Thunder Force (2021)

Let’s face it, there was always a chance this was going to be awful (and the fact I’m using that as an opening line is an indication as to my feelings about this film), I mean, let’s look at the evidence:

  • Direct to netflix
  • No marketing
  • Nobody is talking about it
  • Melissa McCarthy.

Now I don’t hate McCarthy, I just heavily dislike a lot of her characters. I think that’s the most frustrating thing about her. She can be really good, but then there are times where it seems like she’s phoning it in and attempting to go as broad as possible, and when she’s doing that it’s normally not a good thing to watch. The things is, I can’t tell whether that’s entirely down to her, or just the characters. Is there a way to make some of her worse characters likeable in any way? Is it her performances damning the characters, or is it the characters damning the performance? Until somebody does a shot-for-shot remake of one of her films, replacing only her, we will never know.

For this? I feel it’s the writing that lets her down. Someone can only do so much with the material they’re given. You can’t give someone rancid vegetables and then expect them to be able to make a great dinner out of them. And this film is almost entirely composed of a soggy lettuce of a script, mouldy tomatoes of dialogue, and bitter salad dressing of effort. And this all combines to the worst salad you have ever eaten. I may have lost the metaphor a bit. The croutons of concept was pretty good though.

A big problem with this film is how immediately dated it feels. It came out this year and yet feels like a relic from the 90s. This is seen in not just the way it treats superheroes, but also some of the humour. Some of the jokes are basically the main character bullying someone, but it’s okay as they’re socially awkward. That really doesn’t work with this kind of character. You can’t do a “main character makes fun of this socially awkward person” and then have her be the standard bad McCarthy character who ignores social cues. You don’t get to deliver the lines “beam me up scotty beep boop bop” and “i speaken ze english” then make fun of what others say. It just makes the character seem like a hypocritic asshole.

Now back to how it treats superheroes. It doesn’t feel like this film has realised that they’ve moved on since the Bat-toys and Robin Nuggets Happy Meal days of the 90’s. Comic books have always had mature themes, dating back to the horror comics that were essential in establishing them as a form of media, all the way through to Watchmen, and even modern classics like Clean Room (maybe not considered a classic by most people, but it really fucking should be). Even the traditional comics have had storylines with mature themes. But despite that, the general consensus of them was “people in brightly coloured tights being silly” because that’s what was presented in mainstream depictions and how it was defined in other media. But with the Dark Knight Trilogy, Logan, and the MCU, everybody knows that comic books have moved beyond that now. Very few people view superheroes in the same way as they did in the past. In fact I’d argue it’s the opposite, and if a comic book movie DOESN’T deal with genocide, existential angst, and other mature themes, then people deride it.

You may have noticed I haven’t technically talked about the film that much in this review (in fact, you could be forgiven for forgetting this was a review at all, and not just the random ramblings of someone who takes this kind of shit far too seriously), but if the film was better, I’d talk about it. This film is nothing, it’s a bowl of unflavoured tofu, but with food colouring to make you think it’s more than it is. There’s something I think was supposed to be a twist, but was so obvious to anybody who has ever seen a movie. The visuals are nothing to write home about and the film makes some, let’s call them questionable choices in regards to music. Most notably, choosing just after what was supposed to be an emotional scene, to play AC/DC, so even if you were emotionally effected by it, it lasted no more than 2 seconds.

Really I can only recommend this film for the performances of Taylor Mosby and Jason Bateman. Even Octavia Spencer doesn’t shine in this movie, that’s how weak the script is.

The Witches (2020)

I love the original (as evidenced here), I love Anne Hathaway, and I like a lot of Robert Zemeckis’ work, he has made some great films which are both terrifying yet also suitable for kids (I’m thinking primarily of Who Framed Roger Rabbit). So I was really looking forward to this. Well, I would have been if I had known about it. I didn’t even know it existed until about 3 weeks ago when I glimpsed a trailer for it. I’ve seen more from films which aren’t out for another year than I did for this, it’s almost like the studio had no faith in it, and for good reason, it’s a mess.

First off, the film has narration from the lead character. But the lead character is a child, and the narrator is obviously an adult, so you know that no matter what, they’re going to survive. Also, it’s Chris Rock, which, I love the guy, but he’s wrong for this. He works for Everybody Hates Chris, because it’s a comedy, but he doesn’t inject either the sense of playfulness, or the dread necessary for this film to work.

This film has a real issue with voices, now I think about it. Anne Hathaway is playing it like she couldn’t pick between five different accents, so just decided to do them all, sometimes switching mid-sentence. It pained me to say that, as I LOVE her stuff usually, her performance in Rachel Getting Married is still one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen in film. But her accent in this film is soooooo bad. I suppose it wouldn’t seem quite AS bad if the role in the original wasn’t Anjelica Huston, who is perfect and I will hear no arguments against it.

There is another vocal performance that was much much worse, and almost hurt my ears with how piercing it was, but I won’t name them as I haven’t heard the performer in anything else, so that might be their actual voice and saying it’s awful would be kind of bullying.

The lead performers are great though. Octavia Spencer continues to be amazing, providing the emotional depth the film needs. I’m unfamiliar with the work of Jahzir Bruno, but he gives a performance behind his years here. You can criticise a lot of this film, but you definitely can’t fault his performance. You can’t fault the general feel of the opening of the movie. Before they leave for the hotel the general feel of the film is one that you can’t help but notice, and really from a directing standpoint the feeling of those moments are the highlights of the film.

The actual witch-based moments don’t come off as well, with one exception. When the main character is having the witches described to them, shapes form on the ceiling to demonstrate what is being spoken about, it’s a moment of wonder and brilliance that is truly worthy of the story. The rest? A woeful mix of bad CGI and weird visual choices means that everything looks fake and kind of stupid. One of the most obvious examples of this is when we see a story from Grandma’s youth where her friend gets attacked by a witch, and gets turned into a chicken. It could be haunting but it never comes off as such, it just seems funny. This is especially annoying as it replaces a scene in the original which I love. In the original the girl is cursed and ends up in a painting, never being seen to be moved, but she does move unseen, and she ages in real time until one day she disappears. THAT’S terrifying. A simple “turned into a chicken” isn’t anywhere near. It could have been, if the parents killed the chicken and ate it. But they don’t.

There is one really creepy moment in this film though. The witches in this have claws, a bit like lobsters. There’s a scene where they click them all together and it’s super unsettling, I wish the film was more like it. It’s that kind of unique innovation that the film is lacking. There’s a moment where the witches all get turned into mice (oh, spoilers, I guess) and it’s a very exaggerated moment where they fly up and land as mice. It’s kind of a cool visual but it’s very flat, there’s no musical accompaniment. It could have been a very cool moment (think of the head exploding scene in Kingsman), but instead it’s just nothing.

I suppose that’s the big issue with this, how nothing it feels. It’s over 100 minutes yet it doesn’t feel like it. I don’t mean that in a good way, it just feels like nothing happens. It introduces very few characters and yet they somehow all feel undeveloped. I just….I just want more.

Onward (2020)

I was both looking forward to, and slightly apprehensive about this. Yes, it’s Pixar, and if a studio’s worst film is Cars (which, as much as I hate it, is MASSIVE financially) then you know you’re in for a good time, but since this film has been out I haven’t heard a lot of love for it. So maybe it’s just average, maybe it’s another Good Dinosaur, a film that’s perfectly serviceable but nothing special. After seeing the film, I don’t get it, it’s hard to say it’s one of Pixar’s best, but that’s only because their films are such high quality that it’s really hard to rank them. I will say this though: it’s going to take something special coming out for this not to be in consideration for one of the best films of the year.

I mean it could be argued that the plot is kind of generic, it’s essentially a road movie. But a lot of Pixar films are really when you think about it. For every brilliant plot of Ratatouille or Wall-E, you have the simple plot of Monsters University. Pixar are not about the story the telling, it’s about HOW they tell them, and they tell them perfectly. As to be expected it looks gorgeous, and the script and the characters are just as beautiful.

The best thing about this is just how deeply personal you can feel it is to the writer. I often criticise films by saying “I can’t imagine someone feeling they NEED to get this film made”. You could NEVER say that about this. It’s obviously deeply personal and that personal touch permeates every inch of the film.

It’s helped by the performances, Chris Pratt and Tom Holland work incredibly well together and their relationship is the true emotional core this film depends on. It depends on the brother relationship much more than the “sons missing their father” angle that you expect. I mean, the fact that they miss their deceased father is central to the film, and it does provide one or two deeply emotional moments, but the central emotional crux is the relationship between the two brothers. For a story about not-mythical creatures it is incredibly human, but then again that’s always been Pixars strength.

Now the downside: it feels like it doesn’t do enough with the premise. The film has two main concepts:

  1. Magic used to be a thing people could do, but then technology replaced it as it was simpler. Reminds me of the Arthur C. Clarke quote: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
  2. The legs.  Okay I should mention it: this film is about them trying to bring their dad back from the dead but it goes wrong and only his bottom half comes back (fully clothed thankfully).

I feel it could have done more with those premises, although then I suppose there is a risk that might have taken away from the emotional developments. The legs thing is weird, and should provide very unique scenarios, but it really doesn’t provide that many. It does provide a great moment where the legs realise that his sons are there. One of them lets him know by tapping on his foot like he did when he was a child, after that the legs immediately search for the other son, and press down on his foot with his own. It’s the closest it will get to a hug, and it’s beautiful. As is the moment near the end, when you see it you’ll know.

So yeah, go see it. It’s a great film, and all the cast are brilliant (I haven’t mentioned it but Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Octavia Spencer’s characters are crying out for a spin-off).

Ma (2019)

I enjoyed this, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t see any trailers. This film is a real slow-burner. It’s all building up to the final moments, but too many of those were in the trailer, which kind of ruins it as it means you’re spending a lot of time building up to something you know is going to happen.

That’s one of the films biggest downfalls, that whilst it is good, it’s not exciting. You’re not focused on what IS happening, because you’re too busy thinking about what you know WILL happen. That’s a shame because what is happening is a really good piece of film-making backed up by some great performances. Some of the character work could be stronger. Ma’s descent into madness is kind of frustratingly handled. You know like when a sitcom has planned a romance, but the series has like 24 episodes so the romance aspect is incredibly drawn out and stop-start, so it seems like things keep putting them back at square one you keep having those “oh, we like each other” moments? Yeah, it’s like that. It’s incredibly stop-start to the point where there are too many breaking moments. On the bright side, this means that when THAT moment happens (she runs someone over and leaves them for dead) it is IMMENSELY satisfying. The whole closing stretch is superb, but it is a somewhat (dare I say) boring journey to get there.

It doesn’t help that a lot of the characters are dicks, there’s not many you sympathise with. This would be okay if some of the kills happened earlier as then you’d have some catharsis from their pain, but because it takes so long for the violence to happen you just end up watching terrible people being awful for most of the film.

I’ll say now though, NONE of this is due to the performances. Octavia Spencer continues to show that she can do almost anything. I’m pretty sure Diana Silvers is the love child of both Liv Tyler and Anne Hathaway. McKaley Miller as well is perfect for the role and I want to see more of her work. Luke Evans is suitably disgusting and creepy, in a way I didn’t think he’d be able to do.

I’ve mentioned loving the ending, there’s one exception to that, the final shot. Spoiler warning by the way. The film ends with Ma realising her situation is helpless (her house is burning down with her inside it), accepting her fate she goes back to her bedroom and lays with the corpse of Luke Evans character, it’s kind of sweet and a great ending for a tragic character who only wanted to be accepted. It’s a beautiful closing shot full of pathos, just the two of them together in death, ruined by an aerial shot of the house burning down. I feel that shot kind of took away from the moment and made it feel smaller.