Sharon Stone as Senna Berges in the comedy film All I Wish – a Paladin / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment release. Photo courtesy of Paladin / Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
Though Sharon Stone has carved out a diverse career, romantic comedies have never been her calling card. Whether it’s due to a lack of imagination for filmmakers or her own creative choices, that’s a shame, as her work in the seemingly breezy All I Wish is worth the price of admission.
Senna Burges (Stone) is a woman who, in the throes of middle age, still doesn’t have her act together. Spontaneous to a fault, Senna is a clothing designer whose unpredictably frustrates her boss (Famke Janssen) and perplexes her mom (Ellen Burstyn, delivering resonant work as usual). Best friend Darla’s (Liza Lapira) attempts to set up Senna with a lawyer named Adam (Tony Goldwyn) ends up disastrous (partly due to Senna’s intractability and an Adam misstep), and happily ever after many never be a reality for our protagonist.
Though much of All I Wish is delivered with a light touch from first time director Susan Walter, the narrative also mines darker material as Senna navigates through life’s inevitable tragedies and challenges. Whether it’s the “battle of the sexes” bantering with Goldwyn or bonding with Burstyn, Stone is always engaging, and her charismatic performance anchors the film. Credit goes to Walter for giving Stone an equally talented ensemble to play with, and each of them gets their respective moment to shine within the story.
One can understandably rail against the world at the rarity of having a female lead over 40 spearheading her own romantic comedy, and thankfully All I Wish is a step in a right direction. But more importantly the film, running at a brisk 94 minutes, has a ton of storytelling meat on the bone. In an acknowledged ode to When Harry Met Sally, Walter has each of these characters speak to the camera between chapters (the film is set on Senna’s various birthdays), and the breaking the fourth wall element actually adds a deeper layer to the proceedings.
In a ton of romantic comedies, the players are playing roles in a relative fantasy land, and romcom fans are more than happy to play with the illusion. While All I Wish is set amidst the sunny confines of Los Angeles, Walter and Stone (who also produced) have snuck in a much deeper tale into the framework. Finding love and happiness is lifelong quest, and although some naysayers believe Senna should be acting her age, she has other things on her mind. Sometimes being an adult is throwing caution to the wind and following one’s dreams, and perceptions be damned.
It’s easy to draw a link between Stone, who’s now 60, finally finding a romantic comedy to sink her teeth into, and Walter, after years of assistant directing (she started in the early 90s), finding her footing as a director. But maybe overthinking the whole thing is the wrong idea, as All I Wish stands on its own as a solid piece of entertainment, and thankfully that wish came true.
All I Wish is now playing in select theaters and is available VOD and Digital HD.
Five decades into his career, it’s good to see that director Steven Spielberg has not lost his passion for adventure. In fact, his latest release, Ready Player One, recalls the fascination that came along with his early screen work in a very modern and futuristic tale.
Penned by Zak Penn using Ernest Cline‘s novel for inspiration, Ready Player One is set in two worlds — the futuristic but somewhat dystopian future of real life Columbus, Ohio and the escapist gaming centric world of the Oasis.
The Oasis is the creation of a mastermind named Halliday (a nearly unrecognizable Mark Rylance) where those who enter the virtual world can achieve what they want and be who they want to be in a variety of adventures and in the sad state of modern affairs, this world is an escape for many and has become an everyday part of life for most, including a young player named Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan), whose closest friends he only knows as their avatars while playing under the name Parzival. In real life, Wade lives in a less than ideal family situation, cared for by his aunt in the stacks (think a futuristic trailer park) after his parents passed away in his youth. But at the Oasis, Parzival regularly competes in an attempt to uncover the three keys that Halliday left behind as an easter egg following his death. Those unable to retrieve the keys will become heir to Halliday’s fortune and the Oasis itself.
Parzival and his pal Aech are regular race participants, often attempting to best the Sixers, a group of gamer trainees hired by Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), Halliday’s onetime assistant and chief of the second biggest gaming organization hoping to lay claim to the riches left by their primary competition. When Parzival and Aech are joined by the fearless Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) in yet another race that falls short of completion, something Art3mis says triggers the clue that Parzival needs to become the first person ever to retrieve one of the keys. Eventually, Parzival is joined by Art3mis, Aech and two other frequent competitors — Sho (Philip Zhao) and Daito (Win Morisaki), who start to form a loose alliance in attempting to solve the riddles that had eluded many for so long.
Parzival’s victory upsets Sorrento, who starts to take a more active role in trying to eliminate his competition, while things suddenly become all too real for Wade/Parzival in the real world.
Though set in the future, there are plenty of nods to the past in Ready Player One. Much of the soundtrack is set in the ’80s, an era where Spielberg’s star shone at its brightest. There are also nods to the era where video games first came to prominence, with clues cleverly based among the games that started it all. And yes, there are even nods to Spielberg’s peers, with shoutouts to Robert Zemeckis and Stephen King among others. It’s a pop culture treasure trove for those paying attention, with Spielberg going meta and offering any number of easter eggs while telling a story about trying to find the ultimate easter egg.
And while the film is very much about gaming and a virtual reality world, there is a lesson to be had about staying grounded in every day life as well. Halliday’s final adventure is riddled with clues of his own life, regrets and triumphs, one that lays the path for the future with only the rightful gamer being able to solve it all. Ultimately, it’s a film about connections made and finding hope in the adventure. A visually impressive feature, Spielberg continues to show why he’s one of the most lauded directors in history and this film serves both as a love letter to his past while showing he still has so much more left to give.
There’s nothing quite as dangerous as a teen girl scorned, whether the infraction is real or built up in the mind of the beholder. In the new film Thorougbreds, Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy take viewers on an unsettling journey as the rekindling of their friendship becomes almost a chess game of dark intentions.
We’re first introduced to Amanda, a wise-beyond-her-years, sullen and emotionless (literally, as she reveals her inability to feel certain human emotions) teen who has become an outcast over an incident that involved her horse from her youth. Amanda arrives at Lily’s (Taylor-Joy] spacious yet antiseptic mansion for an arranged tutoring session-hangout, quickly surveying the surroundings while awaiting for her estranged friend from youth to arrive. Amanda sizes up Lily rather quick, as the teen portrays the picture of privilege and a picture perfect life, but Amanda’s blunt nature catches Lily off guard and intrigues her, forcing Lily to give up the ruse of her life and be brutally honest for the first time in a long time.
The introduction of Lily’s stepfather Mark (Paul Sparks) marks the first real crack in Lily’s veneer, with Amanda astutely assessing Lily’s below-the-surface hatred of the controlling parental figure. The obsessive-compulsive Mark has little time or compassion for his stepdaughter, often seen treating her as an annoyance while Lily’s mother Karen (Kalli Vernoff) seems content being the trophy wife who never challenges her husband. But Finley’s writing of the character leaves room for who’s perspective is correct.
Writer/director Cory Finley does a masterful job in revealing the depths of the two girls. Amanda’s able to unravel Lily with ease, with her bluntness calling out Lily’s darkest desires. When Amanda suggests the possible killing of Lily’s stepfather as a solution to her new friend’s problems, Lily is initially horrified, but the more Amanda addresses the simplicity, the harder it is for Lily to deny those feelings. But Amanda has unleashed a monster. While Amanda’s dark side is up front and present, Lily proves to be every bit as dark, almost matter-of-factly embracing a focused psychosis.
The pair initially hatch a plan to off Mark engaging the local small-time drug dealer Tim (Anton Yelchin in his final role) to do the deed, but things don’t go as expected. While a smaller role, Yelchin’s Tim provides some perspective on the girls’ plans and some much needed comic relief with his hapless nature.
It’s when things go awry that the film really goes to its darkest places, with Lily’s masking of her real persona fading away and Amanda’s realizations about her own motivations in life coming to a head. Both Cooke and Taylor-Joy shine in their respective roles, leaving viewers truly unnerved at many points in the film while also providing some nervous levity as well.
Thoroughbreds is a well-written, superbly acted thriller which ranks among the best in this genre of film.
The bad news with episode 80 of CinemAddictsis that Jennifer Lawrence’s latest film Red Sparrow absolutely misses the mark. Playing a ballerina turned intelligence agent who attempts to extract information from a CIA agent (Joel Edgerton), Lawrence does her best in the role but the narrative is a muddled mess. Also covered on the show is the disappointing sci-fi thriller Annihilation which, though it also features a capable lead performance from Natalie Portman, also ends up a big disappointment.
Smaller fare turned out to be my cinematic recommendations in this installment, as the motel thriller Josie, headlined by Dylan McDermott and Sophie Turner, had much more dramatic gravitas than I was expecting. Featuring standout work from McDermott as a loner haunted by his past and Turner as the young woman who changes his fate, Josie is a must watch (especially if you love twisty pulp noir or generally well done dramas) when it debuts in theaters and On Demand March 16. I Kill Giants, a flick based on the Joe Kelly graphic novel that hits theaters and On Demand a week later, is also highly recommended.
To listen to the latest episode of CinemAddicts, which is available on iTunes, click on the media bar below:
Don’t let the the plotline fool you, as Wonder is not an overly sappy family drama that aims for the lowest common denominator. For one, the picture, which is based on R.J. Palacio’s 2012 novel, is directed by The Perks of Being a Wallflower filmmaker Stephen Chbosky. As with Perks, Chbosky approaches the material with insight, preferring to let this refreshingly intricate story (and not cloying emotion) lead the way.
The storyline centers on Auggie (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), a boy with a facial deformity who enters fifth grade. Home schooled and sheltered by his parents (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson) and older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie has a hard time fitting in thanks to a bullying classmate (Bryce Gheisar) and his friends. Slowly but surely, Auggie makes a couple of friends and gradually finds that school actually has its merits.
The tale may be predictable, but Chbosky frames his narrative by giving various characters their own moment in the film to shine. For example, Via has her very own subplot which deals with her own feelings of neglect (Vidovic, who does a stirring monologue in the picture, is a revelation). Noah Jupe, who plays Auggie’s best friend Jack, is also given his own section of the story which also bolsters the narrative. Roberts and Wilson, though they are the film’s A-list stars, are just a small part of the overall picture, as Tremblay’s excellent performance is ultimately the star of the picture.
Special features on the Blu-ray include a five-part documentary, three featurettes (a look at the making of the soundtrack, “What a Wonderful World”, “A Child’s Sense of Wonder”), audio commentary from Chbosky and Palacio, and a music video (“Brand New Eyes”). The DVD version comes with the commentary, music video, and the soundtrack featurette.
Click on the media bar below to hear Julia Roberts talk about one of the themes behind Wonder:
Director/writer Dean Devlin, best known for his Independence Day and Stargate screenplays, is behind the camera with the underrated disaster epic Geostorm. Recently released on Blu-ray and DVD, the picture had a worldwide gross of $220 million, but it should have received much more attention stateside (it reached just $33 million in receipts).
For one, Gerard Butler is an engaging protagonist as Jake Lawson, the creator of the network of satellites that has kept Earth from succumbing to natural disasters and the destructive effects of climate change. Lawson’s understandable aversion to authority leads to his eventual unemployment, but he’s needed three years later when a “geostorm” threatens the planet.
Jim Sturgess is Jake’s brother Max, a career driven climber in politics who’s tasked by his superior (Ed Harris) to enlist Jake for the latest mission, with Abbie Cornish starring as Max’s girlfriend (and agent) Sarah. Andy Garcia rounds out the A-list cast as the President, a man who, upon seeking reelection, may be a conspirator behind the latest satellite debacle.
Click on the media bar below to hear Butler talk about working with Geostorm co-star Jim Sturgess:
The Blu-ray comes with the featurettes “Wreaking Havoc,” “Search for Answers,” and “An International Event.” In the “Search for Answers” segment, Devlin added that he rifles through his first draft of a screenplay in a quick manner to give even more time for the succeeding drafts and edits. He also adds that Geostorm’s idea came from his own daughter, who asked him why there wasn’t a big machine to actually combat climate change.