dfle3

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West Side Story
(2021)

West Side story: Gritty morality tale with an emotional punch. 85%
Not having seen the stage production of "West Side story" or its first film version, which I understand is regarded as a classic, I really don't have a point of comparison for this new film version of the long-running musical theatre staple. Of course, with the US being so effective at exporting its pop culture around the world, I was aware of songs and scenes from the original Hollywood film, which had positive associations for me, even though I live in Australia.

The story was inspired by a much earlier tale, which I won't mention here because...spoilers. In any case, the second film version (presumably...at least as far as US film versions go) of this story is set in a slum in New York in the 1950s (the "West Side" of the title). The setting is very nicely established, with an opening shot of some partially destroyed buildings which a sign states are being demolished to make way for the gentrification of the area. The flats in the high-rise buildings nearby have a suitably "slummy" look without the aesthetic being overdone. From out of this no man's land emerges what turns out be a gang of Anglo background, known as "The Jets". You can tell that they they are bad because they soon terrorise the neighbourhood with dancing and singing, with no one daring to stop them. It has to be said, at this point, the realisation of a musical in the modern era hasn't lost my interest. Fit young blokes dancing and singing and clicking their fingers in time in the streets of a big city doesn't seem all that ridiculous now.

We soon learn that The Jets have a rival group which they want to remove from 'their turf', a gang known as "The Sharks", which are of Puerto Rican ethnicity. The basis of The Jets' animosity to The Sharks is basically an issue of race (and that is also the basis of the police department's animosity towards The Sharks as well). The Sharks do not 'belong' in the US and they should 'go back to where they came from'. The first encounter we see between these two rival gangs is a violent one and it's pretty clear that things will escalate from here between them.

If you're thinking that nothing thrown into this tinderbox could make it any more flammable, well...enter Tony (played by Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler). Tony is the co-founder of The Jets but after a stint in prison for a shocking beating he gave to an Eyptian man, he is trying to be a better person, now holding down a steady job and no longer involved in his gang's activities. Maria is the sister of Bernardo (David Alvarez), a man who is trying to fight his way out of the slum (literally). Bernardo has a chip on his shoulder about the Anglos, who make life difficult for his community. He plays the father-figure at the flat that he shares with his girlfriend and Maria. The prospect of Maria dating a "gringo" is unacceptable to him, as we later find out when...Tony and Maria meet at a dance event and...instantly fall in love. He is also the leader of The Sharks.

That moment when Tony and Maria fall in love at first sight is very sweetly done. Maria, as played by Zegler, seems like an old-fashioned Disney princess at first, being very timid but then being quite forward...perhaps like a (modern day?) Disney princess? (Since I'm not well-versed in Disney films about princesses, I'll have to defer to the judgement of people more informed than me on this subject.) The lyric from the song "Hurts so good" by John Cougar comes to mind about her: "you ain't as green as you are young". Zegler/Maria is very attractive in a winsome way. Director Steven Spielberg has really captured a winning performance from her. It occurred to me after writing down my initial thoughts on this film that Zegler would be a worthy nominee for "Best actress" at awards time. Even though I haven't really seen any 'quality' films this year, I think I know a quality performance when I see one and I don't think that a best actress award for her would be undeserved.

If you think that Maria couldn't be any more adorable, well, you should hear her sing. She has a lovely voice, in my view. To me, she's the standout voice of the musical. Elgort tends towards falsetto at times. On the subject of the music, I'd say that I'm pretty sure that if you just wanted to listen to the musical on CD or whatever, then there would be better versions of that from previous productions of this story, whether on stage or screen. By that I mean perhaps the music elsewhere is bolder, brassier or arranged more pleasingly (to my ears, at least) and that would apply to the vocal performances as well. However, since I haven't heard other versions, I can't recommend one for you.

It also later occurred to me how similar Tony and Bernardo are (which I've retrospectively alluded to in my earlier comments about how both of them plan to get out of the slum). Another point of comparison with Bernardo would be The Jets' new leader, "Riff" (Mike Faist). They both mirror each other as far as attitudes to "the other" goes.

In any case, just when Tony thought he was out, Riff pulls him back in again, as far as gang activities go.

I liked this film and had moments of recognition with it, with regards to clicking fingers and many songs. One event which did jar with me was how Maria reacted to Tony when she heard some fateful news about him. It just didn't ring true to me. Maybe with a greater passage of time it could have worked. Later, when the police officer goes over the whole timeline, the short duration was a shock too.

The film was on track for a score of 80% from me but since the drama near the end of the film elicited emotion from me, I added another 5% to my score to reflect that.

Random notes:

* Is the ending different to previous versions of this story? If it is, you can either read it as a return to sanity as far as character motivation goes or as a Steven Spielberg tendency.

* There is some realism to the violence, so not suitable for very young children, I don't think.

* I couldn't quite tell if there was some strong swearing at times or if it was toned down.

* Curios: 5c for a Milky Way, $15 for a fashionable store scarf, I think.

The Matrix Resurrections
(2021)

THE MetATRIX. 77.5%
This is the third sequel to the classic film "The Matrix", so, really, it's best to start at the start with this franchise, although the next two sequels were major disappointments. That first film made an impact with its special effects and playing with the notions of Scepticism, as in the idea that we can't be sure that what we perceive to be reality really is real. It married such philosophical ideas with exciting action sequences to great effect. The first sequel gave me the sense that it was treading water but that the trilogy could still end strongly. Unfortunately, the last film in the trilogy sank for me, which would retrospectively have made the first sequel sinking, rather than treading water. It's a good thing that there was enough distance between me seeing the previous sequels at the cinema and this new entry, as I still had fond memories for the first one.

Since the last time I saw the previous sequels was at the cinema on release, I have to say that I had already forgotten what transpired in them, having just a vague recollection of some blonde-haired male twins in them, causing havoc for our hero, I think. Apparently Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) died in the last one. Apparently they were also romantically involved too, which I don't remember either. So, that makes the concept of a sequel in which these two characters feature rather problematic. Fortunately, the title of this new entry spells out how things will proceed.

It has to be said that the latest in this franchise is very "meta". By that I mean it depicts scenes which could be about the very making of this film itself. You are introduced to the idea that the original trilogy isn't what you thought it was, which would be...in keeping with the nature of the series, where the world of this story is...not what you thought that it was. How much you enjoy this new entry might depend on how much you like your films to be "meta". Personally, I was okay with this and in fact could have gone along with the direction the film seemed to be going early on. By that I mean I would have enjoyed a film which really has no connection to the world of the original Matrix trilogy and where there was no physical action at all to speak of. Having said that, I should point out that if they made anything which was unlike the first two sequels, I would have liked it more than those first two sequels. As it stands, I liked this film as it was. It doesn't go the full Monty, as far as "meta" goes. I remember reading Miles Franklin's "My career goes bung", which was written at the start of the previous century and being disappointed that it went "meta", which was not what I was hoping for in her (belatedly published) 'sequel' to "My brilliant career" (which was turned into a great film). Since I have heard mixed things about this new Matrix film, maybe the Franklin reference is apt (for some)?

The "meta" aspect to this film makes me wonder how much truth there was in those scenes and whether it could have gone harder on this angle. Were the writers and star self-loathing at the prospect and 'necessity' of doing this all over again? Perhaps Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) could have been represented as succumbing to the temptation of a lot of money to keep the franchise going? Maybe dialogue was written which was cut for being too close to the bone as far as how Hollywood works? If so, I think that THAT could have worked really well in this film. It's not clear whether the film is having fun with the 'necessity' for its existence or feeling dirty about its creation.

Anyway, this new film does have a clear focus on the relationship between Neo and Trinity. Keanu Reeves has a stilted way of delivering his lines for most of the film, as if he's been concussed and is a little 'slow' as a result. In the scene where things are just about to go pear-shaped in the toilet with Neo and a black man, Keanu's approach works nicely for that moment. Speaking of that black man, I didn't mind how the film handled old characters returning in a novel way. That could have been included in the "meta" aspect of this film, I think.

Back to Trinity, I had a genuine moment of emotion in this film, as in a sort of subdued joy, perhaps you could call it, when Neo is waiting for her with his 'therapist' at a restaurant, I think and...she enters. At this moment, what is to follow is not certain but I felt my emotion swelling at the possibility that something good was about to happen. These kinds of moments are so rare in the films that I've been watching lately that I have to give kudos to films which elicit this response. Marvel films would like to trade in that kind of emotion but they've never drawn that out of me, as far as I can remember. They just don't have those kind of film-making chops.

As for the how the film ends, well, it works as a final chapter in the series but it could also function as the start of another Marvel-like explosive diarrhoea of new content. A trilogy of trilogies, perhaps? Do the Wachowskis yearn to complete this second trilogy and then for Disney to buy the rights to the franchise and make a final trilogy? Maybe Keanu Reeves could develop a personal friendship with Mark Hamill and turn to him for consolation? I dunno.

Random notes:

* This film was tracking for a score of 80%. Dipped to 75+% on the thought that was maybe too generous (but the plus sign means I'd still give it 8 out 10 stars whereas I wouldn't without it). That moment with Trinity put it back up to 80% but the Marvel-like ending brought it down to 77.5+%. The Marvel-like post closing-credits sequence made me drop the plus sign...it's a cliché aspect to the film which undoes the film's good work in it's use of the other cliché "meta" element. Is it meant as a throwaway joke or is it part of the story? Why bring this "meta" into play again?

* The desires of audiences are discussed in the film. The sense is that rubbish is produced because they want it. That seems to imply that the producers of culture are blameless and that it's the audience's fault for all the rubbish being made. I'd suggest that the producers are more than capable of being derivative, lazy and woeful even when they're aiming high.

* When the 'Sandman' is at 'Rapunzel's tower', is that a narrative mistake of the film (which can be 'fixed' in a sequel) or was it intended?

* Who was Tiffany's reflection on the table when she was having a coffee with Thomas?

* Is the therapist's black cat a red herring?

* A machine in this film reminds me of Songbird in the BioShock Infinite video game.

Spider-Man: No Way Home
(2021)

Spider-Man: No way of not eating your cake too. 72.5%?
Following on the from the ending of the previous film in this series, "Spider-Man: Far from home" (which I've reviewed here), where the identity of Spider-Man is revealed to the world, we see Peter Parker/Spider-Man wish that that wasn't the case. As they say, be careful of what you wish for. Dr. Strange has some unkind words to say about Parker in the aftermath of this but what's that saying about people who live in glass houses? Did Peter subject the good Doctor to peer pressure to get what he wanted? Did Strange want to be one of the "cool kids" by giving Peter what he wanted? Anyway, bad things happen as a result and they need to be fixed. Apparently granting people their wish allows illegal aliens without the correct documentation to enter from multiverses into our own world.

As I said in my review for the previous film (not having the seen the one prior to that, which was the 3rd reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, I believe), I didn't find it a satisfying film until near the end and that ending made me curious to see the next entry, which I've done. It's déjà vu all over again this time, as whilst I didn't find that this new film was as bad as the previous one was (for the most part), it did end in such a way that I was sort of curious to see the next entry in the series as well as the other MCU films which are promoted in the closing credits. These are the kinds of film that I don't really feel happy about paying top dollar to see them at the cinema. If there was a day of the week where you could watch a film cheaply at the cinema, it could be do-able for me. Cheaper than that. I'd settle for seeing it on the non-commercial ABC TV network in Australia, or a summary of the happenings in a Tweet.

"Spider-Man: No way home" is better for not having that 'awkward teenage romance' aspect of the previous film but the way that it dealt with Peter Parker's identity as Spider-Man being revealed just didn't grab me. Maybe I would have preferred a more domestic focus on the impact this has on Peter but then again, maybe the way that it is handled in the film is fair enough. After that stuff is resolved - and I'm not even sure that it is resolved in a way that makes sense, as in it makes sense why Parker is no longer a hunted target - the film focuses on providing fan service to long-time devotees of this character's forays into film. You'll see familiar villains return as a result of Parker's wish, which he'll have to deal with in one way or another.

I might have mentioned in a previous review for a Spider-Man film or elsewhere online that I thought it was ridiculous how many reboots this franchise has had in such a short space of time. Maybe I should have waited for the next actor to play Spider-Man to find one that I can enjoy an entire series of films with? Maybe this whole "multiverse" conceit makes that more possible? E.g. You could have dozens of Spider-Man films being released each year with different actors in all of them. Anyway, it's ironic that multiverse 'logic' has the post facto effect of making all those previous iterations of Spider-Man seem as some sort of 'grand plan' by Marvel Studios. With these kinds of fantasies I like to imagine that the superhero inhabits OUR world. With the multiverse, it's a case of: "Oh, so we're watching a film set in some OTHER universe". If I was to see a new actor play Spider-Man in the future and it had the conceit of being set in our world (until a later sequel?), it would devalue the story of the Spider-Man in this film (S-M:NWH) being OUR Spider-Man.

That being said, I think that long-time devotees of this cinematic character will enjoy the fan service that this film provides. When this happens, some of the exchanges between characters are fun and you're glad that those questions are asked or whatever. However, I do feel that the writers could have spent a bit more time thinking about what kinds of conversations could have been had and writing those down, perhaps in a quieter setting too, so that the viewer could dwell on them. Years ago I said on an online forum or somewhere that I wondered if or why Peter Parker didn't weave a 'brown web of justice', referring to the physiology of spiders. That topic gets brought up in this film, albeit less crudely than I put it.

How to score this film? I'd say that I was leaning on a score of 70% but the fan service later on in the film made me decide on 72.5%. However, with these kinds of films, I think that my scores which are around the 70% mark might be more like a professional critic's 60% score. In that case, maybe I should score this film 65% (but 6 out of 10 stars on IMDB) or 65+% (to get 7 out of 10 stars on this site according to my scoring system)? Take your pick

Notes to self:

* There's an 'interesting' scene where a surprise visitor meets Ned's mum (?) and they recognise one another, it seems to me. My question is: what effect does that have on the 'reality' of the world we are seeing? Does it even make sense anymore? If they do recognise each other, then looks like a logical loophole, it seems to me, in the film's world-building. The same sequence has another inexplicable moment, when someone says "They're not your friends" and action ensues. I have no idea what that was all about either.

* There's a line in the closing credits which reads something like: "Avi Arad the original true believer". I see that that person is the executive producer of this film so it would be interesting to know the background to that assertion.

* I'm not so personally invested in this series to get excited about some of the surprises that this film had in store but it didn't sound like anyone else in the cinema was that much of a superfan either to get THAT excited. However, I do concede that I found some of those moments of interaction to have emotional gravity which was well conveyed by the actors concerned.

Dune: Part One
(2021)

Dune: Episode 1 - A new hope for science fiction for adults. 87.5%
When I was in high school, I think that I once came across Frank Herbert's book "Dune" in a random manner in the library. If I borrowed it or began to read it, I don't think that I made it too far into the first page before deciding that it wasn't for me, as in I just had no interest in continuing reading the book. Many years ago (in 1984) there was a film adaptation of the book which, by many reports, was a mess but I can't comment on this as I never saw it. These omens did not bode well for me in deciding to watch this latest adaptation of the very long novel. So, in the spirit of just giving this film a go, I went to the cinema today to see it, perhaps with a nagging suspicion that I would find it to be very dry and very boring. Despite its long running time (156 minutes), I enjoyed this epic science fiction tale which, at the start, announces that it is the first part (unlike the promotional material for it). Although I have no idea how many sequels are to follow, I will look forward to seeing the next one, at least. Perhaps I might even consider watching David Lynch's 1984 version at some point in the future...after I see the conclusion to the new adaptation.

The story concerns the royal family of Duke Leto of House Atreides (played by Oscar Isaac) being commanded to take over the spice mining operation on the planet Arrakis from the incumbents, House Harkonnen, by an emperor we never see. I appreciated how well the film portrayed both the nature of spice and the politics behind the emperor's decision to change which royal family ran the mining operation.

Looking at the film, you can see how Herbert modelled this world in a galaxy far, far away (perhaps...or is this some future where humans have colonised other worlds?) on human historical eras. Even the word "spice" would conjure history lessons some of us might have taken (if I studied the spice trade in history lessons, well, I've already forgotten about it). In any case, in this film, spice is a substance which has differing value/s to the 'indigenous' Fremen and the colonising royal rulers from other planets who exploit it. You don't see the results of this lucrative trade beyond the world of Arrakis, really. Hopefully the next instalment will reveal that. In any case, spice being so lucrative has left House Harkonnen enraged that they no longer control the trade and that will create problems for House Atreides. There will be blood spilt.

House Atreides comprises Duke Leto's concubine Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), who has a background in something akin to a religious cult, perhaps, and her son with the Duke, Paul (Timothée Chalamet), who is a young adult and the Duke's only child and heir. Paul has dreams of Arrakis and the 'natives' there, who are akin to Arabs in deserts here on Earth. The 'natives' have striking blue eyes, due to the influence of the substance spice in their environment. Paul has never been to Arrakis though. A hero's quest is in play here, which is nicely undercut by a remark of Lady Jessica's 'cult' superior. Maybe Paul can be likened to the Luke Skywalker character from the Star Wars films...Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård) has a flicker of Darth Vader about him too (no plot spoilers there and I'd add that the scene where he is introduced is lifted from "Apocalypse now" where we first meet Colonel Kurtz, from memory). Despite this Star Wars analogy by me, "Dune" is a more sophisticated science fiction epic. Its analysis of the galaxy's politics as well as the nature of religion are more nourishing to the mind than George Lucas' Star Wars films or, at least, more grounded in realpolitik which is recognisably human in nature. Having brought up Star Wars, I'm now reminded of another parallel...the worms of Arrakis...they remind me of a scene in "The Empire strikes back" where Han Solo tries to avoid pursuers by going into an asteroid field. It wouldn't surprise me at all if George Lucas drew influence from Frank Herbert's novel. (Edit in: and then I remembered "the voice" element of this film, which again has an echo in Star Wars...and then I read The Age's review of this film - 02/12/2021 - which confirms the influence on George Lucas.)

All in all, this film kept me engaged for its entirety and I do remember laughing out loud for one part of it, probably the scene involving spitting. I did have concerns whether my bladder could last the distance but fortunately it did...I suspect that it could have lasted another 30 minutes, at least. There should be an IMDB badge for this, with a picture of a bladder saying: "That all you got?".

Random notes:

* The scene where the nephew of Baron Harkonnen, Glossu Rabban (played by Dave Bautista), is introduced seemed a bit overplayed, as in it was signalling in an obvious manner that he was metaphorically drunk on power.

* I don't know how much content was missed in the film compared to the book. On reflection, a large distance is covered between the start and where it ends, however, I never felt like there was too much missing and perhaps any shortening is justified for a film.

* Some of Paul's interactions with his family's warriors seemed out of place, a bit too 'dudebro', for my tastes, as if it was a Disney Star Wars film.

* Some aircraft reminded me of dragonflies.

* Every now and again I struggled to hear clearly what was being said.

For the scoring of this film, it was an easy 80%, which I considered turning into 85% (but still 8 out of 10 stars from me on this site) to 85+% (in order to nudge it to 9 out of 10 stars on this site). 90% was considered but maybe 87.5% is fair, considering it was an engaging experience from start to end and I want to see the sequel. Having seen a few Marvel films recently, I half expected to see a closing credits sequence where we see how the franchise will overlap with another Marvel character's franchise. It's a relief to not get that in this case!

N. B. Maybe for younger viewers, they could find watching this film "boring" but I suspect that if they do find it so, they may very well find it more rewarding rewatching it when they're older. I can't imagine that people would find this film boring and not something like George Lucas' "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The phantom menace". After the joy experienced seeing his first film (as a child) in this franchise ("Star wars", episode 4!), it was a poor way to start a new trilogy in this world.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage
(2021)

Venom: Let there be foolhardy. 72.5+%
Where the adventures of an alien life form from outer space known as "Venom", which is cohabiting in the body of previously unremarkable journalist Eddie Brock (played by Tom Hardy), continue. Eddie seems otherwise normal but when danger arises, Venom may protrude from his body or even transform him into Venom in order to deal with it. This time the plot concerns how the reckless actions of Venom gives rise to a new foe which scares even Venom himself. Why that fear should exist in him (it?) is glossed over in the film but perhaps is explained in some other medium in which the characters exists, like comics or whatever, so, in that sense, it excludes the casual viewer of this film.

The principal antagonist is Cletus Kasady (played by Woody Harrelson). With Frances Barrison (played by Naomi Harris), they are star-crossed lovers, following a well-worn trajectory: boy meets girl, girl is forced into high-security detention due to an X-Men kind of superhero ability, boy becomes even more of a mass murderer than he was before and...you can guess the rest, I'm sure.

I saw a trailer for this film in the cinema a few weeks back and it looked interesting enough to take a chance by seeing it, even though I hadn't seen the original film in this new franchise which is, no doubt, the origin story of the Brock/Venom pairing (not quite as formidable a pairing as Brock/Richards or Brock/Perkins but still). Generally I found the film amusing enough for the odd couple antics of Brock/Venom. Well, since I've never seen the TV series "The odd couple", maybe the better analogy is to invoke the antics of an old couple which bickers most of the time. Most of the humour comes from Venom but maybe I only understood what he said about two thirds of the time, due to the special effects applied to generate his voice. There's violence in the film but I don't remember it being too shocking (I saw this today), however, if you are squeamish, I suppose the appearance of Venom out of Brock could be a bit much for some although it's more anodyne body horror than anything else. Otherwise there's really not to much to wag your finger about. There was frequent talk of "brains" in the film but, again, any horror or violence is only intimated. The "M" rating the film has in Australia is appropriate.

If you can say that the narrative arc of Kasady and Barrison is shown here, maybe you can also say that other characters' origin stories as superpowered are also shown but once again, I'd guess that to get full value from those scenes, you'd need to be immersed in the lore of this world from other media, like comics etc.

Maybe others will get more value from the Kasady/Barrison narrative arc than I did and rate this film higher than me. Which is not to say that I don't realise that Kasady does raise a fair point to Brock late in the film. This film was entertaining enough but even the usual Marvel teaser during the end credits didn't leave me with the desire to see the next Venom film. I do have a vague recollection of that original film being received negatively by audiences and critics, which was confirmed by looking at the Wikipedia page for it in writing this review. That being said, I might be interested in seeing that Venom origin story...and I missed the chance to record it on FTA commercial TV the other day...so...maybe next time? I would hazard a guess that the humour works better in this first sequel, in any case...although...I found the character of Doctor Dan (played by Reid Scott) a wet blanket in this film. There's not much sophistication to his time on the screen. Maybe he's not bad...he's just drawn that way?

No Time to Die
(2021)

No time to die. Daniel Craig the alpha male and omega man of Bond. 80% (85% seasonally adjusted)
26/25 (25th of 25 official Bond films)

Daniel Craig departs his service as James Bond, Agent 007 on a high. His tenure has been unique in the franchise insofar as his films have had a coherent, narrative arc which charts the course of this character, from go to whoah. You could do worse than to start this franchise with the Craig films, in chronological order, starting with "Casino Royale". That first outing of his was one of the best in the franchise. Whilst, in my opinion, Roger Moore had more good films playing this character than anyone else, the films which bookend Moore's tenure are two of the worst in the franchise's history. Craig is also unique in starting and finishing his tenure in such a strong manner. I've mentioned in another Bond film review here that Sean Connery's Bond never acknowledged the existence of other actors' turns as the character. Craig's tenure is sort of similar, in that his Bond's narrative arc is self-contained and excludes other films in the franchise for that reason.

I won't divulge too much information about this latest entry in the franchise but as can be expected, world peace or the fate of the world are in peril due to weaponised high tech which governments or criminal organisations around the world would love to get their hands on. Another thing to note is that this film is one of the most serious in tone of the franchise (there's an easy to miss small quantum of humour) and is one of the few entries where Bond has formed an intimate relationship with a woman. As usual, Bond is unaware of the background of the women that he forms serious relationships with...perhaps surprisingly. Does nobody screen them?

Devotees of the franchise will no doubt appreciate all the reminders from previous films in the series, irregardless of which actor it was that played Bond before. I'd say that this film recalls my favourite and pick as the best Bond film. We could disagree on what that film would be but with so many references to other Bond films, we could still agree that it recalls the best Bond film.

This film was tracking at 80% throughout for me but just with the ending, I became aware that I was comparing this film with the more popcorn entries in the series. Somehow the ending predisposes me to be more generous with my score, to factor in its dramatic effect. Having just seen the film the same day that I started writing this review (today...but I'm finishing writing this review the next day), at the moment I feel inclined to score this film higher for the drama of the ending. Maybe that inclination may change over time or with a repeat viewing, sometime, if ever, in the future. For some reason, another finale to a favourite character from another story is brought to mind: Dexter. In that TV series, I can't say that the ending pleased me (I have learned that just now, years later, the character and TV show is being revisited). I got the impression that the ending was shoehorned and made to fit the expectations of some sort of 'ideal' audience, whatever that may mean (probably conservative Christians, to be cynical). Similarly, the conclusion to Craig's time as James Bond seems to be invoking some sort of teenage boy's romantic 'ideal' of how to conclude the story...or maybe it's just suited to the real world, where we are living with the COVID-19 pandemic! Given the flimsy connection between Bond movies as a whole and their lack of cohesion, an alternative finale to the character of Bond can be found in the unofficial Sean Connery (the first actor to play Bond in this franchise) outing "Never say never again". At least, that was how I interpreted the end of Bond's career in that film.

No doubt I'll make a point of continuing to see the next actor in the role of James Bond, whenever that film is due to be released. I've seen every canonical film in the series as well as the one non-canonical film that I've seen (I've not seen the 1967 spy parody film "Casino Royale", which, whilst loosely based on author Ian Fleming's character of James Bond is neither canonical nor the same story which Daniel Craig debuted as Bond). What will intrigue me about the next official Bond film though is how it follows on from this. Daniel Craig's last entry in the franchise will be a tough act to follow. If you're interested, I've made a list at this site ranking what are, in my opinion, the best Bond films, canonical and non-canonical.

What follows is a resumption of my formulaic review elements of the previous Bond films that I've seen:

* I was going to say that "No time to die" didn't have the usual Bond pre-title sequence but I suppose that you could say that it sort of does, just not the typical fare, though.

* In the gun barrel sequence, Bond walks too quickly for mind but I'm not sure if it's quicker than usual for Craig's Bond.

* The theme song, by Billie Eilish, is interesting but I think that having lyrics which tie closely to a Bond film might make it lack a more general longevity and it being its own thing. Then again, my favourite Bond songs didn't have this problem, e.g. Any of Shirley Bassey's classic contributions, like "Moonraker" and "Goldfinger", even though they could be nothing other than a Bond related song. And so it goes.

Random observations:

* It seems some Bond fans hated the high tech aspects of Pierce Brosnan's Bond in "Die another day". I wonder how the high tech in Craig's last film will be viewed. Is it believable?

* I doubt that any evil genius could have orchestrated the actions of a certain woman in Italy, early on in the film, as asserted later.

* Despite being the longest of very many Bond films, it's length wasn't an issue for me.

* Generally I find Bond films forgettable. The main villain here seems like I should know him from previously. It seems I should know Bond's love interest too but it's been years since I saw the previous film, so I'd already forgotten her. I can't even remember why M changed. I'll probably remember this film though.

* A brickbat to Scott Murray's review of "Dr. No" in The Age's Green Guide lift-out (21/10/2021), for including too much information about "No time to die". As if any mention of the new film was required for a review of the very first one.

The Many Saints of Newark
(2021)

The many saints of Newark: the absence of ducks makes it hard to follow the story. 65%
Serving as a belated prequel to the lauded mobster themed crime-family drama television series "The Sopranos" (which concluded in 2007), "The many saints of Newark" purports to explain how the anti-hero of that series, mob boss Tony Soprano, came to be the man that he is. After the film had ended, I wouldn't have said that it did this at all. The poster for this film asks the question "Who made Tony Soprano"? Perhaps the word "made" acts as a pun, by suggesting the mafia connotation, as in "made man". In any case, nothing that I saw on the screen suggested to me that the main character of this film, Dickie Moltisanti (played by Alessandro Nivola), "made" Tony Soprano, in any sense of the word. For most of the film, Tony Soprano is a peripheral character, either as a young boy, then a teenager, although he does become more prominent later in the film.

My main gripe with this film is that I found knowing who these characters were or how they related to each other was difficult. Looking up on Wikipedia the date on which the series concluded (at least in the US) might explain that. If I knew the character names from the TV series, I had long since forgotten them. Maybe the film does make an effort to help you in that regard. The film starts by using a narrative device used in the film "American beauty" but I didn't end up linking the narrator's voice to any character in the film. Well, actually I did but I just linked it to the wrong person, Dickie Moltisanti (edit in: well, looks like I didn't, going on the article on this film in The Age's Green Guide liftout, 02/12/2021. Still, I just found this aspect confusing here in a way that I didn't for the film "American beauty"). Is the narrator actually seen in the film? Perhaps the film assumed too much familiarity with characters and events in the TV series? In any case, I was mostly lost as to who these people were. At least with a television series you can get to know characters over an extended period of time and have at least a slight sense of where they fit into the big picture. Since I saw this film in a cinema, I didn't have the luxury of pausing or rewinding the film to clarify what was happening, so I just reluctantly went with the narrator being Dickie. By contrast, at least it was clear what was happening in "American beauty" when the same narrative device was being used.

The story concerns the family life of Dickie Moltisanti, in both the traditional and Mafia sense of the word "family". He is the uncle (uncle?) of Tony Soprano, hence they often interact with each other. You get a sense of what kinds of criminal activity Dickie conducts to make his money and...for other reasons. There is one particularly gruesome torture scene and one sex scene where you see a woman's bare breasts but otherwise it's not a particularly bloody assault on the senses. When you see young Tony Soprano and teenage Tony Soprano, you can see a family resemblance with James Gandolfini, who played Tony in the TV series...perhaps more for the younger Tony, perversely.

The film seems set in the 1960s and extends into the 1970s, I think. One aspect of it which did surprise me was the prominence of African Americans in the drama (I can't remember there being much, if anything, of this in the TV series). Not being American, I can't say whether the scenes of race riots and carnage depicted in Newark has some basis in actual events. It was sort of amusing to see significant black mobsters dressed like pimps (I assume, based on my knowledge of old US TV shows!). Maybe they really did dress like that? I don't know.

Returning to my earlier point about this film not really explaining how Tony Soprano was made (disregarding any ambiguity about the poster's line, as in on one reading it suggests that the film is not about Tony but on another reading it's nothing but about him), well, I suppose that I would ask the question: if Tony's father had spent more time at home, would things have been any different for Tony? I don't think so. In other words, I don't think that any one person "made" Tony Soprano. He grew up surrounded by criminals, what did you expect him to become?

Going back to my earlier point about not knowing who the people in the film were, well, actually, sometimes my recollection of the TV series was triggered. For instance, I remembered that Tony had a sister in the series and I'm pretty sure that I remember what she looked like. That recollection came to me during the film. After watching the film, I remembered Tony's mum from the series and I think I recall what she looked and acted like there too. All this makes me think that maybe the film could have done a better job at placing the characters or reminding us of how this all links back to the TV series? One odd impression that I got from this film was...just about every other female character in the film reminded me of Edie Falco, who played Tony's wife, Edie, in the TV series! I could have been watching "Being Edie Falco"!

Another moment of recognition came towards the end of the film, when I wondered if one character was such-and-such from the TV series and I'm pretty sure that he was...I think I have in mind the man who also played in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.

My final moment of recognition came when I thought that one character kind of looked like an older version of that bloke from that great film about mobsters, "Goodfellas". Turns out there was a good reason for this resemblance!

I'd close this by suggesting that maybe it would be best to see this film if you have recently watched a lot of the original TV series which this film was based on. Maybe you would find it easier to follow than me?

Eternals
(2021)

Eternals: diverse cast and characters rewrite human history. 77.5%
This new entrant in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the origin story of a group of extraterrestrials known as "Eternals", who have been on Earth for millennia, sent here to protect humans from a deadly threat known as "Deviants", which are beasts that prey on them. Then things get complicated. If you've been watching the MCU entries and wondering why you haven't seen or heard of them before, well, the film does explain that, which you may find more or less plausible. Or not. The Eternals look like humans but they just have superhero kinds of powers. And they never age, which kind of makes sense, given that they're called...

The breadth of this film is epic, covering the dawn of human civilisation to the present day, I suppose you'd call it or, at least, after "The Blip", which occurred in "Avengers: Infinity war". That being said, as an origin story, there is no need to be familiar with previous MCU films in order to feel confident watching this one, as it's a stand-alone outing.

An interesting aspect to this film is how it offers an alternative myth to the rise of humans as well as implying that myths and legends which exist in our actual history are wrong. The names of the Eternals play on this notion, with characters called Ikarus (played by Richard Madden), Sersi (Gemma Chan), Ajak (Salma Hayek), Gilgamesh (Don Lee) and Thena (Angelina Jolie) to name but a few. Given how American Christians have protested against 'Satanic' heavy metal music or even Harry Potter, for goodness sake, I'm surprised that they haven't protested against this film for challenging biblical accounts of the nature of the universe!

Now, seeing how these Eternals are depicted as advancing human civilisation over millennia, I suppose that could make one roll one's eyes in disappointment. Maybe I did this initially but I just submitted to the myth and went along for the ride. At the back of my mind, however, was the thought that this depiction patronised humans. If Marvel's counter-myth, which short-changes the ingenuity of humans offends, well, at least be calmed by the knowledge that the works of William Shakespeare aren't attributed to any of the Eternals!

I can't say that seeing this film was something that I was keen to do but I did come across some information somewhere that it was (or would be) directed by Academy Award winning director Chloé Zhao, a woman who grew up in China (she is the first Asian woman to win an Academy Award for direction). Even though I hadn't seen any of her previous films, that titbit was enough of a lure for me to see the film, out of curiosity at least. It was a punt which I'm glad I took, in contrast to a similar scenario, which was also in the MCU, where another Academy Award winning director Ang Lee (a man who was born in Taiwan) directed "Hulk". That Lee film was quite a disappointment to me (I'd say that I saw that before I began reviewing films on the original "The movie show" website and then moved to this site when SBS closed their website). It was conceivable to me that I would also find Zhao's film pretentious and underwhelming but she's done a solid job here. Seeing a trailer for this film recently, it didn't look promising on the comedy front at least, with that scene where an Eternal breaks a table. It looked like humour aimed at very small children. However, I can say that I did laugh other times, so the humour improved (I especially liked the inside humour about online video creators).

If you've seen the two most recent "Avengers" films and the opinions of supervillain Thanos gave you pause for thought, well, you might like the direction that "Eternals" goes into, as it takes this to a whole 'nother level, perhaps, with the character of Arishem.

Anyway, I enjoyed this film but I don't think that I'd make a point of seeing it again and I might not be interested in seeing any sequels (unless, maybe, Zhao also directs it and...the Avengers aren't in it, perhaps). This MCU outing had a diverse cast and diverse characters. A minor gripe for me though was finding it hard to understand dialogue on some occasions, either because of accents or the use of audio effects, like that used for the voice of Arishem.

The following are just random observations for my own benefit:

* Is it weird that Eternals are extraterrestrial in origin yet are otherwise like humans? I mean, I assume that humans can interbreed with them!

* Is it weird that the extraterrestrial Eternals have sex in the missionary position?

* Is it weird that these supreme Eternal beings include the deaf amongst their ranks?

* One Eternal, "Sprite" (Lia McHugh) reminded me of a similar character in "Interview with the vampire" (I think...my memory could be faulty here). Why is there such a young Eternal? What's that all about?

* I was also wondering about the point of the Deviants but if I imagined them to be the inspiration for the concept of "demons", they didn't bother me so much.

* One of Ikarus' superpowers reminded me of Superman...this is referenced later on in the film.

* One part which I found to be unbelievable was where early humans take up arms against obviously much more powerful Eternals...which have just helped them. That didn't ring true to me...for those two reasons.

* Product placement and endorsement by Eternals was quite marked. I counted two such scenes. How about you?

* One scene was presented as being in Australia...I had my doubts about this, for some reason.

* Climate change is brought up in the narrative.

* Lastly, I found the Eternals' frequent ruminations on what makes humans worth saving insipid.

* Lastly, lastly, my scoring for this film was tracking at 75% (7 out of 10 stars here), then 75+% (8 out 10 stars) then my final score of 77.5%.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
(2021)

Shang-Chi and the legend of The Ten Rings - enjoyably unMarvellous film. 80%
"Shang-Chi and the legend of The Ten Rings" is a superhero origin story which seems more like a Chinese martial arts film than the next entrant in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Many years ago I saw "Crouching tiger, hidden dragon" and found the fight scenes in that literally unbelievable a lot of the time. "Shang-Chi" often seems subtle in its fight scenes by comparison but then does have action sequences which are more like MCU superhero films. As an origin story, it assumes no familiarity with the MCU and in fact plays mostly as a non-MCU film, which is what I liked about it.

Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi/Shaun, the son of a mobster, Xu Wenwu (played by Tony Leung) who could quite easily have been the subject of a film or franchise himself, due to his legendary characteristics. Shang-Chi's mother Ying Li (played by Fala Chen) is also a legendary kind of character. This contrast of 'Eastern' legendary figures and 'Western' MCU legendary figures worked to the former's advantage, as the latter often come across as plastic toy figurines being used in a sandpit by small boys to play with.

The plot concerns how Shang-Chi/Shaun sought to move from under the shadow of his father to become his own man but just when he thought he was out, he is pulled back into Wenwu's orbit. The film mixes the seriousness, perhaps, of Chinese martial arts films with the jokey style of American Hollywood films. As should be expected from a MCU film, eventually the fate of the world will come into play and someone will have to play the hero to save it.

The martial arts in this film juxtaposes frenetic fight sequences with elegant and fluid fight scenes which have their own particular charm. Other times the action sequences seem lifted from a Disney live action family film and that was enjoyable too, if you just suspended disbelief.

Speaking of comedy, I found the earliest instance of this to be aiming very low for laughs, which isn't uncommon in MCU films but I warmed to later instances of it. For instance, I was amused by the character of a thespian who sounded like he was from Liverpool, when he reminisced about what he took from a film that he saw as a teenager and how that inspired him to get into acting. That actor playing the thespian did seem familiar, perhaps for his voice but I did recognise his name in the closing credits and remembered the role that he is perhaps best known for.

An interesting aspect to this film is its subject matter, i.e. An Asian superhero and a mostly Asian cast. Is this another attempt by Hollywood to crack the now important Chinese market? If it is, then the cooling relations between the US and China is an unwelcome fly in the ointment for Hollywood studios trying to make a lot of money from Chinese cinemagoers.

Another question that came into my mind was whether "The Ten Rings" is based on Chinese legend or is a Marvel appropriation of Chinese culture, tailored for 'Western' audiences that don't care about cultural authenticity. If it isn't the former, then I think that there could be a niche for films which mine authentic 'Eastern' legends and myths. That could be something which might interest me (Sinophiles would no doubt reel out a long list of films which have done just that!).

As you might have guessed, I wasn't the first in line to see this film. In fact, I wasn't even sure that I wanted to see it, as I haven't watched every line of superhero films in the MCU (maybe I should watch "The Black Panther"?). As it stands, I think it was worth the punt in seeing it. I'd go so far as to say that seeing a sequel to this would be more appealing if it wasn't tied to The Avengers franchise! Furthermore, I would have liked this film not to remind that it was part of the MCU, which it managed to do, at least until the closing credits, which I didn't welcome when it made its first appearance. With that being said, this is the kind of film that you could watch again, after a suitable break. Although I didn't watch this film in 3D, it might be worth it to do so (as sometimes the extra cost of the ticket gives added value to the experience and...sometimes it doesn't).

Notes to self:

* The narrative did have some logical gaps in it, for example why Shang-Chi was attacked on the bus. What was that all about?

* The film was dedicated to the memory of Brad Allan, I think. Not sure who that was...searching now, a few websites list him as the supervising stunt coordinator.

* Reading the closing credits, I was reminded that this film was shot in Australia, which isn't obvious watching it, so, good job studio (I think I saw or heard something on ABC in Australia about how Asian Australians got to be in this film, perhaps a kung fu exponent or exponents)!

* My score for this film was tracking from 75% (7 out of 10 stars) to 75+% (8 out 10 stars) to just a flat 80% final score.

Halloween Kills
(2021)

Halloween kills: a superior if very gory sequel. 75%
"Halloween kills" follows on directly from the previous entry in this franchise, "Halloween" (2018)...eventually. Maybe it doesn't matter if you haven't seen the 2018 film...or the original 1978 film of the same name but it would make sense to watch the 2018 film first, since this follows on from it.

Unexpectedly, the film draws on moments from the earliest entries in the franchise (I've seen at least the first three entries of the original series, then "H20" and lastly these two most recent entries) as well as adding to them, a bit like seeing something that would exist in a "director's cut" of those original films, even though they don't exist.

Something that I like about this film is that you get a glimpse of inspiration for what the story of inhuman serial killer Michael Myers (for some reason I think that that should be spelled "Meyers"...maybe it was originally spelt that way?) could be. In other words, what is his nature? How did he become what he is? How do you bloody well stop him killing again (glancing at Wikipedia for this franchise, it seems that sequels that I haven't seen have delved into some of this territory)? Another way of saying this is that the film tries to grapple with the nature of its subject. That makes the prospect of seeing the next film in this series something that fills me with anticipation (I probably shouldn't have looked up this film on Wikipedia before seeing it, because it has a 'spoiler' that there will be another film in this franchise out next year). That being said, these 'glimpses of inspiration' for the story might just be teases, an empty promise, that even if delivered on, would underwhelm as any such explanation would necessarily disappoint for being unsatisfactory in some way, shape or form, if you pardon the pun. Of course, one lives in hope that the next instalment could in fact deliver something satisfying on that front, so it would be worth the attempt to come up with something good by the film-makers.

As for the film itself, well, as with the last one, it's not really scary, as far as I remember (I did review the previous film here) but it is gorier. After I watched it, I was thinking that it really should be an R rated film, not the MA 15+ that it is here in Australia. It looks like the film is rated R in the US, which would leave teenagers unable to see it. You can't really say that Michael Myers is revelling in the carnage...I would say that the film-makers are, for the benefit of the implied audience. So, there is an emphasis on extreme horror, as opposed to fear, which isn't really generated here. The carnage can be nasty, cruel and sadistic, with the camera lingering on horrifying situations, unnecessarily so, I'd add. Early on, the murder of two black people in their home had me thinking of Michael Meyers "You monster!"...just because they were not typical of the kind of victims you get in this genre of film.

Also unexpectedly, there is some social commentary to this film, concerning mob violence, which was not something that I saw coming. This element does add some poignancy to proceedings and you could ponder the morality of the ones which bring about this outcome or how they compare and contrast to Michael Myers himself.

Watching this film, I did wonder how much I had forgotten from the original, 1978 film...without looking at Wikipedia, I'm thinking that maybe names have been retrofitted to previously nameless characters but even if that is right, maybe they became more than nameless characters in the sequels that I haven't seen?

Before seeing this film, it was likely, I thought, that I would include in my review of it that I would end my involvement with this franchise here, just because I was bored with it or finding it mindlessly repetitive. As I say, instead this film has whetted my appetite for the sequel. Hopefully that will be final instalment for this franchise. Hopefully it can at least function as a canonical ending to the series...until some producers think that they can make some money resurrecting Michael Myers, which is probably where I will finally have lost interest in seeing any more of these films. There is actually a film in this franchise with the word "resurrection", I see!

My prediction at the end of my review for the previous film as to where I thought the next film would go was dead wrong (I didn't state my predictions but I had some thoughts on where it could go, given the finale of that previous film). Instead, after a strangely long opening credits sequence, this film offered up some more surprises for me (even though in some respects, it necessarily follows in the footsteps of "Halloween II", the sequel to the 1978 film). That's what has lifted my score for this and made me interested in seeing the next instalment. Hopefully it can deliver on some of the promise in this one, perhaps be a bit less gory and wouldn't it be nice if it was scary to boot?

Recommendations:

Halloween (1978). Years ago I learned that this was one of the most successful films of all time, based on box office returns on the production costs.

Halloween II (I'm going on memory here, I saw it a very long time ago on VHS rental but remember liking it).

Hellraiser. This film is the stuff of nightmares and I found it genuinely scary, from memory.

The shining. I came to regard this Stanley Kubrick film as an artistic classic, after initially not finding it as horrific as it was hyped to be by the students in my high school.

The exorcist

Candyman (1992)

Evil dead II (I found this to be a very funny horror film!)

Scream

Showgirls (haven't actually seen this but it's meant to be absolutely frightening!)

Note to self:

Maybe I should watch the Rob Zombie reboot of Halloween films?

Free Guy
(2021)

A mash-up of fairy tale and video game action fare. 72.5+%
The plot of this film concerns an extremely realistic looking world in an online, open-world action video game called "Free City" which is very popular amongst gamers in the real world. An ordinary looking person in that game, called "Guy" (played by Ryan Reynolds), starts having a very disruptive effect on people who play the game in the real world...as well as characters in the game itself. As we later get a glimpse into the real world, we learn that there is some drama between the makers of the game and other game developers. This tension supplies the action quotient of the film, which plays out in both the real world and the world of the game.

"Free guy" ("Free Guy"?) has elements of fairytale, action, comedy and romance. Some way into this film, I was thinking that it might have worked better as entertainment if it was aimed at a much younger audience, as in being an actual Disney family film, where the whole family could watch it and enjoy it. On many fronts it functions on that level, from the comedy, to the action and to the romance, with the latter being very chaste. However, there is one scene very early on where a character gets a very badly broken nose, which is not pleasant to look at, so moments like that definitely rule out a younger audience, even though it is otherwise a Disney kind of family film in most other respects. That being said, the humour is at times queer in this film, uncomfortably so at times, though not without raising a smile, like the scene where Ryan's best friend "Buddy"(! Played by Lil Rel Howery) gets friendly with a familiar looking big, strapping bloke.

"Guy", as played by Ryan Reynolds is pretty much a variation on the character he's played in all the other films that I've seen him in recently, like "Hobbs & Shaw" and the "Deadpool" films. In this film, Reynolds turns his usual schtick up to "4". It makes me wonder if Reynolds contributes dialogue to the characters that he plays or whether he has a usual collaborator who comes up with this kind of weird stuff. His dialogue can be inappropriate yet amusing, for instance when he makes religious references.

For what it's worth, I managed to work out the mystery surrounding Guy before the characters which brought my attention to this mystery.

"Free guy/Guy" did bring to mind other films that I have seen, like "The matrix" (I see no reason why you couldn't also get philosophical and deep with this film) and a couple of other films for specific elements, like "Dark City" (with regard to a location in the film) and "They live" (which I haven't seen but the thing with sunglasses here reminded me of what I read about the older film). Looking at a review online, I was reminded of "The Truman show" which would also be a point of comparison for this release.

Watching this film, it was tracking to score 70% from me but leading up to the halfway point it wasn't really doing it for me, so I was looking to score it maybe 67.5+%. However, from the second half onward I found myself laughing more and getting more out of the film. That's just to say that I found it reasonably entertaining without regarding it as the best example of a Hollywood 'popcorn' film. I enjoyed Reynolds' performance more in "Hobbs & Shaw" (going on memory) and I liked "Boss level" more, which also has a video game element to it (I've reviewed both films here). However, "Free Guy" does work on a slightly-inappropriate-for-a-Disney-film level.

The Suicide Squad
(2021)

The suicide squad: ridiculous, gory, funny and entertaining. 80%
Looking back at my review of "Suicide squad", I see that all the negative criticisms that I had about the original are now positives in the later film with nearly the same name: this time the characters are engaging; this time it doesn't matter if you have no idea who these characters are; this time I laughed more than once. I laughed numerous times; this time the soundtrack wasn't used to substitute for the film's inability to offer up anything engaging or entertaining. The early use of Johnny Cash's song "Folsom Prison blues" was relevant. It reminded me of how dark his lyrics were, when he sang: "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die". Wow! That surely sets up the characters we are about to see!; lastly, I think that this film actually has some repeat viewing value, given enough time between sittings.

Now, the plot. Does anyone really care about this for Hollywood comic book related multiplex offerings? If you insist, a team of supervillains is assembled in a notorious gaol in order to undertake a black op of a suicidal nature (hence the film's title) which, if successful, would see the surviving supervillains get a discount on their gaol sentence. Of course, the supervillains need an incentive to cooperate with the authorities running the covert US government operations. The black op will be centred in a fictional island off of South America and science fantasy elements will feature.

Idris Elba's supervillain character of "Bloodsport" is engaging, as far as what motivates him to join the suicide squad. There's a great scene where he meets his daughter for the first time in a long time. Margot Robbie's character of "Harley Quinn" is no doubt considered by the studio to be the pivotal figure of this franchise but I must say that I found John Cena's turn as "Peacemaker" much more enjoyable, especially early on, where he contributed more than his fair share to the comedy quotient of this film. Later on, Harley Quinn's narrative arc did become more satisfying but not being a consumer of the comics or cartoons, I can't say that she held a lot of cultural cachet for me (I really have to mention Chloë Grace Moretz' wonderfully brilliant turn as Hit-Girl in the comic book related film "Kick-Ass"). As an Australian, I was surprised to be actually amused by some dialogue from Jai Courtney's "Captain Kangaroo". I can't remember having that thought for the first film. It wasn't exactly champagne comedy from him but at least it was passable.

This revamped Suicide Squad seems to have been written by actual, professional screenwriters who know how to construct a good popcorn movie although, I have to say, with the amount of blood and gore in this film, I'm not sure if everybody would be glad to have chosen to be eating something whilst watching this film. In Australia, this film has an MA 15+ rating, so it has blood and gore but unlike a horror movie, there's not a lot of detail on the gore, if that's any recommendation. Given my comments about the first film in this franchise, I would hazard a guess that that first film was written by the studio's marketing department, with input from the accounting department. A rubbish script, in other words.

Another aspect to the comedy is how some of the characters say things that the audience is no doubt thinking, like how ridiculous a character's superpower is. Since I'm not familiar with the comics or cartoons which inspired this film franchise, I can't say whether all the characters here have featured elsewhere. But gee, David Dastmalchian's "Polka-Dot Man" is a ridiculous concept for a character. Sylvester Stallone's "King Shark" isn't much better. There is some fun to be had with these characters though. Perhaps this kind of treatment of the material is because of the impossibility of taking it seriously? That's why this film treats it subject matter so ironically, perhaps. Maybe it's just me though. Watching The Dark Knight trilogy, I came to realise that Batman is actually a boring character and I just wanted to see Heath Ledger's Joker dominate proceedings in the second instalment. Speaking of The Joker, he isn't in this film. That's not something that bothered me at all either. In any case, the characters in "The suicide squad" to give one the impression of this is like watching children play pretend and coming with some cheap, home-made ideas for comic book characters, hence the risibility of it all.

On the subject of ironic treatment of material, this film eschews film clichés like text on the screen indicating place or proceedings. Instead, elements of the picture will form this information, to interesting effect at times. If that's not the kind of thing that you find clever, at least you might appreciate the frequent use of callbacks as far as character proceedings go. In other words, a scene will recall something which happened earlier with a particular character.

Lastly, I should note that the film does critique America's real involvement in that part of the world, as far as supporting brutal regimes go (or least it can't but help remind us of this). There's actually a funny moment in this film where a revelation is made after you see the suicide squad kill a lot of people on their mission. They pretty much embody, at that moment, America's foreign policy strategy and outcomes in the real world. Perhaps that outlook is common in this fictional world? Could you describe that critique of US foreign policy as 'woke'? If this film was directed by Jordan Peele, an African American, would it be considered woke? I ask that because I've noticed that Peele's soft reboot of "Candyman", entitled..."Candyman", has been review bombed on this site for being "woke". Reviewers here are actually using that word. This speaks to who has the 'right' to critique America.

Stay for the post-credits. It might entice viewers to watch a sequel to this.

Candyman
(2021)

I would have liked more from Jordan Peele's take on Candyman. 75+/100
The plot of this film concerns a young black artist, Anthony McCoy (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who is in a relationship with a successful African American art gallery director, Brianna Cartwright (played by Teyonah Parris ). They live in a gentrified part of Chicago which was once home to poor black people. There are some obvious racial implications with this context. Anthony learns of an urban legend, concerning a black serial killer called "Candyman" and he becomes obsessed with this story and creates some new art works on this theme which are part of an exhibition. The urban legend of Candyman goes that if you stand in front of a mirror and say "Candyman" five times, you will summon the murderous spirit of Candyman. McCoy's exhibition references this. Soon after, people associated with his exhibition begin being murdered, as do some of the people who attended it. Is Candyman responsible for these grisly murders?

Seeing a poster for this film at my local cinema, my initial impulse was to not see it, as I do remember really liking a film of the same name from many years ago, which I probably hired on VHS (I've reviewed that earlier film here), making the assumption that it was a remake which wouldn't be as good as the original. However, a name on the poster rang a bell in my mind: Jordan Peele. Despite not having seen any of Peele's films, I was aware that his films dealt with issues of race and were both critically and commercially successful. So, I thought that I'd see this film, to, hopefully, get a contemporary, race-conscious take on this tale.

Watching the film begin, I thought that this was a reboot of the original film but having some months earlier come across, sort of randomly, the term "soft reboot" on the tvtropes website, I'd say that that sounds like the term to use for this new film. I say that because later in the film, it references the story in the first film and builds on its mythos.

As far as the horror quotient goes, it seems pretty standard as far as mainstream, cinema multiplex films go, with an MA 15+ rating here in Australia. There's not a copious amount of murder scenes but there is a lot of blood and shots of wounds when they are shown. Not for the squeamish, in other words.

Maybe mainstream horror films have to work harder to impress me now or scare me. I was conscious of being less interested in the horror aspect to this story than the perspective that Peele would bring to it. Perhaps it took too long for the penny to drop for me but at some point the suggestion in the film to "say his name", when it came to Candyman, did bring to mind all the news of the last year or so concerning "BLM" (Black Lives Matter). On that front, I feel that the film falls short on what I would have liked it to do, once I formed the opinion that what it was doing wasn't enough for me. For example, earlier this year (31/05/2021) there was a story on NPR, I think, concerning the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre/Black Wall Street massacre, where mobs of white thugs razed a thriving black neighbourhood to the ground, murdering, on some estimates, 300 black Americans (via Wikipedia). This history demonstrates that truth is more horrific than what horror films can conjure. For that reason, America has suppressed/repressed its black history. How much more powerful could a film like "Candyman" have been if it referenced countless historic moments like this? Which is to say, I would have appreciated a Quentin Tarantino kind of take on this story, a la his films like "Once upon a time in Hollywood" or "Inglourious basterds". In any case, it's an open question on how "say his name" interacts with the real world and the film's world.

Another aspect on the horror genre here was my failure to take seriously the horror premise of this film: saying "Candyman" five times in front of a mirror. Reading the end credits I saw that the source material for this urban legend was a short story by white author Clive Barker, called "The forbidden". Now, many years ago I encountered another film adaptation of one of his works, called "Hellraiser". The scenario in that was just more compelling than that of "Candyman". In other words, the world he creates there just seems more logical, as far as why people would do the things that summon these nightmares.

Like one of Ridley Scott's sequels to "Alien", the people in "Candyman" just struck me as being stupid at times. For instance, the art critic's line of questioning at home to her guest. Not sure why she invited that person there, given her questions. It was also really odd that McCoy didn't see a doctor about his hand...or that none of his friends suggested he do so! The visual aesthetic of these scenes reminded me of the remake of "The fly". Also, no doubt unfair but are painters usually as buff as McCoy?

One thought which occurred to me was the nature of the Candyman killings, as far as who the victims were. That reminded me of the first time watching films that this kind of thinking occurred to me: Freaky. I've also reviewed that film here. After seeing this new Candyman, I just thought that there would have been scope for a more "What goes around comes around" kind of interpretation. Then again, the victims of 'Candyman' probably do fit that bill. This film was tracking to score 75/100 (7 out of 10 stars) but I liked the turn it took towards the end, so I added a "+" to it, which justifies the bump up to 8 out 10 stars here.

The original's sensuality makes a repeat viewing desirable. The 2021 version doesn't have that quality but it does have some irony and humour.

Miscellaneous:

* McCoy's mother looked too young to be his mother, I thought!

* It later occurred to me that the depiction of a gay couple in this film would have been a lot more transgressive if their race was swapped. Perhaps Peele would have felt that that was a bridge too far for a mainstream American audience?

The Father
(2020)

The father. Old person simulator. 80%
It occurred to me to watch this film after hearing a review of it on Nightlife (ABC Local radio, Australia, 06/04/2021). The regular film reviewer, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, mentioned how it put you into the circumstances of the main character, an elderly man who is losing his mental proficiency. That aspect intrigued me, so I thought that I would see it and this cinematic technique prompts my headline of it being an 'old person simulator'.

Anthony Hopkins heads a strong cast as the elderly father of the title, Antony (that's how the cast pronounce the name). He is fiercely independent and resists the attempts of his daughter, Anne (played by Olivia Colman), to have someone look after him at his flat. Hopkins is so believable in his portrayal of a man in those circumstances that it would be quite easy to believe that one was watching a documentary on this topic. For that reason, he deserves to be in contention for Best Actor awards this year.

Despite its subject matter, The Father can be funny at times, either because of the occasional boyish charm of Antony or because of the dramatic irony of the things that he says. There was one striking moment for me though, when I caught a glimpse of Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter, near the end of a sequence with Laura, a carer Anne had arranged to meet Antony for the first time that day. Antony was an engineer but up until that moment, amuses her with accounts of what he used to do. These seem like banter to me, rather than symptomatic of anything.

If it wasn't for the review on Nightlife, I might not have thought to wonder if the film was playing tricks with me, with regard to a sequence with Antony and a woman telling him that she is his daughter. Later in the film you do get noticeable instances of characters unexpectedly appearing and reappearing again in different form. This is all part of the 'old person simulator' that I speak of. It's engaging as a cinematic device, as I like how it afforded me the opportunity to reinterpret what I had seen before and to try and grasp reality with this knowledge. One way to characterise this cinematic device would be to say that it messes with your head. That is in no way is a negative for the film. Some things remain mysterious without being annoying, like the 'other' daughter that Antony constantly speaks about but whom we never see.

Despite the narrative device of an 'old person simulator' being used, I did find some moments more marked for perhaps inexplicable reasons. For example, there is one sequence where Antony overhears a conversation between Anne and her partner. This moment serves as bookends for a sequence. For some reason I found that bookended sequence more incongruous than anything else in the film.

In the same way that I enjoyed reinterpreting what I had seen earlier in the film and feeling that I could touch reality with it, I wonder whether Antony could too, at the end. There is dramatic irony in the closing sequence and if Antony does gain the insight that the viewer can, you might feel sure that it is only momentary.

Notes to self:

* Listening to the music at the start of the film, I felt that it would be a Michael Nyman composition (a frequent collaborator with director Peter Greenaway) but the opening credits proved me wrong. Later on there is some, I assume, classical music which predates Nyman's compositions, which makes me think that the influence is going the other way, as far as Nyman is concerned. In any case, it might be worth buying the soundtrack to this album, as it seems to include both original compositions and classical music repertoire.

* An initial query on my part as to the plausibility of the events of this film concerned the woman at the end of the film. I did wonder whether her patience with Antony was believable. Not long after that, I did wonder whether Anne's approach was believable too. In other words, it occurred to me that maybe this story of a daughter and her elderly father might be more believable in another context, for example, if set in France (the film is co-written as well as directed by Frenchman Florian Zeller, based on his earlier play). I'm not familiar with these scenarios in any case, so it might be easily plausible on both counts.

* There was one concerning scene between Antony and Anne's partner, where Antony ended up crying. I did wonder whether the incident actually occurred or not.

* Lastly, with regard to where the film ended up finishing, I am left to wonder whether what we saw from the start of the film actually occurs before then, as in the film being a sequence of temporal slices which actually happen and are witnessed by the viewer as they happen. If not, then that seems to me to make less incongruous that bookend scene where Antony overhears a conversation between Anne and her partner. However, it now does occur to me that maybe I am put in the position of Antony and one of his 'tests' for whether carers are thieves or not.

Nobody
(2021)

An absurd violent male fantasy for those who like this kind of stuff played mostly straight. 60%
"Nobody" has the sense of being an intentionally unintentionally funny film. The plot concerns how when criminals invade the home of a "nobody", hurting his family and making him look weak in the eyes of his loved ones, they have messed with the wrong man. A copious number of additional criminals will come to the same realisation. It's as if the film was written by a teenage boy, hence the lack of realism.

Bob Odenkirk plays the "nobody" of the title, a man called Hutch Mansell. I know Odenkirk from the quality drama series "Breaking bad", although his character in that has gotten a spin-off series (Better call Saul) which I haven't seen. I was going to say that the poster for "Nobody" reminded me of the poster for "Kindergarten cop" but I can't seem to find such an image online. Maybe Odenkirk also reminded me of Tom Arnold, as far as his appearance goes in that poster. Anyway, when you see Hutch doing pull-ups waiting for a bus, you realise that there may be more to this man with a seemingly humdrum life working for...is it Universal Exports? I dunno, so boring.

Anyway, after his home is invaded by robbers, things quickly escalate and Hutch will soon have to be dealing with Boss Level criminals. This is part of this genre's arc...a mild-mannered man turns into a lion, redeeming himself in the eyes of his family. This is quite a violent film but I didn't find it as odious as the implied violence of "Law abiding citizen" Sometimes the violence is played for laughs though.

The main reason I'm not scoring this film very highly is its lack of realism and the perfunctory humour and manipulation of the audience's emotions. Hutch takes a lot of punishment in this film, short of being crucified in order to fuel this homicidal fantasy, so that he can be resurrected as a God of Vengeance. That being said, it doesn't quite go to The Black Knight territory on that front though.

Back to the humour in this film, I was going to call it "dry" but the Oxford online dictionary defines that as "(of a joke or sense of humour) subtle and expressed in a matter-of-fact way", so, if you remove "subtle" from the definition, you pretty much have it. The humour and violence may please teenage boys but that's a very low bar. If you watched the sitcom Happy Days as a child, did you find The Fonz really cool? When watching it as an adult, are you staggered at how little The Fonz had to do to seem cool? Just me? Anyway, "Nobody", like The Fonz, is minimalist when it comes to the humour and it is very tired in any case. For instance, there's a variation on 'the family that slays together stays together'. Some might find this 1970's level cop-show humour funny but I think it stopped being funny...back in the 1970's. A comparable film as far as the humour goes can be found in the marginally funnier "Freaky". I have in mind the scene where Vince Vaughn's character is in the back seat with a teenage boy (see my review of that film).

It would be true to say that if I found myself in Hutch's position, it would have only taken a look by me to intimidate all those nasty criminals. Of course, that wouldn't make for a very exciting 2 minute film. This film is 92 minutes long. I shouldn't have had those couple of coffees before seeing this film. Maybe when I went to the loo a few times during the 'quiet' moments of this film, I missed some drama which grounded the story more.

It seems like I'm a sucker for these kinds of films. I found the very recent "Boss level" a much more entertaining violent male fantasy with a sense of humour. Its star, Frank Grillo, really puts Odenkirk's pull-ups to shame just looking at his physique. As a kid, I saw the early Death Wish films. One of these days I should revisit some of those. That was a violent male fantasy played straight. Maybe it did it better too.

Edit: After seeing this film, I saw an online article in Variety by Rebecca Rubin ("Bob Odenkirk knows he's not your typical action star. Will 'Nobody' change that?") which does give an interesting insight into the origin of this film, from Odenkirk's personal experience.

Boss Level
(2020)

Boss level: What if life was like an action video game? Score: 90%
Getting its title from the frustratingly hard to get past sections of action video/arcade games, "Boss level" is more entertaining than the premise should allow and has fun with the concept, piling on the video game references. The basic plot, delivered in the style of a Deadpool film, starts off proceedings: our hero, Roy Pulver (played by Frank Grillo, who is new to me, so he doesn't stand out to me in the films which I've seen which apparently have him in it, like Minority Report , Edge Of Darkness, Zero Dark Thirty and Avengers: Endgame), a former US Special Forces member, wakes up every morning with a a conga line of suckholes (as notorious Australian Labor Party leader Mark Latham would put it) trying to kill him. And succeeding. Every day. Despite his best efforts to stay alive. In this way, the film is a twist on the romantic comedy "Groundhog Day" (although the reality of video game boss levels predates that earlier film). In the way that video game players constantly have their character die, requiring them to play through that section again, in order to proceed the game, there is a lot of repetition in the film. However, this doesn't work against the entertainment value of the film. Like Groundhog Day, Boss Level has a few funny moments, making me laugh out loud. Unlike Groundhog Day, Boss Level has a lot of violence. I'll return to that point later.

What makes Boss Level a superior take on this concept is that the mystery of this phenomenon drives the story forward. Like Roy, we want to find out what on Earth is happening to make this bizarre reality. I'm not sure if it took me shorter or longer than average to have the gist of the answer to this mystery. There is a science fictiony explanation but, unlike last year's film "Tenet", it makes no pretence of being based on any sort of science or science speculation. And it's all the better for it. If you like your sci-fi serious, this film is probably not for you.

Returning to the topic of violence, there is a lot of graphic violence. Whether intentionally or not, the horrific nature of some of the violence didn't disturb me. In other hands, some of the violence would have been painful to watch. If you feel sympathy pain watching violence inflicted on people, this could be an uncomfortable 100 minutes to sit through. I had a really bad reaction to the implied violence in the flim "Law abiding citizen" and gave it a low score in my review of it here. Other films with ultra violence I've enjoyed immensely, like "Watchmen" and "Kick-Ass". Fortunately the violence in Boss Level is of a comic-book variety, not traumatising to watch.

Another aspect of the superior storytelling of this film is how new information is drip-fed to both Roy and the audience. It's these narrative additions which make the film richer to watch. Weak genre films lack these tricks. When I watched the horror movie "The exorcist" years later, I appreciated its attention to realism, which weak genre pictures eschew in favour of just getting to the next kill scene or what have you.

Returning to the topic of Groundhog Day, there was one striking scene in that, where Bill Murray's character tries to recreate a wonderful moment with Andie MacDowell's character. There is overlap as well as divergence between the two films as far as how these repetitions play out or evolve.

Naomi Watts doesn't exactly have a thankless role as Roy's ex.

Another (more or less) Australian actor with a major role is Mel Gibson.

I didn't mind the ending of the film. Maybe I should have been looking closely at Roy's eyes?

Random observations:

* I chanced upon a mention of this film somewhere and after looking at its Wikipedia entry for the reception to it, I took a chance on it after finding the premise interesting.

* Frank Grillo looks to have spent a LOT of time in the gym! Maybe he has looked like that since his work in the Marvel films?

* There is a dedication to Ros Grillo for the closing credits. I'm not sure who she is. Rio Grillo, I read, is Frank's son in real life, not just this film!

* Towards the end of the film, I had the feeling that Roy was being played by the man playing Roy #2 for some reason!

* I really enjoyed hearing a little bit of the terrific track "South American getaway" (from the film "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid") in this...almost as much as I loved hearing "Joy" by Apollo 100 from the film "Boogie nights".

* Looking at my reviews on this site, I'm reminded of "Edge of tomorrow" which I'd forgotten about but maybe has a similar premise to this film. Another sci-fi film whose specifics escape me but which I scored very highly (10/10) was Source Code.

Freaky
(2020)

Freaky: Gory, absurd, amusing slasher-comedy. 70%
A high-concept film combining elements of films like "Freaky Friday", "Friday the 13th" and "Scream", "Freaky" is entertaining enough for people who don't mind the mingling of disparate genres. If you don't like taking liberties with genres, well, then, for a family friendly comedic Disney film, see the original "Freaky Friday", which starred a very young Jodie Foster (15 years old). For a straight horror film see "Friday the 13th". "Scream" is a self-aware slasher film which had fun with the genre and its tropes.

For fans of slasher slash horror films, "Freaky" is par for the course as far as the gore goes for MA 15+ films. The plot involves two people unintentionally swapping bodies: a middle-aged man who is a serial killer (played by Vince Vaughn) and a teenage high school girl ("Millie", played by Kathryn Newton). I can't say that "Freaky Friday" started off that genre of story but it's where I first came across it as a child, watching rental videos. Now, obviously, you're wondering how on Earth two people can swap bodies. You're overthinking things! Just go with it!

The film is amusing enough in the comedy department. Can you imagine a cute teenage girl trying to be a serial killer? Absurd, right? Well...not as sublimely ridiculous as an even younger "Hit-Girl" (played by Chloë Grace Moretz when she was 12 years old) in the gloriously violent superhero film "Kick-Ass". When "Freaky" is not being bloody or sexual (sex scenes are minimal in this film but there is sexual talk and moments of sexual menace), it does later come across as a comedic Disney action film.

The only person whose name I knew in the cast was Vince Vaughn, which I knew for his work in comedy films (right now I can't think of a film that I've seen with him in it but I'm not a film nerd). I can't say that I could have come up with his name to star in a film in which he plays a serial killer whose body is inhabited by a teenage girl. However, if someone had mentioned his name I'm sure that I would gone along with it as an appropriate choice. It's hard to say what names that I would have come up with for this role. Steve Carrell, perhaps, though he is terminally short and one scene would have been weakened with a short man doing it (the scene with Vince and a teenage boy in a shower room at high school).

Whilst you get scenes of bloody horror, you do get meta humour and sociological satire. Millie is not a stereotypical teenage girl like you see in Hollywood films. She's attractive but bland, like her female best friend, Nyla (played by Celeste O'Connor). Her male best friend, Josh (played by Misher Osherovich) is gay and sassy and is the most interesting of the three of them. He comes up with some of the meta humour and sociological observations in the film.

"Freaky" is not a film that takes itself seriously but that being said, it does its mocking with a straight face. Vince Vaughn perhaps best exemplifies that. Playing a teenage girl, he is almost subtle with it. He doesn't over-egg the pudding of his performance. In fact, there is a really 'interesting' scene with his character in the back seat of a car with a teenage boy who Millie has a crush on. The two actors in this scene must know how absurd the film is at this point but they bravely push on. Vince could quite possibly earn an Academy Award for Best Actor just for this scene!

I don't know if there are plans for any sequels to this film, turning it into a franchise. That being said, if they do plan sequels, I'd be surprised if they surprised me with what direction they wanted to take things. I've seen the first few "Friday the 13th" films and I've casually read about some of the further sequels its spawned. It's hard to imagine any sequels to "Freaky" breaking new ground, whatever direction they wanted to take things. On the topic of being predictable and I don't mean this in a negative sense, I could tell what was going to happen at the climax of a scene where Millie is trying to regain her body from the serial killer. I feel pleased with myself for having being able to recall the scene which presaged that moment. Maybe I should rewatch that scene though to make sure that it makes sense and there are no plot holes in it.

Before I forget, there must be some dark wish-fulfilment occurring in this film. I don't have a degree in English Literature, so I can't posit in detailed terms Freudian notions of transference or whatever but I do have to observe that the choice of murder victims is well set up and you could theorise notions of dark desires, displacement, transference or schizophrenia in these choices. To be more transparent about what I'm saying, I'm suggesting that these are the kind of everyday choices that ordinary people might fantasise about after a bad experience with someone.

Lastly, I do have to mention some plot holes...or just self-aware absurdities created for the film. Firstly, the first murder committed by the serial killer in their new guise...and what, exactly, was that device doing in a high school changing room? Secondly, how, exactly, was the serial killer able to continue on, after the 'resolution' to the body swap issue after they'd been...

...with regards to that second plot hole, that pretty much seems a bog standard scenario for those slasher films where the killer is like the ones in "Friday the 13th" and "Halloween".

Oh, the score for the end credits reminded me of the theme from the film "Jaws".

Bill & Ted Face the Music
(2020)

Bill & Ted: Face the music 65+% Amiable and amusing but slight
I remember seeing the first film in this series, Bill & Ted's excellent adventure, a very long time ago. Even though I've pretty much forgotten everything about it, I do remember being amused by how they pronounced the name "Socrates" (and maybe "Freud" too, perhaps?). Despite having forgotten that first film, I do remember feeling positive about it. That pretty much sums up how I feel about this long-delayed third instalment of the series. Truth be told, I'm not even sure that I saw the sequel to that first film, Bill & Ted's bogus journey, which would illustrate, in case I did actually see it a very long time ago, the nature of these films...they're pretty forgettable but likeable enough whilst viewing them at the time. This time around Bill and Ted must "unite the world" with their music and doing so attains a level of cosmic significance that I did not anticipate.

That being said, I would recommend that people start watching this series from the beginning, at least, in order to familiarise themselves with the concept, namely, two 'slacker' teenagers who somehow attain historical importance in the future but need help from those people in the future in order to...attain historical importance. Once again I have to make my usual observation on time travel films that I don't find them coherent. I said that about the recent film "Tenet" and seeing what I've just written about the first Bill & Ted film now, the paradox strikes me with even greater force. If I didn't see the first sequel to Bill & Ted, that didn't affect my ability to follow what was happening in this latest instalment...apart from one or two (possibly more?) moments in the film. For instance, I was amused in this film with things that Death said about being in Bill & Ted's band (Wyld Stallyns), even though I didn't remember seeing that, assuming that I had. In any case, I now feel that maybe I should take a refresher viewing of Bill & Ted's bogus journey...one of these days.

Obviously with Keanu Reeves (Ted) and Alex Winter (Bill) being middle-aged men now, their characters are no longer spring chickens, so to speak. They are parents now. Ted has a daughter, 'Billie' as does Bill, who called his "Theadora" (played by Samara Weaving, who I've learned is the niece of Hugo Weaving, who played a major role in the classic film "The Matrix", which starred...Keanu Reeves!). The girls are teenagers and take after their parents. Personally, I think that this resemblance to their parents could have been milked for more laughs by increasing the caricature of their parents quotient. I'm not sure if there are any more sequels over the horizon for Bill and Ted or their daughters, but I'm not sure that the characters of the daughters are strong enough to keep this franchise going by themselves.

Revisiting Bill and Ted all these decades later, I have to say that only Alex Winter retained the youthful spark and charm of Bill. You could see glimpses of his earlier incarnation. At times he could be a bit wooden in his delivery but you could easily attribute that to the character that he was playing. Keanu Reeves just seems older and he seems to have lost the spark that I assume was in the original film. Having a deeper voice doesn't help in any case.

Again, the film is amusing. Most of the humour for me derives in seeing the various incarnations of Bill and Ted (being a time travel film, they meet themselves often at different points in time, which is part of the plot of the film). I liked the versions of themselves which spoke with English accents. If this was done by Keanu and Alex, then I commend them for it. It's perhaps for the best that they didn't have to attempt an Australian accent, as I tend to find attempts by Americans at this as 'so bad it's really, really bad'! I was also amused by their new song at the start of the film, played at a wedding. That's another scene where I had definitely forgotten characters from the first film presumably, or had forgotten character history updates in the sequel.

If I've got criticisms to make of this film it would be:

  • There are amusing newspaper articles about Bill and Ted shown at the start of the film but these go by so quickly that I couldn't comprehend all of them.


  • The dialogue is sometimes hard to comprehend.


Random observations:

  • I liked the resolution to the film, as far the song which 'unites the world'. By than I mean both for the song's nature and how that works.


  • On a metaphysical note, it was interesting to see who goes to Hell.


  • I wonder whether a 18th century musician would treat a certain guitar legend the way that he did (once again, the film has famous figures in history turning up as characters in the story).


  • I'm not sure if the thought had struck me before in this series...Bill and Ted travel through time in a telephone booth...is that an obvious reference to the classic English TV series Doctor Who?


  • I liked the grungy electric guitar riff for the closing credits.


  • The end credits also have an 'In memory' tribute to Dustin (?) Smith (?). I wonder who he was.


My initial instinct was to score this film 70% but I made a late decision to mark it down a tad, for being a slight film. Adding the "+" to my score of 65 allows me to add an extra star here on IMDB (I don't round up otherwise).

Amiable and amusing but slight.

Tenet
(2020)

Tenet: An ambitious high-concept film with paradoxical, mind-bending action. '75+%'
Director Christopher Nolan brings yet another brain-aching story to the cinema, as he did previously with Inception (which I see I scored 75% here). This time the plot concerns our hero, a CIA agent who refers to himself as "The Protagonist" (played by African American John David Washington), who must the save the world from destruction. The high-concept of the film, without going into too much detail, deals with what physicists call "The arrow of time". Not being a scientist myself, as far as I understand it, these scientists believe that there is no reason in physics why time must travel from the past to the future. In the world of The Protagonist, there is no more arrow of time. Here, the future and the past and the present can, and will, collide. The fate of the world is at stake. I hadn't realised that I scored Inception so well and I thought that I got more out of this film. I think it's a 70% kind of movie but I'm bumping up my score by 5+% to reward Nolan for being so ambitious with his choice of subject matter, which puts the film into 8/10 star territory here on IMDB.

The high-concept of the film is something that I have pondered myself and the parts of the film dealing with this are ideas that I had formed myself, namely, the notion that information can hypothetically be able to be transmitted from the future to the past (and how that would benefit people receiving that information). The film takes that one step further than I would want to, which is what makes it an interesting action film.

Now, I'm not convinced that physicists would countenance the world of this film, as far as there being localised instances of this high-concept, as opposed to time's arrow just moving in one direction or the other. Perhaps the film smuggles in instances of parallel worlds or time travel and they don't really fit in or make sense when used with the core high-concept of the film. In some ways the time travel aspect is more complex than that of another film dealing with that specific idea, Primer. I've reviewed Primer here and noted how you really need a notepad and spreadsheets to keep tabs on what is happening. Or you could just ask the scriptwriter(s) to explain what the Hell is happening. In that way, Tenet is nowhere near as brain-aching and mentally taxing as Primer...but I would still question Nolan (as well as Kip Thorne) to see whether the scenarios are plausible, which I doubt that they are.

A general problem with time travel stories is that I just don't believe them. I don't find them coherent. This feeling isn't dispelled by Tenet but that in no way detracted from my experience of it. If you don't think too much about the high-concept high jinks, there's pleasure to be had watching all the action unfold. Not finding these kinds of stories coherent, I wouldn't be the kind of person who would watch the film again believing that it will all make sense on a second viewing. Personally, this isn't the kind of film that would make me want to see it again just because I found it entertaining. For that reason, I wouldn't see it again just for the sake of a faint hope that everything will make sense on another viewing of it.

One way in which a repeat viewing might help to make sense of things better though is that although the film is helpful with regard to the frenetic action of the finale by colour coding combatants, my problem was that I forgot what the two colours used signified! It's for these less than high-concept reasons that I can see value in seeing the film again. But I won't.

To be relevant in an opaque way, whilst pondering the significance of the film's title, it occurred to me that it was a palindrome. That's kind of a primer for the film. You get little teases for the high-concept in action but Nolan does make you wait a while before throwing it at you in Hollywood action set pieces, which would be the calling card for it.

This brings me to a criticism of the film: at times, people just struck me as being idiots, in the way that characters in Ridley Scott's sequels to Alien struck me as being stupid (I've said that in my reviews of those films here). There were two instances of this that I noticed: firstly, the people in a security vehicle in a heist sequence (and let's not forget the police who appear in a car later in that sequence) and, secondly, a set piece where there is a fight between a man in a gas mask in a corridor and The Protagonist. When this sequence was revisited, I was wondering why on Earth the man in the mask would try to shoot The Protagonist. It's Ridley Scott level stupidity.

Another criticism of the film is more practical: at times I found it hard to understand the dialogue for various reasons. Things like people speaking with thick accents, people speaking whilst wearing gas masks or just being off-centre as far as microphone placement goes, I suppose. I didn't quite catch what the Indian woman said right at the end of the film. What was that last thing that she said? Maybe nothing too great is lost by not hearing it. But it would have been nice to have heard it clearly in any case.

I can't help thinking that in current times, with what's happening or has happened in America (the #MeToo movement and the police murdering African American civilians), that audiences may resonate with an African American action hero and a key woman in the story. It should be noted that that there is no romance to be found here.

Lastly, I thought Daniel Radcliffe was in this film. Wrong! It's another former teen franchise idol.

Oh, I forgot to mention, maybe this film is a bit like the video game "Braid"? I never finished that...it got too brain-aching for me!

Sci-fi recommendations:

Source code (10/10)

12 monkeys

The thirteenth floor

Dark City (10/10)

Gattaca (10/10)

Fahrenheit 11/9
(2018)

Moore's persuasive primer on America, advocates that the US trials democracy. 90%
This might be Michael Moore's best documentary, of the ones that I've seen, which consists of Bowling for Columbine; Fahrenheit 9/11; Capitalism: A love story, and, possibly, Roger & me (which I'm not certain that I have seen). It combines many of Moore's subjects from his previous documentaries, such as capitalism, gun culture, the working class and the elites. In it, he seeks to explain how Donald Trump became the president of the United States of America and to hypothesise where his country may be heading as a consequence of this.

Early on in the film, I was amused by Moore's use of music to accompany footage of Donald Trump, from memory. It made me wonder if he was using music from the horror film "The omen", to accompany a central character in that story, Damien Thorn. The closing credits settled that question for me...yes, it was a direct use of that music and not something chosen for its similarity to it. In other hands, such choices might come across as earnest, or transparently polemical. In Moore's case, I'll just assume that he is only (half) joking by making these kinds of choices.

At around the same time in the documentary, Moore makes the startling claim that Donald Trump's run for president was caused by pop singer Gwen Stefani. Initially I thought that Moore was deliberately creating fake news to parody the incessant stream of lies told by Trump, but no, Moore does go on to justify his claim, which was made informative as a result.

Obviously Moore is selective in what footage he uses of Donald Trump in order to make his case. It seemed to me that he was presenting Donald's relationship with his daughter, Ivanka, in a negative light, making him seem very sleazy...but then again, it's not as if Moore was twisting the truth to show Donald in a bad light...Donald really has said things about his daughter that normal parents wouldn't say, let alone think.

When it comes to Donald's political activities, Moore's approach reminded me of a Woody Allen film that I really liked, "Crimes and misdemeanours". His "compare and contrast" analysis is extreme, but perhaps justified. Donald's own words make him an easy target for this kind of analysis too. As I mentioned before, I suspect that Moore's satire is intended only half-jokingly. With Donald Trump, his seemingly half-jokingly delivered comments about not wanting journalists killed are, well, perhaps an earnest expression of the opposite? Even ignoring these kinds of comments by Trump, numerous other comments are shown where he is nakedly rabble-rousing, and encouraging his supporters to assault protesters at his rally. In one case such a protester is spat on and possibly punched too...at least some protesters are punched...I'm just not sure if they were also spat on at the same time.

If I had one quibble with Moore's film, it's that his focus on the tragedy of his home city of Flint's situation with drinking water seems less than germane here. Perhaps there was an entire film on this subject in Moore. In any case, this focus on Flint does amply illustrate the banality of evil which resides in its state's Governor, Rick Snyder. The mind boggles at how this evil, greedy man was never charged multiple counts of manslaughter or whatever the appropriate criminal charge is. He epitomises how Americans aspire to great wealth and how such elites are above the law, due to their money and connections and power. This particular section of the documentary does demonstrate the dynamics at play in America, as far the working class, African Americans and rich, white people go. Snyder and his peers embody the entitlement that the elites feel they have and how they have right to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor or 'coloured' people. In an entirely self-serving manner, they used their wealth in order to enrich their fellow elite, particularly donors.

A strength of the documentary is its analysis of America's so-called 'democracy'. It's revealed to be a sham and an illusion. I know from other sources that the Republican Party engages in voter suppression and the gerrymandering of electoral boundaries in order to subvert the will of the majority. Another criticism of mine on this documentary would be that Moore doesn't really cover issues like this here, although, perhaps, he did go in depth on such a topic in something like "Fahrenheit 9/11", if I recall. In any case, what did startle me was that not only does the Republican Party seek to disenfranchise the majority of the people that could unseat them ('coloured' people, for instance), but that the Democratic Party does too. For instance, the systematic way in which the Democratic Party establishment rigged the presidential candidate race to allow Hillary Clinton to win, when Bernie Sanders might have better represented Democrat voters and in fact won some state primaries, but was robbed of those victories by the Democratic Party establishment. This information is no doubt not new, but Moore does us a service to remind us of these facts. I took at face value Moore's claims that Sanders was robbed of some victories in some states by such crookedness but, on reflection, I'm not sure that there isn't another explanation when he charges certain Democrats as being liars in order to ensure that Hillary won a state's primary. In other words, perhaps such outcomes are allowable by the flawed process of electing a presidential candidate? Moore does mention 'superdelegates' in this regard, but I'm too ignorant of the US system to evaluate his analysis on the situation.

Being Australian, I was not aware that the American 'electoral college' system of choosing presidential candidates was a concession to the American states which used to practice slavery. As such, it is geared to engineering results which preclude potentially more popular (populist) candidates from winning, ones which do not serve the interests of the elites etc.

Like Donald Trump, Moore is also critical of the news media. In a pointed comparison, he shows some New York Times' headlines and articles from the era when Adolf Hitler was elected to parliament in Germany. These articles informed their readers that Hitler's pronouncements on Jews shouldn't be taken literally...that it was merely populist posturing on his part. In other words, the New York Times was advising its readers to ignore what Adolf Hitler was actually saying and proposing and to take their word for it, as far as what Hitler 'really' was like.

One angle on the news media which Moore doesn't consider is that it's probably mostly populated by the middle class. That would explain the journalists' antipathy towards the needs and aspirations of the poor and working class. It would explain the demonising of these people, or the attempts to diminish or belittle their political actions. This is all to say that the bourgeois journalists working for the mainstream media will try and convince people that working towards improving the lot of the working class and the poor is bad for the nation.

Having been burnt by the use of opinion polls to predict the outcome of the 'Brexit' referendum and the likelihood of Trump being elected president (cough, ahem), I was a bit wary about Moore's use of opinion polls to characterise the 'real America', i.e. that real Americans are liberal in very many ways. Can we credulously believe in polls anymore?

It seems ironic that Moore places his faith in the Democratic Party to express such liberal values. Specifically, he shows many new Democratic Party candidates who are clearing the decks of 'establishment' candidates. The Democratic Party establishment is obviously in a cosy duopoly with the Republican Party, with which it shares corporate teats of election donations. If the Democratic Party establishment could rig primaries to ensure a Hillary Clinton victory over the more representative Bernie Sanders, then one wonders if they will ever shake their dog in the manger ways.

Returning to the subject of Flint, Michigan, again, it was revelatory (to me) how President Barack Obama created his own fake news there, when he pretended to drink that city's water, in a publicity stunt which supported that moral black hole of a man, Governor Rick Snyder, a snake, if ever there was one. Moore also stated that Obama received more 'donations' from that immoral, ethical vacuum of a bank, Goldman Sachs. All this serving to reinforce how the Democratic Party is, in effect, nothing more than a competing wing of the Republican Party for power and serves to only provide an illusion of democracy in America. Both parties serve the elite, not the vast majority of Americans.

Lastly, I was unaware of some military drills in Flint. The people of Flint were not notified of these drills and they must surely have been terrified as a result. It did make me wonder if that is a portent of what America has in store. I wish that I recall the intellectual who said something along the lines that capitalism is a more natural bedfellow to fascism than to democracy. Perhaps the military, as a the right arm of the American elite are demonstrating what the majority of Americans can expect if they assert their rights over that of the elites too forcefully? With regards to guns, I have long taken the view that that being the case, perhaps it might not be so crazy for many Americans to own guns. In other words, if the US governments acts purely in the interests of a tiny elite and they enforce that relationship with the threat of violence, then, perhaps, the overwhelming majority of Americans might consider it prudent to arm themselves, in case their rights and living conditions are trampled by the less than 1 per cent of the population who oppress them. However, Moore puts a different interpretation on this situation and makes me question the wisdom of my wish. In Moore's view, the minority of people in the US which own guns would, in such a situation, be a threat to the majority of people

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker
(2019)

Star Wars: The rise of Skywalker. The final word: The force is strong with the final hour of this film
My expectations for this film were quite low and I thought that I would be writing something like: "A forgettable series with forgettable characters comes to a forgettable end" for the third film in this trilogy. Early on, things weren't tracking well, as far as my score went, as I found the action uninvolving and the comedy not grabbing me, such as when Rey (played by Daisy Ridley) and Poe (played by Oscar Isaac) were bickering early on in the film. To be fair, though, in retrospect the 'banter' between Han Solo and Princess Leia in Episode V, especially, I think, wasn't that great...when viewed again as someone who is no longer a pre-teen. Engaging banter isn't a strength of George Lucas, as it is for, say, Joss Whedon (e.g. the "Buffy the vampire slayer" TV series).

The film steadily becomes more involving, tracking to score about 70% for me. It's not until there is less than an hour to go when it finally becomes a worthy instalment in the Star Wars canon. Why? Because, for the first time in this trilogy, probably in the entire trilogy of trilogies, it made me feel this kind of emotion (Episode IV might have been the only film in the entire series which made me feel the emotion of exhilaration for the action scenes but I was a young child at the time). This is what the all the trilogy sequels to Episodes IV - VI lacked. Where on Earth was this film-making ability in the last two sequels? I should note that this emotion that I felt was not due to any character development on Disney's part, just the situation that the characters found themselves in (analogous to chess pieces, where we don't really identify each piece as a character...but when they get taken off the board, we feel emotion as a result). The final (?) trilogy reminded me of the final film in the 2nd trilogy, Episode III, in that in an otherwise dull trilogy, the final instalment set the bar for the trilogy where it should have been all along...higher than what the previous two films had attained.

Anyway, Episode IX involves the final confrontation between the remnants of armies of the Rebel Alliance and the successors of The Empire. That's assuming that Disney doesn't resurrect the franchise, following on from the events of this...Episode X to infinity, no doubt.

As I stated earlier, I have found the two trilogies which followed Episodes IV - VI to fall well short of an acceptable quality of storytelling, which was achieved for Episode IV- VI (well, especially Episode IV-V). Unlike Episode IV- VI, I haven't found any of the characters memorable and coming into each new film in the trilogy, years since I saw the previous one in the cinema, I've already forgotten the main characters' names and their backstory. These characters have all the personality of George Lucas' figurine merchandise. Unlike how "The Empire strikes back" really makes a landmark of Luke Skywalker's training to be a Jedi, in this latest trilogy, Rey's journey is just a blur and when she appears in this film as a powerful Jedi, you just wish that the trilogy had paced her journey more slowly and deliberately, which I think I stated in my review here for the first film in this latest trilogy.

There is fan service in this film, so some of the people who have watched the entire series in the main franchise may be delighted, no doubt, by the many instances of them, either through characters or places. Some of the fan service I liked and some I was indifferent to. Editing this review again over a week after seeing the film, I can't remember if I disliked instances of this fan service. Some of the imagery is stunning. When a planet with an ocean is visited, the scale of the waves is very impressive.

Even though my knowledge of the series is not encyclopedic (I've seen Episode IV a handful of times or more and only its two sequels more than once), it does seem to me that there are a lot of logical holes in Episode IX or logical leaps, when not so bad. For instance, it didn't make sense to me why the person who targeted Rey's parents would want to do so. I think that Kylo Ren (played by Adam Driver) gives what is meant to me an explanation for it but I didn't quite catch all that he said. Just knowing the pieces in play for this event meant that I didn't find it believable. Sometimes what appears to be a logical flaw is shown to not be so by subsequent revelations. Still, when you think that people wouldn't do something in that situation or wouldn't know something that they do in the film, you have to query how alert the writers were to this. A variation of this criticism of mine is how people do something stupid, e.g. Finn (played by John Boyega) choosing a particularly inopportune time to want to chat to Rey on that planet with the ocean.

For me, the great "What if...? is "How would George Lucas have written the final instalments in his trilogy?". Now, this question doesn't weigh on me so much since he did such a bad job on Episode 1 - II (as well as showing an unfortunate decline in his powers in Episode VI), but what would he have done for Episode VII - IX had he been in the same league as he was for Episode IV - V especially? Really, I have no doubt that Luke Skywalker would have been central to it.

That brings me back to Disney taking on this franchise, after Lucas, perhaps, lost his nerve in the wake of the reaction to Episode I - III. Many times in this final trilogy, especially for this final film, brought to mind analogies between George Lucas and Disney. Disney has been like a cuckoo, laying its egg in the world of Lucas' nest. Things get Oedipal too, in my mind. For instance (if you haven't seen any of the films in this franchise, then this sentence contains a spoiler), how Disney killed off Luke Skywalker, the hero of the Episode IV - VI. I just can't believe that Lucas would have gone down this path...the dark side, if you will! (The same thought applies to the fates of other important characters from the franchise in this final trilogy. How Lucas would have dealt with the Carrie Fisher situation is a live question, too, for me. I like much what of what Disney has done on that front in this film.) An emblematic example of this interpretation of mine is the final sentence that you hear in this film. It's Disney calling itself "Lucas", in other words, when that is what is in doubt!

That being said, this film eventually ends up being a fine film.

Notes to self:

* The ending...when the villain of the piece seems to change what they said were their plans due to the actions of their adversary...was that their plan all along? Hard to follow!

* A lot of "HOD" in the crew credits...what's that? The name "Wedge Antiles" there rang a bell for me...but my knowledge of that kind of detail isn't good.

* As the film progressed, I was thinking of scoring it 70% once it started to pick up, then 75% (but giving it 7 out of 10 stars here as is my wont in such circumstances), then 75+%, which would have allowed me to give it 8 stars here. But, like I said at the start, the last 50 minutes or so of the film is good stuff, so I just gave it an unequivocal 80% (and 8 stars).

The final order:

IIII - Star Wars: A new hope. From before I began reviewing films (as a child I would have given it 11/10!)

V - The Empire strikes back*. (* = From before I began reviewing films)

IX - The rise of Skywalker. 80%

III - Revenge of the Sith. 70%

VI - Return of the Jedi?*

VIII - The last Jedi. 70%

VII - The Force awakens. 65%

II - Attack of the clones*. Already forgotten it. Yawn

I - The phantom menace*. Jar Jar Binks? Awful. Just awful. Podracing? Boring. Just boring.

Terminator: Dark Fate
(2019)

Terminator: Dark fate...interminable franchise. 55+%
This latest instalment in the "Terminator" franchise brings in some twists and additions to the lore but still feels like a lazy restatement of what we've seen numerous times previously. The story has been told better, especially with the first two in the series. Now this new entry just seems to give the viewer a cursory and perfunctory action film and characters, in order to fill it with even more action. That action can be ridiculous though, as in not being believable. The terminator that you see this time is another upgrade to the one seen in "Terminator: Judgment Day", going on memory. You see familiar faces from this series as well as some new ones, the latter to presumably appear in further sequels. Their emotions and reactions are familiar, and demonstrate the cursory and perfunctory nature of the storytelling which I mentioned earlier.

Overall, this film lacks soul. Whilst the new elements of the film are interesting, especially with the focus on the female characters (this focus might make this the kind of film that girlfriends might end up not minding being dragged to by their boyfriends), it's just a pity the rest of the film doesn't provide enough material in support of this. These new elements could have been an interesting ingredient of the original film but you would wonder if audiences of the time would have been receptive to it and not punished the film at the box office as a result. Better yet, such elements could have been better integrated into this one, with the focus on the new character perhaps being made to comment on the nature of humans, whatever the threat.

You can probably guess the tension that the filmmakers were trying to relieve here: they had a franchise which had told a good story at the start and could have been left for posterity...but making a lot of money from these films is good, so why can't we just bung out another one when we've really got nothing interesting to say?

Set initially in Mexico, "Terminator: Dark fate" even comes across initially as a foreign language film, with Spanish being spoken and subtitles used (it's only for a short time, though). Perhaps such a setting and the new characters introduced here are pointed, since the current President of America, Donald Trump, has made a point of vilifying this country and its people.

The themes of this franchise, such as the dangers of artificial intelligence and robots are becoming more topical in our age. Contemporary mass surveillance is referenced. When you tie that in with artificially intelligent robots from the future which look human and are here to kill the sources of resistance to their rule in the future, well, the effect is powerful. It occurs to me that these terminators are so powerful that resistance is useless. It also occurs to me that the lure of making a lot of money at the box office is also something where resistance is useless to James Cameron. I was under the impression that an Australian Prime Minister, probably Paul Keating, had used a phrase like "like a dog returning to its own vomit" but I see that Wikipedia lists such a phrase as originating in the bible. So long as this franchise keeps making money, no matter how much the films stink, James Cameron will return to them. Or, he'll just bide his time until the time to reboot the franchise is right!

There is some humour in this film. Arnold Schwarzenegger's terminator delivers some deadpan lines, demonstrating a dry sense of humour. I wish that I was paying more attention to one scene where his character was waxing lyrical about a certain item found in homes. It made me think whether his character had a dry sense of humour or just lacked self-awareness, although I do concede that it could equally have both. Last year, Jamie Lee Curtis demonstrated there is life for old actors...when there is a franchise involved, with her return to the world of "Halloween". Here, Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger reinforce that observation. Linda's character does seem a prop at times though, coming across as sucking a lemon before speaking (she's understandably bitter and a cynic).

As far as I can remember, I've seen the first two in this franchise ("The Terminator", "Terminator 2: Judgment Day") but I can't say that I remember having seen the next one, "Terminator 3: Rise of the machines" (edit: I just saw a picture from this film now, which reminds me that I think that I have seen it...the one with the female terminator). I have seen and reviewed at this site "Terminator salvation" but not the next one "Terminator Genisys". There's also been a TV series which I've seen "Terminator: The Sarah Connor chronicles" (at least to once the series started getting overly religious in its content but maybe I've seen all of it. It was cancelled after its second series, Perhaps I took the view that I wouldn't continue watching the series, if it had continued). Wikipedia's article on this latest instalment mentions that story creator James Cameron regards everything after the second Terminator film as belonging to alternate timelines. Going on memory, it occurs to me that what we see early on in "Terminator: Dark fate" as far as the fate of one character goes, would also put it in an alternate timeline from "Terminator: Judgment Day".

When your film utilises time travel as an element of the story, incoherence can obviously follow. As far as I'm aware, there are no parallel worlds in the Terminator universe (it's up to the viewer to treat different films as being in "alternate timelines", to user Cameron's phrase. They are not part of a coherent series in other words. Some of them must not be a 'true' part of the 'real' story told). That being said, that should, perhaps, make the existence of Arnold Schwarzenegger's terminator an anomaly in this film, i.e. with no causal link to this world. His existence there is perhaps paradoxical. I don't know. Is there a coherent philosophy of how the universe would work in a world of time travel but no parallel worlds? I wouldn't think so. In any case, the lore surrounding terminators is expanded through his story in this film

My score for this film isn't a reflection on the prominence of women in this film. It's a reflection of the quality of the story. Really, I can't say that "more of the same" in future instalments hold any attraction for me now

Doctor Sleep
(2019)

Doctor Sleep. Soporific title. You'd never guess that it was a sequel to "The shining". 72.5%
Firstly, you really should watch "The shining" before you consider watching this, as it is a continuation of the story of Dan Torrance from that film and so you will see massive spoilers in "Doctor Sleep" should you ever one day decided to see "The shining". That statement is by itself an unfortunate spoiler on my part!

Secondly, I would definitely have been interested in watching a sequel to "The shining" but, unfortunately, this connection might be a tad obscure going on the title and the poster for the film! It would be easy to not notice (as I didn't) that the boy on the tricycle is a familiar looking image. Let's not even mention how dull a film called "Doctor Sleep" sounds. Maybe the filmmakers have hobbled their chances with this move? Dirty birdy!

Thirdly, I can't say that I've ever pondered how "The shining" might have been continued...or ended after the events which transpired. Nor have I pondered whatever became of Danny Torrance. In any case, I was interested to see "Doctor Sleep" as soon as I found out about its connection to a film that I grew to appreciate much more than I did initially (my first impression of "The shining" was negative, as I was a teenage boy in high school hearing from his peers that this was some sort of horrific movie...which it definitely wasn't. i.e. it wasn't the gore-fest that I was expecting).

In any case, "Doctor Sleep" sees Dan Torrance (played by Ewan McGregor) as a grown man now, in his mid-thirties. There are still bad things in the world which mean him and others like him harm. One person like him, who has "the shine" ("the shining". This is a 'sixth' sense) is a little black girl, Abra Stone (played by Kyliegh Curran). There are some nasty things which are hungry for her. We get to see how this dramatic tension plays out.

I did wonder how "Doctor Sleep" would play as cinema, as I grew to highly regard the visual/aural artistry of "The shining" (I also reviewed the earlier film here, too). You can't say that it brings any cinema magic of its own to the table but it does replay or redo those memorable moments from the first film. The best example of that cinema-as-art quality is where Danny, as a young boy, rides around on his tricycle at the Overlook Hotel. I got the impression that that scene from "The shining" is replayed in "Doctor Sleep" although they may have recreated it instead?

Apart from being self-referential, this film did remind me of other films or TV shows, or have echoes of them. For instance, the scenes with 'the breath of life'/'dying breath' reminded me of some children's film, I think, which I can't remember the name of, perhaps because I never saw more than the scene which triggered this recollection. Perhaps it was a film which starred David Bowie? I don't know. Another connection that I made was to the classic TV series "Buffy the vampire slayer", as far as the 'monster of the week' goes. You could, perhaps, also throw in a classic TV show like "The X-Files", which also had a 'monster of the week'. These are visual cues which I picked up or just going on how certain characters are in this world.

The film isn't particularly scary, or creepy, but if you are a parent, I think that one scene in it, involving a little boy, is enough to give you nightmares and haunt you. The actor, Jacob Tremblay, I believe, does a very believable (I would imagine!) scream of terror. It's quite a confronting scene for that reason, as well as the violence involved, which, to be fair, isn't extreme by horror movie standards. Just by the by, this element of film brought to mind that American moral panic concerning Satanic ritual abuse, which never really actually occurred. In a way, this film is a representation of something analogous to it actually being real (by the by, that Satanic ritual abuse topic was brought up in an interesting edition of Radio National's "Big ideas" programme yesterday, 12/11/2019. which is available online).

In my review earlier today of "Joker", I mentioned "dreamlike" editing which made you not notice a slide from one context to another. That happened here too. Early on in the film, I thought that I was seeing young Danny only at the Overlook Hotel. I'm not sure if you can put that down to an effect that the filmmaker wanted to make (a dreamlike state) or...just bad editing, which ends up confusing the viewer.

It should be noted that the world of "Doctor Sleep" is an extension of the world of "The shining", as in a new element is introduced, as far as the nature of the horror that Danny has to face. To be honest, I'm not sure that these two worlds properly gelled, but I warmed to the film in time and forgave its differences to the earlier film, hence my decent score for it. I'll have to assume that this new element is faithful to Stephen King's novel (I've only read "The shining" but may, 'one of these days' seek out "Doctor Sleep" to read) and, as it presents in this film, there is the sense that King wants to explain too much about the nature of the horror, removing some of the mystery. The problem with that move though, is that there is a danger that the thing which is supposed to be 'explained' by the author or filmmaker becomes merely incoherent (e.g. does this old line now work as it should in the sequel: "Come and play with us...Forever"?). Maybe more work needed to be done to tie things together, but to me they don't seem to mix.

Miscellaneous:

* Interesting as far as employment opportunities in America goes. For Australia, such scenes relegate the film to the status of science fiction or magic realism!

* Odd choice for the final shot of Danny and him mum together. Why is he that age at this time?

* I've read that the author of "The shining", Stephen King, disliked the film version of it. He really likes this adaptation of "Doctor Sleep", even though it draws on parts of the film version of "The shining" (as well as differing from his own sequel, which he criticised Kubrick's film for doing for the original!). King's own adaptation of "The shining", a miniseries, was very poor, in my view but I saw that before I began writing reviews online. Avoid it.

Joker
(2019)

Joker begins. Why so serious? [Score: 50%]
Perhaps you should be careful what you wish for, as my review for "The Dark Knight" had the headline "Too much of The Joker is barely enough!" and I wrote near the end of my review, here, of Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker: "You enjoy his philosophy on life and you want to hear more of it...from a safe distance! It's rare to see such a worthy adversary for a hero...complex and with an onion skin. I kept wanting to see and hear more of Ledger's Joker. Ledger's death robs us of the possibility of an encore performance. This movie and role is as good as "Two hands" for Ledger (an Australian movie)".

Anyway, here it is, although I can't say that I was dead keen to see someone else in the role of Joker (Joaquin Phoenix, in this case). This film does seem to be critically hyped, with even talk of Oscar nominations, if not wins. Personally, it doesn't strike me as being a particularly good film...it would have to be a very weak award field for this to win anything, I think. Perhaps an award for cinematography? I dunno.

The film "Joker" provides a backstory to the creation of the supervillain Joker, from his origin as the depressing sad case Arthur Fleck. It is a dour film, seemingly aiming to be "serious", so as to be eligible for Academy Award nomination consideration (Heath Ledger deservedly won an Oscar for his acting performance in "The Dark Knight"). Not being a superfan of comics (well, not for a long time, at least, and not for Batman comics), I have no idea how the Joker's backstory in "Joker" gels with any 'canonical' portrayal in comics or cartoons. I'm just struck wondering whether the backstory needed to be the one given to us. Couldn't it have been something else? Something better? "Joker" is so dour that I can't really imagine anyone wanting to watch it again, 'for pleasure', as I could imagine myself doing for "The Dark Knight", purely because of the character of The Joker and Heath Ledger's compelling portrayal of him.

That being said, if having a backstory for Joker is of interest to you and you wonder how that ties in with the first in the recent Batman trilogy ("Batman begins"), this will no doubt be mandatory viewing for you. For me, I just wondered whether the intersection of "Joker" and "Batman begins" was too pat, too unnecessarily intertwined. Again, I have no idea whether this intersection is merely canonical or just too cute by half.

Watching Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck (surely his entire name is deliberately apt, if you imagine a Cockney saying it?), many times, especially early on, he struck me as being mannered, stylised, with his twitching, occasionally effete manner and slumping around. In other words, he looked like he was acting. His appearance and physicality reminded me, at times, of Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel. De Niro has a significant role in this film as a nightly talk show host. There is an odd movement that Arthur/Joker makes which made me scratch my head, figuratively speaking...is he doing Tai Chi? It looks something like that but perhaps it's a weird dance? Or both, depending on the moment? I dunno.

Fleck is troubled, of course. He has 'problems'. At times I found myself wondering just how deep they went, though. For instance, it wasn't clear to me what was in his mind when he was looking rather too intently at a neighbour's daughter...on more than one occasion.

The editing is dreamlike at times, lulling you into missing the slide from the reality of the world of the film to that of Fleck's mind. The editing can then make you aware of what's occurred but sometimes I'm not sure whether what I've just seen actually happened or not, e.g. when Arthur receives visitors at his flat.

There are moments or things in the film which strike me as being unbelievable or implausible. The main one is that the world of this film is too like our own for it be plausible to me that someone like Arthur/Joker could actually become a supervillain...I'd have to assume that the police must be incompetent for that to transpire. On a more personal level in the film, I found that a relationship that Arthur formed to also be unbelievable but there is a resolution to that scenario which I found satisfactory.

Early on and throughout the film you do get a sense of Gotham being a city divided by class, from the early newscast (which I unfortunately didn't pay a lot of attention to) to the flat where Arthur lives. That being said, this representation of an underclass didn't hit me with nearly the amount of force that I was hit with when I saw how Cliff Booth was living, in the recent Quentin Tarantino film "Once upon a time in Hollywood". The class divide in "Joker" serves mainly to serve as a prop, in any case.

Overall, "Joker" hasn't captured the magic that Heath Ledger brought to the character in "The Dark Knight", where I had my first stirrings that the character of Batman was boring and I just wanted the entire film to be about Ledger's Joker. These Jokers are poles apart. Ledger's was engaging and entertaining, whereas this film is neither of those two things. "Joker" comes across as a cringe comedy...without the comedy (Fleck's first appearance on the talk show really did make me cringe...I just wanted the scene to stop!) or a mock-anti-epic...without the mockery. I did get one laugh during the movie (maybe two at the most, but I can't remember the other incident), i.e. an incident with a sliding door. In essence, this film is saying: "This is serious!". For this reason, I have to say that the film is not only not particularly engaging, worse, it's not entertaining to boot. Personally, watching this film again some time in the future holds no attraction for me.

Miscellaneous:

* The occasional violence in this film strikes me as being nastier than what I recall being in the last Batman trilogy, especially the murder of one man.

* Odd POV moment with the camera when Arthur dives into the fridge.

* Anachronistic: why was the audience in the film laughing so hard at an old Charlie Chaplin film? Canonical reference?

* Train shootings: I didn't feel that the sleazes 'deserved' what happened to them.

* Canonical that Joker's real identity known very early on?

* I've reconsidered my score a few times: 60% to 55+% to 50%

Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood
(2019)

A truthy Tarantino film, with a little bit of fact and a lot of friction. 75+%
It might be an idea not to see this film with a knowledge about its subject matter because even though I avoided reading reviews about it, I did manage to pick up that it did deal with historical people and events. That affected how I related to this film. What might otherwise have seemed a meandering story about two people in the TV industry in Hollywood turned into a countdown (dates regularly are displayed on the screen) to when that known history would intersect with the (presumably) fictional characters who are the subject of the story (hence my slightly low score for it). It helped that my knowledge of these notorious historical figures and events was vague enough so as not to know when that coming together of fiction and history would happen. Perhaps most people would be in my position: the names of the historical figures ring a bell but the details of the events are forgotten or not even known.

With all that being said, the film centres on Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a fragile TV star and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt), who is practically 'babysitting' him. Now, it struck me as being implausible that a TV star and their stunt double would socialise so much, let alone at all. However, this implausibility is addressed by the film and you just go with it and not overthink things. At times it seems that DiCaprio's acting is wooden, but that would just be more or less due to the character that he plays. His fragile ego is his shield, his sword. Or so I've heard. In some scenes Cliff Booth looks like the Marlboro Man, in others like Robert Redford. If you don't know about the historical references from the intersecting storyline, you would just take this film to be about the career ups and downs of Dalton and how that effects him. Speaking of historical references, there would be great nostalgia value for people who grew up watching film or TV especially, in the 1950s and 1960s, as you get many visual and audio grabs of popular US entertainment from that period as well as the popular music of this era.

At this point I haven't looked to see if Dalton is a real person (perhaps with a changed name) or a truthy version/amalgam of some real actor or actors. His roles in TV and film suggest to me that he might be based in part on some real Hollywood figure...someone who starred in Westerns...and then played such roles overseas, for a while. So, I was wondering if that real person might have actually lived where 'Dalton' lived...or somewhere nearby.

That question becomes more pronounced when Booth meets some people who I wondered if they were part of that intersecting story arc. In other words, I wondered if there really was a Cliff Booth type character involved in the historical event in question and whether he may have, in some sense, prompted that moment in history.

One character (an actress), mentions the kinds of films which she has been in, which seemed a salacious detail to have in the film. The Wikipedia article on her is too lengthy for me to quickly confirm that detail but so far I don't see anything to confirm it. If the detail is false, it does make you wonder about how writer, director and producer Quentin Tarantino is mixing fact and fiction in this film. Anyway, looking a bit further in the article, I can see, perhaps, a candidate for what film she was talking about. I'd just need to check her film chronology (assuming this film is accurate or that a filmography would include such a film) in order to confirm that.

For some people, I suppose, the heart of the matter is whether Tarantino is respecting the history of these real people and events. Maybe I shouldn't presume that Tarantino has done much research into the historical events that he portrays? For example, in one moment in the film, right towards the end, there is a scene which made me wonder whether Charlie was, in fact, responsible for the historical events. No, don't lookup "Charlie" if my reference has baffled you! In any case, that was an inference I made based on what a male character says to some women in a car with him. Does the real historical event allow for such an interpretation, as gleaned from this film by me?

In a more trivial vein, there were a couple of times where I wondered if Cliff Booth was imagining something. In the first instance, there is his encounter with a man who would become a major Asian star. It's not clear to me whether the event depicted actually happened (i.e. in the film) or whether he was imagining it. There is another scene, towards, the end, where I wondered the same thing and this relates to my previous point about whether Tarantino is respecting the history. That latter scene brought into stark relief how these two intersecting story arcs would play out. Which narrative would envelope the other and which would be enveloped? Even though I can say that I was maybe expecting the unexpected in this film's ending, well, I wasn't really expecting that ending! Maybe I just haven't seen enough Tarantino films or something! In some ways, this film reminds me of another Tarantino film...they have some things in common. In any case, I was okay with the ending. I'm not sure how anyone personally affected by the historical events of that time would feel about the ending though but it was a long time ago, in any case.

Miscellaneous notes:

* At least two Australians are in the cast, perhaps three, if you don't assume a good impression of our accent (wise! Based on a real person?)

* A stunning depiction of Cliff Booth's personal circumstances.

* I liked Rick Dalton's scene with a very young actress who took her craft more seriously than he did! She would also hate me referring to her as an "actress"! I didn't catch the name on her chair: based on a real person?

Recommendations:

* Tarantino is one of the interviewees in the documentary: "Not quite Hollywood: The wild, untold story of Ozploitation!"

* Summerfield. An Australian film that I've reviewed here. It has a similar vibe.

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