AMMONITE

Director
Francis Lee

Starring
Kate Winslet
Saoirse Ronan




In the early 1800s, Britain saw a rise in independent excavations of fossils. One particularly talented and prolific palaeontologist was Mary Anning [Winslet], who unearthed several important findings which altered how the scientific community assessed prehistoric life. Ammonite is the story of Anning’s later years, her major finds behind her, struggling to makes ends meet by selling paltry common fossils to tourists. The work is hard and the environment unforgiving but the abrasive Anning’s misery and toil is lifted when she is asked to chaperone Charlotte [Ronan] the wife of a rich aspiring geologist. Despite being from different worlds, the two find a kinship through shared strife and a relationship blossoms.

Ammonite is nothing if not magnificently constructed, with Lee continuing his flare for capturing what it actually looks like to live in a place and extends that to an entirely different century with ease. The washed out colours perfectly capture the bleak landscape and unforgiving life of someone so shut out by a hostile society of male academics. On top of this, the absence of a score for the majority of the film heightens both the uncomfortable pauses and the realism of it all.

Both leads respectively bring something fantastic to the screen. Winslet is caustic and short-tempered but it’s a roughness that has been borne out of mistreatment and neglect by her peers. So many lingering pauses and glances that say so very much without having to resort to overt dialogue, allowing her backstory and inner monologue to be pieced together by the audience from the fragments of telling looks and fleeting softness that shines through.

Similarly, Charlotte is introduced with eyes raw from tears an affixed expression of sorrow. With her husband unable to process the depression that comes with the loss of a child, Charlotte is painted as little more than a burden. In this way, there is a quiet isolation to Ronan’s performance; this is represented extremely well by her initial fear of the sea and the abject terror of being wheeled out to it in a wooden shed, only to be confronted then battered about by an angry tide.

But frustratingly, while these two incredible actors offer marvellous performances, they run parallel to each other rather than interweaving. It would be very easy to say this is down to a lack of chemistry and I think there’s definitely some validity to that but I think it’s more that Ammonite is a solid character study but not an especially good love story. There’s an inevitability to the romance, one which is arrived at as a result of formal hesitation, rather than one of passion and desire.

There is a fair amount of talk about the “historical accuracy” of the events portrayed, regarding Mary’s sexuality, but that doesn’t necessarily matter if the story is well portrayed and well acted. My immediate, and admittedly unfair, comparison was with something like Portrait Of A Lady On Fire which performs similarly but with a vastly superior outcome due to its heavier focus on melodrama and transcendent passion. Again, I don’t necessarily think that’s entirely negative, just a different perspective. While Portrait Of A Lady On Fire is bold and exciting and impassioned, Ammonite is repressed, distant yet deeply emotional and ..entirely English.

For so many positive qualities, I would definitely say Ammonite is worth the watch and for the latter scenes where Mary is credited for her findings with something as simple as a sticker over the name of the man who purchased one of her finds, the message resonates.


Release Date:
13 November 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
The scene when Mary and Charlotte excavate their first sizeable fossil together is presented differently from anything else in the film. The score starts to take centre stage, the cuts are quick and the shots largely handheld, it feels altogether different to mark its significance but oddly enough this means it just feels out of place, somehow rushed and given more direct attention than the climactic love scene.

Notable Characters:
All the men are wonderfully pathetic. On the one hand we have Roderick Murchison [James McArdle] with his eloquence and manners but complete lack of empathy and availability for his wife. There’s also Dr Lieberson (played by Alec Secareanu) who is progressive in the sense that he believes the rehabilitative methods prescribed to Charlotte are little more than archaic water torture but still believes a woman’s place is “to care for her fellow sister” and sees Mary as a simple opportunity for marriage than a person.

Highlighted Quote:
“I’m pleased my rock was worth the work”

In A Few Words:
“Two very powerful central performances guide this passive tale yet somehow never truly meet”

Total Score:

3/5

ROSE: A LOVE STORY

Til Death Do Us Part

Director
Jennifer Sheridan

Starring
Sophie Rundle
Matt Stokoe
Olive Gray




Sam [Stokoe] and Rose [Sheridan] are an outwardly normal couple but Rose is struggling with an illness that requires them to live in almost complete isolation, relying on a handful of supplies regularly couriered to them by a trusted source. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Rose is afflicted by a form of vampirism. While the couple have been able to survive all this time in secret, their safety and stability is jeopardised when a young lady, Amber [Gray], is caught in one of Sam’s traps and requires medical attention.

Rose: A Love Story is an impressively tight, contained piece reminiscent of Scandinavian features or something like It Comes At Night. The fact that Stokoe is both writer and male lead is an additionally interesting factor, with the attention to detail, the lore and the routine having been carefully and cleverly thought out. Only to be thoroughly disrupted by the introduction of Amber to the dynamic. But the truth is, every day Sam and Rose are pushing their luck and running out the clock together.

With such beautiful chemistry between Rose and Sam, it’s didn’t surprise me in the slightest to learn that they are now a married couple in real life. The relationship dynamic, the conversations are voyeuristically believable and this empathetic familiarity is through the cultivation of captivating performances.

While Sheridan has a solid history in television, this is her feature debut and it is a very strong one. Beautifully shot, magnificent, atmospheric sound design and a eerily winding score, start off a very unassuming tale which compiles tension ever so slowly and subtly beneath the surface, unfolding perfectly to the extent that as the last 15 minutes approach you start to realise everything has been fairly consequence free up until this point.

In truth, vampires are spectacularly well-trodden mythology. Since cinema’s inception we have been flooded with a host of different interpretations from the perspective of the victims and even the creature itself but this movie is a rather humanising look at vampires. The twist or gimmick here is that it is framed as any other story about a couple, one of whom has a degenerative illness or an infirmity that requires niche care and attention. In that way, one could draw a strange parallel with something like Supernova with the intensity of the bond between the leads and the crushing affliction that is eating away at them. You could also add that there is an additional unique layer to this film regarding the timing of its release; specifically, the notion of being locked in a cabin, having everything delivered to you and only able to leave your house with a mask on – it’s a painfully relatable scenario during a global pandemic that may stir a resonance within certain audiences.

Other than a few genre tropes and cliches that make their way into the film, it’s a very promising directorial debut and arrival for a lot of the central cast who have mostly been utilised in television up until this point but I would be very interested to see what they all respectively have lined up next.


Release Date:
13 October 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
Nursing Amber’s broken leg, still debating what to do with her, Sam is very cold. This is broken with a moment of earnestness wherein Sam explains to Amber what it’s like to fall in love with someone and how it can not only cloud your judgement but also press you to act against your own interest or endure strange circumstances. In this way, it’s one of the rare opportunities to get into one of the leads’ heads and a welcome one.

Notable Characters:
Being such a contained piece, there are almost no supporting elements. We have a handful of faces that make sporadic appearances but ultimately it comes down to the co-leads. And while I mentioned Sam opening up in a previous scene, I found Sophie Rundle’s performance particularly impressive, with its combination of affability and a deeply suppressed ferocity.

Highlighted Quote:
“I will help you forever because I love you. But the second you lie down and give up, I’m sorry, but that’s the second I lie down and I die next to you”

In A Few Words:
“A remarkably twisted tale of devotion”

Total Score:

4/5

ANOTHER ROUND [DRUK]

Drink Up

Director
Thomas Vinterberg

Starring
Mads Mikkelsen
Thomas Bo Larsen
Magnus Millang
Lars Ranthe




Following a conversation about the benefits of operating with a specific steady amount of alcohol in your system, four teachers Martin [Mikkelsen], Peter [Ranthe], Tommy [Larsen] and Nikolaj [Millang], embark on an experiment to secretly do just that. To their elation, they feel more vibrant and energetic than ever before but soon enough their secret indulgence becomes a problem and edges closer to addiction.

From the outset, the framing of teachers facing a midlife malaise, surrounded by unengaged kids enjoying their lives, is clear. There’s a simple contrast between the opening scene illustrating the uproarious hijinks of the teenage students playing a game which requires them to run around a nearby lake, downing bottles of beer along the way and the flat, dim pastels of the classroom headed by frankly dull older men. This parallel never really leaves the story because the longer the experiment goes on, the more childish these supposed adults become, toying with pseudoscience to justify a petulant defiance. There’s an amusing rationalisation based on this notion put forth by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, with the group going so far as to set out a trial manifesto, imbuing their study with an official air, drawing up clear rules such as no drinking after 8pm or at weekends and buying breathalysers to maintain the desired 0.5 level. This is largely based on the anecdotal evidence of a handful of individuals who performed great feats despite being seemingly constantly intoxicated – Churchill, Hemmingway, Heerfordt, etc – but this direct causality is a clear falsehood.

The group dynamic is magnificent with each pillar acting as much as a supportive strut as a point of peer pressure. This is aided infinitely because each character is individually rounded and relatable and more importantly, charming. Having said that, at times it’s framed as an endearing friendship, other times there’s a sense that these bloated older men are rather pathetic and immature. A fantastic example of this is the third part of their experiment which looks at pushing the theory to its maximum, leading to the four men, painfully drunk, collapsing in supermarkets, haphazardly fishing on a pier by chucking rods into the sea then obnoxiously taking over a local bar before staggering off into the night. The social cohesion and support of the group lifts Martin’s spirits but in a prime example of post hoc ergo propter hoc, the teachers chalk this up to the alcohol, not being open with each other.

Thanks to Vinterberg’s ability to shine a light on tight-knit groups, Another Round is a rather thought-provoking analysis of drink culture, the social pressures to drink as well as the camaraderie that goes hand in hand with with imbibing. While it also offers a fleeting exploration of the rituals surrounding drink, it never truly delves into a pure damnation of alcohol, more about its ability to corrupt, the film offers a talking point about excess and moderation. Serving as a reminder that booze is not a substitute for happiness, that these men already had problems and the drinking wasn’t the direct cause, merely the catalyst that brought these feelings to the surface.

What makes the story initially engaging is the clinical aspect to it, the playful armchair philosopher. It’s something that was front and centre in Lars Von Trier’s Idioterne, pitching these men not as desperate old men but four worldly scholars set out to better themselves through unorthodox methods. Early in the experiment, Martin is off his chair, he’s engaging the students, challenging them, charming them and one of the most universally important requirements of life is a good teacher and Martin clearly believes the alcohol allows him to do this. But unlike other works covering social experiments, say Kinsey, Another Round never really explores the depths of depravity. It acknowledges that this is a supremely selfish endeavour and the leads’ lack of separation from their normal lives means the results cannot be purely academic but it fails to fully explore consequence, even though the movie directly deals with death.

As a character study, Another Round is well performed and very entertaining but I’m not entirely sure if it’s supposed to be a neutral statement about alcohol, an outright approval due to the inevitability of humans drinking or a stark criticism. In a way, much like the central characters, there’s no real outlined conclusion to thesis so it seems largely up to the audience to continue the conversation.


Release Date:
20 November 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
To the film’s detriment, the world is never really explored outside of the core unit. At one point, Peter encounters a morose student, desperate to get into medical school and unable to cope with the general pressures of school life. Not operating to the fullest of his faculties and a little emotional that he never had a child of his own, Peter bluntly suggests the student take a shot before his exam to take the edge off. In terms of writing, this should setup a dilemma – a bit of a Chekhov’s gun – but there’s no real fallout, the film never has any form of ramification for this frankly crazy act. Which is a shame.

Notable Characters:
Mikkelsen has always been an amazing talent but it seems his work with Vinterberg produces his finest performances. Martin’s lethargic displacement erupting into peak emotional outbursts, both positive and negative, is deep, nuanced and spellbinding.

Highlighted Quote:
“I miss you too”

In A Few Words:
“A wonderful if ever so slightly toothless study”

Total Score:

4/5

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

One Night. Four Icons.

Director
Regina King

Starring
Eli Goree
Kingsley Ben-Adir
Aldis Hodge
Leslie Odom Jr




Based on the critically acclaimed play of the same name, One Night In Miami tells the story of four friends celebrating the success of one of their group and the frustration of just staying in the hotel room rather than hitting up the bars and clubs. It just so happens the friend in question is Cassius Clay [Goree] and his success was beating Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight champion. On top of that his friends are influential soul singer Sam Cooke [Odom Jr], Cleveland fullback Jim Brown [Hodge] and Nation of Islam leader, Malcolm X [Ben-Adir] who reminds the group that even on a night of uproarious celebration, with the respect of millions across the nation, they are still considered second-class citizens and must make strong public statements to be truly recognised.

Taking on the challenge of portraying any one of these four legends would be daunting in its own right but together, each man is represented spectacularly. Being young, driven and talented in so many fields, it was of the utmost importance that the casting drew from the top shelf and King has assembled some genuinely fantastic actors who display the most magnificent chemistry. The relay race of discussions about a black man’s place in American society and the responsibility of those with a spotlight and a platform is fiery and kinetic, with each pillar representing various outlooks.

Bringing these individuals together comes down to an adept and discerning leader at the helm and for a directorial debut, King has performed astonishingly. Not only for the functional accomplishment of making an engaging story building on an already successful play but juggling a multifaceted release: part sports drama, political biopic, tale of friendship, musical evaluation, family discussion, race-relations explorative piece and religious study. On top of the 90 minute play we are given an additional half an hour of of character and world building at the start that adds so much. While the transition from regular feature to chamber piece should be stifling, slamming the breaks on the story, the character study ramps up everything that came before it and with the period appropriate score mirroring the energies of the leads, upbeat and full of energy but soulful and weary from the onslaught of daily strife, the entire feature flows seamlessly.

As well as being a tale of four friends celebrating, it’s also a clearly galvanising piece. The poignancy and relevance of this story and the exchanges had within could not be more pertinent. Discussing the pros and cons of actions like black artists earning solid royalty money from allowing a white band like The Rolling Stones to cover a song, against someone like Bob Dylan saying something more aggressively powerful than a seemingly trite song about being in love. Topped by Malcolm X shouting furiously, “Our people are literally dying in the streets every day. Black people are dying! Every day!” What should be a look back on a time of change, allowing us to appreciate how far we have come (and that’s not to say there hasn’t been progress) is more a stark reminder that the same battles are still being fought. Not to mention the fact that a year after the events of this film, half of the group were killed.

It’s hard to draw any form of negative against this release. Grandly acted, superbly crafted and taking a spectacularly written play, transposed to a spectacularly written script, littered with charmed and nuanced oration, is just wondrous.


Release Date:
15 January 2021

The Scene To Look Out For:
Early in the film, Brown has an exchange with family friend Mr Carlton (played by Beau Bridges) wherein he is extolled for his performance in the NFL with Carlton going so far as to say he has never been more proud to be a resident of that area than when Brown achieved what he had. This warm welcome is monumentally soured when Brown offers to help move a bureau, only for Carlton to matter-of-factly retort that he knows they don’t allow African Americans in the house, with the same cordial upbeat tone. Suffice it to say, he didn’t say “African American.” It’s such a rug-pull that will be all too familiar to many people but the repugnant lack of self-awareness still completely sucker punches you. Which is both heightened and mirrored later when Jim Brown says to Malcolm X, “some white folks can’t wait to pat themselves on the back for not being cruel to us.”

Notable Characters:
Not one of these actors stands above any of the others, each is an integral part to the story and the varied views and attitudes of a community – as any group of friends are. That ensemble is vital to this film’s power and success. There’s a sort of unspoken rule of quality with ensemble TV that states for characters to be rich and well-drawn, you have to be able to separate two of them off to one side holding a conversation and ensure it’s just as engaging as any other combination. And this film’s ability to do that is one of its greatest achievements. The diverse bonds that make the friendship feel real.

Highlighted Quote:
“We’re all just gladiators, Cass, with our rulers sitting up there in his box giving us the thumbs up or the thumbs down. Well I don’t want no damn ruler”

In A Few Words:
“A sharp, touching and auspicious release and a vitally important reminder for our times”

Total Score:

5/5

WOLFWALKERS

Be Fierce. Be Wild. Be Free.

Director
Tom Moore

Starring
Honor Kneafsey
Eva Whittaker
Sean Bean
Simon McBurney
Maria Doyle Kennedy




Set in 1650s Kilkenny, we are introduced to Robyn Goodfellowe [Kneafsey] and her father Bill [Bean], a hunter conscripted by the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell [McBurney], to rid the neighbouring countryside of wolves. The precocious Robyn wishes to follow in her father’s footsteps and, with her falcon Merlin, enters the woods to hunt wolves. After an altercation, Robyn meets a woodland girl of similar age, Mebh [Whittaker] and the two begin a friendship despite their conflict of interests.

For those unfamiliar with the history, Oliver Cromwell was a member of parliament who led the English civil war against the crown. With Charles I executed, he began various conquests with his New Model Army, one of which was the Irish Campaign. This invasion was driven by religious zealotry and a disdain for the Irish population; subsequently he is a very contentious historical figure and one of disdain for the Irish. This whole film is a running commentary on the effect of the English invasions of Ireland with Cromwell trying to tame the wilds as a direct parallel for trying to subdue Ireland. But in spite of this it’s important to point out that the presentation is allegorical and more about culture clash than animosity.

The first and most important thing about this feature (and all of Moore’s films) is the singular signature art style that makes it so appealing and engrossing. Critics have rightly adorned Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse with significant praise for its use of varying styles and the work done by Cartoon Saloon is no different. There’s such a beautiful simplicity to the juxtaposition between the wild Irish setting – with its rough outlined line work, free-flowing pencils and almost sketch quality visuals, that show the unrefined shape guides and contouring – and the English occupation of Kilkenny – which takes on the darkly-printed and angular nature of seventeenth century woodcuts. There is a somewhat false adage that one should be able to pause a movie and marvel at that single cell, in essence that every frame is a painting. Regrettably this doesn’t necessarily apply to most films but in truth, it does with many artistic works and this is no exception. Literally every single shot is radiant and layered with exquisite detail and soul. Put simply, Japan has Miyazaki, Ireland has Moore.

Atmosphere is very much at the heart of this film with the stunning visuals accompanied by the mystical, drifting score from regular collaborator Bruno Coulais. It seems only fitting that this film is a joint work from Irish, French, Luxembourgian talent, a cultural meeting and exchange creating something perfectly autumnal. Politics and history to one side, the story has a more relatable and oft-running theme through Moore’s other films of city vs countryside, nature vs civilisation and immediately made me think of tales like The Fox And The Hound.

In my initial synopsis, I didn’t mention the heavy supernatural aspects to this movie. Mebh isn’t just some feral girl, she is a wolfwalker: girl by day, wolf by night and runs with the pack of wolves that are seemingly terrorising the local farmers. It turns out that when Mebh and her mother Moll [Doyle Kennedy] take on wolf form, they perform a sort of astral projection or transference of power that causes them to leave their bodies. Turns out, Moll has been missing for some time, looking for a new safe haven for the pack to run free. While roaming the woods, Robyn is caught in a snare and in freeing her, Mebh accidentally bites her, meaning that Robyn is now also a wolfwalker. In this way, it’s the story of two rambunctious, rebellious girls with a mutual bold playfulness, both in need of a friend. A key illustration of this is Robyn abandoning her crossbow to follow Mebh into the woods; the literal setting aside of the tools of war to forge friendship.

Both Whittaker and Kneafsey are fantastically cast. I believe this is effectively Whittaker’s debut and the only thing I’ve seen Kneafsey in is A Christmas Prince, where she was utterly wasted. The casting of Sean Bean as Robyn’s father is also magnificent. It would have been all too easy to project this as an English vs Irish story, but it’s more a question of acceptance of a mindset and sensibility than nationality. And Bean embodying the hardworking Englishman who is merely trying to do the best for his family, terrified of what will become of his daughter should she not follow the rules, is understandably relatable.

**spoiler within**
Like all fairytales, Wolfwalkers follows a very set-out path and structure making it, arguably, quite a predictable affair. Casting this as a negative, however, would be a mistake. If anything it offers a mythical sense of familiarity. Additionally, one could argue there’s a historical inaccuracy to the death of Cromwell but that’s inconsequential pedantry and works for the narrative; more than that, for a moralistic fable, it’s vital.

As with everything put out by Cartoon Saloon, this film is an absolute flawless joy and marvel that rightfully deserves its place among lofty greats such as Studio Ghibli and Disney.


Release Date:
11 December 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
I mentioned earlier on about the unique and engaging art styles at play. One that really captivated me was the wolf POV which illustrates how the wolves see the world, as a mix of shapes, sounds and smells. As a Daredevil fan this was remarkably pleasing.

Notable Characters:
Aside from the main characters, all of which are terrifically portrayed, I really enjoyed Tommy Tiernan as Sean the woodcutter.. or shepherd. Either way, I’m a sucker because I love Tiernan, I find him hilarious and his upbeat jovial manner mixed with his superstitious pessimism make him a very fun addition. A prime example would be when Mebh takes Merlin away, Sean tells Robyn that “She may heal him.. or eat him” with the exact same pragmatic tone, regardless of the girl’s feelings – for a lack of a better descriptor, it’s wonderfully Irish.

Highlighted Quote:
“What cannot be tamed must be destroyed”

In A Few Words:
“A sensory delight”

Total Score:

5/5

SUPERNOVA

Burn Bright

Director
Harry Macqueen

Starring
Colin Firth
Stanley Tucci




Couple, Sam [Firth] and Tusker [Tucci], travel north to reunite with friends and relatives before Sam, a concert pianist, is due to give a comeback performance. Early on, we learn that Tusker has been diagnosed with early on-set dementia and his wanting to deal with it alone, without causing significant harm to Sam, is putting a clear strain on both men and the relationship.

From the very outset, it’s clear that this story will be a painfully human, tender and most importantly sincere experience. With its calm slow pacing, the entire first half an hour sails by as we get to know the couple and explore the reality of what they’re facing. And with so little visually happening, this is primarily down to the delightful chemistry between Firth and Tucci. Tusker is a monstrous tease, Sam is slightly cantankerous and they are both gut-punchingly charming – brought effortlessly to life by two incredibly confident and capable actors.

Without sounding too obvious or redundant, anyone who enters into the contract of a long-term relationship inevitably confronts the fact that life is finite, that your time together is limited and you will die. Yet despite this fundamental part of love and life, hitting that reality is always a shock and watching these two individuals approaching the inevitable together has an empathetically tragic familiarity. Firth observing Tucci struggling to get dressed or perform other simple tasks never gets any less heart wrenching to voyueristically watch as an audience. And as much as the performances sell this to us, it’s ultimately the script that bluntly cuts through: “You know what the hard part is? You’re not supposed to mourn someone while they’re still alive.”

On a technical level, Supernova is exceptionally well made. The score is light and unobtrusive, to the degree that you don’t realise it’s all that’s present until you’re a few minutes into Sam and Tusker silently driving through the winding roads flanked by towering hills. Speaking of which, Dick Pope’s cinematography work is striking, with wonderfully framed shots. Being from Britain, I naturally fall into stages of under-appreciation but the landscape can be truly stunning and Pope captures the haunting beauty fantastically.

**spoilers throughout the next two paragraphs**
While this is an extremely well-acted, constructed and devised chamber piece, there was one major element that brought it all crashing down for me. That isn’t to say I’m about to rip this movie apart, simply illustrate a single decision in the writing process which sullied the film for me: I’m not entirely sure I was happy that the film became a suicide story. Of course a conversation about dementia will likely lead to a conversation about death but, as much as it pains me to say it, this conclusion felt a little lazy. With something like Million Dollar Baby, the film catches you off guard and evolves in the most painful way. Even something fairly trite like My Life tries to cover how a man with a form of degenerative cancer and his wife deal with the diagnosis and the impact it will have on their yet unborn child who will grow up without his father. I didn’t get that with this film.

Disappointingly, it felt that the narrative didn’t know where it wanted to go and ended up at a fairly safe conclusion. Suddenly a lot of what I liked about the film (take my highlighted scenes below for example) felt similarly overt. In that way, like an old familiar play, Supernova failing to traverse any new territory was ultimately discouraging. The saving grace, for me, is the fact much of this feeling is allayed with the ambiguity of the shared look between Sam and Tusker at the end of the movie, with Sam saying, “Let me be with you.” Is he making another plea to stay by his side as dementia takes hold or is he saying he accepts Tusker’s wishes and wants to be with him at the end? The only thing the audience is offered is Sam’s concert performance. Which is a fine ending to this tale.

In conclusion, Supernova is a satisfyingly constructed story with a few predictable exchanges but this doesn’t detract from the fact that they are delivered with such passion that one is able to completely overlook any reservations.


Release Date:
27 November 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
To address what I stated earlier about simple but solid metaphors, I have highlighted two moments in particular. The very opening shots depict a bright star in central focus as a galaxy of pin-prick lights form around it. As the music begins to swell, the star burns brightly before disappearing. The second is Sam quietly turning the pages of Tusker’s notebook – which should house his new novel – to see the first few pages filled with notes and prose, only to degenerate into faint scribblings and torn-out pages before revealing the blank void of the remainder of the notebook. Both are admittedly serviceable and cutting but they’re also undeniably on the nose.

Notable Characters:
The supports are used sparingly but choosing between Tucci and Firth is frankly impossible. Both exude such presence and deeply viced emotional turmoil and rather than a battle between the two, there’s a distinct harmony. Nowhere is this more apparent than the speech reading scene – wherein Sam has to read through Tusker’s prepared notes, for their family and friends, addressing his eroding memory – which is heartbreaking from both sides.

Highlighted Quote:
“You know, you just sit there, doing nothing.. propping up the entire world”

In A Few Words:
“A thoroughly beautiful miserable journey, taken by two absolute powerhouses of cinema”

Total Score:

4/5

UNDINE

Director
Christian Petzold

Starring
Paula Beer
Franz Rogowski
Jacob Matschenz




The film opens with an introduction to Berlin historian Undine [Beer] as her boyfriend Johannes [Matschenz] is breaking up with her. Despite this, she rushes to work and gives a talk on the history of the city’s urban development for international groups at the Senatsverwaltung für Stadtentwicklung und Wohnen. Rushing back to the cafe to talk with her ex-partner, Undine is followed by Christoph [Rogowski], one of the group who politely commends her talk and asks her out but awkwardly stumbles shattering a fish-tank. Undine pulls the young man to safety and the two embark on a relationship together. As the narrative progresses, Christoph takes Undine on a dive to show her his work in the Rhineland, only for the film to veer into the obscure.

As a contemporary reimagining of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s fairy tale novella, there is something of a battle for prominence between romance and fantasy. What starts off as a very unambiguous romantic drama, takes a diversion to the subtly supernatural and leads the audience down a path they didn’t realise they were on. Punctuated with stunningly shot underwater scenes and captivating, almost dreamlike qualities, there is a disconnect between the leads and the rest of the world, ensuring your focus fixates on them. This, of course, would be impossible if the performances were in any way lacking.

A fair portion of the runtime is devoted to lectures on the development of Berlin pre and post reunification and what should be monumentally dull and dry material is given life by Beer. Not only that, she draws a quiet intensity to the character of Undine that makes the still moments natural and the eerie moments somewhat unsettling. Furthermore, the deeper we dive into Undine as a person, the more we see how disconnected she is from the world, living in temporary lodgings, holding a freelance position as a historian and how few people seem to know her at all; more than that, her only connection seems to be these two men and a boss who is largely indifferent to her existence.

Then we have the two men in Undine’s life. The caddish Johannes, a confident and self-serving man of wealth and success who never seems to express any real emotion to Undine outside of his base drives. And the rustic and courteous Christoph who is simply overflowing with emotion and tenderness while being a very grounded and thoughtful soul. These diametrically opposed suitors represent – at least on a very simplistic fairy tale level – the standard male archetypes with the stark contrast between confrontations with Johannes in the city and the quiet with Christoph in the countryside.. The bounder and the gentleman. And both are performed compellingly by Matschenz and Rogowski respectively.

To my mind, this is a perfectly structured release replete with plenty of symmetry and repetition. Distinctly turning at the start of the third act, the supernatural element manifests ever so faintly, almost as if not to spook the audience, and suddenly all the foreshadowing of whispered voices, the broken diver statue and the averted drowning scene take on an entirely different meaning. All the while aided by the sombre, ethereal tones of Bach over an original score. In this way, the film remains overtly unpredictable.

But it’s not perfect. Personally, as much as I love the use of water in several forms to highlight her true nature as a water spirit, I would have preferred if Petzold leaned further into the fey aspect, giving us something akin to Under The Skin because as it currently stands, a fair amount goes unexplained – especially if you’re unfamiliar with the source material – and these unanswered questions may frustrate audiences.

Having said that, I feel it’s ultimately part of the story’s charm. A question of how well we know those in our lives and the lingering effects of the people we meet; a literal haunting. In that sense, Undine excels.


Release Date:
12 October 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
Watching this movie, I was struck by the question, “What makes a film compelling?” It’s extremely difficult to quantify but talent is undeniably apparent most notably when nothing is happening. The film opens on a wonderful contemplative stillness. As viewers we are patiently waiting for the prologue to end but it keeps going, merging into a surprisingly compelling guide to the architectural history and planning of Berlin. Yet all the while, in the back of your mind, you’re waiting for something – something catastrophic like a breakdown or some simple time jump to take us out of this moment and transition to another scene. Yet it continues unabated. It’s only when looking down on the city model that she sees the exact spot she was sat at and we are confronted with the very image in Undine’s head that she has tried to push to the background. It’s fantastic

Notable Characters:
**fairly mild spoilers**
At the exact halfway point, Undine sees Johannes again. In an example of that aforementioned repetition, we watch her walk away from the cafe, give the exact same talk and then return to her conversation. The film replays a lot of the same shot formation as the opening act, only this time free from the apprehension she was previously racked with. Following her conversation, we are treated to another long unknowable stare and a certain power to her smiling slightly then confidently walking away. For me this is the reason Beer commands this entire film.

Highlighted Quote:
“If you leave me, I’ll have to kill you. You know that”

In A Few Words:
“An altogether thoughtful and spellbinding tale”

Total Score:

4/5

SHIRLEY

Be Careful Which Idols You Worship

Director
Josephine Decker

Starring
Elisabeth Moss
Odessa Young
Michael Stuhlbarg
Logan Lerman




Young newlyweds, Fred and Rose Nemser (Lerman and Young respectively) have travelled to Vermont so Fred can begin work at Bennington College. Upon arrival they are immediately greeted by fun and magnetic professor Stanley Hyman [Stuhlbarg] and his caustic but remarkably talented wife Shirley Jackson [Moss], famed horror/thriller author. While Rose is a fan of Shirley’s work, being asked to take care of the reclusive and difficult writer takes a toll on her mental health. However, over time, with her husband preoccupied with college affairs, she is drawn closer to the mercurial author who is working on her latest novel.

As an adaptation of a novel, Shirley is a fairly unorthodox study of clearly talented but deeply toxic individuals. Even uproarious celebration has an undercurrent of tension – Stanley giving his feedback on Fred’s dissertation, for example, is a petty crushing under the guise of constructive criticism. Yet Shirley is far from a saint, manipulating the events of Rose’s life to generate inspiration for content; giving the film a sense of part detective drama, part brainstorming exercise, spinning the standard biopic tropes.

While I will expand on this further later in the review, Moss’ portrayal of Jackson is a fantastically immersive performance. From her introduction in a crowded party, rasping venomous gibes, Shirley’s personality ensures a prevailing sense of tension runs throughout, causing those around her (Rose specifically) to constantly tread on egg shells for fear of disapproval. In truth, there are plenty of portrayals of the tortured artist, shutting themselves off from the world to capture inspiration and perfect their work but unlike a lot of similar biopics, the character of Shirley doesn’t draw focus, allowing the supports to be just as compelling and interesting in their own right.

Speaking of which, the three major buttresses are Stanley, Rose and Fred. I can’t think of a time when I haven’t heaped immense praise on Stuhlbarg and this time is no different. Hyman is immediately framed as an enigmatic and charming individual that appeals to his young, impressionable, and predominantly female, students and it’s only as events unfold that the outwardly loveable charismatic professor has a painfully overbearing critical streak and a very nasty edge to him. In a way, the entire dynamic reminded me of The Wife but only partly and it’s better that we don’t fixate on that release too long as it is the superior story.

This leaves us with Rose and Fred. Fred is remarkably paint-by-numbers: ambitious, hardworking but disloyal and ultimately dull. Lerman plays this well enough but is off-screen more often than not. This is, however, not necessarily a bad thing as any screen-time with Shirley and Rose is where the film shines. I’ve only seen a handful of releases from Young but not only does she stand shoulder-to-shoulder with acting greats, she is able to offer a beautiful dual role in both the young, naive Rose and the fictional embodiment of Shirley’s character, Paula.

For me, the music is one of the absolute standout elements of the film. Tamar-Kali continues her stellar work on Mudbound, bringing a truly haunting, delightfully tense score. A momentous building of intrigue and unease that compels the viewer when the on-screen events come off as merely functional, with layers of female choral voices acting as an extension of the strained psyche of the leads. Overall there is a very slight air of Hitchcock to the whole thing.

Visually the film is exceptional, with Decker’s strong visual style playing beautifully throughout. A keen example would be the representation of Jackson trying to form prose, working out the character, seeing her in her mind’s eye, etc. It’s a very solid yet straightforward way of portraying creation through imagination as well as harvesting external influence. If there’s one thing this film does well, it’s explore the female gaze. Whether from the perspective of Shirley or Rose, the world and how it sees you because of your gender, actions or intentions, is made painfully apparent. Additionally, the juxtaposition between college sexual awakening and the embittered slump of ageing talent is magnificent. Every shot has a presence, every frame feels intentional – like a more grounded Terrence Malick feature – and yet somehow the whole suffers as the story is never truly enough to keep us going.

While my review thus far has been steeped in praise, you may have noticed that I only awarded this movie a three out of five. Regrettably, that comes down to one major issue, which is the entire movie’s downfall. I was left with a feeling of striking inconsistency. The performances are great, the visuals are marvellous, the sound design and music are second-to-none but the pace was surprisingly languid and while admittedly, every time I felt the film lagging or pulling away from me, I was thankfully drawn in again but these distinct peaks and troughs were enough to make half of the movie fascinating, while the other half a chore.


Release Date:
30 October 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoiler warning**
The following is going to sound utterly nonsensical for anyone who hasn’t seen the film but Rose marking down Paula’s name in the library book is a turn that doesn’t entirely feel justified; or at least one that was a little too rushed. I fully understand the narrative reasons for it being there and for Jackson to react the way she does but the revelation that there is no Shakespeare Society quickly robs this moment of the importance it needed; especially as it builds to the final exchange between the Nemsers, which shows a sort of transition into Jackson – notably in terms of cadence and delivery.

Notable Characters:
This is very much Moss’ film with so many extreme close-ups pushing into these twisted and manic expressions that say so very very much. Moss is one of those individuals that I will watch in anything, just to see what she brings to the role but while this movie has its flaws, Moss’ portrayal has none.

Highlighted Quote:
“Let’s pray for a boy, the world is too cruel to girls”

In A Few Words:
“A decently acted analysis that stumbles only due to the amount of bloat and padding that keeps it from soaring”

Total Score:

3/5

KAJILLIONAIRE

Know Your Worth

Director
Miranda July

Starring
Evan Rachel Wood
Gina Rodriguez
Richard Jenkins
Debra Winger




Set in contemporary Los Angeles, a haven for oddballs and outcasts, we follow the Dyne family, an eccentric group of low-stakes con artists. Robert [Jenkins] and Theresa [Winger] have raised their only daughter to reject the trappings of society, while gaming the system for whatever they can get. But their successes are limited and even the daughter’s name, Old Dolio, is the remnants of a long-con that never paid off. This strange harmony is disrupted when Old Dolio comes up with a simple con that could land them $1575 but subsequently ends up recruiting the bubbly and extroverted Melanie [Rodriguez].

On the surface, Kajillionaire is a simple character portrait of irregularity but at its heart it presents a genuine love story and the various forms that love takes. In that way, this is very much Old Dolio’s story through-and-through; backstories are not important – though often offered – and the events beyond the here and now are problems for another day. But rather than simply offering a peak behind the circus tent curtain at the oddities, it’s a fairly blunt commentary on the nature of dysfunctional families, without ever getting too serious. On the one hand you have Dolio who has been taught how to write by forging signatures and forms, stifled by her parent’s obscurities and way of life. On the other we have Melanie’s mother, a figure never seen, only heard on the phone and although clearly invested in her daughter’s life, does so at arm’s length, sending her things without any form of genuine attention or affection. It’s a fairly simple juxtapositon but one that illustrates our parent’s eccentricities, no matter how small could be construed as neglect or even tantamount to abuse from a certain perspective. And considering Old Dolio is 26 and still living with and operating as a clone of her parents, it serves as a poignant and well-timed story for a generation of 30 somethings still living at home, unable to find the means to support themselves. But for better or worse, the film doesn’t want to get too bogged down in this and keeps a surprisingly optimistic tone, assuring the audience that everything will be alright.

Most of this air of positivity doesn’t emanate from the performances but everything around them. The direction and cinematography are very grounded and unconcerned with anything too elaborate, allowing the performers to simply operate in a boxed out space without real interruption. The visuals from the run-down, unassuming interiors to the idiosyncratic functional costumes all give an air of peculiarity, one of distance that almost states these people are not necessarily part of our society but adjacent to it, blending in like undercover alien observers with their set routines. Nowhere is this better illustrated than the mechanical silent precision of clearing the foamy bubbles leaking through the walls of the office they are using as residence. This is of course heightened by Emile Mosseri’s score which is a solid mix of quirkiness and soulfulness; like Vangelis by way of Matteo Messina.

As stated, this is very much a character study and subsequently not a great deal actually happens in the narrative, just more and more layers of an awakening in Old Dolio that is initially sparked by having to take a mandatory parenting class which causes her to start questioning her familial arrangement. But the film really kicks into high gear with the introduction of Melanie. No sooner are we familiar with the madcap customs of the Dynes, everything is turned on its head by adding this loquacious and zealous young woman. Melanie’s energy lifts the film perfectly at the end of the first act, offering a stark contrast between the kind of life that Old Dolio could have had; where Old Dolio is awkward, Melanie is charming, Old Dolio is reticent, Melanie is outgoing. And this is firmly cemented by the wonderful chemistry between Woods and Rodrigeuz who are just utterly fantastic together.

But while these two are understandably bewitching, so much of the groundwork is laid by Jenkins and Winger as Old Dolio’s parents. Everything we learn about this world and how these characters operate within it is down to their experiences. But the audience can never know what to trust with them. One scene offers an insight into their origin but we can never guarantee if there’s any truth to it or whether this is simply another layer to the con. In that way, we experience them in the same way a child would; they are simply your parents, any life they had before you is one shrouded in a fog of mystery and all you can do is judge them based on their actions and the way they treat you.

Kajillionaire’s “weirdness” will undoubtedly alienate many but that’s essentially part of its charm and appeal. Ranging from beautifully warm to awkward and uncomfortable, it’s doing what all independent cinema does, it’s offering you a different perspective and in that capacity, it’s a great success.


Release Date:
09 October 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
I mentioned that there aren’t a great deal of extravagant shots but there is a particularly wonderful subtle intensity when Old Dolio removes Melanie’s nails. To explain, Melanie’s involvement in the first con leaves her feeling a little cold and Robert’s brash comments are the last straw but before she can leave Old Dolio reaches out, breaking one of her nails. Melanie protests but Old Dolio begins removing them with precision and expertise. While it should simply serve to illustrate that she has been skimming what we would consider trash for years, it’s used to highlight a tenderness. Everything is flooded with such overt romantic notes and filters that it’s almost cliche but the purity of the scene sells it perfectly.

Notable Characters:
Evan Rachel Wood immerses herself in this crushing mix of naïveté and savvy displaying so much complexity in her character. After learning about how babies crawl across their mother’s chest to find the breast, she becomes fascinated with how a baby can instinctively know these things without being taught. This journey of physicality, the realisation that her parent’s lack of affection has shaped how she interacts with those around her, is marvellous. In one of the first scenes, Old Dolio’s fear of contact while reluctantly accepting a massage from a mark brings her to tears then later when she is at the Positive Parenting class, she slowly edges closer by allowing the group leader to mime brushing her hair. It’s a magnificent portrayal from a blisteringly talented individual.

Highlighted Quote:
“If I’m honest my favourite movies are the Oceans 11 movies and I’m pretty psyched about being involved in an actual heist”

In A Few Words:
“A delightfully quirky and heartfelt look at connection and the people our parents shape us to be”

Total Score:

4/5

BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC

The Future Awaits

Director
Dean Parisot

Starring
Keanu Reeves
Alex Winter
Samara Weaving
Brigette Lundy-Paine
Kristen Schaal




Nearly thirty years after the events of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Bill Preston [Winter] and Ted Logan [Reeves] are still struggling to write the song that will unite the world in perfect harmony. The band has broken down to just the two front men and despite all their attempts, the magic is gone. After a wakeup call at a wedding reception, Ted suggests that it’s time to stop chasing this dream and follow his dad’s advice, if only to set good examples for their daughters: Billie [Lundy-Paine] and Thea [Weaving]. At that moment, Kelly (Rufus’ daughter played by Kristen Schaal) arrives from the future and brings Bill and Ted before the council of elders who state that if they do not perform this pivotal tune in 70 minutes (literally the film’s remaining runtime), all of reality will come undone.

As we see more of these belated sequels, we have to address the bar that was set. With titles like Blade Runner 2049, Jurassic World, Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull and even The Godfather Part III there was an expectation to meet and surpass some of the most iconic cinematic legacies. This is Bill & Ted. Granted, it has a cult following and they were successes in their own right but that legacy isn’t as nearly in danger of being warped and, if anything, Face The Music performs accordingly.

The plot itself is actually split down the middle, one half serving as Bill and Ted desperately leaping incrementally forward in time to steal the song from their older selves. The other half focuses on Thea and Billie assembling some of the greatest musicians (with a penchant from improvisation) from history and arguably mythology to act as their dad’s band. This division allows the narrative to maintain a decent race-against-the-clock factor while ensuring none of the set pieces outstay their welcome. With the same writers and cast returning after all these years, the dynamic and chemistry returns in full effect. The energy is fantastically fun, scenes are vibrant and silly, and Mark Isham’s score serves up a comfortable fusion of severity and frivolousness.

In an age of dark and gritty reboots and retreads, everything about this is just as light as the first two. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that Bill and Ted have always been the butt of their own jokes – the loser side characters in 80s high school comedies given centre stage – yet they are endearing for their earnestness, in spite of their stupidity. They are passionate about the music, devoted to their families and bonded by friendship. The only downside to them is that they don’t conform to the bracket that society expects of them and their reach often exceeds their grasp. But we love them because they are utterly devoid of maliciousness. This is why the robot versions worked so well in Bogus Journey and why the older versions in Face The Music are so amusing; it’s entertaining to see these pillars of innocence as twisted villains but equally incompetent. Which brings us to Thea and Billie. It would have been so easy to mess them up, throwing the tone off entirely. It would have been equally possible to end up with some really cheap imitations but both daughters are actually quite nuanced, illustrating that they are avid fans of music and significantly more intelligent than their fathers but not musicians in their own right, more like producers. What’s more, their presence and involvement in the denouement serves as a poignant message that it’s up to the next generation to save the world, literally.

**spoilers throughout the next three paragraphs**
It would, unfortunately, be wrong to say this was a good movie. It’s most definitely a fun, entertaining return for these characters but it’s not necessarily adroit and there are a lot of glaring issues. First up, the twist is obvious, largely because of the lazily written bread-crumbing. “A song by Preston and Logan must–“.. well there you go, it’s not written by Bill and Ted, now we know the ending and that’s in the first fifteen minutes. Worse than that, it was in the trailers, meaning that it was clear to me long before I even watched the film. And don’t get me started on Dennis saying “I brought this broken USB for you.” No you didn’t, I saw that scene and you didn’t move.

On top of that, this film doesn’t actually do a lot in the way of anything new. In the first movie the titular characters travel back in time to complete a school report. It’s nonsense but it’s enjoyable. The sequel makes some incredibly bold moves by including killer robots, heaven, hell and martians. The leap feels a little like the one from Die Hard to Die Hard With A Vengeance but it works as a continued narrative. Face The Music, while completely competent, doesn’t do enough that’s new. Travelling back through time to collect historical figures and going to the afterlife make a comeback but other than a few people and buildings glitching in and out of time, there isn’t a great deal of new territory explored. I also wasn’t especially impressed with future San Dimas. Owing to when they were filmed, Excellent Adventure has a late 80s aesthetic with dark crystalline structures, while Bogus Journey is very 90s and is full of neon and smooth edges. The future San Dimas as reflected here was disappointing and uninspired, littered with blue holograms and Apple store interiors. I can’t bemoan it too much as this too will become a noted marker of this era of filmmaking but damn it was dull.

The last two flaws I would like to highlight are pretty important ones. First off, what is initially billed as one of the most important driving motivations of the story is abandoned extremely quickly. The film opens with Joanna and Elizabeth in a rut and while still very much in love with their respective husbands, feel like something isn’t working. At that point, their future versions appear and show them Bill and Ted’s fate; all of which intersects with one of the central plot threads. The problem is, their characters have little agency and end up feeling quite redundant, with the movie not knowing what to do with them. In the second film the princesses were elevated to a point of importance in Wyld Stallyns. In truth, I don’t think they even played an instrument in the final ensemble. Speaking of which, we need to talk about that ending. There is something to be said for an emotional crescendo, the point where an audience is at the point of overflowing and cutting them off. It’s a very powerful tool and when used right, can provide a truly spectacular finish. For key examples, you need only watch something like Rocky or The Shawshank Redemption. Here it just feels abrupt. The pacing had been fairly impressive up until this point but when it came to hear the final song, the world started to remedy itself and then, bang, cut to credits. It was so very jarring and you’re left with a momentary stunned bemusement as if to say “that was it?” Which is never what you want to think or feel at the end of a movie, especially one that had some genuinely funny and standout moments.

Despite Face The Music’s failings, I can’t help but offer it a fair amount of leeway, if only because it’s a bit of a throwback comedy which is devoid of cynicism and formula. The stakes couldn’t be higher for the characters and the world they live in but there’s never a sense of doom and gloom because nothing about the movie instils a sense of fear. The tone carries you through, reminding you that this will work out fine in the end because of course it will. And for that, I think it deserves a modicum of grace.


Release Date:
16 September 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
I relished every time Bill and Ted bumped into their future selves – who would become increasingly bitter and mean. The novelty was funny, the outlandish devolution into absurdity was nice and the exchanges were truly hilarious. What more could you ask for in a Bill and Ted movie?

Notable Characters:
Of all the characters I could talk about – the return of Death, the introduction of Dennis Caleb McCoy – I have to go much simpler. We’ve watched Keanu’s career over these last decades and he’s ebbed and flowed his way through a myriad of different features. But Alex Winter has been fairly absent from the mainstream for a long time and it’s nice to be reminded of how genuinely talented this man is. I can only hope this is the start of a return for Winter and not just a last hurrah because I think he is capable of some legitimately captivating performances.

Highlighted Quote:
“Sometimes things don’t make sense until the end of the story”

In A Few Words:
“To say this movie is perfectly serviceable may come across as an affront but for a third Bill and Ted outing, almost three decades after the last, perfectly serviceable is a hell of an accomplishment”

Total Score:

3/5

MULAN

Loyal. Brave. True.

Director
Niki Caro

Starring
Liu Yifei
Jason Scott Lee
Gong Li
Donnie Yen
Tzi Ma




To battle the invading Rouran force, led by the warrior Bori Khan [Lee] along with a shapeshifting witch (Xian Lang played by Gong Li), the Emperor of China [Jet Li] issues a decree that each household must send one man to enlist in the army. Having two daughters, ageing veteran Hua Zhou [Ma] is expected to sign up but will likely perish in the fighting. To save her father, Zhou’s eldest daughter Mulan [Liu] steals his armour and sword before making her way to the frontline, posing as a man: Hua Jun.

Mulan remains a fantastic piece of Disney animation history and a strong step forward in female led representation, outside of the damsel in distress role, as well as a point of note for the LGBTQ+ community. By comparison, this remake is remarkably dull, sterile and disappointingly generic, taking twenty minutes to convey what the animated version got across more effectively in three.

One thing the film has going for it, is that it can be undeniably pretty at times. A vibrantly designed, lavish production which is rich in colour and construction. The costumes, hair, make-up and sets are all beautiful, demonstrating real crafting excellence. Having said that, for all these positives, they are admittedly very surface level and upon closer inspection, it’s a pretty sloppy mesh of anachronisms and insensitivities.

An Asian-American friend of mine wrote an article when the trailer dropped last year, highlighting a very small but impactful decision made which shifts the entire people of the story, on top of this, it was later revealed that outside of the cast, there were practically no Asian advisors for the aforementioned praised production elements; which shows if you know anything of Chinese history or culture. I will admit, using the term Rouran rather than Mongolian feels like there was a semblance of research done and there is an attempt to reference the original Ballad Of Mulan with the hares running side by side but without enough explanatory dialogue, it is little more than a throwaway wink to the knowing members of the audience.

As stated earlier, the craftsmanship is undeniably good but the film lacks a specific identifiable time period which ends up feeling like a flick-book collection of historical influences. Some could argue this is perfectly acceptable for a fantastical family action film and historical accuracy shouldn’t be at the forefront of any critical analysis but I would say that’s a line of thinking which is a dark path to the likes of King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword and Robin Hood.

I also think Harry Gregson-Williams’ score work is strong enough with tracks like Four Ounces Can Move A Thousand Pounds, Mulan Leaves Home and The Charge in particular adding a bit of contemporary gravitas to the proceedings. Having said that, people have a lot of fondness for the songs and motifs of the original and it’s a hard legacy to inherit from stellar composer, Jerry Goldsmith, who produced absolutely cheerful, spirited and heartfelt themes, imbued with a sense of adventure. The choice to not make this film a musical feels like a fairly logical one and I have to commend the incorporation of the 1998 songs into the score.

The editing, however, didn’t fare nearly as well. The introduction was hideously lopsided – like an unhappy committee constantly reshuffling the opening line of a book without looking any further into the text – and while this slowly improves as the story continues, there are completely jarring moments that throw all of this out the window. A prime example is a replication of an iconic scene from the animated film. At the story’s halfway point, a large battle is taking place at the foot of a mountain range. Xian Lang uses her powers to morph into a flock of birds, causing the army to form up into clusters. This then gives the Rouran the opportunity to launch catapult attacks. Mulan, separated from the shielded groups, manages to flank the attackers and fires arrows from behind, forcing them to turn the catapult and (without aiming properly) hit the mountainside, causing the avalanche.

It’s a subtle change to the animated events but it’s one that makes the enemy dumber and make Mulan less of a bold tactician. What’s more so many connective moments within this sequence are missing, with the action advancing so far forward as to feel like Mulan must have teleported or turned invisible to sneak past. And this isn’t a solo offence, this happens at various points, often to the detriment of an emotional impact. Mulan’s iconic suiting up in her father’s armour scene, cutting her hair and preparing for war is reduced to removing a sword from its stand and turning, already clothed in armour. If there was ever a scene that should have been directly lifted from the animation it was this one.

Again, giving the film due credit, this is an entirely Asian cast (if one were to include Western Asia) and that is a genuinely welcome sign and the majority perform admirably enough with what they are given. In spite of this, Liu Yifei wasn’t a fantastic Mulan. There weren’t a lot of androgynous men cast so her physique stood out no matter how much dirt they put on her and despite the weight and importance of the events at hand, she felt remarkably wooden. I don’t know if this was a language barrier issue or the script or the direction but considering how creditable she was in The Four trilogy (wherein she plays a character called Emotionless) and most notably Once Upon A Time, I was genuinely surprised what we ended up with was rather gauche.

For the majority of the runtime, Mulan’s only real supports are her fellow soldiers but they all fall into fairly standard tropes and we don’t spend much meaningful time with them to the degree that they aren’t specifically named well (bar the love interest or the weak one, who is constantly derided). What’s more, there’s never a sense of scale, this “army” is one battalion defending all of China and similarly the invading forces barely approach a few hundred men. Given the vast size of China, it not only robs the movie of any actual threat but denies us the kind of Red Cliff scale encounters that this kind of budget can provide.

**spoilers toward the end of this paragraph**
One of the film’s most fascinating aspects is the inclusion of the sorceress, Xian Lang – although she is literally just referred to as “the witch” the for entire film. Her presence elicits an element of a sympathy and connection within Mulan, as well as a cautionary tale. I’d go so far as to say she’s probably the strongest part of the movie and Gong Li’s performance is solid, elevating her to be Mulan’s true adversary as well as an ally. On the surface, Lang telling Mulan the full invasion plan then letting her go in an attempt to foil it, is rather dumb but the fact Lang is under the impression that even if Mulan knows what’s to come, no “man’s army” will believe her, is a fair commentary. I will admit, however, that her presence and bond with Mulan does detract from Bori Khan somewhat, so when they finally face off at the film’s close, there’s less emotional resonance.

The final character note is relating to an absence. Anyone who has seen the marketing material will know that the classic Disney animal side-kicks are not present, most notably Mushu. I understand this change and didn’t have a problem with it as an aesthetic choice. That being said, Mushu is replaced by a phoenix and while I appreciate they were going for a supposedly grounded, more realistic version, including both a literal mythical bird and a witch who can shape-shift gives cause for pause. Also, for all the CGI in the movie, the phoenix never looks as impressive or creative as it should and if this film were shot for $60 million, that would be fine but being a $200+ million Disney production, that’s simply not on. The same could be said for the other clumsy green-screen work but we’ll leave that for now.

**spoilers in this paragraph – unless you’ve seen the trailer**
Diverging from the animated version, Mulan actively chooses to reveal her gender at the movie’s halfway point. After a confrontation with Xian Lang, she sheds her armour and confidently rides into battle. I see this as both a tricky positive and negative. On the one hand, there is a lot to praise here. Saying you are more than your family’s expectations, your people’s prejudices and your literal father’s armour is fantastic. No longer holding back, she is able to shine in a way that is comfortable to her, proving not only her worth but her superiority to her counterparts. However, with all the talk of Mulan’s chi and her abilities (illustrated through.. chicken chasing) she isn’t just a regular kid who works harder, receiving a meritocratic reward. She’s the chosen one. Her chi is so powerful that her family and main adversary see it, she could be tempted to the dark side and have all the powers that come with it or she can choose to serve her people. Subsequently, the various training montages aren’t about her getting stronger, they are about revealing who she actually is and no longer holding back. Some will love this and see it as a symbol of strength and duty to oneself but others will see it as an unrelatable magical main character.

To round off, I will say that there are a few brief flourishes of direction and cinematography that are quite inventive and – as with all of these live-action remakes – there are plenty of positive elements to comment on but ultimately they fail to capitalise on the creativity and expressiveness of the animation. No matter how much money this film had behind it, all you need do is watch the exciting action of Golden Harvest features or literally anything by Zhang Yimou, for the most stunning visuals you will see in cinema, to know that this film is incredibly lacklustre. There is active talk of a sequel in production and while I have no idea if that will actually come to fruition, you’ve got to hope they take clear and unmistakable steps to improve on what is on offer here. I recently reviewed Pinocchio, a straight adaptation of the source material by Italians which is risky, adventurous, magical, fun and frankly a little too scary for its own good, making it the best version of this story. Mulan needed to be that and fell grotesquely short.


Release Date:
04 September 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
Early on in the film we are given a modicum of nicely shot, colourful visuals and some playful fun throughout the make-up scene, which leads into the matchmaker debacle. It shows the family dynamic well and doesn’t mind dropping the “grounded” facade for something light.

Notable Characters:
To start with, I didn’t recognise Jet Li as the Emperor. Watching the movie I thought, “huh, that looks like Jet Li” but internally berated myself for being racist. There’s no way that’s Jet Li, the dude has no presence and his voice sounds off. Turns out, it was indeed Jet Li and whether for health or age reasons, they gave one of China’s finest living martial artists nothing to do and then had the audacity to dub him. Again, I have no idea if there’s something going on in the background (like, say, Val Kilmer in The Snowman) but it just felt so jarring, taking you out of the film.

Highlighted Quote:
“You saved them today and still they turned on you”

In A Few Words:
“1998’s Mulan continues to be a standout work of animation two decades later but I would be surprised if the legacy of this adaptation lasts until the end of the year”

Total Score:

2/5

TENET

Time Runs Out

Director
Christopher Nolan

Starring
John David Washington
Robert Pattinson
Elizabeth Debicki
Kenneth Branagh




A CIA agent, played by John David Washington, is sent on an undercover mission to extract a target at the Ukrainian national opera house but the mission results in his torture and eventual death. Learning that the cyanide pill he took was a fake, putting him into a coma rather than killing him, the agent is drafted by a secret organisation and briefly told about inversion, where certain objects and people are moving backward through time, while everything around them continues to move forward. Paired with Neil, a handler played by Robert Pattinson, they uncover a plot by Russian arms dealer, Andrei Sator [Branagh] to bring about a war which could potentially lead to the end of the world. Seeing the arms dealer’s wife (Kat [Debicki]) as an angle to exploit, the agent is quickly swept up in a world of intrigue, misdirection and peril.

On its release, I bemoaned Interstellar for being filled with glorious visuals but marred by an unfortunately lacking story which was surprisingly linear and littered with trite platitudes. I’m sorry to say, Tenet suffers an unfortunately lacking story paired with unfortunately lacking visuals; nothing about this world where people running both forward and backward through time feels nearly as impressive or mind blowing as it should, even when it’s blatantly trying. I should clarify that this is by no means a bad movie, I have no problem with a film that requires you to focus and commit to the story to understand what is happening, but the impact that the marketing hyped and the opening scene so blatantly promised is never truly delivered.

**As with all my reviews, this is less a recommendation and more a conversational breakdown, so there will be huge plot spoilers from here on out. It is advised to watch the film before reading further, or to skim ahead to my In A Few Words summary and final rating**

Nolan has gone on the record in the past stating that he would love to direct a James Bond film, or at the very least that he draws a lot of inspiration from them. This influence plays heavily on many of his scripts but nowhere is that more prevalent than in Tenet. A maniacal Russian out to destroy the world, an agent working undercover to subvert this plot, high speed car chases, lavish international locales, thrilling shoot-outs, sharply dressed suave wise-cracking individuals and at the heart of it all, a beautiful woman who needs saving. Much like James Bond, the lead character is a pawn with little agency (it is then later revealed that he is his own pawn but there’s no added closure or catharsis to this revelation), given a mission and pointed in a direction but in no real danger of failure. The major difference is that Q branch’s various gadgets are substituted for a single gimmick. So let’s talk about that gimmick.

Countless films have covered time travel with varying degrees of success. Recently, we’ve had some extremely good examples from Looper, Source Code and a personal favourite of mine, Dark. Each of these sets out their own time travel rules and stick to them in a way that both allows the audience to understand what is going on while remaining true to the narrative events. But this film deals with time inversion, which is a little different; specifically it deals with the “travel” part of time travel, the action of moving backward through time while others move forward. This concept has the potential to be clear or convoluted depending on the script, exposition and visual storytelling. Somehow, in a feat of mad genuine ingenuity, it’s both.

Parts of this story are incredibly interwound and require attention to follow and process properly, other times they’re so painfully signposted that it goes so far as to ruin what’s to come. An unidentified woman dives off a boat, a line is said about physics working differently like fire turning to ice, demanding to know who an attacker works for without taking off the individual’s mask – you don’t have to know the complete formula of every time travel film to understand what these things mean: that woman you saw was you from the future, the following scene will have fire that turns to ice and that man attacking you is also you from the future. There is truly nothing worse than a predictable movie; to have a hunch in the first twenty minutes and then watch for two hours as your predictions come true but your expectations were possibly set too high. We give Shyamalan a lot of grief for his seemingly mandatory twists but Nolan has similar traits that are often praised. Knowing the movie played heavily with time, I worked out pretty much everything and that isn’t meant as a boast, it’s a lament.

These two elements – the James Bond spy thriller and the high-concept science fiction – are constantly at odds, refusing to truly merge. As such, it took a surprisingly long time for the film to properly grab me (after the in-your-face opening sequence) because the significant grounding leaves most of the film stagnant, never truly becoming fantastical. The time inversion concept is introduced but then side-lined just as quickly and used so sparingly that it is almost not worth having. In the world of Inception you are told enough to get by but remains very scant on details. Despite this, the effect is used well and often and the main principles are reinforced from those that understand to those who are new to the concept; so it works. Here, the world building doesn’t feel fleshed out enough, the impact of objects travelling backward and forward in time being treated with a dismissive “future people made it” isn’t enough and having an early explainer that we are finding more and more relics from a future war that possibly wipes out our way of life but doing almost nothing with that (to say nothing of never actually showing it) is not enough.

One thing that does become apparent very quickly is that this is a world devoid of consequence. There is no real impact for the average citizen because this does not concern them. You’re either in the loop and part of the temporal pincer movement or you’re background fodder. As with The Matrix Reloaded, suddenly Neo’s actions inside the matrix didn’t feel as under threat as the previous instalment because we knew it was a simulation and they could simply be pulled out; we were endlessly told it wasn’t real so we didn’t worry as much. Police, military, the rich, the poor, none of these people matter, all that matters is the next scene.

Supporting roles are few and far between but seemingly everyone is in on inversion, so there’s rarely a moment where the audience is part of a conversation that truly explains what is going on. Most know the stakes, most are working (knowingly or unwittingly) for the future version of the protagonist and there’s little real world impact. Even as far as reaction shots from bystanders when plans are being drawn up to crash a plane or when cars are screeching across the road in reverse. The only time we really see the general public is at the opera and, thanks to gas, they are almost instantly put to sleep. I feel there’s a sort of metaphor going on there but I can’t quite make it out.

In truth, inversion exists solely to justify cool set-pieces, as is the problem with all bad action movies, and the more time you spend thinking about it, the less the movie functions. For example, we are told that no one knows how something becomes inverted but this faceless group of paramilitary types seem to have access to multiple machines in Norway, Estonia and ..somewhere else that they can process a whole battalion through. Yes, these are minutiae but they are the fundamental drive for the movie and if they aren’t fit for purpose, your movie has essentially failed.

In an incredibly small role, Clémence Poésey offers Washington’s character his first explanation about the nature of inversion but immediately adds not to think about it, not to indulge in their backstories and teases some immense future war before disappearing from the movie entirely. My highlighted quote listed below is one of her lines that tells Washington (and by extension the audience) don’t try to understand it, just feel it – and while you can undoubtedly feel the awe of the spectacle and ribcage-rattling sound, I didn’t feel much of anything for these characters and their plights but that isn’t for lack of trying from the cast.

The biggest kick in the teeth for me was giving two incredibly charming actors utterly charmless dialogue. Pattinson has a little fun with his role and you always get the impression he knows more than he’s letting on but the reveal is pretty underwhelming. Then you have John David Washington who thoroughly impresses me in everything he turns up in and while he performs admirably, some of his dialogue and interactions are insultingly flat. The script even goes so far as to have the protagonist actively saying the words “I’m the protagonist” multiple times which is annoying in and of itself but to make matters worse, Washington’s character is actually credited as The Protagonist. The nameless lead trope worked well in something like Layer Cake and felt like it actually had a purpose but with Tenet, there’s no reason not to give him a name, especially as there’s no subversive twist reveal that he isn’t actually the protagonist or something like that. Some may try to counter “ah but he wasn’t the protagonist …yet” with a smug grin but that hardly warrants this move. Despite this, I think these two carry the film extremely well and exude gravitas and physical prowess during the action scenes.

On the other end of the spectrum, Kat is terrible. To be clear, Debicki isn’t terrible, she’s an absolutely fantastic actor who elevates the role as much as possible. But her character is incredibly frustrating. The Protagonist’s mission is to get close to Sator to ascertain the location of this doomsday device and his entry point is Sator’s estranged wife. So far that’s fine (and very Bond) but whenever a plan is put in motion, one of the key things that seems to derail everything is Kat. On multiple occasions she scuppers seemingly every plan because she’s just too damn emotional and her only motivation is to reunite with her son, which is just the worst kind of writing. I mean, I know a parent’s bond with their child is strong and they would do anything for them but when told about “Reversing entropy, killing everyone and everything” her only response is “including my son.” Yes obviously including your son! Everyone and everything includes him. To reiterate, this is less the fault of the actor and more the ham-fisted reiteration that this character has one sole driving force and we, the audience, need to be reminded of it as often as possible. What is never really explained is why Washington’s character cares so much about Kat. There is seemingly nothing remarkable about her situation but he is drawn to her, prioritising her needs over that of the objective. The motivation isn’t sexual or altruistic (which is refreshing) and goes beyond necessity or survival but without a clever or relevant alternative, the only remaining answer is “plot,” which is weak.

To change tack and focus on some positives, we need to talk about how this film was constructed. The plane highjacking scene is an audial assault of music and sound to invoke true scale and terror over something that we’ve actually seen many times before on-screen. This is extremely clever, injecting a fairly simple action sequence with some much needed life and reality. The score is also very intricately designed with elements that are running both forward and backward at the same time, making for a very kinetic and unique sound. It’s also worth noting that said score was composed by Ludwig Göransson, as it’s extremely reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s style – to the degree that everyone will simply assume it was Zimmer despite him being busy on Dune. But even this aspect doesn’t get a clear pass as much of the dialogue is lost at times, taking a backseat to the intense thundering sound design – which isn’t a major headache in and of itself, except the film expects you to keep up with so much that is usually only found in muted, muffled, whispered or altogether smothered dialogue.

The cinematography is equally tricky to praise. On the one hand, doing so much in-camera is very commendable and when you see a sprawling vista, you can tell they were actually there. A good parallel would be something like The Wolf Of Wall Street, wherein so many lavish locations are green-screened. Yet while they’re done so well, to the point of almost seamlessness, there’s something to be said for what you capture with a camera. But when the film isn’t busying itself with action set pieces, we are treated to fairly mundane conversations presented with incredibly rudimentary medium shot-reverse-shots, linked together with extremely jarring editing, as if whole transitional scenes are missing. I don’t know if this is due to Nolan working with a different editor or just what was shot at the time but unlike Insomnia or Memento that toy with your perception of memories and dreams, this makes an actively ostracising movie even more inaccessible.

While I’ve spent a few thousand words eviscerating this film, I want it to be known that it is not without merit. There are plenty of powerful and exemplary moments, I’m just irked because a great deal of potential feels squandered. As with many Nolan features, few will say they disliked it for fear of being told they “just didn’t get it.” Well I got it and I still disliked it because there wasn’t a great deal to get. In a way, it’s akin to The Dark Knight Rises which also tried to be clever and convoluted but felt like it was crammed with filler and yet somehow incomplete. Little things like not returning to the opera scene, while not entirely necessary to retread everything, left the finale feeling like there were too many loose ends and pieces to be revisited. And while I’m all for an ambiguous you-don’t-need-all-the-details denouement, some details are requisite for any sense of satisfaction.

To round this review off, Tenet is a remarkably unambitious feature that isn’t nearly as smart as it purports to be. The problem with a high-stakes science fiction drama with a countdown to armageddon is that when time is relative to the audience, it nullifies the events. The self-fulfilling prophecy of it all means that once you realise the movie exists in a world where, as Pattinson’s character says, “what’s happened has happened,” you know they’ve already won, you’re just watching the leftover inertia pushing it to the conclusion. Stripped of urgency with an interesting sounding future war that never actually happens, the whole thing leaves you cold, repeatedly telling you don’t try to understand it but to feel it. But on inspection, the only feeling present is dissatisfaction.


Release Date:
26 August 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
The biggest surprise for me was that nothing about this movie wowed me visually. The only thing that really stood out was the double-exploding building. In the final temporal pincer assault on Sator’s compound, we have a highly co-ordinated strike wherein a crumbled structure is targeted by both the alpha and beta teams, one going forward through time, the other going back. In an almost bell curve, the building begins to erect itself with a reverse explosion sealing it, only for the bottom layer to then be blown out and the whole thing falls again. It’s a very cool concept in the middle of a relatively well thought-out battle. Until you ask yourself why this happens. What was the point of this harmonised strike? The film tells you it’s a distraction but in truth, it’s just an excuse for spectacle. It’s there because the film requires a big action beat. And after the moment for the beat has passed, it has little relevance to the story and seemingly little impact on the battle itself. Which is a damned shame.

Notable Characters:
Kenneth Branagh plays the villain of the piece, a Russian oligarch arms dealer who is unsympathetic from start to end. A self-serving abusive monster who wants to bring about the end of the world because he too is dying. Knowing this, Branagh’s performance and energy feels fitting. The trouble I have is a passing line or two of dialogue that tries to make him a little relatable. Toward the end of the movie he explains to Washington that the world dies because of us and therefore mankind should be wiped out with this entropy device. It’s the same move as Infinity War and part of a trend that any environmental message of radical change only comes from a villainous individual who wants to wipe out humanity. Knowing this, The Protagonist tells the antagonist that it doesn’t matter. But unlike a post Thanos sense of hope or an Ad Astra epiphany that we need to take care of the earth because there isn’t much out there, the audience is left numb. The only thing we have to cling to is the rich lady gets to be with her kid, who is little more than property to be won back in a bet, and the fate of the universe is decided by either a billionaire arms dealer or a nameless CIA agent and that is a pretty bleak existence.

Highlighted Quote:
“Don’t try to understand it, feel it”

In A Few Words:
“A disappointingly undercooked experience, saved only by the calibre of talent involved behind the scenes and in front of the camera”

Total Score:

3/5

BLOODSHOT

You Don’t Need A Past To Have A Future

Director
David S F Wilson

Starring
Vin Diesel
Eiza Gonzalez
Guy Pearce
Toby Kebbell



Based on the Valiant comic of the same name, Bloodshot is the story of US Marine Ray Garrison [Diesel] whose last mission ended successfully but resulted in a backlash from mercenaries led by Martin Axe (played by Toby Kebbell) that culminated in the capture and execution of his wife Gina. Swearing revenge on Axe and all involved, Ray explains that they might as well kill him now. Uncharacteristically for cinema, Axe agrees and puts a bullet in Ray’s head. Ray then wakes up at the Rising Spirit Tech (RST) facility and is introduced to Dr Emil Harting [Pearce] and fellow military official KT [Gonzalez]. Ray quickly learns that he is the first solider successfully revived by Harting’s revolutionary nanotechnology and in the process has become a much more efficient killing machine. Slowly coming to terms with what he’s being told, Ray starts to have flashbacks to his murder and sets out to get revenge. I’d like to leave it there but the plot hinges on the reveal (which is outlined in the trailer) that Ray’s memory is being tampered with and the identity of Axe is reassigned to whomever RST wants killed. I decided to mention it here as it will come up repeatedly throughout this review.

For a directorial debut, David S.F. Wilson has crafted a completely middle-of-the-road functional film. It has all the trappings of a generic blockbuster, which is actually a strangely impressive thing as so many other directors have had to work up to this level of mediocrity. The most frustrating thing about this feature is what can only be described as music video filmmaking: absolutely stunning visual sequences sewn together with flat expository scenes. Admittedly, I think Wilson’s background is visual effects rather than music videos but the sentiment still stands. Before we get on to the visuals, we need to talk about the sound which ranges wildly from perfectly serviceable to painfully inept. On the one hand, the sound design and score works pleasantly enough but it is certainly one of Jablonsky’s weaker efforts. On the other hand, some of the vocal sound mixing is truly atrocious. Whether off-screen deliveries that sound like they were recorded in a booth or ADR for what I can only assume is a European actor being dubbed by an American, there were some truly poor choices made.

As for the visuals, they largely hold up and feel pretty inventive at times – as one would expect from someone who has worked in that field. The action is actually quite unique, often utilising smoke elements from gas grenades to a haze of flour to interesting effect but a lot of it is lost by erratic over-cut editing (but more on that in my highlighted scene). It also doesn’t help that notable global locations are substituted for wherever they happened to be filming and it’s painfully apparent. One scene in particular takes place in the heart of London but within a few moments, the fight/chase rips through a fairly small city that blatantly isn’t even Britain from things like licence plates. Again, for someone who comes from a visual effects background, you feel like these little oddities would have been addressed. Unfortunately, while failing to pick up on the little things, the film also fails with the big stuff. The climactic finale is a three-way fight down the side of a skyscraper and while a great deal of the movie integrates its effects pleasingly, a significant portion of this brawl is entirely populated with rubbery CGI body doubles that stick out like a sore thumb.

Which brings us to the performances. Knowing the comics, Vin Diesel is, to put it politely, an unfortunate choice to play this role. To give him full credit, he is undeniably invested and this character feels a little broader than his usual Fast/Furious fare but if you walked into the middle of this movie, you would have a hard time identifying whether this was a separate property or not. The second Ray arrives back on US soil he removes his camo to reveal a Dominic Torreto cosplay vest underneath. And considering Hobbs & Shaw introduced genetically modified super soldiers, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Dom spin-off feature. In truth, this overall lack of unique identifiers that make Ray stand out as a new or distinct character to anything Diesel has done outside of Groot or Riddick leaves the entire feature feeling strangely forgettable. It doesn’t help that the supports shift wildly between exceptional actors in uninspired roles to mediocre actors in painfully unfunny roles. On the one hand we have Guy Pearce selling the whole “good guy bad guy” bit well, as does Toby Kebbell, while on the other there are the underdeveloped fellow mercs who are either noble allies or twisted unhinged killers; which could arguably work if it wasn’t for the fact that nobody has much of a fleshed-out backstory to justify their actions. Finally we have the comic relief and my God are they insufferably one dimensional but I’ll expand on my thoughts about this in my highlighted character section below.

In closing, this film isn’t as much of a misfire as The Mummy – Universal’s attempt to kick of the “Dark Universe” – but it’s not far off. Taking an established, successful property and bringing it to the cinema as a relatively flat story with an ill suiting lead in an attempt to create an Iron Man world building effect seems to be a bit of a growing trend but as Valiant have a decent run of genuinely fascinating stories, this is a crushing defeat at the first hurdle. Without a unique look or feel, all that we’re left with is generic action and forgettable characters in a film that goes nowhere and upon closer inspection is littered with plot holes; the biggest of which are Ray’s memories. We learn that Ray is subjected to a constantly altered version of his execution but it transpires that none of it is real. But rather than asking the big questions, (i.e. “was he even in the military?”) the plot doesn’t even think to address anything complicated, favouring run of the mill developments. In that way, there is an air of Gemini Man to it and like that movie, I doubt anyone will be talking about this in six months’ time.


Release Date:
13 March 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
To emphasise a point made earlier, there are some undeniably pretty shots in this film. One key example is Katie’s underwater dance (yes, that is a stupid sentence and I have no idea what that has to do with being a Navy seal) which is shot commendably but is utterly butchered and lost in crappy editing. As much as this movie had the potential to be interesting, part of the reason it isn’t is the erratic, disorientating cuts present throughout.

Notable Characters:
To lighten the mood of this dour release, the story decides to introduce a comic relief character roughly an hour into the film. That relief is in the form of programmer Wilfred Wigans played by Lamorne Morris. It is entirely possible that this character could have been given significantly better dialogue and the character itself would have work but as it stands, he’s just painfully annoying. This isn’t helped when it’s made apparent that his counterpart/adversary is Harting’s programmer Eric (played by Siddharth Dhananjay) whose immaturity feels straight out of Silicon Valley. Both end up being severely irritating which culminates in a dull coding hacking type-off, wherein neither actor is given any chance to shine outside of typing fast.

Highlighted Quote:
“No one wants to make real decisions anymore, they just want to think they have”

In A Few Words:
“Dull, bland and ultimately lifeless”

Total Score:

2/5

Cinema City Quiz #256

[08 March 2020]


Winning Team:
Shin Splitty
Genre – Marv and the gang decide that weapons are futile and that the future of pain resides in a short, sharp twatting of the tibia
By The Power Of Grey Scale!
Genre – fabulous secret powers were revealed to me the day I held aloft my magic sword and said “Reduce saturation!”

Runners Up:
The Piss Artist
Genre – comedy


ROUND I: Pre-Production
1. Starsky & Hutch is an adaptation of which TV series?
STARSKY & HUTCH
2. The following quote is from which film, “I’m the king of the world”?
TITANIC
3. Who directed The Terminal?
STEVEN SPIELBERG
4. Who played the role of Marty McFly in Back To The Future?
MICHAEL J FOX
5. Which film featured the character Negasonic Teenage Warhead?
DEADPOOL
6. What type of animal is Flower in Bambi?
SKUNK
7. Which actor has played the roles of Queen Elizabeth I, Katharine Hepburn, Lady Marian, Kaa and Hela?
CATE BLANCHETT
8. What is the full title of the sequel to The Lego Movie?
THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART
9. How many Amazing Spider-Man films were released?
TWO
10. What is the name of Kelly Marie Tran’s character in Star Wars: The Last Jedi?
ROSE TICO

ROUND II: Filming [Modern B/W Films]
1. Who directed Manhattan? Sidney Lumet? Roman Polanski? Woody Allen?
WOODY ALLEN
2. Frankenweenie was released in which year? 2008? 2012? 2016?
2012
3. Who played the title role in The Elephant Man? Patrick Stewart?John Hurt? Malcolm McDowell?
JOHN HURT
4. What is the title that Schindler’s List is based on? Schindler’s Role? Schindler’s Workers? Schindler’s Ark?
SCHINDLER’S ARK
5. Good Night, And Good Luck is set in which decade? 1940s? 1950s? 1960s?
1950s
6. Throughout Raging Bull we see Jake living in two cities, which of the following is not one of them? Chicago? Miami? New York?
CHICAGO
7. What trademark look does Valentin give Peppy in The Artist? A diamond barrette? Beauty spot drawn on her face? Very dark shade of lipstick?
BEAUTY MARK DRAWN ON HER FACE
8. What career is Frances aspiring to in Frances Ha? Painter? Writer? Dancer?
DANCER
9. The following is a quote from which film, “Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down, past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: so far, so good”? La Haine? The Man Who Wasn’t There? The White Ribbon?
LA HAINE
10. Despite being set in Iran, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night was shot in California. True or False?
TRUE

ROUND III: Post-Production
1. How many faces appear on the poster for Raiders Of The Lost Ark (excluding skulls carved in stone, angels and actual skulls)?
NINE (Jones 2x, Marion 2x, Belloq 2x, Toht, Dietrich, Terry Richards as “Arab Swordsman”)
2. Which film featured the character Nick Carraway? [bonus points for naming any of the actors who have portrayed him]
THE GREAT GATSBY [Neil Hamilton 1926, Macdonald Carey 1949, Sam Waterston 1974, Tobey Maguire 2013]
3. What is the name of the building that Die Hard is predominantly set in?
NAKATOMI PLAZA
4. Which actor has played the roles of William Shakespeare, Martin Luther, Bassanio and Commisar Danilov?
JOSEPH FIENNES
5. What is the title of the sequel to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo?
SANJURO
6. What animal does Bruce Willis voice in the 2006 adaptation Over The Hedge?
RACCOON (named RJ)
7. The following quote is from which film, “Any dreams you have, or plans, or hopes for the future, I think you’re going to have to put that on hold. For the rest of your life you’re going to be looking over your shoulder. I’m just telling you this because I want you to know the truth”?
DRIVE
8. What is the name of Daniel Craig’s character in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?
MIKAEL BLOMKVIST
9. Who played the role of Arnim Zola in Captain America: The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier?
TOBY JONES
10. Who directed Marriage Story?
NOAH BAUMBACH

ROUND IV: Promotion & Release
1. What is the title of the sequel to Resident Evil: Extinction? Afterlife? Retribution? The Final Chapter?
RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE
2. How many biological children does Vito Corleone have in The Godfather? 3? 4? 6?
FOUR (Santino, Frederico, Constanzia, Michael)
3. What is the name of the high school in 1976’s Carrie? Bates High School? Price High School? Talbot High School?
BATES HIGH SCHOOL
4. What is the name of Kurt Russell’s character in Furious 7 and The Fate Of The Furious? Cipher? Mr Nobody? Major Boswell?
MR NOBODY
5. The following quote is from which film, “To those of you who know me, you will be aware by now that my ambition is unlimited. You know that I will settle for nothing short of greatness or I will die trying”? Prometheus? Steve Jobs? Master & Commander?
PROMETHEUS
6. Which film featured the character Walter Sobchak? The Muppets (2011)? The Big Lebowski? Gran Torino?
THE BIG LEBOWSKI
7. Who played the role of the older Will Robinson in 1998’s Lost In Space? Tim Roth? Jared Harris? Eric Stoltz?
JARED HARRIS
8. 2002’s City Of God is set in which country? Argentina? Mexico? Brazil?
BRAZIL
9. Which of the following actors did not appear in Isle Of Dogs? Jason Schwartzman? Edward Norton? Owen Wilson?
OWEN WILSON
10. The four principal characters in Hereditary (Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro and Gabriel Byrne) had never worked together and production had to be delayed a month to allow them to go on a trip together to bond. True or False?
FALSE (Wolff and Byrne had worked together and Shapiro and Wolff went to the same school)

BOUNS IMAGE ROUND
Screenshots: Doubt / Fences / Ender’s Game / Out Of Sight
Poster: Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close
Actor: Viola Davis

THE INVISIBLE MAN

What You Can’t See Can Hurt You

Director
Leigh Whannell

Starring
Elizabeth Moss
Oliver Jackson-Cohen



Opening with Cecilia [Moss] escaping the clutches of her abusive boyfriend Adrian [Jackson-Cohen], we watch her rehabilitate while in hiding. This is until she learns that Adrian has committed suicide and left his money to her. Finally free, Cecilia tries to move on with her life but is tormented by a series of circumstances that lead her to believe that Adrian has somehow faked his own death to torment her. This fear escalates and Cecilia’s few allies are slowly pushed away, leaving her isolated and without anyone to trust.

After what feels like two decades trying to jump-start a resurrection of the iconic Universal monsters – the most recent failure being the commercially and critically lambasted The Mummy – Universal went back to the drawing board and created a contained, modern adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel. To my mind, the last big invisible man release was 2000’s Hollow Man which ended up being little more than a male fantasy piece portrayed as scandalous indulgence. The unique aspect to this version is the emphasis on the monstrousness of Griffin and shifting the perspective from the killer to his primary target, while ultimately presenting an allegory for domestic abuse. And as such the final result feels fresh, poignant and remarkably tense.

The first thing that stands out about this film is how fantastically it has been constructed. From the extremely unnerving but simply opening scene, the location is beautifully shot but this escalates following Griffin’s death and the camera takes on a terrifying quality by framing certain shots to include empty spaces as if someone else was stood in the scene, going so far as to include a few tracking pans and focus pulls. This is heightened by pivoting from the uneasy opening to disarming family bonding before finally giving way to voyeuristic camera angles and a creeping sense of disquiet and growing apprehension. Catching the audience off-guard with banal relatability (situations that lull you with their familiarity before disrupting them with a horrific act) is far from a new technique, but here it is a keenly utilised weapon from the horror/psychological thriller arsenal.

Owing to the nature of not being able to see the danger, a lot of this tension comes down to aural manipulation; much like A Quiet Place, this film has come seemingly out of nowhere and is heavily reliant on what you can hear more than what you can see. Benjamin Wallfisch has proven himself multiple times over with a range of diverse and varied orchestral scores and while horror can be very formulaic in its musical output, the accompanying score has a fantastic presence, building masterfully from painfully ominous to thunderous and terrifying. The real unsung hero of this film is the sound design and mixing which go beyond the standard foley work, creating a whole character from nothing. After absorbing a medium like film for so long, we begin to accept the established rules, the pact that when a character moves across a room, you will hear a combination of audio recorded on the day and manufactured ambience to enhance the immersive experience. But to put these markers in place without a visual counterpart leaves the audience unnerved. I will, of course, admit that this isn’t some revolutionary new practice, it’s how every single feature with an unseen villain has operated for the best part of ninety years but it’s done extremely well and that’s what stands out.

**light spoilers concerning the nature of invisibility**
No matter the cause for the titular character, whether it’s technology, science or the supernatural, eventually CGI will need to play a role. And for the most part, it’s fairly absent and pleasingly subtle. For a large portion of the runtime we aren’t given definitive evidence that Cecilia is experiencing an actual attack and as such when her fears are confirmed, the audience begins to question how this is possible. Rather than the tried-and-tested method of a chemical compound – as used in previous iterations of the adaptation – this version opts for a technological morph-suit covered in cameras. It’s one of those novel changes that feels close enough to be a possibility while still firmly in the realm of science fiction. A wonderful by-product of this is the gentle whirring of the lenses as they shift focus, creating an eerie signature to torment the audience with later.

One of the reasons I genuinely love this movie is the character shift. From the opening scenes, the movie makes the smart choice of keeping Adrian largely in the shadows, never giving us a clear look at anything more than a very masculine form. This is magnificently used later to not only make the threat more foreboding but also to crushingly illustrate the nature and effect of abuse; just the idea of the silhouette is enough to terrify both Cecilia and the audience. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, the film progresses decently with its premise (arguably with a few conveniences for the sake of prolonging the suspense) but due to the perfect execution of a terrifying twist that invalidates Cecilia and the control dynamic shifting repeatedly over the three acts, The Invisible Man proves itself an absolutely worthy successor and/or companion piece to the 1933 original.


Release Date:
28 February 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers**
With absolutely no pun-work intended, you don’t see a lot of the invisible man. The encounters are fairly limited to avoid weakening the impact but when he is finally on-screen, the experience never disappoints. One could argue the most memorable section, when Adrian finally drops the veneer of manipulator and marches confidently into unhinged serial killer, takes place in the asylum corridor. Cecilia has managed to get out of her cell by wounding Adrian, causing his suit to glitch but using this to his advantage he proceeds to brutally attack the facility guards. While there are several examples of gripping filmmaking, this scene demonstrates the flow of action and brilliantly executed choreography that we saw in Whannell’s last film, the stupidly underrated Upgrade.

Notable Characters:
Elizabeth Moss has proved herself time and again as a go to for extremely relatable performances, from more comedic turns in something like The Square to dark dystopian pieces like The Handmaid’s Tale, she is always captivating. Keeping the narrative focus on Cecilia creates a very different feature with a unique dynamic and there is so much pressure on that individual to keep the audience both hooked and convinced by the absurdity of what is taking place.

Highlighted Quote:
“Adrian will haunt you if you let him. Don’t let him”

In A Few Words:
“An absolutely fantastic and unsettling release that morphs and evolves from beginning to end”

Total Score:

5/5