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‘Hypochondriac’ Review: A Wolf in L.A. Peep’s Clothing

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“Hypochondriac” informs viewers right away that it is “based on a real breakdown,” which certainly provides a new wrinkle on the now-wildly-overused “true story” proviso. Nonetheless, clarity of hindsight is not a major virtue in this adventurous first feature by writer-director Addison Heimann.

The offbeat indie drama features Zach Villa as a Los Angelean whose troubled past threatens to unravel his domestic partnership and his very sanity. The combination of gay protagonists, mental illness exploration, horror tropes, and surreal elements that gesture toward “Donnie Darko” make for an ambitious mix that holds attention, even if the uneven, somewhat muddled results are ultimately more effortful than insightful.

Following a festival tour that includes a midnight berth at SXSW and fitting slot in genre-focused Fantasia, XYZ Films will open the film in limited release on July 29, with digital and VOD release following Aug. 4.

A prologue reminiscent of 1960s/’70s post-“Psycho” chillers — in which Mom was frequently the agent of formative psychological scars — has young Lindo aka Will (Ian Inigo) at the mercy of his unstable mother (Marlene Forte). Beset by paranoid delusions, she drags him from their tony Souther California home to a motel room, where she nearly strangles him to death before regaining sense enough to commit herself to an asylum. He’s left to the care of his coldly distanced father (Chris Doubek).

Eighteen years later, Villa’s now 30-year-old Will is a potter, whatever lingering PTSD issues in sufficient control that he can calm a co-worker’s (Yumarie Morales) anxiety attack, as well as put up with their insufferable gallery-owner boss (Madeline Zima). He’s also got a good thing going with Luke (Devon Graye), the boyfriend of eight months that he’s living with. But the past rears its ugly head when Mom, incommunicado for a decade, begins deluging him with crackpot phone messages and bizarre packages he tries to ignore.

It cannot be coincidental that he soon begins experiencing dizzy spells, disturbing visions, workplace accidents, nausea and more. A line of consulted medical and psychiatric professionals, played in superciliously off-kilter fashion by numerous familiar faces (including Paget Brewster and Adam Busch), assure him it’s nothing to worry about. Yet things get worse, particularly once he makes the baffling decision to take some psychedelic mushrooms Ma had thoughtfully mailed.

That bad trip revives the long-dormant personal specter of a man-wolf with glowing eyes that terrorizes him, even as it becomes obvious it’s no “real” supernatural menace but a figment of his tormented subconscious. Such hallucinations rapidly endanger Will’s job, relationship and health, as well as (possibly) those around him.

“Hypochondriac” — a title that seems somewhat irrelevant, outside the sequences in which various doctors and shrinks belittle our hero’s symptoms — has a complicated agenda only partly articulated in Heimann’s script, while maybe a bit over-articulated in his very busy direction. Visual tactics here include a 360-degree camera pan, superimpositions, on-screen text graphics, heightened color, blurred, distorted and Rorschach-like mirrored images, et al. The intent is to evoke a dislocating, nightmarish mood. Too often, though, it feels more like a frenetic grab-bag of sampled techniques.

It doesn’t help, either, that the filmmaking is overly showy even before Will loses his grip: He’s introduced as an adult in an annoying music-video-type scene of dancing in the pottery studio, followed by an excuse for improv rap and beatboxing. Villa (who played Richard Ramirez on “American Horror Story”) is duly ingratiating. But the seriousness of the film’s take on mental illness would have greatly benefited from his being on a shorter leash when it comes to inventing cute actorly bits of business, mostly in scenes with the sympathetic Graye. When he’s not being puppyish, he’s running the gamut of hysteria. So often going over the top for impact, very few moments here are as potent as one long static shot in which the two male leads have a painfully honest breakup conversation.

Indeed, for all the sound and fury expended on illustrating Will’s mental disarray, we never get much of a diagnostic grip on it. Subsidiary figures are mostly caricatured, providing even less terra firma from which to understand his plight. When the film ends with a sense of acceptance and at least partial recovery, there’s more sense of having been on “a ride” than certainty of just what he’s accepted, or is semi-recovered from. Given that “Hypochondriac” is primarily an expressionistic portrait of mental ill-health rather than a genre film (despite all flirting with horror and thriller elements), that lack is a significant flaw.

Nevertheless, its style and subject matter are bold-enough choices to impress, especially within in the oft-formulaic context of current LGBTQ cinema. While not every idea here works, a resourceful tech and design package led by Dustin Supencheck’s widescreen cinematography puts its best foot forward in service of Heimann’s vision.



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Hollywood Returns (Cautiously) to Super Bowl With Spots for ‘The Flash’ and ‘Fast X’

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During the peak of COVID, as movie theaters were struggling to stay open and blockbusters were getting delayed again and again, Hollywood tightened its wallet for expensive Super Bowl spots. Why spend a casual $6 million — or more — to promote a film that may not see the light of day any time soon?

But the movies are back, baby. And there’s no better place to guarantee America’s undivided attention than the most-watched television event of the year. Over 100 million viewers are expected to tune into this year’s showdown, between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles, slated for broadcast on Fox on Feb. 12.

That’s why major studios, including Disney, Universal and Paramount, are returning — with a bigger presence, compared to earlier pandemic days — to the Big Game with looks at “Fast X,” the latest installment in the sprawling “Fast & Furious” franchise, the adaptation of “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Cocaine Bear,” a comedy about — you guessed it! — a bear on cocaine. The goal, of course, is turning those marketing dollars into box office ticket sales.

Major movie studios have long been a pillar of the Super Bowl ad roster, with the three aforementioned ones typically providing the bulk of the category’s commercial spending for the gridiron classic. But, as of late, some of that cash has been used to tout streaming hubs for venues such as Paramount+, Amazon Prime Video and Netflix. Indeed, Paramount+ is set to run a Super Bowl ad starring Sylvester Stallone, the star of its show “Tulsa King.” Streaming services and broadband hubs shelled out $58.5 million to tout their wares in the 2022 Super Bowl broadcast on NBC, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending. That’s more than the money spent by crypto firms; big beer brewers; and consumer-goods manufacturers, three other Super Bowl category stalwarts.

As for other traditional players, Warner Bros. is reportedly bringing “The Flash,” a superhero adventure starring Ezra Miller, though the studio’s spokesperson Candice McDonough didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment. Attendees of DC Fandom and CinemaCon were treated to teasers of “The Flash,” but it’ll be the public’s first look at the anticipated summer tentpole, which has been declared by James Gunn, the new head of DC Comics, as “probably one of the greatest superhero movies ever made.” (Objectively speaking, of course.)

Otherwise, studios are expected to offer new marketing materials for movies that have already been heavily advertised — such as “Scream,” which opens in March; and “Transformers: Rise of the Beasts,” which debuts in June. A spot for “Fast X” is getting prime placement, but it’ll come a few days after Universal hosts an official trailer premiere in Los Angeles.

Disney is likely to promote several of its upcoming releases during the big game, but the studio isn’t sharing which ones will get airtime. Among the other major players, Sony, MGM and Lionsgate aren’t expected to bring the goods on Super Bowl Sunday. However, plans could always change prior to the main event.

Some of the usual suspects are trying a shift in strategy. Disney’s own plans may be foggy for the moment, but the company’s Marvel Studios is already showing up in an ad for Heineken. Actor Paul Rudd, the hero of the studio’s upcoming “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” appears as Scott Lang in a recent teaser from the beer. Mmm, tastes like corporate synergy.

Netflix is taking a similar route. It’s not running any stand-alone Super Bowl ads, according to Marian Lee, the company’s giant’s chief marketing officer, but the streamer has elected instead to team up with Anheuser-Busch InBev and General Motors with spots from those two advertising stalwarts to tout various Netflix series. An ad for Michelob Ultra also contains a QR code that lets viewers see a sneak peek of the golf documentary series “Full Swing.” And a one-minute GM spot featuring Will Ferrell will nod to Netflix shows including “Bridgerton,” “Squid Games” and “Stranger Things.”

Elsewhere, Michelob Ultra’s “Caddyshack” tribute, a “Breaking Bad” reunion centered around PopCorners and Meghan Trainor’s “look” at Pringles will keep the commercial breaks stuffed.



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Spider-Verse Art Imagines HotD Star as Live-Action Spider-Gwen

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House of the Dragon’s young Rhaenyra Targaryen star, Milly Alcock, becomes the perfect live-action Spider-Gwen in striking fan art.


Prior to the June release of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, House of the Dragon star Milly Alcock gets presented as the spitting image of Spider-Gwen in exciting live-action fan art. The Spider-Verse animated franchise began with 2018’s Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The movie introduced main character Miles Morales to different Spider-Man variants from the multiverse, including Spider-Gwen. Since her Spider-Verse debut, demand has been high for Spider-Gwen to be brought into live-action, and this fan art makes a compelling case for Alcock to take on the role.

SCREENRANT VIDEO OF THE DAY

Digital artist Bosslogic shared on Instagram a fan art of what Alcock could look like as the live-action Spider-Gwen.

The Spider-Gwen mantle would be the first prominent role Alcock takes after House of the Dragon, consolidating the young actress in one of the top shelves of current pop culture. As presented by the fan art, Alcock looks exactly like the Spider-Man version of Gwen Stacy, but her ability to play the character goes beyond her looks.


Why Milly Alcock Could Be a Great Spider-Gwen

Spider-Gwen landing in a scene from Spider-Man Into The Spider-Verse

Alcock became known worldwide after her important role in the debut season of HBO’s Game of Thrones spinoff, House of the Dragon. Some were initially skeptical about embarking on a new adventure across Westeros because of how divisive the Game of Thrones final season has remained. The first half of House of the Dragon focused on Alcock’s Rhaenyra, who instantly captivated audiences and almost single-handedly turned general opinion on the Game of Thrones franchise around.

Alcock pumped the young Rhaenyra Targaryen full of personality, with the heir to King Viserys’ throne being shown as a free spirit — rebellious and curious. While Rhaenyra was ultimately a woman who escaped the trappings of the medieval laws of society present in the world of Westeros, the young girl knew exactly when to change her demeanor to get what she wanted, being able to appear perfectly regal and authoritarian if need be. Those character traits from the young Rhaenyra are exactly what the variant Gwen Stacy should have, making Alcock’s casting as the live-action Spider-Gwen a match made in heaven.

Gwen Stacy is most commonly known in comic books as the deceased girlfriend of Peter Parker; however, she is so much more than that. Ever since Gwen had one of the most iconic comic book deaths in the history of the genre back in 1973, writers have been hard at work with different versions of the character to show Gwen’s full potential. Spider-Gwen is one of such attempts, and perhaps the most popular. Debuting in the comics in 2014’s Edge of Spider-Verse #2, Spider-Gwen is a more modern version of the character, possessing many of the traits from Alcock’s Rhaenyra, such as a strong sense of justice and a “cool” edge to her personality. Spider-Gwen’s tragic backstory of losing her Peter Parker would be perfectly represented in live-action by Alcock, perhaps following this year’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse release.

Source: Bosslogic/Instagram

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    Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse



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Jafar Panahi Goes on Hunger Strike to Protest Still Being in Jail After His Sentence Has Been Overturned

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Jafar Panahi has gone on a hunger strike to protest being still held in Tehran’s Evin prison even though Iran’s supreme court has overturned the conviction that led to the dissident director’s detention.

Panani has issued a statement from prison saying that to protest against the “illegal and inhumane” treatment by the Islamic Republic’s judiciary and security forces and their “hostage-taking” he will stop eating, drinking, and taking his medications until “maybe my lifeless body would be released from this prison.”

The statement announcing Panahi’s decision to go on a hunger strike was posted by Panahi’s wife Tahereh Saeedi and son Panah Panahi on their Instagram accounts.

Panahi, 62, is known globally for prizewinning works such as “The Circle,” “Offside,” “This is Not a Film,” “Taxi,” and most recently “No Bears,” winner of last year’s Venice’s Special Jury Prize. He was arrested last July in Tehran in the wake of the country’s conservative government crackdown. Panahi had been there to visit Tehran’s prosecutor’s office to follow up on the situation of fellow dissident filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulov, who had been incarcerated a few days earlier after signing an appeal against police violence.

Since his arrest, Panahi’s lawyers in October managed to successfully overturn the six-year sentence issued against the director in 2010 for “propaganda against the system,” in Iran’s highest court according to Panahi’s lawyer, Saleh Nikhbakht. That sentence has become obsolete due to the country’s 10-year statute of limitations and Panahi’s case has been sent to an Iranian court of appeals. But the directors’ wife and laywers say that Iranian security are now forcing the judiciary to keep him behind bars.

Rasoulov and Panahi’s imprisonment took place before the wave of protests sparked in September by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while she was held in custody for allegedly wearing a loose hijab. Those protests have caused more than 500 civilians to be killed by government security forces and more than 100 members of the Iranian film industry to be arrested or banned from making movies.

On Jan. 4, Iranian authorities released Taraneh Alidoosti, the star of Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning film “The Salesman,” almost three weeks after she was jailed for criticizing a crackdown on the anti-government protests.



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