8 April 2019

Us review

I don't think I'm overstating things when I say that Jordan Peele's Get Out ended up being a pretty big deal by any measure. It made just over $250 million worldwide on a budget of less than $5 million; it received the kind of critical acclaim most directors would kill for; it was nominated for four Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director), winning Best Original Screenplay; and maybe most importantly, left the kind of immediate cultural impact that can't help but ensure its longevity as both a movie and an important part of pop culture. It is, in short, a great movie - which means that the only real question I had going into Peele's Us was simply this. How can it possibly live up to Get Out?

Sadly, the answer is that it doesn't, but the reason is a little more complicated than just "it's not as good". In many ways, Us is (somewhat appropriately) the mirror image of Get Out - very much still recognisable as a socially satirical horror film, but inverted in a few places to create something that feels radically different to its predecessor. The most obvious of these inversions is that Us is deliberately far less comedic than Get Out, instead focusing its energy on creating the kind of visceral, immediate scares that the more cerebral Get Out lacked - but maybe more important is the films approach to theme, swapping out the laser like precision of Get Out in favour of something less refined but significantly more complex, open ended and further reaching.

The plot itself, however, starts off fairly simple. We follow a fairly average American family of four (the Wilsons) as they holiday in Santa Cruz, which also happens to be where matriarch Adelaide suffered a traumatic experience as a child. That night, 4 mysterious figures appear at the end of the beach house's driveway, terrorising the family before revealing themselves to be terrifying doppelgangers of the Wilsons.

24 March 2019

Captain Marvel review

"It's about damn time", said Evangeline Lilly's Hope van Dyne in one of the post-credits scenes of 2015's Ant-Man, and now, eight full films and the best part of half a decade later, the meta-promise of that short scene has finally come to fruition - far too late by any measure, but still. In Captain Marvel, the Marvel Cinematic Universe at long last has its first film led by a woman, an origin story (of sorts) for the titular Captain that while almost inarguably imperfect, gets far more right than it does wrong. The result? A movie that I enjoyed considerably more than I expected to based on the rather lackluster trailers, only making the upcoming Avengers: Endgame all the more tantalizing in the process.

Set in the mid 1990's, we follow an amnesiac member of the Kree Starforce known as Vers as she and the rest of her squadron (led by her mentor, Yon-Rogg) are tasked with rescuing an undercover Kree spy from the Skrull, a race of shapeshifting aliens with whom the Kree are at war. After the mission goes badly wrong, Vers finds herself stranded on Earth with the Skrull hot on her tail, only to learn that she may once have lived here before she lost her memory. Teaming up with SHIELD agent Nick Fury, the two of them start investigating how she ended up losing her memories and joining the Kree, all while trying to avoid the Skrull as she waits for Yon-Rogg to arrive on Earth to pick her up and take her home.

26 February 2019

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part review

It's kind of hard to believe that it's been five full years since The Lego Movie was released (I've officially reached that age where I say things like "this years gone fast"), but really, quite a lot has happened in that time. We've had two The Lego Movie spin-offs, of varying quality. Star Wars came back. The Marvel Cinematic Universe went from big deal to maybe the biggest deal. The DC Extended Universe started in earnest, and then died on its ass, and then started again. Pokémon Go came and went, which for my money is still the last time the world felt positive. The USA elected their very own President Business. Bloody Brexit.

My point is that despite just how quickly the time has passed, a lot has happened in our world since the release of The Lego Movie - so maybe it's only appropriate that a lot has happened to the world of The Lego Movie in that time too. Picking up right where the first film ended before jumping forward in time five years, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part sees the city of Bricksburg destroyed by Duplo alien invaders and rebuilt as a gritty, post-apocalyptic wasteland called Apocalypseburg, forcing the population (with Emmet as the only exception) to adopt a dark and tough persona in order to survive. But after an alien from the Systar system named General Mayhem kidnaps Batman, Unikitty, Benny, Metalbeard and Wyldstyle, it's up to Emmett to rescue them and prevent OurMomAgeddon, teaming up with a battle hardened space pilot named Rex Dangervest along the way.

6 February 2019

Green Book review

With just a few minor tweaks, it's entirely conceivable to me that Green Book could've played as a near pitch perfect satire of your average piece of prestige picture Oscar bait. I mean, look at the damn thing - it's not just a period piece, but an allegedly true story period piece that "tackles" (and I use that word in the lightest way possible) historical prejudices, while always managing to adhere to a tone that subtly and not so subtly insists those days are long behind us, that the societal problems on display in the film aren't something to be worried about now. Add to that an incredibly grounded, down to earth, emotionally driven performance from Mahershala Ali and one hilariously over-the-top, larger than life, hugely stereotypical performance from Viggo Mortensen, and it's easy to see a world in which Green Book could've been to Oscar bait what Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story was to the musical biopic.

Sadly, that's not the case. Green Book may contain moments of comedy (both on purpose and entirely by accident), but as far as intent goes we're a long way away from anything that could be considered even slightly subversive. Instead, it's the kind of film your elderly grandparents would love, showing how easily racism can be fixed when "one of the good blacks" is willing to give the white man a chance, a white man who despite being shown early on to be overtly racist is a nice enough, open-minded guy deep down. Sure, some cops back then were racist, but hey, #NotAllCops, and the good ones will help you get your car out of the snow with a smile on their faces. Sure, some might've been corrupt too - but hey, Green Book makes sure to point out that some of those cops are black. At almost every turn, Green Book tries to find a way to make the injustices featured throughout seem all that more palatable, and the result is a film that really had nothing interesting or original to say on the topics that it's supposedly - but isn't actually - about.

15 January 2019

The Favourite review

"Everything is about sex except sex. Sex is about power". It's a quote often misattributed to Oscar Wilde (as far as I'm aware, no one actually knows where it came from), but more importantly, it's a quote that couldn't help but come to mind when thinking about The Favourite, the latest film from The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer director Yorgos Lanthimos. In The Favourite, sex is seemingly only ever a means of establishing power, whether that be through attempting to create an heir, marrying for a title, paying a debt or even simply gaining someone's favour. It is the latter of these that The Favourite naturally spends most of its time on, but make no mistake - sex and power are intrinsically linked throughout, whether it be staring you in the face or hiding just out of view, obscured somewhat by the norms and systems of society but still very much ever present.

It's a thematic core that in the wrong hands could've easily come across as misogynistic, playing into tired femme fatale tropes without a shred of irony or self-awareness, but thankfully Lanthimos (and writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara) are smarter than that, able to ensure that we understand this to be a societal phenomena rather than a gendered one thanks to just how much of The Favourite ultimately circles back and highlights this link. Take, for example, a scene in which a naked guy who looks so much like James Corden that you'll do a double take gets pelted with rotten fruit for the entertainment of a group of bawdy male politicians, or one in which another politician sits there "stroking his goose" (not an innuendo within the context of this review but very much a visual innuendo within the film itself) as he and an opponent speak with the Queen - I wasn't over-exaggerating earlier when I called this link "ever present", and the result is a film just as focused and thematically interesting as The Lobster, and equally fascinating to think about after the fact.