The downfall of Westworld Season 3 ( as covered by this author at the time) was one of the most disappointing media related flameouts of 2020. Nevertheless, someone at Warner Brothers believes in co-creator Lisa Joy. This mid budgeted and already flopped original sci-fi feature directorial feature starring Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson is testament to that. Believe it or not this viewer did go into an opening week screening with an open mind. The strengths of Westworld at its best means Lisa Joy as a creative can never be written off entirely. Original sci-fi films getting big platforms and studio budgets are also worth supporting in concept. On the back of actually seeing Reminiscence, this viewer has one thing to say. Films like this that or a textbook example of why studios are so hesitant to make solidly budgeted original sci-fi. The plot is a distinctly tired neo-noir. Jackman plays a world-weary detective in post-apocalyptic Miami. He specialises in a very specific technology that will let patrons relive memories of choice. The so-called Reminiscence can also be used to extract crime information from victims and perpetrators. When Ferguson’s femme fatale comes across his door one day they quickly fall for one another. Events take a turn for the worse when she disappears mysteriously. Jackman spends the rest of the film investigating her case and attempting to track her down. This project feels like an original film by way of technicality. The script feels like an undercooked mish-mash of ideas from much more influential slices of sci-fi noir. Blade Runner, Inception, Altered Carbon and elements of Waterworld to name a few. Add on a layer of distinctly pretentious narration in the delivery and the first act is a rather rough sit. The plot gathers a little more momentum as the narrative unfolds. Critically though never enough to distract from exactly what the final product feels like. A decidedly half baked, incredibly pretentious mess. It takes all the narrative ideas from better material and then fuses them into a smoothie of unmarked slop. Jackman and Ferguson are at least watchable screen presences. Not even their movie star-charisma can elevate a decidedly by the numbers screenplay. The slightly more engaging second half means this review is ultimately, not going to be as harsh as the writer might want it to be. Even in the films, better moments is nothing more than a generic slice of Hollywood sci-fi action. The kind of thing that looks like it might provide something on paper but in execution feels sorely lacking. Even taking into account the diminished expectations brought on by the last season of Westworld Reminiscence is sluggishly disappointing. A generic cocktail of defiantly dull, done better sci-fi ideas. Decidedly pretentious in its delivery with a cast unable to elevate the material. Failures like this are why studios are so reluctant to green light Even mid-budget sci-fi for theatrical release. 5/10.
This author is not expressly familiar with Jojo Moyes. He can make some general assumptions about the vibe given off, based on the ubiquity of seeing her romance novels in the bestseller charts. On the surface, they appear to be the sort of thing exclusively targeted at wine moms who run book clubs. Nevertheless, viewers have to look at everything with an open mind. Even adaptations of authors look like they are distinctly not made for 26-year-old males. Surprisingly the irritating thing about The Last Letter From Your Lover as a film is that half of it is perfectly decent. Taking place across two timelines in the modern section Felicity Jones and Nabhaan Rizwan discover a series of letters. These lead back to the mid-1960s. In the period half Shailene Woodley gets herself caught in a love triangle with Joe Alwyn and Callum Turner. This reviewer is not going to claim the modern portion is anything revolutionary. It’s a very typical contemporary romantic comedy. That said Jones and Rizwan deliver charming performances. They have some gently amusing banter. The ending is certainly manipulative and heartstring-pulling. This is typical for something that is designed to get middle-aged women to sob uncontrollably. This reviewer can’t deny that for as much as the mechanics were undeniably noticeable the ending was actively quite touching.
The problem here is the 6o’s material Shailene Woodley is a very solid choice for your romantic lead. Unfortunately, the man she has chasing after her are the most generic beefcake’s that it’s possible to see in this kind of narrative. Even by the standards Of something that’s meant to have a level of self-insertion available for the reader/ viewer these characters are impressively wooden. It’s a shame. As things progress the film loses potential every time it cuts back to an aggressively dull Woodley scene. Those that are a sucker for these kinds of rom coms might get something out of it. The film is a theatrical release in the UK thanks to StudioCanal and it’s on Netflix internationally. It’s hard not to feel like streaming is likely the better home for it. Especially given that a lot of streaming material has now morphed into the home of the mid-tier melodrama.
The Last Letter From Your Lover is probably fine as wine drinking Sunday night viewing. It doesn’t have a great deal of appeal beyond a very specific audience who might well lap it up. It would be easy to get irritated by these viewers. Ultimately it’s not worth the time and effort. For all the genuine criticisms one can level at a phone like this if it works for the target audience it will have done a certain amount of its job. For the half of this film that unironically works this viewer would say that it mostly does. 5/10.
This viewer will admit to not being overly familiar with David E Kelly’s pre-Big Little Lies creative CV. It comes from an era before this watcher was viewing a lot of prestigious TV. Having covered a lot of his post-Big Little Lies work Kelly’s MO in 2021 has become staggeringly obvious. Take a basic airport potboiler narrative. Fuse it with a much starrier cast than the material deserves. Reserve a mandatory leading role for Nicole Kidman. Rinse and repeat. This viewer would not say he was a fan of either Big Little Lies or The Undoing. They seemed desperate to establish their prestigious status. Under the surface when much trashier than the exterior wanted viewers to believe. That’s not even touching what the first season of his recent ABC show Big Sky was. The hilarious awfulness of the first half all that season kept this Watches attention. The second half rolled around. The majority of the main case that was the driving force of the show until that point was wrapped up. The show became simply and derivatively dull. This viewer won’t be back for another season. This takes us on to Kelly’s most blatant star-powered effort thus far. Nine Perfect Strangers, based on a source novel from the author of Big Little Lies. The setup is unbelievably straightforward. Nine strangers book a retreat at a revered “wellness centre.” However, things may not be all as they seem. Of course, Nicole Kidman is here doing a Russian accent for no discernible reason. This ridiculously starry cast this time includes Melissa McCarthy Luke Evans, Michael Shannon, Bobby Carnevale, Samara Weaving and Regina Hall. Was the three-episode premiere any good? To put it bluntly. No. There’s a mild element of intrigue in watching the events play out. Kelly’s previous shows in this lane might have been elevated trash but they at least had narrative momentum and committed performances. Or in the case of Big Sky entertaining in its atrocity. Nine Perfect Strangers fits neither of these categories but is nowhere near good in its own right. The narrative feels incredibly thin with the driving force only peeking its proverbial head in at the end of the third episode. Considering this is only an 8 episode season the lack of any true buildup is honestly astonishing. Most of the performances are inoffensive enough. It’s always nice to see Melissa McCarthy in a more dramatically inclined role ( given the right material she’s a better actress than some give her credit for.) The real sticking point here is Kidman and her mildly comedic Russian accent. She appears to be one of the main threats. That said but it’s hard to take her seriously when her delivery borders on pantomime. Her character is also getting random text messages for some unknown reason that I’m sure will be explained by the end of the season. Then there’s the casting of Manny Jacinto. Essentially playing a completely non-ironic and sincere version of the character archetype he so perfectly parodied as Jason on The Good Place. Viewers might expect him to go on a passionate defence of the Jacksonville Jaguars at any point. Even within the context of thin popcorn TV, the material here underserves everyone involved. Not to mention HBO’s The White Lotus just did this premise with a razor-sharp wit and genuine commentary on some vile central characters. In terms of mildly trashy TV one of the shows, this is directly competing against on Amazon UK is Freeforms Cruel Summer. An enthralling and surprisingly great teen mystery. Unless the season tanks in the last three episodes it is one of this reviewer’s big surprises for 2021. The latter show might not have the delusions of grandeur Nine Perfect Strangers possesses. You know what the duelling narratives of Jeanette Turner and Kate Wallis have over Nicole Kidman’s terrible accent under a bunch of stars that should know better. Genuinely great construction. Effective use of a central gimmick that enhances the narrative progression engagingly. Enough strengths to forgive the hard cringe when a character played by Harley Quinn Smith asks the heroine/ antihero if they want to watch Clerks. All these seemed entirely foreign to David E Kelly and his creative team across their recent output. Based on the first three episodes Nine Perfect Strangers is a thin and pointless mystery Boasting an all-star cast all of whom should know better. Is this viewer likely to watch the whole season? Potentially but any chance this show had been close to good was torpedoed when the three-episode premiere has no momentum whatsoever. There’s no denying the strength of the cast will draw some viewers in. Whether they stick around for what seems to be an undercooked and generic mystery is another matter entirely. Episodes 1-3 rating. 4.5/10
If there’s a general theme among all of Edgar Wrights lockdown work It’s approaching the topics he covers with a sincere and infectious heart. Whether it’s his work spotlighting the importance of the big screen experience. Writing an essay about someone who he considers important within the film space. Or in this case, putting together a documentary on one of his favourite bands as while Last Night in Soho got a pandemic post-production delay. Full disclosure. This viewer does not know a great deal about Sparks. His main familiarity with them was Matthew Vaughn using This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both of Us on the Kick-Ass soundtrack. The Documentary was a high priority watch purely because it had Edgar Wright’s name on it. His material is always worth going out and supporting. How is the documentary? Honestly, it was such a frustrating viewing experience. In a lot of ways, it’s the sort of unsurprisingly excellent work viewers have come to expect from Wright. All his strengths as a filmmaker or present. Assembled and edited with unbelievably kinetic energy. Very engaging from start to finish. Made with a huge love for the subject matter and material. It’s honestly one of the easiest films to recommend this viewer can remember in recent memory. So why didn’t it work quite as well for him as he would have wanted? There are two main factors. The firm aims to do a full career retrospective across 25 albums and 50 years in 140 minutes. This is relatively long ( especially for theatrically released documentaries) the scope of the canvas right has chosen is very broad. A lot of the material and discussion comes across as rather abortive. The film is desperately in need of either a more focused shorter edit or expansion into a potentially fantastic three to four-hour streaming mini-series. Both of these options could be great on their own merits. The film we have sits in this bizarre nether region. Two massive in scope to be much shorter Also feeling desperately in need of a tighter Or more expensive edit. Then there’s the other problem. Even within the context of hagiography, the best in this sub-genre ( regardless of medium) will give the viewer a genuine insight into why the subject matter is so great. Wright used his massive array of connections to get interviews and sound bites about Sparks perceived greatness. The problem is that a lot of the discussion here falls decidedly into the ks is perceived brilliance. Beyond some isolated moments very little contextualization beyond some broad error as to How they were able to achieve this. Put bluntly it’s the creative decision under an attempt to cover their entire career in a theatrical running time. This project needed One of two things. Either a much more concise and focused theatrical edit. Alternatively a more expensive streaming mini-series focus. As it Is the 140-minute final product sits in a bizarre Netherworld. Too short to realistically cover a 50-year career anything like expansively. from Simultaneously too long to real in potential casual fans who aren’t already attached to the director or subject matter. The Sparks Brothers was a perennially frustrating viewing experience. There’s so much to love. It’s made with the kind of kinetic energy viewers expect from Edgar Wright. His love for the subject is present in every frame. The documentaries use of mixed media to paint a picture of the duos is fantastic. The film is broadly very engaging from start to finish. Yet something didn’t quite work ( at least for this writer.) The film spends A lot of time wheeling on various talking heads and celebrities to pontificate regarding Sparks greatness. It’s not interested in showcasing any of why they were so influential beyond some broad Longevity points. Ultimately it’s a very easy documentary to recommend especially for Wright or Sparks fans. That said this viewer can’t say he was immediately taken with some of the creative decisions made. If the theatrical edit had been more focused, or the scope expanded for streaming, then this project would have unlocked its full potential. As it is the 140-minute experience feels less than the sum of its parts 7/10.
Here we have Netflix’s big-ticket item for the summer. A horror trilogy based on novels from RL Stein set over 300 years and released over consecutive July weeks. It’s an ambitious undertaking. Whether it works is an entirely different endeavour. It’s worth saying that as of writing this reviewer has only seen the first entry. The sequels have no bearing on his opinions. How does this film fair as a stand-alone starter? It would be very easy to be sniffy at a film like this. Plenty of people already have. This viewer would argue that for what the film sets out to do it’s mostly pretty effective. A solidly engaging teen slasher movie. Some good kills and broad mythology elements as the connective tissue between this film and its sequels. Initially, it would be safe to assume the film is going for the Stranger Things crowd with its neon-drenched colour palette and cast crossover in both series. It came as something of a surprise to start watching and discover the film was decidedly very hard R in terms of its rating. Various horror staples come to terrorise our central group of teenagers in several solid set pieces. All set to a Spotify playlist of classic 90s tracks The script doesn’t offer a great deal beyond genre cliches But this is not unexpected for a slasher film. There is just enough groundwork laid in terms of the connective tissue for this viewer to have an interest in checking out the sequels. The cliffhanger ending might seem irritating to some There is certainly enough merit in this first entry to warrant coverage for the sequels. The first part of Netflix’s is Fear Street is an engaging and entertainingly gory slice of teen slasher horror. There is just enough initial mythology set up to make the sequels an intriguing prospect. The script may be somewhat generic but a certain amount of this can be put down to genre expectations. Ultimately there is an art to simply executing the basics. The first part of this trilogy it’s very much an advertisement for that fact. Look out for coverage and reviews of the sequels coming soon. Part 1 Rating. 7/10.
Matt Damon plays an oil rig worker travelling from Oklahoma to Marseilles France. He is investigating the case that resulted in his daughter Abigail Breslin getting imprisoned. Sounds like a fairly typical Oscar bait injustice correction drama right. In a lot of ways it is. However what if this critic said that Stilwater please like a decidedly right-wing parody of these kinds of narratives. Putting Damon’s decidedly jingoistic American in a foreign climate. Seeing how his biases and interactions create conflict. Why not toss in a fairly bog-standard love story that develops throughout his time in France for good measure.
The script tries to have some level of self-awareness as to how one dimensional Damon’s character feels. This feels more like a concession than an honest admission. There’s a sequence where Breslin is surprised that Damon still has his iPod classic. This viewers immediate thought was that Toby Keiths ironically hilarious Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue( The Angry American) must be unironically on our central characters playlist. Breslin does the best she can with a decidedly underwritten part. The love story elements are generic but not necessarily terrible. Then there’s an utterly bizarre kidnapping centric final act that reads away any modicum of dubious empathy for Damon’s central character. As the film concludes he should probably be in jail as opposed to bringing his daughter home with little to no repercussions. Then after 140 long minutes, the film just stops with a conclusion that feels decidedly abortive.
Stillwater is a distinctly different take on a very well worn subgenre. That said outside of the commitment within central performances It doesn’t offer much beyond surface-level subversion. Then there’s a third act that should make a selection of the audience lose all sympathy for the protagonist. Viewers will wonder why they invested The far too long 140-minute runtime in the first place. 5/10.
This critic has no particular emotional attachment to either He-Man or Kevin Smith. The main reason he knows about the latter( aside from some broad cultural osmosis) is the ubiquity of the He-Man/4 Non-Blondes meme on the early internet.
So why did he watch the new sequel series that crosses over two creative forces he has little to no interest in. There is a simple answer to that. This is the new project from Powerhouse Animation. Having seen their Netflix Castlevania series the studios visual style and aesthetic is immediately attention-grabbing. The Castlevania series may have had its ups and downs The high points were enough to maintain a level of interest in future projects from the studio behind it. The first part of this new series is only five episodes long and based on another beloved property. The interest peaked again when the five episodes debuted to a level of critical acclaim. In the process got severely review bombed by butthurt fans. Now things are starting to get interesting. The question is how do these first five episodes play to someone with only the broadest surface-level knowledge of the original material.
The first episode may be entirely composed on a very glossy surface-level appeal but is mostly solid in that context. Powerhouse certainly gets to flex its visual muscles. The show generally looks very good from an aesthetic perspective. The starey voice cast, ( Mark Hamill. Lena Headey and Sarah Michelle Gellar among them) are mostly solid. The premiere mostly feels like Kevin Smith and his creative team playing with that big box of He-Man Toys. That is until the first episode ends with the central getting killed off. The plot for the remaining 4 episodes is essentially various fetch quests t resulting in finding another incarnation of the man from an alternate Eternia. This edition also gets promptly killed off. Skeletor now has control over Greyskull. See you for Part 2.
On one level beginning, your Masters of the Universe show with killing He-Man off can be treated as a bold statement. On the other hand, this did market itself as a sequel to the original series. Grown-up fans of the source material will be tuning in. Killing off the original hero one episode into your new incarnation in the age of the internet/social media is prime fodder for review bombing. It’s hard to imagine the creative team did not expect a certain amount of this. Beyond the Mark Hamill connection, the whole scenario from both a creative and storytelling perspective comes across like Luke Skywalker throwing his lightsaber over the Cliff in the opening minutes of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. When looking at the remaining 4 episodes this project crystallises more definitively. The sequel comes across as being put together by a team who likes the mythology and world-building potential in Masters of the Universe. Simultaneously they do not want to engage with how silly proceedings can be. The campy delivery is a key part of why this franchise has lasted even in meme form. Go a level deeper and strip away the franchise branding. What do you have? A solid if decidedly unspectacular animated action show. The initial 5 episodes are fine within this context. They don’t do a lot to differentiate themselves from the truly great stuff in the sub-genre
When the credits rolled on the episode 5 cliffhanger, this critic found himself asking who this was truly for. He concluded that this production tried to have fingers in as many appealing pies as possible. It did not go deep enough in exploring any one of them to truly harvest its potential and audience. After Part One Masters of the Universe: Revelation comes across as a decidedly odd project. Its full-hearted jump into the subversive for the sake of subversive subgenre means it’s not really for original fans. They do have some right to be annoyed at the creative decisions made. The series is strong from my visual and aesthetic point of view. Is not that much of a departure from Powerhouse’s previous visual work. In trying to have some level of appeal for the broadest subsection of its potential audience it does not go far enough in any one area to hold appeal or interest for any length of time. Those that are hungry for new action-based animation might get something out of it. The show doesn’t make a strong enough first impression in this regard, to enticing viewers back for future episode drops. 6/10.
This odd Danish thriller starring Mads Mikkelsen has been kicking around and building buzz on the festival circuit for a while. It’s hard to work out what to say about it. It does begin with events that result in Mikkelsen’s central character losing his wife. From that point, it’s a decidedly strange mix of black crime comedy, middle-aged buddy movie, cop procedural and vengeance thriller. It’s an engagingly unique take on the “dad justice” subgenre. This has been popularized in the US by any number of mediocre Liam Neeson action movies. The wild tonal shifts in the narrative won’t be for everyone. That said these choices are what makes the film so distinctive from its competition.
Regardless of what individual viewers may think the complete package is one of the most mainstream accessible foreign films this viewer has seen in quite some time. It was picked up in the UK by a distributor in Vertigo Releasing who does have the power to get their releases into a small number of multiplexes. And the film is worthy of that platform. Worth seeking out for those who might be interested in it. As events played out on screen this reviewer was imagining the inevitable Hollywood remake likely starring Liam Neeson. If this hypothetical film were to exist it would sand away any sense of even mild subversiveness. Playing the revenge elements of the plot completely straight. Critically all of this doesn’t wipe the Danish film or its merits from existence. It’s a unique and interesting spin on an extremely tired subgenre that doesn’t entirely come together If viewers if he was want to support a unique voice and film in a subgenre that is desperately in need of some fresh ideas this film is worth investing in. 7/10.
M Night Shyamalan has unleashed his new film on audiences that feel safe enough to go back to the cinema. The time this viewer started consistently watching new releases every week coincides with the Shyamalan “Hollywood embarrassment” phase. The Happening, The Last Airbender and After Earth. Three of the worst big-budget modern movies. This critic will never forget seeing the latter two opening weekends. He still Thinks about Dev Patels hilariously over the top delivery of “bring me all your elderly” Or the fact that Shyamalan reduced score material rich in mythology and worldbuilding as The Last Airbender animated series. In Shyamalan’s big-screen edition four men do a choreographed dance to telekinetically move a boulder.
Split was solid. That said it was not quite good enough to make this watcher see what people saw in Shyamalan. Going into Old the same watcher knew nothing about it beyond the fact it was a big new release and the fact it was a Shyamalan film. What did this writer find within Shyamalan’s latest mystery box?
This was a truly bizarre viewing experience. All the hallmarks of what has made Shyamalan such a Hollywood punching bag at his worst are here. The gimmicky premise, that has been meme fodder since release. Thin characters. Tonal range from sincere to hugely embarrassing. Multiple twists. There’s an argument that this film is just as terrible compared to Shyamalan at his worst. That said, this viewer was inexplicably engrossed by events on screen. The laughable material in Shyamalan’s previous decade of work has a complete lack of self-awareness. It was complemented by creative teams that were too indebted to Shyamalan’s previous greatness, to be honest with him in terms of how laughable these productions were. Old is similar in this regard.
This time everyone involved appears to have committed to delivering on the insanely silly sci-fi premise. A beach the rapidly ages those unlucky enough to step on it. No matter how insane the premise might be to some this viewer was engaged in seeing it resolved. As things progress the narrative also becomes strangely moving in places. Before delivering a very distinctly Shyamalan twist ending that is guaranteed to cause debate. As the credits rolled this writer could not decide if it was an insanely cheesy and hilariously atrocious addition to Shyamalan’s bottom tier work. Or was it some kind of insanely flawed but genuinely fascinating cult masterpiece that will have a following in years to come? One thing is for sure. This is the first time this writer got a genuine glimpse of what his fans see in M Night Shyamalan This kind of genuinely wild swing for the fences is the kind of thing you do not see very often in mainstream filmmaking. Even if watches despise it with every fibre of their being it deserves to be seen and supported. It’s a film you almost certainly want to come out of and discuss afterwards.
Is M Night Shyamalan’s Old another legendary embarrassment from a man whose career is already littered with them? Or is it some kind of bizarrely flawed masterpiece that its fans will be advocating for in the future? This viewer honestly can’t tell. What he can say is this. It’s a film you will truly come out of having an opinion on and wanting to talk about Whether the film ends up being laughably terrible or insanely misunderstood is irrelevant. The critical point is that viewers will remember it. In an age in which so much mass media has a distinctly formulaic style, the memory elements are worth celebrating.
The work of Pixar Animation Studios is one of this writer’s great passions. Very few would argue with the run of Golden age classics. These run roughly between the releases of Toy Story (1995) and Toy Story 3 (2010 ( depending on how individuals feel about the original Cars.) Since then Viewers will acknowledge they have a couple of efforts since that are up there with their greatest productions Inside Out, Coco And Soul stand out. Unfortunately, the studio has also become very trendy to hate on. “They are not as good as they used to be. Mostly churning out sequels now etc.” Here’s the thing. Modern Pixar is nowhere near as bad as some people will have watchers believe. They were many’s first introductions to computer animation with such a strong run of undisputed 10/10 material. This will always be a point of comparison for whatever they put out next.
Pixar releases are some viewers main exposure to CG animation seeing the depth and wild variation in the entire industry that they inspired. As a huge fan new Pixar features are like watching that sports star those that follow them know is capable of greatness. Said star might not be quite as the used to be. That said they can still be some of the most reliable and solid performers in their field. Cars 2 and marginally The Good Dinosaur are the only Pixar efforts this writer would call outright bad. There is no better evidence of the Pixar pedestal than the reaction to their latest effort Luca.
After the release of Soul On Disney plus thanks to the pandemic Disney also sent their next Next Pixar feature to streaming. Soul was intended as a full-fledged theatrical release that Disney got tired of waiting on. They dropped int on SVOD dropped as a Christmas gift for fans. In comparison when looking at Luca it’s Honestly not hard to see why Disney thought this project was more appropriate for streaming. A very small scale and less ambitious effort focusing on hybrid human/mermaid children as they spend a summer on the Italian Riviera. Short running time. (85 minutes excluding credits.) Lack of massive emotional stakes or any potentially world-altering themes or statements. is perfectly fine. The majority of family animation doesn’t set out to hit the heights of Pixar at their very lofty best. Luca is a small but perfectly formed story in which the two central characters main desire is to win a Vespa race.
There’s a benchmark of modern quality in Pixar’s stunning animation. It’s showcased here with just how effectively the medium captures the atmosphere of the small Italian town in which the narrative takes place. . Luca does not have a great deal on its mind beyond the initial premise. It can execute this effectively but never outstays its welcome. If anything it’s these productions from Pixar that viewers should support. Luca showcases their capability in telling smaller stories that still have a level of role quality and emotional impact one has come to expect from the studio over the last 25 years.
Unfortunately, because of the Pixar pedestal, certain viewers will look at Luca, Compare it to the golden age material and shrug their shoulders. It can almost be guaranteed that these types of watches haven’t seen the true drags of theatrical animation. They didn’t feel faintly embarrassed to take in an unnecessary theatrical screening For the 2020 English dubbed theatrical edition of Dogtanian and the Three Muskahounds. Granted in terms of 2021 animated in Oscar contention Mitchell’s VS The Machines wins over Luca every day of the week. The latest Pixar is still well worth a brief investment from viewers. It’s films like this that make this die-hard fan confident but the future for the studio is bright.
Luca won’t be topping anyone’s Pixar ranking list. That said it’s the kind of small scale, low stakes story that the studio should do more of. They have the raw talent and resources to make lesser projects into distinctly above average works. Unfortunately because of the Pixar pedestal that exists from certain viewers thanks to the ubiquity of their classic work these projects will never gain as much traction as their sweeping epics. This is okay though. Even a lesser tier Pixar effort beats 80% of mainstream American animation. Luca rating 8/10.
If this viewer were to rank his favourite Netflix originals the initial two seasons run for master of none would be near the top. It did not have a great deal on its mind beyond a broad slice of life show with some light social commentary elements and a streak of broadly conceptual episodes. It was terrific as exactly that. Then Aziz Ansari effectively said that the original well of ideas for the show had run dry. Combined with the harassment allegations against him it seemed that was all we were ever going to get. Thus it came as something of a surprise when after a four-year gap it was announced that we were getting a Denise centric third season with Ansari mostly behind the camera this time. Conceptually this made sense. Pivoting the show using an established character but But maintaining the spirit of the original show. Right? Actually no. Moments in Love is more of a tangentially related spin-off. Set at some point in time after the end of season 2 Denise (Lena Waithe) is now a New York Times best selling author. Meanwhile, her girlfriend Alicia (Naomi Ackie) is trying to convince her to start a family. They live in a cottage somewhere in upstate New York. Viewers see the breakdown and eventual reconciliation of the central relationship. That’s kind of it. All presented with naturalistic performances, a slow slice of life narrative, 4:3 aspect ratio and grainy 16-millimetre photography Certain critics will fall for the very pretentious, somewhat critic bait esque nature of this whole endeavour. Plenty already have. Meanwhile, those who expected a standard season of Master of None we will be left scratching their heads. Both of these reactions are very valid. First strong as the central performances are, getting a season that effectively functions as an experiment barely related to the original show takes some getting used to. When treated as its spin-off project the opening episode does have a distinctly cosy feel that mostly works as its own thing. This is despite Aziz’s on-camera appearance in the premiere somewhat going against the character established in the first two seasons. The lack of any narrative driving force is holding this production back from being as good as it could be. The problem comes when the catalyst for what is effectively the end of the relationship happens at the end of the first episode. This season focuses on the fallout from this event. This would be fine if the narrative had spent more time establishing why the two central characters like each other in the first place. Starting the narrative at the midpoint of the relationship and then adopting a non-linear fallout based structure hurts the emotional impact these five episodes could have even when treated as their entity. The performances range from solid to exceptional and the filmmaking is pretentious but impressive in places. Critically it will get acclaim from those who are a very easy layup for this specific brand of styles and presentation.
This is emphasised perfectly by the 4th episode focusing on Alisha’s attempts to get pregnant via IVF. The episode central performance is incredible. The emotions are sold very effectively. The problem is that the entire thing comes across like a very well performed public information film. Made by an art student desperate to show a certain type of audience that they are capable of making the material. If this project had been a 90-minute film there’s no guarantee that some of the same structure criticisms would entirely go away. It’s possible to under develop characters even with relatively brief feature efforts. That said if this was condensed in this way it would immediately eliminate this season’s key problem. Not using the medium of five television episodes well enough in getting the audience to truly connect with these characters. That said regardless of this what-if all viewers have to judge whatever piece of media in the form it has been presented. Thus this review structural complaints about this as a season of the television stand. Master of None: Moments in Love was an unbelievably frustrating viewing experience.
When divorced from the original show it does have some merit as a stand-alone entity. That said even when looked at from this perspective the execution is flawed Assuming that viewers aren’t already an easy layup for this style of pretentious presentation. Examination of LGBTQ themes in a way that will be an easy wash with certain critics. . If viewers were fans of the show in its original form it’s worth at least trying the first episode and seeing how they feel. That said for those that think this is some of the best TV of 2021 are playing into Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe’s hands. 6/10
It’s rare that this writers passions for tennis and media reviewing cross over. Here is a rare example. Off the back of her Netflix documentary, it’s a good chance to have the Naomi Osaka conversation. Osaka is unquestionably a great player and 90% of the time a fantastic ambassador for the sport. Then the 2021 French Open happened. Osaka’s effective boycott of media can gain some sympathy when looked at in a certain way. There’s certainly a debate to be had about whether players should be interviewed immediately after defeat. Ultimately the media plays a hugely important role in raising both personal profiles and the standing of the sport as a whole. It’s something the tennis players at Osaka’s level sign up for regardless of the individual path they took to get there. Osaka’s leveraging of her status as one of the worlds highest profile female athletes to effectively take the financial hit that will be nothing more than a drop in the bucket to her for her problem to go away sends entirely the wrong message. Who knows what the fallout will be at the tournaments where Osaka has titles and active ranking points to defend. For the time being Osaka and her promotional team seem to be giving off a “ we are only going to do media that flatters our star “ attitude. Still willing to launch her own Barbie line and appear on the cover of Vogue but using her mental health as a shield to avoid difficult questions. This takes us to the Netflix documentary. No beating around the bush here. This three-part Netflix series following Osaka throughout 2019 and 2020 is a massive missed opportunity. It’s directed by Garrett Bradley who won a lot of acclaim for her Amazon distributed documentary Time. This reviewer watched this previous film but did not cover it. There’s no question that it was beautifully made but came across as a distinctly one-sided take on a many-sided story. Her work with Osaka here is very much what would be expected if you took a festival and #filmTwitter pleasing indie director and told them to make Osaka’s personal and professional highlights real. It comes across as decidedly tasteful and well-meaning. Unfortunately, it’s ultimately far too controlled in its depiction of its subject to truly examine what makes her such an interesting and engaging character both on and off-court. There are moments of more raw emotion. However, they very very much feel like they only go up to the level Osaka’s promotional team is comfortable with being seen by the general public. The 2021 French Open was an external factor outside the filmmaker’s control. That said the series use of selective perception in making the documentary a better PR piece is decidedly noticeable. This is a project that purports to be an honest look at the pressures of international sports stardom. Omitting the two Grand Slam events where the subject wasn’t already defending champion and has a much lesser record is wrong on so many levels. Neither the French Open nor Wimbledon are mentioned once in the final edit. The third episode focuses distinctly on Osaka’s response to Black Lives Matter. Getting a quick behind the scenes look at her seven US Open face masks was an effective touch. That said the episode offers very little fresh insight that couldn’t be gleaned from watching Osaka centric interviews and press coverage from that tournament. Also omitted, Serena Williams role in the 2018 U.S. Open final ( aka the majority of the legacy tied up in that match regardless of Osaka’s victory.) These choices would be more forgivable if the series was a more engaging hagiography of its star. However, the very indie stylised presentation suggests those involved wanted to go for more than that. As a result, the final product hits a decidedly odd note in pretty much all regards. When taken purely as a documentary Naomi Osaka was a massive disappointment. Here was an opportunity to dig into the psychology and activism of one of the games of tennis’s most fascinating young figures. Instead, we get a piece of work that fuels too honest in its attempt at high mindedness to be entirely dismissed as an attempted puff piece. Yet nothing is offered in the actual content that enables this mini-series to elevate beyond a simple PR exercise. This can be seen both within the series itself but is very much backed up by Osaka’s current boycott of any media that is perceived as asking a difficult question. 2021 has already given us the surprisingly superb Billie Eilish documentary The Worlds a Little Blurry. It’s hard not to feel that the Eilish film already explored the themes Naomi Osaka is interested in with her piece in a more engaging, honest and less deliberately controlled manner. 5/10
Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci play a couple taking what could be their last holiday together well dealing with the aftermath of Tuccis early-onset dementia diagnosis in this tender British LGBTQ drama. The central performances here are terrific. There’s something strangely reassuring about watching two great actors effectively delivering some gentle banter. The script does a solid job of selling the emotional bond between the central players in its relatively brief 90-minute runtime. Who It offers some very sensitive discussion of potentially difficult themes. Especially in its examination of how loved ones will do absolutely everything they can to make sure those they love have the best life possible under threat from a potentially terminal illness. This culminates in a stunning third act dinner scene between the two protagonists. This somewhat cancels out the major tonal misstep of a scene earlier where it looks like the film might turn into middle-aged 13 Reasons Why.
So why does the whole thing not connect quite as well as it should? It’s honestly difficult to say. Maybe it’s the brief runtime or very singular focus. Perhaps The Father and its emotionally brutal portrait of dementia on screen still linger deep in the memory of everyone who saw it. the narrative does not hit the emotional highs that it perhaps could consistently. Nevertheless, There’s enough hearing strength of the performances alone to merit a solid recommendation. It’s just that the film doesn’t quite hit the overall high points worthy of its best moments. 7/10.
In 2008 Seth MacFarlane released several embarrassingly inept animated shorts as a web series. These came with massive sponsorship deals. They remain some of the worst things internet video as a medium has to offer. MacFarlane’s so-called “Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy” were essentially the most gross-out skits he and his team could think of. He could go hog wild crafting the most potentially offensive lowbrow thing imaginable and still get massive exposure for it. So he did. Here is a sketch from the series. This clip is very NSFW It should give a good idea of what this series is like.
Now imagine someone took the spirit of that 75 second 2008 edgelord web animation. Pair it with a creative team and voice cast that would make animation fans in 2020 set up and take notice. Make the entire thing a pointless farse on the American Revelation Unfortunately, they are unable to escape the brand of 2008 moronic, edgy for the sake of its embarrassment that categorises Seth MacFarlane at his worst. Welcome to the hell that is America: The Motion Picture. A scathingly unfunny generally toe-curling embarrassment. The backbone here is a script entirely comprised of all the lowest common denominator sex, bodily function, race and genitalia jokes that 13-year-old bully you hated in school thought were the funniest thing since getting kicked in the balls. Who looked at this material and convinced Channing Tatum, Olivia Munn, Will Forte, Judy Greer and Simon Pegg among others to waste their time on these dregs of adult animation? Why are Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s producers on this? Two of the most fiercely creative people in the industry reduced to attaching themselves to this borderline painful embarrassment. Why do the films gory elements feel so unashamedly tacked on? All questions that are never sufficiently answered. This critic had to take a bathroom break roughly the 40-minute mark. Said break was definitively more entertaining than trudging back and restarting what is surely the worst film of the year. It’s not even close. If America: The Motion Picture doesn’t run away with the dubious distinction of this viewers worst film of the year there will be something very wrong. A culmination of every off-colour schoolyard joke possible wrapped up in a stilted American revolution animated farce. All this built by a creative team who should know better. It’s not even that this kind of deliberately provocative humour can’t work on screen. Amazon’s TV adaptation of The Boys featured a scene in its sophomore season where a psychopathic superhero crushes a man’s head into a bloody pulp as he has sex with a literal superpowered Nazi. Yet it’s one of the best most multi-layered shows around right now. Highly recommended to anyone who has the stomach for it. Meanwhile America The Motion Picture should be permanently lost to time. That kind of thing that doesn’t deserve any views beyond pieces like this telling audiences to avoid them like the plague. 1/10
The last screening this critic attended outside his home city was the Glasgow Film Festival premiere for the black and white edition of Parasite. He took him some screamings the morning after before heading home. One of these was for the Military Wives movie ( which was briefly covered on this blog at the time.) One of the trailers in front of the film was for the British true story horse racing drama Dream Horse. The story of a Welsh community that invest money into a syndicate. This eventually leads them two acquiring a thoroughbred racehorse. The trailer did not look like anything particularly special. The kind of mildly hokey affair that plays mainly to an audience of OAPs during its theatrical run. Then the pandemic hit. When cinemas reopened for the second ( and hopefully final) time the Dream Horse trailer started to reappear. This reviewer was a little bit shocked that it wasn’t one of the films that had immediately pivoted to streaming or been sold to an SVOD service. Wanner Brothers UK can’t be that insistent on keeping this mid-level drama that would probably do well on streaming as a theatrical exclusive. Yet here we are. A few weeks after reopening came the release date for Dream Horse. Given that this writer wants to cover as many things as possible can he took in the screening. Was there any reason why you can’t distributors take this on the shelf for 18 months? Honestly no. Well, not the worst thing ever it’s films like Dream Horse that represent the most cynical side possible of Contemporary British filmmaking. A broadly feel good and inoffensive but not in any way engaging drama. The emotionally manipulative tactics in the plot construction are plain to see if viewers are familiar enough with the formula. Granted the film doesn’t do anything wrong but that’s their royal sense of blandness. Toni Collette and Damian Lewis are fine in the central roles but no one here can elevate the entirely manufactured sense of“heart” and “soul.” Granny’s will most likely be mildly distracted by it. A certain level of critical faculty can be dismissed if it works for the intended audience. That said even they deserve better than this. This very broad community brought together by/ person/place/thing/event only really works when a sad narrative device is truly extraordinary. The musical Come From Away ( mentioned in several different posts on this blog) Will always be this critic’s prime example in this field. Dream Horse doesn’t do anything wrong in the traditional sense. It may entertain those of a less critical disposition who like this style of narrative The final product has garnered much more solid reviews than it deserves. This writer is not saying the reviews are wrong necessarily. Just that if viewers have seen one film adopt this narrative structure they will know exactly what to expect. No one under the age of 60 will remember anything about it within a couple of days of seeing it.
This Chinese American co-production was a big hit in its native country before being acquired for international distribution by Netflix. Normally the kiss of death for live-action features. They have a habit of inflicting the blandest features possible on an unsuspecting streaming public and sucking out whatever life they may have had Less so with animation. There animated productions and acquisitions tend to be more interesting fair. Well, This reviewer is somewhat annoyed his film of the year will not be getting a wide theatrical release it was Netflix that ultimately brought Mitchell’s VS The Machines to the widest possible audience. Here is another Sony Pictures Animation production. Effectively Alladin sat in modern China with a predominantly Asian American voice cast
Unfortunately for Wish Dragon the first point of comparison that struck this viewers mind whilst watching was the films of Studio Pearl especially fellow Netflix release Over The Moon. Say what you will about that film blatant lifting of Disney formula and combining it with contemporary Chinese mythology ( something true for both films.) On a purely visual level, it was one of the most stunning pieces of animation released over the past few years. Wish Dragons visual style and budget looks a lot more modest by comparison. After a rough opening stretch, once the protagonist and Wish Dragon are together there are some solid slapstick set pieces for the rest of the runtime. The Disney worship becomes even more blatant when the main character partly uses the Dragons power to win back the heart of his childhood friend who is now a major celebrity. This is a formula that can work when done well. If viewers are in the mood for solid all-ages entertainment regardless of plot structure entirely lifted from renaissance era Disney they could do a lot worse.
This is probably close to the best film that could be expected if you gave a team of artists a modest budget and told them to make Chinese Aladdin. Judging the production for what it is with the obvious budget limitations the final results are more entertaining than might be expected. 6/10.
We live in the continuing roulette of Netflix shovelling out premises with algorithm friendly, easily discussable hooks. In that vein here’s a Poundland edition of Bird Box.
A post-apocalyptic future in which society has lost the ability to sleep. Gina Rodriguez leads her family in search of the supposed haven that allows those within to get a good night sleep Bird Box was never that great, to begin with. It got traction exclusively based on the stupidity of the meme challenges around it. It has one of the most obvious endings in human history. I’ve seen a disabled critic argued the ending as empowering. While this is fair it doesn’t make the final reveal any less apparent five minutes in. Put Bird Box next to something like Awake. It makes the former film look like the Quiet Place franchise.
Similarities to the former film are not only in the very internet-friendly premise. It’s also the way the initial apocalypse scenes are staged, plot structure and tone of various set-piece sequences among other things. The thing is that looking at the two films in a vacuum Bird Box was at least aiming for some air of legitimacy. You could at least try and divorce it from the idiots putting on blindfolds and risking their lives to capitalize on its virality Awake is just looking to ride the coattails of a potential meme until audiences move on to the next disposable Netflix film.
The cast does sport a couple of recognisable faces. Unfortunately, they’ve all saddled with a script the teachers on the edge between embarrassingly leaden and so bad it’s hilarious. It belongs in the bargain bin. Granted Finn Jones presence was never going to elevate anything. The mild whiff of his Danny Rand embarrassment still clings to his career This makes any time he tries to adopt serious delivery inherently hilarious and immediately brings forward unwanted flashback for those that have sat through Iron Fist. Gina Rodriguez and Jennifer Jason Leigh have been solid in other things. That said they are far too good for this stinker. Netflix does have some gems in their back catalogue over original films. However, when audiences think of the insanely varied to below-average quality of their meat factory Esque production line things like Awake will be what comes to mind.
Sometimes viewers question why a sequel even exists. This follows up to 2017 The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a perfect example. The original film coasted by on lazy chemistry. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L Jackson were simply playing versions of their existing media personas. More importantly, the film just wasn’t very good. That said it made enough money to be considered successful. Off the back of that, we now have a sequel expanding Salma Hayeks role and adding Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman. Does the sequel offer anything you couldn’t get by just rewatching the mediocre original? NO. The new film starts pretty atrociously. Aggressively shouty with the same choppy action sequences the hampered the original. Not to mention a script that feels like it was written by a 13-year-old edge lord. Once the main trio come together and the main plot gets going in earnest things improve significantly. For better ( but mostly worse) it’s the same film over again. Watching Banderas going full Puss in Boots for his line delivery as the villain is kind of fun. Morgan Freeman is always watchable even when phoning it in. That said action junkies deserve so much better than this. Especially when its direct competition in reopened UK cinemas is the excellent Nobody ( which this writer should get around to reviewing.) .) This author would say that fans of the first film will enjoy the sequel. That said the first film was so unmemorable it’s hard to believe it even has fans. Being generous the final comedic beat did make this reviewer laugh. There’s still very little reason for viewers to invest the time in a sequel no one asked for. The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is the dictionary definition of a boring made for profit sequel to a film that wasn’t that good in the first place. Fans of the first film might get something out of it. To give little credit things do improve after an excruciating opening. This is not a major compliment. The film moves from supremely irritating to boring. Pointless sequels like this can only be dissuaded from existing if viewers rightfully leave them alone. In the creative industries, nothing is ever guaranteed. This writer could be sitting here jotting down a review for the third film In 2-3 years. 4/10.
This author did not know much about Robin Wrights feature directorial debut Land before going and seeing it. It was a film available at Cineworld that he could see with his unlimited card. Let’s give it a go. 5 minutes into the film he regretted that decision. Wright may be a solid actress. That said Land represents everything this critic despises about festival pandering critic bait. The IMDb synopsis for the excruciating 88 minutes read as follows. A bereaved woman seeks a new life off the grid in Wyoming. That’s it. The audience watch Wrights central character process her emotions, do chores and occasionally encounter Damien Bashir for 88 minutes. That’s it. All of this is nicely photographed in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The entire experience feels unbelievably hollow. A piece whose emotional core feels fabricated, on an entirely unearned “naturalistic” presentation. It has nothing beyond a gaping black hole at its centre. The final product comes across as if those that worked on it believed the critical acclaim this embarrassment is so desperate to receive would manifest itself by birthright. They were right in some ways. 6.6 on IMDb and 68 on Metacritic is not bad for this sort of production. This author guarantees the all those reviews come from festival screenings. The kind of middlebrow effort that will make certain critics and #filmtwitter pundits cream the pants on cinematography alone. Those that undertake #filmsbywomen challenges, but see this is as nothing more than a binary system as opposed to spotlighting genuine quality of work. Critically after these festival screenings, the piece will get a very limited theatrical release and then disappear off the face of the earth. For comparison
These are criticisms you could level add both Nomadland and Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow. The thing is that both films have much stronger emotional cores. They distinctly hold more appeal to critics than audiences with their slow slice of life narratives. That said they still offer something potentially engaging to the right audience member. The latter even managed to make an emotionally engaging scene out of a man milking a cow. Eliza Hittman mastered the balance between naturalism and emotional engagement with Never Rarely Sometimes Always. One of the very best from last year. Land offers none of that.
Even as someone who got an impromptu private screening it was a borderline painful viewing experience. This endurance test offers nothing to the film landscape beyond some solid cinematography. It probably deserves an extra point for the commitment in Wrights central performance. That said this author wants to do his best to rally against this exact aesthetic within contemporary filmmaking. It’s a blight on the landscape but one that certain critics will eat up with a spoon. Land represents everything wrong with modern art-house filmmaking. A soulless audience contemptible embarrassment. It believes critical acclaim will manifest by birthright if it presents things in a certain way. The film offers nothing of value. Don’t get suckered in by any pretentious #filmbro who focuses on artistic value and analysis rather than emotional engagement. Both of these have value. They ultimately need to work together to craft An engaging experience with appeal beyond critics. Unless general audiences want to see a textbook example of critic pandering they should avoid Land like the plague. 3/10
Legendary Entertainments so-called Monsterverse is one of those franchises that has occurred between periods of this writer keeping consistently updated blogs. He has seen the three films the lead up to this crossover between the giant radioactive lizard and enormous Skull Island dwelling ape. This series has had some good moments but never lived up to its potential. As much as the atomic breath reveal in Godzilla (2014) is one of the best moments in recent blockbuster cinema. it’s surrounded by bland human characters and an uninvolving story. There’s the general sense this production could have been so much more. Sequel King of the Monsters goes too far in the other direction with a clear focus on giant Kaiju battles. These a level of love for the character’s origins. Unfortunately, the films unbelievably murky visual style cuts the creative team off at the knees in terms of how effective the fights are in execution. Most of them come across. as profoundly dull. Kong: Skull Island was decidedly unmemorable aside from its post-Vietnam 70s setting. The prospect of a team-up next entry continuing the franchise was exciting on a pure spectacle level That said this endeavour has been fundamentally flawed from the start. Will this change with the big crossover. Yes and no. It’s worth noting that while the movie was available for premium rental this viewer deliberately went and saw it on the biggest screen possible once cinemas reopened. This was a good decision. The fact it was offered as a home viewing experience it’s quite frankly insane. Warner Brothers should have pulled the same strategy as Paramount with A Quiet Place Part 2 and held the firm back until it looked like the big screen was going to reopen on a large scale. With theatrical presentation and a decent surround system, this is pure blockbuster cinema. The first time this series has offered consistently engaging spectacle-driven set-pieces The smackdowns are the new films relative strength. This also brings to light the franchise’s fundamental flaw. Even after three entries of potential development the human characters remain sorely lacking. To make truly great blockbuster entertainment, creatives need to not only deliver appropriately scaled set-pieces but characters the audience can latch onto. Much as it might be an easy target for some, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the best in the current field at achieving this. Much as director Adam Wingard has finally enabled the monster verse to deliver on some of its potentials. unfortunately, if viewers don’t care about those caught in the collateral damage on the screen there’s a ceiling of quality your blockbuster will hit. Godzilla Vs Kong certainly does. Godzilla VS Kong offers the Monsterversus first truly consistent step into solid big screen level entertainment. In offering a slice of solid spectacle this franchises fundamental flaws come roaring into view. The lack of a single memorable character or defined performance hurt a film that could have been excellent. Viewers will watch the film for the throwdown between a giant radioactive lizard and a massive monkey. On that level it delivers. The lack of any truly engaging franchise groundwork before this point hampers the piece from delivering on its true potential. 7/10
This author was lucky enough to get to see Bo Burnham introduce the Scottish Premiere for his first feature Eighth Grade At the 2019 Glasgow Film Festival. As an usher escorted this viewer to his wheelchair space his question was “big Bo Burnham fan.” Huge One of my favourite Moments at any screening occurred when Burnham introduced his film by asking the Scottish audience what’s the age equivalent for Eighth Grade was in Scotland (13-14.) There was a Q & A afterwards. Burnham spoke with great passion about his work and the experience and themes within the film. He was not averse to engaging in some on the spot banter with the audience. This writer got to see one of his media creation heroes in the flesh. Knowing that he was still the insanely sharp-minded writer and comedian that had captured early YouTubes attention 13 years earlier was very reassuring. After the screening thus huge fan spoke to two people. These were the sort of attendee to book all of this festival Q & As regardless of the film featured. They had not heard of Burnham before but were massively impressed with the film and Q &A. It’s always fun to watch new fans created.
2016s Make Happy special was his effective retirement from live comedy at the time. It would be very easy for Burnham to become even more uncomfortable with the size of his audience and how many people he inspired in the general musical/comedy creation space. It wasn’t like he was tired from the media industry is altogether. Beyond Eighth Grade, he had roles in Promising Young Women and The Big Sick. He’s still on board to write the songs for the new Sesame Street film (which makes an obscene amount of sense even with the R rated nature of most of his material.) Nevertheless, after a five-year gap here comes 87 minutes of new material shot entirely independently in lockdown over the past year.
In a way, there’s nothing to be said about “Inside” that hasn’t already been covered 10 times over. It’s a spectacular piece of work. A virtuoso one-man performance art piece that shows Burnham skill at anything he turns his hand to. This writer did want to address one thing regarding the special. The idea that this “isn’t funny.” Going back to his earliest more shock humour centric YouTube videos Burnham has always been an insanely clever writer. From “what” onwards he has been more focused on infusing potentially complex socio-political commentary into digestible audience cottages with catchy tunes and the same clever lyricism that’s always been there. If he had stayed a pure shock value act content creator he might still have something of an audience. The Lonely Island is still around and has developed a potent cult fanbase. it’s the strengths of the other elements beyond comedy in the writing and performance that makes Burnham work resonate with such a large audience. The kind of thing that YouTube and Reddit based analysis over-thinkers will run into the ground. The blend of sincerity, Commentary and humour when it’s executed this well held some much broader appeal. From this special alone the visual and musical composition of both White Woman’s Instagram and Welcome to the Internet demonstrate this perfectly. Burnham represents a voice who has had a front seat to the evolution of Internet viral culture. He’s going to use this voice as an effective means for social commentary. This idea is expanded onto the broader cultural landscape with skits and songs like How The World Works and Turning 30. The special also effectively captures not only the psychological horror and mental impact that millions have faced due to the pandemic. It also explores how creative-minded people, have borrowed into their art as a means of coping with the pandemic induced outside world. Yet also knowing the content produced may be nothing more than something to feed the ever-hungry internet algorithm. All of this is incredibly sharply delivered by one of the most versatile creatives working today. Sexting is the only song that fits with Burnham’s earliest material but this is fine. The whole piece may is a little bit fragmented at times. The best moments are some of a brilliant creative best work. Burnham the comedian may have taken a back seat to Burnham the social commentator. Underneath all the shock humour this side of him as a writer and performer has been building for at least the last 10 years The idea that Bo Burnham’s Inside “isn’t funny” is frankly ludicrous. His best material has always been that which fuses social commentary universal themes and clever lyricism into a complete package. The new specialist simply a pandemic induced evolution of his style. Whether or not he decides to do a large scale tour again remains to be seen. His creative power remains firmly intact 9.5/10.
Director Will Gluck has spent the seven years leading up to his Peter Rabbit sequel making two of the worst family films of this generation. Annie (2014) was a disgustingly autotuned, cringe-inducing embarrassment. It should be a black mark on the careers of all involved. His first Peter Rabbit film may be among the most mean spirited children’s films this viewer has ever seen. Beyond James Cordons, unbelievably annoying vocal delivery The films slapstick set pieces were delivered in an excruciating, bulling endorsing tone. Needless to say the prospect of the sequel filled this watcher with imminent dread.
As one of the first films to be delayed by COVID he was kind of hoping that this project would get shunted off to streaming. He would not have to worry about the surely terrible sequel stinking up cinemas for weeks on end. This critic should be so lucky. The film sat out the entire pandemic and was effectively the only marquee theatrical exclusive when cinemas reopened. Unlimited Card in hand this viewers sat down for what he assumed was going to be a hate-watch. Was that assumption correct?
Sort of. Peter Rabbit 2 is a very strange viewing experience. To make the sequel more bearable Gluck and his creative team have adopted a modestly more self-aware tone. Rose Byrnes Beatrix Potter stand-in character and Domhnell Gleason’s Thomas McGregor are now married. A lot of the sequel concerns the in-universe Potter books gaining interest from an American publisher played by David Oyelowo Cue lots of attempted gags about wanting to make these quintessentially English adventures seem hip and cool to an American audience. Well, the attempt at self-awareness is admirable the filmmakers seem to forget they’re making slapstick orientated kids film. Much as there is nothing wrong with Oyelowo’s performance his plot will fly over the head of all the under 10s in the audience. It certainly isn’t developed enough to gain anything other than mild curiosity from an adult.
Add in the sequels distinct focus on attempting an Ocean’s 11 riffs (Peter falling in with a group of heist bunny’s. ) You have a sequel where the antics take a distinct back seat. This does make proceedings objectively more bearable but simultaneously a lot less interesting. The first film may be a cinematic atrocity but a certain type of child will engage with and enjoy it. After seeing the sequel this viewing has no idea how the same child might feel about it. There is the distinct possibility they may be bored out of their skull. Similarly, this Green Day fan enjoyed a scene in which James Corden as CGI rabbit gets hit in the face with a suitcase as the soundtrack needle dropped Boulevard of Broken Dreams. No child will understand why this site was amusing to this watcher. For a true challenge, some filmmakers should attempt to play Jesus Of Suburbia in all its 9 minute 5 part glory in their family movie.
Peter Rabbit 2 was an incredibly strange viewing experience. It is distinctly more tolerable than the first film’s crimes against family entertainment. That said in choosing to be more self-aware of how soulless director Will Gluck’s work is the sequel may hold more appeal to begrudging adults than children. At the end of the day family movies, need to have a certain level of cross-generational appeal. In this case, the adult pandering screenplay is far too half baked to gain anything beyond grudging respect. With the distinct lack of slapstick set pieces, this time around the productions appeals to children may be significantly impacted. As horrible as the original effort was it at least had some distinctive sense of creative vision. In attempting to highlight how mercenary this endeavour wars the sequel appears to have lost all idea of who exactly it’s aimed at. 3/10.
Tom and Jerry is one of those timeless properties where a creative team only need to get a few things right to be successful. The protagonists have to be silent. That needs to be some solid slapstick set pieces that homage the character’s roots. You’d think that in 2020 these would be easier to pull off than ever. Yet director Tim Story’s 2021 Modernization attempt has come in for real kicking since it debuted in the US. Some of this is justified.
The film is mostly a very dull affair. It does not utilise its central characters effectively. It’s filled with bizarre creative decisions. That said there’s no denying the filmmakers here had some of the correct ideas. These were just euthanized when implemented by several bad creative instincts. This is emphasised in the character animation on the lead duo. The animators have gone for a 3D aesthetic that is distinctly stylised to look like 2D. This style can be pulled off effectively. Just look at the stunning animation in the recent Mitchell’s VS The Machines. Here it looks like paper cut-outs interacting with the live-action environments. Not in a way that’s interesting or makes viewers engage with the narrative. It just creates a bizarre visual dichotomy but the film never recovers from it. There’s some attempt utilising classic slapstick. The problem is but none of these set pieces has any momentum and gets regularly interrupted by the unnecessary human plot. No audience member of any age Should go in expecting the dynamic duo but instead get Chloe Grace Moretz and Michael Pena running around a hotel with Tom and Jerry interludes The protagonist are entirely silent with the filmmakers using a number of the classic screams and sound effects fans will be familiar with. That said other animated characters talk with several celebrity and musician voices rolling up for a couple of lines.
Then there are the musical interludes. The films raping pigeons has already gone down in infamy in some circles. It’s a painfully embarrassing attempt at coming across as “hip” and “cool” with the kids. It honestly did not bother this viewer too much. Peter Rabbit (2017) raping pigeons presenting a PG-rated version of Fort Mineors Remember The Name is far worse. The much more bizarre moment comes during a musical sequence with Toms singing voice provided by T Pain. This is complete with Pains standard-issue level of autotune. It’s such a strange and unexpected choice. This author is embedding the clip here and letting the sequence speak for itself. This immediately made this viewer imagine an R rated version of this concept with Tom doing the hook to The Lonely Island I’m On A Boat.
Tom and Jerry 2021 is mostly as bad as you’ve heard. That said it’s far too interesting with its systematic failures, to be entirely written off as an embarrassment. Every seemingly correct decision is cancelled out when the filmmaker’s implement it in the worst way possible. Does this mean the film harbours a morbid curiosity angle? Sort of. That said the 93-minute experience is mostly just staggeringly dull. It might keep Young children or die-hard fans briefly entertained but has no real audience beyond that. 4/10.
Modern Disney live-action remakes have developed a distinct formula. Stale, bland and without much sense of creative energy. These productions make money on birthright alone. For the opening act Cruella, a period piece origin story for Cruella de Vil set in a punk rock 1970s London looks like it’s following the predetermined path to a tee. Emma Stone is trying her best in the central role. The material she has to work with is not interesting or engaging in any way. This is not to mention the moment in the opening 10 minutes that has already been Memed into oblivion. Watching it in the cinema with no idea how it was perceived by the wider world at the moment is incredibly silly. However, it’s not the sort of thing individually that can make or break a movie. There’s also plenty of obnoxious Suicide Squad Esque needle drops or 70s rock classics. At the end of the extended prologue sequence, Emma Thompson comes into the narrative and the real story begins in earnest. It’s at this point the filmmakers appear to become self-aware of how ridiculous conceptually the product they are making is. They with full force into 100% self-aware camp. This tonal shift won’t work for everyone but this viewer thought it was kind of awesome. It’s like watching a creative team burn a tentpole sized budget on something that is fully aware of this stupidity of its existence. The two central players are having an absolute blast. This production feels like one of the few Disney live-action theatrical efforts with a genuine pulse and sense of identity. It flits between highly entertaining banter between our antihero and energetic heist sequences. These form the backbone of why this section works in the first place. Stunning production and costume design certainly help. The third act could also do with serious tightening up in Regards to pacing. For a good 2/3 of its runtime, the whole thing feels like the sort of insanely wild experiment that it’s amazing Disney even signed on for. The film will not be for everyone. If someone were to argue the films tonal shift went from boring to insufferable this writer would not argue with them. That said this production represents the sort of decidedly non-focused group effort that Disney seems allergic to in the modern era. Even if it doesn’t work for everyone this movie has a large cult following (at minimum)in its future. Cruella is the sort of gloriously messy, insanely wild swing for the fences that Disney seems incapable of in 2021. The piece may start as a poorly paced slog symptomatic of bad Disney live-action efforts. It evolves. into something that seems fully aware of the stupidity of its existence. It leans on said the tonal choice for the rest of the runtime. This will prove divisive among viewers. However, it is the first Disney live-action theatrical feature in a very long time to have a genuine sense of pulse and identity. Whenever Disney has tried to be Subversive or risky in the recent past we get the unbelievably po-faced Maleficent movies or the mildly embarrassing A Wrinkle in Time. Those two films are mostly boring. Whatever else can be said for director Craig Gillespie and his creative team as a whole Cruella is most certainly not that. The exact sort of film this watcher would never pay Disney’s £20 To watch on streaming as a single viewer. That said Boy is this viewer glad he went out and used his cinema’s membership scheme to take in a screening. For as much of a mess as the film is it’s frankly amazing that’s a massive corporation let this peace exist in the form it does. 7/10 PS. This is the exact sort of film this watcher would never pay Disney’s £20 to watch on streaming as a single viewer. That said he is glad he went out and used his cinema’s membership scheme to take in a screening. For as much of a mess as the film is it’s frankly amazing that’s a massive corporation let this peace exist in the form it does.
This indie sci-fi thriller starring Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan got some mixed reviews when it opened on PVOD in the UK. That said the critics who got on board seemed to champion it. It immediately went on this viewers watch list. Having rented and watched the film It’s easy to see why it’s come in for praise and criticism. The central sci-fi idea at play within the premise is awesome. Two New Orleans paramedics (Mackie and Dornan) investigate a series of deaths and disappearances linked to a designer drug. The pill of the title will enable the taker to travel for seven minutes to a randomly generated point in the history of land they happen to be on when ingesting the drug. Super cool right. Unsurprisingly the moments where the film works best of those where it plays into the seemingly endless possibilities of its central idea. These sequences are mostly well-executed even with the knowledge that doing sci-fi on an indie budget is conceptually extremely difficult. Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t take advantage of its possibilities nearly as often as it should. Mackie and Dornan are solid enough in the lead roles. Unfortunately, they are let down by a script that forces in a hefty dollop of needless interpersonal drama. If these elements were engaging that would be one thing but for peace that offers a fantastically original slice of sci-Fi sci-fi , in its concept everything else is as generic as they come. The sequences in which the narrative plays around with this central idea are very effective . Unfortunately, there’s not enough of them to cover for the films glaring weaknesses.
Synchronic is the sort of thing worth investing in if viewers are intrigued by the central concept. The ideas are executed effectively in sequences where they are the narrative driving force. Unfortunately, the delivery of anything beyond this comes across very poorly. The personal drama and character development are unbelievably generic This rarely holds back a slice of indie sci-fi that could have been fantastic. Instead, the piece effectively installed a ceiling of quality for itself. It never truly getting above solid. There’s enough here to recommend but considering what this film could have been this is a real shame. 6/10.
As an adult viewer, I often get asked why my favourite film medium is animation. It’s simple really. Animation allows fiercely creative individuals to potentially create something that is both wonderfully artistic and potentially universal in its appeal. There’s no better feeling in the media viewing world. The Netflix pandemic acquisition (from Columbia and Sony Pictures Animation) The Mitchells vs the Machines is a great example of this. It’s the film to beat for 2021 (animated or otherwise.)
Directed by Michael Rianda and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller it’s 108 minutes of concentrated wonderful. Very much an evolution visually of what the producers showcased with the original Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. That said Mitchels is better in every respect. An insanely rapid-fire gag hit rate. Solid vocal performances for the entire cast. a special mention to Olivia Coleman who delivers one of the best turns in recent animation as the villains AI. Her ability to come across as authoritarian yet calming is utilized brilliantly. One of the strongest emotional cores possible. Enough beating heart and soul for several generic kids animations.
This is the point at which a certain breed of critic will make a complaint that the plot offers nothing revolutionary. On a simple level, this is correct. The very basic narrative structure of robots taking over the world has been done to death in family media. It’s distinctly more impressive from a creative perspective if you can make very stock structure engaging. This is something but the filmmakers behind this brilliance pull off in spades. If your piece of work has insanely sharp writing and lovable characters the audience can root for everything else that becomes somewhat irrelevant. The entire production a strong example of a creative team firing on all cylinders. It’s also perhaps the best example of how truly universal animation is. It can be enjoyed by anyone whether they are 6 or 60.
The Mitchell’s vs the Machines is what happens when creatives are on board at all levels. A hilarious, beautifully made piece of work showing what’s the medium can accomplish at its very best. On one level Sony selling the movie to Netflix is both a blessing and a curse. It’s great in that the piece is decidedly more accessible to a wider audience. That said the fact it now won’t get the opportunity to be projected on the big screen is a letdown for fans. Especially in an age where Sony is determined that the James Corden Peter Rabbit sequel must be theatrical exclusive. To an extent, this doesn’t matter. The film is available to view now. Every viewer of any age with a mild interest in animation should invest the watch time. They are in for a wonderful ride. 10/10
The contemporary age of streaming is all about how many viable IP’s each service has. Pioneer Netflix has been left somewhat behind in this regard. A couple of their in-house originals could be considered valuable but they churn through content at such an alarming rate Certain shows are not given enough time to build into a franchise. To combat this the higher-ups have been on a spending spree in an attempt to acquire some proven franchises. One of those was the purchase of various Mark Miller properties with acquiring his company Millerworld. The first major attempt at utilising his work for their service comes with this adaptation of a multi-generational superhero comic. Is this a solid indicator that Millerworld was this solid purchase? Unfortunately not. As a Netflix show, Jupiter’s Legacy is not the outright disaster it might have been. That said it screams of a creative team thinking they’re making something revolutionary when in fact the exact opposite is true. Miller initially hired Stephen S DeKight as showrunner (he directed the first two episodes)before departing production at the halfway mark. This seems like a solid choice on paper. DeKnights first season of Netflix’s Daredevil is one of the best superhero TV efforts in recent memory. The blend of grounded realism, R rated brutality and superhero action comes together superbly. Unfortunately, the material DeKnight has to work with here comes much closer to and an adult version of Power Rangers. Throw in a dash of invincible and a little bit of This Is Us. Playing out over two timelines with differing aspect ratios this whole season is filled with strange creative decisions. Why does the shifting aspect ratio have a faint whiff of Michael Bay level self-indulgence? What is with the insistence on the core adult cast playing the characters across both timelines? This result in some truly atrocious wardrobe choices with some of the least convincing wig work viewers will see on streaming. Why is this yet another instance of the entire season effectively acting as a prologue to the full story? With how variable Netflix are with the prospect of renewing things there’s no guarantee of a second season. All that said there are moments (especially in the 1930s timeline) whether the series does showcase some growth potential. These moments are few and far between. The 8 episodes are nothing more than a showcase for ideas and themes that have been explored before and better in other superhero media. As a season and an introduction to Netflix Millerworld content, Jupiter’s legacy is impressively generic. Miller’s work has been wonderfully adapted by Matthew Vaughn in the past. After watching what production with more distinct Miller involvement looks like this critic is willing to bet that Vaughns presence curb’s some of Millers bad creative instincts. Even if some of the best creative minds for the job(as was the case with Steven S DeKnight )are employed in adapting material for another medium if the material is generically mediocre anyway there’s little they can do. This show does showcase the potential to improve. The question is whether viewers will give it the time to utilise this. Will they simply move on to the next hot property. 5/10
Haley Robinson creates a school magazine in an attempt to tackle sexism in this Amy Poehler directed Netflix high school comedy. Given the central theme, it’s no surprise that the issues dealt with in the narrative are important. Unfortunately, The film doesn’t present or tackle the inequality or sexism it’s trying to address, in a way that’s engaging or interesting. Its take on the central characters feminist awakening relates to her discovering and listening to Bikini Kill albums. Things aren’t helped by the fact the Robinsons central character feels hugely underdeveloped. She is surrounded by a better supporting cast who would have made a more engaging narrative focal point for the events on screen. The greater engagement in outwith the main character players actively saves this dull mess from sinking any lower. Despite the good intentions, the full package feels like the sort of distinctly middlebrow “issues” drama that will bore secondary school age teenagers after screening in Personal and Social Education classes for years to come. Netxix stablemate Sex Education at its best could knock out this exact plot and structure in its sleep. Amy Poehler has fans but they deserve so much better than this. Unless viewers have a real weakness for teen drama or very earnest media that decidedly fumble the landing. One best avoided. 4.5/10.
Netflix is very well known full shadow dropping various original movie releases with no promotion whatsoever. Inexplicably some releases may end up in the daily top 10 despite potential viewers never having heard of them beforehand. Eventually, these mid/low budget efforts will rotate out for the next cycle of productions that will have the same fate. Stowaway is a prime example of this. The second feature from YouTube turned filmmaker Joe Penna it’s a sci-fi four-hander with Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dee Kim and Shamier Anderson. Having taken off on a 3-year mission three central astronauts discover that the stowaway of the title has been hidden away on their ship. They now have to partake in several moral and ethical debates thanks to his unexpected presence.
Pena’s first feature Arctic with Mads Mikkelsen was a nicely gritty and effective survival movie. Nothing spectacular but certainly on the better end of what to expect from an Internet content creator turned film-maker. Once this critic was aware of who directed Stowaway he became solidly more interested. This was to the extent that he decided to give the film a chance.
Unfortunately, Stowaway is easily the most disappointing movie of the year thus far. Trading in all the promise the director showed with his debut for an unbelievably generic slice of low budget sci-fi. Viewers will have seen this exact narrative beats a million times before. Pena has been able to assemble a solid cast for this variety of limited character drama but the material is so generic they have nothing to sink their teeth into. A potential film saving story mechanic is introduced at around the halfway mark. The rest of the narrative then proceeds to do nothing of interest with this development. Pair this relative lack of ambition with the vaguely cheap-looking aesthetic of low budget sci-fi when not done well. You have an endlessly frustrating experience. This critic would probably still put Joe Panna on the very brief list of YouTube content creators transitioning into film making capable of more with some work. That said Stowaway was a huge disappointment Jettisoning away most of the potential the director showed with Arctic. It’s the definition of a Netflix original with some star power that’s primed to keep their algorithm afloat as they continue to pump out new content. When looking at this piece specifically there is nothing worth investing in.
Melissa McCarthy and her husband Ben Falcone are very easy targets in the world of film criticism. In a way, this is justified. The movies they make as a team tend to be atrocious with the sense that the husband is piggybacking off his wife success within the Hollywood machine. Their R rated efforts will allow them to deliver scathingly unfunny gross-out gags for 90 to 100 minutes. That PG-13 offerings typically involve placing McCarthy in an established genre formula. Then placing other actors far too good for the material around her as McCarthy does hair stick. Now the pair have migrated to Netflix and delivered Thunder Force. This fits their-13 formula to a tee. McCarthy and Octavia Spencer (filling out the first of many actors in the latter category are childhood friends. They live in a world with some incredibly half baked hero/villain mythology. Through an unbelievably silly plot convenience, they end up forming a superhero duo to take on the bad guys.
McCarthy and Falcone’s take on superheroes is unsurprisingly nothing to write home about. There attempt at world-building that feels entirely perfunctory. As is typical of their films the talented supporting cast ( Bobby Cannavale, Pom Klementieffte and Melissa Leo.)The one minor exception is Jason Bateman. His villain with crab claws replacing human arms seems faulty weird and potentially experimental for this variety of lowest common denominators fair. A romantic dream sequence between McCarthy and Bateman probably gets the biggest laugh in any McCarthy/Falcone project thus far. It’s largely aggressively unfunny material. The limitations of the PG-13 rating audience mean that the film isn’t as potentially borderline painful to sit through compared to the creative teams gross-out work. This does not mean to say that Thunder Force is any good. McCarthy and Falcone will always be a critical punching bag. That said there is much worse out there. Removing the film from the context of its creative team it’s mostly bland and inoffensively dull.
A certain brand of critic will class Thunder Force as one of the worst films of the year. Don’t get this critic wrong the film is not very good. Impressively generic, mostly stone-faced levels of unfunny and with nothing to offer in a very crowded genre. That said the Jason Bateman crab man subplot is just weird enough to be memorable. The film is also incredibly inoffensive. It lacks the patience-testing quality of other McCarthy and Falcone collaborations. That said there’s nothing here to recommend here. 4/10
In writing this first draft, this critic is assuming he is putting up an archive review of Batman V Superman, theatrical cat first. The following might invalidate this critical opinion in the eyes of certain readers. Snyder is one of the worst filmmakers working today. No judgement on him as a person (he might be the loveliest figure on the planet) However, his film making aesthetic grinds this viewers gears in a way that’s only topped by the worst of Michael Bay. Snyder has the sensibility of what a 12-year-old considers “cool” and “edgy”. He is capable of putting together a visually arresting image. This is almost always hampered by his brand of embarrassingly try hard nihilism. The studio/ theatrical cut of Justice League is not particularly good. However, given the choice between it and watching B V S again the Frankenstein together theatrical version of the follow-up winds every single time. Nevertheless, there was a certain morbid fascination in seeing what type of monstrosity Snyder would cook up given the chance to complete his vision. Thus on a Friday afternoon, this critic sat down to take in all four hours of this assumed train wreck. From the moment it was announced the new cut already had a predefined spot on his worst of 2021 list. Was it that bad?
Honestly, yes and no. This might seem shocking given the opening paragraph. As the massively overlong experience progressed, this viewer quickly realised that there was probably a decent director cut somewhere in here. This review would still be negative. It’s unlikely to have got the critical acclaim or box office receipts Warner Bros would have wanted. That said it would have pleased Snyders fans and giving him the chance to execute something like his original vision in a more digestible package. Critically this hypothetical cut would be roughly 160-180 minutes long. That’s sad because Snyder knows his fans will buy anything he’s selling (even if he spoon-fed it to them) audiences get this four-hour behemoth. The whole thing feels desperately in need of an editor. Every scene goes on at least 30 seconds too long. This tends to fall into one of two categories. Dialogue sequences that just don’t know when to cutaway. Secondly, Snyders trademark abuse of slow motion and characters posing on things.
The new cut will please the devotees of this take on the DC universe. It also showcases why the Snyder aesthetic is so ripe for parody. the first comparison that came to this critics mind was the Twilight franchise. Admirers will highlight Ray Fisher’s expanded role as Cyborg as being stand out. He has more to do here than he did in the theatrical cut. However, he is still hampered by Chris Terrio’s awful screenplay with baked in exposition and Snyders trademark edgelord tendencies. Fisher has a certain line delivery around the 90-minute mark. Some existing supporters will hold up as a moment of defiance compared to the relatively friendly nature of the MCU. It was honestly the biggest laugh this critic got in any film so far this year. He doesn’t see it being beaten. It’s a hugely embarrassing moment. This crystallises the aesthetic of Snyder at his worst. Here’s the NSFW clip.
This alternative cut is definitively more in line with the filmmakers original intentions. It also showcases how flawed the intentions were, to begin with. In comparing the two cuts the studio version is not that different structurally from the Snyder edition. It just goes on much longer. It takes 90 minutes for any semblance of the plot to rear its head and 2 1/2 hours before Superman is actively resurrected. He’s now in the fan pandering black suit because of course, he is. In another case of Snyder knowing he can weaponize his fandom, the major additions including excruciating sequel bait in an epilogue that feels entirely redundant. However one feels about Jared Letos Joker was there any real reason to have him appear beyond the creative team knowing it would generate headlines. Not to mention hearing Ben Afflecks Batman exclaim that he will “f….ing kill him” is one of the most awkward moments in recent cinema. Not to mention the final reveal of this universes Martian Manhunter revealing himself to Affleck’s Batman. This feels like it exists solely because Snyder is petty enough to end his 4-hour slog on a cliff-hanger, for no reason other than because he can.
Except for the rage-inducing sequel bait of the epilogue, this critic was much more indifferent to the Snyder Cut than he’d like to be. It does offer a more cohesive fan-pleasing experience more in line with the filmmaker’s original vision. Personal dislike of that creative vision is irrelevant in some ways. That doesn’t mean the piece is excluded from some level of objective criticism. The whole thing feels massively indulgent. It could have been cut down by at least an hour if an objective editor was brought in to oversee This project office the purest shot of Zack Snyder available in film making form. All with his tendencies firmly intact. Nothing here is quite as bad as the worst of Batman V Superman. Mostly the experience of sitting through the entire thing is just boring. This viewer will take that over excruciating any day of the week. 3/10
Amongst the film community ( especially those based in the US) The War With Grandpa became something of a meme during the pandemic. This generic-looking Robert De Niro kids comedy was insistent upon being a theatrical exclusive. It looked like the last film one would potentially risk their life to go and see. In the UK it has formed part of Amazon’s continuing lineup of films that might have broader audience appeal previously without UK distribution. They market these releases as exclusive premieres and then leave whatever film to be lost in the maelstrom of streaming releases. This critic went into the film expecting the worst. After all, the R rated version of this was Dirty Grandpa. That is one of the most hateful supposed comedies released in the last 10 years. nothing was expected beyond a PG-rated version of the typically lazy Robert De Niro comedy vehicle viewers tend to get these days. Was it as bad as expected? Yes and no. don’t get the critic wrong the film isn’t very good. What did viewers expect from a kids movie called The War with Grandpa? This is not even mentioning the supporting players that seem far too good for this material. Uma Thurman, Christopher Walken Cheech Marin, Jane Seymore. It has a plot that can be accurately summed up by the title. This viewer is not sure if it was the benefit of lowered expectations or knowing the film could be so much worse. This is both in terms of this kind of cheap family cash grab and knowing what a traumatising experience Dirty Grandpa was. The family edition is perfectly inoffensive. Fans of broad slapstick may even get something out of it. It still possesses the vague TV pilot aesthetic of cheap kids films. However, it was nowhere near as patience-testing is expected. There’s far worse streaming original all-ages entertainment out there ( some of it based on well known licenced IP.) some viewers will see this as a potential embarrassment for De Niro Those familiar with this strain of kid-oriented slapstick will find nothing offensive here. 5/10
There’s a scene very early on in Francis Lee’s Lesbian romance where central fossil hunter Kate Winslet succeeds in climbing up the side of a Cliff face to extract Rock. This critic was instantly reminded of the central “Welcome To The Rock” refrain and opening track from one of his favourite musicals Come From Away. The film adaptation is currently slated as being in production. A pro-shot is also scheduled for release this year. This critic can only imagine the discourse around it when those unfamiliar with the property see either version. Should the inciting incident that resulted in the true story on which the musical is based be a factor in a feel-good musical? That thought was more engaging than anything in the media currently being watched by this viewers eyeballs. Ammonite is a case example of critic friendly British drama It will be given a pass by a lot of reviewers on star power and forbidden LGBTQ love theme alone. It stars Winslet as a lonely archaeologist in 1840s England. She ends up having to take care of Saoirse Ronan for an extended period. During this, they strike up a taboo romance. This kind of love story is dime a dozen ( regardless of gender or sexuality) but can be done well.) In this case ( beyond the surface level comparison to Celine Sciammas Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Lee’s film is a dull slog. If it wasn’t for the final sex scene probably being at the upper end of what filmmakers can present within a 15 certificate, this would be exactly the kind of sleepy, middlebrow hokum filling up grey pound matinee shows where cinemas open. Winslet and Ronan are two of the best British actresses around. However, they struggle to sell a script where the switch in tone from Winslet between care figure to lover feels entirely unearned. Ronan spends most of the first hour confined to a bed. The whole thing feels like the creative team know they will be able to sell this to a certain audience on star power alone, regardless of the central figures actual onscreen chemistry.
The one thing the production has going for it is a strong sense of place and atmosphere. given Winslet’s profession, a lot of the film takes place on various beaches. These are very well used to capture how grim and dour the prospect of going to a British beach can be for the majority of the year. Ahe waves will lash against the rocks as the stones crunch under the protagonist’s feet while the wind howls. this is all thanks to an effectively aggressive sound mix. This is an admiral quality but certainly not something worth selling the film on for a general audience. That’s very much the problem overall. Beyond some of the praiseworthy cosmetics, the full package is far too dull to justify a recommendation.
Ammonite was profoundly disappointing. The sleepy tone, dull script and lack of chemistry between leads do a real disservice to Winslet and Ronan’s best efforts. Add in an ending that feels mildly stalkerish and this critic was glad the film concluded when it did. Superfans of the actresses or those looking for new LGBTQ dramas might get something out of it. That said, beyond some impressive use of certain locations there’s nothing to recommend here. 4/10
Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim is a movie this critic has a rather large soft spot for. This might be in part because Idris Elba’s line delivery of “tonight we are cancelling the apocalypse” is one of the greatest and most easily imitable in recent memory. This viewer will state that the film holds up beyond that. It’s the kind of action/ monster media aware of how cheesy it is yet also attempting to give some sense of gravitas to the events on screen. The sequel Uprising was entertaining enough but lent much harder on the cheese factor and was less effective as a result. In Legendary Pictures continuing attempt to turn this franchise into a global brand outside of China we now have this Netflix animated series. Marked as an anime but probably more accurately described as an American production that borrows some of the style and visual aesthetic from anime. Avatar: The Last Airbender is probably the most well-known example in this sub-genre. The plot follows a brother and sister. Through a series of events following a Kaiju attack on Australia, they commandeer a Yeager and set out looking for their parents. The relatively short seven-episode season is something of a departure for the franchise. It tries to offer a much more grounded less cheese infused take on the established lore set up by the two preceding films. This may get some getting used to for existing fans. When taken on its terms this pivot well unexceptional is certainly solid enough in the execution. The other strength of this franchise remains. Effectively selling the sense of the scale of the various robots and monsters. is present and correct. When the series defaults to action over plot it’s straight forward but relatively well executed. The aesthetic choices are visually pleasing but certainly, nothing discerned adult animation viewers won’t have seen before. That said after sitting through Jurassic World: Camp Critracious for review it’s a little refreshing to see a licenced Netflix animated series put some effort into the visuals. Everything about the season reeds as just a hair above aggressively functional. There’s certainly potential for this show to get better in future. That said there’s the question of just how many people care about Pacific Rim as a series. Only time will tell. until then this is fine. Probably worth a look for existing fans. Also, those really into the sort of Mecca animation the genuine anime industry pumps out every day. 6.5/10
This slice of indie sci-fi was introduced to this critic as the debut feature from the visual effects supervisor on Duncan Jones contemporary masterpiece Moon. anyone affiliated with that project is going to gain this viewers interest. New director Gavin Rothery was no exception. Having seen the final product it’s very easy to see where Rothery took influence from. It stars Divergents Theo James as an engineer who is a near-future is contracted by a company for his robot building services. Watchers follow him as he works on his most advanced AI yet. The narrative puts more focus on the evolution of the central characters engineering skills than the psychological trauma and loneliness of his situation ( as with Moon.) This production welds that previous film together with Alex Garlands Ex Machina. Especially with the former example, some of them sat design and decoration are almost identical. That’s not to say the film is a rip-off. Rothery knows what elements of these two contemporary sci-fi classics to take and meld into his work. The result is very solid throughout even if it doesn’t transcend its very obvious influences. There’s an argument that it doesn’t need to. This kind of movie is likely to be discovered by viewers who are already fans of this productions influences. If this is the case this critic would say they’re in for a fairly solid if not revolutionary slice of modern science fiction. Similarly, if a viewer sees this film enjoys it but hasn’t seen the two clear inspirations it could be a very easy jumping on point into either film. The success in being able to extrapolate the core of what makes these storeys so effective at their best certainly cements Rothery as a potentially interesting genre filmmaker. His offering is certainly better than the two features Duncan Jones has made in the ten years since he was established as an exciting prospect with his first two features. This critic has always believed he has another fantastic film in him. for the time being it might be worth seeing what one of his proteges has to offer in the future. 7/10
Let’s open up this review with a hypothetical. You are a filmmaker. You managed to produce a fully funded debut feature with a bankable star. Caveat. The premise is entirely meme-worthy and could be seen by Internet culture as nothing more than a joke. What do you do? This critic imagines that at some point this went through the head of the creative team behind Willy’s Wonderland. This decidedly R rated genre flick features Nicolas Cage fighting animatronic robots at an amusement arcade. Essentially an unofficial Five Nights at Freddy’s movie featuring Cage in a mute central role. This production could be a modest success by simply selling that premise to the right audience sight unseen
When viewers watch Willy’s Wonderland they will quickly realise the tone is aiming for a more credible approach. The direction from Kevin Lewis is decidedly styling over substance but is trying to inject some flair into the concept Unfortunately frenetic and sloppy editing lets him down. There’s some joy in watching Cage take on his robotic adversaries. That said despite the hard R rating the decision to implement fast cutting in the sequences means audiences can hardly bask in the novelty of watching Nicolas Cage do his thing. Add in some underdeveloped and bland teenage characters. You essentially have a soft remake of Green Room with killer robots taking the place of the neo-Nazis. Critically the robots lack any real sense of threat that Patrick Stewart and his company brought to the much better film. A formula emerges very quickly. There will be a sequence where the audience watches Cage do some janitor work. An attack set-piece where the central character takes on one of the robots. This is followed by an exposition dump from the teenagers or police investigating the funhouse. Rinse and repeat. It could have been worse. There’s enough entertainment to paper over some of the cracks if viewers look at it as anything beyond a broad execution of an amusing concept. For some, this will be enough. Any watcher looking for anything beyond that will find themselves decidedly wanting.
Willy’s Wonderland is what happens when a team of filmmakers try to elevate a very broad and meme friendly concept. They mostly don’t succeed. there’s some might enjoyment to be had in watching Nick cage punch some robots but beyond that, there is very little on offer beyond being a case example of style over substance. Those that want to see exactly what is offered within the premise might get something out of it. All others are recommended to stay clear. 5/10
In 2008 this critic had just met a new befriender. he very quickly established he’s love for cinema by going on various cinema trips with them. His first one was to see the Jim Carrey vehicle Yes Man. Relatively unremarkable PG-13 comedy readers might say. That might be the case. However, imagine watching the scene where Jim Carrey has to say yes to initiating sex with a granny next to someone who you have just met. 13 years later we are still close friends and that moment still gets brought up regularly. Having only seen the film once it’s developed a weird sentimental value in this critics brain. Obvious NSFW warning here.
That little story is more interesting than anything in Yes Day witch is effectively a kid orientated, PG-rated version of the same premise. Jennifer Garner and Edgar Ramirez slum it as the adults that are her typically far too good for this variety of slapstick kids film, it’s almost not worth mentioning the technical quality of this sort of production. Every creative choice is indicative of a middle of the road streaming movie. This puts proceedings at a level above the embarrassing TV pilot aesthetic that is typical of churned out kids movies. Diary of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul and Playing With Fire say hello. Yes Day is nothing close to good. A few mild chuckles and a certain amount of technical proficiency means it’s a rung above a creatively bankrupt embarrassment. That said there’s nothing to glean in terms of any adult audience value. This is perfectly fine. In terms of streaming-based kids movies and original content, you could do a lot worse. Even then that granny scene from Yes Man will always stick in this critic’s mind when he thinks about this premise on screen. 4/10
If you have paid attention to music or music culture over the past two years, Billie Eilish likely needs no introduction. Even if not the Bad Guy instrumental has been so heavily adopted by advertisers that it will be recognisable independent of the artist. What do teenage pop sensations typically get as their fame explodes? A slice of life documentary.
On one level the film follows its subject and her team around over the year that saw explode in popularity. It picks up with Eilish and her brother/ producing partner Fimmeas putting the finishing touches on her debut album. It culminates with her Grammy dominance of 2020. So far so conventional right? Yes and no. Clocking in at a mammoth 140 minutes on one level the piece does offer a relatively typical fly on the wall effort. The creative teems very smartly frame this endeavour not necessarily as a documentation of its subjects increasing megastardom. There is a more distinct focus on the fact that Eilish and those around her adjust passengers on the train of her success. The film offers an intriguing look at the emotional and psychological impact of burgeoning potentially long-lasting fame not typical of stardom based documentaries.
Eilish herself is an incredibly engaging screen presence. Discussion and banter as the two siblings finish off the album comes across as natural and very entertaining. Despite the presence of various affiliated record labels in the opening credits the documentary is not afraid to show a more vulnerable side of one of the world’s biggest new music stars. Some of the films most intriguing moments document Eilish unhappiness at how she executed various performances. She gets overwhelmed at how much handshaking is involved at her level of stardom. These sections feel revealing and honest without the exploitative element that can be present in some of these productions That said the final product feels too long, shambling and lacking in structure. However when the film takes what could be a very typical documentary of its type, injects it with compelling and engaging figures and natural, honest interviews it almost doesn’t matter. The biggest compliment you could potentially pay the piece is that it manages to make a reoccurring motif regarding Eilishs obsession with Justin Bieber into an engaging subplot. This is despite the latter’s crimes against music ( there’s no excusing Yummy.)
Billie Eilish: The Worlds A Little Blurry is a compelling and refreshingly honest look at the modern music industry through the eyes of its biggest burgeoning star. Yes, it’s too far too long and in need of a good edit. That said sometimes documentaries can get around this by simply effectively presenting compelling subjects. This is very much the case here. In terms of contemporary music documentaries with a broad appeal, it’s comfortably one of the best around. The fact it is buried away on Apple TV + where hardly anyone will see it is honestly massively disappointing. It’s one of those documentaries that have the potential to be engaging to viewers, regardless of what they think of its subject. 8.25/10
Have you ever seen a film it has all the right intentions? It may possess strong enough elements that you can’t say it’s not worth peoples time. However, these qualities aren’t enough to raise it above mediocre. Palmer is a recent poster child for this. It stars Justin Timberlake as an ex-con. After 10 years in prison through a series of events ends up taking care of an eccentric little boy ( Ryder Allen ) Assuming viewers have seen enough films variations on that premise aren’t hard to find. Palmer wants to stand out by adopting a decidedly R rated slightly grittier take on a very conventional story structure. Timberlake’s central performance is terrific. He is riding the line between hard-edged and empathetic very effectively. The bond between him and Ryder Allen is very well sold. There are potentially interesting ways from makers could have implemented an Everybody’s Talking About Jamie style acceptance narrative for a much younger child. So why does the whole thing feel like the creative team have constructed an emotional barrier between the narrative and the audience? Ultimately the tone is extremely middlebrow and comes across as nothing more than Instant Family for the #filmtwitter crowd. Granted there are ways to do this exact narrative where things are so cheesy it becomes insufferable. That said Instant Family shows there is an argument for having some cheesier elements well also not dodging potentially serious discussions. Palmer desperately wants to connect with a broad audience. Ultimately it’s far too obsessed with selling viewers on its sense of perceived “grittiness” to do so. It doesn’t offer any original spin on a very well worn narrative. It tries to establish credibility while still playing out the beets of a very basic structure. There’s enough quality in Timberlake’s performance and some decent ideas to not make the film entirely worthless. It’s just a shame that the clear positive intentions that come across within the narrative and from the filmmakers come across as rather generic in the final product. 5/10
In the years since the MCU as an entity became so dominant over modern pop culture, it has become a very easy target. People forget that the MCU foundation wasn’t laid by Disney. It is all thanks to Kevin Feige and his production teams. Regardless of what certain pretentious art house obsessives will tell you Marvel Studios have produced some of the most solidly reliable genre entertainment over the last 13 years. Detractors will then typically go into a massive echo chamber over whatever A24 happens to have put out this week. Feige has now wrestled control of the TV side of the company output. This discussion could be a whole article in and of itself. Following this, there was the immediate question of what these first waves of the official canon, properly universe connected streaming shows were going to look like. Due to COVID delays, WandaVision was the first out the gate. Whatever else can be said for the season it is decidedly the most distinct creative vision since James Gunn first entered the picture with the Guardians Of The Galaxy franchise. A blend of pastiching/ recreating various eras of American sitcom with the eventual reveal over more conventional Marvel Cinematic Universe plot. all of this is top of Elisabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany reprising their roles from the films. What does the franchises first dramatic streaming offering bring to the table? A fair amount. The creative team’s dedication towards recreating the aesthetics of various eras and styles is hugely impressive. this goes for all elements of the production and this is especially noticeable in the earlier multicamera sitcom episodes. Viewers are essentially watching a sitcom of the era that just happens to have had some Marvel characters dropped in. How effective these sections are for individual watches will vary on a case by case basis but they are objectively well executed. Things do eventually broaden out beyond the very plastic world of sitcoms. While the more conventional MCU narrative might prove disappointing for those who were more interested in the sitcom elements this is ultimately a Marvel production. they have a proven formula that is mostly very effective. There’s nothing to dispute that here. The franchise is a whole that puts more emphasis on characters, emotional arcs and getting the audience to buy into the connective tissue between each piece of the puzzle. Once revealed the eventual arc of the story could very easily have been guessed from the marking. This is distinctly not the point. The cast sells the plot and emotional beats very effectively in a way that enables audiences to buy into the drama of what’s going on. This may be less true for the early sitcom exclusive episodes (the one element that was decidedly hurt thanks to the weekly episode release.) These six hours offer a condensed example of the strengths in the greater franchise,without having to sit through 21 individual films. Fans shall see what are more potentially conventional example of these shows might look like when Falcon and The Winter Soldier debuts next week. WandaVision provides not only a creative-minded season of TV ( not typical for the MCU. ) It also offers a strong case example of why these productions resonate on such a global scale. The plot and mystery elements may be nothing revolutionary. However, the effectiveness of them is sold through the strong delivery of effective emotional beats. Solid commitment to both delivering on the promised Marvel spin on sitcoms and more conventional franchise action certainly helps matters. Overall this is a strong start for the new streaming era of the universe. Expect ongoing reviews for future seasons and mini-series as they further rollout. 8/10
A Golden Globe-winning Rosamund Pike is fantastic in this darkly comedic satire. She plays a con woman who runs an organisation preying on vulnerable people. Getting them installed under her legal guardianship and then fleeing them for all they are worth. It’s a shame that the rest of the film can’t live up to the strength of Pikes performance. Things immediately suffer from a very poorly paced opening act that takes far too long to set up all the narrative domino’s that enable the plot to get going. Dianne Wiest and Peter Dinklage are introduced as a potential victim and a mysterious figure that may be too good to fall for one of Pike’s schemes. At around the half-hour mark for the next 25 minutes tonally the film establishes itself as a potentially terrific contemporary thriller. At a certain point after this stretch is complete things take a very hard pivot as part of a development that carries the narrative across the finish line. This genre diversion might be more successful than the opening act in that it’s better paced. It has enough momentum to engage the audience in wanting to see the storey reach an outcome. on the other hand, this storey shift means things enter the realm of the silly and borderline fantastical rather quickly. This doesn’t sit effectively with what started as a very credible attempt at satire ( even if it did not entirely work.) This results in a very frustrating final product that possesses a fantastic central performance and is terrific in patches. Viewers mileage may vary depending on how much they buy into the films various twists and turns. The direction in powering the second half of the film to a conclusion has greater narrative momentum then a very lacklustre opening act it’s nowhere near as effective as the film at its best. This is one of those pieces of media where whether strengths it possesses or enough to knock it into a moderately tentative recommendation but even men it comes with several massive qualifications. Once the credits rolled this viewer simply wished the film as a whole had delivered something worthy of Pikes central performance. 6/10.
This piece contains spoilers for the ending of Part 3 some light premise discussion/ suggestive spoilers for Part 4. .
This reviewer has always had a soft spot for the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Across its first three “parts”/ 28 episodes it was typically solid well never hitting true greatness. The shows weaknesses were often covered by Kierrnan Shipkas fantastic central performance. Hopefully, this gives her the springboard needed to build a solid career. She was surrounded by a strong ensemble cast. Granted the show never quite worked out how to balance its teen drama with more experimental elements that the creative team what are allowed on a service like Netflix. Nevertheless, despite the shows surprise cancellation these final eight episodes were an interesting prospect. How they were going to wrap up the ongoing narrative given the partial status quo shift established by the end of Part 3? Is this finale an effective end to what has been a solid B tier streaming show? Kind of. On one level this final outing does a solid enough job in accounting for being an impromptu ending. It also utilises the plot potential of having two versions of the title character to play with. Shipka is very effective at playing off herself. Showcasing the new development is only part of what the finale has to offer. The conclusive elements of this ending are driven by an entirely new story arc. These revolve around a series of supernatural terrors emerging within Greendale. layer this on top of all previously established otherworldly developments and a typical dollop of high school drama and you have a very ambitious ending. All this doesn’t entirely work. The episodes are relatively lengthy ( most clocking a full hour) but they all sag under the weight of far too much simultaneous plot. This leaving certain elements struggling for air in a massively overstuffed season. Things pick up ( as is tradition with this show) during the more stranger moments. Episode 3 is premise it’s far too bizarre to not attract some attention and is executed solidly. The first half of the two-part finale does a discount WandaVision Esque diversion. This is the best episode of the season purely because the writers and creative team have a good amount of fun allowing the Chilling Adventures cast to play around in something that resembles the sandbox of the original sitcom. The cast continues to be incredibly solid across the board. Unfortunately, some have hardly anything to do thanks to not being massively involved in any of the season’s myriad goings-on. Then that’s the series finale. The final episode is not as bad as some viewers will have audiences believe. That said in its second half it feels invaded by another show entirely ( this plot development could be another half-season on its own) to get the narrative to a point where it can be concluded. It’s far from awful but it’s not necessarily a good representation of the shows stronger elements. Before this set of episodes, this critic would have said the show was cancelled before its ability to find true greatness. Given the ending, there’s the question over if that perceived potential greatness existed in the first place. Nevertheless, the cast made a strong enough impression that it will be interesting to see where they go from here in terms of future projects. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina delivered a massively frustrating ending ith its fourth “part.”. The cast remained solid throughout and there are this shows typical high points that blend experimental tendencies with teen drama elements. That said proceeding’s feel hampered by poor pacing, lack of momentum and the general sense that there is far too much going on for a relatively modest number of episodes. The finale feels like a dash to the finish line on the part of the creative team. Before the ending, this viewer would have said this shows cancellation was a mild disappointment. having seen how things were concluded he is perfectly happy with there being no more. 5.5/10
There’s a certain very cruel irony to the film that convinces this viewer of the power of Chadwick Boseman. This writers impression was that he was a solid actor. That said he did not have a breakout role with quite the same level of an emotional wallop when compared to contemporary and former co-star Michael B Jordan in Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station. Knowing what the world knows about his struggles now it’s hard to see the man as anything other than a hero on multiple literal and figurative levels. He thankfully went out on a performance that showcases his true brilliance in what is otherwise a relatively dry and stagy drama. Co-leads the film with Viola Davis as she plays in 1920s jazz musician with the narrative focusing on the interpersonal relationships in conflicts that come up during a recording session. Based on a play by August Wilson the film edition falls into many of the traps present in Denzel Washington screen version of Wilsons Fences. Is the material worthy and well-intentioned? Absolutely. Are there potentially interesting themes ripe for discussion? Yes. Are the performanceS committed to delivering the material effectively? Definitely. That said much as this style of conversation piece may be more effective on stage but when filmed it comes across as incredibly dry with a lot of the conversation running together as if it’s one amorphous blob. On-screen it lacks the spark that Regina King and Kamp Powers brought to the film version of One Night in Miami (the exception to the rule when it comes to these sorts of dramas.) Boseman’s powerhouse performance as a temperament trumpet player is utterly magnetic. It’s the kind of turn only possible when a fantastic performer is given material that can showcase their range effectively on multiple different levels. Much as Davis provides solid support in the title role it’s Bozeman that makes this screen edition entirely worth experiencing. If there’s any justice in the world there should be a strong case for him posthumously winning every Best Actor prize going. It’s an extraordinary swan song even if the film contained within it doesn’t do much to elevate itself beyond Boseman’s work. 7/10
At this point, Gerard Butler has carved himself an acceptable niche. He will consistently be starring in male-dominated mediocre meat and potatoes action movies or mildly embarrassing disaster porn. On the surface, Greenland looks like it fits the second of these two groups perfectly Butler plays the typical blank slate family man seen in this type of narratives. He has to get his wife and kids to safety after they are chosen by presidential alert to be guaranteed a level of safety. This is all happening as a comment is on its way to wipe out large chunks of life as we know it. So far so generic right. It even comes to the screen from Ric Roman Wagh who collaborated with Butler previously thanks to being in the director’s chair for the last … Has Fallen entry. This critic is somewhat surprised to report that Greenland ( well nothing fantastic) is considerably better then it has any right to be. Given the size and scale, one might expect from the genre this production was made on a relatively tight $35 million budget. This means proceedings will not indulge in automatic Roland Emmerich style destruction porn as much as some watchers might expect. This critic would argue that Greenland is a significantly better film for having these constraints placed on it. The story beats still feel entirely familiar. However, from the very opening scene, the presentation offers a much more grounded interpretation of them. There are flashes of world flattening desolation but for the most part, arcs focus on the ground level human drama in response to the comments incoming impact. Chris Spaulding’s screenplay may not be reinventing the wheel but has a good handle on how to pull off these tonal choices in an emotionally engaging manner. Things are helped along by solid performances. The cast is aware of what genre they are in but are not way playing down. This is especially true for Butler. His character may be something of an archetype but considering how effectively the man sleepwalks through a revolving door of generic schlock it’s refreshing to see him deliver material with some level of emotional conviction. Nothing here is truly exceptional and there is still a degree of conventionality throughout but it fee like the creative team did have a vision in a genre that so often doesn’t beyond how loud they can get whatever iconic landmark involved to ls explode. Greenland is the kind of film that should be shown to aspiring filmmakers. Not because it offers anything particularly new or novel from a content perspective. It’s a relatively straight forward disaster picture playing into tropes audiences will have seen before. That said it’s a textbook example of how commitment to a quickly established tone and style can prove effective in establishing emotional engagement. This can also stretch the budget further in cases like this where the money at the filmmaker’s disposal was modest for the size and scale attempted. It’s an exceptionally solid addition to a genre that too often assumes audiences will be happy as long as they can watch some on-screen explosions. Viewers deserve better than that and this is certainly an above-average example of a very well worn group of movies 7.5/10
Two couples rent an idyllic holiday home for a weekend getaway in this slow-burn psychological horror first feature from director Dave Franco. Given the premise, it won’t be surprising to learn this is fairly straight forward four handers with Dan Stevens, Alison Brie Sheila Vand and Jeremy Allen White in the central roles. The concept well very well worn is the sort of thing that can be done well in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, this is distinctly not the case for Franco and his friends. The narrative tries a juxtaposition of its intended character/ interpersonal focus but this is not backed up by a script the paints the characters as paper-thin. This is despite the four main players trying their best with the substandard material. Alison Brie and Dan Stevens typically deliver kind of performances that can elevate below-average content but there’s none of that here. Franco shows a potentially decent visual eye but this isn’t nearly enough to compensate for the narratives inherent weakness. The third act is better paced with a slightly greater sense of momentum. Unfortunately by this point, the majority of viewers may well have checked out. Watching a slow burn psychological character drama with no engaging figures on story beets whatsoever feels entirely counter-intuitive. Granted The Rental it far from the worst directorial vanity project from an established celebrity released in 2020. This was the year that birthed The Fanatic onto the cinematic landscape. That said it offers nothing new or interesting in what is a very well worn subgenre where distinctive qualities are needed to stand out. Unless watchers have a weakness for this brand of psychological thriller/ horror the film is best avoided. 4/10
As a huge fan of Duncan Jones first two directorial features, this critic remembers seeing him state on Twitter that he had to take a meeting regarding a potential biopic of his father David Bowie. Thus began a chain of events that has led to Stardust. To quote a Jones tweet from January 2019 “if you want to see a biopic without his music or the families blessing that’s up to the audience.” A lot of the social media outrage that was caused by the films trailer debut could do well to remember this quote. Jones isn’t going on a huge tirade against the projects very existent. he’s merely stating a fact and leaving it up to the viewer as to whether they want to support said piece of media with this knowledge. The film then played at a few virtual festivals. Reviews were expectedly abysmal. This viewer always wondered how much of the initial reaction was based on the moral outrage of ita very existent as opposed to the final products actual content. For this reason, this writer decided to give the movie a fair chance when it hit VOD. Stardust is a very strange viewing experience. On one level ( as is the case with anything that promotes a certain amount of outrage culture) the moral questionability of pure existence does not automatically make it abysmal. In this case, the fact the feature exists in the form it does showcases the fat the those behind it were never interested in making anything of quality with this endeavour. They wanted to attach a well-known name to a cheap poorly made musician drama to get it some free publicity. Never has any supposed biopic been so indebted to its subject despite having no rights to use any of his work. Yet proceedings also give off the feeling that it could be about any musical figure off the street simply by changing their name. Watching Johnny Flynn and Marc Maron (the latter of whom is far too good for this embarrassment) walk around the same under late period hallway, enter the same smoke-filled bar and drive on a green screen background gets unbelievably tedious very fast. Rinse and repeat for 108 minutes. That said the “creative team” know if they can get this cinematic sleeping tablet to the finish line it will have an inbuilt audience. Both from Bowie fans and those who are aware of the film’s existence thanks to the outrage. if it wasn’t for the negative publicity this disaster would be dumped on streaming with no fanfare whatsoever before getting swallowed into the vacuums of a streaming algorithm This a prime example of the back storey behind a piece of work being more interesting than the final product The released cash grab is unrelentingly boring. Even if a potential viewer is primed to hate to watch the film on account of moral obligations it’s so effective as a cinematic nap inducer any other qualities the film might possess or Julie overrated.,. It’s the kind of tonally sleepy, poorly made shovelware that is crying out for someone on staff to lighten up proceedings with some variety of distinctive vision. Needless to say, this never happens. To say this failure is only for the morbidly curious viewer is a massive understatement. Despite what certain outraged social media channels may tell, media projects can’t entirely be declared good or bad when looking solely at the moral question of why they exist Ultimately it’s up to the audience and critics whether they want to give that material that has generated controversy a chance. When looking at Stardust specifically it doesn’t fail due to its unauthorised nature. The David Bowie estate is perfectly within there rights to proverbially slam the door in the face of its existence. It fails because it’s a cheap, nasty and mercenary cash grab made by filmmakers perfectly aware that if they didn’t attach that famous name to their embarrassing failure of a music biopic it would get no traction whatsoever. the final product pushes cinematic boredom to its very limit. 3/10
After watching Charlie Brooker and friends Netflix embarrassment Death To 2020 this critic assumed that satire released inside said year could not get more basic. Unbeknownst to him, this pandemic released political comedy from writer/director Jon Stewart was sitting in his Amazon rentals. Steve Carrell plays a Democrat spin-doctor who tries to influence a mayoral election in Republican heartland after seeing a viral video and putting his weight behind Democratic-leaning rural farmer Chris Cooper. Cue an incredibly basic and softly targeted slice of political satire that takes what could be an interesting premise and proceeds to do nothing interesting with it. Carrell is on autopilot throughout. but the dreadful script is certainly not helping matters. not even Rose Byrne who can typically light up the dullest of comedy simply by her presence can elevate the material. Things progress exactly as expected given the initial set up heading towards an ending that’s painfully signposted from about 10 minutes in. Then in its very final movement, the film throws a curveball at the audience. The choice to close out the film could be interesting. Critically though it’s the exact reveal that The Good Place at already executed flawlessly across its first two seasons ( this show in its prime.) In terms of atrocious attempted b satire released in 2020, this viewer would probably pick watching this again over Death To 2020 but it’s simply thanks to Irresistible being much less annoying. It’s still a painfully dull, poorly executed and softly targeted American political comedy that has little appeal to UK audiences. The fact that Universal UK released this initially as a PVOD title is frankly embarrassing. No one should have to pay £9.99 to rent this garbage. 3/10
Machine Gun Kelly’s Tickets To My Downfall has been a huge guilty pleasure for this critic since its release. The man can barely sing and the lyrics are about as basic as you can get for its genre of pop-punk but the hooks and production sound great. In concept jumping on the visual album trend with this material is not the worst idea in the world. That said given the source material has 0 thematic depth ( by design) it would be a challenge. At the very least this listener is not opposed to hearing the album in full once again. Does the visual element elevate the thin material? Honestly no. If anything Downfalls High fits the sincere but entirely mercenary attitude towards its lead artist genre pivot on the main album. It ties all the songs on the standard edition together with and an incredibly insubstantial slice of high school melodrama. MGK has roped in most of the collaborators from the album into the visual medium ( Halsey being the notable exception.) he also brings along Sidney Sweeney in the lead female role for a certain level of very vocal fanbase convergence. All of this sounds fine in concept. The thing is that much as the music still sounds great the source materials edge lord diary poetry aesthetic comes across as try hard in the interlinking non-performance segments. Much as Sydney Sweeney might be one of those actresses who can sell a certain audience on just about anything hearing her non ironically deliver the line “If…ing hate aeroplanes” is an early contender for biggest unintentional media related laugh of 2021. Much as the album remains enjoyable as ever this presentation has the air of a faintly embarrassing vanity project. it’s the kind of thing that musicians shovel out when they know they have a potent enough fanbase that will bye almost anything they are selling. That said it’s hard to get too mad at this production as an extension of the existing album. It was released for free on YouTube and Facebook. If MGK and his management decided they were going to make fans pay for such a half baked project this would be an entirely different conversation. On a certain level Downfalls High is exactly what viewers would expect given the source material. The music’s still delivered effectively. That said this is a textbook example of the idea that just because you have the resources available to make one of these visual albums doesn’t mean your album has the depth that’s necessary to make it’s engaging. that said it released entirely for free mostly to appease fans. It’s hard to get that irritated at the final product beyond the faint embarrassment it might cause some of those involved. 4/10
The typical definition of “Oscar Bait” refers to those films that have particular themes and narrative arcs that will make whatever production it is get seen more favourably by awards voters. In the past several years there is an alternative but similar form of awards pandering has become prevalent. this critic will call it “the naturalism paradox.” This refers to the prioritisation a “realistic” approach in the writing and performances. They use this as their main selling point regardless of whatever other merits individual examples may have. This approach has become especially popular in an age where A24 and distributors like it have overtaken the discourse on social media. The annoying thing is that features utilising the naturalism paradox can use it effectively regardless of its existence as a vehicle for this approach. It results in a style and tone that will win acclaim from festival audience and critics before being released to the general public and going precisely nowhere. The paradox can be pulled off effectively but projects that don’t have several other merits can be a weird experience. Enter Pieces of a Woman starring Vanessa Kirby, Shia LaBeouf, Ellen Burstyn and Molly Parker. The film played extensively on the festival circuit in 2020 before being hoovered up by Netflix in there continuing attempt to conquer the film distribution world. It’s a naturalism paradox utilising drama focusing on the aftermath of botched home birth ( with Kirby and LaBeouf as the central couple and Parker as the nurse responsible.) It opens with a hugely extended 35 minutes pre-title sequence showcasing the central event. This is a driving force for the rest of the narrative. It’s objectively well constructed with strong and effective performances from those involved. that said little else is offered. Viewers that don’t buy into the naturalism may well realise they’re essentially watching Sam Witwicky and Princess Margaret give birth with Maureen Robinson (2018 edition) as the midwife. Certain critics and those who appreciate this type of presentation in filmmaking will appreciate the film. audiences that may want something deeper and more substantive will be left high and dry. Then the main narrative begins in earnest. The rest of the runtime is a relatively conventional emotional driven legal drama. The central couple attempt to get Parker prosecuted for the death of their child. For this kind of misery, dramas to be effective the sense of emotional heft needs to be sold authentically through strong writing and performances. Some strong recent examples in this subgenre include Manchester by The Sea, LeBoeuf’s Honey Boy and Ken Loach’s I Daniel Blake. Pieces of a Woman has the performance element of the formula nailed down. The problem is that the sense of weight the film so desperately wants to achieve feels entirely inauthentic. The narrative wants to examine the emotional and interpersonal impact of such a devastating event on the central characters. Unfortunately, the script sells it in such a way that reminded this critic of online music reviewer Todd in the Shadows joke analysis of the lyrics to Lewis Capaldi Someone You Loved. I’m sad, I’m sad, I’m sad, I’m SAD.
This endeavour comes across as being entirely put together by a certain type of creative team. The filmmakers know if they can sell the naturalism paradox effectively nothing else will matter to a particular stripe of critics. That said even the worst films have to deal with some element of legacy. For projects like Pieces of a Woman, its legacy could be less than nothing. While striving for realism in film is appreciated in some regards by this critic. That said he does want to see some films like this fail in the future. Otherwise tepid films with one stand out or effective element are the hardest to review as a viewer and critic. The capacity to be as harsh as reviewers might want to be is limited. Pieces of a Woman is far from awful. The merits within the excellent lead performances see to that single-handedly. That said it’s representative of a style of exclusively naturalism focused critic pandering film making. This that said that can be very draining if one is not automatically invested in new release awards discourse on platforms like Twitter and Letterboxed. Productions like this continue to see success with critics and on the awards circuit. At this point, there will be no reason for certain filmmakers and studios not to make pandering realism focused dramas regardless of any mainstream appeal or legacy. All media at some point has to deal with the question of a footprint. Culturally financially or in terms of its impact on discourse. Projects that employ the naturalism paradox above other value might be lucky in appearing on some critic year-end lists. This could well be the only legacy they have. There will always be certain creatives that strive for this exclusively. Well, that is fine for my filmmaking perspective. However other factors need to be present for whatever form it is to strike some kind of relevance. This will give whatever piece of media giving it a longer and more defined legacy. Pieces of a Woman rating, 5/10.
After recently discussing elements of Robert Rodriguez’s strange career in this critic’s piece on We Can be Heroes another Hollywood Robert whose career is proverbially all over the place would be Zemeckis. Zemeckis has a few classic films under his belt that he will always have a place in film history. Unfortunately, for the most part, his 21st-century work prioritises weird uncanny valley Esque, technology-driven nightmare fuel who. The fact The Polar Express is a contemporary Christmas classic to some viewers always blows this critics mind. With his motion capture studio having tanked so hard it resulted in massive write-offs for Disney Zemeckis has to find new ways to indulge his fetish for weird technology in contemporary films. After the bizarre and incredibly mediocre but strangely fascinating Welcome to Marwin, he now goes back to the family film well with a new adaptation of a classic Roald Dahl storey. Prime 80s/90s Zemeckis adapting Dahl sounds like a match made in heaven. Contemporaries Zemeckis doing the same sounds like it might be another unwarranted trip into the Uncanny Valley. How is his take on the material? Given how patience-testing some of Zemeckis recent work has been it’s not as bad as it could have been. It’s generally watchable enough and relatively inoffensive in its mediocrity. Critically this does not mean the new adaptation is any good. Octavia Spencer’s performance as the grandmother is the only one that feels as if it understands Dahls playful, kid-friendly but sinister undertone that has given his works such resonance for generations of fans. Jahzeir Bruno is fine enough in the central child role. It’s with Chris rocks wrap around narration in the very opening scene that the film showcases what a tonally inconsistent mess it’s going to be. He essentially resurrects Marty the Zebra with his over the top vocal delivery. Rock signals that despite some moments that might be mildly effective in getting across a more Dahl adjacent atmosphere the film is going to be nothing more than a corny pantomime. This is showcased further by Anne Hathaway s performance as the central witch. She plays it so OTT pantomime villain it makes Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka via Michael Jackson in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory positively restrained by comparison. While the film is not perhaps as reliant on technology as it could be there is some questionable CG used in the transformation sequences. It’s also worth noting the while this was originally intended as a theatrical release the uninspired use of limited locations and zero directorial flairs make proceedings look relatively cheap ( for something that wasn’t given the level of talent involved.) The film feels more at home on streaming. That said for all the inbuilt problems it never crosses into the outright excruciating territory. This critic would not recommend it in any way but if a viewer is stuck having to watch it to pass time they could do worse ( especially given some of Robert Zemeckis other kid’s offerings. The new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches is not as bad as it might have been. This is in large part because it doesn’t feel used as an excuse for the director to indulge in potentially nightmare-inducing digital technology with family audiences. That said this critic would not call the film worth recommending to anyone. It’s not hard to see why the film was sacrificed by Warner Brothers as a former theatrical exclusive sent to streaming as a result of the COVID pandemic. 4/10
On 29 October 2020, a trailer was released that made a large section of “film Twitter” completely lose their minds. This trailer was for Songbird. Produced by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes it was a dystopian post-apocalyptic COVID thriller conceived short and released while the pandemic is still sweeping the world. There were endless hot takes about how inappropriate this concept was at this point in the global COVID timeline. Putting the cast and crew in danger of contracting the vires purely to get this exploitative cash grab made film Michael Bay is a deserved Hollywood punching bag for mostly very good reason. The thing is these reactions were all based on a trailer. Well, there be no reason to expect the film would be any good. That said it at least deserves to be treated with some level of critical analysis by people that have seen it rather than judging entirely based on the moral and ethical questions of whether it should even exist. Thus when the films SVOD rights were quickly sold to Amazon this reviewer took the chance to indulge his morbid curiosity. How bad could it be? On one level Songbird is every bit as bad as viewers might expect. Quick and lazy whilst at the same time feeling massively overstaffed and underdeveloped. It imagines a world four years in the future with what is now referred to as COVID 23 still rampant throughout the world. K.J Apa plays a courier who spends the film trying to track down an immunity pass on the black market for his girlfriend Sofia Carson from dealers Bradley Whitford and Demi Moore. There are other side storeys involving Craig Robinson, Alexandra Daddario and Paul Walter Hauser but outside of one unintentionally hilarious moment in the film’s climax, these other elements feel like a barely connected mess., It’s the sort of teen drama that if released at any other time would open to below-average reviews. It would then last a week in cinemas before joining the endlessly expanding queue of forgettable films vying for audience attention on streaming. The mercenary attitude from the filmmakers completing the project at this precise time may have got the from copious amounts of negative publicity. It’s the exact sort of backlash the filmmakers would have expected given the subject matter. Ultimately in cases like this involve getting whatever piece of media it is in front of potential audiences eyeballs there’s no such thing as bad publicity. It’s the reason why this critic sorts out the film in the first place and why he is now writing this review. Speaking honestly beyond moral questions of whether it should exist there’s nothing to get overly angry at. This is especially true if audiences have seen their fair share of mediocre to abysmal team dramas. If viewers want to see what mainstream but misjudged that the point of potentially incredibly offensive looks like much better examples exists. Copies of The Fanatic, The Book Of Henry and Collateral Beauty should be readily available on digital platforms. These three films have a much greater sense of “how on earth does this even exist” with much more morally questionable material. When taken on its own merits as a piece of filmmaking Songbird is the sort of bland and generic young adult drama that should in a just world pass without a moments notice. Thanks to the mercenary attitude of the filmmakers who knew they could farm outrage culture and bad “film Twitter” hot takes into publicity for the production if they made it now. Outside of the COVID backdrop and the moral questions of shooting anything during this point in world history ( Michael Bay connection or otherwise. ), The film feels painfully calculated. Even if watchers are looking for something to get morally offended by there are better recent mainstream options available. It’s hard not to think that the makers of Songbird set out to achieve there clear social media outrage = promotion goal regardless of the film objective quality. This far more interesting debate will continue with several films every single year. Songbird was just a COVID related example. Film rating. 3/10
Robert Rodriguez has one of the strangest careers of anyone for his relatively high level of fame within Hollywood circles. Looking specifically at the type of kids movie he typically makes it’s very easy to point and laugh at his hyper earnest wish fulfilment narratives. It has not grown or evolved in the last 20 years. That said someone believes his style has an audience because along comes Netflix funding his latest effort We Can Be Heroes. Marketed as a belated sequel to The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl ( it isn’t beyond existing in the same universe and the titular characters making cameos.) This is Rodriguez’s attempts to cash in on the omnipresence of superheroes in contemporary culture. This time the director brings along Pedro Pascal which automatically scores the film some zeitgeists points. The final product is hammy, overacted and has adult supporting actors who are far too talented for this nonsense ( Pascal, Christian Slater and Priyanka Chopra among others.) It feels like it escaped from a time vortex stuck in 2003.
As a critic who has sat through the gauntlet of mediocre to terrible Disney + Originals most are a perfect example of the obvious cynically, mercenary nature of modern kids entertainment. Something about the films tackey nature was invigoratingly earnest. This doesn’t mean it is worth recommending in any way to anyone outside of the target audience ( those eight and under. ) However this jaded viewer would happily sit through it five times over if the alternative was suffering Secret Society of Secondborn Royals again ( covered on this very blog).
In all honesty as a disabled viewer, the film also deserves some credit for prominent inclusion of a disabled hero, This will be the chance for several activists to jump down this writers throat and tell me the actor playing the disabled character was not disabled himself ( it’s Hollywood that’s unfortunate but expected.) The sentiment certainly comes from the right place and having had cerebral palsy since birth this critic would have got a massive kick out of seeing wheelchair users represented like this if he was the target audience for the film
Robert Rodriguez’s We Can be Heroes will be potentially excruciating for anyone outside the target audience who is not on board with his specific brand of children’s entertainment. We li\an age where so much of the competition feel cynical and calculated there’s something mildly endearing about his extremely dated brand of cheese infused optimism. It makes the film decidedly more memorable than some of the alternatives. If parents and other viewers think this is the worst contemporary kids entertainment has to offer this critic will happily sit whoever it is down and forced them to watch any number of mediocre Disney straight to streaming efforts released over the past year. 5/10.
Not related to the Miley Cyrus song with a similar title this George Clooney starring and directed Netflix vehicle features him as an astronaut trapped in a post-apocalyptic Arctic Circle. Meanwhile, the crew of a spaceship ( Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler, Damien Bashir) are returning from an unsuccessful mission to colonise a planet initially thought to be habitable. The film has received several sniffy reviews. Looking at the final product much as this critic might argue it’s a bit better than some have reported it’s not hard to see why. It’s been made by a creative team who have seen all the right modern movies they think can influence a potentially ambitious genre meld ( post-apocalyptic survival drama both in the Arctic and the realms of space. It’s Moon without the cloned element ( not a spoiler.) Arctic sands the grit. The Martian if it was completely po-faced and Gravity entirely removed of any suspense the suspense. Flashback sequences also mean its employees The Irishman’s questionable de ageing technology with zero compelling characters or narrative that make this choice somewhat forgivable. That said the more emotion-driven final act did school some resonance with this critic. Certain viewers will find the narrative choices taken decidedly overwrought bordering on potentially hilarious. Milages will very much very. The one thing that can hopefully be agreed on by all is that’s on a baseline level the film it is very derivative and uneventful for the majority of its runtime. It’s far from the worst Netflix original around at the moment but it’s only truly recommendable quality is playing a game of “what better film is this element taken from” as the narrative plays out. 5/10
We are long enough into the current global pandemic initially released in the UK using a premium video on demand price strategy are starting to appear as incredibly cheap rentals on several different VOD platforms. A £2 30 day rental (85% off the films initial price point)is worth taking a chance on. Such is the case with this British LGBTQ drama. In 1970s Kent Penelope Wilton plays a cantankerous older woman who has managed to build a career as a folklore investigator in the area throughout her life. The main narrative then takes place during the Second World War. A younger version of the central character ( Gemma Arterton) takes responsibility for an evacuee boy during the Second World War. Interspersed flashbacks sketch out a previous relationship between the central character and Gugu Mbatha Raw. For 2/3 of its runtime, the film is a little bit inconsistent but pleasant British drama. The script’s a little unsure of how sympathetic Arterton’s character is meant to be especially in the scenes where she’s interacting with the child now in her care. The narrative flirts with the kind of wholesome approach you might see in tamer versions of this narrative. Its also clearly wanting to establish part of that central relationship as being something audiences might see from the darker side of Roald Dahl or even a much more grounded version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Nevertheless, the cinematography is stunning and Arterton delivers very strong work in the central role. These sections of the film might be not quite living up to the potential of the lead performance. but they are solidly entertaining throughout. Then the third act hits. On a very basic level, the third act delivers exactly what would be expected from discerning viewers given the initial setup. That said how the plot beats are played out both through the script and performances are practically perfect in every way. it’s a stunning, hugely emotionally resonant conclusion that elevates a film that had been solid up until that point into the realms of greatness. For as predictable as the narrative is Summerland is one of the best British films of the year and deserves to be sought out by film fans as one of the best films released during the pandemic. 8/10
This critic is now getting to the point with this blog where he is covering new seasons of previously reviewed shows. His thoughts on season one as a fan of the franchise are easily available. With some of the choices made folding in material from later on in the source material throughout the first season the interesting question with the adaptations sophomore effort was how it would go about tackling The Subtle Knife with a certain amount of the groundwork already having been laid previously. This does bring one immediate benefit ( and answers something initially brought up in this critics review of the first season.) The introduction of Will Perry at a much earlier point in the storey enables the creative team to hit the ground running with The Subtle Knife adaptation. This works as a bridge between both seasons and will play superbly when this adaptation is complete and can be binged at any viewers convenience.
The core strengths established in the first season are all present and correct. From production and visual standpoint, the budget is very clearly on-screen throughout. Daphne Keen and Ruth Wilson still deliver superb work in the central roles. Amir Wilson does a solid job given his increased role and screentime at this point in the narrative. The season is generally an engaging slice of high fantasy that is representative of the sort of treatment the source material deserves. Despite these strengths, the season is not everything it could be. The scripts struggle to cope with the massive world expansions going on at this point in the narrative throughout its seven episodes. This makes the on-screen events come across as fragmented, unfocused and generally frustrating. It’s even more irritating because the building blocks for a potentially fantastic adaptation are still there. Even with the longer format available in prestige TV sometimes source material is just too sprawling to be adapted entirely successfully. This can’t be said entirely for this show until the creative team has had a crack at The Amber Spyglass with the upcoming final season. In a lot of ways, the second season of the BBC/ HBO His Dark Materials is simply reaffirming the strengths established when adapting Northern Lights for TV. That said the visual medium struggles with attempting to cram this hugely ambitious high fantasy text into seven relatively concise episodes. The jury is out on whether this will be handled better with The Amber Spyglass The complete screen adaptation still has the potential to be solid but as a season of TV, this is something of a step back while still being solid enough to potentially please a large swath of the fans and critics who enjoyed the first season.
Very early on in Bo Burnham stand-up special “What” he sits down at a piano. This would have been expected by audiences given he was mainly known for his YouTube comedy songs at this point in his career, He introduces the first song of the set “A World On Fire.” He pauses, screams hits random keys on the piano, gets a cheap laugh and then moves on to the actual first song. Burnham at his best is one of the sharpest comedians and writers out there ( this critic saw him live at the Scottish premiere for Eighth Grade and he was every bit as quick-witted as fans would hope.) That said if audiences want to see gags like that cheap World On Fire effort extended for 70 minutes look no further then Charlie Brooker endorsed Netflix mockumentary Death To 2020.
2020 may have been an abysmal year for pretty much everyone around the world but in concept, a satirical look back at the year’s events is not a terrible idea. With a strong script and participants who enabled audiences to buy into the pieces satirical targets. Brooker’s Netflix brand has enough clout at this point to rope in several solid stars for this endeavour. Samuel L Jackson, Kumail Nanjiani, Lisa Kudrow Leslie Jones Hugh Grant, Tracey Ullman and Laurence Fishburne among others are all here. When viewers watch this they will hopefully recognise it as one of the most embarrassingly unfunny failures in a year that was full of them.
Having not seen any work affiliated with Charlie Brooker previously this critic is willing to accept that Black Mirror and other projects may be just as brilliant as he has heard. The multitude of awards won by his productions certainly further that narrative.) Any comedic value Death to 2020 possessors starts to run thin after 5 minutes and then overstays its runtime for the borderline painful next 65. As a mockumentary, it fails because the characters and scenarios it uses to satirise the events of 2020 are such painful stereotypes. Jackson place into his own media persona. Grant is a bumbling history professor, Nanjiani is a healthcare professional. Cristin Milioti turns up in an attempted parody of right-wing Trump supporters. Tracy Ullman’s take on The Queen is to deliver plenty of uninspired self-referential gags about The Crown (brand synergy) and Joe Kerry is a streamer when the script has no idea what sort of jokes to make about his character or profession. According to IMDb 19 writers were involved in this completely unfunny bilge that could have been knocked out by a team of edge lord 15-year-olds in an afternoon.
That’s not to say the special doesn’t produce a couple of begrudging chuckles but this is not due to the way the attempted satire is constructed. Cracking lowest common denominator jokes at the easiest targets possible can work. Cue expected routine about Parasites Oscar win, endless trump/ right-wing mocking, attempted commentary on the corporate response to Black Lives atter and of course plenty of attempted satire on the western world failure in response to Covid. It’s not that any of these potential punchlines could not work with some additional development and a couple of redrafts. In this case the team of writers that worked on this mildly pustulant rip off just assume there’s an inherent joke in watching Trump do something embarrassing and then move on the next easy target. Even in the moments where a comedian like Sacha Baron Cohen is at his lowest comment denominator, there is normally still some value in watching the organic reactions of the people being pranked. Death to 2020 is so focused on highlighting just how many stars they can get to be in this embarrassing failure none of this holds here. Another comparison might be an All-Star live-action version of Creature Comforts( especially given the specials use of a mock interview structure) but the organic charm found in even the worst of Ardmans work is sorely lacking from this pile of elephant excrement. Even fans of slapstick and very straight forward satire should avoid this humiliating disaster at all costs.
Death to 2020 is an embarrassing failure that should be a black mark on the creative CVs of every collaborator involved. It uses an embarrassingly thin veil of supposed satire to crack jokes at a bunch of easy 2020 related targets and expects the audience to laugh. Black Mirror and Charlie Brooker fans may have an inbuilt desire to watch the special given the star-studded cast and creative team. The said audience would probably be better off spending time on YouTube looking for supposedly topical skits and sketches. it doesn’t matter if they have more or less bite then this overcooked disaster of a special. Unless they are a special kind of abysmal none of them will fear towards the second-hand embarrassment of watching a talented cast participate in a project that they know is far below them. Avoid at all costs. 2/10
There are essentially two types of HBO limited series when looking at hour-long dramas. On the one hand, you have your focused single-season narratives that will be there to win over critics and potentially get a slew of award nominations as HBO tend to do. On the other hand, you have your big flash focused dramas that executives hope will draw in viewers thanks to big-name collaborators in front of and behind the camera. Both seasons of David E Kelly’s Big Little Lies may have been able to skirt this divide but to put it in the nicest terms possible this critic wasn’t a fan. The characters and scenarios simply weren’t very engaging and seemed exclusively built for discussion by the kind of people dramatized within the narrative. Something like Sharp Objects has the opposite problem. The performances and scenarios engage audiences within the narrative not to mention the stunning twist ending “Don’t Tell Mama.” That said the narrative bones that backed these up were ultimately very basic. The latest high profile six-episode limited series full somewhere between these two camps. Reteaming David E Kelly and Nicole Kidman it’s a relatively straight forward mystery thriller with Kidman playing a psychiatrist whose children’s doctor husband ( Hugh Grant( is accused of having an affair with and then killing one of patients mothers. Donald Sutherland has a supporting role as Kidman’s father and Honey Boy star Noah Jupe is excellent as the couples son. The central setup is very Big Little Lies but tonally this season has more in common with a trashy airport potboiler then the prestige drama that the former show was sold as. This is perfectly fine. Five of the six episodes may be nothing revolutionary but there is enough narrative momentum to keep the majority of viewers engaged throughout. Kidman is solid as almost always and Hugh grant delivers his best dramatic work in years skirting the line between slime ball and dedicated dad very effectively. If the ending had been solid but unremarkable the show would be a watchable and engaging thriller serial. It may not rock any viewers world but he’s certainly very easily recommendable. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Much as the season never transcended to greatness the finale fizzles out especially in the final moments. The narrative looks like it’s heading towards a rather disappointingly predictable ( if cohesive) conclusion. Then after 317 minutes of total running time, the script shoehorns another final act on top of the already established one within the episode This choice is left partially unresolved. Within narrative structures, the choice to end the storey on a degree of ambiguity can prime the pump for broader discussion afterwards or make whatever piece of media lost longer in viewers memory. There’s a difference between pulling this choice off effectively and having the narrative come across as feeling unfinished. The latter is the case here Before this development this critic would have said the season was worth the recommendation especially if viewers have an affinity for this genre of thriller. With the ending taken into consideration, this is going to end up being an unfortunately negative review. Perhaps the season is still worth a recommendation if watches can deal with concluding they might find potentially unsatisfying but they should be aware of this before clicking on the first episode. 5/10
This critic is a huge fan of the theatrical experience. Given the choice, it’s the option he will always take for new films over any sort of convenience. Cinema provides a good opportunity to escape from reality for a couple of hours. It allows viewers to get out and around supporting what might be ( depending on location) a very important community hub. That said subscribers to schemes that let viewers watch as much as they want for a fixed fee may well have experienced the feeling of watching a new release simply because it is what is available at that location. This brings us to A Street Cat Named Bob. Based on a publishing sensation that was truly unavoidable around the time it broke through its the inspiring storey of homeless heroin addict James Bowen who got himself clean and sober thanks to his bond with a stray ginger cat. The film adaptation stared Luke Treadaway and is precisely what viewers would expect from the premise given the limitations of the mandatory PG-13/12A rating for the film to have the widest audience possible. Treadaway is very solid in the central role but unless viewers are already invested in the central relationship it’s the kind of dime a dozen British feel-good movie that will slide off more critical viewers brains very fast. Seasoned film watchers will appreciate for what it is, slap with a 6/10 and move on to whatever else may be releasing that week. That said the Storey and original film have enough emotional connexion with audiences that Lionsgate thought combining material from the follow-up books and packaging it as a Christmas themed sequel was worth the while. What they couldn’t have predicted at the time of the film’s production was COVID-19. With the majority of big-budget releases having been pushed back to 2021 whatever is left has been released on streaming with varying levels of fanfare. With the greatest of respect to A Christmas Gift From Bob, it falls squarely in the category of films that don’t necessarily see huge benefits from a big-screen presentation. Thus it was released very briefly using an increasingly popular premium video on demand model before the subscription video-on-demand rights were sold to Amazon. Having thought the original was perfectly solid but being perfectly content with watching the sequel at home this critic sat down to watch it with an open mind. As expected it’s essentially a Christmas themed reskin of the first film but it does retain a certain level of charm. Luke Treadaway delivers a strong performance in the central role once again. As before the film’s commentary on the plight of the homeless at Christmas is distinctly neutered but very admirably still attempted. It’s easy to sneer at films like this one that are varying levels of a cash grab but in this case ( as with the original) the sequel is fairly effective at what it stands out to do. If an audience member enjoyed the original they will certainly get something out of this follow-up. Critically though the majority of the audience for the film would not have seen it at the cinema ( there’s no reason to expect Lionsgate would not have given this a full theatrical push if not for COVID-19.) They are much more likely to have watched it on streaming or pay/ broadcast TV in the run-up to Christmas or with a bellyful of Christmas meal as the big day winds down. That’s not a knock against the film or its audience. As this franchise can attest there’s a lot of potential money in mobilising those looking for feelgood material. Films like this demonstrate the benefits of adopting a shortened release window much more so than any debates over the latest prestige Netflix original. Having seen some of those in the cinema during their initial two-week theatrical runs they do generally benefit from being seen on the big screen. Much as the film does have some merit the same can’t be said for A Christmas Gift from Bob. This is why it’s an excellent example of the potential advantages for distributors of adopting a direct streaming model. for a new release. Film rating. 6/10
Having seen both seasons of The Politician and the abysmal ( outside of Jim Parsons performance) Hollywood it’s fair to say this critic has not enjoyed the majority of the Ryan Murphy Netflix content he has seen. This is material built for Stan armies to fawn over regardless of objective quality or ethical questions that may arise ( especially in the case of Hollywood.) Now comes Murphys latest effort. An adaptation of the 2018 Broadway musical of the same name with a huge All-Star cast ( Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman Keegan Michael Key, Kerry Washington and others.) As a musical theatre fan, this reviewer had heard of the show in passing but was not familiar with it before sitting down to watch the film. The presence of James Corden and Murphy in the director’s chair meant expectations were suitably lowered. is this the next great musical? No. The word this critic thought of to describe the film adaptation of The Prom is ghastly. In large part this down to the narrative focus. Streep Kidman Corden and Andrew Rannells are members of a Broadway cast stars whose latest endeavour flops both financially and with critics. They decide to visit an Indiana town to help two lesbian teenagers in a bigoted town after the central couple is denied the chance to attend the school prom. In there heads it to get themselves some good publicity. Having not seen the original show this author can’t say how much of the choice to focus the narrative on the actors is baked into the fabric of the original show and how much was determined by Murphy as director. At the very least this narrative fits the sort of representation seen in other Ryan Murphy Netflix projects. Veering more towards tokenism then authenticity exclusively so whatever project can be in contention for whatever pride /GLADD media endorsed awards are being handed out this week. It’s not even that musicals with ethically questionable premises or framing can’t work. One of these critics musical favourites ( having seen the London production) is Come From Away. If you were to describe the basic premise and framing of that show to someone unfamiliar with it would likely raise some of the same tonal and ethical questions. That said the piece has an incredibly strong emotional core is what enables the emotional connection with audiences even with questions about if a musical set against that specific backdrop should even exist. Assuming the in-development film adaptation ever sees the light of day no doubt there will be some ethical debates amongst those for whom the film will be their first exposure to the material. Getting back to The Prom the music and performances are the least interesting thing the film has to offer. This is despite Meryl Streep playing it entertainingly over the top enough to resurrect the ghost of Donna from Mamma Mia. James Corden guns his way through the musical numbers as expected and Nicole Kidman is shockingly underutilised for a star of her calibre. The teenagers do fine with the material they are given but as expected given the framing of the overall film their characters feel bland and underdeveloped. It’s a real shame. There’s a solid Everybody’s Talking About Jamie style storey in here somewhere. The film is so preoccupied with wanting to seem simultaneously LGBTQ friendly and weirdly tokenist that’s not the side of the story Murphy and crew are interested in. The music is fine enough but this is another case of productions being bit by The Greatest Showman bug prioritising bombast over everything else. There’s a potentially good musical somewhere within the film adaptation of The Prom. It works for certain audiences on stage. That said the potentially interesting elements are not what Ryan Murphy and his team wanted to elevate in when adapting the material for the big screen. Awkward, tokenist and potentially very offensive it’s one of the most embarrassing failures released in 2020. Given that the director and his production company also inflicted Hollywood on unsuspecting Netflix audiences this year there’s an argument for this being even more tone-deaf than that disaster. Even die-hard musical fans should avoid the film like the plague. If viewers are desperate for their LGBTQ musical fix pro shots of the awesome Kinky Boots musical ( covered in an earlier review) and the previously mentioned Everybody’s Talking About Jamie ( before its upcoming film adaptation) are available. Don’t let Ryan Murphy continue to deliver insensitive garbage like this. 3/10
A few months ago the last remaining Blockbuster Video in the town of Bend Oregon made international news by converting its space into to a 90s themed Airbnb location. This has been one of several storeys down the years about the store. Director Taylor Morton has now made this indie documentary focusing on the location. Partially a nostalgic look back at a time when renting physical media ruled movie watching and the corporate history of Blockbuster itself. These sections are narrated by Lauren Lapkus and feature several B and C listers and corporate figures ( Kevin Smith, Doug Benson, James Arnold Taylor and Lloyd Kaufman among plenty of others) talking about their affinity for the company. Tonally the sections are looking to gain a foothold in the sort of populist focused documentary space. This was pioneered by the likes of Supersize Me. Said film is even referenced by Doug Benson. They are perfectly watchable within the context of the film but feel as if they deliver the kind of information that’s very easily accessible in any number of YouTube videos relating to Blockbuster or the decline of video stores. Viewers could distinctly argue that’s not the side of the film most watchers will be interested in. They will want to see the slice of life aspect depicting general manager Sonia Harding, her family and their day to day running of the store. It’s here the film succeeds. On one level it is a good representation of the families love and dedication they put into running the store itself. It also works as a fascinating examination of what it’s like to run a business exclusively reliant on old technology ( referring to the relative lack of computing power and databases rather than the physical media itself) in 2020. The film could have been stronger if it was cut down to an hour-long and simply focused on these segments. As it is the more celebrity-focused talking heads don’t necessarily take away from the viewing experience but do feel a little bit redundant when those interested will want to get back to the films more engaging elements. The documentary seems very aware of its niche appeal. Much as the final product might not be as good as it could be for an audience specifically looking for material relating to the last Blockbuster on earth the film does what it sets out to do relatively effectively. It will hold a level of appeal to the audience desperate to go back to a time where visitors could peruse isles of physical media as they took in the very distinctive smell around them and decided what new release they were most interested in. 7/10
With this review, The Mandalorian officially becomes the most reviewed piece of media on this critics blog. Funny for a viewer who’s relationship with Star Wars is at best cynical and who did not grow up with the original trilogy in any way. Season One debuted a strong set of core strengths regardless of its connection to the wider universe Check out the two previously published reviews for season one if you want to read more. Season Two was an exciting prospect. It was the chance for the show to firmly establish itself as one of the best shows currently on streaming after a strong but flawed first season. Did it achieve this? Sort of. The strengths established in season one are still very much here. Strong visual direction, some of the best action sequences in any current piece of media and a narrative that has a certain level of deep lore fanservice baked in but doesn’t require knowledge of sad characters to be enjoyed on its own merits. The pacing from episode three onwards feels like a more defined season plot then viewers got in the initial outing. That said the first 2 episodes (despite the Timothy Olyphant guest-starring premiere being one of the best episodes of the season and having a central sequence filmed in IMAX) feel like season one leftovers. From episode three onwards the softmore efforts defining trade comes roaring into view. If the point of season one was for the show to establish itself as space western set within the Star Wars universe season two serves as several different backdoor pilots for things Disney wants to accomplish with the burgeoning live-action TV side of the franchise. This was obvious even before all the recent Disney Investor Day news made it clear to viewers who had not been watching the season as it released. Even with limited knowledge of the characters additions like Katie Sackhoff reprising her animated role of Bo-Katan and Rosario Dawson bringing Ahsoka to live-action work. This is both within the context of the narrative whilst also providing effective fan service for those that care. Ahsoka’s introductory episode is one of the best individual episodes of any show released this year. It’s stunning even if the choice to give Baby Yoda an actual name (particularly one that feels as random sounding as Grogu)feels a little bit redundant when the majority of pop culture is going to refer to the character as Baby Yoda regardless. Then there’s the finale. From a pure action and spectacle perspective, the season-ender does exactly what it set out to do. The superbly designed and very threatening death\ dark troopers are sure to become a fixture of future Star Wars canon. That said it is in the final moments the episode goes from fanservice to fanfiction. The arrival of Return of The Jedi era Luke Skywalker ( despite his uncanny valley Esque CG face) and his adoption of Baby Yoda to go and train with the Jedi is in one way a nicely effective and emotional plot beat to end the story. On another level, it’s representative of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child adjacent officially endorsed fanfiction. This narrative structure is something the show has done so well to avoid up until this point. “Then Luke Skywalker appeared saved everyone and took Baby Yoda away for training. The End.” That said no viewer can say if future seasons will lean fully into this approach at this point. Viewers can directly criticise this plot beet at the end of the season. That said if this is one of only a handful of times the show overall will endorse this structure it’s not a huge issue. Then there’s the other major talking point. The post-credits scene setting up a Boba Fet spin-off coming in December 2021. Initially, this writer thought that this would be taking up the slot occupied by future seasons of Mando. Between the drafting and publication of this article, the shows have been confirmed as two separate entities. Given the strengths of Mando as a show, it’s relative to expect the spin-off will be a strong action-focused affair. Regardless of the writing choice to bring her guest character back from the dead it’s also exciting to see Ming-Na-Wen get another big TV role after the conclusion of Agents of Shield. Whether this combined with all the announcements from Disney Investor Day will result in massive oversaturation for live-action Star Wars content remains to be seen. Season two of The Mandalorian was very solid overall ( despite some missteps) but was a very different beast from the first effort. It still has the core action-focused strengths established in the first place. This time around it trades in a certain amount of its individualist identity to serve as several back door pilots for things Disney wants to do with the live-action TV side of its Star Wars universe. A certain amount of this still works for fans not invested in Star Wars deep lore. Whether some of the choices and spin-off set up in these eight episodes results in massive Star Wars fatigue for general audiences remains to be seen. Nevertheless, this is a solid season of a very strong show that does retain a certain amount of its core principles despite it’s greater function as a narrative springboard. 8/10
This Disney + original (acquired rather than produced in house)is the latest adaptation of the Anna Sewell novel features Mackenzie Foy in the lead live-action role and Kate Winslet as the voice of the horse. Director-writer and editor Ashley Avis shows off her hugely impressive visual eye but it’s not hard to see why the film has been packaged as a streaming exclusive. The screenplay gives the story the sort of sheen viewers might have seen in live-action animal movies from the mid-2000s to early 2010s. A certain level of the films genericness is forgivable that given that Black Beauty is in itself one of the origin points of the animal-focused subgenre. The films the main problem is Winslet’s narration. Her vocal performance is perfectly fine (if a little uninspired.)It’s more than the script relies on her so heavily it resembles a very pretty audiobook visualizer that listeners would download along with the Audible purchase of whatever Black Beauty performance floats listeners proverbial boats. The sheer visual beauty of the cinematography and direction is enough to recommend it to viewers looking for something pretty to watch or fans that want to see a new incarnation for the classic storey. Other viewers can chalk this one up to another instance of mediocre Disney + originals. 5/10
This distinctly feminist take on the Hansel and Gretel fable from director Oz Perkins is the very definition of style over substance. Gorgeously shot in a 1:55 1 aspect ratio on an aesthetic level in really commits to presenting a modern take on established fairy tale and folklore. How individual viewers feel about the film will depend entirely on whether this sense of style it’s enough to paper over the cracks of a very thin narrative. Sophia Lillis does the best she can with a script that has its narrative backbone in some rather overbearing narration. Her brother played by Samuel Leakey will great on some viewers who aren’t already turned off by the films relative lack of ambition in anything that beyond the very style stick focused presentation. That said the style alone was more than enough to engage this critic. The film certainly has an audience that could well make it a cult curio of the future. It’s certainly worth the recommendation if viewers are interested in seeing some stunning cinematography and excellent visual direction throughout. It’s the sort of material purpose-built for fans of the One Perfect Shot Twitter account to marvel at without having to experience the film’s lack of substance on a narrative level. If this sounds like something a viewer might be into they may well get something out of it. 6/10
Have you ever seen a film this is undeniably taking all those ideas from several very well established genre playbooks but can arrange them in such a way that feels weirdly original? This was the question this critic was faced with wealth watching Spontaneous. Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer play two teenagers whose love story plays out against a pandemic of spontaneous combustion among there classmates. Part John Green Young Adult romance, part Heathers high school black comedy and part legitimate horror comedy with lashings of over the top explosions in all the right places. The script by director Brian Duffield is a strong contender for this critic best of the year list. Not only is the genre meld shockingly effective but it treats every tonal shift with an air of legitimacy not often seen in YA centric content. This is especially true with the second act which is probably the most rational dramatisation of a pandemic you are likely to see in 2020. The performances certainly help matters. Katherine Langford continues to prove why she is one of the most promising actresses working today and Plumber provides strong support. Viewers could make the argument the ending might be slightly too nihilistic for the style of narrative. This is more forgivable thanks to a somewhat surprising turn at the end of the second act that like the rest of the film puts just enough spin on very well worn YA tropes. The film won’t be for everyone. At the end of the day, it is still a product of a specific genre and probably has the broadest appeal to the audience for that subgenre. It’s a shame the form has been released amid a real-life pandemic and doesn’t seem to have got a great deal of promotion.it’s worth seeking out for fans of the genre. Spontaneous is one of the biggest pleasant surprises of 2020. Strong performances and an excellent script that gives each genre in melds the respect it deserves gives the film a very strong backbone It might be hard to swallow for viewers who are less familiar with the tropes of YA centric storeys. For those who are more accustomed to the playbook employed by these kinds of narratives, this is one of the best in recent memory. The film is available on UK VOD now and it’s worth a look as one of the stronger genre offerings in 2020. 8.5/10
The multi-award-winning stage adaptation of Billy Elliot remains the kind of crossover hit hardly seen in the theatre world. Running for ten years in London’s West End with numerous ongoing international productions. (in a normal non-Covid world.) Its story might be fictional but it is set against the real backdrop of the 1984-85 miners strike. One of the big themes in both the book from original screenwriter Lee Hall and the music and lyrics by Elton John relates to how the central mining community is affected by and stands up against the Thatcher era of UK politics. The second act opens at the miners annual Christmas party. The miners sing a musical number using Christmas scenarios to illustrate how their industry is under threat from the Conservative government at the time. Its structure both lyrically and musically resembles any number of drunken pub sing-alongs. The title and central idea of the song are summed up best in the central chorus.
So Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher
May God’s love be with you
We all sing together in one breath
Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher
We all celebrate today
Cos it’s one day closer to your death.
Elton John even recorded his own take on the song.
Will certain audience members see this in bad taste. Yes. Is it potentially defamatory (especially given that it was written and performed whilst Thatcher we still alive.) Yes. That said it’s grounded in a core of historical context using fictional characters to spotlight the hardship real mining communities were going through at the time. What happens when a writer and creative team extend a similar principle not only towards a newly performed incarnation of Margaret Thatcher but to the extended Royal family. The majority of the people depicted are still alive and kicking. This takes us on to The Crown.
When at its best Peter Morgans royal drama is one of the best streaming shows around. The first generation with Claire Foy and Matt Smith in the title rolls was especially terrific. Beyond the very handsome and expensive production and strong performances, Morgan and his team could always find the compelling interpersonal relationship drama complementing the standard event focus viewers might see in lesser dramas of its type. The third season stumbled somewhat. The core strengths from a production point of view were still there but there was a shift in the writing and structure towards mostly event dramatization focus. The season had some highpoints (the dramatization of the Aberfan coal disaster)but was something of a disappointment overall. The recently released fourth season brings viewers to a point in the narrative where a large chunk of the audience will have been alive to experience these events. How does this affect the show? The short answer is that it doesn’t. The presence of Margaret Thatcher and Princess Diana the season results in a renewed sense of focus and reformation of the shows core strengths. In several ways, this is the same show it always was. The season once again finds the proverbial sweet spot between interpersonal dramas and event dramatization very effectively. Gillian Anderson’s Thatcher is particularly Superb. Like with John Lithgow’s Churchill in season one viewers can hear a little bit of Anderson’s natural voice oh in some of her line deliveries. That said a combination of excellent costume design and real commitment in Anderson’s performance to bringing Thatches ice queen persona to life on screen. Emma Conan is solid as Diana. Morgans scripts do a good job at showcasing her transition from bubbly teenager to Peoples Princess as the years pass. There is one critical new factor that at this point has not been mentioned when assessing the season both from a dramatic and historical point of view. The first three seasons, on the whole, went massively critical of the Royals on an interpersonal level or as an institution. All of this gets thrown out the window in the newest season. Not only have the creative team adopted a much darker tone where no member of the Windsor’s comes out of these 10 episodes looking good. From a dramatic perspective, this was an unexpected but welcome pivot Viewers could certainly argue some of the material in the season borders on defamatory but like with the song from Billy Elliot the musical this show uses a blend of reality and fiction to effectively shine a light on these events for future generations. The show has never framed itself as entirely historically accurate but has always used an undeniable skeleton of history. This is especially true fur the Diana centric side of the season. For as much as some of the material in the season maybe infantilised the relationship between Charles, Diana and Camilla Parker Bowles is one of the most well documented in Royal history. If watching the season shines a light on these events for future generations and encourages them to do their research this is only a good thing. There were no ways the creatives couldn’t drama ties at least some of this material without making Charles look awful (future King of England or otherwise.) Audiences should always be aware they’re watching a level of constructed reality when looking at a highly produced drama like this. This show was always going to get to this point in its narrative. From a purely dramatic perspective, it’s handled very effectively. Whatever ethical debates surround the portrayal of the Royals in the Crown given the much darker more critical tone of the fourth season) his season represents a solid return to form. The narrative may be inching closer towards the present day but the show maintains strong core principles. The blend of reality and fiction backed up by the skeleton of history allows future generations to learn about the bullet points of these events in an engaging way. Regardless of the questions of reality VS fiction, this season’s insane popularity worldwide is a win for a quality drama that should be celebrated. Season 4 rating. 8.5/10
Over the last few months, Disney + has been stepping it up in terms of pumping out new original content every single week. Well, they’re nowhere near the level of Netflix as of yet (the pandemic certainly hasn’t helped in this regard) but they are certainly getting there. One of the newer offerings is this National Geographic drama remaking the story of the Mercury Seven for streaming TV. This was the group name for the first team of American astronauts to make it into space. Their story was previously the subject of an Oscar-winning 1983 film. How is the remake? Being 100% transparent the only reason this critic is writing the initial draft is more to record the fact he sat through or eight episodes. This season was one of the most life threateningly dull viewing experiences in recent memory. Tone-wise this season is desperately aiming for “Mad Men in space.” The thing is that for dry dialogue-driven dramas to be in any way compelling the characters need to engage the audience on an emotional level. The characterization and scripting here have all the emotional impact of staring at blank wallpaper. Whilst none of the performances are awful this is more because the season has the feel of a purely functional dramatization of these events. This leads to a very similar aesthetic with the performances from top to bottom. Only the three main astronauts (Patrick J Adams Jake McDorman and Colin O’Donoghue)and this comes across as more to prove the showrunner has seen Apollo 13. There’s a potentially interesting subplot about setting up an equivalent female space programme. However, the female characters and performances spend 80% of their time underutilised. They only have relevance with their male partners it’s no surprise this element is incredibly underdeveloped. The production has the feel of a contemporary remake done purely for the sake of it rather than an opportunity to update an important story for a new generation. The 2020 TV remake of The Right Stuff is the perfect example of what can be referred to as “the boring kind of bad .”It’s aggressively competent but in no way does this mean it’s emotionally engaging from a viewing perspective. The exact opposite is true. It’s one of the most painfully mediocre viewing experience is possible in 2020. It’s very easy to see why something this bland was sold off to streaming. Space drama obsessives all those desperate for another Mad man clone might get something out of it. That said this season is best avoided. 4/10
With his last two films, David Ayer cemented himself as one of these critics least favourite filmmakers currently working in Hollywood. The aesthetic choices in both Suicide Squad and Bright give off the impression that Ayers main interest in the production of those films was pandering to what a 13-year-old edgelord might think looks “cool.” Before he inflicts Bright 2 on an unsuspecting Netflix viewership he has made this gangster flick that easily wins the award for most boring title of 2020. The plot sees Bobby Soto and Shia LaBeouf play two criminal enforces who go around collecting debts owed by various gangs on the streets of LA. Is the film as bad as the title and Ayers last two features suggest? Yes and no. The film desperately wants to maintain a “hard” exterior in its depiction of LA gang culture. Once again it falls victim to Ayers insistence that everything needs to be played through the lens of a teenager’s idealised view of “edge”. His screenplay comes across as if it was written by someone who watched a lot of gangster films they perceived to be “edgy” whilst simultaneously getting angry that they need to hand their work in on time. The film embarrassingly attempts to maintain this tone throughout. If viewers have seen any street-level gangster film in the last 30 years everything The Tax Collector offers will come across as screamingly one note. Ayers previous two films had moments that were prime fodder for so bad it’s instantly memorable watch parties. This effort will slide off their brain the moment the credits roll. The performances certainly don’t do anything to help. The two leads are stranded with some of the dullest material ever seen in this genre and struggle to elevate it. The entire production has the feel of a cast and creative team going through the motions. They know films like this have a target audience they can very easily market the final product towards. Films this generic could very well have an audience but there’s also much better available in this exact tone and style (especially in the age of streaming .) The Tax Collector is arguably just as embarrassingly edgelord as David Ayres previous two films. Unlike both Suicide Squad and Bright, there are no mimetically memorable moments that make the film somewhat enjoyable for ironic viewers. His latest effort feels as if it was written by a computer algorithm that watched every gangster film perceived to be “hardcore” and then spat out its findings in the form of a screenplay. This level of insane genericness is reflected at all levels of this production. Gangster film completions might get something out of it but everyone else should avoid at all costs. 3/10
Occasionally a film starts building up infamy in critical circles from the second it is released. Initially, Ron Howard’s latest project for Netflix looked like it was gunning for a major award season slot. Then critics started seeing it in earnest. The news that it was a potentially embarrassing disaster came down the pipeline. This was one of the films Netflix was giving that traditional two-week theatrical window to open cinemas.it was one of the ones that this critic might have gone and seen theatrically under normal non-pandemic circumstances. When the reviews started to come in he was glad this wasn’t the case. Nevertheless, when the film hit Netflix last week there was still a level of morbid curiosity surrounding it. It couldn’t be that bad right? For roughly the first 20 minutes the films greatest crime is simply being dull. It’s structured as your very basic family melodrama taking place across multiple timelines. Central character JD Vance (Gabriel Basso)on whose memoir the film is based forms the narrative glue holding everything together. The opening section painting Vance as something of a blank slate. It’s not until Vance gets a call from his sister informing him that his heroin addict mother (Amy Adams)is in the hospital that the main narrative starts in earnest. From this point forward the film dramatises the interpersonal melodrama of this family across three generations and two timelines. This is where the embarrassing material starts. The film is so clearly wanting to carve out a niche for itself as prime Oscar bait but it’s so embarrassingly misjudged fat it more likely belongs with other recent WTF Hollywood films. These include Cats, The Book of Henry and Collateral Beauty. it reduces deadly serious subject matter (addiction, loss, drug and physical abuse among others)to characters screaming at each other. The screenplays attempt to say anything about the topics covered is drowned out by the fact that performances can go from 0 to 100 on the massively overacted scale in a matter of seconds. Everything is played at a level where certain lines do come across as unintentionally hilarious. The film may have an unexpected second life ahead of it as a prime folder for entertainingly terrible disasters. For as embarrassingly misjudged as it is it’s not a film any viewer is likely to forget after watching most likely for all the wrong reasons. It’s no great pleasure to report that most of the prime overacting come from Adams. One of the best actresses working today is reduced to a performance so dangerously tone-deaf it could be actively harmful to viewers looking for serious take some discussion on the difficult subject matter. Close is marginally better but this is mainly because the script reduces her role down to a purely reactionary level based on the characters around her. Saying this performance is better than Adams is like saying one variety of animal manure is slightly less pungent than another variety. Everyone involved with this embarrassing train wreck should be ashamed of themselves. The thought that struck this critic upon finishing the film was that it represented a potential scenario where a brain dead HBO executive got to make a massively overwrought This Is Us clone. The level of potentially career-damaging embarrassment here makes Dan Fogelman’s attempt to replicate the This Is Us formula for the big screen with life itself look vaguely tolerable by comparison. For as manipulative as This Is Us can be at times. That said at its best it uses a very similar structure and the to craft emotionally compelling characters and storylines. This is delivered by one of the strongest ensemble casts on current TV. Episodes like Memphis, Superbowl Sunday and The Cabin are some of the best TV of in recent years. Hillbilly Elegy attempts to attain a similar level of emotional impact. It’s so misjudged in its attempt at this that things wind up firmly speeding off in the other direction. It makes the worst moments in any season of This Is Us look like genre-defining masterpieces by comparison. Hillbilly Elegy is one of the most embarrassing failures in recent film. Everyone involved was gunning for a slice of prime Oscar bait. Given the final product, the film is more likely to end up a fixture of the 2021 Razzie nominations. It’s attempting to tackle deadly serious themes with the subtlety of a hammer to the face. There is a certain level of morbid fascination throughout but also the sense fat the film is misjudged to the point of being potentially dangerous. Amy Adams gives not only the worst performance of her career but one any actress worth her salt would have been embarrassed to say they delivered. The film could well wind up a fixture on a list of embarrassing Hollywood failures for decades to come. Unless viewers get a kick out of watching production’s so bad they border on embarrassing avoid at all costs. 1/10
At this point, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are so well established in the field of British comedy. They could do anything and it would have an audience. This is despite most of the work they’ve done outside of collaborating with Edgar Wright ranging from mediocre to embarrassing. No audience should have to sit through Slaughterhouse Rules. Now they have teamed up with Amazon and British director Jim Field Smith for their first major step into streaming TV with this eight episodes supernatural comedy, The premise is simple. Frost plays supernatural obsessed broadband installer, Gus who moonlights as a paranormal investigator by night. He brings on a recruit (Samson Kayo )and the season is essentially eight half hours of then going on a series of serialised investigations. These eventually form the season plot. The supporting cast includes a few recognisable faces including Malcolm McDowell, Julian Barratt and Kelly MacDonald.How is the season? It’s a very strange affair. Admittedly it is bad as it could be. The tone the series is aiming for lends itself to crude toilet humour and lame jump scares. Whilst there is some of both throughout the eight episodes it quickly becomes clear that the creative team here was aiming for some level of legitimacy as a slice of modern comedy horror. There’s some solid atmosphere in the direction from Field Smith but it’s very often undercut by the insistence on shoving in and unfunny gag. The sense of humour might be not as sophomoric as it could have been but that doesn’t mean the script is particularly funny. The season coasts by on some solid central performances but offers nothing that audiences won’t have seen in any number of British R rated comedies. There’s also the somewhat bizarre choice to only give Simon Pegg a very small supporting role. This might be more effective if he interacted with any of the leads regularly but he spends most of the season behind a desk. They are good ideas and effective moments throughout but they are very often undercut by a series of strange choices that nullifies the season’s potential effectiveness. Surprisingly the seasons biggest overall positive might be its structure. This could easily have been a simple episodic investigation show but its commitment towards weaving the individual investigations in with a more serialised narrative starts to pay dividends in the latter half of the season. The performances certainly help matters. Frost is it always very watchable even with mediocre material and there’s nothing to disprove that here. Samson Kayo is surprisingly excellent not only in playing off Frosts character but being up to the task of carrying the narrative lynchpin for the final two episodes. Julian Barrett is having a blast as the eventual villain having just the right amount of menace. The only real negative on the central performance front comes from Malcolm McDowell who is fine as Frosts grumpy dad but gets nothing major to do throughout the runtime. It feels as if he is here simply because the creators wanted a relatively big name for this role. This is the sort of decision that holds back a promising but severely flawed series from progressing any further up the quality scale Truth Seekers is not as bad as it might have been. That being said for every effective moment or solid choice there’s an equal one that balances this out in a negative way. It’s far from the worst streaming series around but the bones of a potentially much better show are scattered throughout. It will make viewers wish the creators had capitalised on this potential promise. As with Amazons recently cancelled Utopia remake this is far from the worst show in the world but this critic remains very neutral on its potential future and would be happy enough with either a renewal or cancellation. 6/10
In 2011 Director Gavin O’Connor made the MMA drama Warrior starring Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton and Nick Nolte. Nolte received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor and it was one of the best films of that year. It was also the kind of project showcasing the fact O’Connor was a very capable filmmaker and potentially had several great films ahead of him. That’s not the way things have panned out. He followed that success up with Ben Affleck assassin thriller The Accountant. This was a film as memorable as its title suggests. Its only memorable element was one of the worst examples of light strobing effects ever used on film (it’s even a plot point within the narrative.)Epileptic viewers should avoid at all costs. O’Connor has teamed with Affleck again for his latest feature. Affleck plays alcoholic former basketball star Jack Cunningham who is asked to go back and adopt a coaching position for the high school team with which he saw a huge amount of success. Is O’Connor able to recapture the success of Warrior? Not really but this certainly isn’t for lack of trying. This is very much a “misery porn” film with a sports backdrop. In the rare cases where this style narrative works effectively (Ken Loach’s I Daniel Blake Kenneth Lonagens Manchester By The Sea come to mind) the direction, performances and screenplay come together and enable the central narrative of the narrative to be sold effectively. Finding The Way Back has one of those three elements covered. Affleck’s central performance is excellent and enables viewers to buy into the central characters very downbeat attitude and reliance on alcohol to get from one day to the next. The problem is that the film sticks in this mould from five minutes in until the credits roll. The direction and screenplay don’t offer anything not seen in these kinds of redemption narratives. This is unless viewers count O’Connor’s aesthetic choice to play everything as downbeat as humanly possible (even when the central team Affleck is coaching starts to see some success.) That’s one interesting thematic idea showcasing Afflecks very direct and foul-mouthed coaching style contradicts with the values of the Christian School he’s employed at but this isn’t explored beyond the level one might see in the latest Pureflix release. The basketball side of the narrative is incredibly straight forward. Steve James already made the definitive American high school basketball film 25 years ago with his monolithic documentary Hoop Dreams (now available in its 25th anniversary UK Blu Ray restoration.)Beyond Affleck’s excellent central performance the film offers nothing knew within the pantheon of sports and basketball-related media. It’s so obsessed with seeling the earnestness within its narrative that it forgets to emotionally engage the audience. Finding The Way back may be worth it for some viewers due to Ben Affleck’s excellent work in the lead role. That said it offers nothing new in the various styles it tries to blend. It also fails to sell the viewer on why audiences should buy into the very earnest award friendly approach taken by the filmmakers. It’s far from awful but not the kind of film any viewer should be seeking out unless they love sports films or Ben Affleck. 5.5/10.
How much can you expect a potential audience for something to have seen a very recent incredibly acclaimed very similar piece of content. (in this case a TV mini-series. )This was the question this critic was faced with after watching One Man and His Shoes. This feature documentary focuses in large part on the impact of Michael Jordan as a sportsman and marketing figure within American culture. As viewers might expect a lot of the brief 80-minute runtime is dedicated to discussing the initial launch and impact of Air Jordans. This might set off thoughts in certain potential viewers heads .”Didn’t The Last Dance already cover this? Yes, it did. The two pieces devote similar running time to Jordan’s marketing promise (although the mini-series puts it in the context of a much larger narrative.) One Man and His Shoes might not fall into being as much of a hagiography but if viewers have seen The Last Dance the roughly 50 minutes of the running time will be nothing new to them. The film is solid enough in its own right and might be a good alternative if watchers were interested in the subject matter but did not want to see it documented as part of an 8 1/2 hour10 episode series. The film even has some of the same interviews that can also be seen interviewed separately in its bigger brother. The film does eventually differentiate itself. The final 25 minutes cover the impact of Air Jordans as a status symbol with a focus on the impact among the poorest American neighbourhoods. The film doesn’t hesitate to highlight the stories of victims who have been murdered exclusively for the shoes on their feet. This is material The Last Dance would not touch. There would be too many stakeholders in getting the series to air even if the filmmakers did want to spend extended periods on the darker side of Michael Jordan’s legacy. A much smaller scale documentary such as One Man and His Shoes can shine a spotlight on this material even if the marketing/corporate side of the documentary has been covered elsewhere. The final 25 minutes are an emotional gut punch and make the film worth seeing regardless of individual feelings on Michael Jordan or The Last Dance as a whole. For 75% of its running time, One Man and His Shoes is a solid enough documentary in its own right but can’t escape the shadow of its much bigger brother The Last Dance. The story of how air jordans came to be is still a very engaging one regardless off which documentary is telling it. The final third focusing on the literal murderous impact of the Air Jordan brand makes the film worth seeing. This separates it from simply being another corporate advertisement . that said if watchers see this documentary and enjoy it the immediate next step would be to point them in the direction of Netflix/ESPN and suggest a watch of The Last Dance is in order. 7/10
This piece contains spoilers for The Mandalorian 2.03. Precede at readers own risk.
Released on Disney + last week in the company’s continuing attempts to keep the Star Wars franchise taking over between theatrical movie trilogies here’s another LEGO effort. Ray uses a time portal key to hop around various films and events from the Star Wars universe. The special also acts as something of a tribute to the infamy of the original Holiday Special. Those fans that want to can debate if Life Day is now canon considering it’s one of the narrative groundings for this new product released in 2020. There’s not a great deal to say about the special itself. If viewers have seen a piece of Lego visual media rendered in the Traveller’s Tales style they have has a good idea what to expect. The use of the portal as an excuse to have a comedic greatest hits of the Star Wars franchise is mostly good fun. That said much as this is far from the worst piece of Star Wars media released in the last 18 months when the Rise of Skywalker exists there were three main thoughts this critic had when watching the special.
Attempting to ground the narrative in characters from the sequel trilogy showcases just how bland and underdeveloped they are. This isn’t the fault of the animators making the special or any of the cast in the live-action films. There’s a level of cold corporate assumption from Disney and the people that put the special together that audiences will care purely because it’s Star Wars. Regardless of the fandom being one of the most toxic around the Rise of Skywalker showed that certain audiences correctly will refuse a product when it’s fed to thems.
The next claim may seem somewhat bold. Disney may not understand why The Mandalorian (especially at its best) is so good. It’s one of the few bits of Star Wars visual media to have its own distinct brand identity. It’s got a certain level of the expected fanservice but also strong core strengths that enable it to be enjoyed by a much wider audience. The reveal of Bo-Katan in episode 2.03 is the perfect example of this. It works for the fans invested in all elements of the universe. It’s also effective within the context of the narrative and moves the episode forward. For a viewer whose knowledge of the character is that Katie Sackhoff was reprising her animated role in live-action.
The new holiday special puts focus on dialogue-driven gags. As a stylistic choice, this is fine. It does feel like something of a betrayal for the original Traveller’s Tales style. The special probably would have worked better as a slapstick based 22-minute affair as opposed to a narrative effort at double the length.
Regardless of these thoughts, the new special is perfectly fine. It will keep fans engaged for 46 minutes as they wait for the weekly Mandalorian fix. This critic may not be a massive fan of the overall Star Wars franchise. That said if streaming enables the higher-ups at Disney to produce more distinctive Star Wars content like the Mandalorian he can very easily get on board (as he has done with the latter show.)
This piece spoils the cliffhanger ending for Emily in Paris Season 1 (not that readers should care.)
If readers have been on social media and any point since the first season’s release on October 2nd they likely have seen something related to Emily in Paris. A certain stripe of female viewers lusting after the shows hunky male leads. Commenting on central character Emily (Lily Collins)fashion choices. Yerning over the shows in-universe Instagram account. Any viewer that looks for anything beyond the materialistic in their entertainment complaining about the show being abysmal whilst they hate-watch. As a critic, you have to give everything a fair chance. That said 15 minutes into the pilot this viewer had a good idea of exactly what horrors he was in for over the next nine episodes .the fact it comes from Sex And The City creator Darren Star and is not intended for an audience of 26-year-old, male freelance Bloggers is not a point against it. Netflix has some good to great originals that have a broader appeal beyond a clear target audience. GLOW, Dead To Me and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (rough around the edges but better than you might think.) come to mind. These shows are all ending in favour of more algorithm friendly dreck that Emily in Paris is the absolute nadir of. Granted my only extended knowledge of Sex And The City before starting the creator’s newest effort is Mark Kermode’s hilarious review of the second feature film (one of the last great reviews of Kermode’s Golden age.)
Anything said by Kermode in what is one of the best bits of film criticism ever put to video/audio could be applied to Emily in Paris. It’s a nasty, stereotypical, embarrassingly out of touch assault on the eyeballs. There’s not even have any particularly mimetically memorable bad moments. Say what you will about other Netflix embarrassments like the Scott Buck Marvel shows or Jaden Smith vanity project Neo Yokio. The “ice cream” scene from the first season of the latter is much more memorable than anything this ten-episode blight on the golden age of television has to offer. The original version of this scene does not have the gross looking filter over half of it or the pitched up audio but it is the only complete copy available on YouTube.
The same goes for Jaden Smiths embarrassing stab at western anime. Critically though neither of these projects shows outright contempt for the audience. Scott Buck and Jaden Smith may be two of the worst creative minds to ever be given the reigns of a streaming show. That said there work gives off the impression they believe in the story they are telling. Emily in Paris doesn’t have a shade of this in its “creative” DNA. Slogging through this season conjures nothing more than a boardroom of algorithm hungry Netflix executives. They know this show will hit several demographics very effectively. multiple season contracts for the stars will be drawn up as they bring the axe down on some much better shows. These may have equal or greater appeal to a core audience who only chooses to invest in shallow turn your brain off the TV if the cost /locations are conventionally attractive enough for their liking. The season ends on the shallow cliffhanger of “which man is she going to choose” because of course, it does. At a minimum, the core audience that watches this trash unironically and wouldn’t know what even mediocre TV looks like if it slapped them in the face will be back. Emily in Paris is one of the worst streaming shows a viewer could have the misfortune to subject themselves to. Unlike other infamous examples that have gone down during the streaming era, this feels entirely cynical in its construction from top to bottom. Five hours designed to hit the widest number of demographics humanly possible both positive and negative. There’s no care for what these individual audiences might think as long as they keep the shows social media and watch time analytics looking good. It has unfortunately been renewed for another season. Well, it would be nice to think that the Netflix viewing public would wise up and refuse this pile of concentrated garbage. Being realistic this seems unlikely. The show has made big enough splash in a relatively short amount of time. Unless the second season completely tanks viewership from unironic watches Darren Star and his team will be able to unleash their assault on the Netflix algorithms for as long as they want. It’s just disappointing that the success of this blemish on the streaming landscape means better shows will fall by the sword.
HBO’s Lovecraft Country arrived on the genre TV scene to massive acclaim. This was based on an opening episode that is not only one of the best of this year but recalls the heights of the best HBO seasons of recent memory (the opening episodes of Westworld and The Night Of.) It combined elements of creature-based spectacle-driven monster movies, high fantasy, social horror and commentary on the black experience in Jim Crow America. All this ambition was complemented with fantastic lead performances from Jonathan Majors and Jurnee. Smollett. It left this critic with incredibly high hopes for the rest of the season. Then the regular episode started. It quickly became clear this show was going to attempt to genre hop every single week. Episodes were focusing on haunted houses. An Indiana Jones-style adventure. 2001 like world-hopping time travel. The origins of Jamie Chung playing a sex-based tentacle leviathan. Playing out the Back To The Future scenario against the backdrop of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. This season is one of the most ambitious in recent memory. The central cast is very game for the wild diversions and the addition of Michael Kenneth Williams to the main trio and a strong supporting cast round things out nicely. As with any piece of media that treats the concept of style as so variable viewers mileage may vary on the effectiveness of each pivot. For this critic episodes, 1,3,4,6 and 8 were terrific and handled what they were tackling with aplomb. At best the rest are solid distraction nowhere near the standards of the best episodes. At worst episodes are a massive disappointment considering the heights this show reaches. On top of all the experimentation, this season also attempts a serialised plot. This is the material that suffers most from the showrunners insistence on tackling new styles with every episode. For a show that has huge thematic ambition, the season plot is nothing more than a very basic fetch quest and defeat the villain arc. Stylistic and genre experimentation works best in sitcoms (the first three seasons of Community are the absolute best this critic has seen)that don’t have to concern themselves with any sense of overarching narrative. Lovecraft Country is a good example of what can happen when prestige drama tries to adopt something similar and everything gets overtaken by ambition. The high points of Lovecraft Country as a season nudge the overall package into a tentative recommendation. A strong cast delivering excellent performances across the board certainly helps. That said this season is a textbook example of “you were so preoccupied with whether you could you didn’t stop to think if you should” in the context of TV show running. some of the wild stylistic shifts work brilliantly. Others have the feel of employing experimentation purely for the sake of it. Even if this season has some of the best TV of 2020 within it. That said as an overall effort (much as this review is about to give it a positive rating)it was nowhere near what it should have been. HBO has not announced if the series is renewed for a Season 2 at the time of this writing. A second season would be worth a chance but this watcher is somewhat ambivalent on it and would be happy enough with the fate of the series going either way. 7/10
The Greatest Showman was one of the most bizarre pop culture phenomena in recent memory. During its initial theatrical run, it was bait for everyone and their mother to do think pieces on what the films enduring popularity means. This was for both the theatrical community and those more concerned with what it’s successfulness would mean for those commissioning films in the future. This critic considers Jingle Jangle Showman’s first brazen rip off. Released as one of Netflix’s Christmas offerings for 2020 it’s a very well worn tail focusing on awesomely named inventor Jeronicas Jangle. (Forest Whitaker ) The central character gets all his inventions stolen by Keegan Michael Key and Ricky Martin ( the Living La Vida Loca one)whose shop then falls into disrepair. Jeronicas and his granddaughter (newcomer Madison Mills) set out to restore the shop to its former glory. The film has won a surprising amount of acclaim and when looking at certain elements it’s not hard to see why. The production and costume design are gorgeous and do their absolute best to bring a sense of Christmas magic to what is often a rather cynical feeling production. Some superb stop motion interludes fit the tone and style of the film perfectly. It’s great to see such an underrepresented art form getting some time to shine. Keegan Michael Key is having an absolute blast as the villain and his song is charitably the only one worth remembering. Much there is stuff to love here the naked calculation in a lot of the other elements always shine through. Within the opening three minutes, it becomes obvious just how desperate the film is to attract some of The Greatest Showman’s success. This comes through in several different ways. The incredibly overcompressed and processed sound of the songs from a musical production perspective. Bright and flashy lighting design. Very theatrical blocking and dance routines. The music always going for theatrical bombast instead of any memorable hook or lyrics. All of the core elements that make up The Greatest Showman from a style perspective are present and correct. at pretty much. The filmmakers know that this very specific style of overly theatrical presentation has a distinct audience that was already carved out by Hugh Jackman and friends, .based on reactions from critics and audiences it looks like the film is landing well with them. A film can be made for a specific audience and still be great on its terms. Regardless of whether or not it lands with that group if it possesses the same core strengths and weaknesses as other material targeted at these viewers it should still be called out on some level. Whatever piece of media can have some notable strengths not present in its very clear inspiration. This is Jingle Jangle in a nutshell. It has an audience that will love it but those not firmly indoctrinated with its very specific style may find it hard to get invested in. Jingle Jangle is the sort of film that will cater to a very specific side of the theatrical and movie musical fandom. Specifically, the bombastic spectacle focused efforts popularised in recent years by The Greatest Showman. The film does have some elements outside of its very obvious influences that do separate it and offer something Showman cannot provide but to get the most out of the film a viewer will have to be very much on board with the inherent positives and negative qualities of its stylistic choices. Well, critics can point out the inherent flaws in these choices it doesn’t matter as long as the intended audience gets on board. From the films social media reactions and placement in the UK Netflix top ten since the release last week this appears to be the case. If the film sounds like something individuals would enjoy they might find something worthwhile. Those that aren’t into overly bombastic spectacle-driven musicals can re-watch Klaus or wait for The Christmas chronicles Part Two if they’re desperate for a new Netflix Original Christmas movie. 5.5./10
Mike Flanagan’s take on The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best individual seasons of the streaming era regardless of platform. The ending wasn’t everything it should have been but the journey combined emotionally impactful interpersonal drama, superbly atmospheric direction and several breakout performances from the large ensemble cast. Thankfully the season was a big hit with critics and audience so now comes the follow up that conceptually (although critically not tonally)is d is probably most comparable to the relationship various seasons of American Horror Story have with each other. There is some returning cost (Victoria Pedrotti and Oliver Jackson Cohen) similar thematic ideas and structure but this can be watched regardless of whether the viewer has seen Hill House beforehand. Even with Flanigan not directing in full this time around expectations (from this critics perspective )was still incredibly high. What did this follow up to one of the best TV seasons in recent memory deliver? The best way to describe how this critic feels about Bly Mannor is to say that it’s a sequel to something that established a strong core foundation with the original outing. This is mostly kept intact for the second effort. The direction it’s still incredibly atmospheric, characters solidly defined and narrative mostly engaging throughout. There isn’t a great deal to complain about beyond saying that it fails to hit the insane high points of its predecessor. This is mainly due to the interpersonal drama not being as emotionally impactful and engrossing this time around. Several episodes spend most of their time focusing on a single character with a certain amount of overlap in the main narrative but the running time is not used as economically and effectively within the sequel to establish an overall tapestry centred around the main narrative (something Hill House did brilliantly.) The performances from newcomers and returning cast are solid throughout but this is something of a step down from the first season who’s ensemble cast had several award-worthy performances. The one element notably improved upon with the sequel is the ending with the final episode largely serving as an extended epilogue for two characters. This feels more tonally consistent with the episodes that came beforehand. However, the fact this season isn’t nearly as emotionally engrossing as Hill House means that well the sequels ending might be more effective on its terms the journey to get there was substantially superior in the original article. In a world where Emily in Paris is a big Netflix hit (article on that coming sooner rather than later) on one level, it should be appreciated that Bly Manor it’s a solid follow up to Hill House. That said this franchise already proved with the initial entry that is his capable of so much more than solid. Weather future seasons will entirely live in the shadow of Hill House remains to be seen but based on this follow up the effort it may well be the case. There is also the distinct possibility that feature entries could match the brilliance of Hill House. Critics and fans will just have to wait and see. 7/10
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the theatrical release schedule has essentially evaporated for 2020. Certain films have taken the plunge in either adopting a Premium Video on Demand release strategy or being sold as a with subscription streaming exclusive for a particular platform. One of the highest-profile examples in the latter category is Tom Hanks World War Two submarine thriller Greyhound. The film was purchased for around $70 million by Apple and shoved on Apple TV + which continues to be an almost completely bereft platform. Even if a potential viewer for other streaming services wanted to focus exclusively on new releases from Netflix and Amazon this would give them more than enough new content to watch and potentially review /discuss. There is no need to invest in other streaming services unless you are is a particular fan of a certain brand (looking at you Disney.) For this critic his film of the year Cartoon Saloons WolfWalkers debuts on Tom Hanks December 11th and he figured it was worth investing in the streaming service until that film has its streaming debut. The only other major film of interest not already seen by this critic (after also seeing On The Rocks theatrically) was Greyhound. Having watched the film on the service it is the poster child for the benefits and drawbacks of releasing films as a with subscription streaming exclusive. It’s doubtful that a film like Greyhound would have done well theatrically. Its nothing more than 85 minutes (excluding credits) of Tom Hanks delivering orders to the crew of the titular submarine. It’s the kind of product built exclusively to appeal to dads and viewers who find appeal in this genre of war film. It’s easy to see why Sony did not have a great deal of faith in it. That said for as underdeveloped and bare-bones as the film feels beyond the core premise its best element is some superb sound design. That’s an incredibly immersive quality to the mix giving the audience the feeling that they are a fly on the wall with Tom Hanks and crew. It was designed with the biggest screen and most elaborate Dolby Atmos surround sound in mind. the unfortunate thing is the majority of viewers won’t be watching the film under those conditions. This critic was watching on a nice 40 inch 4K TV and a good quality pair of headphones but as the sounds of war raged within the sound mix there was always the burning question of if this viewer would treat the film more favourably if he was seeing it theatrically. Greyhound represents the perfect example of the positives and negatives of bypassing theatrical release and releasing your film as a streaming exclusive. Releasing a movie this way will potentially increase access and viewership. Alternatively, when mastering a film for the full cinema experience there will be a certain level of variation in the presentation but not nearly to the extent, there is with an audience watching from home. Much as they might want to the filmmakers behind individual offerings can’t decide weather potential viewer will want to watch on their phone, tablet, smart TV or full home theatre. A reduction in screen size we will decidedly reduce the impact of the product being viewed (especially if it was designed for the biggest screen and best sound system possible.) With a few exceptions, the films made in the traditional studio system and then sold to streaming are the ones the studio may not have had a great deal of faith in, to begin with. Much as it does have some merit and the star power of Tom Hanks Greyhound is a perfect example of this. Once the credits roll it’s the type of film that will not stick in viewers brains for very long.
This author is a huge fan of the Edinburgh Film Festival. He has attended multiple Pixar screenings and as well as other events down the years enter the always enjoyed himself Knowing that the event was coming back in 2020 with a partially in-person programme This author was keen. to take part. Unfortunately, he did not end up attending. Pig was one of the films on the programme he had been looking forward to. Good buzz has been building out of the US for the past several months. With it playing on the big screen two days after its UK premiere it made the most sense to simply see it when available at a local centre. So on the Friday of release, the film became that week high priority theatrical watch. The question is how was it? Incredible. The ultimate example of how to elevate a potential meme premise into something truly special. Nicolas Cage plays a remote truffle hunter who travels to the big city with Alex Wolff to retrieve his prize pig. What could have been a willies Wonderland ask one-joke idea instead transforms. It becomes a wonderfully empathetic look at grief, fame love and the value of true emotional connection. All Well holding on to a certain level of populism in its discussion of these ideas. This will hopefully make the 90 minutes resonate with audiences beyond those drawn in by the acclaim on the art house circuit. All of this is toplined by a wonderful central performance from Nicolas Cage. It’s not a turn that is entirely unrecognisable given Cages is very distinctive vocal delivery. That said the amount of raw emotion distilled through every scene gives Cage’s work a quiet power that dozens of films reliant on star power alone simply don’t possess. It’s a performance worthy of major road recognition. Unfortunately given the timing and release date it’s highly unlikely to get any. Pig is a wonderfully meditative experience. The experience is so much more than what it might look like on the surface. Critically it is also Universal in its ideas and themes. It has the potential to break out beyond the typical audience for mid-tier modern American independent movies. Whether it does this in the long term remains to be seen. It most certainly deserves to. 10/10.