CRUELLA (2021)

Actually pretty fun!

Wasn’t expecting this to have a huge heist film element to it, but it was a welcome surprise.

Not sure how far it goes to justifying the outright monster she becomes, but it doesn’t seem too interested in trying to do that. So, credit to it.

Drops a few eye-rolly explanations for things that didn’t need an explanation, same as any of these prequels tries to do, but they come so late in the game that they’re fairly inconsequential to enjoying the ride.

One of the better live-action Disney tie-ins, your mileage will vary based on your taste for those.

Does it need to exist? No.

Was it entertaining? Sure!

TED LASSO s02

It’s back!

We actually let the season mostly play out before binging it all in the week leading up to the finale — it’s the kind of show that brings such a good mood with it that you want to savour its short run but also hook as much into your veins as you can manage at once.

How to adequately describe Ted Lasso? From the outside it looks like a fairly boilerplate sports dramedy, but it very quickly reveals itself to be fundamentally about caring, support and growth. Season one was such an absolute burst of sunshine for 2020, and earned all the praise it received for its smart, brilliant character work while retaining a wonderfully high degree of emotional intelligence and a refreshingly blunt approach to conflict.

And this season doesn’t disappoint.

Interestingly, this actually marks something of a slightly darker tone than season one. Jason Sudeikis has described this as the Empire Strikes Back before we get to Return of the Tedi for the third and final season next year.

The infectious sincerity and kindness is still present, but it’s not trying to sell you something saccharine or hollow. There are plenty of big emotional moments and they always feel true and genuine, even to a bitter old cynic such as myself.

Honestly, if you haven’t gotten on board I can’t push it on you strongly enough. From someone who couldn’t give two shits about football, I am incredibly invested in this wholesome show.

Highly recommended!

FREE GUY (2021)

It’s fine.

The best jokes are things that were clearly thrown into the background by a VFX crew who’ve spent a lot of time in GTAV or Saint’s Row, but otherwise it’s a pretty boilerplate action/comedy/romance that asks you not to think too hard about any of its pretense.

Some good throwaway cameos, visuals absolutely nail the aesthetic, cast is charismatic.

Writing’s flat, and even Taika Waititi can’t make some of the dialogue sound good. Lots of the jokes don’t really land. Pacing is all over the place, making it feel both too long but also like it doesn’t have the time to do anything more than lip service to its more interesting ideas.

It does that weird trope movies do where they show a lot of people around the world all simultaneuously watching a livestream and yelling encouragement that just feels entirely false, like they’re trying to artificially inflate investment in the stakes that people don’t really have. Stop cutting away to people who aren’t involved in the action.

Overall, an extremely medium movie. Better than Ready Player One, with about 90% less cynical brand recognition. Not sure how much that says though.

Watch it or don’t.

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021)

Absurdly violent, ridiculously silly and very, very entertaining.

The smartest move was definitely to just ignore that they made one of these in 2016 and throw a whole pile of fresh C-list characters into the grinder.

Never once takes itself seriously, yet manages to take enough time to bring an emotional core to each of these assholes to make the stakes stick and the action meaningful.

Soundtrack’s great, characters are fun, story is appropriately bonkers. Most importantly, it’s a good time!

Easily the best DC film, requires zero comic knowledge to enjoy.

Definitely recommended.

LOKI (2021)

The best of the Disney+ Marvel shows so far.

Production design is outstanding, the cast is charismatic and strange. It’s a tight six episodes too, which is a real sweet spot for these series. Feels like the best parts of a Dr Who adventure mashed together with a big budget behind it.

There’s SO MUCH fan service drawing from the deepest, more ridiculous and obscure depths of Marvel Comics’ silliness.

Ultimately the story ends up servicing the next big phase of MCU projects, but it does so with style and the characters are fun. I mean, they weren’t exactly going to let Tom Hiddleston off the hook easily, were they?

Alligator Loki is MVP.

Recommended.

PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (2020)

CONTENT WARNING: Sexual assault.

Billed as a black comedy (and it’s certainly black), it’s the sort of film that seems to be verging spilling into pure revenge fantasy but instead reveals itself to be a story of pain inflicting pain, tangled up in rom-com tropes.

There is no moral lesson. There is no happy ending, or even necessarily a sense of justice delivered. Those getting what they deserve never feels enough even if it is occasionally satisfying. There are very few truly good people in this story.

Often hilarious, consistently uncomfortable, more often bleak. A confident and stylised take on the culture and attitudes that allow sexual assault to go unpunished and frequently unrecognised and unaccounted.

Fantastic performances and overall an excellent film, but more tragedy than comedy and certainly not for everyone.

LUCA (2021)

Possibly the lightest, summeriest Pixar film to date — one that’s thankfully not interested in heavy emotional subject matter but would rather just present a nice, simple story and it delivers a delight.

Two young sea monsters sneak up on land to win a triathalon so they can buy a Vespa. Friendships are formed, hijinx ensue.

The visuals take on a sort of extremely advanced claymation quality, complimented by saturated colours and an expressive animation style.

Charm in spades, it’s a warm and easy film that unfortunately might end up overlooked due to skipping a theatrical release in favour of jumping straight to Disney+.

Don’t sleep on it though, it’s great.

ONE CUT OF THE DEAD // Kamera wo tomeru na! (2017)

An instant modern classic.

An indie film crew shoots a low budget, single-take film in a cursed power station and zombies show up.

The camera never cuts! shouts the director.

For anyone with even a passing interest in filmmaking this is an absolute gem, and keeps revealing layer upon layer of itself as the crew dies off and the production threatens to collapse.

A hilarious disaster.

Just make sure you stay all the way through the credits (both times!).

Highly recommended.

Bo Burnham: INSIDE (2021)

When this whole pandemic situation started we knew that there was terrible art out there being made about it. Just some really dreadful, insufferably thoughtless bad takes.

But out there too are some diamonds — pieces of creativity that encapsulate and express the time beautifully.

This is the latter. Calling it merely “pandemic art” does a massive disservice to what Burnham has created here. Infact, INSIDE is really the first definitive piece of work from the shitstorm of the last year-and-change that actually feels like a meaningful embodiment of what life has become, and it all takes place in a single room.

Burnham’s comedy had always been brilliantly self-conscious and this is no different, playing big with creative lighting setups and brilliant minimalistic cinematography.

But it also turns against him over the course of a year working on his Netflix special, alone and steadily succumbing to the isolation. And there is familar darkness there.

It’s relatable. Distressing. The results are honest and sincere and uncomfortable, wrapped in dazzling visuals and straining, ragged-edged wit. Oh, and the songs are great.

The experience of the past fourteen months will leave a lasting mark on human collective psyche and culture and many more attempts will be made to express this capsule of time.

Whatever other stories come, INSIDE will rank absolutely among the best of them. The first real masterpiece of its kind.

Highly recommended.