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Fly Me to the Moon: Scarlett Johansson helps Nasa in conspiracy romcom

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Fly Me to the Moon: Scarlett Johansson helps Nasa in conspiracy romcom

3.5/5 stars

Set during the 1960s space race, Fly Me to the Moon is a breezy romantic comedy that taps into the mythology surrounding the 1969 moon landing.

Scarlett Johansson plays Kelly Jones, a go-getting advertising executive with a slightly chequered past. One day, she is accosted by Moe Berkus (Woody Harrelson), a government operative looking to recruit her to promote Nasa’s man-on-the-moon mission to politicians and the public.

Before she arrives at Nasa, Jones crosses paths with Apollo 11’s launch director, Cole Davis (Channing Tatum), “the best pilot who will never get to space”.

It is his job to make sure Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins complete their mission safely. But he immediately bristles at Jones’ trickery, not least her use of actors pretending to be Nasa staff in media interviews.

Like a female version of Mad Men’s Don Draper, Jones knows exactly how to sell the mission to keep the money rolling in so Nasa beats the Russians to the moon.
“When I’m done helping, these men are gonna be bigger than The Beatles,” she says – and she means it.

But then comes the real test, as Berkus engages her in Project Artemis, a secret scheme to film a fake moon landing in case the real one goes belly up.

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(From left) Channing Tatum as launch director Cole Davis, Woody Harrelson as government operative Moe Berkus and Scarlett Johansson as advertising executive Kelly Jones in a still from Fly Me to the Moon.

Touching on the long-held conspiracy theory that Stanley Kubrick was involved in faking the event (the director gets name-checked more than once), Fly Me to the Moon counts down to the big day in July 1969 well enough.

Less successful is the on-off attraction between Jones and Davis, who is taking her for a spin in his plane one minute, then chiding her for her duplicitous nature the next minute. Their coupling never really seems in doubt, despite the friction.

Director Greg Berlanti, known for his work on American television shows such as Dawson’s Creek, has conjured up romcoms before, including films such as The Broken Hearts Club, but this feels a little too slick to be truly enchanting.

Channing Tatum as Cole Davis and Scarlett Johansson as Kelly Jones in a still from Fly Me to the Moon.

Elements of the story – including one about a pesky black cat – are telegraphed in such a way that even a child could see what is coming. But Johansson and Tatum are polished, easy-on-the-eye actors and Harrelson plays the de facto villain well.

Moreover, with a script that explores the idea that the space race was more a battle of ideologies than the triumph of man, it has enough charms to rocket past its flaws.

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Movie Reviews

Film Review: The Box Man (2024) by Gakuryu Ishii

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Film Review: The Box Man (2024) by Gakuryu Ishii

“Those who obsess over the box man, become the box man.”

Apart from his colleague Shinya Tsukamoto, director Gakuryu Ishii belongs to a certain set of filmmakers which constantly test the aesthetics of the modern era while at the same time making poignant observations about our relationship with urbanity and technology. Features such as “Crazy Thunder Road”, “Burst City” and “Isn’t Anyone Alive” have embraced elements of punk and the absurd, resulting in memorable visuals and scenes. “The Box Man”, an adaptation from the novel of the same title by author Kobo Abe, was a project Ishii originally started in 1997, but as the financial backing fell through, had to abandon it. 25 years later, he was finally able to finish what he started within a cultural landscape where the core metaphor of the story is much more relevant.

Myself (Masatoshi Nagase) is a photographer who witnesses something strange on his walks through Tokyo. A man who is seemingly living in a cardboard box observes the people around him through a small hole, and the photographer cannot help but follow him and become obsessed with him. Eventually, he decides to become a “box man” himself, taking pictures of his environment as well as recording his observations in a small notebook he keeps with him all the time. Over time, he learns to appreciate the new perspective living in the box provides, even though he is also well aware of people now closely watching him.

Among those is a fake doctor (Tadanobu Asano), who, with the help of Yoko, a nurse (Ayana Shiramoto), and a general (Koichi Sato), aims to document the life of the box man. His study has become more of an obsession as he reenacts scenes he has observed in his home, wanting to be the “box man” himself. Because he thinks there is some vital piece missing in him becoming the next “box man”, he wants to get his hand on the notebook. However, he is not the only pursuer of Myself, as there is a mysterious killer chasing after him.

Check the interview with the director

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While the concept of the box man may seem similar to a peeping tom, in the novel and the film adaptation it becomes much more than that. As we are introduced to the way the central character perceives the world in the beginning, with his focus being on the various women who pass him by, we feel our understanding of this person is confirmed. However, with the support of the voice-over and Masatoshi Nagase’s committed performance, the box man turns into a commentator of the events of the outside world, from people’s behavior to relationships, which at times brings him closer to an online troll or hater. Given the absurd developments within the story, with characters from all strands of society becoming obsessed with the box man and the kind of freedom he enjoys, Ishii (as well as Abe) have come up with a poignant and quite funny portrayal not just of the phenomenon of the online troll, but also why the concept is so attractive to people.

Indeed, “The Box Man” is social satire at its core, with some of the funniest scenes in Ishii’s filmography. This is also due to a, as mentioned before, a committed central performance by Nagase, as well as by the other members of the cast, such as Tadanobu Asano, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Ayana Shiramoto and Koichi Sato, to name just a few. Each one of them becomes obsessed with the idea of the box man, the freedom, the anonymity and independence granted by it. When Asano’s fake doctor attempts to re-create some of these moments, accompanied by the laconic remarks of Shiramoto’s nurse Yoko, this is comedy gold. At the same time, it seems to suggest how we are tempted by the “box man”, as it enables something deep within ourselves, a desire that we cannot experience within society, unless we hide in a box and cannot be recognized any more.

“The Box Man” is a comedy and social satire on society’s obsession with commenting on everything, and how stating an opinion (no matter how inappropriate and false) has become more important than worthwhile interaction. Gakuryu Ishii manages to tell a story which is both throught-provoking and entertaining, supported by a great cast and good grip on the source material, and how it is relevant in today’s world.

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'Indian 2' movie review: Go back, Indian

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'Indian 2' movie review: Go back, Indian

What does Senapathy feel about having to clean up his society all over again? This film presents him as though he were rather amused by it all. The police almost catch him when he lands in India, but he escapes and before doing so, meows at them. Senapathy didn’t seem like a man who enjoyed his kills; he did it because he knew no other way. It’s a disagreeable strategy, but this man is flawed, given that he spent his youth in a time of war. Where is such detailing here? Where is any reference to his family? Perhaps the idea was for Indian 2 to skip all personal angles and jump straight into becoming a ‘social’ film. Where then is the deep socio-psychological commentary on our society and its people? From out of nowhere, Senapathy comes up with the brainwave of inspiring people to rat on their near and dear ones—and it’s an idea that could well have been the theme of this whole film. Senapathy thinks country first, but what’s a country if not its many units of people? How do you get people to look past their families? The portion that touches upon this late into the second half is the film’s best. Shankar’s Indian deserved a sequel that was ready to sink into nuances, but Indian 2 doesn’t even address the fundamental question of whether a black-or-white extremist can understand/inspire the greyness of his country’s people.

Even the manner of Senapathy’s executions in this film is laughably childish. In the first film, you got the haunting image of a killed man, whose mouth fills up with rice spilling from a sack. Here, one victim trots like a horse on the road. Another becomes feminine—and all of this is supposed to make us laugh. Bobby Simha, playing Pramod, is restricted to looking rather irritated from start to finish. If this were a film interested in anyone’s emotions, it would focus on telling us why for Pramod, catching Senapathy is a ‘life ambition’. Instead, we get a 100-something man racing along on a unicycle for what seems like an eternity. The director’s films aren’t exactly remembered for well-informed politics, considering they aim to offer populist catharsis. But you still don’t expect a dig at government freebies. I suppose nuances of social equality are tall ask for a film whose protagonist’s important dialogue comes with fundamental lip-sync issues. You know a film is not working when even the late Vivekh struggles to get going with his one-liners. The man, known for dropping nuggets of knowledge in his humour, uses light-year as a unit of time (when it’s a unit of distance)—but as I said, nothing really works in Indian 2.

You know how sometimes a sequel is called a ‘spiritual sequel’? Indian 2 can be called a deeply dispiriting sequel, I think; it’s a film that shows almost no understanding of the soul and strength of the first film and its protagonist. For these reasons, it’s really hard not to join the chorus of citizens in this film as they fling objects at the protagonist and yell, “Go back Indian!”

Film: Indian 2

Director: Shankar

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Cast: Kamal Haasan, Siddharth, Vivekh, Jagan, Priya Bhavani Shankar, Samuthirakani

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

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Film Review: MaXXXine – SLUG Magazine

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Film Review: MaXXXine – SLUG Magazine

Film

MaXXXine
Director: Ti West
Motel Mojave, Access Industries, Access Entertainment
In Theaters: 07.03

When it comes to horror, it’s safe to say that the multifaceted Ti West undoubtedly knows what he’s doing, which is what makes the long–awaited resolution to the Pearl-verse trilogy that much more disappointing. It seems that while all good things must come to an end, nobody ever said that that end has to be what you had hoped for. Although like its sister films, MaXXXine sets out on a very spankingly confident heel, it unfortunately stays on that same white stiletto the whole time, not daring to switch stride or direction. 

As we strut back up to speed with Maxine Minx (Mia Goth, Infinity Pool) six years after the first installment in West’s trilogy, X, she no longer seems to be the same Texan country bumpkin seeking stardom out of reach that we remember—but rather a fully-realized sex symbol with that same unshakeable faith, and an opportunity for fame seemingly a couple of porno films away. This opportunity is presented by none other than Elizabeth Debicki—known as Elizabeth Bender in the film,the director looking to make an atypical horror sequel of her own: The Puritan 2, whose predecessor garnered much success and established Molly Bennett (Lily Collins, Love, Rosie) as a scream queen, a title quite coveted by Maxine. 

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The only things pitchforking this reality are the studio itself, fearful of the attention garnered by a pornstar in a leading role during the era of Satanic Panic and the Night Stalker, a serial killer on the loose slashing victim after victim (not to be mistaken for the actual ‘80s serial offender Richard Ramirez). With body after body,all of whom connected to Maxine, dropping, she is forced to reminisce on the traumatic memories that are now dripping back into focus, edging the viewer with what we hope will be a killer conclusion. But this hope remains just that, and throughout the film Maxine instead seems stripped naked of the unhinged and sporadic behaviors that made her the antihero we were all both frightened and in awe of, directing this energy toward private investigators like John Labat (Kevin Bacon, Hollow Man) and wannabe robbers whose bodies and balls, respectively, she literally crushes, rather than the figure flaunting her career ending past before her. However, Maxine’s selfishness is thankfully still very much in tact, as LAPD officers Detective Williams (Michelle Monaghan, Made of Honor) and Detective Torres (Bobby Cannavale, The Watcher) find out when piercing into her life, asking questions to help prevent future murders Maxine’s only callous help is that “Maybe she should save herself, I did”. 

With an enthralling female character like Maxine Minx thrust into an environment as equally enthralling as ‘80s Los Angeles, and a sociopathic murderer somehow knowledgeable about her past, I was definitely sat in the theater,but not on the edge of my seat. The arresting aesthetic that West and cinematographer Eliot Rockett have cultivated on this film, along with the costume design from Mari-An Ceo and set design from Jason Kisvarday, makes the perfect mix to say the least, but it’s unfortunately not enough to distract from the fact that below that gorily glittery surface, there’s just not much importance. Strong interesting ideals, like a self-assured female protagonist who refuses to let life turn her into a victim, or the exploration of the opening quote from actress Bette Davis, “In this business, until you’re known as a monster, you’re not a star,” are present, but never truly explored to the depth they could have been. Maxine Minx deserves to have been unleashed onto Hollywood in the way I feel she was meant to be as stated by her Agent Teddy Knight: “Raw. Real. Ruthless.” –Alex Dawson

Read more film reviews:
Film Review: Fly Me to the Moon
Film Review: Touch

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