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.

The Outfit (2022)

Quick synopsis: Leonard (Mark Rylance) runs a suit shop in Chicago, one night the local mob hide their money in his shop, leading to problems.

While watching this, I was overcome by one consistent thought: They should have cast Mark Rylance in the Kingsman prequel. Should state though, despite the trailer, and the general feeling it gives you, this isn’t much like Kingsman, it’s more like The Drop, but not as good. And that immediately is the biggest problem. This is a shame as it’s otherwise a fine film.

I will admit that tonally it’s weird. It’s mostly locked in one building so it’s kind of intense and trapped, but then it has moments where it’s just two people talking slowly about how jeans won’t last and all that tension has gone. It’s frustrating as it has the potential to be good, and at times it is brilliant, but the whole thing feels like it’s moving at 80% speed. It feels like it belongs more on the stage than on screen.

This is Graham Moore’s directorial debut, he’s previously known for writing The Imitation Game. He does a good job in terms of laying out the shots, you never feel visually confused. It’s difficult to plan out a film like this because there are things which aren’t relevant until near the end of the film, yet you need to make sure they’re set up in the room before then.

He could have done a slightly better job of ramping up the tension, and the world-building feels a little weak. It kind of feels like this is more the DLC to another film’s main game. Like there are interesting dynamics and characters that are all taking place in this universe, but not on the screen, and not to these characters.

Another down point is that the conversations and dynamic between Rylance and Deutch can be a bit strange at times. Sometimes he feels like a partner, sometimes a parent. It’s a strange dynamic that the film can’t quite nail down. The dialogue as a whole isn’t the greatest, and neither are some of the accents.

So in summary, you probably should watch this. It’s not going to end up on my “best-of” list at the end of the year, but it’s impressively done and engrossing throughout. This review may seem negative, but that’s only because it had potential to be amazing, and it’s only very good.

White Building (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A young man in Cambodia struggles to figure out what to do when his home is scheduled for demolition.

This is quite a slow film, almost glacial at the start. But it works, it makes the whole thing feel more slice of life documentary than a normal film. This feeling, that we’re observers of real life, is backed up by the music, well, the lack of it really. In the opening scenes, we see people dance, play football, and have conversations about girls. There’s no music at the forefront, it’s just people talking. That’s the best thing about this film, how it feels like we’re watching someone’s memories, it all feels very real. This is helped by the friendship in the opening section of the main three. The film does a great job of making you know they’ve known each other for a long time. There’s a genuine warmth to their relationship. You get the feeling this is a definitive period in the characters life. Like it should be backed by a “little did I know, that was the last time the old gang would hang out together, life sure was different after that” 80’s-style voiceover. That friendship is put on the backburner by the film when the plot about the building being knocked down starts (which doesn’t really kick off until thirty minutes in), at this point one of the friends moves away and is never really mentioned again. It’s then that the narrative focuses on one person, and becomes a lot more personal.

It’s a definite tonal shift, when the lead character (Samnang) is away from his friends it changes from something lighthearted and sweet, to something quite sad and hopeless. It stops being a story of friendship, focusing on what he has, and instead becomes a film about poverty and ill health, focusing on what he doesn’t have. He meets up again with one of his friends, but the vibe is different. Them riding around town has an increased air of melancholy about it. If the first section is them being in denial about losing their home, the second section is him realising it and coming to terms with it. You genuinely feel the panic everybody has. There’s a moment where they’re discussing the forced selling, and whether to accept the low offer they’re being offered (which isn’t enough to get a new place), or hold out for more. Someone off-handedly mentions that when this happened to another building, the residents were forced out at gunpoint and left with nothing. It’s something that is made all the more horrifying by how casually it’s mentioned and then glossed over. It’s not something that changes everybody’s mind, almost like they all knew it and accepted it.

On the downside, it is a little dull at points. This is definitely a very personal story (the director grew up in the building, and actually includes footage of the demolition at the end of the film), and that is a strength, but there are times where it feels a bit too personal, like he’s forgotten he’s telling this story to other people. Also, it feels like it assumes everybody knows about the history of the building, I read up on the building before watching, and it definitely helped explain a few things, things which the film probably should have. It not only would have made a few things clearer, but also would have made the building feel more like a character, so we get an emotional resonance when it “dies”. Characters drift in and out without reason.

So an interesting film, and a good one, but not a great one. One final thing, and I know it’s a weird thing to say about an actor who doesn’t even have a picture when you search on google, but Chinnaro Soem carries himself like a damn star in the few moments he’s in it. There’s a strange, almost James Dean quality to him and I want to see him in more.

Operation Mincemeat (2021)

The tale of a plan to deceive the German army about the British army’s invasion plans, using a dead body and fake documents.

This is a strange watch. Like all films about the second world war, it does lose a bit of tension because you ultimately know how it ends. For this, even if the deception doesn’t work, it’s not like England are going to lose. So even if the film ends with a personal loss, in the grand scheme it’s a win.

Spoilers, it works and Germany loses the war. Just once I want a film like this to end with “and then the Nazis fought back and won the war, the end” just to confuse the ever-loving fuck out of everybody, and as a social experiment as to how many people get their history knowledge from films.

But despite us knowing how it ends, and the writers knowing we know how it ends, it still tries to draw tension into it in the “will it work” way. I mean, the trailer says “MI5 began the greatest deception in human history”, not “attempted”, the trailer itself implies it works. So the attempted adding of tension to those moments robs the film of what it could be. You can make it tense for the characters but intercut it with scenes of the plan working so that the audience is viewing it from the perspective that we have now. It is possible for historical films to surprise you, The Duke did it marvellously, for example.

This isn’t too well known a story, so if they marketed it differently, it might have worked. Although me saying this all is missing the point, this is a film very much not about the destination, but about the journey. It is a good journey to take on. It’s astounding to see this happen, and how lucky it was that everything worked out the way it did. It’s fascinating to see it all unfurl, how it was done, how it nearly fell apart, and the lies they needed to tell to people so it would work. Not just to the enemies, obviously, but also to the family of the body they used.

It’s when the film turns away from its main focus that it loses something. The interpersonal relationships between the team just aren’t that interesting and feel very tacked-on and unnatural. It feels like the script has a lot of potential sub-plots in so that they could pick one and focus on that, and then forgot to delete the rest. These unfinished plots make it feel not so much a standalone film, and more like an episode in a series. The Ian Fleming references, for example, feel a bit too smug and annoying, like the film is taking a quick respite to say “this is the guy who wrote Bond and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”.

On the plus side, the performances are pretty good throughout, and it is a genuinely fascinating story. So in summary, I’d say you probably should watch it, but you don’t NEED to. It’s being released on Netflix in America, and think that’s the ideal place for it.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (2022)

Quick synopsis: Robotnik comes back, very angry at Sonic. Robotnik has Knuckles, Sonic has Tails.

I found the first one fine. Wasn’t great, but wasn’t bad. Was one of the better video game adaptations, but not one of the better films in general. The kind of film you watch on Netflix while you’re homesick and need something simple.

This…..this is better. It’s very funny in parts, and has a MUCH better story than the first one. It also fixes some of the issues of the first film. It focuses more on Sonic and less on the human characters, realising that people that buy tickets to a Sonic movie, actually want to see Sonic. It also moves the action away from a crowded city, allowing the action to take place in natural environments. The games took place on grassland, so having so much of the first one take place in an urban area felt strange. This fixes that.

It also has a genuinely good story. It’s simple, but effective. And had a moment that actually surprised me. Especially since I didn’t know I was going to be surprised. It wasn’t like “I thought it was a straight drive from Point A to Point B, but one of the directions I took was different”, more like “I’m on a straight road and then a giant wooden Armadildo (nope, not a typo) appeared in front of me”.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to appear on my “best of” list at the end of the year. But if it’s on Netflix, I’ll probably watch it. If I need something on while I do something else, I might choose it. It’s just wholesome fun. It’s not trying to say something deep about humanity, or make you think melancholic thoughts about the universe. It’s just bright colours, comedic lines, actions and noises. Encanto was ABSOLUTELY the better movie, but I’d show kids this first.

The smartest thing this film does are the references to the games. And there are A LOT of references. This was clearly made by someone who has actually played the games, the little sound effects, the visual references, and similar camera angles, are all perfect. Some of the references are less subtle, there’s a coffee shop called “Mean Bean Machine”, and one of the Sonic themes is someone’s ringtone. But if you find a list of references, there WILL be some you miss.

It’s not perfect though. There are two problems from the original that they haven’t fixed in this one. One is personal opinion, some of the music choices feel too much like they’re chosen just to be “cool”, rather than working for the film. The second one is speed. Sonic is fast, and there are more than a few moments in this film where him remembering that fact would have ended a scene quicker. Like when he needs to get a map from a bar, and it’s attached to the bottom of someones foot who he is challenging to a dance contest. We’ve already seen (from the bar scene in the first film) that he could EASILY run, get the paper off the bottom of the shoe, and run back without anybody noticing. But he doesn’t. It’s a shame as it shows that the writers haven’t considered it. Him being fast means you have to be more creative with what problems you put in front of him, but this doesn’t do that. It puts the same problems to him, and then just doesn’t have him go fast.

The action, the world-building, the fact that even though the character is fast you can still tell what’s happening during the action scenes. It all adds up to a sentence I’d never thought I’d say:

This would have been a better MCU-adjacent film than Morbius. It also used Idris Elba than the Thor franchise did. He has tremendous personality with great comic timing, and him not being allowed to display any of those in the MCU is a massive waste of his talent.

It’s just overall a very solid film, it introduces the new characters well, establishing who they are and what their powers are so that even people who haven’t played the games will know what they can do. It also does a good job of making the villain imposing. You do sit there genuinely wondering how the heroes are going to win.

So in summary, go see it. It won’t change the world, but it will make your day better.