The Plain, Simple Review of the Month: February 2021

February seemed to bring good tidings: with COVID cases and deaths apparently going down here in the UK, with vaccinations still underway, talk of easing lockdown, and the possibility of starting to return to normal within the next several months, with cinemas planning to reopen in May. Of course, that’s just in England (and Scotland?) and I fear that the ol’ picture houses here in Wales won’t be so lucky. And maybe I’m wholly mistaken about the current state of affairs in the country as I can’t really be bothered with the news much these days.

But anyway, let’s talk 2021 films and TV.

2021 Releases

Malcolm & Marie (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

A divisive film, one that has been criticised for having Sam Levinson’s own words and thoughts being spoken through black characters and one that has been seen as a thinly veiled attack on his critics, but it’s one that I mostly enjoyed because of its pleasing cinematography, some valid points about modern film criticism, and the two amazing performances from Zendaya and John David Washington. REVIEW.

News of the World (2020)

★ ★ ★ ★

Paul Greengrass’ latest film may be a little slowly paced (well, what Western isn’t?) and at the end of the day, it’s probably not a film that you’d remember for very long but still, News of the World is a continuously interesting film that’s at its best when highlighting the importance of storytelling and of good, inspiring stories that help take our minds off the doom and gloom of modern life.

It has a solid foundation, focusing on the journey taken by two very different characters who gradually learn from and trust each other, and additionally, the film is greatly helped by some very lush cinematography and impressive music as well as an expectedly impressive performance from the great Tom Hanks and from the young Helena Zengel.

Greenland (2020)

★ ★ ★ ★

It’s a disaster movie starring Gerard Butler and it’s one of the best films of 2021 so far – who’d have thought it?!

A film that really should have been shown in cinemas or on the biggest screen possible, Greenland really does deliver on the thrills and the danger, keeping the tension and drama considerably high as havoc is wreaked and as certain people do horrible things, but there’s also an emotional core that works surprisingly well: focusing on a family who we really get to support and care about throughout the feature, never once doubting their determination to find and stick with each other and all of this is handled genuinely and with real feeling, never feeling fake or manipulative as it would have done in lesser hands.

It’s a well staged/directed adventure and the central actors, which include the gruff Gerard Butler and the gorgeous Morena Baccarin, all do a great job.

Bliss (2021)

★ ★ ★

I think that this film, the new one from Another Earth director Mike Cahill, has received mixed to negative reception but I have to admit that I enjoyed it.

I know that it’s meant to be ambiguous (are there really two separate realities or is he simply an addict?) but for me, I saw this film as an exploration of what goes on inside an addict’s head and I could understand how this character could lose his job, sink into despair as his daughter seems to move further away from him, and then cross paths with the wrong kind of person who leads him on a destructive path, a fellow addict who concocts a most bizarre story about “the real world” which leads our protagonist to lose himself and to get confused over what’s real and what’s not.

If Bliss is indeed intended to be an exploration of addiction and how an addict sees the world, then I’d say that the film does a good job in this regard, presenting the subject matter in a most unique way and giving us an imaginative and interesting mystery to unravel; it has some pleasing visuals and by the end, it may even leave us appreciating this messed up world even more.

And any reality with Salma Hayek in it, whether she’s an unpredictable and violent addict or a brilliant scientist, would be alright with me.

Penguin Bloom (2020)

★ ★ ★

A nice, harmless and good natured film, Penguin Bloom is heavy handed and obvious a lot of the time, not so subtle when it attempts to pull on the heartstrings as it gives us a true life tale of a person overcoming a physical impairment with the assistance of a saviour animal, but it cannot be denied that the film has its heart in the right place, the actors are a super bunch, and the story – an unbelievably true one – is worth a little of your time. And judging by the photographs at the end, the filmmakers apparently remained incredibly faithful to the real story.

Yeah, that was nice.

The Rental (2020)

★ ★

Dave Franco’s directorial debut displays promise and any future directorial endeavours will surely be welcome but, though not a bad film by any means, there’s very little that’s unique or particularly exciting in The Rental as it’s your standard “group of friends get targeted by a masked killer while long held secrets get revealed” type thriller. That’s all. Next!

I Care A Lot (2020)

★ ★ ★ ★

Some people have apparently taken against this film as they felt as though the characters are wholly unsympathetic but for me, I revelled in the darkness of the story and in the wickedness of the shamelessly immoral and shady characters and greatly appreciated Rosamund Pike’s terrific Gone Girl type performance. Review HERE.

2021 Television

Disenchantment (Series Three)

★ ★ ★

Matt Groening’s Netflix series will clearly never reach the lofty heights of The Simpsons or Futurama and even though Disenchantment isn’t the worst series around as it does enough to keep viewers invested, I think, and Princess Bean continues to be an entertaining character (with a potential same sex love interest this time around) but at the same time, this third series is the messiest so far as it seems far too concerned with setting up “prophecies” and plot threads, most of which aren’t resolved by the end, and it has no real clue of what it wants to say, with major faults to be found in the storytelling department. Plus, Elfo is becoming an increasingly unlikeable character and the plot thread revolving around King Zøg’s deteriorating mental state goes absolutely nowhere, though it does admittedly end on a really touching and sad moment between him and his daughter.

Star Trek: Lower Decks (Series One)

★ ★ ★ ★

Though I approached this new Trek series with trepidation, initially fearing it to be a silly p*sstake, it really won me over by the end and I found it to be a fun, entertaining and beautifully animated series with an excellent lead character in the outspoken Beckett Mariner. Review HERE.

It’s a Sin

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

A show that most people binge watched but one which I diligently watched every Friday when it was shown one episode at a time on Channel Four (because we can’t let the “old ways” die!), It’s a Sin packs several powerful punches and then some, looking at the outbreak of AIDS in the eighties and how it had a devastating effect on the people of the UK and on our central characters.

As is the case with several other Russell T. Davies shows, there’s an ideal blend of both joy and sadness to be found in this show; we see our young characters having a great time, living life, messing around, and savouring each other’s company and their dialogue often makes you laugh and smile but when their lives are affected, whether directly or indirectly, by AIDS, our hearts are torn out as we witness some lovely characters slowly deteriorating and succumbing to the dreadful sickness, becoming husks of who they once were and often being left abandoned in hospital rooms, shunned by uninformed medical staff and unfeeling family members, and the other characters who are unaffected by the disease themselves are made to watch several of their friends get sick and leave them.

These particular sequences really are devastating and awful to watch, often leaving me feeling genuinely upset and uncomfortable, but Davies also manages to give us several rays of hope as we see how the groups of friends band together to help each other and we also get certain family members, doctors, and associates who are supportive, comforting and determined in their resolve to get the best treatment for those affected and to make sure that the facts of the disease are known and here, we see the importance of having a strong support network of family and friends and it’s clear that the main characters really love each other and their camaraderie and devotion to each other is truly heartwarming – knowing that there are people like that out there really gives you hope.

It’s a Sin truly is a special series that is filled with pain and devastation but also love and hope, the performances are special, and it can proudly join the likes of Cucumber and Years and Years as some of Russell T. Davies’ best work.

La!

The One That Didn’t Make It

Snowpiercer (Series Two)

Snowpiercer was originally a great film but when it comes to the TV series, I was never truly invested or interested in its first series, never connecting with any of the characters and finding the plot to be cumbersome and nothing particularly exciting, so although I attempted to watch the second series, intrigued by the fact that the great Sean Bean would be in it, watching the episodes every week soon became a chore and so I decided to declare myself “out” and have since given up on the show.

The Best of the Rest

Harakiri (1962)

This film concerns a down-on-his-luck Samurai who arrives at a palace with the intention of performing ritual suicide, only to discover that a previous visitor once visited with the same request and from then on, a mystery starts unfolding as the link between the two men is brought to light; the film is masterfully directed, the story is original and engrossing, and the few fight sequences are brilliantly choreographed.

High and Low (1963)

An excellent non-Samurai film from Akira Kurosawa, this film concerns a kidnapping and the very detailed and intricate investigation that follows; it’s of course directed so skillfully by the great filmmaker and additionally, the film is constantly engrossing, even with a hefty runtime, and it brings the rich/poor divide to light without ever being preachy or manipulative.

Rush (2013)

Just as James Mangold did with Le Mans ’66, Ron Howard here makes the sport of Formula One car racing exciting and interesting and as such, the all important racing sequences are thrilling and the film also has a great story about a tumultuous rivalry and the leading performances from Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl are Brülliant brilliant.

Saint Frances (2019)

A film that would most definitely have been included in my Top Twenty of last year, had I been given the opportunity to see it, Saint Frances may be about a thirty something slacker who attempts to get her life back on track but far from the obvious outing it could’ve been, this film has an absolutely wonderful and smart script, making great use of several three dimensional and progressive characters, that manages to be funny and heartwarming but it also tackles some “heavy” themes in an insightful and very meaningful way. What a treat and a very special film – I loved and appreciated every minute of it.

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