Luca (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A coming of age story with sea monsters set in an Italian seaside town.

Pixar do great stuff. I’ve often used “it seems very Pixar” as a compliment for great animated movies, and that’s for a good reason. Their films are usually among the best animated films of the year (with the exception of Cars and Good Dinosaur), and they’re usually full of emotion and heart. This is no exception. It has everything you want from a Pixar movie, but also a few more things. This has an air of something non-Pixar about it. That’s a good thing though considering the “non-Pixar” feeling it has is almost Miyazaki-like. I do not say that lightly, and it’s a great compliment. The almost dream-like state to the whole thing is magical and keeps you interested throughout.

Almost everything about this film just works beautifully. The casting is a great mix of known Western names, and Italian performers which mean the whole thing doesn’t feel like cultural appropriation, but also has enough names that it will appeal to people who watch films because “well I know that guy”. They’re divided up well too, with the humans being voiced by Italian performers (with one exception), and the “monsters” being the non-Italian ones. This makes sense as they just live in the Italian waters, they’re not specifically Italian, so it’s an acceptable break from reality.

The look? It looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s quite difficult to do water-based animation as everything is constantly moving and you have to account for that. It also has a great sun-like nature to it. You almost feel warm watching it, it has the air of a summer vacation.

The plot? It’s, not gonna lie, kind of basic. There’s not many surprises, but the way they tell it is wonderful. The idea of having the heaviness of “sea monsters that can walk on land and want to be accepted” and the lightness of “three new friends need to win a race so they can buy a vespa” works wonderfully and helps drive so many great moments. The way they overlap and influence each other is something that only works in this film, take away one of the aspects and the whole film falls apart.

It’s really hard to not love the characters in this. They’re all so well written that you identify with almost all of them. There is slight gay-coding in the story, with the “sea monsters” being a metaphor for homosexuality (feared for no reason, having to hide their true nature to fit in with people etc). This was unintentional on the film-makers part, but was welcomed by the director Enrico Casarosa. Its one of those film theories that once you think about it, you can’t unsee it, it really works and improves what is already a good film. It adds an unintentional layer to the central dynamic of the three characters as it means it’s not just about friendship, it’s a romantic triangle featuring characters who are too young to fully understand their feelings so they act out. It also adds another layer to a scene where one of the characters is revealed as a sea monster, and fearing repercussions, their friend joins in in the shunning and expulsion of them from the city. It’s an emotionally devastating scene and you can just feel the kids heart break. So powerful and one of the best scenes of the year

So in summary I’d highly recommend this. It’s so damn beautiful and I love it.

Escape Room: Tournament Of Champions (2021)

Quick synopsis: A group of “escape room” winners are dragged into another one and picked off one by one

I reviewed the original a few years ago (as seen here) and I could pretty much post that review again, just take out a few specifics, the main points still hold up. The geography of the whole thing still raises questions, deaths are still seemingly forgotten too quickly, and it still seems too bloodless.

The story is better though, with some genuine surprises, including one comeback from the first film who everyone assumed was dead. This leads to a slight problem though. It’s emphasised “unless you see someone die, they’re probably not dead” to justify someone coming back from the dead after sinking in sand. Smart idea, just one problem. Two people died from that method, so is the other person still alive too? We’ll never know. I mean, we might know in the next film, but probably not.

And there will be a next film, and THAT is the biggest weakness. The first film ended with “but the company that arranged the killer Escape Rooms is still out there, and are planning their deaths by forcing them onto another Escape Room on a plane”. This film ends with “the company that arranged the killer Escape Rooms is still out there, and have forced them onto another Escape Room on a plane”. Yup, totally worth spending 90 minutes to get to that point. The worst part about it is that you KNOW it’s coming. The company have been shown to be all powerful so you know there’s no way this ends it. It doesn’t help that the way they’ve organised the traps feels cheap. I can’t remember if this was the case in the first one but in this one it’s like the games aren’t meant to be solved. Not in terms of difficulty, but in terms of the rooms are designed to work against the players. If it looks like they’re going anywhere the rules will change. An example of this is a bit in a train where the metal bars are electrified. Tense enough, right? But when the team starts doing well, the power gets turned up and electric bolts start shooting out everywhere. That feels like cheating. That’s the first trap. The rest continue in the same vein. As soon as the group starts figuring out what to do, the game turns against them. It makes the whole thing wildly unsatisfying as it just doesn’t seem fair. So when people fail and die, they don’t do it because they failed the task, they failed because the game cheated. It would be better if they failed due to them actually, you know, failing. If they weren’t smart enough, weren’t quick enough, too impulsive, or don’t follow instructions. Then the deaths feel earned. It’s not entertaining to sit there and think “they’re being competent, but it doesn’t matter as the odds will be unnaturally turned against them”. It’s also not entertaining to see them escape, but know they didn’t actually escape because you saw the “Oh no we didn’t escape, we’re still in the trap” from the next scene in the god damn trailer, thus being the second film in this franchise where all the tension has gone (second in a row).

But it then does the same trick again. After that fake out they have a puzzle involving acid rain, then they go into another room which they escape and take down the entire company exposing them to the world. Except they don’t, that was a trap too, and you knew that. You sensed it coming. The only way the “shock ending” would have actually been a shock is if it didn’t happen. That “none of it matters” feeling overshadows the whole film and stops you being invested in it.

Yup, that was a long fucking way to make a single point, but considering the franchise has taken two films to make that point, I stand by it.

So, how else is this different from the first one? Well this time everybody involved is a survivor from a previous tournament, which is a bit weird because after Ben was thought to have won his in the first one, the organisers said his “reward” was being murdered, and he only survived due to outside interference. If that’s the case for everybody else, then how exactly are their survivors. Also, we know how Ben and Zoey ended up on this train, but how did the rest? That’s an issue with the writing of this film, the new characters feel like that; new characters created for the sequel. They don’t feel like they have a history outside of this film. It’s a shame as the ones who were in the first one feel developed.

Black Bear (2020)

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

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

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

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

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

Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar (2021)

Quick Synopsis: Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig), two middle aged women, go on holiday. Can’t remember where, if only they mentioned it in the title or something

This was a strange film. I expected something standard but warm. Not standard in terms of quality, but in terms of style, I thought it would be something fairly straight forward. I based this solely on the title. I went into this almost blind, I read a quick synopsis and it said “the plot follows two best friends from Nebraska who travel to Florida on vacation only to become caught up in a villain’s plot”. See, completely normal based on that. Maybe if I saw a trailer I probably would have had a better idea of what the film is, and what it is, is pretty fucking weird. It’s a film entirely made up of “what the actual fuck?” moments (Like a talking crab doing a Morgan Freeman impression, or a piano singer who makes every song a song about how much he loves tits). Crucially, it never breaks the universe the film is set in, even when it doesn’t make sense. Because so much weird stuff happens that doesn’t make sense, that it actually makes sense. That’s one thing a lot of lesser films don’t do properly, they just put weird moments in that break the flow and feel like they don’t fit the universe.

But it works in this, it’s very much Black Books in that weird shit happens, but it’s amongst grounded stuff, so the weird stuff becomes the new reality. It’s very clever in how it manages that. It’s kind of standard for the SNL films (Wayne’s World, Macgruber), of which this actually isn’t one, but it really seems like one. Not just because of the style, but also because of the presence of Wiig. She plays both one of the leads, and the villain. I get why she did that but I don’t think it works here. Now, I love Wiig, but I think the villain needed to be someone a bit more dramatic. It feels throughout like the villain is aware she’s in a comedy film and it just feels a bit bland. If you had someone who usually played this roles anyway it would have been better. Cate Blanchett would have been perfect.

Mentioned a lot about the weirdness of it, but the film it reminds me of most? Shirley Valentine. Very weird as I don’t think I’ve actually seen that film. But that kind of sunshine holiday feel to it. Visually it reminds me of Palm Springs in terms of the colour scheme.

It’s not just the colours that give this that delightful feel. The dynamic between the two leads is perfect, the real life friendship really shines through the screen. The dialogue flows naturally between the two friends and it’s so lovely to see such a pure and honest friendship between two characters on screen. The two are friends in real life and it really shows in the way they interact.

I really enjoyed this film. It set the tone very early on by having a child lip-sync to a Bee Gees/Streisand song while delivering newspapers, then it turns out he’s actually helping a supervillain by planting a bomb. Yeah it’s a very strange movie, sometimes unintentionally (like when it has a dance scene using the same song as Paddington 2 did, that film owns that song now, no films can use it without reminding me of that).

So in summary, not a perfect film, and it’s not a film that will be for everybody’s tastes. But if you like this kind of thing, you will like this. Incredibly funny, unique, and has a great look to it.

Freaky (2020)

Quick Plot Summary: A serial killer (Vince Vaughn) bodyswaps with a teenage girl (Kathryn Newton).

I went into this with high expectations. It was recommended for me, and it was directed (and written) by Christopher Landon, who was responsible for Happy Death Day and it’s sequel, both of which I absolutely loved. On the downside, he also made Scouts Guide To Zombie Apocalypse, which was not great. And a lot of the joy of Happy Death Day was around the character, so there was a chance that without Jessica Rothe this film would be weaker.

My worries were heightened by the complete lack of information I saw. I didn’t see any trailers for it, didn’t see any posters outside. All I saw was one small poster inside the cinema. The only things that gave me hope were:

  • As I said, someone recommending it to me
  • It was covered in a Kill Count video, and I trust that guys judgement.
  • It was delayed. The fact it was delayed, this shows the studio had some faith in it, otherwise they would have just thrown it straight to VOD. This film was shown more faith than Wonder Woman 1984.

It took longer than it should have done for this film to win over my doubts. It’s nowhere near as sharp as Death Day was. There’s a few moments here which could have been cut, and there are also a few things missing. One of which is we don’t really get that much on Vince Vaughn’s character, so when the body swap happens it’s not quite as effective. It works for Vince Vaughn, as we got introduced to Newton’s character and saw a lot of her, so we recognise her personality when Vaughn plays it. But we never get that the other way around. We see him kill a group of teens, but we don’t see him talk to anybody, so we don’t get his personality really. There’s nothing to ground the character personalities so we recognise them after the swap.

We get to see a lot of Vaughn as Vaughn at the very end though, but that’s too late really. Plus, the ending was the weakest part of the film for me. The bodies get swapped back to normal, and he gets put in an ambulance and taken away, but it shows signs that he’s going to recover. THAT’S how it should end. It’s a logical closing point. But the film then continues for another unnecessary scene. It’s a good scene, but it disrupted the flow and would have been better as an ending to a sequel.

Now onto the good, and there’s A LOT of good here. It’s stylish as hell with a unique look that showcases a real love for classic slasher flicks. The dialogue is hilarious, with one exception where a guy responds to “that seems kinda rapey” with “good”. Kind of uncomfortable dialogue, and it makes the character hard to like. No matter what the character does, you can’t unknow what he said. Everyone else is great though, and they’re performed wonderfully. Vaughn plays a great teenage girl, he could be slightly better at mimicking Newton specifically but otherwise he nails it. The real star of the show is Newton, I know her better from Blockers and Detective Pikachu. This is a completely different performance from her. Well it’s two performances really as she’s playing her original character, and Vaughn’s character. She does both great, the insecure teen, and the Myers-esque killer. It’s when she’s the killer where she really shines, giving the character a coldness and determination that is chilling in how effective it is.

There’s one area where this film is clearly superior to Death Day: the kills. It’s MUCH bloodier, it’s aimed at an older audience which allows it to go further with how gory it gets. It also allows it go further with the sex, that’s something that only happens once really, but the way it’s edited is glorious. They cut to the sex scene straight after a death, but it doesn’t feel gratuitous, the way they match-cut them between the two is brilliant and I love it, really shows a proficiency in film-making that I love to see.

So overall, you definitely should see it. It’s fun, slick, and a hell of a watch.

In The Heights (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supernova (2020)

Quick Synopsis: Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci play a couple embarking on a road trip as one of them starts to suffer the effects of early onset dementia

I was going to avoid this. The title and the poster did nothing to draw me in. To be honest they both made it seem kind of dull. It gave no indication of what the film was about. It wasn’t until I saw The Father and I had a trailer for this that I had any idea what it was about. I was still uncertain, there was a chance it could still be bad, very melodramatic and kind of dull. That it would try so hard to be emotional that it would actually lack any as it would all be fake. There was also the risk that seeing two films about dementia in such a short space of time would mean I have nothing new to see. The Father was so good that was a risk that this would just seem, I dunno, “less than” in comparison, especially considering this hasn’t had anywhere near the awards hype that that got.

In the end those fears were unfounded. No, it’s not as good at putting you in the shoes of the character as the other film did, but it’s not supposed to. It’s not about confusion, it’s not about not knowing who you are, and having short moments of lucidity. It’s the opposite, it’s about a man who occasionally gets affected by it, but is lucid enough the rest of the time that he is aware that it’s happening, and it scares him. It’s telling a different story, but one that is just as heartbreaking.

That being said, there are some things with the script which don’t really work. One of which is linked to the title. The title refers to Stanley Tucci’s character having an interest in astronomy, and tries to teach Colin Firth’s character about navigation. It’s a nice touch, but it feels a bit too much. Especially when he starts talking to a young girl about stars dying in a blaze of glory, burning out and illuminating the sky, very unsubtle. The character is also an author, and it feels like that part of him was underdeveloped in favour of the title trait. Reminds me of Sometimes Always Never from a few years ago, where the character trait was scrabble, but the title was based on the correct button order for a suit. If they made it so his writing was astronomy based that would have meant it worked. But as it is, him being an author doesn’t seem to matter as much, which is strange and kind of hurts the film.

That’s nothing against the performances though, Tucci and Firth knock it out of the park here. It helps that they don’t play the characters stereotypically, they play them as fully developed people, which helps the believability. They actually make a really good couple. You can tell by the way they behave together that not only are they in love, but they have been for a long time. The interactions between them are adorable, you can tell it’s a relationship of mutual support, just lovely.

So in summary; I wouldn’t say you NEED to see it, but if you do, you probably won’t regret it. Its biggest flaw is that it is released in cinemas so soon after The Father, so comparisons between the two are inevitable, and when you do that, it does not favour this movie.

Together (2021)

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

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

And then it’s suddenly very not.

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

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

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

Raya And The Last Dragon (2021)

A Disney movie released straight to Disney+, the last time I watched a film on that that was supposed to get a cinema release it was Artemis Fowl, and that, that was not a good movie. I had heard rumblings that this was a good film though, so that was a positive.

After watching I can confirm it is really good. It just, it doesn’t seem very Disney. Well, it doesn’t seem very 2000’s Disney, 2020s Disney with a history of Moana, Big Hero 6 etc? That makes sense. Disney don’t always knock it out the park, but when they do the results often are spectacular. Truth be told it’s usually when they step out of their comfort zone that they come up with great stuff lately. When it seems like the writers just wanted an excuse for a holiday somewhere so told Disney they have an idea about somewhere exotic and warm so that they’d be flown out there for research. It’s when Disney stick to adaptations lately that they’ve failed (with one obvious exception) or when they’ve attempted sequels (Wreck It Ralph 2 is a terrible film and I will stand by that).

This? This is a thing of beauty. It’s a running joke that the most dangerous person to be in a disney film is a parent of the protagonist (doubly so if you’re being played by Sean Bean). This goes one further, it doesn’t just kill off the parent, it kills off most of the population. It killed off a higher percentage of the population than Thanos. Most kid films don’t start off with murder on this large a scale. It’s no just Thanos this film seems to emulate, there’s a moment near the end which is very reminiscent of the end of Guardians Of The Galaxy. Yes, Disney, we know you own Marvel.

While I’m on the subject, that moment near the the end I talked about? It should have been better. Spoilers ahead by the way. Basically the villains are things that turn people into stone, and this moment is the main group standing around as it envelops them and they start turning into stone, together. For whatever reason it didn’t really resonate with me. I just didn’t hit right. It may have been because there weren’t that many good facial expressions on the characters that really sold the “if we die, we die together”. You never really got the feeling that the characters felt hopeless, it seemed like they always knew the plan would work. Compare this to Toy Story 3, the moment in the incinerator where the characters didn’t speak, but you knew that in their head they accepted what was about to happen.

Moments like that are my main issue, there’s nothing bad about this film, but there’s a few things you’ve seen done better, or you feel the film is only operating at 90% of its potential.

I know this is something that will annoy a lot of people, but not the people who read this so fuck it: the representation of this film is fucking lit yo (how do you do fellow kids?). I can’t understate how important it is that this film exists and takes the care it does to properly represent other cultures. At least, I think it does that, I’m not actually from those cultures, so it could be woefully insensitive for all I know. But I haven’t heard any complaints about people from South East Asia about it so I’m thinking it did a good job. I mean, it is super depressing that it’s the first film Disney have made that’s based off South East Asian culture (and that they seemed to not differentiate between some of them), not as depressing as the fact that Kelly Marie Tran is the first actress from the area to lead an animated Disney film. She’s fucking great though. Although not the best part of the film. She is slightly overshadowed by Awkwafina as Sisu. She nails it, bringing a delightful exuberance and playful nature to the character. It’s helped by the actual character being incredibly likeable, a powerful creature with insecurities and lightness will always be appreciated by me and I love her.

So in summary. See it, obviously see it. There are times where it will slightly break you, but it’s worth it. The big downsides: it isn’t completely original in terms of story, plus I realised that Awkwafina, who voiced Sisu, released this a few years ago. So now my brain is thinking of an imaginary song about dragons called My Drag

Nomadland (2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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