1917

Time Is The Enemy

Director
Sam Mendes

Starring
George MacKay
Dean-Charles Chapman



Set in the titular year on the western front of the first world war, an isolated group of nearly two thousand men are walking into a trap, as highlighted by new aerial photos, and two English lance corporals, Blake [Chapman] and Schofield [MacKay] are given priority orders to call off the attack. With less than a day to cross over into no man’s land and span ground that the Germans have supposedly retreated from, the two young men cautiously proceed with the added pressure that one of the men they’re trying to reach is Blake’s older brother.

It is impossible to talk about this movie without first addressing the method in which it was executed. To boil the sprawling madness of WWI to a simple personal story isn’t necessarily a difficult task but through a series of vignettes intercutting a straightforward objective, it does make for a unique guided tour of the conflict. Creating such a spectacularly devised microcosm must have required so much forethought and deliberation; more than that, I would wager that more planning and consideration went into this film than the entirety of WWI. But to reduce the achievement for a moment, it is ultimately a gimmick and one that can initially be quite distracting as audiences start to look for the potential cutting points and camera hand-offs. Yet as the story unfolds, the technical wonder is superseded by the emotional tale of survival.

Furthermore as much as the camera work is a marvel, there are so many technical aspects performing truly above and beyond, cementing this release as one that ideally needs to be seen in a cinema. The sound is delightfully immersive and the accompanying tense, building score by long time Mendes collaborator Thomas Newman, while devoid of a lot of his signature sounds, is magnificent. Case in point, the rat tripwire scene is easily more engrossing and tense than most recent horror films that are overly reliant on jump-scares and aggressively staccato sound work. And the final icing on the cake is the lavish production design which, while jaw-droppingly bleak, evokes such a morbid beauty owing to the recreation of the twisted, buckled landscape, period accurate costumes and props and the maddeningly precise set arrangement necessary to achieve the ambitious shots.

No amount of technical aptitude can entirely carry a movie and if this film had subpar performances, it would die on its feet. As such, so much is put upon the two relatively unknown leads but I believe they succeed marvellously. One could argue that some of the more nuanced camaraderie and interminable waiting of trench warfare is lost, so in essence portrays a fairly unique view of the great war but the general back-and-forth between Blake and Schofield, flitting between abject dumbstruck terror and light-hearted anecdotal joking to cope with the reality of the situation, is a solid compromise. I also genuinely appreciated the acknowledgement of diversity within the various passing regiments, too often global conflicts of the twentieth century were branded as a white man’s war but the whole essence of a world war is that every nation is involved. And while it is an entirely different animal from an entirely different war, it’s worth brining up something like Dunkirk which could also be considered a high budget claustrophobic drama with a novel central contrivance. As stated, these are two different projects with two different agendas but I found 1917 significantly more humanising and impactful in its delivery; if only for the narrow and intimate focus.

**spoilers**
If I was forced to identify a fault or frustration, it would be something said by Mark Strong’s character Captain Smith. Entering the narrative at a particularly sensitive time (for both the lead and the audience), Smith is a figure of kindness and convenience and as such whatever he says is somewhat elevated in importance. Most notably, he warns Schofield that when he delivers his orders to Colonel Mackenzie [Benedict Cumberbatch], ensure there are witnesses. Regardless of the orders’ origins, Smith subtly explains that “Some men just want the fight.” This sets up such an interesting additional level of fear and concern because we had simply assumed the story would end if and when the orders were delivered but then we learn there may be an additional fight for the instruction to be read and followed. Regrettably this transpires to be foreshadowing that never delivers and is the only real anti-climax or flaw of the movie. It turns out Mackenzie is just a commander who is fed up of the war and thinks he is seizing the opportunity to end it.

As an example of continuous creeping paranoia and fear, the pacing is such that you don’t realise how much time has passed and once the film reaches its conclusion, you are left a little depleted in the wake of the experience. Subsequently, 1917 joins All Quiet On The Western Front, Gallipoli, A Very Long Engagement and Paths Of Glory as one of the best films set during the first world war and will likely be remembered in deservedly high regard.


Release Date:
10 January 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
After the only clear and intentional cut of the movie, the narrative shifts from day to night and the reveal is absolutely fantastic cinema. With the general low light, fires burning in the distance, passing flares and so many moving elements, it is an absolute testament to the mastery of Roger Deakins. Paired with this to enhance the whole experience is the phenomenal sound design and Newman’s soaring score. It’s just a surreally beautiful heart-pounding moment.

Notable Characters:
The officer cameos punctuate the various vignettes and serve to highlight the different attitudes found in the army, from Andrew Scott’s jaded ambivalence to Mark Strong’s stoicism and Benedict Cumberbatch’s frustration. It’s a marvellous tapestry that helps reinforce the idea that despite the urgency of their mission, the two leads are treated with a general insignificance because life is being squandered on such a scale that the individual is irrelevant.

Highlighted Quote:
“It’s just a bit of tin, it doesn’t make you special”

In A Few Words:
“A genuine triumph of plain emotional storytelling and filmmaking technique”

Total Score:

5/5

BOMBSHELL

Based On A Real Scandal

Director
Jay Roach

Starring
Charlize Theron
Nicole Kidman
Margot Robbie
John Lithgow



Set largely during the early days of the election campaign that would lead to the Trump presidency, we are introduced to four key individuals working at Fox News. At the top is Roger Ailes [Lithgow], the man who built the network from the ground up and through his broadcasts, actively shaped how many Americans see the world. In his older age he is more frail but he controls his company with an iron fist, maintaining a clear direction over everything that is shown on his network. One of Fox’s lead anchors, Megyn Kelly [Theron] is a veteran broadcaster and acts as the introductory individual to this world, highlighting what makes Fox unique. We are then introduced to Gretchen Carlson [Kidman], another veteran anchor who has fallen out of favour with Ailes and been bumped to an unenviable afternoon slot and has contracted lawyers to start a sexual harassment case to counter the toxic environment she is expected to work in. Finally we have Kayla Pospisil [Robbie], a young up-and-coming researcher who leaves Carlson’s team to try and get on a superior career path but in doing so finds herself in Ailes’ sights.

Adopting the quirky style utilised by Adam McKay for features such as Big Short and Vice, Bombshell felt like it had the potential to be a whip-smart, irreverent yet sobering look at a horrific series of events through the prism of comedy. Regrettably, this overall approach is dropped fairly early on and what starts off as satirical comedy quickly veers to project a rather thin note of uplifting optimism. In a way, I was reminded of The King’s Speech which closes with nationwide celebratory scenes despite heralding the start of the worst conflict of the twentieth century. Ultimately, because this film can’t seem to decide what kind of story it wants to be, we end up with lacklustre pacing, a tonally mixed bag and central characters side-lined for (in story) months at a time.

In terms of the events being depicted, the reality is blisteringly tragic. In a time of such social and political division, there will be those who argue that it is incredibly hard to sympathise with those who work at Fox News but Bombshell does a great job of humanising the issue, raising it above politics and reminding the audience that this is an affliction that happens in all types of working environments; essentially challenging victim blaming just because the individuals affected work for the right wing press. Nowhere is this more aptly addressed than Kate McKinnon’s character: a staffer who works on Bill O’Reilly’s team who is in fact a Democrat voting lesbian. She acts as both counsel to Kayla but also serves as a reminder that for some individuals this is just a job and one that doesn’t reflect their actual worldviews, it also illustrates the blot on people’s curriculum vitae that traps them in the organisation because of their affiliation and association. Having said that, regardless of the subject matter and the implication of the very title, Bombshell never really crashes down with force, so the final result feels a surprisingly touch light with a handful of powerful, shocking scenes.

If there was a reason to watch this film (other than the importance of the issue presented), it would be the central performances, which are fantastic. The triumvirate combination of two specific examples and one amalgam is a nice touch, allowing the writers to draw audiences in with the authentic scandal while affording them the flexibility of several other similar stories in one followable thread. Backing this up is a grand, sprawling cast which doubles as a conveyer belt of notable cameos who all add their own touch and signature to this piece; with examples ranging from Richard Kind as Rudy Giuliani to Malcolm McDowell as Rupert Murdoch.

As I said in my Just Mercy review, we are seeing a changing landscape in the types of stories that are getting mainstream attention and promotion. While this will by no means be the last movie to address the subject of sexual harassment, it is a tale told in the eye of the storm – which is entirely absorbing and engaging at the time but cannot figure out a conclusion because society hasn’t reached one yet. And while that’s fine for certain releases (Margin Call’s heralding the pending fiscal crisis for example) it doesn’t seem to establish this tone or agenda from the start, setting itself up as an explanatory exposé but never really delivering, which is a damn shame.


Release Date:
17 January 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
No matter how many characters defend him, the film offers several examples of Ailes being an absolute monster. One remarkably cruel outburst, as he loads up multiple doughnuts from a crafts services table, takes place immediately after Carlson has done a piece on raising awareness of the over-sexualisation of women and opting to not wear makeup for the entire segment. Ailes’ bitter rant comes to a head when he storms off crying out, “no one wants to watch a middle-aged woman sweating through menopause.”

Notable Characters:
While Kayla is the composite character, I’m hesitant to use the word fictional. Her transitional journey from keen and hungry for success to filled with regret and shame is one that an uncomfortable amount of audience members may be able to relate to or identify with. Nothing is ever explicitly shown but her reactions alone sell the absolutely appalling dilemma she finds herself in. Her initial scene with Ailes is presented without music, little background noise and probing camera angles making the entire experience remarkably uncomfortable. This is underlined when Kayla is summoned back to his office, unsure of what to expect. En route she briefly meets Megyn and Gretchen (who become slowly aware of what is going on) and the entire segment is accompanied by a tense yet playful rhythm that wonderfully enhances the practically dialogue-free scene.

Highlighted Quote:
“News is like a ship, you take your hands off the wheel and it pulls hard to the left”

In A Few Words:
“A noble effort but ultimately too drifting in its execution to be the hard-hitting revelatory drama it aspires to be”

Total Score:

3/5

JUST MERCY

Every Generation Has Its Hero. Meet Ours

Director
Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring
Michael B Jordan
Jamie Foxx
Brie Larson



Set in the late eighties and early nineties, Just Mercy is the story of young defence attorney Bryan Stevenson [Jordan] who, after an experience interning with death row inmates, is moved to represent them when no others will. Once he receives his degree from Harvard he moves from Delaware to Alabama and is instantly met with resistance from the local community for “helping set murderers free.” Bryan establishes the Equal Justice Institute with Eva Ansley [Larson] and they get to work addressing the death row cases of the main penitentiary. One case in particular is that of Walter McMillian [Foxx], known locally as Johnny D, who was arrested for the murder of teenager Ronda Morrison. With Ronda being a young white girl and both Bryan and Johnny D being African-American, the case quickly becomes more than a murder trial, addressing the nature of institutionalised racism and a broken society that only represents half of its constituents.

A film of this nature requires cold analysis of its execution, dispassionate and separate from the real events. Over the coming years there will definitely be a shift as US cinema slowly comes to terms with its history. Granted, there have been stand-out dramas concerning racial inequality and tensions over the last seventy years but it feels like these releases aren’t solely confined to the independent scene. One of the standout moments, which was utilised in all of the marketing, is addressing the concept of being guilty from the moment you’re born; the idea of being a second-class citizen in your own country who is a good enough scapegoat because of prejudice views held by others. As stated, this isn’t a new concept but it’s a painful reality and one that is extremely well explored in this film.

From a technical standpoint, Just Mercy is a very subtle example of exceptional work. The direction is strong and the beautiful almost washed out cinematography create an overall pleasing visual style. All of which is enormously enhanced by the gentle, tender, soulful and ultimately uplifting score – which I will come back to later. But what sets this film apart from other courtroom dramas is that it is illustrated very early on how flimsy the case is. Subsequently, the movie’s strength is the fight against the system, rather than the ambiguity of did Johnny D commit the crime or not and the agonising frustration of banging your head against a bigoted brick wall. It also pulls a parallel to the message of To Kill A Mockingbird in that it delves into the question of whether the law is absolute or if it is something malleable to be hijacked and warped by the holder of the gavel. The discussion then continues to run with the notion that if the system is rigged against you, no amount of last minute evidence will magically fix things and when the truth is not enough, can you support or even believe in the supposed ideologies and tenets of justice?

Just Mercy manages to maintain its steady pace and heartfelt sincerity due to the sublime performances from a really impressive cast. In particular, Michael B Jordan continues to utterly dominate the screen as Bryan and Foxx gives an incredibly controlled but emotionally-charged performance as Johnny D.I was also extremely impressed by Rob Morgan as the PTSD afflicted veteran Herbert Richardson; having only seen him in television roles and a few minor supports in a handful of features, Morgan really stood out and although his character is a bit of a formulaic warning to highlight the process and horrors of execution, he performs the role admirably. I also liked that the characters of the Sheriff and prosecutor weren’t too cartoony. With this kind of feature it’s all too easy to have the representations of oppression as soulless evil beings when it’s much harder to deal with someone who believes they are in the right and only act to protect their image. There’s also the kick-in-the-teeth hypocrisy of so many of the obstinate individuals happily promoting the Mockingbird museum and how revered it is, as if to say they couldn’t possibly be bigoted or racist because Monroeville happens to be the birthplace of Harper Lee.

**spoilers**
Despite the touching portrayals and commendable functionality, the film is flawed and there are elements that feel half-baked and underdeveloped. The biggest issue is the lack of any real sense of prevailing tension. Other than the example listed below, the audience is never in any doubt of how the film will conclude; or put more bluntly, that Johnny D will be exonerated. On top of that, Brie Larson’s character is underused and while you might expect the pressure on these characters to increase the closer they get to an overruling, other than a bomb threat and harassment experienced by Bryan, there isn’t a great deal of maintained and continual persecution to sustain that fear and urgency. I also really didn’t need the racist cop turnaround. Bryan’s first experience of the Monroeville establishment is a prejudice cop forcing him to strip for an illegal search. It serves to immediately establish the hostilities and resistance Bryan will encounter and works well because it is degrading, humiliating and wholly unnecessary. But don’t worry, that particular cop has a change of heart when he witnesses an actual execution and has two or three moments of kindness with Johnny D. It may be true, it may be a representation of the power of sincerity but it stood out and felt like a softball to the people in the audience who may be feeling guilty. I get why the character is a son of a bitch but I feel his vindication is akin to the Scandinavian prince in Aladdin, a completely unnecessary superfluous addition. Speaking of which, it’s always difficult to criticise narratives based on real people, so I can’t fault the flow of events too much as they have a designated path to follow, but the film doesn’t want to end and goes through multiple stop/start attempts at a conclusion, which was unfortunate.

On many levels Just Mercy has a lot going for it but due to a handful of decisions made, it falters ever so slightly. Naturally, this doesn’t detract from the overall message but it certainly tarnishes what could have been a lasting and profound story.


Release Date:
17 January 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers**
I was rather impressed with Joel P West’s score and the way it plays with y our emotions and expectations. During the first trial scene, the score leads you to believe, in typical court drama fashion, that Meyers’ testimony will be enough; that the truth will literally set Johnny D free. This plays equally well when it re-emerges and you cautiously hope for the best, even when you blatantly know how this film will end.

Notable Characters:
Tim Blake Nelson never fails to impress and despite only turning up a handful of times, really shines as Meyers, the eccentric criminal whose statement is the reason McMillian is facing the electric chair.

Highlighted Quote:
“If you can’t see the danger in what you’re doing, you need to ask Harvard for your money back ’cause you’re smarter than that”

In A Few Words:
“An extremely capable, if a little conventional, drama with a lot of heart”

Total Score:

4/5

JOJO RABBIT

An Anti-Hate Satire

Director
Taika Waititi

Starring
Roman Griffin Davis
Thomasin McKenzie
Scarlett Johansson
Sam Rockwell



Set in Nazi Germany during the last days of World War 2, we are introduced to the ten year old Johannes Betzler [Griffin Davis], affectionately dubbed Jojo. He is an extremely enthusiastic supporter of the Third Reich but being only ten years old, does what he can for the Hitler Youth with the intent of being promoted to Hitler’s personal guard. This feverish devotion is heightened by the fact that he has an imaginary friend in the form of a whimsically silly and childish Adolf Hitler [Waititi]. After being picked on during a retreat, Jojo attempts to prove his machismo by snatching a grenade and flinging it deep into the woods. This backfires, literally, and Jojo is left scarred and confined to his house with only his mother, Rosie [Johansson] for company. Jojo’s life is further disrupted when he meets Elsa [McKenzie], a young Jewish girl being hidden in the walls of his sister’s bedroom. Conflicted, Jojo and his imaginary Hitler decide the best course of action would be to interrogate the stranger and write a book all about Jews, which he can then present to the fuhrer to curry his favour.

Falling on the wrong side of history is often a mark of eternal regret, shaping a nation’s identity for decades to come but when a child is indoctrinated to follow suit, it’s utterly heart-breaking. Such is the tricky line that Jojo Rabbit walks. The tone of this movie is perfectly set within the first few minutes, from the Beatles/Hitler cult of personality juxtaposition to the irreverent goofiness of fake Hitler’s supportive comments, Jojo Rabbit wastes no time setting out what kind of movie this will be; a delightfully whimsical and charming story with an undercurrent of forlorn sorrow. Owing to its simple approach, this film is also as much a journey of shame and forgiveness as it is a standard coming of age dramatic comedy. But unlike Waititi’s other whimsical coming-of-age releases – Boy and Hunt For The Wilderpeople – Jojo Rabbit is more stylised in its execution, akin to an early Wes Anderson film, with its quirky cinematography and Giacchino’s score.

Part of the reason this film is such an easy sell is the calibre of acting on display. Griffin Davis and McKenzie carry the narrative magnificently, juggling light-hearted playfulness with sombre undertones of hardship. While it would be easy to descend into a cutesy portrayal, the script and performances allow for some genuine moments of immaturity and childlike self-centredness. A prime example would be the Nathan letters. After meeting Elsa, Jojo learns that she was proposed to by her boyfriend, Nathan, before he fled to join the resistance. In a moment of (admittedly conflicted) jealousy, Jojo pens a letter from Nathan that he claims to have found, the contents of which are actually remarkably cruel but when he realises how hurtful his actions have been, he starts to pen new letters apologising for being mean but maintaining that Nathan is still a bad person – in a hopeless attempt to protect his ego and elevate his own potential standing in Elsa’s eyes. They are simple interactions but afford the leads the chance to cement themselves in the audience’s favour and illustrate that despite the rhetoric that Jojo spouts, he is still a sweet innocent boy underneath it all. Having said all that, the film never manages to pack enough of a punch when compared to something like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, to the film’s detriment.

The adult actors carry this heightened sense of absurdity with two in particular standing out. The first is the fatigued, disenfranchised Captain Klenzendorf [Rockwell], who is aware the war is coming to an end and that his side will likely lose. In a parallel with his character in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, throughout the story we are given the growing impression that, despite being a decorated Nazi officer, Klenzendorf is a decent human being who doesn’t believe in the cause; a roll which Rockwell is magnificently suited for. Then we have the manifestation of Jojo’s internal turmoil and conflict against ideologies, Waititi’s Hitler. At times childlike and mischievous while others erratic and intimidating, Waititi’s character is the very embodiment of a bully who calls himself a friend. In that way, it’s a great performance but we will come back to the problem with clowning an individual like Adolf Hitler. I also have two more characters to highlight but they too are respectively covered later in the highlighted character and scene sections below.

Walking away from this movie, I was imbued with a sense of warmth from this heartfelt tale. The emotional journey is endearing while the message is clear but the more I think back on it, the more this initial reaction tempers. Ultimately this film is surprisingly straightforward, predictable and blunt in its execution and while it is incredibly honest it doesn’t say anything new. Naturally, it would be nice to think “Nazis are bad” is the most rote thing one could say but the state of affairs in this day and age means victories are not won outright and this kind of on-the-nose satire could genuinely be quite helpful… were it not for the fact that all the villains are remarkably stupid and silly. Robbing such a violent and horrific regime of their prestige weakens them – as seen in something like The Producers but it also illustrates them in an amusing light and perpetuates the dangerous concept that intolerance will only ever arrive in an elaborate costume with a funny voice. Thankfully there are some tense moments that attempt to dismiss this but to maintain the overall comedic tone, these are few and far between. Having said that, sometimes intolerance is so widespread that you need a blunt instrument to break through the rhetoric.

Is Jojo Rabbit going to alter the way you look at the world? Very likely not. It is a fun, light film whose heart is in the right place? Almost certainly. And sometimes, that’s all a movie needs to be to get an important message across.


Release Date:
03 January 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers**
Scarlett Johansson performs magnificently as Rosie from start to finish. Playful, supportive and loving, she quickly endears the audience to her as an almost impossibly perfect mother and all-round good person. I was particularly impressed when Jojo demands to see his (presumably dead) father and Rosie storms off to grab his jacket, wipes soot across her face to make a faux-beard and berates her son for talking to his mother in such a way. It’s creative, simple and taps into the frustrations that she cannot really share with her child. I also really enjoyed the shoe-based signposting, for the tragedy that takes place in the third act, dotted throughout the movie.

Notable Characters:
Stephen Merchant is a wonderfully ridiculous individual. He is an obvious choice for comedic roles but it is when he is given the opportunity to be more human or menacing that he truly stands out. And although his appearance is brief, I think being a both menacing and hilarious gestapo agent strikes the perfect tone for this release, in the same way that he stood out as a stellar choice for things like Logan and Portal 2.

Highlighted Quote:
“We were chosen by God! You were chosen by a weak little man who can’t even grow a full moustache!”

In A Few Words:
“A sweet and earnest, if somewhat simple, feature with its heart in the right place”

Total Score:

4/5

CATS

The Must-See Musical Event

Director
Tom Hooper

Starring
Francesca Hayward
Judi Dench
Idris Elba
Jennifer Hudson



In early 20th century London, a young cat named Victoria [Hayward] is abandoned in an alleyway. There she meets a group who call themselves Jellicle Cats and learns about the selection process called the Jellicle Ball, wherein an elderly cat named Old Deuteronomy [Dench] selects a cat who will go on to the Heaviside Layer and be granted a new life; essentially it’s a talent contest and the winner gets reincarnated. And that is the best I can do to squeeze out some sort of synopsis from this bizarre tale.

Before we get in line with every film critic under the sun and rightly shred this feature to ribbons, let’s take a moment to appreciate the handful of things the film succeeds at. First of all, there is a tremendous energy and earnestness to each and every performance and you would be hard-pressed to claim that any of the cast were simply phoning it in. There are also plenty of interesting visuals, from the high quality set design, significantly helping to ground everything, to the CGI fur which is extremely impressive and accomplished.. providing the subjects are filmed up close and stay static. Regrettably, all of this quickly disappears once both the camera and the actor start moving and by the time the human-face-on-animal-body mice and cockroaches appear, it becomes almost impossible to defend. Especially when there’s nothing on-screen that desperately needed to be CGI when practical make-up and costume work would have worked perfectly well.

Like a despotic emperor at the height of their power, making absurd demands of their subjects, Cats is a prime example of what happens when a bad idea is given full reign to experiment. To elaborate, I’m not saying cinema shouldn’t have any freedom to create unique oddities but Cats is not the same thing as subversive independent cinema, it’s lunacy brought to life and told with complete sincerity. But it’s not just that the concept is farcical – after all something like Star Wars requires suspension of disbelief – it’s more that Cats is so ill-conceived that I don’t know what is required to enjoy it. From the very first scene the entire production is immediately jarring, confirming suspicions that this was never going to be a good idea and seeing the physical representation of cat/human hybrids is as odd a visual as the pilot episode of Thundercats wherein they’re all naked. But in my opinion, this film was doomed to fail because it tried to take something off the stage and put it on screen (not so much a negative in and of itself) using technology to enhance the photorealism of the core concept.

I have no problem with musicals, I think they are as unique and worthy as any other cinematic genre but Cats is shit. I appreciate it has won countless awards, performed on sold-out stages around the world and is loved by a great many but it’s still shit. Structurally, thematically and musically, it’s a state. Subsequently, if you weren’t already aware that this movie was a direct adaptation of a multi- billion dollar making stage success, it would be a hard sell. What surprised me the most (at least at first) was Hooper’s decision to, in no obvious way, update the music, meaning what we have is a repetitive synth nightmare, plagued by nauseating leitmotifs and “clever, poignant” lyrics such as “a cat is not a dog.” And while Memories is still a genuinely decent song, everything else is forgettable and nonsensical.

Then we have what could generously be described as the story. Despite trying to force some sort of cohesive narrative, the film can’t escape its source material being little more than a list of cats introducing themselves and on-screen it is remarkably boring. But to remain somehow faithful to the musical, none of the mythology is explained and the sheer lack of world building is flabbergasting. Certain cats wear clothes while others don’t and Jennyanydots [Rebel Wilson] can take her skin off? Some cats are magical, others are not. Old Deuteronomy selects a cat to be given a new life but little detail is given as to how or why. Macavity [Elba] is a feared and mischievous cat but we are never given a reason to hate or fear him other than being told to. And then there’s Jennifer Hudson as Griselda who is a sorrowful outcast but it is never clarified why she is such a pariah. More than that, the word jellicle is a nonsense phrase that means everything and nothing but the movie never attempts to really explain what jellicle is. Arguably this shouldn’t leave a stale taste but with so much heavy emphasis on the word jellicle repeated over-and-over without offering any expository description of what it is, it’s hard not to assume a climactic reveal was coming.

In fairness, I will commend Cats for committing wholeheartedly to its creepy vision but it is such an uncomfortable anomaly that it is so very hard to lose yourself in the experience. It doesn’t help that for every competent aspect, you cannot shake the unavoidable fact that the lack of structured story means the entire ordeal is awkward and dissatisfying; a prime example of an artist’s reach exceeding his grasp and likely a cautionary tale for studios for decades to come.


Release Date:
20 December 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
The Jellicle Ball is such a strange concept; the idea that an elder selects a worthy individual to ascend into the sun to be destroyed and reincarnated. It has so much in the way of cultish overtones that simply do not fit the whimsical setting and vocalised passion of the central characters. And when the moment comes and the dawn arrives, the remaining cats sing their final ballad to the sun and all I could see was the horrified expressions on the Trafalgar Square lions and the realisation that the coveted prize is the sweet release of death. And by the film’s denouement, one sympathises.

Notable Characters:
There are two ends of the spectrum for this film. On one hand you have Jennifer Hudson belting out a heartfelt tragic tale (providing you don’t actually listen to the lyrics) worthy of a standing ovation for the energy, skill and emotion on display and on the other you have Ray Winstone gruffly singing about being a cat on a barge in the Thames. The two are so disparate in tone and ability yet both exist side-by-side in this ridiculous endeavour.

Highlighted Quote:
“You should need no interpreter”

In A Few Words:
“A thoroughly poorly conceived baffling nonsense fever dream of a film”

Total Score:

1/5

STAR WARS: EPISODE IX – THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

The Saga Ends

Director
JJ Abrams

Starring
Daisy Ridley
Adam Driver
John Boyega
Oscar Isaac


Not long after the events of The Last Jedi, whispers spread that the long deceased Emperor Palpatine [Ian McDiarmid] has returned. In an effort to consolidate his power and crush all opposition, Kylo Ren [Driver], now Supreme Leader of the First Order, uses an ancient navigational device to locate Exegol – the hidden home-world of the Sith. Meanwhile, the now tiny remaining force of the Resistance continue to strike back against this rise of evil where possible but the odds seem insurmountable. Uniting for one final mission, Rey [Ridley] is joined by Finn [Boyega] and Poe [Isaac] to track the location of a mighty First Order armada and in the process, discover Rey’s true identity and destiny.

If you haven’t already guessed, this review is going to delve heavily and unabashedly into spoiler territory, so please be warned that this entire write-up is an analysis to be read post viewing.

Now that we are at its end, it is evident that the entire sequel trilogy has effectively emulated the formula and structure of the original trilogy and for that reason, this film was always sort of doomed to fail because Return Of The Jedi is a pretty bad movie. I have fond memories viewing it as a child and some of the visuals and score work standout as some of the finest in the entire series but that doesn’t alter the fact that it is a structurally dry slog. Similarly, The Rise Of Skywalker follows the same pre-trodden path with its own speeder bike chase, rescue mission and final ground and aerial assault watched over by the central hero who battles an evil Emperor in a clash of wills leading to a final redemption of the central antagonist, etc.

One thing it does have that ROTJ didn’t is an extremely rushed pace. Where Jedi was languid and bisected, TROS is hurried and strained with character arcs. It also, most likely for the nature of its finale, pushes more of a comedic tone than its two predecessors (but for the most part, I found it amusing) which The Last Jedi was unforgettably lambasted for. And yet for a two and a half hour movie, so much is clearly on the cutting room floor, with scenes missing and connecting shots sacrificed with the goal to make this behemoth palatable. In the process, what we end up with is something quite overwhelming and excessively indulgent, feeling somehow sickly and bland at the same time.

But these things were always somewhat inevitable due to the nature of escalation. Not only does this film have to be bigger than the last two Star Wars films, it has to be bigger than everything that came before it and the plan to accomplish this was to seemingly be everything to everyone. There are quests for Indiana Jones style McGuffins, an X-Men power-stand-off with outstretched hands, Lord Of The Rings death fake-outs and ex machinas and an endless myriad of Star Wars cameos, references and callbacks throughout.

In my review for The Force Awakens, I had high praise for JJ Abrams. I still maintain that by jump-starting the franchise, Abrams was a spectacular choice to helm this opening chapter. Over time my opinion of TFA has shifted ever so slightly but after rave reviews and one of the highest box office performances of all time, giving rise to the rebirth of a previously toxic intellectual property, Abrams felt like the right choice to return and finish what he started. However, as Abrams proved with his other return sequel (Star Trek Into Darkness) he may be perfect for setting up threads but not to continue or conclude them. Throughout this movie there is plenty of spectacle but no impact, very heavy-handed storytelling and lots of little niggling nuances that seem present solely to serve an algorithmically timed action sequence (hyper-jumping Falcon that is somehow followed by TIE fighters as one throwaway example).

But this is not a question of capability, it is one of suitability. Once Rian Johnson pushed the trilogy forward – for better or worse – the Episode IX director had a choice to double-down or regress and Abrams does seemingly both and neither at the same time. As a quick and simple example, Johnson established that Ren and Rey are linked and can communicate across vast distances through a powerful force user. It was a bold new ability that not everyone got along with, nevertheless it was innovative and interesting. But the way in which Abrams presents it often felt jarring. At times it is shot with expert skill and very cleverly, on Ren’s ship over Kijimi for example, or it fails to establish to the audience what is real and what is a vision, such is the case during the lightsaber duel on the ruins of the Death Star wherein it’s not immediately clear if Kylo is actually there or not.

From the moment Darth Vader’s true identity as Anakin Skywalker was revealed in The Empire Strikes Back, this franchise became heavily mired with the concept of legacy and destiny. With the arrival of the prequels, that was all it was about and the nature of progeny and neatly connected characters meant it devolved into a tale of specials and grandfathers, those who are part of a secret bloodline and those who are background fodder. Subsequently, this galaxy far far away now very much resembles a small British town in a soap opera where everyone knows everyone and they’re all somehow related. And while the newly introduced characters of the sequels at first seemed fresh and disconnected, they too fell to the mighty bloodline story.

To rush through this a little, I still feel Kylo and his redemption arc are the most interesting thing at work in these movies. I also felt that there were more questions raised about Finn than answered – was it ever established what he “never got to tell Rey?” – and the work done with the unused footage/CGI hybrid Leia was both tasteful and fitting. In one of the film’s strongest points, the sheer chemistry and comedic interactions at work have been consistently pleasing in all three features and here they are one of the film’s strongest points as well as a welcome treat. However, in my opinion, two characters were dealt incredibly short-shrift: Rose and Poe.

Rose, the best new character from The Last Jedi played by Kelly Marie Tran, is completely side-lined here. More than that, she feels like a pale imitation, a lacklustre reimagining of someone who risked her life to save Finn from a suicide mission, at the potential expense of the entire future of the rebellion/resistance, only to witness him do the exact same thing but suppressing intervention without clear reason. The stakes are the same but she acts differently. Speaking of which, we need to talk about Poe’s character reset. At the end of the last film, Poe is humbled, he is reminded of his station and earns the respect of everyone around him as someone to be followed because he knows when to strike and when to fall back but at a terrible price. Leia even gives the literal handover with “what are you looking at me for? Follow him.” Yet throughout this movie he’s back again with a distinct lack of plans and vision. And the most frustrating part of his final moments is the script rushing in to reward him for his failure. To clarify, The Last Jedi puts out a sombre and rather bleak reality that in their final moment of need, the Resistance’s call was sent out and reinforcements simply didn’t come. So when the final onslaught of The Rise Of Skywalker turns out to be exactly the same thing, I was curious where the script would end up. More specifically, I didn’t want to be proved right in my prediction – but I was. There’s nothing wrong with the universe rallying to a central cause, if anything it’s an oft-occurring element of real life wars that art and mythology have drawn on for hundreds of years, but doing the same thing twice and getting a different result needs to have some sort of justifiable impetus; as far as I can tell, the only change here is Lando showed up.

This film has also cemented Sheev Palpatine as the most ridiculous character in the Star Wars canon. Whether positive or negative, events proceed according to plan or as foretold or foreseen and none of it ever really works; like a bungling magician dropping his deck of cards and saying “I meant to do that.” The Sith, the Empire, what is the point of any of it? What is the objective? For the sheer wealth of expositing and monologuing, we never learn what motivates or drives him other than the eradication of the Jedi (who have proven to be pretty ineffective and far from formidable adversaries) or even how he’s back from the dead in the first place. I’m not talking about a twenty minute flashback but a few sentences would have been nice. Then we have the muddled convolution of what the Sith are. Nine Skywalker saga movies and I still can’t tell you what the Emperor is. We have so many analogies to explain the force (some really good ones) but nothing about the nonsense of the opposition’s master string-puller. As the film hurtles toward its final scenes, Palpatine instructs Rey to strike him down and allow the Sith to live through him in her. While Rey manages to resist, she stands to face the Emperor with the last of her energy and wipes him out. Which one could describe as striking him down but there’s no fallout. As with Poe’s dilemma, the audience witnesses characters presented with inescapable odds only for them to be overcome by doing the same thing one last time but with some added conviction. Which means this entire story ended with that age-old classic, “the magic was inside you all along.” Additionally, before moving on, I will note that “And I am all the Jedi” came off as a rather uncomfortable rehash of “and I am Iron Man” from Avengers: Endgame. But I digress.

I thought both Rogue One and Solo, for all the ways they succeeded, gave too much in the way of fan service but this film chokes its audience with familiarity and insists some big stupid reveal is what the masses must want. Subsequently, this is what you get – nay, what you deserve – when you are consumed by nostalgia. This is the curse of fan-service, delivered. Personally, giving Chewbacca the medal was the last straw. Rather than presenting someone with an Oscar for their achievements, deciding to hand them someone else’s doesn’t hold the same weight and is a slap in the face frankly. But all of this stems from decades of hardcore Star Wars fans watching the first film over-and-over and absorbing every minutiae, which gives rise to feeble justifications like the exhaust port on the Death Star being an intentional weakness or Jango Fett banging his head on the door to Slave One. These concessions don’t drive the story forward, they pat the head of those who have spoken out the loudest and giving those people credence is the worst thing any 21st century blockbuster can do.

But the truth is, despite all this pent up frustration and venom, there are a great many positives at work. Some of the visuals are incredibly impressive and atmospheric, the performances are passionate and engaging, the sound, music and production design are all as stunningly breathtaking as ever and the filmmaking craft at work is undeniable. The Rise Of Skywalker is still – functionally, technically and in full hindsight – much better than the prequels if only for the energy involved in its construction but at best it feels like one of the weaker MCU films that has squandered some truly great storytelling potential for a calculated, unambitious denouement. Much like the ending of Game Of Thrones, if you establish a pending big final reveal, when you come to that inevitable concrete conclusion, adding it to inescapable canon devoid of uncertainty, it becomes a binding agent that some will relish while others will wholly reject. For me, I felt a lot of this movie was rote and surprisingly unimaginative and pandering… for others that will be more than enough.

In a word, this conclusion is fine. Neither poor enough to warrant lasting vitriol nor accomplished enough to garner praise, it’s just fine. And with all the world-building, setups and high-quality talent involved “fine” truly is one of the worst things for a Star Wars film to be.


Release Date:
20th December 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
In the very first frame of this movie, the opening crawl starts with three foreshadowing words: “The dead speak!” This is a dumb sentence. If you handed a script to a studio with this as the opener, you would be laughed out of the room. It’s hokey, it’s farcical and it confirmed this film’s intent to me. As stated in my review for The Last Jedi, I despise force ghosts; I find the whole thing massively underdeveloped and lacking. But even they are not ghost Han Solo. And he wasn’t even a ghost. Kylo Ren interacting with the manifestation of a memory of his dead father was painful. Of all the ways to push Ren over the edge and have him transition from dark to light, a cringe-inducing interaction full of low-blow platitudes and callbacks was not the way to go about it. And the icing on the cake? “I know.” Get in the fucking bin.

Notable Characters:
Daisy Ridley shoulders a lot of the burden with this movie; arguably with the whole trilogy. But despite the maddening nonsense of her being the granddaughter of Palpatine, facing constant visions (including one of herself as a Sith which was clearly generated solely for marketing purposes) that would look like nonsense to an onlooker and some absolutely dire dialogue, she comes out the other side in tact and that takes an acute level of charisma and talent.

Highlighted Quote:
“People keep telling me they know me. I feel no one does”

In A Few Words:
“An overly predictable and lacklustre crossing of the finishing line for the Skywalker story”

Total Score:

3/5

PARASITE

Make Yourself At Home

Director
Bong Joon-ho

Starring
Song Kang-ho
Choi Woo-sik
Jo Yeo-Jeong
Park So-dam
Jang Hye-jin
Lee Sun-kyun
Lee Jeong-eun
Jung Ji-so
Jung Hyun-jun


From the film’s opening, we are introduced to the Kim family who are down on their luck and struggling to chisel out a living. Struggling to make ends meet, all four members of the family pitch in to get by. This all changes when Ki-woo’s [Choi] friend explains he is going abroad to study and wants the young man to pick up his tutoring job; partly to help the Kim family out and partly because he has feelings for his student and doesn’t see Ki-woo as a threat. Forging university documents, Ki-woo heads to the residence of the wealthy Park family, headed by the trusting, semi-neurotic Yeon-gyo [Cho] and is welcomed with open arms into the family home. Seeing an opportunity to gain employment for the remainder of his family, Ki-woo manufactures reasons to fire the current household staff and instead employee his family members, all posing as conveniently timed recommendations. But what starts out as a rather light and silly comedy of deception beautifully shifts to a bitter, simmering tale of acrimony and scorn; to put it bluntly, Parasite is a perfect movie.

**spoilers throughout**
Before starting, I should highlight that this review is not for anyone who has yet to see the film – this is a place for analysis and unfettered praise. Like a broken record, I have been saying for nearly two decades that South Korea has been producing some of the world’s greatest and underappreciated cinema. From the subject matter of the stories, to the technical execution, the innovative direction and the blisteringly good performances, South Korea is an absolute powerhouse modern movie maker. And Bong Joon-ho is a prime example of one of their finest assets. Just a simple oral description of the camera placement or the circumstances the characters find themselves in can in no way do justice to the sheer level of complexity and nuance injected into every single frame. This may sound extremely hyperbolic but as with something like Roma, there has to be some trick to explain how something so simple can be so utterly captivating and mercilessly emotional.

On the surface it’s very hard to point to a still image and detail what makes it so special. One could argue the cinematography is safe and functional, the camera movements are clean and simple and the set design is functional – but in actuality what Bong and cinematographer Hong Kyung-pyo have orchestrated is the most subtle performance of the entire piece, burning from start to end with markers, foreshadowing and reward. More than that, the film does so much with silence and subdued spatial work that really sets the bustling world of the city and the almost suffocating world of the luxurious house apart. And the final layer that elevates the whole thing is a decaying score by Jeong Jae-il that compliments everything spectacularly with its light, gentle piano opening giving way to the deep bass and frantic string elements we usually associate with horror films.

The acting on display is genuinely stunning – in every sense of the word – with so much being conveyed so sophisticatedly that to replace any element or to imitate it via a remake would lose so much in the process. As a character study, the film is also a phenomenal look into the preservation of family, populated by unscrupulous individuals on both sides, to the degree that it becomes very hard to identify and sympathise with anyone, as well as the rising uncomfortable feeling of relatability. With its seething resentment between the haves and have nots and the frankly monstrous twists in the third act, one could quite easily argue that part of the reason this story is so good is because it feels intrinsically timeless. If I were to describe this movie’s plot and the general themes of disdain between a wealthy and impoverished family, neither of whom escape the movie without tragedy and then said it was set in pre-revolutionary France or post war America or even feudal China, it would be completely plausible.

As stated at the start of the review, I genuinely cannot fault this movie, the only reservation I would have is that I cannot recommend it to every type of cinemagoer and there are those who will feel it is slow or a little dull in places but I think that would be extraordinarily harsh and unwarranted.


Release Date:
7th February 2020

The Scene To Look Out For:
Once the twist (if one could call it that, it’s more an escalation) has revealed itself, learning what happened to Da-song on his birthday is so subtly hilarious and tragic. Taking place at the bridge between the whimsical opening and the sobering finale, it retains elements of both and feels as playful as it is unfortunate.

Notable Characters:
The chemistry between the actors who play the Kims is second-to-none. From the opening scene their bond and singular drive is astonishing. Everything that comes at them is dealt with as a unit and speaks to the motivation and cohesion born of their desperation. More importantly, each of the four performances feel magnificently real and lived-in. A prime example of this would be during the lightning storm. The Parks go on a camping trip for their son’s birthday and the Kims decide to stay in the house for the duration, drunkenly fantasising about what it would be like to live there permanently. The whole interaction is glorious and there isn’t a single weak component. Not to mention the scene then leads to a flipped performance and a rather terrifying additional one.

Highlighted Quote:
“You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan at all”

In A Few Words:
“An intensely superb cinematic achievement”

Total Score:

5/5

JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL

Level Up This Christmas

Director
Jake Kasdan

Starring
Dwayne Johnson
Kevin Hart
Jack Black
Karen Gillan
Danny DeVito
Danny Glover


A year after the events of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle the four students have graduated high school and are attending separate universities. With the holiday season in full swing, they all return to their home town to meet up. However, Spencer Alex Wolff] is extremely disenfranchised with university life and living in New York is extremely difficult for him. Feeling he wants to recapture the courage and strength he possessed as Dr Bravestone [Johnson], Spencer repairs the video game console and re-enters the game. Worried by Spencer’s silence, Fridge, Bethany and Martha go over to his house, only to be greeted by Spencer’s grandfather Eddie [DeVito] and his old friend (who have clearly fallen out) Milo [Glover]. Realising Spencer has gone back, the others commit to save him but with the machine broken, it drags Eddie and Milo along and assigns them all random avatars for a new adventure.

As with the previous instalment, the direction, score and sound work are all perfectly functional and I was as surprised as anyone that this drastic shift in tone worked out rather well. Granted the script was a little repetitive with certain jokes and both the editing and CGI left quite a lot to be desired and frankly very little has changed. In a way, with so much of the same elements at play, this movie feels like an intended seamless continuation filmed back to back with the first part. But this is as much a negative as it is a positive, as the film never pushes forward confidently and takes a wafer-thin plot that doesn’t maximise on the potential of the concept of a broken video game and recycles a few “old men are cantankerous and slow” jokes to death.

Speaking of the old men, the inclusion of Eddie and Milo makes for a half-decent juxtaposition on the nature of friendship. More specifically, the film attempts to address the idea of maturing relationships, contrasting the difference between high school and college relationships and pushes a message about overcoming stubbornness and communicating. Even if it is a little on-the-nose, it’s a positive and simple message and one you would expect from a family adventure film of this standing. Unfortunately, for the levels of tenderness that give the film a sense of development, many of these are largely abandoned in favour of loud, showy action sequences that lack a level of imagination. Frustratingly, I feel you could map the levels/stages of the respective game narratives in each film and they would align fairly easily. While this is something a wittier script could have utilised to explore the concept of rinse and repeat triple A video game titles, it is never really covered and leaves the film feeling a little familiar.

As with Welcome To The Jungle, The Next Level relies heavily on both the body-swapping antics and the sheer charisma of the cast and delivers extremely well, continuing to sell what is, admittedly, a retread of an incredibly flavourless story. Having said that, considering the calibre of the cast involved, no one is really fully utilised and the whole thing feels surprisingly safe. To focus on the new inclusions is an unusual one; in essence both Danny De Vito and Danny Glover are only in the film for a few short scenes but the remainder of the cast spend their time doing impressions of them. Again, this is the same for half the principal cast for both movies and falls heavily under the nature of body-swapping features, effectively allowing actors to depart their comfort zones and do something exceptionally silly or fun. The other major additions are Rory McCann as the villain and Awkwafina as a new playable character. Starting with McCann, Jurgen the Brutal is fairly unremarkable and very much a carbon-copy of the Van Pelt adversary from the previous release. There’s nothing terrible about the performance but the writing makes for an extremely uncompelling foe whose presence in the film could be easily substituted with anything else and it wouldn’t be missed. As we spend more time with Ming Fleetfoot, Awkwafina gets more to do but even then, it’s only slightly neurotic and restrained or the DeVito impression that is passed around and as someone who really enjoys Awkwafina as an actor and was truly blown away by her performance in The Farewell, this just feels like a missed opportunity for something more challenging.

As stated before, this film is very much more of the same and is arguably just as enjoyable as the last film. The main problem is that it doesn’t do much to push either the characters or the environment, relying on a handful of played-out jokes and circumstances. There’s also a rush to ensure a sense of peril and urgency, meaning that we are offered a handful of really dumb scenes that are solely designed to extraneously whittle down the character’s lives count, which is remarkably disappointing. But that’s not to say that what’s on offer isn’t good, far from it, Jumanji 3 proves itself to be more than competent, capable and captivating, it’s just a little unfortunate it didn’t do more with what it had.


Release Date:
13th December 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
As an example of reprocessing the same material, this story calls for Ruby Roundhouse to fight in another dance battle, albeit this time in a huge brawl setting. I found myself a little bored with this because it didn’t land as well as the first time it was used. Where previously it had been a distraction method that turned into almost choreographed dance combat, this was just a fight in a room brought about by the use of the same cassette player and exact same song.

Notable Characters:
DeVito is great. Even when only present in a handful of scenes, just his character snapping about not needing any help then stumbling around wrecking everything around him just serves as a reminder of what an amazing physical comedian that man is.

Highlighted Quote:
“Getting old is a gift, I forget that sometimes”

In A Few Words:
“The Next Level is the textbook definition of resting on your laurels but will likely satisfy its target demographic”

Total Score:

3/5

CHARLIE’S ANGELS

Unseen. Undivided. Unstoppable

Director
Elizabeth Banks

Starring
Kristen Stewart
Naomi Scott
Ella Balinska
Patrick Stewart



Established as a sequel to both the TV series and the early 2000s films, the Townsend group has expanded to a global initiative headed by a number of “Bosleys” with their own international teams of angels. The film opens with a successful mission in Rio de Janeiro headed by contrary angels, the slick and semi-recalcitrant Sabina [K Stewart] and the no-nonsense former MI6 heavy-hitter Jane [Balinska], which is then followed by the retirement of the first Bosley, played by Patrick Stewart. We are then introduced to Elena Houghlin [Scott], the head of a programming team for tech conglomerate Brock enterprises. Elena has finished work on a project named Calisto which can act as a new renewable power source but Elena is concerned that the current design means the device could be weaponised and should therefore continue development. With her manager disagreeing, Elena breaks rank and contacts the Townsend group, only to be ambushed and caught up in a major conspiracy.

The first and overall standout takeaway from this release is that no one is having as much fun in this movie as Kristen Stewart. I will admit that many years ago, I did my fair share of Stewart-bashing off the back of her presence in the Twilight films but like her co-star she has gone on to forge a truly impressive career in independent cinema and expands that diverse range with this incredibly funny and pleasing performance. Scott also proves once again that she is an incredibly reliable and entertaining addition to any story and Balinska decently holds her own alongside her co-stars. The angels also have fairly decent chemistry but this could largely come down to Sabina’s excess of personality bleeding into the other characters. Also as a bit of a side-note, while the remainder of the film is populated with plenty of dumb, obnoxious men, Saint is a refreshingly ridiculous character that stands out as one of the few decent, selfless examples.

Banks is still new to directing but already she has proved she can handle mainstream releases with ease and while Charlie’s Angels is very different from something like Pitch Perfect 2, the action is cleanly directed and edited action and everything flows commendably. Having said that, there are some examples of some questionable Photoshop and CGI work – explosions in particular – but these are minor quibbles. The real frustration is that despite this film seemingly hitting all the right notes, something still feels missing with everything coming off as somewhat low-stakes. The script is filled with international espionage, female empowerment, snappy dialogue, plenty of action solid scenes and the franchised Townsend operation is a decent plot device but the story threading all of these elements together fails to captivate enough to justify this film existing in the first place. Having said that I feel any of this film’s flaws will be unnecessarily magnified because despite the amount of progress we feel cinema has made, it’s still a female led feature film and therefore will undergo amplified scrutiny. Although the biggest drawback is how significantly formulaic the story is, unaided by obvious misdirects, it’s no worse than something like Hobbs and Shaw which will be infinitely more successful in spite of these issues.

Regardless of preconceptions and what people think they want from a release of this nature, the fact that Charlie’s Angels doesn’t cut any new territory or bring anything especially revolutionary means it ultimately feels disappointing and very disposable. Thus I’m torn because despite this not being a functionally very good feature, I found myself enjoying it for the most part and genuinely wouldn’t mind a continuation with this team.


Release Date:
29 November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
Part of the trouble with this feature is that, in truth, almost nothing stood out to me. There was no heightened action sequence or emotional exchange that stuck with me enough to single out as a noteworthy positive or negative; which is probably the very best summation of this film’s foible. Having said that, there is a strange moment before the initial presentation of Calisto that calls for Elena to set one of the units on a podium next to a lit candle. Then, for seemingly no reason, she starts a capella rapping the opening lines to It’s Tricky by Run DMC. In terms of context, setting and the fact that she is stood in front of an audience of press and peers, it’s a really tonally-weird moment.

Notable Characters:
**spoilers within**
In addition to directing, Elizabeth Banks also plays the role of Bosley (another one), the group’s senior liaison. Her character is quickly embroiled in a twist which plays out rather predictably but I like the idea of her character. As the plot progresses we learn that Rebekah is the first former angel to be promoted to the rank of Bosley and thus holds a degree importance and prestige, which is a plot point I found myself genuinely enjoying.

Highlighted Quote:
“The world is on fire, Alex, but I’m sure your generation is going to figure it out”

In A Few Words:
“Light action comedy fluff regrettably devoid of any real presence”

Total Score:

2/5

KNIVES OUT

Hell, Any Of Them Could Have Done It

Director
Rian Johnson

Starring
Ana de Armas
Daniel Craig
Christopher Plummer



In the wake of the suicide of prolific crime writer, Harlan Thromby [Plummer], on the night of his 85th birthday, famed private detective Benoit Blanc [Craig] is hired to investigate the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death. Subsequently, Blanc has all of the family members present interviewed and we slowly uncover that everyone has a potential motive with something to gain from Thromby’s demise. All except his nurse, caretaker and friend Marta Cabrera [de Armas], who has a strange disposition of being unable to lie without violently vomiting. Because of this, Blanc decides to keep Marta close as a confident as he goes about his investigation and uncovers the various secrets the family members do not want explored.

Filled with Johnson’s characteristic whimsy and playing to his love of narratives based on Rashomon style character perceptions of shared events, Knives Out is a true breath of fresh air. It wastes absolutely no time, painting an intriguing picture with clues and foreshadowing masterfully laid out, ensuring the audience is hooked and drawn in by both the circumstances of the suicide but also the ridiculous characters brought to life by a truly magnificent ensemble cast. On top of that, apart from the end of the second act, where everything loses a little steam, this film has great energy and pacing with a surprising amount of political undertones and arguments that make this an oddly perfect Christmas/Thanksgiving film as well as contemporary social commentary.

In terms of direction and cinematography, this film is littered with references, nods and homages to decades of classic thrillers and the camera largely relies on static shots, glides, pans and dolly zooms. Thus it is a very noticeable shift when Marta leaves the house following an event (this review was so much longer but I decided to remain 100% spoiler free, so my apologies for the ambiguity) and the entire scene comes off the tripod and is shot almost handheld. As a representation of the chaos and discordance for both our lead and the story, it is a beautifully simple but effective piece of direction. Perfectly complimenting the dramatic thriller side of things, there is an extremely powerful vein of humour running from end to end and everyone has a genuinely memorable moment or line that highlights this perfectly. The whole thing is very reminiscent of something like Kind Hearts And Coronets and countless other Ealing Studios films.

Following up her standout performance from Blade Runner 2049, de Armas is a joy to watch and with Marta being so wonderfully pure, creates a sympathetic co-lead that we want to survive the viper pit of her duplicitous employers. I would also add this is the most enthusiastic and engrossed I’ve seen Daniel Craig in years. Full of personality and absurdity verging on caricature, he is clearly having an exceptional amount of fun with this role but manages to keep it grounded enough to ensure said caricature is never realised. A prime example of this takes place in the third act as Blanc is giving the classic final exposition, unravelling the entire case for the audience, manically rambling about doughnuts within doughnuts. It may sound odd but it’s fantastic. To save this becoming a bullet-pointed list of endless praise (which I could quite happily do), I will just summate that there isn’t a single dud performance. Every single actor brings a wealth of energy and talent to their role, no matter how small and makes for compelling viewing throughout.

In all fairness, Knives Out isn’t especially original or ground-breaking but by revisiting a long absent genre, it feels fresh and exciting. It also helps that Johnson has assembled a cast of extremely capable serious actors to indulge in devilishly wicked performances without a single ego getting in the way of telling a captivating, lively and wholly silly tale.


Release Date:
29 November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers – I know I said that I was trying to keep this 100% spoiler free but this is as close as I can get**
It is quite the novelty to solve the mystery extremely early on by showing the actual events. I had my initial concerns that by doing this, the film would become farcical or dull but by doing this it gives the audience an added element of tension while Blanc tries to solve the case, despite the fact that the viewers know when he is getting hot or cold. But then, just when we are lulled into a fall sense of security and complacency, the story twists again and we are given another level of mystery which becomes doubly intriguing for the very fact that we do not have this information to hand. It’s a marvellous example of a master director establishing the rules the film will follow and then surprising you by revealing that you too are a component in this game; mirroring the line Jamie Lee Curtis’ character says about her father playing games and communicating in code for those who know what to look for.

Notable Characters:
Absolutely every member of this cast is a treat to watch and highlight just one has been bloody difficult but as a source of constant comedy, with his fanboy glee is the supporting detective, Trooper Wagner played by Noah Segan. A subtle and simple portrayal but as one of Johnson’s regular players, he never disappoints.

Highlighted Quote:
“A strange case from the start, a story with a hole missing in the middle… a doughnut”

In A Few Words:
“Extraordinarily fun”

Total Score:

5/5

FROZEN II

Step Into The Unknown

Director
Chris Buck
Jennifer Lee

Starring
Idina Menzel
Kristen Bell
Jonathan Groff
Josh Gad




Set a few years after the events of Frozen, life in Arendelle is healthy and prosperous under the rule of Queen Elsa [Menzel], with her sister, Princess Anna [Bell] acting as counsel. But Elsa is troubled by a voice that calls on the wind which seemingly only she can hear. Torn between her duties as a ruler and the overwhelming pull to uncover its origin, Elsa accidentally (this is never exactly clear but I’ll come back to that) sends out a magical signal which throws Arendelle into chaos as elemental spirits attack the kingdom. In an effort to uncover both the origin of the queen’s powers and free the city from its curse, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff [Groff] and Olaf [Gad] set out to find an enchanted forest from the stories of their youth.

As with the first film, Frozen 2 delivers more lush Scandinavian world-building with detailed designs that are wonderfully evocative of their real-life counterpart and that’s before taking into account the sweeping vistas which offer truly breathtaking visuals. For all the natural flare on show, there is an equal effort put into animating the elemental effects and Elsa’s various magical abilities. Case in point, at one point in the story Elsa is trapped in a whirlwind which she disperses with an icy shockwave, leaving these half formed impressions that offer a really subtle but captivating visual. But I think a lot of the opportunity for these moments originates in the fact that Frozen 2 feels somewhat different to what has come before; less a contained palace melodrama, more a wide-reaching journey of discovery. Ultimately, the whole thing feels like a merging of the new wave of Disney’s show tune-heavy progressive tales and the darker adventure-driven tales that Ron Miller pushed for in the 1980s.

Anna and Elsa continue to be well grow as confident and driven heroines but there’s a decent balance ensuring that one doesn’t outweigh the other. It’s also refreshing that the film continues where the previous left off with a lack of a distinct and traditionally drawn adversary and that Elsa still doesn’t require a love element to function. I also appreciated the addition of Lt Destin Mattias, voiced by Sterling K Brown, and Kristoff’s subplot which, while incredibly rudimentary, was entertaining and didn’t feel the need to pull centre stage. However the really interesting point is OIaf and his maturity arc to mirror the ageing primary demographic (going so far to break the fourth wall to say “you all look a little older too”). Olaf continues to get the biggest laugh from the entire audience but there’s a pleasant sense of him slowly ageing and confronting darker themes with the same innocence.

Speaking of darker themes, there are plenty of them running throughout that address the problems that today’s kids are facing – whether they realise it or not. Having used Frozen to pick apart some of the classic Disney developments while still hitting all the classic tick-box tropes was an amusing bit of self reflection and mild hypocrisy. This remains present but the newer themes are much loftier, rather than being careful who you invest your feelings in, there are aspects of abandonment, depression, isolation, responsibility, climate change, colonialism (through the concept of a kingdom favourably dictating their history) and the responsibility on the youth to correct the mistakes of the past. Sure, a lot of this will go over the heads of the kids and many adult audience members will reject that they’re even there but for those that identify with these issues, the message will ring loud and clear and remarkably the majority of them are extremely well-handled.

Unfortunately, you can’t talk about a Frozen film without addressing the songs and holy crap there is an abundance of singing. Other than the prolific ear-worm “Let It Go,” Frozen’s songs weren’t as wide-ranging and well placed as the height of the 90s tracks but Disney have already refined this formula, as seen in Moana. But the very nature of “Let It Go” being so ingrained in the public consciousness means people will be unable not to make a comparison. It doesn’t help that the film’s songs feel like they follow the same pattern and styling of its predecessor; you only need to put Olaf’s 2013 and 2019 upbeat songs side-by-side to see that. Then there’s the direction of Kristoff’s song, with its cheesy 80s power ballad video homages that shouldn’t work but surprisingly do and feels very much a consolation for the adults who have been begrudgingly dragged to the cinema. But the real star of this entire show isn’t actually a single track but a simple haunting siren call leitmotif that I found both catchy, memorable and is incorporated beautifully throughout the entire score. Yes, the songs are what people talk about first but Christophe Beck’s deep and ominous score work continues to shine magnificently. I would also add, the disconnected title music from the first film is finally incorporated as a traditional song and it has now shifted from out-of-place oddity to greatly appreciated bit of foreshadowing.

I’m not the biggest fan of Frozen. I thought it was a fairly disappointing step after Tangled but appreciated the themes of sisterly love and the subversion of expectation. The sequel is no different and far from perfect but admittedly in different ways. Firstly, while I can spend hours praising the concept of a female-led family action adventure film, the film has a tough time getting the story rolling with a fairly clumsy opening scene. It probably doesn’t help that the actual opening scene (rather than the one I referenced in my synopsis) is a flashback with magic, sword fighting and overall portent. I would also add that there is a development between Anna and Kristoff that wasn’t as awful as it could have been but still felt incredibly forced and frustrating. On top of that, we have to contend with Elsa continuing to display infinite and unlimited deus ex machina powers that remain largely undefined to ensure they can be utilised as the plot requires them; blasts of ice? no problem, summoning CCTV-style memories from water? that’s a bit of a weird one. The twist of Queen Iduna’s identity was painfully obvious but thankfully the entire story didn’t rest upon the reveal, more the consequence of the actions she took, so we’ll skip over that. And finally, as much as I can happily laud this film for the important themes they weave into the narrative, I still have to look at Disney as a company and frown because of the sheer wealth of plastic merchandise the success of this movie will generate. I mean, keep it up, it’s important to discuss climate change in a way that our kids can understand it but maybe don’t simultaneously ensure that outcome becomes a reality?

A mere six years have passed since Frozen became the highest grossing animated film ever made (until it was dethroned this year by a fellow Disney title) but it will likely garner a Star Wars reception where nothing will ever surpass the feeling of familiarity that comes from watching a film on repeat several times per week for years on end. Subsequently it wouldn’t surprise me if audiences and critics mark this film down but have difficulty expressing why outside of “it doesn’t feel the same.” In many ways Frozen 2 is better than the first film, if only for its tight structuring and marrying of everything Disney is trying to put across as a company, but I doubt it will have the same lasting impact of the first one which, lets face it, no one saw coming. And while there will probably not be a third instalment, this outing offers a solid way to close Anna and Elsa’s story.


Release Date:
22nd November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers in this section**
Anna is a very interesting character if only because she has no powers. She is not her sister and selflessly plays the role of the support throughout. When they are pushed away by Elsa, Anna and Olaf become lost and trapped in a cave surrounded by sleeping giants. This is a fairly bleak predicament but despair sets in for Anna when Elsa’s hubris causes her to be petrified and Olaf to – for lack of a better word – die. Everything about the imagery is dark but then we have the song “The Next Right Thing” which explains that while odds may seem insurmountable, you have to just focus on what’s in front of you, in over to put things right. Which anyone who has struggled with mental health will confirm, is essentially what every councillor would advise.

Notable Characters:
As stated before, Arendelle is caught in the grip of vengeful spirits that represent the four basic elements of earth, air, fire and water. Three of these spirits are individual characters – a gust of wind (usually represented by two leafs on a breeze) called Gale, a pink flamed salamander and a rather aggressive horse made of water. But the earth element isn’t an individual but in fact several giant rock monsters. I just found this a bit of an odd move.

Highlighted Quote:
“You don’t want me to follow you into fire? Then don’t walk into fire”

In A Few Words:
“More adventure focused, Frozen 2 will stand apart from Frozen but overall I feel it is in an improvement”

Total Score:

4/5

LAST CHRISTMAS

Sometimes You’ve Just Gotta Have Faith

Director
Paul Feig

Starring
Emilia Clark
Henry Golding
Michelle Yeoh
Emma Thompson



Set around the festive period in 2017, we are introduced to Kate [Clarke], a young aspiring singer working at a Christmas decoration shop in London. As the story progresses, we learn from her prickly boss Santa (Michelle Yeoh playing a character who has genuinely changed her name to Santa), her mother Petra and her sister Marta that since her operation last Christmas, she has become distant, cold, lazy and selfish. This has gotten her into a great deal of trouble and left her without a place to stay after a series of disastrous house-sharing mishaps. But Kate’s outlook on life slowly starts to change when she meets the wholesome, charming Tom [Golding]. But as Tom has avowed to live life and get away from his mobile phone (locking it in a cupboard), she has difficulty forming a lasting relationship with him, which impacts both her professional and private life.

To give full credit to Paul Feig, he has produced a very visually pleasing chameleon of a film. Aesthetically different from his usual fare, Last Christmas has a distinctly British feel to it, serving as a bit of a love letter to London and the random hidden eccentricities of the city. Admittedly, it’s likely this is due to the script being penned by someone who knows London extremely well, but the direction and production design feel more grounded in a form of reality than the affluential projection of London. More than that, it nails a great sense of rhythm and editing that utilises everyone involved and gives the film a pleasant, familiar sheen and air of quality. On top of that, the cast are fantastic, displaying sublime chemistry throughout. Golding is delightfully charming and wholesome, Yeoh goes from stern to caring to hilarious with great ease and Clarke proves comedy is better suited to her strengths, giving off heavy Sandra Bullock vibes. But despite this, the film is not good. It is a strange aberration, a melting pot of pitch-perfect ingredients with an ultimately disastrous final product. The actors are well cast and perform decently, the synopsis is functional with that hint of festive magic, the direction and cinematography are warm and inviting, there’s a subtle commentary on the current political crisis and the score is a mix of nostalgic George Michael/Wham hits and tender themes by Theodore Shapiro; but none of it comes together.

**spoilers**
To discuss this film and the problems therein, we need to spoil the twist, so consider yourself warned and skip to the final paragraph if necessary. So as the song Last Christmas suggests with the line “Last Christmas I gave you my heart” this film is about a young woman who, on the anniversary of her heart transplant, meets a man who turns out to be the previous owner of that organ. She falls in love with him and becomes a better person in the process, rediscovering who she is and connecting with her family and community in a way she never had before. In essence, this movie is A Christmas Carol by way of Fleabag and Fight Club but with none of the lofty qualities of those titles. For anyone looking, the twist is pretty predictable from the early scenes but I will expand on that further in my highlighted character section. With this twist in mind, the movie goes out of its way to show Kate as a difficult person but rather than seeing someone who is exceptionally selfish, rude, lazy or malevolent, she is just a little immature. In fact, her worst quality seems to be that she is a bit clumsy and a tiny bit promiscuous, which is hardly damning traits to the degree that all her friends kick her out of their flats and that’s before we consider the fact that she had a heart transplant months prior which cast members often refer to as “when you were ill.” It’s this tug-of-war between making Kate both a lost cause and a loveable scamp that constantly finds both the character and the film in this odd middle ground of mediocrity; her roots are showing and she wears a lot of eyeliner therefore tramp, she accidentally breaks things in people’s homes therefore she’s a menace, she doesn’t like her menial retail job therefore she’s lazy. When you breakdown the situations and apply some common sense to it, the conclusion is people are frankly awful to Clarke and it’s a miracle she hasn’t lamped someone sooner.

The whole movie also closes with extreme consequence free ease, like a fairy tale or fable, all it takes is a slight change of outlook and every peripheral issue resolves itself. As with most things in this film, the moral makes sense and has a positive message. Kate’s gestures of atonement are small and simple but they are heartfelt and sincere and because her friends and family recognise this, they accept the act of contrition. But in typical Christmas movie fashion, this works without fail every time and unifies everyone in a flashy, showy finale. Earlier comments about middle class white saviour syndrome are then dismissed with carefree abandon as Kate puts aside her selfish goals (if you consider getting a job as a performer selfish) and spends her spare time trying to help the homeless. That sentence elevates Kate, it should fundamentally make her a better person in the audience’s eyes but it reeks of hackneyed convenience to force a conclusion. What’s more, because of the poorly-defined flaws at the start of the film, the improvements made are hard to quantify.

In truth, it’s less that the film is riddled with a myriad of destructive properties but more one colossal problem. Everything about this film should work but seemingly none of it does and while it is perfect on paper, the execution falls flat. If I had to put a finger on what is to blame, I would have to say it’s the script. The simple synopsis or even elevator pitch for this yarn is perfectly serviceable but when said script made its way on-screen it either lost something in translation or could have done with a few rewrites because it’s all too trite, recurring supporting characters come off as irksome caricatures and nobody in this whimsical nonsense feels real. One could argue that a film of this type doesn’t benefit from grounded reality but again with the script not leaning into more of a Love Actually-style saccharine sweetness, it ends up twee and forced. In a way, it is very reminiscent of Yesterday, which also didn’t really work and failed to execute a decent premise despite an ideal cast and crew, becoming bogged down with absurd, directionless plot lines and far too neat a resolve. But this may all be for naught because while it feels like a heightened made-for-TV movie that got a lucky break, people will likely love it and no doubt return to it again and again, citing it as their favourite Christmas film. A prime example of critic vs audience, as I experienced with the acceptable but altogether mediocre The Holiday, which people still singing their praises for some thirteen years later.


Release Date:
15 November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
A minor recurring subplot addresses the fact that Kate’s family are refugees from the former Yugoslavia. More specifically, as the film is set in 2017, it gleans the fears and treatment of European nationals in Britain in the wake of the Brexit referendum verdict. On a bus ride, Kate witnesses a man shouting at a couple speaking in a different language proclaiming that in England you have to speak English, before extending this to anyone else riding the bus. In an attempt to comfort the couple, Kate speaks in their native tongue and says they are indeed welcome. This commentary strikes a chord and feels painful for the fact that this country has endured horrific division off the back of this political act but the film addresses it with a passing nod, aware it cannot simply fix that problem with a local sing-song. I’ve always maintained the era of Brexit and Trump will be prime fodder for cinema but the fact it has cropped up while still in the middle of it all is quite surprising and will no doubt rub some audience members the wrong way; even if the film does deliver a hard truth.

Notable Characters:
**spoilers again**
Henry Golding is great, always is. In this movie he displays an energy, passion and earnestness that pushes through the lacking script. Having said that, while this film relies on emotional connection over technicalities, his character still required a smarter draft and there are so many things about his situation that don’t sit right. Things like Clarke gaining access to his flat. I understand he continually dodges people because he’s not there and I also understand the film’s concept that her new heart is guiding her to information she couldn’t know but that doesn’t explain how she gains access to a dead man’s flat. What’s more, once the revelation hits, you wouldn’t expect to see or hear from Tom again, showing him only in flashback but in spite of this reveal, Kate and Tom have one last interaction, which felt a little uncomfortable as it feels neither mysterious or magical, just a touch awkward followed by Tom literally walking away. Nothing fantastical just a wave and “see you later.”

Highlighted Quote:
“We have this Christmas gibbon”

In A Few Words:
“Decently constructed but far too formulaic and uninventive to properly succeed”

Total Score:

2/5

LE MANS 66 (FORD V FERRARI)

They Took The American Dream For A Ride

Director
James Mangold

Starring
Matt Damon
Christian Bale
Caitriona Balfe
Josh Lucas
Jon Bernthal



In the mid-1960s the Ford motor company are feeling the pinch with fellow US rivals pushing them out of the market. The head of the company, Henry Ford II [Tracy Letts] sets his team the task of finding a way to revolutionise their company. Lee Iacocca [Bernthal] highlights that Ferrari are the leading company for winning global racing competitions but because their handmade output is so minimal, they are facing bankruptcy. Several Ford representatives visit the Ferrari heads in Italy but are turned away and mortified when word of the failed merger gets out to newspaper. As an act of revenge, Ford declares he wants to replace Ferrari as the manufacturer of the fastest cars and tasks his team to set to work immediately. The Ford executives then turn to ex-racecar driver Carroll Shelby [Damon] who takes on the impossible task but knows that his only chance of success is pairing the fastest car with the best driver, who just so happens to be Ken Miles [Bale], a highly opinionated and difficult individual that Ford do not want staining their company image.

If you’ll forgive the racing analogy for a moment, this movie functions on the concept of the car and the driver. The car can have all the technical specs aligned perfectly but if it isn’t operated by a driver in peak condition, the results can be anywhere between lacklustre and catastrophic. From a technical standpoint, Le Mans 66 is as good as it can get. The sound design is magnificently on point, working in harmony with a jazzy-rocky score that mirrors and elevates the upbeat, hopeful, fun tone and helps give the entire feature a vibrant, very fun energy. On top of that, the direction is exhilarating and the road-level camera weaving in and out of the thundering cars creates an amazing sense of tension while the script maintains its electric pacing. Then we have the subtle elements of the period aesthetic and production design, which lovingly recreate the mid ’60s and celebrate the craft of racecar manufacturing. But it would be so easy to flood the film with these components and smother the audience but Mangold has the marvellous ability to make big budget releases feel intimate and keep a blinker-vision focus on story and character; which brings us to the driver or our analogy.

Whether music, sport or politics, biopics are rarely about the subject matter or surroundings that the leads find themselves in and more about the personalities that populate them. Equally, Le Mans 66 is a film about friendship and obsession, more than cars and racing. At first glance, it’s not easy to see the similarities between Shelby and Miles, with the former’s business savvy and the latter’s excess of personality but as the film unfolds, it becomes apparent that both men are extremely dedicated and talented drivers who have been held back from succeeding and doing what they love by their own faults. In the case of Shelby that’s his heart condition and for Ken it’s his brash personality and refusal to compromise. Ultimately, both men are extremely arrogant but Ken’s confidence and Carroll’s charm quickly win the audience over and it’s made clear that these men have both a rivalry and a respect for one another. One of two great examples of this is when Shelby is arriving by private plane to a launch event and takes control from the pilot (citing his WWII experience as justification) before banking heavily and performing quite the daredevil landing. The other is during a fistfight between the two leads which is immediately robbed of any threat when Miles’ wife pulls up a chair to watch and Shelby reaches for something to hit Miles with, putting his hand on a can, realising that would be too dangerous and so reaches for a loaf of bread instead. These are subtle little inclusions but ones that deftly demonstrate the bond between the two reluctant friends.

But the friendship between Carroll and Ken is also a problematic one. It is given such importance that it pushes out room for the true racing rivalry and the bond between Miles and his family. For a film called Ford v Ferrari (in the States at least) the film is less about the rivalry between two drivers, as is the case in Rush, and feels more like Ford executives v its own teams. This constant stop-start yanking of the chain creates an extremely frustrating friction for the story’s flow. What should be a straight shot to victory with various trials and tribulations on the way is marred by in-house disagreements and hindrances. My problem, however, is not necessarily with this in-fighting but how it is neglected in the script. We have the incompetent head desperate to stand up to his grandfather’s legacy, the supposedly good guy suits who have no real influence other than to kick the story off and the weasely lieutenant whose motivation is never made explicitly clear other than to keep some sort of structured order on the company but without any clear personal gain or consequence. Other than a few sneers and mean comments from Enzo Ferrari and his lead racer (whose name I don’t even remember because he’s barely in the movie), Ferrari fails to provide much of an antagonistic presence. Coming back to Miles’ family, this film’s poor gender and race representation – although probably historically accurate – serves to illustrate that this movie can be boiled down to a petty pissing contest between two rich white men. The stakes are actually fairly low and the finale loses a little of that great pacing by shifting the emotional high from Le Mans itself to a handful of loose targets. So the longer the film stays with you, the more those heady moments fade and all you’re left with is a competent rowdy petrol-head film – or to put it another highly unfair way, an entertaining but unfortunately dated boys film geared to a very specific demographic.


Release Date:
15 November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
Repeatedly throughout the film, Ford traipses all over Shelby’s decisions and encroaches on any freedom he has to run his team. The primary source of this contention is Ford’s inability to keep Ken on message. Subsequently, the officials flex their muscles and bench Ken from competing. The following scene doesn’t actually show the race but the audience experiences it by proxy as Ken listens to race via the radio. It’s a simple scene but a well-executed one that doesn’t rely on flashy CGI visuals, only the passion and expressions on Miles’ face.

Notable Characters:
Earlier I briefly mentioned the central antagonist, Leo Beebe played by Josh Lucas in a role he usually finds himself in. To reiterate what I said earlier, his motivation is arguably to preserve his position and the company image but the execution is so painfully pantomime. To be clear, I don’t think Lucas does a particularly bad job, I think the tonal nature of the movie sets him up as a very one dimensional adversary. For a two and a half hour film, I’m not suggesting more runtime is devoted to this individual but some of his scenes could have benefited from illustrating if there was any actual fallout should Ford’s racing venture fail, aside from a decrease in share value – which is a notoriously dull but very grounded reason.

Highlighted Quote:
“James Bond is not driving Ford, sir”

In A Few Words:
“A wholly agreeable, fun and gratifying release, if a little formulaic, predictable and ultimately safe”

Total Score:

4/5

DOCTOR SLEEP

Dare To Go Back

Director
Mike Flanagan

Starring
Ewan McGregor
Rebecca Ferguson
Kyliegh Curran



Set three decades after the events in The Shining, Dan Torrance [McGregor] has become an alcoholic vagrant going from town-to-town, drinking, brawling and keeping himself distanced from those around him. He is then drawn to a small town where he tries to start over, gets clean and begins working in a hospice. At the same time we are introduced to a young girl who has similar abilities to Dan, a telepathic and telekinetic ability dubbed the shining, named Abra Stone who hides her abilities from her parents, fearing they will treat her differently. The film then jumps ahead several years later reintroducing us to a teenage Abra [Curran] and Dan as a stable and contributing member of society. Running concurrently to this, we follow a group of almost vampiric cultists – called the True Knot – who feed off of this shining quality (which they call steam), led by the eerie Rose the Hat [Ferguson]. After they claim the life of a young victim, they become aware of Abra and sensing her powers are potentially greater than any they have experienced before, set out to consume her. In order to prevent this, Dan must confront all of his literal and figurative inner demons.

It is my firm opinion that there are only a handful of flaws present in this release but they are of such a sizeable nature that it knocked my rating down from a four out of five, to a three; the first being the antagonists. It will likely be unanimously agreed that Rebecca Ferguson’s turn as Rose the Hat is a very enigmatic and commanding one. She is a fascinating and haunting individual but the group she operates with brings her down somewhat. Possibly my biggest frustration with this movie is that the True Knot troupe are a knowable enemy, which detracts a little because for all their actions the threat is never entirely real or felt and despite decent performances, there is never any doubt that the protagonists will succeed. As I haven’t read the source material, I cannot claim to know the differences between the book and the film but I have read both The Shining and watched the film and there is a distinct difference in their presentation. If you follow the book, the expanding knowable world of evil entities makes sense and Doctor Sleep is a wonderful addition. If your only experience of this setting is the movie, the answers and expansion that this new script provides somewhat cheapens the events of 1980’s The Shining with absolute clarification rather than broad interpretation. But I’ll expand on this point further later.

While Ewan McGregor may feel like an unusual choice to play an adult Danny Torrance, he proves himself extremely deft at giving us a conflicted, cagey individual eking out an existence as the son of an alcoholic and extreme trauma survivor, let alone someone who is continually visited by images of the dead. But despite the rough opening, it was genuinely rewarding to find Dan discover both a purpose and closure working in the old people’s ward and making the connection with Billy. I also felt Abra was an interesting and savvy character but as stated earlier, her levels of confidence ensure that we never overly worry for her wellbeing, even in the face of death. Without delving straight into spoilers, Abra seems more cut-up about the death of a stranger than a loved one. Maybe this is to illustrate a desensitisation or maturation but with a limited runtime, it simply felt rushed and regrettably undercooked.

Doctor Sleep provides a very engaging story but its predecessor is so iconic that it is an almost impossible act to follow. This isn’t merely some beaten-up horror franchise, it’s one of the few examples of high-brow horror adaptation by one of the true masters of cinema. What’s more, the imagery presented has become so exemplary and burned into the public consciousness that it creates a spectacularly daunting target for any creative to reach let alone surpass. Having said that, Flanagan has done an extremely impressive job walking the fine line of compromise between Kubrick and King’s clashing visions to create a very pleasing hybrid continuation that honours both versions. Things like the recasting of familiar roles is well played and in an era of de-aging technology, this serves to highlight that a part-imitation part-celebration performance can be something incredibly powerful. The only thing I could knock Flanagan for would be the fairly rudimentary direction. That isn’t to say he doesn’t do a good job or is in any way fundamentally lacking , it’s just that some of the most notable imagery comes from semi-fetishistic recreations of Kubrick’s concepts and never stands on its own two feet. Put another way, I don’t think I could put my finger on any particular shot or scene in the film that would stand the test of a decade to the degree that others will be imitating and studying it. But as with my very similar critique of Terminator: Dark Fate, this may be too much of a demand. Sometimes creating a solid instalment is more than enough and although it never exceeds what came before, the fact Doctor Sleep is able to pick up the baton and take it to the film’s close is a fantastic accomplishment in and of itself.


Release Date:
01 November 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
While I derided the amount of time we spent with the True Knot, one of the earlier scenes where they recruit Snakebite Andi was particularly nice. In terms of establishing characters, motivations and abilities as well as intrigue and mystery, it is extremely well handled.

Notable Characters:
As stated the returning characters and recasting were dealt with proficiently but the increased usage serves to weaken the effect. For a specific example, let’s take the old lady in the bath. As a recurring piece of imagery her presence in The Shining is baffling and terrifying and unsettling. She’s not, as depicted in Ready Player One a fast, scuttling, knife wielding maniac, she’s just a creepy-ass naked decrepit lady. But for the fact we end up seeing her four or five times in this feature, even as a good recreation, she becomes almost comical and loses any edge of scariness. Which is likely intended to illustrate the idea that we can overcome our fears but sometimes scary stuff needs to stay scary.

Highlighted Quote:
“We’re all dying; the world is one big hospice with fresh air”

In A Few Words:
“A very strong postscript celebration of both the written and cinematic versions of The Shining and for that, it should be praised but without giving us anything truly captivating, it serves as little more than a decently crafted shadow”

Total Score:

3/5

THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Think Your Family Is Weird?

Director
Greg Tiernan
Conrad Vernon

Starring
Charlize Theron
Oscar Isaac
Chloe Grace Moretz
Finn Wolfhard
Nick Kroll
Allison Janney



Following an initial introduction and the nuptials between Morticia [Theron] and Gomez Addams [Isaac], the central characters escape their unwelcoming surroundings (it’s not clear where but I’ll get back to that) and settle down in an abandoned isolated asylum in New Jersey. Over the years, the Addams family expands to include their daughter Wednesday [Moretz] and son Pugsley [Wolfhard] and live in peace, with the occasional visit from extended family members such as Gomez’s brother Fester [Kroll]. Meanwhile, a failing reality TV host, Margaux Needler [Janney] has created an entire community dubbed Assimilation (yes, it’s very on-the-nose) and intends for her show’s season finale as an effective advert, selling the properties shown in the fledgling town. With the swamp drained, the mist clears and reveals the one looming residence which doesn’t fit in to Margaux’s grand design, drawing an immediate spotlight on the Addams family and bringing them into regular society.

There was a distinct buzz when this feature was initially announced, predominantly surrounding the casting choices. As with many intellectual properties that have been absent from cinema for a while, the internet circles discussions around who would be an ideal fit for such a release. On paper, this cast is not only fantastic but damn near perfect. Then upon discovering that the movie would be animated, rather than live action, there was a wave of concern before it was confirmed that the character designs would mimic the original iconic cartoon. So before the film came close to completion there was a fairly healthy speculative hype, especially when taking into consideration how quickly Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse was dismissed for simply being an animated release no one asked for, before it proved itself to be the best Spider-Man cinematic venture. Unfortunately, The Addams Family sits at the opposite end of that spectrum.

Admittedly, while the 60s TV series was never that clever in its execution, it had a level of wit and warmth that is painfully absent from this release. The script makes that classic animated family film faux pas of bashing out a flat, uninspired story, littered with tired jokes that talk down to the audience. Even the simplest of lines feel like they haven’t been thought through, displaying a first draft amateurish quality. For example, when attending her first day in an actual school, Wednesday is told “Have a good day at school, do your worst.” On the surface there isn’t much to dissect here – do you worst rather than do your best, simple switch – except the logic that is deployed for the latter half is not present in the earlier half. Sure, this may come off as pedantry but this line is a prime example of the contradictory, lacklustre attempts at humour that are painfully sophomoric and could have so easily been fixed with a touch more care and attention. The real frustration stems from the fact that there are a handful of genuinely funny moments that, though so few and far between, offer a glimpse of what could have been a very entertainingly written family feature.

To say this film is heavily inspired by the work of Tim Burton could feel incredibly short sighted and false, as there is a which came first the chicken or the egg debate that could almost definitively conclude that Burton has clearly been influenced by The Addams Family. But that aside, the filmmakers behind this release have equally been influenced and inspired by Burton’s oeuvre and it shows. Borrowing heavily from both Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, in terms of both narrative and aesthetic, the plot unfurls predictably and uninventively and while some could argue that “it’s a kid’s film, it doesn’t need to be smart,” I genuinely feel that is the weakest retort and one need only look at films by Studio Ghibli and Pixar to realise how insulting that is to their target audience. Speaking of the demographic, there are a handful of odd reference points (as US comedies tend to) that alienate international viewers but this feels especially unusual considering the odd sense of time period. See, while the bulk of the film is quite clearly set in the non-descript present day, the prologue takes place in an entirely separate location that looks like your typical gothic, eastern European village that is solely referred to as “the old country.” Over the years, The Addams Family brand has been used to both entertain and amuse, while satirising things like the nuclear family, the rise of the suburbs and dysfunctional relationships. One could argue that this story tries to tackle familial expectations of tradition and the dangers of turning on outsiders through manipulation of far-reaching and invasive technology, which on paper sounds like extremely positive and promising points to address but in truth the film never really cuts deeper than surface level observations and resolves with the most straightforward of solutions.

Before closing this review I would also like to take a moment to address the visual state of western animated family films. I don’t want to completely trash the hard work that animators do but the general creative direction is so remarkably bland and often simply tries to emulate a physically shot feature, rather than playing to the unique strengths of animation. This is something I will likely repeat for years to come but I watched both The Grinch and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse in the same month and was blown away by the astonishing difference in detail and quality, only to later learn that the latter only made two thirds of the box office of the former. The Addams Family is another prime example of a safe and ultimately forgettable CGI animated film that relies on dull direction and great swathes of slow-motion. I will concede that the character designs being in keeping with the original cartoon was a welcome treat but this doesn’t make up for, what boils down to, an incredibly weak and generic visual style for a film that should be packed with nuance and detail; even the Hotel Transylvania films felt more visually in keeping with what I would want from an Addams Family film but as with The Grinch, this film will likely make well over its budget and earn an equally humdrum sequel.


Release Date:
25 October 2019

The Scene To Look Out For:
**spoilers**
At the end of the movie, once all the speeches have been given and the cheap moral has reared its head, we end up with a rushed conclusion of the extended Addams buying the houses of Assimilation and welcomed with open arms. But the thing that irked me was that, apropos of nothing, Margaux falls for Fester and starts a relationship with him. In the first Addams Family film there is a similar development between Margaret and Cousin It but that slowly and logically builds over the course of the film. This development, however, is simply a ridiculous character 180 degree shift that lazily trades logic for a neat resolve, with absolutely nothing about their personalities fitting this proposal.

Notable Characters:
For some reason, Thing (the disembodied hand and friend/servant of the family) is given an eye in the form of a watch attached to his severed wrist. It’s not used enough to justify (or possibly even truly notice) the change and feels like a rushed afterthought. I imagine this is down to producers saying the character needs to be more expressive, which is how we ended up with moving faces on Ultron and Optimus Prime. And briefly getting back to the point of contention surrounding creativity, there are so many ways to make a character like Thing expressive (some of which are utilised quite well in certain scenes) that the lack of facial expressions should be freeing for a creative. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they got Bette Midler to play Grandma and did nothing with her!

Highlighted Quote:
“This day is becoming most wonderfully disruptive”

In A Few Words:
“A deeply lifeless and bland adaptation that adds very little to the existing legacy but as with movies like Jurassic World, the novelty for a new audience will likely ensure its fiscal success”

Total Score:

1/5