MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

Is it a bad movie?

Yes.

Is it the good sort of entertaining?

Also yes.

Some brilliantly ridiculous action stacked in around long stretches of flat exposition and some weird character choices.

The plot’s a mess and the acting’s stilted but it’s also fun when it’s chewing scenery and revelling in being the most Mortal Kombat it can be.

Highlights are the Scorpion/SubZero sequences (which sadly only stack up to around 20min of runtime bookending the main story), and some gloriously, hilariously gruesome FX.

Unfortunately it doesn’t really manage to keep the same gleefully ridiculous momentum it starts out with, but it does ultimately end on the right side of a good time and works as a decent enough setup for a completely bonkers sequel if they really go for it.

Worth a watch if you’ve got no higher expectations than some schlocky, trashy fun.

GODZILLA vs KONG (2021)

Y’know what? I had fun with it.

It’s kinda funny how this franchise went from the tonally grounded, disaster movie feel of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla to the high-tech Hollow Earth kaiju showdown extravaganza here.

It’s a big step up from King of the Monsters (2019), partly because the runtime is pared back and because they finally worked out that nobody cares about the human elements beyond serving to string the giant monster battles together.

And that’s more or less it for the plot. Something something energy source, something something Hollow Earth, something something Big Corporation biting off more than it can chew.

Cue the modern take on the most famous giant monster showdown in cinematic history complete with neon lighting, handwavey science and so much destruction you’ll wonder why anyone would ever risk living near a city in this cinematic universe.

It’s big, schlocky blockbuster spectacle and it does a fine job of delivering exactly what it promises on the box.

It also has a surprisingly bangin’ synth soundtrack in parts which is always welcome.

Probably closest to Kong: Skull Island (2017), if you enjoyed that you’ll have a good time here.

SAINT MAUD (2019)

What can a horror film ponder on religion or biblical themes that wasn’t already covered by The Exorcist?

Well, if SAINT MAUD has anything to say about, it some fairly damning critique of blind faith through the eyes of a wildly unreliable narrator.

Heavy content warnings for self-harm, as Maud believes suffering is all in the service of her faith, and that she is on the path of redemption from sin as saint and saviour of the atheist she has under palliative care.

There’s an impressively grounded realism that only further heightens the discomfort when what we see as Maud’s delusion contrasts with what she believes is true and real contact with God.

Small in scale but impressive in scope, this one will probably fly under most peoples’ radar which is a shame because it’s quietly challenging the notion that religious horror can only be one thing.

Cleverly done. Recommended.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: The Snyder Cut (2021)

Is this an improvement over the theatrical/Whedon cut? Yes.

Is is actually a good movie now? No.

Look, I’m happy for Snyder that he got to complete his film the way that he intended, but I really don’t like his approach to any of the characters, and the storytelling swings wildly from slow and dull to heavy-handed and pretentious. This did not need to be four hours long and it’s a shocking amount of self-indulgence that kept it above the 120min mark for what essentially amounts to a retread of 2012’s The Avengers but with barely half the charm and a tenth of the colour pallet.

Primary villain Steppenwolf gets an excellent design rework and more complex motivations, but he boils down to a grey/silver redux of Loki’s role less the mischief and wit. Hell, he’s even looking for cubes and comes complete with a mindless army and a hooded go-between to the true Big Bad: Thanos…. erm, Darkseid.

Darkseid is in this! Yep. That character nobody outside of pre-existing DC fans knows anything about is introduced in flashbacks and then shows up at the end to bait for a sequel that will never come.

Instead they burn 30-odd minutes on a weird flash-forward post-apocalypse sequence so that Batman can threaten to kill Jared Leto’s Joker (in his most Ledgery portrayal) and then angry Superman can show up again and the whole thing can end on a weird downer that undoes the victory of the final battle.

It all feels so pointless. Every thirty minutes or so is something that makes you go “oh that’s pretty cool” and then we snap right out of it when Snyder does another cringeworthy needle drop. Like, the songs themselves are good songs, but he always deploys them in the most ham-fisted, obvious way and I can’t think of another director that makes me physically recoil so hard from hearing a familiar song in a film. Oh, Aquaman is a king? Here’s a pompous Nick Cave song with lyrics about a kingdom and a king cut exactly to fit a slow-motion walk into the ocean. Like, fuck, that is about as subtle as throwing a bowling ball through a plate glass window. My eyes almost rolled out of my skull and I like both Nick Cave and Momoa’s Arthur Curry (despite the movies he’s in being mediocre at best). And there’s not one but two scenes of him walking into the sea to dramatic music within 20min of one another.

What of the other characters?

Batfleck is fine. He doesn’t show up as Batman until two hours in. Jeremy Irons is a great Alfred.

Cyborg has a significantly enhanced role this time around. Ray Fisher does a good job. Sucks to hear the shoot was a nightmare for him. But… why not make his cyberspace sequences more visually distinct from the rest of the film though? It’s the same brown/orange as all the fight sequences, the same as the flashbacks, the same as the apocalypse sequences. There’s no distinction between any of the visual design, which doesn’t make it consistent or cohesive, it makes it bland.

Wonder Woman suffers hard from the fact that her next movie to release after this was set decades before this and contained several plot points that contradict dialogue in JL, as well as making her character intensely, retroactively unlikeable.

The Flash has the best visual sequences in the film but Ezra Miller’s twitchy portrayal of Barry Allen wears thin quickly. There’s something to be said for the fact that we barely see him actually moving fast too. All his speed-force shots are in slo-mo, which gives a good sense of his perpective but we don’t get enough contrast for what it’s like for those around him or what a layperson would see. Slowing things down constantly absolutely shatters the pacing, especially when slo-mo is used at other times when Flash isn’t even present because it’s Snyder’s visual crutch.

Superman is the same as he was. The weird digital lip scene is cut, he gets a colour swap on his suit, and he basically shows up as a deus ex machina in the final fight to do some good punching and that’s all.

Overall, it’s bloated, self-important, self-indulgent and self-serious. This didn’t need to be three hours long, let alone four. The “chapters” only serve to break up the runtime but don’t have much of a narrative arc distinct to them aside from loosely clustering scenes that happen around the same time in the plot without distinct through-lines.

Now that this whole hashtag has run its course I hope everyone can just bloody move on and start making new things instead of shovelling 20 indie movie budgets at a monstrosity like this. For all those celebrating this an unquestioned masterpiece, I ask:

This?

This is what you have been insufferable about for the last four years? This is what was worth harassment campaigns and nearly ruining peoples’ lives? It’s not worth any of that. It’s not visionary or groundbreaking in any way that could justify its $400m+ budget. It’s not even very entertaining.

If you haven’t seen it, don’t burn four hours of your life on it. If you love it, I don’t understand you. Just let the Snyderverse die off now.

Shazam is still the best DC film. At least that one was fun to watch.

PS. The 4:3 aspect ratio is stupid. You’re not “getting more information” if you’re cutting a third out of every single screen this will be watched on. Want more height in the frame? Pull back further in the shot. Widescreen is standard now for a reason, dammit! It was shot for IMAX? It’s not being watched on IMAX!

PPS. What was the point of the “Unite the Seven” marketing? There are five characters in most of this film, six when Superman gets revived. The other DC characters that make appearances aren’t part of the Justic League for the entire film.

HIS HOUSE (2020)

An impressive debut from writer/director Remi Weekes, centring in the experience of a Sudanese refugee couple who have settled in the United Kingdom only to find something terrible has followed them across the sea.

Some really well executed scares, quick pacing and an organic escalation into horror that makes excellent use of both characters and setting to tell a larger tale of trauma and escape.

Absolutely one of the better horror films of the last few years, well worth your time.

ISLE OF DOGS (2018)

A little late to the party on this one, but glad I got around to it.

All the charm and personality of Fantastic Mr Fox plus all the usual trapping of a Wes Anderson flick.

Positively dripping with style and meticulous production design. The plot is tight and quirky and heartwarming, the voice cast is A+.

So, yeah, again… a Wes Anderson film. You generally know what you’re in for and this doesn’t disappoint.

Recommended.

THE OUTSIDER (2020)

Stephen King really has a way with small towns and supernatural murder.

Based on the book of the same name (which I haven’t read), it tracks the investigation into what at first seems like a very clear cut murder that quickly starts to escalate and destroy the community.

Tone and cinematography are appropriately unnerving, casting is excellent. Pacing is slow, but it works in its favour, taking its time to chew on each twist and let things unfold.

It’s all very Stephen King, and definitely one of his stronger ones, though the horror aspects fade out a little in the second half. Still, the characters are compelling and the mystery is well constructed.

Slow burn, recommended.

THE MIDNIGHT SKY (2020)

A decent enough sci-fi drama trapped in an identity crisis.

There’s two tales happening in parallel and it takes a long time to become apparent how they’re linked, and only in the final ten minutes or so do the two threads really twine together. Problem is, George Clooney’s story is where we open the story and spend significant time before swapping to Felicity Jones’ imperiled space mission.

Something certainly got messed up in the edit here, and to some extent it seems like a marketing problem. Clooney is the bankable star and a decision was made to put his part of the story at the forefront of scene sequencing and this damages the story by relegating Jones’ arc to a B plot when it’s arguably the more important of the two.

And this is a shame! There some solid drama and well-executed action sequences that are overall held back by the story being told out of a better order.

You could still find plenty to enjoy here, but don’t be surprised if you find your attention flagging because the focus is scrambled.

Solidly medium movie, could have been very good with a few changes.

TED LASSO — s01 (2020)

For a show that’s framed around an American football coach moving to the UK to coach soccer it’s really about everything except that.

There’s an infectious earnestness and shameless good-natured bent it all that you can’t help but get invested in. And damn if the relentless optimism doesn’t just get in there and warm you up.

One of the McElroy brothers (Travis?) said something to the effect of “don’t punch down, don’t punch up, just don’t punch” and nothing embodies that idea so perfectly as Ted Lasso. It’s mature, kind, compassionate and manages to do it with fantastic emotional intelligence while also being anti-cynical and effortlessly hilarious.

I was often suprised, and always pleasantly, to find where it had chosen to place its narrative conflicts and how it chose to resolve them. As such it very quickly works to undermine your expectations of cheap drama for drama’s sake. This show has no interest in playing that way and it’s honestly all the more a ray of sunshine because of it, but what’s more is because it’s not burning up time trying to force conflict in everywhere it becomes entirely about mediation and accountability, and it gives the characters more time to just be.

After the absolute bastard that was 2020 it’s refreshing to watch something that actually just makes you feel good and Ted Lasso knocks it out of the park. Everyone needs a Ted in their corner.

The good news is this has already been renewed for three seasons. I understand why this topped so many peoples’ lists from last year. Do yourself a favour and get on it.

DA FIVE BLOODS (2020)

First and foremost, it’s hard to to address the posthumous presence of Chadwick Boseman as the long-departed leader of the titular Bloods — a young man taken well before his time.

The choice to have him remain the only youthful member of the cast makes his ghost loom large, since the remaining cast are all portrayed by their older selves in all the flashbacks to the Vietnam/American War.

Which is not to say he overshadows things at all. The other four Bloods all put in great performances. I’ll always appreciate the absurdly charismatic Clarke Peters (THE WIRE/TREMÉ) being put front and centre, and Delroy Lindo drops a showstopper of a performance.

Turns out, returning to Vietnam decades after the war to retreive buried gold has the consequence of dragging up old traumas. Whodathunk?

Scattered throughout are horrifying archival clips and stills, as well as Spike Lee’s own personally curated lessons in Black History around the men who went to war to prove they were true citizens of the United States only to find themselves used up and discarded.

It’s long one, almost two whole films of runtime split fairly neatly either side of the recovery of the gold at the unmarked grave of their former troop leader (Boseman). The pacing can feel bogged down in places even when it feels like a condensed version of an even more sprawling, structurally novelistic tale. This would make for a fantastic book — to the point where I had to keep checking if it was actually based on something (it’s not, other than true accounts of the war Lee researched while making it).

None of that is to be taken as complaint, mind. It’s a frequently uncomfortable look at the consequence of a war decades on, and of the lasting bonds that linger long after everyone has gone home, learned to live with their nightmares and become old.

Recommended.