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Writer and film fanatic fond of black comedies, sci-fi, animation and films about dysfunctional families.
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Fresh Thoughts on Film
Archived Thoughts on Film
TITANE, isn’t that the car-f***ing movie? Yes, and so much more. Writer-director Julia Ducornau (RAW) has, within five years, unleashed on the world two of the most transcendent, bold and both warm and messed up films of the 21st century so far. The images, the performances, the tangled web of underlying themes, the darkest of dark humour all help to make this the film of the 2021. An objectophiliac dancer (Agethe Rousselle) with a plate in her skull from a car accident in her childhood becomes linked to a series of violent crimes and finds an unexpected connection with a grieving firefighter (Vincent Lindon). That’s as detailed a summary I’m prepared to give, and you definitely shouldn’t read about this one in advance, just make sure you see it when it comes your way – you won’t be the same afterwards. SSP
There’s a ridiculous moment in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE where the Rock is using a wrestling move to pin a jaguar between a scrapping scorpion and a tarantula – that’s probably the highlight. Muddy action, inane comic exchanges and bad slapstick does not a great combination make, no matter how many random AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD references you throw in. Steamboat Captain Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) takes botanist Dr Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) down the Amazon river in search of magical flower but Frank’s past and supernatural forces soon catch up with them. Take a drink every time Dwayne Johnson mentions Emily Blunt is wearing trousers and you won’t survive the runtime. This is a lazy, uninspired and transparent attempt to replicate the success of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN that’s not even with a Disney+ free trial. SSP
Remember when I said not to worry about a distinctive director’s style being smothered in a huge Marvel project? Well maybe we should have worried about Chloé Zhao’s distinctive director’s style being smothered by a huge Marvel project. Whatever the intention, in its final form, ETERNALS is a fascinating misfire. It’s by no means a disaster but probably has too much crammed into it even for a 2 1/2 hour movie.
Thousands of years ago the Eternals – ten immortal, superpowered aliens – arrived on Earth to guide and nurture humanity’s development for an unknown purpose in the far future. In the modern day we find the group scattered, disillusioned and living in secret among ordinary people when an ancient enemy re-emerges and new instructions from their cosmic masters, the Celestials arrive…
I really liked many of the individual performances in this ensemble cast – Gemma Chan’s slightly awkward, very reluctant de facto leader Sersi, Don Lee’s gentle brick shithouse Gilgamesh and Barry Keoghan’s morally grey emo Druig all stand out. But the team chemistry and interactions doesn’t quite ring true for a group who have known each other for 7000 years and too often are characters stuck with a metric tonne of exposition to deliver while trying to look interested. Marvel films are often accused of relying too much on humour that doesn’t fit, and here that’s definitely the case. It feels like an afterthought to provide jokes and knowing banter for the trailers.
The action scenes are polished but unremarkable, pretty standard superhero stuff in general. Chloe Zhao has name checked THE REVENANT as an influence, does she just mean the forest scene where Ikaris (Richard Madden) is being shaken on the ground by the bear-like deviant? Only during a battle towards the end of the film where the Eternals have to work together does all the superheroics, the unique combination of insane powers, really dazzle.
The big question – why didn’t such powerful beings who have been nurturing humanity’s development for thousands of years, help in our darkest moments in history, or when half the universe was snapped away? – is definitively answered and, if we’re being honest, the answer is mildly disappointing. The significant moments of human history we witness the Eternals not interfering in are an interesting selection, but they’re just brief stops in time like the TARDIS is showing us a promo reel of a tour of time and space.
There are lots of massive sci-fi concepts from Eternals creator Jack Kirby, the writers who influenced him and those who have written the characters since. It’s impossible to really talk about which are executed particularly well or have the most impact on this group of characters and their sense of place and purpose in the universe without going into spoilers, but they are all pretty well visualised at the very least, tapping into a scale hitherto unheard of in the MCU. Yes I just said hitherto.
Representation matters and it’s great to see a diverse team headlining a blockbuster. Gender-flipping and colour-blind casting have made the lineup far less vanilla than it otherwise might have been and everyone brings something special to their role even if some struggle to fight for screentime. Lauren Ridloff’s deaf speedster Makkari easily steals her scenes and could very well encourage likeminded casting of blockbusters in the future, but Marvel patting themselves on the back for Phastos’ (Brian Tyree Henry) brief gay kiss is laughable (though this token acknowledgment of gay people still got them banned in some countries).
Eternals is ambitious and pretty visually spectacular, but with the amount of world-building, plot and characters to do justice it would have probably been better served as a miniseries. You can’t begrudge Chloé Zhao her paycheque but personally I can’t wait to see her return to the kind of grounded filmmaking she excels at, which doesn’t have to compete with the audience’s expectations of the latest shiny blockbuster. SSP
Edgar Wright’s latest is another dazzling, musically-lead genre cocktail that might not feel quite as singular as BABY DRIVER but still demonstrates that he is the best there is at this sort of thing. Thomasin McKenzie is Eloise, a fashion student in Soho with an obsession with all things 1960s who mysteriously travels back to her favourite decade in her sleep to witness glamour give way to sinister events connected to Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Jack (Matt Smith). Despite a (mostly) intentionally messy Giallo-inspired final stretch, LAST NIGHT IN SOHO is certainly more a psychological thriller than an outright horror, exploring sexual politics and the grimy truth behind showbiz through the prism of fractured perception, courtesy of a twisty script by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns. McKenzie and Taylor-Joy are wonderful and we get great turns from Terence Stamp and Diana Rigg (RIP) too, all tied together in an atmospheric, sonically and visually sumptuous work. SSP
OLD is the kind of movie that makes you wonder, was M Night Shyamalan ever that good? The film follows several families trapped on an inescapable beech where time passes at such a rapid rate that children become adults in hours and the adults begin to succumb to age and illness. A potentially interesting premise, right? But why didn’t Shyamalan put more thought into making his core high concept work, having it affect his characters in a compelling way and hold up to any amount of scrutiny? Why doesn’t anyone in this film (the completely wasted cast includes Vicky Krieps, Gael Garcia Bernal and Thomasin McKenzie) talk like a person rather than an exposition machine? What’s with all the weird shot framing and constantly spinning camera? Aside from the odd moment of unintentional comedy from the ridiculous situation, Old offers little but a laboured script, overcooked performances and a boringly pretty filming location. SSP
At long last we finally have Denis Villeneuve’s dream project of DUNE, or at least half of it. It’s unwieldily and hard to penetrate like Frank Herbert’s novel, but it’s a tactile, rich and essential big screen experience as well. Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) travels with his family’s noble house to planet Arrakis to take over the Imperium’s precious spice industry, all the while suspecting a trap has been laid by their mortal enemies the Harkonnens. Soon Paul finds himself wandering the inhospitable desert avoiding colossal sand worms and seeking an alliance with the nomadic Fremen, for whom he may be their prophesied messiah. This is a formidable ensemble cast, standouts being Rebecca Ferguson as a fragile Lady Jessica, Josh Brolin as a growly Gurney Halleck and Javier Bardem as a dignified Stilgar, and with all three characters’ most interesting moments still to come in Part 2, it’s an exciting prospect indeed. Allow the magnitude and uniqueness of this sci-fi epic story draw you in then let the visuals transfix and the soundscape envelop you. SSP
SHITHOUSE is a much better name, why’d they have to ruin our fun for the UK release? For anyone who has gone to university in the last decade or so, this ceaselessly honest portrayal of uni life – the highs and lows, but mostly the lows – will hit particularly hard. Sensitive kid Alex (Cooper Raif) is homesick and struggling to make a meaningful connection with any fellow students until he has a frank nightlong conversation fuelled by wine with Maggie (Dylan Gelula). But how will Alex process this formative experience if this turns out to be a one-night-only deal? Writer-director-star Raif makes all this look pretty effortless and natural and has a really good match in Gelula, both teasing out layers in this story of different experiences of growing up. As a whole the film brings a pleasingly meandering, unexpectedly profound mix of cringe comedy and heartfelt drama, peppered with welcome touches of mild surrealism. SSP