Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness (2022)

Quick synopsis: It’s a Marvel film. Obviously, you’re not going into this for the plot.

I’m going to say this at the start: I thoroughly enjoyed this. I appreciated what it did with some of the characters, it’s probably the best-directed film in the MCU, and it managed to take a difficult concept and make it simple enough for everybody to understand (yet also feel smart for understanding it). I say that now, because a lot of this review will consist of me pointing out the negatives.

The big one, the MCU has a problem. It’s no longer exciting when an unexpected character appears. Because we’ve now come to expect it, you go in with the knowledge that anybody can appear. So there’s a small part in your brain going “well maybe the Fantastic Four will turn up, maybe the X-men will be in this” so when characters do appear, you’re not surprised because a part of you expected it. There are times they have managed to surprise you (Ben Kingsley in Shang-Chi being the obvious one) but mostly it’s just “I knew it!”. There are a few that people have been speculating would be there since Endgame.

Where this becomes an issue is that this seems to be what the MCU have anchored their films around, when No Way Home is discussed it’s usually about the subject of the other Peter Parkers (and the fact they only included movie ones is a huge missed opportunity and made it feel like a film, including random ones we’ve never seen before would have helped it). It reminds me of when Ricky Gervais made Extras and it became about who the celebrity cameo was, rather than the story.

It’s a shame as that does a disservice to this, Scarlet Witch is a fantastic villain, and I appreciate that they rushed into that at the start of the film rather than revealing it near the end. I mean, it is a bit weird that the most powerful villain of the MCU so far has only really lasted one film. Her face turn at the ends makes it highly unlikely that she’s going to be the next Big Bad of the franchise. Which is a shame as that would have been interesting. They would have to fight someone who they’ve been friends with, someone who knows their weaknesses and fears, and can use that against them. More importantly it would have made it seem like the MCU has a plan, the new introductions are because Wanda never met them so she doesn’t know how to defeat them, and Thors arc lately has been about facing his fears, which he’d have to do. It would also make it seem like those weird scenes in Age Of Ultron had a point. As it is, the overall plan for the MCU seems to be “more people! Each more powerful than the last” and it’s getting unfocused and incredibly bloated (unpopular opinion, but major MCU characters HAVE to start dying. Properly dying, not “dead but can come back due to multiverse”).

The biggest issue? It’s a 12a. It should be a 15. This is the closest the franchise has got to a horror movie, and it feels slightly neutered by its age rating. The scene with the Illuminati is horrifying, but if it was a 15 then it could have gone slightly further with some of the moments, make it truly disturbing.

I said earlier that it’s the best-directed of the franchise so far. I stand by that, it has some incredibly creative set-pieces, having moments which could only happen with this character. It absolutely nails the large set-pieces in a way that truly deserves the big screen. On the other hand, there are a few one on one fistfights, and they’re not done well. They look clunky and full, overchoreographed and edited in a way that distracts from the action rather than adds to it.

On the plus side, they have finally fixed their third-act problem that has plagued a lot of their films lately (Shang-Chi in particular had a huge drop in quality for the final section). The final section for this is actually entertaining and creative as hell. The downside is it’s when the offscreen inertia is most obvious. Characters don’t seem to do anything when the camera is not focused on them. The film cuts away from someone in the middle of doing something, they’ll be a big action set piece that lasts about 10 minutes, then when it goes back to them, they’re still doing the thing. It’s weird and makes it seem like something was ruined in the editing suite.

So yeah, if you like the MCU, go see this. If you don’t, this isn’t going to change your mind. It’s one of the most unique MCU films so far, but that’s not saying much lately.

Oh, also the last scene is bad. Just bad.

Zero Fucks Given aka Rien à foutre (2021)

Quick synopsis: A tale of a flight attendant on a low-cost airline dealing with idiot customers, senseless management, and the death of her mother.

I’m going to get it out of the way, this is frustratingly uneven. There are moments of greatness, and then moments where it feels like it’s just treading water. When she’s on the plane it’s engrossing, entertaining, and horrifying in how people treat staff they see as “below them”, yet when she steps away from that, the film loses something.

It’s weirdly ironic as that’s one of the central points of the film: that she has no identity outside of her job. It’s very reminiscent of Sweat in terms of how the character feels she has no personality outside of what she portrays to the world, she is not an independent person, but someone who is to be moulded and shaped as her audience wants.

There are a few missteps in the opening. She’s in a meeting at work and being told they’re now being measured on individual sales rather than as a group. You’d think this would lead to the staff being very cut-throat in terms of stealing sales opportunities from each other, but it doesn’t. It’s a missed opportunity. Her next shift is just a standard one, and then she goes drinking. Personally, I think if we were shown her being hypercompetent, a real genius at her job, or stressed out and near breaking point, that would have made the transition to drinks and drugs in the next scene a better contrast.

On the subject of alcohol, the drunken conversations are terrible, but in a good way. Drunk people don’t make sense, they ramble, and they say stupid shit. They swerve from topic to topic like a drunk driver. Usually, when films show drunk dialogue, they do it by just having them slur their words a bit while expressing their true feelings, so it’s good they did something different here. It’s without a doubt among the most realistic drunk dialogue I’ve seen on screen.

The dynamic changes when she’s told her job is no longer needed, and she’s being put forward for another one which she’ll need training for. Maybe it should have started here as that section is one of the most telling moments of the sheer hell the staff have to go through. It’s said out loud there that they’re not human, they’re just smiling faces whose job is not to help the customer, but to sell stuff. It’s remarkably dehumanising, and if this was shown earlier in the film it would have improved it. There’s a moment where her manager is yelling at her because she’s not downrating her crew for things beyond their control, anybody who has worked in retail or customer service feels that pain.

As good as some of the dialogue is, as interesting as the story is at times, and as stunningly beautiful it looks at times, Adèle Exarchopoulos is the definite highlight. When she’s on screen it feels like the weight of the world is on her shoulders. She’s probably best known over here from Blue Is The Warmest Colour, which is great but she doesn’t have pleasant memories of, due to the director being a, let’s put this diplomatically, a complete prick. Hopefully, this becomes her stand-out film, she deserves a film that the western world adores and that she doesn’t have negative feelings attached to. It is a good film, and definitely worth a watch, I just feel it could have been slightly better.

Umma (2022)

Synopsis: A woman’s quiet life on an American farm takes a terrifying turn when the remains of her estranged mother arrive from Korea.

It’s been a few days since I’ve seen this film, and it now annoys me that I saw it. Not because it’s bad, or offensive etc. It annoys me because this is the directorial debut of Iris K.Shim (at least in terms of feature lengths). Such a shame because I wanted to delve into her back catalogue, where I’d be sure to find a hidden gem. It is only 83 minutes long, once you take out credits you’re looking at about 75 I’d guess. So it’s not much to base it on, but she does enough in that short time to show just what she’s capable of.

She gets what makes a horror movie work. It’s not enough to have bad things happen to the characters. We need to actually give a shit about the people. That’s often where long-running horror franchises go wrong, they focus more on the villain (Freddy, Michael Myers etc) and leave everybody else underdeveloped, so we end up cheering the killer, because they’re the only defined character in it. Compare that to the first Nightmare movie, where Nancy was a bigger part of it, we supported her, we wanted her to survive and when she panicked, we were scared. It’s amazing how likeable characters make a horror movie actually scary. This does a good job of making us care about everyone. Key to this is that they don’t feel like characters in a horror movie, they feel like characters who a horror movie happens to. So it all feels more real. We don’t judge them based on “but you’re in a horror movie, why would you do that?”, we judge them based on reality.

It also does a good job of setting the character dynamics. Sandra Oh’s character (Amanda) feels her mother was overbearing and she wants to get free of her, meanwhile she’s annoyed her daughter wants to live her own life, and she’s fully unaware of the irony of those two conflicting beliefs. That’s what drives this movie, it’s not “spooky spooky ghost ghost”, it’s “character realises they’re turning into what they hate, and they need to stop repeating the cycles of abuse and neglect”. She is slightly like her mother too, just in different ways. Her mother was an abusive asshole, whereas she’s more ignorant of how the choices she makes effects her daughter, who doesn’t really have any friends, and is guilt-tripped into staying and helping the business. You feel the daughters isolation, and the pain it causes her. But you also understand Amanda doing what she does. It’s a film that inspires conversation about what should be done.

The relationship between Amanda and her deceased mother is key to the film working too. Even though there’s a history of abuse, you can still feel the connection between the two, the warmth in her eyes when Amanda talks of the stuff handed down to her is genuine and shows that even though she was abused by her mother, and has escaped, she still feels a blood connection to her which makes it hard for her to completely escape from under her shadow and influence. This is backed up by when a relative tells her “The doctors say it was a heart attack, but I know it was your fault that she died” The speech that follows about how she’s useless and a disgrace for leaving her mother is astounding in a “okay and see why she’s the way she is”, it completely explains her motivations and personality. So well done, in a kind of horrifying if you think about it way.

Now onto the negative. Some of the jump scares are a bit too corny to work. It’s weird to have a really dramatic, well-written character exploration in a story of inherited trauma and abuse, and then have the line “I’ll show you a burial” and someone being dragged by a piece of clothing. Weirdly enough, the moments which are explicitly horror are the weakest parts. But part of that might be because of how expertly done the other parts were. In a lesser movie, they’d be the highlight. But that’s not the point, it’s not a “oh no jump out seat” horror, it’s a slowburner of a story, one that you can almost imagine being told by a campfire late at night, or as a morality tale to kids.

This has got some very negative reviews, and I feel that’s unfair. It’s a solid 6.9/10. Not great, but a good time-passer and not something I’d actively avoid if I was in the room while it was on TV. There will be better horror films this year, but it’s going to be difficult to have one with characters as well-written as they are in this.

The Outfit (2022)

Quick synopsis: Leonard (Mark Rylance) runs a suit shop in Chicago, one night the local mob hide their money in his shop, leading to problems.

While watching this, I was overcome by one consistent thought: They should have cast Mark Rylance in the Kingsman prequel. Should state though, despite the trailer, and the general feeling it gives you, this isn’t much like Kingsman, it’s more like The Drop, but not as good. And that immediately is the biggest problem. This is a shame as it’s otherwise a fine film.

I will admit that tonally it’s weird. It’s mostly locked in one building so it’s kind of intense and trapped, but then it has moments where it’s just two people talking slowly about how jeans won’t last and all that tension has gone. It’s frustrating as it has the potential to be good, and at times it is brilliant, but the whole thing feels like it’s moving at 80% speed. It feels like it belongs more on the stage than on screen.

This is Graham Moore’s directorial debut, he’s previously known for writing The Imitation Game. He does a good job in terms of laying out the shots, you never feel visually confused. It’s difficult to plan out a film like this because there are things which aren’t relevant until near the end of the film, yet you need to make sure they’re set up in the room before then.

He could have done a slightly better job of ramping up the tension, and the world-building feels a little weak. It kind of feels like this is more the DLC to another film’s main game. Like there are interesting dynamics and characters that are all taking place in this universe, but not on the screen, and not to these characters.

Another down point is that the conversations and dynamic between Rylance and Deutch can be a bit strange at times. Sometimes he feels like a partner, sometimes a parent. It’s a strange dynamic that the film can’t quite nail down. The dialogue as a whole isn’t the greatest, and neither are some of the accents.

So in summary, you probably should watch this. It’s not going to end up on my “best-of” list at the end of the year, but it’s impressively done and engrossing throughout. This review may seem negative, but that’s only because it had potential to be amazing, and it’s only very good.

White Building (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A young man in Cambodia struggles to figure out what to do when his home is scheduled for demolition.

This is quite a slow film, almost glacial at the start. But it works, it makes the whole thing feel more slice of life documentary than a normal film. This feeling, that we’re observers of real life, is backed up by the music, well, the lack of it really. In the opening scenes, we see people dance, play football, and have conversations about girls. There’s no music at the forefront, it’s just people talking. That’s the best thing about this film, how it feels like we’re watching someone’s memories, it all feels very real. This is helped by the friendship in the opening section of the main three. The film does a great job of making you know they’ve known each other for a long time. There’s a genuine warmth to their relationship. You get the feeling this is a definitive period in the characters life. Like it should be backed by a “little did I know, that was the last time the old gang would hang out together, life sure was different after that” 80’s-style voiceover. That friendship is put on the backburner by the film when the plot about the building being knocked down starts (which doesn’t really kick off until thirty minutes in), at this point one of the friends moves away and is never really mentioned again. It’s then that the narrative focuses on one person, and becomes a lot more personal.

It’s a definite tonal shift, when the lead character (Samnang) is away from his friends it changes from something lighthearted and sweet, to something quite sad and hopeless. It stops being a story of friendship, focusing on what he has, and instead becomes a film about poverty and ill health, focusing on what he doesn’t have. He meets up again with one of his friends, but the vibe is different. Them riding around town has an increased air of melancholy about it. If the first section is them being in denial about losing their home, the second section is him realising it and coming to terms with it. You genuinely feel the panic everybody has. There’s a moment where they’re discussing the forced selling, and whether to accept the low offer they’re being offered (which isn’t enough to get a new place), or hold out for more. Someone off-handedly mentions that when this happened to another building, the residents were forced out at gunpoint and left with nothing. It’s something that is made all the more horrifying by how casually it’s mentioned and then glossed over. It’s not something that changes everybody’s mind, almost like they all knew it and accepted it.

On the downside, it is a little dull at points. This is definitely a very personal story (the director grew up in the building, and actually includes footage of the demolition at the end of the film), and that is a strength, but there are times where it feels a bit too personal, like he’s forgotten he’s telling this story to other people. Also, it feels like it assumes everybody knows about the history of the building, I read up on the building before watching, and it definitely helped explain a few things, things which the film probably should have. It not only would have made a few things clearer, but also would have made the building feel more like a character, so we get an emotional resonance when it “dies”. Characters drift in and out without reason.

So an interesting film, and a good one, but not a great one. One final thing, and I know it’s a weird thing to say about an actor who doesn’t even have a picture when you search on google, but Chinnaro Soem carries himself like a damn star in the few moments he’s in it. There’s a strange, almost James Dean quality to him and I want to see him in more.