Category Archives: Movies

From the first flickerings of the Lumière brothers’ Cinématographe to the sweeping vista of IMAX and the thundering roar of Dolby Atmos, from big-screen TVs to the tiniest phone screens and a whole spectrum of streaming options, movies come in all shapes, sizes and standards. Here you’ll find What The Craggus Saw’s curated considerations of the art form known as cinema. I mean, who doesn’t love movies?

We cover all the classic genres (Action & Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Horror, Mystery, Romance, Thriller, Western, Drama, Superhero) and everything that spans more than one or falls in between. From big-budget blockbusters to awards-chasing prestige pictures, from remakes and reboots to bargain-basement direct-to-home schlock we’ll watch it all.

Death On The Nile (2022) Review

Death On The Nile isn’t all smooth sailing

Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile sails into cinemas with all the pomp and grandeur one might expect from a luxurious cruise down the the father of African Rivers. Yet, despite its luxurious appointments and star-studded cast, it often struggles to keep its head above water.

Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is hoping for a peaceful holiday in Egypt, but his plans are thwarted when he’s drawn into a murder investigation aboard a Nile steamer. The socialite Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Gal Gadot) has married Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), much to the chagrin of Simon’s jilted ex-fiancée Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey). As tensions rise among the eclectic group of passengers, which includes Linnet’s lawyer Katchadourian (Ali Fazal), her ex-fiancé (Russell Brand), and her godmother (Jennifer Saunders), Poirot must untangle a web of jealousy and deceit to uncover the killer.

Death on the Nile boasts a remarkable ensemble led by Gal Gadot, who certainly looks the part of the ravishing heiress, though her acting lacks the depth needed for such a complex character and her chemistry with Armie Hammer’s Simon Doyle is unfortunately tepid, which undermines the central romance. Ironically it helps that Hammer’s off-screen career-ending scandals inadvertently lend his portrayal of a creepy and manipulative character a layer of serendipitous authenticity. Emma Mackey, however, is captivating as the jilted Jacqueline, her performance adding much-needed intensity and edge to the film. Kenneth Branagh, reprising his role as the meticulous Hercule Poirot, is as charismatic and quick-witted as ever.

The film’s visual panache, while initially impressive, quickly reveals its overreliance on CGI and soundstage sets, creating a distracting sense of artificiality. Shot predominantly at Longcross Studios in Surrey, England, the production constructed life-sized replicas of iconic Egyptian landmarks like the Temple of Abu Simbel and the SS Karnak steamer boat and although some real Egyptian footage was captured for backdrops, the CGI-supplemented landscapes often look glossy and synthetic, detracting from the immersive experience and ultimately feels like an obvious veneer over what could have been a richly textured tapestry of intrigue and suspense.

The plot, familiar to Christie fans, involves the murder of a wealthy heiress aboard a Nile steamer. As Poirot untangles a web of jealousy, betrayal, and deceit, Branagh attempts to weave in modern cinematic flair with mixed results. The balance between maintaining the story’s period charm and infusing contemporary sensibilities doesn’t always hold steady. Some might find the film’s adaptation of the source novel’s pacing problematic, with the first half being a slow burn, introducing characters and setting the stage, until the second half ignites with the Long cross murder investigation unfolding at a haste which feels rushed and disjointed.

With such a large ensemble, many of the supporting characters feel underdeveloped, or at least underserved by a script that seems a little too taken by its bigger star names, a significant drawback for a mystery where every character should be a potential suspect. While the likes of Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, and Russell Brand provide enjoyable performances, they often feel more like caricatures than fully fleshed-out individuals. Sophie Okonedo, on the other hand, gets more to do as Salome Otterbourne, a character who is significantly different from her portrayal in the source material. In Agatha Christie’s novel, Salome Otterbourne is an alcoholic romance novelist. The film reimagines her as a blues singer and Okonedo brings her to vivacious life with a vibrancy and wit which not only catches Poirot’s eye but there’s even a hint of a possible mutual attraction between the pair.

Unique, perhaps, to Branagh’s interpretation of this character and especially in this film, we explore hitherto unseen aspects of the character beyond his famously idiosyncratic picadilloes. A more troubled man than other incarnations, perhaps the most unexpected turn is in this version of Death on the Nile providing a most unexpected origin story for Poirot’s famous moustache. It is, of course, gone by the end of the film – the second close companion the detective loses during this case as his friend and erstwhile sidekick (and Captain Hastings proxy) Bouc (Tom Bateman) also meets his end at the hands of the murderous masterminds behind the whole sordid affair.

Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile is a lavish, visually striking adaptation that promises much but delivers inconsistently. Its strengths lie in its stellar cast and impressive if compromised cinematography, but it falters with uneven pacing and one or two more characters than it has the time for. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, Murder on the Orient Express, the voyage of Death on the Nile may not always be smooth sailing, but it’s a still a journey well worth taking.

Immaculate (2024) Review

Eternal life, uh, finds a way in cathecistic creepfest Immaculate

If the road to Hell is paved with divine intentions, that road surely leads to My Lady Sorrows, a convent and hospice in the remote Italian countryside. Rich in macabre Catholic iconography, Immaculate sets out to disturb from the very first frame and it’s not a case of waiting to see whether evil lurks in its cloistered setting but trying to figure out if there’s anything there but evil.

Cecilia (Sydney Sweeney), a young woman driven by deep faith, seeks to take her holy orders in a remote Italian convent where her arrival is greeted with a mixture of muted warmth and barely disguised suspicion. Befriended by the rebellious and spirited Sister Mary (Simona Tabasco), whose scepticism acts as an audience proxy to excuse the otherwise undeniable parade of red flags and feted by Sister Isabelle (Benedetta Porcaroli) and the sleazily solicitous Father Tedeschi (Álvaro Morte), Cecilia quickly finds life in the convent is anything but sacrosanct and as she navigates the convent’s labyrinthine corridors and dark secrets, she is drawn into a terrifying ordeal that tests the limits of her faith and sanity.

Whatever else you might feel about Immaculate and its star Sydney Sweeney, there’s no denying that she delivers a breathtakingly committed powerhouse of a performance, imbuing Cecilia with a potent mix of piety and fragility and fortitude, drawing the viewer into her harrowing experiences. Her performance anchors the film, giving the supranatural elements just the right amount of verisimilitude that the horror feels horribly real rather than far-fetched and cartoonish, like in The Nun.

While nobody could accuse Immaculate of being a colourful film, the bleak cinematography transforms the supposedly serene convent into a gothic nightmare of flickering candlelight and dancing shadows. The production design helps by combining a superficial culture of dutiful and diligent cleaning and maintenance that nonetheless can’t disguise the corruption and decay in every space.

Of course, the core revelation is somewhat telegraphed by the movie’s title and the scenes where her character grapples with an apparently immaculate conception and the ensuing adoration and jealousy it provokes in her sisters are profoundly compelling, showcasing Sweeney’s remarkable range and depth when she’s given good material to work with (yes, I’m looking at you, Madame Web). Yet, despite its atmospheric prowess and Sweeney’s leave-it-all-on-screen performance, Immaculate stumbles in its narrative execution. The screenplay feels hurried, racing through plot points without really exploring the ideas at play in the depth they deserve. The exploration of patriarchal control over women’s bodies, while searingly topical, skims the surface rather than delving into the profound psychological and emotional impacts and is ultimately pushed to the sidelines by a slightly silly and underdeveloped MacGuffin that boils down to a rogue Catholic plot to do a Jurassic Park to Jesus. As the film progresses, it descends into the catacombs of cliché, increasing its reliance on jump scares, and finally discarding its ideas in favour of a finale so drenched in violence and blood that even Carrie might think it a little too much.

When held up against classics like The Exorcist or The Omen, Immaculate deserves praise for its aesthetic qualities but needs to atone for its narrative sins. These classics masterfully blend theological dread with deeply personal stories, something Immaculate aspires to but doesn’t fully achieve. Through a more contemporary lens, it’s a little too outré to compare with the likes of Saint Maud, which features a similarly committed and intense central performance but is so profoundly serious it makes Immaculate seem a bit crass and histrionic.

In the end, Immaculate tantalizes with its potential but really answer audience’s prayers. Driven by Sydney Sweeney’s powerful performance and with an ending that is as brutal and bloody as it is potentially blasphemous, it lacks the substance to achieve transcend to cinematic divinity.

Three Thousand Years Of Longing (2022) Review

Sometimes the greatest wish is simply for a story well told

George Miller’s Three Thousand Years Of Longing is a film that dares to ask: what if our greatest adventures were those of the heart and mind? It’s a question that resonates deeply as we follow Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton), a narratologist who values reason over myth. Her life takes a mystical turn during a trip to Istanbul, where she unwittingly releases a Djinn (Idris Elba) from an antique bottle. This Djinn, eager to gain his freedom, offers her three wishes. What follows is a series of enchanting tales from his past, filled with love, loss, and a quest for freedom, as he tries to coax wishes from Alithea’s cautious heart.

Visually, the film is a sumptuous banquet. Miller’s wild imagination shines through in scene after scene, a kaleidoscopic cavalcade of the lavish and fantastical, brought to life with lush cinematography and intricately poetic production design. The Djinn may be narrating but it’s the visual storytelling that makes an impact.

But this is no prettily decorated empty vessel. Three Thousand Years Of Longing immerses itself and the audience in the thematic depths of narrative itself, exploring the timelessness of stories and the human need for connection that brought stories into being, posing intriguing questions about fate, free will, and the redemptive power of love along the way. Swinton and Elba deliver compelling performances, each bringing a unique gravitas to their respective roles. Swinton’s cerebral elegance and Elba’s melancholic grandeur anchor the film’s philosophical musings, creating a compelling, Romantic dynamic.

The chemistry between Swinton and Elba is, admittedly, unconventional and may not work for everyone but there’s heat there for those with a heart to feel it, buried away beneath the buttoned-down pragmatism of Swinton’s multilayered performance. Likewise, the allegorical, anthological structure – while an obvious homage to the influence of the legend of Scheherazade – at times threatens to overshadow the more staid central storyline with the Djinn’s tales of primal sexuality and wild hedonism but it’s in that very contrast that the film finds its romantic charge. There may also be those who bristle against some of the portrayals of ancient middle eastern life, feeling it leans into old-fashioned tropes and stereotypes while the films’ liberated embrace of a diverse panoply of body shapes and sizes could be misinterpreted as crass body shaming but the point, if there is one at all, seems very firmly to be that beauty and desire are in the eye of the beholder.

There’s a deliberately languid pace to proceedings, all the better to allow the philosophical musings to marinate and it may come as something of a surprise to those expecting the kinetic energy of Miller’s previous works. Then again, if this film’s more contemplative approach comes as much of a surprise it suggests a lack of familiarity with the work of one of the most versatile and eclectic filmmakers of the modern era.

Looking at Miller’s diverse back catalogue, Three Thousand Years Of Longing sits comfortably within his vibrant and varied oeuvre. From the dystopian rush of the Mad Max series to the whimsical charm of Babe and the toe-tapping joy of Happy Feet, Miller has demonstrated a remarkable ability to traverse genres and tones with a practiced ease. Like much of his work, this film embraces a fantastical sense of heightened reality but takes a far more introspective stance, focusing on the power of storytelling and the complexities of inner human experience. It may lack the universal appeal of Happy Feet or the visceral survivalist polemic of the Mad Max series but it underscores Miller’s commitment to pushing creative boundaries and exploring diverse cinematic landscapes even at this late stage of his career.

Three Thousand Years Of Longing is a bold and imaginative film that invites viewers to ponder the way stories that shape our lives. It’s a love letter to the art of storytelling, entrapped in a container that’s as flawed as it is beautiful, just like a Djinn in a bottle. For those willing to embrace its idiosyncrasies, it offers a thought-provoking journey into the heart of human desire and the magic of stories. However, for others, it may be a meandering tale that, lacking focus, fails to deliver a satisfying conclusion.

Into The Earth (2021) Review

I’d rather encounter a bear in the woods than any of the characters from In The Earth

If you’ve ever thought the woods were creepy, In the Earth will confirm your fears—and then some. This film plunges you into a world where nature’s mysteries are not just spooky but downright nightmarish.

Set in an unusually fertile and dense woodland, In the Earth follows a scientist, Dr. Martin Lowery (Joel Fry), and a park scout, Alma (Ellora Torchia), on a routine mission during an unspecified pandemic that swiftly spirals into a nightmarish journey. Beset by odd ailments and mysterious nighttime attacks, things take a turn for the strange and eldritch as the pair get closer to their objective: the field laboratory of a missing scientist who hasn’t been heard from in months.

The film revels in creating a disturbing, immersively kaleidoscopic experience. The cinematography captures the forest’s menacing beauty, while Clint Mansell’s haunting score amplifies the tension and uncertainty. There’s a bleak, exhausted kind of paranoia permeating the film, a societal hangover from the recent real-world pandemic and the lingering fear that it will happen again. Speaking of lingering fear, this is one movie that unequivocally justifies the choice to prefer encountering a bear in the woods as it presents the epitome of the dangers of a strange man in the forest in the form of Zach (a chillingly ambiguous Reece Shearsmith). Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia deliver strong performances, grounding the film in authenticity even as it veers unpredictably into surreal and psychedelic territory. It’s an intoxicating cocktail of folk horror, lingering viral anxieties, and ecological alarm that overwhelms the senses and attempts to connect with some primal sense of fear.

With In the Earth, Wheatley, who honed his directorial craft in part through Doctor Who (the episodes “Deep Breath” and “Into the Dalek”), harks back to the ecological cautionary tales from the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who, channelling many of the same themes and, on occasion, not dissimilar special effects techniques. Beyond the thematic connection, there’s a strong whiff of the Whovian about the whole film. In the Earth feels like a Doctor Who story stripped of its itinerant Time Lord and iconic blue box, instead focusing on what might happen to hapless humans left to their own devices against dark and ancient powers in the deep, dark wood.

By its nature, In the Earth defies easy interpretation and races past ambiguity into downright gnomic crypticism. The plot can easily bewilder, leading careless viewers astray until they find themselves completely turned around in an unfamiliar narrative forest with no idea of which way to travel and unable to see the narrative wood for the thematic trees. Wheatley relishes the audience’s discomfort; it feeds the primordial shadows at the heart of the film. Everything, including the frequent use of strobe lights and disorienting sound effects, is designed to heighten that unease.

Compared to other classics in the folk horror genre, In the Earth stands out for its contemporary twist on primeval forces. It surrenders itself and the audience to an explicitly supernatural elementalism, unlike, say, The Wicker Man, which assays a more prosaic, human-fuelled folk horror. While it carves its own unique niche with a blend of eco-horror and psychological terror, its abstract storytelling might not sit well with those who prefer a more straightforward narrative.

In the Earth is a challenging film, a dystopically bleak, very British avant-garde horror. Its strengths lie in its atmospheric tension and unique blending of contemporary fears with ancestral dread. If nothing else, it serves as a salient reminder that if you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise.

Back To Black (2024) Review

Back To Black is disappointingly off-key

BACK TO BLACK attempts to chronicle the turbulent life of Amy Winehouse, with a lens as clouded by smoke as her infamous Camden nights were. Much like a pub anecdote, it’s filled with laughter, tears, and a few too many embellishments. Marisa Abela’s performance as Amy Winehouse stands out, capturing the singer’s raw, unfiltered persona and vocal prowess. Her portrayal feels authentic and visceral, particularly in live performance scenes, such as the recreation of Winehouse at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival.

The direction, however, leaves much to be desired. The film narrows Winehouse’s life to personal tragedies, glossing over the complexities of her character and relationships. It focuses heavily on her tumultuous romance with Blake Fielder-Civil, portrayed with a romanticized lens that might feel reductive. This approach reduces her to a figure defined by her addictions and entanglements, missing the depth of her artistic genius.

BACK TO BLACK’s portrayal of other key figures, such as her father, Mitch, feels sanitized and selective, failing to capture the full scope of his influence on her life. Despite its flaws, the film’s production design and use of real London locations add authenticity. The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis enhances the emotional resonance, supporting Abela’s performance and adding depth to the portrayal of Winehouse’s inner turmoil.

The supporting cast, particularly Lesley Manville as Winehouse’s grandmother Cynthia, adds warmth and support, providing brief moments of levity. Yet, the film falters in its storytelling, simplifying her story into a tale of doomed romance, and avoiding a deep dive into her musical genius. It’s a film that sings about a girl, but misses the woman and the artist beneath. Much like Winehouse herself once quipped, “I told you I was trouble,” this film heeds her warning a bit too literally.

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) Review

The rarest prize in the cinematic wasteland: a prequel that enriches its predecessor!

Blazing across the arid wasteland of franchise cinema, Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga roars onto the screen, a feral escapee from the fertile imagination of George Miller. In this post-apocalyptic prequel, we plunge headlong into the raw, untamed origins of one of the Mad Max universe’s most intriguing figures, a fierce young girl destined to become a legend in a world where the desert is an endless, unforgiving expanse, dotted with the remnants of humanity’s last gasps for survival.

Young Furiosa, played with startling poise by Alyla Browne, begins her journey in an Edenic sanctuary, a lush haven far removed from the desolation that defines the wasteland below. But peace is a fleeting mirage, and her tranquil existence is shattered when she’s kidnapped by the marauding thugs of Dementus, brought to life with chilling charisma by Chris Hemsworth (who also seems to have borrowed John Neville’s prosthetic nose from The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen). Hemsworth, cast against his typically heroic type, clearly relishes the chance to cut loose and channels a deranged villainy so profoundly different from his usual earnest swagger that it feels as though he’s reinventing himself completely. Dementus, like the best Mad Max villains, oscillates between unsettling charm and explosive rage, making him a formidable presence in the wasteland and a credible counterbalance to the already known malevolence of Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme).

Miller, aware that he’s shading in the prologue to a story and character arc we’re already familiar with, opts to overtly embrace the telling of the story, dividing Furiosa’s life into chapters, each one a milestone on the unforgiving highway of her life’s journey to Fury Road. From her initial captivity under Dementus to her rise under the grotesque rule of Immortan Joe, Furiosa is a relentless march of survival and transformation, a counterbalance to Fury Road’s unrelenting pursuit. Hulme does a superb job of picking up the mantle of portraying Immortan Joe, a silver-haired tyrant both masked and menacing, from the late Hugh Keays-Byrne. He provides the first half of the film with a grotesquely captivating anchor, finding fresh terror for a character whose ending is already known and creating a nightmarish reality of the tripartite Citadel-Gas Town-Bullet Farm axis that is both repulsive and riveting.

Anya Taylor-Joy’s entrance as the older Furiosa signals a shift, both in narrative intensity and emotional depth. Her portrayal is a masterclass in subtlety, her eyes reflecting the scars of her past and the fierce resolve for her future. Even in the film’s most chaotic moments, Taylor-Joy’s performance brings a poignant, almost lyrical quality to Furiosa’s journey. She conveys volumes with a glance, a frown, or a fleeting smile, her minimal dialogue speaking louder than words ever could.

Miller’s direction is a triumph unto itself, orchestrating action and visuals that belie his years and eclipse directors half his age. Every sequence is a full-frontal ocular assault, from a three-day desert chase to the spectacular aerial assault on a war rig. They’re not just action spectacles; they’re symphonies of chaos and order, meticulously choreographed to push the boundaries of what’s possible in action cinema. Although some of the earlier scenes suffer from an overuse of CGI, much of the cinematography captures the stark beauty of the wasteland, contrasting sharply with the pastoral paradise of Furiosa’s lost home and the elevated oasis of The Citadel, creating a visual dichotomy that mirrors the film’s thematic division between light and darkness, as does the evolution of Dementus’ deeply symbolic cape.

Although it’s a wholly rewarding experience, the prolonged setup might test the patience of those eager to witness the high-octane action that defined Fury Road. While the film’s sprawling narrative ambitiously covers vast temporal ground, it sometimes loses the relentless, tight focus that made its predecessor such a visceral experience.

But these are minor quibbles in the grand sweep of the evolving Mad Max saga. Compared to the previous films, Furiosa stands proud and defiant, a rich tapestry of character-driven storytelling and explosive action. It might not accelerate to the relentless pace of Fury Road, but it turbocharges the drama with a deeper, more nuanced exploration of its eponymous heroine. Taylor-Joy and Hemsworth deliver performances that are as unforgettable as they are unexpected, anchoring the film in a blend of human vulnerability and brutal savagery.

Perhaps Miller’s greatest achievement with this saga side-step is crafting what might be the first prequel that really, and I mean really, works. Not only does it blend seamlessly with and genuinely enrich the film which preceded it, but it’s possibly the only prequel that, if someone were coming to view the films for the first time, I’d recommend watching before Fury Road. Over the years, the Mad Max saga has encountered its fair share of potholes and questionable detours, but between Mad Max: Fury Road and Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga, it’s clear that Miller’s vision for a post-apocalyptic antipodean odyssey is firing on all cylinders. Bring on The Wasteland!

Sting (2024) Review

You’re going to need a bigger upside down glass…

If your phobias tend towards the arachno-end of the spectrum then you might want to look away now as STING scuttles out of the dusty corners of the room and into cinemas to offer a good old fashioned creepy crawly creature feature.

Having burned its way through the atmosphere like a miniature meteorite, a, a small egg crashes into the storeroom of a Brooklyn New York apartment building, hatching a tiny spider who’s immediately found and adopted by 12-year-old Charlotte (Aylya Browne), a disaffected youngster who’s struggling with a new stepfather and a baby stepbrother who’s taking up what little free time her parents have. But as the spider grows hungrier and hungrier and bigger and bigger, Charlotte finds herself fighting not just for her life but the lives of every resident of the apartment building.

The film’s plot is cunningly contrived to keep the action contained. An unexpected ice storm traps the characters indoors (although still permits exterminators to call) which adds a sense of isolation and tension to proceedings. There’s also an improbably comprehensive and roomy ventilation system connecting all the apartments, which ensures protagonists and antagnosits alike can move around the building with ease. It’s gimmicky, for sure, but it does at least allow for things to move at pace and there’s very little time wasted in getting down to some serious spider savagery.

Aylya Browne is the heart of the movie and she provides not only some of its funnier moments (a highlight is trying to decide what to name her new eight-legged pet and her eyes alighting on a couple of books by J R R Tolkein, leading her, of course, to name her spider…after Bilbo’s sword) but also gives her character an emotional grounding that transitions convincingly from defiantly curious child to desperately determined survivor, imbuing the character with a blend of innocence and resolve. Frank (Jermaine Fowler), an itinerant exterminator, injects some knowing incredulity to the mix while Ryan Corr and Penelope Mitchell are weighed down by having to try and crowbar an underdeveloped “blended family” subplot into what should be, to all intents and purposes, a stripped back b-movie.

The brisk pace leaves little room for deep emotional exploration, making some critical moments feel rushed and unearned. Heather (Mitchell), for instance, is underutilized, her backstory and motivations barely sketched out. Similarly, Ethan (Ryan Corr) is presented as a well-meaning stepfather but it doesn’t evolve much beyond surface-level kitchen sink drama and some late in the day heroics, while the quirky collection of other residents are likewise underused, missing opportunities for richer, more nuanced storytelling.

The practical effects, crafted by WETA Workshop, add a tangible terror to the monstrous spider, enhanced by the decision to keep the creature obscured and only partially glimpsed for much of the run time. STING makes a valiant attempt to counterbalance the horror with humour, borrowing elements and even character archetypes from the likes of GREMLINS and CRITTERS but there’s an unevenness to its tone as if it can’t quite commit to one or the other. The opening scenes are fairly light-hearted but so much so that when the first big kill happens, it’s jarringly gruesome in its execution. It’s fine, but it feels out of keeping with the film up to that point. As it reaches its climax, the film nods to both ALIENS and THE TERMINATOR but its never more than a cute homage and a knowing callback respectively. It either needed to be funnier or more ferocious (the former feels like it would have been the smarter choice) but in trying to be both, it manages neither.

Still, STING is a solid if unspectacular entry in the creature feature genre, offering enough decent thrills to entertain horror fans, especially those with arachnophobia, even if its undercooked family dynamics and uneven tone prevent it from achieving greatness.

IF (2024) Review

John Kransinski all but weaponises whimsy in charming but slight fable IF

Writer/ Director John Krasinski has a passion when it comes to his projects, and that passion is family. You can see it in A QUIET PLACE and its sequel, and it forms the beating heart of his latest offering, IF. Determined this time to make something inspired by and – crucially – for his children, IF ushers audiences into a fantastical world, where the line between imagination and reality blurs and everyday mundane considerations fall away to focus on the big emotional sweeps of childhood, love, and loss. Much like the imaginary friends central to its plot, the film encourages viewers to embrace the whimsical and the heartfelt, making it a charming if occasionally unsatisfying escape.

When Bea (Cailey Fleming), a 12-year-old girl grappling with her mother’s death and her father’s (John Krasinski) upcoming heart surgery, moves in with her grandmother (Fiona Shaw), she stumbles upon a hidden world under Coney Island where forgotten imaginary friends (IFs) reside. With the help of a giant purple IF named Blue (Steve Carell), and a colourful cast of characters including the quirkily curmudgeon Hank (Ryan Reynolds), Bea embarks on a mission to help these IFs find new homes and rediscover the joy they once brought.

Krasinski shines in his dual role as director and actor, crafting a narrative that’s both poignant and visually enchanting. The film’s design of the IFs, each unique and endearing, owes quite a bit to the eclectic character design of Cartoon Network’s THE AMAZING WORLD OF GUMBALL with its wildly variable, vibrant aesthetics. The starry voice cast includes Emily Blunt, Bradley Cooper, George Clooney, and Blake Lively, who bring their characters to life with charm and wit. Performances by Carell and Reynolds provide both heart and humour, while Cailey Fleming’s portrayal of Bea grounds the fantastical elements with genuine emotional depth, as does Louis Gossett Jr. in his final role as Lewis, an elderly bear long since separated from his kid.

As much as the film wants you to love it – and how much you’ll want to – there’s no denying the plot is a little meandering, with certain scenes feeling overly drawn out. There’s an absence of small details that nag at the edge of consciousness, such as the utter lack of supervision for a 12-year-old girl in New York at all times of the day or night. In a way, though, it fits the ambience of a freewheeling child’s imagination applied to telling a story, although as THE LADY IN THE WATER showed, that doesn’t always translate cinematically. Likewise, the commitment to whimsicality sometimes borders on the saccharine, and the film’s attachment to nostalgia and sentimentality teeters on the edge of manipulative at times.

Still, IF remains a heartwarming and heartfelt ode to the power of imagination and childhood wonder, despite its occasional stumbles. Krasinski’s creative vision and authentic passion for the subject shine through in every moment, and the stellar cast make it a delightful watch, even if it sometimes strays. As the credits roll, you’ll be left with a smile and perhaps a renewed belief in the magic of the imaginary. After all, as Krasinski reminds us, “imagination is not something we have to lose.”

Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes (2024) Review

Apes together aren’t strong enough to resist the clichés of the hero’s journey

KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES invites viewers back to a world where human hubris has seen the species fall while simultaneously helping our successors, the apes, to rise. Set generations after Caesar’s era, the film follows Noa (Owen Teague), a young chimp of the Eagle Clan, as he embarks on a perilous journey to retrieve a sacred eagle egg. His mission takes a dark turn when he encounters Mae (Freya Allan), a mysterious human, leading to the destruction of his village by the villainous Proximus Caesar (Kevin Durand). As Noa and Mae struggle to survive Proximus’ tyrannical rule, they encounter diverse allies, including the wise orangutan Raka (Peter Macon) and scholarly collaborator Trevathan (William H Macy).

By this point, it’s hardly a surprise that the movie’s visuals are nothing short of stunning. The cinematography balances epic landscapes with state-of-the-art motion capture CGI, giving the apes an emotional and physical authenticity that’s all too easy to take for granted and overlook the skill of the actors and artists involved in bringing it all to life.

So, in the context of the broader PLANET OF THE APES series, KINGDOM OF… stands amongst the very best as far as visuals go, but when it comes to themes and stories it’s a little less assured. At the core of the problem is that, thematically, the most resonant subtext is that of a movie studio wanting another few bites of the banana. There’s an undeniably formulaic structure at work here, with a peaceful tribe assaulted by a neighbouring belligerent kingdom, leaving a sole survivor to embark on a quest to rescue his people, collecting allies and adversaries along the way and growing into his destiny. Arguably it’s the first APES movie that could easily not be about apes without having to change much at all.

From its inception, the PLANET OF THE APES series has been rich with allegories. The original 1968 film commented on the civil rights movement, nuclear annihilation, and human arrogance. BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES delved further into the horrors of war and the destructiveness of human nature, while ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES doubled down on tackling themes of fear and prejudice. The prequel series, starting with RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES explored scientific ethics and animal rights, while DAWN OF… and WAR FOR… focused on the nature of conflict, leadership and the seeming impossibility of peace amidst fear and hatred. KINGDOM OF… doesn’t really have anything to add to this rich thematic stew, nor does it really have anything new to say. What it does want to do is rearrange the pieces on the board from where WAR FOR… left them to create room for a new trilogy to take root, albeit in a somewhat generic fashion. The “many generations later” time jump which kicks of KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES robs the film of much of the emotional complexity that had built up around the original Caesar and his descendants.

Where KINGDOM OF… feels particularly weak is in its characterisation. There’s no room for ambiguity or subtlety in any of the characters. Everything is very black and white: the good apes are good; the bad apes are very bad. It’s a simplistic polarisation that itself, in the hands of a better script, could have given the film something new and pertinent to say about the times we live in but here its reduced to children’s fairy tale simplicity of heroic youth versus evil ruler. It does attempt to examine the cyclical nature of violence and the struggle between pacifism and aggression, questioning whether true peace is attainable or if conflict is an inevitable part of existence yet falls short of offering any kind of conclusion, preferring – when push comes to shove – to go for the crowd-pleasing popcorn moments of violence and revenge without much of a thought for the emotional and ethical aftermath.

Ultimately, KINGDOM OF THE PLANET OF THE APES is a solid addition to a franchise whose startlingly simple premise continues to entertain and entrance cinema audiences across seven decades and counting and while it doesn’t reach the dazzling heights of some of its predecessors, it doesn’t plum the desperate depths of the last 10 minutes or so of 2001’s PLANET OF THE APES (the only genuine reboot in the entire franchise). It honours the legacy of past films while attempting to move the story forward in a way that ensuring the franchise remains more thought-provoking and relevant than any of its cinematic rivals.

The Fall Guy (2024) Review

The Fall Guy sprinkles TV reboots with a little Meta Movie Making Magic

Old TV shows never die, they just wait for the Hollywood reboot machine to kick them back into life. THE FALL GUY is, perhaps, a title overdue for the big screen. Popular enough in its mid-eighties heyday, it’s typically high concept setting benefited enormously from the affable charisma of its leading man, former SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN Lee Majors as well as its action-focussed blend of movie making glamour and bounty hunting righteousness. It’s fitting, then, that this reimagining hangs its crash helmet on the current standard bearer of affable charisma, Ryan Gosling.

Gosling stars as Colt Seavers, a once-famous stuntman now relegated to the sidelines after a career-threatening injury. Called back to the filmmaking front-lines when he’s tasked with locating the missing star (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) of a blockbuster helmed by his ex-girlfriend, director Jody Moreno (Emily Blunt), Seavers soon finds himself caught up in some shady shenanigans in and around the movie set while also trying to repair and reignite his romance with Jody.

There’s perhaps no more appropriate director to have helmed this action-packed reboot than David Leitch, himself an ex-stuntman and stunt coordinator on movies including THE MATRIX and FIGHT CLUB. Leitch brings a wry authenticity to the filmmaking scenes and a knowing flair to the stunts, making them a highlight of THE FALL GUY. While the fourth wall remains resolutely intact as far as the cast goes, there’s an abiding sense of Leitch winking at the audience as he mines his own personal experience of filmmaking to give the crazy caper onscreen a send of being grounded in real life experiences. In idea and execution, the film pays homage to the often-unsung heroes of Hollywood – the stunt performers – without ever straying close to becoming a polemic. But yeah, it’s ridiculous there’s no Academy Award for best stunt.

As they demonstrated on the publicity tour for the movie, Gosling and co-star Emily Blunt share an easy and easily likeable chemistry, even if their frequent banter occasionally feels a bit forced or indulgent. While the action is consistently top-notch (it would be churlish to criticise a film about stunts and filmmaking for never knowingly passing up the opportunity for a gratuitous action sequence) , the comedy doesn’t always land and a good 15 to 20 minutes could easily be cut from the runtime without harming either the story or characters. For a film keen to champion the unsung heroes of movie making, it sure could have done with championing an editor too.

In blending a manhunt in with movie making mayhem, the film finds a smart way to update THE FALL GUY’s TV roots while keeping it relevant for a modern multiplex audience. It’s a nice touch, too, that there are (late in the day) cameos for both Lee Majors and Heather Thomas but the best thing by far is that the movie’s credits (featuring behind the scenes footage) is accompanied by the song “The Unknown Stuntman” – a far cry from THE EQUALIZER franchise’s refusal to give us even a sniff of Stuart Copeland’s TV theme tune.

Entertaining in an almost old-fashioned way, THE FALL GUY delivers on the action and adventure and while it may not perfectly pull off every narrative flourish it attempts – especially in a finale that tries to pack in a few too many twists and turns – it’s an undeniably good time as well as giving stunt teams their moment in the movie-watching rather than movie-making spotlight.

Boy Kills World (2024) Review

Bonkers and Brutal, Boy Kills World is a feast for the senses and an assault on your eyeballs

It’s something of a surprise to find out BOY KILLS WORLD isn’t based on a graphic novel, although perhaps it would be more accurate to say it’s not based on any specific graphic novel or existing property (beyond the filmmakers’ own short film), because it definitely wears its influences on its sleeve. They’re just harder to see because the sleeve in question is shredded to shit and drenched in blood. A chaotic symphony of dystopian action and surrealist visuals, BOY KILLS WORLD slams into the screen with the force of a wrecking ball and doesn’t let up.

The action centers on Boy (Bill Skarsgård), a deaf-mute with a vividly hyperactive imagination, who becomes an unhinged warrior on a relentless quest for vengeance. Trained by a wise and aged warrior, he has been raised from childhood to avenge the murder of his family and the mutilation which took his hearing and speech. The object of his obsession: the corrupt and cruel Hilda Van Der Koy (Famke Janssen) and her family. The opportunity: the annual gathering of twelve dissidents for The Culling, a televised execution entertainment extravaganza.

While there are distinct parallels to THE HUNGER GAMES in both the dystopian disparity between rich and poor and the annual gathering of “tributes,” BOY KILLS WORLD has little interest in delivering hefty political subtext and angst-ridden, bleakly gray social commentary. Nope, the focus here is on blood, brutality, and balls-to-the-wall action. Visually, BOY KILLS WORLD is an eclectic mix, blending gritty realism with wildly over-the-top fantasy elements. Every frame is drenched in color and kinetic energy. The action scenes are relentless, choreographed with a flair that’s both bonkers and beautiful, making even the most jaded action fan sit up and take notice. The creative use of Boy’s disability to heighten the intensity of the action is a stroke of genius, immersing viewers in his perspective and creating a uniquely immersive experience.

For fans of ARCHER (and maybe BOB’S BURGERS), the whole dizzying diorama is all the more delicious for Boy’s decision to endow his internal monologue with the dulcet tones of H Jon Benjamin. His pitch-perfect mix of arrogance, swagger, and occasional incredulity meshes perfectly with the carnage unfolding on screen.

The other performances are as wild as the narrative. Bill Skarsgård delivers a ferocious and physical performance, his ability to convey emotion and intent without dialogue nothing short of mesmerizing. It’s a testament to his skill that you never feel the absence of spoken words; his presence is commanding enough to fill any void left when Benjamin falls silent. Michelle Dockery, Famke Janssen, Brett Gelman and Sharlto Copley are clearly relishing their amped-up adversarial roles, while Jessica Rothe (HAPPY DEATH DAY, HAPPY DEATH DAY 2 U) and Andrew Koji dive into the physical arena, giving as good as they get and providing the film with dynamic and unpredictable energy.

While there’s no denying it’s director and co-creator Moritz Mohr’s movie, there’s a sense of producer Sam Raimi’s influence in the darkly humorous and wickedly witty orchestration of the violence, especially the many, many kills that leave a bloody trail of mayhem in Boy’s wake.

While the plot occasionally feels secondary to the spectacle, and attempts a third act twist that comes perilously close to derailing everything that’s come before, it’s propelled by a gleefully bombastic script that keeps the film from descending into mindless action. As twisted journeys of revenge and redemption, punctuated by moments of surprising tenderness and introspection, go, BOY KILLS WORLD is a cut above.

Sure, the relentless pace can be a little exhausting, and the sheer volume of visual and auditory stimuli might overwhelm the senses. There are moments where the narrative coherence takes a backseat to the stylistic excess, but BOY KILLS WORLD remains a bold, visceral experience, a film that defies convention and dares you to keep up. If you’ve a taste for the tasteless and extreme, it’s a thrilling, anarchic ride.

I.S.S. (2024) Review

In space, no one can hear you yawn.

I.S.S. launches with an intriguing enough premise but lacks the power to achieve a satisfying orbit. Set aboard the International Space Station, the film opens with the arrival of two new American astronauts, joining a supposedly close-knit crew consisting of both American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts. However, when nuclear war breaks out on Earth, conflicting orders from both nations pit the crew against each other.

Dr. Kira Foster (Ariana DeBose) serves as our audience proxy as we board this orbital powder keg. As the newest member of the crew she quickly becomes embroiled in the ensuing chaos and her very newness to the I.S.S. goes some way to explaining her unpredictable behaviour. DeBose brings an earnestness to her portrayal, capturing the naive hope and burgeoning terror of someone thrust into an impossible situation. Chris Messina’s Gordon Barrett – sporting a terrific Ned Flanders moustache – on the other hand, is more of a puzzle as the veteran American commander of the station. His stoic leadership makes complete sense up to the point when he makes a really dumb decision but then in that he’s not alone. Nearly all of the characters make decisions or take actions that don’t feel authentic or credible. We don’t spend anywhere near enough time with the crew before the situation erupts on Earth but what little time we do spend doesn’t go any way to suggesting that they’d fall apart as quickly as they do.

In terms of the space-based action, there’s a creditable effort to maintain scientific accuracy and while it clearly hasn’t got the budget of the likes of GRAVITY or THE MARTIAN, it’s as attentive to realistic detail as 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. Unfortunately, unlike that hallowed film’s sequel, it’s decidedly less accomplished in how it articulates and escalates the burgeoning conflict between American astronauts and their Russian counterparts.

We’re never really clued in to what the source of the escalating international tension is or why, during a situation where nuclear war was not only apparently imminent but all but inevitable, cooperation on recrewing the International Space Station continued unabated (the Americans arrive on a Russian spacecraft). There’s some attempt at justifying the control of the station being so important due to one of the experiments going on there but what could have been a gripping psychological thriller as the crew debate the morality of following their orders and the tension between their duty to their country and their duty to the more collegiate scientific altruism which the I.S.S. supposedly stands for very rapidly devolves into a rather conventional cat-and-mouse chase aboard the claustrophobic and not particularly cinematic environment of the Space Station.

Character development is slight, perhaps due to the brisk 95-minute runtime, but more investment in fleshing out the backstories and dynamics of the crew would have paid off handsomely later in the movie. The brevity sacrifices the potential for richer, more complex relationships, leaving the drmaa feeling superficial and the supposed romantic subplot between Messina’s Gordon and Mashkova’s Weronika is barely touched upon despite its significance to the whole story.

I.S.S. feels like a missed opportunity. It has the elements of a great film but doesn’t quite get the trajectory right. It’s moderately entertaining but lacks the depth and cohesion to be truly memorable. There’s tension there, but it fizzles out when it should climax. If you’re a fan of space dramas and don’t mind a lighter psychological payload, it’s worth a watch. Otherwise, you might find yourself wishing for more thrust to its storytelling engines.

Monkey Man (2024) Review

Monkey Man sees Dev Patel go ape

Punching its way into cinemas, in part thanks to Netflix’s geopolitical cowardice, MONKEY MAN sees Dev Patel’s directorial push beyond the lazy “John Wick in India” bumper sticker appraisal.

When an Indian orphan’s attempt to take revenge against the corrupt forces which killed his mother and displaced his people goes terribly wrong, he finds himself offered sanctuary and purpose in the most unexpected place.

Written and directed by Patel, MONKEY MAN isn’t coy about acknowledging its most obvious influence. The John Wick movies are referenced as diegetic fact within the world of the movie and it even goes as far as to pair our hero with a dog. It’s here though that the comparison starts to fade. While John Wick deals with a cultural elite, a society above the rest of us where death and violence are tools of honour and retribution. Yes Wick may be seeking revenge for the loss of his beloved dog, but he does so from a position of skill and bountiful resources. MONKEY MAN deals with the lowest of the low and refuses to sugar coat the realpolitik of India’s caste system and the near-Dickensian economic disparities at play in a country where unimaginable opulence and privilege sit side by side with abject poverty and deprivation. Our protagonist – hero would be a stretch – is a man scarred in every conceivable way by the cruelties of his life looking for some kind of retribution against an insurmountable imbalance. Even his soubriquet Monkey Man is taken from the mask he wears as he acts as a punch-bag heel for a local underground fight club run by Tiger (Sharlto Copely).

In some ways, MONKEY MAN is a film of two distinct episodes, a narratively satisfying diptych that takes its inspiration for Part One from John Wick and transforms itself in Part Two into something that more resembles classic western superhero mythology viewed through an Indian social, cultural and spiritual lens. There are elements of Spider-Man, The Punisher and Daredevil at play here but it’s the choices Patel makes in assembling the forces around MONKEY MAN that really make the film stand out.

MONKEY man emerges as a redefined hero with purpose thanks to the kindness of the most marginalised and impoverished of peoples in the city of Yatana, a commune of hijra led by Alpha (Vipin Sharma), the keeper of Ardhanarishvara. The community of Trans outcasts not only help nurse MONKEY MAN back to health, they help him confront and process his trauma, forging the pain and anger into purpose: to strike back at the power-hungry spiritual leader Baba Shakti (Makarand Deshpande) and his corrupt Police Chief stooge Rana Singh (Sikander Kher), the perpetrators of the village massacre of his youth who now seek to expand their influence across India through puppet politicians.

The film’s overt critique of the national purity populism of the likes of Narendra Modi (the factor which made the movie too hot to handle for original backers Netflix) serves as an emotively potent if somewhat uncomfortable backdrop for the film’s brutal, bruising and bloodily messy violence, which doesn’t pause to reflect on its simple message that brutal violence is the answer and the important thing is to be more brutal than those who seek to oppress you. In reflecting the escalating brutality, MONKEY MAN finds its ending in a poetically bleak sense of nihilism as blood begets blood and the cycle continues like an ultraviolent Saṃsāra.

Civil War (2024) Review

A road trip across America hasn’t been this harrowing since the Griswalds set off for Walley World

With Civil War, Alex Garland clearly wants to hold a dark mirror up to present day “polarised” America, using that mirror as a grim crystal ball to foretell the doom to which the so-called Land Of The Free is hurtling towards. There’s no denying it’s a subject ripe for exploration, so it’s just a pity that Garland, having chosen his platform, finds he has very little of note to say about it, beyond maybe the tried-and-true trope that war is Hell.

In the ninth month of a second American Civil War, as the President (Nick Offerman) continues to address the nation, assuring them of imminent victory, the secessionist forces of California, Texas (and maybe Florida?) march inexorably towards Washington DC. In New York, veteran war photographer Lee Smith (Kirsten Dunst) and war correspondent Joel (Wagner Moura) hatch a plan to travel to DC and secure an interview with the President, the first in over a year. Along with veteran journalist Sammy (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and Jessie Cullen (Cailee Spaeny), a young wannabe war photographer eager to prove herself, they travel across a country ravaged by the conflict.

Dunst, never the most emotionally engaged of actresses, seems to be aiming for numbed and near-burnt out in her performance but just comes across as exhausted and disappointed. Paired with the eager young cub photographer, she all too often falls into resting mom face, looking like at any moment she will snap and demand to speak to the war’s manager. In contrast, Wagner Moura’s Joel is almost out of emotional control, oscillating wildly between cavalier recklessness and abject despair. It’s almost like the only thing Alex Garland is willing to commit to is, ironically, the idea that moral ambivalence is no way to live. Thankfully, Spaeny and Henderson are present to provide a more accessible emotional journey for the audience, with each at opposite ends of their lives and careers the events bruising and bloodying their experience and enthusiasm. Of course, in wartime tragedy is never far away and CIVIL WAR’s finest moment is the first time tragedy strikes our little brand of intrepid reporters directly. Unfortunately, it reaches its lowest point the second time tragedy strikes as the most profoundly stupid and out-of-character decisions end in the most avoidable fashion.

Garland’s pathological desire to avoid taking an overt political position in the movie creates a lack of specifity that renders the entire movie hollow. Sure, there are hints here and there of real-world factors (Offerman’s rehearsal of his forthcoming Presidential remarks use a syntax that could be considered a bigly clue to the inspiration for his character) but entirely absent from what’s presented on screen is any kind of explanation of how the conflict came about in the first place, an explanation would require Garland to stray into editorial commentary. He sees himself, perhaps, as a noble and detached observer, metatextually crafting his dystopian amorality tale around a group of photojournalists, sworn never to interfere or ask questions but to document so that others may ask the questions which need to be asked and challenge the things that need to be challenged.

It’s a queasy equivocation that sounds good in theory but makes for unpleasant watching on screen, as evidenced in an early scene where Dunst’s character is covering a riot at a water truck which is attacked by a suicide bomber and in the immediate aftermath stalks through the debris and bodies not looking for injured survivors but for the “perfect shot”. It’s a detachment with which CIVIL WAR seeks to expiate its own neutrality but instead only reveals the gap between the film and the war correspondents it seeks to lionise: they provide context, the movie does not.

The marketing may have tried to portray CIVIL WAR as an ersatz OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN writ large, but that does the film a gross disservice. It isn’t really about the war at all – at times it’s barely interested in it. Instead, it’s an examination of the importance and cost of journalism at the bleeding edge of humanity’s worst impulses.

Unfortunately, because we don’t really know who these people are, and what they think of the events unfolding around them, the scrupulous detachment we’re meant to respect them for comes across as callous self-interest, with the only time they ever seem to be genuinely concerned is when their own lives are threatened. At a time when a free and independent press is more important than ever and under more intense pressure than ever, and an open goal to explore the very real possibility that Americans may be the most thoroughly propagandised population in the world, or that the current coruption of the body politic is due less to “both sides” polarisation and more to do with cynical partisan radicalisation, CIVIL WAR feels very much like Alex Garland coming not to praise the free press but to bury it.

Big Trouble In Little China (1986) Review

Big Trouble In Little China: A Cult Classic that packs a punch

In the grand pantheon of cinematic myhtology, there are movies that define genres – and then there’s BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, a film that decides genre boundaries are mere suggestions. Directed by maestro of the macabre, John Carpenter, it’s an unabashed, high-octane joyride through a neon-lit alleyway that intersecting the worlds of fantasy, martial arts, and action-comedy. At the steering wheel? None other than Kurt Russell, embodying Jack Burton with the kind of charm that can only be described as “Han Solo if he failed his pilot’s license.”

The plot, a potent concoction that feels like it was dreamt up during a particularly spicy Kung Pao-induced fever dream, follows truck driver Jack Burton as he gets entangled in an ancient mystical battle in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Alongside his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun), Jack faces off against centuries-old sorcerers, monstrous creatures, and his biggest foe: his own bumbling incompetence. Yet, it’s this very ineptitude, coupled with Russell’s knack for making the inelegant elegantly hilarious, that cements Jack Burton as a lovably flawed hero.

What sets BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA apart is its audacious blend of genres. Carpenter, with the gleeful abandon of a mad scientist, mixes up a dish of supernatural shenanigans with a generous garnish of wry comedy on top, and serves it with a side of 80s special effects atop a bed of fragrant kung-fu action. The result? A film that defies expectations at every turn, much like Jack Burton’s sense of self-awareness.

The cult appeal of this cinematic oddity can’t be overstated. It flopped at the box office faster than Jack can say, “It’s all in the reflexes,” but like a fine wine or an old Harley-Davidson baseball cap, it’s only gotten better with age. Its charm lies in its unapologetic embrace of its own zaniness. It’s as if Carpenter set out to make a movie that answered the question, “What if we made a film where the sidekick thinks he’s the hero?” And oh, what a glorious answer it is.

Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton is a masterclass in making a lovable oaf. Clumsy, overconfident, and often out of his depth, he stumbles through the film with the misplaced self-assurance of a toddler in a Godzilla costume. Yet, it’s this very fallibility that makes him so endearing. In a genre filled with flawless, overpowered heroes, Jack’s propensity for fouling things up is refreshingly human, especially when pitted against such insurmountably supernatural foes.

Working with a modest budget, Carpenter crafts a world that still feels both expansive and intimate. The fight scenes, a delightful homage to martial arts films, are choreographed with a precision that belies the film’s otherwise chaotic nature and the special effects, though a trifle dated by today’s standards, possess a charm and contextual authenticity that CGI could never replicate.

In discussing Carpenter’s oeuvre, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA occupies a unique space. It’s neither as outright horrifying as HALLOWEEN nor as soberingly dystopian as ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. Instead, it’s Carpenter at his most playful, a filmmaker unafraid to experiment and have a little fun. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is a testament to his underappreciated versatility and a middle finger to the notion of staying within one’s lane.

As for its legacy, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA has aged like a leather jacket: sure it’s a bit rough around the edges but undeniably cooler for it. It’s a film that reminds us of the joyousness of cinema – a medium where stories are as boundless as we want them to be, where heroes can be flawed, conventions flouted and where genres can be mixed and mashed together to create something truly unique.

In its journey from big screen bust to small screen sensation, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is a film that’s paid its dues, even if the studio behind it is still waiting for that sincerely promised box office cheque that’s in the mail. It’s a rollicking, raucous thrill ride that refuses to take itself too seriously, where even a clumsy blowhard buffoon can stumble his way to accidental heroism and genre rules are there to be broken.

To Be Or Not To Be Review

The remake or not the remake, that is the question facing wartime satire To Be Or Not To Be…

In a universe where comedy and tragedy are locked in diametric opposition around the dark star of history, TO BE OT NOT TO BE exists in two distinct orbits: the 1942 original by Ernst Lubitsch and its 1983 counterpart by Mel Brooks. These films, while sharing a title, premise and much the same script, diverge in their comedic trajectories, offering a fascinating study in contrast, particularly when viewed through the lens of contemporary critical reactions and the ever-evolving tastes of audiences.

Of course, its long been critical convention to lionise Lubitsch’s 1942 original for its contemporary courage and arch subtlety while dismissing Mel Brooks’ remake as unnecessary and in crassly poor taste. However, Brooks’ version is well overdue for a reappraisal and recognition for its achievements in its own right. Where Lubitsch opted for a satirical scalpel, Brooks approaches the gravity of World War II with a sledgehammer and yet Brooks’ rendition does not so much detract from the historical context as it chooses to engage with it through a different modality: accessibility. Brooks’ humour serves as a Trojan Horse, inviting audiences into a narrative that, beneath its guffaws and exaggerated slapstick performances, carries as sharp a critique of Nazism and the absurdities of war as its lauded predecessor. Brooks’ approach, while more overt, does not cheapen the film’s thematic significance; rather, it democratises its message, making it resonant for an audience that had moved on from the immediate post-war sensibilities.

The decades between the different versions of TO BE OR NOT TO BE’s releases plays a critical role in their reception and appraisal. By the early ’80s, audiences had the benefit of that historical distance, allowing Brooks more creative leeway to push boundaries without the immediate, raw emotional context that surrounded Lubitsch’s release during the war. This distance possibly contributed to a reception that, while mixed, was less charged with the controversy that Lubitsch faced.

Brooks’s approach to the gravity of World War II can best be described as using a whoopee cushion at a solemn ceremony—not to disrespect, but to remind us that even in our most dire moments, humanity’s absurdity is worth a giggle. This is not to say Brooks turns the historical context into a mere backdrop for pratfalls; illuminates the ridiculousness of Nazi ideology with the bright, unforgiving light of slapstick and puns. It’s as if Brooks decided that if history is a tragedy, then the only appropriate response is to throw a pie in its face.

While both films excel in using humour to dissect and undermine the Nazi regime, though they do so through markedly different scenes and techniques. Lubitsch’s elegance shines in scenes where subtle gestures and dialogues deliver a biting critique, such as the infamous “Heil Hitler” greeting, turned on its head to expose the illogicality of blind allegiance. Brooks, conversely, opts for more direct confrontation, using overtly comedic setups, like the scene where Brooks’s character, dressed as Hitler, interacts with the Nazi soldiers, pushing absurdity to its limits to underscore the same point: the grotesque ignorance of the regime.

In today’s global climate, with its plethora of platforms for satire and political comedy, both films deserve to find their place and be appreciated. Modern audiences, seasoned by a barrage of information and diverse comedic content, might appreciate Brooks’s approach for its boldness and clarity, while also respecting Lubitsch’s subtlety as well as recognizing the courage it took to craft such a film in the middle of the second world war when victory against the Nazis was far from certain. Both films serve as valuable texts, offering lessons in the power of laughter as both a weapon and a comfort in the darkest of times.

Personal preferences between Lubitsch’s subtlety and Brooks’s directness might vary, but there’s an undeniable genius in both approaches. Lubitsch’s work is a masterclass in the art of understatement, where the gravity of the context is magnified by the lightness of its touch. Brooks, on the other hand, embodies the spirit of comedy as defiance, using laughter as a loud refusal to submit to the darkness of history. In the end, the preference might not just be a matter of taste but of temperament: Do we whisper defiance or shout it from the rooftops?

The critical journey of “To Be or Not to Be,” from Lubitsch to Brooks, encapsulates the transformative power of comedy over time. While their methods diverge, their mission converges: to remind us that even in our darkest hours, laughter is not just important, it’s essential.

Seize Them! (2024) Review

Big Liam can’t come quickly enough for those unfortunate enough to find themselves watching Seize Them!

SEIZE THEM! is one of those curious British comedies that emerge every once in a while that make you pause to take stock and ask yourself “Who the fuck thought this was a good idea?”

When the reign of spoiled and cruel Queen Dagan (Aimee Lou Wood) is brought to an abrupt end by a peasant uprising led by Humble Joan (Nicola Coughlan), faithful servant Shulmay (Lolly Adefope) helps the deposed despot to flee. As they travel across the country, hunted and in search of allies, accompanied by redoubtable shit shoveller Bobic (Nick Frost), Queen Dagan finds herself forced to confront some unexpected truths.

There’s something depressing about seeing the Elmlea of British Comedy congealing in this curdled attempt at historic comedy which, if nothing else, demonstrates that the original HORRIBLE HISTORIES gang really had something special that’s not at all easy to replicate.

Leadenly acted, clumsily plotted and witlessly scripted, it’s hard to know where to place the bulk of the blame for this excessively foul-mouthed misfire. Such is the dreary and ploddingly puerile of the script that you might imagine the cast would have been given free reign by director XXXX to adlib and try to inject some actual wit into proceedings but any attempts at spontaneity seem to take the form of gratuitously repetitive swearing – an understandable fourth-wall breaking cry for help from the cast as they realise the unbelievably poor shitshow they’ve signed up for. You have to wonder how many agents were released after inking this deal.

The bad language is, in the end, the most inexplicable decision made in this confection of bad creative choices: it immediately excludes potentially the only audience who would possibly have embraced this garbage: the under-10s. Had SEIZE THEM! Dialled down the language and cranked up the slapstick silliness, it might just have worked but as it stands, you can’t just spray a substandard HORRIBLE HISTORIES knock-off with profane verbal diarrhoea and call it an adult comedy.

Everyone involved in this could and should have done better, but in the end it’s the audience that suffered the most.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire (2024) Review

This is the real royal rumble as Kong and Godzilla team up to take on the Skar King

GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE doesn’t waste time tiptoeing around, diving headfirst into the action, promising and delivering a grandiose spectacle that fans of giant monster films crave. From the first thunderous roar to the final clash, it’s a rollercoaster of thrilling battles and mind-blowing visuals that has little interest in being sidetracked from its raison d’être: monstrous mayhem.

When the hollow earth turns out to be hollower than anyone had anticipated (yep, it’s hollow Earths all the way down), the re-emergence of an ancient threat forces franchise frenemies Godzilla and Kong to reluctantly resume their titanic team-up. Doctor Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who shares a unique bond with Kong, find themselves once again drawn into the conflict. Along for the ride this time is Trapper (Dan Stevens), a blonde-locked, aviator-sunglass-and-Hawaiian-shirt wearing, Ryan-Gosling-x-Sam-Rockwell-energy serving Titan veterinarian whose initial mission to treat Kong’s toothache quickly leads to him buckling his swash and joining in the epic adventure – with a great deal more enthusiasm than kaiju podcaster Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry).

Veteran MonsterVerse director Adam Wingard knows why you’re in your multiplex seat with your bucket of popcorn and gallon of ice-cold Pepsi Max and so wastes little time in throwing as much CGI bedazzlement at your eyeballs as he possibly can. The creature design and sophistication of both Godzilla and Kong are the best they’ve ever been, particularly Kong who gets a neat sideline in world-weary Dad schtick to go along with ice-cold his bad-ass beatdowns. The backdrops may occasionally tip into near-Lucasian greenscreen overkill but every scale, every strand of fur, and every nuanced expression make the foreground creatures authentically larger-than-life. The action is as thunderous and catastrophic as you could wish for with only the most diligent property insurance actuary unlikely to enjoy the sheer scale and spectacle of the righteous devastation wrought in the pursuit of the good monsters defeating the bad ones.

Par for the course in these movies, the human cast, while solid, sometimes fades into the background amidst all the kaiju carnage. Rebecca Hall brings a grounded and earnest presence as Doctor Ilene Andrews, whose protective instincts towards Jia add a heartfelt layer to the narrative. Brian Tyree Henry reprises his role as Bernie Hayes, the conspiracy podcaster, providing both comic relief and crucial plot-driving moments while Dan Stevens, as the stylish and somewhat roguish Trapper, injects fresh energy into the film and carves out a much more distinctive persona than my snarky introduction above might lead you to believe. His character’s evolution from a quirky vet to a key player in the titanic showdown is one of the movie’s less surprising but more welcome developments. For a franchise that’s made a habit of chopping and changing its flesh and blood co-stars, there’s a real feeling that they’ve found the right balance now, and that the MonsterVerse has its own Scooby gang in Hall, Stevens, Henry and, of course, Kaylee Hottle.

Wingard’s smart enough to know that to carry off a creature feature of this magnitude, it has to have a healthy dose of self-awareness, and GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE isn’t ashamed or afraid to embrace what it is: a rock ‘em, sock ‘em showdown between colossal creatures. It doesn’t pretend to offer profound commentary, intricate plot twists or even a shred of scientific exposition in support of its conveniently permissive geophysics. Instead, it revels in its outlandishness, delivering on the promise of epic battles and spectacularly scenic destruction. It’s a refreshingly straightforward approach that powers up and delivers a blast of pure atomic entertainment energy right into the faces of audiences looking for uncomplicated escapism and excitement.

GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE dives deeper, figuratively and literally, into the mythology of the Hollow Earth, expanding on the lore introduced in previous movies and further exploring the ancient origins of these titanic beings and the subterranean world they inhabit. This exploration adds a layer of intrigue and an even richer foundation for further epic instalments. The interconnectedness of the MonsterVerse continues to be a strength of this series, with clear connective tissue that nevertheless is flexible and pliant enough to avoid constricting future movies and spin-offs.

Of course, like all cross-over team-up movies, GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE has to honour the legacy of its predecessors while carving out its own niche in the monster movie pantheon. It acknowledges the history and rivalry between its titular stars (Kong’s exasperation when trying to get a new punk-pink energised Godzilla to stop fighting long enough to explain the need to team up is an absolute joy to watch) but pushes the envelope with new threats and alliances. The production design, sound effects, and score all contribute to an immersive experience that’s best enjoyed on the biggest screen possible.

GODZILLA X KONG: THE NEW EMPIRE isn’t here to win awards for originality or depth. It’s here to entertain, and it does so with only the power a giant semi-mechanised ape and impossibly irradiated monster lizard can. The sheer scale of the action, the impressive CGI, and the unabashed celebration of monster mayhem make it a must-see for fans. By the time the credits roll, you’ll likely find yourself grinning, thoroughly entertained by the epic spectacle of apolitical global property destruction.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024) Review

Ghostbuster: Frozen Empire has no chill

I’m not sure there’s a cinematic franchise that has the degree of difficulty that GHOSTBUSTERS has in emerging from the original’s shadow and finding its own feet. GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE, although entertaining, seemed resigned to not only dwell in the shadow of its forebear but actually revelled in it. It did, though, at least seem to want to draw a line under things at the end and, having paid heartfelt tribute to the past seemed ready to pitch a more future-facing attitude to the film which would succeed it. GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE kind of fumbles the catch, making some smart moves to expand and secure the future of the franchise while still being too reliant on increasingly cheap and clumsy callbacks for fear of alienating the faithful.

Now based out of the famous Manhattan Firehouse, the Spenglers – Callie (Carrie Coon), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) – along with Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) are operating as a new Ghosbusters team, tackling the occasional hauntings which have, for some unspecificied reason, resumed plaguing New York. But when Ray (Dan Aykroyd) comes into possession of a mysterious brass sphere, the sinister spectre inside unleashes a frosty force of chaos that will take all the Ghostbusters – old and new – to deal with. Who ya gonna call? Everyone!

In many ways GHSOTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE is reminiscent of a lot of follow-ups to recent legacy sequels which have resurrected dormant franchises. Firstly there’s a slightly overstaffed main cast as the producers find ways to contrive including unanticipated fan favourites (Podcast (Logan Kim), Lucky (Celeste O’Connor)) alongside deadweight obligations (Carrie Coon and, I’m sorry, Finn Wolfhard) while bringing in even more new faces – Patton Oswalt, Kumail Nanjiani and for some reason James Acaster and wheeling out the old guard of Murray, Aykroyd, Hudson and Potts once again. This time round, even William Atherton returns as the odious Walter Peck, now Mayor of New York, to participate in a gratuitously unnessarary and narratively inconsequential reprise of his original quest to shut down the Ghostbusters for good. Perhaps we should just be grateful the bad guy this time round wasn’t just Vigo The Carpathian 2.0?

Perhaps the biggest – and most metatextual – callback GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE makes is in how much it skews the cinematic franchise to align with its second most successful incarnation: the animated REAL GHOSBUSTERS series that ran for five years between 1986 to 1991. This is the movie which firmly moves Ghosbusters from snarky horror comedy to kid-friendly family adventure and while its by no means a bad move, you can’t help but feel it loses a little of its soul in the process. The cartoonisation is perhaps best epitomised by the unlikely and unexplained reappearance of the mini Staypuft marshallow men. Given Gozer was dealt with once and for all, there’s zero diegetic reason for them to exist in the film, yet there they are, a Minion-isation of a franchise icon.  The other echo of REAL GHOSTBUSTERS is that FROZEN EMPIRE feels like it would have worked much better as an episodic TV series. If Sony had its own streaming network, perhaps that’s where it would have landed.

A longer form TV series would have relieved the over-stuffed narrative, which is bursting at the seams in a manner reminiscent of the overburdened host containment unit in the firehouse basement. Alongside the looming thereat from pre-Sumerian ice god Garraka, GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN KINGDOM tries to cover blended family drama, the expansion of the Ghostbusters organisation itself and a coming of age story which feels very much like it had studio notes applied to all but excise the queer subtext, leaving some of the character motivations seem contrived, actions arbitrary, and all of the story elements feeling short-changed and underdeveloped.

The introduction of a new Ghostbusters Headquarters – apart from catastrophically undermining the whole “close down the firestation” reprise and rendering it dramatically irrelevant – isn’t just about a new location, it serves as a metaphor for ambitions of future franchise expansions. While it’s clear the torch is being – not subtly it has to be said – passed to a new generation, if it’s to really lead the way, GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN KINGDOM needed to be less reliant on Easter Eggs, nostalgic homages and recycled dialogue than its predecessor. Unfortunately, it’s anything but.

There’s such a nagging lack of confidence that FROZEN KINGDOM can stand on its own two feet rather than prop itself up with callbacks (such as someone getting slimed by Slimer. Twice. Neither time Bill Murray) and references. It’s a problem that GHOSTBUSTERS will have to solve if it’s really going to be able to escape the ghost trap of its own past.

Kung Fu Panda 4 (2024) Review

Jack Black’s as charming as ever, but the kung fu feels weak this time

Returning to the big screen after an absence of eight years, KUNG FU PANDA 4 sees Po (Jack Black) wrestling with the next step in his journey: from warrior to master. Of course, if you’ve been following his small-screen antics, this is just the latest in a long line of adventures for our unassumingly upbeat hero. Then again, perhaps you don’t think the TV shows count, after all most of the principal cast don’t and even Jack Black only showed up sporadically.

Still, he’s back for this one, alongside series mainstay James Hong as Po’s adoptive father Ping, Dustin Hoffman as Master Shifu and Bryan Cranston as Po’s biological father Li Shan from KUNG FU PANDA 3 and newcomer Zhen (Awkwafina), a thief who joins Po on his latest quest. Threatening the Valley of Peace this time is the villainous Chameleon (Viola Davis), a master of disguise who plans to absorb the kung fu from the denizens of the spirit realm in order to conquer the world.

It’s hard not to feel that The Dragon Warrior is diminished a little by the absence of The Furious Five for this instalment, with Tigress, Monkey, Mantis, Crane and Viper conveniently off on a top-secret kung fu mission. It’s a cost-saving contrivance which makes sense in the realm of TV spin-offs but feels cheap on a cinematic scale. Likewise, Po’s elevation to spiritual master feels uninspired and unearned, as does the film’s chief trump card, the “return” of all the previous movies’ villains. This isn’t some “Antagonists Assemble” style team-up, though, and they’re mostly just visual callbacks with only Ian McShane’s Tai Lung making a (very welcome) verbal reappearance. I mean it makes sense, if you haven’t got Furious Five money, you sure don’t have post-Oscar win Gary Oldman cash in the budget.

KUNG FU PANDA 4, while perfectly serviceable, feels far looser and lazier than previous entries. It lacks the sharp wit of its predecessors, particularly the first two films, and while there’s some mileage in Ping and Li Shan’s coparenting, even the usual strong emotional undercurrents feel superficial this time round.

The animation remains as good as ever, but the action feels like we’ve seen it all before and the story unfolds in a dispiritingly predictable way, with even the inevitable lessons being learned telegraphed so obviously it’s hardly worth the journey this time.

Thankfully, at the heart of this underwhelming whirlwind of wasted potential, Jack Black’s effortlessly irresistible charm remains as vibrant as ever, carrying the adventure through its by-the-numbers steps to its conclusion. Where the KUNG FU PANDA saga goes from here, though, is unclear. The (wordless) return of The Furious Five bodes well, but it’s clear that if the intention is to sideline Po in a mentor role, the Kung Fu may not be strong enough to keep the franchise afloat if it’s not centred on him.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) Review

Ghostbusters: Afterlife isn’t so much haunted by the past as possessed by it

There are always risks in raising the dead and, after 2016’s well-intentioned but over-eager misfire, you could have been forgiven for assuming the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise would forever more rest in peace. Of course, in the hands of Sony, nothing beloved is sacred or safe and so, inevitably, Ray Parker Jr’s iconically spooky synth riff rises from the grave to bring us GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE and a new generation of Ghostbusters. It’s not the only generational touch either, as our medium for this cinematic séance is none other than Jason Reitman, son of the legendary director of GHOSTBUSTERS (and somewhat less legendary director of GHOSTBUSTERS II) Ivan Reitman.

Arriving in the seemingly unremarkable town of Summerville, Oklahoma, Callie (Carrie Coon) and her children Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), take up residence at the dilapidated old farmhouse inherited from her estranged father, Egon Spengler. As the grandchildren begin to explore and uncover their grandfather’s legacy, a series of tremors shake the town, attracting the attention of seismologist Gary Grooberson. Together with locals Podcast (Logan Kim) and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), the Spengler family unravel a mystery that stretches back to New York 1984 and beyond.

At its heart, GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE isn’t really a story about ghosts so much as a fable of family, loss, and rediscovery, evoking much more of a Spielbergian vibe than the spectral hijinks of its predecessors. It’s this narrative pivot that injects the film with an emotional depth perhaps unexpected in a franchise entry that feels ever so slightly cynical and exploitative and ultimately carries it over those times where its eagerness to remind you of things you loved before makes SOUTH PARK’s memberberries look like paragons of subtlety and restraint.

Director Jason Reitman, taking up the mantle from his father, Ivan, does try to strike a balance between reverence to the original and exploring new territory. The plot is saturated with blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em callbacks but he centres the film on the family grappling with their grandfather’s legacy as they stumble upon the ghostbusting tech of yore. Herein lies the Spielberg touch: the focus is on the emotional journey of its characters, with the supernatural shenanigans the colourful backdrop.

Paul Rudd brings just enough of the knowingly sardonic air of a Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd, as the quirky seismologist and summer school teacher, carrying an in-universe enthusiasm for classic Ghostbusters memorabilia that’s contagious and plays well off the enthusiastic young cast, particularly the spirited McKenna Grace and the frankly adorable Logan Kim. Carrie Coon on the other hand, while delivering a solid performance, seems a tad underutilized, adrift in a sea of spectres and science and more there to check off a particularly important plot point towards the end of the movie.

The film’s over reliance on the iconography of the original Ghostbusters—complete with the return of its endgame villain—elicits mixed feelings. It’s a cosy blanket of familiarity, yet one can’t help but yearn for the thrill of the unknown. This conservative approach to its past often feels like its holding back its future, echoing a reluctance to stray too far from the proven formula and slightly dims the shine of its innovations. For every organic callback, there’s a forced one: the mini Staypuft marshmallow men are adorable but there is no diegetic reason for them to appear. It’s pure fan service.

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE ultimately sets out to explore the dangers of raising the dead, both literally and metaphorically. As Stephen King put it in PET SEMATARY, and as 2016 showed, “sometimes they come back wrong”. This time, enough comes back right that you can forgive its craven indulgences in gratuitous nostalgia because the new stuff is pretty good in its own right and, surprisingly, the heartfelt tribute to the late Harold Ramis, which could so easily have felt crass and schmaltzy, actually works.

When it embraces the possibilities of the future, GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is noticeably stronger and as long as it can avoid falling into the trap of crossing its timestreams too much to linger too long in the past, its youthful cast and thoughtful updates to the lore and iconography of cast should breathe new life into the franchise. Then again, AFTERLIFE puts the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise exactly where THE FORCE AWAKENS did STAR WARS…and we all know how that turned out.

Dune: Part Two (2024) Review

Dune: Part Two fulfills the prophesied hype. Is Denis Villeneuve the cinematic Kwisatz Haderach?

As much as I did enjoy Denis Villeneuve’s DUNE (Part One), it’s fair to say I had a couple of gripes. One was that, despite the shiny newness afforded by modern special effects, I didn’t feel like it showed me anything new that David Lynch’s 1980s one hadn’t already shown me. The other was that the pacing was slow to the point of glacial. With DUNE PART TWO, both of these complaints were addressed – and how.

With House Atreides all but wiped from existence and the Harkonnens back in control of Arrakis, Paul (Timothée Chalamet) joins with the Fremen to wage a guerilla war against their oppressors all while grappling with the weight and inevitability of a prophecy that pulls him towards a blood-soaked destiny of galactic proportions.

Where DUNE PART ONE moved with all the alacrity of the slow erosion of a mountainside, DUNE PART TWO explodes forth with the ferocity and kinetic energy of a sandstorm, throwing a maelstrom of plot threads, character arcs and stunning visuals against the screen, sandblasting the audience with a scale and scope that matches the literary grandeur of the source material.

The meticulous patience with which PART ONE laid the groundwork pays off here as it allows the spiritual and political complexities of DUNE to ascend on the backs of the cast and their pitch-perfect performances. Chalamet is a revelation as he, at first reluctantly and then with a disturbingly implacable zealotry, essays Paul’s struggles with accepting and embracing his destiny, balanced all the while by Chani (Zendeya), offering a pragmatic, almost humanist resistance to the burgeoning messiah complex of her beloved. Although occasionally somewhat lost in all the gnomic mysticism, Rebecca Ferguson’s Lady Jessica brings gravitas and a cold ruthlessness to her Bene Gesserit machinations as she pushes and cajoles Paul and his followers to fully embrace what is to come. There’s also a savagely sly comic undertone to the whole thing provided by Javier Bardem’s Stilgar who’s contorted rationalisations in the face of a flurry of confirmations and refutations provides a sharp satire of the craven credulity of religious fanaticism, bordering on playing out an absurdist farce akin to “Carry On Kwisatz Haderach”.

Oblivious to the rising messianic menace, the forces of House Harkonnen seem less invincible this time round. Raban (Dave Bautista) is increasingly fallible in the face of the Fremen rebellion, finally giving an opening for Feyd-Ruatha (Austin Butler) to take centre stage. Introduced in a stunningly realised monochromatic sequence, the character exudes a menace that never really feels like it sufficiently pays off, Ruafa’s appearances and final confrontation teetering on the brink of anticlimactic. Demonstrating that however you approach the text, the transition from page to screen requires an unavoidable measure of inelegant exposition, Villeneuve opts for the same approach as the studios forced on Lynch all those years ago: having Princess Irulan (Florence Pugh) provide bridging narration. Pugh fits well with the cast aesthetic and certainly better than veteran Christopher Walken who unfortunately stands out like an off bit of stunt casting in an otherwise meticulously assembled motion picture.

When you pause to consider all the pieces and elements balanced with and against each other, Villeneuve’s achievement with DUNE: PART TWO becomes all the more impressive. It’s a lengthy movie at just shy of the three-hour mark and yet it never once feels like it. It’s packed with action and spectacle and yet boasts an abundance of deeply developed characters and layered performances backed by Hans Zimmer rising to the challenge with a score for the ages. While its denouement ironically feels a little rushed, it is, at least, unashamed of its own open-endedness, revealing in its closing moments the ultimate vision of DUNE: PART TWO as the middle chapter of a cinematic trilogy, a trilogy for which the concluding chapter can’t come soon enough.

Monty Python And The Holy Grail (1975) Review

It may be a silly place, but Monty Python And The Holy Grail takes you to an Arthurian England you’ll want to visit again and again

There is an idea (one that I do actually subscribe to) that in the right circumstances, budgetary constraints can inspire artistic leaps. Take, for example, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. Given a fraction of the budget of its predecessor, those limitations forged an unforgettably brilliant submarine battle in space, delivering drama the likes of which the franchise has been chasing ever since. Or JAWS, where the continued malfunctioning of the mechanical shark led to its appearances being massively reduced and restricted largely to the end of the movie forcing the creation of palpable sense of lurking menace that resonated with audiences far stronger and with more lasting effect than any special effect could have – and actually mitigated for the potentially comical mechanicality of the shark when it does finally appear on screen. So, what would happen if you took some of the most severe and abrupt financial difficulties in cinematic history and applied them to potentially some of the most artistically free-spirited and wildly creative performers of their time, near the height of their creative powers? The answer is MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL.

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL is a textbook example of how to turn economic adversity into comedic gold. With a shoestring budget that would make even the most frugal filmmaker blush, the Python team – Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin – managed to craft a film that’s as riotously funny today as it was upon its release in 1975. Armed with nothing but coconut shells, a rampantly rabid rabbit, and an unyielding disdain for the conventional, they embarked on a quest not just for the Holy Grail but to redefine comedy itself.

The plot, if one dares to call the deliriously disjointed series of sketches that, follows King Arthur and his motley crew of knights as they traverse a medieval Britain filled with absurd obstacles and even more absurd characters in search of the Holy Grail. From the infamous Black Knight who bravely fights on despite a series of increasingly debilitating dismemberments, via a castle occupied by French soldiers with a penchant for derision par excellence to mythic knights specialising in peculiar requests involving shrubberies, the film turns Arthurian legend on its head with a relentless barrage of wit, whimsy and wordplay.

What stands out about MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL is not just its humour but its inventive embrace of its limitations. The absence of real horses, replaced by the iconic coconut shell-clopping sound effects, serves as a perfect metaphor for the film’s approach: using creativity and cleverness to overcome material shortfalls. The film’s landscapes, often bleak and barren, somehow enhance the comedy, serving as a stark, straight-faced backdrop to the absurdity unfolding in the foreground.

The performances are as chaotic and well-crafted as you’d expect, with each member of the Python team playing multiple roles, showcasing their range and their knack for coining iconic lines that that have since become ingrained in the very fabric of pop culture. Terry Gilliam’s bizarre and grotesque animations punctuate the live-action with a surreal charm that only deepens the film’s unique comedic voice and, again, act as visual fig-leaves to cover the scenes that the budget simply couldn’t accommodate.

Direction-wise, Gilliam and Jones manage to keep the film’s chaotic energy focused, guiding the audience through a narrative that feels both episodic and yet curiously cohesive. The visual gags, from the castle siege involving a wooden rabbit to the use of modern police in the film’s closing moments, demonstrate a willingness to break the fourth wall and embrace an absurdist meta-commentary.

Despite its rough edges and the visible constraints under which it was produced, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL remains one of the Python’s best works, perhaps only bettered by THE LIFE OF BRIAN. It’s a film that proves imagination and ingenuity can triumph over financial limitations, delivering a piece of cinema that, while obviously dated, retains a timeless, nay legendary place in the British comedy firmament.

Next Goal Wins (2023) Review

Next Goal Wins sees Taika Waititi miss a sitter

NEXT GOAL WINS kicks off with high hopes but struggles to string any narrative passes together despite a game cast and a heartwarming story to tell. Taika Waititi’s latest attempt to blend comedy with heartfelt drama tells the true story of the American Samoa soccer team, notorious for their record-breaking 31-0 loss, and their journey towards redemption under the guidance of disgraced coach Thomas Rongen, played by Michael Fassbender.

Fassbender, typically known for his intense dramatic roles, is cast against type here, and struggles to inject the necessary levity into his character, although he’s not helped by the script. Elisabeth Moss, as his estranged wife, shares this misfortune, both seeming adrift in a sea of mismatched tones. The true standout is Kaimana, playing Jaiyah Saelua, a non-binary fa’afafine whose presence brings a refreshing layer of inclusivity and authenticity to the film and Oscar Kightley, who seems much more at home with the quasi-comic tone than either Fassbender or Moss.

Waititi’s trademark offbeat humour makes frequent appearances, delivering moments of genuine warmth and laughter and, of course, Rachel House continues her run as an inveterate scene-stealer, her energy lighting up every scene she inhabits. However, these bright spots are often overshadowed by inconsistent pacing and a narrative that vacillates between slapstick and melodrama, dulling the emotional impact.

The film’s cinematography, by Lachlan Milne, misses an opportunity to fully showcase the stunning landscapes, resulting in a visually flat experience while the gameplay sequences, crucial for any sports film, lack the excitement and engagement needed to captivate the audience. It’s a surprising misstep for Waititi, whose previous works have so effectively balanced humour and heart, but NEXT GOAL WINS leaves you yearning for deeper character exploration and a more cohesive narrative. It almost feels like Waititi is constrained by the need to tell a true story rather than follow his own flights of fancy. Compared to, say, HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, his signature style seems forced rather than flowing naturally and the original documentary remains the more compelling take on this underdog story, capturing the spirit and resilience of the team with greater clarity.

NEXT GOAL WINS is a well-intentioned film that fumbles in its execution. It highlights important themes of inclusion and perseverance but ultimately falls short of its potential. Fans of Waititi might find enough to enjoy, but it’s a reminder that even the best directors can occasionally miss the mark.

Wicked Little Letters (2024) Review

Wicked Little Letters is a sweary seaside delight!

Sometimes the very best stories come from the most unlikely of places, like WICKED LITTLE LETTERS, the true (seriously, Google it) story of a sleepy 1920s English coastal town turned upside-down by a torrent of handwritten obscenities popping through the letterboxes to land on doormats like profane postal grenades. Written by Jonny Sweet and directed by Thea Sharrock the two conspire to deliver a quaint seaside whodunnit of the kind Agatha Christie might have written after taking a bong rip while binge-watching a SOUTH PARK box set.

Olivia Colman stars as Edith, a deeply repressed, resentfully devout spinster who initially befriends and then falls out with her Irish neighbour Rose (Jessie Buckley). When the crude communiqués start piling up on Edith’s doorstep, suspicion falls firmly on Rose and the local constabulary, keen to put the whole thing to bed without a fuss are only too keen to make this an open and shut case. But with Rose facing the loss of her freedom, and her daughter, some of the wiser villagers start to have their own suspicions, suspicions that are shared by the village’s new woman police officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) despite the opprobrium of her superiors and the ruddy-cheeked domineering of Edith’s father Edward (a quietly terrifying Timothy Spall).

Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley bring to the screen a cinematic double act like no other. Colman’s Edith Swan is a study in restrained dichotomy, pivoting from winsome to wicked and back in the twinkle of an eye while Buckley’s Rose is a foul-mouthed, free-spirited firebrand, living life large and lusty much to the disgust of the straightlaced Swans. The supporting cast is just as fantastically watchable. There’s a local copper (Hugh Skinner) who’s all bumbling pomposity, Edith’s domineering father who seems permanently on the brink of a stroke-inducing rage and a trio of town gossips (Lolly Adefobe, Eileen Atkins and a wonderfully grubby Joanna Scanlan) who are clearly living for the drama.

The mystery at the heart of “Wicked Little Letters” is who’s penning these wickedly filthy and surprisingly well-written letters that keep popping up all over town. The film does a delightful dance of misdirection and genuinely twisty moments which keep you guessing right up until the inspiration shifts from Agatha Christie whodunnit to Columbo we-know-who-did-it-but-how-will-they-get-caught. Throughout it all there’s a genuine sense of growing unease in the town, a feeling that this whole thing could spiral into chaos at any moment, even by modern twenty-first century standards.

A roisterous, boisterous comedy of manners that plays out against the backdrop of a nascent suffragette movement, there’s also a vague sense of a society and a nation at an inflexion point as the unstoppable march of progress meets the near-irresistible force of stiff-upper-lipped British patriarchy but honestly what you’ll take away is the sheer brazenness of it all. WICKED LITTLE LETTERS will have you howling with laughter and gasping in disbelief, only to do it all over again as the next letter arrives. The letters themselves are quaintly outrageous but the real moments are the reactions of the victims and the accused.

Comedies are often described as uproarious but this bawdy British period dramedy earns that soubriquet, and then some. There’s never been anything quite like this, well except for the actual events the film is based on, but WICKED LITTLE LETTERS gets my stamp of approval for my favourite film of the year.

The Iron Claw (2024) Review

The Iron Claw takes the soapy melodrama of professional wresting and elevates it to Shakespearean tragedy

Of all the various entertainment forms and franchises I embraced growing up (many of which remain with me to this day), the one thing I could never get into was professional wrestling. It just never clicked for me, especially the hyper-adrenal American incarnations. Sure, I may have watched the out bout between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy back in the day as I was forced to endure WORLD OF SPORT while I had my lunch on Saturday but it never sank its (Iron?) claws into me the same way it did for some of my best friends. The hammy posturing, repetitive banter and archly camp machismo didn’t appeal and as for the labyrinthine so-called plotlines with vendettas, double-crosses and abrupt heel turns it seemed to me like a glam rock soap opera for those who would grow up (or more appositely fail to grow up) to hang on every word of the latest Joe Rogan podcast. As such, I approached THE IRON CLAW with some trepidation. A fictionalised movie about a real family involved in a fake sport? Where’s the appeal in that?

Charting the (abridged) rises and falls of the Von Erich family’s fortunes, Sean Durkin’s masterfully melancholy screenplay takes this tale of flamboyant capes and sweat soaked leotards and pushes through the risk of schlocky soap opera melodrama to find something more akin to a Shakesperean tragedy, albeit one with Frog Splashes and Double Underhook Suplexes. At tale of patriarchal determination to succeed at any and all costs, it unfolds against a backdrop of an inflection point for professional wrestling, a golden era for the purity of the sport (Sport? Circus? Art? Eh, whatever) just as the big money was starting to creep in as the corporations sensed the opportunity. And while money plays its part in the ruthless driving ambition, it’s glory and titles that propel events forward to their seemingly inevitable conclusion.

The strength of “The Iron Claw” lies not just in its storytelling – in fact there’s so much tragedy to explore in the lives of the Von Erichs that it’s abridged here to ensure the finish product is a workable cinematic length – but in the powerhouse performances that bring these larger-than-life figures and events to life. Holt McCallany’s Fritz Von Erich bestrides the movie like a colossus, part King Lear, part Dorian Grey – a man whose vicarious ambitions are destined to bring about the downfall of his “kingdom” while at the same time reflecting the terrible consequences of his single-minded pursuit of glory not into an attic-stashed portrait but in his own sons, who often end up paying the ultimate price for their father’s vanity and pride. McCallany manages to make Von Erich senior understandable if not exactly sympathetic but very, very human even at his most inhumane.

Of course, the attention grabbing, transformative performance is that of Zac Efron, who’s unfeasibly bulked out physique makes him look like he’s ready to play the Hulk version of High School Musical’s Troy Boulton’s Bruce Banner. Efron leads the ensemble of Von Erich children, who have a much more miserable time of it than their counterparts in the Von Trapp family, creating a real sense of brotherhood and fellowship (thanks to the era-accurate hairstyling the four of them do unfortunately at times resemble a ‘roided out version of Merry, Pippin, Sam and Frodo) both in resistance to and in pursuit of the favour of their father’s approval.

THE IRON CLAW then isn’t, thankfully, a movie about wrestling but a movie about wrestlers and there’s a lot to absorb in this tale of four men struggling to find their place in the shadow of a cruelly judgemental legacy.  All four performances capture the differing ordinal perspectives of sibling rivalry, camaraderie, and the unyielding pressure of living up to a self-aggrandized family name. The actors manage to convey the internal and external battles each of the Von Erich children face in balancing their own hopes and dreams with those of their father, making each victory and defeat feel deeply personal. Harris Dickinson and Jeremy Allen White may get the lion’s share of the juicy drama showcase moments but it’s in Efron that the film finds its anchor, keeping the audience rooted in the humanity of the unfolding story.

THE IRON CLAW’s story is told with a delicate finesse, Durkin’s screenplay balancing moments of high drama and action with emotional introspection and time for the characters – and the audience – to come to terms with the unfolding events. The judicious editing of real-life events to fit a reasonable runtime is largely invisible, especially to those like me who were almost entirely unaware of the real life Von Erichs and the visuals and cinematography add a layer of verisimilitude, paying respectful homage to the aesthetics and theatrics of the era and the sport.

An unconventional sports movie, THE IRON CLAW embraces none of the tropes and traditions of the genre. Here, there is no plucky underdog victory or last-minute hail mary turn of events. Each step forward on the path to glory comes at an increasingly terrible price and instead of the warm afterglow of triumph against the odds, you’ll be left feeling like you’re pinned to the mat, contemplating the terrible wastefulness of hubris.

Love Again (2023) Review

Love Again will convince you once is enough.

At its heart – which is very, very firmly on its sleeve, LOVE AGAIN flirts with a really cute concept: text messages to a lost love that serendipitously bring together two lonely hearts; A YOU’VE GOT MAIL for the Tinder generation. It’s the kind of setup that, in more capable hands, could have had a real shot at becoming a minor classic of the meet-cute RomCom genre itself but, much like a myopically misguided Cupid, LOVE AGAIN finds its arrows landing just about everywhere but on target thanks to a misfiring cast and a script that sounds like it was written during a particularly uninspired high school drama class.

When Mira Ray (Priyanka Chopra Jonas – the Jonas being metatextually important later in the movie) witnesses her fiancé killed in front of her by a drunk driver, she retreats from the world and her work as a best-selling children’s author for two years of mourning. Eventually coaxed out of her self-imposed isolation by her sister Suzy (Sofia Ray), Mira consoles herself by continuing to text her fiancé’s phone number, a number that has in the meantime been allocated to recently jilted music journalist Rob Burns (Sam Heughan) who’s struggling to find the motivation he needs to complete an assigned profile on Céline Dion (Celine Dion).

Chopra Jonas is the film’s fundamental failure by our cinematic cupid to find its mark. As actresses go, she’s something of a contemporary of Gal Gadot: beautiful to look at, can find her marks but when it comes to emoting, lacking anything beyond a superficial emotional aspect. Case in point is the should-be-devastating opening where a charming Arinzé Kene makes an immediate impression as John, the doomed fiancé, with mere minutes of screen time is killed off screen and yet it’s only thanks to the borderline cartoon sound effects that we know something terrible has happened as the camera lingers on the near expressionless face of Chopra Jonas. It’s a problem that plagues the rest of the film too as it’s packed with a fascinatingly eclectic, vibrant and criminally wasted supporting cast nearly all of whom are immediately more engaging and interesting than our two leads.

Sam Heughan struggles to establish much chemistry with his would-be paramour here but the fault lies not in their stars but with both of them. They’re simply mismatched and fail to spark, mostly thanks to the leadenly on-the-nose dialogue that leaves no room for performance subtlety; it’s hard to root for a couple where you get the sense that for both of them, their inner-monologues are simply the sound of a microwaved potato waiting for the ping.

Perhaps writer/ director Jim Strouse’s most baffling decision – apart from not taking a few more passes at polishing the screenplay – is to populate the film with a host of British actors and then set the film in New York, resulting in a slew of performances that feel like they’re constantly wrestling with their vocal cords. This transatlantic tug-of-war does little to serve the narrative, instead, it keeps pulling viewers out of the moment, leaving them to ponder the accents rather than the unfolding romance. Then again, perhaps it was a moment of inspired mitigation once he realised that having the likes of Sofia Ray, Lydia West, Russell Tovey and Celie Imrie in support the underwritten leads were likely to be overshadowed unless he nobbled the field? Despite the linguistic handicapping, Lydia West and Russell Tovey shine like a seam of gold in the dull quartz that makes up the rest of the film. Along with Sofia Ray and Omid Djalili, they make up a quartet of characters you’ll want to spend more time with and might even wish the movie as about.

Two bits of casting which are spot-on, however, are the movie’s knowing cameos. The first is from Priyanka Chopra Jonas’ husband Nick Jonas as a particularly horrendous Tinder narcissist but the surprise gem of LOVE AGAIN is Céline Dion, bringing a refreshingly breezy sense of fun and self-awareness to the proceedings, styling herself as the archly imperious Yoda of romance to the Sam Heughan’s cynical and disenchanted journalist and reminding us of the film’s lost potential for whimsy and charm.

LOVE AGAIN stumbles down the well-trodden paths of RomCom conventionality with the grace and agility of a ballet dancer wearing two left shoes. Its promising premise is undermined by a series of questionable decisions, from casting to setting and in the end, the it serves as a stark reminder that even the cutest of meet-cute ideas needs more than just star power and scenic stock footage establishing shots to stand a chance of getting beyond a first date.

The Beekeeper (2024) Review

The Beekeeper – is it buzzworthy?

The patient, methodical science of apiculture isn’t something you’d normally association with high-concept, high-stakes, high-octane action but you’d better believe THE BEEKEEPER is going to push the metaphor to breaking point and beyond as it looks to bend it into serving this kinetic revenge thriller by sheer brute force, turning the quiet hum of bees into the roar of vengeance.

Jason Statham stars as Adam Clay, a former operative of a shadowy organisation known as the Beekeepers. The story begins when Adam’s landlady, Eloise (Phylicia Rashad), falls victim to a spear phishing scam, driving her to take her own life. Consumed by grief and anger, Adam sets out to dismantle the call centre operation responsible. But, being an experienced beekeeper, he knows that snuffing out a few drones won’t be enough – he needs to follow the honey – er, I mean money – all the way to the top, setting him on a collision course with Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson), a crypto-bro corporate scam artist, and Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), his ex-CIA director minder.

THE BEEKEEPER sees Statham at his absolute best. Freed of the po-faced pomposity of the FAST & FURIOUS franchise and allowed to act his age rather than help the aged in another EXPENDABLES romp, he’s clearly got a buzz from a script which sees him in imperiously taciturn form. He dismantles an entire call centre operation with spectacularly extreme prejudice, setting the tone for a movie filled with explosive action and putting him on the radar of the bad guys and the authorities, both of whom seem powerless to prevent his relentless march towards justice.

The film’s villains, particularly Derek Danforth (Josh Hutcherson) and Wallace Westwyld (Jeremy Irons), add a darkly comic dynamic as they bicker and squabble amongst themselves about how to possibly escape the inevitable and unstoppable force of retribution barrelling towards them. Hutcherson’s portrayal of a sleazy, entitled crypto-bro is hilariously, obnoxiously spot-on, while Irons’ cynical and nihilistic ex-CIA director provides a formidable counterpoint to Hutcherson’s incredulous entitlement. Their combined moral repugnance makes their – and their various lackeys – comeuppance all the more satisfying.

There are moments where the narrative gets bogged down by some unnecessarily complex backstories involving internecine government agency rivalries and the primary subplot featuring Eloise’s daughter, FBI Agent Verona Parker (Emmy Raver-Lampman), feels unnecessary and more of a distraction from the film’s primary story than an enhancement. While Raver-Lampman and her partner Matt Wiley (Bobby Naderi) have good chemistry, their scenes often disrupt the movie’s pacing without adding anything.

The action sequences, though, are undeniably entertaining. Statham’s fight scenes are as bone-crunching as ever, and Ayer’s direction ensures that the violence is both stylish and slick, our enthusiasm for THE BEEKEEPER’s quest allowing us to overlook some of the comical ease with which he evades capture and circumvents the most stringent of security measures. The final showdown, set on the President’s weekend retreat, is an audience treat, combining intense fight choreography with explosive set pieces and gloriously over the top scenery-chewing performances from the likes of Taylor James as the mercenary Lazarus.

THE BEEKEPER fits in well with Statham’s solo filmography with its blend of tight fight choreography and high-concept morality for its protagonist and while it might not quite reach the heights of classics like THE TRANSPORTER or have the sheer balls-to-the-wall-no-fucks-given-fun of the CRANK series, it’s a solid entry that showcases Statham’s strengths as an action movie hero in a honey of a movie that packs a real sting!

Godzilla Minus One (2023) Review

Godzilla Minus One subtracts everything but the basics, which turns out to be a huge plus

Modern GODZILLA may be off enjoying blockbuster cross-over franchise success with the Monsterverse but sometimes it’s important – even for giant atomic lizards – to remember where they came from. GODZILLA MINUS ONE takes everyone’s favourite titan back to its roots as an exploration of Japanese post-war trauma and atomic power as a near-irresistible force of nature, indifferent to the tiny lives which it devastates. Written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki, it brings the effects (which would go on to win an unprecedented and richly deserved Academy Award) up to date while taking the monster mayhem back to its origins.

Set in post-war Japan, the film follows Kōichi Shikishima (Ryunosuke Kamiki), a man grappling with his own immense sense of guilt and trauma after the end of World War II, and an encounter with a mysterious dinosaur-like creature that wiped out his whole unit on Odo Island. Returning to Tokyo to find his parents killed and their home destroyed by bombing, he befriends and takes in a young woman Noriko Ōishi (Minami Hamabe) and an orphaned baby whom Noriko rescued. As they start to rebuild their shattered lives, Godzilla – mutated by further American atomic testing – starts heading for Japan. With the Cold War getting underway, the Americans refuse to help beyond approving the use of a few decommissioned Japanese naval vessels and, to avoid panicking the populace, the Japanese government suppresses news of the imminent threat.

GODZILLA MINUS ONE walks an intriguing line between intense action sequences and deeply emotional moments, as it explores the macro and microcosms of the societal and emotional fall out from the war. Yamazaki’s direction shines as he balances both sides of this essential equation and the spectacular visual effects, the collaboration of Yamazaki (acting as visual effects supervisor alongside his directorial duties), visual effects director Kiyoko Shibuya and 3D CG director Masaki Takahashi, excel at capturing the sheer scale, terror and implacability of Godzilla at his most stripped back and fundamental. The creature design is exquisite, honouring the incarnations that have gone before whilst feeling entirely fresh and new while cinematography poignantly contrasts the bleakness of a war-torn Japan struggling to find the hope to rebuild. The score by Naoki Sato complements the contrasting perspectives between the grand devastation and the small, human moments that punctuate it.

True, it doesn’t always get the balance entirely right and you may find the film sags in the middle when it focusses almost exclusively on the human cast members while the threat of Godzilla looms larger and larger in the background but this isn’t a film for the fans of the rock ‘me sock ‘me non-stop kaiju smackdown style Godzilla action. It’s far more philosophical in its treatment of its subject and is all the richer for it.

GODZILL MINUS ONE is a worthy addition to the Godzilla pantheon, doing a better job of contemporising the classic tale than the nevertheless accomplished SHIN GODZILLA did back in 2017. In harking right back to the franchise’s roots and emphasizing the horror elements and the allegorical weight it reminds us of what made the original 1954 film a break-out cross-cultural classic. It’s testament to the power of the original ideas involved that Godzilla can be both a crowd-pleasing popcorn shoveller and a powerfully emotional anti-war polemic; what other movie monster has that kind of range?

At The Earth’s Core (1976) Review

At The Earth’s Core sees seventies sci-fi hit rock bottom and start digging!

The dictionary defines “Amicus Brief” as document filed by someone who is not a party to a case but has a strong interest in the subject matter. “Amicus” is Latin for “friend,” and an Amicus Brief, is often referred to as a “friend of the court” brief. For AT THE EARTH’S CORE, my Amicus Brief was to review this classic slice of 1970s sci-fi hokum from Amicus productions for friends of the Craggus Realweegiemidget Reviews and Cinematic Catharsis’ Fourth Hammer-Amicus Blogathon.

When the maiden voyage of an experimental drilling machine goes awry, David Innes (Doug McClure) and Doctor Abner Perry (Peter Cushing) find themselves hurtling downward towards the core of the Earth only to find themselves crash landing in a strange and alien environment populated by primitive tribes and fearsome creatures.

The last time I reviewed an Amicus production for a blogathon I took a look at their two DOCTOR WHO adaptations, DOCTOR WHO AND THE DALEKS and THE DALEK INVASION OF EARTH 2150AD, so it’s somewhat appropriate I’ve picked this title to review because there’s more than a whiff of the Whovian in its set-up and execution, no doubt purely coincidental despite AT THE EARTH’S CORE being loosely adapted (it’s too studio bound to realise the vast landscapes of Pellucidar) from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel of Edwardian adventure by the same screenwriter/ producer, Milton Subotsky. We have Peter Cushing as a slightly befuddled, eccentric scientist whose advanced machine careers out of control and brings our heroes to an exotic and dangerous new world, with Doug McClure’s David Innes very much in the same mould as Bernard Cribbens or Roy Castle interchangeable sidekicks from the Dalek movies there to take on the more physical aspects of derring-do and generally provide a family friendly serving of flavourless beefcake as the pair set out to right the injustices of the society – ruled over by the tyrannical pterodactylic Mahars, a race of psychokinetic and telepathic reptilian humanoids. There’s even something “for the Dads” in the shapely – yet woefully underused – form of Caroline Munro.

Of course, there’s a particular flavour to British adventure fiction in which the thoroughly modern DOCTOR WHO can trace clear ancestry. The works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs and H G Wells (whose THE TIME MACHINE is an obvious touchstone for AT THE EARTH’S CORE with its tale of elites versus primatives) all have a legacy which DOCTOR WHO embraced and built out from, as could be argued James Bond did too. The firm certainly doesn’t shy away from that innate sense of British Imperial sanctimony that underpinned the source material either, with the line “You can’t mesmerise me, I’m British!” a particular highlight.

While the performances certainly don’t see anybody hitting career highs, Cushing is as dependable as ever even if the script doesn’t really demand anything of him. McClure, on the other hand, is so determinedly earnest in his performance – perhaps conscious of acting opposite silver screen royalty like Peter Cushing – that he pushes his square-jawed heroism into an arena of camp that’s far, far beyond Cushing’s gently sardonic tongue-in-cheek turn. That being said, McClure’s performance never once wavers in its commitment to the reality of the world he’s in. While some performances wink at the audience at the ridiculousness of it all, McClure absolutely exists in the world we see on screen in lurid technicolor, rubber monsters and all.

Speaking of rubber monsters, it’s here – and in the production values generally – that AT THE EARTH’S CORE absolutely triumphs. Oh, it doesn’t quite come close to capturing the essence of Edgar Rice Burrough’s imagination but it delivers model work, sets and monsters that the BBC of the time could only have dreamt of for the DOCTOR. It’s technically adventurous and diverse filmmaking, combining sumptuous sets, great creature design and some almost Gerry Anderson-style miniature work to terrific effect on a modest budget.

Cheesy and charming in almost equal measure, Milton Subotsky’s AT THE EARTH’S CORE may jettison much of the source novel’s speculative science fiction (there’s no explanation of how or why Pellucidar exists) and simplifies its sociological subtext in favour of crowd-pleasing popcorn pulp action adventure but there’s enough here to pass a rainy Sunday afternoon perfectly pleasantly. It’s too good to be a guilty pleasure but not quite good enough to be a bona fide classic, instead landing at that sweet spot that earns its nostalgia-fuelled cult status.