We Have A Ghost (2023) Review

Quick synopsis: The Presley family (no relation) move into a house which turns out to be haunted. Together, the family and the ghost (“Ernest”) work out the mystery of how Ernest died, as well as how to use the haunting to make money money money money in this haunting (see what I did there?) comedy horror starring Anthony Mackie and David Harbour.

I had heard bad things about We Have A Ghost (or WHAG, pronounced Warg). On the one hand, it’s written and directed by Christopher Landon, who gave us the wonderful Freaky, and the fun-as-fuck Happy Death Day films. But on the other hand, it was also written and directed by Christopher Landon, who gave us the sixth Paranormal Activity film, as well as the unfunny juvenile Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse, so it could go either way. Early reviews made me think this would be terrible. But it’s actually fun. I’m not saying this will end up being my favourite film of the year, but it doesn’t deserve the low scores it has on Metacritic. Although one of the user reviews just describes it as “this movie crosses the line. It’s white shaming bullsh*t and if it was the other way around it would have been cancelled instantly. I can’t believe people let this slide. Seems that all this cancel culture is a one-way thing. Into the trash it goes” which translated means “This film has black people in it”. There is a line about “not doing the typical white people horror movie thing and staying”. But that’s because almost every notable haunted house movie (Poltergeist etc) feature almost entirely white casts. If you see that one line and think “this movie hates white people” then that reveals more about you than it does the movie. Primarily that you’re a racist douchbag.

With the exception of Mackie and Harbour the cast are mostly unknowns, the main cast anyway. The supporting cast includes esteemed names like famous MILF Jennifer Coolidge, Chris D’Elia replacement Tig Notaro, and professional vitamin seller Dr Phil, or to give him his full medical name: Phil, just Phil. I think at least one of the main cast could end up being a big deal, but not sure who. Isabella Russo shines in the brief moments she’s in, very reminiscent of Edge Of Seventeen-Era Hailee Steinfeld in terms of energy. Niles Fitch has been on the edge of success lately with his role in This Is Us, but that’s yet to find much of an audience outside of the US. With the right role, he could break through. I do have to point out how good David Harbour is in this though, especially considering he has no dialogue yet there are times when you don’t really notice that. If there’s any justice though, this will be the breakout role for Jahi Winston (who doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page yet).

It didn’t get off to a good start. The opening scene in a horror/comedy needs to do one (ideally both) of the following. This does neither. There are no real scares until about 6 minutes in and no jokes until around that time either. And no jokes that made me laugh until 7 minutes in when someone responded to an order by playing The Imperial March on guitar. It’s a really cute moment which endears the audience to the character. That helped warm me to the movie. I assumed the film would be focused on the ghost’s friendship with Anthony Mackie’s character, instead the main spectral relationship is with the son. This was the right choice and provides multiple sweet moments. It’s a very touching story that is genuinely moving at times. It also provides a weirdly accurate portrayal of what would probably happen in reality if a ghost was discovered and evidence posted online. By which I mean, TikTok users tell everyone the creepy sex fantasies they’ve been having about the ghost.

But WHAG brings the (family-friendly) scares when it needs to too. The scene where Ernest haunts the television production crew is genuinely unsettling and wonderful. You can argue it’s never as scary as it could be, but I get the feeling it’s not aiming for “terrifying you until you poo yourself”, but is going for more “spooky”. It’s the kind of horror movie you watch with your kids after get back from trick or treating.

Not to say that the parents wouldn’t get anything from this. They’ll appreciate the family relationship. This is marketed as a horror comedy, but at its core, it’s like the Fast and The Furious movies; it’s all about family (and if you think I didn’t say that like it was said in Shazam! Fury Of The Gods, you’d actually be right because I didn’t say it out loud, I just typed it). The father/son relationship is really the driving force behind the whole plot. It influences decisions which directly cause the narrative to flow like it does. It also causes one of the best lines:

“When your kids are little it’s easy to be a parent. They don’t see who you actually are, they just see the good stuff, what you want them to see. But eventually, as they grow up parts of yourself that you don’t like become harder and harder to hide”

That says so much about not only that character, but his relationship with his children. It’s so perfectly done that I loved it.

Whilst that’s perfect, the film itself is not a perfect film by any means, it feels incredibly neutered at times like it was originally supposed to be more adult and they cut it down so would appeal to more people. There’s also a ghosthunter/military subplot that achieves nothing except waste both time and the comedic talents of Tig Notaro. It’s a part of the plot that just gets in the way of what we want to see. If you got rid of it it would create a few plot holes, but they’re minimal-sized holes that you could close up with a few carefully placed pieces of narrative needlework.

This is a fun netflix film. It’s hampered slightly by the fact that a lot of what it’s done has been done before, and done better, by big films (ET, Ghostbusters etc). It’s not going to be your favourite film of the year, but it is entertaining. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a really good bacon sandwich. Won’t change the world, but will fill a hole (sex joke) and make you happy for a short moment. It also has a genuine tearjerker of an ending.

Polite Society (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: A martial artist-in-training believes she must save her older sister from her impending marriage. 

I caught a singular trailer for this a while back and was intrigued. It looked cool, looked well-made, and (most importantly), it looked fun. It reminded me of We Are Lady Parts (WALP, pronounced, well, Walp), and a small part of me worried about that. Not because I didn’t like WALP, I loved that show. But I did think “Wait, do I think this just because they’re both women-centric comedy dramas about Islamic people in modern Britain?”. Because if so, that makes me a bit dodgy. You know, a bit like people who count Get Out and Beverly Hills Cop as similar because “both Black Cinema”.

Turns out there was a reason for the similarities, both Polite Society and WALP were written/directed by Nida Manzoor. Polite Society is an incredibly ambitious attempt for a first-time feature, and she nails it. She’s great at balancing different tropes and expectations across multiple genres within the same film. For this to work we need to believe the central relationship between the sisters. We also need Ria to seem likeable so that she doesn’t just come off as a weird jealous younger sibling. Manzoor handles the characterisation perfectly, but she is lucky that Ria is played by Priya Kansara, I’m not that familiar with her work (I think this is her first lead role) but her performance in this was so good that her being in something could end up being the deciding factor as to whether I watch something in the future. Priya has great chemistry with Ritu Arya (who plays her sister Lena), you genuinely believe they love each other.

The other thing needed for this to work: the stunts. Ria is a stunt woman, which adds a certain expectation to the fight scenes. If they were found lacking it would make it difficult to enjoy the film; it would be like having a film about a character who’s a very talented musician, but the music is terrible. I loved the action sequences in this, they’re done in such a playful way that it’s almost ballet in terms of how intricate some of the physical interactions are. On the downside, there isn’t one that stands out, they are good but quite similar in structure and layout. I’m not saying a film like this NEEDS a stand-out scene, but it does help to have a sequence you can point out to people and say “See, THIS is the moment” which you can use as an anchor.

Now how does this film rank in terms of plot? It’s a lot better than you’d think. It does the whole “Is Ria right to be mistrustful?” dilemma perfectly, not outright saying whether she’s right or not for most of the film. Is the mother angry because she’s evil, or because Ria is being obnoxious and trying to ruin the wedding? And is Lena being abused, or has she just given up and gone through a depressive state? Most of the motivations are very open to interpretation and inspire internal debate throughout. Then you have the third act. Trying to think how to say this without spoiling it; it’s batshit insane. It’s something that will turn some people off BECAUSE of where it goes, but I absolutely loved it. Not just because I like weird, but also because whilst it seems like it comes out of nowhere, it is set up beforehand, you just don’t realise it. It’s absolutely magnificent and the reveal will probably end up being one of the year’s highlights.

In summary, one of the best things I’ve seen this year. It has everything I love in a film; performances, story, action sequences, original, an X-Ray Spex song, and Blaze from Gladiators. I hope everybody watches this film, as it deserves a huge audience.

Operation Fortune: Ruse De Guerre (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: Guy Ritchie spy shit, involving an arms dealer who is a fan of an actor.

I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (or OFRdG: pronounced Offradag) was originally supposed to be released in January 2022 before being treated like a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia, being randomly dragged away and hidden with no idea when they will ever be released, if at all.

That reference to Russia wasn’t just a subtle way to insult the country, there’s no way I’d randomly say that the Russian government is full of homophobic hate with supporters who are in as much denial as Vanilla Ice when he’s asked about stealing the music from Under Pressure. I mention it because Russia impacted the release of OFRdG. The villains in OFRdG are Ukrainian, and it was felt to be in bad taste to release a film with Ukrainian villains at a time when the country is under attack not just militarily, but also culturally from online sources claiming the country deserves to be invaded because they’re all Nazi’s. There’s an argument to be made that this is censorship and people aren’t stupid enough to use a film as a basis for reality. But there is another argument that some things just aren’t wise to make at certain times, and would be akin to Hollywood releasing a film called “Goldenstein The Filthy Jew Vampire” in 1943 (as opposed to just having Disney giving all their villains hook noses, an obsession with money, and many other tropes that just coincidentally happen to be anti-semitic tropes). That was a year ago, the film has been deemed safe to release now that there are fewer Ukrainian citizens still alive who can be offended.

I appreciate that was a weird way to start the review, by not really talking about OFRdG at all. That’s because there’s really not much to this. This does not feel like the Guy Ritchie who gave the world Snatch or Lock Stock. This feels like the Guy Ritchie that gave us Swept Away and Aladdin. It doesn’t feel like there’s any love in it. There’s nothing memorable about it. It lacks not only his visual flair but also the crowd-pleasing narrative twists and turns. There’s a real identity crisis about the whole thing. There are so many moments which if they were fleshed out could form the basis of a great film, even the “Hollywood actor” thing seems weirdly underplayed and not developed enough despite being the main plot point.

It’s a waste of a massively talented ensemble cast. Almost everybody is doing a good job but they’re not really given enough to do. I have no desire to watch this again, everything it does competently has been done much better elsewhere. You’d think “A comedy spy movie about a Hollywood actor being enlisted to investigate a criminal” would be a “once every 4 years” or so, but if this wasn’t delayed then it would have been the second film of 2022 with that plot and would have been the worst option out of the two.

I really wanted to enjoy this, I wanted it to be one of my favourite films of the year. As it is, I would fail a multiple-choice exam about the events of this film. I can only remember one of the characters’ names, and that’s only because it was mentioned in the trailers a lot. I certainly can’t remember the dialogue. The only thing about the dialogue that I can remember is that at some point I realised how much Jason Statham’s dialogue sounds like Garth Marenghi. Add a “fuck” and it works the other way around too.

Looking up those quotes and finding the best one provided more laughs for me than this entire movie. That says two things: 1) this isn’t a great movie. 2) I have too much time on my hands. But I have even less now I had to watch this. If it wasn’t for Hugh Grant then the entire film would be a massive waste of time.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 3 (2023) Review

Quick synopsis: The Guardians struggle when Adam Warlock gravely injures Rocket, and they have to band together to find a way to save his life or risk everything falling apart.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 3 (or Gotgv3, pronounced Gotgivthree) is exactly what you expect this film to be; for better and worse. The MCU (pronounced Mackyew) has felt like it’s been spinning plates for a while; as if it doesn’t matter what order the films get released in because they don’t connect to each other in any way. I remember before I watched Doctor Strange I made sure to watch Wandavision and the Doctor Strange episode of What If? so that I wouldn’t be lost. I have yet to watch The Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special which was released last year on Disney+, and I wasn’t lost. Looking at the wikipedia page for that TV special and the first sentence is “The Guardians of the Galaxy have purchased Knowhere from the Collector and taken in Cosmo the Spacedog as a new member.”. That’s pretty much the only important thing and both of those you can kind of piece together anyway just by paying attention. They do mention Mantis and Quill being related in Gotgv3, but your brain kind of assumes they are anyway, and it makes no difference to the narrative so it doesn’t matter. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again if it doesn’t change; the MCU needs to start advancing the overall narrative, or people will start to think “I’ll wait to see it” and not feel they’re missing out on a cultural zeitgeist.

The last film James Gunn directed was The Suicide Squad, but this feels more like the other Suicide Squad movie. By which I mean the needle drops are too frequent and badly placed. It’s a shame as the other two Guardians films had iconic soundtracks, and this does too, but the songs are just badly used. Some of the choices are a little too predictable too, it’s not quite “We need to show this film is happy, so play Walking On Sunshine” levels of obviousness, but there are moments where it’s close. Like a lot of films in the MCU, there’s also a problem with tone. Bleak depressing moments of horrificness (that’s my band name) are followed by glib jokes or fun rock songs. It’s a shame as there are plenty of truly emotional moments that will kind of break you at times, but it could hit you harder.

Now onto the good, this features one of the best action scenes in the MCU, a single-shot sequence that encapsulates every character taking out a group of enemies in increasingly elaborate ways as we make our way down a hallway. It’s so beautiful to watch it all unfold in front of you, the delicate interplay between the characters and the moments making it feel less like a fight scene, and more like a highly choreographed ballet. It’s the closest the MCU has ever got to Oldboy.

Gotgv3 also features one of the most detestable villains the franchise has ever witnessed. A lot of villains so far have been sympathetic and tragic, or have been so cartoon-ey that it’s hard to take them seriously. The High Evolutionary isn’t justified or given a sad background like an X-Factor contestant, instead, he’s just a complete prick who you want to see fail. Unlike Thanos or Killmonger, you’re not likely to see swathes of people supporting him and wearing his face on t-shirts. What you will see is a large sense of cathartic release when he suffers, which is how it should be. Amazingly, Chukwudi Iwuji manages to pull off this character without seeming one-dimensional. It is strange to see Superstore’s Nico Santos as such an evil character too, I was just sitting in the cinema thinking “Mateo, you dick”.

It’s a good thing the High Evolutionary is as impressive as he is, as the eagerly anticipated Adam Warlock feels slightly underused. If he is in future projects then this can be forgiven as a set-up, but only if he does develop as a character. If he stays as he is, it will feel like a missed opportunity.

This is likely to be the last film with this iteration of the Guardians together as a group, and this is a fitting send-off. All the characters are given a chance to shine, and their fantastic chemistry continues to be a delight.

The real highlight in terms of characters though, is Rocket Racoon. He’s given a lot more to do in this and provides a lot of the emotional high points. It’s truly harrowing seeing what he goes through, and it actually helps explain his characterisation from previous films. This is what flashbacks should do, they should not just tell a story, they should also help provide context to things that have already happened and help flesh out the character. From the moment he meets his friend group, you know how it’s going to end, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing when it does, and it means his violent response feels warranted (even when you see the true extent of the injuries he doled out).

So in summary, I would recommend this. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a modern MCU film, I wouldn’t bother staying for the second credits scene though.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: Bowser wants to get married to Princess Peach, she would rather that doesn’t happen so enlists the help of a random plumber.

At the time of writing, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the highest-grossing film of 2023, the sixth highest-grossing animated film of all time (already surpassing every Pixar movie with the exception of Incredibles 2), had the biggest opening weekend for an animated film, the first film based on a video game to gross over a billion dollars worldwide. That’s all well and good, but I’d be lying if I said it deserved those accolades. Fun fact; the highest-grossing animated film? The 2019 remake of The Lion King, that seems wrong somehow. This is a fun film, but that’s all it is. It looks absolutely gorgeous, the visuals (and the music) are full of interesting references and in-jokes, so you can tell the animators are true fans of the franchise. The writing? Not so much. A lot of the jokes don’t seem to be thought of specifically for this film, they could go into any movie. This means the whole script seems incredibly generic, nothing about it makes it stand out as either a very good movie or even as a Mario movie. There are a few plot points which are heavy references to the franchise, but they’re shoehorned in with all the subtlety and grace of a drunken elephant twerking. Yes, it is fun to see the karts appear, but they don’t really add anything to the narrative. That, along with many other moments, is just there for the sake of being there. Like they knew they needed to reference the karts so just threw them in where they could without an attempt to make it seem natural. There’s no attempt to be intelligent or appeal to anybody who’s not already expected to like it. There are too many moments where you’re acutely aware that you’re watching a kids’ film, with a few scenes which are (and this is not fun to say) kind of embarrassing. There’s no attempt to be anything better than a basic disposable kids’ film. It’s a shame. The Lego Movie has shown how films like this can and should be done; with wit and intelligence.

On the upside, Jack Black is fantastic. His singing the Peaches’ song is undoubtedly the best part of the whole thing. Most of the other vocal performers are fine, nothing special, they just exist in this movie. There’s nothing particularly wrong with wrong, but they’re all so generic that it’s difficult to remember who was who. It’s also much better than the previous attempt at a Mario movie (not that that’s difficult).

I imagine kids will like this, but it’s the kind of film which parents will be really annoyed about being forced to watch again and again. The best it will do for parents is remind them of playing the games as a youth. There are a few moments where tonally it might remind you of those terrible Friedberg And Seltzer parody movies where instead of jokes they just have references. Nobody wants to be reminded of those films, not even the people who were in them.

So in summary, it’s a fine movie. By which I mean, when someone asks how it is, all you can see is “It’s fine”. Nobody can doubt it’s a successful film, I just wish it was also a good one. I wish there was half as much love put into the narrative and dialogue as there is the animation.