Scoob! (2020)

Films are designed with a lot of things in mind. Budget (no point attempting to make Die Hard on a Clerks budget), the directors vision, the writers vision, even the actors vision (Johnny Depp’s performance in Pirates Of The Caribbean completely changed the franchise), but also you have the audience. You need to know who the film is aimed at. There’s not point doing a Die Hard sequel that is a romantic comedy, it will annoy the audience. This is why Birds Of Prey was a weird film, as it seemed to be aimed at young teenage girls, but then the rating made it so they couldn’t see it. I bring that up for this film for two reasons:

  1. To pad out the review.
  2. Because I’m not sure who it was aimed at.

The humour was very childish, but it was full of references to obscure Hanna-Barbera cartoons, one of the main characters is Blue Falcon, who’s television show ended in 1977. People might know Captain Caveman, but only through Family Guy and Simpsons references to the character. It’s just a bit of a weird choice as the intended audience won’t understand the references, and the people who would understand it won’t like the film.

This film seems to not like Scooby Doo that much, seemingly spending a lot of time mocking the characters. There’s a time and a place for slightly cynical and wry reboots, but that time and place will never, and should never be, scooby doo. He is brightness and light in a dark world. A symbol of skepticism and grounded reality-based courage in the face of fear. It’s about facing your demons head on, and realising that 90% of the time, the villain is not some mystical demon from an unspoken world, but a rich old white guy who just wants more money. It’s a childish franchise, with all the joy and wholesomeness that that entails. And trying to turn that into some cynical semi-gritty film just to suit modern audiences destroys the entire point of the character. It would be like doing an Assassin’s Creed game set not in the lush landscapes of medieval Italy, but instead in 1980’s Britain, where you just spend your time sitting around waiting for a bus.

It has some comedic moments, but they’re just enough to make up for how pedestrian a lot of the film is. The animation is….well kind of plastic. It reminds me of video games in the late 90’s. After the success of Mario 64, platform games felt the need to force themselves into 3D designs, even if it didn’t suit the characters. It was done because “progress” and the old 2D games felt outdated. But since the games were so ill-suited to a 3d environment/design, the push to feel modern only made them look more dated, like they were unsuitable for modern audiences (whereas if they stayed 2D, it wouldn’t have been noticeable). The animation for this is similar, the modern animation style doesn’t suit these characters. In 20 years time when people draw the Shaggy, Velma etc. They won’t be doing it based on these designs, they’ll be doing it based on the classic style, because that will definitely outlast this.

This year needed joy, it needed something wholesome. It needed Scooby Doo, and this? This isn’t Scooby. Also, no Matthew Lillard, which is unforgivable at this point as he pretty much IS Shaggy.

Becky (2020)

Hadn’t heard much of this film, but it has Kevin James playing a Nazi and a sociopathic 13 year old hunting him down. This should be a lot of fun. Plus it’s short enough that it won’t outstay its welcome. Basically I wanted schlocky fun.

With that in mind it’s weird how the main issue with the film is how empty it is. It has nothing. The entire film could be done in 4 minutes and you wouldn’t really lose anything. I’m not asking for a Die Die You Nazi Bastards film to double as a philosophical insight into the unbearable lightness of being but I expect it to scratch a little deeper than the surface. I mean, it has 100 minutes to fill, give us something we wouldn’t have got from the trailer. The only added moment is that the nazi’s are searching for a key that will help them with their agenda of saving the world from the curse of black people existing. Why do they need the key? The film doesn’t say. It could be for a weapons cache, but that would be a bit weird as they already have the capacity to kill people, and it’s not as though guns are difficult to buy in America, you just need to prove you’re white and boom, you have your license. The way they treat it, like it is the only thing they need to bring a cuntpocalypse on the world, so maybe it’s something mystical? We don’t know, and to be honest I’m not entirely sure the film-makers do either.

I guess that’s the biggest issue, just the complete lack of care and thought that went into it. It’s like they had the general idea and thought that would be enough to carry the film. The only people that seemed to care were the performers, and the make-up team who do really good work here. There’s a scene where Kevin James’s character gets his eye gouged out so it’s just dangling there, he cuts it off. It looks and feels brutal to the point where you almost have to look away as it happens. Weirdly, this doesn’t effect the film at all. There’s no moment where him losing an eye changes the plot at all. That’s weird, and again shows the lack of thought and care that went into the script. I’m not asking for it to become his entire personality, but at the very least have it change SOMETHING.

So yeah, it’s a shame. It’s worth seeing for the performances, and the weirdness of seeing Kevin James in a role like this, but once you get past that, it really has nothing to offer.

Run (2020)

To say expectations were high for this is an understatement. This was written and directed by Aneesh Chaganty, who gave the world Searching, which was without a doubt my favourite film when it was released that year, and is probably in my personal top 5 of all time.

I was incredibly excited by the trailer, but there was a small niggling in my head that I knew what was going to happen. I mean, the trailer made it pretty obvious that (spoiler) the mother was keeping her hostage so it wasn’t really shocking that that turned out to be the case. To go from the SHOCKING reveal in Searching to this can’t be seen to be anything other than a let down. Searching made you feel dumb you didn’t figure it out, this seems to go the opposite way and try to make you feel smart for figuring it out almost immediately.

But maybe that wasn’t the point. Maybe it wasn’t about the end point, but the journey, and this is one hell of a journey. Everything in this film is expertly done, the performances, the music, the directing, everything is as you need it to be. It’s so well done that even though you know what is going to happen, you’re never bored or distracted throughout. THIS is how you build tension in a movie.

Crucially, it’s incredibly minimalistic, a listed cast of 4 and 99% of the film takes place inside the house. This means that you REALLY feel the characters isolation and desperation. It’s an incredibly smart choice that really suits the film. So many films that try to do this get bored of their locations and characters so break it up with other locations, but this usually breaks the tension completely. So for this film to have the intelligence and bravery to stick to it’s guns for the betterment of the film is admirable.

So yes, go see this film. You probably do know where it’s going, but it’s great. And I haven’t seen a closing scene this genius since Knives Out.

Underwater (2020)

The opening for this had me very excited. Mainly because they set up the story through the opening credits. They told you there’s a deep drilling operation going on, and that there are rumours of strange sightings nearby. It also points out the normal hazards so that you know that even without the “strange sighting” they are still in danger. It’s a fantastic use of the opening credits and is a great example of effectively maximising time to tell a story.

The music is good too, it’s like a synth Jaws. Creepy and claustrophobic, it will haunt your mind while you listen to it. It gets better once the film starts because you have this intense creepy music, and then….silence, nothing, playing over a shot of empty rooms. It’s really creepy and meant I was fully on board for this film and ready for greatness.

Then it started, and I was disappointed. For a film that did so much in the opening credits, the film itself took forever to do nothing. It’s trying to be a mix of a disaster movie and Alien, and it fails to do either. They’re two genres which are really hard to pull off, because Alien is a very specific subgenre of sci-fi/horror. It’s one which is dependent on the use of silence and tension to effectively affect you. Whereas a disaster movie is built on noise and spectacle. So for this film to work it would need to be a loud impressive spectacle movie with great use of silence. You can see why that be difficult to do properly, and this doesn’t. Also, just a personal choice, I didn’t like the amount of shakey-cam in it. I found it nauseating. I was watching it on a small screen so I imagine it would have been even worse in cinema. It wasn’t during intense action scenes, just standard walking scenes would have it, and it just put me off.

I mean, the performances are good, Kristen Stewart is shaking off her cinematic demons with aplomb, Vincent Cassel is also good in it, it’s a shame that TJ Miller just seems to play himself though, especially considering that who he is is someone who would phone in a fake bomb threat.

Oh, also this is a Cthulhu film, this is discovered near the end and doesn’t effect the film at all. It could just be a random beast and it would have made no difference. Having it be tied to that mythology is a waste and makes it look like they were trying too hard. Also, they kill it with an explosion, Cthulhu don’t go down like that.

So yeah, stay for the opening credits, then leave.

The Personal History Of David Copperfield (2019)

When 2020 comes to an end I will have a multitude of regrets, as will any year. But one of the big film-related ones will be that I did not see this at the cinema. I feel I owed the people involved in the making of this film that much. It truly is worth seeing. Luckily for you it’s easy to watch as it’s available on Amazon Prime. I highly recommend watching it on that, even if you just get a free trial then cancel after.

Anyone who has ever watched a television show is familiar with A Christmas Carol, and I LOVE The Muppets version, but no matter how good an adaptation I see of it, I never feel the urge to read the book. After this I felt the urge to read the original book to see if some of the brilliance is in that, the well-written characters and situations, the dialogue etc.

I just felt entranced when watching this movie, I was lost in the lush visuals created by director Armando Iannucci, who also did the screenplay. I feel I can’t judge the screenplay completely as, like I said, I don’t know what is taken from the original, and what he created. But either way he deserves plaudits for this, if he kept the dialogue then he should be applauded for having confidence in it and knowing to keep it (much like Muppets did with Christmas carol), but if it’s all his own dialogue then it’s one of the greatest scripts of the year. I feel it was a blend of the two with some of the original dialogue merged with specially created dialogue.

The performances too are great. Dev Patel gives what has to be a career best performance as the lead, giving a slight playfulness to a character which in other hands could be seen as a bit annoying and pretentious. It also has a great supporting cast, Morfydd Clark plays a duel role, and plays both great, but her performance as Dora is incredible, giving the character verbal tics which just make her incredibly loveable and easy to root for. Ben Whishaw is normally one of the most likeable people in any film he’s in, he has a kind face which makes him easy to root for. So his performance as Uriah Heep is stunning, he provides him with a level of sliminess where you never ever feel comfortable when he’s on screen.

If I had a downside it would be that some important characters disappear from the plot, in particular the narrative disappearance of Darren Boyd’s Edward Murderstone. This might be unfair though as it could happen in the book.

So should you see this? I feel you have to. It’s a delightful piece of film-making which is guaranteed to have you having a warm feeling inside you when you reach certain points. I haven’t felt this much cinematic magic emanating from a screen since I watched The BFG, and as anybody who has spoken to me can attest, that’s high praise.

Spree (2020)

This was potentially a dangerous watch for me. It’s about a guy who livestreams a killing spree for attention because he livestreams and has zero followers and wants attention. A guy putting his heart out there for the world to see and yet still struggling to get enough views on his content is something I personally relate to, to the point where I did wonder if I was mentally strong enough to watch this film. Luckily for me this film doesn’t have the emotional core to really effect you, and this is obvious from the opening.

The opening doesn’t really grab you. There are moments where the situations were funny but for whatever reason I didn’t laugh, they just weren’t directed well. I think it’s because they were shot like a youtube video, and were edited as such too. That “youtube jump-cut” style of editing doesn’t sit well with the style of humour they were attempting, the jokes need to percolate and have time to hit, but the rapid-style editing means they’re unable to do that. Also, he’s talking to himself/an audience which isn’t there for a lot of the film, so he has nobody to bounce off. Comedy is hard to do when you can’t show reactions, and this just shows it. It gets funnier when he picks up his first passenger who immediately questions all the cameras. But after stating “but what if I’m not okay with it?” he then just accepts “they’re for protection” without argument. I feel this is a waste of a potentially very awkward and funny scene of him arguing about not wanting to be on camera during a livestream. It could lead to the first murder too, have it mid argument or something. Although this does lead to something great where the guy he’s picking up is so mildly racist. Talking about IQ studies on different races. “you’re okay for a libtard”. I’m so glad that shit is hopefully dying soon. Much like the racist, who drinks poisoned water. Kind of annoying writing, he’s racist so it’s okay he died. But the water was poisoned and offered to him before we found that out, so it’s not really a good death in terms of intention. He didn’t intend to kill a racist, he killed someone who turned out to be racist. So it doesn’t really work for me in terms of making him a sympathetic character. Also, the main character wasn’t broken down enough to the point where it seemed like a logical step. There’s no inciting incident which you feel drives him to that point. You don’t really feel his desperation that much, I think part of that is because we only see him as a livestreamer, we don’t know what he’s like when he’s not “on” so we are always aware that the personality we see will be an exaggerated version of what he’s like, and we never see the real him.

The film also has difficulty showing us funny. Like there’s a part where he’s scrolling through an instagram of a comedian and watching some of her stuff, it’s just a mash of punchlines without setups and setups without punchlines. So we don’t really get her character, it would have helped if they showed her doing some one-liners or a whole joke. It’s like the writers couldn’t think of any full jokes so just did those and hoped we’d fill in the gaps. The film also doesn’t lean fully into the gimmick. It’s mostly done via livestream so we can see comments and reactions, but then there’s a lot of moments when it’s not, and they’re some of the most interesting moments where you want to see peoples reactions. I think with a film like this you either need to go super dark and disturbing, or just embrace the insanity and be as off the wall as possible, this doesn’t feel like it wants to fully go either way and feels less because of it.

Overall, what does it have to say? “the internet is numbing us to real tragedy”, well, obviously. You need to go deeper, and this just doesn’t have the intelligence. Also it provides no alternative viewpoint, at no point does anyone point out that this is fucking insane. The film shows us how the internet is a cold unfeeling place, but then also seems to say that it’s the most important thing in the world. This won’t change how you view the world, and it’s just not entertaining enough to make up for it.

On the plus side the central performance is great. Joe Keery is not given a good a character to do, but he plays him very well. Also the general concept is brilliant, it just doesn’t make the most of it.

Downhill (2020)

I saw a trailer for this somewhere, can’t remember where, and it should have been a warning to me that I couldn’t remember anything from the trailer besides the movie exists. I couldn’t even remember that Will Ferrell was in it. I knew Julia Louis-Dreyfus was in it, so I considered that a good thing as I genuinely love her performances and am always happy to see her in things. It was directed by Jim Rash, who played the Dean in Community, who co-wrote it alongside Jesse Armstrong, famous for Peep Show, Veep, The Thick Of It, Four Lions, and In The Loop, all of which are wonderfully scripted. So while hopes weren’t high, I did hold out hope that this would be a sleeper hit.

It’s not, it’s just asleep. It’s incredibly lazy, some of the jokes are basically just “Europeans are weird” (bit weird that’s the second Will Ferrell film of 2020 that can be said about). It’s a shame as everybody involved is incredibly talented, but none of them show it in this. If I had to guess I’d say it’s a clash of comedic styles. Will Ferrell normally does quite loud and physical comedy which is slightly obvious and manic, whereas Julia Louis-Dreyfus goes for slightly more dialogue-focused and subdued stuff (her most extreme physical stuff probably being a few Elaine moments in Seinfeld). And Armstrong’s strength is usually dialogue and story, the film is a remake so he doesn’t have control of the story, and Will Ferrell is more physical than dialogue based. That creates a very weird mesh of conflicting styles that never seems to settle on what it wants the film to be.

It’s hard to explain why, but this film felt incredibly small, like a TV movie, albeit with a big name cast. Watching it, you can almost sense the advert breaks. It’s not just that, it’s the tone too. Nothing hits home. The emotional beats don’t work, the characters feel incredibly ill defined, I think one of the kids is written to be incredibly nervous, but it’s not showcased effectively enough for it to be something that character can overcome for narrative purposes. A lot of the side characters are pointless too, appearing just to drive the plot forward for a small moment, then disappearing.

It’s a shame as by all logic this should be a fantastic film, as it is, I can’t recommend it, even as a curiosity.

The New Mutants (2020)

I was very intrigued by this when I saw the first trailer. A horror movie set in the X-Men universe? That’s hella original, comic book movies are usually action comedies, so the idea of one stepping away from that to create something truly original is exciting. Plus, it’s got Anya Taylor-Joy, who is suitably creepy and usually gives great performances, and would be perfect for this.

That was back in 2017. It’s 2020 now (in case you hadn’t noticed), and has a film that’s been delayed as long as this one ever come out and been thought of as good? Those kind of delays are usually a bad sign, especially with a release as quiet as this one, I know there’s a pandemic, but I have not seen ANY publicity for this at all lately. Maybe one day a film will break that curse, and all the delays will be worth it, but not this film.

It’s hard to pinpoint why this film is a mess, I was going to blame the reshoots, but they didn’t actually get done. The core film just isn’t that good. I don’t know if it is the case but it feels unfinished, some of the CGI is embarrassing for a film with a budget like this. The script is, well it’s kind of bad. The bit about “you have two bears inside you” I think is meant to be deep and meaningful (and lead into the big bad), but it’s SO unsubtly done (they mention the narrative of it at least 3 times in the film, two of which are voice overs) that it comes off as slightly condescending towards the audience. It might as well have a flashing light saying “This is symbolism. DO YOU GET IT?” That’s not the most frustrating thing though. Now I know for a fact everybody in this film can, and have, given great performances. I know they’re incredibly talented performers. So with that in mind I have to say this: what the hell was up with the accents in this movie? It’s like everybody thought they were still in rehearsal and they were trying to figure out who their characters were.

Some of the characters are just as inconsistent. With their personalities changing from one scene to the next in an incredibly frustrating manner. Anya Taylor-Joy’s character in particular seems like two characters in one, the writers never quite sure how to make her character work, should they make her a sweet teen who has suffered hardship? A badass warrior who cares about her fellow mutants, or a massive racist bully? In the end they can’t decide, so make her all three, depending on what the plot needs.

On the plus side, the central romance REALLY works. You can tell this because there were moments where the two characters are just sitting next to each other, and you can feel the sexual tension between them. It’s hard to explain how, but it’s definitely there. So when it does happen you’re not thinking “oh God, another romance. how trite. Yeah it’s the first openly gay one in an x-men film (to my knowledge) but still dull”. You want it to happen so you’re glad when it does.

So overall, a film that didn’t have reshoots, but probably should have. And you have no idea how frustrating it is that this is probably the last film I’ll see in cinema in 2020. Just about sums the year up. It’s just disappointing, they had a chance to do something different and exciting, instead it’s so pedestrian I want to run it over with my car.

Bill And Ted Face The Music (2020)

Yeah I love this film series, I love it so much I’ve even read the comics (I didn’t buy them, I’m not mad). I get they’re not the best films in the world, and I will still argue they didn’t deserve a passing grade for their history presentation (they didn’t do anything, they got the historical figures to do all the work). But there’s just something so damn wholesome about the whole thing. The characters are dedicated to each other, and to their partners. Seriously, across three movies they are never tempted to be led astray in their relationships, it’s so comforting.

So does that continue now? In a world where they are trying to make dark and gritty superman movies, is there really space for a Bill And Ted movie? Or will it just seem out of place, a relic of a bygone age that the modern cynical world will just laugh at?

Of course it works. Of course there’s still space for lightness and stupidity, in fact in times like this you could argue it’s essential. We need this movie. We need a movie devoid of cynicism, that we can just watch and enjoy ourselves for the duration of. In my review of Brahms: The Boy 2 (worst title ever btw) I mentioned that it seemed like nobody involved gave a shit, that’s definitely not the case here. I’m not saying this is definitely the case, but it seems like this role is the one that Keanu Reeves has some of the most love for. Despite The Matrix, John Wick, etc, this is the most comfortable you see him, it’s like he’s having the time of his life. Alex Winter, too, is relishing this role. The way the two perform it’s like they’ve lived these characters constantly since the last film. It doesn’t feel like they’re performing, it feels like they are.

The supporting cast is great too. I still can’t tell the difference between Samara Weaving and Margot Robbie, but that’s more my fault than theirs. There are two great surprise performers though.

One, I suspected would be the case from the trailer. Brigette Lundy-Paine, NAILS their part as Ted’s daughter, completely. I don’t know how much research they did into the part, but they got the mannerisms down 100%. You completely buy them as related and I really want to see them do more stuff. One that did surprise me, was Anthony Carrigan as a killer robot sent from the future. I’d only seen him before as Victor Zsasz in the Gotham TV series, so when I saw he was playing a robot assassin in this film I thought I knew what to expect. I won’t spoil his character here, but trust me you have to see it as it provides some of the funniest moments in the film.

Now onto the negatives: it doesn’t do quite as much with the general concept as it could. One of the highlights of the first one was seeing them use time travel to their advantage (when it comes to hiding keys etc). You don’t get any of that smartness in here which is a shame. Also, there’s an extended musician performance which I feel will really date this movie in a few years time.

So in summary, please see this, it’s wonderful and you’ll enjoy it.

Brahms: The Boy II (2020)

I’ll freely admit I did not see the first film, but I don’t think that matters as I’m not entirely sure the people who made this one did either considering how it seems to completely retcon the ending. Which raises the question: who is this film for? People who enjoyed the first one won’t like the change, and people who didn’t like it aren’t going to see this film as they would have been put off by the first one.

I suppose it would have been okay if the film was a remarkable improvement, but I doubt that’s the case. Like I said, I haven’t seen the first one, but there is no way it can be worse than this. It’s strange for a toy doll to not be the most wooden thing in a film. Nobody gives a good performance in this, and it’s not due to a lack of talent, it’s lack of effort. It’s nobody giving a single shit about this film. It’s directed without flair, how can someone who has directed 5 or 6 feature films before this seem so inexperienced? They’ve all been horror films too so it’s not as though he’s trying a new genre, he should be great at this by now. He should know how to subtly scare the audience and not be dependent on jump scares and babys-first-scares style of horror. This does not seem like it was directed with passion, by somebody who wants to make it the best he can. This seems like it was directed by computer, no emotion, no idea of why certain horror techniques are used, it just uses them because it feels it should.

The script……I watched this film four days ago and I still couldn’t tell you much of the plot. It left nothing on me. Nothing stood out in a positive way, and trust me, considering I’m writing a horror film, I pay attention to horror film scripts, even if only so I can get inspired. For a film to give me NOTHING I can use is almost admirable. Not a single shot, not a single moment, nothing, it gave me zero to work with. That’s incredible for a film that is nearly three hours long.

Wait, what’s that? It’s only 86 minutes long? Then why did it seem like it was taking ages to watch it?

Oh, okay.