Your Place Or Mine (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: A drunken hook-up leads to a lifelong friendship between Debbie and Peter. Twenty years later, Debbie is a single mother who is overly cautious regarding her son, and Peter is working hard at a New York job making dough but it makes him blue. They both end up crying a lot so they decide to move…….to each other’s houses for a few weeks.

So, a few years ago I transitioned this site from “occasional reviews/musings once a week” to “REVIEW EVERYTHING! (new)” where I mention everything I see at the cinema, as well as notable streaming releases. But therein lies the issue, how do we define a “notable” streaming release? There’s a lot of shit put on Netflix etc, so I need some form of internal quality control before adding it to the to-watch list. This isn’t a policy based on external reviews or budget or stars, it’s almost entirely on “Does this interest me?”. Sometimes what interests me is the plot, sometimes it’s a sequel to a film I loved, and sometimes it’s just because a lot of people have spoken about it and I feel I need to check it out.

Your Place Or Mine (or YPOM, pronounced Yup-pomb) was none of those things, it was led by two performers (Reece Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher) who I feel ambivalent towards, the plot is a generic rom-com, and it’s received bad-to-middling reviews. So why did I watch this? Like all things in life, it’s because of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. That’s one of my favourite sitcoms of all time, and yes a lot of that is down to Rachel Bloom, but it is also down to the co-creator, Aline Brosh McKenna. This is her feature directorial debut, and I was curious as to how it would be.

So, how is it? Well, the fact that I went on that long opening tangent gives a good indication as to whether I loved it or not. I wanted to like it, I really did. Despite my apparent dismissiveness of romantic comedies earlier, I do love a well-written one (my issue with the genre is that a lot of them AREN’T well-written and are just a bucket of cliches).

YPOM is doomed by its concept. The two characters engage in a quick house swap for a short while. It’s a good way to show the differences (and similarities) between the two characters, and provides some decent “fish out of water” moments, as well as allowing them to kind of explore each other’s personalities. But do you what it means we don’t get? The two interacting with each other face-to-face. With the exception of the opening 2 minutes, and the closing 5 or so, they only speak to each other via phone calls or through a third party. A romantic comedy depends on good chemistry between the actors, and this doesn’t allow us to see if they have any. This kind of approach (where you purposely keep them apart so that the audience is waiting for them to meet) can work. It’s the concept of the absolutely SUBLIME television series Love Soup. But it takes a lot of talent from everybody for it to work, it also needs a bit more time than this film gives it. If YPOM was a television series it might have worked, but tackling it one go makes the whole thing slightly unsatisfying. YPOM starts with a split-screen conversation between the two, and I would have LOVED it if THAT was the film. If the whole film was split-screen and we see both characters going through an individual story at the same time, then the closing is the split disappearing and the two appear together. It would have been incredibly difficult to write and perform (both characters would have to spend time “doing nothing” but making it look believable), but it would have been interesting and would have given the film a hook.

I’m not sure it’s helped by the performances, Witherspoon and Kutcher just don’t come off as a natural couple, and their presence together makes it feel weirdly dated. This is not the best work from either of them, with both performances feeling slightly phoned in. Witherspoon, in particular, gives a performance which isn’t bad but is painfully generic and not good enough for someone with the background and career she has.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to like in this. The way it shoots phone calls is a creative way of showing how in sync the two characters are. The argument at the end taking place while the characters are on two opposing moving walkways provides a lot of creative and fun visuals, plus adds a weird physical dynamic nature to it. There are also moments where it seems to spoof generic romantic comedies, making fun of the tropes and conventions. The best example of this is the ending, where we see the following text:

“they lived happily ever after. Just kidding, marriage is hard, but they had a good life”.

It takes guts to end a romantic comedy like that, and moments like that show the potential this film had if it was let off the leash. But it’s too often trapped in the net of its own conventions.

So in summary, an ambitious attempt, but one that doesn’t quite work.

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.

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.

Renfield (2023) Review

Quick synopsis: Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) wants to escape his life of servitude to Dracula (Nicholas Cage). Dracula is less than thrilled with this prospect.

If you look at the cast of Renfield you get a good indication of the tone: Awkwafina (she’s a genius), Ben Schwartz (he’s the WOOOOORST), and of course, the two Nicks; Cage and Hoult. That alone tells you that this will not be an intense character study. It’s going to be fun(ny), it’s going to be as subtle as a crowbar to the nuts, and it’s going to be weird. This feels destined to be a cult movie, it’s ultra-violent but in a weirdly “Rated 15” way, and has a lot of fun moments. If you’re a fan of the Dracula mythos, particularly the cinematic depictions then you’re going to find a lot of fun references to appreciate in this. Some of the references are very obvious; with the director changing the filming style to show an obvious homage to the 1931 depiction. Whereas some are more subtle, depending on musical cues and mannerisms. Cage’s Dracula is obviously based on the performance of Christopher Lee, and you couldn’t ask for someone more bombastically perfect than Cage.

I’ve seen some criticism that Cage isn’t in it enough, with people saying he should have had more focus than Hoult’s character of Renfield. I feel that’s an entirely subjective viewpoint, and people are just critiquing a film for not being exactly what they think it should be. It’s obvious this film is going to be about the character of Renfield, it’s literally the title. I actually like the character’s interactions with Awkwafina’s Rebecca Quincy. There’s a nice warmth to their interactions. Awkwafina is a great choice for the foul-mouthed idealistic ball of energy, playing well off Hoult’s more deadpan and “seen it all before” world-weariness.

Cage isn’t in Renfield much (the film, not the title character), that is true. But the shadow of his character looms over the narrative heavily, with his relationship with Renfield coming off more like an abusive relationship. That’s not accidental by the way, it’s flat-out stated in the dialogue that it’s like an abusive relationship. It’s a really smart choice and allows for some good laughs which are only possible in this film. The fight scenes are also full of unique moments, featuring set pieces and stunts which you’re not likely to see in lots of other media. I do appreciate how they didn’t just mine the “Big Book Of Action Set Pieces and Jokes” for this, they thought of unique moments and lines and then put them in, it shows that they actually put the effort in.

Now onto the downside; I wasn’t a fan of a moment near the end. The main characters bring back to life a number of characters who were slaughtered by Dracula earlier in the film. My issues: why only them? A lot of characters die, and not many get brought back. Also, it kind of minimizes their deaths and the potential emotional impact they had. It doesn’t even really seem worth it, if you deleted the resurrections then you wouldn’t miss them from the narrative. It just feels like it was done to end the film on a slightly lighter note and give the good characters a “happy” ending. It’s a shame as there are some parts of the ending which I love. What they do with Dracula’s body is hilariously twisted and brilliant, the definition of necessary overkill (yes, I know that seems like a contradiction but trust me).

So, in summary, I would recommend this, it’s a lot of fun and even if you don’t like it you’re likely to be amused throughout. Plus it teaches us a very important life lesson; you can use cocaine to solve your problems.

Assassin Club (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: An elite assassin is given his final contract and must kill seven people around the world, only to discover the targets are equally skilled assassins hired to kill him.

There are few things that frustrate me more as a reviewer than a film that’s just “meh”. A film that is so bland that it’s difficult to talk about. So thank the heavens for a film like Assassin Club, a film that gives me so much to talk about on account of being absolute shit. It’s a confusing mess, not in a “the plot is too complicated” way, but in a visual way. It’s like it was made with no idea how to visually tell a story. Choices are made with the shots and edits which are truly baffling. It’s almost as if they were hoping the audience would see a sequence of quick jump cuts and be fooled into thinking that what they were watching was exciting. But it’s not exciting, again, it’s shit. Nothing about it ever goes above generic, I don’t know how such talented performers could seem so amateur. Noomi Rapace is better than this, she has proven it again and again, so I don’t know what she thought was doing in this but it’s not working. Henry Golding, again, has proven his talent in films like Crazy Rich Asians and Snake Eyes, to the point where there is a discussion about him possibly being the new Bond. In those circumstances, the studio will be looking to films like this as a litmus test as to whether he can pull it off. I have to admit, Assassin Club doesn’t help his case; despite being the lead it doesn’t really give much of an indication of what he can actually do as an action star. Every action scene is cut to an incomprehensible mess that gives the appearance that they were cutting around his failures as a performer.

The actors aren’t helped by the script, which, again, makes some decisions which seem a bit weird. For example; it builds up one of the assassins as a mysterious mystery, their name is not known, and neither is their face or any other identifiable features. Logically, a mystery like this is done so that you can have a reveal later on where it turns out a character you thought was harmless turns out to be the mystery assassin. The fact that the other assassins get killed off so quickly indicates that the direction the story is going in will be based on “let’s uncover this mystery person”. Nope, she (oh yeah, the character is a she) gets revealed in the next few minutes. So what was the point of having them be a mystery in the first place? The script makes the characters idiotic too. A character is injected with poison and told “Give me the information I want and I’ll give you the antidote”. He refuses the antidote, choosing to die, but gives over the information anyway. This character, by the way, is played by Sam Neil, and his character really lets the film down. He constantly withholds information that will help Goldings’ character, just so it’s withheld from the audience. He justifies it by saying things like “I knew you were going to defeat them anyway”, but still; that information would be useful.

Films like this either need to be very smart, very slick, or very fun. This is neither. It’s so dumb it feels like a 90s movie, completely wasting its potential premise (a similar premise was seen in Smoking Aces, and they had the decency to have a VERY strong supporting cast). This should be an ensemble piece, it’s seven assassins sent to kill each other, why would you make that film and only have a singular plot thread? Keeping more of the assassins alive for longer would have meant that Rapace’s character wouldn’t have had to slam the face/heel revolving door quite as frequently as she does. There are also multiple instances where characters don’t take the really obvious choice that will solve their problem/allow them to escape. There’s no thread of intelligence running through the narrative, instead, there’s just a motorway of disappointment. It’s shot too badly to be slick. Some camera angles are chosen not because they are the best option, but because the director thought it would look impressive for the half a second it was used for, like they’d seen it be used in other films and thought “Hey, let’s copy that”, without understanding why those shots and techniques were used.

It’s also too dull to be fun. Everything about it has been done better by films which aren’t even great. It’s the film equivalent of a tribute act to a covers band, bringing absolutely nothing new to the table. In a year where John Wick showed just how good action films could be, all this shows us is that 65 has competition for “Worst film of the year”.

John Wick: Chapter 4 (2023) Review

Quick synopsis: Man still can’t get over the death of his dog

As a professional and respected reviewer, it’s important to remain impartial and not allow personal opinions and thoughts to influence what you write.

But I’m not respected, or professional, so fuck all y’all I can be as biased as I like. I was into this from the first trailer. (Note, only just realised I used a really similar opening to my review of the third one, weird).

Actually, I was into it from the teaser, which they used to announce it was delayed by a year. The actual trailer could have just been the words “Donny Yen is in this” and I would have known I wanted to see it because he’s amazing. His character doesn’t fully let loose in this on account of being blind, but he still performs some incredibly creative action set pieces. The fight between Caine and Wick is a great piece of not only action but also character work. That brings me to one of the criticisms of Chapter 4: It’s lacking a central “wow” scene. The action scenes are good, but there’s not one that you can look at and say “Okay, even if you don’t watch the film, watch this one scene”. It is also a little too long, but I’m not sure what can be cut out. Everything is needed (except maybe the part in the desert at the start), and even if you don’t realise it, there’s A LOT of world-building in this. Some might say too much; there were a few characters I thought “Oh, I can’t remember who that person is” who it turned out weren’t in any of the previous films. That only happens occasionally though, for the most part, you can figure out what’s happening just by paying attention. Wait, hold on a second

*checks old review and finds this*

“There’s so much that goes unsaid about the universe but is just implied and shown, it really sets it up as a universe which actually exists, and also means you have to be paying attention to everything. You actively engage with the films because you have to, you can’t just sit back and dip and out”

Huh, weird. For a series that constantly reinvents itself I do repeat my thoughts on it a lot. Although the review of the third one has reminded me of this: there’s a distinct lack of Anjelica Huston in this. It does have a good amount of Rina Sawayama in it, which is an upside. One of her songs plays over the closing credits and it will be a great loss if she’s not approached to do a Bond theme one day.

This is a fitting end to the franchise, well, the main series anyway as there is still a spin-off film out next year starring Ana De Armas (best known from Knives Out), plus a prequel TV series. It ends the only way this franchise could end, and it’s beautiful. There are talks of a sequel because of how well this did, but the only way that could work would be if it’s actually a prequel, or if it focused on different characters.

I would definitely want a comic book explaining the world more though, I feel there are a lot of subtle things I missed.

That previous paragraph would have made an apt way to end this review. Nope, I’m continuing.

Can we just appreciate how good Keanu is in this? He only speaks 380 words over the whole film, but you don’t notice. You never sit there thinking “I wish he could speak more”, he speaks when he needs to. Plus his physical performance is as good as it has been throughout this franchise. Chapter 4 probably has the best ensemble cast of the franchise. Shamier Anderson, Clancy Brown etc all slot into this world seamlessly. Skarsgard does too, and his arc over the course of Chapter 4 is fascinating to watch play out, especially when you think about it and wonder if the High Table thought he would fail and gave him the resources needed to hang himself.

That’s why I love this franchise, they’re not just the best action movies of the last decade, they also inspire a lot of conversation, but not in a “wait, what the hell actually happened?” way. They inspire debate and passion, and the world is a better place because these films are in them.

Shazam! Fury Of The Gods (2023) Review

Quick synopsis: After the events of the first film, Billy Batson lives with his super-powered siblings, then shit goes down due to Helen Mirren using a magic tree.

Before talking about Shazam! Fury Of The Gods (or FOTG, pronounced Phottog), I’m going to start talking about a subject I don’t often delve into; sports. You occasionally get times towards the end of the season when teams have nothing else to play for. From the fans to players and to the owners, everybody knows that what is about to happen is not important, so they don’t really pay much attention to it. It makes sense, it’s difficult to convince yourself to be invested in something when you know it doesn’t matter (that’s why nobody pays attention to any of my opinions). Fury Of The Gods has a similar problem, it’s hard to get invested in it when there’s a small part of you thinking “This is the last film with this character”. Nobody knows the future of the DC Universe, and Warner Bros are at the point where even “this film has been advertised and is in post-production” won’t stop them from cancelling a movie (RIP Batgirl, damn I wish I could see that movie). There’s no plan, everything seems to be decided on a whim, which causes a problem with audiences. The big problem is; Audiences don’t trust DC any more. There’s no excitement for the Flash movie, despite the fact it features the return of Keaton as Batman. This should be a big deal, but people are so jaded with DC at the moment that it doesn’t matter (doesn’t help that Ezra Miller is a prick). So how is that relevant to this? Well, it’s the only reason I can think of for the lacklustre box office. If you enjoyed the first one, you’d enjoy this. It’s tonally very similar to the first one; with a mix of genuine emotion and innocent humour of a kind you can only get away with if you have a character like this. Weirdly, and I am aware this may be sacrilege, the worst casting decision in this is Helen Mirren. She is a fantastic actress, and she does it well, but she’s just quite right for the character, especially compared to the other two. Lucy Liu, everybody knows what she’s capable of, and while it’s a shame she’s not given more to do physically, she has just enough to do for it to work. The best new cast addition is Rachel Zegler. Zegler is in a weird position because she has only had one film credit before this, so a small part of you considers her inexperienced and new. But that one role? Maria in West Side Story. So you go in with high expectations of her, whilst still being unsure of what she can bring. She brings everything, her character’s true motives are a bit too obvious to anybody who has ever seen a movie before, but she performs it so damn well that you don’t care.

That predictability is one of the weakest parts of FOTG, it doesn’t feel like it’s bringing anything new to the table. There are moments where it does look like it can, the opening attack on the Acropolis wouldn’t look out of place in a horror movie and really sets up the villains as a force to be reckoned with. Sadly, the villains then fall victim to the standard action movie trope of being able to wipe out hundreds of named characters immediately, but have to get close and get a direct hit to even damage a named character. There’s another scene where a teacher is compelled to step off a high building to their death, which is terrifying, and not really used again. The other weak part if the ass-pull at the end, where a certain superhero cameos to fix a problem that comes up, then leaves. This person shows up with the smallest amount of foreshadowing possible, with no indication of how she got there or how she knows to fix the problem, or even if she knew what the problem was.

On the plus side, there are things FOTG does a lot better than its predecessor. The relationship between Billy and his family is more developed in this. The family members themselves are also given a lot more to do. Darla, especially, now has enough about her that a spin-off is not completely out of the question. I mean, it’s not likely, but it would be fun to see. That’s kind of this film in a nutshell; not essential, but a lot of fun. I hope this isn’t the final outing for Levi as this character as he is damn near perfect in the role, I doubt they’ll find anybody better.

Dungeons And Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: A ragtag group of misfits go on a fetch quest.

Dungeons And Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (or to give it the title it should have if it’s spelt correctly: Dungeons And Dragon: Honour Among Thieves. Or as a shorter title: DADHAT) is actually the fourth Dungeons And Dragons movie, the previous ones starring Jeremy Irons, Marlon Wayans, and Thora Birch. Well, I say “previous ones”, they were all in the first one. The other two feature actors who are…..not as well known, and were released straight to DVD. So it’s fair to say expectations for this were not exactly what you’d call sky-high. Added to that, it was originally scheduled for release back in 2021, and a film being delayed by almost 2 years is never a good sign (for evidence of this: New Mutants, Morbius, and countless more). There’s not even a huge star to anchor this. Chris Pine is a good actor, sure, but he’s not at the level where members of the general public who don’t often go to the cinema will pay to see a film because he’s in it. So is there any hope for this film at all?

Turns out there is. Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley (who previously directed the supremely underrated Game Night) used a sneaky trick which I suspect may help this film turn a profit. A devious and sneaky trick which other studios may want to pick up on; they made a good film. I’m surprised more studios don’t do that tbh, it could become a trend. In fact, I’m hoping it does.

Now I’m not saying this is a great film, but it is definitely better than it needs to be. There’s a scene where a shapeshifter runs through a building and outside to her friends, they could have done this in any manner of ways to make their job easier. Instead; it’s one long continuous shot. That was completely unnecessary, nobody would have criticised it for going slightly cheaper by having the transformations happen off-screen (so a mouse runs behind a curtain, a tiger runs out etc), or even if they only did two transformations. Instead, it’s like the directors WANTED to make things difficult for themselves, and I admire that.

It’s moments like that that make you realise that DADHAT was made by people who actually gave a shit about what they were making. This extends to the performance too; Daisy Head (daughter of English Vampire/Richmond FC botherer Anthony Head, not relevant, but I only just discovered that and wanted to share it) spends most of the film with more make-up than [insert name of a woman that the internet has decided it hates now] and is still giving it everything. Hugh Grant is clearly in the “shits and giggles” stage of his career. It’s said that some struggling actors base decisions on what will allow them to eat that month. Hugh Grant definitely does that, only the thing he eats is the scenery, which he chews like you would not believe. It’s amazing to watch and gives you the impression that everyone on set was having a lot of fun. The chemistry between the cast will make you think they’ve all worked together as an ensemble (as opposed to working individually as ensembles obviously) multiple times. Some of the performers you will know; Hugh Grant, Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, even Bradley Cooper makes a random appearance. But the “new” performers more than earn their spot. Rege-Jean Page makes the journey from Bridgerton to Tonnes-Of-Bridges with ease. I wouldn’t say he’s the best performer, but he has such a magnificent screen presence that if a movie studio had any brains they’d sign him to lead a franchise. Justice Smith continues to be an entertaining presence (as he was in Detective Pikachu). My personal favourite is Sophia Lillis (best known from IT, Sharp Objects, and I Am Not Okay With This). Her performance as Doric is a delight to watch and I hope leads to even more for her in the future.

So what stops me from enjoying this even more? Because there are a few things it does badly. It’s difficult to take the threat seriously, because at times it feels like the characters aren’t. They do show fear when directly facing an enemy, and they do talk about their worries, but they also spend too much time making jokes about the situation they’re in. So because the characters don’t take it seriously, the audience doesn’t either, so there’s no tension. The attempt at emotion doesn’t really ring true. Finally, the “final boss” so to speak isn’t pushed as a big threat either, she barely gets a chance to flex her villainous muscles before she’s defeated.

Wait, underwhelming villain, tonally inappropriate jokes, zero tension, CGI Bradley Cooper, a final battle that is just CGI, and a lead actor called Chris. Is DADHAT part of the MCU?