Blogging-wise, things went a little different for me in January because, astonishingly, I actually wrote some reviews! A far cry from last year, which was primarily filled with monthly roundups but nothing more. So with my thoughts for all the different film and TV having already been written, this will be a shorter monthly roundup than usual, summing up all the new releases that I saw and ranking them but I will of course finish things with my Best of the Rest.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
What a way to start the year. Writer/director Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical film is a beautifully filmed and excellently written nostalgic film about childhood and while it has its fair share of powerful moments in the sequences relating to The Troubles, it is at its best when it looks at the happier times, with central character Buddy spending time with his family (who are played most brilliantly by actors such as Caitríona Balfe and Ciarán Hinds) and experiencing such things as school, first love, Christmas, and the cinema. REVIEW
The 355 (2022)
★ ★ ★
Simon Kinberg’s new action/espionage film was decent, though ultimately forgettable, and while it became interesting enough during the middle section, it was ultimately hindered by an uninspired plot, frantic camerawork, and characters who were only okay. Though Diane Kruger was, admittedly, a total badass. REVIEW
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania (2022)
★ ★ ★
A film that will hardly make a mark on the world of animated films, but also one that will provide an hour or two of entertainment to young kids and families, the fourth entry in the animated franchise had nearly all of its surprises ruined by the trailer and, sadly, the jokes are in short supply. Still, it’s decent enough and Brian Hull replaces Adam Sandler quite well. REVIEW
★ ★ ★ ★
Reboots, remakes, sequels and “requels” are tricky things to pull off (heck, most are completely unasked for and unwanted) but this fifth Scream film handles itself very well, remaining faithful to the original while at the same time giving it a “modern” flavour. The script is good, the direction is adept, the young cast shines, and it is also admirably violent and brutal – the most “extreme” Scream film there’s been so far. REVIEW
Nightmare Alley (2021)
★ ★ ★ ★
Guillermo Del Toro’s latest film takes a little time to get going but things really do kick into gear as it moves into its second half, providing us with an expertly designed and absorbing noir/thriller that is particularly bolstered by the hypnotic sequences between Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett. The film is really a loving tribute to all the great film noirs of old and, having recently rewatched the original 1947 version, I’m of the opinion that, while Edmund Goulding’s adaptation had a better first half, Del Toro’s film has a superior second. REVIEW
Licorice Pizza (2021)
★ ★ ★
Much of the discourse surrounding this film seems to be about whether or not it’s inappropriate for the central relationship to be between a fifteen year old guy and a twenty five year old woman and I just have to start this little review by saying: no it’s not. Licorice Pizza is not an inappropriate or morally repugnant film and it never crosses any kind of line; there’s no sex or nudity, no inappropriate physical contact, and it works in the film’s favour that leading actor Cooper Hoffman carries himself with the confidence and swagger of an older actor and I’d even say that both he and co-star Alana Haim even look like they’re the same age. So no, this film’s central relationship isn’t wrong (you surely can’t point the finger at this film without also scrutinising films like Almost Famous and This is England – films that also make use of a young guy/older woman relationship) and the only real iffy part of this film is when several OLDER guys constantly hit on Alana, the reason for which kind of eludes me, if I’m being honest.
Now that that’s out of the way, we can discuss the rest of the film and while Licorice Pizza sure isn’t an inappropriate film, it is, I think, a boring one.
The feature starts off well enough as we’re introduced to this slightly unconventional friendship and it helps that both roles are played by two very decent performers; we get several witty lines during the feature and it’s all filmed in a similar manner to Anderson’s Inherent Vice, really creating a seventies aesthetic and really transporting us back to a different place and time.
But all of that can only sustain the film for so long and at around the halfway mark, the film simply starts to get really really dull as it lazily moves from scene to scene and “cameo to cameo” as we’re given a long, drawn-out (and utterly meaningless) sequence involving Sean Penn and Tom Waits, then moving on to Bradley Cooper’s bit (though he’s actually quite entertaining in this), before finally giving Benny Safdie his segment. It all just trudges on at a gruelling pace, all interesting plot developments and character becoming slowly abandoned, and the tumultuous love/hate relationship between Hoffman’s Gary and Haim’s Alana ends up being very repetitive and irksome.
Personally, though I was optimistic about the film going in, it all ultimately proved to be a very testing cinema experience as it eventually got to the point where I desperately wanted the film to end and I even half-considered simply walking out – a feeling that I know I also experienced with Inherent Vice. Ratings-wise, it’s a two and a half star film but as the performances were good and the general look of the film was, objectively speaking, very accomplished, I’ll be generous and bump it up to a three. Only just, though.
And in order of personal preference, it’s:
- Nightmare Alley
- The 355
- Hotel Transylvania: Transformania
- Licorice Pizza
Wow, a Paul Thomas Anderson film below an admittedly generic action film and a film from the Hotel Transylvania franchise. Guess I’ll go run away and hide now, huh?
The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window
★ ★ ★
Despite its appalling title, TWIT HATS (that’s just part of the acronym, he he) has a decent, binge worthy crop of episodes directly in the middle of its run (the ones that focus primarily on drama, rather than comedy) but the series makes a very serious mistake in trying to make the show both a comedy and a thriller, resulting in a tonal imbalance which ultimately turns the series into a bit of a mess. But there is a seventh act revelation that was, unintentionally I suppose, properly laugh-out-loud funny, given its sheer ridiculousness. REVIEW
The Best of the Rest
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
Ridley Scott’s Crusades-set epic has plenty of those exciting, brutal, violent and expertly directed battle scenes that we’ve come to expect from him and, even though many areas of the plot must’ve gone over my head, the film did benefit from having a really interesting main character, one who is brave and particularly committed to his honour.
That Thing You Do! (1996)
Tom Hanks’ film cleverly mirrors the story of The Beatles and is a really really fun film that has colourful characters and great music. The title track is an absolute belter.
Barry Levinson’s film has a very strong first half (the second, which takes place in the courtroom, not so much) and it’s all pleasingly filmed, the scenes inside the prison are absolutely brutal and genuinely horrific to watch, and Robert De Niro has surely never been cooler as the sympathetic Father Bobby.
The Spectacular Now (2013)
This is a particularly impressive film which deftly avoids the tropes and clichés of the coming of age/teen drama genre thanks to its intelligent, thoughtful, and emotional script, which primarily features a complex, well written and three dimensional protagonist; Miles Teller is often cool, charming, fun and highly charismatic, Shailene Woodley is sweet and likeable, and the film can often be a touching and absorbing tale of young love, perfectly capable of reminding us what it was like to be in a new relationship at that age.