Archive for the ‘Film reviews’ Category

Jojo Rabbit

Posted: January 25, 2020 in Film reviews
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Directed by Taika Waititi. Starring Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Sam Rockwell and Scarlett Johansson.

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In the latter stages of World War 2, Jojo (Griffin Davis) is a ten-year-old boy living in Nazi Germany. Indoctrinated by propaganda, and egged on by his imaginary friend, a childish version of Hitler (Waititi), he firmly believes that Jews are monsters and the Nazi party is completely in the right.

When he refuses to kill a rabbit at Hitler Youth camp he earns the nickname Jojo Rabbit, and while trying to reclaim some dignity he’s wounded by a grenade and as such he’s forced to spend more time at home which leads him to uncover a young Jewish girl (McKenzie) hiding upstairs, and to notice that his mother (Johansson), who is opposed to the war, is leaving notes all over town.

Soon Jojo finds himself having to confront the fact that everything he’s been taught is a lie.

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Taika Waititi’s follow up to the insanely enjoyable Thor: Ragnarök is a very different film, at once more intimate and political, yet also displaying the distinctive flourish of a very accomplished director. It’s funny and heart-breaking, and I enjoyed it a lot, and yet…I can’t help feeling it’s perhaps not as good as many people, including the Academy where it’s up for best picture, think it is.

The thing is that satire is difficult to pull off, a tightrope walk, especially when you’re dealing with such an emotive real life subject as Nazism. Marrying horror and humour is never easy, and whilst Jojo Rabbit contains both, for the most part they’re kept separate, meaning the film’s tone dips and rises as it swings between comedy and tragedy and I wish there’d been more instances where we got both together. Compare this with a film like Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin which manages to horrify and amuse simultaneously. There are moments, but Jojo Rabbit never quite manages that level of satirical consistency.

The cast are superb, in particular young Roman Griffin Davis is marvellous (where’s his Oscar nom, eh?). As the central focus of the film he’s in practically every scene yet never seems overawed, either by the subject matter or company of more experienced actors, and in particular he has wonderful chemistry with both McKenzie and Johansson. His journey from fanatic to realisation isn’t sugar coated, and nor is it quick or easy making it all the more believable.

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Johansson gives a nuanced, and somewhat unexpected performance. Rosie isn’t the woman you expect her to be, by turns joyous and quirky, she’s tortured, and her heartbreak at what’s happening to her country, and her son, are clear in every look Johannsson gives, and she’s far from the perfect movie mom, at times she’s downright mean to Jojo, if only for his own good, but is never less than loving.

McKenzie is also good, similarly she isn’t a shrinking violet, despite being in hiding. Elsa is a girl who has nothing left to lose except her life, and isn’t above threatening a small boy. McKenzie does her best with the material she’s given, even if at times she feels more like a plot device to educate Jojo rather than a character in her own right.

I could watch Sam Rockwell read the phone book, so of course he’s great, even if his noble German officer is something of a cliché, but he’s not alone there. When Stephen Merchant turns up as a Gestapo agent he seems to be channelling multiple comedy Nazi’s we’ve seen before, from Allo Allo’s Herr Flick to Ronald Lacey in Raiders, but thankfully it’s a cameo appearance so doesn’t detract too much.

Rebel Wilson as brutish Hitler Youth trainer is funny, but perhaps a little too broad at times.

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This leaves the director himself as Hitler, or rather the imaginary Fuhrer friend Jojo has conjured for himself. He’s childish, impulsive and of course in no way like the actual Adolf. It’s a trick that could have easily fallen on its face, and maybe for the odd moment it does, but for the most part it makes for some of the funniest moments of the film, especially as he keeps offering Jojo cigarettes. I can see how people took against this, but it’s important to remember that it’s a small boy’s fantasy of Hitler, and Waititi I very funny. I wonder as well if this helped to get such a wonderful performance out of Griffin Davis.

His direction is very assured, in particular the opening titles where we get footage of Hitler arriving to give a speech overlaid with the soundtrack of the Beatles in concert is exceptional, and the film looks gorgeous, with the town looking almost idyllic, until you see the bodies hanging in the town square.

The script is very funny, and obviously a film highlighting the ease with which fanatical political ideas can grab hold, even of supposedly civilised people, is especially relevant in the current climate, but the plot is a little pedestrian, and aside from one heart-breaking rug pull in the middle of the film it rarely goes anywhere truly unexpected, and though mentioned, for the most part the Holocaust is out of sight and out of mind.

Well-acted and directed, funny and heart-breaking there’s a lot to love about Jojo Rabbit, and I feel slightly guilty for not liking it more than I did, I just can’t shake the feeling that it could have been something truly special if Waititi had been just a little more daring. That moment aside it feels like it plays things a little too safe.

Still lots to enjoy and well worth seeing!

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Little Women

Posted: January 19, 2020 in Film reviews
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Directed by Greta Gerwig. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlan, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet and Meryl Streep.

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It’s several years after the Civil War, and Jo March (Ronan) is teaching in New York, though she’s also following her dream of becoming a writer. Back home are her sisters Meg (Watson) and Beth (Scanlen) while her fourth sister Amy (Pugh) is in Paris, learning to paint and providing companionship to Aunt March (Streep). When one of her sisters becomes unwell Jo decides to return home, convinced she’ll never make it as an author.

The story flashes back to 1861, when the girls are all living at home with their mother (Dern), and their father (Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk) is away at war. The girls have dreams of a better life, and are intrigued by their neighbour Laurie (Chalamet) but he may only have eyes for Jo.

As the story flits between childhood and adulthood, the past and the present, the girls will face adversity and tragedy, but also joy and fulfilment, but can even Jo find happiness?

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Fair disclosure I’ve never read the book, and haven’t seen any of the other adaptations, which isn’t to say I came to this completely fresh, I understood the rough narrative, and knew of the major tragedy that affected the sisters. As such I can’t speak to how many people who are fans will feel about this adaptation (though on the whole the prevailing wisdom appears to be extremely positive) I can only say how I felt about it, well aware that I’m not exactly the target demographic.

I thought it was wonderful.

Which does make you wonder about whether I’m the target demographic after all. Maybe my demographic is just well directed, well written, well-acted films? Who knew?

While I liked Lady Bird, I never quite understood why it was so well regarded, but in the case of Gerwig’s second solo directorial effort I have no such issues. This is an incredibly well directed film, sumptuous in its staging and costumes, which is all the more impressive when you realise it’s relatively small budget, and it’s well deserving of its recent best picture nomination, as is Gerwig for her best adapted screenplay nomination. It somewhat beggars’ belief that Gerwig didn’t get a nomination for directing, but chalk that up to yet another glaring Oscar omission. Her screenplay is exceptional, and by all accounts she hasn’t played with the text very much at all, so any accusations of turning Little Women into a modern feminist film are, I believe, entirely incorrect. Everything Gerwig needed was already in the text.

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She’s used it to make a film demonstrating how little autonomy women had in the past. As both Jo and Amy make clear, women have few ways to gain wealth, and even if they do it becomes the property of their husband upon marriage. And yet despite this Gerwig shows all sides of the equation, one sister is more than happy to get married, and late on Ronan has a phenomenally strident monologue that balances her need to have agency with a deep and painful loneliness. It’s incredible.

Ah, Ronan. I know she can act, have known it since Atonement all those years ago, yet still she surprises me. She’s truly incredible here, and as Jo is the heart of the book, so Ronan is the beating heart of the film. It may not be this year (though I hope it is) but sooner or later Saoirse will win an Oscar, and I doubt it will be her last.

Close behind her in the acting stakes is Pugh, an actress who demonstrates ability far beyond her years. I may have been lukewarm about Midsommar, but Pugh was phenomenal in that, and is again here, and in some ways with a harder part as Amy isn’t as inherently likeable as Jo, yet Pugh and Gerwig make her empathetic, even when she’s being a spoilt brat.

Watson is a good actress, but she does fade a little into the background, in part because of how good Ronan and Pugh are, but also by nature of the character she has to play, still she’s quietly effective and the film would be lessened without her. Similarly Scanlan, who shines despite having the least to do of the four sisters.

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But then as both writer and director Gerwig gives each member of her ensemble their moment to shine. Dern is wonderful, and the moment when she tells Jo that she’s angry every day is understated yet powerful.

Chalamet, much like Pugh, has to raise the character of Laurie above just being a drippy, spoilt brat, and for the most part is successful, and Chris Cooper as Laurie’s grandfather gets one of the best moments of the film, showcasing his grief without saying a word as he sits on the stairs and listens to Beth playing the piano. Meryl Street is of course very good.

The decision to show the story in a nonlinear way is a good one, and this might not have been as enjoyable if it had followed a more traditional path. For the most part Gerwig keeps the timelines easy to tell apart, although at times they do seem to merge, intentionally in one case in relation to tragedy, which just adds to the heartbreak.

If I had one issue it’s with the character of Friedrich, Louis Garrel is very good but I wish we’d seen a little more of him early on. He seems to appear out of nowhere at the end (but I hear this is the same in the book). Similarly more on the courtship of Meg and John Brooke (James Norton) might have been nice. Then again it might have made the film feel bloated, and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment.

Exceptionally well written and directed, gorgeous to look at and featuring stellar performances, this could have been mawkish and over sentimental but Gerwig never lets it veer even close to that. Twenty-year-old me probably would have hated it. Almost fifty-year-old me really, really enjoyed it.

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Jumanji: The Next Level.

Posted: January 10, 2020 in Film reviews
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Directed by Jake Kasdan. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Awkwafina, Danny Glover and Danny DeVito.

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Several years have passed since Spencer, Fridge, Martha and Bethany became trapped in the Jumanji video game and only just escaped with their lives, and though they’ve all moved on they’ve remained friends, and have arranged to meet up again before Christmas when each of them returns from college or overseas. All are happy, except for Spencer who hasn’t come to terms with no longer being the heroic Dr Bravestone (Johnson) and who yearns to re-enter the game.

When Spencer fails to turn up for brunch his friends go to his home and realise what he’s done. Though fearful they realise they must enter the game to save their friend, and besides, they know how the game works now, so they anticipate no problems.

Unfortunately for them the game has moved on, and they find themselves in another level with which they have no familiarity. Worse is to come when Spencer’s crotchety grandfather Eddie (DeVito) and his estranged best friend Milo (Glover) end up in the game as well. With time running out can they save the world of Jumanji, and more importantly can they save themselves?

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When Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle came out a few years ago it caught everyone by surprise, not least me. What looked like a lame sequel come reboot turned out to be a clever and witty body-swap adventure comedy that was one of the most enjoyable films of recent years. As is always the way, success breeds a sequel, and here we are again, but surely the law of diminishing returns says they can’t pull off the same success twice, right?

Well it turns out they can. Almost. This isn’t quite as enjoyable as Welcome to the Jungle. It lacks the surprise elements for starters, and at times feels a little cluttered as it seeks to not only revisit pretty much every character from the first film, but also introduce several new ones (both in real life and in-game) and as a result some get lost in the crush, in particular Danny Glover’s overly thoughtful Milo. But on the whole, this succeeds wonderfully.

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As with last time the major part of its success is the cast, and the chemistry between Johnson, Black, Gillan and Hart remains effective, even if they’re not all playing quite the same characters. In particular The Rock playing a cranky old man is hilarious, and Eddie and Milo spend a long time not understanding that they’re in a videogame. Black again shows his versatility, this time playing a hulking black football player as well as a selfie obsessed young woman, and of course as Ruby Roundhouse Gillan is wonderful (well I mean she always is, right?) and in many ways Ruby gets to be the leader, at least for part of the film.

It’s always nice to see Dannys DeVito and Glover, but it’s DeVito who gets the pick of the funny lines, and the most screen time. Still there’s a nice banter between them in the real world. Perhaps the best new character is Awkwafina as Ming Fleetfoot, an avatar with burglary skills. She has great comic timing and her crabby old man is every bit as amusing as Johnsons.

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Special mention to the four actors playing the real-world characters. I still wish we got to see more of them.

The effects are impressive, and the gang are placed in peril after peril, with the ever-present threat of running out of lives ensuring the drama never dips even though they’re in a game. It’s the sharp script that makes the film as much as the action however, and there are reversals and surprises aplenty.

Funny and exciting, featuring a cast still bringing they’re A game, Jumanji: The Next Level is a joy from start to finish. Will there be a third film? Given how well this one is doing I wouldn’t bet against it, but can they strike gold three times in a row? Only time will tell.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Posted: December 30, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by J. J. Abrams. Starring Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher.

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Time has passed since the First Order almost wiped out the Resistance, and the galaxy has been intrigued by a series of messages claiming to be from the supposedly deceased Emperor Palpatine. Enraged, the new Supreme Leader of the First Order, Kylo Ren (Driver) strives to find the source of these messages, vowing to destroy Palpatine if he should have risen from the dead.

Meanwhile the Resistance are struggling to build a base from which to take the fight to the First Order. Rey (Ridley) is struggling with her Jedi training under General Leia (Fisher). Meanwhile Finn (Boyega) and Poe (Isaac) risk their lives to bring a message back to the resistance. Palpatine is back, and has a huge fleet of super star destroyers that would be capable to subjugating the galaxy. Leia despatches Rey, Poe and Finn to locate the mysterious planet Exegol, supposed birthplace of the Sith.

Can our heroes succeed or will Rey fall victim to the dark side and join forces with Kylo Ren?

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Ok so I’m going to avoid spoilers as far as able (Palapatine’s mentioned in the opening crawl so don’t get annoyed at that) There will be discussion of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, but no spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker except where they’ve been public knowledge for ages (the return of another original trilogy character for example) Of course, if you’re paranoid why not see the film first, and then read this review!

Ok then, last chance to bug out…

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So the first thing to say about The Rise of Skywalker is that it’s a bit of a mess, in part this seems unavoidable (using snippets of Carrie Fisher is a great idea but is obviously limited, requiring some creative writing to fit her into the script) whereas some of it is a conscious choice to reset some story elements after The Last Jedi. Now whatever you think of TLJ (and I admire a lot of what Rian Johnson tried to do whilst still have structural and pacing issues with the film) it seems a curious choice to backpedal, especially given Disney presumably signed off on everything Johnson did? As a result Abrams has to spend a lot of time early on setting up the return of Palpatine, and again this leads to a shaky opening, but thankfully things calm down and what’s surprising is that a film with so many story issues, a film constantly pulling new plot points seemingly out of thin air, manages to be as coherent, and as enjoyable as it is, and whilst it doesn’t hit the emotional highs of The Force Awakens, I had to admit that I walked out happier than I had after TLJ. I just wish more care had been taken with the trilogy, because whilst enjoyable, and way better than the prequels, it still feels somewhat disjointed.

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Of course, one of the big narrative choices TLJ made was to split up the Poe/Finn bromance. Isaac and Boyega have tremendous chemistry, and while you can argue it was always going to happen in a middle film, it’s great that they’re back together and on an adventure, which is I think what most of us had wanted after TFA. Throwing Rey into the mix just adds to the enjoyment, and it’s interesting to note that, given they’re three of the four major new Star Wars characters, and all on the same side, this is really the first time they’ve been onscreen together for any length of time, which is another shame as the three work extremely well together .

As Rey, Ridley continues to excel, even as a Jedi warrior in training the character never quite shakes off her scavenger upbringing, and she retains the anger she’s been holding since Kylo Ren killed Han, or maybe the anger she’s been nursing since her parents abandoned her on Jakku. As well as Isaac and Boyega she also works well with Driver, just as well given they share many scenes, and the dynamic between the two is excellent.

Boyega thankfully gets more to do this time, and hints of cowardice or only being interested in Rey rather than the Resistance are thankfully somewhat muted, though you do wish they’d gone further with his former stormtrooper arc, especially given one of the new characters he meets. Still he proves yet again that he has charisma and comic timing in excess, and I really would love to see him do Bond one day.

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After spending most of TLJ being an unlikable dick, Isaac thankfully is allowed to shine this time out and play the cocky flyboy/scoundrel that he does so well. You can argue he has an arc in TLJ, but it’s a clunky one, whereas here Poe seems more at ease, and we learn more about his background and how he wound up in the resistance.

Of course, for quite a lot of people Poe and Finn’s bromance bordered on romance, but I won’t give anything away on that score 😉

Of the big four this leaves Driver, who probably has the hardest job. Not only does he have to carry a lot of the plot, but for much of the time he doesn’t have the luxury of a Ridley/Boyega/Isaac to bounce off, and it says a lot about Driver as an actor that he makes Kylo Ren’s story here believable, and while many of the original casting choices were well made, in many respects Driver’s might be the shrewdest of all, and there’s a momentary Harrison Ford impression late on that’s practically worth the price of admission alone.

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As mentioned Carrie returns, as does Mark Hamill as Luke in (obviously) Force ghost mode. There’s also a welcome return for Lando, and while Billy Dee Williams obviously can’t be running about with a blaster, he manages to remind us how cool the character is, and it’s glorious seeing him sitting in the Falcon with Chewie again. Oh and Anthony Daniels has a blast in his last outing as C-3PO, and I’m not sure everyone’s favourite protocol droid has been quite as funny (or quite as heroic) as he is here!

One of the big talking points is the side-lining of Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose. A big part of TLJ she’s barely seen here (I think someone worked out she’d had less than two minutes of screen time). Some people are, understandably, seeing this as another poke in the eye for TLJ, especially given the (completely unwarranted) backlash the actress received over that film. Being honest I didn’t mind Rose, but by the same token it’s hard to see where she’d have fitted in here, other than to somewhat short circuit the chemistry between Finn/Rey/Poe. That doesn’t make what’s happened to her right by any stretch of the imagination, and surely she could have been given more to do than this, and I really hope the shit she took online wasn’t behind her side-lining.

There are some great set pieces here, especially a rain soaked lightsabre duel, a lot of humour, a lot of action and adventure of the kind one’s come to expect from a Star Wards film.  Yes it probably doesn’t surprise in the way The Last Jedi did, and it probably isn’t as taut and precision engineered the way The Force Awakens was, and sure it at times feels like a greatest hits of the franchise, but it’s still hugely enjoyable, at least on first viewing. It will be interesting to see what repeat viewings do to my opinion, will the plot holes and back of a fag packet plotting increasingly grate, or will it’s exuberance and top drawer cast being allowed to do what they do best continue to paper over the cracks?

Only time will tell, but at the moment I loved it!

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Knives Out

Posted: December 15, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Rian Johnson. Starring Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer.

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When world famous crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Plummer) dies shortly after his 85th birthday, it seems a straightforward case of suicide, but then why has an anonymous patron hired renowned private investigator Benoit Blanc (Craig) to solve his murder? When Blanc begins his investigation it soon becomes clear that many of Thrombey’s family had motives for wanting him dead, including daughter Linda(Curtis) along with her husband Richard (Johnson) and playboy son Ransom (Evans), but Thrombey’s son Walt (Shannon) also had reason to want the old man dead, as did Thrombey’s widowed daughter in law Joni (Collette).

Blanc has his work cut out, and co-opts Thrombey’s nurse Marta (de Armas) to be his Watson, given she has a medical condition that means she throws up if she tells a lie.

As time passes and the mystery deepens, Blanc has to accept that he may not be able to bring Thrombey’s killer to justice.

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So, after The Last Jedi Rian Johnson comes down to earth with a modern spin on the whodunnit working from an idea he first had back after he made Brick, initially he planned to make it as an independent film after Looper in 2012 but Disney came a calling so it had to wait. At first glance this could be perceived as a by the numbers mystery, but an incredibly sharp and meticulously plotted script, and a top drawer cast, each of whom seems to be having the time of their lives, turn it into something quite special.

Knives Out is, at times, very funny, but it would be a mistake to treat it as a comedy, this is a serious film, albeit one with satirical edge. Johnson’s script is snarky and fine tooled to within an inch of its life and, at least on first viewing, everything hangs together perfectly, if not entirely satisfactorily, although that’s often the case with a whodunnit. It’s clear Johnson has used decades worth of Agatha Christie and numerous other inspirations, yet he still manages to create something a little different. There’s more than a hint of Columbo in here as well, and whilst I have no way of knowing it for sure, there’s more than a flavour of Jonathan Creek, yet this is also a Benoit Blanc mystery, and one hopes the first of many.

As polished as the script is, the film wouldn’t be half as good without a top cast, and the ensemble Johnson has pulled together is exceptional.

As, technically the lead Daniel Craig seems to be having fun playing slightly against type. Sure when we first see him, and before he opens his mouth, it could clearly be 007 sitting there, but then he does open his gob and we get that accent. Blanc is a laid back southern gentleman, a detective who doesn’t so much deduce, as shake the tree and waits for the solution to a mystery to fall from the skies. It says a lot about Craig that he creates such an engaging sleuth without the need for any tics or affectations, well aside from that accent of course!

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I said Daniel Craig was technically the lead, because in reality the beating heart of the film is Ana de Armas’ Magda, she’s the one the entire film revolves around, and in a film where everyone else is turning it up to eleven, her grounded, nuanced portrayal of a woman who finds herself in deep water is ultimately what makes the whole dame film tick. I’ve liked her since Blade Runner 2049 and I think she’s got a heck of a career ahead of her and I’m looking forward to seeing her opposite Craig again in No Time To Die next year.

Much like Craig, Chris Evans is having fun playing against type. After years playing everyone’s favourite boy scout, Captain America, he too has a blast as smirking, foul mouthed playboy, Ransom.

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As Ransom’s parents Curtis and Don Johnson are great, even if at times you struggle to believe Ransom is their son. As Walt, Shannon plays slightly against type but again is very good, and Toni Collete is always a joy and never more so here as the hippyish Joni. There’s a thematic holdover from The Last Jedi here, which is that rich people are awful, it’s almost a shame they’re so much fun while they’re being awful! Almost.

And special mention for Christopher Plummer, an actor still capable of turning in a fantastic performance, and for saying he’s dead when the film starts, he’s in it more than you might expect.

Knives Out is a film that’s a little too clever at times—or thinks it is—and whilst I give it kudos for misdirecting me, because I didn’t guess what had actually happened, the final reveal seemed a little flat given everything that had gone before, but like I say this is often the case in mysteries, the same way a horror can lose you at the last when the monster is finally revealed. This doesn’t distract from the fact that Rian Johnson is a talented writer and director, and that he and his cast have produced a hugely enjoyable film that’s a little bit different from the pack, only time and repeat viewings will tell if its anywhere near as enjoyable once you know the solution, but for now I’d be more than happy to see Benoit Blanc return!

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Last Christmas.

Posted: December 3, 2019 in Film reviews
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Directed by Paul Feig. Starring Emilia Clarke, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Emma Thompson.

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Kate (Clarke) is a young woman adrift in the world. She’s something of a nomad, crashing with friends who soon throw her out because of her disruptive behaviour. She drinks heavily and flits between one night stands, and whilst she still dreams of being a professional singer, her auditions get her nowhere, leaving her working full time as an elf in an all year round Christmas shop run by snarky Santa (Yeoh) and avoiding her mother (Thompson).

Then one day she meets a handsome, yet odd man named Tom (Golding) who she’s attracted to. They begin a platonic romance, but why does he keep disappearing then reappearing when Kate needs him most? Will she reconnect with her family, will she stop her self -destructive behaviour and most of all, will she solve the mystery of Tom?

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A film directed by the helmer of Bridesmaids, written by Emma Thompson, featuring an engaging cast and the music of the late, great George Michael. What could go wrong? Well going by many of the critics almost everything, and so I approached this with trepidation.

So what did I think? Well it’s cheesy, twee, and machine tooled within an inch of its life to tug on your heartstrings. It’s also not half as clever as it thinks it is. But you know what, I still liked it, and come the end I had a lump in my throat that wasn’t down to tonsillitis, because completely unexpectedly, and against my better (or should that be bitter?) judgement, this hit me right in the feels.

2518-fp-00067r-1573827710The film’s biggest asset is its cast. After years as the mirthless mother of dragons, everyone’s favourite Khaleesi is having fun with a role that could have so easily been telephoned in, yet Clarke invests herself totally in the part. She’s loveable and annoying in equal measure, yet also carries a hint of melancholy because she’s so clearly broken, it’s just that she doesn’t know how to fix herself, and it’s obvious that Clarke channels her own health issues into Kate, a woman who had her own brush with death. She’s onscreen for most of the film bouncing around like a pinball and has you rooting for her in that Bridget Jones kinda way.

As Tom, Golding plays the kind of handsome, wise, nice guy that even I could fall for, and he and Clarke have great chemistry. He doesn’t have a lot to work with but much like Clarke wrings all the pathos he can out of it.

As ‘Santa’ Yeoh is a hoot with limited screen time, sarcastic and dismissive of Kate, yet in a totally affectionate way, though it is amusing that someone so grumpy could love Christmas enough to run a year-round x-mas shop! If her romance seems a trifle forced this isn’t Yeoh’s fault, and from Bond girl and martial artist, to mirror universe Starfleet captain and now romantic comedy star she proves she can successfully turn her hand to anything.

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“So you were in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and I was the mother of Dragons. Small world.”

If there’s a weak link then oddly it’s Thompson, whose portrayal of Kate’s Yugoslavian mother has its moments—many of the film’s finniest—yet feels oddly broad compared to the slightly more nuanced performances around her, and one wonders if a less well known character actor might have played the part better.

The script leaves no romantic comedy trope out in the cold, and is a trifle too on the nose at times, and the Brexit subplot is well meaning but clunky as Marley’s chains, and talking of Marley its obvious too many critics treated this as a straight up romcom rather than what it really is, a Christmas redemption story in the style of things like A Christmas Carol or it’s a Wonderful life. Only time will tell if this film sinks from view or becomes a somewhat cheesy Christmas staple. I can see the latter.

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The twist is something you may see coming, especially given the obvious clue hanging over the film, and your enjoyment may depend on how you view the plot turn when it arrives, but for me it worked in the context of the film, and if nothing else the film does stick to its own internal logic, which is where a lot of fantastical films fall down.

Outside of the titular song, the music of George Michael is scattered haphazardly throughout the film, and you can’t help feeling that a bit more effort should have been taken to truly honour his work, though there’s a nice cameo near the end.

It’s a bit clunky, a bit preposterous, a bit obvious and is trying way to hard to be a Richard Curtis film, but then again I probably enjoyed it more than this year’s actual Richard Curtis film, and it scores points for not quite being the film you think it is. There are a multitude of little cameos and it lives in that ever so slightly faux London inhabited by the likes of Bridget Jones and Paddington, but so what, I like Bridge and that Peruvian immigrant, and though this isn’t on the same level, I liked Last Christmas as well, for all it’s faults you can’t deny its heart is in the right place.

Directed by Tim Miller. Starring Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna.

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Daniella “Dani” Ramos (Reyes) is a young woman living in Mexico and working at a car assembly plant. She thinks of herself as an ordinary young woman, until a Rev-9 Terminator (Luna) travels back from the future to kill her. Luckily Dani is protected by Grace (Davis) another time traveller, this time human, sent back to protect her. Grace has been enhanced with technology, but she still struggles to fight off the Terminator, until Sarah Connor (Hamilton, duh) arrives to intervene.

Sarah has been living an aimless existence since a tragedy that befell her several decades before, but she has found meaning in destroying the Terminators Skynet despatched through time, receiving cryptic messages warning her when one is due to arrive.

Sarah and Grace form an uneasy alliance to protect Dani, but it may take more than the two of them to destroy the Rev-9, it may take the assistance of a T-800 (Arnie obviously) who Sarah has every reason to hate.

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It’s kinda scary to think we now have six Terminator films, especially considering T2 supposedly saved humanity from the Skynet dominated future, but then again if T2 didn’t really warrant a sequel, you could argue Terminator didn’t either, but a world without T2 doesn’t bear thinking about. It’s still hard to choose between them, in part because, much like Alien and Aliens, they’re vastly different films. What I think most everyone was sure about is that in terms of sequels it’s been a case of diminishing returns. T3 was a bland actioner partly redeemed by a heck of a twist at the end. Salvation was just terrible, committing the worst cinematic crime of being dull, and Genisys was an unholy mess, but at least it wasn’t boring.

The sheer potential of the franchise can’t be held back however, and has prompted another entry in the series. Cameron returning in a story and production capacity, and the hiring of Deadpool director Miller gave people hope that Dark Fate might be good.

I’ll be honest here, by ten minutes in I was seriously worried. The film’s opening is incredibly clunky, committing the cardinal sin of dropping us into the action rather than giving us time to get used to the characters. The Rev-9 is on Dani’s case within minutes, I appreciate it’s a more advanced model and all, but remember when Arnie had to go raid a gun shop and use the phone book to try and track Sarah Connor down?

But then Linda Hamilton turned up and things took an upward turn. The film settles down and things again shift in a positive direction. And then Arnie turns up and from here on it’s a roller coaster ride of a film, and an enjoyable one. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t in the same league as Terminator or T2, but it’s the third best film in the franchise by a country mile and that’s about the best we could have hoped for.

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The casting helps, and at the centre of it all is Hamilton. Much like Jamie Lee Curtis in the Halloween sequel of last year Hamilton returns to perhaps her greatest role, and she’s a hoot. Grouchy, world weary, damaged yet strong …this might be my favourite of her Sarah Connor performance, Terminator Sarah was a touch too simpering, T2 Sarah too fanatical. Hamilton has fun, and yet again demonstrates why it’s a crime she hasn’t had more success as an actor than she’s had.

I’ve yet to see Mackenzie Davis give a poor performance in anything, and she’s great as Grace, driven and stubborn and desperate to protect Dani at all costs and she has great dynamics with both Hamilton and Reyes and she always convinces as a battle hardened warrior.

Reyes does a good job as the initially innocent Dani, and never seems overawed by the talent surrounding her.

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Luna does a decent job as the all new Terminator, appearing threatening or friendly as his mission dictates. I’m still not entirely sure about the solid endoskeleton and liquid metal exoskeleton, and it seems like just a case of “What can we do different Terminator wise?” but it does make for some fun scenes, allowing a single Terminator to double team his opponents as required.

And then there’s Arnie.

imagesHis inclusion in this film is preposterous, but I don’t care because he’s great, he’ll never be the greatest actor in the world, but he has presence and comic timing many better actors would kill for. It’s hard to imagine the film without him and he gets many of the funniest lines, yet at the same time he never overshadows the female triumvirate at the heart of the film.

Plot wise the film undertakes some temporal contortions to contrive a new Terminator with a new target, but clearly a lot of work has gone into the story and for the most part it works. There’s one thing that happens early on that’s annoying—and I do hate the ‘kill a character off to make room for a new story’ trope, but it annoyed me less as I was swept up by the story. Kudos on the script front as well to the level of consistency, Grace’s enhancements take a toll on her body and she needs regular injections to counteract this, in a lesser film this would have been forgotten as the film progressed but not here.

The action scenes are frenetic and there’s obviously a lot of CGI. Maybe too many were showcased in the trailer, but this at least wasn’t the re-tread of T2 I was expecting it to be.

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Whether I genuinely enjoyed this in its own right, or merely because it was so refreshing to see a competent Terminator film again is something only repeat viewings will clarify, and calling it the third best Terminator film may be damning it with faint praise but it’s funny, action packed and features engaging characters, and maybe it’s just not possible to make something as good as we got in 1984 and 1992. It’s just a shame Dark Fate seems to have done poorly at the box office, so will we see another semi-reboot eventually? I hope not, either continue with this new timeline or, and here’s a radical idea, just accept the franchise is never going to hit the heights of 1992 again.

For the record my current rankings of the Terminator franchise go something like this…

  • Terminator/T2
  • The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  • Dark Fate
  • T3
  • Genisys
  • Salvation

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