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Good Boys (2019)
Really funny, made even better by heartwarming and refreshing coming-of-age storytelling
With a premise that works as a blend between Superbad and Sausage Party, Good Boys has all the potential to be a properly funny watch, but even more potential to be a grating and irritating mess. Fortunately, it avoids the latter throughout, impressing with genuinely funny comedy, three great central performances, and a story that - while pretty much another rehash of Superbad - has got a little bit of heartwarming depth to it, making Good Boys a genuinely enjoyable and often really sweet watch.
First things first, though, the main reason you'll be watching this film is for a bunch of swearing twelve year-olds. Now, it's a fun premise that does feel a bit risqué at first, but much like Sausage Party, it's an idea that relies heavily on shock value - something that can wear thin very fast.
The reason that Good Boys works where Sausage Party doesn't, however, is that it gives a little bit of context and reason to that shock value. Vulgar fruit and vegetables are a funny idea for about five minutes, whereas the fun of Good Boys actually comes from laughing at the characters' innocence about the adult world - even if they pretend to act like big grown-up teenagers.
And that's what I loved most about this movie. It would be so easy to make an R-rated movie like this star sixth-graders that just act like teenagers, but Good Boys never forgets that its main characters are still young kids, and even when they're swearing and getting up to all sorts of adolescent mischief, they're still sixth-graders at heart: naive about the world around them, and wonderfully genuine and sweet to the core.
So, while Good Boys has some really great laughs throughout - and the shock value of a trio of twelve year-olds caught up in an R-rated world endures really well - one of its other strongest points is its surprisingly genuine and heartwarming emotional centre, telling a coming-of-age tale that we don't often get to see on the big screen.
Of course, the core focus of the film is comedy, and it does a good job at that right the way through. However, Good Boys also has a story worth paying attention to, as it focuses on the world of young kids trying to grow up and fit into the adolescent world - shaking off their innocence as they begin to navigate the complexities of society for the first time.
Most coming-of-age movies focus on late teenagers moving towards the adult world, so it was really refreshing to see a film tackle the struggles of even younger kids as they grow up, all the while telling a genuinely heartwarming story about staying true to yourself, even when you and your best of friends begin to grow apart.
From that, it's clear that Good Boys is actually a lot more than the vulgar comedy it seems to set up as being, with real heart and likability that's furthered not only by good humour but also three dynamite central performances from Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Brady Noon, all of whom pull off the difficult balance of acting just enough like a kid while still fitting into an R-rated movie without a problem.
Overall, I had a great time with Good Boys. A great comedy with good laughs and likable characters, as well as a refreshing story with a lot more depth than you might expect at first, it's a surprising but most importantly thoroughly entertaining watch right the way through.
Cheery, enjoyable and likable, all brought together by a strange but hilariously anarchic sense of humour
Of all the TV shows from your childhood, the one you would have expected to have seen on the big screen by now is Dora The Explorer. Anyway, while the live-action adaptation of the show is long overdue, there's no denying that they've absolutely hit the nail on the head with Dora And The Lost City Of Gold, a funny, fresh, bright and irresistibly cheery family film that's as funny as it is often surprising.
But we start with the one thing that you really wouldn't expect from the Dora The Explorer movie: that it might actually be more aimed at people who watched the show when they were young, rather than just children nowadays. Of course, the film is absolutely appropriate for viewers of all ages, and its light-hearted and enjoyably adventurous vibes will be more than enough to entertain the little ones, but there is a heap of comedy and references throughout that are squarely aimed at the young adult market - the people who used to watch Dora The Explorer in the early 2000s.
More than just a cheery and silly kids' movie, Dora And The Lost City Of Gold is a right laugh even for older viewers throughout. If you didn't watch the show in your childhood, then you might not take to the humour quite as much, but the movie's brilliantly self-aware brand of comedy - poking fun at a handful of the TV show's idiosyncracies - makes for some fantastic laughs throughout, and adds to the riotous, almost anarchic sense of fun that really makes this such a good watch.
Because, of course, this film could so easily have been a simple, easy-going Nickelodeon movie aimed squarely at the under-10s audience, with happy characters, silly toilet humour and a generic adventure plot. Now, don't get me wrong, all of that is there to see in this film, but Dora And The Lost City Of Gold really pushes the boat out with anarchic and hyper-self-aware humour and storytelling, something that's not easy to do and still make a good kids' movie.
It's not quite on the level of The Lego Movie, which really was a mind-blowing redefinition of what a kids' movie could be, but in similar fashion to the likes of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water, which also used nostalgia for the original show and a heap of self-aware in-jokes to great effect, Dora And The Lost City Of Gold can be a riotously funny watch, which was an absolute delight to see.
Beyond the humour, though, there's even more to praise about this movie, most of all the lead performance from Isabela Moner. While the whole cast is great fun to watch and entirely on board with the film's often offbeat style, Moner is truly wonderful as Dora herself, playing up the smiley likability of the original character in adorable fashion, but also to such an extent that it's yet another self-aware joke in itself, with Moner's on-screen charisma accounting for a heap of the whole film's entertainment factor.
As far as telling a good story goes, I can't say that Dora And The Lost City Of Gold is quite the masterpiece I would have liked to see. On the one hand, it's an energetic and enjoyable adventure movie throughout, and is the explorer movie that Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull never was. On the other, though, it is unavoidably simplistic and generic, and when the comedy isn't working at full capacity (particularly in the second act), the film can feel a little on the dull side for viewers over the age of 5.
With that said, the period where the story sags is bookended by an electrifyingly funny opening act, as well as an adorable and genuinely entertaining finale (not to mention a great musical number in the closing credits). And throughout, while it may be difficult to get your head round such a strangely anarchic Dora The Explorer movie, the film's energy and audacity in trying something different is hugely rewarding, proving an immensely entertaining and genuinely likable watch throughout.
Blinded by the Light (2019)
A charming, albeit often simplistic coming-of-age film
Working in a similarly uplifting capacity to Bend It Like Beckham, director Gurinder Chadha's most famous work, Blinded By The Light proves a pleasantly cheery watch, with a fluffy, positive story that, despite the odd bit of cheesiness and often ham-fisted secondary themes, does more than enough to make you smile from beginning to end.
Above all, that's the main thing that this film wants to do: make you smile. Its story - a coming-of-age tale centred around some nostalgia and a meaningful soundtrack to the main character - is something that's been really overplayed in recent years, but that doesn't mean that a simple premise like this can't be a real joy to watch.
Filled with energy and a real personal passion for its story throughout, Blinded By The Light grabs you with its endearingly dull portrayal of Luton, as well as a likable lead in the form of Javed, played by Viveik Kalra, and although it may not quite hit the emotional beats it's going for with young Javed's dreams of making it out of Luton one day, the small-town, down-to-earth vibes of the film are actually what make the film most enjoyable.
Couple all that with a delightful fervour for all things nostalgic about the 1980s, from Walkmans to big mobile phones - as well as all those little details about family during childhood, like having to push the car out of the drive when it won't start - and you have a film that, as cheesy as it may be, is really easy and fun to connect with, something that works wonders for its entertainment factor.
In truth, Blinded By The Light doesn't have the depth of better films in a similar genre. Even Bend It Like Beckham hits on more interesting themes in its core story, whereas this feels more like an exercise in nostalgia than anything else.
That's more than fine for making you smile, and all those little details plus a great Bruce Springsteen soundtrack give the film great character and likability, but when it comes to getting a little bit more out of the story, Blinded By The Light doesn't quite have enough to really impress.
Alongside its endearing coming-of-age story, the film attempts to introduce some more serious socio-political themes like life in Thatcher's Britain and modern day racism that, while certainly important and fascinating in a historical context, can feel rather jarring in the middle of such a pleasantly uplifting film.
There are moments where those themes do work better - mainly in the final act where the film is willing to push the boat out a bit more with its own opinions - but in the middle of a story that seems to be so much more about growing up and learning about the world, they come across as rather ham-fisted and forced, which is a bit of a disappointment.
Also, in keeping with the film's fluffy nature, there are elements of its story that are a lot more simplistic than is perhaps best. Unlike other films that look at the lives of South Asians in Britain like Bend It Like Beckham and the brilliant drama East Is East, there are parts of the depiction of the Pakistani family here that feel a little too much like a caricature, in the vein of what we see in more simplistic TV shows from time to time.
That's not to say it's not true to life, but the way that the film depicts the father figure in particular is a little too one-dimensional, with his overbearing rules weighing on his son's life, and any character changes of his feeling unearned and even random as a result.
Overall, though, I had good fun with Blinded By The Light. A charming, uplifting and pleasant watch throughout, the film does more than enough to make you smile, and although it lacks a certain depth in its story, there's some pleasant nostalgia, good music and a positive attitude right the way through.
Diego Maradona (2019)
Another riveting documentary from Kapadia, but not quite on the groundbreaking level of Senna and Amy
Director Asif Kapadia has, in his last two films Senna and Amy, brought about some of the most striking, moving and memorable filmmaking the documentary genre has ever had to offer, standing head and shoulders above the majority of what can be a rather bland form. As a result, I went into Diego Maradona with very high expectations, and while I can certainly say that Kapadia once again impresses his brilliantly vibrant style onto the film, this certainly is no match for the lofty heights of Senna and Amy.
I'll get into why that is the case in a moment, but first and foremost, there's no denying what a fascinating and engrossing look into the life and career of footballer Diego Maradona this film is. From a purely biographical perspective, the film is absolutely loaded with information and riveting backstory to one of the sport's most colourful characters, brilliantly striking a balance between on-pitch excitement and off-pitch personal drama, and making for both an informative and thoroughly engaging watch throughout.
There is the argument that, as the film is so full of information and things to learn about Maradona, that you do need to have a good understanding of the footballing world to get to grips with the significance of a number of major events and themes that play out through his time at Napoli, with the status of clubs and national teams along with the importance of individual competitions playing a big role in Maradona's turbulent career.
However, for football fans, this documentary won't disappoint in the slightest, and much like Senna and Amy, which delved into their respective areas of focus in riveting detail but with such passion and energy at the same time, Diego Maradona proves a vibrant and entertaining documentary right the way through, which is more than can be said for a number of films about major football icons.
Looking at the film from a more cinematic perspective, the merits of Kapadia's brilliant directorial style are clear as day, as he brings real passion and sense of important emotion to every twist and turn shown throughout. Much like the two previous documentaries, Diego Maradona doesn't play out entirely in chronological order, cleverly choosing a centrepoint of his career that works as a metaphor for his whole life, and then peering back into the past or ahead of that time period when appropriate.
As a result, the film is a riveting and structurally impressive one, telling its story with far more energy and dynamism than the majority of sports documentaries.
However, the big thing that disappointed me about Diego Maradona in comparison to Kapadia's Senna and Amy is its relative lack of hard-hitting emotion. Now, a different subject matter will always make for a different emotional effect, with Senna's story ending on an astonishing crescendo, while Amy's featured a more patient yet even more heartbreaking tale of decline, however there's something about Maradona's story that's missing that mind-blowing emotional power that made those two films so incredible.
Of course, both Senna and Amy built up to a single crescendo at the end of the film, whereas Diego Maradona is a little more broken up, with three different main themes playing out as little mini movies within the overall film, focusing individually on his rise at Napoli and in the Argentina team, his role as a major international icon, and his downfall in the later years of his career.
As I said previously, there's never a dull moment when it comes to learning about Maradona's life and career, and those three main themes offer up so much fascinating history, however the fact that they do operate rather independently of one another means the overall film lacks the emotional intensity and breathlessness of Senna and Amy, and as such doesn't have that same hard-hitting, moving impact at any point.
I hold Senna and Amy in immensely high regard not only as good documentaries, but brilliant pieces of filmmaking, so comparing Diego Maradona so closely to them seems very harsh, but they are signals of what director Asif Kapadia is capable of, and I feel that he doesn't quite reach his full potential with this film.
With all that said, there's no denying what a great film Diego Maradona is, not only from a biographical perspective, but also as a riveting, dynamic and deeply engrossing documentary that's both energetic and very well-structured throughout. It may not have the intense emotional impact that Senna and Amy do, suffering from a slightly jarring distance between its main themes, but it's an enthralling watch from beginning to end nonetheless.
Murder Mystery (2019)
Delightfully silly, funny and even exciting at times
It may seem silly at the outset, and in all truth - it is rather silly - but I have to say that I had an absolute whale of a time with Murder Mystery. With rapid-fire comedy from beginning to end that combines hilarious parody with classic, simple gags right the way through, I was laughing and smiling at pretty much every moment. The film might not be the most intelligent or satisfyingly intricate murder mystery, but it has such a brilliantly entertaining pace and sense of humour that you'll have a blast regardless.
Now, one of the first things to get straight about Murder Mystery is that it's not what you'd typically call an 'Adam Sandler movie'. It's a tag that hasn't improved with a string of fairly underwhelming releases with Netflix, but this film is certainly one of the best films starring Sandler in a long time, and is in fact far more reminiscent of modern comedy hits like Date Night than the poorest we've seen from Sandler and Netflix.
In fact, the Date Night comparison is an interesting one, because that's a film I've always loved to bits, for its fantastically off-the-wall humour and action as well as its immense likability in the form of Tina Fey and Steve Carell's brilliant lead performances. However, as much as I love Date Night, I have to say that Murder Mystery might just be even funnier.
Firstly, you have two effortlessly likable and funny lead performances in the shape of Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler, whose chemistry has come on leaps and bounds from their last on-screen appearance together in Just Go With It. Again reminiscent of Fey and Carell in Date Night, Aniston and Sandler play the average joes thrust into an insane situation brilliantly, and take on the ever more ridiculous chain of events with glee and hilarious energy throughout.
But more than Date Night, which takes on a slightly more generic all-night thriller premise, Murder Mystery uses its parodying of the Agatha Christie/Clue genre to great effect by telling a story that not only cleverly plays on the tropes of the premise, but also manages to craft something that's genuinely unpredictable, engrossing you to a surprising extent in the resolution of the mystery.
Now, I won't say that it's the most intricate murder mystery ever written, and the eventual payoff isn't quite as satisfying as you would maybe like, but particularly in the early stages of the mystery where Aniston and Sandler play detective themselves, the film is full of delightfully light-hearted mystery and intrigue, providing an extra layer of entertainment beyond the simple comedy.
Of course, the movie's main objective is still to make you laugh, and that's something it does handsomely throughout, furthered by its deliriously entertaining fast pacing, featuring great action that actually had me on the edge of my seat while laughing away. Sure, it's a silly movie, but for pure, unadulterated fun and excitement, Murder Mystery does pretty much everything right.
A strikingly unsettling horror early on, but a faltering drama in its second half
The development of the horror genre in recent years to encompass real, dark dramatic themes beyond the more superficial, scare-oriented level of films in the past is an absolute marvel, and there are times in Silhouette where that trend is replicated in both riveting and striking fashion. However, while the film impresses in bursts with its dramatic depth, it's actually the horror side of things that proves most striking here, and that drama actually tails off quite considerably over the course of the second half, taking away from the potently unsettling atmosphere expertly crafted from the beginning.
Let's start on the bright side first, though, with the fact that Silhouette is a bold and intelligent horror movie. There is tension and a bit of a scare factor to it, but this isn't a dull, jumpscare-reliant horror by any means. In that, it blends some intriguing focus on the devastating effects of grief and loss with a powerfully unsettling atmosphere, as the film kicks into life in really striking fashion right from the very first scene.
It's not a fast-paced movie, but what it does have is that eerie, often overbearingly unnerving vibe to it to keep you really engrossed, and for the best part of an hour, Silhouette had me on tenterhooks with that side of the story.
From a booming musical score to really striking cinematography, and from brilliantly effective directing by Mitch McLeod to an exceptional central performance from April Hartman, there really is a lot about the first half of Silhouette that makes for a captivating watch, cleverly poising the story on the edge between slow, intricate psychological drama and a descent into full-blown horror thrills.
In that, you could say that it's a little reminiscent of Darren Aronofsky's stunning Mother!, with a story and atmosphere that blurs the lines between what you think to be real and what not, as well as a central performance that's overflowing with emotional depth, with April Hartman's clearly devastated character making for a riveting lead right the way through the first half of the movie.
But above Mother!, the closest comparison for Silhouette would have to be Ari Aster's Hereditary, a film that also tells of the horrifying effects of grief for a mother after losing her daughter, albeit with very different results.
While Hereditary is acclaimed by many, it's a film that never sat too well with me, and while its dramatic depth is astonishing at times, its horror elements are ludicrous and jarring throughout, which is what has always made it a real disappointment in my eyes.
Silhouette, on the other hand, has the opposite issue, with a powerfully unsettling and enthralling horror atmosphere that's built brilliantly through the course of the first half, but drama that - while initially promising - falls apart in the second half of the movie.
And that's what ultimately made me come away feeling quite disappointed with Silhouette. I don't wish to write any spoilers in this review, but it suffices to say that a significant change in focus right in the middle of the movie is what ultimately proves its undoing, as we move away from that brilliantly atmospheric and striking horror side to a frustratingly predictable, slow and often inconsequential dramatic approach.
There are of course moments where the early brilliance pops up through the second half, but its poor dramatic development and often dragging dialogue sequences really take away from the striking charisma and excitement seen earlier, making the final fifty minutes or so of the film a real drag to watch.
Overall, then, there's a lot to say about Silhouette, a film that's full of talent and captivating intrigue throughout. Above all, it's a good horror movie, with a powerfully unsettling atmosphere brought about excellently by director Mitch McLeod, and furthered by an often spellbinding central performance from April Hartman. However, despite intelligent dramatic themes and a strong start, the film's turn to less horror-oriented drama in the second half is a real shame, and proves a frustrating watch until the end, which is why I ultimately felt rather disappointed coming away from this film.
Wanbyeokhan tain (2018)
Thoroughly entertaining, but doesn't match the heights of Italy's original
As part of my ongoing quest to watch every remake of Italy's Perfect Strangers - a film that has been remade no less than 10 times in the last few years - we find ourselves with one of the closest adaptations to the original, South Korea's Intimate Strangers.
Now, while this film succeeds in replicating the intensity and awkwardness of this dinner gone so, so wrong, furthered by entertaining performances and strong humour, it doesn't quite have that sense of unbridled chaos that made the original so good, missing out on delivering the peak potential of this fantastic story.
First things first, though, I will say that this is a really fun watch. It's not perfect, and doesn't hold a candle to the Italian original, but it effectively combines a great sense of dark humour with riveting drama throughout, keeping you entirely engrossed in the many twists and turns over the course of the evening.
One thing that the film does well is stick close to the atmosphere that was created in the original, and while it has a few details here and there that set it slightly apart, it's certainly the closest version in terms of atmosphere and entertainment value to the original movie. As a result, Intimate Strangers grabs you with the no-holds-barred forwardness when things start to go wrong, one of the greatest suits of the Italian film, but also plays it up in a darkly comic fashion that makes it a thoroughly enjoyable watch.
That excellent blend of dark comedy with the drama at hand comes together well thanks to Lee Jae-kyoo's directing, which retains that sleek vibe which made the Italian original so memorable. In contrast, the French version was a little all over the place, the Spanish moved along at a lightning pace, and the Chinese took a very different tack, but Lee prioritises that sleekness throughout, and that makes South Korea's Intimate Strangers great fun throughout, even when it doesn't quite hit the heights of what its story can achieve.
And that is, rather unfortunately, where my biggest problem with Intimate Strangers comes in. It always seem slightly unfair to judge a film based on how it compares to an original, but when it's a remake that deliberately sticks as close to the original as possible, it's difficult not to contrast and compare, and in this case, feel a little disappointed.
In and of its own, Intimate Strangers is a great watch, and I thoroughly recommend it, but it unfortunately fails to deliver a heart-stopping thrill factor as the dinner party gets totally out of control, something that took the Italian original, and to an extent the Spanish remake as well, up to a whole different level.
While it's a sleek, darkly comic watch that intrigues and entertains throughout, I didn't feel like I finished this movie catching my breath, like I did in both the Italian and Spanish films, and I feel that there was a whole lot more that the film could have done to really ramp up the tension and awkwardness of the situation.
In part, the pace could have been faster - this is probably the most slow-moving version of the story I've seen - while the actors could have dialled up the intensity of their performances a little more over the course of the night, rather than staying at a more middling level that takes away from the potential of the chaos that develops through the story.
Having said all that, I still liked Intimate Strangers a lot. An entertaining, engaging and sleek film that sticks closely to its inspiration's style and story, it has everything to keep you engrossed from beginning to end, coupled with good humour and riveting drama as part of the excellent screenplay, even if it doesn't quite hit the heights that this story can definitely provide.
Hai Phuong (2019)
Brilliant, fun-loving action entertainment throughout
With the action sensibilities of John Wick blended with a thrilling Taken-esque story, and hugely entertaining martial arts action throughout, Furie is an absolute riot from beginning to end. It may slow down a little in the middle period, it's a mostly rapid-fire, relentless affair that takes simple action thrills and turns them into immensely enjoyable popcorn viewing.
There's a lot to love about Furie, but the best thing about it is the fact that it's just so much fun. Intense revenge thrillers are more common than any other premise nowadays, but too often do films in the genre take a dark, overly gritty approach to things, with the likes of Run All Night, The Foreigner and many more missing the mark in recent years when it comes to delivering a properly entertaining action thriller.
Furie, on the other hand, places fun, exciting and dynamic action entertainment at the forefront from start to finish, resulting in a film that's jam-packed with both the intensity that a great revenge thriller warrants, as well as fun-loving, slightly over-the-top action and choreography to give you an enjoyable hour and a half.
The action is absolutely amazing throughout, ranging from that fun-loving vibe to just how well it's all choreographed and directed. Finding a brilliant middleground in the martial arts genre, Furie has the fun-loving and ridiculous sensibilities of the likes of John Wick, without pushing into sheerly insane territory as often seen in many modern Chinese and Hong Kong martial arts movies. On the other hand, the film keeps its feet on the ground throughout, and takes inspiration from the brand of more serious, heavy martial arts action that you'll have seen in the likes of The Raid series.
So, while there's the excitement and thrill of heavy, intense action throughout, this film still has those fun-loving, laughter-inducing sensibilties, making it an immensely entertaining watch, furthered only by the striking visuals, quick-paced cinematography and editing, and brilliant fight choreography throughout.
For fans of pure action, Furie ticks pretty much every box, but it also impresses when it comes to the story. Again reminiscent of John Wick, the premise is blissfully simple, with a mother fighting at all costs to find her daughter. Hai Phuong, the mother, is pretty much invincible when it comes to hand-to-hand combat, but the story introduces a relatable human side as she desperately fights to save her daughter, all the while coming across moments of personal struggle when she encounters people from her own dark past.
It's a fantastic lead performance from Veronica Ngo, who is just as likable a main character as she is an amazing action star, and she owns the screen from beginning to end in the same vein as Keanu Reeves in John Wick, Liam Neeson in Taken and more, as you earnestly will her on in her quest to rescue her daughter.
As a result, Furie proves a hugely entertaining and equally engrossing action thriller throughout. However, if I were to have one problem with the film, I would say that it does slow down a little too much in the middle period, missing out on the breathless action thrills of the first and final acts that really make this film so memorable. There is dramatic intrigue in the middle of the movie, and it's far from boring, but it just doesn't compare to the thrilling heights that it often reaches.
Overall, I had great fun with Furie, thanks principally to its thrilling, fun-loving action sensibilities that feature exhilarating martial arts choreography and striking direction throughout. However, with an equally engrossing and fantastically simple revenge story and brilliant lead turn from Veronica Ngo, it's a film that's certain to entertain all fans of action from beginning to end.
A fairly run-of-the-mill blockbuster, but a vast improvement on the last film
I vividly remember just how disappointed I was with the last Godzilla, with all its promise of thrilling, moving blockbuster excitemenet brought falling down by a bland, empty and painfully slow reality. As a result, I had the lowest of expectations going into King Of The Monsters, so I'm glad to say that, for the most part, this sequel is far better than the original.
While by no means perfect, and still a fairly run-of-the-mill blockbuster, King Of The Monsters at least introduces three-dimensional characters and writing that prove really engrossing at times. Couple that with yet more spectacular visual effects, bold directing and a wonderful musical score, and you have a film that's thoroughly entertaining at times, and a great improvement on one of the most disappointing blockbusters of recent years.
So, the best place to start with this movie is the story, and although I can't say that it's a particularly thrilling or unpredictable one, I am happy to say that I had good fun with King Of The Monsters throughout. This time not relying entirely on a false sense of tension surrounding the illusive Godzilla, King Of The Monsters gives the titular titan a bigger role in the story, all the while crafting a narrative that makes the action flow a whole lot better.
Last time, with the exception of that excellent opening act, the movie was pretty much a waiting game for Godzilla to turn up on screen and fight the big baddie in San Francisco. And that was about it. In the sequel, however, you have a number of different stories and characters that play into the eventual clash of Godzilla and the other titans, and while there's still that big, destructive action setpiece at the end as you'd expect, it comes about far more organically and as a result of mroe interesting storytelling that has developed throughout the film previously.
The other big plus in the story department is the fact that there are a number of moderately interesting human characters as well. In the first film, Bryan Cranston was a brilliant lead, but he was killed off early and replaced with painfully bland characters played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen.
In the sequel, we get a little more character intrigue and ambiguity - mostly surrounding Vera Farmiga's character - as well as more insight into the motivations of some of the scientists who have studied Godzilla for years, with Ken Watanabe's character being promoted from quippy side character to a genuinely interesting and important player.
Having said that, I still can't say that the characterisation here is of the highest order, and while there is character intrigue and multi-dimensional development throughout, it comes in small pockets where one character or another has there most memorable moment, rather than working as a consistent stream of development and deepening intrigue through the whole film.
What's more, the film once again really fails to nail down Godzilla's character in the way it wants to. Different from the unmatchable Japanese original, as well as Hollywood's terrible 90s reboot, this film tries to use Godzilla in a more interesting capacity than just a big, destructive monster. However, its idea of that is seeing him work in tandem with the human characters to defeat the evil monsters simply by turning up at random times just before a major character is about to die.
It's nice to see Godzilla being used in this way through the whole movie (the last one did so towards the finale), but it's a repetitive and fairly lazy characterisation that grows tiring very quickly, and once again, this just doesn't feel like a great movie about Godzilla in the way that the Japanese original really is.
And this where the comparisons with Warner Bros.'s related Kong: Skull Island come in. In Skull Island, King Kong was used in a fairly similar capacity, yet given a surprisingly riveting and engrossing personality that made him a major player in the story, rather than a random hulking monster who happens to turn up now and then to save the day.
That's one of the areas where Godzilla: King Of The Monsters really pales in comparison to Kong: Skull Island, the other being that, while this is an entertaining movie, it still feels like a rather run-of-the-mill blockbuster.
Director Michael Dougherty impresses a striking style onto King Of The Monsters, bringing dazzling cinematography together with a beautifully elegant score, but unlike Skull Island, this film just lacks the charisma and energy of a really great action movie.
Skull Island had humour, intelligence and a brilliantly original premise - linking King Kong up with the Vietnam War - whereas King Of The Monsters is, for the most part, just a movie about saving the world from destruction again, with little more depth or secondary themes at play. It's a fun watch, don't get me wrong, but it won't ever stand up to films like Skull Island that bring more ideas into play, ultimately making this film still feel a little underwhelming.
Overall, with improved dramatic depth and character intrigue, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters is eons better than its bland and painfully disappointing predecessor, all the while furthered by entertaining action, great visual effects and bold directing and music throughout. Unfortunately, though, it's still a bit of a generic action movie, paling in comparison to Kong: Skull Island, and often proving repetitive and predictable in a way that hurts the sheer blockbuster entertainment of it all, so that's why I'm giving it a 7.3 in the end.
A dizzyingly entertaining music spectacle that celebrates its subject in style
With vibrant, passionate and dazzling energy from beginning to end, Rocketman sets a new gold standard for the music biopic, brilliantly blending a riveting true story with inventive and dizzyingly entertaining musical shenanigans throughout, not to mention a fantastic lead performance from Taron Egerton, and stunning directing from Dexter Fletcher that brings it all together into one delightful and endlessly enthralling whirlwind.
It's really quite impressive how this film takes on the premise of a music biopic, because one of the genre's innate issues is that, while the personal stories of each individual musician through history are of course different in their own ways, the general arc of the rise of a superstar and the troubles that come with it are very similar in a majority of films.
Now, narrative-wise, that's the case with Rocketman, with Elton John rising from humble beginnings to become an immense celebrity, all the while struggling with a number of inner demons, worsened by the world of excess that he's thrown into. Of course, it's an engaging true story, but it will ring bells of a number of other music biopics, above all Bohemian Rhapsody.
However, the narrative arc is thankfully where the similarities between Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody end. Where Bohemian Rhapsody takes a dull, very literal approach to telling a music biopic, Rocketman recognises that there is more to show than just the chronology of a musician's life, and that's where the music itself comes in.
You can never really count music biopics as proper movie musicals, because while they always feature the artist's songs, they rarely burst into life like a classic movie musical. The case is very different with Rocketman, which ingeniously uses the songs of Elton John to not only tell the story of his life, but bring a powerful, vibrant and endlessly delightful musical energy to the film as a whole.
If you don't like Elton John's music, then I'll warn you, because there is a hell of a lot of music in this film, starting right from its bold opening sequence, forming the core of the film's energy, and often even taking centre stage from the narrative itself. Perhaps if you just want to learn about the life of Elton John, then this approach won't be ideal, but as far as making a cinematic and immensely entertaining movie goes, Rocketman hits the nail right on the head with this.
Blending fantasy with reality, non-diegetic music with diegetic music, and everything in between, the way that this film uses the songs is like very few others. The musical breaks are never jarring interruptions in the narrative flow, and fundamentally help to develop and advance the story while they're happening too. Unlike Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman isn't interested in hamfistedly forcing in a hit or two when the chronology warrants it, but it instead celebrates the brilliant music and energy of its subject, with passion that dances off the screen and wraps you up into an exhilarating whirlwind.
Taron Egerton too, mirrors the film's brilliant energy and passion, portraying Elton John not only in a convincing and likable manner, but fantastically blending the singer's lively stage persona and real-world troubles into one, something that's so hard to do in such sleek and engrossing fashion. And of course, Egerton is doing the singing himself here. It's not dubbing, he emulates John's voice and sings the songs himself, an incredible achievement that makes his performance all the more exhilarating and impressive to watch.
And finally, a word on director Dexter Fletcher, who somehow manages to bring everything in this fantastic whirlwind of a musical biopic under one roof. Blending the music together with orthodox drama in incredibly slick fashion, the film runs at an electrifying pace throughout, running to the beat of its fantastic soundtrack, all the while engrossing you all the more in the story at hand.
Fletcher starts the film off with exhilarating energy, but even when things do take a darker turn in the story, he somehow manages to keep that delightful, vibrant fun factor at play, with the atmosphere bouncing wildly between darker personal drama and euphoric musical energy. And yet, that total inconsistency and almost insane range of atmopshere only adds to the immense passion and energy of the film as a whole, keeping its feverishly entertaining vibes at top pitch all the way to the finish.
Overall, I absolutely adored Rocketman. Not just your average music biopic, it tells a riveting story that's accentuated by dizzyingly entertaining musical energy, vibrant visuals, electrifying pacing, and a truly brilliant lead performance, all somehow brought together by director Dexter Fletcher.
High Life (2018)
A bold take on Tarkovsky-esque slow cinema, but struggles to find its feet
As close to Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris as modern cinema is likely to get, High Life is an undeniably striking, bold and deeply unsettling sci-fi drama throughout. Unfortunately, while it impresses with its cinematic audacity, the film really struggles to find its feet early on, coming off as a gratuitously provocative arthouse film, rather than something genuinely deep. That said, with strong directing and performances, and a far better final act, High Life proves a memorable, if not rather exhausting watch.
Now, slow cinema is always one of the most interesting genres out there, because it requires the very best in directing, acting, screenwriting and everything else to keep you engrossed at every moment. The original Solaris is a great example of how slow cinema can work really well, and can also be really boring. High Life, taking its cues from the Soviet classic, is a bold attempt at pure slow cinema, but it too struggles to keep the intensity and intrigue there at every moment.
Starting off with the film's opening two acts, things really don't come together in the way the movie seems to want them to. While its non-linear structure is commendable in creating uncertainty and mystery surrounding the status of the people stuck out here in deep space, the film spends a good hour or so jumping back and forth between characters, time periods, themes and more in a rather disorientating manner.
Now, the film is atmospherically speaking a deeply unsettling and mysterious watch, and director Claire Denis does a brilliant job to tie together striking cinematography and top-quality costume and production design together to give this film that piercingly disturbing and strange atmosphere right from the start.
However, in slow cinema, an atmospherically striking movie isn't enough, and while High Life does more than enough to intrigue in its first ten minutes, that eeriness feels like it's all style over substance as the first two acts unfold, a problem worsened by the film's gratuitous and unnecessarily graphic use of sex and violence through the first half.
As a result, while I was taken aback by the visuals, atmosphere and striking likeness to Solaris, I really found myself struggling to engage with the film's major themes through the opening two acts, with the story taking too many liberties with its more provocative and arthouse-style ideas early on, and giving little focus to developing those main dramatic themes in a more engrossing manner.
Fortunately, things change in the final act, which not only takes away the earlier period's gratuitously provocative elements, but also brings far more depth and intrigue to those main themes. All of a sudden, with a significant change of circumstance going into the third act, the concepts of humanity as a species, the reproductive cycle, the ethics of science and the far future all start to hit home, which makes an already atmospherically striking film a thematically powerful one as well.
If things had continued the way they had in the first two acts, I would have ultimately called High Life a dull and pretentious film, but it manages to bring together its best ideas in time for an electric final act, which finally delivers on what is not only a brilliant dramatic premise, but a unique and commendably bold cinematic style that isn't used to its full potential early on.
Robert Pattinson impresses throughout with a more measured performance than a lot of the more provocative events surrounding his character, and it's that island of calm that keeps a degree of dramatic intrigue in the story through the first two acts. Juliette Binoche also impresses on the other side of the spectrum, really bringing home the more disturbing nature of the story at hand with a deliberately witch-like turn as the ship's medical controller.
The supporting cast aren't quite on the same level as the lead duo, partly because the secondary characters don't really get the attention they deserve, but also because they're used more often in the film's more provocative periods, whereas the most powerful and memorable points are almost entirely focused on Pattinson's character.
On the whole, there's certainly a lot to say about High Life, and I am delighted to say that it's a bold, audacious modern take on slow cinema. With stunning visuals from beginning to end, as well as excellent directing, the film holds a piercingly unsettling atmosphere throughout, furthered only by the disturbing nature of many of its themes. High Life does struggle to find its feet for the first two-thirds, which can prove frustrating, but once it all comes together in the final act, it proves to be a genuinely powerful and memorable watch.
Pure, delirious joy in the form of yet another exhilarating thriller
Following on from two deliriously entertaining, visually gorgeous and blissfully simplistic thrillers, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum keeps up the franchise's unique appeal in stunning fashion. Complete with electrifying action, beautiful cinematography, a pulsating score and a great sense of humour, the film is pretty much as purely joyful as action thrillers get, and proves two hours of brilliant entertainment.
Before I get into all of that, though, one of the greatest things about this franchise is just how simplistic it is. You may have seen John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2, you may not have done. Going into this third film, however, it's all pretty irrelevant, and while the first two films are certainly worth your time, absolutely anybody can go and watch this movie without any prior knowledge, and simply sit back and watch the fireworks.
The plot is effectively laid out for you in the first ninety seconds of the movie. John Wick is excommunicated, and there's a $14m bounty on his head. That's it. Following that brief bit of exposition are two hours of beautifully simple yet endlessly entertaining action, and while the film does keep you engrossed with its sense of mystery and intrigue surrounding this world of allegiances and deception, it's the thrill of the chase that really matters.
In that, there's almost never a moment where storytelling takes precedence over action thrills, with the movie bursting into life by way of an exhilarating opening act. However, much like the first two films, not every moment is fighting and shootouts, with the mystery, the tension and the intrigue all playing a part as John Wick encounters numerous people from his past in all manner of different scenarios.
There are moments in its middle portion that do drag a little more than others, and where the story perhaps gets a little self-indulgent, however there's no denying just how slick and purely entertaining a thriller this is regardless.
Of course, the action itself is brilliant as well. The opening act is astonishing, filled to the brim with insane action that features seamless fight choreography, brilliant camerawork and a fantastic sense of self-awareness that allows you to laugh at the most ridiculous moments. From then on, the film continues to burst into life with mad, energetic and dazzling action sequences again and again, only furthering the sheer entertainment appeal of the whole affair.
Also, there's no getting away from just how good-looking a movie this is. The camerawork in the fight sequences is certainly excellent, but it's the film's kaleidoscopic colour pallette and slick cinematography that makes it a feast for the eyes, pulling off the style of a pure pulp thriller in brilliant fashion once again, and with a pulsating, intense score playing throughout to boot, you'll definitely be on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.
All in all, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum isn't much different from the previous two movies. It isn't the world's most intricate or intelligent thriller. However, with brilliant energy, dazzling visuals, stunning action and an invaluable sense of fun, absolutely none of that matters, and it instead proves a solidly entertaining, manic and dizzyingly joyful thriller throughout.
Wild Rose (2018)
Aggressive, passionate, moving and immensely endearing
While it's certainly reminiscent of the classic A Star Is Born-esque story, Wild Rose is a movie about dreams with a real difference. On the one hand, its sheer passion and energy is more than enough to provide a hugely crowd-pleasing and delightful watch, but on the other, it has brilliant depth and emotion throughout that tackles real, difficult issues at the same time. It doesn't always escape a bit of sappiness, but the core drama is there right from beginning to end, which is what makes it such an engrossing and often even moving watch.
But before we get into all of that, there's one thing about Wild Rose that really stands out above all else, and that's the lead performance by Jessie Buckley. You've seen stories about dreams and sky-high ambitions countless times before, and you've also seen them with imperfect characters, but there are few that hit home quite as strongly as Wild Rose, and a huge part of that is down to Buckley.
With her character straight out of prison and struggling to keep a handle on her life with two young children, Buckley immediately grabs you with the inner turmoil of a woman whose life seems to have got away from her completely at such a young age. In that, she's hot-headed, impulsive and very aggressive, but Buckley demonstrates brilliantly that that's all borne out of her own natural passion and understandable frustration, rather than because she's any kind of a bad person.
So, the film starts off with her aggression and seemingly out-of-control lifestyle at the fore, yet because of Buckley's grounded and equally charming performance, you stick with her through thick and thin as you come to realise what kind of a person she really is. Jessie Buckley not only impresses with her own powerful singing voice, but with an immense likability that endears you entirely to her character, even when it she seems to be taking wrong, impulsive or even selfish decisions.
And that's where the story comes in. Again, you've seen movies with this premise before - a young person from humble beginnings with sky-high dreams - however Wild Rose does what few others in the genre do, by keeping its feet firmly on the ground and confronting you with the reality of what stands in the way of your dreams.
So, unlike cheesier, more generic stories of the same ilk, which simply put achieving your dreams down to perseverence and belief, Wild Rose offers up a devastating dilemma for its main character, as she's forced to choose between continuing to fight hard for the dream she feels she is so worthy of, and taking responsibility for the people around her and taking a step back from her highest ambition.
That dilemma is what makes this film so emotionally engrossing, and with Rose's immense passion for her dream, and sheer frustration at her present situation, you find yourself equally torn between choosing the dream or the real world, sympathising with her even in moments that feel entirely morally wrong, something that few films are able to do so convincingly.
That difficult emotional dilemma is so powerful because you're entirely endeared by Buckley's lead performance, but also made aware of the reality of her situation by the brilliant screenplay, an ingeniously layered and endlessly engrossing key theme that works brilliantly from beginning to end.
Of course, on top of that brilliant emotional drama, there's a striking aggression and energy to this film that gives it an entirely different energy to films of the same genre, particularly compared with the most recent iteration of A Star Is Born.
Director Tom Harper starts the film off with a bang, and while its focus music genre - country (& western) - doesn't naturally suggest an aggressive, fast-tempered atmosphere, the combination of Harper's passionate and energetic directing and the aggression of the main character are what allow the film to flourish with such a fast pace.
It may not always be entirely devoid of the cheesier, sappier side of things, and while some of the side characters offer a pleasant respite from some of the movie's heavier drama, they occasionally take away from both that striking aggression and grounded real-world nature, which can prove frustrating at times, particularly in the second act.
With that said, though, there are few movies in this genre that hit all the beats as well as Wild Rose. On the one hand a crowd-pleasing, endearing and passionate story about fighting for your dreams, and on the other a brilliantly grounded perspective on the realities of life, it's a hugely engrossing watch from beginning to end. Alongside the great music, aggressive and energetic directing, moving screenplay and stunning lead performance, Wild Rose makes for a great watch throughout.
Liu lang di qiu (2019)
Really misses the mark when trying to deliver a majestic and moving sci-fi experience
Having raked in over $600m at the box office, The Wandering Earth is yet another massive blockbuster from China. However, like so many enormous Chinese blockbusters in recent years, it's all style and no substance, with excessive emphasis on special effects and incoherent fantasy that really impedes any attempts to craft a more elegant or majestic space opera.
And that's where I want to start, because from the beginning of this movie, you'll likely be reminded of a number of other films that go about telling sci-fi stories in a rather different way. The Wandering Earth is based on a novel of its own, so it's not in any way a Chinese remake, but the premise and key ideas explored in the film, particularly in the opening act, are hugely reminiscent of both Christopher Nolan's Interstellar and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Now, both Interstellar and 2001 are absolute masterpieces of modern sci-fi, because they tell a fantasy story with a stunning sense of grandeur and majesty that can't be achieved in any other genre. In that, while both movies have a plot and characters of their own, it's almost as if space itself is their main component, with astonishing visual effects playing into an eye-opening and almost spiritual depiction of the final frontier.
The Wandering Earth, on the other hand, takes a far more simplistic and unfortunately dull approach to telling a sci-fi story. It does have the special effects to dazzle (although I talk more about that in a moment), but it feels so much more like a formulaic space adventure movie, rather than the majestic space opera that it's so desperately trying to be.
Its opening sequence depicts the ever-intensifying threat of celestial destruction, and throughout, the film relates personal difficulties and tragedies in tandem with the danger of space travel and colonisation. And yet, while all of those ingredients make the film ripe for the sort of emotionally hard-hitting and elegant watch that is a great space opera, it's all overwhelmed by its more basic blockbuster tendencies.
In that, the film's quartet of young leads takes a little of the grandeur out of the story, bringing it closer to something reminiscent of the YA genre, while the special effects are often totally over the top, with an excessively brash and chaotic depiction of the dangers and threats present in space, something that really isn't necessary, as proved by better films such as Interstellar and Gravity.
On top of that, its near future setting, although only in the late 2050s, feels light years away from the present we know today. Unlike Interstellar, whose near future is almost identical to the present day, The Wandering Earth is full of fantasy and sci-fi gibberish about the Earth of the future that's both fairly incomprehensible and difficult to relate to, further taking away from your ability to emotionally engross yourself in the story and feel the real power of what this story has to offer.
And I say that because, despite not thinking much of the movie, there are moments where the film really tries hard to be something more majestic and elegant than just another space adventure. Its fantasy and excessive special effects often make it feel more like Jupiter Ascending than Interstellar, but there are a few moments of emotional intrigue and pathos that do indicate its intentions, and briefly provide an engrossing and impressive respite from an otherwise both chaotic and formulaic movie.
Overall, then, I wasn't particularly taken by The Wandering Earth. Its ambition is clear from the start, and with a premise that's reminiscent of real greats of modern sci-fi, it should have been an elegant, moving and majestic watch. However, with a generic plot that's far heavier on brash special effects, fantasy mumbo jumbo and chaotic action, it really misses the mark when delivering a sci-fi that's a little more special to the normal fare.
Tonde Saitama (2019)
A funny, pleasantly ridiculous and hyper-exaggerated take on regional rivalries and stereotypes
Regional rivalries always make for fun and games, whatever the country. Think of the hilarious Italian comedy Welcome To The South, and any other variation of regional divides around the world, and you have the set-up for Fly, Saitama, which takes a focus at the rivalry between prefectures in Japan's Kanto region.
With a good sense of humour and a pleasantly playful and manic atmosphere throughout, the movie is a fully enjoyable watch, combining on-the-nose regional comedy with a bizarre yet surprisingly appropriate and effective fantasy story. Although Fly, Saitama occasionally does get a little too caught up in its own fantasy world, and misses the mark when delivering that core comedy as the first and foremost, it definitely has the energy and humour to entertain you all the way through.
Let's start off, though, with how easy it is to understand the more specific cultural references and gags in this film for non-Japanese. If you know absolutely nothing about these regions, then it's likely a lot of the most specific jokes will go over your head (like people from Chiba Prefecture being obsessed with peanuts, or Gunma being an uncivilised, prehistoric land). However, the rivalry between the elite, big city of Tokyo and what is effectively a grubbier suburb in the shape of Saitama is easy to relate to from the start, so everyone can join in and enjoy even if they don't have a personal invesment in this regional rivalry.
So, much like the brilliant Welcome To The South, Fly, Saitama is accessible and entertaining to a wider international audience. What's more is that, even when it's not poking fun at any one of the prefectures in the region, the film's manic energy allows it to prove just as enjoyable all the same. Featuring rapid-fire comedy that keeps jokes coming all the way through, you're bound to find yourself laughing at some point, even if not every joke lands as intended.
Away from the comedy, the most striking thing about Fly, Saitama is its use of an exaggerated fantasy world as an allegory for the various regional disputes and quarrells. While the core ideas of the rivalry are clear from the start, bringing them into the context of a semi-futuristic setting that's almost totally devoid from reality means that there's a lot more freedom to play up even the tiniest little things and make fun of them.
So, Tokyo is a glistening metropolis, Chiba is a medieval world by the sea, and Saitama is a devastated wasteland. In that, the film really shows just how much fun it is having by playing with these regional stereotypes and ideas, and through that very style, it allows you to join in and enjoy it to the full, without ever worrying about being seriously offensive or unfair to any one of the various sides.
It's a fun and unique concept that works really well for the intended effect, but the one reservation that I do have about Fly, Saitama is that it occasionally indulges itself a little too much in that fantasy world, moving focus away from the core sense of humour.
In effect, the film turns out as a sort of fantasy movie with jokes about Saitama, whereas it would have been best if it had stayed as a joke about Saitama peppered with a bit of fantasy. As a result, some parts where the movie goes into full manga mode may turn some viewers off, as the focus unfortunately drifts away from its cleverest and most entertaining premise.
Overall, though, I had a lot of fun with Fly, Saitama. A delightfully ridiculous and energetic take on regional divides and rivalries in Central-East Japan, with good humour and a playful attitude throughout as it takes the premise into a hyper-exaggerated fantasy world. It may get a little over-involved in its own fantasy, and move the focus a bit too much away from the core humour, but on the whole, it's a thoroughly enjoyable and pleasantly manic watch.
Unicorn Store (2017)
A fascinating and equally delightful look into the millennial mindset
Combining bright ideas, likable characters, and an impressively dynamic look into the lives of young adults in the modern world, Unicorn Store is a really engrossing film, and one that blends genuine real world drama with deliriously wonderful fantasy to make for an uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable watch throughout, furthered by two top-notch lead performances and passionate, albeit not quite bulletproof, directing from Brie Larson on her feature debut.
At the outset, this film may look a little on the cheesy, simple side, following a young woman as she attempts to recover from a sacking and a string of failures in her life. And, if you want to, you can watch Unicorn Store in that way just as well, however I found that there's really quite a lot more to it.
With the exception of a rather rocky and out-of-place opening ten or fifteen minutes, where it is all a little on the cheesy, generic side, Unicorn Store develops this fascinating insight into the lives and mindset of so many young people in modern society that's both relatable and deeply interesting, refraining from a whining, superficial critique of the world we live in nowadays, and instead taking on problems and offering up a really uplifting way to go about solving them.
Of course, there are times where you can say that this film has got its head a little bit in the clouds, but the screenplay makes a good effort to bring the story back down to earth at those moments where things do feel like they're getting a little cheesy or overly positive. In that, it brings about a really impressive and unique balance between the idealism and pessimism of the millenial generation, in a manner that I can't say I've ever seen on screen before.
And that key theme, the frustrated split ideology of the youth of today, is borne out ingeniously by the film's clever foray into the world of fantasy. In a style that's a little reminiscent of Safety Not Guaranteed, Unicorn Store takes on a real world topic and setting, but makes it far more striking by adding just a dash of fantasy. It's not enough to transport you to a far away land, but it hits the perfect beats when it comes to drawing a line between the the world of dreams and reality.
In that, Brie Larson's direction really has to be commended, and even more so given it is her directorial debut. Juggling two mindsets that are such polar opposites in the movie world, as well as trying to bring fantasy and real world drama together, is hugely difficult, yet Larson directs with passion and purpose throughout, and despite the odd weak moment where you think the film is beginning to lose its way, she always manages to bring it back with a series of very clever twists of fate.
So, while Unicorn Store has the drama and depth to prove a genuinely riveting watch, Larson injects it with enough passion and wide-eyed wonder to make it a really uplifting and lovely movie too. Couple that with Larson's effortlessly likable performance, as well as a real stand-out turn from her co-star Mamoudou Athie, and you have a film that will both make you smile, and keep you genuinely engrossed all the way through.
If there is one area where Unicorn Store falls down, it has to be the comedy. If you're watching this just for laughs, then you'll likely be disappointed. It's not that Unicorn Store is a totally unfunny movie, but a lot of the outright humour really doesn't land, particularly in the opening act. If you go with the story, and wrap yourself up in the fascinating perspective into the millenial ideology, then you'll definitely find the film a lot more enjoyable, but even I, as much as I liked it, didn't find myself laughing much through Unicorn Store.
Overall, then, I really had a great time with this movie. While it's not bulletproof all the way through, lacking in punchy comedy and occasionally losing its way at times, Unicorn Store is a fascinating, passionate and striking film, with hugely impressive directing and acting from Brie Larson, as well as a unique, challenging, and equally uplifting insight into the modern world. It's an engrossing watch, but it's a really nice, lovely one too.
Captain Marvel (2019)
The classic superhero origin story executed in deliriously entertaining fashion
In an era where Marvel continue to reinvent their tried-and-tested superhero formula, it's really nice to see a movie like Captain Marvel that takes everything back to basics, and refines the pure superhero origin story to near perfection.
As such, I had huge fun with Captain Marvel, thanks to its story-driven blockbuster entertainment, great humour, exciting action sequences and top-notch performances across the board. It's not Marvel's most original or most striking film, but it is certainly their most pure, and that's what made this such an entertaining watch for me.
Now, if you've been following the MCU over the last 11 years, you'll have sat through no less than eight origin stories (count them), meaning that all of the options for making the same formula feel fresh again and again have been thus far pretty much exhausted.
However, while Marvel and more broadly superhero films in general continue to branch out to different genres to keep superhero fatigue at bay, Captain Marvel takes a bold decision to go back to basics, with a simple yet perfectly-executed origin story, as we see Captain Marvel arrive on Earth from another planet, before doing all she can to save the planet as well as those in need.
In effect, the premise isn't all too far from the core idea of Superman, but this is the first movie which has pulled off that classic story in such deliriously entertaining fashion in a very long time (Man Of Steel certainly didn't). As such, while Captain Marvel is far more Marvel's most innovative film, it is without a doubt one of their most purely entertaining, and stands as a soldi benchmark for what an entertaining, crowd-pleasing superhero movie should be.
Of course, that's not to say that Captain Marvel is a totally generic and predictable piece, as it takes from Marvel's decade of experience in crafting its own identity, while still delivering that classic story in such enjoyable fashion, with a wealth of delightful winks and nods to all things MCU, and excellent humour right the way through.
The humour here isn't on the wacky level of Thor: Ragnarok or Guardians Of The Galaxy, yet nor is it as serious as the likes of Black Panther or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Instead, Captain Marvel hits a great sweet spot in which you're laughing and smiling throughout, yet still invested enough in the story to find entertainment away from the jokes.
That's thanks to a screenplay that prioritises good story and character development throughout, while peppering the excitement with humour and great action. As a result, it may not be a film that surprises or shocks with its twists throughout, but it is one that takes you on a rollercoaster of blockbuster excitement, with an immensely entertaining and action-packed opening act, a riveting middle portion, and then a triumphant finale that all make up one fantastic superhero extravaganza.
Away from the action and story, the performances are also great fun across the board. Above all, Brie Larson is hugely likable as Captain Marvel, Samuel L. Jackson is great to see in his younger guise as Nick Fury again, and the two carrying off great chemistry throughout that makes their adventure together a whole lot of fun from beginning to end.
And finally, there are all the little things that only Marvel have the capability to throw about without distracting from the core action. As a result, all of the callbacks to past events in the MCU offers up an opportunity for a brain-teasing quiz of all your knowledge of Phase One and Two (although those who haven't seen any of those films may be a little lost at times), while the film's wealth of 90s nostalgia - from the pagers to the kicking soundtrack - is a delightful cherry on top, leaving me smiling from ear to ear at almost every moment throughout.
As I said, Captain Marvel isn't the most original or innovative superhero film you'll ever see, but with a classic story that's executed almost perfectly throughout, coupled with the might of Marvel's immense experience in the business, there are few comic book movies out there that will give you as purely entertaining a watch as this one.
Isn't It Romantic (2019)
Pleasant enough, but disappointingly falls into the formula of the very genre it pokes fun at
As cinema's most formulaic and over-played genre, I'm always happy to see a film taking a little pop at the romantic comedy, simply because there's so much to poke fun at. Isn't It Romantic takes this premise to the max early on, with a full-on parody of all things rom-com that makes for a rather cute and enjoyable opening. However, while it's a perfectly pleasant movie throughout, it unfortunately loses steam and confidence in its satirical attitude, ultimately and rather disappointingly devolving into what is unmistakably a generic romantic comedy.
But let's start on the bright side, with the film's early critiques and little jabs at all the ridiculous tropes of the romantic comedy. As a genre that everyone knows well, this film doesn't hold back when going into extreme detail about various formulaic aspects of the rom-com, whether it be the pointless rivalry between female friends or the ever-present final dash to stop the wedding.
In that, there's a lot to laugh at and enjoy when it comes to making fun of the rom-com formula, and Isn't It Romantic is a film that stays bold and confident in its delivery of that satire well throughout the first act, all the while impressing with nice humour, a pleasant lead performance from Rebel Wilson, and a sweet and enjoyable atmosphere all round.
A lot of that continues on right the way through to the end, and while Isn't It Romantic remains a really rather nice watch throughout, it proves hugely disappointing in its rather abrupt end of all the rom-com satire as the second act gets underway.
With a major change of circumstance that sees Rebel Wilson trapped inside a romantic comedy, the film eventually just gives up on all its gags and little jabs at the genre, and instead goes into automatic as it develops the story and the various on-screen romances towards a disappointingly predictable conclusion.
In comparison to something like They Came Together, which also pokes fun at romantic comedies, Isn't It Romantic isn't consistently farcical or stupid enough to be a properly good satire of the genre. Its finale attempts to subvert your expectations with an individualistic message, but it's delivered far too seriously and earnestly to fit in with that comical vibe.
Ultimately, that's what really undoes this film as a whole. It's perfectly pleasant, and thanks to its thoroughly enjoyable opening act, it's certainly better than most romantic comedies. However, the fact remains that it just doesn't carry through with its funniest ideas, instead devolving into exactly what it's meant to poking fun at. With a disappointingly generic, simplistic and annoyingly earnest latter two acts, it makes for an underwhelming finish to what could have been a thoroughly hilarious watch.
The Aftermath (2019)
Interesting at times, but neither a powerful romance nor an impressive historical drama
This is a great example of how a film can try to juggle and blend two different genres, and despite never really getting either perfect, can still offer up interesting and engaging drama. As a result, The Aftermath is far from a perfect film, and its frustrating misfocus given the potential of its historical setting makes for an often underwhelming watch. However, it still has the elegance, dramatic intrigue and often even emotion to keep you engaged throughout, ultimately making for a thoroughly watchable, but not exceptional, film.
So, the two ideas and genres that the film attempts to balance and bring together are romantic drama and pure history, and it's the historical side that I'd like to start off with, because while the film features some fascinating historical themes, it also fails to capitalise on the genuinely enthralling potential of its setting.
Set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, the film centres on the relations and tensions between the British occupiers and local German citizens, with emotions and suspicion still running high following six years of all-out war. In that, the film looks at both the continuing negative feelings between both peoples, brought to life early on by Keira Knightley, as well as the idea that, with the war over, there is no need for recriminations in the face of a rebuilding project for the better of all, which we see in Jason Clarke's character early on.
Now, while the movie does occasionally hit those beats in a little too on-the-nose (especially when compared with how the same ideas are presented in the brilliant Land Of Mine), it's not quite as clear-cut as you may expect. Subverting expectations by reversing the stereotypical roles and seeing the patriarch hold more sympathy to the Germans, with his wife holding onto more antagonistic feelings following the war, The Aftermath does offer up some genuinely intriguing historical discourse, which builds to fascinating and often even palpably tense heights towards the end of the first act.
However, the biggest disappointment about this film is that it doesn't follow through. Despite a strong start from the historical point of view, its second and third acts don't offer all that much more on the same plain, with focus shifting abruptly to a romance that, while perfectly pleasant and enjoyable, just doesn't have the depth or intrigue to prove really impressive.
Of course, that's not to say that the entire historical context goes out the window, and the romance that develops still focuses on the idea of relationships crossing political lines - similarly looked at in films like Suite Française. However, it's far closer to a generic period romance, rather than one that blends historical themes in to further what was developed earlier on.
As a result, the film grinds to a little bit of underwhelming halt as it edges towards a rather predictable finale. It's not a boring watch, and with strong performances from Keira Knightley, Jason Clarke and Alexander Skarsgård, there is still intrigue and entertainment to find, but it all feels a rather frustrating and disappointing approach given the potential of the opening act's historical focus.
If you're looking for a nice romantic drama, this film can prove an enjoyable watch, but you'll have to wait quite a while for the romance to start in earnest. On the flipside, if you're looking for a historical drama that depicts the aftermath of the Second World War (as I was), the film starts off in strong fashion, but its move towards romance later on will likely leave you disappointed.
All Is True (2018)
While you should take it with a pinch of salt, All Is True still tells an enthralling and intimate dramatic story throughout
Given his continued fame as the greatest playwright who ever lived, you'd be surprised at just how few films there are out there that detail the personal life of William Shakespeare. Of course, a key reason for that is that there just isn't all that much on record about his private life.
And that's where films like All Is True come in. Taking some bold historical interpretations from the information available, the film comes up with an engrossing and emotionally riveting story, with an intimacy that makes for enthralling watching throughout, although its credentials as a historical piece are a little undermined by the fact that its story should be taken with rather a large pinch of salt.
But historical accuracy doesn't always have to tell the whole story, and when it comes to the plot at hand, All Is True does a rather good job at making it an engrossing watch, particularly as it centres on the unexpected domestic turbulence of the Shakespeare household upon his final return from London.
Proving an intriguing character study that opens up differing perspectives on Shakespeare as a man, the film manages to give an intimate and deep portrayal of the great writer's inner psyche, and whether or not it matches with the reality of history, it makes for fascinating viewing, with strong drama pulsating right the way through the film.
Kenneth Branagh's performance as Shakespeare is great, and he gives a measured and impressively down-to-earth portrayal of a historical figure that most of us - who know next to nothing about Shakespeare (myself included) - would expect to be something different. In that, while the film does look at the nature and importance of his great body of work, he's actually a very likable and engrossing lead for the story at hand.
So, as an intimate personal drama, All Is True does a pretty good job, but there's of course the overhanging question of its historical accuracy. Of course, as I said earlier, a good drama is still a good drama whether or not it tells a historically perfect story, but there is something to be said about a film that feels like it's masquerading as an entirely accurate account of a fairly unprovable period of history.
In comparison to something like The Eagle Has Landed, which is a great deal of fun even though you know it's not real history, All Is True deliberately gives off the air of a standard historical biopic, even though a large proportion of its history is made through interpretation. Of course, it's fair to say that other portrayals of Shakespeare on film should be subject to the same criticism considering how little is known about his private life, but there is something a little underwhelming and disappointing when you watch a film that seems like true history, but in all truth most likely is not.
That's not to say it's an entirely falsified piece, and the core, factual information of Shakespeare's family life is there in plain sight, but when it comes to some of the story's more outlandish historical interpretations, it's something to bear in mind if you're looking to watch the film as an educational piece as well as a dramatic one.
Finally, while the movie does do a good job at providing intimate and engrossing emotional drama throughout, it just misses out on an extra level of depth in its portrayal of the last days of the great Shakespeare. In comparison to Mr. Holmes, which details the years of an aged Sherlock Holmes, All Is True doesn't quite have that fleeting elegance that suits its story so well, and that occasionally comes back to bite the film when it's really trying to hit home with its core emotion.
Overall, All Is True is an engrossing personal drama, with strong and intimate emotion throughout that tells a fascinating dramatic story, furthered by an excellent lead performance from Kenneth Branagh. Its historical accuracy is certainly debatable, something that occasionally proves frustrating when looking for real emotional power, but it doesn't take away from an enthralling drama at the centre.
Clever, funny and hugely entertaining, albeit not quite as mind-blowing as its groundbreaking predecessor
The Lego Movie was a masterpiece, and that's not something that I say lightly. A vibrant, exciting and beautiful film, it had stunning depth and intelligence, all the while featuring a unique and refreshing brand of self-referential humour that has since proved hugely influential in blockbuster cinema over the last few years, with the advent of the likes of Deadpool, Ralph Breaks The Internet, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse and many more.
As a result, it's fair to say that my expectations for The Lego Movie 2 were very, very high. Fortunately, I'm delighted to report that the sequel is almost just as awesome as the first film, and while it doesn't quite have that mind-blowing and groundbreaking nature that the original is so noted for, it's a hugely funny watch that features yet more gorgeous animation and brilliantly clever writing, all of which left me with an enormous smile on my face from beginning to end.
When it comes to sequels, it's always hard to strike a balance between replicating everything that was great about the first film, while telling a new and exciting story, but it's a balance that The Lego Movie 2 gets pretty much spot-on.
Although its opening act is a little overly similar to the first film, the movie soon breaks out into a thrillingly entertaining adventure that's just as enjoyable as it is surprisingly smart and deep, once again thinking outside the box as it relates the Lego world to the real world.
In that, while I had an absolute blast with Emmett and the crew's adventure through the stars, the most fun and satisfying thing about The Lego Movie 2 is relating everything that happens on screen with the real world, as the film cleverly uses the concept of dimensions in its brilliantly self-referential manner, as such allowing you to draw on your own experiences of playing with Lego, and how that's emulated in the story here.
It's something that was absolutely mind-blowing to see in the final act of the first film, but the sequel takes a bolder and more direct approach to the blurry line between the real and Lego worlds. However, while it may occasionally seem a little on-the-nose, it's a unique and bold story that creates great depth in the film's main adventure, all the while drawing you in with a thoroughly relatable account of a world of imagination.
As a bog-standard adventure, there are a lot of elements that are highly reminiscent of the events of the first film, and while the sequel occasionally struggles to bring about real character depth and intrigue as the first managed, there are still a lot of surprises in store with this film, thanks mostly to a unique and intelligent screenplay structure that brings a lot more gravitas and intrigue to the story than you may think at first glance.
And anyway, for all the intelligence and uniqueness of this film, the most important thing about The Lego Movie 2 is that it's absolutely hilarious from beginning to end. Once again using that ingenious brand of self-referential humour to poke fun at everything in pop culture to the moon and back, the film is filled to the brim with bright, clever and silly jokes, and I found myself laughing and chuckling on a consistent basis right the way through, with a good few big laughs here and there too.
The sequel may not quite have the insanely frantic energy of the first film, something that left me effectively wetting myself with laughter last time round, but that doesn't mean it's not a vibrant and energetic adventure movie, and it's that brilliantly entertaining humour that proves the icing on the cake to a truly wonderful and once again intelligent film.
Finally, on the flipside, if there is one area where The Lego Movie 2 stumbles, it's the music. Everything Is Awesome was a hit in the first film, but it was used more as an in-joke throughout the movie than being a simple, Disney-esque song. The sequel, however, has four or five musical numbers, and while a couple are fun and catchy, there are two that are just awful, proving a boring stumbling block in a film that's otherwise full of energy.
So, if there is to be a third film in a few years (which I hope there is), I'd expect to see a backtracking on turning The Lego Movie into a more generic animated musical, because it's by far this film's most awkward and dull element, and a little out of tune with the often rebellious character of this series.
Overall, though, I had an absolute blast with The Lego Movie 2. With a lot to live up to following the groundbreaking nature of the original, it's a really entertaining sequel that combines yet more beautiful and vibrant animation with rapid-fire, funny and as-ever intelligent humour, all the while impressing with yet another bold and clever story that hits pretty much every beat right throughout.
Lai dian kuang xiang (2018)
A slightly different perspective on Italian hit Perfect Strangers, albeit one that often misses the mark
This is the fourth version of the Italian hit Perfect Strangers that I've seen, and while it's the one that offers up the most originality and deviation from the original film, it's also the weakest telling of the same story. In that, while Kill Mobile has its moments, and is certainly an entertaining watch at times, it's a film that often overextends itself in trying to compensate for its various changes to the original script, an attempt at bolder originality that unfortunately falls flat.
Let's start off with the story, which is, at its core, pretty much the same as the Italian original. It's still seven friends in pretty much identical roles coming together for a dinner party that goes wrong when secrets and more are spilled from everyone's phones.
That story, as proved by Perfect Strangers, as well as its Spanish and French remakes, is brilliant no matter what guise you put it in, and so proves the case once again, with the key beats of the ups and downs of a turbulent dinner party still proving thoroughly entertaining and exciting (which is remarkable given that I've been through the same story four times now).
However, unlike the Spanish and French versions, this Chinese version of Perfect Strangers tries a little harder to be different to the original. As I said, it's still the same movie at the core, but with a variety of changes to the script for cultural reasons, as well as a different thematic focus, it offers up a slightly new angle to look at the same story.
In that, the film's main focus is on how we are so overly reliant on our phones nowadays, and while that's undoubtedly present in all of the other versions of the story, it's an especially poignant one in this case, linking in with how heavily modern Chinese society is invested in the digital world - far more so than its European counterparts - and the worrying consequences that can occur when things reach an extreme.
I will say that the film is a little heavy-handed in that approach. Along with the core story, it also offers up a few extra little vignettes that tie into the main plot as well as further that main theme, but they just don't feel like an organic addition to the film's main discourse, something that's achieved far more effectively when you spend the entire duration with the same characters in the same room.
Another issue with some of the film's discrepancies from the original come in its relative lack of emotional depth. While it's an entertaining watch, with some enjoyable performances and good humour throughout, this is the first time that I've watched this story unfold without ever really feeling it all hit home.
While the Italian original is a lot of fun, much of its drama and thrills comes from the emotional depth that's built up over the course of the film, as the characters' inhibitions are stripped away and left to bear all of their raw emotions, culminating in a thrillingly uncomfortable watch, which is ultimately what makes the premise work so well over the course of an enthralling and deeply awkward dinner party.
Kill Mobile, on the other hand, doesn't offer up the same emotional depth. That's in part due to its heavier focus on the mobile phone theme, but also due to the fact that some of the key elements of the original Italian script just aren't translatable this time round, whether it's because they just don't apply quite as perfectly to China, or are still regarded as taboo, something which I found a real shame.
With all that said, this film is still an enjoyable watch, and the seven leads all give energetic and engrossing performances that play brilliantly off one another, as is the case in all of the film's other versions. (Meanwhile, my prize for stand-out actor for this version of Perfect Strangers goes to Ma Li, who gives one of the best performances for her role out of all the Perfect Strangers movies, even though it's a little different to the rest).
Overall, then, I had fun with Kill Mobile. It's an interesting adaptation of Perfect Strangers that still retains the core entertainment factor of the brilliant story, all the while offering up a different perspective on the same premise, even if it occasionally falls flat when it tries to deviate from the course of the original.
It might not seem like much at first, but Destroyer is an ingenious and multi-layered piece of filmmaking
On the surface, this is a solid crime drama with a gritty atmosphere, emotional intrigue, and some great make-up work. If you go deeper, though, it proves to be so much more, with an ingenious screenplay that holds its cards brilliantly throughout, furthered by striking directing from Karyn Kusama, and a staggering performance from Nicole Kidman, all of which makes Destroyer a film full of intrigue and surprises, and far more than what you may think of it at first glance.
Let's start off with the story, which plays out detailing two different periods of Detective Erin Bell's life. On the one hand, we have the intrigue that follows her as she tries to seek out those from a past life of hers after encountering a suspicious murder, and on the other, we see her life undercover with those very people, and how it came to have an impact on her for years to come.
At first, I have to say that it's a story structure that doesn't quite work, not giving up enough detail and background to really grab you over the course of the first act, and trying a little too hard to retain an air of mystery when a little more exposition is needed at times.
With that said, if you stick with it, Destroyer will make it all worth your while, developing into a fascinating portrayal of life outside the law, all the while gradually linking up all of the mysteries and intrigue that it sets up early on as the true significance of everything that has come before becomes clearer.
It's a difficult structure to get right, and while the parallel stories of Bell's undercover period and her current life prove a little disjointed early on, the film really comes into its own in the second and third acts, and opens up doors of drama and intrigue that you would have never expected at first, something that makes for an utterly enthralling watch.
That ingenious screenplay is brought together brilliantly by director Karyn Kusama, who bides her time very effectively as the stakes begin to ramp up throughout. At first, the film may come off as a bit of a slow character study, but Kusama cleverly uses the lethargy and narrative ambiguity of the first act to draw you in without even realising it, and then with a series of stunning flashpoints throughout, completely changes the dynamic of the entire film, which keeps the story thoroughly engrossing, and brings you in ever deeper as the stakes continue to develop towards the finish.
Kusama gives Destroyer a brilliantly mysterious vibe that's able to grab you in such organic fashion, and along with the gritty nature of its surface crime story, she also opens up the film to allow you to delve into the psyche of the main character, with the series of dramatic revelations playing in brilliantly to an ever-changing perspective around Detective Erin Bell.
And that's where Nicole Kidman's performance comes in, which is without a doubt one of the best of her career. Again, while it may not seem so at first, Kidman is measured and very understated throughout, brilliantly portraying the tortured soul of a woman who has been through something very damaging, and while she conceals the true depth and scale of that emotion to let it all be played out by the screenplay, she's absolutely staggering to watch throughout.
And then we have the make-up work, which is just as impressive. Sometimes, performances that go against type for A-list actors can come off as somewhat of a gimmick, but along with Kidman's brilliant turn, the heavy make-up that's used adds so, so much to her character. From first glance, she's clearly a battle-hardened and tortured individual, but the make-up is so striking - at times even proving the scene-stealing element - that it creates further mystery around Erin Bell, once again leading into the film's ingenious screenplay.
Overall, I was hugely impressed by Destroyer. It's a film that may not seem like much at first, but if you give it time, it's all undoubtedly worth your while, with an ingenious screenplay with so much more depth than you could possibly imagine, striking and innovative direction from Karyn Kusama, scene-stealing make-up work, and a stunning central performance from Nicole Kidman.
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
It has its moments, but Mary Queen Of Scots is ultimately a rather disjointed, confused and even dull historical drama
The Tudor Period has been long-beloved by film and television for its wealth of political drama and intrigue, and the story of how one of the greatest monarchical families in British history eventually came to fall is an equally fascinating one. However, despite a wealth of historical drama, Mary Queen Of Scots is unfortunately a rather disappointing watch, proving a disjointed and frustrating biopic that fails to deliver the intrigue and tension that the history deserves, and despite some strong performances and brilliant production design, it's a rather dull watch from beginning to end.
Let's start on the bright side, however, with the film's strongest suit: the production design. Trying to deliver a Game Of Thrones-esque vibe with its focus on the thirst for power in all realms, Mary Queen Of Scots is a deliberately drab and dark piece, but it gives an earthy and convincing quality to the film that makes the time period feel all the more tactile.
Too many period pieces have a tendency to portray medieval settings as dollhouses, with far too much style over substance, but there's a deliberate and concerted effort to give the setting a darker and more grounded look that, in tandem with some lush costume design and stunning make-up work, really brings the period to life in far more interesting fashion than most.
Another plus comes in the form of the lead performances, with a strong and convincing turn from Saoirse Ronan in the lead as Mary Stuart, as well as an equally striking - albeit disappointingly sporadic - appearance from Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I. The two actresses do a great job at making their characters as strong and tough as can be, and it plays in well to the ever-growing conflict that begins to burn between their two courts.
With that said, this film doesn't quite manage to deliver that story about conflict in particularly interesting or swift fashion. Despite a stunning production and two great lead turns, the movie's screenplay is incredibly muddled, as it fails to double down on key aspects of the history to make for a properly fascinating watch.
Now, while it's clear that the future of England and Scotland lays very much in the balance as the two queens become further embroiled in a potential succession crisis, the movie takes a very confusing attitude to showing the battle for power, struggling to clarify who the people that really hold the power are.
In effect, there are two stories happening at the same time here, but they don't gel at all well together. On the one hand, you have the strong and increasingly ambitious presence of Mary Stuart, as she threatens the English throne and Elizabeth's heritage, and on the other, you have a story about how both queens were held back by the political machinations of the men in their respective courts, men with ambitions far greater than simply serving their monarchs.
Individually, those stories are interesting indeed, but the film jumps back and forth between the two at a frantic rate, to the point where you don't really know what to focus on as the viewer, whether what you're seeing is important with regard to the tension between Mary and Elizabeth, or whether it's all about the political wrangling in the domestic court.
What's more is that the focus on Elizabeth I's side of the story is woefully underdeveloped, and leaves the movie feeling a little lop-sided for the story it's trying to tell. Sure, the film is called Mary Queen Of Scots, and Mary Stuart rightly takes the role of the main character, but I felt far more attention needed to be given to Elizabeth's situation to further deepen the intensity and stakes of what's playing out on screen, rather than something that spends a little too much time focusing on Mary's personal life, with little or no wider impact.
The movie definitely has its moments, and with an enthralling face-off between the two queens in the final act, it's certainly a story that has immense potential for big screen intrigue, but it unfortunately muddles its way through the majority of its 2 hour runtime, as such making for a frustrating and unfortunately even dull watch for a large proportion of the movie.
Overall, I was rather disappointed by Mary Queen Of Scots. As I said, it has its moments, and along with sublime production design and two strong lead performances, it's by no means a bad film, but when it comes to delivering a riveting and thoroughly coherent historical story, the film really falls flat, with a muddled focus that ultimately leaves it feeling disjointed and confusing.
The Front Runner (2018)
A sobering account of the changing nature of modern politics
Although you may think you've seen this sort of movie before, telling the story of a presidential campaign and all the chaos and frenzy surrounding it, The Front Runner offers a different approach to the political biopic, with an engrossing and eye-opening account of a turning point in modern history with far, far-reaching consequences, combining with an equally interesting history to provide a riveting watch throughout.
Gary Hart's campaign for 1988 is something that's well-known for those who lived it at the time, but it's a part of recent history that hasn't remained at the centre of the discussion since it happened, and many who are too young to remember the campaign - like myself - might not know anything about this story.
So, at its most basic level, The Front Runner does a great job at telling the story of how Hart came from being the overwhelming favourite for the next President to seeing his campaign fall completely apart, and as a bog-standard biopic, the movie is interesting and entertaining throughout. It does occasionally struggle to shine a light on the more personal and emotional elements of Hart's reaction to events, and although that comment is something that's speaks volumes given the film's key themes, this is a far more factual and historical film as far as biopics go.
However, the film's strongest suit is in its focus on the key theme of privacy, and the role that personality plays in politics. Contrasting political campaigning and the relationship between public officials and the media prior to 1988 with the development of events in this campaign, the film proves a striking and eye-opening account of just how much the dynamics of politics have changed over the years, with Gary Hart's predicament proving a real turning point in history.
That's where the film's most engrossing element comes in, as it crafts itself as a wider discussion about whether journalists, the media and the general public have the right to go nosing into politicians' personal lives, and what damage could be done to the development of politics if personality takes such precedence over policy.
The Front Runner tells a sobering story that weighs up freedom of the press and the importance of privacy, as it shows a hard-working and passionate man fall from grace for something that arguably has no relationship whatsoever with his political career, something that I found fascinating to learn and think about right the way through.
Hugh Jackman's performance as Gary Hart plays in well to the film's angle on the subject, with a likable and respectable turn that both endears you to Hart as an honest and dedicated politician, as well as brings you closer to his way of thinking, and how he reacts to the chaos that unfolds in his campaign due to an unexpected media frenzy, and even though the screenplay doesn't quite play that right, Jackman's performance is all you need to get on side with Hart and put yourself in his shoes.
Now, while the movie brilliantly portrays the debate about privacy and personality and their role in modern politics, the one thing that it doesn't quite manage to pull off is that irreverent chaos and farce that surrounds political campaigning in particular.
The film certainly tries to do this, with an opening act that's filled with quick-fire discussions and a handful of jokes, but it lacks a zippy energy and pace that other films like The Big Short and In The Loop do so well, instead failing to work well as a satire on the chaos and frenzy of politics simply due to a lack of rapid comic energy.
With that said, The Front Runner is still an enthralling watch, not only for how it details the story of a major campaign that went so badly wrong, but also for its intriguing and thought-provoking discussion about the changing nature of politics in the modern day.