Review in Brief: The Toll (2021)

You don’t get a Welsh gangster film every day, but THE TOLL makes you feel that’s a damn shame. It’s low-key stylish and non-linear, like PULP FICTION if it wasn’t as pleased with itself, with a rich seam of gallows humour and plenty of wry one-liners (“I used to babysit you when you were a little twat!”, “Sit down, you’re making the place look uncomfortable”). Michael Smiley is the British film industry’s go-to likeable criminal, and here he plays his toll booth godfather straight and scary as the rest of his bumbling underworld associates (including Paul Kaye and Iwan Rheon) act like they’re auditioning for the idiot parts in a Coen brothers movie. Like FARGO too there is a lone straight arrow country cop (Annes Elwy) grieving for a tragic loss and trying to keep the peace through an understanding (up to a point) with the local criminal element, but things are inevitably heading for a bloody end. SSP

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Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) Review

https://www.thefilmagazine.com/shang-chi-legend-of-ten-rings-mcu-review/ SSP

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‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ at 10 – Review

https://www.thefilmagazine.com/tinker-tailor-soldier-spy-review-10-years/ SSP

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Review in Brief: Candyman (2021)

You have to respect Nia DaCosta’s CANDYMAN for going hard, not going home. In this belated sequel to the 1992 film, struggling artist (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) and his curator girlfriend (Teyonah Parris) living in the gentrified area of Chicago previously home to the deprived Cabrini-Green housing project inadvertently re-awaken the ghostly embodiment of Black pain and rage, Candyman. There’s at least half a dozen really good central concepts here when two or three would have done, so the film ends up a little crowded and unable to do entirely so justice to all of its themes, but at least leads Abdul-Mateen and Parris make for compelling and modern horror protagonists. Visually and sonically, it’s pretty stunning, with an eerie score from Robert A A Lowe, memorable shadow puppetry animation sequences to fill in the mythology of the legend as it grew over the decades and clever thematic use of mirror and world-upside-down imagery. SSP

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Taika Waititi Films Ranked

https://www.thefilmagazine.com/taika-waititi-films-ranked/ SSP

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Review in Brief: Coda (2021)

I wasn’t going to cry during CODA, but then they deployed the Joni Mitchell. Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the teenage Child of Deaf Adults, acting as her family’s interpreter on their fishing boat and in their local community. But when Ruby embraces her love of singing and starts being tutored for a music school audition she has to decide between her dreams and supporting her family. While criticisms from some deaf commentators of the family’s insular, selfish portrayal are understandable, these are very human character flaws and the film still packs a big old emotional wallop with its performances, particularly Jones and the excellent central deaf trio of Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant. Come for the heart and the humour, stay to shed a few tears and to learn the ASL for rude words. SSP

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Review in Brief: Trollhunters: Rise of the Titans (2021)

The TALES OF ARCADIA have been told. Over five years the intertwined animated series TROLLHUNTERS, 3BELOW and WIZARDS built to this finale, deciding the fate not only of the colourful residents of Arcadia Oaks, California, but the world. We’ve time-travelled, traversed distant galaxies and other dimensions, faced dark armies, monolithic monsters and malicious magic users. Beloved characters died and some were re-born. In the real world, series lead Anton Yelchin tragically passed on. Co-creator Guillermo del Toro’s name may not be in the director’s slot (that’s Johane Matte, Francisco Ruiz Velasco and Andrew Schmidt) but visually and thematically it feels very much like one of his joints, with plenty of sympathetic monsters and a PACIFIC RIM-riffing kaiju battle in Hong Kong harbour. The film is full of high-octane action, dazzling fantasy visuals and gives all these characters we’ve grown to love a good sendoff. Don’t expect to get much out of it if you haven’t seen at least some of the TV shows, but if you’re a fan you’ll leave with your heart soaring. SSP

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Review in Brief: Shiva Baby (2020)

It’s going to be a hotly contested battle between SHIVA BABY and RARE BEASTS for the most uncomfortably awkward comedy released in 2021. Interestingly both are by female first-time feature directors and both show confidence in abundance and a unique world outlook. Danielle’s (Rachel Sennott) side-gig as a young sex worker threatens to be revealed to her extended family when she bumps into the sugar daddy she has been seeing (Danny Deferrari) at a shiva for a distant relative. The panic-inducing claustrophobia director Emma Seligman conveys is impressive as Danielle bounces from prying relative to prying relative, enduring questions about her plans for the future and avoiding answering much about how she is filling her time at present. This is cringe comedy of the highest order, built around a mesmerising central performance from Sennott and strong support from Molly Gordon, Fred Melamed and others. SSP

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‘Barton Fink’ at 30 – Review

https://www.thefilmagazine.com/barton-fink-30years-review-coens/ SSP

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Review in Brief: Riders of Justice (2020)

From its fable-like opening to its really rather schmaltzy Christmas closing moments and all the sudden acts of violence in-between, Anders Thomas Jensen’s RIDERS OF JUSTICE consistently delivers the unexpected. Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) returns home from military deployment to look after his teenage daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heik Gadeberg) after a train crash kills her mother. But very soon an eccentric mathematician (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his colleagues turn up on his doorstep with plausible evidence that the crash was far from accidental. Anders Thomas Jensen’s totally janky films won’t be for everybody, but stories about a mismatched group of people growing to become a weird surrogate family are one of my favourite loose genres, so this was just my bag. Jensen walks a tonal tightrope throughout, making the funny stuff almost painfully so and the dark stuff black as pitch, all of which will leave you exhilarated, exhausted and strangely satisfied. SSP

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