) won him his second Best Actor Oscar. However, there has always been something uncanny in the film’s presentation of Gump as the character most ideally suited to the twentieth century, in contrast to supporting characters like Lieutenant Dan or Jennie. Forrest Gump is a movie that argues the only way to survive the twentieth century is as a fool and an idiot.

There’s always seemed something very wry and very cynical in that idea, buried beneath the film’s cotton-candy exterior.

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Non-Review Review: Adrift

Adrift is a visceral and powerful survival thriller, based on the remarkable true story of Tami Oldham.

In the mid-eighties, Oldham became a figure of note following a disastrous journey into the Pacific with her fiancé Richard Sharp. Sailing from Tahiti to San Diego, their luxury yacht is caught in the middle of Hurricane Raymond. The ship is damaged, the pair separated. Waking up in the flooding living compartment, Oldham is forced to improvise in order to survive. It is a harrowing scenario, a story of a woman essentially wrestling against the elements in a desperate attempt to stay alive in a seemingly impossible situation.

Sail away with me…

The basic premise of Adrift is familiar. It recalls any number of powerful lost-at-sea narratives, from All is Lost to Cast Away to The Mercy. Director Baltasar Kormákur wrings as much tension as possible from the premise, perhaps drawing on his experience working on similar ocean-themed movies like The Sea or The Deep. At certain points in Adrift, the audience is liable to feel claustrophobic, to gasp for breath as the camera whirls and struggles against the oppressive force of nature.

Adrift suffers slightly from a sense of over-familiarity, and from a clumsy plot development that it chooses to play as a big twist rather than an organic narrative element. Nevertheless, Adrift is a tense story of survival in impossible circumstances.

Mast-er and commander.

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Non-Review Review: Hereditary

Perhaps what is most striking about Hereditary is how all the comparisons to The Exorcist seem off base.

To be fair, every movie deserves to be judged on its own terms unless it expressly demands otherwise, whether through a preexisting relationship or an inviting homage. Nevertheless, The Exorcist has been a touchstone for Hereditary in the run-up to the film’s release, a critical cliché employed to underscore just how effective Hereditary is. Rolling Stone has pitched the film as “this generation’s The Exorcist.” TimeOut described it as “a new generation’s The Exorcist.” Titlemag acknowledged the use of such critical shorthand.

Something to chew over.

It’s easy to see why this comparison has been made. The Exorcist is public short-hand for scary, a famously controversial film that shocked audiences upon release and which many members of the current generation first heard discussed in hushed tones. More than that, there’s significant thematic overlaps between Hereditary and The Exorcist, with both films serving as unsettling explorations of a tightly-knit family dynamic that use supernatural horror as prism through which these dynamics might be interrogated.

However, there is a major tonal difference between Hereditary and The Exorcist. In many ways, The Exorcist represents a very broad and populist strand of seventies horror, with an accessible central narrative that plays off easily understood fears in a very direct manner. The Exorcist was a cultural phenomenon, earning almost two hundred million dollars at the United States box office on initial release, and becoming a touchstone for an entire generation of horror fans. It is a movie that has inspired parodies and references, which can be used casually as shorthand with non-cinephile audiences.

Putting the ‘fun’ in ‘funeral.’

Hereditary is a very different sort of beast. Hereditary is not a descendant of that sort of broad crowd-pleasing horror spectacle. The narrative is dense and layer, its symbolism abstract and its storytelling often allegorical. Hereditary is full of ambiguities and lacunas, with tension simmering beneath the surface before exploding dramatically towards the climax. If Hereditary is a descendant of sixties and seventies horrors, it is a closer relation of more abstract nightmares like Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now or Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby.

This is perhaps the most interesting thing about the film, and one which perhaps goes a long way towards explaining some of the more contradictory aspects of its theatrical release.

Do look now.

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