Sonic the Hedgehog Review

Normally, I would eschew reviewing films I deem as ‘easy targets’. I can tell from watching the trailer, for example, of Peter Rabbit, that anything I say as a critic is going to mean nothing, yes it’s probably going to be awful, but it’s more of a kid-distracter than a film, this isn’t the case for all animation, of course, just some.

This film, I thought would be one such film, but given the amount of fuss it kicked up pre-launch, concerning Sonic’s horrifying first design, and subsequent delay for redesigning, made it pop up on my radar enough for me to at least acknowledge it. Plus it has Jim Carey in it, and for a long time in my teens, Jim Carey was my favourite person in the world, I still maintain a soft spot for him to this day.

Sonic as a gaming franchise previous to its cinematic debut is one that has completely passed me by as a gamer. I’m perhaps a generation too late to truly appreciate his heyday, so now I pretty much just know him as the butt-of-all-jokes he’s become since the turn of the millennium; in fact, it’s a strange decision to make a Sonic game, now he’s the subject of such derision, rather than when he was at the height of his popularity, but the film has made over $500 million dollars in its opening weekend, so what do I know? (Don’t answer that)

I’m not sure the story is worth going into detail for, it isn’t all that notable in the long run. Sonic is hiding out on Earth, told since being a child to keep his powers a secret, his loneliness at bring apart from society causes him to have, what I assume was the equivalent of a temper tantrum, causing an electronic surge, catching they eye of the government, then, inevitably, his eventually nemesis Dr Robotnik (Carrey).

The plot is basically a contrived series of events so we can establish the main bulk of the series canon, that being: Sonic = Good, Robotnik = Bad also rings, lots of rings. Although, I must say I did like how they worked Sonic’s systematic hoarding of rings into the films narrative, as a way of teleportation, that was quite clever.

While we’re praising the film, I like Sonic’s redesign, and I am positively relieved they didn’t dig their heels in and stick with the original design, I think Cats proved that terrible effects can kneecap a film aimed at families, and original Sonic would have caused kids to run screaming from the cinema.

Also, it’s delightful to see Carrey back to his goofy, mid-90s best, bringing his energetic delivery and rubber face to a whole new generation of kids, it’s been so long since he’s been this so full-of-life, maybe his part in this (and the sequel that is almost certain to happen) will revitalise his career somewhat.

Apart from that, there isn’t really much to Sonic. It’s fun enough for kids, with a few chuckles for the adults thrown in to keep us awake, but it feels so empty and vacuous; like it’s trying to sell us something, rather than sell itself as a product, it feels like an advertisement that hasn’t decided what it’s advertising.

The pieces are put together well enough, but in a way that pushes no boats out, blazes no trail, instead exists as a placeholder for a franchise it might one day become, it’s a ‘proof of concept’ more than anything, a studio showing the potential of the property as a film franchise, but it never realises that potential here.

There’s even some parts that are bold-facedly ripped-off wholesale from other, better-established properties, fans of Days of Future Past in particular might recognise a few scenes, and the characters aren’t really characters at all, but rather cardboard cut outs, just there to help Sonic in whatever he needs to do.

James Marsden is fine, but bland. He doesn’t have an stand-out trait or personality, he’s just there to one day be the realisation that ‘friendship is the true power’ otherwise known as standard hackneyed film plot #1276, despite being charismatic and charming enough, when on-screen with a Jim Carrey whose suddenly found his groove again is like watching Jimi Hendrix converse with a Star Trek extra, such is the gulf in personality and cool factor.

Character relationships aren’t fully explored, so instead we focus on Sonic, and I’m sure the creators were going for a Ryan Reynolds-esque mouthy character, but Sonic just doesn’t have the same timing or character, and just at times comes across as annoying. It does click at times, and the voice actor chosen suited the part well, I just don’t think he has the same appeal as similar characters.

Then again, all what I’ve said ultimately counts for naught, yes I found Sonic mildly irritating, and the plot and characters inoffensive and bland, that’s because it isn’t meant for me, it’s meant for the little ones, and I think it has enough charm and explosions to keep them entertained for an hour and a half, it’s certainly not a bad experience, I’ll probably never watch or care about it again, but I didn’t spent the run time wanting to take a cheese grater to my ears, which for Sonic is pretty good.

As empty and lifeless as it can seem at times, it’s leaps ahead of my expectations for it, which I admit doesn’t say much, and I’m struggling to think of how they managed to pull of a Sonic the Hedgehog film and not make it absolutely terrible; and it isn’t terrible, it’s passable, enjoyable for the kids, bearable for adults, with Jim Carrey once again finding his stride, it isn’t great, but hey, it’s something at least.

Parasite Review

Every so often a film comes along that reminds you why you love cinema. Three Billboards a few years ago was one such film, as was Dunkirk, and now it has a stablemate: Parasite.

The current importance of this film cannot be overstated. The first foreign language film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and the first film to win both the Palme D’Or and the Best Picture award since 1955. It represents a changing of the tide in Western film viewership, a broadening of the horizons to new possibilities, it may be in a foreign language, but it’s quality and accessibility might be what opens the floodgates for more successful films from Asia or anywhere else in Europe and the US.

I must admit to not being full on-board the foreign film train until recently. With a lot of films made with Eastern cultures in mind, there is a strong cultural divide that is tricky to circumnavigate, a lot of Asian cinema can seem inaccessible to Western eyes; and that’s fine, we shouldn’t be demanding to be catered for in other cultures art, but certain things transcend cultural difference and become palatable worldwide, past examples being Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or more recently, Crazy Rich Asians.

I went into Parasite knowing nothing about it, I’d seen trailers, but these give little away in terms of the films content, as any good trailer should, it entices you to watch without giving away crucial plot points, a fine line I’ve always tried to tightrope-walk on, and I cannot recommend going into Parasite ‘blind’ enough.

The experience of watching this film was like an epiphany. Every aspect is constructed perfectly, it is presented expertly, it’s direction and cinematography is a work of sheer genius, taking what could be regular concepts and settings and coating them with a bizarre atmosphere, giving the audience an anxiety that something terrible is going to happen, we just don’t know what, how or when.

It’s a film that is almost impossible to label, it’s utter disregard for genre boundaries shining brightly, it juggles comedy, drama, even a little bit of horror to craft a narrative that will have you guessing what is around each and every corner, with the edge of your seat firmly carving itself into your backside.

It’s a narrative constructed from characters and situations, establishing a firm divide between the two sets of characters, one from a wealthy background, one from a life of poverty, yet intelligently intertwining their lives and stories, laying foundations of inner conflict and class conflicts, it’s a razor-sharp commentary on class divide, that you won’t even recognise it as a commentary until afterwards.

It firmly puts itself in another league of film narrative with its mid-film twist, one that forces you to reevaluate each characters motivations, and go back through the films events up to that point, and from their it spirals downwards into a jaw-dropping, gasp-inducing finale which will take your breath away and leaving you wondering how the film evolved from its first scene to its last.

Despite the language differences, and having to watch with subtitles, the script is at-times hilarious and equally tense in the later scenes, it’s a masterful balancing act of multiple genres and styles, that seamlessly grows and evolves over its two-hour-plus run-time, without ever missing a step, the change from comedy-drama to tense thriller is never a lurching one, its a change so subtle that it’s barely noticeable.

The acting is also top-notch, taking complex characters and giving them several layers of characterisation, mixing likeable components with a manipulative side, developing and only getting more nefarious as the film goes on, but we never lose affection for them because of the actors responsible for the portrayals, their changes in character mirroring the films own evolution.

The cinematography is staggering, its inventive use of framing, showing the difference between both families through the visual use of camera-framing; also the use of different colour-grading in different settings, the dull and grey surroundings of the half-basement the Kim’s live in, to the blindingly-white, crystal clear surroundings of the Parks house, it uses the medium of storytelling to the best of its potential, showing stories in the ways only film can, it’s these things you don’t realise, but really make all the difference in presentation.

Clearly the result of a master director on top of his game, Parasite might just be the start of a new wave of films from Korea and other Asian countries, as the start of a movement perhaps; but even if it doesn’t, on its own, it is a near-perfect film, that stands on its own regardless of the legacy it might once leave, it deserves every word of praise it has earned in the past year.

It is not often I throw around terms like ‘near-perfect’ so you have to imagine how good this film must be for me to use such superlatives, it is not every day a film like this comes along, maybe once-in-a-generation. Not a single part of it fails, everything is expertly crafted and executed, and its overall quality and effect it had on me almost reduced me to tears, it’s not every day a film affects me in that way, and I very much doubt we’ll see the likes of Parasite ever again, it will take a monstrous effort to unseat this film as the best of the year, even at this early stage, and it may even be in the conversation for all-time greats.

Dolittle Review

Of all the franchises in the world, I can’t think of many I would want to see a reboot of. But even on that short list, I don’t think the Doctor Dolittle mythology is one worth revisiting.

Even with the extra drawing power of post-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr, this film has found it hard to get off the ground since its release, and if you think it’s doing badly now, imagine how badly it would have done in its original release window of competing with Star Wars.

This is a genuinely puzzling decision on RDJ’s part to me; following up the success of being in the biggest film of all time by being in a by-the-numbers, bafflingly stupid remake of Doctor Dolittle of all things?

Let me take a step back for a minute and set the scene for you. During the reign of Queen Victoria, Doctor Dolittle is forced out of self-imposed exile to tend to the dying Queen, who has fallen ill under suspicious circumstances, and the only cure lies half way across the world, facilitating a globe-spanning adventure.

Ironically, for a film styling itself as an adventure film, it’s the most unadventurous thing I’ve seen in quite some time. So unadventurous in fact, that it manages to break the scale of adventure and be ludicrously unexciting.

Here is a brief rundown of a scene in Dolittle that actually happens, and hold onto your hats because it’s a doozy: Dr Dolittle, assisted by a Goose, an Ostrich and a Gorilla (voiced by Octavia Spencer, Kumail Nanjiani and John Cena respectively) help a dragon give birth to some bagpipes. I am not joking, pick your jaw off the floor.

So, you might be thinking, any film with such a bizarre and strange scene must be styling itself as a parody film, to which I would say: someone hasn’t been paying attention so far, as to aspire to that level of parody would take levels of effort that appear to be far beyond the filmmakers involved with this. Not only is it played somewhat seriously, it’s made to feel routine, as if this well-respected vet is used to pulling musical instruments out of mythical beasts. No amount of time is spent on it, it just happens then crash cuts to the next scene.

This bizarre, and incredibly disjointed approach isn’t limited to this scene though, there are a few instances of the film blinding itself with its own stupidity.

Firstly, Doctor Dolittle works on humans AND animals; now, I’m not a world knowledge on the Doctor Dolittle universe, but I’ve always thought he was just a vet, as a being a vet and being a doctor are two very different sets of skills. I’m aware that I’m pondering the workings of medicinal practice in a film with talking animals, but still I expect the world to be cohesive, for things to make sense, I can suspend my disbelief enough to accept talking animals in particular instances, I can’t accept a Doctor going from removing a bullet from a squirrel to diagnosing a very rare case of poisoning in a human Queen in back-to-back scenes.

Also, and this is a gripe that applies a lot to American films who don’t know much about Britain, but it bears saying here: the Queen is not in charge. She’s the head of state yes, but only in the same way that Ronald McDonald is in charge of McDonalds. Her job is the figurehead, she sits on a throne and waves at people poorer than her.

Furthermore, if the Queen were to die in a very suspicious fashion, chances are that the crown wouldn’t pass to some random member of the House of Lords, like this film implies it will. The monarchy doesn’t work like the Roman Empire, I’m afraid.

It’s these kind of mounting annoyances that make Dolittle a chore to watch. When it isn’t treating the audience like absolute cretins it’s treating its own characters that way. There are no arcs in this film, each character has a journey equivalent to going down a mine shaft in a rickety cart, there’s no development, just events. Things happen and nobody grows as people from opening titles to end credits.

If it doesn’t have a high opinion of its characters, it sure as hell doesn’t hold its audience in a high regard, presenting us with a plot that feels like it was scraped of the floor of Indiana Jones’ basement, complete with all the hackneyed cliches and tropes that a film uses when it has no respect for its audience.

Exposition-filled narration? Check

Characters built solely from archetypes? Check

Focus on action that defies logic? Check

Story that we’ve seen a million times before? Double check.

The film doesn’t have a single original thought in its head, and while other projects might reassemble previously used plot points into something new, this film just doesn’t have the effort or imagination required to do so.

If you have any doubts as to whether this film is insulting to your intelligence then look no further than the conclusion of the whole ‘adventure’ part of the narrative, not only is it telegraphed in a way that seems to shout: ‘look thicko, here’s a creature thought to be fictional, that we have no reason to bring up, but we’re doing so to explain its inclusion in our crap story. Look at how clever we are.’ But it’s executed in such a way that destroys all the previous threats to our protagonists and is resolved within five minutes, and the bottom falls out of the film with an audible thunk.

Maybe it’s my own fault for expecting anything more from a Doctor Dolittle remake released in what is essentially the graveyard shift for films. Maybe it was silly of me to expect Robert Downey Jr, of all people, to be a bit more choosey with his projects, but here we are, barely two-and-a-half months in to 2020, and I think we may have already found a contender for the years worst film.

Uninterested-seeming performers stumble their way through a shoddy script, all shot in the most unimaginative way possible, the best thing I can say about Dolittle is it probably won’t be memorable enough to really get good and steamed up about come December, but surely that’s the biggest killing blow? A film so uninteresting in its awfulness to be truly considered bad, the best it can hope for is that in a years time no one remembers it.

The Lighthouse Review

Remember last week, in my Honey Boy review where I talked about a film baffling me? How it can be a good or bad thing? Well, I didn’t expect to be left feeling that way twice within seven days.

The Lighthouse first came onto my radar (is that a pun? Let me know, because I haven’t decided yet) at the tail end of last year. I saw it as an intriguing concept, a black-and-white psychological horror experience, possibly about sea monsters, or maybe about two men going mad. Well I sit here months later, having watched the film, still wondering what it was about. I know for a fact that sea monsters and men going mad featured somewhere, but I can’t say that the film was ‘about’ that; because I don’t really think it knows itself.

This is the part of the review where I’d summarise the story a little bit, to put things into context, a job that I’ve found difficult in the past with certain films, but am finding it nigh-on impossible to find the words here, without spoiling the film more than I already have.

It’s a film that wrong-foots you; you think we’re settling into a tale of two men getting to know each other and unravelling their mysterious characters, but then it slowly introduces a surreality to its narrative, twisting what was once a mystery about two men and their background, into a mystery that is on speaking terms with HP Lovecraft, if you see what I mean, the surreality envelopes its previous slow-burn until you no longer recognise what is reality and what is imagination.

In other ways, it plays your expectations like Mozart played the piano, masterfully misguiding you with its sleight-of-hand approach to supernatural horror, lulling you into a false sense of security, even the way it shrouds it’s main characters in mystery until well into its runtime, there’s a feeling of disconnect between these characters that is expertly implemented, making their actions unpredictable and keeping them at arms length from the viewer.

I do feel, however, that the aspiration to be ambiguous in its content somewhat kneecaps its storytelling potential. The film can’t really be said to have a story as such, more of a series of events that show a slow decline in both characters sanity, it doesn’t feel crafted like a story, it’s rather scattershot and told in a way that deliberately makes you question its timeline, which really adds to the sense of disorientation the film creates. There’s one scene in particular where one characters says that weeks have passed, rather than the implied days or even hours, so it does feel like it’s deliberately messing with us.

There are times where one feels that this is a case of two narratives trying to meet halfway. One of which is an old-fashioned ghost story with a splash of nautical myth about it, and one about the erosion of sanity that comes with isolation, and I’m not saying it doesn’t work, I’m just saying it’s a bit creaky from time to time, straining to meet in the middle and create a seamless marriage between the two plot points.

What really sold The Lighthouse however, was its presentation. Shot entirely in black-and-white and in an aspect ratio straight out of the 1910’s (1.19:1 for all you technical nerds) it tries to frame itself like an old horror story, and boy does it succeed. The cinematography alone creates a bleak atmosphere unmatched by many films, only furthering the initial feeling of isolation, and pulling the more surreal moments into sharper focus.

It isn’t just the b&w approach that makes its retro chills though, it’s in the small details, like the aspect ratio, for instance, that makes it feel like we’re missing something slightly off-screen, or the sound design, the crashing waves and cries of the gull pulling us directly into the scene, it all blends so seamlessly together in a way that might remind you of old Hammer horror, or silent horror even, its visual approach builds its atmosphere so effectively that you feel unnerved even before the mystery begins to unfold.

It’s also brilliantly acted, there is pretty much only two characters in the entire film, so there was a hell of a lot for the two leads to carry, luckily the two leads were two of films most talented; Willem Dafoe, who seems to be enjoying somewhat of a renaissance with slightly surreal Indy films, like this and last years At Eternity’s Gate, and Robert Pattinson, who has firmly cast aside with Twilight shackles and established himself as a powerhouse art-house performer.

The script is a real winner too, it’s dialogue feels genuine and of the time, lending each soliloquy a dash of grandeur, with its overstated delivery, it makes the film seem like a sailors tall-tale, much like we see within its runtime, it has an authenticity about it, yet it’s accessible enough for all to understand and enjoy.

Both characters have a feel of men who are hiding secrets, and they hide it well behind their stern exteriors, Dafoe’s salty sea-dog is a particular delight, espousing wonderful Shakespeare-mixed-withLovecraft type monologues, regaling tales from his days at sea; and Pattinson is a barely-contained powder keg, only made worse by his proximity to the increasingly-irritating sea-dog and his own isolation.

All in all, despite an oblique approach to story telling, landing somewhere between pretentious and almost incomprehensible, there is enough to recommend The Lighthouse for its peerless atmosphere, brilliant performances, and just its sheer uniqueness. Confusion is not always a negative, sometimes a film can just have a great atmosphere with a dense mystery that takes years to unravel, and it’s still worth it as long as it delivers in other attributes, and this does, in spades.

Oscars 2020 Predictions

Right then, let’s get this over with.

Over the last few years, I’ve raised my head above the parapet and given my predictions for Hollywood’s biggest night of self-congratulation: The Academy Awards. Two years ago it was a post on here, last year a podcast, now it’s back in written form, because no-one wanted to try and make prediction while I ranted about awards on a podcast. But I still want my opinions to be known, just like every other guttersnipe with an internet connection.

As always, I’m only covering certain categories, as I’m not the man to judge sound design, or hair and make-up, I’m barely qualified to talk about the main categories, so I’m certainly not venturing to that part of Oscar-town.

Right then, grab some champagne (or box wine) and have a read.

Major Film Reviews Predicts the 92nd Academy Awards

Best Original Song

The Nominees:

  • I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away – Randy Newman (Toy Story 4)
  • (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again – Elton John and Bernie Taupin (Rocketman)
  • I’m Standing With You – Diane Warren (Breakthrough)
  • Into the Unknown – Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Frozen II)
  • Stand Up – Joshuah Brian Campbell and Cynthia Erivo (Harriet)

Predicted Winner: (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again

Music is always a tricky one, but the Academy have their favourites, especially in the Original Score department (which I’m not going to cover, but I want John Williams to win FYI) and Elton John has won before, and this is the best song of the bunch, so there you go.

Best Cinematography

The Nominees:

  • The Irishman – Rodrigo Prieto
  • Joker – Lawrence Sher
  • The Lighthouse – Jarin Blaschke
  • 1917 – Roger Deakins
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Robert Richardson

Predicted Winner: 1917

No big surprises here, it’s a high-quality category, but only one (arguably two with The Lighthouse) have been renowned for their cinematography, and 1917 is the best of the bunch, taking a concept that could have been gimmicky and marrying it seamlessly with a classic war story.

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees:

  • Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (as Fred Rogers)
  • Anthony Hopkins – The Two Popes (as Pope Benedict XVI)
  • Al Pacino – The Irishman (as Jimmy Hoffa)
  • Joe Pesci – The Irishman (as Russell Bufalino)
  • Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (as Cliff Booth)

Predicted Winner: Brad Pitt

Another crowded category here; and a heavy influence of real life figures too. If this were who I wanted to win rather than who I think will win, then Pesci or Pacino would get a statuette, as it stands, I think it’s Brad Pitt’s time to pick up an acting honour.

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees:

  • Kathy Bates – Richard Jewell (as Barbera “Bobi” Jewell)
  • Laura Dern – Marriage Story (as Nora Farnshaw)
  • Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit (as Rosie Betzler)
  • Florence Pugh – Little Women (as Amy March)
  • Margot Robbie – Bombshell (as Kayla Pospisil)

Predicted Winner: Margot Robbie

The first prediction I’m sticking my neck out for, the bookies have Laura Dern as a favourite for this award, but I think she was maybe the fourth best thing about Marriage Story, and there were so many more standouts.

Robbie takes this for her role as a sexually-harassed staffer at Fox, one would like to think for her sterling performance, but she’s more likely to win in order to deflect those awkward sexism accusations by giving it to a #MeToo friendly role. A shame as she is also the best performance here too.

Best Leading Actor

The Nominees:

  • Antonio Banderas – Pain and Glory (as Salvador Mallo)
  • Leonardo DiCaprio – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (as Rick Dalton)
  • Adam Driver – Marriage Story (as Charlie Barber)
  • Joaquin Phoenix – Joker (as Arthur Fleck/Joker)
  • Jonathan Pryce – The Two Popes (as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio)

Predicted Winner: Joaquin Phoenix

Just like Gary Oldman two years ago, this is almost a foregone conclusion at this point. The only thing stopping this outcome is Phoenix’s outbursts as previous awards ceremonies, the Academy might not look fondly upon that and decide not to chance that at their ceremony. They shouldn’t though, and my stomach tells me they won’t.

Honourable mention should go to Adam Driver, who would have taken this in any other year.

Best Leading Actress

The Nominees:

  • Cynthia Erivo – Harriet (as Harriet Tubman)
  • Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story (as Nicole Barber)
  • Saoirse Ronan – Little Women (as Jo March)
  • Charlize Theron – Bombshell (as Megyn Kelly)
  • Renee Zellweger – Judy (as Judy Garland)

Predicted Winner: Renee Zellweger

No surprises here either, the academy do love a good biopic, and a good transformative performance, and Zellweger provides both here. I know this is a somewhat uncontroversial choice, and wouldn’t be my pick, but the Academy are nothing if not predictable.

Scarlett Johansson should probably feel aggrieved that she can be nominated in two acting categories, and isn’t likely to win either.

Best Director

The Nominees:

  • Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
  • Todd Phillips – Joker
  • Sam Mendes – 1917
  • Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Bong Joon-ho – Parasite

Predicted Winner: Sam Mendes

Crikey, that’s a bit of an all-star lineup isn’t it? It’s a bit like the Avengers of Film Directors, which I suppose would make Todd Phillips Hawkeye.

Joking aside, this is a tough one to call, but I have a feeling that 1917 will be this years Academy darling, although I wouldn’t be surprised if either Tarantino or Scorsese take the gong, Tarantino has bafflingly never won for Best Director, not even for Pulp Fiction, just in case you needed any more reason to not take these awards seriously.

Best Picture

The Nominees:

  • Ford v Ferrari 
  • The Irishman
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Joker
  • Little Women
  • Marriage Story
  • 1917
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Parasite

Predicted Winner: 1917

Like I said in the last category; I think 1917 will be this years Academy darling.

Every year has one, the film that wins most of the awards, whether it was the best of the year or not (anyone remember The Artist?) and this year will be no different.

To give it credit though, 1917 is at least a great film, helped by its somewhat-unique cinematography, it just so happens to also be the kind of film the Academy loves, and that’s what will ultimately win them the statue.

For those wondering, Marriage Story would be my choice, not Joker. Are your minds sufficiently blown?

Other Award Predictions That I Couldn’t Be Bothered Writing Paragraphs For:

Best Adapted Screenplay – Joker

Best Original Screenplay – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Best International Film – Parasite

Best Original Score – Joker

Best Animated Film: Toy Story 4

Want a much better (and shorter) film awards? Then why not check out my Major Film Awards from the start of this year? All the excitement of the Oscars with none of the egos and endless waiting!

Birds of Prey Review

Birds of Prey, or to give it its full title: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) which you’ll understand if I don’t use again, is the latest instalment of the once-ridiculed DCEU (DC Cinematic Extended Universe. I say ‘once-ridiculed’ as for my money the franchise has been on a bit of a hot streak as of late; with the one-two punch of Aquaman and then Shazam! it’s slowly finding its feet as its own entity.

You, like me, may recall the days when the DCEU was the butt of many a joke following a string of let’s charitably call them ‘missteps’. things started going downhill with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which several correspondents still call an underrated masterpiece, and what I still call a bloated mess, it then went onto further embarress itself with the release of Justice League, a film in such a state that fans have been clamouring for years for the release of the ‘real’ version (still a long-shot in my eyes, movies executives aren’t exactly renowned for their self-awareness).

But the film that most relates to this one is 2016’s Suicide Squad, a film which, to me, is the worst of the entire franchise. If BvS and JossTice League were missteps, then this was a misstep of the end of a pier. Bless their little hearts though, you could tell some people involved were still trying, particularly Margot Robbie, whose portrayal of Harley Quinn was like a diamond in a septic tank, which brings us to this.

An undetermined amount of time after Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn and The Joker have broken up, causing Harley to go on the search for purpose, along the way unwittingly stumbling into events much bigger than herself as crime lord Black Mask tries to establish a firmer grip on Gotham.

That, as written above is the bare bones of what is actually going on in BoP, in truth, the whole thing is a lot more involved than that short paragraph would give away, flitting wildly between characters and plot-points in a manner resembling Harley’s personality.

That was my nicest way of saying that the plot is a little all over the place; but in a fun, self-aware way that’s more cute than annoying. You see, the film is all established with Harley’s narration, so it makes sense that the story would be all over the place, since the person telling it is – to put it mildly – a few cards short of a full-deck.

Harley doesn’t necessarily have a personality as several thousand ones, all poured into one person. She goes from grief-stricken, to vengeful, to clownish all within the space of one scene, and she is, without exaggeration, an absolute blast to watch.

Whereas Squad didn’t really know what it wanted to be, just take a look at the how much the trailers change pre-release, BoP knows exactly what it wants to be, and what it wants to be is fun. Unadulterated, charmingly, stupidly fun.

The whole film is underlined by this feeling of knowing campness, that just about resists the urge to literally wink-and-nod to the camera. It’s a film that’s daft, but it knows it is, but doesn’t care; and that’s what makes it so much fun to watch.

It addresses the several cliches it uses (the grizzled veteran police officer who talks like an 80s cop, the murdered parents backstory) and it presents this with an airy freshness that could have been insufferable if not executed correctly, but it infuses it with enough action and interesting characters that you don’t really give a hoot.

Think of Deadpool and how annoying that film would have been if not for the likeable characters and fun plot, that’s what BoP is like, except dialled down slightly on the fourth-wall breaking and dialling up the initiative action scenes.

For a series whose action scenes used to make my eyes glaze over, the DCEU really is hitting its stride with its choreographed action now, this film contains some of the most satisfying hand-to-hand combat choreography and cinematography I’ve seen in a long time; making use of Harley as an actual danger in combat, as well as a colourful ditz who is filling the films ‘crazy’ quota with childlike glee.

There’s a few scenes in particular that I would hold up as some of the best in this whole series; it even manages to make its climactic final fight feel like the biggest in the film, with the highest stakes and most imagination, using its unique atmosphere to further the action, it’s a wonderful final section that really brings the film together as a final product.

What of performances then? Well, with the emphasis on fun characters, I’d say the actors involved pretty much nail it. Margot Robbie is great as Harley Quinn, you can really tell that she enjoyed making this, and that she’s passionate about it; and Ewan McGregor alternates between scenery-chewing pantomime villain, to chilling, manipulative crime-boss with unnerving ease, he’s used as comic relief in parts, but made to look dangerous with it at the same time, so you absolutely buy him as a threat to our heroes.

So, for a series that many, myself included, have enjoyed railing against in the past, it seems that DC is finally finding its feet in the cinematic sphere. It stopped playing catch-up with its biggest rival and started making films that were unique to its characters, really doesn’t sound like that revolutionary an idea does it? Yet it’s such a relief that someone finally had it.

For being a film that is not only fun to watch, but made with skill and compassion, I’m willing to debase myself in gratitude for BoP because it really is one of those films you didn’t know you wanted until you had it, and now I just want more.

Yes, it has flaws, it’s plot is a messed-up web at times, and the relationship between our team of anti-hero’s is never really given time to gel, but you won’t really care about that, because you’ll be too busy having fun, and thank whatever Lord you prefer that someone remembered that once in a while films are allowed to be fun and entertaining, that they don’t have to be as broody as a teenager listening to Robert Smith all the time. We know that now, and it only took us half a decade to reach this conclusion.

I’m probably being harsh by comparing this entry of the franchise to the earlier ones, because in truth, I don’t think they resemble one another at all, the first half of the DCEU is so far removed from its second (and far superior) half that I suggest we forget the first half existed and pretend the series started with Wonder Woman, skipped JossTice League and is now just a series of films about DC’s unique characters; a guy can dream, right?

Honey Boy Review

There are times when a film comes along, and I’m utterly baffled by it. I can be baffled by the fact that someone greenlit such a film, or baffled it took so long to do that, because the result was so great. Then there are films that generally leave me in a haze of uncertainty, not knowing whether I thought it was good or not, simply occupying the ever-infuriating ‘could be better, could be worse’ space.

At the risk of decapitating someone with the cards I have now thrown firmly onto the table; let me back up a bit.

Honey Boy is a film that comes to us from Shia Leboeuf, you remember that guy who turned up at Cannes with a paper bag on his head, probably to save himself watching any of the dross that occupies festivals, and who I really enjoyed in last year’s The Peanut Butter Falcon. It is perhaps the most public therapy session the world has ever known; basing itself of Shia’s life and relationship with his father.

While it also deals with issues of addiction and child fame, the relationship with his father is at the root of the entire film, used as a device to rationalise his future misgivings, not something new, but certainly something worth exploring.

The biggest problem I have with the film is one I mentioned earlier: it is practically a public therapy session for Shia to work on his daddy issues, and fair enough if that were to make for an interesting narrative, and this may seem harsh, but it feels like a film that Shia made not for an audience, but for himself, and as a result, it feels self-absorbed and a little pretentious.

I’m really glad for the guy that he’s worked on his issues, it’s fantastic that he’s in a much better place now, but I just don’t think it made for a satisfying film. Sure, it looks nice, and is very well acted, but if anything that just makes it worse; showing us the potential it had if it weren’t being dragged down by a writer with issues to deal with.

The feel of it just being Shia’s therapy session is driven home somewhat forcefully by the actor playing his own father (in a way, the characters have different names, but it is a version of his father) maybe he wanted to work out his anger on his father, but it does make for a very uncomfortable tone. It’s like watching a homeless man yell incoherently on the street; you feel sorry for him and you want to help him, but he’s also very annoying and intimidating and you’re just trying to go about your life.

Maybe I’m being too harsh on Honey Boy because I feel it’s a missed opportunity. As I say, it had all the tools in the world to be outstanding, the acting and cinematography are fantastic, Shia himself gives a phenomenal performance, but I just think it’s let down by its screenplay and general mixed tone.

The plot will feel like it’s going somewhere and then suddenly swerve into a non-sequitur fantasy or dream section which fits about as well as a black-and-white minstrel show in Uganda; generally giving the film a feel of a writer who’s never written anything, but wants to get all of his ideas into his script, without grasping the nuances that comes with forming a cinematic structure.

Maybe I’m wrong in my assumption that Mr LaBeouf hasn’t written a script before and to tell you the truth, the film would work perfectly well with just the timeline hopping plot, switching between adult Otis (Shia, in all but name) and child Otis, but in the middle we have strange snatches of dream and fantasy that go nowhere and add nothing. I understand it’s a personal tale for the writer, but it could have really done with a more experienced head to help guide him through the scripting process.

Hidden behind these gripes though, there are signs of promise, as I say Shia himself gives a great performance, maybe even overshadowed by the actor playing him-but-not-really Noah Jupe, and given my propensity for wanting to shove forks in my eyes rather than watch some children try and act, please understand how good he must be for me to mention him; he’s fantastic in this film, overshadowing most if not all the adult actors in the film, but then again I also liked him in Le Mans ’66 last year, so obviously he has something going for him.

The direction and cinematography also warrant a mention here; as there is some lovely work done with framing and colour grading, as well as assembling the film, which as I say has a messy script, into something that looks great, for which I applaud the director (Alma Har’el). With a polished script, she might have helmed one of the films of the year, but as it stands her top notch direction only serves to make a self-indulgent film feel pretentious.

As I said at the start of the review; I don’t really know what to feel about Honey Boy you might have read the previous paragraphs and think I hated it, and I didn’t, I was engaged in the narrative, when it wasn’t going off the rails, and I really enjoyed the performances. But I didn’t enjoy it either, I think it lacked the cutting-edge of storytelling that might have tipped it over into greatness. Truthfully, this kind of film is my least favourite to review as it’s the equivalent of waving my hand in the air going ‘meh’ at you, while trying to think of ways to keep you interested in reading on.

I’m glad LaBeouf is in a better place, and I think he’s a great actor, his first film as a writer leaves me feeling somewhat flat though. By no means bad, but could have done with a co-writer.