About badblokebob

Aiming to watch at least 100 films in a year. Hence why I called my blog that. https://100filmsinayear.wordpress.com

2022 | Weeks 18–20

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These three weeks take us most of the way through May. When I first started writing this batch of reviews, I thought that would bring me almost up-to-date… but then I realised we were already over halfway through June, and, as I finish it, June is almost over. Time flies!

It’s partly because I haven’t been watching as many films over the past couple of months (so it doesn’t feel like I watched these as long ago as I actually did), instead spending a lot of my leisure time on finally watching Apple TV+ series For All Mankind (I’ve just finished season one, which was really good, and I hear only gets better) and replaying all the Monkey Island games (I’m on the fifth and, to date, final one now).

But I digress. Because I already posted Shang-Chi and Frances Ha separately, the remaining reviews from this period are…

  • The Monolith Monsters (1957)
  • Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
  • Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022)


    The Monolith Monsters

    (1957)

    John Sherwood | 77 mins | Blu-ray | 2:1 | USA / English | PG

    The Monolith Monsters

    I watched this film in Eureka’s box set of ’50s B-movies, Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror. As you can tell from its inclusion there — and, indeed, its title — this is one of a wave of “monster movies” from that era. Except it isn’t, really. In fact, it’s a sci-fi disaster movie jerry-rigged into what I guess was the prevailing B-movie trend of the day: the eponymous ‘Monolith Monsters’ aren’t monsters at all, but an alien rock that expands relentlessly.

    Whatever you want to call it, the film offers a mix of B-movie daftness and real-sounding science that’s quite appealing. For example: our heroes discover this crazy, hitherto unknown multiplying rock; then realise they have maybe two days to stop it before it destroys their town; and rather than, say, alert the government, or call in expert help, they decide to… figure it out for themselves. But it does make you wonder: is this poor B-movie logic, or just 1950s Americanness? I love the thought that some crazy extraterrestrial incident may have occurred in some backwater town in the middle of nowhere, and no one ever knew about it because the locals just dealt with it themselves. “Oh yeah, aliens invaded back in ’57, but we didn’t see the need to bother nobody else with it, just shut ’em down ourselves.”

    Yet for all that silliness, there’s some scientific logic in play too. Whether it’s real science or “close enough”, I don’t know (let’s be honest, it’s probably the latter), but they manage to make it sound convincing. It helps contribute to an exciting climax, in which a plan to stop the monoliths can only be executed at the last moment before the town is overrun. Rocks don’t normally move fast enough to create race-against-time tension, but hey, these are alien rocks.

    The more I reflect on The Monolith Monsters, the more I like it. For a pulpy B-movie, it has an appealing seriousness. Sure, there’s some schlockiness that I wager is inevitable thanks to its era and budget range, but it feels like it’s trying to be more than trashy entertainment, aiming instead to be a more grounded, almost realistic sci-fi thriller. In reaching for that end it becomes a little slow going at times, but overall it’s quite fun.

    3 out of 5

    The Monolith Monsters is the 31st film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.


    Hannah and Her Sisters

    (1986)

    Woody Allen | 107 mins | digital (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 15 / PG-13

    Hannah and Her Sisters

    Hannah and Her Sisters is one of writer-director Woody Allen’s more popular and successful films. For example, it was nominated for seven Oscars, winning three; and nowadays, it’s his third highest-rated film on Letterboxd, above the likes of Manhattan and later-career highlight Midnight in Paris. All of which I mention because, personally, it’s the kind of film I’d describe as “something and nothing”, because I liked it well enough, but also didn’t really get what it was going for overall.

    It’s the story of… well, Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters. They’re three middle-aged women who all live in New York City (of course) and, over the course of a couple of years, we follow their lives and relationships, with a focus on the latter. Actually, if anything, I might argue the biggest focus is on Elliot, played to Oscar-winning effect by Michael Caine, who is married to Hannah but finds himself pining for her sister, Lee (Barbara Hershey).

    I say “might argue” because Hannah and Her Sisters is one of those films that feels like a collection of subplots. All of the storylines play out, then they stop, with happy endings almost across the board, and that’s your film. I expect it’s based around a theme of some kind, but all I really got it from it was the old “the grass is always greener” adage. Apparently Allen particularly wanted to make something about the relationship between sisters, because he thought that was more complex than between brothers. Fair enough, but I’m not sure it really comes across in the finished film. There are only about two or three scenes in which the sisters actually interact. They’re mostly off on their own subplots; and while those subplots do effect each other, I don’t think they truly speak to the sisters’ relationships; not in any revelatory depth, anyway.

    I’ve enjoyed quite a few of Allen’s films that I’ve seen, but Hannah and Her Sisters won’t be cracking my personal favourites of his work. It was fine to watch — not exceptionally funny or dramatic or insightful or original, but fine — and then it ends, and we go on with our lives. It’s not bad, but it also wasn’t anything much. Not to me, anyway.

    3 out of 5

    Hannah and Her Sisters is the 32nd film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022. It was viewed as part of “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” 2022.


    Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers

    (2022)

    Akiva Schaffer | 97 mins | digital (UHD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | NR* / PG

    Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers

    On the surface, there’s nothing here for me — a live-action remake/reboot of a late-’80s/early-’90s cartoon that I don’t remember ever watching — but something persuaded me to watch the trailer, and that convinced me to watch the film the moment I could. If you’ve missed said trailer, or any of the attendant hype or reviews, what sold me is that this isn’t just an update of a children’s cartoon with modern tech, but a Who Framed Roger Rabbit-style riff on cartoon celebrity.

    Like Roger Rabbit, it’s set in a version of our world where cartoons are ‘real’ and living alongside us, and they act in the TV shows and movies we know them from. Decades on from the Rescue Rangers TV show, Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (Andy Samberg) no longer get along, but when an old friend goes missing, they’re thrust into investigating his disappearance together.

    Frankly, the plot and character arcs feel like stuff you’ve seen before — probably because we have. Although Roger Rabbit is the obvious reference, the film’s storyline feels very similar to the Melissa McCarthy-starring Muppet version of the concept from a couple of years ago, The Happytime Murders. It works better here, though, because it’s not leaning on crudeness as a comedic crutch. If you didn’t see that film, it might be to Chip ’n Dale’s advantage in terms of feeling fresh.

    Instead, the best bit of the film is that it’s full to bursting with fun nods and references to pretty much every facet of (Western) animation. These are often tucked away in the background or on the periphery for the eagle-eyed to enjoy, with the film rarely (if ever) stopping to show them off. To its credit, that means the abundant Easter eggs aren’t allowed to overshadow the story, and so the film avoids using them in the same way Happytime Murders used its vulgarity. It’s just a shame that said story is a little well-worn.

    Ultimately, Chip ’n Dale gave me the same kind of entertainment as its trailer, but for 95 minutes. Which, in a way, is fair enough — no one can accuse the trailer of being misrepresentative. On the other hand, it would be nice if there’d been something more to substantive to discover. It’s no contender for Roger Rabbit’s throne, but nor is it another Happytime mess. My score rounds up, because I did have fun.

    4 out of 5

    Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers is the 33rd film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.

    * There was no certificate listed on the BBFC website at time of review,. As you may or may not know, there’s actually no legal requirement for streamers to have their content certified, and so it seems Disney haven’t bothered. For what it’s worth, Disney+ lists the film as “9+”, which I guess equates to PG. ^


  • Frances Ha (2012)

    Noah Baumbach | 81 mins | digital (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA & Brazil / English | 15 / R

    Frances Ha

    Being a ditzy twentysomething in New York, hanging out with friends and going to parties, having a job as a dancer and earning just enough to get by, and nothing quite going to plan but it all kinda being ok anyway — all in black & white? I see why some people love this film. It’s a kind of obvious fantasy life for certain Artsy people. Of course, there’s not much drama in that (not that that would stop some filmmakers), and so Frances’s messy life begins to get messier. It may stop being a fantasy, but it’s certainly relatable to any of us who’ve failed at the things we’d dreamed of doing.

    While some viewers find the characters’ lives relatable or something to aim for, I’m not surprised to learn that other viewers just find them really annoying. The primary characters are all twentysomething art snobs, which is a definite phase some twentysomethings go through. Some grow out of it, some don’t. I don’t think the film is idolising them, which is part of what allowed me to enjoy it. If it had presented them as wonderful people living an ideal lifestyle, I might’ve hated them. Not that the film condemns them, but I think it takes them for what they are rather than outright celebrating it. That much is clear by how Frances ends up washing out of that lifestyle — it’s not even that she chooses to reject it; it’s that it’s unsustainable.

    Having watched the film with the perspective of being older than Frances, where her life ultimately goes after she’s forced to reevaluate and make changes… well, I guess personal experience of whether your dreams were fulfilled, had to be tweaked, or were totally squandered is likely to colour whether you think the film ends up somewhere realistic or, in fact, with almost-stereotypical movieland optimism. As if that wording doesn’t give it away, I do err towards the latter.

    Girls just wanna live in New York City in black & white

    To dig deeper into that, I find it hard to process my reaction to the ending, because it’s not that I want Frances to suffer — indeed, in many ways I found it a relief that she got her life on track and seemed happy. I can’t say I was super-invested in her as a character, but co-writer/director Noah Baumbach and co-writer/star Greta Gerwig got me invested enough that, when things were truly shitty, I did feel bad for her, and when she turned it around I was glad. But I also felt like she was lucky. She doesn’t get her dream, but she gets something comfortably adjacent to it. To people who want to make films and are making films (like, y’know, the people who made this film) that probably seems like a “compromised (therefore realistic) happy ending” (as opposed to an “everything turns out exactly as hoped (therefore unrealistic) happy ending”). But to those of us who’ve had to make even greater compromises — who’ve had to abandon dreams entirely and settle for what’s achievable — which, I’d wager, is the majority of human beings — Frances’s fate doesn’t seem hugely realistic.

    I suspect the filmmakers believe they’ve created an ending in which Frances didn’t win, but nor did she lose; that she did ok. I’m sure I can’t be alone in seeing it as Frances still winning — not a 100% victory, but whatever she has (85% maybe?) is nothing to be sniffed at. So that’s why I’m conflicted: I’m glad Frances got her 85%; but if you want realism — and, as this is a black & white indie movie, not a glossy Hollywood dream factory, I kinda do — she should’ve got, like, 20%. By that I don’t mean end up living on the street or whatever, but maybe she had to move back to boring old Sacramento, move in with her parents for a bit, get a run-of-the-mill job in an office or whatever — something like that. Depressing, but truthful.

    Anyway, it’s still a nice little fantasy for indie kids, so:

    4 out of 5

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

    Destin Daniel Cretton | 132 mins | digital (HD+3D) | 2.39:1 | USA / English & Mandarin | 12 / PG-13

    Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

    Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool fan, keeping up with the MCU is beginning to feel more like a chore than entertainment. There’s just so much of it! No wonder it can feel like its fans never watch anything else, because getting through the myriad TV series and movies could conceivably fill most of your free time. That said, it’s obviously not doing the movies any harm (yet) based on the spectacular box office performances of No Way Home ($1.89 billion, the 6th highest grossing film of all time) and Doctor Strange 2 ($935.3 million and counting). And getting round to everything does have its benefits, because occasionally you find a diamond, and it’s not always one the critics or other viewers have flagged up. I mean, most of what I heard about the first Doctor Strange was that it was just the standard superhero origin story over again, but it’s one of my favourite films from the studio’s output, primarily thanks to the stunning visuals and a few other clever developments. Being another iteration of something isn’t always bad, especially if you’ve iterated closer to perfection.

    Shang-Chi is the latest Marvel movie to fall into that camp for me. It is, again, a superhero origin story; but, again, one that’s been refined to a place where the hints of familiarity don’t really matter. It’s about Shaun (Simu Liu), an ordinary guy working as a valet in San Francisco… who it turns out isn’t such an ordinary guy, but is really Shang-Chi, the son of the magically-powered leader of a global crime syndicate known as the Ten Rings. Of course, events conspire to bring Shang back into contact with his estranged family, where he must choose whether to stand against his father’s evil plans.

    The MCU publicity claim that any given film is “not just a superhero movie, it’s a [1970s conspiracy thriller / John Hughes comedy / whatever]” has, rightly, become a bit of a laughing stock. But I think Shang-Chi might be the first time it’s actually true. Yeah, it’s undeniably set in the MCU and, as such, plays by some of those rules (there are Blip references from early on, with the requisite cameos and mid-credit teaser scenes to follow), but the bulk of the movie itself is not really a superhero film as we normally think of them. Rather, it’s a martial arts fantasy-actioner. Now, maybe those are in the same ballpark — people with impossible abilities fighting each other — but I’d argue the style of it in Shang-Chi feels closer to something like Detective Dee or 47 Ronin (except good) than Iron Man or Captain America, or even the other fantasy/magic-based MCU sub-series like Thor or Doctor Strange.

    A sticky situation

    And for that, I loved it. Unfortunately, where it’s most like the MCU is in an ‘epic’ battle finale that, a few show-off moments aside, is mostly realised through CGI that looks like swirling mud. If it weren’t for that disappointment (and, to be clear, it’s not a disaster, just a bit of a let down), I might have given the film an even higher score.

    I was also glad I bothered to track down the 3D version (only released on disc in Japan, I believe. I also believe Japanese imports are expensive. I wouldn’t know from experience, I’ve never bought one). I’m aware that 3D is an ever-dwindling format and that’s why major labels aren’t bothering with disc releases anymore (though it must be worth it at theatrical level, because they’re still shelling out for these post-conversions that cost millions of dollars a pop), but it’s a shame for those of us who enjoy it and still have the kit, because it’s as enjoyable as it ever was when done well. Shang-Chi may not be the height of the format, but lots of it looked nice with the extra dimension. Sadly, unlike many previous Marvel 3D releases, it didn’t have the bonus benefit of a shifting IMAX ratio. There is an “IMAX Enhanced” version of the film (it’s on Disney+), but, like the last two Avengers movies, it presents the entire film in IMAX’s 1.9:1 ratio, so no luck for us 3D fans there (or anyone bar Disney+ viewers, because it’s not included on the film’s 2K or 4K Blu-ray releases either).

    4 out of 5

    2022 | Weeks 16–17

    Ooh, it was gonna be a classy one this week, with two recent Oscar winners — of Best Picture and Best Animated Feature, no less — and a highly-acclaimed Kurosawa classic — the 12th greatest film ever made, according to Letterboxd users. But then two of those reviews got so long I thought they better belonged in their own posts, and so we’re just left with two very different coming-of-age movies…

  • CODA (2021)
  • Cruella (2021)


    CODA

    (2021)

    Siân Heder | 112 mins | digital (UHD) | 1.85:1 | USA, France & Canada / English & American Sign Language | 12 / PG-13

    CODA

    When CODA became the Best Picture victor at this year’s Oscars, it wasn’t exactly unforeseen, but it certainly wasn’t what anyone had expected early on in the awards race. Indeed, the very reason it had became some people’s prediction hinged on the way the Best Picture votes are counted: a preferential ballot, which means that having a lot of second- and third-place votes is arguably even more important than first-place ones. The idea behind the system is to create a consensus around the winner, rather than the award going to the film with the largest minority of voters backing it. Certainly, pretty much everyone can agree that CODA is a nice film — but probably too “nice” to have won Best Picture, unfortunately.

    It’s not the kind of movie many will come away from feeling wowed. It’s a solid drama about a teenager coping with fairly typical teenage stuff, with the added twist that the rest of her family are deaf but she isn’t. Chalk up a mark in the ‘positives’ column for representation, then, in this case of the deaf community. It’s not one token character, either, but several major characters, who the film treats as real human beings who happen to be deaf, rather than as The Deaf Character. One reason it succeeds at this is because they’re not all perfect people just because they have a disability. Another is that the film doesn’t pretend their deafness isn’t a barrier — there are multiple obstacles it creates when engaging with the rest of their community. But CODA is a nice movie, remember, so everything turns out alright in the end; and it does so with enough effectively-managed (some might say “manipulated”) emotion that you may find yourself with a tear in your eye; or perhaps even bawling with tears flowing down your cheeks, depending on your susceptibility to such things.

    So, the best film of 2021? Almost certainly not. The one everyone is likely to agree they all liked? Most probably.

    4 out of 5


    Cruella

    (2021)

    Craig Gillespie | 134 mins | digital (UHD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

    CODA

    Disney’s wave of live-action remakes seem to fall into one of two camps: straightforward remakes of the original Animated Classics, sometimes to the level of feeling like shot-for-shot do-overs; or extensions and reimaginings that seek to fill in around the edges of the original work. Perhaps because they already did a live-action version of 101 Dalmatians back in 1996, Cruella takes the latter approach. It’s a prequel, naturally, showing how an ordinary(-ish) little girl grows up to be a wanton dog murderer.

    Except (non-specific pseudo-spoilers incoming!) not really, because the film ends in such a way it’s very hard to imagine this Cruella becoming the deranged villain of the original text. Indeed, I’ve seen some commenters refer to this as a reboot rather than a true prequel, which seems like a fair enough angle. I mean, this is a Cruella de Vil who has a dog for a best mate. Even with the “dalmatians killed my mother” backstory (which I think the film knows is a gag. Considering that such a plot point came up as a joke on social media as soon as the project was announced, you’d hope the filmmakers were aware how daft the audience would find it), it’s hard to imagine how this version of the character could go from how we see her here to being prepared to roundup and kill hundreds of animals.

    Setting aside the need for connectivity and looking to the film in its own right, I would describe it as delightfully stylised. It’s got a particular tone and style that will turn off some viewers (and, certainly, some critics), but — even if you don’t personally enjoy it — I think it’s something we should celebrate. We sometimes talk about big-budget movies being homogenised; focus-grouped to the point of blandness and similarity. Cruella isn’t that, instead hitting notes that are suitably camp and gloriously unhinged. It certainly isn’t the most radical variation in tone ever — it merits comparison with early Tim Burton, without ever being as genuinely out-there as his best work — but it’s more so than the average. It’s so much madder than it needed to be, and that’s why it’s fun and not the usual Disney live-action cookie-cutter money-spinner.

    To my mind, its only sins are an over-reliance on obvious needle drops and cheap green screen. The latter has been brought up online as a damning example of how poorly crafted big-budget movies are these days. They’re not wrong about the examples used: two key scenes that take place at a cliffside have clearly been shot day-for-night in a studio and lit very flatly. The nighttime (i.e. ultra-dark) colour grade helps to hide some of the sin by covering it in darkness, but whack up the brightness and it’s all too apparent how awful it looks. But I would counter that these are fairly isolated examples. Cruella is hardly a go-to example of the wonders of cinematography (and there are other weak shots, too), but most of the film looks pretty good.

    4 out of 5


  • High and Low (1963)

    aka Tengoku to jigoku

    Akira Kurosawa | 144 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | Japan / Japanese | 12

    High and Low

    Akira Kurosawa has a good many classic films to his name, but, according to users of both IMDb and Letterboxd, this is the second best of them all — and, on the latter’s list. the 12th greatest film ever made, to boot. No pressure.

    Adapted from the American crime novel King’s Ransom by Ed McBain, the film stars Toshiro Mifune as a business executive who we first meet being wooed to join a potential coup of the company. (The film rattles through a few twists early on to set up its initial dilemma, which I’m now going to spoil, so if you want to go in completely cold, jump to the next paragraph.) In fact, Mifune is plotting his own takeover, paid for by leveraging everything he has. But then, his young son is abducted, with the kidnappers demanding a huge ransom — if he pays, his carefully-laid plans will be impossible to execute; but it’s his son! But then, it turns out it isn’t his son — the crooks took the wrong boy, instead kidnapping the son of Mifune’s lowly chauffeur. But they don’t know that, and there’s no way in hell the poor chauffeur could pay a ransom. What’s a man to do?

    Some might power a whole film on that storyline and dilemma, but it’s only the beginning of High and Low. Its original Japanese title (天国と地獄) literally translates as Heaven and Hell, and, as both monikers indicate, this is a film of two halves; of opposing forces; of extreme choices. Without wishing to spoil any more of what goes down, I’ll say that almost the first hour of the film takes place almost entirely in a single room. It feels like the whole thing might unfurl there, a la Hitchcock’s Rope — almost a formal exercise in telling a story from a single setting. But then it moves to an immediately more dynamic locale — a train — for a properly thrilling sequence, around which the story and structure pivots. The rest of the film goes ultra-procedural. A lengthy scene early in this half depicts a police debriefing in a manner that feels almost documentarian, as if we’re witnessing a genuine meeting filmed and presented in real-time, as various detective duos update senior officers and their colleagues on the specific aspect of the case they’ve been working.

    Hanging on the telephone

    This eye for detail, presented with a degree of mundanity, makes the film feel extra realistic. That extends to the final details. No spoilers, but, although you may call this a Thriller due to the type of story being told, it doesn’t climax with a big twist or revelation; no reveal of some super-clever grand plan that, with implausible foresight, anticipated and accounted for everything that’s happened. Rather, the film seems to proceed methodically and logically through every thread of investigation and consequence for its primary characters, until it simply has no more left to tell.

    It’s certainly a fine piece of work — although, on first watch, I’d say I’ve seen several better examples of the genre and several better films by Kurosawa. But that isn’t truly a criticism of the film, rather of its high placing on the lists mentioned at the start. Awareness of such accolades has a tendency to overshadow any first viewing of a film that warrants them (just witness how many people are underwhelmed by Citizen Kane), so I look forward to returning to High and Low sometime under less pressure.

    5 out of 5

    High and Low is the 30th film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022. It was viewed as part of Blindspot 2022.

    Encanto (2021)

    Jared Bush & Byron Howard | 102 mins | digital (UHD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English & Spanish | PG / PG

    Encanto

    The 60th film in Disney’s animated canon was, despite that status, sent straight to streaming in the midst of the pandemic. Possibly because of that, it seemed to catch on quite quickly as their latest major success. Case in point: one of the songs — We Don’t Talk About Bruno — ended up having greater chart success than Frozen’s notorious Let It Go.

    (I’ve got to take the time to say that I find this quite baffling. I don’t love Let It Go (I’m a 36-year-old man, not a six-year-old girl in 2013), but it’s clearly a catchy tune with lyrics that transcend its place in the film — you can understand how it became such a huge hit. But for the life of me I can’t work out why We Don’t Talk About Bruno has surpassed its success. It’s a likeable song that plays well in the movie — and I think hearing it in place is important, because the first time I heard it was on the radio and I couldn’t even work out what they were singing about. So, there’s nothing going on lyrically that makes it applicable in any other context, and I don’t think the underlying tune is so earwormy as to warrant play merely for that reason. Or maybe it is if you’re the right age, because clearly something made it a massive hit.)

    Anyway, the film itself is about a family, the Madrigals, who live in a magical house in an isolated part of Colombia and all have magical powers — except Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), for reasons no one understands. But when the family begin to lose their abilities, finding out what’s going on and fixing it falls to Mirabel. Because of course it does.

    Someone's gotta do the donkey work

    Encanto doesn’t look like your typical Disney Princess movie, but it’s not functionally different to them. The Madrigal family’s powers mean they effectively rule over their small town, albeit in a benevolent way, which makes Mirabel a de facto Princess; and she has the usual Disney Princess hangups about feeling under-appreciated and needing to find her self-worth. But hey, at least she doesn’t also need to find a husband! Nonetheless, it’s welcome that the film is less traditional is its setting — present-day South America, rather than the typical fairytale land of historical Europe — and the pace is also up-to-date. In fact, it’s quite frantic. Like, okay, calm down a bit; take your time occasionally; let stuff stay on screen long enough for us to appreciate how good it looks. And the animation does look great, with detailed designs, fluid movement and dynamic camerawork, and an incredibly colourful palette, especially when fired up by HDR/WCG.

    The songs are by Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, unmistakably so. It’s something about the phrasing, the rhythm, the rhyme patterns… I’m no musicologist so I can’t adequately explain it, but they’re distinctively his work. But that’s what you want when you hire someone, right — their own voice. If you don’t like this style from his other work, chances are the music here won’t appeal to you either. If you do like it, there’s much to enjoy, from the opening number, The Family Madrigal, which introduces us to the large cast of characters at whipcrack pace, to my personal favourite, Surface Pressure, about one family member’s struggle with all the weight on her shoulders. And yet they put Dos Oruguitas up for the Original Song Oscar, apparently trying to emulate the success of Coco’s Remember Me. Oops. (Obviously they should’ve gone with breakout hit Bruno, but I reckon either of the other songs I’ve mentioned would’ve stood a better chance.)

    One of Encanto’s directors is Byron Howard, whose previous work for Disney has encompassed Bolt, Tangled, and Zootropolis — three films I’d class as among the very best of Disney’s current purple patch. It’s a helluva record. Happily, Encanto continues it. I might rank it a little behind the other three when all is totted up, but being next in line to such strong movies is nothing to be ashamed of.

    4 out of 5

    Encanto is the 28th film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.

    Top Gun (1986)

    The 100 Films Guide to…

    Top Gun

    Up there with the best of the best

    Country: USA
    Language: English
    Runtime: 110 minutes
    BBFC: 15 (1986) | 12 (cinema, 1989) | 15 (video, 1996) | 12 (video, 2004)
    MPAA: PG

    Original Release: 12th May 1986 (Mexico)
    US Release: 16th May 1986
    UK Release: 3rd October 1986
    Budget: $15 million
    Worldwide Gross: $357.5 million

    Stars
    Tom Cruise (Risky Business, Mission: Impossible)
    Kelly McGillis (Witness, The Accused)
    Val Kilmer (Top Secret!, Batman Forever)
    Anthony Edwards (Revenge of the Nerds, Miracle Mile)

    Director
    Tony Scott (The Hunger, Crimson Tide)

    Screenwriters
    Jim Cash (Turner & Hooch, Anaconda)
    Jack Epps Jr. (Dick Tracy, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas)

    Based on
    Top Guns, a magazine article by Ehud Yonay.


    The Story
    Fighter pilots Maverick and Goose are sent to the US Navy’s elite Fighter Weapons School, aka Top Gun, a combat training academy-cum-competition to establish the Navy’s best pilots.

    Our Hero
    Pete ‘Maverick’ Mitchell is a hotshot pilot who’s prone to bending the rules when he thinks it’s necessary. But that sort of behaviour doesn’t fly with the instructors at Top Gun. Is his daring what gives him the edge, or what makes him a liability?

    Our Villain
    Maverick’s prime rival in the Top Gun competition is Tom ‘Iceman’ Kazansky, whose callsign comes from the his precise, ‘ice cold’ flying style — the antithesis of Maverick. In the real-world, the villains are the MiG fighter jets of a tactfully unnamed foreign power.

    Best Supporting Character
    Maverick’s best mate and RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) is Nick ‘Goose’ Bradshaw. While Maverick seems to rub most people up the wrong way, Goose is widely liked. No idea where his nickname comes from.

    Memorable Quote
    “I feel the need… the need for speed!” — Maverick

    Memorable Scene
    For all the slick flying and whatnot, arguably the film’s most iconic scene comes on the ground, when the pilots relax by playing a game of beach volleyball — mostly shirtless, their sweaty muscles glistening in the sun. If you weren’t already feeling the homoerotic subtext, this kind of rams it home. (It’s a fairly incidental scene, but if you doubt its impact, know that the makes of the sequel felt they had to include a version of it, which led to the cast prepping for months to make sure their bodies were suitably toned.)

    Memorable Music
    Top Gun is blessed with multiple memorable tracks, both original songs and soundtrack cues. Several even won awards (see below). But the one that didn’t is the most iconic, and so catchy that it’s played several times throughout the film: Kenny Loggins’ Danger Zone.

    Making of
    There was a lot of cooperation from the US Navy in the production of the film (it paid off: after release, they saw recruitment skyrocket), but they only authorised two actual missile shots for filming purposes. Both were were shot from multiple angles to generate extra usable footage, but it still wasn’t enough, and so the filmmakers commissioned further shots using miniature planes and rockets. These were done so convincingly that the Navy conducted an investigation into whether any unauthorised missile firings had been performed for the film.

    Next time…
    It took over 35 years (partially thanks to Covid-related delays), but a sequel was finally released this year. But of course you know that: Top Gun: Maverick is probably the most praised blockbuster of the year so far.

    Awards
    1 Oscar (Original Song (Take My Breath Away))
    3 Oscar nominations (Sound, Film Editing, Sound Effects Editing)
    1 People’s Choice Award (Favorite Motion Picture)
    1 Grammy (Pop Instrumental Performance (Top Gun Anthem))
    1 Brit Award (Soundtrack)

    Verdict

    I loved Top Gun as a young kid — though, as is so often the case with movies from my childhood, I don’t actually know how many times I saw it. We weren’t great rewatchers in my household, so I expect I only actually watched it two, maybe three times, max. But my dad and I used to play jet fighter simulator games on our PC, with usernames like Maverick and Iceman, entirely inspired by the film. So, obviously, it comes with a dose of nostalgia for me, even though I hadn’t seen it for a couple of decades (my recent rewatch inspired by, of course, the release of the sequel). Does it hold up? Well, that depends what you want from a movie. It certainly comes with a more-than-healthy does of ’80s cheese and rampant-but-unacknowledged homoeroticism. For some, that makes it either unwatchable or two hours of laughing at the film. But if you’re onboard with its particular style, it’s still good fun; an entertainment-focused blend of fast-paced action in the skies and matey rivalry on the ground, with a dash of romantic melodrama for good measure.

    May’s Failures

    Ever since the pandemic, the cinema has been “back” multiple times. The latest film driving that claim is Top Gun: Maverick, the belated-in-every-sense sequel (it’s both 36 years since the original film and something like three years since this one wrapped shooting, its release delayed until well after Covid was ‘over’) that’s been garnering rave reviews from almost everyone. Obviously, I didn’t see it (it self evidently wouldn’t be topping my ‘failures’ column if I had), but maybe next month. I’m sure it rewards the big screen experience as much as everyone says.

    That wasn’t the only biggie in cinemas this month though, with multiverses causing buzz aplenty between Marvel’s latest, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and the UK bow of Everything Everywhere All at Once — another film we’re urged to see ASAP, and therefore on the big screen. Again, I didn’t have a chance this month, but maybe next. Other cinema releases look like small fry by comparison, even if they include a Stephen King adaptation (Firestarter) and Mark Wahlberg vehicle (Father Stu). Coming highly recommended, but limited (so far) to a single simultaneous global screening, was Andrew Dominik’s new Nick Cave documentary, This Much I Know to Be True. Hopefully it’s not one of those “you had to see it at the time” jobs and it’ll be on disc and/or streaming eventually.

    Talking of streaming, the true headline-grabbers this month were new TV series, primarily Stranger Things 4 on Netflix and Obi-Wan Kenobi on Disney+. By comparison, original debuting films were thin on the ground. The only one I’ve got noted for Netflix is a new Ghost in the Shell animation, but it’s not a true new film because it’s one of those “cut down a season of TV into a feature” ones — full title Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 Sustainable War — which popped up a couple of weeks before a new season of the show itself. I’ve never got round to watching the original incarnation of SAC, never mind the less well regarded (as far as I’m aware) 2045-set revival. Amazon Prime, meanwhile, offered up a Chris Pine vehicle, The Contractor, and a Zac Efron one too, Gold. Neither seem particularly noteworthy.

    As far as new-to-subscribers additions go, Netflix arguably had the biggest hitter with Bollywood crossover hit RRR — even if it wasn’t in the original language (exclusivity for that has been nabbed by another streamer) and, I read, not in the original aspect ratio. It’s enough to put you off watching it… were it not for the piles of praise I’ve seen it attract. Naturally, being a product of the Indian film industry, it’s really long, so I just need to find the time for it. The next most noteworthy title on my list is another international hit, two-time Oscar and two-time BAFTA nominee The Worst Person in the World, which is on MUBI. Once upon a time Sky Cinema were king of this category — the whole reason it exists, even — but this month the best they could do was Dear Evan Hansen. Oh dear. Meanwhile, Amazon added C’mon C’mon, which seemed to garner a lot of praise on Letterboxd at one point last year, but that didn’t materialise into much during award season. It didn’t even make my 50 Unseen list for last year in the end. Still, it goes on the watchlist now.

    Indeed, my watchlists on all these services were padded out with piles of catalogue additions; so many it would be far too dull to list them all, especially as sometimes it’s just a film jumping from one service to another (looking at you, Ammonite and Chaos Walking). There also seemed to be a particularly large number of things I’ve been meaning to watch on disc but haven’t, which always elicits mixed feelings — a blend of “well why did I bother buying it then” and “I really should’ve watched that by now”. It was, in fact, All 4 that were worst for the latter this month, airing several titles I’ve owned on disc for ages, including The Handmaiden, The Kid Who Would Be King, and Zhang Yimou’s Shadow.

    Talking of stuff I own on disc, let’s just move onto that, because I certainly bought more than enough stuff this month. No new-new releases (i.e. recent films new to disc) this month. I’m not sure if that’s because there’s been a dearth of them or because none have interested me. There have been plenty of new editions of catalogue titles, though, mainly foreign genre titles thanks to the boutique labels: martial arts movies like Half a Loaf of Kung Fu, Hero, and Human Lanterns from 88 Films; a pair of poliziotteschi from director Sergio Sollima, Violent City and Revolver (coincidentally released in the UK on the same date by two different labels. Maybe the rights just became available or something, because there certainly wasn’t any apparent cross-promotion effort); and a whole box set of neo-noir titles from Australia’s Imprint label, titled After Dark: Neo-Noir Cinema Collection One. “Collection One”? Promises, promises.

    The latter I ordered as part of a bundle of all of Imprint’s releases this month, which also included Paul Greengrass’s superb drama about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Bloody Sunday (it featured on my 100 Favourites list back in 2016); political thriller The Contender (never seen it, but it was more-or-less free by ordering the discounted bundle rather than just the other three titles, and I do like a political thriller); and Walter Hill’s The Warriors, a two-disc edition featuring the original theatrical cut on disc for, I believe, the first time. It’s the kind of release I’ve wanted for that film ever since I first saw it in 2018, so I was thrilled to get my hands on it. Just hope we don’t get someone like Arrow doing an even-more-bells-and-whistles version for the northern hemisphere anytime soon…

    Talking of imports and genres, I picked up Arrow’s US-only releases of The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter and Come Drink with Me, which cost more than their UK counterparts but also boast considerably more special features. While I was getting those, I bulked up my order with a punt on the new 4K release of Heavy Metal, which comes bundled with its less-remembered sequel, Heavy Metal 2000; plus the latest classic 3D title to make it to disc, Treasure of the Four Crowns, a film I’d never heard of, but I’m always keen to support the continued release of genuine 3D content; and also a couple of films I had seen that don’t have Blu-ray releases on this side of the pond, steampunk animation April and the Extraordinary World and Clint Eastwood’s true-crime Southern Gothic Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

    And that’s not even all! There were more poliziotteschi in Free Hand for a Tough Cop (great title) and Silent Action (aka The Police Accuse: The Secret Service Kill, which sounds much cooler); a couple of things I heard recommended so picked up half on a whim, like single-take sci-fi Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Woman at War; and a bunch of stuff that’s been lurking on my “consider buying” list for months/years and finally was on offer, like Irezumi, Over the Edge, A Silent Voice, The Spy in Black, and The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (talking of cool titles…)

    Finally for this month, the greatest frustration of all disc collecting: two re-releases of titles I already owned and hadn’t intended to re-buy but ended up caving on. First, Arrow’s 4K edition of Dario Argento’s Deep Red. I’ve largely been ignoring their 4K Argento reissues because I already bought them all on Blu-ray and, frankly, haven’t watched any of them, and the ‘only’ thing the new editions add is the 4K transfer (which isn’t always that much of an upgrade — I haven’t bothered with their 4K of Donnie Darko for that very reason). But I discovered this month that Deep Red actually added a host of bonus features, plus packaging more in line with their other Argento titles; and the screen caps do make the quality of the transfer look noticeably better, so I caved. Secondly, Eureka’s Blu-ray edition of Vampyr. I seem to remember when they released it on DVD (back in 2008) they decided the print quality wasn’t up to HD standard (although they released their first Blu-rays in 2009, so maybe I’m misremembering), but it’s since been restored; plus they’ve added new special features and a big ol’ booklet. It’s a film I had mixed/muted feelings about when I finally watched it last year, which was part of my reluctance to upgrade, but then I guess I got FOMO about a limited-edition pretty Masters of Cinema release. But hey, the film merits a revisit, and this will encourage me to do so… some day…

    The Jubilatious Monthly Review of May 2022

    Of course, May had nothing to do with the jubilee (other than some precursor events), and the actual long weekend doesn’t start until tomorrow, so this post title is… not the best. But we’ll probably have forgotten it ever happened in 30 days’ time, so I’m not holding back the reference ’til June’s review.

    Anyway, let’s put largely irrelevant naming issues aside and get on with last month’s viewing…



    This month’s viewing towards my yearly challenge

    #31 The Monolith Monsters (1957) — Decades #11
    #32 Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) — WDYMYHS #4
    #33 Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers (2022) — New Film #5
    #34 On the Town (1949) — Rewatch #5
    #35 To Be or Not to Be (1942) — Blindspot #5


    • I watched seven feature films I’d never seen before in May.
    • Four of them counted towards my 100 Films in a Year Challenge, along with one rewatch.
    • Those are less than ideal numbers — I should be at #41 by now, really. Next month marks the halfway point of the year, of course, but I’m really going to have to step things up to get to #50 by then.
    • One of the films I watched this month that didn’t count was Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. It’s part of an ongoing series I’m watching — the MCU — so why doesn’t it count for Series Progression? Well, my personal rule when I count ‘series I’m in the middle of watching’ is that they’re series that have already finished, or where I’m catching up. Series where the next instalment isn’t even out yet can’t count because it doesn’t ‘exist’ yet. Sometimes, however, a new release can count, as with Encanto for Disney Classics last month, because I’m still watching older films as part of my catchup, so new releases get added to the end of the list. Does that make sense? Is it fair?
    • This month’s Blindspot film was Ernst Lubitsch’s anti-Nazi satire To Be or Not to Be.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film was Woody Allen’s comedy-drama Hannah and Her Sisters. Regular readers may remember I needed to watch two WDYMYHS films this month to catch up. Well, I didn’t, so that goal is now bumped to next month.
    • From last month’s “failures” I watched The Monolith Monsters (from Eureka’s Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror set).



    The 84th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Nothing truly exceptional this month, as is perhaps given away by the fact I’m going to choose an MCU film as my favourite. Obviously Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings ticks the usual MCU boxes, but it mixes in a healthy dose of martial arts action-fantasy filmmaking — another (sub)genre I enjoy — making for an all-round entertaining MCU debut for the eponymous hero. It’s not the kind of film that’s going to convert nonbelievers, but it’s good fun.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    This is easily This Means War, the action-adventure/rom-com mashup starring Chris Pine and Tom Hardy as BFF CIA agents who both fall for Reese Witherspoon. It’s kinda adequate as a movie desperate to appeal to both male and female viewers, but kinda fails both by trying to be two different things at once and nailing neither.

    Monster That Isn’t Really a Monster of the Month
    I guess The Monolith Monsters was so titled to cash in on the popularity of monster movies in the ’50s, but the titular terror isn’t really a monster at all — it’s an extraterrestrial geological phenomena. On the bright side, at least that’s something a bit different.

    Most Aspirational Lifestyle (for Some People) of the Month
    In my review of tick, tick… BOOM! this month, I wrote that it would appeal to some people who dream of living that lifestyle. The same could absolutely be said of Frances Ha, which is about twentysomethings failing at life… but coolly, in black & white, in New York City. Well, if you only dream of failure, at least you’re less likely to be disappointed by reality, right?

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    A series of posts I started this year has been growing in popularity month on month… Well, I say that: I’m not sure its actual numbers have been going up, so much as the rest of the viewing chart has been falling away around it. Anyway, for the first time, this month’s most-viewed new post is a ‘failures’ post; namely, April’s Failures (of course). I guess people are more interested to read about what I didn’t watch than what I did. Weird.



    Every review posted this month, including new titles and the Archive 5


    …marks the halfway point of the year — yes, already! — so I might indulge in a few bonus statistics.

    2022 | Weeks 14–15

    Only four reviews this time, taking us up to April 17th. It was going to be five, but then Spider-Man got far too long. So, we’re left with…

  • Withnail & I (1987)
  • Munich: The Edge of War (2021)
  • tick, tick… BOOM! (2021)
  • Move Over, Darling (1963)


    Withnail & I

    (1987)

    Bruce Robinson | 103 mins | digital (HD) | 16:9 | UK / English | 15 / R

    Withnail & I

    This may be a beloved cult comedy in its own right, but I can’t help but make comparison to a certain other British cult property. You see, each of the three primary cast members — Richard E. Grant (Withnail), Paul McGann (‘I’), and Richard Griffiths (Uncle Monty) have an atypical relationship to the lead role in Doctor Who. That has no bearing on the film itself, not least because their involvement (or non-involvement, in one case) took place years later, but it’s a correlation I can’t shake. I mean, what other work can claim to star the man who was simultaneously the shortest and longest serving Doctor; the man who was definitely, officially the new canonical Doctor, until he wasn’t; and a man who might well have been the Doctor if things had gone to plan? Nothing else that I can think of, that’s for sure.

    Setting all that aside, everything about Withnail & I screams “cult favourite”, and I guess that’s what it is — not a film that started out with a dedicated fanbase before being subsumed into the mainstream, but one that remains beloved of a relatively few devotees. Perhaps that explains why it’s one of those films I thought would’ve wound up on my Blindspot list by now, but never has: because it lacks that crossover appeal. (Maybe I need to factor in some lists of cult and/or British movies when compiling my Blindspot choices.) Coming to it afresh in 2022, aware of that rep it’s built up over the last 35 years, does it no favours. The characters aren’t likeable or interesting enough to truly enjoy hanging out with (even as they’re convincingly brought to life by the talented cast); the “gay panic” stuff that drives several sequences lands differently now than I suspect it did in 1987; and the supposedly never-ending quotable lines didn’t materialise (there are a small handful of memorable ones, at least). That said, there are quite a few lines that would be fun for a game of “did Paul McGann say this in Withnail or in Doctor Who?” (Oops, sorry to bring that up again.)

    The best bits of Withnail have been dulled by repetition out of context (variations on “we’ve gone on holiday by mistake” are a certifiable meme at this point), and I suspect I personally left it too long to see it, allowing it to build up too much of a reputation. I didn’t dislike it, I just wasn’t won over.

    3 out of 5


    Munich: The Edge of War

    (2021)

    Christian Schwochow | 129 mins | digital (UHD) | 2.39:1 | UK & USA / English & German | 12 / PG-13

    Munich: The Edge of War

    Robert Harris has been a best-selling author for decades, but his works have had a rockier reception on the screen; perhaps not helped by the fact a couple have been helmed by director non grata Roman Polanski. Harris’s stock in trade is fictionalised tellings of historical events — the eruption of Vesuvius in Pompeii; the politics behind the invasion of Iraq in The Ghost; and so on. His 2017 novel Munich is set around war-avoiding negotiations between Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain that took place in the titular city in 1938. This film adaptation gains a subtitle, presumably to differentiate it from Steven Spielberg’s Best Picture nominee, which retold entirely different historical events.

    The big names aren’t the main characters, however. Those would be a pair of low-ranking civil servants from the opposing sides: Brit Hugh Legat (1917‘s George MacKay) and German Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner), former university chums who fell out when Hitler came to power. Now, von Hartmann is disillusioned with the Nazi regime and wishes to pass information to the British, but will only make contact with Legat, thus roping the inexperienced diplomat into the world of espionage, untrained. If the storyline is ringing bells, perhaps you too recently watched The Courier with Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s not an identical narrative — I’m not accusing anyone of plagiarism here — but there are definite parallels. Legat even has a strained relationship with his wife, who he has to leave at home and not tell the truth.

    But where the story in The Courier was true, and thus lent an inherent fascination, the story of Legat and von Hartmann is fictionalised. That’s not necessarily a problem — most thrillers are entirely made-up, of course — but Munich is hampered by feeling kind of muddy. It’s not so bad as to be described as muddled, but does seem like it’s perhaps the victim of being badly truncated from the book, or possibly just in its own edit. It’s not always clear what the point is of what we’re watching, or where certain characters have disappeared off to. That makes the overall experience longer and, occasionally, more plodding than it needs to be.

    That said, though it takes time, it does eventually develop the tension it needs; and it has definite merit for depicting a bit of history that’s normally relegated to footnote status. Indeed, it makes an interesting argument for “what Chamberlain did was good, actually”, which is not the normal point of view on politicians’ pre-WW2 actions.

    3 out of 5

    Munich: The Edge of War is the 27th film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.


    tick, tick… BOOM!

    (2021)

    Lin-Manuel Miranda | 120 mins | digital (UHD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

    tick, tick… BOOM!

    Rent was one of the definitive Broadway musicals of the ’90s, but its creator didn’t live to see its success: composer, lyricist, and author Jonathan Larson died, with poetic timing, the night before the show’s premiere. It came after years of Larson struggling trying to break into the industry, much of which was documented in his semi-autobiographical (almost-)one-man show, Tick, Tick… Boom! This film adaptation broadens out and adds additional detail to become a more direct biopic of Larson, albeit one with musical numbers.

    Struggling musical theatre people in Manhattan… Yes, some people are going to find this insufferable. Others will look upon it as a dream life, especially as any actual hardship (Larson’s apartment didn’t have heating, for example) is played down or romanticised. Even setting that side, it remains the kind of movie that will speak to anyone who’s dreamt of making art (especially if that art is musical theatre), but might leave others (primarily those without such ambitions) identifying more closely with some of Jonathan’s friends — “there are bigger things to worry about,” they say.

    In the centre of it all is a pitch perfect performance from Andrew Garfield. He throws himself into the role, transformatively so: his Larson seems to be powered by a restless enthusiasm that I don’t think I’ve seen the actor portray in anything else. In the musical numbers, he holds his own against much more experienced singers (Garfield couldn’t even sing before production began — he spent a year learning and practicing).

    This is more than just a ‘one good performance’ film, though. Although based on a stage show, the screen version certainly doesn’t feel stage-bound, coming to cinematic life through Alice Brooks’s photography and Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum’s editing as if it had always been meant for the screen. However, many people have been critical of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s direction. While I wouldn’t shout it out as anything amazingly special, I also don’t think it’s bad. You routinely see lesser work in Marvel movies, for example.

    4 out of 5


    Move Over, Darling

    (1963)

    Michael Gordon | 99 mins | digital (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | U

    Move Over, Darling

    Doris Day and James Garner star in this remake of My Favourite Wife, one of the trio of screwball comedies Irene Dunne and Cary Grant made together, and which I watched back in May 2020. Two years ago?! Time flies. Despite which, I’ve not reviewed it yet.

    Well, Move Over, Darling is an incredibly close re-envisioning. If someone authoritative told me it used the same screenplay with only minor tweaks, I’d believe them. I’m sure it’s not that close, in actual fact, but it’s darn near it. Certainly, one bit is definitely new: a fun sequence that sees Day recount the plot of the earlier film. Very meta. Alongside the screenplay, the remake also carries the original’s primary flaw, which is that they both lack the pace and snap of the very best screwball comedies. Day does her best to enliven the material, being a consistent source of fun and clearly game for a laugh — a sequence where she goes through a car wash in a convertible is a highlight. Garner can’t manage to equal Cary Grant, but who can?

    Nonetheless, on balance, I slightly preferred this version. That might just be due to my lowered expectations — knowing it had the double drawback of being (1) a remake, and (2) of a film I hadn’t particularly loved the first time, it was able to overcome that by simply being not too bad.

    3 out of 5