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

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

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

FILM: The Menu (2022, Mark Mylod)

Comedy-horror The Menu is distributed by Searchlight Pictures, following its premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. A small group of diners go to a private island for a dinner at one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants, operated by celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes), who specialises in molecular gastronomy meals. What at first seems like a meal replete with theatricality and (in some people’s views) pretension soon turns sinister as it becomes clear that Julian intends for them all to die, with the diners each being somebody whom he considers reprehensible for one reason or another. However, he becomes fascinated by Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), who was not on the guest list and has resultantly thrown his plans for the meal and its theatrics awry.

PROS

  • Seth Reiss and Will Tracy’s screenplay is altogether witty and at times quite sharp in its satire of cordon-bleu dining, hardcore fanboying and social media culture, whilst there are also a couple of genuinely shocking moments and some good ratcheting up of tension.
  • Ralph Fiennes and Anya Taylor-Joy are excellent co-leads, with the former giving a captivatingly sinister turn and the latter bringing a great sense of determination to screen. The standout supporting players are Nicholas Hoult, Hong Chau and Janet McTeer, the latter especially relishing her sharply satirical dialogue.
  • Exquisite cinematography by Peter Deming, who makes excellent use of low light and shadows, and also makes the film feel like food porn at times through close-ups of the dishes.

CONS

  • For the most part, director Mark Mylod massively pulls his punches where horror is concerned, often cutting away too early and not giving a number of moments the vividness or horror that they could and should have.
  • Not only is the screenplay illogical (not least due to Julian’s inconsistent characterisation), but not all scenes coalesce, the final film feeling like a number of lovely ingredients that do not quite make a meal.
  • Despite the performances being perfectly fine, a number of supporting parts are forgettable due to a lack of both screen time and characterisation.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Living (2022, Oliver Hermanus)

British drama film Living is a remake of the Japanese classic Ikiru and, following its premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, is distributed by Lionsgate. Set in London in 1953, when frosty bureaucrat Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) learns that he has mere months to live, he decides to make the most of the time left to him and starts striving to help people. To get a better understanding of how he can be a nicer person and help others through doing so, he seeks the advice of his friend and former employee Miss Harris (Aimee Lou Wood).

PROS

  • Oliver Hermanus remains consistently character-focused with his direction and does an especially nuanced job with the more slow-burn scenes.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro’s screenplay is rich in emotional nuance and shows that the themes of Ikiru transcend nation and era alike, and he also incorporates some distinctly British qualities rather nicely.
  • An altogether good cast led magnificently by Bill Nighy, whose sublime performance is rich in nuance and raw emotion that keeps the viewer wholly invested in Mr. Williams’s arc.
  • Cinematographer Jamie D. Ramsay’s shot compositions are exquisite, and by being a 1.48:1 aspect ratio shot on film, it has the look and feel of an early-1950s’ film.
  • Highly detailed work by the production and costume design departments ensure a good sense of period authenticity.

CONS

  • Whilst there is not one single weak performance, a number of the supporting players are forgettable as their roles and characters’ relationship with Mr. Williams lack detail.
  • The film does feel a tad disjointed at times due to multiple scenes ending rather abruptly, as well as a couple of rather sudden tonal shifts.

VERDICT: 8/10

ADDITIONAL THOUGHT: Although Living is very good, Ikiru remains the superior film and I hope that Living leads to more people discovering Ikiru for the first time.

FILM: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022, Ryan Coogler)

Superhero film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is the 30th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the second in the Black Panther sub-franchise. A year after the death of King T’Challa, his mother Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and sister Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) struggle to come to terms with his death. When the people of the unknown, underwater nation of Talokan start committing atrocities with vibranium-based weapons, the world deems Wakanda as the nation responsible due to the nation’s wealth of vibranium. When Talokan’s leader Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) threatens Wakanda with war, Shuri and Okoye (Danai Gurira) set out to prove the nation’s innocence in the atrocities and to find a way to stop the Talokan forces once and for all.

PROS

  • Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole’s screenplay is highly grounded in its exploration of grief, through which Shuri, Ramonda and Okoye are fleshed out very well. But most of all it is full of emotional weight and provides a heartfelt tribute to the late, great Chadwick Boseman.
  • In his directorial role, Ryan Coogler does a very good at keeping the film character-driven, thereby ensuring emotional investment, and he also helms the action scenes with a far defter hand than he did those of the first Black Panther film.
  • An all-round solid cast with very good turns from Letitia Wright, Danai Gurira and Winston Duke, as well as some welcome comic relief in Martin Freeman, but the absolute scene-stealer is Angela Bassett, who brings a wealth of powerful and raw emotion to screen.
  • Highly detailed production and costume designs, as well as terrific visual effects (a noticeable improvement on those of Black Panther) bring both Wakanda and Talokan to eye-catching, stunning life.

CONS

  • Despite this film ultimately being about Shuri discovering her destiny, she ultimately ends up being a supporting player in her own film as Ramonda and Okoye get much more central focus during the first two Acts.
  • Despite Talokan and Namor getting good backstory and characterisation, they are an altogether underwhelming antagonistic force, and the final showdown between them and the Wakandans is slightly underwhelming and ends quite abruptly.

SUMMARY: It may be flawed, but Ryan Coogler undeniably did an excellent job with the most difficult and devastating hand that any Marvel Cinematic Universe director has even been dealt.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: Watcher (2022, Chloe Okuno)

Psychological thriller Watcher is distributed by Universal, following its premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Shortly after moving into a new apartment in Bucharest, American immigrant Julia (Maika Monroe) comes to believe that Daniel (Burn Gorman) is watching her from the neighbouring apartment block. With several young women having been murdered in recent months, she naturally becomes even more unnerved, but what makes her feel most vulnerable is the fact that her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) tries to rationalise what she is experiencing.

PROS

  • Good tension overall, thanks to director Chloe Okuno’s effective use of slow-burn and the fact that Francis’s rationality is wholly logical and plausible.
  • A good cast is led well by Maika Monroe, who gives a nuanced turn, whilst Burn Gorman’s performance is suitably chilling and unnerving.
  • A number of atmospheric scenes, thanks to the visually cold quality of Benjamin Kirk Nielsen’s cinematography, and his chilling use of silhouettes.

CONS

  • The narrative is altogether formulaic and predictable, meaning that it ultimately does not stand out from other films of this ilk.
  • An underwhelming climax that does not implement the slow-burn of the rest of the film, and ends both abruptly and illogically.
  • Inconsistent use of fake blood and gore – some moments have it in abundance, others have scarcely any when there should be plenty.

VERDICT: 6/10