FILM: Limbo (2020, Ben Sharrock)

NOTE: This is Post 1,700 on this blog. Seventeen-hundred posts into blogging here, and I have loved every minute of it.

Drama film Limbo is distributed in the UK by MUBI, following its premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. On a small, bleak island in the Outer Hebrides, a group of refugees from various African and Middle Eastern countries live in rundown houses with barely enough to live on as they await to learn whether they shall be granted asylum. In the meantime, they cannot work but have to attend ridiculous cultural awareness classes, and as he experiences various forms of prejudice, young Syrian musician Omar (Amir El-Masry) starts to lose his optimism about a better future in the UK.

PROS

  • Director/screenwriter Ben Sharrock provides a sensitive and nuanced exploration of how, despite it being a safer place, for refugees the uncertainty and suffering does not end once in the UK, and how the causes for that can vary as bigoted attitudes towards them manifest in different ways.
  • The surprisingly humorous cultural awareness classes provide some much-needed comic relief, whilst also highlighting just how patronising and condescending people’s assumptions regarding people of other cultures can be.
  • A solid cast, with the supporting players realising well the dynamics between the migrants and those that they have with the locals. This is Amir El-Masry’s film though, whose sensitive and poignant portrayal of fading hope makes for captivating yet heartbreaking viewing.
  • Cinematographer Nick Cooke’s imagery have a cold, dreary quality that perfectly compliments the narrative, whilst the 1.37:1 aspect ratio makes everything feel that much more restricted.

CONS

  • Given that there have always been Brits who welcome refugees with kindness and hospitality, it was a missed opportunity that such no such figure was really featured as a major juxtaposition to the racist locals.
  • Despite featuring in numerous scenes, the majority of the refugees receive little characterisation, including some of Omar’s housemates, which gives the viewers less reason to emotionally invest in them and means that they resultantly do not really stand out from one another.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Glass Onion (2022, Rian Johnson)

Murder mystery/comedy Glass Onion is the sequel to Knives Out and is distributed by Netflix, following its premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. During the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic, eccentric billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) invites a group of his old friends, as well as renowned detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), to his private Greek island for an annual murder mystery weekend. However, one of the guests drops dead after drinking from a poisoned beverage which was intended for Bron. With all of the guests having a motive for wanting the billionaire dead, will Blanc be able to solve the mystery before anyone else is killed?

PROS

  • An altogether clever and very detailed puzzle is pieced together to solve the murder mystery, with director/screenwriter Rian Johnson utilises flashbacks very well to subvert our expectations/assumptions. As with Knives Out, the humour is consistently very witty and features punchy dialogue that makes it all the more engaging.
  • Although slightly caricatured at times, the various potential murder victims and suspects are fun individuals to watch with interesting sides to their characters, whilst Blanc is a much more rounded character this time around.
  • A strong cast who clearly have an absolute blast as they throw themselves into the film with great energy. The standout supporting players are Kate Hudson and Dave Bautista, whilst Daniel Craig is a terrific lead as he once again absolutely relishes the role of Benoit Blanc.
  • The production design department create a very lavish and rather striking home for Bron, with the titular Glass Onion that makes up part of his home being a brilliant design conceptually, and different aspects of this home implementing excellent practical effects.

CONS

  • The excessive use of flashbacks and at times abrupt focus shifts from one character to another does result in the film being altogether disjointed.
  • The murder mystery itself does not have that much of an investigation, with Blanc’s super-sleuth skills resulting in a fast and abrupt resolution.

VERDICT: 8/10

TELEVISION: Warren (2019)

British sitcom Warren originally aired on BBC1 for 6 episodes. Short-tempered driving instructor Warren Thompson (Martin Clunes) lives with his partner Anne (Lisa Millett) and her teenage sons Charlie (Tim Preston) and Danny (Oscar Morgan), and must navigate the various challenges that come up concerning his business and his family life – challenges that he often exacerbates through abrasive and/or selfish responses.

CONS

  • Highly uninspired humour and altogether very poor screenwriting makes for a painfully unfunny sitcom – 6 episodes and I can count the weak chuckles on one hand.
  • Each episode’s narrative proves altogether very predictable due to the lazy use of tropes and storytelling beats which have been done to death over the years.
  • It makes for uncomfortable and unfunny viewing when the central character has no good qualities and even his nicer moments have selfish motives or are short-lived.
  • Very weak, one-note characterisation across the board, with all of them being rather exaggerated caricatures in a sitcom that lacks realism – namely how sweet and patient Anne is with Warren, and basically everything related to his business.
  • With one notable exception (see Pros) the cast are altogether poor, with multiple exaggerated turns that feel uncertain, as though they were lacking clear, substantial direction.

PROS

  • No matter how irredeemable Warren may be, Martin Clunes nails the short-tempered and abrasive characteristics, completely selling that that is what he is like – his Doc Martin character looks like Fred Rogers by comparison.

VERDICT: 1/10

FILM: Bones and All (2022, Luca Guadagnino)

Adapted from Camille DeAngelis’s novel of the same title, horror film Bones and All is distributed in cinemas by Warner Bros., following its premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival. Set in the late-1980s, teenager Maren (Taylor Russell) becomes a nomad after her father (André Holland) leaves her when her cannibalistic urges become too much to bear. She soon befriends fellow young cannibal Lee (Timothée Chalamet), who believes that she should accept herself and unashamedly fulfil those desires – the total opposite to what her father emphasised to her time and again. They start travelling across America together to fulfil their cannibalistic urges and also find Maren’s long-lost mother, from whom she had inherited those urges. Following them along the way though is sinister, older cannibal Sully (Mark Rylance), who is fascinated to the point of outright obsession with Maren.

PROS

  • Director Luca Guadagnino ensures that Maren and Lee’s relationship is ultimately the heart of the film, and his preference for character focus is most clear in the cannibalism scenes, where he ensures that the focus is on the characters’ reactions rather than the flesh eating.
  • David Kajganich’s screenplay provides a contained character study into human desire that is wrapped up in inhuman taste, whilst also exploring the differing responses that people can have to abnormal urges and the factors which can inform said responses.
  • A solid cast led brilliantly by Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet, who bring nuance to their roles and realise well their emotional complexities, and also have a captivating chemistry with one-another. The standout supporting players are a brief appearance from Michael Stuhlbarg and a terrifically sinister and unnerving turn from Mark Rylance.
  • Highly effective use of fake blood by the make-up department, whilst the practical make-up effects (which are always briefly featured) are highly vivid and detailed, making for some shocking imagery.

CONS

  • An altogether episodic narrative that does get somewhat repetitive as they go from one state to another, which also ends up being disjointed due to some scenes being rushed and ending abruptly.
  • The established cannibal lore lacks detail – notably they can sense each other, but it is never established how or why, whilst some of the rules that they have regarding each other increasingly get played fast and loose with in the final third.
  • Several underused supporting cast members – most notably André Holland and Chloë Sevigny.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Strange World (2022, Don Hall)

Strange World is the 61st feature-length animated classic from Disney. When the electrical plants Pando which fuel the land of Avalonia start to lose their power, scientist Searcher Clade (Jake Gyllenhaal) – who first discovered it 25 years earlier – goes on a venture into a mysterious, subterranean world filled with all manner of fantastical creatures, with the intention of discovering the cause and fixing the problem. His wife Meridian (Gabrielle Union) and son Ethan (Jaboukie Young-White) join him on this venture, but what none of them expect is that embarking on this journey will result in them reuniting with Searcher’s long-lost father – legendary explorer Jaeger Clade (Dennis Quaid).

PROS

  • Qui Nguyen’s screenplay provides a very fun and high energy adventure that celebrates the wonders of nature and emphasises our responsibility towards the planet, and also features some quirky characterisation and warm relationships – particularly the bond between Ethan and the faceless, gooey creature Splat.
  • Gorgeous animation with a rich colour palette brings the quirky and creative designs of this world and its inhabitants to dazzling, detailed life. The characters are also very expressively animated – most impressively Splat, whose expressions and feelings are conveyed brilliantly through physicality and some squeaks.
  • An excellent voice cast who really throw themselves into their parts with palpable passion and terrific energy, and bring excellent emotional range to their vocal performances, as such making them engaging characters to follow on this fun adventure.

CONS

  • The narrative as a whole is predictable as it does follow the formula of many past science-fiction adventures – most notably Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Fantastic Voyage – and it is made more noticeable by the sheer number of nods to other science-fiction films.
  • At a little over 90 minutes (not including end credits) there is ultimately not enough time to explore the characters and their relationships in addition to depicting a huge adventure, and as such the significant father-son relationships feel altogether surface-level and lack emotional weight.

VERDICT: 7/10

TELEVISION: Pokémon: Mega Evolution (2014-2015)

The Japanese promotional poster for the first special.

Anime Pokémon: Mega Evolution is a four-part series of spin-off specials to Pokémon the Series: XY, and originally aired on TV Tokyo in Japan before being dubbed into English. Alain (Jonathan Silver) and his partner Charizard (Kensuke Satō) are on a quest to research Mega Evolution, building upon their work with Professor Sycamore (Jake Paque). They are joined by new trainer Mairin (Zoe Martin), and their journey brings them into contact with all manner of powerful Mega Evolved Pokémon, as well as Hoenn region champion Steven (Andrew Paull) and a mysterious benefactor named Lysandre (H.D. Quinn).

PROS

  • As with the XY series, the animation is absolutely spectacular, with a rich colour palette and lots of smaller details. In addition to visually striking, grand scale battles and expressive characters, the designs for Mega Evolution bring it to a very bold and eye-catching life.
  • Alain and Mairin make for an interesting and engaging chalk-and-cheese pairing, as they both learn and grow from spending time together and have an interesting dynamic. Mairin is a really sweet and sincere person, whereas Alain is a much more stoic presence, but also a much more complex one – even when he is at his most seemingly dislikeable, there are good and understandable reasons for him behaving as such.
  • As the specials progress, the screenwriters up the emotional stakes for the characters, make the stakes of the battles a lot higher and even more personal, and also (in the finale) tee up significant roles for Alain, Mairin, Lysandre and Steven in the final 50 episodes of the XY series.

CONS

  • Given what a big deal Mega Evolution is in the XY series, a lot more time should have been dedicated to Alain’s research – either the specials should have been much longer than the standard 20ish minutes, or there should have been far more episodes.
  • Given how significant Lysandre is and how big a role in the XY series gets teed up, the fact that he lacks characterisation and is given an altogether contrived introduction and incorporation is a notable flaw.

VERDICT: 7/10

Lucky as a Family Guy…

Around two weeks ago, I announced on this blog that – starting in December – I would begin writing individual review posts for every single episode of The Simpsons…and concluded that I might be mad. Well, now I know for certain that I am mad, because I have decided to do exactly the same for Family Guy. This decision is not based on the fact that I consider Family Guy to be on a par with The Simpsons, far from it (although I have been a fan since I was about 15-years-old). However, like The Simpsons, it has been a significant cartoon series, with most episodes being very different from each other. Plus, given how much the quality fluctuates episode-by-episode in just a single season, it would be tough to review the series in its entirety like I do with most television series on this blog.

I really must be mad, because even if the current season of Family Guy ends up being its last, that means that I am guaranteed to write over 400 blog posts. However, as with my Simpsons reviews, I will not be setting a time limit and may well still be reviewing the series episode-by-episode 20 years after Family Guy finally ends. As daunting a prospect as this may be, I am looking forward to it – there are some great episodes which I will enjoy revisiting, and even some of the really bad episodes have some good gags in them.

Watch this space!

TELEVISION: Pixar Popcorn (2021)

Disney+ miniseries Pixar Popcorn is made up of 10 computer-animated shorts, each 1-3 minutes in length, that are follow-ons from Pixar films. Look, none of them are that good, due to the very brief length of them all, but what I will say is that all of them are gorgeously animated pieces that are lovely to look at – in that regard, Pixar certainly remind us of why they are a ground-breaking animation studio. Rather than a list of Pros and Cons, I am going to provide a two-sentence-long review and a verdict for each short, in the order in which they are found on Disney+.

To Fitness and Beyond (follow-on from Toy Story 4)

The fitness exercises that the toys try are witty send-ups of the pros and cons of how they were manufactured, and this short teaches children that there is no one glove fits all where exercise is concerned. However, the physical gags are uninspired, and the fact that there is no dialogue means that some of Pixar’s most iconic characters are wasted, plus the fact that Buzz tries to make his oldest friends do what they are physically incapable of is not in-keeping with his general character. 3/10

Unparalleled Parking (follow-on from Cars 3)

The different ways in which characters park within the cones utilise their physicality and designs quite well – particularly Ramone’s. However, it feels contrived that these capable, adult cars are being forced to prove their parking abilities, although nothing is quite as contrived as the appearances of characters who live nowhere near Radiator Springs, such as Chick Hicks and Miss Fritter. 3/10

Dory Finding (follow-on from Finding Dory)

The non-existence of dialogue makes it overtly clear that Dory really is a character who only works when she has somebody to duologue with. And any effort to emphasise to children that human rubbish should not end up in the ocean is lost by the fact that Dory uses human rubbish in clever and fun ways. 2/10

Soul of the City (follow on from Soul)

The lack of focus on live jazz performance stops it from being in-keeping with the film. However, the warm tone and shots of such a diverse variety of people beautifully conveys that the true soul of New York is the wonderful array of people who make up its citizenry – based on my holiday there earlier this year, I am inclined to agree! 6/10

Fluffy Stuff with Ducky and Bunny: Love (follow-on from Toy Story 4)

The most popular new character in Toy Story 4 was Duke Caboom, so to make a short about Ducky and Bunny shows disregard for fans. Plus, a Ducky and Bunny short really should not be just them bickering with each other – it becomes an incredibly tedious affair. 2/10

Chore Day the Incredibles Way (follow-on from Incredibles 2)

Although no child will ever be convinced by this piece that chores can be fun as no child has superpowers, it is relatable as most viewers will have done chores at some stage. Plus the ways in which the Parr children incorporate their powers into their doing chores is very cleverly realised, with the aid of their parents highlighting what a tight familial unit they are. 6/10

A Day in the Life of the Dead (follow-on from Coco)

This really does work like a silent comedy short from Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy due to the creative and quirky farcical comedy that utilises the skeletons of the dead. However, this would work much better if it focused on a day in the life of two characters (say, the beloved characters Hector and Mama Coco, who sadly only cameo at the very end), rather than provide an overview of the dead community in an effort to provide every surviving deceased character (yes, I know how much of an oxymoron that is) from the original film with a cameo. 4/10

Fluffy Stuff with Ducky and Bunny: Three Heads (follow-on from Toy Story 4)

A little over a minute of Ducky and Bunny unrelentingly ridiculing the design of Bo’s sheep makes for Pixar’s most unapologetically mean-spirited material ever. Thank goodness it such a short affair. 2/10

Dancing with the Cars (follow-on from Cars 3)

A spontaneous dancing event at the V8 café is not exactly an engaging narrative, especially as there is no competition, just some friends dancing. Plus there is not even any noticeably creative use of the way the various cars are engineered. 2/10

Cookie Num Num (follow-on from Incredibles 2)

Although it feels contrived that Bob and the kids would fight so much over a midnight cookie, the whole thing plays out like an old silent comedy film with some good slapstick and clever incorporation of their superpowers. It is just a shame that it ends so abruptly. 5/10

FILM: Confess, Fletch (2022, Greg Mottola)

An adaptation of the novel of the same title by Gregory Mcdonald and a reboot of the Fletch film franchise of the 1980s, crime-comedy Confess, Fletch is distributed by Paramount. When investigating the disappearance of some valuable artworks, reporter Fletch (Jon Hamm) becomes the prime suspect in a murder investigation. As he tries to get to the bottom of the murder in addition to locating the paintings, Fletch comes across all manner of colourful characters who had some kind of connection to the victim.

PROS

  • Greg Mottola’s fondness for the 1980s’ films comes through in the warmth and well-meaning tone of his direction.
  • Zev Borow and Greg Mottola’s well-paced screenplay features some good gags and punchy, rat-a-tat dialogue.
  • Jon Hamm brings real likeability to Fletch and, along with Roy Wood Jr., brings natural wit and comic timing to the dry humour.

CONS

  • There are a number of uninspired gags scattered throughout and the efforts to modernise the characters is minimal.
  • The slapstick humour is altogether cheap, uninspired and tonally inconsistent with the verbal humour.
  • Whilst there are no bad performances, there are a number of forgettable ones due to the lack of characterisation.

VERDICT: 5/10

FILM: Armageddon Time (2022, James Gray)

Following its premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, coming-of-age drama Armageddon Time is distributed by Universal. In 1980, rebellious 12-year-old Paul Graff (Banks Repeta) becomes best friends with Johnny Davis (Jaylin Webb), a troubled African-American boy. Their friendship leads to Paul learning about racism and institutionalised prejudice, and conversations with his beloved grandfather Aaron (Anthony Hopkins) challenge him to stand up for Johnny rather than stay silent.

PROS

  • The personal nature of the film to James Gray comes through in his direction, as he takes a slow-burn approach to scenes where Paul is impacted most, brings a sense of whimsy and nostalgia to the more cheerful moments, and a sense of self-reflection and regretful air to the more upsetting moments.
  • James Gray’s screenplay is a grounded and sensitive exploration of institutionalised prejudice in an era of change, both for the United States and for Paul’s life, and the personal nature comes through in Paul’s relationships and efforts to understand himself.
  • An excellent cast, with Banks Repeta and Jaylin Webb proving to be naturally gifted talents who have wonderful chemistry with each other, and standout supporting turns from Jeremy Strong, Anne Hathaway and (most of all) Anthony Perkins, who brings wonderful warmth to Aaron.
  • Good costume and production design gives the film a sense of period authenticity, whilst cinematographer Darius Khondji’s decision to shoot on film makes the final piece look and feel like something that was made in the early-1980s.

CONS

  • Some of the responses which Paul’s parents (Jeremy Strong and Anne Hathaway) have to his misbehaviour (particularly during the first Act) feel out of character with their portrayal in the rest of the film, especially after certain revelations regarding the familial relationships.
  • Several supporting cast members have little characterisation to work with and are resultantly forgettable, despite not being bad – most notably a very underused Jessica Chastain, who feels shoehorned in as Maryanne Trump.

VERDICT: 8/10