The Plain, Simple Review of the Month: August 2021

Ten brand new (well, not all of them are, actually) 2021 films to talk about this month – a lovely even number – and many of them are pretty darn great. Let’s have a look . . .

2021 Releases

The Suicide Squad (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

I, not so fondly, recall the time I saw Suicide Squad for the first time: I really hated it and I angrily muttered my way home, whereupon I got straight to work writing a particularly angry and overwhelmingly negative review. Ah, the days when I wasn’t so lazy and apathetic and could write a review in half an hour . . .

But now here we are in 2021 with a brand new Suicide Squad, helmed by GOTG‘s James Gunn, and we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief because this film is clearly superior to the abysmal 2016 trashfest and has a lot going for it.

Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is, thankfully, a fun, colourful, and visually interesting film and it makes use of many characters who we really care about – a far cry from the awful team who featured in the 2016 film – and in particular, Margot Robbie continues to prove that the role of Harley Quinn is hers and hers alone (though Birds of Prey remains the best showcase for her character in the DCEU so far), Idris Elba delivers on both the action sequences and the more emotional stuff in his role of Bloodsport, Daniela Melchior brings the heart as Ratcatcher 2, David Dastmalchian provides tragi-comedy as the troubled Polka-dot Man, and Sylvester Stallone voices the best character of the piece: King Shark.

But although this film is comfortably an improvement on David Ayer’s 2016 film, I have to admit that I didn’t love it and wasn’t as enthusiastic about it as I see others have been; it’s a bright, fun, colourful, inventive and impressively violent film but I wouldn’t exactly call it the best CBM that there’s been.

Stillwater (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

I was in two minds about whether I was going to see this film or not – like, seriously considering just bailing, despite the fact that I’d booked a ticket – but I’m glad that I decided to go because Stillwater is a great film that really priorities character development and as such, the characters here are really interesting (despite being “everyday people”) and thanks to the strong script and powerful performances, it’s easy to support them as they go along and even when they’re doing commonplace things like eating, fixing things or going to events, we can really enjoy watching them in their daily lives.

I also really appreciated how, although the film was set up to be a story primarily about a father seeking justice for his daughter, it eventually transpired that the film wasn’t really about that at all – rather, it was a story about “letting go”, seeing the world through new eyes (as highlighted by the excellent final scene), and discovering a new way of living, in amongst a whole new family/friendship unit. But it actually was a shame that the film eventually “copped out” by reverting to the original “seeking justice” story and went in a direction that I was expecting (and fearing) it to go in. Plus, it’s a particularly long film.

The film makes use of some lush cinematography, Matt Damon is quietly powerful and most excellent in the leading role, the young girl is a real treasure, and even though this film has drawn criticism for its comparisons to the Amanda Knox case, this wasn’t an issue for me at all because I have absolutely no knowledge about said case and so, blessed with the power of ignorance, I was fully able to enjoy Stillwater as a piece of complete fiction.

Jungle Cruise (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

Regarding Jungle Cruise, I’ve seen varied reviews – some proclaiming their enjoyment for it and others calling it out for being terrible – but, throwing my two cents in, I’d say that this film is a very enjoyable romp and if you just relax and switch your brain off while watching, you’ll have a good time watching it. I really don’t understand the reasons for the few scathing reviews.

True, the constant CGI and rapid editing was troublesome and certain sections were too slow, but I did find Jungle Cruise to be a fun and entertaining film (I’d say that it actually had more entertainment value than The Suicide Squad) with a romping score from James Newton Howard as well as charismatic and lively performances from Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, and Jesse Plemons.

It definitely needs to be seen in cinemas, in amongst a large group of people, not on Disney Plus.

Another Round (2020)

★ ★ ★ ★

Another one of those pesky 2020 Academy Award nominees that everyone and their mums have apparently already seen, I didn’t find Another Round to be as amazing as most are making it out to be but it’s still a very good film nonetheless; I don’t feel as though it was a particularly deep film (though maybe, as I don’t drink and I don’t know anyone who drinks excessively, I naturally missed the point) but it does show how alcohol can both improve your life and also really damage it and the film benefits from Thomas Vinterberg’s assured direction as well as the talented cast who portray our flawed protagonists – it’s fun spending time with them and we also really feel for them when things go wrong.

Free Guy (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

From now on, I’ll certainly think twice about the way I treat NPCs in GTA!

Another film, like Jungle Cruise, that has oodles of entertainment value, Free Guy is a fun and visually exciting film that’s really a love letter to open world games like GTA and Fortnite (I’m guessing. Never played it.) and as such, it contains so many elements that gamers will really savour, but it’s also a film that has a nice message about not having to be so vicious while gaming and that being a good guy for a change isn’t bad at all.

The film has really great and colourful special effects as well as lively performances from its cast; Ryan Reynolds is as cheeky and as funny as ever and the film also makes use of a few surprising cameos – the identity behind a vocal performance right at the beginning is insanely obvious from the get-go and there’s also a KILLER cameo right at the end.

And all those YouTubers – I’m guessing they were real people, yes? I really wouldn’t know.

Don’t Breathe 2 (2021)

★ ★ ★

Fede Alvarez’s Don’t Breathe was a most impressive and original horror film – taking place in a single confined space, introducing us to a particularly lethal, dangerous and clever villain, and demonstrating some most excellent direction which resulted in a very tense and unnerving horror/thriller film – and when it comes to the sequel (this time helmed by Don’t Breathe co-scribe Rodo Sayagues), Don’t Breathe 2 will provide audiences with a perfectly satisfying cinema experience but saying that, the film isn’t nearly as atmospheric nor as tense as its predecessor and is overall a far less original or memorable feature.

Unfortunately, Sayagues’ direction falls short of the standard set by Alvarez in the first one and although the film is admirably violent and brutal when it needs to be (and although there’s a particularly impressive one-shot sequence towards the beginning of the film), Don’t Breathe 2 doesn’t really bring the chills and tension that’s needed in a film like this and at the end of the day, this is probably because Don’t Breathe was such an original and memorable horror film in its own right that it didn’t need a sequel and this film, good though it may be, is ultimately rather unnecessary in the long run.

But looking at the positives, the film does indeed “up the ante” by having as the Blind Man’s obstacles, not a group of opportunistic and silly teens, but a dangerous bunch of heavily armed and unforgiving ex-soldiers as well as a couple of truly detestable antagonists, revealed towards the end of the film, and the feature does treat us to several well orchestrated action sequences. Regarding the cast, Stephen Lang once again dominates the screen and is clearly very tough and relentless as the Blind Man, this time letting us see two sides of his character as we realise that yes, he has been a cold blooded killer in the past, but that there is also some real good within him, and young Madelyn Grace is a remarkably strong co-lead as she matches Lang in the acting stakes and appears vulnerable and lost in some parts, while also being tough and brave in many other scenes.

The Courier (2020)

★ ★ ★

I’ve heard this one described as an example of “dad cinema” and I guess that I can see why – it’s a slightly dry true-life story of an unassuming man who finds himself tasked with ferrying Soviet secrets back to the allies, only to later face some really harsh repercussions – but although this film isn’t exactly “sexy”, it still has several good moments in there, particularly in the moments that explore Greville Wynn’s friendship with the Russian mole or when he’s made to endure some horribly harsh treatment. Benedict Cumberbatch provides a great performance as the Hitchcockian “wrong man”, backed up by good supporting turns from Jessie Buckley, Rachel Brosnahan and Merab Ninidze, and this really is an important, real life story that provides some information about a man who we may not have previously been aware of, but at the same time, The Courier will surely not be remembered for very long and the film is regrettably too dry, dusty and “safe”.

Reminiscence (2021)

★ ★ ★

Although the sometimes slow pace often becomes an issue, the story meanders quite a bit and doesn’t know when to end, the constant monologues can become too overbearing and disingenuous, and Hugh Jackman – as critic Robbie Collin pointed out – isn’t quite the “hardboiled private dick” type, Reminiscence is an interesting and engaging enough “sci-fi noir”, with touches of InceptionAssasain’s CreedChinatown, and The Big Sleep thrown in (there’s even a brief “for the fans only” reference to the latter that I’m proud to have picked up on), Rebecca Ferguson and Thandiwe Newton put in some great performances, and the scene in which a black and white memory is projected onto a screen is the best scene in the film.

But I’ve also seen that someone on Twitter has called this film “this generation’s Blade Runner“. No. Just no.

The Night House (2020)

★ ★ ★ ★

Far better than the trailer would have you believe, The Night House provides us with a delicious puzzle at the centre of the story (ideal for someone like me who often has trouble fully switching off during a film) and it ultimately ends up being open to multiple interpretations and doesn’t necessarily give us many easy answers or a proper sense of closure – were there really sinister forces at work or was it all a metaphor for coping with loss, admitting your feelings, and dealing with suicidal thoughts?

In addition, the film builds up an atmosphere that is subtly menacing and tense (though there are two explicit jump scares which really did “get” me) and it is all strengthened by David Bruckner’s effective direction – using optical illusions quite nicely and keeping a steady pace throughout – as well as a solid central performance from the great Rebecca Hall, showing us a character who is clearly very intelligent and who deals with her grief in a very believable manner, forced humour/smiling/snarky comments and everything; she really does have a good face for horror.

So although I wasn’t fussed with the first 10/15 minutes, this horror/thriller/mystery impressed me and I’m glad that I saw it, despite the so-so trailer.

Candyman (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

Bernard Rose’s Candyman certainly had some original ideas and it probably scared a whole generation of kids back in the early nineties with its Candyman lore and the promise of courting doom if you said his name five times whilst looking into a mirror but having watched it for the first time the other week, I’d say that it hasn’t aged particularly well and the whole film was bang average, in my opinion.

But now, in the 21st century, we have Jordan Peele’s Nia DaCosta’s Candyman and her remake/reboot/sequel is a film that greatly improves on what came before thanks to its confident and smart direction as well as its winning performances and effective music. In particular, the writers do a good job in tying the Candyman lore to the historic mistreatment of black people in America, suggesting that certain horrific acts created the feared monster, and it really does expand on what came before, in Rose’s original film, although the “logistics” of how Candyman operates and who he actually is were presented a bit confusingly and I, for one, was left with a few questions after its surprisingly abrupt ending. And I suppose that many of the characters were a little two dimensional.

But aside from that, this Candyman is a satisfying and unsettling film and the biggest praise goes to DaCosta’s direction because she cleverly avoids showing many of the kills, preferring instead to let us see them from a distance or from around corners or in reflections, and furthermore, the shadow puppetry was used brilliantly and I found it interesting that, towards the beginning, Candyman appeared to “operate”, not in the open, but through reflective surfaces and all of this was shown very cleverly on screen.

And, God bless ’em, they even put Sammy Davis Jr.’s titular song right at the beginning. During those cleverly mirrored studio logos.

And in order of personal preference, it’s:

  1. Stillwater
  2. The Night House
  3. Free Guy
  4. Candyman
  5. Another Round
  6. The Suicide Squad
  7. Jungle Cruise
  8. Don’t Breathe 2
  9. Reminiscence
  10. The Courier

2021 Television

Love, Victor (Series Two)

★ ★ ★ ★

The first season of this Disney Plus original was a nice little spinoff of Love, Simon with a decent narrative and likeable characters, though comparisons between this TV show and the film were perhaps unavoidable and as such, when compared to the film, Love, Victor also appeared a bit too “slight” and didn’t quite reach the heights of the motion picture.

But when it comes to the second series, it’s clear that it is far less reliant on its “big brother” and this time around, the series truly steps out from Love, Simon‘s shadow, finds its feel and really does its own thing. Heck, Victor effectively cuts ties with Simon in this series when he discovers that he’s confident enough to make his own decisions and to live his own life: a perfect reflection on the show itself.

The series improves on its predecessor by giving its supporting characters “meatier” stories – with Felix struggling to help his mom, Mia dealing with some of her dad’s decisions, Isabelle gradually coming to terms with Victor’s sexuality and growing more distant from the church, and Pilar discovering that she had a crush on Felix – and overall, the writing just seems more confident and the cast perhaps demonstrate more of their abilities than they did before.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Series Four)

★ ★ ★ ★

When I reviewed the first season of the acclaimed Margaret Atwood adaptation, I was more than happy to give it five stars, proclaiming it to be a particularly powerful, relevant and dramatic series that boasted strong direction, striking visuals, and an astounding performance from Elisabeth Moss and although this series is still technically a strong one, I also feel as though the show is past its prime and should’ve ended a season or two ago.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a good series (well, I am giving it four stars) but I also feel as though the series isn’t offering us anything that we haven’t seen before and I wonder just how much life is left in the series; a number of the episodes appear as filler (the episode set on the boat was a particularly inconsequential one) and the story doesn’t pack the same punch as the one from series one.

But Ann Dowd is still crushing it as the villainous, yet conflicted, Aunt Lydia and Elisabeth Moss still dominates the screen as June, although she appears far less likeable in this series and too many of the episodes simply have her staring into the camera, or at the sky, or at something or other, and the directors go overboard with her “eye choreography”!

The Best of the Rest

Thank You For Smoking (2005)

Jason Reitman’s film about a charismatic tobacco lobbyist boasts some slick direction, a sharp script, and a wonderfully magnetic central performance from Aaron Eckhart.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)

Definitely my kind of film: it’s creepy, atmospheric and hypnotic, the three main characters are memorable, and above all else, it’s unapologetically violent and bloody, never pussyfooting around as we watch the evil characters kill numerous innocent people for kicks.

Stop Making Sense (1984)

Jonathan Demme’s film has often been hailed as the greatest concert film of all time but while I don’t think that it’s perfect, it is also very entertaining and has plenty of (psycho) killer Talking Heads tunes. I want to holiday inside David Byrne’s head, wear his big suit, and learn his dope dance moves.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One (2010) and Part Two (2011)

This month, I rewatched all the Harry Potter films and eventually made it to the two I hadn’t seen before and they really are two impressive films; screenwriter Steve Kloves did a great job in adapting them to the screen, taking out the stuff from the books that didn’t quite work, the music, cinematography and special effects are a treat, and the finale is satisfyingly epic.

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