Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Margaret moves to a new town and struggles to find her personal identity while growing up.

When I talk about Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret (or AYTG? IMM, pronounced Ayetagimamm) I feel it’s important to note two things: One, I’m an adult male. Two, I’m British. As such, I have zero personal history with the original Judy Blume book. I have no emotional connection to it, I haven’t built up an image of these characters in my head for me to be annoyed by when the film versions of them don’t match up to them. I know it’s a HUGE deal in America, but I have no preconceptions of it, and it’s clear the film is going to make ZERO concessions to appeal to someone outside of the target audience, so what’s in it for me?

Charm. That’s it. That’s what makes AYTG?IMM work. It makes you feel nostalgic for a time period which you never belonged to. This nostalgia helps fuel the innocence needed. There are moments here which could go sooooo badly. A group of pre-pubescent girls talking about how they want to increase their breast size? That could go very creepy and unsettling if done incorrectly. Kelly Fremon Craig approached it perfectly. I’ll just quickly mention Fremon Craig, she is why I watched this film. I would have normally avoided this out of fear that it’s so not me that I wouldn’t be able to approach it like I should and I would confuse “this film is not for me” with “this film is not good”. When I saw she was behind it, I decided I had to watch it, she wrote and directed The Edge Of Seventeen, which I absolutely love.

As I said, I don’t know that much about the original book, so I don’t know what was Craig and what was Blume. I think that’s a good sign though, it shows a good blend of writer and source material. The book was in 1970, and the film is set in that time, but is made with the benefit of hindsight into that decade, which sometimes means that the past is made to seem different than it actually was. But this all feels very real. The themes are still relevant today. Not just the worries about growing up, but also the shaming of young girls who develop before others. The fact that this film/book is mature enough to recognise that happens and that these girls are often slut-shamed before they’ve even done anything sexual is a depressingly relevant message for these times. On the one hand, it’s impressive that it recognises it’s a problem, but on the other, it’s bleak that a generation of people grew up on this book and didn’t seem to learn one of the main messages.

This is a very simple story; “girl grows up”. The ending is her having her first period. So really, it’s about nothing. Nobody dies, there are no huge stakes. But that’s approaching it from an adult point of view. From the POV of a child; the worries about growing up, getting your first kiss, your friendship groups etc, they ARE the most important things in your life. It’s really difficult for a film to show this and not have adults watching think “oh grow up you stupid child”. The characters need to express these worries without seeming melodramatic so that the audience knows how important it is. More importantly; adults REMEMBER how important that was growing up, they get flashbacks to those awkward times growing up. I don’t know how, but this managed it perfectly, and I think a lot of that is down to the writing.

Although that’s not just the talent of Blume or Craig, it’s also due to the cast. Abby Ryder Forston is absolutely perfect, I haven’t been this surprised with a child performance since McKenna Grace in Gifted. The supporting cast is great too, but there are issues with some actors not really given enough to do.

There is one burning question I have to ask; why did it take so long for this to get made? A lot of religious folks hate the honest and necessary discussion of menstruation, as well as the shock of a young child not being forced into deciding on a religion before they’re emotionally mature enough to fully understand the ramifications. So this film would not have been made in the 80s, and if it was it would not have been anywhere near as effective. So in a way, it’s a good thing this was delayed as it meant it could be approached with the sensitivity needed.

On the downside, the music could have been better. I can’t remember any songs from it, and since nostalgia and music are so heavily intertwined it feels like a wasted opportunity. In summary, I absolutely adore this film and highly recommend it. It’s an utter delight, and I can’t even think of a snarky way to end this review.

Your Place Or Mine (2023) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operation Fortune: Ruse De Guerre (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: Guy Ritchie spy shit, involving an arms dealer who is a fan of an actor.

I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. Operation Fortune: Ruse de Guerre (or OFRdG: pronounced Offradag) was originally supposed to be released in January 2022 before being treated like a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia, being randomly dragged away and hidden with no idea when they will ever be released, if at all.

That reference to Russia wasn’t just a subtle way to insult the country, there’s no way I’d randomly say that the Russian government is full of homophobic hate with supporters who are in as much denial as Vanilla Ice when he’s asked about stealing the music from Under Pressure. I mention it because Russia impacted the release of OFRdG. The villains in OFRdG are Ukrainian, and it was felt to be in bad taste to release a film with Ukrainian villains at a time when the country is under attack not just militarily, but also culturally from online sources claiming the country deserves to be invaded because they’re all Nazi’s. There’s an argument to be made that this is censorship and people aren’t stupid enough to use a film as a basis for reality. But there is another argument that some things just aren’t wise to make at certain times, and would be akin to Hollywood releasing a film called “Goldenstein The Filthy Jew Vampire” in 1943 (as opposed to just having Disney giving all their villains hook noses, an obsession with money, and many other tropes that just coincidentally happen to be anti-semitic tropes). That was a year ago, the film has been deemed safe to release now that there are fewer Ukrainian citizens still alive who can be offended.

I appreciate that was a weird way to start the review, by not really talking about OFRdG at all. That’s because there’s really not much to this. This does not feel like the Guy Ritchie who gave the world Snatch or Lock Stock. This feels like the Guy Ritchie that gave us Swept Away and Aladdin. It doesn’t feel like there’s any love in it. There’s nothing memorable about it. It lacks not only his visual flair but also the crowd-pleasing narrative twists and turns. There’s a real identity crisis about the whole thing. There are so many moments which if they were fleshed out could form the basis of a great film, even the “Hollywood actor” thing seems weirdly underplayed and not developed enough despite being the main plot point.

It’s a waste of a massively talented ensemble cast. Almost everybody is doing a good job but they’re not really given enough to do. I have no desire to watch this again, everything it does competently has been done much better elsewhere. You’d think “A comedy spy movie about a Hollywood actor being enlisted to investigate a criminal” would be a “once every 4 years” or so, but if this wasn’t delayed then it would have been the second film of 2022 with that plot and would have been the worst option out of the two.

I really wanted to enjoy this, I wanted it to be one of my favourite films of the year. As it is, I would fail a multiple-choice exam about the events of this film. I can only remember one of the characters’ names, and that’s only because it was mentioned in the trailers a lot. I certainly can’t remember the dialogue. The only thing about the dialogue that I can remember is that at some point I realised how much Jason Statham’s dialogue sounds like Garth Marenghi. Add a “fuck” and it works the other way around too.

Looking up those quotes and finding the best one provided more laughs for me than this entire movie. That says two things: 1) this isn’t a great movie. 2) I have too much time on my hands. But I have even less now I had to watch this. If it wasn’t for Hugh Grant then the entire film would be a massive waste of time.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 3 (2023) Review

Quick synopsis: The Guardians struggle when Adam Warlock gravely injures Rocket, and they have to band together to find a way to save his life or risk everything falling apart.

Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 3 (or Gotgv3, pronounced Gotgivthree) is exactly what you expect this film to be; for better and worse. The MCU (pronounced Mackyew) has felt like it’s been spinning plates for a while; as if it doesn’t matter what order the films get released in because they don’t connect to each other in any way. I remember before I watched Doctor Strange I made sure to watch Wandavision and the Doctor Strange episode of What If? so that I wouldn’t be lost. I have yet to watch The Guardians Of The Galaxy Holiday Special which was released last year on Disney+, and I wasn’t lost. Looking at the wikipedia page for that TV special and the first sentence is “The Guardians of the Galaxy have purchased Knowhere from the Collector and taken in Cosmo the Spacedog as a new member.”. That’s pretty much the only important thing and both of those you can kind of piece together anyway just by paying attention. They do mention Mantis and Quill being related in Gotgv3, but your brain kind of assumes they are anyway, and it makes no difference to the narrative so it doesn’t matter. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again if it doesn’t change; the MCU needs to start advancing the overall narrative, or people will start to think “I’ll wait to see it” and not feel they’re missing out on a cultural zeitgeist.

The last film James Gunn directed was The Suicide Squad, but this feels more like the other Suicide Squad movie. By which I mean the needle drops are too frequent and badly placed. It’s a shame as the other two Guardians films had iconic soundtracks, and this does too, but the songs are just badly used. Some of the choices are a little too predictable too, it’s not quite “We need to show this film is happy, so play Walking On Sunshine” levels of obviousness, but there are moments where it’s close. Like a lot of films in the MCU, there’s also a problem with tone. Bleak depressing moments of horrificness (that’s my band name) are followed by glib jokes or fun rock songs. It’s a shame as there are plenty of truly emotional moments that will kind of break you at times, but it could hit you harder.

Now onto the good, this features one of the best action scenes in the MCU, a single-shot sequence that encapsulates every character taking out a group of enemies in increasingly elaborate ways as we make our way down a hallway. It’s so beautiful to watch it all unfold in front of you, the delicate interplay between the characters and the moments making it feel less like a fight scene, and more like a highly choreographed ballet. It’s the closest the MCU has ever got to Oldboy.

Gotgv3 also features one of the most detestable villains the franchise has ever witnessed. A lot of villains so far have been sympathetic and tragic, or have been so cartoon-ey that it’s hard to take them seriously. The High Evolutionary isn’t justified or given a sad background like an X-Factor contestant, instead, he’s just a complete prick who you want to see fail. Unlike Thanos or Killmonger, you’re not likely to see swathes of people supporting him and wearing his face on t-shirts. What you will see is a large sense of cathartic release when he suffers, which is how it should be. Amazingly, Chukwudi Iwuji manages to pull off this character without seeming one-dimensional. It is strange to see Superstore’s Nico Santos as such an evil character too, I was just sitting in the cinema thinking “Mateo, you dick”.

It’s a good thing the High Evolutionary is as impressive as he is, as the eagerly anticipated Adam Warlock feels slightly underused. If he is in future projects then this can be forgiven as a set-up, but only if he does develop as a character. If he stays as he is, it will feel like a missed opportunity.

This is likely to be the last film with this iteration of the Guardians together as a group, and this is a fitting send-off. All the characters are given a chance to shine, and their fantastic chemistry continues to be a delight.

The real highlight in terms of characters though, is Rocket Racoon. He’s given a lot more to do in this and provides a lot of the emotional high points. It’s truly harrowing seeing what he goes through, and it actually helps explain his characterisation from previous films. This is what flashbacks should do, they should not just tell a story, they should also help provide context to things that have already happened and help flesh out the character. From the moment he meets his friend group, you know how it’s going to end, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing when it does, and it means his violent response feels warranted (even when you see the true extent of the injuries he doled out).

So in summary, I would recommend this. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a modern MCU film, I wouldn’t bother staying for the second credits scene though.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: Bowser wants to get married to Princess Peach, she would rather that doesn’t happen so enlists the help of a random plumber.

At the time of writing, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the highest-grossing film of 2023, the sixth highest-grossing animated film of all time (already surpassing every Pixar movie with the exception of Incredibles 2), had the biggest opening weekend for an animated film, the first film based on a video game to gross over a billion dollars worldwide. That’s all well and good, but I’d be lying if I said it deserved those accolades. Fun fact; the highest-grossing animated film? The 2019 remake of The Lion King, that seems wrong somehow. This is a fun film, but that’s all it is. It looks absolutely gorgeous, the visuals (and the music) are full of interesting references and in-jokes, so you can tell the animators are true fans of the franchise. The writing? Not so much. A lot of the jokes don’t seem to be thought of specifically for this film, they could go into any movie. This means the whole script seems incredibly generic, nothing about it makes it stand out as either a very good movie or even as a Mario movie. There are a few plot points which are heavy references to the franchise, but they’re shoehorned in with all the subtlety and grace of a drunken elephant twerking. Yes, it is fun to see the karts appear, but they don’t really add anything to the narrative. That, along with many other moments, is just there for the sake of being there. Like they knew they needed to reference the karts so just threw them in where they could without an attempt to make it seem natural. There’s no attempt to be intelligent or appeal to anybody who’s not already expected to like it. There are too many moments where you’re acutely aware that you’re watching a kids’ film, with a few scenes which are (and this is not fun to say) kind of embarrassing. There’s no attempt to be anything better than a basic disposable kids’ film. It’s a shame. The Lego Movie has shown how films like this can and should be done; with wit and intelligence.

On the upside, Jack Black is fantastic. His singing the Peaches’ song is undoubtedly the best part of the whole thing. Most of the other vocal performers are fine, nothing special, they just exist in this movie. There’s nothing particularly wrong with wrong, but they’re all so generic that it’s difficult to remember who was who. It’s also much better than the previous attempt at a Mario movie (not that that’s difficult).

I imagine kids will like this, but it’s the kind of film which parents will be really annoyed about being forced to watch again and again. The best it will do for parents is remind them of playing the games as a youth. There are a few moments where tonally it might remind you of those terrible Friedberg And Seltzer parody movies where instead of jokes they just have references. Nobody wants to be reminded of those films, not even the people who were in them.

So in summary, it’s a fine movie. By which I mean, when someone asks how it is, all you can see is “It’s fine”. Nobody can doubt it’s a successful film, I just wish it was also a good one. I wish there was half as much love put into the narrative and dialogue as there is the animation.

Renfield (2023) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assassin Club (2023) Review

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

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

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

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

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

The Night Of The 12th aka La Nuit du 12 (2022) Review

Quick Synopsis: It’s said that every police officer has a case that haunts them, this is the story of one of them.

Many people aren’t going to like this for one simple reason; it’s a murder investigation where the murderer is never found. I know, spoilers, but in my defence, the film does open with text saying “A lot of murders are not solved, this is one of them” so you can’t exactly say you’re not surprised. But despite that, when the police are investigating the death, interviewing suspects, and following leads, you still have hope they’ll get the right person. So whilst it is frustrating, it’s also kind of genius. It’s like if someone came up to you and said “I’m going to con you out of thousands of pounds with a card trick” and being so masterful and charismatic that they manage to do it anyway even though you’re aware it’s coming.

Rarely has a film put you in the shoes of the characters as well as this. That frustration and annoyance when they don’t find their man? That’s felt by both the characters and the audience. The most frustrating part is the truth of the result. We’re used to police on-screen solving crimes and finding the person responsible, and it gives people a false sense of security that if something does happen to them, they’ll be brought to justice. That’s not just a pithy comment from me by the way, the way that television depicts forensic investigation has led to issues with juries overestimating how precise it is, to the detriment of justice. To know that THIS, this is how a lot of these investigations end is heartbreaking. It’s not just the fact it’s unsolved, but the sheer brutality of the murder makes it difficult to forget. It’s actually a really well-filmed murder. Far too many films about young women being murdered manage to make the murder uncomfortable but for the wrong reasons. They’re usually not uncomfortable because of the senseless death of a person, but because of the weird sexualisation of the murder; a young woman moaning when she’s penetrated by a more dominant male who is taking pleasure in his act. That happens far too often and it’s fucking weird. And those which aren’t sexualised are filmed in a way that either glorifies it or seems a bit gratuitous. The way it’s done in The Night Of The 12th is shocking; someone just walks up to her, throws fluid on her and sets fire to her. There’s no glamour, no sense that this is “cool”, it’s horrific, it’s unsettling, and it’s exactly how it should be.

None of this would matter at all if the performances weren’t up to par. There are not many performers who are that well known in the English-speaking world, but like all good subtitled films, eventually you forget it’s subtitled and just enjoy. Its weird, I can almost hear the dialogue, but I hear it in English.

Like all non-English/American films, there are a few cultural differences you need to get used to, but nothing too extreme that you’ll be lost. The cinematic language is slightly different from what you’ll be used to, but you’ll still be able to follow it, Dominik Moll does such a good job with the visual storytelling that even if you sit back in your chair and are unable to see the subtitles you’ll still be able to get a good indication of what is happening.

Now onto the downside; it’s almost two hours long and I don’t think it needs to be. The cycling sequences are there for a reason (to show the stress etc that the character is under) but they are a bit too long and repetitive, staying long past the point that they’re necessary. There is quite a jarring time-skip as well. Once you’re resettled in the new timeline it makes sense, but it just happens like a normal scene transition; should have been handled much better. It also provides slightly too much characterisation. That’s a weird thing to say, I know. But there are multiple instances of things mentioned, in a way that you think means they will be relevant later, that is never really raised again. It’s like Chekov’s Gun but if it misfires and shoots the walls.

Overall, an incredibly fascinating watch, but not an easy one. Plus, let’s face it, the lack of a conclusion will frustrate some.

Dungeons And Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (2023) Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champions (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: Marcus (Woody Harrelson) gets fired from his job as an assistant coach for physically abusing his manager, and things get worse when he gets caught drunk driving. He gets sentenced to community service, coaching a basketball team with intellectual disabilities.

It’s often said that a film is “made” by its cast, which is definitely the case here. With a different cast, Champions would be a terrible experience with a dated 80s feel. The simple thing the film does? It actually casts people with intellectual disabilities. It’s surprising how often stuff like that doesn’t happen and the studio decision is just “just put a guy in there and have him pull a funny face”. Out of the basketball team members; Madison Tevlin shines above everyone else, with an incredible screen presence to watch unfold.

Even without considering that, the film is a pleasant watch. It’s a cliché plot that only throws up a few small curveballs. To be honest, a sudden swerve would have ruined this. The charm of Champions is not from the plot, it’s from the characters, and those characters are likeable. Harrelson isn’t exactly stretching his limits as a performer, but he does what he needs to.

Whilst I was watching this I had two thoughts: 1) That guy over there keeps checking his emails on his watch, and I hope it’s an early design that has a flaw which causes it to give the wearer an electric shock if they keep using it, prick. 2) This feels incredibly American. Which is why it was such a surprise that it was based on a Spanish film (also called Champions). A genuine surprise, so much of it felt American, except maybe the end, which is more like Rocky than most sports films.

The whole film is so easy to enjoy and smile at, so why has it taken so long for me to review it? Because whilst it is charming, it is funny, it is full of joy, and it has heart, it is also lacking that extra something to make it stand out among the crowd. There are not many moments which stick with you, not enough to recommend this film over the hundreds of films which tackle similar subjects. It does show potential though. There’s a moment where Marcus finds out why one of his players (Darius) won’t play for him. Darius was left with brain damage after being in an incident involving a drunk driver, the reason Marcus has to coach this team? He was sentenced for drunk driving. That’s why Darius doesn’t trust him, he doesn’t want to follow the instructions of someone who could have done the thing that he did. It’s a brilliant piece of character storytelling, but it is also one that only affects the moments that reference it, it doesn’t organically feel part of this world, and if it was excised it wouldn’t leave a narrative hole that needed plugging (speaking of holes that need plugging: sexual joke). I wish it led to a bigger moment, I wish it was a large part of this, a defining part of the narrative. But as it is, it’s just a small section in a puzzle with too many pieces. I will commend Champions for having one different moment: when Marcus is hired by an NBA team it causes the inevitable schism, usually, that’s the moment which leads to the third act reconciliation. It looks like that might happen here, but then it’s forgotten when a bigger issue arises. If it carried that aversion to tropes throughout, it would have been a better film. But as it is, this is too predictable and safe to be considered anything better than good. I really did enjoy it, Champions is very difficult to dislike. But I don’t think I will ever need to see it again. I’m glad I watched it, and I don’t regret it. But it’s only ever “good”. Which is a shame.