The Suicide Squad Review: Bold, brash and bonkers DC fun. 

The DC Extended Universe (or The DCEU) has returned to the big screen for the first time since last year’s Wonder Woman 1984 with The Suicide Squad, written and directed by Guardians of the Galaxy’s James Gunn. This film should not be confused with 2016’s Suicide Squad, the franchise’s first attempt at adapting these comics, because other than sharing that film’s name and general premise, this film is very much a different beast. 

The film follows intelligence officer, Amanda Waller’s attempt to dispatch Task Force X (otherwise known as “Suicide Squad”) – a team on criminals brought together for a mission that if successful, will get them time off their sentence. And, if they abandon their mission, they will be killed (very gruesomely) with a bomb that has been implanted into their brains. 

The film has a large ensemble cast of colourful characters, but we focus mainly on Peacemaker (John Cena), Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Ratcatcher 2 (Daniela Melchior), Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) and King Shark (Sylvester Stallone), who are hired by Waller to destroy the laboratory Jotunheim on a mission dubbed “Project Starfish”. 

Many know that the original Suicide Squad was an absolute disaster. Receiving negative reviews (albeit some impressive box office returns), that film had a troubled production, going through multiple edits and script changes. The end result was an extremely messy, badly written, confusing and down-right nonsensical movie that even the film’s director, David Ayer has recently disowned. 

This time around, however, you will be thrilled to hear that Gunn was left to his own creative devices, crafting a much clearer and better crafted movie. This has been an overall problem with the DCEU in general, however, in how they have just re-made and re-jigged certain movies instead of just learning from their mistakes. For example, instead of moving on from the mistakes they made from 2017’s Justice League, they released another version of that movie (2021’s Zack Synder’s Justice League) in hopes that everyone will just forget about it. And, here, with The Suicide Squad they have done a very similar thing. 

Putting that to the side, however, in terms of the movie alone, you will be thrilled to hear that The Suicide Squad really lives up to the hype. The film is a really terrific, lively and downright bonkers piece of superhero entertainment that you can feel the sheer amount of craft Gunn has put into making it. 

Gunn’s previous directional work includes the creature-feature black comedy/ horror movie, Slither, the aforementioned Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero movie, Guardians of the Galaxy and the black comedy, Super, centred around a superhero with no actual superpowers. 

The Suicide Squad feels like a odd combination of all of these three movies. It combines the large budget and franchise world-building of Guardians of the Galaxy, the extreme gore and cartoonish violence of Slither and the unorthodox superheroes of Super, because this film shines a light on some of DC’s most under-known heroes. And, not only that but it shines a light of some of the DC’s most delightfully dumb characters, for instance, there is a humanoid, talking shark; a man who throw deadly polka-dots (yes, that’s right); a man whose arms can come out of their sockets, etc. 

And, it should not be understated that the gore is a big part of the movie, and you should be warned that this is definitely not a kid’s movie. Inspired by the Deadpool movies and proudly branding a 15-rating (or “R” rating in America), this movie is gleefully macabre, showing us a wide array of exploding brains, sliced up bodies and gruesome death scenes. 

The film’s real strength, however, lies in the film’s characters and Gunn’s great characterisation. Incorporating some of the comics’ most unusual and quirky characters, all the characters feel very fleshed out with developed personalities and interesting back-stories. 

Also, much like the best superhero team-up movies, a lot of the magic relies upon the character interaction and chemistry between the cast. The rivalry between Bloodsport and Peacemaker is really fun and entertaining, and the fun father-daughter relationship between Bloodsport and Ratcatcher 2 feels really fleshed out and interesting. 

The film also incorporates a really interesting character reinvention to Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), reprising her role from the first Suicide Squad movie and Birds of Prey (2019). Often trapped between a hero, an anti-hero and a villain, this version of Harley Quinn is more of an empowered action heroine, but one that does with the same battiness and twisted romanticism that has become synonymous with the iconic DC character. It’s a very interesting route to take the character, and by far the best portrayal of Quinn in live-action. 

Joel Kinnaman, another returning cast member from the original movie, is another one of the film’s highlights. The actor often has to appear as the stoic straight man in the midst of the craziness around him, and he does a great job at it. He has elements of Nathan Fillion in Firefly/ Serenity, in how he manages to be really witty, hilarious and dead-pan. 

Other than the characters, Gunn’s direction and the film’s visual style is really visceral and entertaining. Unlike the original, which was dark, grimy and very hard to follow, Gunn’s sequel is filled with lively, bright colours that feels like it comes straight out of a comic book. Sometimes there are sequences that are reminiscent of iconic directors like Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino in how it combines the bright colours, expressive violence, and fun fantasy sequences (look out for a brilliant sequence involving Harley kicking serious ass that is a great embodiment of this). 

Now, The Suicide Squad is not completely perfect. Sometimes the story is a little disjointed and not all that original. Also, the villains – the giant starfish, Starro and the metahuman mad scientist, The Thinker (Peter Capaldi) – feel a little underdeveloped and uneven. There is also a political commentary to the film – about how the people of Corto Maltese are rebelling against their fascist dictatorship – that feels like an unnecessary attempt to give the film depth and make it “important”. 

That being said, the flaws the film has are actually quite enduring. The film feels like a whole, complete creative vision from Gunn, and although the film can sometimes feel like a bit of a mess, it’s also a mess that feels very controlled, unique, well-crafted and auteur-ist. 

Overall, The Suicide Squad is one of the best DC movies to come out in a while, and possibly the best entry to the DCEU, maybe just apart from 2017’s Wonder Woman. In comparison to some of the other DCEU movies, the film never feels toothless, but instead feels like a properly edgy, funny, witty and exhilarating superhero movie.

Rating: 8.7/10


A Quiet Place Part II Review – An electrifying, pulsating sequel

A Quiet Place Part II – the sequel to the surprise 2018 horror hit, A Quiet Place – has finally landed in cinemas, arriving over a year after it’s original release date after being delayed a multiple amount of times. Now, we can all finally watch the long-awaited sequel and not only that, on the big screen where it fully belongs.

Centring on a post-apocalyptic world in which extremely sound-sensitive aliens have invaded the planet, this franchise sees humans attempting to be completely mute to avoid being killed. The sequel picks up exactly from where the first one ended, in which the remaining members of the Abbott family – mother, Evelyn (Emily Blunt), son, Marcus (Noah Jupe), daughter, Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Evelyn’s young baby – are trying to find a new home, when they come across former friend, Emmett (Cillian Murphy). When Regan hears what she believes is a signal on the radio, she runs away to help them, and Emmett follows her to get her back. Meanwhile, Evelyn must deal with her young baby’s diminishing oxygen supply and Marcus’s injury from stepping on a bear trap.

The first A Quiet Place became an instant hit phenomenon for how innovative it felt at the time. The film felt like a return to back-to-basics horror film-making, or just back-to-basics film-making in general. Inspired by silent cinema, the Coen brothers’ 2007 masterpiece, No Country for Old Men and the sci-fi horror classic, Alien, the film put less of an emphasis on over-indulgent and expository dialogue and was instead a conscious effort to focus purely on visual storytelling. It was an exercise in pure, unadulterated cinema, one of which forced its audiences to pay close attention to it’s story and scares. And, seeing moviegoers pile into a packed cinema screen not making a sound (not whispering to the person sitting next to them or eating food very loudly) was an incredibly impressive feat, one of which had never really been done before.

And, for the most part, director John Krasinski really manages to pull off the same kind of success with the second part. Like the original, the film is pieced together with an absolutely cracking pace and some riveting sequences of tension. Krasinski is really great as misdirecting the audience, and surprising them with really creative scare. The film still feels like a real passion project from Krasinski, and you can feel this passion coming from the direction. The direction has a big Steven Spielberg vibe to it, and feels particularly inspired by his creature-feature blockbusters, Jurassic Park and Jaws (which also happens to be Emily Blunt’s favourite movie). Look out for a big Jaws Easter egg featured in the movie (not saying much, but just keep an eye on an oxygen canister).

As I’m sure you’ve already heard by now (or seen possibly a hundred times in all the trailers), the film opens with an extended prologue sequence, which is centred before the apocalypse and sees the aliens attacking the humans for the first time. The sequence feels like a terrific short film (one with a beginning, middle and end), and beautifully sets up a riveting and suspenseful atmosphere for the rest of the film. 

There is the same amount of brilliant tension than in the first, but this sequel feels possibly like the more polished movie in the franchise. The film also boasts some incredibly impressive camerawork and cinematography this time around. There is an particular emphasis put on adventurous camera movement and panning shots (look out for a wonderful shot of Millicent Simmonds waking up) and some beautiful shot symmetry (there is a great shot involving Emily Blunt holding a gun) and this makes for a much more visually striking movie. You can definitely tell that Krasinski is growing and getting a lot more confident as a filmmaker, and that’s a pleasure to see. 

The level of improved craftsmanship also extended to the film’s terrific editing. The film manages to cross cut between two (and sometimes even, three) different settings, and does it with a real ease, and uses a load of great screen transitions that are very impressive. Although this sequel lacks the freshness and novelty of the original, this is probably the more well-made and well crafted movie out of the two films.

There is also an active attempt in this sequel to explore this post-apocalypse world in more expressive detail. The first one largely felt like an Earth-set homage to Alien (in it’s quiet storytelling and creature-feature scares), but this one feels more influenced by it’s 1986 sequel, Aliens in how it isn’t unafraid to move around and change locations. Although it is not as bombastic and adrenaline-fuelled as Aliens, there is also a definite attempt here to be more action-packed and visceral than it’s predecessor. From one of the very first images of Noah Jupe’s character’s foot being trapped in a bear trap and seeing him letting out an almighty scream, you can tell that this instalment is trying to be a lot more centred around action. 

And, although the universe doesn’t feel as well-explored as the post-apocalyptic world of something like The Walking Dead, we do get to see how different people have reacted to this alien invasion. In the first film, it was just centred around a small family of four and their experiences, while this sequel shows us some different perspectives, including a number of families who have come together to make a large community to Emmett’s experience of losing his wife and child and being completely alone. However, Krasinski doesn’t go over the top with this – he adds just a few more people and a few more locations, and still keeps the small and quiet soul of the original.

Krasinski, however, makes sure he doesn’t lose focus on the characters at the heart of the story. The film’s young stars, Simmonds and Jupe continue to impress, and it’s wonderful to see such a huge franchise putting younger stars in interesting, strong roles. It’s also interesting to see these characters challenge gender roles and stereotypes – Simmonds is allowed to be tough and strong-willed, while Jupe is allowed to be more scared and weak-willed. 

Simmonds is looking more and more like the lead of this franchise, and definitely ranks up there as one of the defining heroines in the horror and sci-fi genres, and has echoes of a young Ellen Ripley or Imperator Furiosa. Both Simmonds and her character are deaf, and it’s also great to see this disability represented on the big screen, but also done in a way that it is not a weakness, but instead is her superpower. 

Murphy is also really great, and his father-daughter-figure relationship with Simmonds is really at the heart of the story. Here, he takes over from John Krasinski as the male lead of the movie, and that’s great, because he is a vastly superior actor to Krasinski, and his introduction works really well. It’s just a bit of a shame that the focus on Jupe, Simmonds and Murphy takes the focus somewhat away from Blunt. She still gets some great moments, but it just would’ve been nice to see more of her. 

Overall, the sequel is absolutely terrific, but it does feel slightly unambitious or unadventurous. It doesn’t really try anything really innovative or original, and that’s a shame because the first movie felt so different to anything else at the cinema. It does also feel very short and slight, and when it ends, you’ll be surprised – not because it ends in an insufficient way, but because it just feels like there could have been more story to tell. 

However, A Quiet Place Part II is absolutely worth a return to the cinema. This film being the film that is premiering in cinemas after a lengthy (5 month) closure is really wonderful – and actually quite poetic – as it’s the sort of film that is built for the cinematic experience. It’s a shining example of how to craft movies with an emphasis on visual storytelling, and hopefully future movies will take influence on its willingness to be silent and have the utmost confidence in it’s audience. A Quiet Place Part II is tense, thrilling, so much fun, and definitely one of the best films of the year. Definitely go see it! 

Rating: 9/10

Recent TV Releases: Love, Death + Robots, The Pact and more reviewed

Some of the brand new television that have been released over the past month include the third season of the BBC sitcom, Motherland; the second season of the Netflix science fiction anthology dark animation series, Love, Death + Robots and the BBC mystery drama series, The Pact. Check out if any of them are worth your time, right here. 

Motherland (season 3): The brilliant and underrated BBC sitcom returned for it’s third season on BBC One last week, while the whole season is available to stream on BBC iPlayer. For those who don’t know about the series (which many, many people don’t), the series is created by a bevy of talented people, including Catastrophe’s Sharon Horgan, The IT Crowd and Father Ted’s Graham Lineham and comedian, Holly Walsh and centres around a group of working class parents to young children.

We mainly centre on a friendship group, consisting of over-stressed mum trying to have it all, Julia (Anna Maxwell Martin), the blunt and calm single mother, Liz (Diane Morgan), the passive stay-at-home dad, Kevin (Paul Ready) and the loud and annoying busy mother, Meg (Tanya Moodie). Also featured includes the group’s superficial and annoying frenemy, Amanda (Lucy Punch) and her submissive friend, Anne (Phillipa Dunne).

Although the series was shot and conceived during the pandemic and centres on a location deeply affected by the current crisis (a primary school), the pandemic is actually barely discussed with the exception of an hilarious opening segment. We open on a Boris Johnson-like press conference, in which they must discuss the “issue at hand”, before they reveal the solution is “combing, shampooing, combing again”. It is revealed that the school has been hit with a “nit pandemic”, where if the characters’ children as tested “positive”, they must remain home for two weeks and avoid contact with their elderly loved ones.

This is the sort of humour that Motherland employs. The humour is softer and more low-key, and avoids the hilarious one-liners and comedic sequences of shows like The IT Crowd and Father Ted. You don’t get a lot of belly laughs from watching the show; it’s instead more of a chuckle-some but deeply enjoyable TV show.

The series is also really great at finding small details about what it’s like to be a parent in 21st century Britain, and feels really relatable. The central group of characters are really great at showcasing all different sides of motherhood – whether it’s about being a single parent, a parent going through a divorce, a parent trying to balance motherhood and a career or being a parent later in life.

This season also gives our main characters some great character development, particularly for Julia, who is tempted to give up her marriage and home life for a silly crush she has on a builder. Meg also gets a great season as she gets diagnosed with cancer, and we see the heart-breaking impact this has on her home life. Moodie does a great job with this story-line, and the majority of performers are great, especially Martin, Morgan and Ready (an honourable mention should also go to the terrific one-episode appearance by the legend that is Joanna Lumley).

This series has slowly rose up in the ranks to become BBC’s funniest and freshest comedy show that everyone should really check out. (Rating: 9/10) (Available on BBC iPlayer)

Love, Death + Robots (volume 2): Netflix’s odd little show, Love, Death + Robots debuted it’s second season (or, the second “volume”) this week. This show was created by Tim Miller as a re-imagining/ reboot of the 1981 animated science fiction film, Heavy Metal and was also executive produced by Miller and David Fincher.

The dark animation series is in the same vein of Black Mirror and Inside No. 9 in that it is an anthology series, with a new story, cast and creator in each episode. The only real current throughout all the episodes is that they usually take place in a dystopian and future society, often with an emphasis on robotics. The animation is stunning and filled with contrasting, differing styles (including computer-generated, stop-motion and photo-realistic animations), and often places an emphasis on excessive gore and violence.

When the first season premiered, it may have been uneven, but it was also a bold, daring and creative new series, filled with ambition. The season’s 18 episodes almost came across as a series of interesting short films (always running from 6 to 18 minutes long), and there was some particular high-points including “Sonnie’s Edge”, “Three Robots” and especially, “Zima Blue”. This season is perfectly fine, but just lacks a bit of the impact of the first series.

This time around there are fewer episodes (only 8, as opposed to 18), which means that it lacks the misses of the first season (there is nothing as mediocre as “The Dump”), but also lacks the heights. Ultimately, this season just feels a little safe. However, there are some definite great episodes. In particular, the stop-motion dark Christmas tale, “All Around the House” – about two children who discover that Santa is actually an insectoid monster – is just about as Tim Burton-esque and Lovecraftian as it sounds.

Also, “Pop Squad”, which centres around an immortal hit-man who is hired to kill off all the newly-born children in a society where every-one can live forever, is a real existential treat that is aided by some beautiful Blade Runner-like visuals. The final episode “The Drowning Giant” is definitely uneven but should provide a polarising audience response like a lot of first season’s episodes received.

Love, Death + Robots doesn’t hold up with some of the dark animated series on television at the moment (it’s nowhere near as good as Invincible or Rick and Morty or Solar Opposites) and if you’re looking for a better anthology series, then definitely check out Inside No. 9. However, the series is definitely worth checking out for it’s stunning animation and some occasionally great episodes. (Rating: 7/10) (Available from Netflix)

The Pact: This six-part miniseries is the BBC’s latest attempt at crafting a really addictive, captivating mystery. With it’s all-female leading cast and it’s central murder mystery, it’s obvious that the BBC is trying to replicate the sort of success that the 2017 HBO hit, Big Little Lies received.

The series centres on a group of four friends, Anna (Laura Fraser), Nancy (Julie Hesmondhalgh), Louie (Eiry Thomas) and Cat (Heledd Gwynn), who work at a brewery, often treated with hostility by their cruel and vindictive boss, Jack (Aneurin Barnard). As revenge for his behaviour, the friends play a “harmless prank” on Jack by kidnapping Jack, taking him to the woods and leaving him there. They return to the woods to discover that Jack is actually dead.

Although all four of them claim they didn’t do anything, the friends decide to make a “pact” by promising to keep what they did a secret from every-one (even the police) to protect their jobs and lives. However, the situation is complicated by a variety of matters, including Anna’s detective husband, Max (Jason Hughes), her rebellious daughter, Tasmin (Gabrielle Creevy) and the re-arrival of Jack’s father and Louie’s brother, Max (Eddie Marsan). Also, they soon have to deal with someone blackmailing them, claiming to have seen what they did in the woods.

Obviously, as you can tell from the set-up, this is a very trashy, and often-times, soapy drama packed full of twists. Although, the series is aiming for the classiness and sophistication of something like Big Little Lies, it ends up feeling remarkably similar to the trashy Harlan Cohen Netflix television shows, Safe (2018) and The Stranger (2020). It’s a bit like one of those fun and thrilling novels that you read all of on an air-plane journey. The sort of ones where you absolutely can’t put it down but don’t feel all that enlightened by the end. It’s a bit like fast food. But saying that, for fast food, it’s still fairly good fast food.

Firstly, there are some interesting ideas at play there. Although the show is not really centred around the pandemic or lock-down crisis, we do see various characters discussing how the lock-down has affected them. Several characters detail how lock-down has made them realise that they want more out of their humdrum life or career, and has sparked a wanting for change in their life. This is a very interesting avenue to take modern film and television projects – not explicitly centring around the pandemic, but still using it as an interesting background to the drama.

Also, much like Big Little Lies, it’s very interesting to see women portrayed in this kind of light. The central women often do morally reprehensible things and have a chance to misbehave, and this is a very interesting idea. They often discuss their discontent or dissatisfaction with their lives, and these are often characteristics that only men get to play out in the media. In particular, Julie Hesmondhalgh’s Nancy gets a very interesting arc – at first, we think see is a meek and caring woman, who is possibly being abused by her husband, and then we discover she actually has a dark side, and has a strange hold over her husband.

Hesmondhalgh is really great, and it’s really refreshing to see her in a new kind of role, and also great are Thomas and Gwynn. It’s a bit of shame, however, that Fraser is a bit mediocre in her leading role. Also, Anna’s characterisation is fairly disappointing, and she’s probably the least interesting of the four main women, and that’s a real shame.

The central mystery at the show’s core is a bit hit and miss. There are some good characterisations and plot threads here and there, but also some sub-par writing also there. The show does not have a really perfectly crafted story at it’s centre, like all the best mysteries do (like Big Little Lies or even something like 2019’s Knives Out does). For example, Mare of Easttown, currently airing on SkyAtlantic, is a show that covers very similar ground but does it in a supremely superior way.

Although the show could do with some improving, it’s still very entertaining and fun. A lot like The Stranger and Safe, this series really works as a piece of addictive trash, and if you go into watching it like that, you will probably have fun with it. (Rating: 7/10) (Available from BBC iPlayer)

Nomadland: The latest Best Picture winner reviewed

Nomadland, the latest film to win Best Picture at the Oscars, has finally found its home in the UK. It is airing exclusively to the streaming service, Disney+ on the subscription add-on, Star. Not only did the film win Best Picture, but the film also won Best Actress for lead star, Frances McDormand (the third Best Actress award for the actress) and Best Director for director, Chloe Zhao.

Zhao broke out as an interesting new director after the 2017 acclaimed drama, The Rider, and has since been announced as director for the Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero movie, Eternals, a very bold and unorthodox choice for both the director and the franchise. Zhao winning the Best Director has become a huge watershed moment for the majority of awards (Zhao also won the BAFTA, Golden Globe and DGA for Best Director, among many others), with Zhao becoming the second woman and first women of colour to win such awards.

Nomadland is based of the non-fiction book of the same name written by Jessica Bruder, and follows Fern (McDormand) as a woman whose has recently lost her long-time job working at power plant and is left heartbroken at the death of her beloved husband. She decides to sell all of her belongings and her house, and live life as a country-crossing nomad, travelling in a van she purchased who she calls “Vanguard”.

The film has gathered critical acclaim and many have called it the best film of last year. Viewing this film after such acclaim and winning the big prize at the Oscars might be a little damaging, as there are few films that can live up to that kind of hype. And, coming off the back of such huge hype, you will be surprised to discover that this is a very quiet and unassuming movie.

Nomadland fits into a weird category in that it is both ambitious and very quiet. The film aims to discuss a lot of big ideas and topics, such as being unemployed and attempting to make a living during The Great Depression, the grief of losing a loved one, attempting to start your life over again, and the reality of living life as nomad in our current society.

However, the film is also very slight and quiet. The film does not take pleasure or importance in big moments – there are no huge explosions, gruesome death scenes, or surprising plot twists. That what makes Zhao such a surprising figure for the director of an MCU movie, a franchise built on huge explosions and heightened drama. There aren’t even that many big confrontations or dialogue-built drama, a usual factor of independent movies.

Instead, the movie takes pleasure on small moments. There are lengthy sequences where we see Fern discussing a plate her husband bought her before his death, or detailing a shelf in her van that her father made for her. We see various small and realistic details about what it’s like to be a nomad, from shitting in a bucket on the side of the road, or a tire being blown on your van, and the impact this has on Fern. Zhao likes to take pleasure in small moments and this is really refreshing and lovely way of film-making.

Also, there is a really interesting spiritual side to this movie. Fern experiences death a lot throughout the narrative – her husband has just died, her parents has died, and at one point, her neighbour and friend, Swankie reveals that she is near death. However, the film never tugs at the heartstrings or gets emotional about this. Instead, it takes pleasure that they will meet again “down the road”. This another really refreshing park of Zhao’s film-making – she firmly believes in the prospect of an afterlife and that there is a spiritual side of life. This actually does make her a great choice for Eternals, a movie that promises to be a cosmic and spiritual sci-fi movie spanning thousands of decades.

Outside of the plot, Zhao makes sure that this is a really visual-striking and beautiful movie. The cinematography is done by Zhao’s usual director of photography, Joshua James Richards, and he populates the film with dazzling panning shots of desert landscapes and beautiful scenery, all filled with contrasting and really gorgeous lighting. And, much like the film itself, the cinematography is not over-stylised and does not capture really unique landscapes. Instead, Zhao takes pleasure in the normal and ordinary situations, and beauty of the real world that surrounds Fern.

Also, McDormand’s (now Oscar-winning) performance is as you’ll always expect, really terrific. The actress is known for iconic, other Oscar-winning roles in the Coen brothers classic, Fargo (1996) and the Martin McDonaugh tragedy, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), and here, she finds a beautiful middle ground between those two roles. She is not funny like she is in Fargo, and doesn’t play up to the big moments of Three Billboards. Instead, she plays it small, but still does so with an aura of devastation that slowly hits you over the course of the film.

There’s also some really wonderful supporting performances. In a very similar to way to what Zhao did with The Rider, she casts non-actors who are in a similar situation to our protagonist. So, here, she casts real-life nomads in big supporting roles, and all of them are really, really terrific, and does contribute to adding a sense of realism to the film. In particular, Linda May, Bob Wells and particularly, Charlene Swankie are all really terrific.

Although there is a lot of great craft here, there is still a bit of impact missing from this movie. As much as the slow pace and low-key approach is refreshing and lovely, it still feels like there is something missing from the film – possibly it could of been more emotional or possibly even more devastating. It’s a bit of shame that the element of the film that separates it from the rest of the movies out there (it’s low-key and down-to-earth realism) actually also becomes the film’s biggest weakness too.

That being said, Nomadland is a really accomplished piece of work that shows Zhao has great promise as a filmmaker. Fresh off it’s Best Picture win, this slow-moving drama is definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 8/10

Recent Releases: Stowaway, The Woman in the Window and more reviewed

Some of the newest releases out this month, including the Richard Linklater movie, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? and the Netflix thrillers, Stowaway, Things Heard & Seen and The Woman in the Window. Check out if any of them are any good, right here.

Stowaway: One of the many films that has finally found it’s home on streaming services is Stowaway, a new sci-fi thriller drama, now airing on Netflix. With clear influences of Gravity and Solaris, the film centres on three astronauts (Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette and Daniel Dae Kim), who are embarking on a two-year mission to Mars.

While on their mission, disaster strikes when they discover an unconscious man, Michael (Shamier Anderson) – the “stowaway” of the title – hidden behind a panel. With a new man now on the ship that they were unprepared for, the crew start to get concerned about the risk of running out of oxygen. Now stuck in a moral dilemma about what to do with their new stowaway, the three of them must find a new way to survive.

From the outset, Stowaway is a very handsomely crafted and thrilling movie, one where the majority of the production – from the visual effects to the cinematography to the musical score to the direction to the camera work to the performances (particularly by an always good Anna Kendrick) – are all very solid and well-done. The film does feel very similar to it’s influences (like Gravity and The Martian) in how it creates a solid science-fiction drama, one of which is going to more focused on character, atmosphere and raising interesting ethical and moral debates.

However, the film’s craft is crucially let down by the film’s script, which at best, feels mediocre and at worst, feels downright laughable. Firstly, the idea of stowaway being abroad this ship is extremely lazy writing – it’s incredibly implausible (I mean, someone at NASA surely would of checked this) and never properly explained in a satisfying and fulfilling way.

The stowaway twist is a plot element that is hard to get over, but the script continues to be exceedingly stupid and nonsensical. During the whole last act (the last 30 minutes), the characters do so many stupid things that it almost becomes unbearable, only made worst by how they are apparently really smart and intelligent individuals.

There are also so many interesting avenues that they film could of gone down – the film could of been a psychological thriller (it’s got the score for it) where Michael could of ended up as the villain, or one of the other astronauts goes mad and insists Michael must be killed. It would of been like The Thing level of paranoia without the alien.

This is a solid movie filled with a lot of great craft, but ultimately, it is just let down by a particularly mediocre script. It’s such a shame because it could of been really good. (Rating: 6/10) (Available on Netflix)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?: Richard Linklater’s follow-up to his 2017 subtle effort, Last Flag Flying is the cinematic adaptation of the novel of the same name by Maria Semple. The plot follows Bernadette Taylor (Cate Blanchett), a formerly innovative and popular architect, who has since lost her creative passion. In an effort to revitalise her career, she abandons her family – husband, Elgie (Billy Crudup) and daughter, Bee (Emma Nelson) – to find a project that she is really passionate about.

The original book was heavily popular, earning critical and commercial success, spending over a year on the New York Times Bestsellers List. It seems obvious that all the great things about the novel have been completely lost in translation, as Linklater crafts one of the weakest films in his entire filmography.

The original novel had an innovative and creative style of writing, telling it’s story in a series of e-mails, news articles, memos, and transcripts (a style most famously done in the iconic 1890s novel, Nosferatu). From watching Bernadette, you can tell that this style really doesn’t translate to the screen well, as it finds a series of clunky ways to tell it’s story.

For example, characters will just talk to each other about the nature of the plot, or there will be extended breaks from the narrative for characters to watch interviews and news videos. There is almost too much talk, and not enough showing. This ends up taking importance over having a decent characterisation and good pace.

The end result is a severely clunky and messy adaptation. It’s a shame because Linklater is truly one of the best film-makers of the his generation, crafting some brilliant films including Boyhood (2014) and the Before trilogy (1995-2013), but this is definitely one of his weakest endeavours. Hopefully, he can return with a bang. (Rating: 5/10) (Available from all the usual streaming services, including Google Play and Amazon).

Things Heard & Seen: One of the brand new movies to come straight to Netflix is Things Heard & Seen, a very odd and uneven movie that feels part marriage drama, part haunted house horror and part thriller. The film is directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, duo filmmakers who previously made names for themselves by directing the acclaimed docudrama, American Splendor (2003), and stars a load of talented people, including Amanda Seyfried and James Norton in the lead roles. 

The film centres around married couple, Catherine (Seyfred) and George Claire (Norton), who, with their young daughter in tow, move to a creepy farm house in New York after George gets a job working at a university. After inspecting the house and becoming familiar with some of the locals – including George’s colleague, Justine (Rhea Seehorn), George’s student, Willis (Natalia Dyer) and their neighbour, Eddie (Alex Neustaedter) – Catherine begins to suspect that the house is harbouring some dark secrets. 

The film is an extremely confused and strange drama, one that never manages to execute any of it’s particular genres all that successfully. In particular, the paranormal elements never really go anywhere, and feels like they are just thrown in there to attempt to make the film more mainstream. The film works better when it is attempting to be an interesting relationship drama between Norton and Seyfried’s characters. 

Seyfried, coming off the back of her brilliant performance in Mank, is perfectly fine in the lead role, and has all the makings of a pretty good scream queen. Norton is also really good, and by far and away the most interesting element of the film is how his character is developed. Over the course of the film, we discover that he is actually a much more malevolent and deceitful character in a series of interesting revelations that actually do feel very creative and clever. 

It’s also interesting to see television actresses, Dyer (Stranger Things) and Seehorn (Better Call Saul) get big movie roles. In her six years as Kim Wexler on Better Call Saul, Seehorn has crafted one of the greatest television characters of all time, and her performance in this movie is one of it’s definite highlights. However, the film kind of lets both actresses down as it doesn’t really give them anything interesting to do. 

For the first three quarters of its run-time, Things Heard & Seen (terrible title, by the way) remains a mostly fine, but slightly uneven, drama. However, the film’s ending is really terrible, and really lets the film down. Suddenly, it becomes obvious that Berman and Pulcini had no idea where to take the film when they started writing it. This movie ultimately has it’s moments, but just feels like a wholly uneven and messy piece of work. (Rating: 4/10) (Available from Netflix)

The Woman in the Window: After a series of long-time delays and post-production issues, The Woman in the Window is finally getting its release in the UK. The thriller was originally meant to be released in 2019, however, it was delayed to 2020 to be re-gigged after some negative early buzz. Following the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the film’s theatrical release was cancelled entirely, and then sold to Netflix, who released it earlier in the month. 

The film is based on the novel of the same name (written by A.J. Finn), a commercial hit, which many critics have positively compared to Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train for it’s intriguing mystery and soap opera-like twists. The plot follows the agoraphobic Anna Fox (Amy Adams), who becomes convinced that her intriguing next-door neighbour, Jane Russell (Julianne Moore) has been murdered by Jane’s husband, Alistair (Gary Oldman). Despite this, the police and Alistair claim that Jane is actually fine, however, Anna soon discovers that she has been replaced by a similar looking but completely different woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh). 

For the first 20 minutes or so, the film is actually really quite good. There is a great sequence at the beginning between Adams and Moore’s characters, which is really well-written, and filled with a vibrant electricity from seeing two of the most iconic screen veterans getting to work opposite each other. The opening also set-ups a lot of intriguing mysteries, especially including the exact reason why Anna has been separated from her husband and young daughter. 

And then, the film completely turns to crap. From the moment that Anna “witnesses” Jane’s death, the film turns into a messy, badly directed and badly edited movie. From the premise alone, you can tell that this movie was inspired by the 1954 classic, Rear Window, and the film largely feels like director Joe Wright’s ode and tribute to Hitchcock (one of the very first images is a poster of James Stewart in Vertigo). However, the direction lacks the crispness and sharpness of Hitchcock, often feeling like an overly edited and down-right just confusing movie. 

However, saying that, the twists are all mostly fine. If I was consuming this as it was firstly conceived in it’s novel form, I would have been thrilled and surprised by a lot of the twists in the narrative. Although some of the narrative decisions are fine, the way they are executed is pretty terrible. Characters will just reveal the twists somewhat out of nowhere, with no interesting or satisfying set-ups. 

The post-production problems most probably affected this movie, as the ending product feels very messy indeed. It’s a shame, as it could have been quite good, and has a very intriguing opening 20 minutes. (Rating: 3.5/10) (Available on Netflix).

The Mitchells vs. The Machines Review – one of the greatest animation treats of the last decade

One of the biggest success stories to come out of the film animation business in the past decade has been Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The pair have been behind some of the most extraordinarily successful animated movies, including directing Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 2014’s brilliant The Lego Movie, and producing the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the latter of which ranks up there as one of the best films of the 21st century.

Their latest producing effort is The Mitchells vs. The Machines, which sees the film-making duo in again top form, crafting another absolutely brilliant animation masterpiece. The plot centres on the Mitchell family – a slightly splintered but still loving family, consisting of “macho”, technophobe father, Rick (voiced by Danny McBride), extremely loving and perky mother, Linda (Maya Rudolph), their dinosaur-obsessed young son, Aaron (Mike Rianda), and their quirky and strange teenage daughter, Katie (Abbi Jacobson), our lead protagonist and conduit through the film.

Katie, an outcast auteur film-maker who makes hilarious short films, pulls all her effort into applying and getting into film school. She often clashes with her more practical father, and in an effort to rekindle their relationship, Rick cancels Katie’s flight to college and takes the family on a cross-country road trip to try and sort out their differences. However, the trips doesn’t go well when a small thing called the robot apocalypse comes – the AI assistant, PAL (Olivia Colman) has turned evil and plans to imprison every human on the planet. Now, the Mitchell family must work together to save the world.

Alongside Lord and Miller’s producing duties, the film is directed by Mike Rianda (who also voices Aaron and many other characters in the film), who co-writes the film with Jeff Rowe. Rianda and Rowe were one of the many people involved in Gravity Falls, a brilliant animated comedy-drama that definitely feels like an influence on The Mitchells vs. The Machines – both projects combine family-orientated humour and an apocalyptic-like threat.

One of the many strengths of the film is the gorgeous animation style, which feels part Into the Spider-Verse and part Gravity Falls. Like Gravity Falls, the film takes pleasure in the outdoors and nature, and like Into the Spider-Verse, the film is filled with bright colours and an vibrant colour palette that feels like it has come straight out of a comic book.

The animation also has an extra finesse to it, and there are many moments were the film will pause for several moments and give us a brief funny moment to break the serious tone (see: the Rick Mitchell Special). This is what the Sony Pictures Animation studio are really good at – they have a really unique animation style that separates them from their rival animation companies, like Pixar. Also, much like Into the Spider-Verse, the film is pumped with a strange and unique musical score. The score is a combination between bass-y, brass-y tunes mixed with operatic, emotional songs, and this type of score attributes to making the film a special and unique experience.

Other than the animation, the humour is a real strength of the film. The film passes the “5-laugh” test in about the first five minutes, and you will literally be in stitches every few minutes. There is some really intelligent, insightful satire about the techno-obsessed society that we live in now, but does it in a really innovative and refreshing way. It manages to craft a really wonderful mix between a funny, almost immature sense of humour (which has obviously been influenced by Into the Spider-Verse and The Lego Movie) and some really insightful, social commentary.

Rianda and Rowe have also infused the film with stories about their own lives, as the family relationships at the film’s core feel really real and relatable. The central father-and-daughter relationship between the technophobe Rick and the quirky Katie gives the film it’s depth and emotional core. All of the characters are really brilliant and wonderfully written. Although this remains a very stereotypical and identifiable set of characters (they’re essentially The Simpsons), they are all given fully fleshed-out personalities. A special shout-out goes to the Mitchells’ dog, Mochi.

The voice performances are all absolutely superb. McBride gives a performance with much more depth that he normally does; Rudolph is absolutely hilarious; Jacobson is as quirky and strange as her character is; Rianda gives his character plenty of strange inflections, while Colman creates a very funny and menacing villain. There should also be a special mention that go should go to Fred Armisen and Beck Bennett as two defective AI robots, “Eric” and “DeborahBot5000”.

The Mitchells vs. the Machines (bit of a clunky title, maybe) is an expertly crafted, pretty much perfect animation feature through and through that every-one (whether you’re young, old or middle-aged) can enjoy. It’s almost 2 hour long run-time completely zips by, and like all the best modern film comedies, you will instantly want to re-watch it to catch all of the quick gags and high volume of jokes. I’ve already watched the film 3 times in the space of 3 days. I know for a fact that if I was 10, this would be my favourite film of all time. It will definitely rank up there as one of the best animated features of all time, and will definitely be in the discussion as one of the best films of 2021.

Rating: 10/10

Recent Releases: Minari, Sound of Metal and more reviewed

Some of the brand new films this month are the Guantanamo Bay legal drama, The Mauritanian; the Netflix creature feature romance movie, Love & Monsters, and the recently Best Picture nominated dramas, Sound of Metal and Minari. Check out if any of them are worth your time, right here. 

Love and Monsters: One of the many movies that is finally getting its UK release is Love and Monsters, a movie getting its international release on Netflix, having been released on Wednesday. The plot follows an apocalyptic wasteland, in which the chemical damage from the destruction of a meteor has mutated animals and insects (like ants and spiders) into gigantic and destructive monsters.

The film centres on a young man, Joel (Dylan O’Brian), who becomes separated from his girlfriend, Aimee (Jessica Henwick) when the apocalypse hits. After taking shelter underneath the ground with a group of survivors for 6 years, Joel decides to take a big risk by finding Aimee and reuniting with his lost love. And, during this tumultuous journey, Joel comes face-to-face with the monsters, and is forced to face his fears.

From the outset, Love and Monsters is a brilliantly wacky and out-there effort, playing up to many genres and homages many movies. The premise combines the post-apocalyptic roots of something like Mad Max; the young, coming-of-age romance plot stemming from a John Hughes movie, especially Sixteen Candles; the Arthropod invasion of The Mist, as well as the quirky and subversive humour of the 2009 hit, Zombieland.

The film is really good fun – the action adventure plot is filled with surprises and great humour, and there are many brilliant (recently Oscar-nominated) special effects. O’Brien is absolutely terrific in the lead role, and he gives a fun and charismatic energy to the film. The end result is a very original and creative effort, that seems like it might be the start of a new franchise, as the film sets up many sequels.

It isn’t perfect – some of the supporting characters feel a little flat and underdeveloped, and the last act is a little abrupt, where they introduce a new villain out-of-nowhere that feels really unearned. However, Love and Monsters remains a really brilliant effort – a really fun piece of popcorn entertainment. (Rating: 8/10) (Available from Netflix).

Minari: One the biggest contenders during this year’s awards season has been Minari, which won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and also got nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film has been called “the new Parasite”, being an internationally-produced film that has somehow managed to break into the mainstream. 

The plot is centred around the director, Lee Isaac Chung’s real life, in which a family of South Korean immigrants who move to America during the 1980s, in hopes of living out the American dream. While there, the father, Jacob (played by The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun) tries to live out his dream – owning his own vegetable patch, and selling the vegetables to make a living out of it. Meanwhile, the family deal with various problems, including their son, David (Alan Kim)’s worrying heart condition and the arrival of the maternal grandmother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung). 

Unlike Parasite, Minari does not have a really intricately plotted narrative or a load of game-changing plot twists; the film instead fits into a genre of films that are really “about nothing” – we just spend time with these characters and their lives for 2 hours or so. And, for the most part, this really works. I love the pace and feel of the film, only made more effective by the brilliant direction by Chung and the film’s intricate editing. 

And, as you would expect – the performances really make the film. Yeun is absolutely terrific, and has echoes of classic Hollywood leading men, particularly James Dean. He completely steps out of his Walking Dead past, and should be the front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar, along with Riz Ahmed (however, both will probably lose to Chadwick Boseman). Also terrific are Youn and a 10-year-old Kim, whose beautiful grandmother-and-son relationship is one of the film’s highlights, and gives the film it’s offbeat and gentle humour. It’s a shame, however, that the other family members, portrayed by Han Ye-ri and Noel Kate Cho, don’t get half as much time to shine as Yeun, Kim and Youn do. 

It’s a really interesting and charming film for the majority of it’s run-time, however, I just wished it hit me with the emotion that all the best films about nothing do. It’s a real sad, melancholic and arresting film that it’s definitely worth your time, but it’s not quite the masterpiece that some have made it out to be. Parasite it most definitely is not. Still, definitely worth checking out. (Rating: 8/10) (Available from streaming services, including Curzon Home Cinema and Amazon) 

Sound of Metal: Along with Judas and the Black Messiah, Sound of Metal has become one of the surprise contenders at this year’s Oscars, nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Riz Ahmed. Ahmed portrays Ruben, a drummer in a heavy metal band of two – along with his girlfriend, Lou (Olivia Cooke). He is soon heartbroken to discover that he has actually gone completely deaf, which soon threatens to disrupt his career, relationship and whole life.

From the outside, it looks like this film could possibly be 2020’s answer to Whiplash (the 2014 Best Picture nominee that was also centred around drumming), however, you will be surprised to discover that is actually much more of a grounded and sombre effort, with director, Darius Marder painting a devastating and emotional portrayal of a young man dealing with a heart-breaking life change.

Ahmed is absolutely fantastic in the lead role, and it’s wonderful to see him getting so much awards recognition. The performance really works because he plays it small and doesn’t ham it up, while not being afraid to delve into some of his (very understandable) anger at his new situation. The sound mixing is also fantastic, beautifully showing us the various levels of Ruben’s hearing loss. Therein lies the real strength of the film – it really manages to bring us into Ruben’s perspective, and feel exactly what he is feeling.

There are some minor flaws with the film – in particular, the film’s script could be improved slightly. It sometimes feels a little contrived and like there is a scene missing here and there, particularly in how others treat Ruben when he discovers his new diagnosis. Despite this, this is very strong work from Marder and remains a career highlight – if not, THE career highlight – for Ahmed. (Rating: 8/10) (Available from Amazon Prime Video).

The Mauritanian: One of the films that originally seemed like an awards contender, however, has since fizzed out is The Mauritanian. The legal drama directed by prior documentary film-maker, Kevin Macdonald (Touching the Void, Whitney, The Last King of Scotland) is centred on two defence attorneys (Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley), who attempt to get an innocent prisoner of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Mohemedou Ould Slahi (Tahar Rahim) released after he was detained without any charge or trial. 

The film has all the making of a “failed Oscar bait” picture – one that has some great performances, but just could have been executed a bit better. There is a definite pacing issue in this film – the film is only 2 hours long, but feels about 3 hours long. There are many scenes and story-lines that feel a little out-of-place, especially a lengthy torture sequence that is introduced far too late into the film. 

However, the performances are great. Foster, in her Golden Globe-winning role, is really great, as is newcomer, Rahim, who provides a real emotional core to the film. Supporting actors, Woodley and Benedict Cumberbatch do feel slightly wasted, however, they are also perfectly fine. The film is overall, slightly mediocre, however, is overall worth watching for the brilliant lead performances. (Rating: 7/10) (Available from Amazon Prime Video)

Palm Springs: A script full of revealing secrets.

Spoilers about Palm Springs will follow.

Palm Springs, the time loop romantic comedy starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, has finally got it’s release in the UK, debuting on Amazon Prime on Friday. The film was originally released almost a year ago in the US, on the streaming service, Hulu, and immediately gathered a devoted fan following and widespread critical acclaim. 

The film was immediately dubbed a supremely timely and felicitous movie in these pandemic times – essentially focusing on Samberg’s character, Nyles being stuck in an infinite time loop with no hope of escaping. After deciding to just exist in this new reality and giving up trying to ever escape, Nyles is surprised to discover that bridesmaid in the wedding, Sarah (Cristin Milioti) is also stuck in the same time loop with him. 

When you hear about any kind of new “time loop comedy”, you get immediate flashbacks to films of the same kind, in particular, Groundhog Day. However, this film is able to elevate itself from the pack, by showcasing an incredibly inventive and intelligent script (written by Max Barbakow and Andy Siara) that always manages to stay well ahead of its audience. 

The film’s opening premise is one of the many ways the film succeeds in being innovative. At the beginning, we don’t see a character go through this change of becoming stuck in a time loop (like we do with Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day), actually we approach Nyles’s character at a point where he has been in the loop for a long time. This creates a refreshing change of pace, showing us a character that already knows all about this environment, and doesn’t need to figure out about it along the way. 

And, then we are introduced to Sarah. Sarah is the Bill Murray of this movie as she discovers the new situation she is stuck in, in almost real time. She is our audience surrogate as we discover what is really happening as she does, however, this time, is accompanied by a helper who knows exactly the situation she is going through. 

But that’s just the beginning – what happens to Sarah and Nyles throughout the rest of the film is the really inventive part. The script intentionally keeps secrets from the audience, and in fact, there is much to be revealed about our two lead protagonists that we didn’t know on the surface. Although, the film has been immediately compared to Groundhog Day, it actually has more in common with films like Gone Girl and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in its use of unreliable narrators. 

When we are introduced to Sarah, we are introduced to a strange mystery surrounding her character. Whenever Sarah wakes up in the morning, we hear the shower turning off, and we immediately discover that someone else is in the room with her. At first, we think nothing of it – the “screw up” that she is identified as, has probably just had sex with someone at the wedding. However, the film keeps reminding us of this, up until the point where Sarah actually forgets the secret she is holding. 

And, then it is revealed – Sarah has actually has sex with her sister’s fiance, of whom they are actually at the wedding of. The secret comes to a big surprise to the audience, and we discover the amount of guilt that Sarah has been carrying. However, we are not revealed to this secret for a long time. Even after Sarah has actually revealed this secret to her sister during one of the loops (hoping that this will release her from the time loop, believing that it is all down to karma), the audience are not actually told about it. 

The genius of Barbakow and Siara’s writing is that they manage to keep this a secret until it actually means something for a character – at this point, Sarah is overcome with grief and decides to change her life, which firstly means escaping from this time loop. In this film, there is very little plot drive to speak of. The plot revolves around two characters who are doing absolutely nothing – just “wasting time” in their reality. However, this plot development gives the film it’s drive that it needs during its final act. 

Not only that, but the film reveals a big secret about Nyles near the end of the second act. Throughout the film, Nyles continuously tells Sarah that they have never had sex in this reality. From this, the two form a friendship which turns into a relationship. Just as Sarah becomes convinced that everything in their life is “meaningless”, Nyles reveals the truth – he has seduced and slept with Sarah many times in this reality. 

This is an ingenious concept that showcases the script’s real talents – finding hidden twists and details in a narrative that has been done to death. It represents an interesting moral dilemma – what would you do if you were stuck in a time loop, and someone then gets stuck with you. Do you tell them everything that has happened, or do you try to start afresh in this new reality. This recent twist is even more clever as it really comes out of nowhere – Sarah’s secret is something that has always hinted at, while Nyles’s secret comes across as a huge surprise. 

These twists are not just exciting and thrilling, but also really work in the context of the narrative. Both Sarah and Nyles are in a literal rut, stuck in a day that repeats itself, and reality that they think they know literally everything about. As the two discover each other’s secrets, the two discover that this reality is still full of surprises. 

At the end of the movie when the time loop has been restored, and Nyles and Sarah have returned to their reality, Nyles makes a passing comment that he now has to go get his dog back from a neighbour. Again, the movie has revealed a surprising secret about Nyles’s character not just to Sarah, but to the audience. Both characters remark that they will become sick of each other in this reality, however, the film shows us that there will always be surprises in store. We never fully know someone, and actually in this case, this is a good thing. Ultimately, the couple discover that life is full of surprises. 

Palm Springs is a comedy broadly speaking. It has all the sex jokes and immature humour that can be expected from a comedy starring Andy Samberg, however, this time, there is a real intelligence to it.Featuring a cracking script from Barbakow and Siara, Palm Springs is a smart, intelligent, lovely and really funny movie that remains a real contender for the best movie of 2021.  

Recent Releases: Godzilla vs. Kong, Run, and more reviewed.

Some of the brand new films this month are the huge blockbuser, Godzilla vs. Kong; the timely, Oscar-nominated biopic, Judas and the Black Messiah; the Netflix Sarah Paulson thriller, Run and the kids animated adventure movie, Raya and the Last Dragon. Check out if any of them are worth your time, right here.

Godzilla vs. Kong: The latest entry to Legendary Pictures’s uneven MonsterVerse takes place after the 2019 disappointment, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and the average but perfectly adequate blockbusters, Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017). In the style of old-fashioned monster mash-up movies (like the movies from Showa era, including Mothra vs. Godzilla), this one sees Godzilla and King Kong go head to head in spectacular fashion. 

Like the other 3 films in the franchise, this film takes an independent filmmaker, known for making small movies, and gives them a huge, big-budget project to work on. Here, Adam Wingard, known for making the small-budget horror movies, You’re Next (2011) and The Guest (2013), does a brilliant job at directing the movie. He gives just the right amount of spectacle and grand scale to the movie, crafting a good, old-fashioned blockbuster that gets in, gets out and doesn’t mess about.  

Unlike a lot of big monster movies that have come out recently (ahem, Transformers, ahem), the film is paced expertly, with great action scenes and a clearly defined scale, where you can always tell who’s fighting who, and where all the characters are. It’s also got some absolutely brilliant special effects, and beautiful cinematography that just begs to be seen on the big screen. 

As is always the case with these monster movies, the character development and human drama becomes a big point of contention for audiences. And here, the human drama that we get is a little dull but perfectly fine, with newcomer child actor Kaylee Hottle giving a good performance, but the other story-line involving Millie Bobby Brown, Brian Tyree Henry and Julian Dennison being quite unnecessary and badly paced.

However, if you’re looking for a huge, big-budget movie full of monsters punching the shit out of each other, then look no further than Godzilla vs. Kong. It’s a fun, dumb but still well crafted blockbuster that’s lots of great fun. (Rating: 8/10) (Available from most major streaming services, including Google Play and Amazon)

Judas and the Black Messiah: One of the surprise awards contenders for this awards season, this timely biopic has been nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The film stars Lakeith Stanfield as an FBI agent, William O’Neal, who becomes an undercover FBI mole, helping them investigate the Black Panther Party, run by the charismatic leader, Fred Hampton, played to perfection by Daniel Kaluuya. 

Stanfield and Kaluuya have both been nominated for Best Supporting Actor (which is a bit strange, because you do start to wonder – who’s the lead?), and they are both absolutely electric in their roles. Kaluuya, who made a big impact for his lead role in 2017’s Get Out (which remains one of the greatest films of the 21st century), does a brilliant job at balancing Hampton’s charming charisma with the devastating pathos in his story. 

However, Stanfield should also not be forgotten about, because he’s also great, and possibly has the harder job here, being the straight man to Kaluuya’s charisma and becoming a relatable audience surrogate. There are also some really great supporting turns, including by Dominique Fishback, Dominique Thorne, Jesse Plemons and a particularly intense cameo by Martin Sheen.

Aside from some great performances, Judas and the Black Messiah is also a really exciting piece of cinema, directed with a huge amount of bravado and wit. It feels reminiscent of the works of Steven Spielberg and Spike Lee (it feels remarkably similar to Lee’s 2018 Oscar-winning drama, BlacKkKlansman) in how it turns a depressing and harrowing story into a rollicking and fun feature film. Particular attention should be placed on the marvellous cinematography, the great camerawork and a particularly tense musical score.

Kaluuya will most definitely deservedly win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but the film itself should not get overshadowed because it’s a really terrific piece of work. (Rating: 9/10) (Available from most major streaming services, including Google Play and Amazon)

Run: Netflix’s brand new thriller is the latest from the mind of Aneesh Chaganty, who previously directed the 2018 thriller, Searching, which remains one of the most underrated movies of the 21st century. While his previous film was an original and creative effort – essentially it was a mystery thriller that all took place on a computer screen – this latest film is an intentionally more conventional and traditional effort.

Run centres on a young teenage girl, Chloe (Kiera Allen), who is raised by her controlling mother, Diane (Sarah Paulson). Chloe apparently suffers from numerous disorders, including diabetes and asthma and has to use a wheelchair for mobility. As Chloe is getting older and is seeking to leave her mother, she begins to investigate her mother’s secrets.

Run may not be as groundbreaking or innovative as Searching was, however, it is just as intelligent and well-written. The characters all make smart and intelligent decisions, and there is just the right amount of internal logic. The performances by Allen and Paulson are dramatic, heightened and fun, but never descend into camp or silliness. For a genre that will normally see you tearing your hair out as a result of it’s stupidity, this thriller is not quite subversive, but still smart and intelligent.

And, unlike Searching, it is really tense. From the very first moment, there is a slowly-building terror and rocketing tension that Alfred Hitchcock would be proud of. There is also an absolutely cracking twist halfway through that completely changes the game. If he keeps up this track record, Chaganty might become the M. Night Shymalan of his generation by crafting twisty, turning, smart and tense thrillers.

Run is an example of Chaganty at the top of his game, and also features great work from Allen and Paulson. It makes for a great piece of fun entertainment, that begs to be viewed with a big bowl of popcorn. In that sense, it would make a great double bill with Godzilla vs. Kong. Definitely worth a look. (Rating: 8.5/10) (Available from Netflix)

Raya and the Last Dragon: Disney’s newest film (outside of Pixar) is Raya and the Last Dragon, a really cracking animated adventure film. The film centres on Raya (Kelly Marie Tran), a young woman and courageous warrior princess, who goes on a quest for “the last dragon”, named Sisu (Awkwafina). When she re-awakens Sisu, the two go on a quest for pieces of a “gem” that will hopefully restore peace to her land and reunite Raya with her lost father.

Just like most of Disney’s films, this film is just a pretty much perfect kids animated film from beginning to end. It has everything that you want from this sort of movie – relatable, interesting characters; wonderfully colourful animation; a wonderful sense of adventure, and a goofy, witty and very funny sense of humour. However, this time around, there are some excellent action scenes and wonderfully choreographed fight choreography.

The plot is very complex and large in scale, but it always remains really easy to understand and never feels overstuffed. Ultimately, this is one of the best animated treats to come out over the last few years. It night be expensive to watch (£20 just for a rental) but it’s definitely worth it because it’s really great. (Rating: 9/10) (Available from most major streaming services, including DisneyPlus, Google Play and Amazon)

Underrated Movies: Gosford Park (2001) Review

Gosford Park remains one of the truly peculiar movies of the 2000s. The film is directed by Robert Altman, and written by Julian Fellowes, and remains their attempt to revitalise the tired “whodunnit” genre. For those that don’t know – the whodunnit genre essentially consists of a bunch of suspects gathering in one location, where one of them is murdered and everyone is a suspect.

And, Gosford Park plays out much like that – in 1930s Britain, the wealthy businessman, William McCordle (Michael Gambon) and his family host a hunting party for some friends and family over a weekend. As the guests – and their servants – arrive, William is murdered, and over the course of roughly 2 days, secrets, lies and deception between the guests is soon discovered, as the real murderer is uncovered.

Altman, one of the most prolific American filmmakers of the 70s (although, he was big in pretty much every era), seems like a odd choice for crafting a British 2000s period piece set in 30s England. However, if you think about it, he is actually a really great choice, as this film is his attempt to do a subversive twist on a famed genre, while featuring a huge, sprawling ensemble cast full of big mega-stars (including Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Kristen Scott Thmomas, Charles Dance, Richard E. Grant, Kelly Macdonald, Clive Owen, Stephen Fry, Derek Jacobi). In that way, Gosford Park is similar to many of his movies, especially McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Short Cuts, The Player and The Long Goodbye.

And, just like all of his movies, the film contains some excellently crafted cinematography. Altman is a big fan of the steadicam camera technique, constantly using lengthy panning shots throughout his work. Here, he used two cameras, which constantly moved in opposite directions. Therefore, the cast – many of which were experienced in the world of theatre – had to perform the film like it was play. The cast apparently didn’t really know when the cameras would be on them or not, and therefore, had to constantly to be in character and try to make very few mistakes.

The end result is a very natural, and realistic piece of work. Much like how the Ridley Scott’s original Alien brought realism to an otherwise fantastical genre, here, Altman brings an naturalness to the mystery genre, including overlapping dialogues, background noises, lack of music (diegetic or non-diegetic) and background character actions we otherwise would of missed. It makes us feel like we are peaking behind the curtain of what it is a standard weekend for these people. The film is very similar to the standard Altman ensemble piece – much like Short Cuts and the 70s classic, Nashville – in that there are numerous characters, some of which are changed by the film’s end, many of which who are not changed at all, and carry on business as usual. It makes us feel like we are offered a tiny glimpse into this world we know nothing about, and soon enough, that glimpse will be over.

While the film feels like a standard Altman piece of work in many ways, there is still an unorthodox nature to this one, which is mainly brought on by the script by Fellowes. Often-times Altman films are very similar to Richard Linklater films in that nothing really happens – they are very little on plot, and more centred on character. However, Gosford Park is a very different beast. This film is a written piece of work, and there is a deeply complex and thought-out plot to this. All of the suspects have a well-thought reason for the murder, and many characters have a deep and interesting characterisation.

Gosford Park is a very strange film – like a lot of Altman’s movies, it is a natural movie, but still a deeply-plotted movie at the same time. It is a film about nothing, with a murder in the middle of it. Altman and Fellowes mark a very strange and unorthodox writer-director combination, in a similar vein to when David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin made one of the greatest films of the 21st century, The Social Network. They have contrasting styles, and really shouldn’t work, but, mostly really do.

There are some flaws with this script, however, especially in how it can sometimes be a little too tightly-wound and grounded for it’s own good. If you look at a movie like Knives Out – Rian Johnson’s brilliant and subversive take on the murder mystery genre that came out last year – which is a movie that twists and turns and really subverts the whodunnit genre, but still does it in a way that is really funny and deeply thrilling. Gosford Park never really gets a chance to be extremely entertaining, and that’s a shame, because the best whodunnits really thrill you and and stimulate you.

There is a low-key element to the script. The film is funny, but in a very dry and unassuming way. There is a soft kind of social commentary to this movie, detailing just how snobby and conceited the upper class is, and how they care very little about their servants. There is a bite to this script, an edginess that is missing from Fellowes’ series, Downton Abbey, which is essentially an glorified soap opera.

Gosford Park, although an awards and commercial success when released, feels like it has crucially gone under the radar in it’s two decades since it’s release. And it really shouldn’t of done, because it’s witty, funny, and peculiar in all the best ways. One of Altman’s most underrated movies.

Zack Synder’s Justice League Review: Is “the Synder Cut” good or just better?

So, Zack Synder’s Justice League is now out – the director’s cut of 2017 movie, Justice League. In the style of this movie, I will be giving you a special kind of review. I will do a fairly mediocre job, then it will be out there for four years, then I will edit my review and add new elements to it to create a similarly mediocre review with a bit of improvement.

If you didn’t know, Justice League was released in 2017 after a very troubled production. It started off a sequel to the moderately perceived Batman v. Superman, and was set to be the DC’s answer to the blockbuster Avenger movies, giving a huge big crossover movie to DC’s biggest heroes. The film was set to be Zack Synder’s passion project, who was directing and writing the movie that would set off the start of the DC Extended Universe in exciting fashion.

However, it was wasn’t meant to be. Synder had a personal tragedy whilst filming the movie in 2016, and due to his grief, couldn’t complete the movie. However, instead of just giving him more time to finish his vision, Warner Brothers instead decided to hire a new director to finish the movie. So, Joss Whedon, director of first two Avengers movies, was hired. After a difficult filming period (including multiple claims of a toxic workplace brought on by Whedon), the end result was just a bunch of “meh” – a Frankenstein’s Monster of a movie that felt part Whedon and Synder, but not fully willing to embrace either of the maverick directors’ trademark styles.

In the three years since the film’s release, fans became obsessed by the prospect of a “Synder Cut”, the director’s cut of the movie that would showcase Synder’s finished vision. After Synder confirmed it’s existence last year, a director’s cut of the film – entitled Zack Synder’s Justice League – was soon commissioned, with a release on the American streaming service, HBOMax and an extra $70 million dollars for unfinished scenes and special effects (which it you ask me, doesn’t mean the cut actually existed in the first place).

The end result is pretty much a completely different movie. Yes, the plot is mainly the same – it centres on Batman (Ben Affleck) grouping up a bunch of heroes (aka the “Justice League”), who attempt to protect the would from an approaching apocalypse – and there are many scenes that are the same, or at least very similar. But, just in terms of style, tone and overall vision, this is very much a different movie to the studio influenced 2017 movie.

The sheer existence of this movie has both a positive and negative influence on the film industry. Getting this film made and giving it a huge new re-release (and an extra $70 million dollar budget) could possibly popularise re-cut movies to the audience, and also give audiences the idea that sometimes, the films we see are not the finished article, and often-times they can be the result of bad behind the scenes drama.

It also leads to a wider discussion about how filmmakers and creatives are treated, particularly in the popcorn entertainment blockbuster world. How Warner Brothers treated Synder in the wake of his absolutely heart-wrenching personal tragedy was absolutely unacceptable, making him sacrifice his hard work and creative vision just so they could fit a tight studio schedule.

However, there are some negatives that come with popularising re-cut movies. It gives an idea that possibly any big blockbuster movie that have been the slightest bit disappointing (and there have been many over the years, including Suicide Squad, Spider-Man 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron, to name a few) can just be re-edited and re-gigged, and then re-released. Sometimes, the film industry does need to just learn from it’s mistakes and try to not make the same mistakes moving forward, not just change them and pretend like those mistakes never happened in the first place.

Also, there is a big problem with The Synder Cut in that when the studio let him make this, they clearly let him do whatever he wanted. Sure, his vision should never of been compromised, but there is a difference between getting too many studio notes and not getting any. So, what we have in Zack Synder’s Justice League is a movie that runs for 4 hours long (including a 30-minute epilogue!), and features a enormous amount of characters and plot points. Not only is it too long but it also features scenes that run on for way too long, and a lot of scenes that could of easily of been cut (why did Aquaman have two introduction scenes?).

Most people are also forgetting that, although this is a completely different film from the 2017 film, it is ultimately adapting a lot of the same material. Therefore, it does suffer from a lot of flaws as the 2017 one, especially some occasionally flat dialogue, the villain being very one-dimensional and dull, and the whole plot point of Superman coming back to life being badly paced and quite unnecessary.

Also, your enjoyment with the film might come down with how much you enjoy Synder as a filmmaker. Here, he overflows the screen with his signature style, including so much slow motion that if they cut it out, would probably take about an hour off the run-time; a grimy and dark visual style; and a lack of real playfulness and fun. However, there is more humour in this than most of his movies, mostly stemming from some fun scenes involving Ezra Miller’s The Flash.

That being said, it is obvious Synder has a passion for the source material, and you can feel that passion filled up on the screen. All of the characters have improvised characterisation, but in particular does Ray Fisher’s Cyborg, who unlike in the 2017 version, gets a personality, backstory and a proper character arc. However, all of the characters are pretty great – they all have their time to shine, and do feel like a proper team of superheroes that work well together.

But, the main achievement of the film is that feels really coherent. While the 2017 version felt like a movie of two very uneven halves, this one does feel like a completed movie that finishes the director’s vision. Ultimately, flaws and all, the overall movie does feel quite fun and enjoyable. If this movie had some out in 2017, then I may have actually been excited to see what happens to the future of this franchise.

A lot of fans are now campaigning for Synder to be brought back in to the franchise and complete the proposed sequel to this movie, however, I feel like these fans are missing the point with the release of this new cut. The film should not be seen as a start to a new franchise, but as a once-in-a-lifetime sort of movie – something that makes a necessary comment about how commercialised and unfeeling the blockbuster film industry can sometimes be.

Ultimately, however, Zack Synder’s Justice League is a perfectly fine film, however, it is not a great film – it does feature a lot of problems. All of the film’s extremely positive reviews are probably being tainted by the extremely oddity of this movie getting re-cut and re-shuffled on such a big platform, as well as the fact that it is better than the 2017 version. However, sometimes better does not equal to being actually of great quality. And that’s what has happened with Zack Synder’s Justice League – it’s not great, but it is better.

Rating: 6/10

How The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is stuck in WandaVision’s shadow

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier debuted it’s first episode on Friday. The show is the second show to be released by Marvel Studios, after the end of WandaVision two weeks ago. And, following it’s release, the adequate but slightly mediocre action blockbuster seems permanently stuck in the shadow of it’s extremely superior successor’s shadow.

Both projects were announced in September 2018, with the intent of giving some of the MCU film side characters a moment of shine. With both WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the MCU have given Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) all a huge project in a blockbuster format.

After it’s premiere in mid-January, WandaVision established itself as something completely different – not just different from the usual Marvel fare, but also different from pretty much any other television show out there. From it’s first episode, the show had a really ingenious premise, in which we see Wanda and Vision acting out sitcom episodes, which change decade from episode to episode.

The following episodes slowly peeled away at the facade shown in the first episode, and every week we were filled with questions – why are Wanda and Vision playing out sitcom tropes, why don’t they seem to remember their lives, and ultimately, what the hell is going on? WandaVision, maybe up until it’s last episode, seemed to be a show that had the upmost confidence with it’s audience. It didn’t even start to explain what was going on until the fourth episode, and the makers had trust that we would just sit tight, and carry on watching.

WandaVision was revolutionary in that it had to be formatted as a television show – there would be no way to tell it’s format in a film format and that was one of the many reasons why the show become so enormously popular. From the outset, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier looks like a TV show that is is essentially a 6 hour long film. It looks like, with some good editing and cutting a lot scenes, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier could of almost been a 2-hour long action blockbuster movie. When you think about it, it’s quite a cynical act on behalf on the MCU – they don’t want to risk giving these minor characters a big movie project, so they just delegate them to a TV show.

But more than that, it seems as if The Falcon and the Winter Soldier lacks a fundamental drive and purpose. From Wandavision’s first episode, we knew what the rest of the series would be about. We would be going through different sitcom-like episodes, figuring out answers about what is really going on along the way. It also be about Wanda’s relationship with Vision, and finding out how grief has largely effected Wanda over the years. Yes, WandaVision was funny, original, creative, serious and sad, but moreover, it was a show with drive, purpose and intent from it’s very first second.

Think about it – what is The Falcon and the Winter Soldier really about. And, before you say anything – yes, it’s about The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. But ultimately, what is the story, what is the drive in the story, where are the stakes and what are the other five episodes really going to be about.

The series itself is completely fine – the action sequences are pretty good and the humour is kind of funny, but ultimately, is the only point of this show to develop Sam and Bucky’s characters. Moreover, is the point to just give them air-time – a reminder to the audience that they exist and will become important later.

Like I said, the show is fine and may improve, but at the moment, the show seems like it’s going to have some of the problems that some of the worst MCU films have. Ones like Ant-Man and the Wasp or Iron Man 3, in that they are just there to keep the MCU franchise going, and don’t stand up as individual pieces of work in their own right.

I’ll definitely keep watch watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but ultimately it feels like a show that is stuck in WandaVision’s huge shadow.

Cherry: Is AppleTV+’s Tom Holland vehicle any good?

Cherry marks AppleTV+’s first real big blockbuster movie to date. The streaming platform has had a lot of success with it’s television projects (including The Morning Show, Servant, and the Golden Globe-winning, Ted Lasso), however, has yet to have a real big success with any of it’s movies. With Cherry, we see blockbuster directors, Anthony and Joe Russo – previously key directors of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – returning to the film world for the first time since crafting the biggest movie of the 21st century, Avengers: Endgame.

Based on the real-life story of Nico Walker and a memoir based on his life, the film centres on Cherry (Tom Holland), a young man and former army medic, who struggling with PTSD, turns to drugs to ease his troubles. In order to support his addiction, he turns to a life of crime – robbing a series of banks with help from his friend, Pills and Coke (Jack Reynor). Ciara Bravo co-stars as his girlfriend turned wife, Emily, who Cherry also gets addicted to drugs.

Despite the talent in front of and behind the camera, Cherry is quite a mess, albeit quite an interesting and intriguing mess. The film is build up of about four different acts – it begins as a teen romance drama, and then turns turns into a war drama, a drug drama and finally, a heist crime drama. And, it’s fair to say the least interesting and most unnecessary part of the story is the war drama.

Many people will go into this film expecting to see a film about dealing with drug addiction, which is it for the most part, however, before you get to that, you have to plough through a lot of drama about seeing Holland fighting in the war. It is necessary for the story as it shows us why Cherry is suffering from PTSD, and eventually, why he must turns to drugs, but we don’t really need to see it.

It would possibly be better only hinted at and discussed, and if they really wanted to show us footage, it could possibly be seen through flashbacks. The drama is slightly interesting to watch from a superficial point of view, and it’s fun to see the Russo brothers reference classic war dramas, like Apocalypse Now. However, the action could be a little more exciting and better-directed, particularly as it comes from the mind of filmmakers who have crafted some of the best action films of the last decade.

The war drama is an unnecessary element to the film, that only adds an extra 40 minutes or so to an already bloated run-time (coming in at 2 hours and 30 minutes). And, it’s largely an uncharacteristic element of the film, as for the most part, it is poppy and gritty drug drama that feels akin to something like Trainspotting and The Wolf of Wall Street.

And, during the film, the Russos are trying their best to embody Danny Boyle or Martin Scorsese’s visual style – there are multiples fourth-wall breaks to the camera, segregating the film into different parts, poppy and kinetic editing, a bleak realism, and a very macabre dark sense of humour. Although the visual style is obviously well-crafted and sometimes thrilling to watch, it just feels very unnecessary and distracting to the overall film.

If you look at the visual style in Trainspotting, for example, that kind of visual style is done for a reason – it’s surreal and often kinetic aesthetic is done to take you into the mind of a drug addict. And, because the film is interested in being much more that just a drug drama, this visual style just feels a little odd and distracting.

The whole film feels very reminiscent of a vanity project. The Russos, after crafted the highest-grossing film of all time (however, it has since been knocked off that pedestal by Avatar), could of directed any project that they wanted to, with very little studio inference. However, at times, this is not always a good thing as it can lead to films becoming bloated and uneven, which definitely seems to have happened to Cherry.

Although, the film may be uneven, the performances are all pretty good. Bravo, in her first big leading role, is really good, as is an always good Jack Reynor. Holland, also shines in the lead role – a role that is miles away from his Spider-Man persona. In this film, we seeing him taking on a darker, more adult persona, however, still one that he can bring his comedic timing and youthful charisma to.

The worst problem with the film is that there really a good film in there somewhere. The heist drama can be very fun and thrilling, while the drug drama is often bleak, realistic and darkly funny. The craft behind the camera is great, while the performances are terrific – it just needs to be in a movie a bit better edited. The end result is quiet uneven, however, still worth watching, if only for Holland’s performance.

Rating: 6/10

“The Letter Room” – Oscar Nominated Short Film starring Oscar Isaac Review

The Oscar nominations were revealed on Monday, and amongst them were some pleasant surprises and annoying snubs, along with 15 different nominations of the best short films that are on offer, in the categories of Documentary, Animation and Live Action, respectively. Among the Best Live Action Shorts is The Letter Room, a expertly-made short directed and written by Elvira Lind.

The short stars Lind’s husband, Oscar Isaac as Richard, a sweet and quiet prison officer, who is transferred to “the letter room”, where he must inspect the letters that have been sent to the inmates. He soon becomes very invested in an inmates’ personal letters sent to his forbidden love. And, when one of them discusses suicide, he decides he must intervene.

The short, running at 32 minutes long, has some really great performances on offer. Isaac, as always, is really great in the lead role, while there is a great appearance by Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat. Appearing near the end of the short, Shawkat gets a great monologue that is really well-performed. There is also some great supporting performances by relative unknowns, Brian Petros and John Douglas Thompson.

Lind is great behind the camera, and she is a terrific visual storyteller. She doesn’t go overboard with telling the audience what is happening, and instead leaves a lot to the audience’s imagination. The short takes great affection to it’s characters, particularly it’s lead character. He always comes across as a kind, sweet, albeit flawed man that we always find interesting.

As always, while watching a short film, you begin to wonder if it would translate well to a feature film format. And, I think it’s fair to say that it would make a great feature film. It could be like a nicer, sweet version of Taxi Driver. Whether or not an adaptation is on the cards, Lind definitely has a great career ahead of her as a filmmaker.

Rating: 8/10

The Letter Room is available from Vimeo on Demand.

Oscars 2021: Who will be nominated? Who will win?

The Oscar nominations will be released tomorrow, and there are few categories who I think will be nominated.

Frances McDormand in this year’s Best Picture front-runner, Nomadland

Best Picture

Predicted nominees:

  • The Father
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Mank
  • Minari
  • Nomadland
  • One Night in Miami
  • Promising Young Woman
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Possible spoilers:

  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Soul
  • Sound of Metal

A lot of these nominees are complete locks. Nomadland has been a frontrunner not just to be nominated – but to win – Best Picture since it’s release late last year. Other films, Mank, Minari, One Night in Miami and The Trial of the Chicago 7 have all been locks since their releases, and their popularity has not really waned. Promising Young Woman has been the “Parasite” or “Get Out” of this awards season, slowly gaining a fan following, critical acclaim and awards buzz against all odds. Ending out the nominees will probably be The Father and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, two very solid dramas that have gained pretty steady acclaim and award appreciation since it’s release. If there is a possibility of any of these nominees being snubbed, it will be probably be Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, but I would still count on it being nominated.

Depending on whether or not they go for 8 or 9 nominees (last year, they went for 9, so it could be 8 this year), there are four films that could possibly take that last nomination. Judas and the Black Messiah and Sound of Metal are acclaimed dramas (that will likely gather acting nominations), and depending on how much the Academy like them, could get in the Best Picture field. Other out-there chances are Borat 2 (yes, really) after it’s Golden Globe win and Soul, a very acclaimed animated film. Hey, after 2020, it would be nice to see a brilliant animated movie nominated. Out of these four, I’d say Judas and the Black Messiah is most likely to get in, however, I think they are more likely to stick with 8 nominees.

Best Director

Predicted nominees

  • Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
  • David Fincher – Mank
  • Regina King – One Night in Miami
  • Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Possible spoilers

  • Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
  • Florian Zeller – The Father

The locks for this category have always been Chloe Zhao (who will probably win), along with David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin (it would be very unlikely if both of them didn’t get in there). Emerald Fennell will also most likely get in there, considering Promising Young Woman’s unorthodox success. That’s right, if these predictions could true, this means that this year’s Oscars will be the first year to have more than one woman in the directing field.

So, really, it’s down to the last nomination. Lee Isaac Chung was nominated at the DGA’s, while Regina King was nominated at Golden Globes, and although, Florian Zeller has not nominated in a big awards ceremony, he could be the surprise choice here. If they want to be make history (by nominated the first black woman for Best Director), they will go for King, however, if they want a bit of a surprise, they will go for Zeller. I’m saying that King just manages to get in there.

Best Actor

Predicted nominees:

  • Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
  • Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Anthony Hopkins – The Father
  • Gary Oldman – Mank
  • Steven Yeun – Minari

Possible spoilers:

  • Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
  • Mads Mikkelson – Another Round

Really, this is a battle between Chadwick Boseman and Anthony Hopkins. Both performances tug at the heartstrings – Hopkins is a former winner (that hasn’t won for over 25 years), who is playing a dementia victim, while Boseman heart-breakingly died last year. I’d say Boseman wins this one. Other than that, Gary Oldman will most likely be nominated, considering Mank’s success (and the fact he’s playing the real-life acclaimed screenwriter, Herman Mankiewicz), along with Riz Ahmed, considering his performance in Sound of Metal has been receiving steady acclaim.

Originally, Steven Yeun was looking like an unfortunate oversight to this race, however, he will probably get in because, well, no-one else seems likely. Surprises could be original front-runner, Delroy Lindo or Mads Mikkelson, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Best Actress

Predicted nominees:

  • Audra Day – The United States vs. Billie Holiday
  • Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
  • Frances McDormand – Nomadland
  • Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

The Best Actress field is probably the one category that’s pretty much a lock at the moment. Viola Davis, Vanessa Kirby and Frances McDormand have all gone through periods where each of them have been the front-runner for the award, while Carey Mulligan has been the underdog front-runner over the past few months (she might even win). Originally, the fifth nomination seemed a bit uncertain, however, after Audra Day’s surprise win at the Golden Globes, she seems pretty certain aswell.

In terms of who will win, I’d say McDormand might win, but Mulligan could be the surprise winner.

Best Supporting Actor

Predicted nominees:

  • Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods
  • Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night in Miami
  • Paul Raci – Sound of Metal

Possible spoilers

  • Alan Kim – Minari
  • Bill Murray – On the Rocks
  • Mark Rylance – The Trial of the Chicago 7

The battle this year for this category is currently between Daniel Kaluuya and Leslie Odom Jr. – Odom Jr. started off as the front-runner, but Kaluuya has recently took over, and is likely to win. In terms of the other three nominees, I’m sure they’ll be at least one of the cast of Chicago 7 in there, and considering Sacha Baron Cohen’s success in 2020 (with this movie and Borat 2), it will probably be him. Paul Raci has been solid acclaim for his work in Sound of Metal, and he will most likely get in there. In terms of the last nomination, it could Mark Rylance (if the Academy want to nominate a second Trial of the Chicago 7 cast member) or Bill Murray or even Alan Kim (if they go for a child actor), but I think Chadwick Boseman will get his second nomination of the year (both posthumously) for his work in Da 5 Bloods (in the style of Scarlett Johansson last year), even though the movie will most likely be mainly snubbed.

Best Supporting Actress

Predicted nominees:

  • Glenn Close – Hillbilly Elegy 
  • Olivia Colman – The Father 
  • Jodie Foster – The Mauritanian 
  • Amanda Seyfried – Mank 
  • Yuh-jung Youn – Minari 

Possible spoilers:

  • Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • Ellen Burstyn – Pieces of a Woman
  • Helena Zengal – News of the World 

The locks in this category are definitely Olivia Colman and Amanda Seyfried – definitely for a nomination, although to be honest, I have absolutely no idea who will win. Although Yuh-jung Youn has not done that well this awards ceremony, I still think she’s a shoe-in to be nominated, considering Minari’s success.

In terms of the last two nominations, it will really be down to four people – Maria Bakalova has been surprisingly successful this season, however, I think the Academy will baulk at nominating Borat 2 in an acting category; Ellen Burstyn started off as a big front-runner and might get in considering she’s a favourite with the Academy (Requiem for a Dream, The Exorcist, etc.), but her momentum has iced due to Pieces of a Woman’s non-exemplary reception; Glenn Close might get in because the Academy will feel sorry for her as they didn’t give her the Oscar 2 years ago, but Hillbilly Elegy has received rather negative reviews; finally, Jodie Foster’s film, The Mauritanian has not being getting great reviews or really a lot of awards success, but she did just surprisingly win the Golden Globe Award. I’d say that Close and Foster will join Youn, Colman and Seyfried.

In terms of who will win, I don’t know – at the moment, I’d say Seyfried is the front-runner at the moment, but it could be Colman. Hell, I wouldn’t even count Close in this category.

Best Original Screenplay

Predicted nominees:

  • Mank 
  • Minari 
  • Promising Young Woman 
  • Soul
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7

Possible spoilers:

  • Da 5 Bloods 
  • Judas and the Black Messiah 
  • Never Rarely Sometimes Always 
  • Palm Springs
  • Sound of Metal

Both screenplay nominations will mainly consist of all the Best Picture nominees, so that means guaranteed nominations are Mank, Minari, Promising Young Woman and The Trial of the Chicago 7. It’s the fifth nomination that’s up in the air, but I’d say that Soul gets in because like Inside Out, the Academy will like to see the animated film nominated in an other category other than Best Animated Feature.

Other than that, possible spoilers could be Da 5 Bloods, Judas and the Black Messiah and Sound of Metal if the Academy do like these movies enough (and any of them get a Best Picture nomination). Other than that, Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Palm Springs could get in there, if they want to celebrate those two acclaimed movies, because they are unlikely to get nominated in any other categories.

In terms of who will win, Sorkin’s screenplay for The Trial of the Chicago 7 is pretty much unbeatable at the moment.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Predicted nominees:

  • Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
  • The Father
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Nomadland 
  • One Night in Miami

Possible spoilers:

  • First Cow
  • News of the World

Like Best Original Screenplay, this field will most likely consist of Best Picture nominees, so count on seeing The Father, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Nomadland (who will most likely win) and One Night in Miami all nominated. Considering Borat’s political impact and fairly positive reviews, we will most likely to see Borat in this category, as they probably wont give it recognition in the Best Picture or Supporting Actress fields.

In terms of spoilers, fairly acclaimed movies, First Cow and News of the World could get in there, but I doubt it. Count of these five being the nominated five.

There you go – my predictions on why will be nominated at this year’s Oscars.

Recent releases: I Care a Lot, Moxie and Willy’s Wonderland reviewed

I Care a Lot – This latest star vehicle for Rosamund Pike is a thriller from the mind of J Blakeson, who previously directed the 2009 thriller The Disappearance of Alice Creed. Blakeson’s film is a film littered with loathsome and unlikable characters, including Pike, who plays Marla, a con woman who makes her shady living by getting guardianship over elders, and then exploiting them by selling their hones and their assets while they are locked away in old people’s homes.

The film has some funny moments, and from it’s bonkers premise alone, you can tell that this has elements of a Coen brothers black comedy, in the same vein of something like Burn After Reading. However, the main problem is that it is never as consistently (or effectively) funny as something like Burn After Reading. Also, it is never as actually thrilling as something like Gone Girl, where Pike made her star-turning role.

It’s also a film filled to the brim with unlikable characters, which sometimes (under the right director) can be very interesting, however, with this film, it proves very tiresome. It’s possibly because the protagonist never goes under much pressure or extenuating circumstances to get what she wants – it all happens very easily for her. In particular, there is one moment that makes her look almost superhuman, and her nastiness never feels properly earned. There are a lot of great scenes in this film, but it just doesn’t equal out to a satisfying whole. Pike is admittedly great in the leading role, and the supporting turns by Dianne Weist, Peter Dinklage and Chris Messina were also pretty good. However, I guess I just wanted more out of this movie. (6/10) (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Moxie: This latest Netflix movie is the latest film from Amy Poehler, who previously directed Wine Country, also broadcast on Netflix. This new film is a teen coming-of-age comedy, starring a variety of newcomers, including Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Pena and Nico Hiraga, among many others. It centres on a young teenage girl, Vivian (Robinson), who attempts to shake up her sexist and toxic school environment by publishing a feminist magazine. Soon enough, a feminist club is created, and the entire school is royally shook up.

Now, Wine Country may have been absolutely hilarious, but a lot of that was down to the hilarious performers, and less down to the directing or writing – in fact, Poehler’s direction was quite mediocre. You’ll be thrilled to hear that the Poehler has now upped her game, as Moxie is a really charming and adorable movie, with Poehler proving a steady hand at the helm. The film is filled with good, solid messages that manages to not feel preachy or annoying, and sharp and realistic details about the school environment. It a solid and charming coming-of-age tale that I’m sure pretty much everyone would like and enjoy. (Rating: 8/10) (Available on Netflix).

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things: Amazon Prime’s newest original is charming little time loop comedy, that is really entertaining. The plot centres on Mark (Kyle Allen), a teenage boy who has become trapped in an infinite time loop. Originally believing that he was the only one in this loop, he soon discovers that another teenager, Margaret (Kathryn Newton) is also trapped in the same time loop. While embarking on a quest to find all the “tiny perfect things” in the world, the two begin to fall in love.

As you can tell, the premise has echoes of Groundhog Day and even more to the brilliant soon-to-released comedy, Palm Springs. This doesn’t quite live up to those movies, but it’s still a really charming sci-fi comedy. The whole “tiny perfect things” element to the plot is a bit pretentious and unnecessary, but other than that, this really works on the strength on it’s charming performances, witty script and surprise factor. It definitely gone under the radar recently, but it’s worth checking out. (Rating: 8/10) (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Willy’s Wonderland: Ever since Mandy in 2018, Nicolas Cage has made a name for himself by giving overzealous, frenzied performances in a really fun, campy almost B-movies (other examples include Mom and Dad and Color Out of Space). And Willy’s Wonderland is no exception, a movie in which mainly centres on Cage going to war against a bunch of animated animatronic puppets while trapped in an abandoned restaurant.

There is a little more to the plot than that (including a bunch of teenagers (including Emily Tosta) who help Cage in his quest), but overall, the fun simplicity of the film is what really makes it. It’s really fun, funny (both intentionally and unintentionally), silly, and at times quite creepy (never really scary, but creepy). In particular, the animatronic puppets work really well, being actually properly chilling.

I sometimes wish there was a little more to the film – the film hints at Cage having more to him than meets the eye, but ultimately we never really discover much about Cage’s backstory, and that could of been really fun to discover. It was originally based off a short film, and it is an successful example of updating a short film to feature-length, however, I still wish there was a little more to it. (Rating: 7/10) (Available from most major streaming services, including Google Play and Amazon)

To All The Boys: Always and Forever: The third instalment to the To All the Boys… franchise, this sequel centres on Lara Jean (Emily Condor) making her way off to college. Originally planning to go school near her boyfriend, Peter (Noah Centineo), both Lara and Peter’s future is left up in the air when Lara begins to be tempted to go to school very far away.

The great thing about this sequel is that it does away with the contrived love triangle storyline of the second film, and instead, focuses on the more universal themes of growing up, going off to college and how this impacts those close to you. It all feels very emotionally real, and relatable, and stays true to these fun characters.

The film does lack the surprise factor of the original (the franchise does feel like it’s worn out it’s welcome), and there are much better, more polished teen coming-of-age movies on this list (especially Moxie and Map of Tiny Little Things), but this movie is still pretty cute and worth a look. (Rating: 6/10) (Available on Netflix)

Other new movies:

The Owners – A nasty and cruel little horror movie that never really lives up to it’s interesting potential (Rating: 4/10)

Framing Britney Spears – A really heart-breaking and insightful documentary about the life of Britney Spears (Rating: 8/10)

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar – A extremely silly and larger than life comedy that bombs and makes you laugh in equal measure. A complete load of nonsense that you should definitely check out. (Rating: 7/10)

The United States vs. Billie Holiday – Audra Day (in her Golden Globe-winning role) shines in an otherwise safe, overlong and unfocused biopic. (Rating: 6.5/10)

Why WandaVision may be the MCU’s crowning achievement

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has pulled off many, many impressive achievements over the past 12 years. It has brought many iconic comic book characters to life; given us so many brilliant, complete character arcs (especially Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark and Chris Evans’s Captain America); given us some absolutely brilliant films (especially Thor: Ragnarok, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and 2012’s The Avengers), and of course, with Avengers: Endgame, created the biggest (and by that, I mean highest-grossing) film of all time. But, with their newest project, WandaVision, they have may have created their finest and crowning achievement.

The television miniseries consisting of 9 episodes (6 of which has already aired), was first announced over two years, with the aim being to branch out the television content for the MCU, and also give a solo project to both Elizabeth Olsen’s Wanda Maximoff/ Scarlet Witch and Paul Bettany’s Vision, two characters extremely underused in the film series. When the series was first announced back in 2018, we all thought it would be a fairly average and possibly cynical cash-grab, with the aim of just setting up future MCU story-lines. However, we didn’t know that the end result would be funny, witty, strange, and in many ways, very revolutionary television.

The series is set three weeks after the end of Avengers: Endgame, in which Wanda has gone mad with grief after Vision’s death, and has created her own reality in the town of Westview. Now, Vision has suddenly come back to life, all the townspeople of Westview have become Wanda’s puppets, and every day of her life plays out like a classic sitcom, in which Wanda and Vision get themselves into lighthearted, sitcom-like scraps, all of which is resolved before the end of the episode. And, there is much more to the show than that, including the return of Wanda’s dead brother, Pietro (with a new face), the arrival of Wanda and Vision’s two twin children, seemingly out of nowhere, and the mysterious life of the townsfolk, especially including Wanda’s meddlesome neighbour, Agnes (played to perfection by Kathryn Hahn).

For the first three episodes of WandaVision, the show plays out just like a regular sitcom. Wanda and Vision have just gotten married, they have moved to a suburban neighbourhood, and all of a sudden, have two babies. The series has a ingenious premise, in which each episode homages sitcoms, but changes decade each time it does so. The first episode is a homage to the 50s sitcom, I Love Lucy, while the second episode plays homage to Betwitched (the 60s) and the third episode is a take on The Brady Bunch (the 70s).

What was so brilliant about the first few episodes is the series’ confidence in knowing the audience would carry on watching. WandaVision is innovative in that it could only really be successful in the way that it has been created – part of a huge film series in which we know that the two main characters have much more to them than meets the eye. Think about how rough these first episodes could of been if it was proper, studio-produced television show – they would of felt forced to reinforce every episode that things are not quite as they seem, while WandaVision never felt the need to do that.

It took until the series’ fourth episode, “We Interrupt This Program” to reveal that there was something else afoot. Sure, we’ve had hints of it (the odd scene of the neighbour choking; the arrival of the “beekeeper” and “Geraldine” being suddenly ejected out of Westview), but it wasn’t until the fourth episode that we suddenly realised that there was a completely different vision (see what I did there) in store for this series. This series introduced a police-procedural like format, in which various characters, including Monica Rambeau (revealed to be “Geraldine” from inside Westview), Jimmy Woo, and Darcy Jennings attempt to solve the mystery of what is happening at Westview.

The following two episodes (and this may even change again in the last three episodes, we don’t know yet) changed the formula once again. In this episode, we return to Wanda, Vision, Agnes, their two kids and later, Pietro inside Westview as they continue to act out sitcom-like fantasies. In the fifth episode, it is 80s/90s sitcoms, like Family Ties or Full House (complete with an out-of-character dramatic “special episode”), while the sixth episode saw them homage early noughties sitcoms, like Malcolm in the Middle. While all this is happening, we cut back and forth from this sitcom fantasy to “the real world”, where Darcy, Rambeau and Woo all try to solve what is really happening.

One of the most wonderful things about the show is that following the end of each episode, we are left with numerous questions and theories about what is really happening. It lives up to modern shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Good Place in that it favours cliff-hanger endings, and raising numerous questions about what is really going on. The series gives us just enough information about what is happening, and answers as many questions as it does raise new mysteries.

However, what is so revolutionary about the series is that while reinforcing a very modern, 21st century style of storytelling, it also embraces a more old-fashioned type of storytelling at the same time. In each episode of Wanda’s sitcom reality, we witness a proper, fully fleshed-out episode of television – one that has a beginning, middle and end. They are written like proper sitcom episodes in that they have some dramatic, character-based moments, while also being actually really funny at the same time (Bettany singing in the first episode was a particular highlight).

We are most definitely living in the golden age of television, and ask anyone nowadays and they’ll tell you that television is pretty much as good as film. However, sometimes, that is not always a good thing. I mean, if television really is as good as film, and vice versa, then ultimately what is the point in having both mediums. Wandavision stands out amongst the crowd as it has to be a television show. There is no way that they could tell this story in a film-based narrative, and that’s what is so ingenius about it.

And, not to mention, it does all of this while being very meta and self-referential about television, film and comic books, and raising intriguing mysteries along the way. It’s honestly one of the most delightfully weird and strange television shows to come out in a long time. And it comes from one of the biggest, most mainstream production companies. It’s a show full of contradictions – it is niche yet mainstream, funny yet dramatic, silly yet with serious, hard-hitting consequences.

In the future, WandaVision will be seen as a show that manages to embraces all different types of storytelling (and does it successfully), but more than that, it may in fact be the MCU’s absolute crowning achievement.

Malcolm and Marie Movie Review

Is Sam Levinson’s new movie, Malcolm & Marie the start of a new kind of film-making? Conceived, written, filmed and edited during the COVID-19 pandemic, Malcolm & Marie marks the first big blockbuster to be newly filmed during these troubled times, announced in a time where films were being pushed back indefinitely, or upcoming projects where being abandoned entirely.

Filmed in beautiful black-and-white, Levinson directs Zendaya and John David Washington, two upcoming young stars, in a film that is very little on plot. It centres on a filmmaker, Malcolm Elliott (Washington) who returns home from a premiere of his newest film with his actress girlfriend, Marie Jones (Zendaya). Over time, the pair become more and more volatile, discussing in detail their relationship and their respective careers.

Due to the pandemic, the film had to be filmed with extreme precaution, including constant temperature checks and enforced quarantined time for all the cast and crew. Also, the film’s premise feels very pandemic inspired – set all in one location, all done with just two actors, and mainly set around dialogue.

There have been many great material that has been produced in lock-down, however, never really this big. Host – a found-footage horror movie set all on a Zoom call – was a particularly great “lockdown movie”, while in the music world, Taylor Swift has produced two of the greatest albums of her career, with both “Folklore” and “Evermore” being created and released in 2020. This feels like the very first time, however, that something has been created with such huge big stars, with Levinson, Washington and Zendaya all being on the huge rise over the past 2-3 years.

Because of the film’s singular location and dialogue-centric plot, there is an old-fashioned, “throwback” nature to this movie. It feels very similar to the “talky” movies of the 80s like My Dinner with Andre, Sex, Lies, and Videotape or The Breakfast Club, while Zendaya and Washington feel like the sort of beautiful, glamorous and charismatic couples of classic Hollywood like Bogart and Bacall or Hepburn and Tracy.

And, it’s great to see this sort of old-fashioned movie broadcast of such a big platform, and to be debuted with such big buzz. In the future, because of COVID-19 restrictions, we will definitely be seeing a lot more restricted, minimalist movies with fewer locations and fewer stars but just done with bigger stars and auteurist filmmakers. And, that quite an excited place to be in for the future of film.

However, in terms of Malcolm and Marie, the film itself is quite disappointing. There are many great things about it – one of it’s great visual style. The black-and-white cinematography is really beautiful and dazzling. Also, the camerawork is really terrific, and Levinson definitely has a big future ahead of him as an innovative filmmaker, much like his father before him. From the opening moment of an attention-grabbing panning shot of Washington dancing around his house, you know that this is going to be a really visually-staggering movie.

Much of visual style is let down by a mediocre script. I know it sounds bizarre to say, for a movie set around dialogue, but there is almost too much talking and too much dialogue in this film. Even the most dialogue-centric movies have moments of quiet and moments of subtle ease that gives the viewers a much-needed relief and gives us time to know and love the characters. It ultimately feels like Levinson hasn’t got enough confidence in himself, and therefore, just fills his script with STUFF, many of which has very little meaning or depth. The end result is a script lacking in subtlety, grace or wit and filled to brim with heavy-handed and annoying monologues (including a particularly painful one delivered by Washington about how much he hates film critics and how little they contribute to society).

Zendaya and Washington do their very best with this material, though. They have been up-and-coming rising stars over the past few years, both appearing in a mixture of blockbusters and independent films (Zendaya appearing in Euphoria and the Spider-Man films, while Washington appearing in Oscar nominee, BlacKkKlansman and 2020’s blockbuster, Tenet), and it will be great to see where they go next following this film.

The film possibly works best as an idea, only, and maybe doesn’t work as well as feature length movie that you have to sit though. There is a certain thrilling tension that comes in the first half, when Zendaya has quiet grievance towards Washington, but the moment when the two of them have to start talking about their feelings, the film becomes slightly tiresome and annoying.

Still, it’s very obvious that Levinson has a bright career ahead of him, as do Washington and Zendaya. Malcolm and Marie highlights the strengths of all three artists; it’s just a shame that it’s not coming from a film that a little more fleshed out and professional.

Rating: 6/10

Top 15 Films of 2020 (that aren’t Parasite)

With all theatres closed, and a lack of films being made (due to a small thing called a pandemic happening), you’d think that there would be no films to make up a top films list this year. However, you’d be wrong. With streaming services, especially Netflix, being active and continuously to pump out films, there have been many, many great films to come out this year.

Now, let’s get this out of the way – Parasite is the best film to come out in 2020 (although some argue that it technically came out in 2019). Parasite is the best film to come out over the past decade. Parasite is the best film to come out since the turn of the century. Parasite might be the best film to ever come out, possibly ever.

The South Korean black comedy thriller has received widespread critical acclaim and even became the surprise Best Picture winner earlier this year. It’s been talked about to death (and mainly on this blog), and it’s definitely my favourite film of the year, so I thought it would be more refreshing to go through all the other best films that categorically AREN’T Parasite.

So, here are my favourite films of 2020 that are not Parasite:

First, some honourable mentions: The 40-Year-Old Version, The Assistant, Calm with Horses, His House, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Swallow, The Vast of Night, Weathering with You & Wolfwalkers 

15. Host

In history, this film will go down as possibly the first “pandemic movie”. The found footage horror film centres on a group of friends who perform a seance via a zoom call, and it’s thrilling tense, scary and wonderfully fun. It’s also gloriously short, at only 65 minutes. It’s definitely the most important horror movie of the year. I can’t wait to see what other creative avenues filmmakers are going to do with the pandemic in 2021 and beyond.

14. Saint Frances

Saint Frances is one of the most delightful and sweet surprises of the year. The plot is simple – set around a 34-year-old waitress, Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan), who attempts to change her life by getting a job as a nanny to the annoying and bratty six-year-old, Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). The film is not revolutionary or life-changing, but remains a real bittersweet and charming treasure that has definitely gone under the radar this year.

13. Bad Education

Now, technically this counts as a television film, broadcast on HBO in the United States earlier in the year. It stars Hugh Jackson as a school superintendent, and Allison Janney as his assistant superintendent, who are both involved in an illegal embezzlement scheme that is soon discovered by the authorities. The film is brilliantly directed by Cory Finley (who previously directed 2017’s underrated Thoroughbreds), who makes it feel like a mixture between The Big Short, I, Tonya and Catch Me If You Can, and features an absolute career-best performance by Jackson (and Janney is great too).

12. Rocks

This indie gem was broadcast on Netflix earlier in the year, and was a real treat. The film flirts with some heavy subject matter – centring on a young teenage girl, Olushola (nicknamed “Rocks”), who has to deal with her mother abandoning her and her little brother – but the real wonderful thing about it is that it remains full of joy and humour. It also features some star-making performances by it’s child actors, particularly lead, Bukky Bakray.

11. Mank

This David Fincher-directed biopic about the making of what many critics call the “greatest film ever made”, Citizen Kane is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those interested in film history, it was definitely a real treat. It’s possibly the most gorgeous and visual dazzling movie to come out this year (shot in beautiful black-and-white, and featuring some innovative, Orson Welles-inspired camerawork), and features an Oscar-worthy performance by Gary Oldman (also, Amanda Seyfried is an absolute revelation). This Netflix gem is really terrific, and has continued to establish that Fincher truly is one of the best filmmakers of his generation.

10. Bacurau

This Weird Western from the mind of Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonca Filho comes close second as being the biggest genre mesh-up of 2020 (the first obviously being Parasite). Centring on the inhabitants of a small Brazilian town, who are beset by an array of strange events (including but not limited to futuristic drones flying in the sky), the film is part sci-fi, part western and part violent thriller. With influences raging from Black Mirror, Tarantino and John Carpenter, this odd flick is definitely an experiment that for the most part, really pays off.

9. Small Axe: Lovers Rock

Steve McQueen’s Small Axe has been one of the many joys of 2020. The anthology series, consisting on five distinct stories looking at London’s West Indian community in the late 60s to 80s, brilliantly blurred the lines between television and film. Many of the films (or episodes, whatever they are) are terrific, particularly the police drama, Red, White and Blue and insightful drama, Education, but the absolute best remains Lovers Rock.

The drama centres on two lovers who meet at a Reggae house party in the 1980s, and strikes a wonderful balance between being a cinematic, beautiful pleasure and discussing issues and problems deeply prevalent in our society. It’s a really beautifully shot movie (with lots of one-shot camera takes) and filled to the brim with great music. Small Axe has been terrific, and I can’t wait to see what McQueen does next.

8. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

This subtle and quiet film from Eliza Hittman (13 Reasons Why, Beach Rats) introduces us to two future stars in Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder. The plot is quite uncomplicated – it centres on a young teenage girl, Autumn (Flanigan), who must travel to Pennsylvania to get abortion, and does so with the help of her cousin and best friend, Skylar (Ryder). It has echoes of the 1960s Best Picture winner, Midnight Cowboy, and remains a wonderful example of “show, don’t tell” film-making. Hittman directs the film absolutely beautifully, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

7. 1917

This Sam Mendes-directed war epic was almost the leading choice to win Best Picture before Parasite came along and surprised every-one. And, it remains absolutely great. What it lacks in narrative momentum (essentially being centred on two young soldiers in World War 1 who set off on a large trek to deliver a message), it makes up for in ground-breaking visual prowess, appearing like it is all filmed in one, continuous shot. It does so with brilliant direction by Mendes and incredible cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins. Although, I’m obviously very glad that Parasite won Best Picture, 1917 was a very, very worthy runner-up.

6. The Trial of the Chicago 7

This Netflix historical legal drama was probably the best Netflix Original of the year. It is directed by world-renowned screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network), and centres on – as the title depicts – the notorious trial of the “Chicago Seven”, organisers of a protest that soon turned violent and destructive. The film is utterly riveting and heart-breaking, and is filled with great performances (especially by a surprisingly brilliant Sacha Baron Cohen) and some brilliant editing. The real best thing about the film, however, is that Sorkin has proven himself to be a really good director. We always knew he was an amazing writer, but this movie proves he’s great behind the camera too.

5. The Invisible Man

Leigh Wannell’s The Invisible Man, a very modern-day take of H.G. Wells’ classic novel, is proof that you can still make great horror films in the 21st century. The feminist movie stars Elizabeth Moss as an abused woman, who is being stalked by someone, who she believes is her recently deceased abusive boyfriend. The film is absolutely brilliantly directed, with some incredible creative jump scares. But, what so wonderful about it is that underneath all the scares is a story full of depth and interesting characters. It’s definitely the second best horror movie of 2020 (we’ll get to number 1 in a sec).

4. Soul

Pixar’s latest went straight to DisneyPlus on Christmas Day last year, and proved that the animation studio can still very much make charming and amazing movies in recent times. The film is quite complex – mainly centred on jazz lover, Joe who dies suddenly and tries to avoid being sent to the “Great Beyond” – but the great thing about it is that you never notice that while you’re watching it. Along with two of Pixar’s recent efforts, Inside Out and Coco, Pixar is turning away from making studio movies and sequels, and making more smart, insightful movies filed to brim with smart ideas and deep messages. Such a wonderful pleasure this movie was.

3. Possessor

This under-seen science fiction body horror is from the mind of Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David, and much like his father’s best works, the film is filled with wonderful gross body horror and an extraordinary level of violence. However, Cronenberg still directed the film with a high level of expertise, craft and class, definitely breaking out of his father’s shadow in the process. It’s one of those films that the more I have thought about it, the more it has really grown on me, and I now think of it as one of the absolute best films of the year.

2. Jojo Rabbit

Taika Waititi’s World War 2 comedy-drama was one of the real highlights of early 2020. The film centres on a young boy, Jojo Bletzer (played brilliantly by Roman Griffin Davis), whose life is turned upside down by the discovery that his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has hidden a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic. The Oscar winner’s huge contrasting tonal shifts will not be for everyone, but for the people that get it, they really get it. It remains a really poignant and hilarious comedy with a mesmerising performances by Johansson. It is living proof that filmmakers should have creative license to produce whatever they want, even if the subject matter is somewhat controversial.

1. The Lighthouse

Finally we’re reached number one, and at the top spot is another Marmite choice with The Lighthouse. The latest from The Witch director, Roger Eggers is a psychological horror-thriller that centres on two lighthouse keepers (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) who try to keep their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious island. Eggers gives the film a striking visual style – being shot in an almost square 1.19:1 aspect ratio that is filmed in black-and-white. Brilliantly shot, written and performed, The Lighthouse is an absolutely brilliant horror fable that is equal parts surreal, entertaining, visual striking and oftentimes, strangely funny, showing in the process that Eggers has a bright future ahead of him.

The Lighthouse is brilliant, but remember – Parasite is still the best feature film of 2020.

Promising Young Woman Review

Every now and then, there comes a movie which gathers very divisive reactions. Last year there was Joker, a movie that prompted widespread controversy and worries it would promote real-life violence, and a couple of years ago, there was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a movie that huge critical and audience acclaim, yet controversy for it’s handling of racial themes.

And now, in 2021, we have Promising Young Woman.

The psychological thriller film is directed by Emerald Fennell, a writer and actor, most famously known for her recurring role as Camila Shand in the Netflix drama series, The Crown, as well as being the show-runner for the second season of the BBC America breakthrough hit, Killing Eve (writing 6 episodes of that season). With the exception of a short film, this is Fennell’s first foray in the film world, and as a directional debut, it’s pretty damn exceptional.

The centres on the young woman of the title, Cassie Thomas (portrayed by Carey Mulligan), a 29-year-old who works in a coffee shop and still lives with her parents. At night, she leads a double life as a secret vigilante, who goes to bars or clubs and pretends to be intoxicated and waits to see if she will be preyed upon by a seemingly “nice guy”.

So, as you can tell from the premise alone, the film discusses a lot of themes and ideas very prevalent in our society, in particular themes of consent and rape, perfect for the #Metoo inspired era we are in now. However, that is just the beginning, because, as the film unfolds, the film takes us down a path that many won’t expect.

It is soon revealed that Cassie wasn’t always like this – she was once a “Promising Young Woman”, an ambitious, cheerful and determined young woman, who was actually on set to become a doctor before a traumatic event led to dropping out of school. We meet her 10 years after this event, in which she has become a cynical and bitter young woman still stuck in the past. However, this may all change after the arrival of the charming surgeon (and Cassie’s former classmate), Ryan (Bo Burnham), who could possibly break Cassie out of her old funk.

Throughout her constantly witty and inventive script, Fennell is never interested in following the usual beats and tropes of typical, Hollywood movies. In many ways, the film is like Three Billboards in how it constantly subverts our expectations – we begin to constantly change our minds (both in a good or bad way) on the central characters, and we are regularly surprised by all the brilliantly out-of-nowhere plot twists.

One of the most recognisable plot twists that will definitely leave an impact for pretty much every audience member is the shocking ending. The last 15 minutes has already proven to be quite divisive, and many moviegoers will leave the film either extremely disappointed or extremely satisfied. For me, however, the ending was indeed, extremely satisfying and I loved it, but it’s definitely a love-it-or-hate-it moment.

Other than that the twists, the script is also great for it’s bonkers genre experimentation. At first, the film is social thriller, centring on exploring “important” issues in our society, and then it somehow manages to turn into a 90s style romantic comedy, in which our flawed, guarded lead heroine (Cassie) is somehow melted by our dashing, charming male lead (Ryan). But, then, somehow, Fennell is able to turn the last act into a crazy, dramatic finale that feels like it comes out of a rape/revenge film or even a exploitation flick.

But, all this is kept afloat by the brilliant direction by Fennell. Despite the fact that this is her first film, she comes with an established and eye-popping visual aesthetic that feels way beyond her years. Mostly every shot is filled to the brim with bright colours, particularly a lot of pinks and reds, and it has absolutely immaculate production design.

Not only that, but to add to that the soundtrack is absolutely killer. The music is very peculiar – there are remixed, sometimes acoustic versions of pop tunes, including “Toxic”, “It’s Raining Men” and “Angel of the Morning”. There’s even a use of Paris Hilton’s (actually really great) song, “Stars are Blind”, in which Fennell uses completely non-ironically for a romantic, heartfelt montage.

All this makes you feel like you’re watching a “woman’s picture”, a female take (made for women and by women) on the social thriller, a genre previously mainly occupied by male filmmakers, particularly Bong Joon-ho and Jordan Peele. The visual style also purely makes the film very entertaining – Fennell is able to turn the film filled with “important” and “timely” messages into a thrilling and cinematic popcorn flick.

But, in many ways, the film belongs to Carey Mulligan. The 35-year-old actress has always been on the verge of stardom over the past decade, but this could be her turning point. The performance, in which she has to play a variety of emotions (including joyous, depressed, empty, angry and many more), feels reminiscent of Margot Robbie’s barnstorming performance in “I, Tonya” 3 years ago, in which it feels like an actress has finally “arrived” on the scene. If her performance isn’t at least nominated at this year’s Oscars, it will be a real shame.

Other than Mulligan, the film is filled with supporting cameos and performances, all of which are a bit hit-or-miss. Burnham is great, and there are some other solid performances, particularly by Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Laverne Cox and Alfred Molina. Some other performances, however, feel a little bit like missed opportunities, particularly the underwhelming use of Jennifer Coolidge and Molly Shannon.

The film is definitely not for everyone – it’s fiercely cynical and angry tone, as well as the whiplash-inducing tonal changes, will definitely leave people divided. However, if you’re looking for something very different and very eye-catching, you should definitely check out “Promising Young Woman”. Actually, even if you aren’t looking for that, it’s definitely still worth watching, just for the conversation it’s bound to provoke. Nevertheless, I really loved it.

Rating: 9/10

From Normal People to Quiz: Here are my Top 10 TV Shows of 2020

Well, 2020 has been an experience hasn’t it. Unlike films (many of which have been delayed infinitely due to the pandemic), television has been actually striving this year. And, here are 10 of the very best television of the year.

10. Quiz

This ITV miniseries about the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire cheating scandal has kind of flown under the radar this year, but it really shouldn’t have done, because it was really terrific. The 3-part series is filled with great performances, especially by Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen and Fleabag’s Sian Clifford, and has some wonderful, witty writing. And, just like the best biopic/real-life dramas, the series remains riveting, tense and you have no idea what’s going to happen (even though you kind of do know what’s going to happen).

Also, Martin Sheen as Chris Tarrant is pure genius.

9. Sex Education

This Netflix coming-of-age comedy drama was the break-out hit of 2019, and it still remains just as good with it’s sophomore season. Although a bit of the novelty that the first season had has kind of worn off, this season remains just as funny and joyous. The real treasure of this show are wonderful characters and great cast, with particular stand-outs including Aimee Lou Wood as the incessantly chipper Aimee Gibbs, Gillian Anderson as the embarrassing sex therapist mother, Jean and Tanya Reynolds as the school “weird girl”, Lily.

This could be a real long-running hit for Netflix if they manage to keep up the same level of quality for season 3.

8. The Umbrella Academy

Based off the comic book series of the same name (which, quick fact for you – was written by Gerald Way of My Chemical Romance fame), this quirky and idiosyncratic Netflix hit ambitiously blends many genres, including black comedy, time travel adventure, 60s period drama, superhero action and many more. The series may not feel as fresh as it did in it’s first season, but it’s also smoothed out some of the harsh edges from the previous season, getting more of an equal tonal balance and giving more interesting development to some of the more boring characters.

Hopefully, this future cult classic will continue to remain it’s brilliant quality for it’s next season.

7. Normal People

For many of us, this BBC Three/ Hulu miniseries has a lot of memories of early lock-down, and for the first few months of the year, it was definitely the best television out there. The 12-part drama features two break-out performances from relative newcomers, Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal, and is a haunting depiction of young love, centring on our lead characters’ journey through sixth form to university to post-university life. Even if you are not a romantic at heart, this show is definitely worth checking out for it’s sympathetic writing and heartfelt direction.

However, it is not even the best limited series on the list (that is still to come).

6. I May Destroy You

Michael Coel’s 12-part mini-series was one of the most delightfully weird pieces of media to come out this year. The former Chewing Gun creator/writer adapts her own traumatic experiences in this limited series, centring on a “millennial” writer who struggles to come to terms with the fact that she was raped after her drink was spiked. The best thing about this series, however, is that the series never feels like you’re watching a “important series”, it remains equal parts shocking, heart-breaking and often times, very funny.

Also, the series marks possibly the best way to end a series, with the final part – titled “Ego Death” – being one of the very best TV episodes of the year.

5. Schitt’s Creek

PopTV cult comedy, Schitt’s Creek has been slowly climbing up the ranks over the past 6 years, with each season gathering higher critical acclaim, a bigger fan-base and awards success. And with it’s final season, the series ended on the highest of highs, and broke all kinds of Emmys records (including the most Emmys ever for a single season of a comedy series, and the only time a series has won in all seven major categories).

The series has proven itself to be “the Fleabag” of the year, proving that a small, underdog series can break into the mainstream, and get huge acclaim. And, with it’s final season, Dan Levy has provided us with many hilarious moments and pitch perfect endings for all of our central characters.

4. Bojack Horseman

Bojack Horseman has had such an odd trajectory as a series. Debuting in 2014 opposite the then-Netflix hits, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, it looked like it was set to be a charming but forgotten about adult animation series. However, over it’s past 7 years, it has somehow managed to rise up the ranks to become one of the best – if not the best – animated TV series of all time.

The concept of the show continues to entertain, blending hilarious satire of the show-business and Hollywood with some wonderfully odd anthropomorphic comedy. And, over time, the show has turned into an especially deep show, giving us some haunting commentary on depression, addiction, self-destructive behaviour and overall, what it means to be human. And, it all comes from a show about an animated talking horse.

Also, this season ended the show brilliantly, with it’s penultimate episode, “The View from Halfway Down” being a particular highlight.

3. Better Call Saul

Now, to be honest, my number one show is pretty much a three-way tie between these following three shows. On any other day, I could rearrange these three shows to be in the very top spot.

What I’ve currently decided on though, is the fifth and penultimate season of the Breaking Bad spin-off, Better Call Saul in third place. Much like it’s predecessor, Better Call Saul has crept up on us, being a slow and methodical character study that just continues to get better and better.

And, I know it’s sounds like a cliche, but this truly was the series at it’s best. In particular, the series excelled in it’s final 3 episodes, with “Bagman” and “Bad Choice Road” being two of best episodes of television of all time. It was at this point that the show really gave us such quality just as good as Breaking Bad and possibly even better.

Also, special mentions should go to the brilliant performances, especially by lead, Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn (as Kim Wexler), and newcomer, Tony Dalton (as Lalo Salamanca). I mean, the season is just worth watching for the showdown between Kim and Lalo alone. All this sets the stage for what will hopefully be an explosive (and tragic) final season of the brilliant series.

2. The Mandalorian

Back in 2015, JJ Abrams completely revitalised the tired Star Wars franchise with it’s seventh movie, The Force Awakens. However, the franchise’s most recent movies (Solo and The Rise of Skywalker) have proven to be colossal disappointments, all of which set the stage for the next big Star Wars project – the live-action series broadcast directly to DisneyPlus, The Mandalorian – to be give a much-needed revitalisation to the franchise again.

And indeed it has.

The first season (broadcast in March earlier this year) was absolutely terrific, but it was the second season (which aired over the past two months) that really sealed the deal. This latest season had absolutely no bad or filler episodes, and climaxed in possibly the show’s best episode (“The Rescue”).

What’s so brilliant about the series is it’s beautiful simplicity – it’s essentially a Sergio Leone-like western set in space, with Pedro Pascal’s The Mandalorian being the show’s very own Man with No Name. And, that leaves space for some brilliant supporting characters (especially Temuera Morrison as Boba Fett; Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon and Gina Carano as Cara Dune) and plenty time to development the Mandalorian’s character and his father-son bond with the show’s breakout character, Baby Yoda (or Grogu).

The first two seasons of The Mandalorian are so damn good that it’s almost been the best TV has to offer. Almost…

1. The Queen’s Gambit

And, now we reach number one. Now, like I said, any other day of the week, The Mandalorian or Better Call Saul could of been in the top spot, however, the eventual winner ended up being The Queen’s Gambit, a small Netflix mini-series that could.

Directed and written by Godless’s Scott Frank (and adapted from classic book of the same name written by Walter Tevis), the series follows a self-destructive young woman, Beth Harmon (played to perfection by Anya Taylor-Joy) on her path to becoming the world’s greatest Chess player.

And, I know what you’re thinking – “A TV show about Chess. Really?”. But that’s one of the real joys of the series, is that it makes you extremely interested in a subject that otherwise could of been really boring. The Chess-playing sequences are executed brilliantly, with perfect direction and editing to go alongside.

And, that’s what is really remarkable about the series – is that, although brilliantly written, a lot of the storytelling in the show is really visual. It’s possibly one of the most perfectly constructed pieces of media to come out in a long time in that everything, from the writing to the cinematography to the production values to the costume design to the acting (especially by a break-out performance by Taylor-Joy) are all absolutely great.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you should definitely check out The Queen’s Gambit, because it’s absolutely brilliant and (although, a very close call) it’s my favourite TV show of the year.

Horror Tuesday: Onibaba (1964) Review

One of the most iconic pieces of J-horror of all-time is Onibaba, a 1964 film directed by Kaneto Shindo. Much like the 1999 J-horror film, Audition (also covered on here), the film has gathered a legion of fans from critics and other directors, including Edgar Wright and Mark Kermode, the latter of which has called it one of the “scariest films” he’s ever seen.

Onibaba.jpg (1600×1061)

The plot follows two unnamed women – one young (Jitsuko Yoshimura) and one middle-aged (Nobuko Otowa) – who are joined together because of younger woman’s marriage to the older woman’s son. Due to the son being off in the Civil War, the women are left on their own, and begin to kill soldiers to steal their possessions. Meanwhile, another man, Hachi (Kei Sato) moves in near them, and begins an attraction to the younger woman, and this drives a wedge between the two women.

Much like Audition, Onibaba is a really haunting experience, that has an uneasy and queasy tension through a lot of it’s run-time. But, crucially, the real scary part of the film comes in the last part of the movie, during the last 10 minutes. That is where the movie shows it’s to be really terrifying picture.

At the beginning, the film is actually a slow building 3-parter, surrounding around the Younger Woman, Older Woman and Hachi. Shindo has real confidence in the movie, and is perfectly fine with the movie centring purely on these 3 actors. It sounds like from the outset, that it might of had a sitcom-like format, however, that shouldn’t put you off – the sheer lack of actors and characters just adds to the film’s haunting atmosphere.

Also, all the actors pull it off. Yoshimura, Otowa, and Sato are all really good, and really embody their characters brilliantly. All 3 of the characters are also really well-developed and fleshed out, and this makes for complex viewing. Much in the same way as a lot of J-horror films, this film does not have many heroes or villains, and in fact, we are aligned to relate to every character, despite their questionable actions.

The film is also not that action packed, and can be a little slow at times. But much in the same way as the films of David Lynch, the film is all about atmosphere and mood. Much of this comes from the uneasy silence that permeates the film. Shindo is a filmmaker who prefers not to have much dialogue in his films, and this just makes Onibaba all the more uncomfortable and uneasy.

What’s so impressive about the film is that you can often feel what is coming off the screen. For the most part, cinema is a visual experience, that you can see and hear, but Onibaba feels like more than that. When the characters are dealing with extraordinary heat, you can feel how uncomfortable and distressed the characters are with this.

Weather also plays a big part of the film. Along with the sizzling heat, there is sometimes rain that comes into play. The rain just punctuates the drama and dread that the audience and characters are feeling. Not only that, but the weather also acts as a sort of pathetic fallacy, as it often happens when something bad is about to happen, and this becomes a huge warning for viewers.

The film also has some quite terrifying imagery. The iconic image of the Japanese mask appears throughout the film. Terrifying and scary, the mask is used by the older woman to scare the younger woman out of having an affair with Hachi. The mask is very frightening – it weird and surreal, and you can understand why it has become an iconic staple of Japanese horror culture.

This mask also plays into the heart-stopping, palpitating climax of the film. As is often a tradition with J-horror films (like Audition), the film is all pretty much a build-up to this climax, and this just makes it all the more terrifying. It is also great to see a movie have confidence in not having a completely tidy, non-ambiguous ending, and leave certain things left unanswered.

Overall, Onibaba is a really thrilling piece of J-horror. It is an iconic piece of Japanese cinema, and you should watch it just for that, but you should also check it out because it is a really thrilling, scary and well-crafted piece of horror cinema.

My 10 Favourite Films of the 21st Century

There have been some amazing films that have come out over the past 20 years, ever since we entered the new millennium, and here are just some of my absolute favourites.

Firstly, here are some honourable mentions: Blade Runner 2049, Get Out, God’s Own Country, Gone Girl, Her, I, Tonya, La La Land, Little Miss Sunshine, Little Women, Memento, Moonlight, Mulholland Drive, Phantom Thread, Searching, Serenity, Shaun of the Dead, Spirited Away, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Train to Busan, Wild Tales & Zodiac

10. Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Mission: Impossible has always been one of the most underrated film franchises of recent times. Despite a bevy of famous directors (including, Brian de Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams, Brad Bird and Christopher McQuarrie) and famous actors (including the man himself, Tom Cruise) at the helm, the franchise has always been on the verge of widespread success, producing fun and serviceable popcorn action thrillers.

However, with it’s sixth instalment, Fallout, the franchise crosses the threshold from serviceable entertainment into a real sophisticated, classy and visceral piece of cinema. With brilliantly directed action sequences, compelling characters (particularly Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust), thrilling tension, and great performances, Fallout is not just a great Mission: Impossible film, but a great film altogether. It’s definitely the best action film of the 21st century (and sorry, but it’s much better than Mad Max: Fury Road). Hell, it might even be the best action movie ever made.

9. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

This isn’t the last Coen brothers film that will appear on the list (see: number 2), but this is definitely the best film they’ve made in the last 10 years. It’s possibly their most Marmite film in their filmography (some people rank it as one of their favourite films of Coens; some people rank it among their worst), however, I absolutely love it.

It’s depressing, melancholy, sombre, subversive, darkly funny and strange in all the best ways, and I love it’s cinematography, songs, performances (including by a breakout Oscar Isaac) and some glorious cameos (including by the always great Adam Driver). It’s the sort of film that sticks with you long after the credits roll, and stays with you your entire life.

8. A Separation (2011)

Asghar Farhadi’s brilliant fifth feature, A Separation is him at his best and most heart-breaking. It’s most definitely the second best non-English language film of the 21st century (we’ll get to number one soon enough), and one of the best dramas I’ve ever seen.

The film boasts one of the greatest scripts ever written, with brutally frank and straight-talking dialogue, and makes us feel sympathy equally all of our lead characters, despite their bad or morally ambiguous actions. One of the most underestimated films to come recently, A Separation is most definitely worth a look.

7. Knives Out (2019)

Rian Johnson’s epic murder mystery comedy isn’t for everyone, but for the people that get it (like me), they really get it. The film is odd hybrid of an Agatha Christie murder mystery and a witty, suspenseful and darkly funny popcorn thriller. It’s neither a straight-up mystery, nor a spoof movie – it finds itself somewhere in the middle. It’s a strange pastiche of the whodunnit genre that simultaneously embraces and subverts the genre’s conventions.

What’s so brilliant about the film, however, is that you never notice all this while you’re watching it. It’s properly cinematic, really thrilling, entertaining, funny and filled to the brim with great performances and compelling characters. I mean, Ana de Armos is a frigging star through and through. I can’t wait to see the sequel, even it’s just for Daniel Craig’s barmy accent alone.

6. Paddington 2 (2017)

If you’d asked me about 3 years ago, I would probably say Paddington 2 is my favourite film of the 21st century. However, eventually ending up at number 6 is still pretty good.

This sequel to the 2014 adventure comedy centred on the Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond, improves everything about the original in spades. It’s more entertaining, more thrilling, funny and even more heartfelt. By the end, you’ll both be in floods of tears and your heart will be lifted by the level of compassion that Paddington has for the planet and it’s people.

It’s just the film we need for right now, and anyone with a soul and beating heart will surely be incredibly moved by this wonderful, wonderful movie.

5. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man have gone through a hell of a lot through the past two decades – we have had three separate actors portraying the Marvel superhero across three distinct franchises (in 7 movies). However, who’d ever thought that the best portrayal of Spider-Man would actually come from an animated movie, with Miles Morales as the lead.

Spider-Verse is really beautifully animated, and filled to the brim with wonderful and hilarious characters. It’s also a film with a real love of comic books, and has a willingness to embrace the more wacky, crazy parts of the medium. It’s possibly the best animated films of the past 20 years, and definitely my favourite superhero movie of all time (and yes, its better than The Dark Knight – there, I said it).

4. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Charlie Kaufman’s 5th feature, is a masterclass in how to tell an tired, unoriginal story in a new and innovative way. Centring on a estranged, bickering couple (Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey), who decide to erase each other from their memories, the film combines a nonlinear narrative and wild genre experimentation to create something wholly original.

It’s the sort of film the explores the concept of romantic love, and the importance of memories and how our memories are what defines us, yet manages to do it in a very mainstream, and accessible (yet very strange) way. It’s also got some glorious performances by Kate Winslet and an out-of-character dramatic Jim Carrey. If you’re looking for something a little unorthodox coming from the 21st century, then definitely check out Eternal Sunshine.

3. The Social Network (2010)

Sometimes a film comes along where the writer and the director are both collectively working at the height of their powers. And The Social Network is one of those movies. In this movie, we see director, David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en, Gone Girl) and writer, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Trial of the Chicago 7) coming together to make arguably the greatest biopic movie of all time (and it’s a movie about Facebook).

Not only that, but the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is absolutely fantastic, and the editing is some of the best editing done in the history of cinema (that hacking scene is utterly incredible). What is really miraculous about the film, however, is that Fincher is able to turn a film about Facebook (which could of been so boring) into a rollicking, cinematic, and oddly, fun feature film.

The Social Network does not get half as much attention as it should do – give it another 25 years, and hopefully, it will be seen as the classic that it deserves to be seen as.

2. No Country for Old Men (2007)

The Coen brothers’ 1996 classic, Fargo is definitely my favourite film of theirs, but if I had to pick their most polished, most well-made feature in their filmography, it would definitely be No Country for Old Men. Like a lot of their films – the plot is extremely simple (it’s essentially a cat-and-mouse thriller about the hunt for a suitcase of money), but that doesn’t mean it’s any less extraordinary.

What’s so brilliant about No Country is that it’s a masterclass in “show, don’t tell” storytelling – it gives just the right amount of exploratory dialogue, and treats it’s audience with the upmost of intelligence. It the possibly the absolute pinnacle of visual storytelling, only made more impressive by some beautiful cinematography by Roger Deakins (who, if you didn’t know, is the greatest cinematographer in the whole world – and that’s not a opinion, that’s just a fact).

Also, Javier Barden as Anton Chigurh – possibly the best bad guy ever?

1.Parasite (2019)

Now, every film on this list is absolutely brilliant, but Parasite is on an another level. Parasite is a special movie – the sort of movie that comes around once every few decades or maybe even once in a lifetime.

The black comedy-cum-thriller-cum-social satire is the 7th feature by South Korean writer-director, Bong Joon-ho (who formerly crafted the brilliant films, Mother, Snowpiercer and Memories of Murder), and is a real miracle of film. Film students and film critics will be analysing it for decades to come to figure out just how Joon-ho did it. Somehow, Parasite manages to be equal parts funny, tense, suspenseful and dramatic, and manages to work as about 10 different genres all at once.

But what might be the best thing about Parasite (and the reason why it got widespread media coverage, universal critical acclaim, and huge box office success) is just how entertaining the film is. Joon-ho is able to turn a tired social message into something that is really cinematic and gloriously thrilling. Watching Parasite is like watching Alfred Hitchcock at his best – we are seeing Joon-ho at the absolute total command of his craft, and he has proven himself to be one of the greatest film directors of his generation.

Yes, Parasite is the best film of the 21st Century, but Parasite may even be more than that. It may even be the greatest film ever made in the history of cinema.

What I Watched in Lockdown: Month #2 – April

Aw, April. After March was possibly the craziest and oddest month of our collective lives, April was a learning curve for everyone, as we tried to get used to our new surroundings.

Although it originated from truly terrible surroundings, this actually seemed like quite a uniting time as everyone in the whole world was sharing one big similar circumstance. Everyone was stuck in their respective homes – no one could see friends, see family, go to the cinema, go to a restaurant or really do anything. And, actually it was nice to see everyone – no matter what race, gender, age, class or nationality – deal with the same issues for once.

And, it was actually quite a calming time for me. I loved it, and I watched a lot of films. These include:

  • Lots of new films, that I watched on streaming services, instead of at the cinema. Streaming services including the subscription-based ones (including Netflix, Amazon Prime and DisneyPlus, along with Shudder, which I got for a while during lock-down (it wasn’t worth it)), free streaming services (including BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, and of course, YouTube) and streaming services were you buy rentals (including Google Play, Amazon or Curzon Home Cinema). The new films I watched on streaming services include Bacurau, Swallow, Love Wedding Repeat, Tigertail, Blow the Man Down and Sea Fever. I also re-watched The Invisible Man and the National Theatre Live taping of the stage play, Fleabag (which was very lovingly put onto streaming for charity). The best of these films was Bacurau (with a big honourable mention for Swallow), and the worst was definitely Love Wedding Repeat.
  • During lock-down, me and my dad started a film club, in which he would show me a film I’ve never seen before, while I would show him a film he’s never seen before. The classics I watched for the first time include the Orson Welles classic, Touch of Evil; the iconic war film, Apocalypse Now; the other iconic John Travolta dance film (that isn’t Grease), Saturday Night Fever; the 60s Paul Newman film, The Hustler; the Stephen King-David Cronenberg adaptation of The Dead Zone; Apocalypse Now documentary, Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse; the classic Humphrey Bogart classic, The Maltese Falcon and the 80s Best Picture winner, Platoon.
  • Films I showed my dad that I re-watched include the Coen brothers films, Inside Llewyn Davis (which I love), Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There and A Serious Man. Others include the forgotten gems, Begin Again, Searching and Leave No Trace, and the terrific recent gems, One Cut of the Dead and The Peanut Butter Falcon.
  • Otherwise, I watched Knives Out twice this month. Yes, that means that I’ve seen it six times now. The first time, I watched it with a commentary track from director, Rian Johnson, while the second time I watched it normally.
  • Speaking of Knives Out, I watched a lot of films that Johnson says influenced his work. Before this month, I watched 80s twisty-turny thriller, Deathtrap and the whodunnit parody movie, Murder by Death. In this month, however, I watched some Agatha Christie adaptations, including Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express (the 1970s one) and The Mirror Crack’d, as well as the 70s mystery thrillers, Sleuth and The Last of Sheila. I also watched the 2015 miniseries of Christie’s And Then There Were None, which was great by the way, if you haven’t seen it.
  • Other random films include: Mr. Right, a mediocre Sam Rockwell black comedy; Tigers Are Not Afraid, a terrific and underrated fantasy horror in the vein of Pan’s Labyrinth (which was pretty much the only other film I watched on Shudder), and QT8: The First Eight, a documentary about Quentin Tarantino. I sort of let go of watching Studio Ghibli films in April (don’t worry, I start again in June), however I did watch the underrated Ghibli gem, Whisper of the Heart.
  • I did also re-watch a lot of films with my family during this month. This includes a favourite from my childhood (and one of my mum’s favourites), the Pixar movie, Finding Nemo, and The Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep, which I undoubtedly think it better than the original. I also re-watched the 2016 comedy, The Nice Guys, another go-to comfort movie for me.
  • I also continued to watch The Simpsons during this harsh and difficult time. I carried on watching random episodes, finishing the sixth and fifth seasons. This re-watch really established to me that The Simpsons is so good – the writing on this show is better than most shows on nowadays.
  • Other random TV seasons I’ve seen include: the first season of Ozark; the first season of Pure; the second season of Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema, and the fifth season of Better Call Saul. They were all good, but the fifth season of Better Call Saul was near perfection (bring on season 6).
  • Outside And Then There Were None, I also watched some miniseries, including Tiger King (like everyone else on the planet – remember when that was the biggest thing ever) and Quiz, a dramatisation of the Who Wants to be A Millionaire scandal (which was fantastic, by the way).
  • I also read this month (that’s right, sometimes I read) – I started to read some comics. I read Volumes 7 (consisting of issues 31 to 36) and 8 (Issues 37 to 42) of Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga, one of my favourite comic book series. I also read the second volume (Issues 6 to 10) of the underrated series, Skyward.

Bring on the Month 3, where caution: I was A LOT of films.

What I Watched in Lock-down: Month #1 – March

Well, 2020 has been… an experience, hasn’t it.

Ever since March, life has changed for pretty much everyone in the world. Coronavirus – or Covid-19 – has all of a sudden become the most famous celebrity in the whole world, and everyone abruptly discovered a new vocabulary, including “social distancing”, “pandemic”, “isolation” and “quarantine”.

It became the biggest thing in the world around March, especially half way through the month. It is still going on now, but it’s definitely dialling down, and will probably never again reach the craziness of mid-to-late March. The whole pandemic is like a TV show that started off as biggest show on television, and is now petering out (but still has a devoted fan-base) – it’s like Twin Peaks, Glee or Heroes. And, like these shows, the pandemic will hopefully be cancelled soon, only getting a revival in the press when it is properly finished.

And, like everyone, we were put in lock-down in late March, not being able to go outside, go to cinema, go to a restaurant, see friends, see family, or just really do anything that doesn’t involve doing it in the house. So, therefore, like everyone, I got a load of brand new projects, and this included watching a lot of films.

Firstly, during the first half on the month (the 1st to the 16th), where the world had not really changed that much, it was pretty much business as normal. This includes:

  • A load of new films, that I watched at the cinema (remember when we could do that). This includes – Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Invisible Man, Downhill, Onward (and the short film that proceeded it, Playdate with Destiny), The Photograph and Military Wives. Yes, that’s right, Military Wives was the last film I watched at the cinema. I mean, Military Wives was good and everything, but if I die of Covid-19 and that is the last film I see at the cinema, I’m gonna be pissed. Overall the best of these films are either The Invisible Man or Portrait of a Lady on Fire (both so great – Portrait a little overrated, and Invisible Man was better than many thought), while the worst was definitely Downhill.
  • Also, I watched Taylor Tomlison’s new stand-up special, Quarter Life Crisis, which was very good. It was broadcast on Netflix – a eerie foreshadowing that we would get a load of new films on streaming services.
  • I continued to watch Studio Ghibli movies – the anime movies that were produced by Hayao Miyazaki’s film studio – ever since were brought to Netflix in February. In February, I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, and re-watched My Neighbour Totoro, while in March, I watched The Secret World of Arrietty and The Cat Returns and re-watched Spirited Away.
  • I also continued to watch a lot of Mark Ruffalo films, which I started to watch after seeing Dark Waters in late Feb. This includes Foxcatcher and Just Like Heaven, and re-watching Zodiac and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the latter two are two of the best films of the 21st century.
  • Other random first-time watches include: the 2016 horror film (that the podcast, The Evolution of Horror recommended me), The Autopsy of Jane Doe; the underrated Best Picture nominee, In the Bedroom; the overrated Noah Baumbach movie, Mistress America, and the solid Sidney Lumet thriller, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. A re-watch includes Ready or Not, a film from last year, that I really liked.
  • In terms of TV, I watched the fifth season of Inside No. 9. This was good, but was not as good as the utterly brilliant fourth season.

Now, we get to the time were the world went to shit. This is a new world, where new releases were either delayed, or taken straight to streaming. With the world in extreme turmoil, I started to watch favourite films and childhood favourites. Also, feeling like I won’t have this opportunity again, I decided to watch a bunch of old classics I’ve never seen before. Watches includes:

  • I re-watched some of my favourite films, including Fargo (believe or not, a go-to comfort film for me), Toy Story 2 (which I’m loving more and more on each re-watch) and last year’s Knives Out (which I watched for the fourth time).
  • I also watched some of my favourite films from childhood, including Ocean’s Eleven and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Both were good, but not as great as I remembered, especially Ocean’s Eleven.
  • Also, when I got DisneyPlus in late March, I watched a lot of their content, including their two short films, Lamp Life and Forky Asks a Question: What is Money?.
  • I started watching some classic films, starting with 1949 classic, The Third Man.
  • As we had to get used to our new surroundings, I started to watch new films on streaming services instead of at the cinema. This includes The Platform and Vivarium – both solid, if slightly underwhelming satirical movies.
  • Other random watches include: The Invisible Man director, Leigh Wannell’s other film, Upgrade; the 1970s musical thriller (that Edgar Wright recommended me), Phantom of the Paraside, and re-watched the 2011 Steven Soderbergh thriller, Contagion, which for some reason, I found slightly relatable.
  • Also, as a go-comfort move, I re-watched my favourite show from my childhood – a little show you may of heard of called The Simpsons. I re-watched a lot of random episodes and finished the eighth season. This brought me back to my childhood at this really heard time, and really established for me that it is indeed one of the best TV shows of all time.
  • Otherwise, I also finished the second season of Lost in Space and the twelfth season of Doctor Who. Both were solidly good seasons.

Now, the next two months were peak lockdown, so prepare for a lot of movies in the next few months.

Streaming Options: The Wretched Review

One of the streaming titles to gain a lot of popularity since the beginning of the COVID-19-enforced lock-down is The Wretched, a supernatural horror film. Only playing on streaming platforms (including Amazon, Google Play, and YouTube) and some drive-in cinemas, the film has become a huge success due to a lot of big, blockbuster films that have been delayed. In fact, the film has become the first film since the 2018 superhero blockbuster, Black Panther to keep the top spot at the box office for 5 weeks.

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The film focuses on a young teenage boy, Ben (John-Paul Howard), who moves back in with father, who he has been estranged with since his parents’ divorce. He begins to suspect that his next-door neighbour, Abbie (Zarah Mahler) is actually being possessed by an ancient witch, harming her family around her. With the help of his new friend, Mallory (Piper Curda), he must find a way to stop her from hurting him or his family.

From the outset, you can tell that the plot feels very inspired by the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, in how Ben begins to spy on his neighbours, and begins to suspect that something is not quite right with them. In this scenario, Ben is James Stewart and his best friend, Mallory is Grace Kelly. It’s so similar in fact, that Ben is actually wearing a case throughout the film, having just broken his arm.

You could also compare the film to Disturbia, a 2007 thriller, which was essentially a rip-off of Rear Window, but instead, done from a more teenage perspective. This is essentially what this film does – it tells a Rear Window-type plot from a teenage perspective, but mixes it with more supernatural chills. In fact, the film owes more of a debt to kids’ films, like the fun 2007 animated movie, Monster House (in which young teenagers investigate their supernatural house next door) and the 2008 fantasy adventure, The Spiderwick Chronicles (in which a teenage boy and his siblings fight against demons and ghouls).

This is a little bit of a problem of the film, as is sometimes uncomfortably mixes teen angst and drama with genuine scares and chills. It is a similar problem that the recent film, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in which it branded itself as properly scary horror film, but was also a movie that needed a primarily young target audience.

By extension, the feels like it should be a lot scarier than it is. There are certain sequences at the beginning that are quite chilling, like the actual monster itself, and seeing it appear subtly in baby monitors or the corner of Ben’s eye. It’s almost like seeing a teen version of Paranormal Activity at some points. However, it feels like it slightly abandons this after around half an hour, and the film trades in scary chills for more of an adventure, exciting thrill ride.

This is another problem about the film – is that sometimes there is just too much going on. Other than struggling to balance a variety of tones and target audiences, there is a lot of plots and story threads that the film is trying to go for. The film is about Ben, his development and his relationships, as well as dealing with the threat next-door, that turns into a supernatural threat.

There is also a large amount of characters and actors vying for screen-time. Although, it is definitely Ben’s story, other characters include his father, his father’s girlfriend, Mallory, her sister, Abbie, her family, and many more. Not only that, but on top of all of this, the film then tries to do 2 big twists at the end. It almost feels like the script was trying to be too ambitious and trying to do too many things, that it doesn’t end up that successful doing any of them.

That being said, the film is still very pacey and thrilling. The film is very well-directed by Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce. They might be a little out of their element directing a full-on, scary horror film, and would probably be better crafting more a children adventure film. However, saying that, they are still capable of making a movie that is fun, entertaining and exciting, with many thrills and some relatable and interesting characters.

Overall, The Wretched is a perfectly fine diversion. It isn’t perfect, and possibly needs a little bit of more work put into the script, and overall thought put into exactly what it wanted to be. However, saying that, if you are looking for a fun, pacey and thrilling horror movie, then you should definitely give this a watch.

Rating: 6/10

Streaming Options: The Vast of Night review

If you are looking for a bit of sci-fi fix during lock-down, then you should definitely check out the newest Amazon Prime original, The Vast of Night. The film was first shown at the Sundance film festival in 2019, and was then brought by Amazon Studios, who are screening it free for anyone with an Amazon Prime subscription. It can also be screened in certain drive-in theatres in the US, and let me tell you this is the sort of movie that is pitch perfect for a drive-in movie watching experience.

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The film is inspired by vintage 50s-60s science fiction television, like The Outer Limits and especially, The Twilight Zone, with a healthy dose of The X Files also thrown into the mix. In fact, the whole film is framed as an episode of a The Twilight Zone-type show, called Paradox Theatre – the film begins on a old-fashioned curved television with a fuzzy connection, with an authoritative-like narrator. And, at various times, the film slips back into this just to remind us of that framing device.

The film focuses on the relationship between teenage switchboard operator, Fay Crocker (played by Sierra McCormick) and young radio DJ, Everett (Jake Horowitz), two people living in a small, desolate town in New Mexico. The two soon start investigating strange sounds coming out of the radio and switchboard, which leads to them discovering various stories from the townsfolk about close encounters and alien invaders.

Much in the same way as Mulder and Scully in The X-Files, Fay and Everett are contrasting and opposing figures that bicker, argue and have really great chemistry. Fay is more of a wide-eyed, optimistic figure, who wishes to stay in this small town, while Everett is more of cynical, arrogant and charming figure, who is desperate to get away from this town. And, as is the case with The X-Files (the early seasons, especially), the two have brilliant chemistry, but it never really slips into a sexual, or romantic pairing, and is much more effective only hinted at. This small piece of characterisation works really well, and is elevated by great performances McCormick and Horowitz.

The film is a really wonderful jump back into science fiction, a genre of which has gone by the wayside slightly ever since the COVID-19-influenced lock-down began. I mean, since big block-busters have been delayed until September, it’s obviously we would be getting a lot less of effects-driven sci-fi movies. However, The Vast of Night is much more of a low-budget affair for sci-fi movies, centring more on the unseen threat that is looming in the skies.

The film has a very standard, ordinary way of telling it’s story, and never feels the need to be subversive or satirical in any way. The film is unlike the works of filmmakers like, say, Edgar Wright or Jordan Peele, which are trying to balance soft parody with an actual story – this is down-the-middle sci-fi story told completely straight. It is clearly made by someone with a real affinity for this kind of genre, as director, Andrew Patterson (in his directional debut, no less) gets all the details about this era completely spot-on, from the clothes, the cars, the old-fashioned TVs and the old-fashioned circuit boards. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it really does feel like you are transported back to the late 1950s. And, much is the same way as these old-fashioned sci-fi shows, the experience that these kids are going through does feel genuinely wonderful and thrilling. It really evokes the awe and wonder that is felt like watching The X Files and other sci-fi films, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

Patterson also has a great visual style to offer, and in particular, the camera work done by cinematographer, M.I. Littin-Menz is very interesting. The film is not afraid to hold a shot for a long time, and gives us many long panning shots and uses of steadicam. For example, there is a shot of Fay doing work on the circuit system that holds for a very long time and doesn’t cut away.

There is also a really extraordinary sequence, in which the camera pans from Fay to Everett, who are on different sides of the town. All done in one long, ambitious sequence, the camera glides through the air, going past people and cars, and brings to mind similar sequences in recent Oscar winner, 1917 and latest Netflix original, Extraction.

There is a mixture between this and some more intricate camerawork. This sort of camerawork feels very inspired by the works of Edgar Wright – it is fast, quick, with loads of edits. It also places a big emphasis on close-ups, like keys going into the ignition, or records being put on a record player. It’s the mixture, between the these two opposing styles – the long, panning shots and the fast, quick edits – that give the film a really unique and interesting visual style.

This visual style is also very arresting in other areas. In another strange sequence, Kay and Everett talk to some on the radio about his close encounter experience, and the film literally cuts to black for quite a long time (about 1-2 minutes long) while the listener talks about his experiences. This is a heavily ambitious, and quite strange moment that just adds to the film’s unique visual style.

Overall, the film’s visual style is fantastic, the cast are really wonderful and it beautifully captures the era it is portraying, but overall, I yearned for more substance. The film is just really an exercise in style – the story does sometimes lack a bit of depth – but saying that, it is a really great exercise in style.

The Vast of Night is overall, a really lovely movie that really clicks. For anyone in the mood for a good, old-fashioned piece of sci-fi, particularly with the lack of sci-fi entertainment at a time like this, The Vast of Night is really worth watching. So, if you have an Amazon Prime account, definitely check this out.

Rating: 8/10

Streaming Options: Never Rarely Sometimes Always Review

Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a real indie treat that you can now catch on streaming. The film had a brief theatrical run in cinemas during mid-March, before the COVID-19 pandemic took off, and it’s now available from all different streaming services. It is available from all the usual providers, including Google Play, Amazon and Youtube, where you can stream it for, at the cheapest, £3.49.

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The plot centres on a young 17-year-old girl, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), who suddenly gets pregnant. Feeling like she doesn’t want the baby, she decides to get an abortion, however, her local clinic doesn’t help her. She decides to travel to Pennsylvania with her cousin and best friend, Skylar (Talia Ryder), to get proper support for her decision.

The film is written and directed by indie director, Eliza Hittman, who was previously at the helm of 2015’s Beach Rats. The two lead stars, Flanigan and Ryder are very much unknowns, but I doubt they will be for much longer after the release of this movie. The closer thing that we get to a star in this movie is Theodore Pellerin, a small indie actor, appearing in the TV shows, On Becoming a God in Central Florida (2019-present) and The OA (2019). Hittman, and her two stars, Flanigan and Ryder are the real geniuses here, that make the film work so well.

The two central performances by Flanigan and Ryder are really quite terrific. For two very young actresses, Hittman is very confident with them, placing the movie squarely in their hands. Very much in the same vein as the lead performance by Julia Garner in another recent streaming title, The Assistant, these stars are often shot in tight, intense close-ups, and they pretty much appear in every single scene.

What is really wonderful about the performances, however, is how much they underact. Normally, when actors are portraying hormonal teenagers, they tend to overact, and make their characters almost caricatured. However, Flanigan and Ryder never do this – they play it a minimalist way, which is so refreshing to see. And Hittman is key here too, as she lets the actors breathe and perform, in a freeing way.

Hittman is really brilliant here as the director. She is very good at doing subtle film-making, than never feels the need to be melodramatic, or overwrought. She never feels the need to judge her characters or their actions, and this makes for very sensitive viewing. She also never feels the pressure to cut away frenetically, and lets the camera linger for a long time.

One of the scenes that brutally captures this is a scene in which Autumn has a consultation with a doctor about her abortion. This is where the title of the film comes into play, as the doctor asks Autumn to reply to her questions with either “never”, “rarely”, “sometimes” or “always”. The scene is really haunting, and through Flanigan’s performance, it beautifully tells a whole story in not many words.

The film also works so effortlessly because of the central relationship between our lead characters. Their relationship has echoes of the central characters’ relationship in the 1969 classic, Midnight Cowboy in how they don’t actually communicate that much with each other, but they don’t need to – they are so comfortable with each other, they don’t really need to talk.

There is a really beautiful scene that showcases this, in which the two get on each other’s nerves, Autumn gives Skylar a “fuck you”, Skylar gets angry and moves forward two seats, and then the two just silently reconcile. There is another beautiful scene in which, while Skylar is kissing a man to get money for the both of them, the two of them hold hands. Their relationship is sweet and soulful, and you can tell that Autumn has a special bond with Skylar, where many others don’t.

Hittman also treats the film’s central topic of abortion very uniquely. Many of the scenes involving abortion – from the first clinic talking her out of having an abortion to the uncomfortable and heartbreaking consultation that Autumn has with a doctor – feel painstaking real and authentic. It is really refreshing to see a movie take on such a touchy subject with real bravery and brio, as well as take on this subject and not judge any of the characters for their actions. The film never feels pro or anti abortion, and this is so refreshing to see.

Overall, Hittman has created a really wonderful film in Never Rarely Sometimes Always. She, and her two central stars, Flanigan and Ryder have turned this film into a engaging, immersive and very interesting experience. You should definitely check, because it’s definitely a contender for one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 9/10

Streaming Options: Extraction Review

A film that is gaining a lot of attention at the moment is Extraction, a recent Netflix original, that stars Chris Hemsworth in the lead. The film is directed by former stuntman, Sam Hargrave, and written by Joe Russo, the director of the biggest movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame, which of course, also starred Hemsworth.

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The film follows Tyler Rake (Hemsworth), a rebellious and loner black-market mercenary, who is hired to rescue the kidnapped son (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) of imprisoned international crime lord. But, being set in the murky underground of weapon dealers and drug traffickers, the already deadly mission becomes even harder and almost impossible.

Being called Netflix’s big action movie of the moment, that is gaining more attention because of the lack of content due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the film is gaining a lot of attention, and a lot of popularity and viewership. With all that buzz, the result is a little disappointing, albeit a perfectly fine serviceable action diversion.

The first half of the film is particularly solid and quite entertaining. It starts off well, and once we get to the central mission, it gains real momentum. Much has been made about how the film has a whole sequence around about half way through, that is all done in one continuous, interrupted shot. Much in the same way as this year’s Oscar winning, 1917, the sequence is heavily ambitious, going through buildings, up and down stairs, driving in cars, through gunfights, and even at one point, switches perspectives from different characters. Much like 1917, the sequence is incredibly visceral, and only makes the action and drama all the more intense.

Also, a lot of the fight sequences in the first half, particularly this one-shot sequence, are incredibly well-choreographed and thrilling. These sequences feel very inspired by the almost balletic fight scenes of Gareth Edwards’s The Raid films, or the John Wick films. These brilliantly put-together fight scenes just make the film so much more thrilling and intense.

But after the one long shot sequence, the film starts to go downhill. This really starts to happen when the film tries to incorporate some drama and depth into the film. This occurs when Rake goes to visit his former teammate, Gaspar (played by David Harbour), and during this, the film explores Gaspar and Rake’s history, as well as Rake’s tragic back-story. However, all the drama just doesn’t quite click into place. Harbour and Hemsworth are fine, but because of the cliched writing and quite dull direction, it all feels a little dramatically inept. It also feels like the film is attempting to play the part of a really good action movie, by adding some depth to the film, but not really putting the effort into making the drama innovative or particularly interesting.

Another part of the film that has gained a lot of attention is the film’s excessive violence. Towards the end of the film, there is a hell of a lot of people who get shot and killed. And after a certain amount, it really starts to loose it’s power. The viewer just ends up feeling desensitised to the violence, and it has no impact in the slightest. Also, the violence never feels as visceral or gruelling as it should be. For an 18-rated film (or “R” in the United States), it doesn’t feel like they really take proper advantage of this, and violence ends up lacking a real bite or edge.

Other than that, the performance by Hemsworth is fine, but that’s pretty much it – just fine. He is trying to be very serious here, and he lacks the comedic ability he has gained over the past few years (with projects like Men in Black: International and 2016’s Ghostbusters), and the charisma he brings to a role like Thor. However, if he is attempting to be the serviceable type of action hero, he is perfectly fine at doing that, although this is a little disappointing, considering we’ve seen him do so much more.

Extraction is a little bit a film of two halves – the first is actually pretty good, but the second half lets it down. But, saying that, considering that most of us don’t have much to do at the moment, Extraction is a perfectly serviceable diversion, that much in the same way as The Lovebirds, will pass the time finely.

Rating: 6/10

Streaming Options: The Lovebirds Review

One of the first movies to have been bought by Netflix amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is The Lovebirds, a film that was originally going to have a proper cinema release. However, it feels like it might have found it’s right home at Netflix, as the streaming service specialises in making light, frothy but quite fun comedies.

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The film follows a couple, Jibran (Kumail Ninjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae), who when they first meet, are deeply in love and crazy about each other, but fast forward 4 years later, the two are constantly at each other’s throats. On the verge of breaking up, they are brought together when they witness a murder, and become embroiled in a murder mystery. While attempting to clear their name (and uncover the truth about the mystery), they must figure a way how they (and their relationship) can survive the night.

As you can tell, the film is very influenced by 2010’s Date Night and 2018’s Game Night in how it features a central couple who become caught up in a labyrinthe mystery all over the course of one night. The film is directed by Michael Showalter, who previously directed the 2017 comedy film, The Big Sick, also starring Ninjiani. The film has also had some unfortunate comparisons to last year’s middling Stuber, another film starring Ninjiani, that also centred on the chemistry he had with his co-star (that time with Dave Bautista).

It’s safe to say that from the outset, the film is much, much better than Stuber, but nowhere near as brilliant as The Big Sick. The film is a fairly entertaining and amusing comedy, and is often the case with Netflix comedies, it passes the time well enough. It might possibly be better viewed in the background while you’re doing something else.

The real problem with the film is that it isn’t as tightly-plotted or clever as it should be. Although I say the film has a complex mystery at it’s core, the mystery itself never feels as complex, labyrinthe or satisfying as it should be. The film also isn’t as intense, thrilling or suspenseful as it requires it to be. For example, there is a sequence in this film, in which our main characters are tortured by the bad guys (by taking either hot boiling grease to the face or a kick from the horse), and yet the sequence never feels intense or scary, and ends up coming across as a tonally inept and unfunny moment.

Overall, we never feel the danger that the characters are going through, and we’re always pretty much convinced that they will make it out of the night in tact. This is crucial, because if you think about all of the most famous mystery comedies movies (like the Pink Panther films, 1963’s Charade, or last year’s Knives Out), they always strike a brilliant balance between high-stakes tension and funny comedy.

This is a shame, because something that Showalter did with The Big Sick was to handle numerous different tones with a real grace and ease. Possibly the problem with the film is that unlike The Big Sick, the film doesn’t have the wonderful writing duo of Ninjiani and Emily V. Gordon. Without them, the film doesn’t really strikes it’s tonal balance perfectly. Also, the film doesn’t seem to have the depth or just, plain ambition of The Big Sick. It is a pretty straightforward, down-the-line mystery comedy that doesn’t try to do anything new.

That being said, the film is still pretty funny. Rae and Ninjiani are too absolute brilliant comedic figures, and unlike Ninjiani with Bautista in Stuber, the have really terrific and buzzing chemistry. Also, strangely because Rae does not have much of a cinema resume (apart from the 2020 film, The Photograph and the television series, Insecure), the two of them are very charismatic figures that the camera clearly loves.

The humour is pretty standard, and at times cliched for a modern comedy. It is almost a check-list for jokes – there is a bit where our lead duo start nervously talking in front of a police officer; a bit where they start singing at loud volume to a song on the radio; a bit where they are forced to go to a supermarket to change clothes, and many more. The comedy is not very clever, or particularly innovative, but saying that, I did laugh. It does pass the 5-laugh test with ease, and that’s mainly due to Rae and Ninjiani bringing sizzling energy to an otherwise unoriginal screenplay.

The Lovebirds overall, might not be as ground-breaking or brilliant as The Big Sick, but coming a year after the very mediocre Stuber, it is a welcome return to form for Ninjiani. Coming out on Netflix, the film passes the film finely and is a welcome distraction for anyone wanting new content.

Rating: 6.5/10