The Princess (2022)

Quick Synopsis: When a strong-willed princess refuses to wed a cruel sociopath, she is kidnapped and locked in a remote tower. With her scorned, vindictive suitor intent on taking her father’s throne, the princess must protect her family and save the kingdom.

I was going to dismiss this until I saw the trailer and noticed it was far more subversive and bloody than I thought it would be. I’m glad I watched it as it’s a fun watch and a good way to spend 90 minutes.

I’m not that familiar with the work of Le-Van Kiet, who has mainly worked in Vietnamese cinema, but he did a really good job directing this and I could easily see him being the guy trusted to take on whatever action franchise replaces Fast And Furious. Truth be told, I think he’s only about two or three films away from being discussed as possible Bond director. Those films would need to be really good though as there are a few flaws in the directing here which will be more harshly criticised in a bigger film. Firstly, the CGI is really bad at some points, looking like a video game (especially the fire), and there are some moments which seem overly stylised. But mostly the stylised nature works in its favour. It provides it with a unique and fresh look akin to Kingsman (and yes, I am fully aware how weird it is to say something is unique and then immediately compare it to another film). The action set-ups are superb, there’s a lot going in them but you never feel lost, great sense of physical geography in fight scenes that make them very easy to follow.

There is still a question about whether films like this are catering to a female demographic, or pandering to them. Is it supportive or demeaning? There are arguments both ways, yes she is a strong independent female lead with no focus on romance, there are strong female side characters etc. But her clothes get torn off in fight scenes, and her character is still defined by men. I will be kind and lean towards thinking it’s catering for them. It does do it rather clumsily though. Remember that bit in Endgame where all the female superheroes suddenly appeared in the same shot and you could almost hear the “wooo, girl power, see, we support women” because of how unsubtle it was? There are moments where it’s reminiscent of that. It’s not the worst thing in the world, if it is going to do something like that I’d rather it do it with that message, not just the constant “I am strong man who is rude and sexually harasses women into relationships” themes that defined 80s and 90s action movie leads.

So yeah the message is basic, but what of the plot? Well that’s basic too. It’s very stop and start. She starts to escape, hides, starts to escape. It is clever that almost the entire thing took place in a single building, and is a lot more believable than “she escaped easily and then came back” but it would have been nice to have it feel less like a video game and more like a story. As it is, it’s just her constantly kicking ass for 90 minutes, which is fun to see but does mean that you could edit the film down to 10 minutes and not lose anything of substance. This isn’t helped by how lacking the supporting cast are. Dominic Cooper is having a great time as the antagonist, but the other characters are flatter than a pancake and just as disposable. It doesn’t help that almost all of them look slightly like a more famous actor.

In terms of performance, Joey King is……well it’s hard to tell. There are times when she’s brilliant, but then in some of the action scenes doesn’t quite have it. She’s mostly there, but there are a few moments where her movements (or the movements of her stunt double) don’t quite work, coming off a little stiff. Those are only fleeting moments though, otherwise, she’s pretty much perfect for this. Much better than she was in Wish Upon.

So in summary; there’s a lot to criticise about this film, but if that’s what you’re thinking when you watch it then that’s a bit weird (I mean, I do, but I am weird). It’s not to be analysed and pored over, it’s to watch and enjoy. It’s popcorn cinema at its best.

The Outfit (2022)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2017 In Film: Part 4 (The Good)

The penultimate round-up blog. In here I’m putting, get this, films, which, are, good. I know, shocking, right? I bet you never guessed that from the title. My definition of good but not great for purposes of these is this: would I consider buying if they were on sale?

A Cure For Wellness

A very very good film. But not a very nice one. As you can read here I really liked it, but it made me want to self-harm. It’s basically this year’s Nocturnal Creatures, but not quite as great. I do wish Celia Imrie was in it more, she was in the trailer but her role in the film was really nothing more than an extended cameo. Mia Goth was superb however, as was Dane DeHaan (which reminds me, I really need to see Chronicle, I mean, I’ve had it on DVD for months but still haven’t got round to it.

+Doesn’t shy away from showing terrible things. There’s a scene where someone drills into a tooth and you see EVERYTHING. Just thinking about it sets my teeth on edge.

-A bit too slow in parts. Could do with being made slightly tighter.

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“Why don’t we do the poster for Slither, but sexy?” “Genius! More cocaine”

Gifted

A lot less Nicholas-Sparks than I thought it would be. Bit formulaic but it plays to the formula very well. Chris Evans is very good in it, but is overshadowed by Mckenna Grace, who is very very good, probably one of the best performances this year. Is it just me or are child actors getting better? Manages to do a performance which is funny, moving, and hits all the right spots in terms of body language and facial acting. Great performance. Jenny Slate was also REALLY good in it, but wasn’t in it as much as she should have been.

+Genuinely heartwarming.

-A little saccharine in parts.

Hidden Figures

It was good, I wouldn’t call it “Oscar Worthy”. The main trouble with these sorts of stories is it’s impossible to have a good villain. The key to a good villain comes in two separate flavours:

  1. The “nobody knows anything about him” (usually used in horror films)
  2. The “I can see his point, but he’s very very wrong”.

Because these films are character pieces you can’t have the villains be the first one, so you need the second one. But they never work in these films for one simple reason; there’s no logical defence of racism. There’s no way of seeing their point. I had similar problems with Selma too, the villains are so clearly wrong that they don’t make compelling characters. Now I know this is what it was actually like at the time, and it is a truly fascinating story, but it does mean as a cinema experience it never really stays with you. So really my problem isn’t with the film, it’s with reality not conforming to my expectations, so maybe the problem is me.

+An important story that needs to be told and seen.

-One watch may be enough, you’re highly unlikely to need to see it again.

Jumanji

Holy hell this was a lot of fun. I think I actually might prefer it to the original. Got some of the loudest and most consistent laughs from other people in the audience out of any film I’ve seen.

+The performances. All the main characters are basically avatars of other characters. So they have to be played the same way the original characters are (think the scene in Harry Potter where Hermione pretends to be Bellatrix, like that, throughout the entire film). Not the easiest thing to do, but they all do it really well. Jack Black in particular makes a fantastic teenage girl, and Karen Gillians “no idea how to flirt” scene was hilarious.

-The entire film you can’t escape the feeling that you miss Robin Williams.

Kingsman

Pretty much the first one again, but I liked the first one. Funny, violent, and great music throughout.

+Mark Strong’s final scene is brilliant. The new characters slot into the mythos easily.

-Too long, too unfocused, and Colin Firth’s resurrection was not handled that well.

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La La Land

I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and I feel it wanted me to love it. It looked fantastic, and the soundtrack was good, it just left me feeling nothing. Probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I felt Ryan Gosling’s character was a bit of a dick and the romance made zero sense. Its biggest flaw I feel is its dependence on music, if you took away the songs you’re left with a fairly average story. Whilst the songs were good, they all sounded a bit too familiar, every song sounded like another one, so when you listen to the soundtrack you just think “what song does this remind me of?”, “wait, this has same tune as the song from The Muppets sequel”, and “Seriously, what is this one? I think it’s Amanda Palmer but I’m not sure”. It was a bit like having sex with a singing nazi. It looked good, sounded good, but ultimately left you feeling rather hollow.

+Music which seems like it’s instantly recognisable and you’ll hum for days.

-Kind of a bland story.

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Life

Pretty darn good sci-fi. You watch it and think “you know what would be awesome? If x happens”, and then it does happen, or something better happens. Was worried when I saw the trailer that it would be another cliche “parasitic alien takes over people”, but nope, this is an alien beating people using pure brute strength. And the ending? So harsh, absolutely perfect for the genre. Definitely need to see it again, if only to see whether the opening scene was one shot or whether it just had minimal cuts.

+Pretty brave decisions made in the script.

-Stands very much in the shadow of those that have gone before it.

Manchester By The Sea

A lot has been said about the performances of this film, I feel enough hasn’t been said about how good the script is. It’s so good that the dialogue doesn’t feel written, it was like they just filmed people talking naturally. It was also the lack of words that was masterful, there were moments where most films would have had characters deliver impassioned monologues, the kind of monologues which sum up their characters and the film, monologues which are so masterfully written people will quote them for years. This film doesn’t have monologues in that moment, it condenses those moments down to a single line. But you understand everything in that sentence, you feel the weight of that sentence, how crushing it is and how much is held within it. Someone this year said “if you’re depressed, La La Land will cheer you up, but Manchester By The Sea will make you feel better”. That pretty much sums it up.

+So bleak. So, so bleak.

-Revelations about some of the cast members make it hard to watch.

Mindhorn

Disappointed I didn’t get a chance to see this at cinema. Ah well, have the DVD so all is good. Incredibly British and wonderful. Exactly what you’d expect from someone who was in The Mighty Boosh.

+Julian Barrett is having a hell of a lot of fun here. Some great cameos too.

-Doesn’t quite have enough substance to be truly great.

Murder On The Orient Express

I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. The biggest surprise is that it’s not Ewan McGregor as the lead role, a fact I didn’t find out until about a week after I saw the film. When I say “enjoyed this more than I thought” I don’t mean I thought it would be a terrible film. I mean it’s a mystery film, so to enjoy it surely you have to compelled to try to figure it out? Yet all I know about the original novel is how it ends (I have no idea how I know this, and only this). So would I be able to enjoy it despite knowing the ending? Also, the trailers made it look like Johnny Depp was in full Mortdecai mode. Hands up who saw that film. Now, keep your hands up if you enjoyed it. Right *loads shotgun*

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Et tu, bruti? (yes, in this scenario the cat is called Bruti, well, was until I shot it for liking Mortdecai)

Yet despite that (and the negative reviews) I thoroughly enjoyed this. A hell of a fun watch.

+Great ensemble cast.

-Some of the exterior shots look a little ropey.

Patti Cake$

A lot better than I thought it would be. Has both a great and not great soundtrack. I mean, the songs are fantastic, but the music/story integration could be done better. You don’t really get the feeling that the film is influencing the music, or the other way round, they seem kind of independent from each other. Side note, I think this is the only film I’ve seen this year which has had absolutely nobody in it who I know from another film.

+The closing scene when she’s doing her final song.

-Some of which were in the trailer, giving it away.

Prevenge

Without a doubt the best film about a homicidal fetus you’re ever going to see. I do love Alice Lowe, she makes amazing stuff. First Sightseers now this, she’s becoming Britains go-to female film-maker for smart, original dark comedies. She really needs to do a Black Mirror episode, and more films, and more television. Basically she needs to forgo sleep and work forever, creating more content for me to watch.

+The fact that Alice Lowe made this in two weeks whilst pregnant.

-If someone doesn’t like this style of film, this isn’t going to be the one that changes their mind.

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The Boss Baby

Better than the abysmal trailers would make you think it is. Some genuine laugh out loud moments. Putting it here is a little generous I know, but I’m not the audience for this, kids are, and kids love it.

+Genuinely funny in a lot of parts.

-Great for a kids movie, only ok for a movie.

The Hippopotamus

Very Stephen Fry. In both a good and a bad way. Although it has to be said that “now will you all kindly fuck off?” is a great closing line

+Very funny, Roger Allam is terrific.

-Won’t stick with you.

The Promise

A 2 hour film about the Armenian genocide, no, wait, come back, it’s actually REALLY good. Brutal without being exploitative, which is the risk you take when doing a film like this. If you don’t do it right it can come off like you’re exploiting the reality for the sake of drama, you have to stay grounded enough, and honest enough, for the film to work. It also REALLY annoyed a certain group of people, who flooded IMDB with negative reviews of it, calling it propaganda and lies without a hint of truth, saying that the genocide never happed. Most of these “reviews” were posted before the film was even released, so you know they’re definitely trustworthy. Oscar Isaac is REALLY good in this, by the way, believable throughout, but special mention has to go to Marwan Kenzari, who plays his character with such conviction, and does such wonderful facial work throughout that it’s one of the most genuine performances of the year. I would highly recommend seeing this, and not just because it annoys genocide deniers (which is always fun).

+A story that needs to be told, and luckily is told very well.

-Occasionally shys away from the brutality that is needed.

The Ritual

This film did something I will forever love it for; it put most the bits from the trailer in the opening half. I liked this as it meant you weren’t thinking “ok, what from the trailer haven’t I seen yet?”. Chilling, well told and well performed. Book is now on my “to-read” list.

+Very scary in parts. Great story too, you’re never fully sure where it’s going.

-Comes so close to being great, but stops just short.

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The Young Offenders

Kind of charming, rather funny. Has a scene where a disabled drug dealer shoots someone with a nail gun. Seems like a tv show, which as of next year it will be, and I can’t wait.

+Incredibly funny. And having someone lose a shitload of drugs because they have a hole in their bag was very funny.

-Never really seems like a movie, more like a television show.

Their Finest

Have you seen Suicide Squad? You know that bit near the end where the fire guy goes “we’re family”, and the audience is like “how? You’ve only known each other for like a day”? Basically that happens here, certain things between characters don’t feel earned enough and feel kind of forced. Which is a shame as it’s actually a really good story, with great performances and impressive dialogue.

+Compelling story that will reach you emotionally.

-Unearned character interactions.

Thor: Ragnarok

Wait, what’s this? I didn’t hate this film? I know, I’m shocked too. This is what the first two films should have been, just an all out funfest which relishes its own absurdity.

+”the hammer pulled you off?”

-Some character actions are supposed to be shocking, yet at this point it would be more shocking if they didn’t happen.

Tickling Giants

I remember the first time I saw Mark Thomas on television. It was on a channel 4 show that I recorded for reasons I can’t quite remember. I watched it with this kid I knew from up the road and he said it’s really good as “most comedians just talk about stuff, he’s actually doing stuff”, which he was. He was not just telling jokes, he was going actively protesting and doing things to change the country for the better (the episode in particular was about corporate manslaughter laws). Remarkable story that deserves to be told. At first you think “oh, he has permission finally for satire to works, this is great”. Then the president orders an arrest warrant for him. It’s actually kind of terrifying to see a lot of this, but in a way it’s kind of heartwarming to see some people continue to support them. People still want to work on the show even when the channel it’s on disowns them. Kind of a sad ending but one that’s full of potential for the future. Would actually make a really compelling fiction film.

+A fascinating look into what it’s like under those sort of regimes.

-Might be too difficult for people not into political humour to get into, not really a way in for them.

 

So that’s the end of this blog. Final one will be soon. Exactly how many films did I see this year? Did I actually get round to seeing The Disaster Artist and Tragedy Girls? Find out the answer to these questions, and more (but not a hell of a lot more) next time. Until then, comment with where we went wrong.