Quick synopsis: Cornish singing fisherman continue to sing, this time joined by a Welsh farmer.
Fun fact: the synopsis currently on google is “After the highs of performing on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury, the group struggle with their second album. During a divisive tour of South Australia, they will trace their ancestors and embrace a new community, and discover their musical DNA.”, that’s not what happens. The film ENDS with them on the pyramid stage at Glastonbury, so I’m not entirely sure what is going on there. And the one on IMDB is just “a sequel to the first film”. Bit weird.
I’ll admit, I was going to be a bit cheeky in this. My original plan for this review was to just post the review of the first one, and then make a snarky comment about how weirdly everything about my review still fits. I read that review, and I was going through it I was thinking “wow, this is actually perfect, ALL of this still applies to this film”. But then I got to this line:
“The above made complete sense in relation to this film. Which is weird, as with the exception of 3 words, it was lifted word for word from an earlier review.”
The rest of the review mentioned some specific things about the film, but that one sentence is a curse. Because it means this film is so generic that I can do a review that’s not even a copy, but is a copy of a copy. I missed about 6 minutes of the film, and wasn’t lost when I came back. Stuff had happened in that gap, but it was stuff you knew was going to happen. In fact, I’d argue that you only need to watch about 15 minutes of this to get the whole plot. It’s a shame as it is enjoyable. It’s funny, heartwarming, and everybody is doing a great job. At its heart, it is a good film. It does everything well. There’s nothing inherently bad about it, and it’s a difficult film to dislike. When you’re watching it you’re not bored or distracted. Everybody in the screen I was in enjoyed it. If it’s on TV and I need something on in the background, I’ll keep it on. But I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d go out of my way to watch it. In a months time I won’t be able to remember any lines from it or moments I enjoyed, and as time goes on it will be increasingly difficult to remember what happened in this film and what happened in the first one. There are certain scenes in this that I felt I’d seen before, and that’s never a good thing. I’ll admit, there were also times I laughed, and times I was emotionally affected by the film. But there was absolutely nothing that will stay with me.
So to sum up: you won’t be bored or angry, but it’s not going to change your life. It’s almost the perfect definition of “If you liked the first one”.
Quick Summary: Krypto The Superdog teams up with a group of superpowered pets to save the world from a hairless guinea pig.
Oh joy, a DC movie, animated, aimed at kids, this could be terrible. It’s not though, it’s funny, has a lot of heart in it, and makes the most of how ridiculous the premise is. It does seem somewhat hampered by the fact that a lot of the already existing jokes about pet ownership have already been taken by Secret Life Of Pets etc. It’s not doing anything new, but it’s not really expected to. Compared to the other Warner Bros animated fare, this is much better. Although let’s be honest, being better than Space Jam: A New Legacy is not exactly difficult.
There are some jokes which only work in this film, and really that’s how films like this should be. That’s the same for the story too. Bat-Hounds backstory is that he was abandoned by his family after they thought he bit their child. Brilliant writing as it ties into Batman’s “I work alone and don’t like getting close to people” nature, whilst also ties into the character, you know, being a dog.
Most of the casting is perfect. The Rock makes a great Superdog (if you stick around for the credits, you see him as Black Adam), and some of the human voices are almost too perfect: Keanu Reeves as Batman, for example. Kevin Hart as Bat-Hound doesn’t really work for me though. Kevin Hart is a ball of manic energy who survives on quick dialogue and humour. Which is the complete opposite of what a Batman-like character should be. It’s a shame as his chemistry with The Rock is obvious and sells many films, I just feel it might not be appropriate for this.
If you go into this as an adult, watching it and comparing it to other comic book movies, you won’t be pleased. It will be too simple, the plot too obvious, and the action scenes without tension. But if you go into this as a kids movie, just leave your mind at the door, and go in to have fun, you’ll like it. I’ve been in screenings for kids’ films before and this probably got the best reaction. That sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise, but kids’ films are REALLY hard to do. An adult goes into a film with the social understanding “I am going to sit and watch this film”, a child has no such qualms. If a child isn’t entertained by what they’re seeing, they’ll let you and everybody else know. They have no shame in complaining, or running around the screen. They’re a highly critical audience, and the fact that this film scores well among that audience is a testament to how well made it is. There’s not QUITE enough there for adults though, which is a shame as films like The Lego Batman movie have shown how you can show love for the source material, entertain children, and throw in references for adults to get, and this doesn’t get close to doing that.
So in summary, is good, but could be great. If there’s a sequel, that could be better as the characters will already be established.
Quick synopsis: It’s 1976, 11 year old Gru wants to join a supervillain league but is rejected due to his young age, he does not take it well.
I was ready to slate this, I was ready to come down on this harder than the next UK Prime Minister comes down on an unemployed person not applying for jobs in their sleep. I was going to use every insult that exists, and a few that I made up to express my anger at this film.
But then it ruined my plans by having the audacity, the sheer gall, to actually be okay. How very dare you! I mean, it’s not going to end up on my “best of 2021” list, mainly because it’s 2022, but also because the best it ever gets is “okay”. I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, I think it’s because it’s basically old Buster Keaton skits, but in animation so there’s no sense of danger or risk. There’s also always the sneaking suspicion that it’s a merchandise-driven series rather than a creative one. It’s strange as its when this film links to the others in the franchise that it’s at its weakest. The timeline doesn’t line up AT ALL with the first Minions film, and when it makes references to the other films it falls flat, and like every prequel ever made has moments where the audience reacts with “what a useful skill/gadget, that would have been useful in [scene in a film made earlier but chronologically takes place later]”.
This does fix the biggest mistake of the previous prequel, it focuses on a character who can talk. The minions are fine in small doses, if they were in a series of shorts it would be fine. But following them over the course of an entire feature-length film is tiresome, so following less obnoxious characters is a smart move. What would be even smarter is utilizing the supporting cast more effectively: the main villains are played by Lucy Lawless, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Tajiri P Henson, and Danny Trejo. With the exception of Henson, it’s possible to watch this film and be unaware of that. They’re not used enough and it feels like kind of a waste casting them. Also, it’s strange having them in a movie set in 1976, change the plot (make Gru a young villain instead of a child), and set it in the 80s and that casting would make sense.
Now onto the good; the narrative is strong and it never feels like things are happening “just because”. It is very funny at times, and the music is fun. It’s also absolutely perfect for kids, they’ll love it. The colours, the sound, the jokes, this will be one of those films parents will hate because of how often their kids will want to watch it.
So in summary, if you have kids, take them to the cinema to see it. If not, wait until netflix then check it out when you have nothing else to do.
Quick Synopsis: A criminal gang made up of anthropomorphic animals pretend to reform themselves into good guys to avoid prison.
It’s difficult to be an animated movie. Since Toy Story changed the game back in 1995, everybody else has followed suit and started producing films more in line with that visual style. So they usually look great, but it does have the downside of meaning it will get compared to Pixar, and being compared to one of the most consistent studios is not going to end well. Sometimes studios don’t help themselves, like when Dreamworks released Antz so close to the release of A Bugs Life. This has a similar problem, a not-dog animal who frequently breaks the law tries to move to the side of good, and the big bad actually turns out to be a somewhat “cute” animal.” It’s going to be difficult for this to leave the shadow of Zootropolis.
Oh, I guess that “big bad reveal” is technically a spoiler, but it’s one that will be incredibly obvious to anybody who has ever seen a film before. That’s the biggest issue I have with this, it just doesn’t seem very original. It wears its cinematic influences too brazenly, so no matter how much you like it, it’s not likely to be your favourite film, as you’re constantly comparing it to something else.
Also, the opening is a bit strange. Essentially just two characters sitting in a cafe preparing for a heist while discussing an upcoming birthday. It establishes the characters, shows that the general public are afraid of them, and is weirdly Pulp Fiction-esque for a kid’s film. It’s also completely unnecessary. Everything it does is repeated in the next scene, the aftermath of the bank robbery. The bank robbery scene would be a much better opener, it’s fast-paced, funny, and showcases the best visual trick this film has: when it blends CGI animation with cel-shaded effects. This would get you straight into the film and perfectly set the tone for the rest of it. The opening it currently has is far too slow, boring, and I’m not going to lie, it did make me worry that the film was going to be awful.
That’s a shame as the film is actually quite fun. The characters are well-defined in terms of motivations (although there is one doublecross that happens far too quickly), the voice-acting is pretty good (with the exception of the newsreader), and the jokes are genuinely funny.
The Pulp Fiction comparison earlier was apt, as this is essentially a Tarantino film for kids (although one of the female characters has 8 feet, and if Tarantino could make a film like that he’d never leave the edit suite). It makes the most of the concept beautifully. Sometimes in films like this, there are not many references to them being animals and it can feel like a strange creative choice. This depends on it, there are certain plot points, certain jokes etc, which only work if the characters are animals, and only if they’re these specific ones. The jokes are character and plot-specific. It’s overall a quite impressive watch.
It’s not going to change the world, but if you’re looking after young kids and want to keep them entertained, you could do a lot worse than choosing this.
Quick Synopsis: Seven misfit students must band together against a growing gang of zombies
Was really looking forward to this. It looked like it was going to be funny, violent, and slick. Basically I thought this was going to do with zombies what Freaky did with body swap cÍomedies. It’s not quite there, but that is what it’s aiming for. It’s definitely trying to do that, but it’s just not good enough to reach it.
Directing and editing are a bit like making a soufflé, there’s a fine line between perfection and the whole thing collapsing in on itself. This tries so hard to be slick and cool, but is too visually busy at times. Even scenes which are just conversations are overstylized to the point where it’s almost comical. There’s one in particular at the start where there’s an edit which is definitely a conscious choice, but feels like a mistake.
The directing and the writing are the weakest parts of this. The whole thing feels weirdly dated, to a very specific time too: the late 90’s early 2000’s. All that’s missing is a nu-metal soundtrack. There’s a cool mid-point plot twist that is pretty surprising, but I feel like it needs to be set up better. It also comes at a weird time, around halfway through. If it happened earlier then it would be the inciting incident and would set the film up as different from its contemporaries. If it happened later than it would propel the film into a chaotic third act, but it happens in the wrong place to achieve either. It also doesn’t do that thing that great twists do, you don’t sit there thinking “I’m going to watch this again and catch all the clues that led to this reveal”.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty damn good twist, and very cleverly thought of, it’s just poorly executed. Probably would have been helped if the characters were better, they’re so poorly defined that you could swap the characters at multiple points and it wouldn’t affect the story that much. They don’t feel like they have a relationship outside of this film, their lives begin and end when the film does.
There are some promising moments though: the bus crash itself is very well shot. Although there’s a moment in it where someone bashes their head on the chair in front and gets a broken nose. But the impact itself is weirdly flat and if it wasn’t for the CGI blood you wouldn’t think it did any damage. There’s a great split-second moment afterwards though where a guy is handed a menstrual pad to pass over to the broken nose girl to help clean up the blood. The pad is new and in an unopened box, but the guy still acts with utter revulsion. I don’t know whether that was the actor’s decision or the director’s, but it was really smart and so funny.
The cast? It’s okay. The main star is Brianne Tju, better known for being in TV adaptations of 90s horror films, which is a weird niche to be in. Drew Scheid also seems to have found a niche as “nice guy in a horror movie who turns out to be creepy”. There are no real standout performances, you mostly get “wait, where do I know that person from?”. It was released by Paramount yet the whole thing SCREAMS “Made for MTV” in terms of casting.
It feels like it’s influenced by the John Hughes movies of the 80s, but doesn’t seem to understand what made those films work. It’s not enough to just have “here’s a jock, and here’s a fat kid, and a shy girl, all trapped together”, you need to have heart. You need a warmth to the whole thing. There needs to be an emotional lynchpin to base the situation around so that you can relate, and this lacks that.
It’s a shame as I had a lot of hope for this, and it’s a shame that it ended up being so disposable and forgetful. Also, and I appreciate this is a weird criticism: it’s nowhere near as gay as it should be.
Quick synopsis: A documentary about the rise and predictable fall of Dozhd, an independent news company based in Russia.
I don’t normally do documentaries, but this one intrigued me. It was difficult for me to find as I was searching for it under its original title, which is difficult to find as it includes symbols in the title. Then I found out it’s also got another name, and is available on iPlayer, which is nice (under the Storyville section).
This is depressingly needed now. The invasion of Ukraine didn’t come out of a vacuum, it’s been set up and orchestrated for years. I don’t go into politics that much in these, mainly because it’s quite dull, plus it dates the reviews which would mean they’re not as enjoyable to reread in a year or so’s time. But occasionally there’s some stuff that goes beyond political, and becomes stuff that needs to be said. Being anti-racist isn’t political, it should be default. Similarly, being against a lot of what Putin has done isn’t political, it’s basic human empathy. He’s a prick, and It’s weird to see the love people have for him, which I’m sure has nothing to do with all the media talking about how great he is.
The control he has over the press is terrifying. The fact that a news company can unintentionally be notable just for telling the truth is strange. When Dozhd change focus from a happy optimistic news channel to hard-hitting journalism, the knives of the regime come out. The rest of the media calls them traitors, which is weird it’s clear to see that they deeply love their country, and that’s why it’s unthinkable to them to not fight for ways to improve it.
Now more onto the film itself. Vera Krichevskaya is a good choice for this as director and narrator. This is a story that needs to be told from the POV of someone who was there. I will admit, that there are moments where someone with a more flowing voice might have been a better option. Or have it in Russian and subtitle her narration. But that’s a small issue. Someone doing the narration just for a job would have been a disservice to the station. And having it be someone who wasn’t Russian would be kind of weird considering that this is a very Russian story.
It’s edited beautifully, it flows together like a fiction film, there’s no awkward “oh they obviously couldn’t say anything about this section” or “they had nothing to say here”, it flows together with a real sense of purpose and deliberateness.
Some of the interviewers could stand out a bit more. It doesn’t help that some of them look VASTLY different from how they did back then. Plus since the story only really focuses on one person, you don’t really get a chance to know most of the people involved. It’s a shame as the small glimpses we get of them show they are interesting people. Plus it would be good to find out more about the psychology of people who take on a project like this. At times it does feel not so much a look at the staff, or even the channel itself, and more a story about the owner: Natalya Sindeyeva. It focuses on her a lot, sometimes to the detriment of the film. Thankfully it’s not TOO big a detriment, not only because the channel itself is clearly a passion project for her, so by talking about Natalya, you do get a sense of Dozhd too, but also because she’s such an interesting person. She has the kind of energy where if you were at a party and she was in the room, all the attention would move to her. She captivates you with her presence and undeniable charisma. So when we see her go through what she does, it just makes it feel so awful. She has to leave the country she loves just because she disapproves of the leadership. Her friends and staff have been arrested and beaten, just for protesting. It adds a personal touch to the tragedy which is everyday life for Russia. The fear the general population have lived under, the worry that they are just one sentence away from being tortured, and how their fellow countryman not only seem to accept it, but embrace it.
Here’s the thing to remember though: all this shutting down of protests, all those arrests of “dissidents”, all of those inhuman government decisions that removed the rights of millions of people and killed thousands, all of them happened alongside the backdrop of silence from the UK and US governments. None of this was a problem to them. All of this was completely fine as long as Russian oligarchs still spend money on penthouse suites in London, or purchased our football clubs or sold us gas. People in bed with the Russian government performing these horrendous actions were still given access to Conservative politicians. All of this was completely fine. If our public figures had enough guts to stand up to them then, and started looking for other energy sources then the Russian military operation of this year wouldn’t have been as destructive on us as it is.
The Ukrainian invasion is mentioned very briefly in the end but it really changes this film. It would already be a compelling documentary, but knowing what comes after is a real kick in the balls and face. The fact that the channel still operates, but has had to move to another country for its own safety is a sign of pessimistic hope. In summary, well worth a watch, utterly fascinating, but in a depressing way.
Quick synopsis: Olga (Anastasiia Budiashkina) is a 15-year-old gymnast who is forced to live in Switzerland after protests in Ukraine render it an unsafe place to live.
A lot of films can amaze you with certain things, the look, the acting, the story, then there’s one like this where you’re amazed by just how fucking insane gymnastics are. Like, seriously, watch them, how the hell do they do that? The human body is not meant to operate like that, it’s phenomenal. How do they do that without internally screaming all the time? Impressive.
Now onto the film itself. I loved the opening for this. It starts off as a standard sports drama, her training and practicing in a slightly run-down building. All ready for an inspiring underdog story. . Then when she’s having a conversation with her mother, a car smashes into them. This is very sudden, there’s no deep meaningful conversation before it, there are no hints. In a brilliant directorial choice, the camera gives no clue what’s to happen, it doesn’t telegraph it at all. It truly comes out of nowhere in a sublime piece of whiplash, both mood and literal. So, is it going to be a “child driven to perfection by the memory of her dead mother” film? Nope, not only does the mother live, the car that hits them drives into them again, and in that second you realise it’s intentional. Then you remember the mother is a journalist. A journalist investigating the corruption of the pro-Russian president of Ukraine. This film is set in 2013-2014 and was made before the 2022 Russian invasion, but that has certainly added another level to it. I feel bad saying it improves it because then I worry that comes off as “yes, war is bad, but it made a film better so it was worth it”. The film makes clear that whilst for the west, the invasion came as a surprise. For Ukrainians, and for anybody who was looking into it, it’s been on the horizon for a long time.
Quite a few of the emotional lynchpins of the film are based around the Euromaidan protests, when Ukrainians protested because they wanted closer integration to the EU as they felt membership of it was going to help keep them safe from Russian invasion. This was at a similar time as when the Brexit debate was kicking off and lots of Russian money was funded into getting Britain out of the EU, as such weakening the impact the EU could have. Don’t worry, I’m sure those two things happening at the same time are DEFINITELY just a coincidence.
The Maidan Square footage looks real, it very well could be. And the fact that she has to watch her homeland suffer like that whilst she’s safe in another country kills her. It’s after this moment that the actress shows her skill and how great a physical performer she is (or her stunt double). Her routine is still graceful and elegant, but there’s a certain snap to it that you can tell comes from a place of anger and frustration. I’ve never really understood people saying gymnastics is a form of expression because it’s all chosen for you and it’s the same. This has shown how wrong that was.
Looking back at it, it might not have been a stunt double. Anastasiia Budiashkina is a high-level gymnast, competing in the European championships in 2016. This just seems unfair considering how talented an actress she is as well. Her physical presence is incredible, she does some incredible non-verbal acting. It’s surprising that this is listed as her first film, she has a great future ahead of her.
Speaking of great first-timers, this is Elie Grappe’s first feature-length film, but you wouldn’t guess from looking at it. It has a lot more beauty than you’d expect. There’s a scene where someone is discussing what’s happening back home, and in the space above them scenes from the town square are superimposed, so you can see the lights of hundreds of mobile phones shining above the characters like starlight in the sky. There are moments which could be normal, but Grappe decides to give them a unique look. One example is someone lighting up a cigarette, Grappe shoots it in such a way that really highlights the colours of the flame and the background.
The writing is good too. But it will break you. The only way she can compete is on a Swiss passport, which means she has to get rid of her Ukrainian one. She essentially has to give up her national identity to survive. It’s slightly heartbreaking to be honest. Especially since Olga already feels guilty. The sense that she sold out her country by surviving is one of the core concepts, and it’s sold beautifully. Especially at the end when one of her former friends swears at her for leaving.
Her friend also provides one of the most subtle terrifying moments. When they meet again at a gymnastics event, Olga realises her friends hair is shorter “you look like a boy”. The response: “it stops me getting shit at the barricades”
On the subject of horrifying things: you may think you’re ready for the reveal of how bad her mothers’ injuries look. You’re not.
On the negative, there are a few moments where the momentum of the film is slightly halted. Some of her interactions with her Swiss teammates don’t seem very consistent, and a lot of the background characters are inconsequential.
Olga herself is a brilliantly written character though. A tormented and broken person who has to convey beauty and poise despite the darkness. See it just for her. This is a great character study, and an important historical viewpoint on a period we all hope will be over soon.
Quick synopsis: Finney is a young child kidnapped by The Grabber in this adaptation of a Joe Hill short story.
A few weeks ago I reviewed Firestarter, it’s okay if you’ve forgotten, give me a few weeks and I’m going to forget everything about it too. One thing I do remember is thinking that it should have led with the opening credits. This is similar, the actual opening of the film is standard horror movie “develop doomed character” but only really giving them one trait so you don’t really feel too much fear from their death. It feels like it’s there just because “well this is horror movies start, right?”. It introduces you to the main character too, and his relationship with the kid who dies, but both of those could have been developed more naturally throughout the film. It flashbacks and explains the connection between the two characters later on anyway, so not as though you miss much.
In contrast, the opening credits are really well-done. They’re super creepy and disturbing, like a home video which you know ends in tragedy. If the rest of the film was like that I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It just feels a bit……well you can tell it’s adapted from a short story. It doesn’t really have the momentum to carry itself through a full-length film. It feels a bit stop and start so never really gathers enough pace to really be exciting or scary. The idea of a small child being locked in a basement and getting help from the ghosts of previous victims is an intriguing one, but because that doesn’t happen until quite a way into the narrative, the situation never feels as helpless as it actually is. The section of that character in the basement either needs to be longer so we feel his pain and despair, or needs to be shorter so that it’s the final section.
The pacing as a whole is a bit weird, but thankfully the performances are great. There are moments where some of the child actors are slightly weak, but that’s to be expected. Plus, the true star of this is Ethan Hawke. If Johnny Depp turns out to be a genocidal dictator and the industry needs to remake all his films with a different performer, Hawke wouldn’t be a bad shout. He has a dangerous playfulness to him that makes him seem both weirdly endearing but also terrifying. I get why they don’t have him in it that much, if you over-used that character you do risk either watering him down, making him sympathetic, or giving too much information about him away and thus reducing the mystique around him. They could do a slightly better job of building up the legend of The Grabber. The only people who discuss him are the kids. So you don’t really get the idea of a town in fear. Compare this to Halloween Kills, that film truly made Haddonfield feel like a town scared. I know this was the 70’s, and people were slightly more blasé about child safety, but you get the feeling that the parents would be more cautious about the safety of their children when there’s someone going around abducting them.
To end this on a positive, the ending section where al the kids knowledge builds together to create the perfect escape method is a great piece of scriptwriting, it’s very narratively satisfying to see it all come together like it does. Also, when the ghosts first appear the film shows the lives of the children leading up their demise. It’s incredibly simple but effective, instantly providing emotional backstory to what otherwise could be fairly flat characters.
So in summary: not one of the best horror movies you’re likely to see, but one of the most interesting of the last few years.
Quick synopsis: Pete is cautiously excited about reuniting with his college crew for a birthday weekend. But, one by one, his friends slowly turn against him.
People decry trigger warnings, but sometimes they’re useful, you can argue “they ruin the surprise” or “if you’re that bad then just don’t go to the cinema” but both of those ignore one simple thing:
You’re actually supposed to enjoy things sometimes. Even things it seems like you’re not supposed to. Horror books are supposed to use a font that’s actually legible so it’s not a struggle to read it, roller coaster seats are not supposed to be painful to sit in. It’s the same with films, it’s supposed to be something you actively want to do, and if trigger warnings will let you know that this film is not for you then that can only be a good thing. I’ve avoided certain films purely because I knew I wouldn’t be able to objectively watch them. As much as I might have enjoyed, for example, Another Round, the subject matter meant that there was a large chance I wouldn’t, so I avoided it.
So what does all that have to do with this film? Well if I knew going into this film how I’d feel going out, I might have avoided it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very well made. It’s very funny at times, the performances are pretty much perfect, and it looks fine. It’s just…….it feels too real. It starts with the main character (who we’ve seen to be awkward) described as “funny” and how he now worries he has that to live up to. It’s so difficult to watch his anxiety beat the crap out of him, especially as you can kind of see why he’s so anxious. It feels sometimes like his friends are trying to gaslight him. They take him shooting and then berate him for not being able to shoot anything, saying it was disrespectful of him. They then hire an impressionist who just insults him the entire time.
And then to top it off, they say “it’s you. You’re why this weekend has gone wrong” is horrific. His anxiety drives all his friends away in a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s not something you want to hear if you have anxiety, that you have to hide all your worries or everybody you love will leave you. It’s a lot to take in, maybe it would have been better if it was a short series so you had a break every half hour as opposed to taking it all in in one sitting.
So in summary, maybe you should see this. But there is a chance this film will lead you into a deep depression and do for friendship what Psycho did for showers, makes you wary and slightly frightened of them. If you have any insecurities, this film will play upon them, it will gnaw into your brain and reside there, making you think over your friendships and wonder if they are actually your friends or whether they hate you too. It’s a psychological horror for your mental health. Utterly fascinating, and you probably should watch it, but…..prepare something nice for after. I may have said that before in reviews, but I have never meant it as much as I do for this. No film has damaged my brain as much as this did, and that’s a huge compliment to just how spot-on they got everything.
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:
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.
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.
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