The Phantom Of The Open (2021)

Quick Synopsis: Amateur golfer Maurice Flitcroft achieves his late-in-life goal of participating in the British Open Golf Championship, much to the ire of the staid golfing community.

Expected this to be either a standard sports underdog movie, or standard British Working Class, so either Cool Runnings, or The Duke. Either way, I knew what would happen, he’d be mocked by people, but then use his conventional skill set to win, or not win, but he’ll leave with his head held high and his nemesis slowly applauding him.

Yeah, it’s safe to say I lucked out by not knowing the true story about this, if I did then I would have known my preconceptions were complete bollocks. He doesn’t win, he doesn’t really do well, he isn’t respected by the world, and he isn’t rich and famous. To see how hard he tries, and what it leads to, will hurt you. Not as much as it should though. Don’t get me wrong, it does get VERY emotional towards the end, but it feels like it could have hit harder. His wife’s defence of him feels like it originally went on much longer and then was heavily cut down, it feels like it’s build-up, like she’s starting a wonderful speech, but then the film cuts her off, but still has the same result. It’s the emotional equivalent of if you did a film about Churchill, distilled his entire speech down to “We shall fight them at the beaches”, and then still having everybody applaud.

It’s a shame as that section of the film has some truly emotional moments, just a few sentences away from being better. The emotion is helped by the performances, Mark Rylance is his usual brilliant self, as is Sally Hawkins. Rhys Ifans seems a bit too similar to Michael Smiley and I felt for sure it actually was him until I saw the credits.

There are a few things that annoyed me though. There are a few characters who are introduced and then seemingly forgotten about. What annoyed me most though was the dream sequences. I don’t know whether they were the choice of the screenwriter or the director but tonally it does not work and they feel like they belong in a different movie. There are some character moments that feel a bit out of place, like they’re just happening to move the plot forward. It also doesn’t do too great a job of making you FEEL like you’re back in that time.

Overall, a film you probably will enjoy, but it won’t be among your favourites.

Encanto (2021)

Quick Summary: A tale of the family Madrigal who live in a house that has blessed every child in the family with a unique gift — every child except Mirabel.

I had heard many people talk about this, and almost all good things. So I went in with high expectations, and this was good enough to meet them. In the last few years, Disney has released Moana, Big Hero 6, Raya And The Last Dragon, and Zootopia, so it’s fair to say they’re on one hell of a roll, the only major blot being Ralph Breaks The Internet (and maybe Frozen 2, I haven’t seen it so can’t judge). It may be too soon to judge but it does seem like they’re making progress to reclaim their crown from Pixar. While I don’t see that happening, the gap is closing, and not because Pixar is getting worse, but because Disney is getting a lot better.

Everything about this is really good, mostly non-American cast (US, not the continent), and I’m only personally familiar with two of the people who did the voices: Stephanie Beatriz and John Leguizamo. I like that Disney are going that route now, casting people who are true to the character rather than just getting random sitcom performers to do “ethnic” voices. All are really good, but Jessica Darrow needs highlighting as someone who really deserves to have her career made by this.

In terms of performances, this is really a showcase for Beatriz (it’s helped that in Mirabel, Disney seem to have created a visually interesting character they can market the hell out of). You never feel you’re listening to a 41 year old pretending to be a teenager, her vocal performance has the perfect mix of youthful exuberance and teenage angst/depression. This is doubled when she sings, I’m still not entirely sure how she nailed some of the rapid vocal tracks for the opening song.

About the opening song, it really sets the tone. On the surface, it’s happy and joyful and danceable, but when you listen to the lyrics you get a slight sense of sadness and “I don’t belong”. Her panic when the kids ask what her power is and she tries to distract them, her clear envy of her “perfect” sister, and then it’s capped with how casually her sister says “oh she didn’t get one”. It’s the first sign that this film has the potential to break you.

It lives up to that potential, and then some. Everybody is talking about We Don’t Talk About Bruno, when really they should be talking about Surface Pressure. It’s not as catchy, but a lot more emotional and has great storytelling. The reaction to it will break, just the words “i think you’re carrying way too much”.

On the subject of music, it’s clear from this and In The Heights that Lin Manuel Miranda is REALLY good at natural music, especially for opening numbers. He adjusts the universe so that it’s not the characters making the music, it’s the world. It adds a sense of playfulness to the whole thing and elevates a very good film to a great one.

It’s not perfect, there are a few moments (as in, 3-5 second bits) where the music doesn’t flow as naturally as it could, some of the characters could be better developed, and it would have really helped the ending if we saw more of how the non-family members live in that town.

But overall this is a great film about emotional abuse, parental pressure, and feelings of worthlessness. Probably the most emotional film I’ve seen this year, but also the most joyful. Strange how it can do both so well.

X (2022)

Quick synopsis: A group of people try to film a porn movie at a cabin belonging to an old couple, who strongly oppose the idea and decide to show their thoughts on the matter by writing a strongly worded letter to the local council. No wait, they murder them.

If you are thinking of watching this, go see it at the cinema. Not because it’s particularly great and you need to watch it immediately, but because the title means it’s going to be a bitch to find on a streaming site.

Let’s get one thing out of the way; this is not for everybody. It’s heavily focused on sex and violence, so unless you’re comfortable with both of those things, you won’t like this. It doesn’t shy away from the violence, and it doesn’t shy away from the sex. The whole thing feels slightly grubby, which is something that works in its favour. This isn’t a modern film, it’s a 70’s throwback in terms of style. It does work a lot of the time, and Ti West is a talented enough director that you never forget the time period that it’s set in. Now, as anybody who read my review of Censor knows, I love my throwback films. Especially when it comes to horror. And I don’t shy away from films about sex and killing people (I mean, one of those things is my favourite thing to do on weekends). I also like films about film-making, and am not afraid to see them going weird, as seen in Black Bear). So in some ways, this film was designed for me, yet I’m not that fond of it.

Part of that is because of how it sometimes utilises the throwback style in terms of film-making. The gimmick of “it’s edited like a 70s film” actually kind of gets in the way sometimes. There are far-away shots that don’t really tell us anything, and moments where it cuts to something for a second and then cuts back. It’s jarring, but not in a “horror movie making me feel unsettled” way, but in a way “this was edited manually and they botched it”. So it feels less like a throwback love letter to a genre, and more, just incredibly dated.

My main issue though? The same issue I have with a lot of modern horror films. The same issue I had with The Gallows, Unfriended, Don’t Breathe, Escape Room 2, Fantasy Island: I don’t like the characters. They’re annoying, selfish, not that likeable. So when they die, you’re not sad, or emotionally affected at all. If anything, you’re relieved.

The only slightly sympathetic character is one of the killers. She has a tragic backstory and her motivations do kind of make sense, although it’s never clarified exactly why that drives her to murder. She doesn’t get as much focus as the other characters though. The film spends so much time developing doomed characters, and not the location. At one point one of the characters finds the rotting corpses of a naked man in the basement, and someone else finds (presumably) his car in the lake (in a delightful shout-out to Psycho). Those things are glossed over really quickly. Was that person the only one? Or do they have a long history of this? The film comes close to answering this. One of the characters escaped the couple, and overheard them talking about throwing a body in the river. The actual ending of this is in the trailer, one of the cops finding a camera, “what’s on there?” “probably some fucked up horror movie”, END!

So, is she the reason the police are there? If so, why aren’t they draining the lake? If not, then why are they there? There are no houses nearby for people to have overheard the commotion. Really, they’re there to bookend the story, but it’s done quite poorly. Just full-on ape the ending of Psycho and show the car being retrieved, and then news footage of the discovery of bodies, to let us know this wasn’t a one-time thing, they’ve been doing it for years. I mean, think of the shot that ends From Dusk Till Dawn, where the camera pulls out and you realise the bar is not only built on an Aztec temple, but there are hundreds of vehicles there, all of them belonging to drivers who didn’t survive previous nights there. It’s not talked about often but it’s one of my favourite ending shots because it provides a history to everything, it shows that this has happened a lot before, and we’re just lucky enough to see the ending of a story that’s been being told for years. It hints at hundreds of untold stories just like the one we witnessed, only with unhappier endings. As opposed to this, which ends with nothing of substance.

I think it tried substance, there’s a preacher being shown on the television throughout, and at the end, it’s revealed that the main character is his daughter, who ran away to star in porn. A reveal that changes………..absolutely nothing. It doesn’t change what we think of her, or the situation, or anybody else in the film. It adds absolutely nothing outside of irrelevant backstory. It might as well have ended with “And that house where all the murders happened? It used to be a slave ranch”. It’s like, “yeah, and? Who gives a shit, that’s not relevant. Stop padding your word count”.

None of this takes away from the unarguable talent of everybody involved. Mia Goth continues to usually be the best thing in every film she stars in. Jenna Ortega has a great “final girl” quality (as anybody who watched the new Scream can testify), Martin Henderson has a strange, slightly Matthew McConaughey-esque quality to his performance.

So in summary? Maybe see this, some of you will like this a lot more than I did, and some of you won’t. It just wasn’t for me.

The Batman (2022)

Quick Synopsis: Bruce Wayne has to deal with a serial killer known as The Riddler, and also responsibility and past trauma.

I’m going to get the obvious out of the way, this is a LONG film. But weirdly enough it earns it. It’s a bit like watching a 3-hour video of Piers Morgan being punched in the face. Yes, it’s long, but you still wish it was longer. There are a few scenes that could be cut down slightly, but there’s not very much wasted. In fact you come out wanting more, you want to see more of these characters, of this world. And it’s such a well-defined world. Gotham is almost a character in of itself in Batman media, and if you get it wrong it can really harm it. Think of how weird it looked in Batman And Robin. Usually, the way studios do this is to have it feel old, like it’s from a 40’s noir. In this it actually feels like a living city, you can imagine walking around it and living in it. It’s amazing how small things like “bright advertising boards and crowds” helped it feel real.

It’s not just Gotham, this film GETS who Batman is as a character. There’s a moment I didn’t actually notice the first time I watched it. Near the end, Batman is rescuing a group of people from a collapsed building/flood. When he approaches the people who need saving, they don’t respond with “Oh thank you, It’s Batman here to save us”. They recoil in fear. They’re scared of him. He has set himself up as a figure of fear and vengeance to scare criminals into going straight, but in doing so he’s scared everybody else too. He’s not a beacon to look up to and admire, he’s the boogeyman. He’s what parents use to control their kids. “If you don’t behave/eat your homework/do your dinner, then The Batman will get you”. It’s because of that that he realises that he needs to start doing more to inspire people to do good. So yes, this film is set in a time where Batman already exists (and has already put Joker in Arkham by looks of it), but it is still before he is Batman. He already has the fighting skills, the clothes, the vehicles, all that was missing was the hope, it was the final piece of the puzzle.

There was a lot of people doubtful that Pattinson could pull this character off. He nails it. He is a fantastic actor and this could be the film that makes people realise it. There’s not really a weak link in terms of performance, and it’s full of “oh, it’s him” casting. Paul Dano is surprisingly chilling and completely redefines Riddler from a joke to a psychopath.

Part of that redefinition is due to what Reeves did with the film. This isn’t an action film, it’s more of a detective drama/psychological horror. It’s a fresh and unique take on the character, and one that’s really obvious when you think about it. It’s one of the few times in modern films where we actually see him do detective work, being very careful not to damage crime scenes, use logical deduction to come to conclusions etc.

I have spent this entire review just gushing over how much I loved it, and it’s for a good reason. It’s genuinely incredible and I am in awe of what was created. Go see it.

Boiling Point (2021)

Quick synopsis: Enter the relentless pressure of a restaurant kitchen as a head chef wrangles his team.

As I’ve said before, I am a sucker for a film with a good gimmick, a hook that makes it stand out from the rest. One gimmick I’m always a fan of is one-takes. They’re really hard to do but when they work they’re marvellous. A good one is one where you don’t really notice that much. I’m not saying ones that don’t impress you, but if the camera is just following somebody walking and not showing anything, then the gimmick hurts it. In a great one, things are always happening so you don’t have much dead time.

That’s definitely the case in this, stuff is always happening so you have no moments where you can relax as an audience, it’s just constant tension. It helps that whilst Andy (Stephen Graham’s character) the background characters are all fleshed out so when the camera follows them for a few minutes, it doesn’t feel like a distraction, instead, it feels like it was a live cameraman who just followed what he thought would be the most interesting story. You feel like the characters are constantly doing things off the camera, they’re not just standing still waiting for the story to focus on them again.

It’s a very dynamic movie, but small. It’s all about the dynamics between the characters, between the departments etc. There’s a plot point near the end where things get more serious, but it had to be serious to show how actions have consequences. The film needed something big to happen, and it does. In terms of film, it’s quite small, but if it happened in a restaurant while you were there, you’d consider it a big deal.

I’ve already talked about it from a technical standpoint, but that’s all helped by the performances. There are not many performers I know, but everyone knocks it out of the park. Stephen Graham is the highlight though, is he quietly one of the most talented actors this country has? I can’t see him leading an action movie, but if you need someone to make you FEEL, you wouldn’t go wrong with him. The most talented of the ones I don’t recognise is Vinette Robinson, who has a magnificent screen presence and delivers one of the best pieces of dialogue in the film where she goes on a long rant aimed at one of the front of house staff. It must not have been easy to deliver that as perfectly as she did, and it’s one of the highlights of the film.

Don’t get me wrong though, this is a dark film. There’s a level of ugliness over the whole thing. If I had to sum this up I’d say this film is like heroin. It’s not something you’ll be eager to try, but if you do sample it then you’ll be unable to stop, and it will linger with you long after you finish.

Médecin De Nuit aka The Night Doctor (2020)

Quick Synopsis: Mikaël (Vincent Macaigne) is a doctor on night call. He looks after patients from underprivileged neighbourhoods, as well as drug addicts. We see his nightly work as he’s torn between his wife and his mistress, and embroiled in trafficking fraudulent prescriptions.

The trailer had me excited. It looked like it was going to be incredibly intense and dark. And while watching it, I was on board. But the longer the film went on, the more my fondness for it dulled. It’s one of those films which you think is really good as you watch it and see it unfold, but after setting up all these narrative dominos, it seems to get bored and wander off, so it just leaves you feeling unsatisfied. It’s a shame as there are some great performances in here, and some incredibly tense moments. But overall a lot of it feels inconsequential.

I know this sounds cheap and goes against my usual “all about the narrative” viewpoint. But this needed a gimmick. Maybe it would have worked if it was done as a one-shot, as that would have shown the chaos he’s going through, and his panicking would have seemed real. But considering how much driving is in this that would have been difficult. The best bet would have been to have it like Locke, all take place in real-time. Most of the conversations with his wife could have been done over the phone. as could his dilemma with the mistress and cousin. It’s hard to love this film knowing that if they did it another way it would have been SOOOO much better. The character in this is supposed to be panicking and feeling trapped, but we never really get that. We never feel much emotion for him and his troubles, we just feel like an observer. It’s not helped by the fact that the longer the film goes on, the less you buy him as a character. He overpowers seasoned drug dealers too easily and at times it feels like self-insert fanfiction. The only person he doesn’t seem to easily physically overpower is his cousin, he goes from “quickly punching people in the face and taking them out ” to “awkward grabbing”.

That moment comes just after he had a fight with notorious drug lord Ossip, who is one of those characters who is supposed to linger over the entire film, but in reality, doesn’t. You don’t feel his presence looming over when he’s not on screen. He’s not built up as a danger. If we saw him executing somebody, then he’d feel more of a threat. As it is you don’t really get that “oh no, he has to do this or that drug lord will harm his family”. The film tries to fix this with the ending, but the way they do it seems cheap and is done purely to get the sympathy of the audience with the main character. That’s the issue the whole film has, by the way, it doesn’t know how to treat the main character. We’re supposed to sympathise with him, but he’s quite unsympathetic. But done in a way that constantly justifies all his bad decisions. It’s like the writers want to create a morally complex character, but want to ensure we still sympathise with him.

The Duke (2020)

Quick synopsis: In 1961, a 60-year-old taxi driver steals Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington from the National Gallery in London. He sends ransom notes saying that he will return the painting if the government invests more in care for the elderly.

This is pretty much exactly what you expect it to be. It’s not going to top any end of year lists, but when it inevitably gets shown on TV over Christmas and you need something to watch with family while eating cheese, you’ll put it on. It’s incredibly inoffensive, but with great dialogue that will make you laugh. The characters are all incredible likeable and charming, and all with regional accents. It’s reassuringly touching and nice, with great performances all around. Really it’s the kind of film you could imagine being remade as a touring musical. It’s really hard to actively dislike.

But on the other hand, it’s hard to love. Yes, you’ll enjoy it. You’ll laugh, you’ll feel things, and it won’t be time wasted. But when you walk past it in a DVD shop, there will be no part of you that considers buying it. Even in a charity shop where it’s on sale for 50p, the option of buying it will not be one that enters your head. In a few years, you won’t remember that much about it outside of basic details.

The performances are all pretty damn good. There’s not really a weak link among them. Even those who are only in a few scenes do it perfectly. Most of the focus has been on Jim Broadbent, but Fionn Whitehead deserves plaudits too. His character could be a slimy pitiful character, but he’s played with so much earnestness and conviction that even he is doing slightly cowardly stuff, you root for him. I’ve seen him in one of the best episodes of Inside No. 9, and if he continues then he has a very bright future.

I’ve been somewhat critical of this film, but here is one thing it does phenomenally, and I can’t really talk about it without spoiling it. I know normally my approach to spoilers is “whatever”, but I do have a consistent logic to it all: if knowing what happens harms the viewing experience significantly, I don’t do it. And knowing the plot points for this will ruin it slightly. For the final third it takes an approach I genuinely didn’t expect. I can’t remember being that genuinely surprised by something I’ve seen in a long time. When it gets to the end of the year I will talk about it specifically, by whilst it’s on at the cinema I will refrain. The adverts did a marvellous job of concealing it.

Red Knight (new script)

I don’t only post reviews and criticism here. I do occasionally open myself up to criticism too by posting my own writing projects. If you hadn’t guessed, I’m posting my new one here. A very short segment today, just the opening. But that, combined with the title should tell you what I’m going for.

Yes, it is another Batman script, but I like to think I’m approaching it from a different angle. Not showing too much yet, just enough to show you the concept. Hope you enjoy

This opening probably won’t be in when it’s complete. It’s all about the twist at the end that Bruce Wayne is *heavy spoilers btw* Russian instead of American. The basis for this: Russian billionaire, with a sense of violent vengeance and access to high-tech gadgets. In that scenario, he’d be a villain. And the hero? The artists who the government have shut down. The comedians, the musicians…….

The clowns.

Yup, my main hero for this is going to be the Joker. It made far too much sense for that not to be the case. I might make it so he’s not the main hero, but he has to be on the heroic side. I’m putting others in too, when I find a place for them. Mr Freeze has to be in it somewhere, and I’m definitely having Robin in it, as an ultra-optimistic patriot who genuinely believes that he’s a good guy. So a “why golly gee, if they only obeyed the rules they would have been fine. Such a shame what we had to do to them” kind of outlook. Victor Zsaz as a revolutionary who marks the KGB agents he’s killed on his own skin.

It’s going to be dark, and it’s going to be strange, but I’m very excited about it.

The Justice Of Bunny King (2021)

Quick synopsis: A mother of two with a sketchy past earns her keep by washing windows at traffic lights, hoping to earn back the custody of her kids. After promising her daughter a birthday party, she fights the social services and break the rules to keep her word.

I went into this with completely the wrong attitude. I thought it would be more like a feminist buddy road movie. Two women of different generations working together and learning things about life. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll marvel at the power of friendship.

That’s………that’s not what happened. This is bleak. Not in a “everybody is going to die horrifically” way, but in a “you cannot beat the system, it’s rigged against you” way. I haven’t felt this hopeless since The Day Shall Come. Similar to that, you understand every decision the main character makes. You can see her dig herself deeper and deeper. You know she’s making mistakes, and she knows it too. But it’s the only thing she can do. Much like that film, you’re watching it and you can just sense it’s not going to end well. No matter how good your intentions are, there are sometimes when the system fails you. Even if she went 100% through the correct procedures, she would still be waiting months or years to get her children back. When that’s the “right” way, you can understand why she would try another way.

She is frustrated and that is easy to see. You can’t really blame her either. Her husband abused her kids, leaving one of them with permanent injuries, and she killed him in self-defence. Her reward for this method of pest control is to have her kids taken away from her and making her jump through impossible hoops to get them back. It’s strange to know that governments hating women and poor people is a universal construct. She’s punished for keeping in touch with her kids. They actually tell her not to contact her children and if she does it affects her chances of getting them back. So her kids have to feel ignored. One of her kids is severely disabled, and the mother is told to ignore her and never contact her, even on her birthday. How do you think that makes them all feel? That is not the better option, it’s bureaucratic bullshit. The social workers who are supposed to help her aren’t actually helping her. They say they are but it’s all empty platitudes. You can tell this by the fact that they take her kids somewhere and don’t tell her. Leading to this:

“You gave my children away and didn’t tell me”

“I’m sorry you feel like that”.

No, that’s not how she feels, that’s what happened. This is how society works in this world and it’s inhumane. The way they treat the daughter isn’t best for her either. They don’t seem to talk to her directly, they aim questions at other people and get them to answer for her, denying her any agency.

The fact that this film genuinely enraged me is a testament to how believable the writing is. It’s almost perfect, the right mixture of pathos of humour. Crucially, the humour comes from the people, not the situation. There’s no “oh oh, we lost your kids, silly us. Road trip!”, it’s people in despair making jokes to reassure themselves. It’s all very human. The only negative to the script is her decision at the end of holding someone hostage at knifepoint is a bit out of tone for the film. In some ways it makes sense. But it just feels a little bit like they wanted to add unnecessary drama at the end. That section would be great as a whole film though, spread it out to 90 minutes and you’ll have a really intense drama. But for it to come at the end of this particular narrative falls a bit flat.

The performances are great throughout. Essie Davis is almost unrecognisable from her role in The Babadook. Thomasin Mckenzie is completely different from Last Night In Soho. There she seemed like an adult, a naive one, but one you can still imagine pays her bills on time. Here she seems almost childlike and incredibly innocent. She’s not as crucial to the narrative as the pre-release media made me think she’d be, but she is still very good.

So yeah go watch this. Just prepare a nice cup of tea for afterwards to calm down. You’re going to need it.