Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans (2019)

I had weird expectations for this. I loved the original TV series and was thoroughly underwhelmed by the reboot. So whether I liked it or not, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Basically, I went in hoping for greatness, but willing to be let down. So how was it? Actually, it was really funny, it got some of the loudest laughs I’ve heard in a cinema in a long time. I think that might be because it was a kids film so people feel less guilty about openly laughing, some people don’t laugh loudly during adult comedies because laughter is for kids. I don’t agree with this, but it is something people do. Even at the funniest comedies, you’ll have people who react to jokes with inward laughing. There are no such qualms with this, it almost encourages you to audibly react. Not all the jokes land though, and the ones that don’t are generally the ones aimed towards a younger audience.

It’s this audience aiming which is the biggest failing of the movie. That, and doing what the TV series did. Anyone who watched the TV series loves the songs, they were often the highlight of the episode and some of them were genuinely great songs. Trouble is that doesn’t really transition well to a feature-length movie. In a sketch show-like format, you can take 3 minutes of music and just put it there, it doesn’t break up the flow or destroy the rhythm. But you can’t do that in a feature-length film with a narrative. It tends to be a signal to “stop the plot, we’re doing a song now”. There are 4 songs in this film, and at the very least one of them should have been cut. The Nero song goes on too long and completely disrupts the narrative. The one at the end is okay because it comes at the end, and kind of works but isn’t necessary. The first one you hear is the Boudicca song, I think this one is needed because it’s a great reference to the original series, also if you hire Kate Nash you probably should have her sing at some point. I’m not saying cut the songs completely, the reason for that comes in the song about The Battle Of Watling Street. You need other songs in the film otherwise that one stick out as an oddity too much. And this film NEEDS this song. It’s everything the songs in here should be; funny, catchy, and informative. Crucially, it advances the narrative. It doesn’t have a big enough budget to do a full-scale battle, so to showcase that through the medium of a rap battle is genius. If the rest of the songs were like it I wouldn’t have minded so much, but I’m willing to put up with Nero if I got this. Also, it has the line “I’ve got 99 problems but the Brits ain’t one”, which I can’t imagine many kids understood as a reference.

There are a few moments like that, things which kids won’t get, but crucially are subtle enough that kids won’t know they didn’t get them. The references aren’t staring you in the face and obvious. Two examples; the first one is where the Romans try to find out which Celt farted (sounds immature, but it works in the context of the film) and someone shouts out “I’m Fartacus”, this then catches on and everybody says it, until you get “I’m Fartacus, and so’s my wife”, in case there was any doubt this was a deliberate Monty Python reference, soon afterwards you have someone talk about the correct grammar of “Romans go home”. The second one is much more subtle, and BRILLIANT; casting Derek Jacobi as Claudius. Derek Jacobi’s most famous role; the title role in I, Claudius. That’s a fantastic piece of casting, yet one which the target audience won’t fully understand, yet also won’t be sitting there puzzled. They’ll just see a guy playing Claudius, whilst the parents will understand.

So should you see this? I’d kind of say yes but not full price, and don’t expect your life to be changed. Go in expecting fun, and you won’t be disappointed. An incredibly funny film with a great cast, also it’s definitely the only kids film to make a #metoo reference, I just wish it had the original cast in it somewhere.

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Beautiful Boy (2018)

Okay so the last two films I’ve seen, well they have not been the best. Actually, it’s not been a great last month or so really; I Love My Mum, Bright Burn, Songbird, Dark Phoenix, it’s been a bad run. With a few notable exceptions (Spider-man, Toy Story) I couldn’t be blamed if I was slightly losing my enthusiasm for film. The last film I really enjoyed that wasn’t part of a franchise/reboot was Late Night. I’ve been crying out for something unique and good. Okay, this is based on a book so isn’t technically original, but it is very very good. Incredibly emotive and stylish. It’s a story about a teens addiction, and his family’s reaction to it, particularly his dad. This is not just a story about addiction, but also about family love. Their relationship is integral to the plot, and you completely buy into it. The big problem with it is how distracting it is to have Amy Ryan and Steve Carell reunited on screen and have it be so serious, they were a great comedic couple on The Office, so it’s weird to see them together and have it be so serious. Other than that weirdness, the cast is pretty solid. Carell is so good at being serious that at this point it no longer comes as a surprise. His chemistry with Timothee Chalamet is electric, you genuinely feel like they care for each other. It’s also great to see Jack Dylan Grazer in more stuff, he’ll have the lead in a sitcom at some point, I guarantee it.

It’s also a great-looking film. Don’t get me wrong, there are no shots here which you’ll frame and hang on your wall, but for Van Groeningen’s English-language debut he really shows what he can do, using his shots to tell a story, framing characters in such a way that just by a single shot you can see character relationships. There’s a stark brutality to some of the shots

I’m not saying this is the perfect film, but it doesn’t have any major negatives to it. It’s almost two hours and does kind of feel it. Also, there are moments where it seems to make certain insinuations about what caused the addiction. I don’t think some of them are deliberate, but someone with a knowledge of film language won’t fail to see the (possibly unintentional but still uncomfortable) implications.

But that aside, it’s still definitely worth your watch. I’m trying to think of one word to describe it and all I can come up with is; beautiful. It has a timeless quality and feels like a film that’s always existed, highly recommended.

Songbird (2018)

Occasionally there are some films released that for whatever reason I don’t end up seeing at the cinema. I try to make a list of the ones I’ve missed and watch them, but there are some I have sadly still not managed to watch (Anna And The Apocalypse, Ingrid Goes West, and Tragedy Girls are three films I’m still really disappointed in myself for not catching yet). It can be harder to grab my attention when I watch at home due to more distraction, yet there are some which have ended up being some of my favourite films (The Last Word and The Young Offenders being the best examples). And sometimes there’s a reason I didn’t see at the cinema, and that reason is the film is pretty terrible, incredibly boring with nothing resembling a plot, and featuring actors who I usually like yet when they share a screen have less chemistry than a science experiment which consists of throwing mud at a chicken (conclusion; it annoys the chicken). This is one of those. I really wanted to like this film. I want Cobie Smulders to be in great films, yet with the exception of MCU films the only time I’ve seen her in a film I’ve enjoyed it’s turned out to not be her but Gemma Arterton.

I also usually love Jessica Hynes, she’s usually really great in things. Plus, Mandeep Dhillon has been in so many brilliant-yet-unknown TV shows (seriously, check out Some Girls if you haven’t already). Plus it’s a film about a musician, how can I not love this? The last British film about a struggling musician I watched was Wild Rose, and that movie was emotional to the point of sheer brilliance at times.

Well, one issue is the music. It’s established she’s a musician who was in a band that had a massive hit in the 90’s and is now reduced to tiny pubs. That doesn’t affect the plot much, like there’s nothing really that happens that could only happen to someone with that background. There are not many moments where people recognise her (which would have led to some great comedic scenes) or (and this is the biggest wasted opportunity), press intrusion on her private life. The film is ostensibly about her band breaking up and so she decides to go to university to study marine biology, I think. I mean, that’s what happens are the start of the film and seems to be the inciting incident, but it never incites anything. We never see her in classes, or studying, or meeting large groups of new people. We see her meet her dorm mates, but that just leads to more story dawdling. Apparently, this film was highly improvised, and it shows, there’s zero focus to the scenes, the scenes happen yet nothing happens in them. They’re just people filling time with dialogue. This means that a lot of moments feel false, particularly the main romantic relationship. It never feels real and they never seem to feel fully comfortable with each other.

This would be fine if it was a great example of an art-house film. If the mood and beauty of the whole thing rendered it a work of cinematic brilliance. But it’s not, it looks okay, but never more than that. Because of the improvised nature of the film that makes it really hard to tell a story visually as you don’t know what the story is when you’re filming. So everything looks kind of, I don’t know, standard? Like it’s been filmed, but in a way that doesn’t showcase film language. I’ve seen it described as “shot like a student film” and that seems painfully accurate. Actually no, it doesn’t. Film student directors tend to put A LOT of thought into shot composition, the good ones do anyway. So yeah, that’s how I’m ending it. It’s a film without love, without story, and without care.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019)

Was kind of curious about this. I knew it was about Ted Bundy, and I knew he was played by Zac Efron. I half expected to message someone and mention how impressed I was with Efron’s performance, and how brilliantly he portrayed a psychopath. So, did he portray it well? It’s difficult to tell. Ted Bundy is kind of known for being charming, and using that to entice his victims. The film nails him being charming and likeable, but then doesn’t really show enough of the murders. It’s a Ted Bundy film where he doesn’t do much of the thing he’s best known for. Which is really weird. A lot of the film is about him being arrested and dealing with the court case, whilst protesting his innocence. This didn’t really land for me as the audience knows he’s guilty. We see very little of the Ted Bundy we know, which makes this film a bit weird, bit interesting. It’s the kind of film you watch once, but you don’t need to watch it again. I feel my issue with this film isn’t what the film is, but what it’s not. It’s not an interesting study into his psyche, it’s not stylish enough (it occasionally comes across as a lazy-Fincher), and it’s not brutal enough. At times it’s even kind of dull. It’s a shame as when Ted Bundy does kill people, Efron is great, Efron unleashed is incredibly impressive and brilliant, he just doesn’t show it enough. The rest of the cast is pretty good too, but strange. Never expected to see James Hetfield in a film like this. Same with Haley Joel Osment. John Malkovich is shockingly underused though it has to be said.

I have seen some weird articles about this film, saying that Efron is too good looking to play Bundy and that having Bundy as such a handsome and charming person is dangerous. That’s a weird take, it’s essentially saying this film is dangerous because it teaches you to judge people based on actions rather than appearance. Who’d have thought that “Pretty people can sometimes be assholes” would be a controversial opinion? Conversely, wouldn’t this mean that only ugly people can be bad? Trust me, I’m ugly as hell, and my body count doesn’t even reach double figures (unless you include the diamond spatula incident, and I still blame Marilyn Monroe for that as she forgot to lock the monkey cage). People associate beauty with good, so when you see a good-looking person commit acts of evil it’s hard to comprehend. Not that you’d really know, as like I said, most of this film is just Ted Bundy as a wacky guy escaping prisons and hanging out with women (did we really need a Ted Bundy sex scene?).

I know this has been quite rambling, but it’s hard to talk about this film with any passion. It doesn’t inspire annoyance, or love, or anything. I watched it, but never really felt truly engaged with it, and that’s the films biggest problem. It just exists, doesn’t tell you anything new or interesting, it just happens. Not sure if it’s the script or the direction but it never really grabs your attention. For a film about murders, it’s incredibly lifeless.