We’re All Going To The World’s Fair (2021)

Quick synopsis: Alone in her bedroom, Casey (Anna Cobb) takes part in an online horror challenge, one which affects her sanity in this coming-of-age horror from Jane Schoenbrun.

This is weird. I’m still not entirely sure if I liked it or not. I am very glad I’ve seen it, and it is one that I would recommend, but my personal thoughts on it are still going through my head. I’ll admit, I tend to avoid a lot of films like this because they all run together in my mind. The “teen challenge horror” has seen a resurgence lately, and a lot of them have been cheap and kind of shit. I was ready to put this on the file of “nah, won’t bother watching” alongside Slenderman (and where Truth Or Dare should have been). I then realised Anna Cobb was in it. I thought she was the best part of How To Deter A Robber last year so I thought would be interesting. She seemed really different in this though, there was none of the Anna Kendrick-ness to her this time round, which surprised me. It was like she was a completely different person. There’s a reason for that, this was Anna Cobb, that was Abbi Cobb, a completely different actress. I feel that that paragraph may be a disservice to Anna as she is really good in this. She has incredibly expressive eyes. This is her feature debut, and she nails it. I’m really looking forward to what she does next. She’s one of the best things about this film. Although that’s easy to say, as she’s one of the only things about this film. It’s incredibly minimalist, most of the film is her on her own, talking to a camera. I don’t recall a moment of her sharing the screen with anybody at any time. There are moments where she’s talking to someone offscreen, or via webchat, but most of it is just her. Weirdly, it doesn’t end with her. The ending is a guy talking, a guy who is possibly being an unreliable narrator. The film is at its weakest when it’s not on Casey, so it’s frustrating when the film closes not on a different character. The closing is just too long and too much nothing. Much like the opening.

The opening could, and should have been shorter, it’s about 8 minutes of her sitting in front of the camera doing the challenge (saying a phrase three times, smearing blood on the computer, then sitting in front of strobe lights). Could have been done in about 3 minutes and achieved the same. The film itself is only 85 minutes, so that’s almost a 10th of the film doing nothing. It also sets up the film as being something different from what it is, since the whole intro is from the POV of her webcam, it makes you think the whole film will be like that, certainly the minimalist cast would lead you to believe that. It’s not, it mostly is, but the moments where it’s not that don’t add to it. It is kind of a wasted opportunity, the nature of the story would lend itself to her being viewed on a camera or computer screen at all times. Cobb is such a good performer, and has such brilliant facial expressions that it kind of feels like a waste when the film has moments of scenery with her talking over them. As beautiful as the scenes look, you want to see her. This film is at its best when it doesn’t feel like a film. When it feels like home recordings that you’re weirdly intruding on. If the film was entirely recordings from a camera, then the ending of the male character would have a bigger impact. It would put us in his shoes as a voyeur, watching this character on a screen and becoming obsessed with her.

It’s a shame as the writing and directing has potential. It’s strangely hypnotic. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a lava lamp. You don’t watch and think about character and plot, you’re just entranced by everything and lose track of time while observing. The whole thing feels very personal, but also like it should have been a short. It shows promise, it shows potential, but it also shows limitations and inexperience. I expect both Cobb and Schoenbrun (the writer/director) to do great things in the future. Schoenbrun has a great sense of how to make things creepy. But only in short bursts, it struggles to keep that momentum throughout. The scenes themselves are super strange and well done; one in particular where someone seems to be digging into their own arm and pulling out a reel of tickets. It’s moments like that which make you wonder about what the film could have been. Personally, I think this should have been a series of shorts. So we get to see the effects the game has on different people. Would allow the film to maintain momentum and showcase what Shoenbrun is best at: weird shit.

So yeah, see this. Turn the lights off, shut the curtains, turn your phone off, and just be enraptured by what you’re watching. It’s not for everybody, but you won’t see anything else like this. For some reason, it reminded me of the indie game Gone Home (which if you haven’t played, I highly recommend), no idea why. It also has an absolute killer soundtrack which I’ve already purchased.

The Bubble (2022)

Quick synopsis: The cast and crew of a blockbuster action franchise attempt to shoot a film while quarantining at a posh hotel

I don’t think I trust Apatow as a writer anymore. The last thing of his I really enjoyed was Trainwreck, and that was something he directed, didn’t write. Other than that, lately, his stuff just seems like it’s all just deleted scenes from other movies. Funny People was far far too long, This Is 40 just seemed kind of cruel, and a lot of times his characters are unsympathetic. Plus he casts like he’s still a young up-and-comer, casting his friends and family whenever he can. I do wish Apatow would stop casting his family members in major roles. I get he wants to see them in it, and he can trust them easily. But I don’t think Iris Apatow was the best choice as one of the main cast. I’m not saying that being Apatow’s daughter is what caused her to get the role, but I have a feeling it was. I really don’t get how she was the best option for the role. Especially when Maria Bakalova was cast in the film in a smaller role. An ensemble-cast film like this means you can’t have any weak links, and having someone as inexperienced as her alongside performers like Karen Gillan, Pedro Pascal, and Keegan-Michael Key just makes her inexperience stand out even more.

But maybe Judd Apatow’s writing saves this? Nope. The whole thing feels like a first draft. It’s really weirdly paced. You’ll have a two-minute scene set during the day, then a short one set at night, and then another one set in the day. It’s just weird and means you don’t get a good grounding of time passing. Time passes so quickly that you don’t really get that feeling of suffocation. It also repeats itself, as well as repeating itself, and worse of all; it repeats itself. There’s a montage of the characters in the second quarantine where some are just drinking and doing drugs, some are going crazy with the quarantine, and some are learning lines. It kind of feels like it should have been shown during the first quarantine section. Would have been a good introduction to the characters, as it is, it’s just confirming personalities we’ve already seen. It’s a repeating of a situation we’ve already seen, and it’s not entertaining to see it again that long into the film. It’s like the whole plot has been brought back to the start. The way that montage ends is weird too, it doesn’t have a definitive end, just cuts to a scene of characters talking, so it makes it seem like those characters are breaking the isolation bubble. It would be very in character for them to do so, and they actually do that, sneaking out (in a scene which either didn’t happen or if it did, was very forgettable).

That’s not the only montage btw, there are quite a few of them, and most of them are pretty bad. It feels like the film is trying to aim itself at the TikTok crowd. It’s trying SO hard to be young and “hip”, that it just comes off like it’s as old-fashioned as someone in their 30s who still uses the word “hip”. Maybe that was done because montages are good ways to show characters quickly, and this film has so many characters that juggling them is difficult. It fails at that, btw. Most of the characters are ridiculously underdeveloped. It doesn’t help that we only see them at their worst, so we don’t really get a sense of who they are. They’re not helped by the dialogue they’re given. “you remember the reviews from your last film Jerusalem Rising”. That is a terrible sentence because it just feels really fake. I don’t think you’d mention the film title, or you’d mention just that. You’d say either “you remember the reviews from your last film”, OR “you remember the reviews from Jerusalem Rising”, it’s weird they mention both. Feels fake. It’s just blatant exposition, and it’s terrible that it’s one of the first lines in the film.

The film also starts with the hotel staff being briefed. They’re the best parts of the film, and if it was focused more on them it would be a better film. It would allow us to see the Hollywood lifestyle from the outside, and get a better view of the madness. As it is, the Hollywood stars are the main characters, so it feels too much like rich people watching other rich people. It’s incredibly toothless as a satire of film-making. It’s the film equivalent of government-approved satire. It doesn’t have a point to make, it’s just surface-level jokes.

On the plus side, I did get a kick out of a character being called Bola, mainly because I called a character that in a script and it’s nice to see a name like that used by actual filmmakers. Most of the cast are good, and the central idea is fine. It also does a good job of setting up the fictional franchise. It has moments where the potential shines through, but they’re quite rare. Really the main issue is one bad piece of casting, and a bad script. So that’s ALL Apatow. If he was replaced, and everything else the same (the casting, the concept etc), it would have the potential to be one of the best of the year. As it is? Bitterly disappointing. Oh, it also has a really awkwardly funny moment with Beck singing a song about dinosaurs. And a Miley Cyrus cover of Blondie.

A Hero (2021)

Quick Synopsis: Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi) is out of debtors prison on weekend release. His partner found a bag full of gold and they plan to use it pay off his debts. When they find out it’s not enough to cover the debt, Rahim pretends he found it and tries to track down the owner and make use of good publicity.

Ah man, I wish I did some research before watching this. I liked this film, it was an engaging story and it was very well written. But the director/writer stole it from a student in a class he was teaching. It’s very heavily (by which I mean, it’s practically the same story) as a documentary made by Azadeh Masihzadeh whilst she was a student in a workshop being taught by Farhadi. Farhadi forced Masihzadeh to sign a document saying that the idea was all his. So yeah, the writer/director is a prick, and I don’t want to praise him, but I have to. If this film was terrible I could make jokes about how much I hated it, and how not only is he bereft of morality, but he’s also bereft of talent. If it was mediocre, I could ignore it like I have one or two other films. But this is too good to ignore. It’s a very human story about the nature of doing good, and whether the motives of a good deed affect the altruism of the act. It also has a lot to say about how people respond to good deeds: with people lining up to exploit the act until it gets out of hand and the person who does the act no longer has ownership of how it’s perceived.

As much as he is a prick, Farhadi is a good director, knowing exactly when to let silence happen. The opening has barely any dialogue, it’s possible it had none, I’m not just confident enough to say that for certain. Most of the opening 5 minutes is just him walking to meet someone, but the locations are so beautiful that you’re not bored watching it. The long walk also highlights just how determined he is, plus he’s just got out of prison, so he’s probably just enjoying the smell of fresh air instead of the smell of rape and pee corners (it’s why I don’t take late trains from Kings Cross). The character is played by Amir Jadidi, and he’s the entire anchor the film is based around. His character could come off as someone who is self-serving and selfish (and he kind of is, but never in a way that makes him unlikeable), or he could come off as pitiful and pathetic. Jadidi makes him someone you want to root for, he’s very likeable and charming, in situations that he started but are now out of his control. It’s essentially an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, just without the laughs. His relationship with his girlfriend feels very natural too. They have really good chemistry and the scenes of them together on screen are lovely to watch. It’s a relationship you can buy into easily, you can see why they’d do the things for each other that they do.

The background characters are all well-portrayed too. Even the person he owes money to, the person who is, for all intents and purposes, the antagonist, is seen as sympathetic. He’s (rightly) annoyed that Jadidi’s character is seen as a hero just for handing the bag back in, he doesn’t see why that’s a good thing, and not just, you know, normal. His frustration that the person who owes him A LOT of money is being held up as a paragon of virtue, meanwhile he’s seen as the bad guy for, you know, wanting the money he is owed.

So in summary, watch it, just try to ignore how horrifying the concept of “debtors prisons” are in the first place.

See How They Run (2022)

Quick synopsis: A depressed alcoholic and bitter Inspector (Sam Rockwell) works alongside an enthusiastic new Constable (Saoirse Ronan) to solve a *adopts accent* MURDAH!

I absolutely adore a good WhoHasDoneThis? (which as B99 fans know, is the grammatically correct way to refer to films in the Whodunit genre). A great whohasdonethis film contains my favourite things to watch: great ensemble cast, a stylistic look to them, and a clever script. I love being surprised in films, and whohasdonethis films provide those in spades. Well, good ones do anyway. Bad ones are far too obvious, the audience should never reach the correct conclusion of the reveal before the film itself does, but the reveal has to make enough sense that when it does happen you feel kind of stupid for not getting it.

The person who is generally referred to as being the best when it comes to this genre: Agatha Christie. A lot of modern stories in the genre are heavily in her debt, and invite comparisons. The smart thing to do in this situation is to lean away from it, remove anything that can cause people to compare it to Christie. Especially if you’re a director (Tom George) making his first feature length film, and a writer (Mark Chappell) who has mainly made television. You want to keep it fairly safe and do something very un-Christie, to avoid comparisons to one of the greats. That’s the smart and logical thing to do.

They decide to go “fuck that” and lean so far into Christie comparisons that they’re basically shunting her work. It’s a very brave thing to do, and one that runs the risk of being a spectacular failure. Somehow it’s not. This film has an uphill battle to work, and climbs that hill admirably. Everything about it just works. The story is one you’re invested in, a believable case could be made for any of the characters, all who are fleshed out enough that if they were revealed you wouldn’t sit there wondering “who’s that?”. It has a visual style that’s reminiscent of the LA Noire games, some truly beautiful use of focus in some of the shots. The script is clever, keeping you entertained throughout. I mean, there’s one point where it literally tells you the ending, and when it happens you can’t help but laugh and be impressed. It’s also really funny, getting a lot of genuine laughs from people in the screen I was at. The performances are perfect, everybody is at their best. Saoirse Ronan, in particular, needs highlighting as a ball of energy who you love to see, her joyous outlook is infectious and every moment she’s on screen is a delight to watch. Sam Rockwell is good, and make no mistake, he’s a huge get for a film like this, but, I dunno, part of me feels it should have been David Tennant and I have no idea why, he was never linked to it at all, but it feels like the kind of role he’d do well in.

On the downside, there is a slight loss in momentum as it heads into the final third. The final section itself is brilliant, but the lead into it is a little forgettable. It’s not helped by a dream sequence which doesn’t seem to add much except make me want to watch The Shining. I also thought the opening was strange. This is going to seem very picky but I can’t ignore it. It opens with a shot of a theatre sign, pans down and we see someone. But because the focus is on the person, the background is out of focus. This would be fine but it means that the opening is a blurry shot of a sign, just seems a bit weird that they wouldn’t have that in focus and then just change it as they panned down. Picky I know, but it bugged me, especially the second time I saw it. But the fact I’ve seen this twice says enough about how highly I regard this film. A great watch, and a much better Whohasdonethis than the rather lackluster Death On The Nile. Does make me think that I really need to watch The Mousetrap though.

Three Thousand Years Of Longing (2022)

Alithea (Tilda Swinton) is a scholar who specialises in mythology. Whilst in Instanbul she purchases a bottle and accidentally unleashes a Djinn (Idris Elba) who offers her three wishes. Given her knowledge of this subject, she’s aware of the pitfalls and is unsure whether to wish. The Djinn tries to assuage her worries by telling her three stories of his past.

George Miller is quite strangely wonderful, isn’t he? He’s made some huge movies, but still has the passion and weirdness of a hungry young director. He never feels like he’s phoning it in, whether he’s doing Babe: Pig In The City, Happy Feet, Mad Max: Fury Road, or Witches Of Eastwick. This is an adaptation of a short story (The Djinn In The Nightingale’s Eye), and somehow stretched it out to 110 minutes. Under most directors, this would be a recipe for disaster, but Miller kind of makes it work.

In terms of visual style, this is much closer to Fury Road than it is to anything else he’s done: it’s psychedelic and hauntingly beautiful in a way that entrances you as you watch it. If it turned out this film was actually just a way to hypnotise you into, I dunno, buying more yo-yos or something, you wouldn’t be surprised. It’s all so colourful and wonderful, accompanied by eerie strange music that compliments it perfectly.

I never knew I wanted Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba together in a film, but it makes a lot of sense. They bounce well off each other, and the chemistry they have is electric and I’d love to see them work together again. They’d make a good romantic couple in a film.

We know this because of the film’s weird third act. Most of the film consists of the Djinn telling stories about his past, and those parts are full of magic and wonder. After hearing those stories, for some reason Alithea decides that she wants her wish to be for him to be in love with her. It’s really weird and comes out of nowhere, especially since she’s only known him for a few hours. They then move in together and complications ensue, involving a small sub-plot with racist neighbours that is introduced and ended within a few minutes. The rest of the film is so good but the final third severely lets it down. It feels very disconnected from the rest of the movie, and feels like it has come from a very rushed script. It’s a real shame, as it means you leave the cinema not with a feeling of amazement, but with a sense of disappointment and frustration.

So, maybe see this, but paying full price almost guarantees you’d feel you have wasted your money.

Mr. Malcolm’s List (2022)

Quick Synopsis: Julia (Zawe Ashton) gets rejected by Mr. Malcolm (Sope Dirisu) and finds out he judges his potential suitors on if they match up to a list he has of the qualities his ideal wife would have. She gets revenge on him by getting her friend Selina (Freida Pinto) to pretend to be the perfect woman for him.

I’m not usually a fan of period dramas. The stakes are normally too unimportant for me to really give a shit. They’re usually just a group of privileged people in fancy houses, worrying because war has broken out and that has the potential to ruin their dinner party.

This is better than most purely because the characters actually acknowledge that they’re spoiled and that their problems are ones that most people won’t bother with. Also, a lot of the characters aren’t white. It’s a small detail that was caused by colour-blind casting. I won’t say it makes the film a lot better, but it does make it stand out. There’s some controversy over the casting, but only from racist assholes, so not from actual people. From people who know good performances when they see them the casting is appreciated. Zawe Ashton has been getting a lot of the attention from critics, and I can see why as she is good. But I feel Freida Pinto is the real star. Sope Dirisu plays the title character perfectly and deserves to be mentioned. A lot of his character work is done off-screen, it’s descriptions from other people about him. So he has to match those descriptions when we do see him, he’s been bigger up so much by people that if he doesn’t live up to expectations in terms of performance, if he doesn’t have that “it” factor, then the film will fall apart, audiences would automatically zone out.

This is the directorial debut feature from Emma Holly Jones, because if you’re making your first film, make it a period comedy, and film it during COVID, just to make it as difficult for yourself as possible. She has previously directed a short film version of this, so it makes sense that she’d do a good job here, especially since she has carried most of the cast over. She gives the film a really good look. It doesn’t look too extravagant, but there is definitely a rich elegance to the whole thing. The characters definitely have wealth, but they don’t look like they’re at the level of rich where it’s almost parody.

The story? It’s standard. It’s a film that’s difficult to spoil because the plot doesn’t matter. Just from watching the trailer you know what’s going to happen. She’s going to pretend to be into him but then actually fall for him, the friend who set the plan up is going to get annoyed and tell him the truth, he’s going to be annoyed but then they end up together. You won’t be too surprised to find out that that is what happens. But that’s not the important thing, you don’t watch this for the story being told, you watch it to see how they tell it. And they tell it well, the characters are likeable, the jokes are funny, and it feels like every actor has decided to add a really subtle physical quirk to make their characters seem like real people. The dialogue is really funny, and means that even though it is set in a universe that you can’t hope to visit, you still relate and are invested. It is a bit silly, but it knows it. There’s a great moment where Mr. Malcolm defends the list, and you feel his exasperation and confusion that he is somehow a villain for daring to actually like the women he plans to spend the rest of his life with. Shocking, I know. It’s an obvious point, and it’s good that the characters actually acknowledge and discuss it instead of just ignoring it like many other similar films do.

So in summary, you don’t NEED to see this, but it is fun, and I do recommend it.

Bodies Bodies Bodies (2022)

Quick synopsis: A group of 20 year-olds party in a mansion during a hurricane and decide to play a party game. The bodies start piling up, as does the tension.

Occasionally a film completely dies because of the ending. My hatred for Unfriended and The Gallows partly comes from how much they fucked up the final minutes of their respective runtimes (or in the case of Unfriended, the final 2 seconds). This did the opposite, the final minute or so of this film completely saved it. Before that, I enjoyed it, but it was slightly frustrating and felt kind of unfocused.

The ending changes everything. It does what an ending like this should do. It recontextualises everything that happened before and makes you want to watch it again. It does have the slight downside of turning it slightly into a farce, but it works. The audience in the screen I was at seemed to enjoy it, and there was a delightful 10 second period where everybody in the audience knew it was happening and was just waiting with bated breath. Before that, it is an enjoyable watch, don’t get me wrong. It’s funny, looks great, and is full of good performances.

On the subject of performances, a lot of people have highlighted Rachel Sennott, making a point to talk about how good her performance is. It’s…..alright I guess. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it didn’t really stand out to me. In my head when I try to recall it, for some reason I can’t picture her performance, instead I imagine all her scenes playing out the same, but with her replaced with Jessica Knappett. To me, the real highlight was Maria Bakalova. She graced our screen in the Borat sequel a few years ago, you know, when COVID was around and people in America were being openly racist to the point where it looked a bit violent and scary, thank god that’s not the case anymore. Here, she shows that her performance in that was not a fluke, she is, in fact, very talented, just as much in scripted as she was in the more improvised setting of Borat.

The other performances are good, and almost everybody comes out looking good. I think it helps that outside of Bakalova, Lee Pace, and Pete Davidson, I didn’t really know the performers in this. They were all fresh talents to me which allowed me to go in without preconceptions about who they are. Pace and Bakalova are talented enough to overcome them anyway, Davidson? Still a little unsure. I only know him as a performer through brief glimpses of SNL sketches I’ve come across, so I don’t know enough to judge him fully but it really does seem like he’s just playing himself in this. There’s nothing in it that feels like a “performance”, instead just feels like they filmed him on set.

It’s nice to see gay representation on screen, especially this openly. Normally it’s reduced to “they shared a look”, “oh look, they alluded to something” so they can get plausible deniability (or edit it for certain markets). This is a film that’s open with sexuality, and I can’t help but feel that part of that is because the director (Halina Reijn) isn’t American, she’s Dutch, which means she doesn’t have the same puritanical attitude to sex as an American director would. Also, when she shows lesbian physical affection on screen she doesn’t do it for a male gaze, which makes it seem more real and less “performative”, there’s genuine affection in the physicality here. This is her first English-language feature that she’s directed, when I heard that I assumed she had a long career in Dutch cinema. This is the work of someone who is comfortable behind a camera and knows the best way to express a script. But she’s only directed two films before this, and one of them was a short (For The Birds). That astounds me, I really hope this film is a success and it leads to a long career for her, if she’s this good now, I want to see what she’ll be like 3 films down the line.

The look for this is unique, the darkness combined with the neon lights gives the whole thing a slight “drunken party” vibe. The music also helps add to this. Very female-fronted rap and dance. Essentially it’s Frat-House Horror, the type of film you watch with a group of friends while drunk and high.

On that note, if EVER a film was crying out for some Ashnikko it’s this, I mean, Charli XCX is great too, but she’s not giving us lyrics like “you better stock up on tissues, jacking off to all my pictures”. That kind of open sexuality and party vibes would suit this film perfectly. It’s a minor gripe I know, but it feels so obvious that I have to say it.

Nope (2022)

Quick Synopsis: Aliens

Time changes a film. Despite the fact I have only watched it once, my opinions on IT: Chapter 2 are very different now than they are when I left the cinema after seeing it. Now I’ve had time for the mistakes of that film to bounce around my head a bit more, the inconsistencies in plotting have made themselves known. I have the opposite feeling with this film, I came out thinking “that was okay”, and if I reviewed it immediately, or even that day, this review would mostly be about how disappointed I was with it, how I’m worried Peele has slightly lost it and the lack of a big twist and that special “something” let it down, that the film veered off into strange diversions that just slowed the plot down.

But I just couldn’t forget about certain parts of this film, and then I realised certain things. My brain recognised thematic continuity, it realised the diversions weren’t really diversions, they were character explanations that said a lot about humanity and how they exploit things for entertainment purposes. It’s ironic that this film is about being watched, as it seems to be spending its entire runtime staring back, judging the audience for their participation in cruel acts. Once this film had time to breathe and spread itself through the recesses of my mind I realised this is actually genius. I’ve heard of a film being described as a slow burner, but “a week after you leave the cinema” is taking the piss a bit. A lot of people won’t like that, you don’t want to have to sit there and analyze a film to enjoy it. You shouldn’t have to delve deep into the themes to enjoy a film, but I think you do for this. An alien invasion film should be mass-market, and though Peele’s previous work has been highbrow, they’ve also been instantly accessible in a way that I’m not entirely sure this is.

I mean, it makes sense as a film, but if you watch it and don’t think about it, then it’s just going to be “okay”, if anything it’s going to seem too simple. It’s only when you think about it that the complexities reveal themselves. It’s kind of frustrating that that’s the case because it means it’s hard to defend this film without sounding like an obnoxious prick “no no, that was there because it’s about how that animal was being watched by a room full of people showing their teeth and it interpreted it as a violent gesture and lashed out. This ties into the main themes because humans feel they can control things when they can’t, they forget basic animal instincts and get cocky which leads to their destruction, it led to the deaths on set, and to the mass deaths in the theme park, it’s ALL CONNECTED”.

It’s a shame as this VERY smart and deserves plaudits. It looks fantastic, there’s a lot tension when there needs to be, and the performances are amazing. I do highly recommend this, but there is a chance you just won’t like. It’s one of those “1 or 5 star” films, I don’t think there’s an in between. But I’d rather that than a “meh” film.

The Gray Man (2022)

Quick Synopsis: When the CIA’s top asset — his identity known to no one — uncovers agency secrets, he triggers a global hunt by assassins set loose by his ex-colleague.

Bless netflix, they keep trying. The way people consume movies has changed, and netflix, logically, wants a piece of that. Big-budget, loud, explosive blockbusters always sell to the masses, so that’s what they try. They’re not going with small actors and directors either, they’ve roped in Will Smith, Ryan Reynolds, The Rock, Adam Sandler, Scorsese, De Niro etc. But they still can’t quite to the level needed. Yeah, the stuff gets watched by people, but the effects don’t last long. Just compare that to the television shows they’ve done; you don’t need to have watched Stranger Things to be aware of it. Stranger Things, Sandman, House Of Cards etc, they’ve penetrated pop culture in a way that none of the Netflix original movies has managed.

So, does this movie break that underwhelming run? I mean, it’s got Ryan BabyGoose, Chris Evans in full heel mode (and reunited with fellow Knives Out cast member Ana De Armas), it’s based on a successful book (which has sequels, so easy to franchise), and made by the Russo brothers (no, not Vince Russo, even netflix aren’t that stupid), who directed two Captain America movies, and the last two Avengers movies (you may have heard of them). So all pre-watch indicators say that it should be great.

I mean, obviously, it’s not, if a film was that good, I wouldn’t have waited until the third paragraph to let you know. That whole preamble was just to set up the inevitable disappointment. It’s alright, but it’s been less than a week and I’ve already forgotten a lot of what happened. The trouble is it never feels like it has its own identity. Die Hard is “the film in the skyscraper”, John Wick is defined by its stylistic choices. There’s no equivalent way to describe this. I’m not sure how you would define this movie in terms of describing it in a way that makes it stand out (I’m not sure “That Netflix Action Movie” counts). You won’t watch other films in the future and think “ah, they stole that shot from The Gray Man”. You’re not going to hear someone in the future say “I was inspired to get into film-making/writing by watching The Gray Man”. All it does feel like is a tribute to other films. The whole thing feels like a remake of a 90s Harrison Ford film which starred a young Ben Affleck as the villain. A film made in 2022 shouldn’t feel as dated as this does. It is possible to do a spy film, adhere to the tropes, and not feel as 90’s as this one does.

It does have it’s good side; Chris Evans playing an evil prick is always entertaining to see, and Ryan BabyGoose never fails to bring it, De Armas continues to impress but still needs THAT role to take her to the next level. Personal opinion, they messed up on one bit of casting. There’s a character at the start (Sierra Four) who is an assassin who worked for the CIA and gets killed while attempting to expose corruption. Considering the genre, and the pull that the Russo brothers have, they should have had a big name here. A fun cameo to please the audience, instead it’s just some guy. I mean, no disrespect to Callan Mulvey, he’s a talented performer, but it definitely feels like a wasted opportunity.

That’s a good summary of the film really: it’s good, but you really feel it could be better if it cared.

Fall (2022)

Quick synopsis: Becky is attempting to get over the death of her husband Dan. Her friend Hunter suggests climbing a 2,0000 foot radio tower in the middle of nowhere. It does not go well for them.

There are different levels to enjoying a film. Sometimes you find it really funny, sometimes it discusses themes that you identify with and thus is very important to you, and sometimes it’s so technically brilliant that you have to admire it. This, I enjoyed in a weird way, in a “I want this to be over now. I want to leave” way. I’ve watched quite a few films I’ve hated at the cinema, and I’ve stayed to the end. Even when I know the film isn’t going to get any better, I stay, the thought of leaving never really entering my head. But this? This I felt like leaving. It was so tense, so nauseating that there were times I wasn’t sure I could handle it. At one point I heard at least three people utter variations of “nope, fuck that” and leave. There are moments where you know they’re not going to die there because the film would be over very quickly, but you never get past that “oh fuck no” part of your brain. People are not supposed to dangle from a 2,000 foot tower by one hand so you can get a good picture! It goes against that evolutionary part of your brain that says “FFS don’t do that”.

This feeling of panic is helped by how well directed it is. Scott Mann did a fantastic job of making you feel the panic and terror the characters are going through. He frames everything in a way that you cannot help but be constantly reminded of the peril they’re in. Once they’re up the tower, everything feels real and you sense the height. A lot of films struggle with backgrounds like that, even in big-budget films like Captain Marvel the backgrounds look fake and 2-dimensional. Sadly the start of this has the same problem. It’s weird as the tower scenes look so good, but the moments when the three characters are climbing rocks at the start look quite fake. It’s a disappointing start to the movie and really gets it off on the wrong foot. After that, it picks up, and once the husband dies (spoilers) it improves a lot. Becky becomes an alcoholic recluse who lashes out at those who try to help. Grace Caroline Currey gives a superb performance as someone who is completely broken, and Virginia Gardner does too, but in a different way. There’s a mid-plot revelation that completely changes the dynamic between the two and they play it perfectly.

The revelation is one that you do see coming, I can’t imagine anybody being shocked by it when it is revealed. A part of me thinks this was deliberately obvious so it could set you up for another reveal later. It is so busy distracting you with one hand you don’t realise the other hand is stealing your wallet. It’s very smart storytelling, especially when you consider that the story is very simple. What this story does very well is set things up that pay off later. There’s a certain piece of dialogue which you think is a mistake (and one of the characters actually lampshades) but really it’s foreshadowing, so damn smart.

A lot of people will be put off by this film, and it is a difficult thing to sell to people without it sounding kind of boring. Yes, a lot of it is just two people on a surface the size of a small table. But it’s incredibly engrossing. I think part of this is because it has a longer set-up than usual, you know and like the characters. The audience sees what they’re like outside of this situation, so when they act out of character it actually means something. The opening is brilliantly paced because it kind of calms you down and puts you in a serene state of mind. It also means that the tower slowly breaking as the characters climb it is milked for every possible piece of tension. It’s like winding a jack-in-the-box toy, you’re just there waiting for it to pop up.

So in summary, this is one of the best cinema experiences I’ve ever had. A great film that will put you on the edge of your seat and you’ll be thrilled by. But you’ll never ever want to see it again.