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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
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
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