Red Notice: Film Review

Netflix

You would be forgiven for thinking that a big-budget blockbuster featuring not one but three A-list action stars would be any good – I certainly went in with high expectations for Red Notice and came away thoroughly disappointed.

The action begins in Rome, where John Hartley (Dwayne Johnson), an FBI profiler, is helping Interpol’s Inspector Urvashi Das (Ritu Arya) and her team protect a priceless gold egg that once belonged to Cleopatra. But it turns out they’re too late as art thief Nolan Booth (Ryan Reynolds) has already stolen the egg and replaced it with a fake! That sparks the beginning of a cat-and-mouse chase, which becomes even more complicated when rival art thief The Bishop (Gal Gadot) gets involved, as she wants the egg to complete the set of three.

Rawson Marshall Thurber, who has already worked with Johnson twice, has assembled such a high calibre action star cast for his heist comedy. Considering all three actors are already proven to be capable of leading their own action blockbusters, you would expect them being brought together for one film would make it three times more fun and awesome. But you would be wrong – they don’t really seem to excel in each other’s company. Perhaps it’s a case of too many cooks? I like them in their individual movies but working together here, I felt like they cancelled each other out and were acting at each other rather than with; it hardly ever gelled or clicked.

Reynolds plays the same part he always does and his trademark motor-mouth wise-cracking shtick has mixed results. It’s not always funny, but he still brings the most comedy value to the film and you can tell that he worked hard to come up with alternate gags on the spot. He is the funniest thing in the film, but that’s probably because Thurber – who also wrote the screenplay – relies on his witty one-liners, banter and meta references and we don’t get many other comedic moments elsewhere.

Johnson comes across as much more serious and bland in comparison to the kooky Reynolds, even though I usually find him pretty funny in his other films. His character also has to be rather vague which doesn’t help with the blandness issue and Hartley makes choices that initially don’t make any sense. It was refreshing to see Gadot as a playful character – a sexy femme fatale type who is cheeky, light-hearted and a tease. She looked gorgeous and put her action skills to good use.

The plot features many twists and turns and double-crossing that probably wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny so I’d recommend leaving your brain at the door and letting the ridiculousness of it all wash over you. The film is nowhere near as funny as I’d expected it to be, most of the action scenes were rote and unexciting, the CGI seemed quite budget at times, and the whole thing felt formulaic, generic and forgettable.

This makes it sound like I hated Red Notice so I must concede that it’s enjoyable enough, had some good moments and a handful of laugh-out-loud opportunities – but I just expected it to be much better given the all-star cast involved.

Streaming on Netflix from Friday 12th November

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Mothering Sunday: Film Review

Lionsgate

Odessa Young and Josh O’Connor lead Eva Husson‘s period romance drama as housemaid Jane Fairchild and her wealthy family’s friend Paul Sheringham, respectively.

The film revolves around one Mother’s Day in 1924. The Nivens – Colin Firth and Olivia Colman – are off out for a picnic with the Sheringhams and give their maid Jane the day off, so she enjoys a steamy illicit afternoon with Paul, despite the fact he’s supposed to be there too.

Although the narrative revolves around their sexual encounter, the film jumps back in time to reveal more backstory and how Jane and Paul met while also jumping forward to the 1940s, with Jane now in a relationship with Donald (Sope Dirisu), and again to the present day, with Jane as a writer played by Glenda Jackson.

I can appreciate why Husson chose to jump around so much – the film would have been rather dull and ordinary if it went in chronological order and it helps maintain some intrigue about the characters as you don’t learn everything about them straight away. But she got too carried away with this narrative technique. The scenes within the three major timeframes (1918-1924, the 1940s, present) aren’t even assembled in chronological order; it really is all over the place and there are no time stamps to help you so it is rather confusing and disorientating. At the start of every scene, you have to figure out which timeframe you’re in and where it fits in context with the other scenes you’ve already seen. It admittedly gets easier as it goes but it pulls you right out of the story because you’re constantly trying to make sense of everything and put it in a logical order.

Because of this jumping around and the seriously slow luxurious pace, you just don’t feel what you’re supposed to. Mothering Sunday actually tells a really sad, tragic story, but I didn’t feel anything because the structure got in the way of my emotional connection to it.

On the flipside, I have to praise the gorgeous costume and production design, the ageing work on Young and the cast. I was particularly impressed by Young, who captivates in her understated role, while O’Connor is as charming as ever. They had believable chemistry together and their roles required full-frontal nudity so hats off to them for stripping off onscreen. Dirisu comes across well but his character is rather flimsy. I wish we had got to know him better.

Colman and Firth aren’t in this film very much but they do a lot with their screentime and make an impact as bereaved parents. Colman’s Clarrie is overwhelmed by grief and in this zombie-like mournful state but she gets a couple of moments to break out of that in the best way. Firth’s Godfrey tries to be cheerful and upbeat despite their tragedy so it’s all the more heartbreaking when his facade drops.

It’s quite difficult to get fully into Mothering Sunday because the narrative constantly prevents you from doing so, which is a real shame as the story is good and the performances are excellent.

In cinemas Friday 12th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Spencer: Film Review

STX

When it was announced that Kristen Stewart would be playing Princess Diana in a film, I couldn’t wrap my head around it and I found it the most bizarre casting decision, but I felt more confident when she won rave reviews at Venice. I fully expected and wanted to like Spencer but I’m not sold on it at all.

Pablo Larrain‘s film is a self-described fable that imagines what might have happened to Princess Diana when she had to spend three days over Christmas with the royal family on the Sandringham Estate in the early ’90s. Although it’s set a few years before she split from Prince Charles (Jack Farthing), their marriage has already gone cold and getting through those three days is something of an endurance test.

As a huge fan of Stewart, I really want to like Spencer and I went in believing that I would, based on all the positive sentiments I’ve read, but I’ve found myself in the minority of people who are less effusive about it. The film is weirder than I thought it would be, with odd fantastical dream sequences featuring Anne Boleyn and Diana eating a soup containing pearls, among others. I appreciate that these are designed to illustrate her depressed state and her spiralling mental health but they are still rather bizarre. I also thought Steven Knight‘s script was quite weak and the dialogue could have been better, and the pacing was off; I felt my attention starting to drift as the story didn’t capture me as it should have.

Perhaps this is because not much happens. Spencer is an intimate portrait that explores Diana’s psychological state and is mostly concerned with trying to show us how she felt on the inside. At the forefront are Diana’s eating disorder and little acts of rebellion, such as wearing her Christmas outfits in the wrong order, refusing to go down for dinner on time or arriving at the estate after the Queen (Stella Gonet). She clearly doesn’t want to be there, can’t stand all the rules and the lack of freedom she has and no longer wants to be part of that family. The focus is on her sadness and torment but my favourite scenes were when she was having fun; dancing, playing games with her sons and singing with them in the car.

The film’s biggest strength is Stewart’s captivating performance, which is far better than I ever would’ve guessed when her casting was first announced. She gives an impressive portrayal of someone who is desperately unhappy and trapped, but I never fully believed her as Diana. I always felt like I was watching a performance; she didn’t become Diana for me. I thought I would eventually get into it and forget that I was watching Stewart as Diana, but I never did. I kept thinking about her accent and deciding whether she sounded like the royal. She did very well in places but it wasn’t consistent, although I should note that she always sounded posh British.

When it came to the supporting cast, it was hard not to compare them to the stellar choices on The Crown, which is why non-royal characters such as Diana’s dresser and confidante Maggie (Sally Hawkins), the Queen’s equerry Alistair (Timothy Spall), and head chef Darren (Sean Harris) came across better. Farthing has surprisingly little to do as Charles – besides one scene in which they have a one-on-one conversation, they have little interaction and he’s mostly on the periphery and hardly speaks. I guess that’s the whole point – that they’re barely husband and wife anymore – but I would have liked him to have more of a presence.  

Spencer is an intriguing character study that examines the mental health of a very famous figure. The score by Jonny Greenwood is unexpected but beautiful and the costume design is stunning. I wish I liked it more but I have to put my hands up and admit I didn’t.

In cinemas from Friday 5th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Finch: Film Review

Apple TV+

I absolutely love Tom Hanks and will watch any film he’s in and he hardly ever lets me down. His streak continues with Finch, a heartwarming tale about an inventor, his dog, and his robot.

The film is set on a post-apocalyptic Earth where the vast majority of the population and vegetation have been wiped out due to holes in the ozone layer, which makes going outside without protection impossible. The story follows ailing engineer Finch (Hanks) as he is forced to leave his Missouri bunker due to an incoming 40-day storm and drive in a solar-powered RV to San Francisco to find a new home with his beloved dog Goodyear and his new robot Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones) in tow. Jeff, who has just been built to protect Goodyear, learns about life, love, friendship and what it means to be human along the way.

I’ll put my hands up and admit that Finch isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. It feels very familiar, often reminded me of other films and you can predict the ending from a mile away. But despite all that, I loved it. It is charming, engaging and has a lot of heart, while there is enough risk of danger to keep it exciting. I love watching the relationship between Finch and Jeff blossom and seeing Jeff learning how to do human things and understand what certain expressions mean.

Hanks proved he could capably carry a film on his own with 2000’s Cast Away and he does so again effortlessly here as the old, unwell and exhausted Finch. However, he has some extra help this time around and is often upstaged by his robot co-star as Jeff is full of life, wonder, curiosity and excitement. Jones, who also provided the motion-capture performance, successfully brought to life a funny and endearing robot that is the best thing about this movie. His line delivery is excellent and he made me laugh out loud often. Seamus the dog is absolutely adorable and has the sweetest relationship with Hanks.

If you fancy a heartfelt film featuring the ever-lovely Hanks, a super cute dog and a wonderfully funny robot, then Finch is for you.

Streaming on Apple TV+ from Friday 5th November

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The Card Counter: Film Review

Universal

Rejoice, Oscar Isaac fans – he’s back on our screens already! Less than a month after his appearance in Dune, we get to watch him as the leading man in Paul Schrader‘s The Card Counter.

This revenge thriller tells the story of William Tell (Isaac), an ex-military interrogator-turned-gambler who is haunted by the ghosts of his past. These dark memories are brought closer to the surface when Cirk (Tye Sheridan), the son of Tell’s former colleague, bumps into him at a hotel and ends up following him and his associate La Linda (Tiffany Haddish) on the poker tournament circuit.

I went into The Card Counter completely cold and genuinely expected a thriller about gambling and someone getting into trouble for counting cards – and I was very mistaken! Schrader’s film is an intimate and complex study of a man who is looking for redemption for his past sins and the story goes in a completely unexpected direction and gradually builds towards an intense conclusion.

However, the pace was too slow and occasionally I found my attention waning, plus I thought the film was emotionally sterile and I didn’t love how Schrader decided to handle certain moments in an understated and subtle way instead of going for the most obvious yet most satisfying option. Without getting into details, there were a few scenes I would have preferred to see play out on screen instead of our imagination having to fill in the blanks.

Although I had issues with the storytelling, I cannot fault the performances. Isaac is impressive as a man who appears calm and collected on the surface but is actually wrestling with the thoughts of what he’s done and trying to keep them buried. Haddish is best known for her comedy work, so it was refreshing to see her playing a straight, dramatic role as La Linda and I found her totally captivating. Sheridan didn’t let the team down as a young boy fuelled by revenge and Willem Dafoe makes a small but pivotal and memorable appearance.

The Card Counter wasn’t quite for me but I appreciated many things about it, particularly the cast.

In cinemas Friday 5th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Eternals: Film Review

Marvel

There seemed to be a curious lack of buzz surrounding Eternals just weeks before its release, which is odd behaviour for a Marvel film, but having now seen Chloe Zhao‘s venture into the superhero genre, I understand the lack of excitement.

This epic film tells the story of the Eternals, immortal beings who are sent to Earth to protect the human race from the evil Deviants. After the Deviants are wiped out, the Eternals carve out human-like lives for themselves, with Sersi (Gemma Chan) teaching in London, group leader Ajak (Salma Hayek) residing in rural South Dakota and elite warrior Thena (Angelina Jolie) hiding out in Australia. The action truly kicks off when the Deviants return to Earth and start hunting down Eternals rather than humans.

This film is one of the most ambitious and expansive Marvel films we’ve seen so far as the Eternals have been on Earth for thousands of years and are spread far and wide so there is a lot of time and location-hopping so we can brush up on their history – while some of these jumps are needed for backstory, it flashes back too often, making the narrative feel rather disjointed and preventing the story from achieving a decent pace and forward momentum. There are a lot of new characters and concepts to introduce too, so naturally, the first half of the film suffers from a lot of exposition. I know there is a lot of content to pack in, but I still found the film too long (it’s 2 hours 37 minutes), too slow and the narrative rather bloated and messy, while I would have liked a few more jokes or light-hearted moments, even though it has plenty of these already.

When it was announced that Zhao, who won the Best Director Oscar for Nomadland earlier this year, would direct a Marvel film, I wondered how that would work as her naturalistic observational style is so at odds with bombastic superhero movies and while she may not have totally succeeded story-wise, she puts her stamp on the film visually, with her bringing her eye for gorgeous cinematography to the project and preference for practical on-location shoots instead of green screen ones. It looks different to the usual Marvel fare and the locations are stunning when CGI isn’t involved.

Zhao has also assembled the most diverse cast yet and made breakthrough strides in terms of representation, not just with the actors she’s hired but in terms of the characters. Eternals has Marvel’s first sex scene as well as Marvel’s first onscreen gay kiss (to be clear, these are separate scenes). The latter didn’t feel like pandering at all, it seemed perfectly normal for two husbands to kiss before one goes to help save the world. There is also the inclusion of sign language thanks to Lauren Ridloff as Makkari.

The best element of the film is the casting. Hayek brought gravitas to the role of Ajak, Chan made Sersi the most sympathetic and human-like Eternal, Kumail Nanjiani was hilarious as Eternal-turned-Bollywood star Kingo (he and Harish Patel as his valet got the most laughs), Barry Keoghan was devilishly charming as Druig and Brian Tyree Henry brought great emotion to Phastos. I also enjoyed seeing Jolie wielding weapons and kicking ass once again and Ridloff – who I love in The Walking Dead – in a big MCU movie. The biggest letdown was Richard Madden as Ikaris, I just find his acting so wooden.

It’s a shame that Eternals isn’t an outright success because I don’t want Marvel to stop taking risks with interesting filmmakers and go back to the same old formula. As much as I wish I loved it, I just felt no excitement watching this movie at all.

Make sure you stay until the very, very end. I cannot stress this enough.

In cinemas Friday 5th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Last Night in Soho: Film Review

Universal

Edgar Wright brings us his first venture into the psychological horror genre with the much-delayed Last Night in Soho.

The film stars Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise, who has moved to London to study fashion design. Not liking her student accommodation, she finds a bedsit in Fitzrovia (not Soho!) and in her dreams she is transported to the ’60s, where she follows aspiring singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she meets manager/promoter Jack (Matt Smith) and they embark on a romance. At first, Eloise is enamoured with these dreams and starts dressing like Sandie, but it takes a sinister turn when she learns her idol’s life was far from perfect and the unsavoury characters in Soho’s seedy underbelly begin to haunt Eloise when she is awake.

I really liked the concept, the soundtrack (Downtown by Petula Clark will be stuck in your head as a result), the neon-lit atmosphere, the editing of the dream sequences, and the ’60s costume design, while I enjoyed seeing if I could recognise the different London locations and deciding if they were actually in Soho.

I liked where the story was going up until a point, and it particularly falls apart with the twist ending, which has proven rather divisive. Admittedly, I didn’t see it coming and it came as shock but it also felt very cheap and pulpy and so at odds with the smart and stylish story that had come before. It didn’t feel particularly well written either and came across as a bit rushed and sloppy. Outside of the ending, there is also a key scene that is utterly bewildering and doesn’t ring true. Something major happens between two characters one night and it’s brushed aside the next day and barely addressed again, which just would not happen! Maddening stuff.

The cast is a highlight, particularly McKenzie, who delivers the wide-eyed and horrified requirements as Eloise loses her grip on reality and is perceived to be losing her mind. Taylor-Joy isn’t in this as much as you might think but she is perfect for the part of Sandie thanks to her captivating movie star energy and Smith brings the smarmy charm as Jack. Audiences will likely warm most to John (Michael Ajao), Eloise’s love interest, but he’s very thinly written, like all of the students. There’s also Terence Stamp as a creepy, mysterious and slightly menacing pub customer, while Diana Rigg (in her last film role) is excellent as Eloise’s landlady.

Last Night in Soho begins so well and I was really into it so it’s a shame the ending was so disappointing. It just felt like Wright came up with this amazing concept but didn’t know how to conclude it properly.

In cinemas now

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Army of Thieves: Film Review

Netflix

If you liked the kooky German safecracker Ludwig Dieter in Army of the Dead earlier this year then you’ll love this prequel, Army of Thieves.

Set six years before the events of Army of the Dead, this film serves as an origin story for Ludwig (Matthias Schweighofer) and show us who he was before he became the famous go-to safecracker Ludwig Dieter. The story follows Ludwig – then known as Sebastian, a small-town bank teller with a YouTube channel about his safecracking knowledge – as he is approached by career thief Gwendoline (Nathalie Emmanuel) and recruited to join her team of Interpol’s most wanted criminals and attempt to heist a series of Hans Wagner’s legendary, impossible-to-crack safes across Europe.

If you think this is going to be anything like Zack Snyder‘s zombie action movie then you’ll be very mistaken – this is a totally different film with a whole new vibe – it’s nowhere near as serious and much more light-hearted and fun. It’s a heist comedy with a romantic comedy subplot. With the exception of Ludwig being in both films, you wouldn’t really know that they’re even connected until the end, although there are some TV reports about the beginning of the zombie outbreak and similar onscreen graphics, while Snyder remains involved as a producer and with a story credit. So rest assured that if you haven’t seen Army of the Dead, you can still easily understand and enjoy Army of Thieves, directed by its leading man.

The heist attempts and watching Sebastian tackling complex safes are very entertaining, although it was never particularly nail-biting because I had no doubt that he would succeed. The film doesn’t always get the tone quite right or successfully balance the action, comedy and romance but it’s an amusing watch that made me laugh out loud a couple of times. The romance side didn’t really work for me though and I would have happily gone without that.

Sebastian/Ludwig was my standout character in Army of the Dead because he had a sense of humour and was a breath of fresh air among the serious action types and that is still the case here, although the character’s a bit more annoying in a bigger dose! He is really funny though and I loved his girly screams.

Emmanuel brings her Fast & Furious action skills to the table as the kickass Gwendoline but I didn’t buy any sort of romantic chemistry between her and Sebastian. I would have preferred them to remain as unlikely best buds. Their rag-tag crew is completed with Ruby O. Fee as the hacker Korina, I loved her sassy attitude and line delivery, Guz Khan as getaway driver Rolph, who doesn’t really do much, and Stuart Martin as the obnoxious American muscle man Brad Cage.

I probably enjoyed Army of Thieves as a whole more than Army of the Dead as it is fun, entertaining, and doesn’t take itself too seriously, plus I had more screentime with my favourite character from the franchise.

Streaming on Netflix from Friday 29th October

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Antlers: Film Review

Searchlight Pictures

After suffering multiple delays as a result of the pandemic, the Keri Russell-led creature feature Antlers finally comes to cinemas in time for Halloween.

Russell plays Julia Meadows, who has recently returned to her small hometown in Oregon to live with her brother, local sheriff Paul (Jesse Plemons), following the death of their abusive father. As the new teacher in school, she becomes concerned about her student Lucas Weaver (Jeremy T. Thomas), who is pale, dirty and worryingly thin, all warning signs of abuse, and she sets out to investigate his home situation – little does she know that he’s hiding a supernatural creature in his house.

Scott Cooper creates a dark, moody and ominous atmosphere filled with plenty of tension and a sense of foreboding. It isn’t particularly scary but there are some gruesome body horror moments (one scene especially grossed me out), bloody and violent kills and the creature is ugly and horrifying. It’s often the case that a creature is scarier when you don’t know what it looks like as your imagination runs away with you so thankfully this beast – based on the mythological creature wendigo – wasn’t revealed in its entirety until the end as it immediately lost its impact.

The set-up is very promising and I liked how the story gradually unravelled and we learned more about Julia and Paul’s past and the trauma she’s been through as well as the creature in Lucas’ house. It didn’t lay all its cards on the table at once and it was intriguing. However, the film didn’t tie all the threads together in a satisfying way and I came away from it feeling pretty meh.

Russell gives a strong performance as an abuse survivor who is haunted by her memories after returning to her childhood home and finds a project to focus her mind on. She sees herself in Lucas and has this fearless determination to protect him in the way she wasn’t. Plemons was simply fine as the sheriff flummoxed by the unusual and gory deaths in his small town. We know that he’s capable of so much more than this so it’s a shame it’s such a snoozy role for him. It’s hard to say whether it’s his performance, the material or a combination of both.

Antlers is produced by Guillermo del Toro – a pro at the creature feature – and you can’t help but wonder what the project would have been like in his hands.

In cinemas Friday 29th October

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Life’s a Show: Film review

Coin Operated Films

Life’s a Show is one of many short films you can check out during the upcoming Raindance Film Festival.

Written and directed by Harvey Puttock, the 11-minute short is led by Outlander star Jon Tarcy, who plays Matt, an actor whose play has been cancelled amid the Covid-19 pandemic. He misses the sense of direction and validation acting gives him so he hires a director, played by Dusan Mrden, to guide his everyday life and performs in front of a virtual audience.

I loved the premise of this short and I found the storyline amusing and chuckled a few times. However, this concept had so much potential for comedy that Puttock didn’t fully capitalise on. Tarcy was a likeable lead but I really enjoyed the directors more, despite them appearing via Zoom. Mrden brought an authoritative and artsy air as the first director while Lucy Hilton-Jones cracked me up as the flamboyant and OTT second director – her part was written so well and she stole the show.

I would have happily watched another 10-15 minutes of this to see some of the ideas expanded upon or more comedic moments. Overall, it’s an enjoyable film that you should add to your list if you’re doing Raindance this year.

Life’s a Show will be available to watch via Curzon Home Cinema throughout the Raindance Film Festival, which runs from 27th October to 6th November.