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 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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Review in Brief: Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (2021)

Harlem, 1969 and something special was happening in the same months as Woodstock and the Moon Landing. The Harlem Cultural Festival brought to the stage such acts as a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder, BB King Gladys Knight and Nina Simone and over six dates provided an unforgettable cultural, spiritual and collective community experience to 300,000 people. Footage of the festival was sitting in storage for decades, and more attention could have been paid in Questlove’s documentary to the many failed attempts to bring the concert to audiences before now, but SUMMER OF SOUL still remains a vibrant cultural record and an emotional trip down memory lane for those who were there. Some of the performers are clearly moved when watching the footage for the first time and the film’s analysis of American racial prejudice and segregation of the period hits hard. SSP

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Review in Brief: Free Guy (2021)

FREE GUY is more evidence that the better video game movies aren’t direct IP adaptations but about gaming itself. You’ll get a lot more out of it if you’re a gamer, if you know the conventions, mechanics and player behaviour (good or bad), but there are more than enough broader comic beats and more mainstream pop culture references for most viewers to get by. Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is content in his loop as an NPC in Free City until he meets player Millie/Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) who is trying to bring down morally bereft gaming CEO Antwan (Taika Waititi) for code theft. Cue Guy choosing to be a non-lethal hero in his quest to help Millie as every player around him continues to whip out bazookas and attack helicopters. The film may not break any new ground and is firmly in Reynolds’ usual ballpark, but he and Comer keep things lively and before long the excess of college humour gives way to pretty sizeable heart. SSP

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‘Hell or High Water’ at 5 – Review SSP

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Review in Brief: Batman: The Long Halloween, Part Two (2021)

THE LONG HALLOWEEN, PART TWO definitely lands. Like Part One it’s been somewhat streamlined and stripped back from Jeph Loeb’s imposing comic but does the complex characters justice and keeps you riveted and on your toes throughout. After months out of action, Batman (Jensen Ackles) picks up the trail of the Holiday Killer, still at-large and closing in on their final target, Gotham godfather Carmine Falcone (Titus Welliver), all the while DA Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) resorts to increasingly desperate measures to clear the streets of organised crime. The film shares a lot of story DNA with Telltale’s Batman games, digging into a problematic past for the Wayne family and bringing Harvey Dent and Catwoman (Duhamal and the late Naya Rivera easily the voice acting MVPs) to the fore as characters with complex agendas. It’s not a perfect film as it begins to lose traction in the final stretch, the penultimate twist paling compared to the final “gotcha” but overall TLH has been a pretty thrilling ride. SSP

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Review in Brief: The Sparks Brothers (2021)

You’re a lot more likely to fall in love with the very alternative musical duo Sparks after watching Edgar Wright’s comprehensive, affectionate rock doc THE SPARKS BROTHERS. Wright interviews famous fans (often having fun with the captions in the process), collaborators and the Mael Brothers themselves and tells the remarkable, weird and wonderful story of their career with footage from performances, backstage, music videos and animation. It’s about their relationship and their work more than their lives, which intentionally remain illusive, so don’t come expecting any massive personal revelations about the Brothers Mael. What you can expect is passionate album-by-album discussion of the music, what it means and what it means to people all presented in a playful, knowing style worthy of Sparks themselves. SSP

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Review in Brief: The Suicide Squad (2021)

The best and the worst thing about THE SUICIDE SQUAD is that writer-director James Gunn was given complete creative freedom by Warner Bros. On the one hand you have fun character interplay and dues given to compelling, previously Z-List comic characters (particularly Daniela Melchior’s Ratcatcher 2 and David Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man). On the other you have a fairly unwieldy film with an over-stuffed and circuitous middle section and more than a few sequences that feel like they’ve been made ultraviolet or nasty for the sake of provoking a reaction (particularly those involving John Cena’s Peacemaker). While not everything lands and it could probably do with a tighter edit and sense of purpose, this is unashamedly comic-booky entertainment and Gunn still brings mischief, heart and some batshit (maybe that should be ratshit?) imagery to bear. SSP

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