Here we come to the year’s end (I have a busy schedule tomorrow, ergo I am posting this on the 30th). UK cinemas have been reopened consistently since mid-May, and it is looking likely that they will remain that way (albeit perhaps with increased COVID-safe measures until things have calmed down with Omicron), so I have a lot more excitement for the upcoming year of cinema than I had this time last year!
I already have cinema tickets booked to see The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and Licorice Pizza next week, and I also plan to see some other films on the big screen, including The 355, Belfast, Cyrano, A Journal for Jordan, Morbius, Nightmare Alley, Scream and Sing 2. I will endeavour to get reviews for these up by the end of January!
I will also be doing a new weekly post as Series 16 of the UK Apprentice finally kicks off on January 6th and, as I did for Series 15 back in Autumn 2019, I will write a piece (including my thoughts) on each episode. Ironically, I was expecting this new series to kick off in March, as most of the previous series to air in the first-half of the year had, so I had paced my series of retrospective Top 5 lists on the UK and US iterations to conclude in March. Whilst I am never going to get the remaining 30+ posts done by January 6th, I will still write them and aim to get them all done by Easter – if nothing else they have so far proved to be a fun nostalgia trip for me so far!
To all of you who visit this blog – thank you for doing so during 2021, it is hugely appreciated and I look forward to continuing to bring you regular content in 2022. To you all I wish you a Happy New Year, and for the year ahead to prove wonderful for you!
The King’s Man is the third film in the spy-comedy Kingsman franchise and a prequel to the other films and origins story for the titular agency. World War I is on the verge of breaking out, and – following his wife’s (Alexandra Maria Lara) death in 1902 in a crossfire – the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) has become a pacifist and is determined to keep his son Conrad (Harris Dickinson) out of the military, for which he has called in favours with Earl Kitchener (Charles Dance). Hoping that he can stop the conflict without bloodshed, the Duke agrees with King George V (Tom Hollander) that he will head a secret mission to bring down its mastermind.
Directed with palpable energy by Matthew Vaughn, this is a fast-paced film with a some exciting sequences scattered throughout, in particular a number of the magnificently choreographed and slickly shot and edited duels, into which cast members such as Djimon Hounsou throw themselves in at the deep end with successful results.
A solid cast, with Ralph Fiennes giving a very engagingly emotional performance, Tom Hollander clearly having a lot of fun with multi-roleplaying, Rhys Ifans relishing the role of Rasputin, Gemma Arterton hitting good comedic notes, and Thomas Dickinson and Djimon Hounsou passionately throwing themselves into their scenes.
A handsomely designed film with the production and costume design departments doing an excellent job in creating period authenticity, whilst there are some very good practical effects, particularly in some of the conflict scenes.
Having an enormous supporting ensemble means that a number of the cast members get little to work with as screenwriters Matthew Vaughn and Karl Gajdusek’s revisionist history makes nods to all manner of WW1-related conspiracy theories, whilst the final villain reveal is very underwhelming.
The WW1 conflict scenes are altogether underwhelming and make unnecessary use of slow-motion. Compared to the duels, these scenes massively pull their punches and feel stylistically inconsistent with the rest of the film.
Following its premiere at the 2020 New York Film Festival, romantic drama Lovers Rock aired on BBC1 in the UK and went to Amazon Prime in the USA as the second instalment in director Steve McQueen’s Small Axe franchise. Set in West London in 1980, Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) – the teenage daughter of West Indian immigrants – sneaks out to a house party, where she and her peers drink alcohol and enjoy a relaxing evening of reggae music. There she meets a charismatic fellow Jamaican named Franklyn (Micheal Ward), and the two start to fall for each other over the evening’s course.
Following films much grander in scale and longer in length (such as 12 Years a Slave, Widows and Mangrove) it was a pleasant surprise to see Steve McQueen go for something so much more intimate, and he directs with as deft a hand as ever as he crafts an enticing setting in the house party, whilst keeping his focus most clearly on the characters.
Co-writers Steve McQueen and Courttia Newland draw upon their own experiences of growing up in London as children of West Indian immigrants to create an honest, grounded depiction of youths finding community and places where they feel comfortable being themselves, whilst celebrating how reggae music transcends generation and background and how it has a wonderful unifying quality for the youth of this community, reflecting Newland’s background in music.
Despite the intimate setting, Steve McQueen and Courttia Newland manage to deftly weave race relations into the narrative through a short but intense scene on the street outside, which powerfully shows that racism can be seen in something more subtle like silently intimidating someone of a different skin tone, and conveys that for these youngsters this party is a brief escape from a cruel, bigoted society where they do not feel safe just being themselves.
A solid cast, with Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Micheal Ward being the absolute standouts, giving passionate and nuanced turns that feature compelling emotion, and their chemistry with each other develops wonderfully over the course of the narrative, meaning that we become increasingly invested in them and their budding romance.
Cinematographer Shabier Kirchner makes outstanding use of handheld cameras to bring us into the time and place of this party, making it a more engrossing and enticing experience than it would have been had only high-angle, wide shots been used. He also does some excellent long-takes of partygoers singing along to the (excellently-chosen) music.
Reflecting the fact that 68 minutes was just slightly too short and confining a runtime, the issue of sexual assault is touched upon, but it is done in quite a rushed manner and the repercussions of the shocking moment are never really explored, which is a poor handling of a subject-matter which is so sensitive and prevalently discussed during the last few years.
Adapted from Matt Haig’s children’s book, festive fantasy film A Boy Called Christmas is distributed by StudioCanal. Whilst babysitting her great-nephews (Eden Lawrence and Ayomide Garrick) and niece (Isabella O’Sullivan), Aunt Ruth (Maggie Smith) tells them the story of how, centuries earlier in Finland, a young boy called Nikolas (Henry Lawfull) set out to find his father (Michiel Huisman) who had gone missing whist trying to find Elfhelm, and in doing so Nikolas ultimately set the wheels in motion to fulfil his destiny of becoming Father Christmas.
Gil Kenan directs this film with real passion, and there is plenty of sincerity and sweetness to his and Ol Parker’s screenplay, their love for the project coming through in the warmth and festive cheer.
Henry Lawfull is a good child performer, and best supported by a warm Maggie Smith and quirky Jim Broadbent, whilst Stephen Merchant’s voice performance as the mouse Miika is charming.
Handsome production design and a rich colour palette bring the fantasy world to life, whilst cinematographer Zac Nicholson gets stunning wide shots of the Lapland landscapes.
Whilst the screenplay is a little cliched at times, Gil Kenan and Ol Parker also do not utilise Kristen Wiig or Sally Hawkins well, and they along with several others are a little too pantomimic at times.
Whilst handsomely designed, the sets and costumes do have a cheap quality too them, whilst the CGI is also to a poor standard, reflecting that the vision for the film exceeded the available budget.
Comedy-adventure Peter Rabbit 2 is distributed by Sony. When visiting the city of Gloucester, mischievous Peter Rabbit (James Corden) meets Barnabas (Lennie James) – an old friend of his late father. The two begin to bond and Barnabas convinces Peter to recruit his family and friends to help them pull off a big food heist. Wanting to please Barnabas, Peter does just that, but does not realise that he may well be about to endanger his loved ones.
James Corden voices Peter Rabbit with lots of energy, whilst Domnhall Gleeson and Rose Byrne are perfectly okay co-stars as Thomas and Bea, but are to be most commended for interacting well with the CGI animals.
A well-paced and often energetic narrative, most of which centres on CGI animals that are well detailed and very expressive recreations of Beatrix Potter’s original illustrations.
Stylistically, director Will Gluck and the production designers try to blend old-fashioned, quaint, rural English with aspects of the modern day, and the two simply do not come together at all well.
Will Gluck relies a little too much on slapstick, some of which is entertaining enough and will engage young viewers, but a lot of it just gets too heavy-handed and frankly childish.
Thomas’s jealousy of Bea’s working relationship with publisher Nigel (David Oyelowo) provides a frankly boring and repetitive subplot which feels more like filler and makes them less likeable.
There is some poor CGI throughout the film as, whilst the animals are expressive, many of them stand out like sore thumbs against the live-action footage that was filmed.
An underwhelming performance by David Oyelowo, and it is disappointing that James Corden is the only memorable voice performer, given that his peers include Margot Robbie, Sam Neill and Lennie James.
Originally distributed in Japan by Toho before being dubbed into English, Pokémonthe Movie: Secrets of the Jungle is the twenty-third Pokémon film and the third to be set in an alternate timeline to the main anime series. A boy called Koko (Kimlinh Tran) has been raised by the Mythical Pokémon Zarude (Edward Bosco) in the jungle and believes himself to be a Pokémon. When an accident results in Koko ending up stranded in civilisation and realising he may in fact be human, he meets Ash (Sarah Natochenny), who promises to help him find out the truth about his past and also get home to Zarude. However, Koko’s pursuit of the truth results in him gaining the attention of the evil Dr. Zed (Billy Kametz), who had an integral role in what happened to Koko’s biological family, but now his interests lie most with Zarude, and he does not care how many Pokémon are endangered to achieve his goals.
Following the atrocious Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, it was a delight to see the films return to its traditional hand-drawn origins and the far more enjoyable alternate timeline established with I Choose You!and The Power of Us. The animation is excellent, featuring expressive character designs, a very eye-catching colour palette and a lot of smaller details.
A well-paced narrative which is especially energetic and altogether exciting in the adventurous scenes and particularly the film’s climax, which emphasises the importance of teamwork and fighting for what is right. However, what makes this an engaging and investing film the most is the true heart and warmth of the well-realised bond between Koko and Zarude. Furthermore, as with the other alternate timeline films, the narrative has darker and more mature moments.
A good voice cast, the standouts being Kimlinh Tran and Edward Bosco who bring a lot of energy, passion and emotion to their performances and completely sell the chemistry between Koko and Zarude, without which the film would not be anywhere near as engaging.
The narrative is at times quite predictable due to it blending the typical formula of Pokémon films with somewhat derivative use of aspects of the Tarzan and Jungle Book narratives/story arcs, the latter resultantly making Ash very much a supporting player.
One aspect which will not appease Pokémon fans is the poor utilisation of the Team Rocket trio, who are shoehorned in and have an altogether underwhelming role, the comedic aspects missing the mark and falling flat. Another is that (despite supposedly going all-out) Ash only uses Pikachu (Ikue Ohtani) in the climax.
Netflix original film Single All the Way is a festive romantic-comedy. When Peter (Michael Urie) and his flatmate Nick (Philemon Chambers) go to stay with Peter’s family for Christmas, he is frustrated to discover that his mother (Kathy Najimy) has set him up on a blind date, but is delighted to discover that it is with muscular sports instructor James (Luke Macfarlane). Peter’s father (Barry Bostwick) and several other relatives, however, see how he and Nick are around each other and recognise that they have feelings for one-another. Both men, however, worry that if a relationship failed then it would destroy 8 years of close friendship, but the family become determined to get them together.
Screenwriter Chad Hodge does not make a big deal of the main characters being gay and – although it is resultantly somewhat formulaic – he follows the formulas and tropes of romantic-comedies about heterosexual characters. Furthermore, there is particular plausibility to the reasons why Peter and Nick are unwilling to act upon their feelings for each other.
A well paced film, Michael Mayer directs with a clear vision and genuine heart, crafting some warm and charming moments and also some witty ones, helped of course by good humour penned by Chad Hodge.
Michael Urie and Philemon Chambers both give solid performances, the sense that the narrative’s events are emotionally challenging, throwing and even impacting them coming through, whilst they both hit the comedic beats well – particularly Chambers, whose delivery is excellent.
It is very hard to invest in the narrative as, whilst one can understand why Peter’s family want him to be with Nick, the fact that they go out of their way to sabotage his budding romance with James to ensure that that happens, with nobody considering James’s feelings is simply despicable.
Whilst their individual performances are good, Michael Urie and Philemon Chambers have poor chemistry, meaning that we cannot even believe that they are friends with each other, let alone smitten with one-another.
An altogether forgettable supporting cast, not least because they receive little characterisation and some clunky dialogue from Chad Hodge, plus the chosen cast are implausible as three generations of a family.
Festive comedy Pups Alone is distributed in the UK by Altitude Film Entertainment. When Pet Tech inventor Robert (Tyler Hollinger) is away, his house is targeted by burglars (Nicholas Turturro and Stelio Savante) hired by his colleague Victor (Dolph Lundgren). Determined to protect his family’s home, Robert’s dog Charlie (Jerry O’Connell) rallies together the neighbourhood dogs and they set up booby traps to stop the burglars.
The premise is such a blatant rip-off of Home Alone in many ways, yet tries to deal with serious issues such as grief and depression, but unfortunately the screenwriters and director Alex Merkin make a really ham-fisted job of them, robbing them of any gravitas.
All-in-all the screenplay is dreadful due to the lack of characterisation, the clunky and frankly awful dialogue, and the fact that there are no funny gags at all – nothing is clever and there is too much genuinely lazy toilet humour.
Alex Merkin’s direction is poor as he and the screenwriters rely too much on dialogue-heavy narration to serve as filler, his direction is disjointed an unfocused as he cuts from the human stories to the canine stories, and frankly his decision to open with a dreadful animated snowflake sets the precedent for the rest of the film.
This is sloppy in its efforts to recreate Home Alone with canines – the burglars make Harry and Marv look competent, making it implausible that anyone would hire them, whilst the slapstick has zero energy and is so wooden. Yes, I feel that some of the Home Alone films went too far with the slapstick, but here the punches are pulled far too much.
A genuinely appalling cast, with wooden performances from Tyler Hollinger, Sara Lindsey, Dolph Lundgren, Nicholas Turturro and Stelio Savante (amongst others), underwhelming cameos from Keith David and Eric Roberts, whilst the voice performances (which include Jerry O’Connell, Malcolm McDowell and Danny Trejo) are not memorable.
Whilst it is poorly executed due to the aforementioned CONS, there are some moments of heart in the exploration of the importance of family, by conveying that grief should be dealt with and also voiced, rather than something that people should stay silent about and avoid processing.
Science-fiction film The Matrix Resurrections is the fourth film in the Warner Bros. franchise. Two decades after the events of the original trilogy, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a successful video game developer after creating a video game trilogy called The Matrix. However, he is recovering from a mental breakdown and has flashbacks that actually indicate that he may have lived the events of the games (basically the events of the original trilogy), and meets Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss), a motorcyclist who reminds him of his character Trinity. Thomas’s world starts to open up and he meets Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and he learns that this is a virtual reality as Neo has been held prisoner for the 60 years since the events of The Matrix Revolutions. After being freed and coming to learn of how much has changed during that time, Neo discovers that Trinity is still alive and being held prisoner too – he may just have the opportunity to save her, but it will be a long shot!
There are some interesting concepts to be found, whilst Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reprise their iconic roles well, and Jessica Henwick and Neil Patrick Harris are good additions to the franchise’s cast.
The fight scenes are well-choreographed and nicely framed by cinematographers Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll, making for some engaging and at times exciting viewing.
The aforementioned interesting concepts are not well executed due to Lana Wachowski’s at times unfocused and almost excitable direction, and also the tonal inconsistencies of the film as moments which are meant to be serious often feature too much humour or are played for camp value rather than the gravitas which they conceptually merit.
The screenwriters kick off the film poorly by being overly reliant on frankly dreadful meta humour for the first 30 minutes, which remains sporadically included for the subsequent 2 hours, but is not used as much as clips from the previous films, which often feel like filler.
There are a number of filler scenes scattered throughout this overlong film, and there are also excessive recreations of scenes from the first film. Couple this with the aforementioned point and it becomes all too obvious that Lana Wachowski decided to make this film primarily out of a sense of nostalgia.
A generally poor and altogether underwhelming supporting cast, many of whom do not make anything worthwhile of their moments to shine, whilst Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jonathan Goff are underwhelming and frankly poor replacements for Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving.
Visually this is the most dreadful Matrix film, partly due to the frankly garish colour palette and poor make-up, but mainly because of how sloppy and hammy the many bullet-time scenes are – the ones in the original hold up far better…heck, even the bullet-time scenes in Smallville Season 1 hold up far better.
EXTRA NOTE: the chap in front of me in my screening got through four beers during the film…I am convinced that he decided 15 minutes in that it was going to be a slog so improvised a drinking game to make it a more enjoyable experience.
Back in June, after UK cinemas had reopened and we were getting a plethora of films which had premiered in the USA in late-2020, I said that I would post my Top 10 Films of 2020 list in July. Well…I sort of forgot…
However, having realised that the other day, I have decided to amend that. 2020 may have been a very tough year for the film industry, with the fewest number of new releases in decades. However, as the 10 films on this list show, even in such a bad year it is possible to have a diverse range of outstanding films, so here we go…
Kicking off this list is Aaron Sorkin’s second directorial feature, and he cements himself as a talent in that role with The Trial of the Chicago 7. In the dual-role of director and screenwriter, Sorkin crafts intense and gripping courtroom scenes with rich dialogue that grapple with the issue of institutionalised prejudice, which remains as topical today as it was in the 1960s-setting. The film is further bolstered by the terrific energy of the cast, the standouts being Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Sacha Baron Cohen, the latter giving his most hilarious performance yet.
The best documentary film of 2020, one has to praise Alex Gibney for responding so immediately and with such urgency to COVID-19’s impact upon the United States, and for hiring two co-directors to ensure that a plethora of fascinating experts could be interviewed without being put at excessive risk of contracting coronavirus. The film scrutinises how the Trump Administration responded to COVID-19 through analysis of facts and statistics, and interviews with experts, providing a harrowing overview and revelation of how 220,000+ people died in 7 months. Furthermore, despite the subject-matter, Totally Under Control is thankfully not heavy-handed with the politics.
The only non-English language film on this list, Another Round (the original Danish title for which translates to “Binge Drinking”) is directed with irresistible flare and energy by Thomas Vinterberg, and bolstered by a terrific cast, the biggest standout of whom is Mads Mikkelsen. As a teetotal since 2011, I was a tad nervous for a film about binge-drinking, but thankfully I had no reason to be! The film gives an honest exploration of how experimenting with alcohol and excessive drinking cause people to enter into dangerous territories, and of the emotional impact which midlife crises can have upon people. Despite the serious themes though, this is also highly engaging due to Vinterberg’s effortless weaving of dark humour into the narrative.
The only animated film on this list, few people would be surprised that said unique entry comes from Pixar. Soul is a high quality Pixar film through-and-through, giving viewers a character-driven narrative that has a great balance between comedy and drama, bolstered by an excellent voice cast, and being a wholly eye-catching film due to the gorgeous, detailed animation – this time giving us expressive characters and the most surreal visuals of any Pixar film to date. Furthermore, this is also a Pete Docter film through-and-through, as the man behind Up and Inside Out here crafts a nuanced and compelling exploration of what it means to live and find purpose in life that is accessible to child and adult alike.
With Pieces of a Woman director Kornél Mundruczó and screenwriter Kata Wéber bring to screen a highly poignant portrait of grief, which movingly explores how shared grief changes a couple’s dynamic and how our backgrounds and personal histories can shape how we respond to tragedy, as well as the importance of allowing someone space whilst they grieve. Despite Vanessa Kirby and Shia LaBeouf each giving a tour de force performance that is replete with raw emotion and intensity, Mundruczó’s direction is the biggest factor behind this being such compelling viewing, as he goes for long takes which give the film a naturalistic quality, which is best seen in the harrowing, half-hour long opening take that is such captivating viewing that you forget you are watching a half-hour prologue until the title card appears at the end of it.
Abortion is understandably one of the most divisive issues in Western society and has frequently been played by politicians as their trump card (no pun intended) in election campaigns. For that reason, it was an enormous relief to realise whilst watching Never Rarely Sometimes Always that it is neither pro-abortion nor anti-abortion in its depiction of a 17-year-old going through the process. Instead, director/screenwriter Eliza Hittman takes a social realist approach to the topic that is rich in honesty and nuance, depicting the considerations and challenges that are raised for anyone going through it (some of which are age-specific to a teenager), as well as the emotional impact and anxieties which the process causes, which is made even more compelling to watch by Sidney Flanigan’s magnificent performance.
Complimented wonderfully by a gorgeous score by Ludovico Einaudi, Chloé Zhao’s third directorial feature cemented her status as a true talent, for which she rightly won an Oscar, and also her status as a social realist director committed to authenticity. With the exception of (the magnificent and rightly Oscar-winning) Frances McDormand, the entire cast are real-life nomads and non-professionals whose performances are very naturalistic and highly engaging to watch. This is beautifully complimented by the beautifully paced and nuanced screenplay, which provides an honest and informative depiction of the nomad lifestyle that wonderfully reflects upon the beauty of nature, the life-changing experience of travelling and the importance of human connection. Despite the messy Eternals in 2021, Nomadland makes me wholly confident for Zhao’s future career.
The first of five films by Steve McQueen about late-20th Century Britain’s West Indian community, Mangrove is an incredibly powerful true story about the persecution of Trinidadians by London Police officers in the late-1960s. Directed with a really deft hand and replete with rich dialogue (especially in the gripping courtroom scenes), this film features powerful themes such as institutionalised prejudice and Police brutality which transcend era and nation alike, giving it global accessibility, and through these McQueen emphasises to audiences that these issues still prevail in the world today and cannot be ignored. This genuinely compelling and harrowing film is further bolstered by powerhouse performances from Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright and Malachi Kirby especially, and McQueen once again proves himself a force to be reckoned with where socio-politically relevant films about race relations are concerned.
The American Dream has been a very common theme in the creative arts since the peak of European immigration to the United States in the early-20th Century, so it is a real testament to director/screenwriter Lee Isaac Chung that his approach to it feels so fresh, despite being another narrative about an immigrant family trying to achieve upward mobility. Inspired by his own childhood experiences, what makes this such a fresh take is that Chung draws upon these as much of the narrative is seen from the children’s perspectives as they navigate a big world in which culture, class and generation can make all manner of differences, all whilst watching their father work to provide them with the best life he can. A reflective piece, this is also a beautiful exploration of family that is bolstered by a magnificent cast, the biggest standout being natural talent Alan Kim, who acts with maturity far beyond his (then) 7 years.
It is mind-blowing to think that The Father is the first film ever directed by Florian Zeller, who here adapted his own stage play for the big screen. Directed with a really deft hand and incredible nuance, this is a truly poignant exploration of both the experience of living with dementia and of trying to support a parent through it, and an especially clever one too as we see the events of the narrative from the perspectives of the sufferer and the one supporting them alike, and it is only through observing the smallest of details that we can see whose perspective it is. Anthony Hopkins gives a career-best performance as dementia sufferer Anthony, his magnificent turn being increasingly heartbreaking to watch as the film progresses, and he is wonderfully supported by Olivia Colman as his daughter Anne. A truly powerful piece of cinema and the best one of 2020, this hit me especially hard as I saw so much authenticity from having watched both of my grandmothers struggle with dementia and Alzheimer’s – for that reason I am glad that this is a written blog as I would fear getting choked up if this was a YouTube channel.
I can only apologise for the fact that I forgot to write this post back in July – it was a ridiculously busy month in fairness, but I should have remembered to do so. Nevertheless, I am glad to have written this list as I enjoyed reflecting upon a diverse range of outstanding films, and if we could get this in a year that was such a punch in the gut to the film industry then other years have no excuses. As some of the Golden Globe nominated films will not be released in the UK until early-2022, I shall not post my Top 10 Films of 2021 list for a little while. However, that little while shall not be as long as the last gap between best of the year lists – I have set reminders for myself to have that list published no later than April 30th 2022!