A Look Back at April 2021

The end is nearly in sight now (I hope) and as I write this, cinemas are due to reopen in two weeks here in the UK. I can only hope the lineup at the local cinema is worth waiting for…

April saw the delayed Academy Awards being handed out in Hollywood. It was a mixed night, all told. Steps forward were made by having several female nominees in the Directing category, as well as a plethora of deserving POC nominees. Special congratulations go out to Chloe Zhao and Frances McDormand for their respective wins for Nomadland (which I’ll be reviewing soon, keep your eyes peeled!) As disappointing as it was to not end the night with a posthumous Oscar for Chadwick Boseman, Anthony Hopkins is a more than worthy recipient for Best Actor. I only hope I can see The Father soon…

Film of the Month – Promising Young Woman (2021) – Directed by Emerald Fennell

It was a tough choice between Sound of Metal and this film, but Emerald Fennell’s incredible film takes the prize of best film I’ve reviewed this month. She also deservedly walked away with a Best Original Screenplay Oscar last week, and rightly so.

As those who read my Sound of Metal review will be aware, I am experiencing some health issues at the moment, namely troubles with my eyesight (I’m typing this using a big font on my phone) which has slowed me down recently. I will be trying my best to pick myself back up soon though. I have a few very special reviews planned for this month, and I can only hope my output increases soon, and that you all enjoy reading it.

Hopefully see you at cinemas soon!

Sound of Metal Review

It is usually the aim of a filmmaker to make a film that emotionally connects to their audience on some level. Naturally, not all movies achieve this; a fair few fall short, in fact. However, some really take you by surprise. I first read about this film in a popular magazine last year, and I thought it sounded interesting. A basic, but solid premise, with a great leading actor in Riz Ahmed, I thought it had the potential to be interesting, but I didn’t think it would be much more than that. I was surprised to see it featured so heavily in the Oscar nominations, as it didn’t seem like a typical ‘Academy’ film (that’s what happens when you judge a book by its cover, kids). But given the past year we’ve had, it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock.

The reason this film so profoundly affected me is purely circumstantial and personal. Still, at least it shows the movie was doing its job. I connected with the main character and his struggles because they were difficulties I could recognise. To let you know precisely why, I should tell you the story of my last few weeks, and why this film touched me so much.

I have worn glasses since I was a young man. Ever since my teenage years, these glasses have been getting progressively stronger as my eyesight grows weaker (that’s sort of how glasses work). In the last few years, my vision has really taken a turn for the worst. A few years ago, I found out I had astigmatism. This condition causes your eyes to be oval-shaped rather than round, which I should have known for years, apparently but didn’t. Then, just a few weeks ago, my opticians informed me that my eyesight was still getting worse. Not only that but my field of vision is restricted, and my optic discs are tilted. What this means in the long run, I don’t know yet. I am still awaiting more scans, but suffice to say, my eyesight is severely diminished. I may yet be able to get some better glasses to improve my vision, but I have been told there is a good chance I might lose my driving licence because of my vision, and who knows? Maybe it’ll get worse.

I’m saying all of this now because I am aware that I have been quiet on this site over the past few weeks. It’s because I’ve been dealing with these issues. I can still see movies well enough to review them, so that isn’t so much of a worry. Writing these is a bit of a challenge because of the small text, but I’m still finding my way around it, and hopefully, I might improve soon. The other reason is that it is actually relevant to the context of this film, Sound of Metal. It deals with the fallout from losing one of your senses – in his case, it’s his hearing rather than his vision – and how it can affect your life and work.

I started to see parallels early on between his story and my own. Ruben (Ahmed) is a heavy metal drummer. His ears are integral to his life’s passion. At first, he starts to hide this problem from his bandmate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) and carries on but compromises his hearing even more. I sympathised with this plight so much on a personal level. When these things happen, you just wish for them to go away, for them to be problems that sort themselves out. I was preparing to start learning to drive buses when I found out my field of vision was restricted, so that’s had to be put to one side. Not only that but I’m a movie critic, I need to see to watch films. Films are my biggest passion; music is Ruben’s. This is why I connected with this film immediately, the shared experience.

It’s not as if you need to have these experiences to sympathise with his plight either. I’d like to think the thought of going deaf or blind would scare most people. I know that I’m scared right now, and I recognise that struggle in Ruben too. He’s angry, of course; he’s just lost his hearing. Not only that, but it directly affects what he loves. He can’t drum anymore because he can’t hear. We can all relate to that, we can all appreciate that fear of having what we love stripped from us, and this film is a heart-breaking portrayal of that very thing.

It achieves this through a wonderful mix of great acting and directing, but most importantly, incredible sound design. Sound design is one of those things that you don’t notice (or care about) unless it’s really good or really bad. That’s a shame in many ways because many people work incredibly hard on every part of a film, but it’s true. But when you use something like that to tell the story, the effects can be magical.

How this film uses its sound is a stroke of genius; at pivotal parts of the movie, the sound switches to how Ruben hears the world. It fades out and becomes distant, buzzing as his hearing fades, and then just becomes silent later on. It helps create a sense of isolation around Ruben as we share the experience of what it’s like to not hear the world around you. When the perspective changes and the sound return, it’s jarring to us and really does a great job of juxtaposing the world Ruben is now a part of and the hearing world.

It’s not only a tale of lost passions and senses, however. It’s also a story of acceptance, of adapting to new challenges. Ruben is taken in by a deaf community to adapt to life. The film switches from tragic to life-affirming, as he learns how to live life without hearing. We also get a great sense of community in these scenes and some fantastic character building. It also has an incredibly poignant final act, in which he learns that sometimes the thing you want doesn’t always work out how you planned and that sometimes you don’t realise what you need when you’re focused on what you want. It may sound corny and cliched, but the film finds a way to make it work.

In conclusion, Sound of Metal makes the most of its basic plot by making it an intriguing and highly emotional study of a man whose world is turned upside down by circumstances he couldn’t foresee. This remarkably familiar set-up is made fresh again by the approach of its filmmaker and his team. Putting together a whole new perspective on the world by playing with the audience’s senses through ingenious sound design, capped off by the story’s very personal feel, captivating performances, and brilliant writing. Sound of Metal is an experience that’s sure to move you.

Promising Young Woman Review

Well, this is a difficult film to review. I might as well state for the reader right now that this review will not have the same tone as my usual work. The light-hearted tone I adopt for most of my reviews is inappropriate, if not a little offensive, to use with this subject material in mind. I’d also like to put a content warning here that this review covers a film whose main narrative hinges on sexual assault and rape. If you don’t wish to read any further, I understand. If you want to continue reading, I’ll be approaching the subject with the respect and dignity it deserves. I may just be writing about a film here, but to many people, including some close to me, this subject is a stark reality. I’ll be including some phone numbers to victim support hotlines at the end of this review, too, just in case a reader or someone they know needs it.

Firstly, let me start by saying that I generally don’t like it when a film uses sexual assault as a plot point, especially in horror films. It’s cheap, lazy, and very rarely done tastefully – not that such a thing can be ‘tasteful’. It’s typically not done in service of the larger narrative, but done to make us empathise with a female character; but if the only way you can think about building sympathy for a female protagonist is to depict them being assaulted, I would suggest that you NOT write female characters, or don’t write at all.

All this being said, however, it can be done; it’s just rarely done right. I think the problem with them using this trope in horror films is, in general, horror tends to portray its female characters as sexual objects, to begin with. This is starting to change in modern times, admittedly. Still, looking back at “classic” horror films, what are the main characteristics of any female character? One who isn’t played by Jamie Lee Curtis? They’re there to have sex, maybe flash some skin, and get murdered. Throw sexual assault into that mix, and all you’re subliminally saying about your female characters is that they’re sexual objects, there to either be killed or to be felt sorry for because they were assaulted. This is the root of this trope’s laziness, and particular films compound this feeling too. Films, like I Spit on Your Grave, are just nasty pieces of work.

All of the above is a qualifier for the rest of the review because (spoilers) it’s going to be a very positive one. Still, I feel this is a conversation I needed to start with to preface the review. Even though this film successfully uses assault in its narrative, it doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with it. Actually, it feels like that’s the point of the movie. It’s supposed to make us uncomfortable, as that’s how we get its message. It isn’t a message that everyone wants to, or can stand to, hear, but it is just as necessary, maybe even more so. It made me feel uncomfortable, but it didn’t make me want to turn it off. It compelled me to carry on watching, despite my discomfort, because I thought there was a lesson to be learned here, that this film needed – nay – deserved to be heard. Far be it for me, a white man, to call this film out for being ‘uncomfortable’ when the reality is that this is some women’s lives. In fact, it reads like a checklist of every piece of harassment, large and small, a woman goes through in their lives. I don’t assume to talk for all women there, but most women will watch this and recognise something from their experiences, I’m sure.

What also makes this film such a gut punch in the emotions is its timeliness. We’re a few years into the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements, but they still feel like the zeitgeist. They’re still more important with each passing month. Of course, it’s always been an issue, but only now do we seem to be finally confronting it like this. What also makes this particular take refreshing is that it is a woman’s story. Directed and written by a woman and produced by a few notable ones too. It feels refreshing and sad that this story is probably a lot closer to the truth than many attempts written by male writers. It has a feeling of authenticity to it which, if anything, just adds to the discomfort and the tension.

The cast is what really makes this movie, though. Carey Mulligan is the film’s star, and a star she certainly is. Her commanding performance is magnetic, insidious, and intense. She manages to be both empathetic and unlikeable in equal measure. Her quest for revenge is unnerving to watch, yet still so satisfying also. Her complex nature is perfectly complemented by her co-stars too. It would have been easy to make all the male characters sleazeballs preying on young women, but that’s rarely the case. Yes, they are creeps to a certain extent, but they have more going on beneath the surface, making them all the more interesting.

The apex of this characterisation is Ryan, played by the wonderful Bo Burnham, who is a perfect love interest for Mulligan’s character. He seems like the antithesis of all the other guys Cassie (Mulligan’s character) meets. He’s sweet and unthreatening, but like everyone else, he has his complexities. Which is what ultimately won me over most about the movie. The characters are so well thought-out and played that it lifts it above the usual revenge thriller by making almost everyone three-dimensional. There’s no lazy writing on display here, and it is so refreshing.

Again, I can understand if this isn’t your thing or if the uncomfortable atmosphere is too much for you. I felt uncomfortable too, but the way this film makes me uncomfortable is worlds away from how I Spit on Your Grave does it. There’s a reason why this wants to make you uncomfortable. It wants you to feel how its protagonist, and by extension, women, feel when they’re set upon and vulnerable. It serves a purpose, it has a lesson to teach, and more to the point, it’s in service of the narrative; it doesn’t happen to make you empathise with its main character. It happens because that’s reality, and that’s the saddest thing of all.

In conclusion, then, this film is a phenomenal punch to the gut. Incredibly acted, written and directed, it left me absolutely gobsmacked after its perfectly bittersweet ending. I was literally speechless, and it’s been a long time since a film has done that. I just hope people who watch it take away the right lessons and see it as I see it, an uncomfortable truth. One we have to confront no matter how much it scares us.

If you, or anyone else you know, is affected by any of the issues talked about in this review, help can always been found, below are a series of numbers for helplines there to help sexual assault victims.

Victim Support – 0808 168 9111

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC)0808 801 0331

Hourglass – 0808 808 8141

One in Four – 0800 121 7114

These phone numbers are for UK-based charities and services, please check Google for any services local to you.

Pierrepoint Review

Politics. Religion. Pineapple on pizza. These are all topics many people don’t feel comfortable talking about in mixed company. Amongst the vast swathes of points that could fall under the subject of ‘politics’ (most things in life come down to it in one way or another) that causes awkward silence if brought up in mixed company and furious vitriol if brought up online, is capital punishment.

Naturally – the act of state-sponsored executions is a divisive topic, one you’ll be glad to hear I won’t be delving into in too much depth, but which serves as a key talking point in this film. I wouldn’t even say that the movie itself took any particular stance on the matter. One or two scenes could be seen as the director/writer sympathising with the anti-capital punishment cause, but I would hardly say that this was a concrete stance. It is all reasonably even-handed on the morality of the death penalty.

The film documents the life and times of the titular Pierrepoint, Albert Pierrepoint, that is. It dramatises the events in his life, which lead to him being regarded as Britain’s most notorious hangman, responsible for the executions of over 600 people throughout his career, including several Nazi war criminals. It also shows the effects such a job takes on a person’s private life and mental health, covering the period up until his retirement in the 1950s.

Like most biopics, I got the feeling that Pierrepoint was being somewhat economical with the truth (that’s the most diplomatic way I can put ‘more fiction than fact’), and while this may be a deal-breaker for some, it is not so for me. I’m here to be told an entertaining story; I don’t mind if you shift some things around in the real-life story to make things more interesting. That being said, however, it was still noticeable to me, and after a little bit of light research, I found my hunch to be true. Although the scene I thought was most likely to be a fabrication was indeed true, so real-life can sometimes be just as unbelievable as fiction.

Speaking of the narrative, I enjoyed how the story spans over a few decades, encompassing several different sensibilities and a shift in public feeling. As previously mentioned, there are a few scenes documenting the execution of Nazi war criminals. Still, I wouldn’t describe the film as a ‘war film’ as WW2 isn’t happening throughout the whole narrative, and when it is, it is just in the background, alluded to briefly, rather than lingered on. As someone who has spent a lot more time than is necessary watching films about World War 2, I appreciate this. It helped me get a better feeling of the time immediately before and after the war, and such offered up some new perspectives.

The cast is top-notch, too, lead by the consistently underrated Timothy Spall and featuring the equally underappreciated Eddie Marsan. It makes the most of what it has with very few key characters, focusing on a select few’s struggles and lives rather than cast its net too wide. It allows the story to focus primarily on important characters and relationships, rarely over-complicating itself with side-plots. This narrowed focus also helps the film’s pacing, clocking in at just over ninety minutes. The film doesn’t waste any of those minutes and doesn’t outstay its welcome—an increasingly rare commodity in modern cinema.

Timothy Spall is on top form in this film. Imbuing him with quiet dignity and yet still showing enough expression to make clear his inner conflict that for the most part mainly bubbles under the surface, hiding behind carefully concealed expressions, or betrayed by a look in his eye. Although the character is not predominantly an outwardly expressive man, you can read a lot about his feelings just by his facial expressions and tone of delivery. All of which is a credit to Spall, who has quietly built a reputation over the decades as one of Britain’s most reliable actors.

Eddie Marsan is also a notable addition to the cast. Many people are likely to recognise his face more than his name, but he has become more familiar to me over the last few years. While the arc of his character in the film is its most predictable aspect, it is still well-performed. His nature is timid, some might say even pathetic. He is the figure of the downtrodden, heart-broken man in love, and the end of his story is incredibly poignant, leading to Albert finally confronting what his job means in his own mind. This is the part of the film that I mentioned earlier which seemed unbelievable but was actually, broadly speaking, true. It ultimately tips the movie’s balance from being a dry re-telling of an interesting life to an emotionally resonant tale of a man whose job requires him to occupy an almost impossible moral quandary.

As the film wears on, it starts to delve deeper into capital punishment’s morality, presenting us with facsimiles of protesters from the time. It does do an excellent job of showing both sides in a sympathetic light, however. We are led to believe that those who oppose hangings are not simply rabble-rousing do-gooders but that they might be right. In the same way, however, it does not show Albert as being a bad man because of his job. Instead, it shows us, and tells us, the many complexities he believes his position to have. In other words, it isn’t a film that patronises its audience. It may have its own feeling on the topic, but it doesn’t want to lead your interpretation. It is merely presenting you with both sides to inform your own thinking.

Although it is well-acted and scripted, I wouldn’t say the film was anything special in the technical department. It certainly has nice settings and is shot competently, but its aesthetic is relatively dry and dull. It pushes no boundaries and is perfectly acceptable in terms of telling the story it wants to tell. It starts to accompany the emotional resonance well towards the end, but for the most part, there is minimal visual flair in how it is shot. Although I suppose, if that’s the films most significant problem, then it really doesn’t have all that much to worry about.

In conclusion, Pierrepoint is an interesting story, well-told, and acted with a surprising amount of emotional heft. It uses a controversial subject matter, but it doesn’t feel like it is pushing a specific agenda, and it is all the better for it, as it leaves the big moral questions in the hands of its viewers. Despite not being the most exciting thing to look at, it still provides an engaging 90 minutes of entertainment, driven by a strong central performance. It’s a surprisingly impactful watch that has sadly gone under-the-radar for many for quite some time, and I can only hope it is reassessed by many soon, as I think it will take many by surprise.

The Maze Runner Review

There seemed to be an explosion of Young Adult novel adaptations in the 2010s. Last year, I looked at The Hunger Games series, and now, I’m looking at another YA adaptation. However, I don’t feel like I’ll be looking at the whole series after the first one.

Well, that seems needlessly cruel; it’s not as if The Maze Runner has the profile Hunger Games has, but I couldn’t help but note the similarities in it regardless. If I were a cynical man, wait, let me rephrase that – me, as a cynical man, can’t help but see this film as a cash-in in the wake of much more successful franchises, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Its set up is something we’ve seen before; a seemingly post-apocalyptic world, a band of survivors, and a central gimmick confining them to one place or event. In this case, the crew of rag-tag youngsters are trapped in the middle of a maze supposedly filled with monsters. No one has survived in the labyrinth, so naturally, our hero is the first to do so and kill the previously indestructible monster. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, really.

There is nothing particularly new about The Maze Runner, but there isn’t anything particularly bad about it either. It’s a relatively frustrating kind of film to review, one where I end up repeating the same point a few times, mainly that it’s not great, but it’s not bad either. I can try and make it more interesting, but the film didn’t try and do anything different to make it stand out, so there isn’t much I can do.

While it was never ‘dull’ per se, it wasn’t exciting either. It just plods along, establishes its plot and characters. None of those characters particularly stand out; I think it’s a stretch to call some of them ‘characters’ to be fair. They try and make some of the events seem poignant by killing off some characters, but the film doesn’t give them enough personality to make us connect, so this attempt to tug at our heartstrings falls flat.

The actors portraying these characters do a good job, though, to be fair to them. Dylan O’Brien portrays the films hero, Thomas, the last male character to enter ‘The Glade’ (the area in the middle of the maze, where the survivors live). He’s charismatic and likeable, but the script doesn’t give him much character, which is the case with most, if not all, the people portrayed in this film.

Other notable cast members include such names as Thomas Brodie-Sangster, who, despite being now in his 30s, can still easily get away with portraying a teenager to a frightening degree. Maybe we should check he isn’t a vampire. There’s also Will Poulter, who, to me, perfectly encapsulates a “that guy” actor, someone whose face you recognise but not their name. They’re always ‘that guy from [insert movie here]’. I vaguely knew his name but still had to Google it just to make sure. These two add recognisable faces to the cast but are still essentially just bland caricatures. Poulter’s character is arbitrarily jealous of Thomas because of vague reasons, which doesn’t add anything to the overall narrative.

I think the aspect where the film shines the brightest is in its visual design. The world of the maze is incredibly well-realised. When the characters venture out into it, it has an atmosphere of dread about it, like the maze itself is a monster, plotting this makeshift society’s downfall. The creatures that dwell within the labyrinth are almost secondary to the maze’s hostile atmosphere. All of this adds a sense of danger to the environment. Even if you aren’t all that invested in the characters, the world they exist in might just be fascinating enough to hold your attention for the film’s runtime.

Aside from the exciting world and how well it’s realised, The Maze Runner doesn’t bring anything new or exciting to the table. It doesn’t do anything particularly wrong. It has a cohesive story and the aforementioned atmospheric tension, but it doesn’t populate this world with characters the audience can care about. Instead, it relies on stock character tropes and archetypes that have been weary and tired for years. It really is a shame that such an interesting concept that has a few positive aspects to it ultimately fails to engage on a level similar to its competition.

I know this is a comparison I’d made before, but I think of this next to The Hunger Games. The latter had intrigue and evolving characters, but it didn’t overuse its concept by the end of the first film. It created intrigue, but in such a way that made you want to come back next time to see how it would evolve. I have no such feeling about this series. This doesn’t have the compelling characters THG has. Neither does it feel like a story that particularly needs to be continued. I know there are sequels after this, but I feel like this could be a standalone story and exist in a vacuum. I just don’t have the interest levels in this series to revisit it again as I did with The Hunger Games. Ultimately, it is the films’ most significant downfall.

A decent, if well-worn, premise, coupled with bland characters, can’t be saved by the stellar atmosphere and tension the film creates. It’s not so much a bad film as a disappointing one, especially as the audience for this sort of film seems to be an ever-present one. I can’t see this film having the staying power of similar franchises. An exciting concept that lacks several crucial elements, The Maze Runner is a bit of a damp squib.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Review

So, it’s come to this. I’ll be honest, I’ve been keeping this review in my back pocket for the last year. I’ve sort of thought of it as an ‘in case of emergency break glass’ kind of backup plan. Something to eventually cover while the restrictions were ongoing, and the longer the lockdowns have continued, the longer I’ve pushed back the thought of covering this film (and the subsequent instalments). I almost did it back in June last year when I started working through the Star Wars films, but eventually, I moved onto other things. But now I’ve been staring at my own four walls for long enough that revisiting the Star Wars prequels seems like a relatively sane idea.

I can only imagine the disappointment that Star Wars fans must have felt back in May 1999. It had been 16 years since a film in their beloved franchise had graced the big screen. Only to have all that anticipation slowly drained from them as they witnessed George Lucas kick his legacy to death over two-and-a-half-hours of utterly turgid dross. Actually, maybe that’s a bit harsh. At least half an hour was okay, but that still leaves two hours of steaming cinematic turd to wade through.

I have covered the prequels before, right back at the start of this website’s existence. Back when I had a different name and significantly less experience writing about film than what I have now. As I said then, and still stand by now, there are some redeemable factors in the prequels. However, these good parts are vastly outweighed by dullness, incomprehensibly awful writing, and Jar Jar Binks. Say what you like about the sequel trilogy, at least stuff happened in it. It was at least entertaining enough to hold your attention; these films, however, were responsible for thinking that trade disputes made for riveting sci-fi entertainment. Gone was the creative flair of the olden days, and in came the era of the soulless and bland.

Thirty years before a relatable character was introduced to the universe, the Galactic Republic is locked in a bitter trade dispute with the Trade Federation. To help broker peace, the Republic sends a pair of Jedi Knights, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, respectively), to negotiate a peace deal. Things swiftly go awry, and the Federation launches an invasion of Naboo, whose Queen, Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), is rescued by the Jedis. Due to some enormous plot convenience, the crew end up on Tatooine, where they meet Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd), and so the saga can begin.

Honestly, that synopsis comes nowhere near close to doing the plot, such as it is, justice. It’s so convoluted and dull that it hardly bears thinking about, really. The above is what I’ve managed to water it down to for it to fit in a single paragraph.

Over the years, I’ve watched (or ‘subjected myself to’) Phantom Menace multiple times, almost willing myself to find something else to like about it. After all, it’s Star Wars, and I love Star Wars, but trying to find positive things about this film is like panning for gold in the New York sewer system. You might find the odd gem, but it’s buried under a tidal wave of shit.

There’s so much I want to say about how much I hate this film. I want to talk about so many negative aspects that I simply don’t know where to start, so while I think about where to start on the negative, let’s get the positives out of the way first.

First off, some performances are good. Stilted by a script so inept that it sounds like it was written by someone who’d never heard spoken language before but, nonetheless, they manage to turn out a good representation of themselves. Specifically, Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson carry the heaviest loads in the film. McGregor would only get better in the role as the trilogy wore on. Neeson had the common sense to die in the first film and thus had to get this performance just right. Which he did, imbuing Qui-Gon with just the right amount of mystical wisdom while retaining a little bit of likability.

There are a few decent sequences too. Notably, the pod-racing section (although Lucas tries his best to ruin this scene too with stupid side characters, incredibly convenient happenings, and lazy writing) and the lightsabre duel at the end with Darth Maul (Ray Park), which both stick out from the rest of the pack. The latter is accompanied by ‘Duel of the Fates’, which is in the argument for the best piece of Star Wars music for me. It is also helped along by the most compelling character in the prequels, Darth Maul, so of course, he’s killed off at the end of this film.

That’s about it as far as positives go. No matter how many times I watch it over, I can’t find anything else enjoyable about this movie. I’ve given up trying now, as I don’t quite hate myself enough to re-watch this nonsense any more.

What is it I don’t like about it then? Well, not much really, apart from the script, the characters, the visuals, the (lack of) narrative intrigue, the stilted performances by anyone not named Liam Neeson or Ewan McGregor, the insulting attempts at humour, the even more offensive habit of trying to explain everything that didn’t need an explanation, the casting of ill-prepared children, and the overall wasted potential. So yeah, not much at all.

Let’s start with the script. It’s fair to say that Star War’s dialogue has never been stellar, especially in the first film (unsurprisingly, Lucas’s only script in the original saga). Still, it manages to find new depths in this film. It isn’t so much scraping the bottom of the barrel as it is building a mine-shaft underneath the barrel. The dialogue is insipid, cold, and impossible to convincingly deliver. As can be evidenced any time Natalie Portman (who I remind you is a talented actress) tries to deliver it. It’s almost as if she’s carved from wood, a fact not helped by the fact that George Lucas is to directing what Donald Trump is to diplomacy.

That last line brings us nicely onto the rest of the performances. I feel sorry for the bulk of the actors I’m about to mention, really, I do, because a performer is only as good as the material. That material, as we’ve discussed, is utter horse manure. I feel most sorry for Jake Lloyd, who just wasn’t prepared for something on this scale. Yes, the script and direction don’t help, but the poor kid would look like a deer in the headlights regardless. What was supposed to be the epic introduction of the character around whom the rest of the franchise would revolve becomes almost an after-thought. He only becomes embroiled in the plot because of an incredibly complex set of circumstances. Basically, the only reason Anakin is discovered by the Jedi is because he broke up a fight that involved Jar Jar Binks.

Speaking of our Gungan friend, he really is an easy target for ridicule, I admit, but I’d say with good reason. I reiterate none of this is on the actor. Ahmed Best did his best (no pun intended) with the material. Still, there’s only so much you can do with a character who is so transparent and cynical. Did Lucas really think so little of us that he thought we’d warm to this ridiculous clown? All of this is without mentioning the questionable use of stereotypes ingrained into the character.

In fact, let’s address that, shall we? I am not the person to talk about racial ethics. I will freely admit that but just listen to some of these characters. They’re so transparently stereotypical you’d expect them to be from the 40s or 50s. The Viceroy is a ludicrously offensive Asian stereotype. Jar Jar is a cartoonish, bumbling black character. Then there’s Watto, who might as well be designed to be everything anti-Semites say Jewish people are like. I hasten to add that I don’t think Lucas did this hatefully. I think it’s more born of ignorance than anything else. While this may fly as an excuse for old Disney cartoons, we shouldn’t let it fly from a 90s release.

Everything that made the classic Star Wars film great has been thoroughly sucked out of this film. The use of CG is glaringly obvious and immersion-breaking. Rather than making us by into the magic of this universe through creative effects, it instead distances its audience from that sense of awe by transplanting sterile, lifeless backdrops behind scenes with sterile, lifeless dialogue. There is no lasting joy to be found in The Phantom Menace. Every moment of enjoyment is fleeting. For every lightsabre duel, there are interminable scenes of political ‘intrigue’ and trade disputes. Gone is the epic space opera battle between alien wizards manipulating everything around them, replaced by repeated scenes of people sat in circles pulling stern faces. Easily understandable conflict is replaced by mystical prophecies. Everything that intrigued us is explained away in terribly underwhelming fashion, leaving the franchise with little sense of wonder. The Force, the magical entity that we had spent years wondering about, imagining ourselves wielding, is revealed to be nothing more than the result of your blood. Robbing it of any genuine mysticism and meaning, becoming just another dry aspect of a now lifeless universe.

What really upsets me about this film and its successors, too, is the waste of potential. Of all the things the galaxy far, far, away could have become, it became this. A soul-sucking exercise in blandness that accomplished nothing except massaging the ego of its creator, not to mention beginning the long-running alienation of its own fanbase. All of our hope began disappearing from the first scene, and our good-will is drained long before the credits roll. There may have eventually been worse films in the franchise, but none are more damaging than this. We wanted escapist entertainment, a triumph of good over evil. Instead, we got trade disputes, offensive caricatures, and every interesting character is dead by the end. It’s a miracle this franchise still has a fanbase after this colossal waste of time and space.

Major Film Reviews Classic Simpsons Playlist

If you’re anything like me, one of the biggest draws of Disney+ was the inclusion of The Simpson’s. Sure, it’s been bad much longer than it’s been good now (it probably hasn’t been great since the start of the millennium), but don’t underestimate just how good it was in its prime.

It was probably the best thing on television in its first eight seasons. Those seasons still stand out as some of the greatest TV, animated or otherwise, of all time. The secret to its success was not just its astounding gags-per-minute ratio but its depth, its interwoven world, and surprising brevity. It also helps that these early episodes we so incredibly memorable and quotable. Even now, the uses of classic Simpson’s have been immortalised by countless GIFs (I’d say there’s a Simpson’s GIF for every occasion).

Think of this like my Christmas films playlist from last year; a good nudge in the direction of some top-quality stuff. Only this time about the longest-running TV series in history. Although it has now run into its 32nd (I think?) season and has just been renewed, I’ll be focusing exclusively on the first eight seasons of the show; the time most widely accepted as the show’s peak. This isn’t a comprehensive list of ALL the great Simpsons episodes; I’d be here all day. It’s merely a list of episodes I recommend as a starting point.

So with this in mind, I’ve been watching classic episodes of the show recently. Mostly to reassess whether I was looking back through rose-tinted goggles or whether the show actually was just that good. I’m happy to report that, for the most part, at least, the latter is true. Now I’m going to compile for you a list of my most recommended episodes to guide your own revisit to old Springfield. Enjoy.

Season 2, Episode 1 – Bart Gets an ‘F’

Although there are a few significant episodes in the show’s first season (with honourable mentions to ‘Moaning Lisa’ and ‘Krusty Gets Busted’), it only really began to find its feet in Season 2, and it really came out swinging.

This is an excellent example of what this show could do when it mixed an emotional heart with the stellar comedy. Up until this point, Bart has never shown any interest in school. He is usually more of an irritation to his teachers. However, this episode packs an almighty punch by having Bart try his best yet still seemingly come up short.

It must have been a great surprise to many watching at the time, as they realised that this silly little show about a yellow family could actually have an emotional impact, and not just emotional impact, but elicit a genuine feeling of empathy towards Bart. We have all, at some point in our lives, tried our best and failed. It’s a recognisable real-world feeling. The fact that this show could play off that, and play with our emotions in such a way, just gave us a glimpse into the genius writing the series had at its peak.

Season Two, Episode Eight – Bart the Daredevil

Another entry, another Bart episode. They really were pushing the troublemaker hard as the face of the series in the earlier days, weren’t they?

Some Simpsons episodes were great because of the depth of content; these episodes will have intricate ‘A’ stories, accompanied by an intriguing ‘B’ or even ‘C’ plot. They’ll be teeming with content and have the feeling of trying to fit all the best ideas into a small space. I’m sure we’ll come across a few of these as we go along. However, some other episodes are concentrated on one plot or idea. They wring every inch of potential out of a sometimes restrictive subject.

This episode sits in the latter category. It’s mainly remembered for its final third, but oh, what a final third. One of the most iconic scenes and pay-offs, one so ingrained in the show’s history, it was even alluded to in The Simpsons Movie nearly twenty years later.

It may be predominantly remembered for that ‘Springfield Gorge’ scene, but it is packed with gags and paid off with that iconic moment. It’s a very nostalgic watch for an old Springfield fan.

Season Three, Episode Nine – Flaming Moe’s

The series has created many enduring moments over the years; these legacies of nostalgia can form around anything, memorable scenes, characters, quotes, or, in this case, songs. It isn’t the most memorable tune from this show, it’s not even the most memorable from this season (wink, wink), but it’s still a memorable one that sticks in my mind. It’s a tune that instantly pops into my head just by looking at the title.

It’s also an episode that (obviously) highlights Moe, who can be hit-and-miss in terms of punchlines. I’m not so keen on the recurring gag of him being suicidal, as that’s a bit too close to the bone and perhaps a bit too dark for the show, but he has his moments too. His, shall we say, ‘questionable’ business practices and hair-trigger temper have elicited many a chuckle over the years, and he gets to have an episode more or less to himself here.

This episode doesn’t always show up on other Simpsons-related lists. It isn’t the strongest writing of the series or even the funniest. Still, it’s one that always sticks in my mind as being a little under-appreciated. Maybe it needs a revisit?

Season Three, Episode Sixteen – Homer at Bat

We’re talking softball, from Maine to San Diego, talking softball…

The best Simpsons song? Maybe. It’s a tough contest, but it’s in the race.

Yes, this is the memorable song I not-so-subtly referenced earlier. I don’t think that it’s the only string to the episodes bow, though, God no, there’s hilarious comedy, with laughs so good that it even makes shameless celebrity cameos into punchlines, taking aim at the celebrities themselves. A trope well-established within the series now but almost unheard of at the time.

The celebrity involvement (a group of baseball players, all of whom are strangers to this tea-slurping Brit) don’t even draw focus from the leading group of characters. Specifically, Homer, who finds himself as Mr Burns’ last hope for winning a softball (like baseball, but with a bigger ball, for those who aren’t from the States) competition. Because of a surreal string of events (from grotesquely-swollen jaws to run-ins with the law) , the actual sportsmen are out of action and Homer is the last batsman remaining. Combined with Mr Burns’ absurd coaching, it makes for a hilarious watch.

A real classic. One rightly considered to be one of the shows best.

Season 4, Episode 2 – A Streetcar Named Marge

This episode appeals to me, especially given my history in amateur dramatics. The sequences of rehearsals, especially of the director, hit a little close to home.

This episode also focuses n the relationship between Marge and Homer. Unlike many in many other episodes, Homer actually learns something, which is more than he’s done in any modern episode I’ve seen.

Episodes about Marge can be a mixed bag, as she isn’t the most exciting family member. I think a lot of that has to do with the lack of female writing staff back then, so Marge doesn’t have a lot of agency outside of being a wife and mother, but she gets to spread her wings here and stand out at last.

There’s a lot to like in this episode, basically. The content about Homer and Marge’s marriage, the distinctly untalented performers from Springfield, provide a lot of chuckles. There’s a memorable one-off character in the form of Jon Lovitz’s Llewellyn Sinclair, the, shall we say, “passionate” director of the production. Everything that makes up the classic formula.

Season 4, Episode 12 – Marge vs The Monorail

Season Four has a lot of solid-gold classics within its 22-episode run. It was difficult narrowing down this list for each season, let alone for the whole list, and season 4 was perhaps the hardest one of all to narrow down. Many episodes could have featured here, from ‘Kamp Krusty’ to ‘Krusty Got Kancelled’ (an excellent season to be a clown) as well as ‘Mr Plow’ and a few others. Still, I went for this one because it just has everything you want from a Simpson’s episode.

Firstly, there’s the memorable song, something I’ve discussed before, coupled with the one-off character who delivers it, Lyle Lanley, voiced by the late, great Phil Hartman. Who delivers another all-time great performance here as the con artist who sells the city the obviously faulty monorail. The Simpson’s has had a fair few memorable one-off characters, people who turn up for an episode and forever impress themselves on the audiences. Lyle Lanley might just be the best of the bunch, and a lot of that is down to Hartman’s lively performance.

Everything you can wish for in an episode of this show, the jokes’ hit-rate is astoundingly high. It makes excellent use of its celebrity guest star (Leonard Nimoy in a self-skewering appearance). Still, it retains a remarkable legacy, one of the episodes that frequently comes up in the conversation about the best in the show’s history.

Season 5, Episode 2 – Cape Feare

Sideshow Bob is rightly regarded as one of the show’s best recurring characters. In the glory days, his appearances were always something special. Always thinking of ways to get his revenge on Bart, he always manages to find a way out of prison and back into the family’s life.

‘Cape Feare’ is the pick of the litter when it comes to Sideshow Bob episodes. It’s one of the most creative episodes in terms of jokes the series has ever seen, and the result is a string of simply iconic gags. This is the episode that injected new life into jokes about rakes, after all.

Then, to wrap it all up is the most ridiculously brilliant finale, when, in a bid to buy time, Bart appeals to Bob’s ego and gets him to perform the score of HMS Pinafore. Climaxing in a very rousing rendition of ‘He Is an Englishman’ reaching a peak of both hilarity and tension, as we hope the boat arrives back in Springfield before the final note.

Another entry, another all-time great, not much else I can say, really.

Season 6, Episode 12 – Homer the Great

There was a time when The Simpson’s was also a sharp satire, rather than being a sterile timeslot-filler. In the sixth series, it decided to turn its eye to the Freemasons and other such fraternal organisations.

Another episode that includes a memorable earworm (something I think that says a lot about me, more than anything) in the form of ‘We Do’. Which sees the Stonecutters list off all the things they influence perfectly toes the line between hilarious and catchy in the way that all these songs seem to.

It also has a celebrity guest appearance, which I didn’t realise until I rewatched recently and checked the episodes IMDb page to find out that the voice of ‘Number One’ is none other than Patrick Stewart! It goes to show how unobtrusive their celebrity casting once was that I didn’t know this until now.

Another aspect in the episode’s favour is the many, many periphery characters; who now get their chance to be part of something more substantial than just hanging around in Springfield’s background. As it seems like all the male citizens of Springfield are members of the Stonecutters.

An episode that really makes the most of its concept, with the help of another catchy tune, it does enough to ensure its place on this list.

That brings my list at large to a close after only six seasons, but this is really only a tiny sample of the show’s best era. There are so many great episodes from those initial eight seasons that to write about them all would take several weeks. This list wasn’t intended to list the greatest or best episodes. They are merely a collection of episodes I would recommend to introduce yourself to the show or showing a non-fan friend to convert them. In the interest of completionism, here is a list of episodes that could have made it, if not for time and space allocation:

Simpsons Roasting on An Open Fire (Season 1, Episode 1)

Moaning Lisa (Season 1, Episode 6)

Krusty Gets Busted (Season 1, Episode 12)

The First Seven Treehouse of Horrors

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (Season 2, Episode 15)

Kamp Krusty (Season 4, Episode 1)

Mr. Plow (Season 4, Episode 9)

I Love Lisa (Season 4, Episode 15)

Last Exit to Springfield (Season 4, Episode 17)

Krusty Gets Kancelled (Season 4, Episode 22)

Homer’s Barbershop Quartet (Season 5, Episode 1)

Deep Space Homer (Season 5, Episode 15)

Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Badasssss Song (Season 5, Episode 19)

Bart of Darkness (Season 6, Episode 1)

Who Shot Mr Burns? Parts 1 & 2 (Season 6, Episode 25 & Season 7, Episode 1)

Radioactive Man (Season 7, Episode 2)

You Only Move Twice (Season 8, Episode 2)

Burns, Baby Burns (Season 8, Episode 4)

The Springfield Files (Season 8, Episode 10)

Homer’s Phobia (Season 8, Episode 15)

A Look Back at March 2021

Although things continue to be slow, I can’t help but notice the pace of high-profile releases is picking up once more. Following the much-anticipated release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, a few more films are starting to emerge from the woodwork. Not so much over here in the U.K. where the cinemas remain closed, but a lot seems to be happening in terms of streaming, with many releases now out on Premium VOD.

There was also the small matter of the Academy Awards nominations being released, and my attempt to catch up with some of the films shortlisted. It’s been a funny old year and the nominations reflect that, with a few films that wouldn’t normally get a look in finding themselves in places of prominence. So far, I’ve only looked at Mank, which I found to be an underwhelming experience. I’m hoping to see some more nominated films in the next few weeks, in the hopes that they can win me over.

Film of the Month: Downfall (2004) – Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel

As crazy as this sounds, my film of the month was almost Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Given how little I thought of the theatrical cut, it’s a testament to the hard work and perseverance of Snyder over the last few years, but then I thought back to how riveted I was by Downfall and I realised that Zack would be pipped at the post this month.

After reviewing a fair few World War II films in my time, I thought films documenting that particular war could no longer shock me, how wrong I was. A wonderful, yet harrowing piece of cinematic drama that shows the unravelling of one of history’s most evil minds. The fact that not a single word of dialogue was in English was ultimately immaterial to my enjoyment of it, which is the sign of an incredible film.

Regrettably, I won’t be able to provide the usual level of Academy Awards coverage this year. I simply haven’t been able to see enough of the movies shortlisted to properly comment on them, and I doubt I will have the time to now before the ceremony. I am disappointed that this is the case, as I never usually pass up an opportunity to poke fun at the Academy, but after the year we’ve had, I suppose it’s not a surprise.

This coming month, I’ll be looking at some more nominated films currently available on streaming. I’ll also be looking at some older films sent to my by my regular correspondent, Ian. I may even get around to finish The Hobbit trilogy, if I find myself with a weekend to spare…

Mank Review

Movies whose primary subject matter is movies themselves, or rather, about Hollywood, can be a difficult sell. It may turn out that it romanticises Hollywood’s past, celebrating it as a paragon of culture without looking at its negative sides (like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). Or, the opposite could be true. It could be a movie about the inherent evils rife in the Golden Age of Hollywood, where the movie industry was largely unregulated and ran by a select group of a few executives (Trumbo). Mank is an outlier in this dichotomy, as it seems to jump from one side to the other whenever it suits.

But let’s back-track a moment before we get too far into analysing the film, as I fear a fair few of my readers may not have heard of this film. Or if they have, they only did so after the Academy Award nominations were released. I count myself among those people, in fact. I knew there was a film in production about Citizen Kane’s writing, but I didn’t realise it was out, what it was called, or who made it. Just in case anyone is reading this who’s in the same boat, allow me to enlighten you.

Mank is the latest film by director David Fincher (Fight Club, The Social Network). It tells the story of the seminal movie classic Citizen Kane’s writing process. The unorthodox man behind its screenplay Herman J Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) and the political intrigue that surrounds the time.

Fincher may be a well-regarded director, but it’s fair to say that some of his work has been divisive. In particular, Fight Club has been criticised in the past for its themes of toxic masculinity. Although I think these arguments miss the film’s point, it still remains a figure of controversy to this day. I don’t believe Mank will court any such discussion, though, mainly because I don’t think people will care enough about it to hate it.

I can’t imagine that this opinion will win me many fans, particularly amongst movie purists. Still, I found Mank to be a dreadfully dull experience. What makes this worse is it seemingly has everything going for it; the acting is excellent, the cinematography is superb, all that’s missing is a compelling story, and you can have all the beautiful camera shots in the world, but when there isn’t a story an audience can connect to, your film will always fall flat.

I believe that part of this is down to the lack of a relatable central character. Mank, the person, is sporadically sympathetic, but most of the time, he’s more off-putting than anything. His perceived acid-tongued wit only served to put me off him as a character rather than warm to him. There’s a lack of compelling characters all-round, to be honest. I found myself disliking the vast majority of them; however, they’re very well-acted, they’re just not very redeemable or well-rounded as people. The closest we get to a relatable character is Mank’s wife, Sara (nicknamed ‘poor’ Sara by friends because she is the long-suffering partner of Mank). Even then, she’s only relatable because of what she has to put up within her marriage.

As I said before, these characters are all very well played. Gary Oldman is his usual fantastic self, exemplified best by a rambling, drunken monologue at a party, which was the point where the plot most threatened to become interesting. The ensemble cast is also stellar, if at times uninteresting, with Charles Dance, Tuppence Middleton, and Amanda Seyfried all doing beautiful jobs in making their characters as enjoyable as possible, even if the screenplay ultimately lets them down.

One aspect of the film I liked was the film’s atmosphere, which does a great job of effectively replicating the era. It reminds me of noir films of the time, and in particular, several scenes remind me of the video game L.A Noire, which focuses on a similar time. Even if the story ended up being uninteresting, the effort to realistically reproduce the areas aesthetic at least makes something about it worth talking about.

I understand that this film was a personal one for David Fincher. It was written by his late father, Jack Fincher, who passed away in 2003. In trying to preserve his father’s work, the younger Fincher does an admirable job, directing excellent performances and overseeing some stunning cinematography. Still, he couldn’t give this film its most crucial final ingredient: an interesting narrative. It’s a beautifully realised portrait of a time long since passed, but it doesn’t have enough about it to maintain the attention of an audience in the long term. I dare say that in a regular year, it wouldn’t have received as much attention by the Academy as it has, as cruel as that sounds.

I really wanted to enjoy this film more than I did, but I’m afraid there aren’t enough positive things about it for me to recommend it too thoroughly. I’m glad I watched it once for the performances and visual presentation alone, but I doubt I’ll be in any rush to revisit it.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League Review

For my review of the theatrical cut, click here.

Right, so this review is going to be contentious no matter what I say. In many ways, I’ve been dreading the release of the so-called ‘Snyder Cut’, I knew that I’d be catching flak from one side or another no matter what I wrote, and, to be honest, I just wasn’t as interested as everyone else seemed to be. The idea of a Justice League movie excited me a few years ago, but it seems like I’ve been hearing about it non-stop for the past four years, and I just got bored. Having said that, I’m glad it’s here so I don’t have to read so many tweets about when it might finally drop.

Let’s get one thing straight first though; this isn’t a new cut. It’s not a director’s cut in the usual sense, and although many people seemed to believe the contrary, it didn’t exist way back when the theatrical cut was released. How do I know this? Simple, Snyder was given millions of dollars for reshoots. The word ‘cut’ suggests reassembling footage that already exists, not make a new film from new footage. That would be closer in spirit to a remake. There may have been a cut of the movie that Snyder had assembled four years ago, but this ain’t it.

I have felt sorry for Snyder for quite some time over the Justice League debacle. I don’t believe he’s the God-like genius many people on Twitter proclaim him to be, and he has many annoying habits that crop up throughout his works (which I’m sure we’ll discuss later), but he had a vision for this universe. Maybe not one that everyone (myself included) was utterly on-board with, but a vision nonetheless. More or less all the troubles this film encountered along the way were the fault of someone other than Snyder, be that executives, or other directors. I seem to remember similar issues with Batman v Superman before this, which resulted in the finished film being a mess. You’d think certain people would be able to see a pattern emerging, wouldn’t you?

It’s well established now that Snyder’s vision for the film was thoroughly dissected and sewn back together by people who were wholly unequipped to tell the story Snyder had planned. Joss Whedon may be successful in his own right, but his style is as far removed from Snyder’s as you can get, and the resulting clash of styles leads to a confusing mess of a final product. All of this was also taking place while Snyder mourned the death of his daughter, which must have just compounded his grief and disappointment; to see something he worked so long and hard on be hacked up by such, well, hacks, all the while going through an unimaginable personal loss.

So yes, on both a personal and professional level, I empathised greatly with Snyder. I have never been a massive fan of his work, as my past comments can attest. Still, he certainly didn’t deserve that treatment, even if the film was irredeemable to begin with, and the resulting meddling only added to that; it doesn’t excuse what happened.

Now that we finally have this long-awaited reimagining of the 2017 flop, are we better for it? What’s changed? Most importantly, was it worth the wait? Well, let’s start answering these questions, shall we?

The plot more or less follows the same basic premise as the theatrical cut. Batman wants to assemble a team of heroes; Steppenwolf arrives seeking mother boxes, all of that stuff, except now it makes a lot more sense. That’s the first point in this versions favour; it’s a hell of a lot more coherent than the original. Everything it tried to do the first-time round is expanded upon and given time to breathe, rather than rushing through to establish a franchise’s worth of exposition in under two hours.

However, on the flip side of this is that exposition can be a challenging aspect of storytelling to manage. I’m not sure I completely agree with how this film goes about it, but it certainly isn’t the worst way imaginable. It reminded me of certain scenes in the Middle Earth series, where a character would narrate a scene that took place ‘long ago’, like the arrival of Smaug in the first Hobbit film. While comparisons to Middle Earth are not usually unwanted, I’m not sure the similar scenes here stand up as well to scrutiny. It’s very much a ‘tell don’t show’ way of telling a story that worked in Lord of the Rings’ high-fantasy land but doesn’t land so well in many other scenarios.

However, this being said, it can’t be denied that this is a much better version of the Justice League than the theatrical cut. Granted, that isn’t an exceptionally high bar, but it is. It feels much more like the original vision we were teased with back in Batman v Superman, and for the most part, it delivers on the promise all these years of hype have built up.

I still have issues, though. Not least in terms of run-time, which I thought would be the thing that would test my patience the most, and it turns out I was right. At a staggering four hours and two minutes, this film is longer than The Godfather, two of the three Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films, and Gone with the Wind, all titles renowned for their lengths. I’ve heard it said that this extended length helps the character development, and that’s true, the characters are much more rounded in this version, but most films can do twice as much in half the length. A few schools of thought say a film shouldn’t be longer than 90 minutes, and I don’t entirely agree with that. Still, I think there is such a thing as a movie being too long, it happens a lot, and although there’s a lot of story and detail here, there’s still a fair amount of dead weight the film could do without.

It’s also fair to say that if you’re not a fan of Zack Snyder’s filmmaking style, you won’t enjoy this. It’s like a compilation of all his favourite techniques and styles. Slow-motion? Yeah, plenty of that. Dark, dingy atmosphere? Absolutely. Insistence on visual style over storytelling? Not as blatant as in the past, but it’s here. I feel like I’ve mellowed to Snyder in the past few years, but I’m still not overly-enamoured with his style. He seems to want every film he makes to have the same tone as Watchmen, even Superman, for crying out loud. The red, white, and blue boy scout of comic books hasn’t escaped being made into a dark and broody character in Snyder’s hands. I enjoyed what he did with this cut, but the Justice League is not Watchman, no matter how much he seemingly wants it to be.

Still, despite how my last few paragraphs might sound, I did really enjoy this film. The characters are much, much better now they have time to breathe and develop more organically. All except for Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), who annoyed me greatly; his portrayal as a ‘comedy’ character seems so inappropriate given the world he occupies, and his attempts at humour often grated rather than amused. I was supposed to be positive in this paragraph, wasn’t I? Despite The Flash’s attempts to drag the characters down, they’re all reasonably solid now, with understandable goals and motivations. A welcome improvement on the disjointed mess we had before.

The story also came together a lot better with the benefit of more time, even though it was hardly breaking new ground. It’s your typical ‘villain seeks magical McGuffin’ plot that will seem eerily familiar to Marvel fans from the past few years (probably the only place I can accurately compare the two universes). Still, at least it makes sense now, the stakes are much clearer, and the villain has more purpose.

Speaking of the villain, both he and his Parademons all look much better this time around. An Effort seems to have been put in to sharpen up the films special effects, and it especially shows on Steppenwolf, who looks much more intimidating than he did before. The Parademons even manage to look like a threat at times, which is more than can be said for the 2017 cut.

It seems like this film has left itself wide open for a continuation in the coming years, with its ending scenes seemingly hinting at the horrors still to come, which given the fluid nature of the DCEU, is a bold move, to say the least. Who knows whether we’ll see more of the Justice League? Warner Bros might scrap the whole thing and reboot the universe for all we know, and I probably wouldn’t be that surprised. Still, I think this brings the universe back into balance somewhat. The fact that WB released the film seems to suggest that its continuity isn’t completely dead in the water. So we might yet see more of Cavill, Batfleck, and crew. After this much-needed shot in the arm, I might even be able to get excited again.

This is a far cry from the confusing mess that we were once presented with; it even manages to be an entertaining, engaging movie with good characters and action. I must say that I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would; so well done, Snyder, you managed to successfully polish a turd. The DCEU might yet live to fight another day. Or at least another unstoppable alien threat.