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

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

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

Oscars 2021

The Oscars are a couple of months later than usual, and I’d completely forgotten about them, so this is a rather hastily compiled summary. I did mean to tick off a few more nominated films, but I wasn’t particularly inspired. There are 39 films with at least one nomination, and I’ve seen 19 of them, nearly half. Thanks to a couple of films getting multiple nominations though, I’ve seen 51 out of 97 nominations, which is slightly more than half. Half ain’t great, but then by my searching about a third of them aren’t even available in the UK.
Still, for the sake of not missing a year, here are my thoughts and predictions.

Best Picture

  • Mank – I cynically predicted that this would get a nomination because it was black and white and Hollywood does love a self-referential film. But outside of a couple of good performances (see later) it was baggy, confused, self absorbed and boring.
  • Minari – Interesting idea, good acting, beautiful cinematography but too thin resulting in a film so boring my companion fell asleep.
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Sorkin doing his thing and doing it well
  • Films I haven’t seen – Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Well of the fairly pathetic three that I’ve seen, the only one I liked was Trial of the Chicago 7 so that would be my pick. But I would guess that Nomadland will win.

    Best Director

  • David Fincher – Mank – I didn’t think this film was very well put together
  • Lee Isaac Chung – Minari – I guess a director works with the script they get and if there’s not enough in it there’s not much they can do about it.
  • Films I haven’t seen – Thomas Vinterberg – Another Round, Chloé Zhao – Nomadland, Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
  • Who do I think should win… I really don’t care, I will randomly guess for Nomadland. Aaron Sorkin for Trial of Chicago 7 could have been here probably.

    Best Actor

  • Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – it’s a stagey film and a stagey performance that isn’t without merit, but it felt rather more like two good monologues rather than an outstanding lead performance
  • Gary Oldman – Mank as Herman J. Mankiewicz – an excellent performance with a lot of range and depth
  • Steven Yeun – Minari as Jacob Yi – it makes me very happy that Glenn from The Walking Dead has an Oscar nomination, but he’s not gonna win.
  • Films I’ve not seen: Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal, Anthony Hopkins – The Father
  • Missing from this list is Paul Bettany for the really lovely Uncle Frank.
    This is a tricky one. I’d vote for Gary Oldman of the ones I’ve seen, but from what I’ve seen and heard, Riz Ahmed sounds like a truly outstanding performance and the trailer for The Father has Anthony Hopkins being amazing – plus at 83 this may be one of the last opportunities. However I think Chadwick Boseman is going to win it, and while he probably doesn’t deserve it for this role, he would have won one eventually and he deserves the mark of respect. Randomly as I’m writing this I’m re-watching Justified from 2011 where he appears in 2 scenes as a thug, he came up fast didn’t he?

    Best Actress

  • Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom as Ma Rainey – a big performance that fills the screen and would have filled the stage.
  • Films I’ve not seen: Andra Day – The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman, Frances McDormand – Nomadland, Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman
  • I’m disappointed in myself for not seeing more of these performances because I’ve heard really good things about all of them. If I had to guess, I’d tag Frances McDormand for another win.

    Best Supporting Actor

  • Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7 – he delivers Sorkin’s dialogue perfectly, and he crafts a character that is larger than life and completely credible.
  • Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night in Miami… – another stagey film and performance, but his performance was one of the few bits of the film that I liked.
  • Haven’t seen: Daniel Kaluuya – Judas and the Black Messiah, Lakeith Stanfield – Judas and the Black Messiah, Paul Raci – Sound of Metal
  • I am amazed to be saying this, but I think Sacha Baron Cohen should probably win this.

    Best Supporting Actress

  • Amanda Seyfried – Mank as Marion Davies – she manages to be a point of colour and brightness in an otherwise dreary film.
  • Youn Yuh-jung – Minari – there is so much going on with this character, she’s mother/mother-in-law and grandma as well as a character in her own right, and she slots into so many roles in the film – antagonist, comic-relief, and emotional heart. I would be tempted to call it a lead role as she does a lot of the heavy lifting.
  • Glenn Close – Hillbilly Elegy – the whole of this film is so far over done that it turned itself into a parody and Glenn Close is just as bad.
  • Films not seen: Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Olivia Colman – The Father (but it’s Olivia Colman and the trailer looks amazing)
  • I would like to see Youn Yuh-jung win this one, a really wonderful performance, but as long as Glenn Close doesn’t win, I’ll be okay.

    Best Original Screenplay

  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Aaron Sorkin – there is a huge amount in this film – lots of characters, complex history, interweaving timelines and detailed legal procedings and as usual Sorkin juggles them all into something that’s understandable, impactful and entertaining.
  • Minari – Lee Isaac Chung – the core ideas and characters are very good, but I think it needed more to make the runtime worth it.
  • Not seen: Judas and the Black Messiah – Screenplay by Will Berson and Shaka King; Story by Berson, King, Keith Lucas and Kenny Lucas, Promising Young Woman – Emerald Fennell, Sound of Metal – Screenplay by Abraham Marder and Darius Marder; Story by Derek Cianfrance and D. Marder
  • Aaron Sorkin delivers yet again and deserves this win. I would have also called out I’d also call out Kelly O’Sullivan for Saint Francis.

    Best Adapted Screenplay

  • One Night in Miami… – Kemp Powers, based on his play – and to my mind there wasn’t enough adaption to make it a film. Plus I feel uncomfortable about something that’s mixing the history of real people with a completely made up scenario.
  • The White Tiger – Ramin Bahrani, based on the novel by Aravind Adiga – I read and loved the novel a decade ago, and I watched and loved the film.
  • Not seen – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm – Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Peter Baynham, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja and Dan Swimer; Story by Baron Cohen, Hines, Nina Pedrad and Swimer; Based on the character by Baron Cohen – (I’m not quite clear on what this is adapted from), The Father – Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller, based on the play by Zeller, Nomadland – Chloé Zhao, based on the book by Jessica Bruder
  • Well I’d go for the only one I’ve seen, The White Tiger as it was very well done.

    Best Animated Feature Film

  • Onward – Kori Rae and Dan Scanlon – a nice film, but I wasn’t actually blown away by it, I just wanted a bit more.
  • Over the Moon – Peilin Chou, Glen Keane and Gennie Rin – this had a lovely opening section, and then they went to the moon and it turned into generic multiculoured, pop song nothingness.
  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – Will Becher, Paul Kewley and Richard Phelan – I loved this film, packed full of story, references, jokes, character and heart, although given I saw it in Oct 2019 it feels like a very long time coming.
  • Soul – Pete Docter and Dana Murray – I didn’t like this film, I even gave it a second attempt and I still felt that it was jumbled, dull and had a message that felt like it started off telling you one thing (find what you love) and then told you that was a trick and you should just live. I was confused and underwhelmed. Just go watch Inside Out again instead.
  • Wolfwalkers – Tomm Moore, Stéphan Roelants, Ross Stewart and Paul Young – sadly not seen
  • My easy choice for this is Shaun the Sheep, but Soul will win.

    Best International Feature Film

  • Not seen any of them: Another Round (Denmark), Collective (Romania), The Man Who Sold His Skin (Tunisia), Quo Vadis, Aida? (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
  • I’m afraid I haven’t seen any of these, I would slightly randomly guess Quo Vadis, Aida will win.

    Best Documentary Feature

  • Crip Camp – Sara Bolder, Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham – a really fascinating and eye opening documentary, highly recommended
  • My Octopus Teacher – Pippa Ehrlich, Craig Foster and James Reed – beautiful, educational, emotional and inspiring.
  • Not seen: The Mole Agent – Maite Alberdi and Marcela Santibáñez, Time – Garrett Bradley, Lauren Domino and Kellen Quinn, Collective – Alexander Nanau and Bianca Oana
  • It’s a tough choice between the two I’ve seen, and I highly recommend watching them both (they’re on netflix) but I think My Octopus Teacher is the one that has had the more profound emotional impact. Circus of Books was eligible for nomination as well which would have been a good choice.

    Best Documentary Short Subject

  • Colette, A Concerto Is a Conversation Do Not Split, Hunger Ward, A Love Song for Latasha
  • I haven’t seen any of them I’m afraid, I’ll predict A Love Song for Latasha.

    Best Live Action Short Film

  • Feeling Through – Doug Roland and Susan Ruzenski, The Letter Room – Elvira Lind and Sofia Sondervan, The Present – Ossama Bawardi and Farah Nabulsi, Two Distant Strangers – Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe, White Eye – Shira Hochman and Tomer Shushan
  • I watched all of these (see my other post for details), my favourite would be Feeling Through, but I think Two Distant Strangers will win because of the subject matter of black lives matter, and I have zero problem with that.

    Best Animated Short Film

  • If Anything Happens I Love You – Michael Govier and Will McCormack – beautifully animated and powerful, but the structure didn’t quite work.
  • Burrow – Michael Capbarat and Madeline Sharafian – lovely, but nothing particularly special
  • Not seen: Genius Loci – Adrien Mérigeau and Amaury Ovise, Opera – Erick Oh, Yes-People – Arnar Gunnarsson and Gísli Darri Halldórsson
  • Of the two I saw Burrow aimed middling and thoroughly succeeded, but If Anything Happens I Love You aimed very high but missed and I’m not sure how to balance that. So I’m randomly going to go for Yes-People which I didn’t see but the trailer made me actually want to see it.

    Best Original Score

  • Da 5 Bloods – Terence Blanchard, Mank – Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
    Minari – Emile Mosseri, News of the World – James Newton Howard, Soul – Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste
  • I’ve seen all of these except Da 5 Bloods, but I have no particular memory of the scores except for Soul for which music was such a key element that it will surely win, plus it was good (if you like jazz)

    Best Original Song

  • “Fight for You” from Judas and the Black Messiah – Music by D’Mile and H.E.R.; lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas
  • “Hear My Voice” from The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Music by Daniel Pemberton; lyric by Celeste and Pemberton
  • “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga – Music and lyric by Rickard Göransson, Fat Max Gsus and Savan Kotecha
  • “Io sì (Seen)” from The Life Ahead – Music by Diane Warren; lyric by Laura Pausini and Warren
  • “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami… – Music and lyric by Sam Ashworth and Leslie Odom Jr.
  • I listened to all of these on Youtube and the only one that was memorable even when I was actually listening to it was the one from Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga, which was a great Eurovision song and really connected to the film so that would definitely be my choice.

    Best Sound

  • Greyhound – Beau Borders, Michael Minkler, Warren Shaw and David Wyman
  • Mank – Ren Klyce, Drew Kunin, Jeremy Molod, Nathan Nance and David Parker
  • News of the World – William Miller, John Pritchett, Mike Prestwood Smith and Oliver Tarney
  • Soul – Coya Elliot, Ren Klyce and David Parker
  • Sound of Metal – Jaime Baksht, Nicolas Becker, Philip Bladh, Carlos Cortés and Michelle Couttolenc
  • Given that Sound of Metal is all about sound, I think this is probably a sure thing.

    Best Production Design

  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Sroughton – given the minimal settings, it doesn’t feel like there was enough opportunity here for outstanding design.
  • Mank – Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale – actually, this film did look amazing, capturing the different looks of Hollywood through time and place, plus making a rich and lush design on black and white can’t be easy.
  • News of the World – Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan – the world was a lot more interesting to look at than the film was to watch.
  • Tenet – Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas – the style was slick and the only film on this list I saw on the big screen, but it didn’t really do much for me.
  • The Father – Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone – and the trailer looks fairly isolated in location (another one based on a play) but actually the flat is such an important factor in the story that I can see why the production design is so important.
  • I think maybe Mank?

    Best Cinematography

  • Mank – Erik Messerschmidt – making modern films feel like old classics is a really difficult thing to achieve, and for all that I didn’t think much of the story, there’s a lot of technical achievement in this.
  • News of the World – Dariusz Wolski – the cinematography is possibly the best thing about this film, it is beautiful to look at while also making it clear that the beauty comes at a price – hard work and loneliness, territorial fights despite the seeming endless space.
  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Phedon Papamichael – I didn’t initially think of the cinematography being impressive, but I suspect it was harder than it looks. There’s a mixture of styles going on – intimate spaces in the courtrooms and offices, but also massive exterior scenes of riots and protests.
  • Not seen – Judas and the Black Messiah – Sean Bobbitt, Nomadland – Joshua James Richards
  • I think News of the World, although possibly Nomadland will win it.

    Best Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Emma. – Laura Allen, Marese Langan and Claudia Stolze – I’ve seen it but I have no memory of the makeup or hair, or they film as a whole actually.
  • Hillbilly Elegy – Patricia Dehaney, Eryn Krueger Mekash and Matthew W. Mungle – I guess it takes a lot of effort to make people look this bad (the 80s were not a kind time to anyone)
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson – I remember people being hot and sweaty… I guess that’s hard to pull off
  • Mank – Colleen LaBaff, Kimberley Spiteri and Gigi Williams – Hollywood glamour plus black and white is probably tricky.
  • Not seen – Pinocchio – Dalia Colli, Mark Coulier and Francesco Pegoretti
  • I suspect Hillbilly Elegy might be the best achievement, but I’m not sure anyone will want to give it any awards at all, so maybe Mank.

    Best Costume Design

  • Emma. – Alexandra Byrne – yup, English period drama, gotta love it
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Ann Roth – as it’s all set in one day and it’s a period piece, it doesn’t feel like there was a huge amount of opportunity for design.
  • Mank – Trish Summerville – more period stuff
  • Mulan – Bina Daigeler – the costumes were incredible
  • Not seen – Pinocchio – Massimo Cantini Parrini
  • My vote would be for Mulan

    Best Film Editing

  • The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Alan Baumgarten – I can see that editing around Sorkin’s dialogue is no small achievement, and the interweaving flashbacks with overlapping narratives must have been a challenge.
  • Not seen: The Father – Yorgos Lamprinos, Nomadland – Chloé Zhao, Promising Young Woman – Frédéric Thoraval, Sound of Metal – Mikkel E.G. Nielsen
  • I’d vote for Trial of Chicago 7 as it’s impressive and the only one I’ve seen, but I think I would predict Sound of Metal

    Best Visual Effects

  • The Midnight Sky – The film is very interesting, but for a sci fi film there didn’t feel like much in the way of visual effects, maybe that’s the accomplishment as I’m sure there was a lot of artificial backgrounds etc going on.
  • Mulan – I did very much like the film, but I’ll be honest that I can’t remember much in the way of visual effects in it.
  • The One and Only Ivan – The animal animation was very well done, and I was impressed that the talking, photo-realistic animals were credible not creepy.
  • Tenet – I didn’t like the film much but there were some slick effects that made the backwards stuff
  • Not seen – Love and Monsters
  • Without all the big blockbusters it’s a bit quieter in this category than usual, but of this set I’d rather weirdly vote for The One and Only Ivan given the effects were at the very heart of the film.

    Oscars 2021 – Short films

    I went hunting for some of the Oscar short films, the live action ones are all available via Curzon Home Cinema, or a couple are on Netflix. I only found two of the animated ones (one on Netflix and one on Disney+). Unfortunately most of them were rather disappointing, many of them with the same low content density as many full length films do. Overall a bit of a slog.

    Live Action

    The Letter Room – Elvira Lind and Sofia Sondervan
    The story of a prison custodian, given the job of checking prisoner mail. At 33 minute, this had plenty of opportunity to tell several different stories, an insight into the lives of lots of different prisoners, as well as the guard himself. Instead it focuses almost entirely on one prisoner and while that was a really interesting idea, it just wasn’t enough. The second story that’s thrown in feels like it might have got lost a bit in the edit, maybe the two stories were originally balanced but then the second story fell away, and it was left just not really enough to be worth the extra time on the running order. An opportunity missed and a boring result.

    The Present – Ossama Bawardi and Farah Nabulsi (available on Netflix)
    The story of a man and his daughter going to get a gift, except that they need to cross a checkpoint in the West Bank and that’s a slog and a humiliation that it’s hard for us to understand. It’s the type of short film that does give a good insight into a world that I know nothing about, but given I knew so little while I understood some of the feelings, I didn’t understand the politics or history that were driving it. Why were the soldiers assholes – was it just their nature or was there context I didn’t understand. That frustration (and another drawn out runtime that could have been cut down) left me slightly underwhelmed.

    Feeling Through – Doug Roland and Susan Ruzenski
    A young man with his own problems encounters a deaf and blind man seeking assistance. This is a good use of the short film format, giving a quick insight into the lives of people we don’t encounter, it’s not a deep insight, but it’s just enough to make you think. It’s a very natural and very sweet story that has stuck with me

    Two Distant Strangers – Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe (available on Netflix)
    The concept is really well thought out, a ground hog day version of all the ways a day can go catastrophically wrong for a black man in New York. It has a powerful message about black lives matter that is impossible to not engage with, but a lot of that power is almost inherited and unfortunately I think the film actually pushes slightly too hard and turns from powerful to bludgeoning. It is however very well put together, visually interesting, very well acted and creative and only about 5 minutes too long rather than 20 minutes like the others, so the best of them all.

    White Eye – Shira Hochman and Tomer Shushan
    This is a 10 minute idea dragged out to 20 minutes. In hindsight I can see that everything plays out in real time (possibly even in one single shot – which is a good technical achievement) gives a sense of reality to it that would have been damaged if it had been edited down. But to keep the runtime there just needed to be a bit more going on, less passivity from the supporting characters, or expanding backstories, or even just cut the length by simplifying the story (don’t have the police come and go and then come back). Visually it wasn’t interesting enough to keep the attention (just a dark street corner) and nothing was lively enough.

    Animated films
    Burrow – Michael Capbarat and Madeline Sharafian (Disney+)
    The story of a little bunny trying to dig a home. This is just delightful. It’s just 6 minutes long (5.5 if you don’t count the credits) and in that short time I smiled, laughed and very loudly went “Aw!”. There’s nothing really groundbreaking here (pardon the pun), the animation style is simple and classic, the story and themes could have come straight from a fairy tale and the resolution is fairly predictable, but it’s just a warm hug to watch.

    If Anything Happens I Love You – Michael Govier and Will McCormack (Netflix)
    There’s some really very beautiful animation that is extremely simple but interesting to look at, and conveying a lot of emotion in a very small number of lines and frames. But I found the storyline a bit muddled though, jumping about a bit too much, I think the elegance with which the emotions were portrayed was maybe enough to stand by itself without actually needing to jump around so much.

    Genius Loci – Adrien Mérigeau and Amaury Ovise
    The trailer for this made me want to run a mile. I have zero clue what it was about, it seemed like the kind of thing that would be running in a modern art gallery and I’d completely fail to understand.

    Opera – Erick Oh
    The trailer tells you absolutely nothing. In fact I thought I was just watching the little animated logo of the production company.

    Yes-People – Arnar Gunnarsson and Gísli Darri Halldórsson
    This was the only trailer that actually made me want to watch the film. The animation had personality and it looked amusing and entertaining.

    Films in March 2021

    I watched a respectable 20 films in March, although only one of them is really a new release. Normally when the Oscar nominations are out I’d be ticking as many of them off as possible, but the options are a bit limited this year, and frankly not very inspiring. Of the ones that I managed to find, by far the most impressive were two documentaries – My Octopus Teacher, and Crip Camp both of which are brilliant and on Netflix. Other than that, I’ve mostly been re-watching stuff. I gave Soul another try, but remain underwhelmed, so I re-watched Inside Out again and it was infinitely better. I also trudged through the Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Fellowship is 20 years old this year) which is now a bit dated in places, but still a stunning achievement, and watched Avatar again for the first time since seeing it in the cinema 12 years ago and that still holds up really well. On the other hand, Aquaman is a complete pile of rubbish.

    Moxie – new release
    Vivian is 16 and starting a new year at school. A new arrival points out that a lot of the activities are not just weird (pep rallies) but massively sexist – dress codes, harassment, worship of the football team, sexualised behaviour and public ‘ranking’ of the women. Vivian is suddenly absolutely furious about this and secretly prints a pamphlet. Yup, an actual paper print out. And that’s apparently enough to get girls who had previously done absolutely nothing about anything to rise up. I wanted to like this film, but I’m afraid I found it rather trite. It’s taking hugely difficult and complex issues of multiple types of discrimination and harassment, racial inequality, cultural differences and even rape and trying to mush them all into a 2 hour film with a perky soundtrack and a happy ending. It oversimplifies things to a point that is insulting rather than engaging. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but if you’re not going to handle these things properly, then just make a different film.
    Ranking: 5 / 10

    Crip Camp
    This documentary has an incredible arc to it. Through some incredibly archive footage we start out in the 1970’s at an American summer camp for disabled kids. They talk freely about their lives and this is then combined with present day interviews with them reflecting back with an adult’s eye view. These stories alone would have been a fascinating insight into lives that have been under-represented. But the documentary keeps going, as many of the people from that camp go on to lead the disability civil rights movement of the next decades. The film is incredibly well put together, elegantly explaining the context and history of the period, while weaving in all the incredibly personal stories and emotions. The blending of archive footage and present day remembrances is flawless, I was completely gripped throughout and deeply moved.
    Ranking: 9 / 10

    My Octopus Teacher
    This is the beautiful story of Craig Foster, a film maker who found himself disconnected from his job and his life, and then re-connected with it by forming a bond with an octopus. It’s an incredibly personal story for the film maker, and the film is at its best when it feels like he’s filming and talking just for himself as a form of therapy. At times it does break out of that though (who was filming him walking?) and then it starts to feel a little staged and artificial. But when it’s just Foster observing and becoming part of the ecosystem, and connecting with the octopus, it’s mesmerizing. I was really quite profoundly moved by this documentary.
    Ranking: 8 / 10

    Hillbilly Elegy
    This seems like the kind of film that was clearly aiming for awards nominations, almost through a checklist – multi-generational family drama across different time periods, colourful characters battling with challenges, sweeping cinematography along with a big dollop of liberal guilt for our judgement of ‘hillbillies’. But 80% of the film overshoots the target and ends up a mess of over-writing and over-acting. It’s based on true people and events, so maybe it’s a case of truth being stranger than fiction but it felt constructed and fake. The only thing that actually rang true was the much more understated performances and relationships between the two siblings. Maybe if the film had just stuck in that time period rather than forcing flashbacks to tell a history that was quite obvious, then it would have been more successful, but this is just painful.
    Ranking: 5 / 10

    One Night in Miami
    Films of theatre productions just don’t really seem to work very well. It doesn’t really make sense, but they always seem to feel small, claustrophobic and overly artificial. This feeling is compounded for One Night in Miami because it’s an uncomfortable blend of real people in a situation that never actually happened, which feels somehow more fake than an entirely created storyline. The performances were excellent within the context of the film, but again because of the theatre constructs felt slightly unnatural – like each character had an allotted moment for a monologue, each combination had an allotted confrontation. The final frustration for me was that I just didn’t know enough about most of the individuals, and the historical context they were in and the film didn’t really help me with that, although at least it drove me to do some wikipedia research and learn something important.
    Ranking: 6 / 10

    Aquaman
    I really have no idea how so many people, can spend so much time and money making something so truly terrible. With the notable exception of Jason Momoa who manages to somehow deliver natural and charismatic performance, everything about this film is ill advised and dumb. The plot is an absolute disaster of names, places, quests, politics, running around and fighting people that I neither followed nor cared about in the slightest. The script is woeful – aiming for Shakespearean and ending up like bad Dr Seuss and the actors clearly have no idea what they’re even saying half the time. Maybe on the big screen it would have at least been a good visual spectacle, but on my TV there was way too much going on to get any real sense of style or spectacle. A truly awful film.
    Ranking: 4 / 10

    Soul
    I gave Soul a second attempt. The first time I watched was on Christmas afternoon when it premiered to much hype and I wondered if that had damaged my appreciation of it. The second viewing unfortunately confirmed my disappointment. I feel Soul was trying to re-capture the astonishing achievement of Inside Out and just came across as trying too hard, missing the elegance and the lightness of touch that made Inside Out so impressive (I re-watched Inside Out immediately afterwards and there’s just no comparison). There was too much going on in Soul, too many mechanics to understand, too many clunky chunks of exposition. The film felt bitty and rushing between those bits so everything feels like it’s only shown at a very surface level and I found it a struggle to keep up and frankly I wasn’t really engaged enough to make the effort. The eventual resolution felt equally jumbled and I still don’t really understand what I was supposed to take from it.
    Ranking: 6 / 10

    Inside Out
    What an incredible film. The writers have clearly done a huge amount of research on neuroscience and psychology, but combined that science with observation and careful thought about how people really feel and act. Then they’ve turned all that into a beautiful looking film with wonderful characters, compelling plot and plenty of laughs that will appeal to people of all ages.
    The film somehow manages to explain the complexity that exists in people’s heads elegantly and through the story and natural character conversations, it never felt like there were big moments of exposition needed, it all just flowed organically. The simplicity of the presentation and the progression towards the overall messages of understanding the contributions of different emotions are incredibly powerful. I’m tearing up just thinking about it, and I was pretty close to a blubbery mess in the film itself. I’ve watched this film multiple times and I find new things every time while watching and it keeps coming back to me; when I talk to people about it they keep pointing out additional levels and interpretations. It really is an incredible achievement.
    Ranking: 9 / 10

    Avatar
    When I first saw this film I was surprised and thrilled to find that Avatar actually lived up to its budget, hype, and box office take. Over a decade later, I was equally surprised to find it was still very satisfying even on the small screen. Avatar is not only a stunning use of technology, but has a gripping story, well developed mythologies and technologies, charismatic characters and a genuinely entertaining plot. The depth of detail in the world is astonishing and completely immerses you in the world.
    The plot is a bit predictable, there’s a palpable sense of doom across the whole thing followed by some rousing speeches and underdogs fighting back. But the range of emotions are evoked without feeling too manipulative. It’s maybe a bit long as I really do think two and a half hours should be the limit for a film, but I split it across two viewings at home and I was never bored.
    Ranking: 9 / 10

    Lord of the Rings Trilogy
    According to my tracker, I’ve watched each of these films at least 6 times in the first decade after their release, but it was then a whole decade gap before I watched it again. They’re still great films but there are bits that are now started to look a bit scruffy (the green screen in particular), and feel a little bit cheesy and plodding at times. But there’s still plenty to look at to keep the interest, and while the effects may suffer, the production design and craftsmanship is still breathtaking. The Two Towers is definitely the best of the three with a good mix of comedy, so much action, drama, prettiness, romance – nothing is missing, it’s well mixed and it’s all done beautifully. Unfortunately the trilogy slightly stumbles at the last film, although it’s still better than 90% of the films out there. There’s too many threads going on and they feel too disconnected and none of them really satisfying enough to anchor the film. Plus some of them are down-right odd (ghosts… why did Tolkien thing ghosts were a good idea?). But the trilogy as a whole is still a monumental achievement.

    Pokemon Detective Pikachu
    I’ve got no idea about Pokemon, but this film quite slickly delivers the basics for newbies. I wouldn’t say I understood everything completely, but it was a kind of happy lack of understanding as it all just bubbled over me. The universe of the film feels utterly credible even if it is bonkers, it all seems to have just about enough internal consistency to let you go with it. The plot is well paced and even if elements are predictable, and twists are telegraphed it manages to put enough spin on old tropes to get the job done. But if all that sounds a bit underwhelming, the most important thing is that it’s really fun. I laughed loads and was charmed even more; Justice Smith and Ryan Reynolds both have such a natural delivery that it’s impossible not to be charmed into going with whatever they say. It’s also visually stunning, there’s so much going on (I love the use of famous buildings from around the world all blended in the new city) that it stands up to repeated viewings well.
    Ranking: 8 / 10

    The Grand Budapest Hotel
    Wes Anderson movies have an unmistakable style to them, sort of other-worldly, with a bit of child like wonder about them combined with a black humour and a sort of sing-song style to them that can sometimes become cloying and tiresome. Grand Budapest Hotel however continually snaps you out of that style with an abruptness to the dialogue that continued to surprise me all the way through. Who knew Ralph Fiennes was such a great comedian? This is the sort of film that almost defies review and description, you’ve just got to see it and you’ll either love it like I did, or be utterly unmoved. Take your chances.
    Ranking: 8 / 10

    Antz
    This is one of the early computer generated films (2 years after Toy Story) but it’s not by Pixar and it unfortunately shows. The animators have done some good tricks to cover the limitations, but there are some locations, action sequences and character details that look rather uncanny. The second problem is that the voice cast is too recognisable and so I never felt like I was listening to a true character, but always Woody Allen, Gene Hackman and Sylvester Stallone pretending to be an ant. It’s a shame because the story is quite well done and there’s some good ideas in there.
    Ranking: 6 / 10

    La La Land
    It actually got off to a good start, I really liked the opening musical number – proper traditional musical stuff with everyone bursting into a coordinated song and dance number. I liked the old style combined with the modern setting of a traffic jam and some modern dance (parkour and skateboards and the like). Then we meet our ‘heroes’ and my hackles immediately go up because I didn’t particularly sympathise with either of them. He’s a sanctimonious jazz fanatic who’s more interested in telling people why they’re wrong then he is in paying the bills. She was sort of better as the wannabe actress reaching the end of her patience with awful auditions.. until the writers decided to take a break from reality and give her a shiny new prius and beautiful apartment.
    The rest of the film swung wildly between two distinct tones and I’m not sure either held up. The old-school fantasy musical/screwball romance, would have made a nice change from the usual Hollywood stuff, but the two leads were no Debbie Reynolds or Gene Kelly, their singing and dancing was acceptable but far from outstanding. The more gritty reality of their relationship was more within their talents but felt disjointed. To add insult to injury, as per usual it was too long, and the fantasy ending tacked on felt like a cop out from the writers who still couldn’t make their mind up whether it should be fantasy or reality.
    I know a lot of people have really loved this film, but I just don’t see it. I *wanted* to love it, because heaven knows some escapism is much needed, but I just didn’t think it was very good.
    Ranking: 5 / 10

    The Breakfast Club
    I re-watched this film for the first time in years thinking that I would have to approach it more as a period piece, trying to overlook the “of its time” attitudes. But I was really pleasantly surprised to find that other than the fashions and the technology the film was just as relevant today as it was in the 80;s. The American High School is still a pretty foreign concept for non-American’s, and the characters are dialed up, but the core emotions and issues the teenagers are dealing with are pretty universal. Playing out in a single day, with very limited number of sets and small ensemble cast gives real energy to film and I really enjoyed it.
    Ranking: 8 / 10

    Sixteen Candles
    This is a lovely eighties teenager film. It’s got great characters, a good mixture of comedy and heart, with a little bit of bite to it, and is filled with the fashions and music that we expect from the eighties. Of course it’s also now filled with some quite uncomfortable aspects that we also now expect when we look back at pop culture from decades back with some incredibly inappropriate behavior that I struggled to dismiss as “of its time” and unfortunately pushes this film away from the fun and charming entertainment that I would have classed it as if I’d watched it 20 years ago.
    Ranking: 6 / 10

    Stargate
    I’ve been reviewing all the films I watched since 2002 and Stargate wasn’t on the list, so apparently I’ve not re-watched it in at least 19 years. In the meantime though I have watched over 350 episodes of various Stargate television franchises so the movie felt very familiar. The amount of media that’s expanded out of this one film is incredible, particularly given that it’s not actually very good! The plot doesn’t hang together at all, there are huge holes in the science, the history, and just the general common sense of how plots fit together. Kurt Russel lacks any of the charm, strength or humour that Richard Dean Anderson would bring to the character on TV. Thankfully James Spader is working a bit harder, all be it with a terrible script and the stunning score by David Arnold does a lot of the heavy listing too. I’d skip the film and just watch the TV series, although that is a substantially bigger time commitment.
    Ranking: 6 / 10

    All Is True
    The history of the last few years of Shakespeare’s life, and actually his family and background, wasn’t one I really knew. This film tells it like a Shakespeare play, and like I do with most Shakespeare plays I found it an interesting story that I would probably have understood better reading a wikipedia page. Technically there’s nothing wrong with the film, it’s well written and acted, but I found it hard to engage with and get lost in. Even the amazing cinematography while beautiful, felt forced and unnatural, everything framed for effect rather than reality.
    Ranking: 6 / 10

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    Films in February 2021

    Not a great month for my film watching. I’m finding it increasingly hard to find things that I want to watch, for the most part I’m avoiding anything too serious, at the end of each day I just don’t have the energy to be thinking or feeling too much and most nights I’m drifting more towards easy going television.

    News of the World
    I adore Tom Hanks, and he’s on good form here playing to his strengths as the fundamentally nice guy trying to do the right thing. This particular iteration sees him taking responsibility for an orphaned girl just after the American Civil War, trying to get her to her family. It’s beautifully shot, well acted, solidly put together… and I was bored. I really can’t put my finger on what didn’t work for me, it just didn’t. Maybe if I’d been watching in a cinema I would have been more appreciative of it and less easily distracted.
    Ranking: 6 / 10

    Saint Frances
    Bridget is in her mid thirties, all her friends are getting married, having babies while she is a waitress and has just had an abortion. Despite seemingly having zero experience with children, she gets a job as a nanny to a precocious 6 year old (Frances). This is the kind of noodling, introspective film that I would tend to find quite irritating, but I really enjoyed this one. There’s not much subtlety to the film, the characters talk like real people who have no idea what they’re doing or feeling, and as they each figure it out a little bit the audience is just along for the ride. It felt very natural, nothing was a simple black and white problem, there were no particularly big revelations, it was just human beings slowly growing. I loved it.
    Ranking: 8 / 10

    Sylvie’s Love
    This is in many ways a very simple film, it’s just a love story. It’s set in the 1950’s and 1960’s, so there’s a bit of history thrown in, but the emphasis beyond all else is just on the two characters and their relationship. It’s not smooth sailing for them, and they occasionally do things that might have the audience sighing in frustration, but all the twists and turns, and ups and downs feel perfectly natural. It’s just a lovely film to watch.
    Ranking: 8 / 10

    The Trial of the Chicago 7
    Aaron Sorkin is at his best with this film. He’s got a combination of politics and court room drama, a large cast of characters, a talented acting ensemble and masses of dialogue. After the first 10 minutes I was a bit lost with so many people and my lack of knowledge about the American politics and civil rights movements around the Vietnam War. But Sorkin trusts his audience to stick with it and I trusted in Sorkin and before I realised it was happening, it did all come together in my brain. I did feel that the Judge was maybe written too much as a pantomime villain, but reading into it a bit, while Sorkin has played a little casual with the truth of events, the Judge may actually have been even more horrific then here presented. I’m not 100% sold on the way the flashbacks were handled and almost wish the film had found a way to do without them as getting in and out of them was just a bit clunky. But as is usual with Sorkin at his best, it has heart, humour and passion and I heartily recommend it.
    Ranking: 8 / 10

    Moana
    This is now one of my go-to happy movies, even though the bit with the grandma makes me cry like a baby every time, the rest of it just makes me smile and feel better. Moana’s focus on a very different culture is respectful of traditions without compromising on incredibly strong female characters. Like Frozen there are complexities in who the ‘baddie’ is which adds a lot of depth to the story. The animation is beautiful, 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.
    Ranking: 9 / 10

    Indiana Jones trilogy – I dusted off the box set of dvds for some nice adventure and easy distraction and was… disappointed.

  • Raiders of the Lost Ark – It all seems rather contrived and dated now, and the special effects look really rubbish. If you switch your brain off and just watch it there’s still good fun. No one can delivery the flat one-liner quite like Harrison Ford can, and you’ve gotta love the hat! And the music! But not so much the plot. Ranking: 6 / 10
  • Temple of Doom – The special effects, particularly the blue screening, really do look quite dreadul now, Short Round is moderately endearing, but Willy is quite spectacularly irritating. Gains points for having elephants in it. Ranking: 6 / 10
  • Last Crusade – This film is played more for laughs than previous ones and it makes it easier to like, but oh dear there are some real clangers now in terms of the female lead and the relationships which really made me cringe. The extra 5 years on the previous film has made the special effects slightly less un-special compared to the others and there’s still the hat and the music to rely on.
  • The Chaperone
    It took me two attempts to get through this film, and while the second half was slightly better than the first half that’s not saying much. The script is clunky beyond belief, the acting a bit bland and occasionally rubbish (particularly Elizabeth McGovern as the eponymous chaperone) and the direction flat – I shouted at the screen when there was a soft focus fade into a flashback. Despite some interesting source material from the real life of film star Louise Brooks the film smoothed everything out and shied away prudishly from any real drama until it was just a disappointing bland nothingness.
    Ranking: 4 / 10

    Films in January 2021

    Not a massively long list. Usually January is full of cinema trips to see as many award contenders as possible, but that’s really not happening this year.

    The Dig
    I want to describe this film as “gentle”. It’s the true story of the discovery and excavation of an Anglo-Saxon boat and treasures, the two main characters are the landowner (a young widow) and the self-taught archeologist. The story is hardly white-knuckle stuff and it’s accompanied by some very soft direction and score that makes it all feel very pastel. But there’s also some real grit to it, the events take place just as World War 2 is starting, there’s a lot of death sprinkled through the past and present, and the natures of the discoveries have their own excitement and drama. It’s a lovely film to sink into, not really seeming to try very hard, but having more to it than you might expect.

    White Tiger
    A rags to riches story of Balram Halwai and his journey from a very poor village, to becoming a driver for a rich family, to his dream of being an entrepreneur. It is introduced and narrated by the successful Balram, so that’s not a spoiler, but the way his journey goes there are plenty of unexpected events along the way that had me really quite tense. It’s been described as a black comedy, and while it does have some humour in it, the nature of the story is quite dark and it’s much more a drama than a comedy, but the humour is well judged to make the film still enjoyable rather than too much of a slog. I’m not sure how genuine the type of story is, I can believe it’s grounded in reality, but that’s also rather depressing. It’s an entertaining film, but that doesn’t stop it being very pointed in places.

    Galaxy Quest
    A cute idea – years after a sci fi series was cancelled, it’s fans still obsess over it and the cast can’t/won’t move on – attending conventions and signings. That in itself would be pretty interesting, but a naive bunch of aliens turn up thinking the television signals they received was history and seeking the help of the crew. I remember watching it at college and feeling slightly offended by it, thinking they were making fun of science fiction fans, but rewatching it now I can see it’s actually quite lovingly done. The geeks are mocked, but they turn out to be the heroes and celebrated for it. It’s rather cheesy in places and the effects are a bit shonky (although that’s possibly deliberate) but it’s got a solid heart.

    Never Surrender
    If you don’t already love Galaxy Quest, this documentary will make you love it. I enjoyed Galaxy Quest and thought it had some nice ideas, but when I watched this documentary a couple of days later I started looking at it with much more love. The documentary covers all angles – the context that the film came into, the ideas, the making of, the reception and then the long life of the film. It’s got pretty much all the key players in front of and behind the camera as well as science fiction royalty like Wil Wheaton talking about the cultural importance. The film was clearly made with love, this documentary was made with even more love and the combination is geek heaven.

    Vanity Fair
    Reese Weatherspoon excels as the incredibly complicated Becky Sharp at the heart of Vanity Fair, she would be a complicated character at any time, but in the early 1800’s her ambition is particularly hard to reconcile with what should have been ‘normal’ for a woman of her ‘place’. It’s a bit of a shame the supporting cast isn’t quite as excellent, a couple of hams and a few damp squibbs that make it hard to engage with the wider landscape and makes the film drag a bit in places. But it’s a wonderful story, beautifully produced with wonderfully rich locations and costumes, and Weatherspoon’s performance makes it worth a watch.

    Hotel Artemis
    The eponymous hotel is really more of a hospital, just a very exclusive one for a club of criminals. The film takes place in just one night, and almost entirely within the hotel while a riot rages outside. Those constraints build tension through the film, we’re just getting a tiny snapshot into a world that we don’t know about (it’s set in 2028), and a group of characters that have some connections and some agendas that may or may not align. Jodie Foster is wonderful as the Nurse who runs the hotel and is either having “just another Wednesday” but has a huge amount of backstory. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was really engrossed and quite impressed.

    The Devil Wears Prada
    I’ve got two sets of feelings about this film. The characters made me so mad that I wanted to stop watching. They were all rude, disrespectful and completely selfish, and the lack of human decency from ALL of them made me want to scream at them. And it’s not just the ‘devils’ of the fashion magazine, but the ‘heroine’ who thinks her job is beneath her, then buys into it like it’s a game, then turns her back again. They’re all hateful and inconsistent. But… it’s also watchable with some fun sequences, Meryl Streep being wonderful as usual, and Emily Blunt having great fun being horrible.

    Mortal Engines
    Centuries in the future the humanity are all wandering the wasteland of Earth on giant cities that hunt each other for resources. What a great idea! There’s a stunning steam punk style to it and the effects are stunning, I wish I could have seen it on a cinema screen there was so much detail in the designs. Which is a good job because while there was something to look at it didn’t matter quite so much that the plot and the script weren’t as good. I think it might have been the story that was the biggest problem, lots of clunky exposition, coincidences and contrivances that didn’t really engage me. The characters are almost all either ostentatiously over-the-top or astonishingly bland and nothing really came together with any coherence. Still, at least it’s pretty!

    Skyfire
    This film is rubbish. It’s a massive, expensive big screen disaster movie, but it managed to feel small, cheap and unexciting. Nothing was quite right – the setup of the hotel on the volcanic island didn’t make sense, the group of characters weren’t charismatic enough, and the action sequences all felt a little bit flat. And there wasn’t nearly enough Jason Isaacs (Hello). It also didn’t quite feel like it got the right tone, dozens of nameless bodies littered the streets, but we were supposed to be completely focused on the small number of core characters. It just about passed muster for brainless entertainment, but it’s a shame the money wasn’t better spent.

    Films I Saw in 2020

    I watched 211 films in 2020, beating my previous record of 208 in 2016. The fact that there was really nowhere to go for most of the year, and that I had a lot more available time in the evenings thanks to working from home increased my film watching quite considerably. While there was a strong temptation to just watch safe and familiar films, I’m quite pleased that 134 (64%) of what I watched was new to me, and that’s about the same percentage as last year. However fewer new releases meant there were only 33 films from this year, 16% of the total, down from 21% last year. I went to the cinema just 12 times, and all but 2 of those were in the first two months of the year. That’s just half the number compared to last year, which was already substantially down on the previous year with 39. I really do miss cinema, even when I go by myself it’s nice to have a shared viewing experience, and watching a film on the sofa just isn’t the same escape from the real world.

    So almost every film on this list was watched from my sofa via streaming services. Netflix led the way with 71 films (34%) including a lot of the more diverse titles from documentaries and world cinema. Amazon Prime was second with 45 films (21%). I finally subscribed to Disney+ at the end of the year and powered through their back catalog with 34 films (16%) although other than occasional new releases I’ve probably exhausted their supply. I also watched 38 films (18%) on dvds, 12 films (6%) that were on normal telly and ONE film that I got bought from Sky (except I didn’t buy it as it was a free gift). I didn’t pay for any new releases through any of the (I’m sure) excellent cinema replacement sites like Curzon Home Cinema, simply because there wasn’t anything that I really wanted to pay for over the options on the services I already pay for.

    FILMS OF 2020
    I only rated one film from 2020 as 9/10 and utterly amazingly, it’s also the film that won the Academy Award for best picture – Parasite. I’m usually a bit snippy about the Oscars, but this year they were spot on, it was original but timeless; easy to watch and enjoy but challenging and thought provoking. I was completely blown away.

    Other standouts from the year are a bit more eclectic. If you’re looking for pure entertainment there’s Enola Holmes or Birds of Prey. Dating Amber and Rocks are both a bit more deep, offering powerful insights into the challenges of being a teenager, and to a certain extent the same description could be applied to Mulan the first of the Disney live action remakes that I’ve seen that’s a real step change from the original animation. If you’re after more traditional dramas I’d recommend The Midnight Sky and Uncle Frank, and if you really feel like going all in Uncut Gems is an anxiety attack in film form. For outright technical genius 1917 has to be seen to be believed. And the closest that I can come to a comedy recommendation is the harsh but hilarious, Death to 2020.

    Unfortunately, the biggest miss I have of the year was Saint Maud which a lot of critics have raved about but I found boring and uncomfortable (and not in a good way). The film that probably made me crossest was Artemis Fowl because I like the books so much, they would have made a great film, and this one completely missed the whole point. And the one that I found most disappointing was Tenet which wasn’t terrible, but was distinctly mediocre and had some very clumsy film making errors (why can’t Nolan make his dialogue audible?). Incidentally Saint Maud and Tenet were the only two cinema visits I made between lockdowns, which made the disappointment even worse.

    The rest of this post breaks the films down roughly by genre (very roughly in places) and I try to highlight the best of 2020, the best of the films I caught up on from the last couple of years, older ‘classic’ films and then some stuff that you should avoid.

    DOCUMENTARIES – 9 films (4.3% – slightly up on last year’s 3.5%)
    Best of 2020: I only watched one documentary from 2020, the rather underwhelming Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb.
    Best of recent years: For Sama is an unparalleled look at the lives that are going on behind the short news coverage you might see of the conflict in Syria. It’s brutal, heartbreaking, intimate and sometimes joyous – everyone should watch this film. I’d also recommend Circus of Books an absolutely fascinating look into LGBTQ+ history by telling the story of a LA sex shop run by a terribly nice middle class Jewish couple, now in their 70’s; American Factory, an intriguing look at a culture clash between American and Chinese working practices; and Three Identical Strangers which starts out as a fun “weirder than fiction” story and develops into something even more incredible that really impacted me.
    Classic: Well, the only one I watched that was older than 2019 was Filmed in Supermarionation which is a bit middling, but if you’re a Gerry Anderson fan you’ll find it lovely.
    To be avoided: Democracia em Vertigem (Edge of Democracy) unless you want a rather jumbled and one sided view of Brazilian politics (which admittedly sounds INSANE), and I was disappointed by Diego Maradona which I found boring and failed to make me understand who Maradona really was.

    ANIMATIONS – 29 films (14% – slightly up on last year’s 12%)
    Best of 2020: slightly slim pickings. Even the best rated only got 7/10 – Pixar’s Onward and The Willoughbys, both of which were absolutely fine, but felt like they just didn’t do enough with the ideas.
    Best of recent years: Why did I not watch Spies in Disguise earlier? Will Smith as James Bond (basically) who gets turned into a pigeon. It’s HILARIOUS. A close runner up was Klaus which is a brilliant Christmas animation in the spirit of The Nightmare Before Christmas but with a style and charm all of its own. And although I found recent Pixar films Onward and Soul underwhelming, there’s always the beautiful Finding Dory.
    Classic: I enjoyed re-watcing a lot of Studio Ghibli on Netflix and Kiki’s Delivery Service and Porco Rosso were the standouts. Does 2014 count as classic? If it does then The Boxtrolls is a lovely grungy alternative to Disney, and I also rewatched Disney’s animated Aladdin and it’s still great entertainment.
    To be avoided: Over the Moon was a Netflix release in 2020 and although the opening bit in China is really great, as soon as we go over the moon it turns into cliche ridden chaos that bored me. I’m not sure whether Space Jam counts as animation, but whatever it is, it’s really rubbish.

    HORROR – 21 films (10% up on last year which was 6%)
    Best of 2020: the only 2020 horror film was Saint Maud and I thought that was rubbish.
    Best of recent years: Prevenge from 2017 was incredibly acted, directed and written – all by a heavily pregnant Alice Lowe, it’s creepy, gory, unpleasant and occasionally also really funny; a masterpiece in 88 minutes. Also worth a watch are Split which I’d always written off a bit as just an acting exercise for James McAvoy playing multiple personalities, but there’s a lot more going on. Midsommar is also pretty good and it’s a nice to see a very sunny horror, but it was let down slightly by the 2.5hr runtime.
    Classic: El orfanato (The Orphanage) is a great creepy horror and The Shining is a beautiful piece of film making, although having read the book there’s a lot that was sadly lost.
    To be avoided: I really don’t know why I watched Interview with the Vampire which was actually worse than I expected with a meandering plot and catastrophically bad casting. The 2019 Hellboy is an absolute muddle that utterly fails to recapture the magic of the del Toro version and Van Helsing is just plain rubbish from start to finish.

    SF/FANTASY – 44 films (21% up on last year which was 9%)
    That’s a lot of SF/Fantasy although my definition is pretty broad and to be fair it includes 14 Star Wars films and 4 Alien films.
    Best of 2020: The Midnight Sky, it’s not the cheeriest of films at the moment and didn’t always feel like it was working, but it comes together at the end. It’s not exactly amazing, but it’s rather slim pickings from new releases and I’m afraid I really didn’t get on with Tenet.
    Best of recent years: Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi is the best of the recent Star Wars films, and thanks to new effects, a great cast, and the joy that the nostalgia brings, I’ve actually ranked it higher than most of the original trilogy. Ready Player One and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom both stand up well for entertainment value.
    Classics: Moon was released in 2009 so is now firmly the classic that I thought it would be as soon as I saw it in the cinema. A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back still stand up really well (sadly the same can not be said of Return of the Jedi or ANY of the prequels.
    To be avoided: I’m sorry, but 2001: A Space Odyssey is just rubbish. I mean it still looks beautiful, but it’s INCREDIBLY boring. Jabberwocky somehow completely missed the the Monty Python sweet spot, and Battle Beyond the Stars is an incoherent mess.

    MUSICALS – 16 films, excluding animations (7.6% up on last year’s 3.5%)
    Best of 2020: The highest rated is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga but that’s not saying much as it only got 6/10. Half of it is brilliant, perfectly capturing the charm and insanity of Eurovision, but the other half is awkward and uncomfortable. The only other 2020 musical was The Prom which was even worse.
    Best of recent years: I’m as surprised as anyone to say that it’s the 2019 live action remake of Aladdin. I was expecting to declare that no one could replace Robin Williams and there was nothing to be gained by remaking the original. But Will Smith brings a different and wonderful energy to the Genie and the writers have added more depth and complexity to the story, the only thing that let it down was actually the direction of the musicals which are really not Guy Ritchie’s strong suit.
    Classics: Into the Woods is a full on all-singing musical and it’s charming and clever. Funny Girl is a great film, with a stunning performance from Barbra Streisand but to be honest I felt it was the musical elements that pulled the film back. Oh and of course, The Muppet Christmas Carol every time.
    To be avoided: The News Boys (Newsies) felt incredibly flat, has a rubbish script, mediocre songs and Christian Bale failing to sing, dance or act like a teenager (despite actually being 18). All three Descendants films are a waste of a good idea and Pitch Perfect 3 is an incredibly sorry end to an otherwise joyous trilogy.

    COMEDY – 28 films (13%, down on last year’s 19%)
    You’d think I’d go searching for comedy as an escape from the real world, but I actually tend to avoid them as I just don’t tend to find them that funny, and a non-funny comedy is just more depressing.
    Best of 2020: Death to 2020, maybe this should have been in the documentary category, but it was the fictional characters and the comedy that really stood out. It’s impressive to take the rubbishness and deliver something with both impact and big laughs.
    Best of recent years: Two categories in a row with recommendations for Guy Ritchie films, The Gentlemen is back in more familiar territory for him with violence, intertwining stories, blokishness and a lot of swearing, and I really enjoyed it. For contrast – Book Club is all about women and has four absolute acting legends (Diane Keaton,Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen) being friends, drinking copiously and making dirty jokes, I roared with laughter. Honorable mention to Knives Out which is just as much fun on second viewing at home as it was on first viewing in the cinema.
    Classics: The film I was most pleased to see remains wonderful was Cool Runnings, 27 years young and probably the quintessential sports underdog story. Impressively still funny after 61 years is Operation Petticoat, Cary Grant at his downtrodden best. There are also a couple of relatively low key cooking movies – Chef and Julie and Julia both of which have a lot of heart and a lot of laughs, they’re both warm hugs of comfort food. Finally I’m still not entirely sure if A Cock and Bull Story was inspired or bonkers with the walk between parody with laughs and tender observation with heart.
    To be avoided: Two films were so unfunny they made me angry. The Hippopotamus was Stephen Fry dialled up the annoying pretentiousness and crudeness that even Roger Allam couldn’t rescue. The other was The Seven Year Itch which charitably may have been funny in the 50’s, but despite Marilyn Monroe’s quirky performance I found little to laugh at about marital infidelity and the treatment of Monroe as nothing more than a target. (On a similar note You’ve Got Mail really hasn’t aged well.)

    ACTION – 27 films (13% – I didn’t track this last year)
    Best of 2020: Rather wonderfully, both of my top action films from this year have female eponymous heroes! The original Mulan animation was fine but nothing special, but this year’s live action re-imagining adds a lot of richness, takes away the silliness and songs and results in a really entertaining film. Enola Holmes is a lovely spin on Sherlock Holmes, maybe it’s not really an action film, but it’s got so much spark and speed that it felt like a really satisfying roller coaster.
    Best of recent years: Slightly surprisingly I really enjoyed a Transformer’s film – Bumblebee was fun, charming, and had action sequences that I actually followed. The Meg is a wonderfully stupid film about a giant shark, it’s objectively rubbish, but hugely fun. And in another nod to Guy Ritchie (what’s going on?), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is still cool and a great reimagining, it’s a shame that it didn’t lead to a franchise.
    Classics: Speed was made in 1994 and although it’s clearly not imax screen quality, the central ideas and action sequences are still brilliant. I also watched all the Mission Impossible films and the standout was definitely 2011’s Ghost Protocol
    To be avoided: For reasons I cannot now remember I watched all the films in the The Da Vinci Code series and they are all pretty poor, but the first one really is the worst. Deep Blue Sea is also rubbish, getting everything wrong that The Meg got right.

    DRAMAS – 46 films (22%)
    This is the generic catchall category at the end, capturing intense dramas, biopics, a couple of westerns, some non-animated kids films, some murder mysteries and some utterly undefinable stuff.
    Best of 2020: Uncle Frank is a really easy to watch film that packs quite a lot of emotion, Uncut Gems is pretty much the opposite and is incredibly high intensity and a really quite uncomfortable watch.
    Best of recent years: Monos is a Columbian film that had me completely gripped from start to finish with some incredible performances by very young actors. Bombshell meanwhile has a very well known cast telling well known recent events in a way that had me cheering and swearing at the screen. Little Women came out at the very end of 2019 and I rewatched it this year in the privacy of my own home where I could laugh, cheer and sob uncontrollably all by myself and it was glorious, one of my favourite books of all time told by someone who loves it, and gets it completely. I’d also recommend the little heard of, and gloriously named Peanut Butter Falcon which is just the kin of warm hug of a film that we need at the moment.
    Classics: Educating Rita could have been incredibly trite, but the film brings such nuance and complexity to the characters and the situation that I was completely gripped (just a shame about the synthesizer music). The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is an absolute defining moment in film, a perfectly crafted slow and thoughtful spy film that was unsettling throughout and satisfying in the end.
    To be avoided: Two films with 3/10! Disappearance at Clifton Hill was so badly written, badly acted and badly directed that I did something almost unheard of for me – I gave up. I did jump to the end and discovered that the ending was even worse. 1995’s Sabrina meanwhile wasn’t badly made but committed crimes against feminism that even in 1995 I don’t think were acceptable, the age gaps between characters and actors are nauseating and the single track mind of all the characters are abominable.