Hello and welcome to the movie blog of author John DeFrank - FilmZ and Guy Sobriquet Malone - Researcher

Brief Thoughts On Three Ladies: Anna, Brittany, and Emma

Anna and the Apocalypse, Brittany Runs a Marathon, and Emma
-- three brief reviews by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

It seems we've been spending a lot of time indoors; how about you?  Reading, jigsaw puzzles, drinking absinthe while staring at the cats--typical stuff.  Oh, and we watched three movies (Hint: the 5:00 PM hour or thereabouts is the ideal time).  Anyway, three comedies, all named after young women: Anna, a teenager making music while she battles zombies; Brittany, a 31-year old remaking her life through running; and, Emma, a classic 20-year-old making matches and mischief.  All three are worth a watch; it's a matter of taste.

Anna and the Apocalypse
Maybe what we need now is a British musical about a zombie apocalypse.  Think Glee meets Shaun of the Dead, as young people sing and dance their way through typical teen angst and a virus that's turning people into zombies.  John McPhail’s weird little film was a hit at Fantastic Fest, and it's easy to see why.  One morning, Anna (Ella Hunt) wakes up, dons headphones, and heads to school, singing the catchy tune, “It’s a Beautiful Day!” as she obliviously skips past deaths, defenestrations, and destruction, eventually joining her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming) for a duet romp through a cemetery.

The plot, such as it is, is typical.  Anna has admitted to her dad (Mark Benton), the put-upon school janitor, she is taking a gap year in Australia in lieu of uni.  John secretly loves Anna, but she is drawn to the school bully Nick (Ben Wiggins).  Her best friend is Steph (Sarah Swire), an activist who is at odds with the martinet school Principal Savage (Paul Kaye), while other friends and star-crossed lovers, Lisa (Marli Siu) the school diva, and sensitive artist (Christopher Leveaux) just want to be recognized.

It's all a self-aware spoof, with an exhilarating set of tunes performed by a talented and attractive cast.  Taken at that level, it's a fun ride.  Yes, the plot takes a few wrong turns and covers familiar high school-set turf, but like Booksmart (though not as good), it gives it a new twist, never takes itself too seriously and gives us a bunch of young unknowns who may not be unknown for long.
Note: Anna and the Apocalypse started as a 2010 YouTube short called Zombie Musical, written and directed by Ryan McHenry, who tragically died of cancer in 2015 at 27 years old before it could be made into a film.
7.0 out of 10
Brittany Runs a Marathon
SNL writing alum and bit-part actor, Jillian Bell finally, and deservedly, gets a starring role as the eponymous Brittany in a story based on the real experiences of a friend of writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo.  His muse must have made an impression because Colaizzo creates an indelible, layered character.

Brittany is a 31-year-old, under-employed class clown whose endearing humor leavens the consequences of her irresponsibility.   Broke, bored of hanging around with her self-centered roommate Gretchen (Alice Lee), and finding her scale tipping at nearly 200 pounds, she decides to make some changes.  Always looking for the easy way out, she decides Adderall is the best answer until a doctor she tries to hit up tells her that her blood pressure and fatty liver should drive her to some lifestyle changes. Determined to take on a new regimen, she finds an unlikely partner fellow tenant (Michaela Watkins) and her running group, and another new friend, Micah Stock, a fellow self-doubter.  She also takes on a job as a dog and house-sitter, where she meets third-shift sitter Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) who is much deeper than first impressions would indicate.  This is a true broadening for her; before, the only person who truly mattered to her was her sister's husband and surrogate father-figure Demetrious (Lil Rey Howrey).

Will Brittany's self-loathing undermine her?  Will she accept true friendship, which means letting people in instead of keeping them at arm's length with a self-deprecating joke?  At times, it's a tough watch, but there are so many exhilarating moments that the film makes for an emotional joy ride. Brittany is not Rocky, but it goes beyond the standard "anyone can remake themselves" fare and the standard ugly duckling to swan tropes.  Colaizzo has given us a protagonist whose emotional baggage outweighs the body mass she must overcome to change her life.  To do this with humor and feeling without slipping into pathos is difficult, and a trap Colaizzo doesn't always escape, but his brutal honesty and the nuanced characters of surprising depth he has created make Brittany a winner.
8.5 out of 10
We splurged and spent the $19.99 to see the latest Jane Austen film treatment (we would have spent that much just for tickets and gas to see it in the theater, so don't judge).  Many hold the Gwynneth Paltrow 1996 version sacrosanct, so director Autumn de Wilde had her work cut out.  As the ever-so clever and popular 20-year-old of the title (Anya Taylor-Joy) is doe-eyed and incisive.  Her friend, Mr. Knightley (Johnny Flynn) is the ultimate staid gentleman.  But the best parts of the film are the precious moments we get to spend with the brilliant supporting cast: Bill Nighy, droll as ever, as Emma’s adoring father; Mia Goth as Emma’s friend and protege', Harriet; and the marvelously charming and daffy Miranda Hart as Miss Bates.

Emma is a light and breezy story about an independent young woman in the Georgian era who lives a carefree life and delights in matchmaking, only to discover that the laws of unintended consequences sometimes have serious effects on the objects of her social manipulation.  Austen's rapier wit and sly sensibilities are at their strongest in pointing out not only the strengths of her characters but also the foibles that make them so endearingly human.   When Emma's inevitable comeuppance arrives, it becomes an axis upon which other events fall into place.

The film is the directorial debut of music videographer Autumn de Wilde, with a script written by Eleanor Catton, who has only one other writing credit.  Putting a film so laden with history and precedent on the shoulders of novices shows unnatural confidence and trust, and in large part, they justify it.  It's a beautiful film, from the costume design to the production design to the locations, and de Wilde's composition tied it together in a beautiful bow. Some choices from scene to scene are a bit more questionable: though we are not prudes by any stretch, one has to question why we have two buttocks scenes that are gratuitous in that they neither forward the story nor do they provide sensuality anywhere approaching the Colin Firth wet shirt scene from Pride and  Prejudice.  Overall, though, a game effort on all parts.
8.0 out of 10


Staying In and Looking Forward

Social Distancing: My Favorite Sport, and Now it's "In" -- by Guy S. Malone, Researcher

Spending most of my time in FilmZ's dungeon does have its perks: I am less likely to get (or spread) COVID-19, and I am less likely to come into contact with people, in general.  Win-win. 

And soon I will get the opportunity to see the few good films that are out there because they will be right in here (dungeon) with me. With major movie chains shutting their doors, and small Indie theaters reluctantly doing the same,  the studios frantically search for options to hedge their losses, and their plan could change the landscape for the future of film distribution.  Monumental stuff, eh?

But the plan, for now, is to reschedule most upcoming films for later in the year.  All this and more below.

Films Currently in Theaters Soon to be Released to Video on Demand

Studios have decided to move up Video on Demand (VOD) release dates. Forsaking the usual practice of waiting 90 days between a film's theatrical release and availability on home video, movies currently in theaters including Emma, The Invisible Man, Birds of Prey, and The Hunt will be available to home audiences as soon as Friday, March 20.  Rentals will be Purchase-on-Demand at $19.99 for 48 hours, in most cases, and already some are squawking about usurious pricing (typical rental usually high-end at $5.99).  But let's look at it: figuring someone goes to the movie with at least one friend or family member; the cost of two tickets and gas to get there and home would already exceed that.

And for parents desperately seeking ways to entertain little ones home on a surprise school break, the Trolls World Tour will be released to home video on April 10.  This is the date it was initially planned for theatrical release.

Other popular titles available now or coming to VOD sooner than planned include the Greta Gerwig's delightful Little Women, the manic comedy Jumanji: The Next Level, and the final episode of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

Two Limited Series to Watch

In timing with the coronavirus self-quarantines two interesting movie-style limited series arrive. Hulu has released the first three episodes of its new show Little Fires Everywhere.  The eight-part limited series is based on the runaway bestseller by Celeste Ng.  And HBO just opened a limited series, The Plot Against America, based on Philip Roth's acclaimed 2004 alternate history novel.

Here is a list of recent and upcoming released to VOD

March 3
Queen & Slim
The Furies
Dark Waters

March 6
Run This Town
Escape from Pretoria

March 10
Charlie's Angels
Little Women
Spies in Disguise

March 13
Ride Like a Girl
Lost Transmission

March 17
Jumanji: The Next Level
Seven Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss
Richard Jewell
Black Christmas

March 20
Human Capital
Hooking Up

March 24
The Song of Names
The Grudge
Birds of Prey
The Gentlemen
Just Mercy

March 27
Banana Split

March 31
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
The Current War

Upcoming Releases Up in the Air

As to upcoming film scheduled for release, everything is on hold, awaiting developments in the current health crisis in the theater.

In critical news, we'll have to wait and see what happens to Scarlett Johanssen in Black Widow.  Disney has announced that it is postponing the blockbuster, scheduled for May 1.  It is doing the same with Dev Patel's comedy-drama The Personal History of David Copperfield (May 8), and Amy Adams in the film treatment of A.J.Finn's best-seller The Woman in the Window (May 15). No new release dates have been announced yet.

With new directives coming out of the CDC almost daily, studios have set some new release dates for late this year or even into 2021 while others are waiting for further developments, most significantly, where Black Widow lands.  Few films want to compete with that monster--or any films from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  The Eternals is due to be released in November, with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and WandaVision coming to Disney+ in 2020 

It's also worth mentioning that many films in pre-production or early production have stopped altogether because of the unpredictability of the length and effects of the pandemic.  That will also bring a slew of incoming release dates and further reshuffling.

Here is what we know as of now.

Mission: Impossible 7: Filming halted in Venice because of the devastation in Italy.

No Time to Die: James Bond stirs and shakes from April to November.

Fast & Furious 9: Races forward from this May until April 2021.

A Quiet Place Part II: Originally late March, now TBA.

The Lovebirds: Romantic action-comedy with Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae from April 3, now TBA

The French Dispatch: Wes Anderson's newest is scheduled for July 24 and is in a holding pattern

The major player these days: Disney has halted production on all its live-action films in development, including:

The Little Mermaid: with Halle Bailey as the lead

The Last Duel: Ridley Scott's newest with Matt Damon and Ben Affleck

Nightmare Alley: Guillermo del Toro's latest

Movies in post-production that were assigned release dates have been pushed back:

Mulan: had rave reviews in its Hollywood premiere was supposed to open March 27, is now TBA.

The New Mutants: The X-Men update was set for April 3, but is now TBA

Antlers: The Keri Russell horror was to open April 17 is now TBA.

Military Wives: Supposedly from March 27 to May 22--we'll see about that

Pulled from Release Schedule:

Antebellum: was supposed to be Janelle MonĂ¡e's breakout starrer

Run: Sarah Paulson thriller

Spiral: The Saw reboot starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson was to open May 15

We will update as developments come in.

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