Mr. Jones (2020) Film Review

Holodomor is not a character from either Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.

Instead, it translates from the Ukranian words holod “hunger” and mor “plague”. As such, it was a man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine in 1932 and 1933 that killed millions. Since 2006, the Holodomor has been recognized by Ukraine and 15 other countries (sadly not including the United Kingdom)as a genocide of the Ukrainian people carried out by the Soviet government.

Mr. Jones is based on the true story of a Welsh journalist who first publicized in the Western world, without equivocation and under his own name, the existence of the Holodomor. A decision which might well have cost him his a life a few years later.

But back to Mr. Jones and at times it feels more like a biography of it’s central character than the story he exposed and whilst I don’d mind that on one level, on another, Gareth Jones is a very bland person about whom we learn next to nothing. He doesn’t drink, smoke or seemingly have any interest in men or women let alone a sense of humor. Which… given that he is a real person is probably what he was like but it does make it harder to empathize with him as much as I should when he slips his Soviet handler and goes exploring in Ukraine where he sees and experiences the horrors that man is truly capable of when pushed past the point of no return.

At that point, when Jones leaves Moscow and enters the bleakly shot frozen Ukraine, I felt this film showing me that whilst journalists were partying and drinking in Moscow whilst parroting Stalins lies there were so many stores worth telling out there and it shows how, even back then, manufactured or ‘fake news’ almost drowned out the truth.

Sadly though, this is not a perfect film, leaving aside the fact that seemingly the only advertising this film received in the UK was a slot on the Andrew Marrr show meaning that I nearly missed it, this film spends too much time setting the scene, Jones maneuvers in Moscow to get into Ukraine and not enough on what happens whilst there and when he tries to get the truth out upon his return to London.

Not that I wanted to spend any more time in the Ukraine but this loops back to what I was saying, had I gotten a handle on Mr. Jones as a feeling, thinking human being than almost an invented POV character to show the audience what happened, and no words of mine can ever adequately describe what this film gets across with a few cold children singing nor, more to the point do I wish to even try.

Mr. Jones is a film about an important story in almost any hour. A horror that almost sleeps to be slipping out of the public mind with barely a whisper (I never heard about this at any point of my own schooling.)

The film is impeccably well acted, cast and shot. The director Agnieszka Holland deserves to be praised to the heavens instead of condemned to have made an important film that almost no-one will ever see.

But people should see this film.

People need to see this film.

Even if it needed a shorter first act to allow for a longer second and third.

Even if it needed to develop it’s lead more.

People need to remember.

Both the name Gareth Jones and the Holodomor.

My Score- See It 

 

Birds of Prey (2020) Film Review

Well that was fun.

I mean fun in a sugar rush, rot your teeth kind of way kind of way but fun nonetheless.

I mean in a… was this film shown to any adults before release or did you film a second, more boring, traditional superhero film and show that to the suits instead of this or did you threaten to release the photos from the Christmas party if they didn’t pony up the money to make this?

On one level it doesn’t really bother me but scriptgremlins got lose in Starbucks with a laptop again and now want’s funding for ‘Attack of the 50 foot snake worshipers of the snake god in 9d.’ And I can only hide my wallet in so many places.

But, now it’s safely in the soap dish (the last place it will look,) we an get back to Birds of Prey or as I’ve been calling it. DC’s Deadpool.

Which in and of itself is no bad thing. In some ways it’s better than Deadpool, the villain actually poses a threat, the energy levels of this film is amazing- Harley Quinn is clearly the role that Margot Robbie was born to play and I loved the wide array and variety of practical effects that the film displayed. You’ve also got Obi-Wan Kenobi playing a villain who alternates between an almost comical level of buffoonery and skin crawling evil in a heartbeat.

On the other hand… films that are shot like their high on ‘sugar’ and never stop for breath tend to leave me feeling a little punch-drunk and after a while I started feeling a little bored.

But on the other, other hand, how can this movie slow down? In just over 100 minutes it has to basically reset the scene after the disaster that was Suicide Squad, establish a new Status Quo for Harley Quinn, work as a soft introduction film for the Birds of Prey and function as a film in it’s own right? No wonder this thing barely pauses for breath.

I mean, imagine if you will, a film whereupon Harley Quinn breaks up with the Joker (thus losing the protection that the relationship offered her) then via script which feels like a Guy Ritchie script was thrown into a blender with the Inception script and then rewritten by a ten year old after a full packet of coca pops and you pretty much have Birds of Prey and the stupidly long title that no-one outside of this films marketing team is using.

I mean it worked when I was sitting in my screening but as I got the train home, I began to realize how thin the character’s were, how much better the dialogue could have been and frankly, for a film starring such an anarchic character, this film feels very traditional. I mean it’s well dressed up but it’s still a very standard film by the end.

But it is great fun to watch and clearly has no intention on being the new Citizen Kane but I just feel that with some snappier dialogue they might have not needed to have so much hyperactive editing. Which might have allowed me to enjoy this films many, many fight scenes a little more. But I did feel like this film made the most of it’s 15 rating though even if at some points I was thinking ‘Now this would have caught the attention of the Bat, I get why they don’t show him- he doesn’t technically exist within the DCEU at this point but a throwaway line about how he’s disappeared wouldn’t have hurt.

At the end of the day though, this is a fun romp in very bad taste. It could have have had better writing, developed it’s characters a little more but I liked it for what it was… a mid-budget superhero film that introduces a lot of new concepts, characters and ideas whilst still being a fun ride and not simply advertising 10 other films that don’t exist yet but I doubt I’ll ever think about or watch it again.

Oh, and to all the people complaining about the fact that this film is ‘under-performing’ at the box office and how it’s such a great comic book film which deserves more recognition, word-of-mouth and money in the till I have only one thing to say.

Welcome to Mega City One perps.

I’ll see you next time.

My Score- If Nothing Else 

 

Underwater Review

Look around.

Look up.

Look down.

Fix every single detail in your mind for all time.

Because this is the last film to be released under the 20th Century Fox name, before the name was changed to 20th Century Studios by Disney, after their acquisition of Fox and its assets.

Allegedly 200 other films were not so lucky.

But hey, as long as you can now engage in the philosophical debate as to whether or not the xenomorph is now a Disney princess, who cares?

Me.

I care.

Because DISNEY OWNS EVERYTHING and I fail to see how this benefits cinema in the long/ short/medium term

But… dragging myself back on topic and we find that seven miles underwater no-one can hear you be mildly interested. We also find that no problem can’t be solved without getting your female actors to climb out of their seemingly Warhammer inspired diving suits and run around in their underwear for a few minutes. At times it even gets a bit creepy.

Anyway, the plots that old ditty to which we can all sing along to… Humanity went somewhere it wasn’t supposed to go, did something t wasn’t supposed to and now… something has arrived to inform us of our mistake.

And this film knows why were here and hits the ground running- within the first two minutes- Kristen Stuart apparently remembering that being an indie darling doesn’t put Lamborghini’s on driveways and hoping to be in a commercial film that actually turns a profit is Ripley… sorry, Norah, who, whilst trying to brush her teeth (no seriously, that’s how we meet her- dental hygiene is important Dunkers!) is forced to condemn loads of off-screen unnamed people to death and then try to work out what’s going on and get back to the surface.

And there’s your film. It’s really… I’ll be kind and say ‘efficient’ with it’s editing as I get the feeling that this film didn’t have the largest budget ever known to man and more than once our characters seem to have been saved by the power of jump-cut rather than anything they’ve done but the body-count goes up at a fair old rate inventive and tense rate so I’m happy to keep my toys inside my pram.

With the exception of T.J. Millers annoying character I didn’t mind the rest of the people on screen and thankfully Miller doesn’t get much of the films lean 95 minute (including credits) run-time.

I liked that the monsters aren’t explained or even really seen clearly, they and a couple their mates just turn up and start wrecking things which is pretty much all I want from a movie monster.

Never forget that what you don’t know is almost always scarier than what you do.

And that’s about it. Underwater is lean, mean enjoyable thriller that hits the ground running and never really stops or lets the tension ebb away completely. I’m not really convinced that their habitat or Space Marine cosplay suits would be anything other than crushed in a heartbeat in reality or what anyone’s name is but that’s no bad thing in a film like this. It’s not likely to dislodge 1998’s Deep Rising  as my favorite underwater monster movie but it’s a hell of a lot better than a film which was released three years after it was shot has any right to be.

It’s not the send off that this studio deserved or needed but Underwater is a fine film to throw on when you’ve got some mate over and just want to throw something on the background to have a beer or six to.

And sometimes that’s all a film like this needs to be.

My Score- If Nothing Else 

Dolittle (2020) Film Review

If I could walk with the animals, talk with the animals…

Then I would tell them to go and see something, anything else because this is the worst film with talking animals that I’ve seen since Cats! Actually, I think this might be the worst film I’ve seen since Cats full stop.

Which is a shame because on one level this is the kid of swashbuckling nonsense that used to be the bread and butter of kids movies for decades. I mean a retired explorer (played by Iron Man himself) being dragged out of retirement to save the Queen of England by questing to find a fruit that might not even exist whilst being pursued by a relentless enemy (Michael Sheen – one of the many, many cast member enjoying a lovely break from acting) should be a fun and enjoyable romp.

Should be.

But isn’t.

Where to start?

I mean, if I list everything wrong with Dolittle then i’m going to give Cinemasins a run for their money but It’s pretty much all I’ve got because the pro list for this film consists of – didn’t set the auditorium on fire and kept my nephew quiet for 101 minutes (including credits).

On the negative side…

I had no idea who the central character was. I mean you would think it would be Iron Man and his amazingly awful Welsh accent but he can’t decide if he’s playing Sherlock Holmes or a wacky slapstick inventor and besides all the narration is done by Emma Thompson’s parrot Polly but she’s got no ark so it might be erm…. boy…. played by a nobody who’s mother must be very proud as he play’s Iron Man’ protegee but the film seems to forget he exists half the time so I doubt it’s him either and there just isn’t anybody else with enough screen-time to even come close to ‘Central character.

The CGI ranges from pretty good to someones first day, the animals cant decide if they want to be cartoonish anthropomorphous versions of themselves or realistic versions of themselves. Their all played by A-list actors who seem to want to be somewhere, anywhere else but are hanging on for their paycheck.

The dialogue is full of modern slang and if I had a shot for every joke aimed below the waist then i’d be as drunk as the person who gave this film a 175 million dollar (not including advertising) budget. And i’d make George Best look like a teetotaller after what passes for this films ‘thrilling climax.’

If I wore a watch anymore then I would have checked it more during this films run-time than for the last six months, the films writers seem to have been having some sort of competition to see who could come up with the mot pointless, irrelevant, go nowhere sub-plot and to my money the winner is the one who game up with the psychotic squirrel subplot.

That’s nothing to get excited about.

Sit back down.

The action scenes normally feature Dolittle mugging to camera whilst a CGI threat is attacking him from another angle but their never exciting or thrilling in any way shape or form and even my nephew was getting fidgety by the end.

Did I mention at time of writing this film has a lower Rotten Tomatoes score than Cats? I feel like that should be mentioned.

The dialogue is full of modern pop culture references, all the human actors look vaguely embarrassed to be on set and the whole film feels like it’s been massively re-shot by three different directors aiming for three different tones tones (which it was and boy dos it show.)

Also, the umber of jokes which didn’t fall flatter than a jelly baby that’s been run over by several tanks was smaller than the amount of dates my script-guy has had in the last 20 years which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

And where, might I ask was the push me pull you!?!?

On the plus side I… Er…. wasn’t attacked by an angry swarm of wasps during my screening?

Summing up, Dolittle has a solid idea for an old style ticking clock romp but everything that could go wrong, did go wrong, and I’m half convinced that this has been released as some sort of tax write off. I can’t think of a single positive thing to say other than it’s over, I survived and I’m fairly sure any child that buys tickets for this is actually just going to try to slip into Birds of Prey instead of actually setting foot in the auditorium.

Works for me.

My Score- Bomb

The Rhythm Section Review

Yikes.

I mean you’d think the one thing that EON Productions (short for Everything or Nothing) would be competent at would be adapting a book series about a spy into a film that could turn a profit. I mean they’ve only been doing it since 1962 and turned it into one of the most profitable and long-running franchises of all time of which I can pretty much guarantee 125% of people reading this review have seen at least one.

(Subtle hint- I expect you to talk)

But here we are with The Rhythm Section which -at time of writing- is the proud owner of the worst opening weekend ever for a film playing in over 3,000 theaters. (It is estimated the film will lose the studio $30–40 million. Which, on a budget of a mere 50 million is quite the feat.)

I mean, this is no classic of the spy or indeed any other genre and I doubt I’ll ever think about it again after i’m through with this review but it’s a perfectly functional origin story in it’s own right.

Sadly though, that’s about all i’m prepared to confirm because the whole thing is shot in the realistic style of a sub par Jason Bourne film which meant that I spent the while film wondering if I was going to develop a migraine and when the inevitable twist was going to happen.

I mean, one level it’s a shame as Blake Lively (a really good actor that Hollywood has no idea what to do with) gives an amazing performance as Stephanie Patrick, a woman seeking revenge against those who orchestrated a plane crash that killed her family.

Nice, simple, effective plot around which to build a globetrotting spy thriller, unfortunately, that’s pretty much where the good news stops. Remove Lively’s performance and this is a really dull film with dull cardboard characters doing dull things in situations that are never allowed to develop with a camera that always seems about two seconds from burrowing up the leads left nostril.

One thing I did really like is that unlike the protagonists in Atomic Blonde, Red Sparrow and La Femme Nikita our heroine is someone basically bungles everything and yet that makes you root for her more. I mean, it wouldn’t have taken much for this almost to become a comedy in the vein of 2015’s Spy but playing it straight was the right call here. It fitted what could have been an interesting take on the price of revenge, yet despite being 109 minutes long this film just efficiently sets itself up, gets going and then motors efficiently to an efficient if slightly dull conclusion.

Moments that could have thrilled didn’t, moments that could have been tense weren’t and then the moments where our characters reflect on the consequences of their actions didn’t go anywhere near the levels of analysis that they deserved.

The films full of pointless flashbacks that don’t add anything to the narrative, slow the pace down and are so sickly sweet that I half wondered if they had been spliced in from  completely different movie by a mind numbingly  bored editor.

None of our characters receive any form of development after their first thirty seconds of screen time which doesn’t really matter for a target doomed to die but a bit of an issue for our lead, her trainer, a character doomed to die to aid the lead in her development or or indeed anyone who were supposed to give a stuff about.

Oh, the Rhythm Section comes from a thing that Law’s character says abut how you have to get everything in a rhythm before you can shoot someone- like the rhythm section of an orchestra. I think. It wasn’t made very clear.

Did this film deserve to become the bomb that it has? Not really, it’s got the air of one off those films that always seems to be on TV and ‘ll catch if i’m channel hoping. But I wouldn’t dream of seeking it out.

And from the looks of things, neither will you.

My Score- If Nothing Else 

Invasion Planet Earth Review

Have you ever had a dream? Something that you’ve wanted to do your whole life and then one day you achieve that dream and see it on the silver screen? And i’m not talking about the local arthouse cinema that you can hire out to show to some semi-supportive mates either. I mean, crowdfund a film. Then get that film to be shown by actual cinemas plural to be seen by actual people? And get that film reviewed by The Guardian?

Because that’s exactly what writer director Simon Cox has managed with Invasion: Planet Earth and for that achieving that I award him my complete and total respect.

Which does not in any way shape or form correlate to me pulling my critical punches because… oh boy. Have we got a live one here today folks.

I mean, I will say that Invasion is better than the last crowdfunded film I saw which somehow managed to make moon Nazi’s fighting lizard people in the center of the Earth boring but that ain’t saying much.

Also, just because you can do something, and film alone knows how many hoops the team that made this had to jump through doesn’t really mean you should.

Look, the films plot description: After the death of his young daughter, Thomas Dunn is a man who has lost his faith. On the day he finds out his wife is pregnant again, aliens invade the Earth.

Made this sound like a blend of Skyline and Signs of the budget of a Doctor Who episode and whilst i’m one of the maybe nine people alive who not only remember but quite like Skyline – a nice twist on the alien invasion formula whereupon E.T. arrives and promptly wipes the floor with us without breaking a sweat, reminding the world that Shyamalan exists?

Bad form old chap.

But it is a good strong core to build a film around and for years Star Trek has taught us that aliens look just like us but with bits of Plasticine on our foreheads and a bad haircut so the low budget isn’t really an issue here.

But, this isn’t the film I thought. I mean, I don’t know what film the tagline writer saw but this not War of the Worlds meets Independence day. Not even close. Instead, I would have swapped out one of them (and no, I won’t say which) for The Day The Earth Stood Still (The proper version, not that abomination from a few years ago with Keanu Reeves) but whatever works.

Because, this is a film with ideas, it has things it wants to say and some actually pretty interesting ideas about how to say them, even if it’s sometimes a little muddled as to what that is, it’s just that….

Well, to call half the acting stiff is to be generous, the dialogue tries but could have done with some ‘slight’ work and the filming style looks like it’s straight out of 1983 along with roughly 85% of this film special effects.

Yeah, when I mentioned Doctor Who a few paragraphs ago, I didn’t mean modern ‘how many zero’s would you like in that budget?’ Who, I meant old school, half the monsters are made from bubble wrap Who. Sylvster McCoy Who. Peter Davidson Who. One special effect in particular made me burst out laughing and my wife almost look up from her phone.

But it worked, in the way that only a slightly janky film made with love and care can. No Marvel film can compete with the shear level of enjoyment I got from wondering exactly where we were going next and hat was going to happen to our leads as they tried their hardest.

No big budget blockbuster has had the effect that the ending had on me that this film has.

Does this film have flaws? Yes. Many many flaws, the script needed a few touches to clear up it’s narrative and address a few minor points, the shooting style needed updating, our groups ‘dirty secrets’ were completely obvious from the first time I saw them on screen and the special effects would have bee laughed out of Sy Fy.

But none of that matters because this was a passion project that could have been the British answer to The Room but instead raised itself above all this. It’s got a heart and a story that’s interesting and in a weird way I wish that this would be picked up by the BBC and turned into a show on CBBC as I could see this being loved by kids who could pick up it’s messages without realizing it.

This is going to become a cult hit and I for one await it’s hopeful sequel with baited breath and that Invasion Earth mug that I bought to help it be made holds one damn fine brew.

Scoring this is almost pointless as I know what I should give it but my heart and head are in complete conflict. But, sorry Mr. Cox, I have a dream too and I need to issue a score to help that come true.

So for the effort, passion and love behind the film I enjoyed so much, as well as the inspiring story of getting the damn thing onto my beloved silver screen (even if I saw it at home)

SEE IT NOW

But as a film? Judged in the same cold, dispassionate way I score every other film?

My Score- Skip It 

 

Queen & Slim Review

Another day, another amazing film full of incredible actors of color being completely overlooked overlooked by the Academy…

But if I ever start to care about the opinions of a group of (last time anyone checked) 70 year old white men then I’ll start going to more family gatherings.

Besides, the Oscars only exist to generate pub quiz questions and for Hollywood to pat itself on the back at how great it is and that’s not the message of this film.

Hoo boy is that not the message of this film.

But I get ahead of myself, Queen & Slim (A phrase never actually mentioned in the film itself) is a Black Lives Matter spin on Thelma & Louise. A phrase a friend of mine coined that I feel doesn’t even begin to explain this film. I mean yes, after a pretty tragic first date goes south, our two lead characters (who are named in the film but I felt would have had more impact were they left as two anonymous people trying to cope with a situation that they are just trying to survive whilst the public/social media perception of their actions make them hero’s to some and villains to others.) Are forced to go on the run, leaving their old lives behind them and only each other to rely on.

I would have liked the film to explain why our two leads are apparently somehow capable of telepathy at points in perhaps a hint to the directors (Melina Matsoukas,)  having previously only directed music videos and TV episodes or as a slightly over stylized camera trick but it was pretty much the only thing in this film that just didn’t work.

That and a slightly soggy second act are the only things that stopped me from absolutely loving this film. I mean do I even have to say that Daniel Kaluuya gives yet another amazing performance? Or that Jodie Turner-Smith matches him? Or that this… I guess road trip movie? Shows how little things have really changed in the last few decades?

It’s a film not afraid to take a moment to breathe, to humanize it’s main characters (thankfully in a flashback free fashion – try saying that five times fast.) But at a moments notice, even these fleeting moments of joy and humanity can be discarded as the tension quickly returns and we see the ripples that very large rock these two people inadvertently threw into the pool of American society having results that neither of them want or need.

It’s a powerful film, brimming over with things to say that sadly still need to be said and even worse are likely to need to be said for many years to come. It’s performances are amazing, it’s two lead characters well drawn and they actually feel like humans as opposed to props with the ability to talk. Even the side characters are interesting with their own points of view as they are affected by what has and what will happen.

It just needed a few small tweaks. Remove the weird telepathy editing, make the characters nameless and tighten up the second act a little. But this is a film that needs to be seen and it’s righteous anger felt.

My Score- See It