Films in September 2021

No Time to Die
This film is too long. That’s not necessarily a great way to start a review, but overwhelmingly that was my feeling about the film both during and after. At 2.45 the film is at least 1/2 an hour too long and there would have been no challenge for the film to lose that time from the middle which was ridiculously baggy. I watch Bond films for the action and stunt sequences, and there weren’t enough of them in this film. The four or so sequences were of the expected high production value and engrossing, but the gaps between them were too big and filled with too much exposition (that I didn’t follow) and character stuff (that I didn’t care about). The main villain wasn’t very good either – I didn’t really get what he was trying to achieve and he was incredibly bland (and are we really STILL using facial scarring to indicate a bad guy?). The only really good things in the film were Paloma and Nomi – two female agents who absolutely jumped off the screen and I would very happily watch their spin off film. The rest of it however felt tired, baggy and boring. 5 / 10

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
It’s hard to do a good film of a theatre musical. The bug numbers never manage to capture the joy and energy, and the softer ballads feel awkward. Sometimes that is compensated for by being able to do bigger and more varied things with sets and locations, or big name actors throwing themselves into things. But I’m afraid Everybody’s Talking About Jamie is not one of those successes. It just didn’t feel organic to me, too bitty, too flat. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure the source material was amazing, I felt the story was clunky switching from dealing with difficult issues, to oversimplifying solutions, and the music unremarkable. The couple of big numbers were good, but there were way too many dirgy ballads, and frankly, the whole thing needed a lot more drag queens. 6 / 10

Schumacher
I was a follower of Formula One for most of the duration of Schumacher’s domination over the sport so I was fairly familiar with his story. I was never a fan of his, he was undoubtedly a talented driver, but he and the Ferrari team around him could also be ruthless and for me didn’t feel within the spirit of the sport. That side of him is touched on very lightly in the documentary, and the absence from the documentary of his main teammates at Ferrari feels very significant. The documentary also has a problem in that the end of Schumacher’s story is veiled in secrecy. His wife and children feature in the documentary and they talk very movingly about him, but are very cryptic about how he is following his serious accident and it feels weird. If you’re going to tell someone’s story, you have to tell all of it, otherwise it just feels disingenuous. The documentary has some strong bits, good archive footage and interesting interviews, but it is really flawed. 5 / 10

Cinderella
Cinderella as done by the person that did Pitch Perfect. Sounds good. Unfortunately the same person did Pitch Perfect 3 and this is more at that end of the spectrum. The freshening up of the story is good, Ella is seeking to succeed as a businesswoman and the romance element is slightly incidental to her storyline. The take on the prince was also quite interesting. But the delivery was disappointing, with mediocre acting, zero chemistry, cheap production and a poor selection of songs that were then delivered with way too much auto tuning and post production. It felt more am-dram panto than Hollywood production, particularly given the random British comedians populating the supporting cast. The only saving graces were the brilliant Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan who are almost worth suffering through the rest of the film for. Ranking: 5 / 10

101 Dalmations
I’d forgotten how good this film was! The animal animation is everything you’d expect from Disney, beautifully observed and managing to find a perfect spot between making animal and human so that emotions and behaviour is clear with just the simplest of animations. It feels like a very small film in many ways, not the fate of the world or anything about destiny, just two parents trying to find their kids, and that smallness makes it all more important somehow. The scarcity of the songs is also a good thing, particularly as the two that are present (relegated to the start and end so as not to interrupt the story) aren’t that great imho. 7 / 10

101 Dalmatians (1996)
There are some good choices in this live action version of the cartoon. The first is that the animals do not speak, but are still all very emotive characters through what must have been incredibly patient training and filming. The other good choice is losing the songs. Much of the rest of the film remains the same, including the completely over the top villain and the really quite horrible idea that she’s going to skin all the puppies and wear them. I actually found all the talk of murdering and skinning puppies quite upsetting and no matter how cute the puppies are and how well the film is produced, I’m not sure I’d ever want to show it to children. 6 / 10

Rising Phoenix
This is a documentary about the Paralympics and paralympians and if you’re like me and can’t make it through a Channel 4 advert without weeping, then you’re going to need the tissues close to hand with this. The biggest fault with the documentary is one I’ve only really noticed when I came to write this review because when I thought about it I realised the subject was a little muddled and tried to do a few too many things. It’s telling the individual stories of a handful of recent paralympians, and on the way it tells a bit about the history of the Paralympics, and focusses on London 2012 (as a positive) and Rio 2016 (as a struggle). But that’s a lot to cover in 1.45 and on reflection it suffers. Individual stories are abbreviated, the history is jumpy, issues are skirted over and I keep thinking of more and more aspects that I would love to understand better. But it is a film, and it cannot do everything in depth so I think it’s chosen to do a lot of things a little bit. Some people may say that they could cut some of the artistic elements to make time for substance, but actually I think they worked well here and the subject deserves beauty and art as well. If the biggest problem that I have with a documentary film is that I wish it was longer, then I think that’s probably a good thing. Ranking: 8 / 10

Books in September 2021

I had a couple of weeks off work and spent a chunk of that time reading slightly trashy novels, proper holiday stuff to just get lost in without too much thought or emotional trauma, and apparently television personalities are the place to go to for that.

Richard Osman – The Man Who Died Twice
Because of my love of Richard Osman I read his first novel within days of publication and described it as “a lovely little murder mystery”. Well it went on to sell over a million copies and top the charts for weeks on end. Osman is a genius in many ways and whether he carefully engineered his book to be so popular or it happened by accident, he’s managed to deliver the same trick again with his second novel. It’s got vibrant, relatable characters who it’s nice to spend time with; mysteries that twist and turn; a lightness of touch that makes it very easy to read; but also some emotional punch to make it feel substantial. I read the whole thing in just a couple of sittings, perfect for curling up with on an autumn afternoon.

Graham Norton
Holding – I read all three of Graham Norton’s books over a couple of weeks. I started with Holding and was immediately gripped. It’s a gentle mystery/thriller set in a small Irish town with a lot of vibrant characters and a lot of history and it just leapt off the page. It’s got enough depth to it to keep it engaging and to have some impact, but not so much as to really challenge. I enjoyed getting lost in it for a few hours and it was perfect for sitting in the garden with a cup of tea and some biscuits.

A Keeper – Of the three books I’ve read by Graham Norton this was the weakest and least interesting. The story didn’t quite ring true for me, and the construction of the novel with jumping time frames didn’t land well. All the drama was in the past but that meant they lacked jeopardy because you know how it ends, and the mystery of the details was completely predictable. Meanwhile the present day bits just felt contrived, relying on a series of random meetings and awkwardly contrived memories to fill in what was happening in the past. It’s perfectly readable, it’s well written and some of the smaller details really ring true, but the overall plot was a bit meh. (728)

Home Stretch – This is Norton’s third book and you can see how his writing has evolved, certainly this book does a much better job playing with multiple timelines than his previous novel ‘A Keeper’ did. The plot just about hangs together, although it does rely on some coincidences and character choices that stretch belief a little bit. This is a gentle book to read; for the characters there are big dramas and mysteries, but it’s told in such a light way that as a reader I didn’t feel anywhere near that level of tension or intrigue. That worked well for me, it’s a light read, with strong characters and an evocative but easy way of describing people and places that’s really immersive and I found myself reading big chunks at a time because it was just so comfortable to keep reading.

Claudia Winkleman – Quite
This book is like being in Claudia Winkleman’s head, and that may not be everyone’s idea of wonderful but she’s one of my favourite people and this felt like being her friend. The book is a compilation of short pieces that are somewhere between biography and advice column, at times it feels a bit too specific (it mostly assumes the reader is a woman seeking a relationship with a man), but it’s also very sweet and kind of empowering. It’s sweet and funny and her voice absolutely rings out through the whole thing. The sections are all very short and reading it at any length feels a little bit overwhelming, but in small doses it’s lovely.

S.J. Bennett – The Windsor Knot
There’s a murder at Windsor Castle, the police and security services seem to be barking up the wrong tree, so the Queen starts investigating herself. Yes, the Queen. It’s a quirky idea and kind of makes sense that the Queen is extremely smart, very knowledgeable, a bit peeved about a murder in her ‘house’ and is a little bit bored. The mystery itself is solid and well paced, the writing very easy to read, the supporting characters fun and the detail about the Royal Household convincing and engaging. However I felt slightly uncomfortable about the whole thing. Maybe if it hadn’t been set in the near present day it wouldn’t have felt quite so odd and intrusive, but I felt weirdly dirty about reading it and couldn’t quite get over that.

Books in July and August 2021

Oh dear I’m getting very behind, and even bunching two months together I only apparently read three books! And one of them I didn’t even finish. Utterly rubbish.

Bridget Collins – The Betrayals
Like Collins’ first book, this had some structural problems. The book is based at a college that specialises in teaching The Game. What this Game is, why it’s so important, and how it’s played is treated as a mystery and to me it just felt like it wasn’t a pro-active choice to treat it like this, more that the author had absolutely no idea what the answers could be. The story jumps between a few different timelines and Collins does interweave them pretty well for the most part, connecting the two together and pacing the two carefully together. There are however a few glitches where things lurch, rely on characters just being a bit dumb, and a lot of building up mysteries that I found fairly obvious. The structural issues are a shame, because there are some suggestions of interesting ideas, well built characters and a strong theme – those made the book readable, but overall a little disappointing.

D.H. Lawrence – Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Firstly – the reason I picked this book up at all. I found it while clearing out my grandmother’s house and what made me laugh was that my slightly stuffy gran had a copy, and that she had covered it in brown paper so you couldn’t see what it was! Underneath was a beautiful 1960’s Penguin edition. Sadly that’s as exciting as it got and I didn’t finish this book. I gave up after 100 pages, and I actually struggled over whether it was therefore fair for me to post a review. But I figured an explanation for why I stopped was just as valid.
Sadly after all that, I just couldn’t get on with the book. The language is ridiculously florid and hard to read, with some characters written in dialect that makes it more an exercise in de-coding than reading. Chunks of the book read more like philosophical and ethical debates than prose, groups of people sitting around taking different points of view on a subject. And then you’ve got the challenge that the subjects include sex, gender equality, class and women’s rights and it becomes even harder to read and less satisfying. It’s a constant thought exercise trying to work out what was ‘normal’, progressive or outrageous at the times and how that might align with modern approaches. I don’t have the historical knowledge to put the book in the context it needs. I didn’t even get as far as the sex to be honest, I was just too bored to care.

Robert Dinsdale – The Toy Makers
This is a tricky review to write because everything I would write about the book technically is pretty good, for some reason I just didn’t get an emotional connection with it that I think was the aim. This is a book where you’re supposed to feel the magic of the toy shop, to feel part of that magic through the central character who comes to work at the shop and finds a family and a home. But I just never really felt that the shop was substantive, that the magic was ‘real’, it just felt flimsy and not part of the world. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but the story is also about the world and how the toy shop fits within it because it does talk about war and money and practical things… but if the toy makers have magic and everyone knows it (because they’re buying the magical toys) then why isn’t the magic used more widely? How can you put a price on a paper tree that grows, and whatever that price would be, surely it would be enough to not worry about the mortgage payments. I was expecting a book of magic escapism, and instead I got a more powerful story of complicated people, relationships and a difficult world… which would have been fine, but one cannot sit within the other.

Films in July and August

I didn’t post in July because I’d watched so few films that it didn’t seem worth it. I did a bit better in August so it makes a bumper crop. I also powered my way through six Fast and Furious films which was quite a slog and (overlapping) I decided to have a marathon of films with Dwayne Johnson. Now The Rock is one of my favourite people and he’s a fun actor, but good grief he’s been in some really rubbish films! Although we start with his new film in the cinema, which was just a delight.

New Releases
Jungle Cruise (Cinema)
I will watch just about anything The Rock is in and this is a perfect fit for his easy chemistry, charm and light touch with drama. The film isn’t going to set the Academy Awards a flutter, but it’s a lot of fun and perfect for escaping the world for a couple of hours. Yeah, the plot may not make much sense if you look too long and there’s rather more CGI than I like, but the Dwayne Johnson is his usual loveliness, Emily Blunt is practically perfect in every way and Jack Whitehall is slightly surprisingly charming as the third wheel. I laughed and smiled the whole way through, even at the terrible dad jokes lifted straight from the ride and the “did they just say that?” level of innuendo. 8 / 10

Druk (Another Round) (Cinema)
This is a Danish film about a group of male, middle aged teachers who decide to try to re-find their sparks of life by drinking through the day. That relatively simple description makes for a really brilliant film that’s full of layers and emotions. There were loads of laughs to be had, but also a lot of heart and some challenging questions too. I can’t remember the last time I felt so satisfied by a film, it really is just a complete package. 8 / 10

Limbo (Cinema)
This is a film of three parts:
The first part is hilarious, several beautifully crafted scenes of very quiet and understated humour that blend ridiculous situations with dry responses.
The second part the humour fades away and there’s a growing tension and frustration at the titular limbo the characters are in. This goes on a long time.
The third part is emotionally hard, a lot of the held in emotions come out and boil over.
The problem for me is that I would rather the comedy and drama were blended better, I found myself reaching for any tiny piece of humour desperately. The second section drags so that by the time the storylines comes to a head I was a little bored. It’s a good film and the strong sections are very strong, but I don’t think the sum is as good as the parts. 6 / 10

The Tomorrow War (Netflix)
30 years in the future humanity is fighting a war against invading aliens, and they’re losing. So they go back in time to conscript people from today to fight. Chris Pratt, former soldier is drafted and thrown forward on a mission that’s the possible key to winning the war. At that level, it actually makes sense (well as much as anything involving time travel makes sense) but anything further than 2 sentences and it really starts to crumble. It doesn’t even matter about the science and technicalities of time travel just the way that humans behave makes zero sense and I got increasingly frustrated with that as the film went on and everybody doubled down on stupid decisions. It’s a shame because Chris Pratt is as watchable as ever, the supporting cast is good and there’s a lot of good effects and action sequences. But the foundation of stupidity, drawn out by a clumsy structure and too long run time really annoyed me. 6 / 10

Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal and Greeda (Netflix)
I’ve never watched Bob Ross, and am only really aware of him through cultural references, so thought this documentary would be an interesting way to go beyond the parodies an understand the origins. And it was. About half the documentary is about where Ross came from – what motivated him, how his art developed and how he came to be such a cultural icon. There are loads of interviews with friends, family and colleagues and tons of archive footage of his shows, other media appearances and just candid home videos. I got a strong sense of who he was and why people connected to him so much. The second half is the betrayal and greed part of the title and covers Ross’ business partners. The hypothesis of the documentary, and Ross’ son who is heavily involved is that the married couple that Ross worked with in becoming a star were more driven by the money than Ross himself, and particularly as Ross became sick with cancer they made moves to protect their interests and took control of his image and name in a way that means even his own son can’t use it. It does seem very dodgy, but the documentary suffers because a lot of people wouldn’t be involved (reportedly because they’re scared of getting sued) and Ross’ voice was notably absent. I came away feeling that I only had half the picture and everyone was using his name and he had no voice from any of them. It’s a weird documentary where Ross and his art are really uplifting but then there’s a completely sour note that even that joy has misery behind it. 7 / 10

FAST AND FURIOUS SERIES
ITV showed the first six Fast and Furious films and I figured I’d give them a go and see what the fuss was about. It’s astonishing to me that given how crap the first few were the franchise got as far as it did. The films did get better and turned into a passable mindless action series, but I still felt underwhelmed. Also – the naming convention is a nightmare, and the use of scantily clad women in all the racing scenes just made me cross. Are we really still not better than that?

  1. The Fast and Furious – All zoomy cars, over amplified roaring engines and testosterone but lacking in plot, character, humour and coherence. I felt the lead role was miscast, with the undercover cop being a level of bland that comes from bad acting rather than deliberate choice. Vin Diesel does his usual thing of broody machismo very well but as soon as he has to deliver the woefully bad script it falls apart. The ‘plot’ was all over the place and (spoilers) apparently we’re supposed to be fine that the characters are criminals because one of them has a sob story and his sister is attractive? There didn’t even really feel like there were great displays of driving prowess, just over-engineered cars driving fast. 5 / 10
  2. 2 Fast and 2 Furious – even worse. Plot, acting script… all a step poorer than they were the previous time around and without the brooding core of Vin Diesel there’s just no substance or talent to really hang on for. There are a few flashes of personality in the smaller roles but they’re fleeting and overwhelmed by the pure rubbish of the script and (I’m sorry) Paul Walker’s acting. Sometimes things relax a bit and it feels a little more natural but then there’ll be some plot to deliver, emotions to have, or painfully contrived “bro” relationship and it’s just awful again. And by making the car stunts bigger, they’ve made them unbelievable and that just makes everything feel completely fake and stupid. 4 / 10
  3. Toyko Drift – This film commits a classic mistake, it centres on teenagers but casts people completely obviously in their mid-twenties, there’s a constant mental battle to remember that the issues they have and the stupid choices they make are reasonable for teenagers. Mind you, in some ways it doesn’t matter because other than a couple of scenes in classrooms, they are clearly NOT teenagers because they’ve all got loads of money and loads of driving experience. If it were possible to not just switch your brain off, but lock it in a box in another room, then maybe there’s some fun in here. 5 / 10
  4. Fast and Furious – This film appears to be trying to pretend Tokyo Drift never happened (not a bad approach) and jumps backwards in time. It was made 6 years after 2 Fast 2 Furious, Paul Walker has taken some acting lessons and things actually hang together to the point where I can see why this franchise is popular. The plot still makes ZERO sense and the writing has ZERO subtlety, but it’s possible to ignore that and just appreciate the stunt and action. 6 / 10
  5. Fast Five – Much like the previous installment this film delivers well on the action sequences, has a plot and acting that isn’t completely hopeless and doesn’t fall flat on it’s face… but still for me is lacking spark. It just tries to ladle on the feeling too much (yes, yes, family blah blah blah) and the writing and acting just isn’t good enough to deliver that without coming across trite and cheesy. It’s all just engine noise, shiny cars and consequence-less action sequences. 6 / 10
  6. Fast and Furious 6 – like the previous one, mindlessly watchable. They really do seem to have given up any pretense that there’s logic behind the action sequences, I guess that makes things slightly easier and they’re usually energetic enough to not notice, but the plane one at the end went on and on and on which meant even the most ignorant of people will spot that runways aren’t that long, but also it just got boring which is not what you want in your big finale. 6 / 10

Older films
Instant Family
I was really charmed by this film. The story of a couple who for reasons they don’t even fully understand themselves, decide to adopt three siblings and are instantly thrown into all chaos of young children and a teenager. There’s a lot of very real humour from the situation and an equal amount of heart and truth. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was really impressed. 8 / 10

The Decoy Bride
I was browsing Amazon for something easy going and David Tennant’s name drew me in and then Kelly Macdonald’s name completely sold it. She is absolutely the star of the film doing all the big work and is completely charming and wonderful. Tennant was a little underwhelming to be honest, not helped by a non-specific accent and a character that was a bit all over the place, but the two had good chemistry. The nuts and bolts of the story get the job done and the Scottish Island setting is the final piece of the very enjoyable puzzle. 7 / 10

Spider-Man: Far from Home
I like Tom Holland as Spider-Man a lot, it actually feels like he’s a proper teenager thrown into something over his head and this film delivers that very well. It’s a lovely mixture of normal teenage antics, ongoing delight at having super powers, a perfectly judged ongoing freak out about being a superhero with an apparent Destiny, particularly without his mentor around to guide (not that Stark was exactly a role model for that). And the coldly practical thread from Fury and Maria Hill was the perfect contrast to all that high energy. What didn’t work so well for me was the awkward introduction to the villain, I’ll not spoil it but it started out really weird and the eventual explanation didn’t change the fact that the first 1/3 or so of the film was just unsettling. In a way it was clever, but watching it wasn’t quite that satisfying. Jake Gyllenhaal was superb however and slotted right into the multiple threads beautifully. Ignore the plot, focus on the subtext and it’s a really great film. 7 / 10

Space Sweepers
There’s a LOT going on in this full on Korean sci fi film, probably too much to be honest. The set up and core plot are really great, even though they’re not exactly original (about 80% of it is a straight lift from Firefly for a start and that wasn’t exactly original either). A lot of the charm is from the motley collection of characters, and that’s where things went a little off for me. There was just a bit too much going on, too many big back stories, too many complicated relationships and not quite enough chemistry and it just didn’t quite come together. Some of that may be the subtitles, it’s a really busy film and script and it’s hard to read all the subtitles at pace and also keep up with the visuals on screen and trying to read body language etc. I don’t think it’s a great film, but it’s a solid one and well worth a couple of hours. 6 / 10

Journey 2 The Mysterious Island
I found Journey to the Centre of the Earth rather disappointing in that it didn’t feel like it did much with Verne’s material. In fairness having reread the book since then, it’s a better concept than it is actual story and maybe the film was actually being consistent with the number of plot holes. The Mysterious Island doesn’t really bother that much with the source novel and just crafted a film that’s a mash up of all sorts of ideas which, although fairly bonkers, sort of hold together just enough. The characters and performances are big and over the top, again just about working for the film and it’s hard to dislike it, although it’s also hard to love it. 6 / 10

Fantastic Fungi
A random documentary that I picked just because it looked completely un-challenging and uncontroversial, and was both those things. Eighty percent of the visuals are timelapse footage of fungi which is initially beautiful and impressive, but after a while slightly soporific. Voiceover narration is similarly nap inducing, particularly when it drifts into poetry. However the interviews with scientists when they actually start getting into the diversity of fungi, how they work in nature and what they can do for us are absolutely fascinating. A bit more of that would be good because I came away feeling like fungi really were fantastic, but I couldn’t really remember how or why. 6 / 10

Shazam!
I thought this was going to be painful but actually it was kinda sweet, kinda like The Goonies or some 80s kids film like that. The plot is daft but just about hangs together, but the charm comes from the relationships between the kids and Zachary Levi’s ability to perfectly deliver the Freaky Friday body swap of a kid into a superhero body. Good fun. 7 / 10

R.I.P.D
I watched this whole film and it wasn’t until I checked my review database that I realised I’d watched it before. I had absolutely zero memory of it. This so very desperately wanted to be Men in Black, but as usually happens when someone tries to recreate a ‘classic’ all that happens is the audience wants to go back a re-watch the inspiration. The building blocks of R.I.P.D were solid enough, but they were all just too similar to Men in Black and came across as a lower budget version of that, rather than its own thing. Ryan Reynolds was fun, Mary Louise Parker was excellent, and the effects were ok, but it was clearly completely forgettable. 6 / 10

Moana
I have watched this half a dozen times and it never ever fails to leave me laughing, crying and singing the songs for days on end. Moana’s focus on a very different culture from traditional Disney is respectful of traditions while still feeling light and progressive. Like Frozen there are complexities in who the ‘baddie’ is which adds a lot of depth to the story. The animation is stunningly beautiful and natural, and the voice acting is superb – completely integrated with the animation, never feeling like celebrities putting on voices and disjointed. The songs are catchy, and actually grow on me every time I hear them. The strength in the characters, story and messages are incredible, properly inspiring and uplifting and the film just brings me joy every single time. 9 / 10

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
What a brilliant film! First up, the concept of teenagers getting transported into a video game is a solid one – plenty of opportunities for great action sequences, a built in excuse that the plot of the ‘game’ doesn’t need to make sense, and lots of teenage character building to thread through the whole thing. But there are then two important factors that raise the whole thing to another level. First is the script which is witty, charming, respectful and self-aware. The writers clearly know video games and throw in loads of nods to the genres, write teenagers that feel like present day teenagers and deliver character growth that’s honest and relevant. The second thing is the cast who take that script and deliver it pitch perfect. The adult stars all take the piss out of themselves and really feel like teenagers in other people’s bodies The film is absolutely charming, hilarious and a real joy. 9 / 10

Jumanji: The Next Level
I really enjoyed the previous Jumanji film, it was self aware, threw loads of stuff in, poked fun at itself and was just fun. This film does all the same things, and yet somehow fell a little flat. I think maybe the problem started when the older characters who were dragged into Jumanji just didn’t embrace it in the same way as the teenagers in the previous film. They didn’t get it in the same way, and (weirdly) just didn’t seem to have the depth. The jokes just fell a bit flat and lost strength through repetition and that whole side of things just felt like it didn’t spark as well. It’s still a fun film to watch, very well acted by everyone playing multiple characters, and the way new ideas were introduced will feel very familiar to anyone who’s played long running game series desperately throwing in new features. 7 / 10

Crazy Rich Asians
I tend to not like comedies that much, so when I say that this one was absolutely fine, that’s actually pretty good going. There was a pretty good mixture of melodrama and actual drama. There were characters that were comedic, ones that were over the top, and some playing it pretty straight – but also enough twists where comedy characters would cut the truth of a drama, or straight characters would be put into a ridiculous situation. The only thing that I felt let it down slightly was sometimes it felt a little forced – I never quite worked out whether it was clumsy dialogue, or actors that couldn’t quite land the nuance, but it just felt a bit clunky at times. 7 / 10

Suicide Squad
What a pickle. The DC comics movies keep chasing after Marvel and just missing at every step. Before Marvel got to the Avengers they had 5 films that established most of the big players. Suicide Squad rushes to try to establish about a dozen new characters all at once and although the introduction sequence kind of worked, it still felt rushed. Like a “previously on” where you realise you’ve not actually seen the previous season at all.
DC are also starting off on the back foot, because they keep reinventing characters, which leaves me already bored by the characters and slightly confused as to which version is which. Yet another Batman and Joker – how tedious. DC just cannot seem to get its casting right. They keep taking great actors and just slightly missing the mark. Margot Robbie felt like the only one here really comfortable in her role, everyone else felt like they were trying too hard to force the darkness of the characters, endlessly confused about whether they’re heroes or villains.
So it all comes together for a mess of a film and a wasted opportunity. I mean it’s not a disaster like Batman Vs Superman, but it was resoundingly ‘not very good’. The best thing I can say for the film is that the soundtrack is phenomenal. Sequences are incredibly well choreographed and with a thumping tune over the top it’s hard not to smile, but it’s all surface. The best things about this film are the exquisitely edited trailers. In fact I just went and rewatched them, seriously watch this and this and skip the film. 5 / 10

The Nevers – Season 1

neversNot that long ago, a new Joss Whedon television series would have been the most exciting thing in the whole world. These days however it’s tinged with sadness, anger and discomfort that it turns out he’s an asshole. Whedon is heavily involved in this batch of episodes as creator, writer, director and showrunner, but has since stood down and will not be involved in the next batch of episodes (technically the 2nd half of the 1st season). Given his actions (calling them ‘accusations’ would imply a lack of belief) it’s hard to not feel rather uncomfortable getting excited about his work, but in the end, it turns out that The Nevers isn’t really much to get excited about anyway.

The Nevers is set in Victorian London where ‘something’ has happened which has given many individuals (mostly, but not exclusively, women) special powers, some of whom group together to try to understand what’s happened and to support each other against the discrimination they face. It’s like the X-Men but with more corsets.

This is a strong concept that’s familiar ground for Whedon, most obviously the superhero films and comics he’s worked on and many elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (particularly the final season with all the potentials coming together). With HBO funding he has the budget to make steampunk London a beautiful reality and bring various superpowers to life (although there’s still some awkward greenscreen at times which is disappointing).

There are also some talented actors involved and a large number of rich characters. The core group of women are engaging, intriguing and good to spend time with, but they don’t always have the depth that I would hope for. Towards the end we see the backstory of one of the main characters and I’m not sure that it really worked. I couldn’t quite see how the person in the flashback turned into the person in the ‘present’. That leaves me worried that the characters don’t have the depth and roundedness that they need to be fully understandable. Certainly some of the ‘villains’ came across a little pantomime like.

One of the reasons I don’t think the loss of Whedon from the series is a disaster is that it didn’t really feel like a full Whedon series anyway. It just didn’t have the spark that made me fall in love with Buffy or Firefly. There was only the briefest flashes of wit and heart that should have been there in every moment. There were moments of humour, moments of passion, moments of power, moments of insight… but never a unified whole that wove them all together. It seems likely this may be a final note in Whedon’s career (he hasn’t seemed to make any form of apology) and it’s rather a whimper.

Books in May and June 2021

I may not have seen many films in June, or read many books in May, but the book count for June certainly made up for it. It was helped by a dedicated two days sitting in the garden reading, and also a bumper crop of books from Waterstones… including my top pick of the month…

Brit Bennett – The Vanishing Half
I would never have read this book if not for being able to go into a physical book shop. I was wandering around with three books from the buy-one-get-one-half-price deal and couldn’t find a fourth. A bookseller spotted me and she recommended this book and was so passionate about it that she was willing to add it into the deal. I’m so grateful to her because it was a really wonderful read. The characters leap off the page and the steps through time are perfectly managed to move the characters forwards. It’s a really easy read but with plenty of depth within it and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

T Kingfisher – The Hollow Places and The Twisted Ones
I read back to back T. Kingfisher’s two horror novels, she’s one of my favourite authors, but she normally writes fantasy, so setting both books in our world is a departure for her and I really enjoyed hearing her voice in this setting. The characters are vibrant and incredibly relatable as usual and the setting tangible and immersive. Technically her genre has shifted from fantasy to horror, but frankly I’m not sure of the distinction between the two, it’s almost like horror is just fantastical stuff set in our ‘normal’ world. Weird animals in a fantasy setting are normal, but transplant them into a ‘normal’ world and they become monsters , both genres have magic and weirdness in both, it’s just a matter of how surprised the characters are when they encounter them.
The Hollow Place was the better of the two, managing a more smooth plot that didn’t rely on big chunks of narrative/explanation; while The Twisted Ones had a slightly underwhelming plot that I lost track of towards the end. But both books have Kingfisher’s usual vibrant characters telling the story and their normalness is a great doorway to the weirdness of the situations the books bring up. I’m not entirely sure that I found either book scary (except the description of the hording grandmother’s house), and I found myself occasionally shouting at the characters for some poor or slow thinking. But I enjoyed them nevertheless.

Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen – The Planets
This is the book of a BBC documentary, and I read the paperback version rather than the coffee table one with loads of pictures, this is a normal paperback with just a dozen or so photos in the middle and a few scattered diagrams. And that’s the principle problem with the book, there are so many visual things that the authors are struggling to describe and inspire wonder. I did like the construction of the book (and the TV series) which intertwined the story of the exploration of the planets with the descriptions of the planets and the solar system, science and theories on their history. It was an interesting and informative read, and to be fair, I probably wouldn’t have actually read the words in the coffee table book, just flicked through the photos, so there’s really no winning with me.

Philip Gwynne Jones – The Venetian Legacy
Another great mystery novel set in the wonderfully described Venice. Jones takes us to another island to expand the setting of the Venetian lagoon and open up yet another different aspect of this amazing place. I didn’t massively care for the Venetian Mafia angle of the story, but it was well crafted, twisting past events together with the present to show the long reach and wide impacts of this kind of criminal empire. This is a really great series to drop into, and this is another really satisfying entry.

Laura Purcell – Bone China
There’s some good stuff in here, a couple of different characters and a couple of different time periods that all *sort of* come together in the end but more in a kind of messy granny knot than a really nice plait. It just felt a bit clunky in places. It also suffers from the usual problem with with first person narrators keeping things from the reader, it just feels clumsy for a sub-conscious voice to keep dropping hints about what’s happened. It was an ok read, but nothing to get excited about.

Dale Bailey – In the Night Wood
This book was rather lacking in get up and go. It wasn’t really enough of anything substantial, there was a bit of fantasy, a bit of gothic horror, a bit of modern thriller, but the only thing it did with any real substance was wallow. Literally 75% of the book just kind of wallowed in the depression of the two main characters as they mourned the death of the daughter, while being annoyingly vague about the details of her death. The plot elements of the story felt like a bit of an after thought and nothing really developed satisfyingly. I didn’t hugely enjoy it and read the final third or so of the book at high speed just to get to the end.

Agatha Christie – The Mystery of the Blue Train
A middling-to-good Hercule Poirot. It’s a good collection of characters, and from the very start I was coming up with different ideas and components of the mystery and having them ruled out one by one. The only problem with it was that although I’d got elements of the solution, it felt a bit like a swerve at the last minute for the full answer and so it felt a little unsatisfying. I do think though that between the interesting set of people, the drama of a train setting and then a lot of it being set on the French Riviera it would only take a little polish of the plot to make a great film.

Films in July 2021

This was probably my worst month for film watching in years. I managed one cinema trip and two new releases on digital and then just 2 other random watches. Really quite pathetic.

In the Heights
This is a really joyful film to see in the cinema on a massive screen. The vibrancy of the neighborhood, the characters, the music and the dance routines needs to be as all-encompassing as possible. The plot of the film is a little meandering at times, but it follows a group of inherently good and likeable characters trying to navigate the world around them without malice or ‘bad guys’ so I didn’t mind too much. The music is fun and creative while it’s playing, but nowhere near as catchy as other musicals (incuding Hamilton) and I couldn’t remember a single tune by the time the credits finished. But the dance routines that accompany the songs make up for that with a combination of musical classics and original creativity. I don’t think it will be a film I necessarily remember, but it was a wonderful watch at the time.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Stowaway
Three astronauts set off on a 2 year mission to Mars and they discover they’ve got a stowaway. They can’t turn around, an accident has damaged the life support and there isn’t enough oxygen for all four of them. It’s a combination of psychological drama and some solid sci-fi action, it felt like a high budget episode of the Twilight Zone. There’s no ‘bad guy’, just a group of people in an impossible situation trying to do the right things. The cast is great cast and they do a lot with a script that’s light on words but heavy on content. There are a few plot holes and coincidences that are convenient for the drama, but I’ll forgive them as they get the emotions to the right place.
Ranking: 8 / 10

Luca
A perfectly fine animated film, with a somewhat wacky concept that just about holds together, but really doesn’t do anything particularly remarkable or memorable. I expect too much of Pixar films, but this just felt like the kind of thing many smaller budget studios could produce. It was absolutely NOT bad, the characters worked, the voice cast was solid, the story did the job, and there were enough nice messages and heart to keep things going. But it just felt really generic with no creative innovation, deep emotional impact or anything that I’ll remember in a couple of days time.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Raya and the Last Dragon
I’d been holding out until I could either see this in the cinema or it became free to stream on Disney+, I’m not paying £20 ON TOP of my subscription to see a film. In the end I saw it when it was added into the normal subscription and I’m glad I didn’t pay extra money to see it. It was very mediocre. It was a bad sign when it started with a prologue explaining history, then there was another chunk set in the past before finally jumping forward to the present. Then we set off on a quest to collect doodads and the plot kept getting more convoluted with different magics and skills and sets of people and locations and… it was all just too much. The essence of the film was lost, it wasn’t much fun to watch and with the exception of the roly poly bug and one scene of a dragon exploring, there wasn’t any personality, charm or style to it. Really disappointing.
Ranking: 5 / 10

Godzilla: King of the Monsters
I guess it was fine? I forgot to review it at the time and now two weeks later I have very little memory of it. I think the plot was a bit daft, but then does the plot really matter in these films. It was a bit long, but aren’t all films these days. I suspect I would have been more engaged on the big screen, but it’s a solid enough watch on small screen to hold the attention and then forget about it.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Films in May 2021

A quiet month of film watching, but I watched a fair number of new releases and it even ended with a return to the cinema! It was good to be back, particularly as I went at exactly the right moment for my brain – it wouldn’t shut up worrying and stressing about stuff and two and a half hours of escape to a dark room with a distracting film to focus on was the perfect cure. Now we just need more films to be released and we’ll be off and running.

Cruella
Cruella is a cleverly put together film that’s both classic and original, mixing up lots of familiar ideas and tropes into something that feels fresh and fun. The characters are a lot of fun and brilliantly performed, particularly by Emmas Stone and Thompson but also by the large supporting cast, and even some animals. The film looks absolutely stunning and the costume design is particularly outstanding. My only two criticisms are that it was a little too long at 2.14, and that I don’t think that it joins up to 101 Dalmatians particularly well. Ranking: 8 / 10

Nomadland
I came away from this film feeling a bit… blank. Not really deeply moved, but also not unaffected, just not quite sure of what I was supposed to be taking away from it. Maybe nothing, maybe it was just supposed to be a peek into a community and way of life without coming to any big conclusion, but it felt like I should have a stronger response. The film is very well made, it looks beautiful and holds the attention all the way through. The use of non-actors rarely feels obvious, but maybe that contributes to the lack of direction to it, that makes it feel half like an insight documentary rather than a narrative film. It’s well worth a watch, and maybe the strangeness of it is actually a brave new creation, but I was left wanting a little bit more. Ranking 8/10

Sound of Metal
This is a powerful and really well constructed film that hits all the right notes (pardon the pun) with rich characters and a well paced story with innovative film making that really draws the audience into the main characters experiences. The way sound is used throughout really immerses the audience into the stages of hearing loss that the Ruben is going through, but because it’s not solely from that point of view, when we switch back to the ‘normal’ sound it really heightens what he’s lost. I would say that there were sections of the film that I really didn’t enjoy because of these effects, the muffled or dissonant sounds are quite unpleasant to listen to (I was glad for once to NOT have a cinema sound system) but that discomfort it absolutely a part of the film. Riz Ahmed is miraculous as Ruben, an incredibly complex character going through something utterly life changing, it’s hard to know how anyone would react, but Ahmed’s performance is completely believable and relatable. The only downside is that this focus does mean a lot of potentially interesting supporting characters are quite one-note, they’re all from Ruben’s point of view and felt a little bit ‘used’. However overall, this is a fascinating, impressive and important film that really exemplifies what film can do. Ranking: 9 / 10

The Woman in the Window
There are some sub-genres that can be described in a lot of detail, or you can just refer to the classic film that has spawned dozens of similar offerings. In the case of The Woman in the Window, it’s in the sub-genre of “Vertigo” – someone trapped in their house watches their neighbors and seems to witness a murder, but no one (including the audience) is quite sure if they really did or not. In this case we get the always watchable Amy Adams playing an agoraphobic, separated from her husband and young daughter, watching the family over the street. It’s a reliable set up and it’s very well delivered, it kept me guessing about what had really happened and whether it was a hallucination or drunken mistake. The film is well paced with just enough twists and turns before delivering a satisfying conclusion, all in just 1.40 to make a very solid entry into the sub-genre. Ranking: 8 / 10

Love and Monsters
This is a very knowing film, it’s a monster film where the characters have all seen monster films. However despite the sarcastic and self-aware narration, it doesn’t actually come across dark and bitter. It’s as if it knows what works, and knows that it’s not better than what came before, or trying to dramatically reinvent the genre. On top of the monsters element is the love bit which plays out quite sweetly really without getting nauseating. There are a few bits of CGI that look a little on the low budget side, but even that somehow felt fitting for the film. I really enjoyed it and was both relaxed in how predictable it was and satisfied at the small innovations. Ranking: 8 / 10

Army of the Dead
Good grief this was rubbish. And to add insult to injury it was LONG and rubbish. 2.5 hours of banging and crashing, atrocious dialogue, dull characters, mediocre acting, predictable story and frankly, boredom. The concept was solid enough I guess (a band of mercenaries stage a heist in a zombie-occupied Vegas – Oceans 11 meets Walking Dead) but everything beyond that was poorly done. There was no richness to the characters, too many subplots and relationships all spread too thin to give any satisfaction. I didn’t care and I was bored. Oh, and it lost another mark because of the entirely needless gratuitous nudity at the start. Ranking: 4 / 10

Love, Weddings and Other Disasters
Another film trying to be Love Actually (or similar) and not quite working, but it’s a near miss rather than a complete disaster. Most of the threads are engaging enough with likeable performances, quirky (but not too quirky) characters and some sweet relationships. Surprisingly what let it down for me was the older generation, Jeremy Irons and Diane Keaton hamming it up, alongside the very depressing choice of not casting an actual blind woman in the role, which is just not acceptable. Other than that glaring miss-step though the film is fairly watchable, but not really more than that. Ranking: 6 / 10

Thunder Force
I like Octavia Spencer a lot, and she is worth suffering through this film. The concept is also not terrible – two middle aged women are the only heroes with super powers but have to learn how to use them. But I’m afraid I didn’t really get on with the rest of the film, particularly the brand of humour that tends to come with Melissa McCarthy. She’s a very talented actress and comedian, but the cringy, slightly crude comedy just isn’t my thing. There were a few moments that did make me laugh, so it wasn’t a disaster, but I just didn’t laugh enough. Ranking: 6 / 10

Monster-in-Law
I had exceptionally low expectations of this going in, as I was persuaded to watch it on tv one evening. Astonishingly, it was actually really good. It knows exactly how cheesy it is and embraces it, managing to balance the cheese, funniness and sweetness. My only complaint was that there wasn’t more of the hilarious side-kicks, but then that would take time away from Jane Fonda which would also be a crime. Ranking: 8 / 10

Page Eight
Bill Nighy and Rachel Weisz in a British spy drama, a low risk choice you’d think. Wrong, it’s terrible. So bad that I didn’t even finish it, and I ALWAYS finish films. There was no creativity, just cut and paste from various spy dramas set in the cold war and plonked into the 21st century with a bunch of supposed professionals who don’t talk to each other, spend more time playing politics than doing their jobs and generally just being assholes. All of that is then delivered with no creativity or style from the production team, and zero energy from the actors. It just felt like the whole thing was thrown together with no love or effort and I couldn’t be bothered to waste my time on it. Ranking: 5 / 10

Books in April 2021

Lydia Kang is a new author for me, found via Kindle Unlimited and she’s got a number of skills going for her. For a start, she’s a doctor so brings clinical knowledge and detail to the murders and the investigations, she’s also clearly got an interest in history and manages to bring period settings to life. Thirdly, she can write well with vibrant characters and solid plots.
A Beautiful Poison – This is an interesting mystery story with a few different threads going on, some murders, some character puzzles and some historical elements that play out nicely. It gets a little melodramatic at times, but it was satisfying enough that I picked up a second book by the author immediately.

The Impossible Girl – There’s a lot of strands going on in this book and I’m not 100% sure they all come together. It presents as a murder mystery, there are certainly lots of bodies to go around, but it felt a bit like the murders kept getting forgotten, no one was really investigating them, and the plot wasn’t really driven by that. In fact it sometimes felt a little like the plot was just meandering around searching for a thread. It’s not that it wasn’t enjoyable, the characters are interesting and the period setting is rich and detailed (and a jump from the time of her other book I’ve read, demonstrating impressive historical research). But I wasn’t as swept away in the story, I wasn’t so enthused to keep picking it up and I don’t feel as satisfied as I did when reading her other book.

James Clear – Atomic Habits
I don’t tend to read many self-help books like this. Heaven knows I need all the help I can get, but it’s rare that I find a self-help book that actually helps, tells me something I don’t know and doesn’t come across as patronising and smug. This book isn’t without some smugness, but it was also realistic and forgiving. A lot of the stuff the book talks about may already be familiar, and it certainly makes sense, but it’s not necessarily something that individually we can articulate, and I at least find it really helpful to be able to put labels and structures around familiar behaviors and feelings. It’s not got any magic tricks and isn’t going to change your life, but it does a good job highlighting opportunities to make small adjustments that might make things better.

Mark Hayden – The King’s Watch 8: Six Furlongs
As I started reading this book I was a little frustrated by it. Each book in the series adds more characters and complexity to the story’s world which really works if you’re reading a lot at a time, but it’s nearly a year since I read the last one and there’s an ever growing amount of baggage to catch up making the start of the book a bit overwhelming. But I really got into the book as it went on and thoroughly enjoyed it. The way characters have gradually been introduced over the series have made for a diverse group with a range of depths of relationships and understanding of the world of magic bringing even more richness to the world.
I went straight on to read the accompanying novella Fire Games which is a mini story with a subset of the characters who we haven’t seen in a while. It’s an entertaining read and makes a nice change to have a story told by another point of view.

Films in April 2021

It’s been a somewhat light months for films. Normally in Oscar month I’d be desperately seeing as many nominees as possible, but this year I just couldn’t really be bothered. A combination of underwhelming films, trickier availability, and my own mood making me less willing to watch high drama. So I only managed 10 films, and 5 of them were Jurassic Parks. I’ve given you a bonus of Sound of Music which I actually watched on May 1st, but was so good I didn’t want to wait a month to post the review.

Sound of Metal (Amazon Prime)
This is a powerful and really well constructed film that hits all the right notes (pardon the pun) with rich characters and a well paced story with innovative filmmaking that really draws the audience into the main characters experiences. The way sound is used throughout really immerses the audience into the stages of hearing loss that the Ruben is going through, but because it’s not solely from that point of view, when we switch back to the ‘normal’ sound it really heightens what he’s lost. I would say that there were sections of the film that I really didn’t enjoy because of these effects, the muffled or dissonant sounds are quite unpleasant to listen to (I was glad for once to NOT have a cinema sound system) but that discomfort it absolutely a part of the film. Riz Ahmed is miraculous as Ruben, an incredibly complex character going through something utterly life changing, it’s hard to know how anyone would react, but Ahmed’s performance is completely believable and relatable. The only downside is that this focus does mean a lot of potentially interesting supporting characters are quite one-note, they’re all from Ruben’s point of view and felt a little bit ‘used’. However overall, this is a fascinating, impressive and important film that really exemplifies what film can do. Ranking: 9 / 10

Palm Springs (Amazon Prime)
Nyles is trapped at an endless wedding. We’ve all been to weddings that feel that way, but Nyles is in fact trapped in a time loop re-doing the same day over and over attending a wedding that he doesn’t really care about. Rather than join the story at the start though, the writers very cleverly drop us with Nyles after he’s been trapped long enough to have given up trying to escape and is just resigned to his fate. Until someone joins him in the loop. The construction is really clever, bringing new life to the old Groundhog Day trope and playing out mostly as a romcom, but with a vein of quite deep philosophy running through it about. It’s quite a timely question to ask how do you find joy and surprise if you’re just trapped in the same place all the time? At an hour and a half it packs a lot in, leaves a fair amount up to the audience to fill in and is a really satisfying and entertaining package. Ranking: 9 / 10

Minari
I wanted to like this film. I didn’t. I was really really bored. The person I watched it with actually fell asleep. It just felt like there wasn’t enough to sustain the 2 hour run time. What was there was really well done, it looked beautiful, the acting was great and the stories original. But it felt too thin and bitty, missing opportunities to dig deeper, fill in history, or look at more of the relationships and connections. I was just wishing for it to be over. Ranking: 6 / 10

Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon
A lovely, lovely film with plenty of entertainment for absolutely all the family. I particularly loved all the geeky references to science fiction classics and I’m sure that I would continue to spot new things on any number of subsequent watches. The story and humour are gentle but constant, and as the whole thing is wordless it’s a real achievement at how much emotion, laughs and meaning is packed in by the animators and the sound department. Ranking: 8 / 10

An American Werewolf in London
I’ve somehow never seen this before and I found it to be surprisingy low key and charming. I’d been expecting something really silly, and although it had a fairly light touch to it, there was actually a lot more depth and heart to it than I was expecting. The film takes familiar werewolf tropes and doesn’t really muck about with them, just gives the eponymous American a bit of self-awareness and disbelief, the drama is more in him coming to terms with the situation than in the gory rampages (although there’s also a fair bit of that). The effects are a bit laughable in places, although I can see they were impressive in 1981. But although it may look a bit dated sometimes, the story and presentation are timeless. Ranking: 8 / 10

The Lego Movie 2
I wasn’t sure that the bonkers awesomeness of the first movie could be replicated, but they actually do manage it. There’s no way they could redo the twist at the end of the first movie that reveals the multiple levels of the story, but they do manage to continue to evolve the ideas. The concept isn’t quite as strong, but it’s still got a lovely message at its heart that really connects to the core ideas of the Lego brand. It’s a huge amount of fun to watch, there’s so many different things going on, connections to all the different brands that Lego comes with that are charming if you get the references and just add to the weirdness if you don’t and both work well. Ranking: 8 / 10

Jurassic Parks
1 is amazing, 2 is rubbish, 3 is slightly better but still poor, 4 is flawed but fun to watch and 5 is actually pretty good!

Jurassic Park
I can’t believe how old this film is (1993) and how good it still is. The effects still look good, thanks to some very careful direction and editing so that ropey bits are hidden behind lighting and dramatic music. There’s a decent plot behind the running and screaming, but it doesn’t get in the way of the death and maiming and even the small kids aren’t too irritating. The music is possibly the best soundtrack ever, and the moment they first see the dinosaurs and the music swells makes me beam with joy no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Ranking: 8 / 10

Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World
This film should have been good, it would probably have never been as good as the first, but there was more than enough material to play with, a cast and budget to die for and yet it ends up being insulting bad. The biggest issue was the plot. The first half of the film is entirely driven by characters doing stupid things (particularly the lead female unfortunately who loudly proclaims to be an expert on these things and then does absolutely everything wrong. Then the second half when they leave the island is so riddled with plot holes that you can drive a sauropod through them. Then the crappy icing on the rubbish cake is that somehow, 4 years after the original, the special effects are substantially worse. At least the music is still good. Ranking: 5 / 10

Jurassic Park 3
Jurassic Park 3 is not as bad as Jurassic Park 2. While it’s not a high bar to step over, it is something to celebrate. This film keeps things relatively simple, just a small number of people trying to get away from the dinosaurs through a series of set pieces that felt rather less organic than they could have done. Everything about the film is fine – it’s playing up the humour rather more than the first one did, it feels quite light in comparison, I didn’t have any particular emotional investment in any of the characters but the action sequences barreled along. Some cheaper special effects were hidden away behind things being dark rather too often, but at least they were hidden I suppose. It’s fine, but it’s nothing special. Ranking: 7 / 10

Jurassic World
I was particularly harsh about this film the the first time I watched it in the cinema. I felt that they’d over-commercialised the idea and lost the heart and soul of it. I called out the moment early in the film where it lost me – the music swelled into the familiar theme, one that in the first film played as the helicopter swept over the beautiful landscape, eventually coming to a climax as the herd of brontosaurus are revealed to audience and characters for the first time. John Williams’ genius score carried us along with the power of nature, the joy of the paleontologists seeing dinosaurs walking around – the majesty, the surprise, the delight, the wonder. In Jurassic World, it plays as we pass over a sweeping landscape of shops at a theme park. The music automatically made me feel all the old emotions and then made me hate myself because I was connecting them with commercialisation. I acknowledged that this was possibly done deliberately to show us the wonder being turned into a dollar sign, the product placement being ironic… but it just felt hypocritical and smug rather than self-aware.
However. I’ve just watched it straight after watching the original trilogy, and while it isn’t in the same league as the first one, it’s a definite step back in the right direction compared to 2 and 3. At least this film was made with competence and even some heart, where the previous two felt like absolute cash ins that they couldn’t even be bothered to make any effort at all with.
At least the plot and characters make sense here, the action sequences and special effects are really well done (and mostly in the daylight rather than hidden in shadows) and the way some of the ideas have evolved shows thought rather than lazily rehashing the same things. Chris Pratt is rapidly turning into the go-to guy for this kind of charming, slightly insufferable hero. He injects an energy and a heart to the film that is otherwise sadly absent. And Bryce Dallas Howard is a perfect partner for him.
It’s not the original, but it ain’t terrible.
Ranking: 7 / 10

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
This film manages to find some of the heart that was missing from the previous films, raising some interesting questions about the dinosaurs and tug at the heart strings. The mixture of actual plot and action sequences is just right, never leaving it too long without some excitement, but also not dragging sequences out until they get dull. Yes, there’s plenty of cheesy moments, and the plot doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, but the characters are fun, the cast charismatic and the special effects convincing. There wasn’t a single moment of the film when I was bored or my brain escaped back to the real world. Exactly what I’m looking for in Jurassic Park films. Ranking: 8 / 10