Elvis (2022)

Quick summary: Through the eyes of Tom Parker, this film chronicles the rise of one of the biggest stars in music history.

This is weird. I’m still not entirely sure about it. It’s either the best bad film, or the worst good film. It does some things brilliantly, and when it’s good, it’s very good. There are moments which will break your heart, moments which will astound you, moments which will teach you about American culture and the importance of music. Then there are moments which make you wonder if the filmmakers have ever seen a movie before. Moments where they make terrible decisions in how to display the narrative, moments where the editing is so bad it almost gives you a headache.

When I say “bad editing”, I’m not talking about complicated scenes which need editing and they’ve just made some weird choices. There are moments where two people are having a conversation and there is so little faith in the dialogue and performance that there’s a cut every few seconds just to keep things exciting. It doesn’t quite reach Bohemian Rhapsody levels of headache-inducing, but it’s the closest a big-budget film has got.

I know, you don’t expect subtlety and restraint from a Baz Luhrmann film. You know it’s not exactly going to be a calm and relaxed drama, but a little bit of restraint would help this film. There are scenes where all it needed to do was stay still, let the emotions wash over you as the conversation happens in front of you. The weird non-chronological nature at the beginning doesn’t help it either. As the film goes on it does develop into a more traditional narrative, but at the start, it jumps back and forth between different times and locations at an almost baffling pace. A lot of this film belongs amongst the worst I’ve seen all year.

But when it’s good, it’s very good. There are times where you forget you’re watching a modern film, it slips into feeling like life observation so easily. But then something breaks the immersion like hearing an Eminem song. But otherwise it all feels very real. The emotional beats it hits are pretty damn impressive, and it will make you feel things, which is difficult considering everybody going in knows how it ends.

In terms of casting, Tom Hanks is…..he’s okay. I’m not sure what would have been lost by casting someone less well-known and with a more natural accent. The supporting cast are all good without being remarkable. Really, this is all about the lead though. Austin Butler is phenomenal, he doesn’t just do an Elvis impression, the way he carries himself throughout is perfect. Elvis is a difficult role to play as everybody does an impression of him. Everybody has seen so many films of him that any missteps will be noticed. Plus, his fans are very obsessive so will notice differences. He does everything so well that you genuinely forget you’re not watching Elvis himself at times.

The familiarity everybody has with him does somewhat hurt the story too. Everybody knows a lot about him, and this doesn’t really tell you anything new. It is a LONG film, but it doesn’t have much to say. It feels like an edited version of something bigger.

I am opposed to unnatural splitting of movies into trilogies etc, but I feel that would have helped it here. Especially since the story is very episodic in nature, it has a basic narrative of “Parker is a bastard” but that’s not enough to really anchor the whole thing, so it splinters into episodic storytelling that causes it to constantly stop and start. You could easily split this into three movies, and I know EXACTLY where you could split them:

  1. The rise of Elvis, his relationship with black music (one great thing about this film is it puts the fact he was influenced by black artists out there), and how the police tried to shut him down. You end this when he defies the police and to avoid being arrested is sent to the army.
  2. Army and then his transition into an actor. End this when records his comeback special, performing songs his manager doesn’t want him too, but being so damn good that it revives his career.
  3. Vegas Elvis.

All of this is covered in the film. It’s weird as it feels like every one of those sections has it’s own three act structure within it. But because they’re all fit into one they feel rushed (even though it is nearly 3 hours long). If they were split then it would allow the effects of each story to be explored more. We saw a lot of how Elvis reacted to events, but we didn’t see how the world reacted to him. He goes from completely unknown to Biggest Star In The World in a small montage so you don’t really get a sense of how it happened.

If you hoping to use this to pass a test about Elvis, you’re out of luck. But if you were using this to UNDERSTAND Elvis, to work out why he was such a big deal, you couldn’t ask for anything better.

In summary: it’s obviously very good and has some excellence, but it feels like it’s being harmed by external forces trying to push it in a direction it doesn’t want to go in. Which is kind of perfect for an Elvis movie when you think about it

Lightyear (2022)

Quick Synopsis: Buzz Lightyear deals with loss and mortality in this film-within-a-film

I love Pixar. They’re almost consistently brilliant (with the exception of Cars and Good Dinosaur), and a new film by them almost feels like an event. On the downside, this means that expectations are always high, but those expectations are usually met.

That’s definitely the case here, it won’t be remembered among the best that Pixar has made, but it does remind you WHY you love them. It’s funny, looks fantastic, has a great story, and breaks you slightly. Most studios would have a film like this as a lazy cash grab, but Pixar has done something different. Instead of just “put some shit together”, they’ve done this: the film that the Buzz Lightyear toys in the Toy Story universe were based on. It’s weird to explain, but it makes sense when they define it. It’s brave for them to do that, but what’s even braver is them deciding to do a film based around time dilation. It works, though. Kids films need to realise that children can understand most concepts as long as you explain them. So you can have films based around the multiverse, you can have films about time travel loops, but you can only do them if you do them well.

On the downside, this was supposed to be a film from the 90’s, but it never really feels like that. There’s a moment where he takes the robot autopilot out and blows it like a video game cartridge, but other than that there’s nothing that really makes you believe this is a 90’s movie. For starters, a film like that would not have that any gay characters that weren’t awful stereotypes. If they added some 90’s music, maybe had voice actors from that time instead of newer younger ones, actually looked at what was popular in that decade and referenced that then it would have worked. I mean, it would have been a MUCH worse film, and wouldn’t have worked, but still, at the moment there seems to be no reason for it to be sold in-universe as a film from the 90’s. Now if you had it as a “The toy company that makes Buzz Lightyear have released a new film” then it would have worked. If you bookended it with Andy watching it with his kids it would have slot into the Toy Story universe seamlessly and could have provided an emotional crux to anchor the film around.

I am aware that is a very minor point, but that’s how picky you have to be to criticise this. It’s incredibly well made and the voice cast is perfect. The biggest compliment I can give it is how well it would work as a standalone movie, cut out the opening card about Toy Story and you can watch this not knowing anything about Toy Story, and still enjoy it. There are no “wait, what’s that about?” “oh, it’s a reference to the other films”. It’s a solid action-adventure film even without the Toy Story references, the fact it’s set in that universe enhances the story rather than explains it.

So in summary, well worth a watch. And a good reminder of how good Pixar are.

Firestarter (2022)

Quick summary: Andy (Zac Efron), and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon) are a couple who have powers given to them by their participation in an experimental government trial. Together they have a child, Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong), who has the ability to set fires with her mind. When Charlie finds her powers harder and harder to control, her parents try to hide her from government officials who wish to use her as a weapon.

I went into this with trepidation. I was excited by the trailer, but I felt that the actual film would let me down. It matched expectations, by which I mean it let me down.

There’s nothing inherently terrible about it. It’s just incredibly dull. Part of it is that there doesn’t seem to be any passion involved in making it. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for this to be remade besides “we could”. It’s reminiscent of The Omen remake from 2006. Keith Thomas only has only directed one feature-length film before (The Vigil), and his inexperience shines through here, where there’s no sense of a continuous style. His visual style really doesn’t mesh well with the music. John Carpenter’s score is very synth-heavy and almost future-retro, but the visuals are just pedestrian. It’s like the music is neon, and the visuals are fire.

The blame isn’t all his though, the script is also quite weak. Some reviews have picked up on this, and how the writer was also responsible for Halloween Kills. Personal opinion, I absolutely loved that film, because it did something different and focused on the effect on the wider town. But this is lacking what I enjoyed about that. A lot of the background characters are there for plot purposes. The childhood bullies, in particular, walk the line between being unbearably cruel to the point the teachers would pull them up on it, or not really being bullies at all, just saying “hey, you’re weird”. The adults aren’t much better, almost all of them just being walking cliches. It’s a shame as the performances are pretty solid without. Zac Efron has matured into someone who is surely due a role which gives him a chance to get award nominations. Essentially, give him the roles that you would have given DiCaprio 15 years ago. Ryan Kiera Armstrong has to carry a lot of this on her back, and considering she’s only 12 years old she does an amazing job. She probably gives the best performance in this, my only criticism of this is that she reminds me of McKenna Grace, which makes me disappointed it wasn’t her in this (although that wouldn’t have improved the film tbh).

There are some weird choices in the script. I will say it’s not all bad though, a scene where they meet an older gentleman and he gives them shelter for the night is what this film should have been more like: good character work, plus it showcases the paranoia that the general public would have towards her if they found out, so highlights exactly WHY the family have been in hiding for so long. It showcases a world bigger than these characters, and for a brief moment, everything feels real. It also has genuine emotion. Now I’ve talked about the good, onto the bad; the opening scene is Charlie as a baby, setting her bedroom alight. It’s not that exciting an opening. It’s just there to demonstrate her powers, which means that there’s no waiting for it to happen because we’ve already seen it. It would be like if Godzilla opened with a full-grown Godzilla destroying a city, a waste of what we’re there for. Now I know really we’re not there for a small fire, we’re there for a large “BURN EVERYTHING” roaring rampage of vengeance, but that’s in the trailer. So really you’ve got nothing to look forward to while watching this.

What makes the opening more baffling is if you cut that section out, it would have one of the strongest opening sections of the year. The need for a “small scene before the credits” have never harmed a film as much as it does here. If this opened with the credits, it would be a much stronger movie. Not just because it would cut out an unneeded scene, but also because the opening credits are great. They’re video recordings of the parents volunteering for medical experiments. Just short recordings that look dated. It’s a great way to set the film up, and the characters. It would make it seem like the parents are fully-fledged characters instead of the background ones they seem now.

Of course, there is always a possibility that was a decision made in the edit. Which is how I’m going to clumsily segue into talking about one of the worst edits I’ve seen. At least, I think it’s an edit, it’s either that or an atrocious line delivery. There’s a moment where it seems like Sydney Lemmon’s character stops mid-sentence. Not “trails off as she loses her train of thought”, she gets halfway through a sentence and then just stops talking. It’s just as the camera cuts away too, so even if it was a bad delivery, editing on that moment just highlights it. A bit like in Killer Kate when the music stopped at the exact point the characters stopped talking just highlighted the silence and made me think the version I was watching was broken. An editor’s job should be to hide those issues, not highlight them.

There’s just a sense that nobody cares about. The director already said there have been discussions of it being a franchise, either in a sequel, prequel, or spin-off. So he’s not thinking “No, I didn’t tell you enough, there are all these things in this cinematic universe that I want to explore” otherwise he’d know how he wants to franchise it. The studio just wants to franchise it for the sake of franchising it.

It’s a summary of how the whole thing feels, nobody knows why they’re doing what they’re doing, and what they’re doing isn’t that great.

Ballad Of A White Cow (2020)

Quick synopsis: An Iranian woman (Maryam Moqadam) learns that her husband was actually innocent of the crime he was executed for. She’s not very happy about this.

This film will infuriate you. When you find out that the man executed was actually innocent it will make you want to tear your hair out. This is a great example of why I’m anti-execution btw. I’ve had this discussion with people and I’ve offered this sentence:

“Make executions legal, but have everybody who supports it on a list. If it’s discovered that someone was executed wrongfully, or if there’s a small piece of doubt about it, someone on the list gets killed”

Usually, that’s met with “but that’s not fair, you can’t kill people who didn’t do anything”, by people who are completely missing the irony. Plus if they’re so certain that only the guilty will be executed, they’d have no problem with it because they’d know for sure they’re safe. Once you perform that act, you can’t take it back, and that’s what this film is about. No matter what happens, the mans death can never be reversed.

Not that much is happening anyway. The people who sentenced him to death tell his widow “Nothing we can do, it is gods will”. “we can’t deny people their rights. The death penalty is a human right”. “The prophet himself made a judgement”, no, he didn’t. You did. It must be nice to have that level of faith which allows you to ignore culpability. That’s how problems don’t get solved, when people don’t take responsibility for their decisions. There is one person who seems to care, Reza (played by Alirez Sanifar), who seems to realise how shitty a situation it is. He was the judge who sentenced her husband to death. It was his first death sentence and it turned out to be wrong. You can tell he is wracked with guilt over this, and is trying to do everything he can to fix it, but knowing there’s nothing he can do.

It’s harrowing to watch her so beaten down because of her gender. She gets made homeless because she has a man in her house. Landlords won’t rent to her because she’s a single woman, putting her in the same category as junkies. It’s ugly, it’s horrible, and it’s far too true.

The ugliness extends to the look. Not in an “eww this was really badly made” way, but if I had to describe it as a colour I would say “grey”. It’s a very washed out film, and that perfectly suits the tone and the story. The lead, Maryam Moqadam, co-directed this with Behtash Sanaeeha (better known for 2014’s Risk Of Acid Rain). It’s not often you get co-directed films (he says, a few weeks after watching and reviewing one), and to their credit it never feels disjointed in terms of style. The whole thing does feel like it belongs to one voice.

There is a slight warmness to the whole thing at times. Despite what it may seem, this is not a story about loss, or revenge. It’s a story of human perseverance, about the strength people find in adversity.

This strength, as well as the pain, is filtered through Moqadam’s character, Mina. She carries a heavy burden, the film rests upon her shoulders, and she carries it wonderfully. There’s a scene near the end which best demonstrates this. I’ll explain the lead-up first. She meets a stranger who claims to be a friend of her husband, the aforementioned Reza. He’s decided to ease his guilt by turning up at her house, saying he owes her husband some money, so he’ll give it to her.

Sadly, this act of kindness ends up getting her evicted (for having an unrelated male in the house), but she never mentions it to him. She hides it from him out of kindness for him. Because she doesn’t want him to feel guilty. So when she finds out who he really is, she feels doubly betrayed. She just sits in her car seething, not saying a single word, she doesn’t need to; her face says everything. It’s a masterclass in both performance and directing. That scene alone makes this worth watching, but watch the rest too as it’s well worth your time. In most other countries, this would be a film of anger and violence, in this it’s just despair. She can’t win, she’s utterly helpless, a victim of the world she lives in. It sucks, and it’s depressing, but it’s also very compelling to watch.

Men (2022)

Quick synopsis: Harper Marlowe is a recently widowed woman who wants to escape for a short holiday in the country. Folk horror misogyny happens.

I went into this expecting to be creeped out, but to still enjoy it. Out the gate I’m going to say that I love the performances, Rory Kinnear has a difficult job playing so many characters, but giving them all a distinct personality. Jessie Buckley continues to be one of the best hidden talents of the UK acting scene. It’s also directed beautifully, with some stunning shots. I was just let down by the narrative, which is a big deal because to me, narrative is king. I’m more likely to forgive a badly made film with a great story, than a wonderfully made film with a bad story.

I get what the director was going for. The “women are surrounded by toxic masculinity” is a valid theme for a horror movie, but this somehow manages to be both too obvious, and too confusing. The behaviour by all of Kinnear’s characters is shocking, but the reason for it is not. The fact that every male in the village is played by the same actor is never referenced. I’m guessing it’s to do with the impersonality of the attacks. But at one point Buckley’s character asks “who are you?”, this was when I gave up with the film. If they were going to make the film make sense, this is when it would have happened, but it didn’t. They ignored the question and then carried on being possibly metaphorical, possibly real. I’m still not sure what it actually was that was attacking her. Was it a shapeshifter that couldn’t change his face? Something that can teleport? Her psychosis? It’s very surreal, and not very satisfying as a viewer. The whole thing reminded me of Lucky, that had similar issues. It’s a story worth telling, and it sets up a compelling mystery, it just has no idea how to solve it so dissolves into batshit insanity.

The ending of this is true insanity. It’s a LOOOOONG sequence of the male characters giving birth to each other, finally ending with the abusive husband. It’s horrific (but beautifully made), and goes on longer than necessary and doesn’t really explain it. Really it sums up the film in general; too focused on the themes and the shock, rather than a compelling story.

I’m disappointed to have to rate this so low, as it does have a lot of really cool ideas. Her defending herself against the attackers causing them to have the exact same injuries her ex husband did, is REALLY smart writing. Plus the use of echoes and ripples is very smart and themetically perfect. The idea that the past actions echo back to us in a different form is one that’s prevalent throughout the film, and is a neat idea.

Outside of those themes, and outside of the technical brilliance, there’s really nothing to it. And that’s a shame.

Still, great music.

Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)

Quick Synopsis: Chip and Dale are two animated friends who haven’t spoken to each other in years after their show was cancelled. When a former cast mate gets kidnapped they have to reunite to save him.

Oh boy, a live-action Disney remake of a beloved cartoon, premiered on Disney+, AND it’s full of cameos from other animated shows? Wow, this is going to suck. I mean, the last few things I watched which premiered on Disney+ were Artemis Fowl and Home Sweet Home Alone, and the last few films I watched where it was mainly about the cameos were Ralph Breaks The Internet and the new Space Jam. Added to that, I don’t think I ever watched Rescue Rangers growing up, so I’m not going to have a warm nostalgia towards it. So I’ll admit, I went in with a somewhat negative mindset, so it would take something special to overcome my preconceptions.

This is something special. I knew it would take something good to win me over, it won me over in the opening scene with this piece of dialogue:

“What’s the first thing that pops into your head when I say Chip N Dale? I’m willing to bet it’s Thomas Chippendale, the london cabinet maker. I bet the second thing is these guys *shows the chippendale dancers*

The plot is pretty impressive too. The two characters were actors in the original series, and one of them now wants a reboot. It’s very meta, but really that’s just the backdrop for the main story: someone kidnapping animated characters, alter their appearance slightly with drugs, then ship them overseas to star in bootleg movies for the rest of their life. It’s really dark, kind of reminiscent of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (who cameos in this). It also brings to mind The Lego Movie in terms of style of humour. It’s cynical, but in a weirdly optimistic way. It’s also full of references which you’ll love, so many unexpected characters and moments make it a real joy to watch.

That is possibly a downside too though. If you’re a 5-year old child, are you going to understand who a lot of these characters are? The film does a pretty good job on catching you up on who Chip N Dale are, but some of the other cameos are so in your face that if you don’t know them it may feel like you’re missing out.

The quality of the film is helped by the cast. Andy Samberg is quickly becoming a really dependable performer for comedic films, and he’s helped by John Mulaney’s more dour delivery. It’s also nice to hear Rachel Bloom in a large movie, albeit only briefly. There are not many live action performers, but of those who are there, KiKi Layne more than holds her own in what must be a difficult role (acting in a similar role drove Bob Hoskins nuts, and that’s a man who survived Super Mario intact). It never feels like she’s acting on her own, you always get the feeling she’s interacting with the animated characters. It’s a very natural performance and her characters enthusiasm for the franchise shines through in her performance.

So in summary, as much as I would have been expected to slate this, it’s really good and if you have disney+ you should definitely watch it soon. The hype train for this is coming, and you want to get on their early.

On The Count Of Three (2021)

Quick Synopsis: Val (Jerrod Carmichael) and Kevin (Christopher Abbot) are two friends on a mission: have one last good day before killing themselves.

This is a unique film. I sent a few people the trailer for this and the responses varied from “are you sure you didn’t write it?” and “that’s very concerning. are you okay?”. It’s something which is going to be off-putting for a lot of people. It’s an acquired taste, and one that a lot of people won’t like. Personally, I loved it, and a large part of that was the dialogue. That’s what I’m going to base this review around, the dialogue. Here goes:

“I didn’t know I had to set a Save The Date for a double suicide”/“I’m not listening to Papa fucking Roach on the day I commit suicide”

Kicking off with a big one. Yup, this is about two people planning a double suicide (which is a good number of people to have if you are planning it: one is not enough, three is too many, and fifty-six is just silly). None of this would work if the relationship between the main two wasn’t believable. I’m not that familiar with the work of either of the two performers, but they make a natural double act. They bounce off each other so well that it feels like they’ve been performing together for years, but (judging by the IMDB credits anyway) this is the first thing they’ve starred in together. They will also be in Yorgos Lanthimos’s (best known for The Favourite, The Lobster, and The Killing Of A Sacred Deer) Poor Things; alongside Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, and Mark Ruffalo. If a studio had any brains they’d sign those two guys up and get them to lead an action franchise together.

“if the guests can’t follow the rules then visitation rights will be revoked”

That’s a much more important line than you’ll think. It’s delivered by someone in the facility Kevin is in after he attempts suicide. It demonstrates that it’s not really about caring for the people in the facility. If you have a heavily suicidal person, you don’t threaten to cut off their connection to the outside world. You don’t threaten to isolate them from their friends just because their friends decided to smoke. That’s shitty behaviour and is the kind of “rules are more important than results” bullshit that leads to increased suicides and ineffectual “well we did what we could” platitudes from people who in reality did nothing. That’s very early on in the film, so it sets up how seriously this film takes the subject. It doesn’t hide away from the dark reality of not just having it, but how other people deal with you when you have it.

“not waking up tomorrow is the most beautiful thought I’ve had in a long time”

On the subject of beauty, there are some beautiful shots here. Jerrod Carmicheal does a fantastic job of making ordinary shots look good. It’s not quite at “oh my god these are the most beautiful visuals I’ve seen” levels, but there is a dark elegance to the normality he portrays. He’s mainly known for acting, playing a semi-fictionalised version of himself in The Carmichael Show, which I’ve yet to see but I’ve heard is absolutely astounding in how it tackles some of the issues, especially the Bill Cosby controversy. His directing has mainly been documentaries and stand up specials. Those have been enough that even without this film you’d know to keep an eye on his future. For example, Drew Michael was an incredibly unique way of shooting a stand up special, so made clear to everyone how creative Carmichael can be. While he is a great performer, I’m much more interested in what he brings to the table as a director in the future.

“You just tried to kill yourself three days ago don’t tell me suicide is not the answer”

That made me laugh, so much. As did a lot of lines in this. While it is about depression, it does still make you laugh, but never about the situation, you laugh at the characters. It’s really difficult to a film about a subject like this, and not have it offend people. It’s a really tricky line to walk, to make a comedy like this, and not have it feel like it’s exploiting the situation. This walks that line brilliantly and is a testament to the very clever script.

“good times, nice to see you”

Said by a former bully of the main characters. The “good times” he’s referring to by the way, are when he ran Kevin over in his truck, causing him to undergo physical therapy for a year. It’s brutal, but is also kind of honest in how people like that never see themselves accurately. They see what they did at school to people as funny and just something that happened, they don’t see the horrific impact it has on peoples lives. Just shows that the script knows what it’s like to live that life.

“that unhappiness, it’s a good thing, it will push you”

Usually, this is portrayed genuinely, the myth that depression is good because it can be used as a motivating tool for artists. You don’t need happiness, you don’t need enough money to pay your bills, just stay miserable and poor. It’s good that this film has that line be said by a character who is an abusive prick, but who is also rich. The character who says it? Henry Winkler, a.k.a The Fonz. He’s in it, as are other big names like JB Smooth and Tiffany Haddish, but not much. This is mainly about the two leads, somewhat to their detriment. It would have been nice to pull away from them once just to see how people are reacting to them. Because the focus is so small that it feels like a small-time story, and to go from that to the ending is a huge shift.

“guns are crazy, how are these legal?”

This is such an American film. From the way that it treats mental illness, to how easily they can get guns. This wouldn’t work as well in another country. Especially at the end when Val is in prison. That’s my negative for this film, the closing third feels a bit too much like a story someone has written in class. All feels a bit too fake compared to the grounded nature of the rest of the film. Him being in jail at the end also doesn’t answer some questions, did he actually get jailed for the murders? Or was he just charged as an accessory? That changes everything. Yes, it does seem like he’s happier now than he was. But him being locked for a few years while his child grows up is a very different ending than him being away for decades. I get why it ended like that, to show the irony that he was free and miserable, but now he’s locked up but happy.

“When a customer is talking, you listen bro, it hurts to be ignored”

And there it is. What this film is. Frustration. Frustration with yourself, frustration with your past, frustration with your lack of future. So while it is funny, and it is sad at times, really the emotion I’m most left with from this story is pain. It’s incredibly real, and if you have ever been in a place to recognise that reality, this film will speak to you like few others will.

So in summary I’d say you should watch this. It’s not among the best films I’ve seen, but it is definitely the most “me”.

Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

Quick synopsis: When an interdimensional rupture unravels reality, an unlikely hero must channel her newfound powers to fight bizarre and bewildering dangers from the multiverse as the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

This is a really hard review to write. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how I feel about this film, and what it means to me. I’ll try:

It’s a cunting masterpiece.

Crude, yes. But “masterpiece” does not do justice. “motherfucking masterpiece” also doesn’t seem strong enough to demonstrate my feelings for this. It’s astounding, a work of art. This is one of the best things I’ve ever witnessed. Sometimes my end of year awards are difficult. Last year, for example, it was genuinely difficult to decide between Mouthpiece and Come True for best film. Quite a few were similarly difficult. I’m saying this now, this will be nominated for A LOT in the end of year reviews, and will win a lot of them. It’s already pretty much a dead cert for best film. It’s over two and a half hours long, and my first thought when I left the cinema was “I can’t wait to see this again”.

Directed by duo called Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), who have a big history in music videos. You can tell this with how they direct some of the action sequences, there’s a flow to them which works perfectly. It’s not just “sound playing alongside music”, it’s part of the film. It works alongside the images to create a collective whole vision (apart from the scenes with the bagel, then it’s a hole vision. You know, because a bagel has a hole in it). The only feature film they’ve created before this was Swiss Army Man, which I’m yet to see but I’ve heard it’s very strange.

Now I’ve seen this, I can believe it. The story is weird, and there’s a strong sense of “look, just go with it” throughout the whole thing. But it actually makes sense, in a weird way. It’s written and directed in a way that even when it does go completely off the rails, you are able to follow it. Don’t know if you saw Mad Max: Fury Road, but that managed to do something great in that it was full of action, but because the action was nearly always in the centre of the frame, no matter how chaotic it got, you were able to follow it. This does the narrative equivalent of that and I love it so much.

All the performances are on point. Michelle Yeoh continues to be one of the greatest physical performers in the world today, she must be a dream for choreographers to work with as they don’t need to set up cameras so they can film each bit individually and edit them together. They can just set a camera up and let her do her thing. Her role was originally supposed to go to Jackie Chan, and that would have worked, but it would have been different. I’m not sure it would have been quite as good. The mother/daughter relationship is key to this film working, and I’m not sure it would have worked quite as well with a father/daughter one.

Speaking of the daughter, Stephanie Hsu absolutely nails the performance. Giving her the right amount of rebellion and need for acceptance. Certain plot points could you make you dislike her, but she’s played with enough vulnerability that you want what’s best for, while also recognising when she does awful things. Originally it was going to be Awkwafina. Now, I LOVE Awkwafina, she’s often the best part about most things she stars in. But again, I think it’s best it wasn’t her. I don’t think she would have been as effective as Hsu is.

It’s also good to see Ke Huy Quan back, best known for his role as Short Round in the Indiana Jones movies. Hopefully, this leads to a career resurgence for him as he has a really difficult role in this, it’s both physical and emotional. He has to make you believe he can beat the crap out of you, but also make you believe he’s the kindest, meekest person on the planet. He manages this, he’s talented enough that you can tell which universes version of him he’s currently playing, just by his body language. In a lesser film it would be the best performance, in this, he’s just a VERY VERY good part of an excellent ensemble.

As you can guess. I loved this. It had everything I want. It had laughs, it had heart (I heard genuine tears from fellow audience members many times), it had character, it had meta references, it had action, it had fingers made of hot dogs, it had a dildo being used as a weapon, it had glitter, it had bondage, it had pizza, it had Jenny Slate, it had Jamie Lee Curtis, it had a racoon controlling someone, it has despair, it has hope, it has everything.

Everywhere

All at once.

Studio 666 (2022)

Quick synopsis: The Foo Fighters move into a mansion steeped in grisly rock ‘n’ roll history to record an album. Spooky shit happens.

Horror is a strange genre, it’s incredibly self-referential and is a genre that really rewards people who are familiar with it. You occasionally get that with comedy as well, but not so much. And very rarely happens with dramas, you don’t often get homages to A Star Is Born in West Side Story, for example. But it’s encouraged in horror, and it can be a lot of fun.

This is definitely a film which rewards you if you’re a fan of the genre. It has so many references to old horror movies. Some might be accidental (is someone hanging themselves and crashing through a window a reference to The Omen or just a good visual?), but some definitely aren’t. The whole thing looks like it was a lot of fun to make.

Horror is a director’s medium, and you’d be forgiven for going into this with trepidation. Not just because it stars musicians, but the director (BJ McDonnell) has a history in documentaries and music videos, with his only horror directorial credit being Hatchet 3 back in 2013. He does a really good job here. There are issues with this film, but almost none of them are due to the directing. He has a great sense of when to use silence, and when to amp up the noise. This is actually a really solid film, much more so than the only film I can really compare it to, Punk Rock Holocaust, which you can really only enjoy if you’re a fan of the musicians involved. I’m not that big a fan of Foo Fighters tbh, I’ve liked some of their songs, but never really felt that appreciation for them over a whole album. Despite that, I still liked this film. Fans of the Foo Fighters will get a lot more out of it, but even those who don’t will still find a lot to enjoy about it, maybe not if they didn’t like horror films, actually definitely not if they don’t enjoy horror films.

Now onto the bad. It’s a bit weird they all know of Dream Widow (the band who all died at the start) but don’t know that they’re currently recording in the house they died in. Fans of Nirvana would know if they were recording in the house Kurt Cobain died in. Plus, let’s face it, if they were really touted as the next big thing, then that house wouldn’t be abandoned, it would be a tourist spot.

It tries to play off “Dave Grohl is the killer” as a reveal, but we already knew that, it was very obvious. In fact, most of the supposed twists were really obvious, to the point where they aren’t really twists. I mean, their manager said “oh, you want a place? I’ll find you a place”, makes a phone call to someone and says “send them there”, he obviously knows about the possessions etc. It’s weird the film treats us like we don’t. Also, the manager should have been in it more. He only appears at the beginning and the end. He should have been seen in cutaways during the film, phoning up the band to check on their progress.

The performances are pretty good throughout. Nothing special but not really many too awful. Considering most people in the film are musicians, it’s weird that the worst performer is Whitney Cummings, who has acting experience. It’s only really her performance that takes you out of the film. Well, that and some of the cameos, appreciated as they were. I mean, it was cool to see John Carpenter on film, he did a cracking job on the soundtrack btw, the music is creepy as hell. Very cool.

So in summary, quite good, but does feel like it’s a horror designed to be watched with friends while drinking rather than watching alone in the dark whilst terrified.

Umma (2022)

Synopsis: A woman’s quiet life on an American farm takes a terrifying turn when the remains of her estranged mother arrive from Korea.

It’s been a few days since I’ve seen this film, and it now annoys me that I saw it. Not because it’s bad, or offensive etc. It annoys me because this is the directorial debut of Iris K.Shim (at least in terms of feature lengths). Such a shame because I wanted to delve into her back catalogue, where I’d be sure to find a hidden gem. It is only 83 minutes long, once you take out credits you’re looking at about 75 I’d guess. So it’s not much to base it on, but she does enough in that short time to show just what she’s capable of.

She gets what makes a horror movie work. It’s not enough to have bad things happen to the characters. We need to actually give a shit about the people. That’s often where long-running horror franchises go wrong, they focus more on the villain (Freddy, Michael Myers etc) and leave everybody else underdeveloped, so we end up cheering the killer, because they’re the only defined character in it. Compare that to the first Nightmare movie, where Nancy was a bigger part of it, we supported her, we wanted her to survive and when she panicked, we were scared. It’s amazing how likeable characters make a horror movie actually scary. This does a good job of making us care about everyone. Key to this is that they don’t feel like characters in a horror movie, they feel like characters who a horror movie happens to. So it all feels more real. We don’t judge them based on “but you’re in a horror movie, why would you do that?”, we judge them based on reality.

It also does a good job of setting the character dynamics. Sandra Oh’s character (Amanda) feels her mother was overbearing and she wants to get free of her, meanwhile she’s annoyed her daughter wants to live her own life, and she’s fully unaware of the irony of those two conflicting beliefs. That’s what drives this movie, it’s not “spooky spooky ghost ghost”, it’s “character realises they’re turning into what they hate, and they need to stop repeating the cycles of abuse and neglect”. She is slightly like her mother too, just in different ways. Her mother was an abusive asshole, whereas she’s more ignorant of how the choices she makes effects her daughter, who doesn’t really have any friends, and is guilt-tripped into staying and helping the business. You feel the daughters isolation, and the pain it causes her. But you also understand Amanda doing what she does. It’s a film that inspires conversation about what should be done.

The relationship between Amanda and her deceased mother is key to the film working too. Even though there’s a history of abuse, you can still feel the connection between the two, the warmth in her eyes when Amanda talks of the stuff handed down to her is genuine and shows that even though she was abused by her mother, and has escaped, she still feels a blood connection to her which makes it hard for her to completely escape from under her shadow and influence. This is backed up by when a relative tells her “The doctors say it was a heart attack, but I know it was your fault that she died” The speech that follows about how she’s useless and a disgrace for leaving her mother is astounding in a “okay and see why she’s the way she is”, it completely explains her motivations and personality. So well done, in a kind of horrifying if you think about it way.

Now onto the negative. Some of the jump scares are a bit too corny to work. It’s weird to have a really dramatic, well-written character exploration in a story of inherited trauma and abuse, and then have the line “I’ll show you a burial” and someone being dragged by a piece of clothing. Weirdly enough, the moments which are explicitly horror are the weakest parts. But part of that might be because of how expertly done the other parts were. In a lesser movie, they’d be the highlight. But that’s not the point, it’s not a “oh no jump out seat” horror, it’s a slowburner of a story, one that you can almost imagine being told by a campfire late at night, or as a morality tale to kids.

This has got some very negative reviews, and I feel that’s unfair. It’s a solid 6.9/10. Not great, but a good time-passer and not something I’d actively avoid if I was in the room while it was on TV. There will be better horror films this year, but it’s going to be difficult to have one with characters as well-written as they are in this.