The Adam Project (2022)

Quick synopsis: After accidentally crash-landing in 2022, time-traveling fighter pilot Adam Reed teams up with his 12-year-old self for a mission to save the future.

Ryan Reynolds and Netflix Originals don’t have the best reputations. Red Notice was thoroughly mediocre, and when I mentioned I was watching 6 Underground, the reaction I got from people on Twitter was one of sympathy. This should be better though, directed by Shawn Levy, who made Free Guy, which was a lot of fun. So this could be awful, or it could be brilliant, either way, it wouldn’t surprise me. So is it worth watching? Kind of. I mean, it’s good, but it’s “streaming good”. By which I mean, it’s good, but not good enough that you want to make an effort. If you had to go to the cinema to watch it, or pay to stream it, you’d be very disappointed. But since it’s on netflix, you’re not paying for this individual film, so you have no financial investment in watching this. That’s for the best as it’s only ever a 7/10. I watched it about a week ago and still can’t remember that much from it.

That’s not to say it’s bad. It’s very funny at times, and whoever decided to cast Walker Scobell as a younger Ryan Reynolds? Give that man a raise. It’s one of the most perfect child castings I’ve seen in a long time, not so much visually, but Scobell absolutely NAILS the mannerisms where even if you weren’t told he was a younger version of Reynolds’ character, you’d know it. Reynolds does his usual, which is all he needs to do in a film like this. I am a massive fan of him but I will freely admit he doesn’t always pick the best films. But when a film he’s in is bad, it’s never because of him. Jennifer Garner and Zoe Saldana feel too inconsequential in this to comment on. It’s strange as they both play characters who have the potential to add a lot of emotion; the main character’s partner, who was declared dead so it’s the first time he’s seen her in years, and his mother, who he regrets being rude to whilst she was alive. Both of those have massive potential to be heartbreaking, but they are underdeveloped by the story. Jennifer Garner, especially, seems to disappear from the film after a short while, only meeting her future son once, and not really having too in-depth a conversation with them. Catherine Keener is her usual delightful self, she’s going through a real purple patch in terms of roles, and this continues that run, I’m now at the point where I can tell the difference between her Mary Steenburgen, and Kathryn Hahn which considering that in reality they look absolutely nothing alike, isn’t worth bragging about. Again, she should be given more to do. She’s also unfortunate that she is subject to CGI de-aging technology, and it doesn’t quite look right. Wouldn’t it have been easier to age up future-her with make-up rather than de-age with CGI? Probably cheaper too. Feels like they CGI de-aged just because they could, not caring if they could do it well.

The plot? Well, there’s nothing in here that will surprise you. It’s not exactly a film that you’ll struggle to follow, no matter how drunk you are. Time travel stories lend themselves well to narrative trickery and weirdness, and it never really happens in this. It never goes beyond the surface level. That’s fine, not all movies need to be EEAAO, but it is frustrating to see potential wasted like this. This could be fantastic, but it never does anything to stand out. The visuals are only okay, the story is basic, and I can’t even remember the music. Compared to how music is used in similar films like Back To The Future, where certain songs are now impossible to separate from the film, this has nothing. Well, I say nothing, there’s a scene near the end which is damn near perfect. If the rest of the film was as good as that, it would be among the best of the year, as it is, I can already forget I’ve seen it.

Avatar: The Way Of Water (2022)

Quick Synopsis: Many years after the first film (which this really could do a better job of reminding you what happened in it btw), Jake Sully continues to live on Pandora, but is forced to move for his families safety as humans continue to try to colonize the planet.

I know this is going to start weird, but don’t worry, I am going somewhere with it.

January 26, 2014, a day that will live in wrestling infamy. It was the 2014 edition of the Royal Rumble event and the fans were hyped for Daniel Bryan to win the main event and go to Wrestlemania. But that didn’t happen, and if you watch that event live it’s fascinating to hear the audience’s reaction. Once they realise that Bryan is not even going to be in the match, let alone win, they openly revolt. You can feel the air get sucked out of the arena, and all goodwill has left. No matter how good things were before that, it was that moment that stuck with everyone there. That moment reminded me of this film. The audience were into this throughout. They were entranced by the visuals, sold on the story, and completely sold on the world and characters that had been created. But it felt like at that moment the audience kind of tapped out and gave up on it. It’s the first time I’ve seen a cinema audience seem to get restless at the same point. People started checking the time on their phone, or talking to the person next to them. Ordinarily, this would get them a good hard stare from everybody, and if they continued making a scene, they’d receive a tut of disapproval, possibly even a headshake. On this occasion, the general reaction seemed to be more “yeah, fair enough mate. Makes sense”. It’s just too long. It’s over 3 hours long, and it feels it. I know not every film can be short, some films have too much story to fit into 90 minutes. But this feels unnaturally long. It’s not helped by the fact that it has an extended sequence which film language tells us is the third-act showdown, involving all the characters, and some glorious action set-pieces. But then there’s another scene. They have another scene which is similar, just in a darker location and with fewer characters. It’s that scene which lost the audience btw.

It’s a shame that happens, as before that, it is an enjoyable film. Considering how much of it is CGI, it looks INCREDIBLE. There are zero moments where the visuals don’t look real. Animating water is always difficult, especially in 3D animation, not just due to the physics of it (each part of water affects the rest of it, but also moves independently so you have to try and take that into account with the way it moves), but also the colour, it’s transparent (kind of), but also reflective, and it refracts when things enter it. So a film set almost entirely in water could end up looking terrible. The only time the visuals don’t really work for me is when there’s a fight between characters who are light blue, in an ocean, in front of a blue sky. That’s far too much blue, and is one of the few moments where the film isn’t visually compelling.

The story? It’s kind of basic. There are long periods where you can zone out and not miss anything important. But you don’t go into this for the plot, and it’s not as though the plot is bad enough that it harms the film. Yes, it could be better, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. The biggest issues plot-wise all relate to one character; Spider. His entire arc makes no sense. He goes from hating his dad, to trying to impress him, to be annoyed with him for attempting genocide, to saving his life (for sequel reasons). It does not work at all, and is one of the biggest missteps it makes.

For a lot of people, that won’t matter though. The film is beautiful enough that you won’t care. The performances are all great, especially Sigourney Weaver as a teenage girl. It is a simply stunning piece of cinema to watch. Just, you know, be fully aware that you can take a pee break at almost any point and it won’t matter.

Violent Night (2022)

Quick synopsis: An elite group of mercenaries (all with Christmas-themed codenames) plan to steal a family’s millions, not counting on their heist being interrupted by a drunken Santa Claus.

I won’t say this often, but this is better than the trailer made it seem. The trailer makes it seem like Santa was magically wished into the house because he answered the call of a child in danger, which makes you wonder why it doesn’t happen more? Of all the children in the world to help, he only answers the call of a girl in a large house who is being held hostage in an armed robbery? Not children being abused, or abandoned? That kind of motivation sort of makes him a dick. Luckily that’s not the case in the actual film. In the film itself, he just happens to be in the house when it happens, and his deciding to fight against the robbers isn’t just a case of “It’s the right thing to do”, but because the reindeer fly off. The film leaves it open as to whether he would have just left if he could, he’s certainly conflicted about staying or not, but the character losing that agency makes him a more interesting character, there’s a moral ambiguity to him at the start of the film, his character is more a shade of grey than morally black or white (well since it’s Santa, more red and white). That’s as it should be, this isn’t a happy jolly Santa, it’s one who’s bitter and jaded. So him having heroic actions thrust upon him means that the moments later on in the film when he CHOOSES to be a hero have more weight.

It makes sense he would hesitate to fight, this Santa comes with a violent history he’s trying to atone for. Again, that makes him a much more interesting person than he would otherwise. The violent history also means that you know that when he lets loose, it’s going to be spectacular, and it is. The violence in this film is damn fun, not just from Santa, but also from Trudy, the small girl who he wants to help. She sets up some Home Alone-style traps, doing a great job of demonstrating just how much damage they’d do in real life.

The violence is improved by how well we know the characters. They’re all so well-written and defined that it helps us feel their pain. Well written, but not likeable though. Most of the characters in this are selfish, boorish, and kind of stupid. They’re so believable though. They suit the cynical tone of this. This is one of the most cynical Christmas movies I’ve seen, but it’s cynical with a hopeful message. It’s saying “yes, people are shit, but they can do better”. It’s the hope, and the heart, that ultimately drives this film. It’s what elevates what could be a standard action movie into a real delight. As do the performances. Alex Hassell has leading-man quality by the bucketload, not “Major Hollywood Leading Man”, but he’d be perfect for a Hallmark Rom-Com. Alexander Elliot is amazingly detestable. David Harbour is absolutely perfect as the lead, like he was born to play a violent Santa. Leah Brady has a great future. Plus it’s nice to see Beverly D’Angelo in another Christmas movie so she still gets Christmas residuals without having to be reminded of working with Chevy damn Chase.

So go see this, it’s funny, weirdly heartwarming, and violent as hell.

Midnight (2021)

Quick synopsis: A young deaf woman and her mother battle with a serial killer after they accidentally interrupt one of his kills.

This probably has the highest score on Rotten Tomatoes than any other film I’ve reviewed, a full 100%. Sadly that’s more a representation of how few reviewers recognised by the site have reviewed this film (only 13), and not a representation of the quality. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, it’s very good, but it’s not the “best film ever”. It’s a really well-made thriller, well-directed with a superb cast. I think I’m a little bit in love with Jin Ki-Joo after this, she’s incredibly likeable and easy to root for. That’s a massive plus because it means no matter how charismatic the killer is, you’re still rooting for her. A lot of films make the mistake of making the killer too charismatic, too sexy, and too “cool”, so when they approach people and prepare to kill them, you’re kind of cheering them on, you want to see the kills. Because the characters in this (all of them, but especially Ki-Joo’s character of Kim Kyung-Mi) are so well written and performed, you want them to survive, you’re devastated when harm (or even just the threat of harm) comes to them.

Normally in a thriller, the thing that makes it work is the directing; the visuals and the music combining to create an air of tension and claustrophobia. This is the writer/director’s debut film, but you wouldn’t have guessed considering how slick everything looks. Saying that the visuals are probably the weakest part, there are moments when you can’t really get a good sense of what’s happening and it would have helped if certain things were clarified visually in terms of who is doing what to who. This is very evident in the opening, which is fine the second time you watch it, but on initial viewing it does make you feel like you’ve just woken up from a nap halfway through a film, wondering “okay who’s that?”, “am I supposed to know that person?”, “is that the same person as before?” etc. If you’re the sort of person who decides whether to judge a film by the opening scene (like that one reviewer for Toy Story 3 who maintained that Hamm was the villain, showing that not actually watching the film you’re paid to review doesn’t mean you can’t review it and win awards for your writing somehow), you’ll avoid this. If you watch past that scene you’ll end up with one of the early highlights; Kyeong-mi in her job (customer service). She’s dealing with a very angry woman, but maintains a joyful smile on her face, even when she decides to respond to the woman by slowly raising her middle finger to her. It says so much about who she is as a character and highlights how the director knows people (apparently some of his ancestors were people). That’s something we all want to do, and it’s hilarious to see her do it. Even more hilarious is when she uses her deafness to her advantage when dealing with a group of clients, using sign language to insult all of them directly to their faces without them noticing. It’s great at showcasing not only how personable she is, but also how smart she is, you realise that in a film like this, she is smart enough to survive if she needed to.

In a decent world, this film would not work. Not just because of the whole “murder” thing, but also because there are moments that only happen because the majority of people have no idea how to communicate non-verbally with someone. It’s not just they don’t know how, but that they don’t care to attempt. They make no effort to communicate with her, they just say “we can’t understand you”, slowly, and loudly (a bit like when English people go on holiday and speak to the natives).

I suppose I should mention the villain; Do-Shik, played by Wi Ha-Joon. How can I put this delicately? He’s a gosh darn psychopath, a big meany, and a stupidhead. A total cunt. He seems dangerous, but also like he’s watched a lot of television. He’s clearly basing himself off murderers he’s seen on television. That’s very believable, the prevalence of murder in media means that real-life serial killers are starting to base themselves on fictional ones, so it’s only natural that fictional murderers would do the same. He’s played brilliantly, I’m not familiar with Wi Ha-Joon, but he seems like he’s playing the character as the lead from a romantic comedy, which is the absolute PERFECT way to play someone like this. The moment where he loses control of the situation near the end is great, he seems like a completely different person, a complete personality switch that is incredible to see. That moment also allows something that could only happen in a film like this; it does the traditional “yes you stabbed me, but I still win, haha” moment, but because of the deafness of the character, she delivers it via bloodstained fingers. Adds a different layer to it and I love it.

So in summary, I’d suggest this. It’s not a nice watch, but it’s incredibly compelling, and you won’t find a better friendship chemistry than the one between the two leads here.

Spirited (2022)

Quick synopsis: A musical version of Charles Dickens’ story of a miserly misanthrope who’s taken on a magical journey.

It can’t have escaped your attention that there are quite a few streaming services available, and they all need a hook to justify their own existence. Netflix has Stranger Things (and good branding), Amazon Prime has more recent movies (and the ability to add digital purchases to it), Shudder has horror (and also a shocking customer service team, but that’s a story for another time), Mubi has an extensive range of foreign-language cinema and independent films (as well as a sending you a notification when a film on your list is leaving), whereas AppleTV+ has…………yeah I’m not sure. I’m currently on a free trial of it, and it has a select few things, but nothing that makes me think it’s going to be worth paying for while the trial ends. It is aiming big though, and this film is an example of this. You don’t hire Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell if you’re not aiming for mass-market appeal.

I’m not really sure this is going to be the film to break Apple into the next level. I mean, it’s funny, and it is good at what it does. But it’s not essential. It also hasn’t really been advertised much, a film like this needs to be unavoidable to the point of being annoying. If this has any hope of becoming a Christmas cult classic, it needs to be everywhere, it needs an audience. It also needs to be fun.

It at least achieves that. It’s almost two hours long, but doesn’t feel it. That’s helped by the music being very good. Music is a big part of Christmas films, think of how much the music improves Home Alone or The Muppets Christmas Carol. This is a musical, so obviously the songs are even more important. I can only remember one song from it. I try to remember more and all I get is the one from Community. Outside of a few songs I can’t see listening to the soundtrack in full, you can probably cut all of the songs from here and it wouldn’t affect the story that much. It makes it feel like the script was written, and then the songs were handled separately and inserted randomly, and nobody likes random insertions (citation needed). I get why this film is a musical, Christmas films have a higher allowance for joy and music than others. But it doesn’t really work for me, I think part of that might be because, let’s be honest, Will Ferrell isn’t a great singer. At least they have a logical reason for it to be a musical. Apparently the afterlife is a musical, so whilst heaven isn’t clarified as existing, hell does.The script could be improved too. There’s nothing inherently bad are embarassing about it, but moments could be better. Ryan Reynolds establishing character moment should be better. The movie talks about him being irredeemable, but doesn’t show it. He has moments of heartlessness, but not enough. Yes, he lies, manipulates, and stokes fear/division, but that doesn’t make him the worst person in the world, it just makes him someone involved in sales.

On the plus side, this film does have the suicide of a child in it. I didn’t think it would include that, but it does. So that shows that it’s not afraid to get dark and disturbing when it needs to, so if they did that at the start it would make his character arc more effective. I appreciate it taking a new angle on the cliche Christmas Carol plot. It approaches it in a way that works, and makes sense in-universe if you don’t think about it too much. I like a fresh take on something I’ve seen before as it makes it easy to compare and notice the strengths. The strengths are that it’s funny, has some great scenes (the opening is the best way for this film to open), and is unique.

But that also highlights the weaknesses. The biggest weakness being, of course, that it’s a comedic musical film based on Christmas Carol, and the best one possible was already made in 1992. You can’t be better than that, and it’s just not different enough to work.

Clerks 3 (2022)

Quick synopsis: Randal Graves, after surviving a massive heart attack, enlists his friends and fellow clerks Dante Hicks, Elias Grover, and Jay and Silent Bob to make a movie about their lives at the Quick Stop Convenience store that started it all.

Could this work? I don’t really think it’s a secret that the Kevin Smith who made Clerks is very different from the Kevin Smith of today, and it could be argued that he’s a different Kevin Smith than he was when he made Clerks 2. The original is almost 30 years old and will it still be entertaining to see these characters? There is a point where the characters reach an age where their humour and pop culture obsessions would just seem kind of depressing. Thankfully these characters do use this film to move on in their characterisation.

I’m going to get the negatives out the way first; the most obvious one is that this will be impenetrable to those who haven’t seen the first two, but if you’re going into the third film in a series without watching the other two then that’s on you. People who see this will know what they’re getting. It didn’t get a wide cinema release over here so it’s not as though there’d be many people wandering into the cinema to kill time and see this.

Now onto the other negative, and this is a lot bigger for me. The first two films primarily took place over two separate days, years apart. These seem to be the only days that mattered to these characters, as they only ever reference people and situations we’ve already seen. There are no other running jokes from the over 30 years these two have worked together, nothing funny has happened in that entire time. I know it wouldn’t be fun to have this filled with orphaned references, but we could see them via flashbacks or them describing the events. As it is, the only times these characters refer to are the two days we’ve seen, so it makes it feel like the characters aren’t real people. They haven’t lived outside of these films.

There is one notable exception to this, where we find out a character died between films. I’m normally opposed to that thing happening as it feels lazy, but here it works. If we saw it it would have wasted time.

It is a comedy, but it is at its best when it’s not trying to be funny. This has more emotion than Smith has allowed in any of his films before. But there are moments where he feels scared of showing that. When it’s getting emotional and heavy, so he decides to pull back to comedy and pop culture references. It’s a shame as when he lets the emotions continue it’s genuinely heartbreaking.

So if you loved the first two, you’ll love this. If you’re the kind of person who listened to the audio commentaries and watched the DVD special features on the original, you’ll enjoy seeing the behind-the-scenes moments work their way into the script. I’ve missed these characters, and I’m glad to have them back, but the ending means if I ever do see them again I’d be kind of disappointed. The ending to this is so perfect that any attempt to add to it will just ruin it.

This has been a somewhat more dry review than usual, in my defence this film made me feel so many things that it’s hard to get back into normal review mode. That says more about this film than me raving about how much I loved it will.

Broadcast Signal Intrusion (2021)

Quick Synopsis: In the late 1990s, a video archivist unearths a series of sinister pirate broadcasts and becomes obsessed with uncovering the conspiracy behind them.

To start, I should clarify the title, it refers to when someone hijacks a television or radio signal to broadcast something. So when I refer to an intrusion, that’s what I mean. For a real life instance of it, look up the Max Headroom incident. I mentioned that to both explain the concept of signal intrusions, and also to explain the “Max Headf*ck” excerpt I used. It wasn’t just me being crude, it was actually a super pretentious reference.

That’s not better is it?

These reviews are personal opinion. They always have been, and I’ve made no attempt to hide or deny that. That’s why some films which aren’t technically great get worse reviews than others. It’s why stuff like Table 19 (Rotten Tomatoes Score: 26%) receives a more positive review than Don’t Breathe (Rotten Tomatoes: 88%). There are some films which I just don’t gel with. Movies are all about preference, there’s no point in me recommending a film to someone if I know they won’t like it, just because “it’s directed really well”. I say all of that to preface this: there are some people who absolutely love this film and consider it one of the best horror films of the year, but I’m not among those people.

I get what the film is going for, and it has moments of true greatness. Everybody involved is obviously incredibly talented, it does a lot of things better than most horror films. I particularly like how it displays the film title on colour bars on-screen within the film. I don’t know why but I like when films make the title card exist within the film itself. I’m also a fan of how it used sound, particularly in the intrusions themselves, where there’s almost a wall of sound that the audience is banging its head against. The intrusions themselves are genuinely creepy and disturbing, which is always good. This film also creates a really compelling story and mystery that you want to find out.

That’s where it let me down. It is so concerned with being mysterious and asking questions, that it doesn’t answer those questions. You can get away with that if it’s a weird and esoteric film, but this is mostly normal (with the exception of intrusions). If it went into weirdness more then the lack of a cohesive narrative would have been acceptable. I’ll clarify what I mean by “lack of cohesive narrative”, it’s possible to describe this plot in a way that makes sense, but it involves missing out on a lot of the details. Details like “who made that phone call?”, “Where did that character go?” etc. So the synopsis makes sense, but the plot does not. I know some people like mystery, and I do at times, but not when it’s like this. Mysteries should enhance a film, not be used as an excuse to not answer questions. I recently watched the rerelease of the classic John Carpenter version of The Thing. That ends with an unanswered question: are both the characters still human? That’s a question that people have discussed for years. But if the film started with that question, and had a spooky voice stop the characters from making progress in answering it, then it would be annoying.

It’s not helped by how reminiscent it is of last year’s Censor. It’s not close enough that it feels like the same movie, but it is close enough that comparisons are inevitable. It’s a bit like someone took the script of Censor, played Chinese Whispers with it, and then made a film of the resultant script. It’s bad luck as I think they were developed around the same time, so there’s no way they influenced each other, it’s just bad timing on my part to have seen that first. I do feel bad about comparing the two, but I think part of that is due to how disappointed I am with this film in general. I love the unique idea of it, and the performances are all fantastic. Harry Shum Jr will get the plaudits, and rightfully so, but I feel you can’t ignore how talented Kelley Mack and Jennifer Jelsema are when they’re on screen. Mack, in particular, has a very bright future if she can pull off more performances like this. That’s what this film is to me, a possible footnote in a future favourite film. Jacob Gentry directs it wonderfully, and his choice of jazz music for a lot of it instead of a more traditional horror movie score is inspired.

If you’re a fan of more esoteric, dreamlike cinema, then you’ll appreciate this. If you prefer more straightforward watching, then I’d say avoid this as you’ll find it frustrating.

The Menu (2022)

Quick synopsis: A group of rich dickheads attend a specialist menu arranged by celebrity chef Julian Slowick (Ralph Fiennes). They’re disturbed when the dining experience is less Amuse-Bouche and more Abuse Douche.

I knew what was going to happen in this, I knew what was going to happen to almost all the characters throughout. It seemed to spend a lot of time catching up with its own trailer, and I always hate when that happens. It was also slow, filled with unlikeable characters, and unbearably smug.

So why did I like it so much? Everything indicates I should dislike this. But it was so well done. It’s a film that lingers with you long after you watch it. Not just in a slightly “that was horrific” way, but also in a way that you come out with a genuine appreciation of cinema. I’m not sure if it was deliberate, but it’s easy to see the parallel between film-making and a chef; both creating art which is supposed to be for everybody, but there is still a general notion that the more people like it, the worse it is, and the only proper form of it is if it’s incomprehensible.

I like food (as anybody who has seen my stomach can testify), but I dislike food culture. I think food should be eaten and enjoyed, so I dislike it when it’s overly pretentious and fancy, more focused on atmosphere than taste (like the kind of restaurants that serve foam on a shoe). This film seems to have the same disdain for it, lampooning how ridiculous the whole thing is. The satire is not subtle but is brutal. Whereas some targets seem a little unfair, once you think it through it makes sense. The couple whose only crime is not remembering what they ate last time? Seems petty at first, but think of it like this: the chef has put his all into creating memorable food, the kind people will remember for the rest of their lives, and then you have two people who see it as standard, not treating it with any sense of importance. Related; a performer who made something bad for money. Yes, petty, but the chef sees it as someone who doesn’t take pride in their work, that’s a personal insult to him. Yes, some of the other targets feel easy, but they’re targets who won’t realise they’re idiots until they see this film, it’s the lack of self-awareness of the characters that make the whole thing work.

It looks fantastic, most of it takes place in a singular room so there’s not really that much you can do in terms of creative visuals for sets. There are a few island shots which show the beauty of the location, but it is mostly a film made of space, creating a sense of weird emptiness to the whole thing. It works though, the fact that the room is so wasteful and sterile, yet it’s a place that these people pay thousands to eat at, says a lot about who these characters are, and really helps set the mood. If everything else, the story, the cast, etc was the same, but it was set in a diner or a cosy village pub, it would change the mood completely. The food? It looks impressive but not like something you’ll want to eat (with the exception of that burger). It’s food for visuals rather than purpose, which is kind of the point.

The performances are all pretty much perfect. Ralph Fiennes would make a great horror movie villain, he’s unsettling and terrifying to watch, but captivating. You can’t turn away from him, even when he’s in the background your focus is on him, just because of how good he is to watch. Nicholas Hoult is fantastically hateable, although he didn’t need to be American. Anya Taylor-Joy continues to be among the best part of any film she’s in. I think this may be my favourite performance of hers, it’s the first one where her character is the beacon of normality. She’s the audience surrogate in this, and her caustic barbs are a great tone leveller. Her pitch-perfect delivery of pointing out to people how the food they’re being served is actively mocking them makes that line work. I don’t know much about Christina Brucato but her small moments in this made me want to see more of her (although there was a small part of me that thought she was Gillian Horvat at first, which may be why I was paying so much attention to her).

So in summary, this isn’t a film that’s for everybody, but it was certainly for me. I don’t think people will think of it as “just okay”, there will be some people who love it, and some who hate it. There will also be those who miss the point entirely and think of it as a film that’s against the upper class. It’s not, it’s against people who lack passion and pride. If you think that’s an attack on the upper class, that says a lot about what you think of the upper class.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

Quick synopsis: A bluefish with achilles wings tries to protect his homeland, by invading another.

This was always going to be a curious watch. How exactly would they deal with the death of Chadwick Boseman? It was going to need to be handled delicately, not just because of what happened, but who it happened to. Boseman was regarded as one of the nicest people in Hollywood, and the circumstances of his death, where he went to children’s hospitals to meet fans even whilst he himself was dying, which could not have been easy for him. Often the goal with watching a film is to forget the external influences and review it on its own merits. It’s why I didn’t watch Don’t Worry Darling, because the on-set conflicts overshadowed everything about it and it would be difficult to watch it and not analyze everything for hints of the backstage drama. It’s like how you can’t read old lostprophets interviews without looking at every sentence for clues of the singers misdeeds (polite way to put something horrific). But this is different, you CAN’T go into this blind, you know the circumstances of Boseman, and it’s too big for the film to ignore.

They don’t ignore it, they have the character die of an unspecified illness off-screen. I’m glad they did that, if they just had him disappear there would be the worry he’d be recast in the future, and if he got killed by the villain it would seem a bit cheap. His death hangs over the film and defines the characters, you feel that this, more than any other film in the MCU, was one that was needed. It was needed as a tribute, and it was needed for the cast (and to a lesser extent, the audience) to help them grieve and get through it. None of this would matter if the film itself wasn’t good though. Phase Four has been divisive, some of that has just been due to people complaining that it’s not the Infinity Saga again, and some of it has been because “too many women”, but when the phase has also included its weakest film to date (Eternals), and a general lack of focus, it’s hard to get the same level of excitement as you used to get. Especially since lately they’ve eschewed plot and instead gone with “surprise cameos”. This doesn’t really have many surprises, it focuses on good storytelling. This is probably the most mature Marvel has been in a long time. I hate that saying “mature comic book movie” because it usually means (ironically) that it’s just full of blood and swearing, in a way that only really appeals to 15 year olds. This is actually mature. It deals with themes of loss and legacy. It’s genuinely heartbreaking at times and is well done.

The script is helped by the performances, Tenoch Huerta Mejia probably needed more to do but he does brilliantly and I’d like to see him return in the future as there’s a lot that could be done with his character. Letitia Wright looks a natural to lead the franchise going forward (if she stops making enemies on set). But the best performance was Angela Bassett, who gives a tremendous performance, thre’s one scene in particular where we see all her characters pent up rage and emotion, it’s the kind of scene which makes you wonder if she could get an Academy Award if given the right script. It’s weird that in an action movie the best scene is one which is just dialogue, but it has so much power that it’s hard to deny that’s the case. Although I’d be lying if I didn’t say a part of that is how pedestrian some of the action scenes are. There’s a running theme in Phase Four of overly busy final fight scenes. Shang-Chi is the best example of something that should have ended with a small one on one fight scene full of emotion, but instead they went with a multi-person CGI one. They do the same here. If this ended with a hand to hand fight between Namor and Shuri it would allow it to not just be a fight, but be a scene with emotion and character work. But it keeps cutting from that fight to another scene where blue creatures fight people dressed in blue in the middle of the ocean against a bright blue sky. This makes it hard to maintain momentum. Plus, personally I hate when films cut away from fight scenes then cut back a few minutes later; either the audience missed some of the fight, time stood still and the two timelines now aren’t concurrent, or they just stood around doing nothing. A fight between two hardened warriors should have an air of “any mistake will be punished” and like it could all be over in an instant. But when you cut between two seperate fights, film-making rules determine that usually those two fights end at the same time (or follow the same momentum), so you can tell the one on one isn’t going to end early when the multi-person scene is only just starting. There also multiple “that should have killed them” moments, there’s one in particular that stands out as being especially egregious.

A big downside for this is that it, even more than most Marvel films, will lose A LOT if you haven’t seen the previous entry in the series. Say what you want about Black Adam, but it works as a stand-alone film (I know people for whom that’s the only superhero film they’ve seen this year, and it made sense to them). The same cannot be said about this, it’s so dependent on you knowing who people are, and who they are to each other too. The continuity lock-out is strong, and that’s a shame as this deserves to be seen by people who wouldn’t watch this genre normally. It would do well with them, IF it wasn’t for the lockout.

So in summary, the best possible way for them to end this phase, and they achieved it by aiming small. It’s not about the end of the universe, or the world imploding, it’s smaller, and because of that, it’s much better.

Joyride (2022)

Quick synopsis: Joy is on a journey to abandon her baby when the taxi she’s in is stolen by a teen in this coming-of-age comedy-drama.

Does Olivia Colman know she’s a star? She’s probably one of the best performers in the world right now, yet she’s still in films that people at a similar level would see as beneath them. She is so without ego that it’s actually impressive, and it can only be a good thing for filmmakers. I’m not sure I would have watched this if she wasn’t attached. I’m sort of glad I did. I mean, it’s not the greatest film in the world, but it’s not the worst. It’s a film that shows great potential for everybody involved. Neither the director (Emer Reynolds), the writer (Ailbhe Keogan), nor the male lead (Charlie Reid, playing Andrew) even has a Wikipedia page at the moment, but on the evidence of this, that should change for all three of them.

It is a fun script, but it could do with being both more subtle, and more in-your-face. Andrew is too good, he’s introduced stealing money, but it’s from his dad who stole it from a hospice collection, so Andrew is planning to return it. It means there’s no ambivalence toward him, you know he’s always going to do the right thing. So when, later in the film, he comes to a moral crossroads; chosing the right thing to do, and going back to his nefarious dad, you already know what he’s going to do so the moment doesn’t seem as powerful as it would otherwise. It’s supposed to be an ethical dilemma, but it never feels like one because the film hasn’t shown the chance of him going the other way.

On the subject of his dad, he’s supposed to be feared and violent, but we’re not really shown that. I’m not saying we need a scene of him smacking a kid, but it would have helped build him up. Also, he shouldn’t have been in it so much. If you keep him as an unseen threat, then, ironically, it would make him seem a bigger threat.

Now onto the good, it has some very good moments. Olivia Colman’s flashback is incredibly powerful. I also respect how well it uses time. The entire plot is kicked off within 4 minutes (that’s including the opening logos and credits). It moves at such a pace that while watching it, you’re never going to feel bored or look at your watch. There’s also a scene on a plane near the end which is genuinely hilarious and has some great one-shot characters.

In summary, I feel this is destined to be included in a “oh, you liked this film the director made? Well one of their earliest ones was Joyride” conversation. An early oddity in a future career of greatness.