2021 In Film: Day Six (The Good)

Cruella

I will freely admit this film is a bit bloated, but it’s still a lot of fun. Probably the best of the live-action Disney villain explorations (okay, that’s not saying much I’ll admit). It all depends on what they do next though, a sequel could make or break this. There’s a huge gap between the Cruella of the 101 Dalmations film and the Cruella in this, and I’m not entirely sure how they can manage to bridge the gap. They somehow need it for a character we support and like, to become a puppy killer. Or they could just leave it, that would probably be the smartest choice in terms of avoiding watering down this film.

+ Slick, stylish, and just a pure joy to watch.

– Doesn’t have the best use of music. Sometimes uses songs just for the sake of using them.

Best Moment: Cruella’s roaring rampage of revenge. Great fun to watch.

Worst moment: Almost all the bits with her friend from school who is now a journalist. Feels like it’s building up to something big, but never really happens.

Best Performer: Not going to go with Emma Stone. I know most people would, and she is really good. But to me, Tipper Seifert-Cleveland was more important. She set the tone early on, dropping the baton for Stone to pick up.

Worst Performer: Jamie Demetriou, his performance seems a little out of place for this movie.

Best Line: “you killed my mother” “you have to be more specific”

Original review here

Here Today

The first of three dementia-based films I’ll mention in these round-ups, all three having incredibly different tones. On the downside that does mean that you’ve seen a lot of this film before, but it has moments of Billy Crystal being incredible and those moments are soon forgotten. There’s great chaotic energy to the whole thing. It’s great to see Billy Crystal lose control. He’s normally so in charge comedically that it’s jarring to see him lose it, but it’s perfect. There are moments where it feels like it’s going into rom-com territory, and that’s when it’s the weakest. Also when it goes into the “look, a young cool black person has come in to shake up the white establishment” tropes a bit too often. But it has so much heart that it’s forgivable. Like I said, there are three films about this topic out this year. They are all very different, and The Father is technically better, but this one feels more personal to the writer.

+ A film about this topic shouldn’t be this funny.

– There’s a plot point that seems to have been dropped and could have provided a lot more emotion if it was properly explored.

Best Moment: The 180 his family do when they find out the truth, believable and completely heartbreaking.

Worst moment: The very end where he has a vision of his ex-wife sitting nearby. A bit schmaltzy and silly, doesn’t really gel with the rest of the film.

Best Performer: Billy Crystal. He owns this film.

Original Review here

In The Heights

Magic. That’s the best way to describe this. It truly transports you to a different place. This is the first straight-up musical I’ve seen since 2016’s La La Land, and I much prefer this. For starters, the characters are more likeable, the standard of songs across the board is better (although La La Land did have some crackers), and the choreography is consistently solid. I know normally it’s expected to compare musicals to other musicals, or to compare films by minorities to other films by minorities (algorithms consider Boyz In The Hood and Spiral the same, despite being wildly different they’re both “black movies so if you like one you have to like the other, right?”). This? This is more like The BFG from a few years ago, which anybody who knows me knows I absolutely love. It has that same sense of warmth and love to it. But there’s also a darker edge, it’s a film about worry, about family, about legacy. But it’s wrapped up in sun-kissed songs so delightful that you don’t notice how dark the subjects they’re talking about are.

+ The warmth and magic this fills you with.

– There are moments where the song just seems to be there to delay the narrative.

Best Moment: The opening song, a great way to introduce the characters.

Worst moment: There’s a song near the end which could stand to lose a verse or two.

Best Performer: Logic dictates it should be Anthony Ramos as the lead Usnavi, but Melissa Barrera is truly the MVP of this, providing the real emotional core.

Original Review here

Last Night In Soho

This is a joy to watch. The colours, the music, it’s incredible to watch in terms of directing. The downside is the pacing. It’s a pretty big downside though. There are some incredibly repetitive moments, particularly in the middle section. It’s a shame as otherwise, this is a fine film, and if it wasn’t for how tiring that section this, this would be rated much higher. But it really killed all momentum the film had up that point. I would still say you need to watch this though, the performances are great (although Anya-Taylor Joy isn’t in it as much as the advertising may make you think), and like I said, it looks phenomenal. Plus these are the best written female characters he’s ever had in his films.

+ The truly inventive and unique visuals. Really makes you annoyed that his version of Ant-Man didn’t work out.

– The pacing. Kills it

Best Moment: The club set pieces.

Worst moment: Jack murdering Sandie. Turns out not to have happened so is only really there to confuse and set the audience/Ellie on the wrong path. It’s like telling a deliberate lie to someone, and then mocking them for believing it.

Best Performer: Thomasin McKenzie. Scarily good.

Best Line: “This is London. Someone has died in every room in every building and on every street corner in the city.” Really dispels the myth of London as a place where dreams come true, reminds you that it was pretty shitty for most of its history.

Original Review here

Malignant

When I came out of this I actually had to message someone “have you seen this yet?”, I needed other opinions, this film did a lot well, but the thing it did best was staying with you after it ended. After watching it, it will bounce around your head for a while. So why isn’t it listed higher? Mainly because of how uneven it is. There are some effects which just look a little bit silly compared to the rest of it. Plus the romance sup-plot does not work.

But what does work is almost everything else. It looks great a lot of the time, there were so many times when I was watching this and thought “that would make a good poster”. Most of the performances are good, and the music is solid. It’s also pretty f*cking weird, especially the third act which is just sheer glorious insanity. I’m doing a disservice to this by ranking it this low, I am aware of that, but the subplot really hurt it. You still have to see it. Plus it features both Madison Wolfe, and McKenna Grace, which means the odds of the two being in a road trip movie together in a few years time has increased slightly.

+ Even if you hate it, you won’t be able to turn away.

– The main “couple” have no chemistry at all.

Best Moment: The third act. It’s longer than most moments, but trust me.

Worst moment: When the thing is revealed, built up as really shocking and strange, but the budget lacks it down.

Best Performer: Annabelle Wallis.

Worst Performer: George Young.

Original Review here

Ninjababy

A refreshing pregnancy comedy. The main character, Rakel, never thinks for one second about raising it as her own, and the film never judges her for this decision. She recognises she is not in a position to do it, so it’s best she doesn’t. It helps that she’s played by Kristine Thorp, who I’m not familiar with (probably because I haven’t watched any other Norwegian comedy-dramas before). Thorp does a wonderful job of making her character likeable. Helped by the writing though, the way the character interacts with everyone around her is delightful.

+ The use of animation overlays gives it a unique visual style and cool punky energy.

-The music choices seem wrong.

Best Performer: Kristine Thorp, obviously.

Best Line: “Blood and suffering!” Never thought that line could be delivered in a weirdly heartwarming way.

Original Review here

Promising Young Woman

If I had to use only one word to describe this, it would be “harrowing”. I imagine this is a more disturbing watch to women, as they’ll recognise a lot of this. I am definitely watching this as an outsider, and even then this is a disturbing watch. It does so much right though. Films have a strange view of rapists. They’re nearly always shown as the creepy guy, or the sociopath, a stranger in the night who breaks into your house and forces themselves on you. They don’t often display them as the “nice” guys who help a drunk woman home and then take sex from them while they’re passed out. A lot of the guys in this film are not good people, even the background characters. At one point she gets cat-called, the standard “show us your tits”, she just stares at them and says nothing, their response to this is “fuck you”, obviously. Just shows how they don’t really want any sign of accountability.

Moments like that have led to this film being called “anti-men”. It’s not, it’s clearly not. It’s anti-rapist and anti-rapist supporters. If you think being against rapists means you’re against all men, that says a lot about you and your friends. The only way you can take this film as a personal attack against you is if you’re the kind of person who needs attacking. The kind of guy who makes sure the drinks his female friends drink have a little bit more alcohol in them than they think, in the hope they’ll be drunk enough to make bad decisions with you later. You’re not a rapist, you’re a nice guy. You’re her friend aren’t you?

Die in a fire.

Back on point, the ending of this where she dies (spoilers) is hauntingly long. Incredibly uncomfortable as it happens in real-time. This is apparently realistic, that is how long it would take for someone to die by that method. It also completely absolves the guy doing it of any innocence. To do something for that long is not a “spur of the moment”, you have to be a calculated scumbag to do that. So it’s so satisfying when he then gets arrested at a wedding. It did originally end with the murder, so glad they changed it. It now has a much more satisfying ending. not quite as realistic, but it means you end the film with some sort of closure.

+ Such an important movie, as some of the responses to it have proven.

– It’s weird for a near two-hour film to have this many underdeveloped themes and characters.

Best Moment: The opening, sets the tone perfectly.

Worst moment: Not really a moment, but the romance with Bo Burnham’s character feels underwritten, so the reveal near the end doesn’t land.

Best Performer: Carey Fucking Mulligan. Obviously.

Best Line: “It’s every man’s nightmare to be accused of that” “do you know what every woman’s worst nightmare is?”

Original Review here

Supernova

The second of three dementia-based films, and probably the one I’m least likely to go back to. It is still very good though. This one is more focused on the coming storm, somebody who knows what is going to happen and is scared of it. The downside to this approach is it means you don’t really FEEL what he’s going through. You don’t see what he’s fearing that much. Compared to Here Today or The Father, where you knew exactly what they were going through, here he mostly seems composed, with a moment every so often to remind you, but moments which are said rather than shown.

+ The relationship between the two.

– When the two aren’t on screen together, the film seems to lose a step or two.

Best Moment: The dinner party

Worst moment: When Tucci’s character is talking to someone about stars going out in a blaze of glory. Very unsubtle.

Best Performer(s): Tucci/Firth. They work so well together as a couple.

Best Line: You know what the hard part is? It’s that you’re… you’re just… you’re not supposed to mourn someone while they’re still alive.

Original Review here

The Night House

This really sucked me into it. I felt like I was inside the film and it was all happening around me, rather than seeing it on a flat 2D-screen while pet-watching for someone (for some reason my brain thought I saw it at the cinema, that’s how much it sucked me in). The director, David Bruckner, also gave us The Ritual, another highly recommended film. He’s a director you really need to keep an eye on in the future. He’s doing the next Hellraiser film, so it might be time for me to actually watch one of those.

+ The look. The whole thing looks like a damn postcard.

– Some may find it a bit dull. Plus, the “good guy” still murdered a lot of innocent women. And the film never really focuses on that.

Worst moment: When it reveals that her husbands suicide note saying “Nothing is after you” meant “there is a demon called Nothing, he is after you”. That’s just deliberately vague and unhelpful. Purely to drive the plot forward.

Best Performer: Rebecca Hall. Easily.

Best Line: “I was the depressed one, he was the one there helping me. Maybe I infected him”. Damn, that’s…..that’s worrying. It’s beautiful though in how it captures the thought process of someone with depression. You feel guilty about being depressed, and that you’re to blame for any bad things that happen to anybody. It cuts deep, too deep.

Original Review here

The Power

There’s a line in this “I grew up in Our Lady Of Grace, a children’s home”. Okay, not a great line, but the utter contempt on the face of the nurse opposite when she gave that line was great and summed up societies attitudes on children from them. Especially since it came straight after the nurse said there’s no link between poverty and health it’s just “people round here live like animals”. That’s what this film is, it’s a magnifying glass on injustice.

+ The general sense of dread

– The editing could be better in some of the ending moments. Plus the character seems to be written just to garner sympathy at times, could be better written.

Worst Moment: Screaming match at end, comes off a little silly.

Best Performer: Rose Williams. The physicality is incredible, and there’s something of the Natalie Portman to her

Worst Performer: Diveen Henry. Purely because for one line her accent wavered.

Best Line: “A place people die in should never be allowed to get that dark”

Original review here

Here Today (2021)

Quick Synopsis: Comedy writer Charlie Burns (Billy Crystal) forms a friendship with local singer Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish) and starts depending on her more and more as he begins to suffer from the effects of dementia.

What is it with 2021? Normally you get a film about dementia every few years. This year there’s been three. Annoyingly, all three have been really good but in different ways. The Father dealt with the frustration of being deep into it, the confusion and panic that causes and the absolute hell that is daily life for not just the person suffering, but also the close family members. Supernova was based on the fear of knowing what’s coming, and wanting to exit it before it happens. Also the fear of loved ones watching it happening. This? This was different. This was more about coming to terms with it yourself and trying to hide it from others out of some misguided sense of pride.

All three have had one really important similarity: the performers are all a certain type, they all play people who are normally in control of the room. Anthony Hopkins normally plays people who are in control of situations. Stanley Tucci normally plays people who are smarter than everybody. And Billy Crystal normally plays characters who’s minds are quicker than everybody else, so they always have a quip ready for any situation. I’m not sure if the casting implications were intentional or not but it’s brilliant either way as it means we see them out of their comfort zone.

As an audience member I have a strange view of Billy Crystal, I never really seek out things he does. But I will always be glad to watch something he’s in. He’s clearly got a great comedic mind that never feels like bullying. His voice runs through this film, not just because he’s in it (obviously), but he also co-wrote and directed it. It’s not just about him. He’s confident enough as a writer and a performer that he allows others to take the spotlight. In this that shared spotlight goes to Tiffany Haddish, who I’ve seen before in Keanu, Lego Movie 2, and The Kitchen. She does a great job here, her character could be annoying and unlikeable if played by someone else. She provides her with enough humanity and warmth that even when she is doing incredibly cliche things, it works and you love her.

That is a downside of this film. It occasionally feels like you’ve seen a lot of it before. You will know what’s happening before it happens most of the time. But that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable because the way they do it is still great. It’s like a rollercoaster, just because you can see the track coming up doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

There are a few moments where it feels like the film is slightly going off the rails and it has a chaotic energy that really wakes you up. There’s one scene in particular which stands out, when Crystal’s character interrupts a live recording of a TV show he works for to chastise the performers delivery. It’s genuinely hilarious and the reaction from it gives you a very warm feeling. It’s a scene that’s really needed as it closes off one of the running jokes, and it’s also the last big laugh scene of the movie. After that it gets very serious. You need that comedic high before you go to the depressing lows, it accentuates both beautifully. When this film hits, it hits hard. Part of that is because of how funny it is, the mood whiplash the film provides is perfect.

This is not a perfect film though, the plot is a little bit too predictable at times, and the moment where he has a “moment” at work in front of colleagues is never really followed up on enough. It felt like they couldn’t think of a good way to carry on that story, but ignoring it means that a huge part of his life and character is ignored, and it would have been nice to see how the cast react to the news. Either they’re told, and we get to see their concern or worry. Or they just get told he’s gone away, and we see how they react to that. As it is it’s just dropped and forgotten.

There are also moments where it seems to be veering into rom-com territory, which is just strange to watch and doesn’t really work. It works better when they focus on the friendship and don’t bother with the romantic side (which they don’t up dealing with anyway).

Is still a really good watch though. The writing is brilliant, as are the performers. I now want to see Louisa Krause in more things, there’s something of the Helen Hunt about her and she is just incredibly loveable in her role as his deceased ex-wife. Her scenes are a good example of the best and worst of the film. The flashbacks are all from his POV. It’s a brave move that takes some getting used to but it makes sense, it’s his memory so that’s how he’ll remember it. It really puts you in his shoes. Sadly she has an appearance at the end which doesn’t really work for me. Crystals character goes to a cabin they shared, he’s there with his family being all cosy and facing the future, and gets a vision of her sitting nearby. I get what they were going for but it didn’t really work for me and just seemed a little silly. Would have been better if it dissolved from him and his family there, to him and her there in the past talking about the future. Would have given the film a moment of visual beauty, which it doesn’t really have enough of (the beauty mainly coming through character moments).

The section leading up to that shot is great though. His family being told about his condition, and the instant 180 from “we hate him” to “he’s our dad and we need him, we can’t have our final interaction be what it was” is believable and is genuinely making me tear up just recalling it here. That’s what this film leaves me with. Not the dull final shot, but the emotion the whole thing made me feel. Truly beautiful and I highly recommend it (plus the ending is made up for by Haddish doing a Bob Dylan cover, which I truly didn’t expect).

In The Heights (2021)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supernova (2020)

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

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

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

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

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

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