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Argylle (2024) – Movie Review

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Argylle (2024) – Movie Review

Argylle, 2024.

Directed by Matthew Vaughn.
Starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Sam Rockwell, Henry Cavill, Bryan Cranston, Catherine O’Hara, Dua Lipa, Ariana DeBose, John Cena, Samuel L. Jackson, Sofia Boutella, Toby Haycock, Rob Delaney, Jason Fuchs, Jing Lusi, Alaa Habib, Alfredo Tavares, Tomás Paredes, and Richard E. Grant.

SYNOPSIS:

A reclusive author who writes espionage novels about a secret agent and a global spy syndicate realizes the plot of the new book she’s writing starts to mirror real-world events in real-time.

During a Q&A for her latest entry in her spy novel series Argylle, a reader asks if Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard, giving a performance that, without spoiling anything, demands physicality that she capably pulls off) is also a real spy, much like how James Bond author Ian Fleming and others were. She shoots down the theory, assuring the fan that she is a regular person who puts much research into her writing.

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Directed by Matthew Vaughn, this is an adaptation of the recently released book of the same name (written for the screen by Jason Fuchs), which is penned by a seemingly unknown woman named Elly Conway. There is a massively unhinged conspiracy theory that it is a pseudonym for Taylor Swift, something that I don’t believe for a second and that Matthew Vaughn has gone on record denying, but there are so many silly plot twists here that if the worldwide pop sensation did show up at some point here, somehow it would have fit right in.

Remember that none of this necessarily means Argylle is a smart film. Elly Conway, the character, just also happens to be a writer in the narrative here, finding herself wrapped up in danger and hunted by a nefarious spy organization similar to the one in her stories (there are four books in the fictional universe, and one she is currently writing.) Elly thinks she has the ending of her fifth novel in the series all figured out, ready to send it to print with a cliffhanger ending (Henry Cavill is who she visualizes as Agent Argylle, with John Cena portraying his sidekick Wyatt), except it turns out she will have to keep the story going as there are good and bad spies tracking her who believe that her mind and wherever she takes the story next is the solution to finding the real-life master list of scandalous details regarding career criminals.

While riding the train to visit her mother (Catherine O’Hara), a bearded, unkempt, and invasive but otherwise well-meaning man named Aidan (Sam Rockwell) sits down to read one of Elly’s novels before informing her that he is a spy despite his rugged appearance and that she will have to follow his lead to escape a horde of bad guys. The film immediately launches into a refreshing, creative burst of action that sees Sam Rockwell’s average dude spy battling several generic henchmen, while Elly occasionally sees her Argylle, Henry Cavill, engaged in the same combat, all of which feels like a challenging feat in editing and choreography to pull off, not to mention pleasingly stylistic. 

Would I have preferred if the narrative was far less intentionally stupid and more interested in deconstructing spies as characters and the default, handsomely charming appearances we give them in our minds? Sure, but Matthew Vaughn is still having playful fun during these action sequences, juxtaposing not only fantasy and reality, but Elly and the audience’s perception of what and who a spy can be. Regarding visual flair, it also fits in as a constant reminder that her fiction is coming to life.

However, Argylle is unquestionably a nonsensical movie with so many outlandish reveals that one of the twists is essentially a common trope just so the film can do a hard reset on who and what these characters are and want. From there, several more twists occur but with different characters in the action while inside an entirely different subgenre. The most that can be said is this: it is frustrating that even when everything is seemingly revealed about Argylle, Elly, Aidan, and the rest of her spy characters (played by an ensemble made up of exciting names such as the aforementioned John Cena, Ariana DeBose, and Samuel L. Jackson), it also feels like nothing is learned about any of them as people. Bryan Cranston also leads the rogue spy organization with an army of assassins searching for Elly, who brings his impeccable comedic skills to the villainous character.

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Certain story beats that Matthew Vaughn goes for just feel impossible to properly land amidst all this insanity. There is also no denying that Argylle sags in the middle when it is doing that reset, entering the realm of seemingly endless exposition. Once past that, Matthew Vaughn is alert to how nuts this all is, with characters even commenting so. 

Vaughn also uses this to his advantage to crank the action up to further outrageously gonzo levels, such as a sequence where a character skates with knives placed underneath their shoes, shooting hordes of enemies, or one that incorporates impressively choreographed dance moves and brightly colored smoke bombs into a thrilling shootout. Like most Matthew Vaughn films, there is also an upbeat licensed soundtrack playing to the violence. Admittedly, there is also some shoddy CGI, including a truly rough-looking car chase opening.

Argylle most definitely isn’t Matthew Vaughn’s strongest work as a storyteller, lacking the raw emotional hook from something such as Kingsman: The Secret Service or the political subtext found within X-Men: First Class, but he knows how to take something preposterous and amplify what makes it immensely fun. There are certainly some mixed thoughts to be had here, but there is one glaring positive: bold, bonkers action. He knows how the plant a character trait and pay that off later with some ludicrous and electrifying set pieces. 

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

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Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

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Movie Reviews

Humane (2024) – Movie Review

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Humane (2024) – Movie Review

Humane, 2024.

Directed by Caitlin Cronenberg.
Starring Jay Baruchel, Emily Hampshire, Peter Gallagher, Enrico Colantoni, Sebastian Chacon, Alanna Bale, Sirena Gulamgaus, Uni Park, Martin Roach, Blessing Adedijo, Joel Gagne, and Franckie Francois.

SYNOPSIS:

In the wake of an environmental collapse that is forcing humanity to shed 20% of its population, a family dinner erupts into chaos when a father’s plan to enlist in the government’s new euthanasia program goes horribly awry.

Humane takes a darkly fascinating, timely concept regarding ecological collapse and overpopulation, competently establishes some of that world-building that’s not too far off from a potentially bleak future reality, and then devolves into an hour of filthy rich siblings, most of whom are unlikeable, shouting at each other in an attempt to decide who they are going to sacrifice as part of an ongoing government-funded euthanasia cleansing.

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There is also nothing wrong with these characters being offputting and morally bankrupt when a sudden gathering organized by patriarch Charles York (Peter Gallagher) turns into an evening of survival, especially when there are military personnel and individuals even more psychotic overseeing the euthanasia process (a procedure with rewards that seemingly sets up the rest of one’s family financially for life), but the script from Michael Sparaga lacks characterization and complexity beyond one or two defining traits for each sibling. As a result, much of the backstabbing and betrayal between two particular siblings strains credibility and comes across as the screenplay looking to stretch the physical family feud long past its repetitive breaking point.

This is frustrating since, again, the hook grabs attention. Charles is a former celebrated news reporter who financially benefited from years of society ignoring climate change, among other pressing issues. Somewhat of a failure as a parent and husband, currently with a new partner named Dawn Kim (Uni Park), who has faced racism at extreme lengths of having her restaurant burned down (the script also mentions that for whatever reason, Asians, in general, have been made public enemy number one for the current disastrous state of the planet, without ever really expanding on that.) Charles cares deeply about his legacy. He is also looking for some form of redemption, so he signs himself and Dawn up for the euthanasia process while inviting his four adult children (one adopted son) over to say goodbye without explaining what the reunion is about.

The children are Jared’s (Jay Baruchel) government mouthpiece for the euthanasia program, Rachel’s (Emily Hampshire) sociopathic businesswoman who doesn’t realize or seem to care that her heartlessness gets her daughter Mia (Sirena Gulamgaus) endlessly bullied at school, recovering junkie and adopted son Noah (Sebastian Chacon) and aspiring actress Ashley (Alanna Bale.) Due to not knowing the nature of this reunion, Mia also ends up in the house. It is also established that Noah and Ashley are closer to one another than everyone else in this dysfunctional family.

Following dinner, Charles blurts out what is happening here; the euthanasia enforcements arrive, insisting that the family figure out a way to provide a second body since Dawn had run off before they arrived. Whether there is a deeper significance to that remains a mystery. There is no backing out, and the menacing ringleader, Bob (Enrico Colantoni), scrambles the Wi-Fi and is certain that these people are so selfish they will try to kill each other to ensure they are not the second death. He also makes clear that this group does not euthanize children (although the slimy Jared is seen on television early on promoting the idea, admitting that he would allow his teenage son to consider it), ordering his armed guards to bring Mia outside and into his van as insurance while the family decides what to do.

The euthanasia process is unsettlingly creepy, as fully seen during an opening prologue juxtaposed with an upbeat, cheerful song choice. The film consistently finds pockets to quickly drop tiny bits of information about this world and how the service is handled in the public eye, including gallows humor commercials thanking regular citizens for their suicide contributions.

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That’s all one way of saying Humane has the ingredients to be a sharp and socially aware takedown of the rich and a reflection of a grim, possible reality if everyone on this planet doesn’t get on the same page to do something about devastating global concerns. However, the film takes that intrigue and squanders it all on a sibling match of who can yell the loudest and survive the most injuries. Characters repeatedly try to kill each other, form alliances, betray one another, and show their worst sides in ways that don’t always feel believable, even for these wealthy, self-centered assholes. It becomes exhausting, and at one point, we side with the gleeful euthanizing murderer for trying to convince Mia that her mom is an awful person. Hilariously, it also tries to give that character a dramatic backstory while dropping the psychopathic behavior for roughly two minutes.

What Humane does have going for it is that it is the debut from Caitlin Cronenberg, and while this is a different kind of horror from what her father and brother would craft (and sometimes a black comedy with Jay Baruchel eliciting some laughs), the violence still has some body horror that fits right in with the family portfolio. Fingers are forced inside stab wounds, and blood squirts so often that it becomes confounding no one is dead yet. As a director, there should be interest in what she does next, preferably something with a stronger screenplay and layered characters.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com

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Movie Reviews

Humane (2024) – Review | Dystopian Family Thriller | Heaven of Horror

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Humane (2024) – Review | Dystopian Family Thriller | Heaven of Horror

How to reduce the population in a humane way

In Humane, which takes place in one single afternoon, but based on events that have happened over decades, a family is forced to deal with an ecological collapse. Basically, we need to reduce Earth’s population now, so the question becomes; How can we do that as a society in a humane way?

Hot tip: You need to pay attention to everything being said in the background during the opening credits!

Of course, there isn’t anything humane about having to eliminate a large percentage of the population. And yet, money can help, so a new euthanasia program has been made. Basically, you can volunteer to be “put down!

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A very different take on the euthanasia plot here >

Your family will be by your side as you say goodbye to them and they will also get a pretty penny for your sacrifice. Clearly, this scheme leads to mostly poor people and immigrants signing up, as they can then help their children and grandchildren to a better life.

That’s why it’s such a shock when a recently retired newsman – who has plenty of wealth to last a few lifetimes – invites his four grown children to dinner to announce that he has enlisted for the euthanasia program.

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Of course, nothing is as simple as described in the commercials constantly playing on TV to enlist volunteers. So, when the father’s plan goes wrong, full-blown chaos erupts among the four siblings, and they end up fighting each other to survive.

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There’s Still Tomorrow (2023) – Movie Review

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There’s Still Tomorrow (2023) – Movie Review

There’s Still Tomorrow, 2023.

Directed by Paola Cortellesi.
Starring Paola Cortellesi, Valerio Mastandrea, Romana Maggiora Vergano, Emanuela Fanelli, Giorgio Colangeli, and Vinicio Marchioni.

SYNOPSIS:

Trying to escape from the patriarchy in the Italian post-war society, Delia plots an act of rebellion against her violent husband.

Italian Cinema has had its share of triumphs over the years with the likes of Federico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini helping to define European Cinema of the mid 1900s. There’s Still Tomorrow from Star and Director Paola Cortellesi, proves that there is still plenty of life left in Italian Cinema. It has earned rave reviews and proven to be the most successful film of 2023 in Italy and the ninth highest-grossing film of all time there.

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Set in Rome in 1946, it follows Delia (Cortellisi), caught in a loveless marriage, struggling to put food on the table. Delia cares for their three young children and is also expected to tend to her bedridden father-in-law.  The Rome we follow is far from the more glamorous one we tend to see now, more like something in Rome Open City, with the effects of the war apparent, with a sizable US military presence still in place.

It has rightly earned plaudits and the way Cortellisi has balanced the period elements with neorealism is worth singling out. On paper this shouldn’t work, feeling often like a drama lifted straight from the era but also with a striking, contemporary edge to it, buoyed by some of the musical choices. The likes of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Outkast helping to lend it a ferocious energy and give it a sense of purpose. As far as debuts go this is incredibly ambitious but it never succumbs to striving for too much, miraculously finding balance throughout.

While the action is kept largely to Delia and her family it is gripping with plenty of impressive traits from our first-time director from the use of music and dance to slow motion. Davide Leone’s cinematography is striking and perfectly captures the downbeat nature of post-war Rome.

There’s Still Tomorrow is a wonderful blend of 1940s Italian Cinema and melodrama with a distinctly modern edge to it, landing this awkward balance for the most part. It will be intriguing to see whether international audiences take to it quite as strongly but as Italian as it feels, there is a global appeal to it, of a woman trying to escape a horrendous situation and reclaim her life. It is a very impressive debut and we can only hope Paola Cortellisi directs more in future. It is an unpredictable love letter to Italian cinema and this particular era in Italian society that wears its heart on its sleeve and is hard not to be enamoured with.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

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