Films in January 2022

January means lots of new films in the build up to awards seasons, both at the cinema and increasingly releasing on streaming services too. Unfortunately thus far I’ve been rather underwhelmed with the options. In fact the best film I saw at the cinema was easily the animated sequel featuring singing animals.

Sing 2 (Cinema)
I described Sing as a “thoroughly feel good bit of entertainment” and Sing 2 delivers more of the same. It’s a straightforward but solid plot, most of the original characters return (although happily not the horrible mouse) and there are some fun new ones too, and despite the crowded ensemble, everyone gets their own little story. The only negatives are almost inevitable in a sequel, it didn’t quite have the sense of wonder that the first did, the new setting wasn’t quite well enough developed to really play with the idea of completely random animals all living and working together. So I think it could have pushed things a bit more creatively, but what is there is a lot of fun. Ranking: 8 / 10

Belfast (Cinema)
It’s hard going to see films that have already got a lot of hype and buzz about awards, you go in looking for certain things, and even if you do find them, some of the magic is lost. Belfast is a solid film, an interesting story and point of view, interesting characters and very well written. But because it’s being so lauded, I dwell more on the problems. Firstly, there was no clear explanation of the politics in Belfast at the time. I shouldn’t be ignorant, but I doubt I’m the only one and it meant that I really didn’t understand where the violence and terror was coming from, it just felt quite random. I know the film is kind of told from the point of view of the child, and he wouldn’t get it either, but it didn’t make for a very satisfying experience. The other problem I had was the black and white. It just didn’t feel like it added to the film at all and the way that scenes on cinema screens were in colour made no sense to me. It’s a good film, but it felt like it was trying too hard to be too many things and didn’t quite deliver any of them as well as it could. Ranking: 7 / 10

Nightmare Alley (Cinema)
A film of three parts. The first third was really interesting, beautifully shot and creatively filmed it shows a newcomer arrive at a 1930’s freak show/carnival with a lot of emotional baggage and very little actual baggage. It’s atmospheric, the characters are larger than life and everyone has history, secrets,tricks and personal codes. I really loved it and was settling in. Then there’s a time jump and the next third is a much more traditional noir, with scam artists and multiple levels of deceipt. It was unoriginal, cliche, lacking in any subtlety and even the visual style was nothing that hasn’t been done before. I was really disappointed. The worst thing thought is that there’s a third of the film that I have no idea where it was. There was a two hour film stretched out to a two and a half hour runtime completely unnecessarily making me fidgety and frustrated as everything dragged on. So 1/3 great, 1/3 cliche and 1/3 completely unnecessary. Not a very good ratio and I expected a lot more from Guillermo del Toro. Ranking: 6 / 10

The Tender Bar (Amazon Prime)
This was exactly the film I wanted to watch, a really gentle film with engaging characters and a sweet storyline that held my attention but didn’t really challenge anything. That’s not going to win awards or get much attention, there’s a good chance I will completely forget it inside of a few months, but it was just what I needed on a random Thursday afternoon after a long day at work, and a miserable series of news cycles. Ranking: 8 / 10

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (Cinema)
I felt slightly misled and by the trailer for this film and was therefore disappointed by the film. The trailer is quirky and bright and colourful, eccentric characters, a sweet romance, and a lot of cats. That’s what you get for the first 1/3 or so of the film, and I loved it. Benedict Cumberbatch and Claire Foy are lovely together, the film is vibrant and funny. But then there’s an ‘unfortunate event’ and the rest of the film is really quite sad and despondent. Key relationships are broken, the quirkiness slowly fades away and becomes tainted with reality. I wanted that film about eccentric characters, sweet romance and a lot of cats. There were not enough cats. Ranking: 6 / 10

Licorice Pizza (Cinema)
I did not like this film, although explaining why isn’t easy. It suffers from overlong and under plotted, an awful lot of noodling about; that can work if the characters are interesting, but I never quite got on board with them. I was constantly confused by how old everyone was and how much time was passing between scenes, and unsettled throughout by questions around the age differences and appropriateness of relationships. The acting was good, and there were some fun sequences, but overall I was left a bit bored, a bit confused and a bit creeped out. Ranking: 6 / 10

The Lost Daughter (Netflix)
It took me 4 attempts to finish this film. I have no idea why I actually persisted, eventually finishing it while doing the dusting. There were two factors combining to make me stop each time, the first was that it made me incredibly anxious watching it – the characters are incredibly unpredictable, reacting and acting in ways that did not make sense to me and seemingly without thinking through the impacts and all I wanted to do was get away from them all. That in itself isn’t bad film making, it could be very good film making in fact, but I didn’t quite feel that it was necessarily well done. Some of it just felt too ‘written’, not the way that people would really behave. The section in the past felt a bit more solid, but it was also shot with an annoying fuzzy filter effect that made me annoyed. The whole thing just made me feel uncomfortable and ultimately unsatisfied. Ranking: 5 / 10

Don’t Look Up (Netflix)
Satire is tricky. Particularly at the moment when the real world is pretty ridiculous all by itself. If you make the situations and characters too extreme then it’s just silly, if you don’t make them extreme enough, it just feels like a drama. I don’t think this one quite got the pitch right, pushing it to be too silly. The biggest problem for me was that the ‘bad guys’ didn’t seem to make any sense. I didn’t understand what their plans were, and so I couldn’t buy into it. I like the ‘straight’ characters, particularly Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. But I didn’t find the film funny enough or satirical enough to really completely enjoy it. Ranking: 6 / 10

NEW TO ME
The Father (Amazon)
I was expecting this film to be an acting masterclass, and it really was; what I wasn’t expecting was the amazingly complex storytelling and layering. I was expecting a ‘simple’ drama about a man succumbing to age – losing his memories and connections. But I didn’t expect that it would be told so completely from his point of view, timelines jumping about, people appearing differently, things changing quietly in the background without flashy side effects or drama. There are loads of thrillers playing with these ideas, victims being gaslit by manipulative ‘bad guys’, but this is just a brain betraying itself. Anthony Hopkins is astonishing (and fully deserving his Oscar) as the only ‘consistent’ character as everyone else is played from his point of view, Olivia Coleman (and Olivia Williams) play the variations of their characters flawlessly. Mark Gatiss and Rufus Sewell have more one-note performances, but even those make complete sense as they are only bit-parts in the brain of Hopkins’ character. It’s very clever, very powerful and incredibly impressive. Ranking: 9 / 10

Doctor Sleep (Amazon)
I put this on expecting to be a bit underwhelmed and to inevitably get distracted by my phone at some point. I was wrong. I was completely gripped for 2 and half hours. It builds on the ideas of The Shining and satisfyingly shows what those kind of experiences and powers would have on someone. Ewan McGregor is as watchable as ever, and Kyliegh Curran manages to make a potentially irritating child character really engaging. It *is* too long and the ‘bad guys’ are a little under-developed, but it was a really entertaining watch. Ranking: 8 / 10

Dora and the Lost City of Gold (Netflix)
I’d been recommended this film despite being neither a 5 year old, nor the parent of one, and the first 5 minutes had me wondering for the sanity of the person who recommended it. It’s like a cheap cartoon in live action form, including people talking to the camera and a singing backpack. But then… the genius starts. When Dora talks to the camera in front of her parents, they look confused at each other and then say “she’ll grow out of it”. Dora is exactly like she is in the cartoon (I assume) but the whole rest of the world is normal, and thinks she’s nuts. And it works. It’s still a kids film, so inevitably some of Dora’s reality comes through, with lost cities of gold, mercenaries, quicksand, over the top puzzles and an extremely helpful monkey, but the writers and actors somehow make it work. It sounds bonkers, but I really enjoyed it. Ranking: 8 / 10

Judy (TV)
I didn’t know much about Judy Garland, and this film does a very clever job of telling a whole life (albeit a tragically short one) in just a 2 hour runtime. With just a few flashbacks to Judy as a teenager, and watching her in her final years, I understood who she was, how she got there, and who everyone around her thought she was. Renee Zellweger is absolutely phenomenal, playing so many levels of a woman constantly performing for everyone around her. Zellweger doesn’t just perform the songs, but she performs the woman performing the songs and it is a truly incredibly performance. Some of the rest of the film is a bit cheesy and lacking in subtlety, but maybe that’s just what lets Zellweger shine even more. Ranking: 8 / 10

Dolittle (Netflix)
I loved the original Dr Doolittle as a child, but when I re-watched it a few years ago found that although the bits I remembered were still brilliant there was a LOT of rubbish surrounding them. So I wasn’t precious about a new version, and thought Robert Downey Jr could bring some interesting energy to it. The energy was fine, but the ‘interesting accent’ unfortunately undermined the whole thing. In fact almost all the voices didn’t work for me, I could never settle into the film and spent the whole time just feeling that it was wrong. I think the plot and the animation etc was probably actually solid, but it was lost under my brain screaming “this sounds wrong!”. A real waste. Ranking: 6 / 10

Passing (Netflix)
Set in 1920’s New York, two light-skinned black childhood friends bump into each other, one is a fairly well-to-do Doctor’s wife with two children and involved in the “Negro League”, the other is ‘passing’ as white and married to a racist man who has no idea his wife is not white. Reviewing this film just 3 days after watching it, I find myself weirdly blank on it. I feel like I should have more feelings about it, but I’m just trying to think of something to say, rather than really having any emotional response. It’s well acted and has some really interesting aspects, but it didn’t sit quite right. The black and white felt very forced and unnatural, and the characters did not always make sense to me, which all made it quite hard to connect to. Ranking: 5 / 10

REWATCHES
Sing (Amazon Prime)
When I first reviewed this I said I didn’t think it was going to be a “classic for all time”, but I’ve since found myself reaching for it when I need a thoroughly feel good bit of entertainment. Although it’s a star-studded cast, no one felt like stunt casting, they were all playing the characters so well that I didn’t even notice who the voices were. It’s bright and colourful, packed with great songs and just plain fun from start to finish, leaving you with feet tapping and face grinning. Ranking: 8 / 10

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Disney+)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe continues to expand with new heroes, new(ish) villains, new magic and new worlds. There’s a lot thrown into this film and it can make it feel a bit overwhelming with exposition and flashbacks, however it just about all ties together and delivers an entertaining whole in the end. The studio is (finally?) embracing diversity and it’s making everything so much bigger and brighter. Ranking: 7 / 10

Encanto (Disney+)
There’s plenty to love about this film. The whole thing is bright and beautiful, vivid characters, a plot that charges along, full of energy and spark and with some lovely sentiment in it. On my first watch in the cinema, it did not work for me. There was just too much in it, too many characters, too much colour, too much backstory, too many sentiments and even too many words in the songs. It was hard to connect with the film and I felt overwhelmed rather than immersed. However, I gave it another chance at home and liked it a bit more. I suspect if I watched it a 3rd time I might like it even more. Nothing’s changed, it’s just that each viewing makes it less overwhelming and I was able to really fall in love with the characters (all of them) and the songs (most of them – I still think the opening song is just too much). Disney films shouldn’t need multiple viewings though. Ranking: 7 / 10

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