THE MID-YEAR SURPLUS REVIEW EXTRAVAGANZA THING 2021

Yes, I know the middle of the year was almost two months ago.

Yes, I know at this point I could have just waited until the end of the year like I did in 2020.

However, there are great movies here I want to recommend but I didn’t have time to before, and I want to get my thoughts out before I completly forget about them come the end of the year. And hey, if you’re the type who’s still been avoiding cinemas for now, most of these are available on streaming or will be soon, so there’s definetly some gold here to add to your pandemic watchlist.

Outside the Wire

A promising premise and a solid performance from Anthony Mackie unfortunately can’t save this otherwise forgettable sci-fi actioner. There’s some attempt to make this a story with moral conflict and social commentary, but by its climax it falls back on old technophobic cliches and pseudo-intellectual speeches about war and what it means to be human that make Hideo Kojima dialogue seem cogent. Sorry if this review is a bit barebones, but I honestly barely even remember watching this one. 3.5/10

Outside the Wire | Netflix Official Site

Psycho Goreman

An 80s throwback that asks the question, “What if E.T. starred Pinhead?”, Psycho Goreman is a bonkers horror comedy that lovingly sends up the cheapo genre flicks of the era. Steven Vlahos is an absolute delight as the voice of the titular monster, as is Adam Brooks as the hilariously pathetic dad, and the obviously minimal budget only adds to its charming retro aesthetic. Its biggest drawback is easily Nita-Josee Hanna as our protagonist Mimi, whose cloying performance turns her into an annoying control freak, rather than the lovable rapscallion the script clearly paints her as. Otherwise, this is a prime example of how you do “bad movies on purpose”: make them with a clear love for the material. If you have a Shudder subscription and haven’t watched this yet, why do you even pay for it? 7/10

Psycho Goreman Review - HeyUGuys

I Care a Lot

It’s a damn shame Rosamund Pike hasn’t been getting the roles she deserves after her stellar performance in Gone Girl, because this is exactly the kind of character she excels in. A dark comedy about a predatory legal guardian conning the elderly out of their wealth is such a perfect set-up for a timely satire, but I Care a Lot only grows more elaborate from there. This is simply a fantastic acting showcase for not only Pike, but also its stellar supporting cast including Peter Dinklage, Eiza González and Dianne Wiest, and a well-deserved return to form for writer/director J Blakeson. Now please, casting agents: hire Rosamund Pike. I want to see her play a maniacal supervillain eventually. 9/10

Netflix's I Care a Lot: Premiere Date, Cast, Trailer and More

Moxie

Amy Poehler’s sophomore directorial effort is clearly an attempt to copy her friend Tina Fey’s seminal classic Mean Girls but with a modern, socially-conscious twist. What we instead end up with is essentially “White Feminism for Teens: The Movie”. The screenplay reads like a middle-aged woman trying to write for Generation Z kids, and the disconnect immediately makes any kind of positive statement it’s trying to make seem immediately fake. The story at least attempts to call out its protagonist for being a white saviour, but she never seriously learns from this and all of the marginalised characters still ultimately feel like props. Just go watch Booksmart again and pretend this never happened. 4/10

Moxie (2021) - IMDb

Me You Madness

Gaudy, overproduced, gratingly unfunny, amateurish direction, incessant dialogue, endless 80s pop needle drops, scenes that drag on and on and on, and porno-grade acting from everyone involved. I honestly can’t tell whether it’s trying to be campy on purpose, or it’s just plain incompetent.It’s the vainest of vanity projects I’ve ever witnessed. A student film stretched to feature-length. A movie that wants to be glamourous and decadent, but instead lands somewhere between New Jersey mob wife and drag queen. In other words: it’s The Room for Republican girlbosses. If you love watching awful, awful movies for fun, this might be one to add to your late-night riffing playlist. Otherwise, just stay away. 1/10

Me You Madness' is made by bad people with more money than sense. I almost  loved it.

Operation Varsity Blues

If you don’t know too much about the 2019 college admissions scandal, this might be an interesting watch, but what ultimately hampers this film far more than its lack of depth are its re-enactments. Featuring Matthew Modine in a bad wig playing counsellor/con man Rick Singer, it plays out like an odd mix of a documentary and a TV Movie of the Week, and it might have been better off picking one or the other. If you’ve watched the rest of Netflix’s true crime docs, this might be of interest, but you’d probably get a lot more intrigue and nuance by reading a few articles on the subject instead. 6/10

Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal | Netflix Official  Site

America: The Motion Picture

A purposefully anachronistic retelling of American War for Independence through the lens of OTT action movies sounds like a laugh riot, and at times America: The Motion Picture is exactly that kind of Adult Swim random madness. However, it’s a bit too scatter-brained and tonally inconsistent to be enjoyable as a feature film; the story may have been served better as a series. The voice cast is certainly game (with standouts including Bobby Moynihan as an intellectually-challenged Paul Revere and Olivia Munn as a gender-and-race-flipped Thomas Edison) and a lot of the jokes are so ridiculously stupid that you can’t help but laugh, but this is one of those movies that’s unfortunately less than the sum of its parts. The ending is on-point though. 6.5/10

America: The Motion Picture | Netflix Official Site

Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar

If you’ve missed the gonzo comedies of the 90s and 00s that barely had a plot and just vibed on their stars’ inherent funniness, this is the movie you’ve been waiting for. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo turn characters who could easily be annoying into charming and relatable weirdos, who both seem normal compared to the mad world they live in. I’d advise going into this one as cold as possible, because that only makes the insanity that ensues that much funnier, so I’m not going to say much more other than WATCH IT. Also, Jamie Dornan is an absolute delight and I can’t get this musical number out of my head. Yes, really. 8.5/10

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar' Review: Kitsch Fever Dream - The New  York Times

Locked Down

I’ve avoided watching any of the various attempts to make a movie about the pandemic whilst the pandemic is still happening, but even I was intrigued by this one. A heist film directed by Doug Liman, written by Steven Knight, starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor, set against the backdrop of the early days of lockdown? If they had spent more than a week writing the script and weren’t obviously limited in scope by COVID restrictions, this could have been something. Instead, this is mostly two hours of watching Hathaway and Ejiofor argue about their relationship, followed by the most underwhelming heist ever put to cinema. You’d probably have more fun just watching its all-star cast hanging about in their flats learning how to make bread. 3/10

Locked Down': How to Watch the New Anne Hathaway Movie Online

Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans

The Tales from Arcadia series is honestly one of the best animated kids’ shows to come along since Avatar: The Last Airbender, and to see its saga finally conclude with a feature film was certainly a sight to behold. Though obviously limited by its runtime, Rise of the Titans does a pretty satisfying job of at least paying tribute to its universe if not necessarily closing up every lingering plot thread. The stakes are high, the character dynamics are as strong as ever, and the voice cast all do a fantastic job playing their now-iconic characters. It all pays off in an emotionally satisfying climax that ends the story on a hopeful but bittersweet moment that genuinely shocked me…and then they had to ruin it! Seriously, Rise of the Titans loses a lot of points exclusively due to its last five minutes, which not only cops out on its ending but renders much of the entire saga worthless. The movie up until then is pretty damn good, but it so intentionally shoots itself in the foot that it ends up averaging out as just, well…average. 6.5/10

Old

It’s been over a month since I saw it, and yet I’m still in turmoil about whether Old is a good movie or not. On the one hand, the premise is far-fetched but captivating and has fun playing with its rules, the unhinged cinematography does a great job of creating tension and uneasiness, and there are some genuinely creepy moments that evoke the body horror of Cronenberg and Barker. However, Shyamalan’s dialogue is as stilted and bewildering as ever, with characters making weird observations and spelling out the obvious; who else would create a character called Mid-Sized Sedan and expect to be taken seriously? The story on the whole is meandering and full of holes, with a final twist that is simultaneously obvious and yet absolutely preposterous in how it all fits together. Top it all of with some moments that cross the line from horrifying to just futilely tasteless, and it’s easy to see why so many hated Old. Me on the other hand? There’s just enough chills and suspense here to give it a trepidatious recommendation, even if only so you can make up your own mind, because I certainly can’t. 6/10

Judas and the Black Messiah

Some movies are carried entirely by their performances, and without its stellar cast Judas and the Black Messiah would be a fairly generic and unfocused biopic. However, the performances here are so captivating that it’s hard to care, elevating the whole movie and giving extra weight to its ultimately timely and necessary message. Lakeith Stanfield, Dominque Fishback and Jesse Plemons are all fantastic in their respective roles, but of course the standout here is Daniel Kaluuya as Black Panther Party icon Fred Hampton. It’s easily his best performance to date, and more than worthy of his Best Supporting Actor Oscar win; the only fault with it is that he isn’t in the movie nearly enough. 8/10

Judas and the Black Messiah' New 2021 Release Date - Variety

The Sparks Brothers

Whether you’re a major fan of Sparks or don’t even know who they are and are simply here because Edgar Wright’s name is on the poster, this is a stellar rockumentary chronicling the music world’s most elusive band. It dives not only into the history of the eccentric Mael brothers and their eclectic songs, but also how their music has left a pop culture impact in ways you may never have realised. Wright’s predilection for rhythmic editing and silly asides translate effortlessly into the documentary format, perfectly complimenting the Maels’ unique brand of humour. That’s not to even mention the soundtrack, which packs in as many Sparks songs as it can, alone demonstrating the wild evolution of the band over the years. If you don’t come out of this movie interested in checking out Sparks’ back catalogue and becoming a fan yourself, you will at least understand why so many have fallen in love with their music and why they deserve so much more credit than even they’ll admit they want. 9/10

The Sparks Brothers Reviews - Metacritic

Shadow in the Cloud

Disclaimer before I say anything positive about this movie: fuck Max Landis! He’s a manipulative sexual abuser, and the fact his name is attached to this is a serious demerit no matter how much the filmmakers have tried to distance themselves from him. Otherwise, this is a surprisingly well-executed genre flick with a lot of tension and an absolutely bonkers third act. Chloe Grace Moretz feels a little miscast but holds her own, and Rosanne Liang’s direction is top-notch. I wish more action movies had this one’s sense of pace and efficiency: 75 minutes excluding credits, and not a single second wasted. Call me when Liang gets herself a project that isn’t weighed down by the baggage of Hollywood’s own predatory gremlin. 6/10

Shadow in the Cloud Trailer: Chloe Grace Moretz Fights Monsters in WWII

Pray Away

Far too reserved and clinical to have the impact it clearly wants. I’m sure audiences who haven’t heard much about conversion therapy will be moved, but I’ve read so many stories that were far more detailed, harrowing and emotionally hefty than those told here. Despite most of its interview subjects being the literal former heads of these ministries, you don’t learn all that much about how and why they did these horrible things; you only get the barest of basic details. There’s far too much focus on the practitioners and lobbyists and not enough on the survivors, who have the far more relatable and sympathetic stories to tell. Also, the film is seriously lacking in trans representation. This would be OK if the film stayed totally focused on LGB conversion, but the film opens on and keeps cutting back to the story of a born-again detransitioner who says and does some awfully transphobic things. It’s obvious what he’s doing is wrong, but it would have been really helpful to have a trans voice in there to balance out and counteract all of that awfulness. As is, it just really left an awful taste in my mouth to see the only trans-adjacent voice in the film be framed as essentially its defacto villain. 5/10

How tragedy led Netflix director to shine a light on America's relentless  ex-gay movement

CODA

Sometimes, a story doesn’t need to be hugely complex, be set in some far-off exotic locale, or say something that completely changes your perception of the world. All you need is to put the audience in a unique pair of shoes and get you to fall in love with its characters. CODA at its core is a simple coming-of-age story but executed as flawlessly as you can expect, whilst also putting a much-needed spotlight on the deaf community without misunderstanding or pandering to them. Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant are all fantastic supporting players to Emilia Jones’ star-making turn as Ruby Rossi, demonstrating that not only should deaf actors be cast in deaf roles, but they add authenticity, visibility, and can collaborate seamlessly with their hearing co-stars. Are there times that the movie falls back on formulas or treacly sentimentality? Yes, but not only does it avoid as many clichés as it indulges in, those moments are earned and executed with such effortless precision that it’s impossible not to feel something. If you’re lucky enough to have a theatre near you playing CODA, go see it. Otherwise, sign up for Apple TV+ and give it a watch. You can always just cancel your subscription before the trial ends, though I’m hearing great things about Ted Lasso too… 10/10!

CODA Soundtrack Music - Complete Song List | Tunefind

Werewolves Within

Here’s a new way to adapt a video game into a movie: buy the rights to a property barely anyone has heard of and has next to no story, and then just do whatever you want with it. Why the filmmakers felt the need to base their film on an obscure Ubisoft VR game that’s just another play on the well-worn premise of Werewolf, I have no idea, but the final product is a pretty fun little horror-comedy. Sam Richardson continues to impress with his surprisingly malleable “earnest but highly anxious good guy” routine, and it’s fantastic to see Milana Vayntraub get the chance to shine she has been overdue for some time; the two of them just bantering and flirting is entertaining enough on its own. The final reveal may be obvious early on to anyone paying attention, but despite that the film’s suspense elements to a decent job of making everyone a viable suspect and making you question whether there even is a werewolf to begin with. The comedy doesn’t always strike gold, but the characters are well-defined enough to create some entertaining exchanges as allegiances and theories clash, creating a vibe best described as “What if James Gunn directed Clue?” 6.5/10

Werewolves Within Trailer Teases A Lycanthropy Murder Mystery

Jolt

This is basically a direct-to-video action movie from the 2000s, but they had the budget to hire name actors and maybe a few extra neon lights. Kate Beckinsale makes for a good Jason Statham-alike in the lead role and is clearly having as much of a blast here as she did in Underworld, and the stellar supporting cast do a lot to elevate it; even Jai Courtney comes out of this one looking decent. Unfortunately, the script is utter tripe that’s barely coherent with characters repeating the same information over and over again, and the action is incredibly inconsistent and nowhere near as crazy as all the electronic music and saturated lighting wants you to believe. All in all, I’d rather have watched the buddy cop movie with Bobby Cannavale and Laverne Cox that’s happening in the background. Also, not enough Stanley Tucci. You can never have too much Stanley Tucci. 5/10

Jolt': Film Review – The Hollywood Reporter

THE END OF YEAR SURPLUS REVIEW EXTRAVAGANZA THING 2020

You might have noticed that I didn’t post as much throughout 2020, and it’s easy to guess why. I honestly do wish I had written more reviews last year, because I still watched plenty of movies; I mean, there wasn’t much else to do while we’ve all been stuck inside besides doomscrolling and learning how to make bread. There are so many films I’ve wanted to talk about and tell people to go watch, but for a variety of reasons I just didn’t get around to it very often. But with 2021 now lying ahead and movies hopefully getting back to a more regular schedule soon, I wanted to make up for lost time and give you the rundown on every movie I saw in 2020 (that I haven’t already done a full review for). Now let me take a very deep breath…and let’s begin!

The Gentlemen

Guy Ritchie returns to his British crime caper roots with this fun but disposable bit of malarky. The plot isn’t much to write home about, but the performances across the board are strong and keep the fun banter flowing. Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell and Jeremy Strong ultimately make this worth a watch, and hopefully this marks a return to form for Ritchie after trying his hand at blockbusters. Still, I’d love a sequel to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when you get the chance, Guy. 6/10

The Gentlemen' Review: Guy Ritchie's Return To The Genre Leads To  Underwhelming Results

Miss Americana

Modern documentaries about current pop stars are usually nothing more than marketing exercises for concert tours made only for the diehard fans, but Miss Americana is a fascinating film for even those who don’t like Taylor Swift. It successfully humanises Swift without trying to convince you she is “just like you”, giving you a glimpse of the pressure and impact of fame on a celebrity’s health and voice. The standard all future pop docs should hold themselves to. 8/10

Taylor Swift: Miss Americana' Review: A Star, Surprisingly Alone - The New  York Times

Emma

Despite being a massive fan of Clueless, I’ve never read or seen any prior version of Emma, but this was a delightful way to be introduced to this Jane Austen tale. Anya Taylor-Joy is so perfectly cast as the titular character, along with great supporting turns from Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart, and the film on a visual level is just a gorgeous pastel-vision. Considering this is a feature film debut from director Autumn de Wilde, it’s a truly extraordinary bit of filmmaking on an aesthetic level. 8/10

Emma.' star and director on updating Jane Austen's text through blood and  tears | Fortune

The Hunt

After the horrors we’ve all witnessed over the past year, the controversy surrounding the release of The Hunt seems quaint and practically dated by comparison. Still, this politically-charged horror-thriller-satire is some solid B-movie fun, anchored by a brilliantly understated performance by Betty Gilpin. The commentary sometimes comes off a bit too on-the-nose and the ending fails to live up to the film’s promise, but there’s still a lot of fun action and topical humour along the way. 7/10

The Hunt (2020) - IMDb

Bloodshot

2020 was not a good year for superhero movies and, despite trying so hard to set itself apart from its peers, Bloodshot ends up being utterly forgettable. Yet another attempt to start a new cinematic universe, this feels like a comic book movie from at least ten years ago, and even the stoic charisma of Vin Diesel can’t save it. Bland characters, a predictable script, and action sequences involving nanobots and cybernetics that are somehow made boring, this superpowered action flop makes The New Mutants look awesome by comparison. I’m sceptical they’ll actually make a sequel, but hey: it took them until the fifth Fast & Furious before they got genuinely good, and they did eventually get around to doing xXx 3, so anything’s possible. 4/10

Bloodshot (2020) | Film Review | This Is Film

The Lovebirds

With Big Sick director Michael Showalter at the helm, the brilliant pairing of Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae as stars, and a quite literally killer premise, it’s a shame The Lovebirds is ultimately a bit of a non-starter. The plot is scattered and unfortunately predictable, whilst the jokes often strain to hold the whole enterprise together. Fortunately, the haphazard chemistry between Nanjiani and Rae ultimately make it worth a gander if you need some mindless light-hearted fun, but it still falls far short of the promise it had. 6/10

The Lovebirds' Review: It's a Turkey - The New York Times

Disclosure

If you know me or have watched any of my video essays, you know transgender representation in film & TV is incredibly important to me, and this account of the history of the community on screen is a perfect encapsulation of every problem with representations of the marginalised in popular culture. It’s a great entry point for cis viewers looking to better understand the issues, but it hits on a deeper level for trans viewers seeing both the mockery and hatred we’ve endured on screen but also the joy and hope for a better future. Easily the best documentary I’ve seen all year. 10/10!

Disclosure Review: Laverne Cox's Moving Survey of Trans Representation |  IndieWire

Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee hits it out of the park again with this time-hopping Vietnam War drama. Much like BlacKkKlansman, it is both a brutal account of past events but also an incredibly timely story about race, war and colonialism, whilst also balancing that fine line between truth and entertainment. The cast across the board is excellent, but Delroy Lindo is easily the film’s MVP in a career-best performance that, in a just world, would net him all of the Best Actor awards. Also, that minefield scene. Holy hell, that was intense! 8.5/10

Is Da 5 Bloods based on a true story?

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

This is an inherently stupid movie, but it’s a Will Ferrell comedy about Eurovision, so you really shouldn’t be too surprised. Though the plot is incredibly cliché and overstretched, it’s an undeniably fun ride with hilarious comedic turns by Rachel McAdams and Dan Stevens and some brilliantly catchy songs. Seriously, “Jaja Ding Dong” fucking slaps! If you’re in need of something to cheer you up and you love cheesy European pop music, you cannot go wrong. 7/10

The Story of Fire Saga Review: Netflix Eurovision Comedy Is Too Pitchy |  IndieWire

Hamilton

I hesitate to count this a film, considering it’s just a filmed version of the Broadway show, but just to get it out of the way: yeah, Hamilton is as good as all of your theatre friends say it is. Even without the magic only a live performance can illicit, this is an astounding piece of theatrical art that is now more accessible than ever. If you’ve been missing your local theatre during the pandemic, there is no better cure than watching Hamilton. 9.5/10

HAMILTON (2020) • Frame Rated

The Old Guard

Whilst new blockbuster action movies were hard to find this past summer whilst they we wait for box offices to reopen, The Old Guard more than scratched that itch for gunfire and punching. Charlize Theron again shows herself to be a stellar action heroine, and the John Wick-meets-Highlander action is a lot of brutal genre movie fun. Also, that scene in the prison transport is beautiful and a brilliant example of how simple and naturally gay characters can be incorporated into a story. This is easily the best attempt at a blockbuster genre movie Netflix has ever attempted, and hopefully this blossoms out into the franchise it clearly wants to spawn. 8.5/10

The Old Guard (2020) directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood • Reviews, film +  cast • Letterboxd

Project Power

The premise of a drug that gives you superpowers is absolute dynamite, and although Project Power does have some fun with the idea, it ultimately feels unfocused. Jamie Foxx does a decent enough job as lead Art, but the storyline for Joseph Gordon-Levitt as cop Frank Shaver feels woefully underdeveloped, and instead the real star of the movie ends up being Dominique Fishback as the street-smart Robin. Honestly, I would have rather watched the movie about her ambitions to be a rapper rather than her being thrown into yet another “grounded” superhero movie. 6.5/10

Project Power': Film Review | Hollywood Reporter

The King of Staten Island

Pete Davidson finally gets his chance at breaking out of Saturday Night Live in this semi-autobiographical dramedy from Judd Apatow. There’s some great supporting turns here from Marisa Tomei, Bel Powley and Steve Buscemi, but Davidson’s unique personality and brutally honest performance is what keeps it chugging through its overlong runtime. It ends up as a middling entry in Apatow’s filmography, but is easily his most earnest. I hope he continues to further mature as a director and evolve into the new James L. Brooks like he clearly has the potential to be. 7/10

The King of Staten Island' Review: Pete Davidson Tells His Story

Pretending I’m A Superman

As a huge fan of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series of video games, I was really hoping there’d be an interesting story behind it worthy of a feature documentary. Unfortunately, Pretending I’m a Superman ends up feeling like a few disposable DVD featurettes stapled together. The film takes up so much time at the front talking about the history of skateboarding and other mostly irrelevant background info available in more focused docs, and then barely skims over the history of the franchise and dodges answering questions about the later entries that led to its downfall. There’s some resonance in realizing how much a video game not only greatly impacted the sport but pop culture in general, but in the end this doc is one for only the most diehard of THPS fans. 5.5/10

Relive the Phenomenon of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater in Trailer for Pretending  I'm a Superman

Dolittle

Dr Dolittle hasn’t had much luck on screen with either the Rex Harrison or Eddie Murphy versions, but this new incarnation has now convinced me that this franchise is cursed. Robert Downey Jr gives a frankly embarrassing performance as the titular animal-conversing doctor, surrounded by a bloated cast of celebrities voicing one-note animal characters rendered with terrifyingly uneven CGI. The story is barely comprehensible, clearly patched together after extensive reshoots, and the final result is a bloated, expensive mess. Michael Sheen is the film’s only saving grace, camping it up as the film’s moustache-twirling villain in his most entertainingly bad performance since The Twilight Saga ended. 3/10

Dolittle' Review: Downey Does Less With Hollywood's Favorite Vet - Variety

Bill & Ted Face the Music

This has been a movie in the works for decades and, for once, a long-belated sequel was more than worth the wait. Rather than a rehash of lost glory, the return of Bill & Ted takes an adult and reflective perspective on the story of two friends who never lived up to their dreams and turns into a time-hopping laugh riot. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter slip back into the roles effortlessly, ably backed up by Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine as their equally bodacious daughters, and there are too many other great characters and cameos to sum up in such a short review. Overall, this is the kind of heart-warming fun we needed in 2020, and perfectly caps of a most excellent trilogy of adventures. 8.5/10

Shot by Shot with the 'Bill & Ted Face The Music' Trailer

Enola Holmes

Millie Bobbie Brown proves herself to be a worthy leading lady in the making with this young adult take on the Sherlock Holmes formula. The plot feels suitably ripped from the world of Arthur Conan Doyle but with an added flavour of classic English children’s literature, making the mystery an entertaining ride for both young and old. Sam Claflin and Henry Cavill make great turns as Mycroft and Sherlock respectively, but the film’s success lies entirely with Brown, and that hopefully means we’ll see more adventures with young Enola sooner rather than later. 7/10

Enola Holmes': Netflix's #1 Star Outshines Netflix's #2 Star

Secret Society of Second-Born Royals

Disney Channel movies are rarely ever stellar productions, but with a bigger budget and the Disney+ platform behind it, this has no excuse to be as lazy and chintzy as it is. The film’s premise is basically a haphazard combo of The Princess Diaries and X-Men with half the charm and an eighth of the budget, but the Sharkboy and Lava Girl-level effects could be excusable if not for the stilted dialogue, overcomplicated world-building and amateur performances from even the film’s seasoned stars. With decades of great kids’ entertainment readily available on Disney+ already, why would you ever choose to watch this? 1.5/10

Secret Society of Second-Born Royals - Plugged In

Scoob!

Though this new take on Scooby-Doo rightly abandons live-action of previous cinematic efforts, it’s the only smart decision the film ends up making. Scoob! tries to build a cinematic universe around the characters of Hannah-Barbera, but in the process turns a story about teenagers solving mysteries into yet another generic superhero send-up. The film is redeemed somewhat by some fun action sequences, an adorable opening sequence with young Shaggy and Scooby, and a delightfully OTT vocal performance by Jason Isaacs as Dick Dastardly, but this is otherwise a pretty forgettable animated flick that wouldn’t be out of place with the dozens of straight-to-DVD Scooby movies pumped out every year. 5/10

Scoob': #ScoobDance TikTok Challenge Nears 4B, Warner Bros. Lines Up Movie  Theater Partners – Deadline

Saint Maud

It’s hard to come by good British horror these days, and Saint Maud feels like a true modern answer to the classics of old. Morfyyd Clark gives a haunting performance as the titular Maud, creating a character that is grounded and sympathetic but disturbing at the same time. As a directorial debut from Rose Glass, this is a fantastic example of what low-budget British filmmaking can do when it plays outside the box, and Saint Maud already shows potential to be a future cult classic. If you love a truly twisted psychological horror, this is a must-see. 8/10

Saint Maud Review | Movie - Empire

Vampires vs. The Bronx

Harnessing the spirit of films like The Goonies and The Monster Squad but with a modern-day flavour, Vampires vs. The Bronx is both an entertaining horror-comedy and a clever commentary on whitewashing and gentrification. The young cast of newcomers carry the film with the confidence of pros, with the more recognisable faces like Sarah Gadon, Shea Whigham and Chris Redd simply there to bolster and support their hijinks. It feels hampered at times by its low budget and PG-13 rating, but otherwise this is a solid addition to your Halloween movie playlist. 7.5/10

Vampires vs the Bronx trailer: The neighborhood is at stake | EW.com

Hubie Halloween

Now this is a rare sight: a Happy Madison production that is not entirely terrible? Whilst suffering from many of the same problems Adam Sandler’s films have had for years, Hubie Halloween manages to overcome them through the strength of its supporting cast and a lot more earnestness than his past productions. It’s by no means a Halloween classic, but it has enough laughs and genuine moments to make it seem like it was actually made with some degree of effort. I know that’s a low bar, but by Sandler’s usual standards it’s quite an achievement. 6/10

Hubie Halloween' Star Adam Sandler Reveals Spooky On-Set Secrets |  Entertainment Tonight

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin’s sophomore effort as a director takes a humorous but honest look at one of America’s most publicized trials, delivering the sizzling dialogue and airtight tension that the famed West Wing writer is known for. The ensemble cast across the board is well cast no matter the size of the role, but the film’s biggest standouts are easily Sacha Baron Cohen and Jeremy Strong as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin respectively, livening up what could have easily been a dry courtroom drama into something almost absurdist. If Sorkin ever gets to write that Social Network sequel, I hope the inevitable scene where Mark Zuckerberg gets questioned by Congress can at least match the grandeur and farce of the court scenes here. 8/10

The Real Story Behind Netflix's The Trial of the Chicago 7

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

In the most surprising film of 2020 on multiple levels, this belated follow-up to the infamous 2006 mockumentary is perhaps the first comedy sequel that arguably surpasses its predecessor. The film is an irreverent and often uncomfortable skewering of Trump’s America, taking target at the GOP, COVID-19 scepticism and its overall culture of backwards bigotry that has bubbled to the surface since Borat’s last trip to the USA. Baron Cohen is as entertaining as ever as the titular Kazakhstani reporter, but Maria Bakalova is the film’s true revelation as his feral daughter Tutar. She is a comedy mastermind in the making, and comedy filmmakers would be foolish not to give her more opportunities to shine in the future. If you need something cathartic after a year of absolute bullshit, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is just what the doctor ordered. 8.5/10

Borat 2's Maria Bakalova breaks silence over Rudy Giuliani scene

The Craft Legacy

The Craft has managed to stand the test of time despite its overwhelming 90s-ness to become a perennial favourite for goth girls and wannabe wiccans the world over, and this 2020 sequel/reboot serves its target generation admirably. Though on a skeletal level a rehash of the first film, Legacy is at its best when it is exploring contemporary topics through the lens of its female power fantasy. The storytelling feels a bit restrained by budget, as do its lacklustre special effects, but this is a welcome and tasteful approach to revitalising a story for a new generation, even if this year’s Bit did a much better job of the “supernatural intersectional feminists vs. the patriarchy” premise. 7.5/10

The Craft: Legacy' Review: More Dull Carbon Copy Than Cult Classic - The  New York Times

Happiest Season

Though Happiest Season isn’t quite the gay Christmas classic all the Ls, Gs, Bs, Ts and beyond deserve, it’s regardless a heart-warming and hilarious step in the right direction. Kristen Stewart makes for a unique rom com lead stuck in an incredibly awkward family situation, with a relatable reticence and frustration that’ll speak to anyone who’s felt conflicted about their relationship, no matter your orientation or identity. The supporting cast is a smorgasbord of great comedy talent too, with Aubrey Plaza, Mary Holland and the always-iconic Dan Levy keeping the laughs coming fast. Sure, the ending is a bit rushed and as a result doesn’t quite feel earned, but its heart is absolutely in the right place, and that’s what matters more than anything. 8/10

Happiest Season Is a Queer Fantasy—And Almost the One I Need Right Now

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Another solid addition to your holiday watchlist is this musical fantasy adventure from Netflix. Featuring music co-composed by John Legend and some boisterous performances from Forest Whittaker and Keegan Michael-Key, Jingle Jangle is a bold and imaginative throwback to the classic Christmas tales of our childhood with a modern perspective, blending old and new to create something distinctly familiar and yet completely refreshing. It can at times stretch your suspension of disbelief as it indulges in its fairy tale logic a little too much, but the jaw-dropping visuals and toe-tapping musical numbers swiftly help you forget how non-sensical some of the storytelling can be. 7/10

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey movie review (2020) | Roger Ebert

Ammonite

God’s Own Country helmsman Francis Lee returns with this sophomore effort and, though its historical accuracy remains up for debate, its emotional resonance is far from questionable. Kate Winslet’s performance as famed palaeontologist Mary Anning is among her best, portraying a character who is bitter and terse but still sympathetic. The complicated relationship she forms with Saoirse Ronan’s Charlotte Murchison, who herself gives a chilling but brutally honest depiction of depression, is subtle at first but blooms frankly, delivering a romantic drama that isn’t afraid to show the bleak side of star-crossed lovers. Whatever Anning’s sexuality actually was, after centuries of historians erasing and straightwashing queer lives from our collective memories, I think it’s fair to allow this ambiguous case a little creative license. 8.5/10

Ammonite (2020) - IMDb

Possessor

This psychological horror from Brandon Cronenberg (yes, son of David) is a gruesomely kaleidoscopic trip that explores identity, morality and empathy through a murky sci-fi lens. Andrea Risborough has never been better as a body-swapping assassin on the verge of mental collapse, which is beautifully mirrored in Christopher Abbott’s performance as her latest avatar. This is a shocking and often disturbing piece of filmmaking, with haunting visuals and graphic depictions of sex and violence that shows the Cronenberg apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. 7/10

Possessor Review: Brandon Cronenberg Births a Gory Techno-Thriller |  IndieWire

The Boys in the Band

The language may be dated and the story a bit meandering, but this seminal piece of queer theatre has received a new cinematic adaptation worthy of its legacy. Though yet another example of a stage show struggling to shed its origins in translation, the witty dialogue and distinctive characters remain the true stars. Jim Parsons has never been better than here, finally making me forget he spent over a decade of his talent on a sitcom that had enough jokes for maybe two seasons. Sorry, slightly bitter tangent. The Boys in the Band is pretty good! 7/10

Meet the Gay Pioneers Who Made The Boys in the Band Happen

The Prom

I think we all needed a big gay musical pick-me-up as this dreadful year came to an end, but this adaptation of the Broadway show is like a supermarket celebrating Pride with a rainbow cake or your straight work colleague throwing around drag slang they don’t understand. There is clearly a beating soul to the film’s message, making it hard at points not to get swept up and go with the flow, which is made easier by fantastically camp turns from Meryl Streep and Andrew Rannells, and an endearing debut performance from Jo Ellen Pellman. On the other hand, that sweetness quickly turns sickening, and not just because of James Corden’s frankly cloying performance that is only made less embarrassing by remembering he was also in Cats. 5.5/10

The Prom (2020) - IMDb

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge on the Run

The third cinematic outing for the favourite marine-based cartoon of children and stoners everywhere, Sponge on the Run is a chuckle-worthy adventure that unfortunately falls short of its superior predecessors. The new CG animation style is an inventive change of pace that luckily doesn’t rob the classic characters of what makes them unique, and there are some standout characters here courtesy of the likes of Matt Berry and Keanu Reeves, but the whole affair feels haphazard and unstructured even for a Spongebob cartoon. This is especially obvious in the much-marketed flashback sequences, which feel like they’ve been cut up and repurposed from some previous version of the movie and then thrown in at the last minute. 6/10

LeftLion - Film Review: The SpongeBob Movie - Sponge on the Run

Trolls World Tour

The first Trolls was a pretty generic and forgettable kids movie that has only stayed in the popular consciousness thanks to the incessant catchiness of its tie-in Justin Timberlake song. However, they’ve cleverly leaned into its only relevance being a pop song by retrofitting this sequel into a music-themed adventure and…to my utter surprise, it works. It’s still a film aimed at very young kids and can be annoyingly twee at times, but there’s a sense of spectacle and cleverness here that was rarely present in its predecessor. The world design is bright and distinctive, there’s some funny vocal performances from Rachel Bloom and Sam Rockwell, and it even throws in some unexpectedly adult messages about strength through diversity and reconciling with the sins of your ancestors. It’s certainly not a kids’ movie that transcends the genre like the best animated fare, but if you’ve got children there are far worse films for them to be watching over and over again. 6.5/10

New TROLLS WORLD TOUR Trailer Features an Epic Pinky Promise and Poppy  Singing the Most Important Songs in History — GeekTyrant

Antebellum

I’m definitely not the most qualified person to judge the subject matter of Antebellum, and it’s hard to even adequately explain my issues without spoiling it, but suffice it to say that this is a highly problematic movie. It is an incredibly misguided attempt to ape the success of Jordan Peele but without his sharp comedic timing, intricate plotting, or reverence for genre. The premise is a solid one packed with potential for both horror and social commentary, but the plotting is poorly constructed and the characters underdeveloped and flat, and with such heavy subject matter you can’t really afford to be this sloppy. Some of the performances are good, especially Gabourey Sidibe as this film’s clear answer to Lil Rel Howrey in Get Out, but they can’t save it from leaving a bad taste. Antebellum ends up feeling like the Green Book of horror movies, and in a year that brought racial inequality to the forefront, that makes it feel extra insulting. 2.5/10

Antebellum Release Date Taken Off Calendar | Den of Geek

Godmothered

While you wait for the sequel to Enchanted, here’s a Disney family comedy that might as well be a spin-off to it. Godmothered is the very definition of an inoffensive film, never particularly surprising or amazing you but delivering decent laughs and charm nonetheless. Jillian Bell and Isla Fisher make for a decent enough bickering duo, and the film’s commentary on the sleaziness of trend-chasing news networks gives it some edge, but it’s the kind of movie you’ll probably forget not long after you watch it. 6/10

Godmothered movie review & film summary (2020) | Roger Ebert

Promising Young Woman

Wow. I mean…wow! I kind of want to wait and give this one a full review at some point, maybe closer to its UK release, but for now I’ll say this: go see Promising Young Woman as soon as you reasonably can. This is the kind of filmmaking we so rarely ever see: audacious, savage, completely bonkers and yet brutally honest. Carey Mulligan delivers the performance of a lifetime, whilst the biting screenplay and tight direction by Emerald Fennell here is instantly iconic. There’s not a single aspect of this film I can critique without it feeling like a nitpick, and just writing about it right now makes me excited to watch it again. It is absolutely my favourite movie of 2020, and I cannot recommend you see it highly enough. 10/10!

Opinion: 'Promising Young Woman' reveals roiling dark river of anger - CNN

Soul

2020 was a double dip year for Pixar, and whilst Onward was a pretty decent animated adventure, it looks absolutely basic in comparison to Soul. While on the surface it may seem like a repeat of Pete Docter’s own Inside Out, Soul brings the same emotional nuance that film brought to growing up and applies it that greatest question of all: what is our purpose in life? What follows is easily Pixar’s most adult film to date, and one that is likely to make you ponder and even question your own life choices. It is still ultimately a film for all ages, but it doggedly refuses to dumb itself down whilst still providing enough gags and heart to keep the younger set entertained. 2020 was a year that made many of us reassess what we were doing with our lives, and Soul perfectly captures those feelings of inadequacy and doubt and turns them into beautiful art. 9.5/10

Pixar's Soul Is Philosophical to a Fault | Time

Feels Good Man

Whether you know his true origins or even his name, Pepe the Frog has been an internet meme for what feels like as long as memes have existed, and not in a good way. This captivating documentary is not only an excellent dive into how an innocent cartoon frog became a symbol of the alt-right, but an examination of how the darkest corners of the internet have taken control of real-world discourse. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a story that starts with the carefree life of creator Matt Furie and sends him on a reluctant journey to battle internet trolls, and serves as a stark reminder of how easily media can be taken out of context and warped into something evil. 8/10

How Pepe Was Martyred by the Right: Austin-linked SXSW doc Feels Good Man  liberates the frog - Screens - The Austin Chronicle

An American Pickle

Seth Rogen takes on a double role in this odd comedy about an immigrant who wakes up in modern day New York and is reunited with his great-grandson after 100 years of being preserved in pickle brine. Yep, it’s about as weird as it sounds. The film is mostly a two-hander between Rogen and himself, bickering back and forth in an escalating routine that quickly becomes repetitive. It’s a very distinctive and often fascinating film on a visual level, which may be owed to director Brandon Trost’s background in cinematography, but on a comedy level it is incredibly hit-and-miss. Your mileage may vary, as the film is admittedly very niche, but it’s easy to see why this one ended up being chucked onto HBO Max. 5.5/10

An American Pickle movie review (2020) | Roger Ebert

The Croods: A New Age

The lovable caveman family that is not The Flintstones returns in this breezy and imaginative animated adventure that asks questions about class, cultural differences, and the values of a sidekick that doubles as a wig. The returning cast are all spot-on once again, with Nicolas Cage once again stealing the show as the lovably stubborn Grug, but it’s the new characters that add a welcome change of dynamic. Peter Dinklage and Leslie Mann make for a wonderfully smug holier-than-thou couple Phil and Hope Betterman, whilst Kelly Marie Tran is an energetic delight as their daughter Dawn. Combine that comedy with some vibrant visuals, creative action and a rocking soundtrack, it all adds up to a film that more than matches the quality of its predecessor. 7.5/10

The Croods: A New Age' Opening Day B.O. Near $2M; Promo Partners Set –  Deadline

The Witches

This new adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic is yet another example of how a film can end up being so much less than the sum of its parts. A children’s fantasy film directed by Robert Zemeckis, co-written by Guillermo del Toro, and starring the likes of Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci and Chris Rock? The potential for something great was all laid out for us, but what we’ve got instead is an overblown mess of a film with cringe-worthy dialogue, uneven pacing and startlingly inconsistent visual effects. The film may have been envisioned with the intention of being campy and over-the-top, but Zemeckis’ overly-slick direction and its cast clearly not all on the same page about the tone leads to the whole thing falling apart. 3/10

The Witches (2020) - IMDb

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

This adaptation of the August Wilson play may wear its theatre origins on its sleeve, but it carries itself of as a movie far more cohesively than prior Wilson production Fences. Viola Davis is as magnetic and captivating as ever as the titular Ma Rainey, and there’s some strong supporting turns from Colman Domingo and Glynn Turman, but the performance here by the late Chadwick Boseman here is truly the film’s shining achievement. Not just because it’s his final role, but because it is easily his best. The acting world won’t see another like him for some time, and here he puts on display every ounce of his talent. Farewell, king. We will miss you. 8/10

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom review – Chadwick Boseman glorious in his final  film role | Film | The Guardian

Mank

Trust David Fincher to turn a movie about the creation of Citizen Kane into a film just as inventive, witty and culturally biting as the movie it is about. Written decades ago by Fincher’s late father Jack, Mank is one of those movies that feels like it was made to win Oscars. The film perfectly captures the look and feel of a classic Hollywood movie, from Erik Messerschmidt’s beautiful black-and-white cinematography to how the sound has been mixed to give it that 1930’s touch; there’s even “cigarette burns” to indicate reel changes. The performances are all top-notch, from Gary Oldman’s drunken mess of a screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz to Arliss Howard’s pitch-perfect portrayal of movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, though Amanda Seyfried ends up being the film’s surprise star as Hollywood legend Marion Davies; it may prove to be her best work yet. The film is a tad overlong and doesn’t have much screen time for William Randolph Hearst despite him being at the centre of the film’s conflict (though Charles Dance absolutely relishes in what few scenes he does have), but regardless this is one every lover of classic cinema should give a watch. It’s certainly far from Fincher’s best, but even his lesser works are masterpieces compared to most movies. 8.5/10

Mank' Review: David Fincher's Immersive Old Hollywood Drama - Variety

MY END OF YEAR SURPLUS REVIEW EXTRAVAGANZA THING 2019

I saw a lot of movies in 2019, with still plenty more to see over the next few months catching up with what I missed and the slew of awards releases still trickling into UK cinemas at the start of 2020. There are so many I simply did not have the time to do full reviews of, but better late than never I say. Here’s my much-longer-than-anticipated End of Year Surplus Review Extravaganza Thing of 2019:

*deep breath*


Escape Room

With the popularity of escape rooms as a pastime in recent years, it was only inevitable that horror movies would start capitalising on this. Though not the first to exploit the concept, Escape Room was the most prominent and delivered a competent but unremarkable take on the idea. Essentially just a slightly less sadistic play on Saw, it had enough interesting ideas and an underlying commentary on classism to help it stay afloat, but it was ultimately too forgettable to leave an impact. With a sequel due out in 2020, let’s see how long it takes for this burgeoning franchise to truly drop the ball. 5.5/10

Crawl

Alexandre Aja is something of a connoisseur for refreshing the B-movie concepts of the 70s and 80s for the modern day (see Piranha 3-D and the remake of Maniac), and Crawl is a prime example of his skills. A premise of two people trapped inside a flooding home with alligators in the midst of a hurricane is one prime for both close-quarters scares and high concept action, which the film admirably delivers on in both terms. The core store may be fairly cookie-cutter family redemption stuff, but the imagination of the film’s set pieces are more than enough to make this a worthy piece of Friday night entertainment. 6.5/10

The Farewell

Awkwafina has been shining as the comic relief in the likes of Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, but the young star proves she has dramatic chops too in this feature from Lulu Wang. Based on the writer/director’s own experiences with her Chinese relatives, The Farewell is an equally hilarious and heartbreaking examination of grief, family and tradition. I’d rather leave it at that and allow you to discover the rest for yourselves, but you are likely to laugh and cry in equal measure. 8/10

Ready or Not

Samara Weaving has slowly been building up a reputation as one of the new scream queens, but Ready or Not goes beyond that and certifies her as a cult movie icon. A modern-day spin on the Most Dangerous Game concept, this is a hair-raising and gut-busting skewering of the privileged through the lens of a horror-comedy, and Weaving’s transformation from distressed newlywed bride to determined survivor is one of the ages. Be prepared to have a new favourite to add to your midnight movie collection. 8/10

Judy

Biopics are a pretty expected way for actors to fish for an Oscar nomination, and it’s certainly worked this year for Renee Zellweger and her performance as the legendary Judy Garland in this picture. However, Judy is far more than just a vanity project, delivering beyond that a sobering portrayal of a star on the decline and an insight into the toll sexism, sexual abuse and the celebrity machine can have on someone’s mental health. Zellweger is of course brilliant in the role, but 2019’s underrated star of the year Jessie Buckley also puts in a sleeper hit performance as Garland’s beleaguered but dedicated assistant. 8.5/10

Dolemite Is My Name

Many thought the day would never come, especially after it came and went so quickly last time, but Eddie Murphy is back! This slick and hilarious biopic of the infamous Rudy Ray Moore and the production of his underground hit Dolemite is the best film of its kind since Ed Wood, and it’s only fitting that it was actually written by the writers of Ed Wood! There are great performances abound from the likes of Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key and Wesley Snipes, but it’s Murphy himself who shines brightest as Moore and reminds us why he’s a comedy legend in the first place. 9/10

The Aeronauts

There’s always a few Oscar bait movies that completely fail to get any notices every year, and this might as well be the poster child of that sub-genre. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite from The Theory of Everything for yet another story of a revolutionary scientist, but despite being a high-flying adventure in a hot air balloon The Aeronauts falls flat fast. The film’s non-linear structure harpers the film’s attempts at effective character development, and it never quite does a good enough job of explaining the impact this experiment had on meteorology. The film’s flying sequences are breathtaking and Jones delivers a capable performance, but there’s very little to write home about. It’s hard to believe director Tom Harper made both this and Wild Rose in the same year, but it just goes to show you that a good story beats out stars and spectacle every time. 5/10

The Addams Family

It’s been so long since America’s spookiest family graced the big screen, and now in animated form it can fully capture the zany and morbid vision of Charles Addams’ comic strips. However, despite a strong voice cast and a few charming gags, the film’s simplistic and episodic plot put a major dampener on what could have been a welcome breath of fresh air for family animation. Not really much more to say than that. It’s fine, I guess. 5.5/10

Last Christmas

Paul Feig has had a fascinating decade of comedy hits from Bridesmaids onwards, but he now ends the 2010s with one of the most baffling and unintentionally hilarious romantic comedies every conceived. The entire premise of Last Christmas is built around an incredibly obvious and saccharine twist, taking an incredibly literal reading of the words of George Michael and telling a festive tale that will make you feel as sick as you would after eating too many mince pies. The talented and intersectional cast is a fine touch, as are the topical messages about the state of the world, but they are simply well-intentioned flourishes to a sickly and otherwise irrelevant core. It’s likely to become a Christmas classic, but for all the wrong reasons. 4/10

Queen & Slim

Queen & Slim can be very simply described as Bonnie & Clyde for the Black Lives Matter generation, and the film is very aware of that comparison. It’s a timely and brutally honest reflection of American culture and the fraught relationship between morality and race, and taps right into the cultural veins of our increasingly xenophobic culture. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith both deliver subtle and nuanced performances, and music video veteran Melina Matsoukas proves she has filmmaking chops with this feature debut. However, it’s ultimately a little too blatant and simplistic in its messaging to make any points that anyone aware of the problem doesn’t already know. 7/10

The Irishman

Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating epic about Frank Sheeran finally made it to the big screen…in only select theatres due to being a Netflix production. Still, this is a gargantuan piece of cinema that would be a fitting conclusion to the master filmmaker’s career if he was ready to stop here. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci all deliver career-best performances, and it contains so many already iconic sequences sure to become classics to the crime genre. Its strenuous length and lack of development for anyone outside its three main stars (especially its few female characters) hold it back slightly from Goodfellas greatness, but this is still a primo bit of filmmaking we rarely get to witness anymore. 8/10

Honey Boy

Shia LaBoeuf had something of a crazy decade, with him still at the forefront at one of the biggest blockbuster franchises at the start, sputtering out in the middle in a slew of creative and personal mishaps, and now here on the other side as an eccentric but self-aware curiosity. Honey Boy is the cinematic translation of that character journey. A semi-autobiographical odyssey based on LaBoeuf’s childhood relationship with his father, this is a captivating and gut-punching portrayal of mental health and self-destruction bolstered by astonishing performances from Noah Jupe and LaBoeuf himself. If you still think the man is worthy of a punch line, give this a watch and have your perspective shifted. 8.5/10

Black Christmas

The third incarnation of the slasher film often credited with inventing the genre, this version of the tale of sorority sisters being harassed over the phone by a knife-wielding murderer has been given an intersectional makeover. Whilst it clearly has noble intentions as it tackles topics like sexual abuse and toxic masculinity, the execution leaves much to be desired. Its lack of subtlety is deafening, its third act dive into mysticism is self-defeating, and withholding the timely subject matter this is just another generic horror movie. We need more feminist genre cinema, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept half-baked films like this. 5.5/10

The Hustle

A comedy dud of epic proportions, this gender-flipped remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels again aspires to be female empowerment but ultimately only proves that women can make terrible comedies just as well as men. Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are clearly trying but completely flounder with a terrible screenplay that meanders from set piece to set piece, to the point where the main conflict isn’t even established until over halfway through the film. It’s a gaudy and baffling film that makes both women look absolutely ridiculous, and to see director Chris Addison lower himself to this level is frankly disappointing. 2/10

6 Underground

It may not be the best Michael Bay movie, but it is certainly the most Michael Bay movie. 6 Underground is Mountain Dew in cinema form, bursting with energy and ridiculous ideas that is occasionally entertaining but mostly just exhausting. The premise is preposterous and socio-politically disconcerting after only a moment’s thought, and whilst Netflix certainly gives Bay the freedom to play to his greatest strengths it also allows him to fester in his worst excesses. At least Ryan Reynolds lends the film a lot of charisma, because this would be far less tolerable with someone like Mark Wahlberg in the lead… 5/10

Promare

From the makers of Gurren Lagan and Kill la Kill, this bonkers film about futuristic firefighters in mechs battling fire-wielding mutant revolutionaries is that will delight anime fans and blow the socks off anyone new to the art form. Featuring a hyper-stylised gorgeous art style and action sequences to die for, Promare is simultaneously also a fascinating examination of anti-facism, hero worship and how the ends rarely justify the means. If you are looking for a film unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, this is it. 9/10

Image result for promare

Stuber

This is a pretty standard buddy comedy with a basic plot and not much interesting character introspection, but it’s ultimately held together by the fantastic chemistry between stars Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista. That’s all I really have to say about. I guess it’s an OK watch if you stumble on it on streaming and have watched everything else. 6/10

Weathering with You

Makoto Shinkai’s follow-up to the excellent Your Name, this fantasy romance set in a rain-drenched Tokyo is a heartfelt tale of unconditional love and finding your own feet in a depressing world. The animation is gorgeous, the music is heartfelt and enchanting, and the story is melancholic yet hopeful. It may not be as emotionally resonating as Your Name, but this is a prescient and uplifting film about learning to find the silver lining in a bleak climate. 8.5/10

Little Women

Greta Gerwig knocks it out of the park again, adapting one of the most well-known novels in American history and finding yet another new perspective on the story after numerous previous versions. The entire cast is pitch-perfect, but Saorise Ronan and Florence Pugh especially stand out as they portray two different but valid interpretations of womanhood. Ultimately, it is Gerwig’s writing and directing that is the film’s true star, giving its source material the utmost respect whilst also twisting it in ways to give it modern and self-deprecating heft. This is the kind of literary recontextualisation I absolutely love to see. 9.5/10

Image result for little women 2019

Bombshell

The Roger Ailes scandal at Fox News is the perfect event to make a commentary on #MeToo and the current political climate, and whilst Bombshell has a lot to say it doesn’t always say it well. The performances are all around strong, especially from Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie, but its portrayal of sexual harassment still has a noticeable air of male gaze in the way it is contextualised. Jay Roach and Charles Randolph clearly have a handle on the political satire, but when it comes to discussing women’s issues they both still have a lot to learn. Combined with the inconsistent tone, this is an OK film that ultimately deserved way better. 6/10

Image result for bombshell 2019

1917

Sam Mendes. World War I. Roger Deakins. All in one shot. If you love cinema, you are already hooked, but 1917 is worthy of those selling points and then some. This is one of the best war films in recent memory, capturing the scale and the horror of its setting through its epic lens whilst also focusing on the human and emotional impact of the conflict. There are so many little touches to 1917 that make it so masterful, and the one-take gimmick is there to accentuate them rather than distract. Fantastic direction from Mendes, a strong lead performance from the underrated George Mackay, excellent attention to period detail in sets and costumes, and some of the best work in the careers of both cinematographer Deakins and composer Thomas Newman, this is an experience that needs to be seen on a big screen much in the same vein as Avatar or Gravity were in their day. 10/10!

THE MID-YEAR SURPLUS REVIEW EXTRAVAGANZA THING 2019

So I see a lot of movies, but I also kind of have other life commitments, and as such I don’t always get round to reviewing every single one I see. This was among many reasons I didn’t get out many reviews last year, but now I’ve refocused my efforts and am cranking out content far more consistently, but there as still some that slip through the cracks for whatever reason.

However, to try and stay on top of it, I’m now going to bi-annually share my abbreviated thoughts on every film I didn’t get round to doing a full review for. It’s probably far too late to catch most of these on the big screen, but many of these are already available on streaming services or should be out on home release soon, so maybe these reviews aren’t so belated after all.

Anywho, enough rambling. Here are my thoughts on:

Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened

A raw unmasking of a social media blitz gone horribly wrong, Fyre covers the baffling events before, during and after the infamous Fyre Festival in revealing detail. The interviews range from shocking to heartbreaking to outright despicable, painting a vivid portrait of everything wrong with excessive FOMO culture; it’s no wonder so many moments from this documentary have become memes. The involvement of culpable marketing team Jerry Media as producers is worrisome on a production level, but the film itself is easily the definitive account of these embarrassing events. 8.5/10

Fyre Fraud

With Netflix putting out Fyre, Hulu decided to compete and simultaneously released their own doc. Fyre Fraud is a less polished and more clinical examination of the events with far less overall access to insider details, but it does delve into areas of the story Netflix’s doc overlooked. Most distinctively, Fyre Fraud does interview festival mastermind Billy McFarland, who never once breaks his own façade that he is innocent, and watching him squirm whilst making excuses adds a whole new level to the story. Overall, Fyre Fraud works better as a companion piece to Fyre than a full documentary in its own right. 7/10

Velvet Buzzsaw

This is a psychedelic horror movie that takes inspiration from the works of Henry Darger and turns it into a gory and bitingly satirical examination of art itself. This film feels like it was made for me. Featuring an all-star cast with some particularly fantastic performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Toni Collete, Velvet Buzzsaw often at times feels more like a really good episode of Tales from the Crypt than a fully fleshed-out feature film, but its campy approach to horror and morbid sense of humour make up for its shortcomings. More horror movies like this, please. 8/10

Happy Death Day 2U

The first Happy Death Day was a disposable but amusing and self-aware horror movie spin on the Groundhog Day premise, mostly held together by an engaging lead performance by Jessica Rothe. This sequel doubles down hard on the comedy and delves deeper into the mythology of the time loop, rendering it less a horror movie and more of an outright sci-fi caper, but the transition is surprisingly seamless. It’s still all very silly and doesn’t fully make sense if you think about it, but in the moment Happy Death Day 2U is a fun distraction and another welcome change of pace for the genre. 6.5/10

The Kid Who Would Be King

Film fans have waited eight years for Joe Cornish to make his follow-up to Attack the Block, but The Kid Who Would Be King is unfortunately a tad underwhelming. It’s got a lot of spirit and a good British sense of humour, and Angus Imrie’s performance as Merlin should be a star-making turn, but the story is far less imaginative and original than it thinks it is. This is definitely more of a film for kids than a successor to Cornish’s previous work, but there are still plenty of other kids films like The Lego Movie and Kung Fu Panda that have done better deconstructions of the chosen one narrative. 6/10

Fighting with My Family

Stephen Merchant directing a biopic of WWE superstar Paige? The mere idea sounds absurd, but Fighting with My Family is a surprisingly charming and heartfelt rise to stardom story that bucks the formula. Florence Pugh once again cements her status as one of cinema’s rising stars playing the underdog wrestler, but Jack Lowden’s performance as brother Zak is equally strong and shines a light on the struggles of the working class shooting for stardom. Sure, there’s a fair bit of tinkering with history here (mainly as an excuse to shoehorn Dwayne Johnson into the story, who is as charismatic as ever), but the core premise is so feel-good that it’s easy to ignore. 8/10

High Life

Famed French cinema darling Claire Denis finally makes her English-language debut with this haunting and bizarre sci-fi horror. Robert Pattinson once again proves himself as one of cinema’s most underappreciated stars, whilst Juliette Binoche and Mia Goth deliver equally eerie performances. The film’s retro aesthetic intentionally evokes 70s genre classics like Silent Running but with a modern sense of existential dread, combining old and new to create an experience truly unlike any other. Whilst hardly a comparable role, if you have any doubts about Pattinson being the new Batman, watch this movie and then try and tell me he’s just another pretty boy. 8.5/10

Knock Down the House

An inspiring portrait of how to fight back against an unfair political system, Knock Down the House not only shines a light on now-congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s unlikely rise from bartender to congressional candidate, but on the many other women across the United States who attempted the same. Though at times the documentary lacks focus, its succeeds in showing how democracy requires everyone to step up and make a stand, even if only one voice ends up slipping through the cracks. 7/10

Ma

Octavia Spencer once again proves she’s more versatile than most give her credit for in this unnerving and fiendish psychological horror. After fumbling the ball with dark subject matter in The Girl on the Train, The Help director Tate Taylor steps up and delivers a welcome throwback to horror oddities of the 70s and 80s, and Spencer’s manic performance as the titular Ma is sure to go down as one of her most iconic. Ably supported by a strong stable of young new talent and Taylor regulars, along with some devilishly dark humour, Ma is destined to become a midnight movie favourite. 6.5/10

The Wandering Earth

This is one of the highest grossing films of 2019 so far, and I’m sure many of you haven’t even heard of it. China has made several attempts over the years to replicate the success of Hollywood blockbusters, and though The Wandering Earth blatantly takes inspiration from every big sci-fi disaster movie of the last thirty years, it’s easily one of the better imitations. The premise is patently ridiculous and the characters are one-note, but it matches the insanity and spectacle of a good Roland Emmerich movie and is far more consistently imaginative with its bizarre premise. If you want some ridiculous B movie fun and don’t mind reading subtitles (there is an English dub on Netflix if you want, but I almost always prefer foreign films with the original audio), step out of your comfort zone and experience The Wandering Earth. 7/10

Isn’t It Romantic?

Parodies of the romantic comedy genre are nothing new, but Isn’t It Romantic? does more than just point out the obvious clichés and ultimately has something to say larger than “Hollywood romance is unrealistic”. Rebel Wilson finally avoids her usual typecasting and actually delivers a nuanced and hilarious lead performance, and supporting turns from Liam Hemsworth and Betty Gilpin are consistently amusing too. The film isn’t always the most focused, lampooning certain rom com tropes whilst indulging in others without comment, but its heart is always in the right place and is never mean-spirited in its satire. Basically, if you liked the idea of last year’s failed Amy Schumer vehicle I Feel Pretty but were let down by its flawed execution, Isn’t It Romantic? may scratch that itch. 7/10