Film Reviews by DS

Welcome to DS's film reviews page. DS has written 90 reviews and rated 103 films.

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Adrift in Tokyo

Magnificent hairstyles and mayonnaise take us on a trip around Tokyo

(Edit) 10/06/2021

Adrift in Tokyo is a simple idea and certainly not an original story, think of Midnight Run and few other tales where two completely different characters are forced to share extended time together and from an initial beginning of fear or loathing their time together ends up with them respecting or even liking each other. If it is male/female, they often end up lovers. Opposites attract. All nonsense of course and in truth a weak premise. So, if you tell this oft-told tale you better have some strong glue to hold it all together.

It is the hairstyles folks; it is the hairstyles. Joe Odagiri sports a mad giant bedhead and Tomokazu Mirua a championship-winning mullet but in all seriousness these two are the glue that holds this simple story together. Fumiya is a shiftless loser, but he is much more that than an impression, Fukuhara is hired muscle, but he is more than that. This is the secret, make them one-dimensional and you are going to get bored very quickly, make them deliberately quirky and the viewer can get the feeling of being manipulated very quickly too. These two actors get the performances balanced right on the edge, for me it is perfect.

Dumped right in the middle of the story are three characters from Fukuhara’s wife’s place of work who spend scenes out of the main story concerned about her and looking for but get side-tracked. They are clearly the comic relief and although a little diverting, it does play into the story, although I am not saying why as this ruins the story for you. Ironically, they end up as extras in a film which is a reoccurring theme with some of the Japanese films I have watched recently. These little diversions could have ruined the story or been too jarring but here controlled by director, Satoshi Miki, they seem pitched well.

Throughout the trip points in each of the characters’ lives slowly revealed showing why they are as they are. Like all good road-trip, although this is a walking trip, we meet a collection of disparate and strange characters. Add all of these into the mix, some good acting, some fun, some sadness, and you have a great film. There must be some nuances or parts of the film that play to Japanese culture and being as ignorant as I am I would have missed them but overall if you a looking for – I hate this word in all honesty – a quirky, road trip, weird, sad and fun film which is greater than the sum of its parts I recommend Adrift in Tokyo. Of course, if you are never going to go to Tokyo, like me now unfortunately, this is a nice little trip around some real parts of that city.

Adrift in Tokyo is a film about a big city and the small things in the city. It is about regret, family, connecting with your emotions, the need for companionship and mayonnaise added to Japanese food that should not be added to Japanese food. Most of all though it is interesting and fun and that is no bad way to spend a few hours staring at a screen if you have to is it?

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Monsieur Lazhar

Quebec Bakalva - I've had those before but didn't know they were called that.

(Edit) 11/05/2021

Placed in the wrong hands Monsieur Lazhar could easily have turned out to be a terrific treacly confection of heartstring-tugging manipulation. Considering what is on display, the themes, it is to the credit of the director, and screenplay writer Philippe Faraldeau it is not.

The tragic event that starts the story, whilst a bit unlikely, is not sugar-coated and from that, for me at least, fairly shocking opening all things grow. We are into adult themes here, that come crashing into the world of children, it is all about love, loss and the well-walked path ‘a stranger in a strange land’ but for a lovely change, you are not hit about the head with a baseball bat with these themes.

Without laying out the plot, and what happens and how the story concludes it is difficult to discuss what you see on the screen. It is best to say that we are treated to restrained naturalistic performances where possible and some of the least annoying child actors I have seen for quite some time. In particular, Sophie Nélisse was at the time clearly Canada’s child-Drew Barrymore. The adult actors also give great accounts in particular Mohamed Fellag who brings nuance and quiet air of dignity and sadness to Lazhar.

There is a real undercurrent of trauma throughout the story that runs through the lives of everyone adult and child alike but the real trick, the real heft of this well-crafted and acted story is that for a such a huge emotional hit in people’s lives there is no pay-off, no closure, you work your way around the roadblock, you try your best to make sense of it – sometimes it does not make sense. To my way of thinking this is a very adult way to show the audience a tough and emotive topic.

Plenty of comment throughout the story on the process of education in Canada, the restrictions of teaching methods, for good or bad, and how it can change a dynamic between teachers, pupils, and parents to such an extent where Lazhar’s simple observations on a child to her parents is immediately rebuked and he told to ‘teach not bring up’ but to the credit of the film it sides with no one, you make your own decisions. This is films strength it really does not try to push any agenda, Lazhar is a nice man, who is hiding more than one secret, not because he is an asylum seeking Algerian but because he is a nice man. The headteacher tells him how things must be done not because she is the ‘baddie’ (far from it) but because it is her job and that is how it must be done.

For me, this type of attitude to story with issues that can get people very emotive, as we know this is now a code-word for sweary and dementedly angry these days, was refreshing.

Based on a play by Evelyne de la Chenelière, who plays pupil Alice’s airline pilot mother, Monsieur Lazhar is simple tale, told subtly, on a topic that could have been mangled through the Call the Midwife sugar press. It was not.

Recommended unless you really hate asylum seekers and children.

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Mom and Dad

Kids eh? What can you do?....Maybe not this.

(Edit) 06/05/2021

In a very camp schlocky way Mom and Dad poses an interesting question. What if the unconditional love of your parents turns into unconditional murderous hatred? Where do children run to when there are huge problems? Home, their parents. Where is the deadliest danger in Mom and Dad? Home, their parents. It is a great premise and makes for something a little different for the fan of horror films.

The set-up is simple, something happens, and your parents want to kill you. The main characters have no idea, firstly, that this is happening, and secondly, why it is happening. In many ways we are in zombie apocalypse territory here. The main protagonist is menaced by the average, the normal, that in any other circumstance you would never expect to be a danger.

As the viewer we are never really told why this is happening but if you watch the action and how things pan out there are clues. The feelings of approaching dread, very much like the beginnings of a deadly pandemic of the undead film, are filmed beautifully and normal life slowly has the bizarre and horrific dripped into the mundane motions of life. The news item seen at the start of the film, parents glassy eyed at the school, we know what is going to happen but Carly, her friend and their friends do not. Children are called out of class one by one to the office. Parents stand menacingly outside the examination hall, nothing graphic happens, but peril is palpable.

The culmination of the school scenes is both blackly funny and horrifying simultaneously. From this point the film shifts to an Assault on Precinct 13 style. A completely different style of film but these gear changes are smooth enough for it to be barely noticeable. To my mind, putting aside the mad, horror and silliness of the film, there is a skilled filmmaker at work here.

Although when you see the cast, you expect to see Nicolas Cage in full on ‘Nic Cage’ mode I would argue that here he is playing this film with a straight bat mostly, he is the normal dad, maybe writ large when it comes to how he talks to his son, but he must be loopy for a great part of the film and he is suitable loopy. It must be remembered the victims of the mystery illness/plague are maddened, driven insane by the hatred, jealousy, for their offspring. Selma Blair is the perfect foil more stiletto to Cage’s sledgehammer. Blair here as a ‘mum’ and playing her age, looked the part perfectly and is probably the sort of friends’ mum you fancied as a teenager. Frustrated to sadness and anger by the youth that slipped away and then is kept away by younger women.

The younger actors acquit themselves well, facing off against two of the industry's better and more respected actors, on their day at least, and the supporting cast slot in perfectly being more cameos to the film's main five characters but also seemingly fleshed out – it is good stuff. Even Lance Henriksen turns up for an ‘oh yeah that is going to happen’ moment.

The dark theme of lost youth, the end of life for parents runs through the film like the wording in a stick of rock. I found it fascinating and one that most of us ‘oldies’ can relate to. The loss of youth, that youth being wasted on the young, the huge battleship chain hanging around your shoulders that bringing up children can bring, the crushing weight of responsibility and being sensible seemingly replacing your exuberance, fun, spontaneity. We all know whose fault that is.

Okay that is extreme and is balanced out by all the love, fulfillment and fun that the same situation brings, but the makers are not looking at balance, they are looking at an extreme and what happened if it tips over.

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Baby Driver

Never saw one baby driving a car from beginning to end.

(Edit) 27/04/2021

Edgar Wright is someone who I have liked since the first time I have seen his work with Spaced way back in the day. Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead, all good stuff, all hugely influenced by other films and directors. Baby Driver is going to be that way – anyone who does not realise this has not been paying attention.

We are clearly and most unequivocally in a cinematic world here, nowhere else, so there is not much actual realism, no sense to be properly had, if you let it go, let the colours, sound and action take you in you will be fine. The car driving action is up there with any you have seen recently and probably in the past too, fast past, ridiculous and mainly in vehicles that would fall to pieces if you really did what you see on the screen. Music and pop-culture has played an important role in Wright’s artistic career so using music as the timing for the heists and action fits perfectly in the film. There is the conceit of tinnitus to power this plot point but in all honestly who cares, it is just an entertaining film and we are here for the colour, sound, action and cool characters.

If I have a quibble, and if you do read these typo-infested little works you know I always do, it would be the tone of the story seems a little inconsistent. For the most part we are looking a criminal caper movie with what is obviously a kind-hearted, good kid who is mixed up with some real ‘baddies’ who air menace and talk about death and mayhem but mainly seem to shout and scream but later we are get blood and death and menace and the most menacing character becomes kind-hearted, definitely to my little mind a bit off-kilter.

The music is eclectic and drives on the action’s scenes well, all good stuff if you are a music-head, unfortunately I am not but I do understand and see the artistry at work here.

Ansel Elgort is particularly good in the main role of Baby, perhaps a little too cool for my liking, but he was consistent and engaging throughout the film, clearly his supporting actors John Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Eiza González and Kevin Spacey all flirted with parody as they turned the nasty up to 10 but it was just restrained enough not the pantomime although all rather familiar. None of them had any sort of story other than bad criminal and thus they appeared even more peripheral than normal in a film of this type.

The weakest part of the film was the love story shoe-horned in with Lily James seemingly playing a character from another film. I was not sure how she was told to play her role but for me it was over the top twee and cutesy and even within the world we were being shown it just seemed out of place. Chemistry was clearly lacking between the young actors and it showed on the screen. I cannot say it is minor gripe because it is a large part of the story but the whole film is just about strong enough to withstand it.

All in all, this is strong entry to Edgar Wright’s filmography and it shows what good directors and film makers can do if they are given a little more freedom than big studio blockbusters allow. It will not be for everyone and has no place in the pantheon of serious films about crime. It is bright, colourful and as noisy as any comic book with acting and characters to suit that look it probably is not the sort of film I would seek out to watch again but this does not make it a bad film.

If you like colourful action and cool characters mixed in with some classic music tracks and you are not averse to a bit of violence, then this is the film for you – if you are the right mood for it this is a fantastic film for that, I am sure.

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Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

This should be a TV series really.

(Edit) 16/04/2021

Like a lot of Burton’s films this is based on children’s literature and like a lot of his interpretations you have to think, is this too dark, a little too scary for the younger audience it is aimed at? Afterall, we have some scary CGI lanky limbed monsters that people turn into that eat eyeballs and you see them eating eyeballs. Hmmmm, how is your 10-year-old’s sleep? Topped with a scary looking Samuel L Jackson hamming it up in full-on scare-mode and I am not 100% sure smaller children and some adults are going to be comfortable viewing this film. Quite often I feel this way about Burton’s films. I mean we know kids like being scared, Dr. Who when I was a kid, but I was not allowed to watch Dracula where people were being killed in full frontal blood mode.

It is fair to say Burton is uneven in his films and ‘Miss Peregrine’ is in this category. When it is fun and entertaining it is particularly good but when it is scary, drags or gets disjointed it is disappointing. Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children is exactly this.

We are led into the story a little slowly, with Jacob’s mum soon discarded and never seen again and although this can be a little annoying for modern audiences it does make the second half of the film more compelling as we meet up with the peculiar children caught in time-loop during the war. Words that should make most imaginative people sit upright and pay attention. The time loop is fun with everyone in the home stuck knowing what is going to happen at the exact time – so the same phone call, the same squirrel falling out of its nest and the same attack by a monster. Great concept and the ultimate boredom of some of the children are well realised. It is Groundhog Day but without the crescendo of resolution.

Near the end we get into an escape from evil things with tricks and subterfuge, each child character getting a little set piece with their powers – entertaining enough but so far, so familiar. As a grown man with reasonable cognitive-functioning aspects of the time-travelling and loops did get a little confusing but much like the aforementioned Dr. Who it seemed easy to watch, enjoy, and just let it drift.

With some of the effects you can see the budget but in general the overall look and feel of the film is good enough. All the adult actors are equally good enough without being outstanding, Eva Green is the lynch-pin adult and is great in her role although she is used sparingly, Chris O’Dowd seems to slip into any character easily enough but is also used sparingly and seems forgotten by the end of the story. Both Allison Janney, Rupert Everett and Judi Dench are fine actors but they do just seem like high-value window-dressing and Samuel L Jackson seems nowadays to just play the same character, he always has a least two sentences in every film that start ‘Did I not just say….’ regardless of the setting. Put him in a grey fright-wig and fetish doll teeth and he is still Samuel L Jackson from ‘that film we saw last week’, shame as he does have more to offer.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an odd film, entertaining enough I watched it from start to finish without my mind or attention wandering, the acting, in general, was fine and everything was neat and seemed to fit in its place. But something was missing, dare I be so pretentious as to say the ‘soul’ of the story, I cannot really say but something was missing. Once again with so many films that I watch there is a good film in there, but it is stifled.

Overall, not really scary or mysterious enough for older children and adults and perhaps a little too scary for the younger viewers. No age group can understand the time-travelling though.

Neil Patrick Harris, I see your next Netflix project on the horizon sir.

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Finding the Way Back

Hmmmmmm shower beer....

(Edit) 19/04/2021

Finding the Way Back, originally called The Way Back but changed probably to stop confusion with several films called The Way Back or the excellent The Way Way Back (it certainly has no similarities with that film) is a reasonably entertaining film but I cannot say it is enjoyable or made to be. You are not going to get many laughs in a film that superficially deals with a losing basketball team but is mainly about addiction and unrelenting grief and guilt. Heavy stuff and overall handled reasonably well although crammed conveniently into the running time.

Affleck gives a good turn as the heavy-set drunk even more poignant due to the fact he apparently had just come out of rehab again from his own problems with alcohol so you have to say at some level this was a brave move by him, and he must have known exactly how his character felt and behaved, so who am I criticise the veracity of any of the alcohol-infused set pieces?

As a sports film there is nothing particularly bad about it but there is also nothing original. The team does seem to go from hopeless losers to unbeatable behemoth rather too quickly and we get all the usual characters in the line-up, well played by the young actors, but they are all present and correct and apart from Brandon the quiet one, they are just sketches in the story of ‘Jack’. Al Madrigal turns in a subtle display as the mathematics teacher assistant coach and along with the team Chaplin, Father Whelan it would have been good to have a look into the effect Jack’s life had on them and how they behaved but this was very much surface skim for these characters.

There is no doubt that Finding the Way Back definitely tugs on your emotional strings maybe a bit too spot-on for my liking, but it does it well and skilfully. You are never asked to like Jack and never asked to forgive him for his destructive addiction, but you are asked to understand why he is a mere shell of the man he used to be.

Although the sporting cliches, including the dramatic last game finale play out with nothing new added the film does try to subvert the usual sugary endings and you are left with nothing particularly tied up in neat bows at the end.

All in all, Finding the Way Back is a perfectly good piece of cinematic entertainment, it is nothing new, and breaks no emotional tear-jerker rules but also what it does do it does competently well and better than many in the same lane as it. Affleck is a fine ruined man, he looks the part, only smiles and laughs when he is drunk and likes to chug when he is having a shower. Having known many high-functioning drunks in my life I can say the look is accurate including what was known around where I lived as ‘Wayne Douglas Jeans’ wherein the crutch of the jeans hangs around down by the wearers knees no matter how the jeans are actually worn, somehow being tidy and scruffy at the same time. The supporting cast do good work but is given little to nothing to do with the two main female roles Janina Gavankar (ex-wife) and Michaela Watkins (sister) acquitting themselves well in roles that offer nothing groundbreaking or different.

The director, writer and main actor have tried to make a story that gives us an insight to the desperate world of self-destructive addiction, life-crushing tragedy and redemption and in the main have succeeded it is just that as a sports-themed film and redemption show it offers little that is new, just some grittiness and showcasing that Affleck on his day is a top actor.

Recommended if you like these types of films, with no laughs, and not if you had your fill of them. The choice, as they say, is yours.

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Phantom Thread

Noisy toast - we can all agree it is evil..

(Edit) 11/04/2021

Phantom Thread in some way much like the topic of the film seems to be well-crafted, subtle and feels classy, if they can be applied to the overall feeling of a film. Certainly the cinematography, settings and custom work can be considered beautiful and should keep the viewer's interest as the film progresses. All of this of course is window-dressing (no pun intended) if the story and acting holds our interest less. I can easily see how many would be turned off by the slow-burning story of an uptight and picky man who is obsessed with making dresses but for others the whole premise of the story keeps you enthralled. What is going on? Who are these characters? Is that not the basis of any drama? Paul Thomas Anderson asks these questions, answers few and never drinks your milkshake, you see what you come up with when the film ends. This is no bad way to write a story or make a film.

Anderson likes his silences and characters who are not related in any way to Basil Exposition, and this is present in Phantom Thread. He also has a skill of making what are obviously not particularly nice characters somehow ‘okay’. Daniel Day Lewis, in his last film apparently, helps on this score showing why many consider him to be the greatest actor of his generation never showy but always on point with the character and how he behaves, subtle but superb and an exceedingly difficult skill to pull off.

The casting in the film helps its strong showing, Day Lewis is clearly not going drag anything down, but he is more than match by the Vicky Krieps who is truly enigmatic throughout to the point you are never really sure what is driving her throughout the running time. Both performances are shored up by the ever-reliable Lesley Manville showing her chameleon-like ability by playing an utterly different role than you have seen her in before to perfection. She gets the unsympathetic role as the cold, controlling, Cyril. Truth be told all three characters are equally enigmatic and will leave you scratching your head from time to time. Bizarre in this instance is good.

Possibly the most frustrating part of the film is just trying to figure out what you have seen and what the director/writer is trying to say. Is the title Phantom Thread referring to the love we all need that runs through us all? Is the love we need so strong it can override reason and the strongest will, is the need to control…. well, I could go on forever be told I do not know what I am talking about by Paul Thomas Anderson or any of the actors who took part or someone else who saw the film.

I am not sure what I really watched but this is the strength of the film not a weakness, I really liked the slow burn the strange characters, particularly of Reynolds, and what I got from the film.

This I believe is the secret of Anderson’s ambiguity in general, it is what I got from the film, I am sure my wife who watched it with me got something else and I am sure you get another meaning from the story.

This is a great thing, to be applauded.

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Upstream Colour

There is a stream, and it does get some colour 'upstream' I think...

(Edit) 05/04/2021

Upstream Colour (or Color in the USA) is a difficult film to describe in many ways. It is very loosely plotted, slow and at times makes little sense from a linear story-telling point of view. The slow lazy progress and seemingly haphazard story will infuriate many people and I can imagine probably 50% of any random audience leaving way before the end.

The biggest problem with the film, aside from the glacial pace, is large swathes of the story are hard to understand and seemingly deliberately obscure. This can be immensely frustrating, for me the frustration came at the end of the film when a couple of end scenes did not wrap up anything up and just made me scratch my head. Whether the director, writer, and the actor playing Jeff, Shane Carruth, made it this way on purpose I do not know.

The film is very dreamlike in the imagery throughout giving it more of a Euro-Arthouse project and certainly the subject matter, what I believe the maker was trying to say, is more on a level with these more esoteric and sometimes impenetrable films. The acting, particularly by Amy Seimetz playing Kris, is beautifully realised and she certainly glues the film together when it could easily fall apart the seams from time to time but overall when thinking about the film, and after seeing it you do, the overriding question is more than likely ‘what was that about’.

There is a theme of a complete loss of identity and the breakdown of everything you are to start again – I think. The tasks given by The Thief that come back to Kris are making paperchains and reading a novel by Walden, a writer I have no experience of, other than some comments of it being dreary and almost torture to read, perhaps this is an in-joke. The connection of all living things seems to be in there somewhere although I cannot help feeling the pivotal character of the Pig Farmer/Sampler, played by Andrew Sensenig, maybe should have been a bit less obfuscating to make a little more sense of his part in the story. Was he the man who started it all or a benign presence?

If you ever find out tell me.

I did not dislike Upstream Colour but neither did I really like it. Definitely a curate’s egg of a movie and will divide opinion from all that witness it. I enjoyed it during my viewing but overall, I felt that Carruth should perhaps use joined-up writing just a little more so that the ideas he is trying to explore did appear through a fog of confusion.

Somewhere in Upstream Colour there is a really good, interesting and thoughtful story and indeed question but perhaps a lack of budget or good creative partner for Carruth muddied the waters. Having said this if the director/ writer carries on in this vein pushing ideas and themes such as this and in Primer he is going to make a fantastic film that you will not be able to forget.

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The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden seems to be absolutely huge but who cares?

(Edit) 31/03/2021

Having never read the book or particularly being able to remember the previous film and television versions The Secret Garden comes to me with no baggage attached. I was not expecting something I had seen or read in a cherished past. So often with cherished classic adaptations this is the film’s biggest weakness, and some would say its strength.

The writer and director could have just made a straight down the middle modern version of any of the other versions or indeed the source novel but much to their credit they have put a spin on it that they hope will belong to them. Their vision if you like. Unfortunately, this will alienate probably a good half of the audience before Colin Firth reveals his ‘hunch back’. For anyone like me it does not hit us over the head with the hammer of outrage.

The story is fairly simple and not particularly original, if you boil off the outer coatings it is unlikable character learns that there is more to life than being spoiled and that she was always loved and becomes likeable, it is how we get there that makes the film.

To my eyes and admittedly simple mind we are hand-held throughout the story by Mary, very well played by Dixie Egerickx who should have a long career in entertainment ahead of her if she so chooses, and Mary is a 10-year-old child, an unreliable narrator to wear out a phrase that is in danger of falling to pieces. I assumed what you see on the screen is her recollection, even the dramatic finale, so the robin, enormous plants and foliage, the garden seemingly acres and acres in size and apparently somewhere around a twenty-mile walk from the manor all come from the rich imagination of a girl we are shown loves to tell anybody she meets stories. The events happened, but not in that way. I settled into this way of viewing the film early on and so I enjoyed what I viewed without fussing over the anomalies.

If you bookend the children with Colin Firth and Julie Walters you have sound, strong foundations but as mentioned before Egerickx is an extraordinarily talented young actor and unfortunately outshines her supporting youthful actors, Amir Wilson and Edan Hayhurst, they try their best but there is tiny acting colossus striding about in front of them. To be fair there is nothing wrong with either performance but their characters are not given a lot to do other than get the story to a point needed.

The CGI work of the colourful garden fits right in with the magical feel of the story that surprisingly is grounded in death and grief and points out not too subtly that only nurturing and caring causes anything to thrive. This is okay though as surely much of the audience will be parents and children I would think. So simplifying the original story making it bright with a strong and clear happy ending fits right in there.

The Secret Garden is a much-loved classic and this version is a more modern take with characters updated, removed, changed to fit in with the vision. It does not make it a bad version simply different. As it is this Secret Garden sits well as a family-orientated film that tries to show grief, loss, fear and redemption without making it terrifying or depressing for young viewers. Sometimes films are not made for those looking nostalgically over their shoulders and old cynical people like me.

The vision of the cinematography is colourful and evocative at the right times, dark and menacing when it needs to be, the score suits what is in front of you and the acting is good enough for any film and in some places superb.

The Secret Garden is not going to take your breath away and stay with you for the weeks and months to come but it does what it is meant to do and in general does it very well.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Godzilla Stomps Things to Bits and Punches other Monsters - this is what it should be.

(Edit) 22/02/2021

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is about great big monsters stomping the crap out of cities and people and then having no-holds-barred fights with each other. It is that simple. The original Japanese versions were as bonkers fun but had an underlying message about the nuclear proliferation and horror of having atomic bombs dropped on your country. Perhaps it may not have seemed that obvious, but it was there amongst Tokyo being stamped into matchwood.

The message for this 2019 version is the planet’s health and how if we do choose the correct path then we will not need Godzilla or his wacky enemies to destroy the planet will do it ourselves. Really though this is about massive monsters stomping cities into rumble and roundhouse pounding each other with much fire and roaring.

In this respect Godzilla: King of the Monsters works perfectly. It knows what it is, director Michael Dougherty apparently loved these films and the little kid in him shows in every frame on the screen. The cast Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, in particular, are great, play this all with a straight bat which is the only way to do this. It is camp and silly but if you wink to the audience you ruin it. Kyle Chandler, having taken on King Kong a few years ago and got away, now takes on Godzilla, his mates and enemies and his own estranged family this time around. Charles Dance pops up, in cold bad mode but at least not two-dimensional although ruthlessly evillike only Charles Dance can be.

For all the acting talent up there on the screen, Godzilla: King of the Monsters lives or dies by its monsters. The fighting, roaring, jumping up and down a bit and general mayhem by a roster of rather silly monsters is perfect. It took me back to the days of stamping around the fields near my house being a monster whilst my brother and his mates laughed at me. For me this was the purpose of the film.

So, what if the storyline involvies separated parents, mistaken motivations, two conflicting ideas, one of which is obviously ‘bad’ this is not the purpose of the film, but it pads it out, so something is there. It is perfunctory and perhaps it could have been better but in all honesty I did not care. How can you care when you can watch a giant moth curing and giant ‘lizard-king-thing’ but cuddling him?

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is a giant monster film with some human bits as filler before the WWE of creature fighting gets going. The human bits are not the best, but the actors are good and besides the aforementioned thespians we also get Sally Hawkins, Bradley Whitfield in best Bradley Whitfield-mode, Thomas Middleditch so much better here as the ‘nerd’ that he was in Zombieland 2, shoring up the human roster.

To me this was all good. It made me feel the exhilaration of being a little boy watching monsters knocking the stars out of each other. Perhaps I was in the right mood to watch that type of action, who knows?

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is camp, silly, trashy, daft but above all it was fun, really fun.

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Loving Vincent

Love Vincent? Then love Loving Vincent.

(Edit) 29/01/2021

Loving Vincent is indeed ‘loving Vincent’ as we are treated to Van Gogh well-known works coming to life and presenting what is frankly and interesting and intriguing story. Van Gogh wrote regularly to his brother Theo so the conceit of one final letter having to be delivered fits in perfectly with the troubled artist's life and makes sense of what is a sort of amateur sleuth tale.

If you are familiar with the work of Vincent van Gogh, then the story will be a visual treat but to be fair it should be to those who are not as well. The treatment of his work is accurate and respectful and the film presents a balance of the views of van Gogh the way he behaved how others saw him in the same way. It is no ‘paintwash’ of history or a beloved artist whom many think was ‘mad’ and cut his ear off and painted Starry Night – that is it. This film fills in a lot of missing sections of a story many feel they ‘sort of know’ and does it in an entertaining and magnificently made way.

What do you call the film – an animation? Artists we used to paint the scenes in van Gogh’s distinctive style, is it a moving painting. I actually do not know. Either way it works and is very entertaining.

The actors, having to work mainly on green screens, all put in a great job, in particular Douglas Booth the pivot the film who starts off as a layabout who cares not for Vincent but who ends up admiring the clearly ill van Gogh and understanding what his father saw in the man that made him such an admirer and friend. To the actor and maker's credit it seems genuinely of a revelatory journey for the young man.

There is a lot you can say about van Gogh and there is a lot you can say about the film Loving Vincent but much like his art the best advice I can give you is, see it, experience it. You will be glad you did, and I guarantee you will learn something about one this world’s greatest and most misunderstood artists.

Highly recommended.

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The Wailing

It is entirely understandable why some people might wail

(Edit) 13/01/2021

Some people will find The Wailing terrifying of that I have no doubt. Tonally we start off with gruesome death, although gruesome is mainly in the mind, the actual victims are in shadow, there are blood sprays seen up the walls but for overall grue there really is not as much as you believe there is. Always a good sign when a filmmaker is confident enough of their own storyteller to let the viewer’s imagination do the heavy lifting. But what we start off with is a funny film. I can honestly say the first third of the film is definitely comedic but in a situation way rather than comedy characters. Jong-goo, superbly played by Do-won Kwak, is at best an average cop, bumbling at times, not punctual, the antithesis of the usual protagonists in these types of films that are either heroic or tragic or all parts between. For me this grabbed my attention immediately.

As the film progresses so does the development of Jong-goo whose foolish ideas, bravado and impulsive decisions become less comic and more tragic and serious. There are still flashes of almost slapstick humour as one character is struck by lightning and staggers about, a shaman has more showman and charlatan about him and preens around but the tone is not completely lost. Afterall, if you are honest, life can be like that, one minute you are in a Charlies Chaplin film, the next it is a murder film. A no point are the murders, violent events, passed off with quirky or clever remark.

It is difficult to describe too much more of the film and story without ruining it for a first-time viewer, suffice to say the ending lays it all on the line and seems to be straight forward and easy to comprehend, although if you think back through the previous two or so hours, maybe not so much. This is the trick of director Na Hong-jin I honestly believe he wants you to interpret what you have seen, what you take away from it is personal to you. Is it a metaphor on religion, tradition, or on the difference between different communities or how you view people, how you trust them, the trust in traditional superstition or logic? It can be and I believe is all of these things but is overall a good horror film.

The cinematography is beautiful with the claustrophobic and chaotic village presented as such then beautiful almost prehistoric forests magnificently portrayed in verdant green crowned in soft white mists.

If anything detracts from this magnificent horror film perhaps the running time could have been snipped back a bit. The middle third was baggy, where the film flips over from comedic to horrific, it felt a bit clunky and the friends traipsing around the forest, getting involved in a fight with…. well I will not reveal it…. was not obviously necessary to the plot and if it had been removed entirely would have mad not difference to the story. Some of the acting seemed a bit over the top and hysterical but whether this is quirk of the genre or origin of the film I am not expert enough to know. These are only small quibbles though and all the actors acquitted themselves favourable.

If you want to watch something different, something that might make you think what they heck you have just seen, then as someone who is definitely not a horror-film aficionado I recommend The Wailing highly.

If this film has done anything it has made me want to seek out Na Hong-jin’s back catalogue, small as it is.

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Aquaman

Why did Mera and Arthur need a fishing boat?

(Edit) 11/01/2021

First thing with this film you must switch off your brain. Honestly, the minute you start thinking about what you are watching your head will start throbbing and the chances are you will start laughing hysterically and perhaps never stop. I have to say it, and it gives me no pleasure, I do not like being the ‘clever know-it-all critic’, but this film is stupid. I mean insultingly stupid.

On the positive some of the visuals and shots are amazing and some of the CGI and effects are great, if seemingly oh-so-familiar at times, although the de-aging at the beginning of the film initially brought about, ‘what’s wrong with this’ thoughts the minute you see it. Jason Momo is quite funny in a smart-alecky way but also in a very inappropriate way but to be honest this is a problem with a lot of films nowadays where the main characters, often heroes, make off-the-cuff witty remarks after they have just slaughtered or at the least shattered the bones of some un-named, unknown expendable henchman. In my view it is tiring, boring and now getting very dull.

The characters throughout are extremely pantomime-like and I get no feeling of a real living person with beliefs, feelings and a past, which is criminal with the great actors on display and the fact it is a comic-book world which lives and dies on ‘origin stories’. Black Manta with his entire crew of baddies is so Sir Jasper Naughty-Bonce it was bordering on parody and his motivation seems to be from the Steven Segal school of direction ‘he’s evil’ that is it. Snarling, frowning and looking angry does not make a villain in the modern world of filmmaking, it did in the 1920s, but one hundred years have passed since then.

The dialogue was poor and even more exposition-heavy than Birds of Prey because what they did with Margot Robbie’s voice-over monologue in that film was achieved with some heavy lifting exposition-wise, none too subtle and hilarious in its clunkiness. You know, the way nobody in real life talks at all.

There did not seem to be much chemistry between Heard and Momo and a lot of their interaction together seemed stilted and we were treated to yet another ‘wrong-time to have a snog’ scene. If I am going to get on my high-horse I have to say what is the matter with these filmmakers, death-defying battles, fighting, killing hordes of people, being close to dying, all are not times when anyone would thing about having a really good tonguing-snog. I could not even get women to do that when it was a romantic situation.

The plot twists in the story, which was very railroad track straight in the progress it was making, was written on a billboard that could be seen after the opening 15 minutes had passed. The logic of the world that was created had all the rules broken from time to time and did not make sense, I mean obviously people living and breathing underwater riding giant non-existent seahorses so making sense moved out of the house a few months before but, nevertheless. Here are two I spotted; I am sure others have spotted more. Aquaman was worried about falling off a roof in his ‘destroy a village in Sicily’ fight but also can jump out of a plane at altitude into the Sahara Desert with no harm done. If he and Mera can swim like torpedoes fired from a nuclear sub and breath and talk underwater, in fact they prefer that life, we did they ever use a crappy fishing boat to get anywhere? Particularly as Aquaman can use the creatures of the sea to do his bidding. It is stupid.

Forget this is a comic-book film, DC or otherwise, forget it is supposed to dovetail in with other movies I have not seen and probably never will now, take it as a science-fiction-fantasy movie, that due to some of the more serious content, is mainly targeted at older children and adults.

Then it is still an extremely poor film.

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Birds of Prey

There's not even an teeny-tiny shorts to distract you this time.

(Edit) 06/01/2021

Birds of Prey starts off with Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn updating us on her progress and state in the world. In other words a huge exposition dump. So far so dull. For me the character of Harley Quinn is annoying and pointless even before this film and the only point for her in the previous films was teeny-tiny shorts and lingering shots of bottoms and legs plus she was a sort of water-downed evil.

In this film written by Christina Hodson and directed Cathy Yan we at least get away from the leering sexuality of the previous portrayal but if you are looking for an interesting feminist point of view from the story and characters, you are not going to get it. The male characters are all repugnant from the get-go which did not bother me but just seemed a bit sledge-hammery if I am honest. What we ended up with was female super-villains-heroes or whatever they are doing exactly what their male counterparts did in the other films. You could replace every main character with a male character, and you would not notice it. So, from my point of view utterly redundant. I wanted the film to say something different, open my old, jaded eyes. It did not.

Probably the most disappointing aspect for me though was the acting in the film was spotty at least. Mary Elizabeth Winstead just looked like she was acting and was thoroughly unconvincing and Rosie Perez probably turned in her worst showing since I can remember. At one time it is said she was every bad cop-movie cliché which I am guessing was supposed to be ‘on’ and ‘meta’, but she was and it was wearisome.

The Huntresses’ real boyfriend, Ewan McGregor, turns up as the main villain Roman Sionis who apparently is called the Black Mask although he only dons it for ten minutes and I am none the wiser why he does. McGregor makes a good show of being over-the-top insane and so camp he should be a holiday park in Wales but if it were not for his thorough bleak and blank unpleasantness, he would to all intents and purposes be a yaa-boo pantomime baddy.

Therein lies the rub. I think, I do not know because the Comic Book World is not mine, DC is supposed to be darker than Marvel. This film was, but there is a big clash of styles in all this. Bright jokey situations, smart-Alec and sharp-witted quipping protagonists, and bloody murder, slaughter, torture and bystander slaughter. Unless you have got something fundamentally wrong with you these do not really mix. They really do not. It is jarring.

There was something nasty in the dark corners of this film, something unpleasant, mean-spirited, it liked being there and it was never far from the surface. I did not enjoy the spectacle just because of this.

The sets seem Gotham City-like, grubby New Yorkesque, and Harley Quinn is bad-ass and uncaring enough to litter, the CGI is quite poor for a modern film, particularly the hyena, and worse still I am sorry to say the exciting fight scenes look choreographed and seem clunking and slow much like a large portion of the dialogue which is full of really heavy and awkward exposition at times.

The story is about the hunt for a lost diamond. That is it. The titular group Birds of Prey are in the film for five minutes at the most and there seems to be no real driving reason for them if I am honest.

Overall Birds of Prey is underwhelming and unnecessary. One more comic-book film like this and I think I will be done with this category altogether. At the moment Shazam is holding the fort for all ‘DC films’.

Not good enough.

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Bad Times at the El Royale

At least it was a hotel and not some cabin in the woods....

(Edit) 02/01/2021

Bad Times at the El Royale could have been just another Tarantino wannabe but skilfully directed by Drew Goddard it subverts most expectations the longer it goes on. With a solid and small cast, the whole story is strongly underpinned. Certainly, filming from different character’s perspectives and swimming fully in the non-linear pool we are not in virgin territory but with the pace generally staying at frenetic Goddard keeps your eyes glued to the screen and caring what is happening.

Truth be told for this jaded old fart watching several story points were lost on me and surprised me at the reveal, although that damn-attractive Dakota Johnson’s storyline quicky unravelled with half an hour of the running time. As I say I have watched and read a lot of fiction and I am incredibly old.

The vivid colours of the cinematography help distract from what is basically a stage-based story and give the film a comic-book fantasy edge even though we are strictly in a nasty adult world here. Here is where I feel the big difference is between this being a Drew Goddard film and a Tarantino film. I have always got the impression from Tarantino that he somehow really enjoys the dark violence and death in his films, he enjoys the pain, torture and death that the characters are put through. Somewhere in the shadows of his film something is sitting and smiling. With this story, which has the same plot points, murder, torture, inestimable cruelty, Goddard is winking at us. It is all make-believe, fun, if a little gruesome. Children’s games of war in the playground. There is a place for all stories and ways of telling them but at my age I am started to get a little tired of bleak, never-ending nihilism, where the only reward of life is a sad, bloody end.

Having said that we are presented with stories of redemption that do not work out and Chris Hemsworth, sans shirt, is a sexy Sir Jasper Naughty-Bonce. He plays it well and I guess the role makes sense for no shirt, but you cannot help feeling there is some pandering going on here. To say I disliked him throughout this film is praise indeed for his betrayal. The nasty streak in him plays well on screen.

The film, characters and their stories drag you in if you are prepared to be patient and pay attention and with a snip-snapping way of presenting the tale and a long running time it is testament to Goddard that at no time did I get fidgety and the end credits had rolled my wife remarked on the slight pong of my sweat, that's how invested I was.

The twists in the story are good in general and most I will confess I did not see coming. The violence is cartoonish and not gratuitous and without spoiling the tale we are left with some hope.

All the actors are good with Lewis Pullman, Bill Pullman’s son not only being a chip-off-the-old-block in his looks but also in his ability, outstanding and Hemsworth sexy-sliming his way throughout. No film is without flaws and perhaps the running time is a tad too long and at least one character starts off with a backstory but is dropped soon into the running time. You never find out exactly what they were doing there but for one thing. A further reason into the reasons for the El Royale’s existence would have been good. Perhaps this is for another film.

Overall Bad Times at the El Royale is a strong and competent film, well-directed, well-acted, it is violent, thrilling and subverts expectations. The chopping and changing storyline and the violence and unpleasant characters will not be for all but if you like these almost cartoonish-style violent thrillers then give this a go.

Bad Times at the El Royale is good times for the film fan.

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