Movie Review – Super Troopers 2

Chances are, you know right meow whether you’ll be lining up to see the long-awaited sequel to Broken Lizard’s cult comedy, or whether you’ll be dodging it like a speed camera on the highway.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Years after their Highway Patrol was disbanded, the former Super Troopers – Thorny (Jay Chandrasekhar), Foster (Paul Soter), Mac (Steve Lemme), Rabbit (Erik Stolhanske) and Farva (Kevin Heffernan) – have been fired from their new positions as police officers and now work in a dead-end construction job. That is, until they are called upon by their old team captain, O’Hagen (Brian Cox) to investigate an international border dispute between the US and Canada and set up a new highway patrol station in the contended region. Their shot to re-establish themselves as state troopers faces the challenges of a rival Canadian patrol squad, a disorderly mayor (Rob Lowe), a French-Canadian love interest (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and of course a drug-smuggling conspiracy.

The films of comedy troupe Broken Lizard (Club Dread, Beerfest) have always felt like they’ve belonged in a niche. They’re low-brow, crude, not particularly intelligent and filled with humour that misses more often than it hits. It’s surprising then, to see the sequel to their best-known film Super Troopers receive a wide cinematic release instead of going directly to DVD, especially given the seventeen-year gap between the two and the fact that the team have been relatively off-the-radar for the past decade or so. It’s even more surprising that Super Troopers 2 is a largely enjoyable time, and probably the best of their filmography – not that it’s a difficult feat.

What’s unusual about ST2 hitting theatres in 2018 is that it feels like a product of a different era, one Hollywood was all about in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Unconcerned with identity politics or fulfilling a diversity quota and unafraid to be offensive, ST2 is a refreshing call-back to when anything goes, even if this does mean a hefty helping of immaturity and toilet humour. Fortunately too, the hits outweigh the misses this time around, and the team effectively keep the pace lightning-fast and the gag ratio high so that any duds are quickly wiped from memory.

That these guys keep such a consistent high energy going is particularly impressive given that most of the dudes are now it their late-forties and early-fifties; they barely seem to have aged a day in nearly twenty years, even appearance-wise. Even the great Brian Cox, better known for his awards-worthy dramatic roles, is more than game to keep up with the boys, clearly having a blast as he swears a blue streak and dives behind desks from a bear set loose in the station.

Crowdfunding is apparently the only way to get films like this made these days, but Super Troopers 2 stands as a glistening example of giving an audience willing to pay to see something exactly what they want. Easy to nit-pick from a critical standpoint – there’s very little plot to cover and frankly, pretty damned stupid – it asks nothing but to check your brain at the door and revel in the improvised sketches. Anything that features Rob Lowe snorting cocaine and jiggling a stripper’s penis in a bordello is hard to go wrong with.

Super Troopers 2 is available in Australian cinemas from April 19

Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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Movie Review – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Big in title, big in heart

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

The title might be a bit of a comical mouthful, but The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (GLPPS) is actually quite a sombre film that looks at the impact of World War II on smaller communities in the UK. Through the eyes of young author Juliet Ashton (Lily James), we are shown a war-torn London under repair, and the tragic, lasting effect of war.

After corresponding with member of the GLPPS Dawsey Adams (Michiel Huisman), Juliet heads to Guernsey Island to meet the book club’s members and find inspiration for her next novel. What she finds, however, is a group struggling to recover from German occupation. She must decide whether her story is worth pursuing, or if she should leave the members to their mourning.

Based on the novel of the same name, Mike Newell’s latest film is supported by an extremely talented and well-known cast, including Matthew Goode as Juliet’s publisher and confidante, and the ever-brilliant Tom Courtenay as the eldest member of the GLPPS. The three standouts, however, are all key members of the book club, including Huisman (Game of Thrones), Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd) as the eccentric Isola and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) as the grief-stricken Amelia. All three bring a unique quality to their idiosyncratic characters and express how each character has been changed in irreparable ways by the deep trauma they have endured.

What lets down this strong ensemble is its lead in Lily James (Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). James’ Juliet is reminiscent of Kristen Stewart’s turn as Bella in Twilight. Her character is supposedly a distinguished author who has suffered significant tragedy at a young age, which completely jars with James’ girlish, slightly immature delivery. It only becomes even more noticeable in contrast with Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey), who’s similarly aged character is miles ahead of Juliet in terms of her maturity and ability to show compassion to others.

Overall, however, GLPPS is a sensitive character study and a well-devised adaptation. While the ending leaves a little to be desired, the core of the film is worth investing your time and money into.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is available in Australian cinemas from Thursday 19 April 

Image courtesy of Studiocanal

Movie Review – Truth or Dare

Truth? This movie sucks…


Josip Knezevic

Nowadays, it’s pretty difficult to find a horror film that’s genuinely terrifying; jump scares and creepy monsters lurking in the dark just don’t cut it anymore. Truth or Dare writer/director Jeff Wadlow seems to think the answer is to take a familiar game that most of us associate with a time of innocence, and turn it into something grisly…

On a night of drunken silliness, a group of college friends play a typical game of truth or dare. Each player must either give an honest answer to an uncomfortable question or accept a challenge to do something embarrassing or even a little dangerous. Things take a sinister turn when the game becomes possessed and begins to infiltrate their everyday lives. If they fail to answer a question or fulfil a challenge, then the consequence is death.

While this premise has merit, Wadlow’s execution is downright laughable. When the game possesses a friend in the group, it warps their face and over enlarges their smile. The resultant look doesn’t emulate a deranged clown like Pennywise, or a psychopathic villain like the Joker, it just looks like a ridiculous Snapchat filter. It’s pretty funny stuff, and not at all frightening.

It doesn’t help that this unintentionally comical narrative is populated with unlikeable, cookie-cutter characters, from Lucy Hale’s (Pretty Little Liars, Dude) innocent, girl next door Olivia, to Landon Liboiron’s (Frontier, Hemlock Grove) seemingly nice, but ultimately untrustworthy stranger Carter.

Even the production quality is terrible. The opening scene is a mish-mashed montage of footage filmed from iPhones and proper cameras. It’s like Wadlow said to the actors – don’t worry about the script, just go out and shoot some shit with your phones while you’re having fun and we’ll put it together. There’s nothing wrong with shooting on an iPhone, but pick one or the other, stick to it and keep it consistent.

Besides some work on Bates Motel, Wadlow’s filmography is fairly light on horror and thriller. His only real claims to fame are Kick Ass 2 and Never Back Down… which are hardly titles to boast about. Production company Blumhouse Productions, on the other hand, have had some real stand out films in recent times, with Joel Edgerton’s The Gift and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, but they’re also responsible for the Insidious and Paranormal Activity franchises. When they hit they hit, but when they miss, they miss by a mile.

Blumhouse Productions’ latest effort Truth or Dare is so bad it’s almost good – it won’t send tingles down your spine, but it’ll give you some laughs as a bunch of stupid teenagers do stupid stuff.

Truth or Dare is available in Australian cinemas from April 12

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – Rampage

Giant monsters face off with The Rock in Rampage, a film that doesn’t feel the need to offer anything more than a basic concept.

 

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

You know those direct-to-video monster mash movies that The Asylum and Syfy put out a few years ago, with titles like Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus and Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf? Well, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s latest blockbuster Rampage is essentially the $120 million version of that, only with bigger names, bigger biceps and a bigger appetite.

Loosely adapted from a video game series of the same name from the 80s, Rampage sees Johnson play Davis Okoye, a primatologist whose beloved albino, silverback gorilla George goes bananas after being infected with a mysterious serum that modifies his genes. Rapidly growing in size, speed and aggression, George fights alongside a giant grey wolf and an even larger crocodile as they tear through the streets of Chicago, while Davis must find a way to bring an end to the carnage.

Johnson has made a name for himself off the back of muscular action movies, and Rampage is probably his most outlandish yet. Reteaming with San Andreas director Brad Peyton, Johnson once again tells subtlety and grace to go suck it in a film that sees the beefy wrestler/actor steal a helicopter on three separate occasions, as well as stare down a giant mutant crocodile with nothing more than a grenade launcher and a plain white tee. He does uphold that squeaky-clean family man image though, rebuffing the advances of thirsty female interns at his work. What a man.

The plot, which sees Johnson join forces with Naomie Harris’ woolly scientist character, speeds along without a care or a worry for weighty concepts like logic. Because, let’s be honest, who cares how and why things happen the way they do – we just want to see a massive gorilla slap a giant wolf across its snarling maw, and Rampage dutifully obliges. The entire third act is dedicated to the titular riot, which sees the beast tear through downtown Chicago, flinging helicopters and upturning Humvees. It’s frankly amazing that four screenwriters were required to piece together the remarkably simplistic script.

However, as dumb and silly as that stuff sounds, I reckon Rampage could’ve done with even more dumb and silly stuff. Johnson relishes the chance to gaze into the middle distance and spout some catchy one-liner, but more often than not it’s uttered with sincerity, not his trademark eyebrow-wiggling bravura. The action is too heavy-handed with the 9/11 imagery and too light on the Donkey Kong arcade noise that one would expect from giant animals trampling cities. While the premise sounds goofy, director Peyton stops short of fully embracing Rampage’s inherent wackiness, and instead tries to balance video game madness with some straight-laced seriousness.

Rampage is available in Australian cinemas from April 12 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Isle of Dogs

A visual feast for the eyes – Anderson, you’ve done it again!

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

Japan. Dogs. Wes Anderson. Three of my favourite things come together in Isle of Dogs as Anderson explores the connection between man and his best friend in glorious stop motion animation.

As the title suggests, this is a film about an island of dogs, but more so, it’s about the people who love dogs… so basically, pretty much everyone on the planet. Except in Isle of Dogs, popular opinion has become divided following the outbreak of a dog flu plague. Many turn against their four-legged pals as those infected are banished to live in solitude on the island.

Much like Anderson’s 2009 stop motion animation Fantastic Mr Fox, the production of Isle of Dogs is nothing short of outstanding. As soon as I saw the opening scene, I knew it was going to be a work of art. That scene alone has bested everything else that has come out this year.

Anderson is an intricate and detailed scene selector. He knows exactly how everything is meant to be shot and knows exactly where everything is meant to be placed. It’s why he’s often called out for his obsession with symmetry, but what’s the problem with that? Sure, it might be a somewhat repetitive style across most of his films, but when it’s something that’s done intentionally to produce an aesthetic look, that actually looks fucking nice, how can you complain? I love witnessing the time and effort put into the setup of each frame, especially when it delivers such an entertaining film.

But of course, all of this isn’t to the sole credit of Anderson. Whether it be the unique, dog character models, with each one having its own distinct features, to the set designs and background artwork that must have taken an incredible amount of time to produce, it’s clear the whole production team put a lot of love and dedication into every minute detail of this film.

My only real qualm with Isle of Dogs is the fact that the story doesn’t quite live up to the production quality behind it. While certainly not terrible, the narrative does fall just short of some of Anderson’s other works, such as Moonrise Kingdom. Isle of Dogs does have something to say, and it says it with an enjoyable amount of comedy, but it’s overall message isn’t as strong as some of Anderson’s past films.

Nevertheless, Isle of Dogs is still a very well-made film that’s filled with an all-star cast of voice actors. Jeff Goldblum and Bryan Cranston are standouts, even though Goldblum is simply just being quintessential Goldblum. It’s definitely one to catch on the big screen so you can fully take in all of its visual wonder. Go see it.

Isle of Dogs is available in Australian cinemas from April 12 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

Movie Review – A Quiet Place

Engulfed in a thick fog of tension, A Quiet Place is an early contender for the best horror film of 2018.

 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

The best horror movies are those that prey on very basic, primal fears; things like don’t breathe, don’t blink or don’t move. In A Quiet Place, writer/actor/director John Krasinski implores his audience and his characters to not make a sound. The film, set in the not-too-distant future, centres around a family who must navigate their lives in total silence after the world is overrun by vicious creatures who hunt via noise, where even the slightest tremor or tinkle could alert them to your presence.

Krasinski really sells us on this bleak and unforgiving future. The fear and dread conveyed with every creaking floorboard or crunchy leaf underfoot is immediately arresting, and effective direction from Krasinski, in only his third feature film, envelops the theatre, getting under your skin and putting you on edge right from the get-go. Few films are as adept as crafting tension as A Quiet Place; prepare to peer though your fingers, dig your nails into the armrest and squirm like you’ve got an eel in your undies.

A distinct lack of a dialogue – the characters communicate via subtitled American Sign Language –means the viewer is scanning the auditory soundscape for every scuffle and snarl as much as they are probing the frame for shadows. The absence of dialogue shifts the focus onto the facial expressions of the actors, as well as the subtle and unnerving sound design. Rising to the occasion, Krasinski and real-life as well as onscreen wife Emily Blunt are great in conveying this paralysing terror through their performances.

There are more than a few hair-raising jump scares that punctuate the tension, and the film doesn’t waste time in getting to the point; an in medias res prologue sets the scene before leaping ahead several months to establish the family in their new normal; fishing in the river and washing laundry all in total silence.

And while the film is light on specifics – this isn’t a sci-fi/thriller that goes to great lengths to explore the how and why of its gruesome antagonists – it also isn’t a horror film where you never get a good look at the predator lurking in the bushes. The most immediate and obvious comparison is Ridley Scott’s Alien – the fear of the unknown and the undefeatable pervades every scene – but JJ Abrams’ Super 8 and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs also spring to mind.

An overreliance on Marco Beltrami’s strings signposts some of the biggest scares and the rather simplistic concept feels a little strung out across the 95-minute runtime, with the finale arriving in a hurry, but this is a compelling and gruesome creature feature from Krasinski, and one that will enthral genre fans and general audiences alike.

A Quiet Place is available in Australian cinemas from April 5

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

 

Movie Review – Blockers

Blockers is more satisfying than expected, but could certainly do with some clarity.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Blockers is a confused little movie. It seems to think sex and toilet humour are somehow connected. That in order for us to fully appreciate the natural art of love-making, we must first see a really big guy gulp a bottle of beer through his butthole. How about if we didn’t have the butt-gulping? Or the testicle-grabbing? What if Blockers had been an earnest comedy about growing up, exploring sex and freaking out your parents?

I enjoyed much about this movie, and I didn’t think I would after seeing its early trailers. They had the stench of Dirty Grandpa. Even its beginning was somewhat problematic. But then the characters slowly took shape, the actors filled out their shoes and against my better judgement, I began to care about them.

Perhaps it’s because all six leads are thoroughly beguiling. Kathryn Newton plays Julie, who vows to lose her virginity to her boyfriend on prom night. Her two best friends, Kayla (Geraldine Viswanathan) and Sam (Gideon Adlon), end up doing the same, not out of love, but of the social pressure of having to keep up. The screenplay is right in allowing them room to discover why that’s a bad idea.

This is the story’s catalyst. The plot involves their three parents inadvertently discovering their sex pact and going on a frantic goose chase to prevent the index fingers from entering the OK signs, or the eggplants from entering the donuts, or whatever. What we end up with are essentially two stories, one about the teens and their evening of debauchery, and one about the Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz behaving like dorks.

The strength of Blockers is that all six actors are supremely enjoyable, and in the midst of ridiculously unappetising gags, they actually seem like real people, and not just robots programmed to do stupid things. The movie’s writers, of which there are five, take great pleasure in making the adults clueless and backward, and the teenagers remarkably progressive.

Viswanathan is an absolute treat; beautiful, charismatic, in utter control. Adlon’s Sam is graced with the complexities of teenage homosexuality, and she has a scene with her dad near the end that is one of the truest, most moving conversations I can remember in a studio comedy. Even Newton’s Julie, who kick-started the whole thing, is clearly in love with her boyfriend and not merely desperate to get in his pants. There’s an edge to these girls. We get the feeling they know what they’re doing, and this makes their story work.

And yet Blockers strikes a most disconnected tone. It’s as if the studios and the writers didn’t think anyone would give a damn about three girls losing their virginity and decided to blanket their individuality with crude jokes that feel have to get more outrageous with every scene.

There is a proper movie in here somewhere, desperate to get out. All the fat just has to be skimmed off the top. It’s wonderful that a raunchy studio sex comedy can be helmed by a female director in Kay Cannon. Now she needs to trust that her characters will see her through, because this bunch definitely can.

Blockers is available in Australian cinemas from March 29 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – Early Man

It’s fittingly ironic that Early Man’s setting predates Aardman Animation’s other works by millions of years – the charm is still there, but their latest is nowhere near as evolved as their best.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Millions of years ago, the meteor that should have wiped dinosaurs off the face of the earth instead crumbles, and lands as a small hot rock resembling a soccer ball, which the local Homo sapiens soon make a game out of. Flash forward a few generations, their descendant Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his tribe of cavemen live peacefully in a valley as rabbit hunters. They’re soon forced out of their home and into the volcanic Badlands by a technologically advanced Bronze Age army led by Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston), who plans to turn their valley into an industrial wasteland. Dug learns that soccer is an enormous attraction in Nooth’s city and challenges their top team to a match to win his tribe back their valley.

It seems as though some of the mightiest animation studios in the world have exposed their Achilles’ heel – the prehistoric. While Blue Sky and Fox hit gold with their Ice Age franchise that they’ve continued to mine (to varying quality), others have failed to match their primitive success. Most notable of these is Pixar, whose The Good Dinosaur ranks as perhaps their most cumbersome film. Fortunately, stop-motion machine Aardman Animations fare better with their ancestral trip in Early Man, but compared to their greatest hits – Chicken Run, Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep­ – it’s a small fry.

After a decade’s absence, key Aardman figure Nick Park returns to directing duties, and at the very least he hasn’t lost his touch in bringing lumps of clay to vibrant and colourful life. The stop-motion charm is all there – you can now even make out the fingerprints on the clay in such high definition – and the trademark character models, all wide, toothy grins and beady eyes, are still delightfully endearing.

It’s a bit of a shame then, that for all its animated grandeur, Early Man’s story is dishearteningly standard. Departing from their usual search-and-rescue or break-out and escape genres, Aardman unexpectedly tackles the sports movie formula. Unfortunately, it’s not the inspired twist on this category like Chicken Run was to prison-break films; it simply follows exactly along the lines of a sports film without subverting it in any way. This means we see all the tropes, from the training montages and inspirational speeches, to the bunch of lovable underdogs defying the odds and the antagonist rigging the game in favour of the opposing team. But without any attempt to satirise these, it’s hard not to feel like there’s nothing new to see here.

This subgenre also limits potential for a broad appeal to audiences, particularly children who have little interest in soccer. While sports movies are designed to be accessible to anyone, even those unfamiliar with the game, it’s unlikely in this age where superhero and space blockbusters reign supreme that a kids’ film devoid of adventure will hold the attention of young ones. Outside of some subtle jokes that sports-fans will pick up, the insistence on childish slapstick means there’s not all that much for accompanying adults either.

That being said, there are still enough laughs and charm to be had that prevent Early Man from being a complete dud. The very British vocal talent fare well, particularly Tom Hiddleston as the pompous Lord Nooth, and animation enthusiasts have plenty to ogle at here. Just don’t expect as joyous and triumphant a time with clay we’ve grown accustomed to.

Early Man is available in Australian cinemas from March 29 

Image courtesy of StudioCanal

Movie Review – Ready Player One

Steven Spileberg’s newest film Ready Player One takes us on a thrilling entertainment ride, but you’ll know exactly what’s going to happen from the moment it starts.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic

At the start of Ready Player One, Spielberg suggests his new movie is intended to present a potential future for Earth in 2044. The society we are introduced to is one that sets aside reality and focuses instead on creating new worlds through virtual simulation. This is known as the OASIS, which if you really want to know, stands for: Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation. I know, it’s a mouthful. The OASIS is the brainchild of game developer James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who’s death provides players the opportunity to gain complete ownership of the game if they can hunt down three Easter Egg keys hidden inside the simulation. Enter stage right, young and ambitious, but hopeless dreamer: Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan).

As we watch Wade hunt down these three magical keys, the film itself takes on a video game feel, and just like most games, Ready Player One follows a classic structure. From the get-go, we all know the hero will rise and inevitably overcome all three levels to ultimately defeat the villain (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants to take control of OASIS for his own evil pursuits. This is all well and good if you’re satisfied with a predictable film and a simple formula, and when you think about it, many of Spielberg’s films fall into this category.

Spielberg is a director who likes telling stories that get wrapped up in a nice little box, with all the conflicts resolved by the end of the film so you’re not left wanting more He’s done this for Jurassic Park, E.T the Extra-Terrestrial and many others. It’s why his films have grossed a stupendous amount of money and is one of the reasons he’s become one of today’s most popular directors. But does this mean he’s a filmmaker who challenges you to think about what his film has to say, long after the credits have rolled? Probably not. He’s not a Stanley Kubrick or a Terry Gilliam.

Nevertheless, I’d still recommend seeing this film. Some of the action sequences are fantastic, particularly in the opening and final scenes. I also enjoyed a lot of the nostalgic references to the 80’s, even though the film is set in the future. Even though it’s cliched and predictable, with familiar plot structures and character tropes, Ready Player One is still a blast and a fun ride.

Ready Player One is available in Australian cinemas from March 29 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

 

Movie Review – The Death of Stalin

A forgettable film about a memorable dictator; The Death of Stalin falls into the typical pratfalls of ensemble cast comedy.

 

⭐ ⭐
Elle Cahill

The Death of Stalin is black humour at its finest; following the death of the infamous Soviet dictator, Russian Parliament is thrown into disarray as those closest to Stalin jostle for power. Political drama ensues as alliances are forged, backstabbing occurs, and false promises are made, all in a race to become the next Soviet dictator. It veers on the side of distasteful at times, but anyone who knows even a little bit about the consequences of Stalin’s dictatorship can forgive the film for its on the nose moments.

Steve Buscemi and Simon Russell Beale go head to head as Nikita Khrushchev and Lavrenti Beria respectively as they battle it out for the top spot. These two pull the whole film together; Buscemi’s comedic timing is right on the money, while Russell Beale’s poker-faced delivery offers up the perfect straight man to Buscemi’s funny guy.

Fellow cast members Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin and Andrea Riseborough, provide the right comedic support and equally hold their own amidst all the chaos that is unfolding. The stand-out here is Jason Isaacs, despite his screen time being fairly limited. His character’s bloodlust and willingness to turn on people at the drop of hat has a maniacal quality that makes you excited to see what he will do next.

But as a political parody, there’s nothing particularly new or original going on here. It’s very comfortable territory for writer/director Armando Iannucci, who’s responsible for TV shows like Veep and The Thick of It. Perhaps Iannucci’s over-familiarisation with the genre is his downfall, as overall The Death of Stalin is a forgettable affair.

My other bugbear is setting a film in another country, then having all the characters speak in their natural accents; it’s more than a bit jarring to hear American, English and Ukrainian accents on characters who are all supposed to be Russian. It actually made me question whether Stalin had surrounded himself with American’s before his death. Fact check: he didn’t. No matter the genre, if you’re depicting historical moments based on real people you need to be authentic. This here is just lazy filmmaking.

The Death of Stalin isn’t the best work from any of its comic leads, and while it’s enjoyable enough, it lacks that special something we usually see from Iannucci.

The Death of Stalin is available in Australian cinemas from March 29 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment