Black Bear (2020)

Quick synopsis: Audrey Plaza plays an actress in her partners film, and gets jealous of how he acts with the woman playing his wife. Weirdness ensues (in shoes)

This was not what I expected. I expected standard Plaza snark. I heard it was a slight head-fuck so I was expecting something like Life After Beth. This is nothing like Life After Beth. This is…..it’s something else. It’s something unique. There’s not way I can talk about this without spoiling it so here goes. For the first third of the film we see Plaza walk into a guys house that he shares with his wife, and seduce him. It then turns out that was part of a film-within-a-film and in reality she’s the guys partner. As the film progresses we realise she’s worried that he’s cheating on her with the woman who plays his wife, an idea that he pushes as he thinks it will help her performance. That’s a very telling piece of character work as it highlights how he’ll put his work over his wife’s own mental health. This causes her to drink heavily (and the rest of the crew to be horrified with him).

That’s the most normal way I can describe it, and it still involves pointing out that a third of the film is a film within a film. It’s a weird film, but in an incredibly normal way. It’s not weird in what happens, there’s not really any “wow, that’s a freaky special effect” moment. It’s more a weirdness in terms of atmosphere and feeling. The whole film FEELS incredibly tense. You know when you’re drinking with people and it all feels normal, until two drunk people disagree? That feeling that hangs in the air, even when one of the two people leaves you still get that tension in the air, that tension where it feels almost certain that they’re going to come back and shoot everyone. It’s a heavy energy that weighs everyone down. THAT’S what this film is, and it’s a fantastic watch. Weird thing: I can’t remember that many individual moments. But it’s not a film of moments, it’s a film of tone. It’s almost like you take it all in at one moment like the characters in Arrival (fantastic film by the way). If it was an album it wouldn’t be one full of hit singles, but one you put on and listen to in full with headphones in the corner of a room.

It helps that it’s directly beautifully. Lawrence Michael Levine has the talent to let scenes breathe, going on longer than other directors would until it becomes uncomfortable to watch. Now I’m going to have to be very careful with how I phrase this next sentence, just go into it knowing it’s a compliment. It feels cheap. It doesn’t feel like a slick big budget film. It has the air of someone just grabbing a camera and filming something with their mates one weekend. It kind of feels like a documentary at times. Actually now I think about it it feels more like you’re hiding in the bushes watching it. There’s an incredibly voyeuristic quality to the film-making that makes it seem like you’re peeling apart the lives of these characters, witnessing things you shouldn’t be seeing. It’s wonderful and I love it. The type of film-making that makes you want to go into the directors back catalogue and see what else they’re capable of.

So in summary I think you should check it out, but be aware there is a chance that you will absolutely hate it.

In The Heights (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A musical about the lives of people living in Washington Heights, a neighbourhood in Manhattan.

I haven’t seen that many musicals. Usually when I do they’re either heavily gimmicked (Repo: A Genetic Opera, for example), or a jukebox musical (Rocketman). I think the last straight-out musical I watched at the cinema was La La Land back in 2016. It’s not that I actively avoid them, it’s just they’re not released that often. When they are they’re usually aimed specifically at a young teen audience, and I can’t really go to see those at a cinema without being put on a list.

It’s a shame as musicals can be really fun to watch. I like a film with a good soundtrack, it’s a good way for a film to stay in your memory once you leave the cinema. So a film with an original soundtrack that stays in your head for a long time is a film that’s likely to end up on my positive side. The quality of the music in this one ensured it will be in my good graces for a long time. The songs are insanely catchy, well-written, and wonderfully performed. Usually in a musical you end up with at least one weak link (Russell Crowe in Les Mis), one person who has a singing voice that isn’t up the standard required (Russell Crowe in Les Mis), who are so untalented that it makes you wonder how they got it. But everyone in this gives great performances, with fantastic harmonies and incredibly clear enunciation (which for a musical dependent on the songs to advance the plot, is something you kind of need).

The downsides of musicals is that it can be difficult to stay fully immersed, it can be hard to watch people singing about doing something, and NOT think “then shut up and just do it. You’re singing about your hidden plans, how are people not seeing that? You’re shining a spotlight on yourself for fucks sake, how are people not seeing that?”. It takes a good musical to make you forget that. This does that. It entraps you from the opening number (at least I’m assuming it’s the opening number, I stepped in the cinema about 20 seconds late). The universe the film creates is one where people randomly singing makes sense. It’s one where everything has a certain flow to it which suits this genre.

The performances? Really good. Almost all of the performers in here are new to me (with one notable exception). I mean, I KNOW I’ve seen some of them in things before, but this is the first time they’ve all stood out. It seems like most of the cast are from musicals, which is a much better way of doing it than going for people from a film background. The casting choices are all fantastic, to me anyway. There has been some criticism for the lack of Afro-Latino actors, cutting out a large demographic of the actual Washington Heights. I’m not sure whether that will effect it internationally, but it does look like it could effect it in the US.

I have no idea about the demographics of the area, so it didn’t really make a difference to my enjoyment of the film. And I did enjoy it. I saw this film just before seeing Supernova, a film about someone coming down with early-onset dementia, and one that really hit home hard. I should have had that on my mind for the walk home, but all I could think about was this. The way this film made me feel outlasted the sad aura of Supernova.

A lot of the trailers (Well, the one trailer I saw a lot) focused heavily on the Lin-Manuel Miranda, which makes sense as Hamilton was huge and he did the music for both. I must confess, I still haven’t seen Hamilton (this is the closest I’ve got), so I don’t know the similarities in musical style, but this has made me want to watch Hamilton even more. I feel the work of Jon M. Chu deserves praise too. His part in the publicity was “the director of Crazy Rich Asians”, which, to be honest, didn’t really mean anything to me. I’ve looked at his filmography, and it seems like this was the film his career has been building to. The colour of Crazy Rich Asians, obviously. But also the playfulness and creative set-pieces from Now You See Me 2, the large scale scenes which require multiple moving parts from G.I Joe, and the knowledge of how to shoot dancing scenes from Step Up and the Justin Bieber movie. His next project is the film adaptation of Wicked, which could be good, but it does make me worry that he will be known as “musical guy” when I’d be interested in see him try new and weird things. He was lined up to do a live action adaptation of Lilo And Stitch, but sadly he’s left those duties. That’s a shame as a live-action Disney film is something I feel he could do very well. Something else I think he’d do well: Goosebumps. Not even specifically that franchise, but that kind of film, a horror movie aimed at kids. He directs in a way that is visually striking, with all the pieces flowing together beautifully. It’s almost the cinematic equivalent of an ocean with the expansive nature and glistening look. Yup, that’s a weird way of describing it, but it’s the best way I can think of it. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a film that can best be described as “a holiday in Spain” with how it made me feel. It reminds me very much of those holidays when I was younger. The sense of wonder, the warmth, and the feeling of being invited into a world completely different from your own. It made me feel nostalgic for things that never happened to me.

Now onto the negative. The narrative is a bit weak. It tries to do so much but doesn’t have the length to do them all justice. Certain plot points don’t seem to have been followed, and certain things which should be important don’t seem to have the effect they do. There are a few songs which possibly could have been cut. There’s one near the end which I wouldn’t say needs cutting as it leads to an emotional moment where a character dies, so the song itself is needed. But that being said, it could stand to lose a verse or two. Some of the songs go on for what feels unnaturally long, and for those moments the film seems to stand still. It doesn’t happen often, and it’s not like every song is like that. It’s just one or two moments where songs could have been cut down a bit.

Overall, a fantastic film and one I know I need to see again .

Together (2021)

This is available on iplayer, so if you’re in the UK right now it’s available easily and for free. It’s worth more than that. I actually messaged people before it was over, telling them they need to watch it. The opening is essentially two characters (played by McAvoy and Horgan) arguing with each other via you, so they’re just talking to you about how much they hate each other. So yeah, just two characters talking, that should be incredibly dull, yet the writing and the performances draw you in beautifully.

The way the characters interact is masterful, the genuine anger between them is there for everyone to see, but it’s not cliche anger. It’s not the anger that comes from a misunderstanding, it’s anger that comes from philosophical differences. They have the kind of arguements that long term relationships have, it all feels so real. Amongst that, it is incredibly funny, with some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in a long time. For a stretch of this film I considered this one of the funniest films of the year.

And then it’s suddenly very not.

They start talking about the government response to COVID, about how their inaction led to deaths and the disease spreading out of their control. About how everybody could see the warning signs and the government continued to do nothing. The film becomes less funny, but much more important. It feels like film as a way of protest, as art, as a timepiece of when our government took the worst possible choice in every scenario then wondered why the situation won’t get better. The anger switches at this point. Well, it doesn’t really switch, so much as infect. The anger of the characters start effecting you. You start realising a lot of things. Everything starts connecting in your head and you get incredibly pissed off. But the good kind of pissed off. Not the kind of anger where you need to drink, but the kind of anger where you rise up and shout that shit needs to change. We can’t go on like this, we can’t allow what happened to happen again, and we can’t allow the people who allowed it to happen to continue to act in the way they did. You realise decisions were made for the betterment of their careers and finances, they never gave a shit about human lives or the general economy as long as their personal bank statements grew. As long as their friends companies got given multi-million pound contracts for things they had no experience in, it was acceptable for small businesses, the lifeblood of communities, to fail. It was okay to screw over millions, if they made millions.

I have hated a lot of films before. I have ranted about how much I detested things about certain films. About how the ending ruined it, about how the plot made no sense, about how the film has such an ugly soul that it’s impossible to like. And those films annoyed. But I have never, in my entire life, been as fucking furious as I was when I watched this. And you need to feel that anger. You need to hear some uncomfortable truths. And you need to start questioning a lot of things.

Things are not okay, and it’s up to films like this to help us change that.

Nomadland (2020)

Knew nothing of this film going in, that’s becoming a running theme with these reviews lately. Truth be told I don’t actively seek out films, I don’t go onto film sites and search for recommendations. My knowledge of what films to see come from four sources:

  1. Trailers at the cinema
  2. Personal recommendation (is why I watched Love And Monsters)
  3. If it gets nominated for a lot of awards (Sound Of Metal)

My fourth one is the one I’ve used the most this year. And if you ever wondered how the hell I found some random films, it’s likely to be from this. I go onto https://filmdistributorsassociation.com/release-schedule/this-weeks-releases/ every week to look at the films that have been released that week, if I haven’t heard of it at all I’ll quickly google it and see if it intrigues me. That’s why I end up hearing about films such as Come True (very much yay), Blithe Spirit (very much not yay), and I Blame Society (I don’t know yet as I haven’t seen it, but it looks great). When I say “it intrigues me” I mean that I read a quick one line synopsis, if that hooks me I usually just add it to the list. So there’s a lot of films where I haven’t even seen the trailer (if I had then I wouldn’t have seen Mouthpiece as I’ve since watched the trailer for that and it did nothing for me, which is a shame as it would have meant missing out on one of my favourite films of the year).

So yeah, despite it being one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year (well, technically last year. I’ll stop using parenthesis soon I swear), I went into this knowing very little. Highly recommend going into it this way as seeing everything unfurl in front of you is a delightful experience. I say “delightful”, it’s actually horrible. This has the tone and look of an apocalyptic future. It resembles a word in the near future left ravaged by war. So when is this film set? 2011. That’s a stunning indictment of American capitalism.

But that’s not really what this film is, it’s not about dystopia and bleakness. It’s ultimately about humanity and hope. It’s about beauty and life. It’s about everything and nothing all at once. It feels all too real, but sometimes that realness gives you a warm glow inside.

The feeling of reality is helped by the cast, mainly because Chloe Zhao decided to cast non-actors, instead reaching out to people who actually live the nomadic life. Risky strategy, but it definitely works. These characters know the perfect way to play every single piece of dialogue, bringing the characters to life in a way that few other films could. I should also mention the way that Zhao shot a lot of it. She doesn’t go to make it look like a dramatic film, it’s shot almost like a documentary. Again, this makes everything feel real. It doesn’t often feel like you’re watching a film, but more like you’re standing there alongside them, it truly makes you feel like part of a community (then the film finishes and you’re back to a reality where you’re alone with just a cup of tea for company, and you cry). Considering this film stars Frances McDormand, one of the best performers around, making you forget that she’s an actor is something incredibly difficult to do. But both the talent of the film, and the talent of McDormand herself, make that easy to do.

I suppose it is also helped by being based on a non-fiction book (Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century) which I now need to read I think. You’d think being based on a non-fiction book would mean it lacks narrative. It kind of does, but also doesn’t. It’s not a standard “A leads to B, which leads to C” style plot. It’s the cinematic equivalent of just wandering around somewhere (almost nomadically you could say) and observing. Sometimes you meander, taking stock of what’s in front of you at that moment, sometimes you move forward quicker, and sometimes you stand still. It’s the moments where characters just sit around talking which are the highlights. A key example of this is a guy explaining how his son committed suicide. He talks about how living on the road means you never say goodbye, because you know you’re going to see everybody further down the road. That’s why he does it, because he feels it means his son hasn’t said goodbye, they’ll always meet each other later on. Just writing that bit and remembering it almost brought me to tears just now. That’s how powerful it is.

In summary, you really need to see this. It’s one of the most compelling things I’ve seen all year, and it deserves everything you could give it. Plus it’s available for free on disney+ right now so….yeah.

The Father (2020)

This film is a mess. The way it’s edited means it lacks any sense of cohesive structure. It’s incredibly difficult to figure out what the hell is going on and you sit there for most of the film being confused and trying to make sense of it all.

And I love it. That’s the best way to tell this story, it’s certainly the most effective. It’s all well and good telling people about the horrifying effects of suffering with dementia, but this is the best way to actually SHOW it, to put you in the shoes of someone with it. The confusion, the mixing up of times and characters (there are moments where the characters are suddenly played by different actors). I’m a big fan of when narrative structure suits the film. If this was a standard A-B film it probably still would have been good, but that’s all it would have been, good. It wouldn’t have been as great as it is. It wouldn’t have been as impactful as it is. It wouldn’t have caused almost everybody in the cinema to break into tears at the end.

Jesus, the end. Spoilers here I guess, but this isn’t really a film you watch for the narrative, you watch it for the experience (and it’s certainly an experience). You may survive the rest of the film untouched (you monster) but I doubt you’ll make it through the ending feeling nothing. For the rest of the film you’re confused, bewildered, and trying to ground yourself (damn I love how it puts you in his shoes), but for this moment? You know what’s going on, and it devastates you. It’s just Anthony Hopkins saying he feels his mind going (or as it’s brilliantly put: he’s losing his leaves), and he cries and begs for his mommy. The helplessness and weakness he shows is heartbreaking. Especially since Hopkins normally plays characters who are not just in control, but usually the smartest person in the room. So to see him do that really hits home how bad it can get.

Olivia Colman also knocks it out the park, as she usually does. When exactly did she become that damn good? It’s still weird to see her as this acting behemoth capable of making you feel every emotion, when I still can’t unsee her characters from Mitchell And Webb. I never would have guessed when she was doing comedy like that that she’d turn into what she has, and I’ve got to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure when it happened, was it Broadchurch?

The downside of this film? The directing could be a bit stronger at times. The director (Florian Zeller) has a history in theatre, and that shows in his directing choices. There are a lot of static shots, there is not a lot here in terms of shot composition that you couldn’t do on a stage. Compare this to something like Mouthpiece (yes, I’m mentioning that film again, because I know you haven’t seen it and you really should), also based on a play, but did things in the film that would not be possible on stage, and was all the better for it. He did some things which were great, but I feel a lot of that (changing the set subtly between scenes) is taken from the play. Controversial opinion: maybe should have had someone on set who’s experienced in horror movies. Not to add lots of jump scares and threatening chords, but just to amp up the fear factor the character is feeling. If you’ve got someone who is experienced in making characters seem more helpless in certain situations, it might have improved certain scenes and helped them achieve more.

That’s a very small niggle though, you still need to watch this film. Either see it at the cinema, or wait until it’s shown on Channel 4 at Christmas. A truly powerful piece of cinema that deserves watching.

Although it does seem weirdly French for some reason. Just tonally.

Nobody (2021)

I went in with relatively high expectations for this. All I had heard is it was John Wick-like, and I loved those movies. So I expected greatness, but I also thought there was a chance it wouldn’t live up to the hype.

Thankfully it does. It takes longer than you’d think to get going, there’s a few moments where you think you’re going to see him being violent but he doesn’t, but he later explains why and it’s perfect. It also means when the inevitable finally does happen, it’s beautifully cathartic, it had been building up to it beautifully. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t take the entire film to do that, in reality it probably takes about 15-20 minutes so it’s a good length, you don’t get bored waiting around for what you know will happen (like what happens while watching Ma, as you can see in this wonderful review by the smartest and sexiest person alive). The scene where it happens is truly superb, and gives a good indication of the difference between this and John Wick. Whenever you watch a John Wick film, the way he fights seems almost superhuman, so you’re amazed by what that person can do physically. Here, he doesn’t fight like he’s a superhuman god, he just fights smarter. He takes random opportunities to commit violence against them using unexpected ways. It’s not as flashy, but it’s definitely effective. It’s the way someone who’s actually training to fight would fight, not the way someone training to make a fight look good fights.

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t expect Bob Odenkirk to be able to pull this off, I mainly know him from comedies, and in them he usually has a certain character he plays: someone quite smarmy who you can imagine avoiding physical confrontation. The kind of guy for whom when he’s married his most common phrase seems to be “yes dear” before being forced to do something he doesn’t want to do, the very definition of milquetoast. That characterisation plays into this though, everybody sees him as some meek person who’s incapable of defending himself. To the point where even the police chew him out for not killing someone.

I’m kind of conflicted on that aspect. The film has people say he’s not a real man because he doesn’t fight, but then they respect him when he does. So it’s saying the people are wrong, and that he is a man, but only BECAUSE he fights, if he didn’t do that, he’d still be nothing to them. So while it’s saying stuff about toxic masculinity, it is still weirdly perpetuating the followings of it.

It feels like action movies have moved more towards featuring older leads, especially since the success of Taken. But there are times in some of them where it stretches disbelief to see someone that much older (and sometimes out of shape) easily match fitness levels with groups of professional assassins much younger than them. This manages to make it believable by having him get the crap kicked out of him, but just keep going, and yet not fully recover from the injuries. Also, he makes mistakes while fighting, he misjudges distances slightly and hits his head on things. It makes it seem real. That’s what puts this film over the multitude of other action films, just how real it all feels.

I mean, it does go bombastic when it needs to. The scenes of him and Christopher Lloyd (yeah, he’s in this too) defending their building from a group of invading Russian gangsters (I’ll admit, the plot for this isn’t exactly original, it not only wears it’s influences on its sleeves, but also fashioned a tie out of them) are pretty badass. Actually all the action scenes are fantastic, but it spreads them out REALLY well. It’s not a constant barrage of fight scenes, it places them strategically when they would serve the narrative best, it’s one of the best examples of how to handle writing action movies, the film is not just an excuse to go from one action set-piece to the next, with the rest of the film just being filler. It uses narrative to justify the action as opposed the other way around. It does help that the non-action bits are still really good. They’re funny, interesting, and show great use of characters.

So yeah, go see it. It’s only 90 minutes too, the perfect length.

A Quiet Place Part 2 (2021)

FINALLY! I got “out next week” style trailers for this before the first lockdown. Buses have had the poster for this on them for so long they’re starting to fade. I’ve been waiting for the cinemas to reopen, and this film is the reason why. I should point out, because of the delay, it’s been so long since I saw the trailer, I actually can’t remember much from it. I remember how it made me feel, excited, and a little creeped out. The idea that in some ways the surviving humans would be the villains in this is strangely compelling, and it has a hint of truth to it. To survive in this world, it would have been an advantage to be a complete prick. I was really looking forward to seeing that play out in this.

But…..it doesn’t. Not really. There’s one scene where a group of people trap two of the characters, rob them, leave one of them to be killed, and will (probably judging by how they acted) rape the other one. That scene lasts I’d say about ten minutes. After that we see a community that has survived and thrived by helping each other. That lasts much longer. I suppose in some ways that’s nice, it shows a glimmer of hope for the world. But to look at it another way: this wouldn’t be the film I’d chose to watch if I was looking for something nice, that’s not what I want from this film, especially with how it was marketed.

Not my biggest issue with the film. My biggest issue is the sound. Now, I LOVE the sound design of the first one, the use of silence helped it stand out in a crowded field, and it’s a great film to watch in a full room as you can sense everybody in the audience trying their best to not make a noise. It modified viewer behaviour, and you don’t get that in this film. You don’t get that in this film for one simple reason: it uses music. Yup, over dramatic scenes, it plays suitable music, it seems like the film is scared of letting films be silent, which considering that’s what made the first film stand out, is a weird choice. It would be like making Saw II and having all the traps take place off-screen. It’s weird as it’s the same director as the first one, but it feels very different. The only major difference is that Krasinski wrote this one, whereas he only directed the first one. That explains the difference in tone of the script, but it doesn’t explain why it feels so different to watch.

Maybe it’s the age difference as well. It’s been a few years since the first film, but it’s set very soon after. Sadly it means at least one of the kids looks very different. That kid gets caught in a bear trap really early on, personally I think he should have died there. It would have taken him out of the film and done away with one of the most distracting sub-plots. It also would have made the characters feel more panicked, so add to their suffering. Plus, imagine that scene playing out. Unlike the death of the child in the first film, which was quick, this would be slow. The family would be hiding, too scared to make a noise in case they attract the aliens, they’d have no choice but to sit and watch, knowing what is going to happen but being too powerless to stop it long term. It would be an incredibly powerful scene, and would impact every decision made from then on.

So yeah, this film is kind of a disappointment. It is still a very solid piece of film-making. It still does everything it needs to. If this was a new franchise it would be a solid 8/10. But as a sequel to one of the most unique horror films of the last few years, I can’t help but feel a little cheated.

Cruella (2021)

All I knew about this film was that it existed. I assumed it was still in production when it suddenly came out. I haven’t been too big a fan of the live action disney adaptations lately so I didn’t exactly have great expectations, or indeed any Dickens books.

Shit, that was terrible. On with the review while I have a long hard think about my life.

I’m gonna say it, so far this is the best film I’ve seen at the cinema this year. Godzilla Vs. Kong may have benefited more from being at the cinema, and may be more technically impressive, but this is without a doubt the most I’ve enjoyed watching a film at cinema this year. It’s a bit bloated at times (it could stand to lose a good 20 minutes), and it does suffer a bit from not knowing how to use music, similar to Suicide Squad it just overloads the film with with rock music, ALL the time, not letting anything have silence. It’s almost like the film is scared that if you stop listening to the music you’ll focus on the visuals instead, which is a shame as you WANT to focus on the visuals in this, it’s a visually stunning piece of work. Okay the CGI for some parts looks a little dodgy, but the colours are phenomenal. I don’t often point out costume design in cinema, because it’s usually not something that sways my opinions on a film, I’ve never gone “well I would have really enjoyed that film, but the costumes were from 1763, when the film was actually set in 1762, might as well have given them jetpacks”. The costume design here has to be mentioned though, it’s REALLY damn good. It contributes to the look and general style of the film in a tremendous way. It kind of had to, though. It’s heavily based around the fashion industry, so if the clothes looked bad, it would have effected my enjoyment of the film as it would have seemed less real.

I will freely admit I’m not too familiar with the original 101 Dalmatians film. This is important as I’ve heard some people say they don’t like this film as it messes with the continuity of the series. I have no idea how severely it does that, so I can’t judge it on those standards, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention it so that it at least looks like I know what I’m talking about. I know there are also people complaining that two white actors are played by people who are non-white, this is a complete disgrace apparently and means you should boycott the movie. Go ahead, don’t see this movie, its your loss. This is a fantastic movie, and if you’re too blinded by your stupidity (but seem okay with Cruella being English and yet very rarely being played by an English person) to see that, then you don’t deserve this movie.

Everyone else, though, you can go see it, and enjoy it. Well, you should enjoy it anyway. Everything about it just works. The performances work, not just Emma Stone as the titular character but all the supporting actors too. Fun fact, I didn’t see a trailer for this so didn’t know who was in it. And during the opening scenes I had a realisation: “Emma Thompson would make a great Cruella, or just a disney villain in general”, she then turns up as the villain in this movie. Also, she’s not in it for much but Tipper Seifert-Cleveland does brilliantly as a younger version of the character, she nails it with a confidence beyond her years.

Now onto the biggest flaw: the script is a bit bland. It never really shocks you. Characters seemingly have personality changes on a whim just to suit the narrative. Also it never REALLY examines the characters motivations for future films. It basically feels like “she wants to skin dogs because they killed her mother”, which seems a bit weak. The length of the film also works against it, it could stand to lose about 20 minutes. No major removals, just tightening up a few moments so it flows better. There is one character who could be deleted completely. Apparently she’s in the original films so I’m guessing that’s why she’s in it. But she essentially gets threatened by the villain, and then nothing comes of it. We don’t see anything bad happen to her which makes Cruella realise the consequences of her actions. Her story arc (or lack of one) doesn’t impact the film in a significant way, so can be cut, or at the very least reduced severely.

So in summary: I would recommend this film. It’s available at cinemas, and you can pay premium pass to watch it on disney+, so I assume that means it will be available for general viewing there later in the year. Well worth a watch.

Surge (2020)

They say you only get one chance to make a good first impression. This is very true (maybe only for me) when it comes to actors. It doesn’t matter how many serious films Olivia Coleman is in, I will always see her as Sophie from Peep Show. That kind of thing hit this film HARD, I know Ben Whishaw is a great actor, with a tremendous filmography. But to me he will always be Pingu from Nathan Barley, or Paddington. This is an action film, and to have the shadow of Paddington loom over it means the film is a strange watch.

Strange, but interesting. There are moments where nothing happens, which can be dull as hell to watch. In reality it’s strangely enthralling. It’s like watching a car crash in super slow motion. You know something awful is going to happen, and you know what it will be, but despite knowing it won’t be happening yet, you still can’t turn away, you want to watch every single second unfold in front of you.

I’m still not sure what I thought of it to be honest. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s not supposed to be. For some reason it feels almost voyeuristic. It kind of feels like you’re not watching a film, but like someone has just got their phone out and started to film a guy having a breakdown. That gritty invasive style won’t be for everybody, and some people will really love it. It’s the kind of style which splits reviewer ratings to either be 9/10 or 1/10, or somehow both at the same time.

I’m not even sure whether I can recommend this. It’s unrelentingly brutal. But not in a “everybody is in constant physical pain” way, more, like the universe itself is painful to live in. Part of that is due to the directing, this is the first feature-length film directed by Aneil Karia, and he does it brilliantly. The script? Not so much, there are too many moments where you are just kind of bored. I feel it could have done with either being cut down, or by adding moments where stuff happens to keep you interested. It depends too heavily on the performances and the directing, if it wasn’t for that it would sink without a trace. Thankfully the performances are great. Whishaw is intense as hell, worlds away from the cuddliness of Paddington or the the knowledge of Q. I just wish the world was as good as his character. It’s fascinating as a character study, to watch someone get broken and get constantly criticised (at one point, for swallowing too loudly) until he eventually just snaps. It’s a character that’s deserving of much more captivating story.

So should you watch this? I’m still not sure to be honest, I’d say watch it if you get a chance, but no need to seek it out. Shame as from a technical standpoint it is great, but it’s lacking so much from a storytelling perspective. Put it this way: I would much rather listen to a soundscape based on this film, than I would read a book adaptation.

Wonder Woman 1984 (2020)

I really enjoyed the first one. Probably one of the best all-round superhero movies of the last few years. When I saw the trailer for this I thought it looked a lot of fun, it brought to mind Thor: Ragnarok. I felt sure that this would be incredibly fun, just balls out insanity and slickness. Then it came out, very quietly, in December, I think. That was not a good sign. If it was a film the studio had faith in, they would have delayed it until the cinemas were open (like what happened with A Quiet Place 2), or made a bigger deal of what streaming sites it was on to purchase (like Disney+ have been doing with their stuff). The way they released it had all the hallmarks of a “let’s quietly put this out and hope nobody notices”. I delayed watching this as I was certain it was going to get an actual cinema release when they re-opened.

So yeah, that put a few worries in me, and then those worries increased when I heard people talk about it. Well, they didn’t talk about it much, which was the problem. The only time I’ve heard it mentioned was when I made a reference to The Monkey’s Paw in an earlier review and someone asked if it was about this film. The fact that nobody talked about this film is not a good sign. Now I’ve seen it has my opinion changed? Well I’ll say this, the fact that I knew NOTHING about the post-credits cameo is a sign of how few people discuss this film. I’ll spoil it here, it’s not really relevant to the plot so I think it’s okay. It has Lynda Carter do a cameo, the original Wonder Woman, she turns up, saves a child, says she’s been doing this a while, then winks to camera. Holy crap the implications for this and the future of the DCEU are huge, yet nobody talks about it.

Turns out there’s a reason for that, this film is not great. It seems like the type of sequel that was made by completely different crew from the original, which is weird as it had same director for both. Although it has to be said that Patty Jenkins only directed the first one, she didn’t write it, whereas she did write this one, so maybe that’s the problem. The script is just so poor, full of logical inconsistencies. A big issue is that it is a prequel, yet the events of it were not mentioned in Justice League or Dawn Of Justice. Nobody seems to have remembered the time a guy gave everybody in the world a wish and how it led to chaos. It doesn’t seem like everything from it was forgotten, just the effects reversed (although considering a few people died due to wishes, do they come back? The film doesn’t say). Also, she doesn’t use some of the things from this film again, and they would have come in very useful.

Also the way the film plays with the wishes is inconsistent. At one point the villain says he can give out any number of wishes he wants because he is the wish-stone, yet before that he asks someone to make a wish on his behalf. And some of the wishes only seem to work in a way that advances the plot, it’s like it knows it has a narrative to fulfil. It’s a shame as it could have been interesting, if they made it smaller. Having it all over the whole world makes it TOO big. If it was focused on one city it would have allowed the audience to get a better look at the effects of the negative side of the wishes. Instead we spend way too much of this film in watching people travel. Plus, it would have given plausible deniability for this film never being mentioned again. You’re telling me that a worldwide event like this wouldn’t have caught the attention of Mark Strong’s character from Shazam?

Here’s the thing; if I wasn’t thinking, I might have enjoyed this film. It looked good enough and the performances were good. But as soon as you think about this movie for more than a second, the flaws are too apparent to ignore. Some are just basic storytelling mistakes like how the main villain had a difficult childhood, a fact which informs a lot of his decisions during the movie. Also a fact which isn’t properly explored until right near the end of the film, bit of a weird choice, and not a good one. Also the opening scene isn’t needed. There’s a whole opening set during an athletic event in Wonder Woman’s childhood where she got caught “cheating” and admonished for it. seems to be just so they can tell her about the dangers of not putting effort in, but there must have been a much more natural way to do that, and one that doesn’t take about twenty minutes. The film is two and a half hours, and does not justify that length at all. I could have forgiven the film not making sense, but I can’t forgive how dull it is a lot of the time. Looks great though.

So in summary; see it if you must, but there’s nothing saying you must.