2022 | Weeks 1–3

Here we go — finally, and somewhat later than anticipated (it’s been a slow start to the year, viewing-wise) — the new review format for 2022!

…which you’ll have already seen in Archive 5, of course; and is fundamentally similar to what I was doing before in roundups and what-have-you; and which I’ve already ‘broken’, because my review of Flight of the Navigator came out so long that I posted it alone.

But still, the intention is this is now my regular review format, popping up every week or two (or three) to review everything in a more timely fashion than I have for many, many years. We’ll see how it goes — I feel like I need to relearn how to write short pieces, because longer reviews feel like they should get their own posts, and that’s happened to pieces intended for every one of these roundups so far this year.


Anyway — to kick things off for 2022, a film with a broadly appropriate title. Because, despite (deliberately misleading) hints to the contrary, I’m carrying on. Get it? Carrying on watching. And “spying” is a synonym of “watching”, right? (Look, there aren’t any Carry On films with more apposite titles, okay?)

These weeks’ films are…

  • Carry On Spying (1964)
  • Penny Serenade (1941)
  • The Navigator (1924)
  • In the Line of Fire (1993)
  • Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper (2004)
  • Free Guy (2021)


    Carry On Spying

    (1964)

    Gerald Thomas | 84 mins | digital (SD) | 16:9 | UK / English | U

    Carry On Spying

    Believe it or not, I’ve never actually seen a Carry On film before. Maybe that’s not so surprising these days. They were once such a part of British culture that they produced 30 of the things, but I think they were seen as “a bit old fashioned” even before I was born, and by 2022’s standards… oof. But, lest you get the wrong end of the stick (oo-er, etc), this isn’t me intending to finally dive into all of them. Rather, as well as its timely title, I chose to watch Carry On Spying primarily because it’s a James Bond spoof — the first, I believe, seeing as it was released in July 1964, when the Bond series only encompassed Dr. No and From Russia with Love (Goldfinger would follow a couple of months later).

    With Bond not yet even properly into its initial phenomenon phase (the first two films were hits, but it was the next two that skyrocketed its popularity), you might think Spying came too soon, and would be disadvantaged by being produced before the famous Bond formula was fully in place. Instead, it sets its spoofing sights a little wider, including an extended riff on The Third Man. I couldn’t tell you everything it’s drawing on, but its third-act villain’s lair — all sleek metal corridors and little road-train thingies and jump-suited identikit henchpeople — appears to be a take-off of You Only Live Twice, some three years before that film even came out. So I can only presume Spying’s point of reference there is something else, which I can’t quite remember; some other spy fiction that was already doing stuff the Bond franchise would still be pulling off years later. That doesn’t reflect too positively on YOLT, when you think of it, although Bond’s cultural dominance and longevity has come to ensure it’s the one that’s remembered for pioneering all this stuff.

    I don’t know how many Carry On films were genre spoofs, but the series’ reputation is more for smut and innuendo. There’s pleasantly little of that here — some, for sure, mostly based around Barbara Windsor (of course) as a trainee agent; but while it’s all fundamentally juvenile, it’s not as ceaselessly ribald as I was expecting. Satisfyingly, it remains primarily focused on its chosen genre. In that respect, I’ve definitely seen worse spoofs.

    3 out of 5

    Carry On Spying is the 1st film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.


    Penny Serenade

    (1941)

    George Stevens | 120 mins | digital (HD) | 4:3 | USA / English | U

    Penny Serenade

    This is the third and final film to pair up stars Irene Dunne and Cary Grant as a married couple (I’ve watched all their collaborations within the past couple of years, but not posted reviews of the first two yet. I thought it was within the last year, but turns out I watched my first in May 2020. These strange days have really messed with my sense of the passage of time!) But where their first two films were screwball romcoms, this is undoubtedly a melodrama, following a couple as they meet, marry, and attempt to start a family.

    Dunne and Grant both make a fair fist of the serious stuff — Grant, in particular, gives an uncommonly sensitive performance at times — although they can’t resist slipping back into a spot of almost-slapstick given half a chance, with various individual sequences playing more like one of their comedies. Those scenes stand at odds with the film’s overall narrative and tone, which goes for full-on weepy. Indeed, if anything, I thought it was overdone, in particular an ending that throws in sudden tragedy followed so quickly by a pat happy ending that it feels almost distasteful.

    The film’s hook is that it begins with Dunne planning to leave, before she discovers a book of records that, as she plays them, take her back through their relationship. Different songs provoking specific memories is a neat narrative device on paper, but doesn’t really come across on screen. Aside from the first track, and maybe a later burst of Happy Birthday (although that could be almost any birthday, surely), the songs don’t seem to have any special relevance to the memories they supposedly call forth. It doesn’t help that, to modern ears, they all sound kinda samey. Plus, that the songs lead everything to unfurl in chronological order, with every major beat of their life story accounted for, is certainly convenient.

    If you can look past such artifice, and just want to revel in an old-fashioned bit of heart-tugging, Penny Serenade is fit to make you shed a tear. Personally, I’d rather the headline duo had given us another bout of screwball tomfoolery.

    3 out of 5

    Penny Serenade is the 3rd film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.


    The Navigator

    (1924)

    Donald Crisp & Buster Keaton | 66 mins | Blu-ray | 1.33:1 | USA / silent | U

    The Navigator

    This is my fourth Buster Keaton feature now (I’ve only previously reviewed The General, but Sherlock Jr made it into my 2019 top 3), and he’s established himself as my favourite of the major silent comedians (I rarely enjoy Chaplin’s films as much as I feel I should; and, in fairness to Harold Lloyd, I’ve only seen one of his so far, which I liked a lot). The Navigator was the biggest hit of his career, though is probably my least favourite of his I’ve seen so far — though I don’t want to damn it with false criticism, because it’s still a brisk and entertaining comedy.

    Keaton stars as a spoiled rich kid whose marriage proposal is rejected. He’d already booked the honeymoon tickets, so sets off by himself; but, due to several points of confusion, he ends up adrift at sea on a decommissioned ship, empty but for one other passenger: his would-be fiancée (Kathryn McGuire). It’s up to this pair of brats to get along and survive while they hope for rescue. (Rescue does not come quickly. Considering McGuire’s father is a successful shipping magnate who’s aware of what’s happened, you’d think he’d send a vessel after them; but then, he might have his own problems, owing to a bunch of foreign spies who… look, it’s best not to overthink the logistics and plausibility of the plot.)

    Although Keaton gets the lion’s share of the gags, as well he might, for a stretch in the middle he and McGuire form an effective double act. The two rich kids being hilariously useless at household basics, like making coffee or opening a tin of food, is well observed; a flash-forward to their automated solutions is also fun. While Keaton still gets to show off by himself — particularly in an elaborate underwater diving sequence, naturally saved for the final act — McGuire makes the most of the material she’s given.

    The only outright demerit to the film is that the finale hasn’t aged particularly well: the ship finally drifts near land, but it’s an island with a village-full of black natives, at which McGuire immediately exclaims “cannibals!” That she’s sort of proven right when they start attacking the ship is… well, maybe not even worse, but at least just as bad. Still, by 1920s standards, maybe we can take comfort in the fact that it’s only casual racism…

    More than that, the reason I say it’s my least favourite Keaton so far is simply that it doesn’t have as many comedic highs as his very best work. Nonetheless, his genius regularly shines through in moments and even whole sequences, and there are a couple of individual gags that are all-timers.

    4 out of 5

    The Navigator is the 4th film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.


    In the Line of Fire

    (1993)

    Wolfgang Petersen | 129 mins | digital (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    In the Line of Fire

    Clint Eastwood is a Secret Service agent who failed to stop the JFK assassination, now taunted by John Malkovich’s mysterious wannabe-assassin and his threats to kill the current President. It’s a fundamentally strong idea for a thriller, and works especially well by having the villain constantly phoning the hero for little chats. Malkovich’s always makes for a first-rate antagonist, and his slightly loony personality clashes well with Eastwood’s stoic, dry-witted, old-fashioned tough guy. There are a couple of chase scenes and shoot-outs here and there, but, rather than any elaborate physical action, it’s the verbal sparring that represents the film’s highlights.

    On the downside, the pace is a little on the slow side (perhaps matched to the “too old for this shit” age of Eastwood’s hero — in real life, he’d be a whole decade past the mandatory retirement age) and there are one too many clichés as important plot points (don’t get too attached to the partner who’s always talking about his wife and kids). Plus, there’s a wholly unnecessary romance between 62-year-old Clint and 39-year-old Rene Russo — the film doesn’t need it, even if there wasn’t that age gap. It leads to an (almost) sex scene that’s worthy of the Naked Gun films, which is amusing but tonally misplaced.

    They used to make this kind of political thriller on the regular back in the ’90s, one of those bread-and-butter genres for grownups that have fallen by the wayside in favour of hyper-budgeted kids’-movie spectacle that men of allegedly adult age flock to nowadays. In the Line of Fire may not truly stand out among its brethren of the era, but I do wish they still made ’em like this.

    4 out of 5

    In the Line of Fire is the 6th film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.


    Barbie as
    The Princess and the Pauper

    (2004)

    William Lau | 85 mins | digital (SD) | 16:9 | USA & Canada / English | U

    Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper

    One of the many film lists I have my eye on completing is Letterboxd 100: Animation, which lists the highest-rated animated feature films on the site (with a few caveats). There are over 40 titles left that I’ve not seen, and I could’ve chosen to watch almost any of them… but I chose the Barbie one. Well, not the Barbie one, because there are actually two Barbie titles on the list. And that’s not some temporary fluke: they’ve been on there for quite a while now. This merited investigation.

    As you’ve no doubt gathered from the title, this particular Barbie film is a reimagining of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. A fairytale-esque story, about a princess, done as a musical? Yep, this is very much a wannabe Disney, but without the production values of that major studio: the computer animation here looks more like a PS2 cutscene. But hiding beneath the cheap animation is a halfway decent musical fairytale. Take the second musical number, How Can I Refuse, for example: it’s every inch in the mould of a “Disney villain’s song”, but is better than some genuine examples, and comes complete with a dance routine by the antagonist and his two henchman. This film has ambition, I’ll give it that.

    Other songs vary in quality. When the eponymous duo first meet, there’s an unintentionally hilarious number in which they sing about how similar they are, the indentured servant and the pampered royal. If you say so, girls. A later track is a typical “you be you” song, but sung to a pet cat who behaves like a dog. That’s a level of barminess I can get on board with.

    I would never have dreamed of watching this if it weren’t on the Letterboxd animation list. Now, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m glad I watched it, but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would — even if sometimes that was due to laughing at it rather than with it.

    3 out of 5

    Barbie as The Princess and the Pauper is the 7th film in my 100 Films Challenge 2022.


    Free Guy

    (2021)

    Shawn Levy | 115 mins | digital (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

    Free Guy

    Ryan Reynolds plays his role again as Guy, a bank worker in city riddled with crime and superheroics. But, it turns out, Guy isn’t real — he’s an NPC in a computer game, programmed to do the same thing over and over and basically be ignored by the real-world players. Until, that is, he spots the woman of his dreams (Jodie Comer) and his programming breaks as Guy becomes self-aware.

    The basic concept sounds like a fun, fresh, and timely idea, right? Video games have never been more popular, AI is ever-improving, and there’s room for both gags and action in the core idea — that’s the winning Marvel formula, right there. Unfortunately, the execution is as if someone found a way to make a new movie by collaging others. Free Guy is just The LEGO Movie + The Truman Show + Wreck-It Ralph + Ready Player One + the PG-13 version of Deadpool 2 — not put in a blender, but cut up and stuck back together side-by-side, with snippets of Groundhog Day, Fortnite, and multiple Disney-owned properties scattered in for good measure.

    That last aspect, the Disney references, has been singled out for particular derision on social media. The film was initially produced by 20th Century Fox, but ended up a Disney title after the buyout, which allows a bunch of stuff they own to pop up in the movie. I know we’re supposed to find this infinitely depressing — a sad reminder that Disney are on course to own all culture, and that’s a bad thing — and it is bad, of course… but the bit with Captain America’s shield still made me laugh. Sorry, not sorry. Yeah, you can be miserable about this stuff, because obviously the total homogenisation of all American media under The Walt Disney Company is not worth that a couple of meta gags; but the homogenisation of all American media under The Walt Disney Company is happening anyway, so we may as well enjoy the gags we get along the way.

    Whether you have that kind of attitude or not will probably dictate how much you enjoy Free Guy. Its originality is surface deep, at best, and at every second it will call to mind some other film that already did the same thing. But, allowing for that, it’s still a fairly entertaining couple of hours of action-comedy.

    3 out of 5

    Free Guy is the 8th film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.


  • The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

    2018 #61
    Patrick Hughes | 118 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA, Netherlands, China & Bulgaria / English, Russian & Spanish | 15 / R

    The Hitman's Bodyguard

    With a daft-ish title and promotional campaign that definitely amped up the comedy, you might be surprised to learn that The Hitman’s Bodyguard started life as a drama. Yep, apparently so. Then, a few weeks prior to filming, the script underwent a “frantic” two-week rewrite to be remixed into a comedy. The end result is kind of a mixed bag, which, all things considered, makes sense.

    The hitman of the title is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), who agrees to testify against a dictator (Gary Oldman, underused) in exchange for the release of his wife from prison. While being transported through (of all places) Coventry, Kincaid and his escort are ambushed. The one surviving agent calls in Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) to help. Bryce is a private bodyguard — formerly to elite clients, until Kincaid assassinated one of them. Suffice to say, the two don’t get along. Cue banter as the mismatched pair face more tribulations on their way to The Hague.

    So, it’s a buddy action comedy, a well-worn genre, and The Hitman’s Bodyguard has nothing new to add to it. That said, while the antics may not be especially original, they’re not badly done. The film offers few big laughs, but there are one or two, and a couple of smiles. On the other hand, it’s a good 20 minutes too long (it needs to sacrifice some of the chatter, maybe some of the flashbacks, and definitely at least one action sequence) and some bits are inappropriately grim (random murder of parents? Photos of mass executions?) I guess those tonal inadequacies are the legacy of the last-minute rewrites, but, still, someone should’ve fixed that.

    Explosion!

    The action centrepiece is a rather good stunt-filled five-way chase between Jackson in a speedboat, Reynolds on a motorbike, Russian hit men, Interpol agents, and the Amsterdam police in cars. It’s not going to be challenging the John Wicks of this world for classic status, but it thrills enough. What seems like the climax is another pretty good one, as it intercuts a car chase with a hardware store fight that makes full use of the tools on hand. (I say “seems like” because it has another shoot-out after they finally make it to The Hague — like I said, it’s at least one action scene too long.)

    Apparently The Hitman’s Bodyguard only cost $30 million, which is $5 million less than The Hurricane Heist (which I watched on the same evening, hence the comparison). But this film looks considerably more expensive than the other, and it has several considerably bigger-name stars too. I guess some people just know how to spend money better than others. This comparison is also relevant for my final score, because it again calls into question my non-use of half-stars on this blog. On Letterboxd I rated The Hurricane Heist as 2.5 and The Hitman’s Bodyguard as 3.5, a whole star different, but here they both get rounded to the same score. Well, no one said life was fair.

    3 out of 5

    Ryan Reynold’s latest law enforcement-adjacent role is as the voice of the eponymous character in Detective Pikachu, in cinemas now.

    Deadpool 2: Super Duper $@%!#& Cut (2018)

    2019 #39a
    David Leitch | 134 mins | Blu-ray (UHD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English, Spanish & Cantonese | 15

    Deadpool 2: Super Duper $@%!#& Cut

    What’s an R-rated comedy without an “unrated” extended home ent version, eh? Well, the first Deadpool didn’t have one, but the sequel certainly does. Branded as the “Super Duper Dollar-At-Percent-Exclamation-Hash-Ampersand Cut”, it runs almost 15 minutes longer than the theatrical cut, with some alternate gags and music cues in the mix as well.

    The Blu-ray’s scene selection menu offers an indication of which chapters feature new material, and the answer is “most of them” — those 15 minutes are spread relatively thinly throughout almost the entire film. There are a handful of wholly new scenes (as many as ten, depending how you count it), most of them quite short (one is under nine seconds), a couple of extended fight sequences, and then lots of added lines here and there. Plus, as I said, there’s a smattering of gags that have been changed for alternatives. The only thing that’s really missing is a fourth-wall-breaking gag about extended cuts — it’s uncommon for the Deadpool franchise to drop the ball like that.

    As ever, Movie-Censorship.com has a thorough list of additions and changes. Their report reckons all the replacement gags are worse than the originals, but it’s certainly a matter of personal taste: there’s nothing so major lost, nor anything so poor gained, that it’s a crying shame. Personally, I think a fair few of the new and additional lines are at least decent. The added action stuff, on the other hand, is all neat, in particular a major extension to the Japanese bath fight that turns it into a single-shot masterpiece, and a fun bit between Domino and Juggernaut. I also thought the way this cut incorporates Russell’s backstory earlier and more fully worked well, adding weight to his motives and actions later in the movie.

    X-Force... kinda

    The net effect of the changes and additions is minimal, however. At the very least, I enjoyed it just as much on a second viewing as I did on the first (which is more than I can say about Deadpool 1). With that in mind, I’d probably pick the Super Duper Cut as my preferred version of the film. I liked most of the additions, and didn’t miss enough of the subtractions for it to bother me, so on balance this version wins. Individual opinions will naturally differ (that Movie Censorship guy obviously wasn’t impressed by the new stuff), but for anyone that enjoyed the theatrical version, this is definitely worth a look. That’s more than most people would say about Once Upon a Deadpool, at least.

    4 out of 5

    The theatrical cut of Deadpool 2 is available on Sky Cinema from today.

    Deadpool 2 (2018)

    2018 #120
    David Leitch | 119 mins | cinema | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Deadpool 2

    The quickest way to review Deadpool 2 is simply to say it’s like the first one, but more — in a good way.

    A slightly longer (and possibly confusing unless you read it slowly) way to review it would be to say that I enjoyed it less than I enjoyed the first one the first time I saw it, but I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the first one the second time I saw it. To clarify: when I first watched Deadpool, I loved it, and gave it five stars (just about). When I rewatched it two years later in preparation for the sequel, I was less bowled over. I think a lot of its initial effectiveness was due to the freshness of its whole schtick, which has naturally gone away on a rewatch (not helped by the saturation of it in DP2’s marketing campaign). In particular, I was surprised how sparse I found the humour to be on that rewatch. Maybe that prepared me for this one: the gags aren’t literally non-stop — it sometimes pauses to attempt emotion or to convey plot — but when they do come they’re thick and fast, so much that I’m sure some will get missed (there are too many to remember specific examples, but there was stuff I thought was very funny that didn’t get much of a reaction in my screening. Or it could just be only me that liked those gags, of course.)

    So, although DP2 couldn’t equal the sheer newness of watching DP1 for the first time, it’s refined the formula in such a way that I do think it’s a more enjoyable film. Maybe “refined” isn’t always the right word — in some cases it’s just chucked in even more stuff — but I think other elements have been honed. For example, the first film’s plot was a no-great-shakes origin story on which to hang gags and action. The sequel’s plot is still only scrappily adhered to, with the point once again being to deliver humour, but it does have a stronger throughline overall. Partly that comes from the villain, Josh Brolin’s Cable, who has a clear goal that conflicts with what Deadpool’s up to. Partly it comes from some thematic stuff about fatherhood and family. I’m not saying DP2’s overburdened in this department — it’s still an action-comedy — but I couldn’t tell you what the first film was about, thematically, and this one it’s made very evident.

    That Deadpool, he'll say anything

    That said, sometimes it’s bit heavy-handed. I can see what they were going for by giving the film a heart and some emotion — it builds off the first film, for one thing, where Vanessa was such a motivator for Wade; and they’re trying to add depth and texture to the film — but… it doesn’t work when it’s given too much focus. Everything else in the film is a pisstake turned up to eleven, and the fourth-wall breaking means Deadpool can make a gag about clichés or crappy writing even as the film ploughs ahead and does it anyway. So why isn’t he making gags whenever the film pauses for an emotional heart-to-heart type scene? Why does that sappiness flow on (and on) untouched? Okay, maybe the character cares too much to be wisecracking at those moments… but do we? Does the soppiness fit with the foul-mouthed, gore-splattered irreverence that characterises the rest of the movie? I’m not sure it does.

    Other things they’ve oomphed up, but to appropriate effect, included references to the X-Men and the action scenes. In the case of the former, I was surprised how many X-references there were in the first film, but DP2 has even more, including a superb one-shot cameo and a surprise appearance by a character who’s been in a ‘real’ X-Men film but here is done more faithfully. As to the latter, the first film had some fun action beats, but here you can feel the benefit of hiring John Wick/Atomic Blonde director (and former stunt coordinator) David Leitch — everything is slicker, quicker, and bigger. Again, it’s more, but in a good way. Humour aside, if you just wanted a straightforward action flick, I think it would satisfy on that level too.

    Cable, ready for action

    As for its level as a satire of superhero movies, some people have criticised the way it calls out genre tropes but then does them anyway, like Deadpool exclaiming “CGI fight!” right before there’s a CGI fight. But I think that’s almost the point. It’s not trying to deconstruct the genre, just poke fun at it with self-awareness while still being very much a part of it. Would it be cleverer if it went a step further and actually subverted stuff more often? Maybe. Probably. But there is humour in the self-awareness, even if it’s an easier kind for the filmmakers to fall back on — they don’t have to avoid clichés, so long as they humorously point out they’re indulging in them.

    Ironically, there are two or three occasions where Deadpool specifically makes a joke along the lines of “well that’s just lazy writing”, which were particularly amusing to me because (as I recall) they were at moments where the writing didn’t need to do more than it did. By which I mean, the writers could’ve been “not lazy” and dressed those moments up, but, functionally, they didn’t need to; so it’s not really lazy writing, just not needlessly tarted up writing… if that makes sense. It’s like movies with MacGuffins: usually they invest time explaining what the MacGuffin is and why it matters, but functionally it could be anything, all that matters is everyone wants it. Deadpool 2 doesn’t have a MacGuffin, but if it did it would be called “MacGuffin” and it would be explained simply as “a thing everyone wants” and Deadpool would say “well that’s just lazy writing”. (Flip side to all this: I can’t recall the exact circumstances of all the “lazy writing” jokes, so I’m prepared to accept they might not actually fit this theory.)

    X gon' give it to ya

    All of that said, Deadpool 2’s primary goal is plain, clear, and simple: it wants to entertain you by almost any means necessary, be that elaborate action sequences, almost non-stop gags, cultural references, deep-cut comic book Easter eggs, or even changing history (er, kinda). Mostly, it works — it wants to be fun and, if you’re on its wavelength, it is. Sometimes, more is more.

    4 out of 5

    Deadpool 2 is in cinemas everywhere, still. My review of the extended Super Duper $@%!#& Cut is here.

    Life (2017)

    2017 #123
    Daniel Espinosa | 104 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English & Japanese | 15 / R

    Life

    Aboard the ISS in the near future, a team of astronauts receives a probe returning from Mars with samples from the surface. Included among them are some living cells — the first proof of extraterrestrial life. The cells begin to quickly evolve into a living organism, thrilling the scientists… until it turns nasty and begins to attack the crew. That feels like a spoiler, but this is a sci-fi horror and that development is kind of inherent in the genre.

    Playing like a cross between Gravity (a near-future thriller where space technology is almost identical to our present capabilities) and Alien (a violent alien lifeform attacks the crew of a space vessel), Life clearly aspires to be little more than a straight-up sci-fi/horror thrill ride, and on that score it’s a pretty effective piece of entertainment.

    Of course, it’s not without its niggles. It could’ve nixed some of the stupid-ass dialogue, like one of the crew commenting “it’s so cold” while they’re shivering and their breathe condenses. More fundamentally, as the organism rapidly develops none of the scientists seem all that concerned by this, sticking to their initial feelings of awe and wonder. Surely there should be some worry about its potential? Perhaps the film was supposed to be saying something about humanity’s hubris when it comes to nature — that we wouldn’t worry about such a small organism, because why would we? — but I’m not convinced that’s a theme being actively invoked. Or maybe it was: comparing his movie to that other recent first contact flick, Arrival, director Daniel Espinosa notes that Denis Villeneuve’s film “is a great, beautiful, cinematic essay about philosophy. Mine is a rollercoaster with some underpinnings of philosophy.” Well, they’re under enough that you can ignore them entirely if you like. There are certainly some even bigger ideas it could’ve chosen to tackle — see the ghost of 82’s review for some interesting thoughts on that.

    In space, no one can hear you rip off other movies

    Still, we shouldn’t really judge a film for things it wasn’t aspiring to do. As a “rollercoaster”, this is decent entertainment. It builds to a helluvan ending too, which naturally I won’t spoil. That said, spoilers follow, because there are some interesting comments by Espinosa about the ending here. Two points jump out at me. One: the alien doesn’t kill David — why not? Espinosa says David didn’t fear it; in fact, he has a connection to it. Personally, I’d say that’s not apparent in the film at all. It would certainly make the ending more interesting if it were true, but I’m not convinced it was actually set up. Two: nowadays we’re so trained to expect sequels that we don’t consider the implications of ambiguous endings anymore (certainly not on blockbuster-sized movies, anyway). We don’t think about what it might mean, we just wait for a sequel to tell us. At best, we consider the ending in terms of “what’s the next two-hour genre-friendly story here?”, which is equally as limiting. He might well have a point there.

    I have no idea if Life is getting a sequel to tell us what happens next or not. I believe the writers wanted one, but I’m not sure how well it did at the box office in the end. I’m not anxiously anticipating a follow-up, but I’d watch it. Life isn’t interesting enough to be a great movie, but it’s an entertaining thrill ride. My score is a smidge generous, but I did enjoy it overall.

    4 out of 5

    Life is available on Sky Cinema from today.

    Just Friends (2005)

    2016 #97
    Roger Kumble | 91 mins | streaming | 1.85:1 | USA, Canada & Germany / English | 12 / PG-13

    I was aware of the existence of Just Friends in the way you’re aware of any movie with name actors that came out during the period in which you were cognisant of films that were being released — that is to say, I knew it was a film and it was a comedy, and I had paid it no heed beyond that. Until a couple of months back, when an article at the A.V. Club about a different topic referred to it as a “pop culture dud”, and the comments section got half overtaken with people defending it. Couple that with it being available free on Amazon Prime Instant Video and my curiosity was suitably piqued.

    It’s the story of Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds), a fat kid at school who was publicly ridiculed when he declared his love for his best friend and most-popular-girl Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart). Years later, he’s got fit and become a womanising record company exec who hasn’t been home since that incident. However, events conspire to strand him back home for Christmas, with crazy popstrel Samantha James (Anna Faris) in tow, where he finds Jamie stuck in a dead-end job. Can he reclaim his past love, etc, etc, etc.

    For all kinds of reasons, Just Friends spends a long time feeling like a morally bankrupt movie. It’s unclear if it’s praising or condemning Chris’ frivolous lifestyle, if he needs saving by coming home, or if he deserves revenge on the people who mistreated him. We know what the standard Hollywood perspective on these things is, so kudos to some degree for dodging it (at least for a while), but it doesn’t commit to the other direction either. What the story really amounts to is wish fulfilment on an epic scale. Its message is essentially: you can go back to your past and make it better. Maybe I’m just a cynic, but that’s not something I believe.

    So it was on course for 2 stars, the inconsistency and moral questionability of its worldview tempered by the fact that it was sometimes pretty funny, even hilarious once or twice, particularly when it nails some slapstick. However, at around the halfway point it seems to lose all control of its story, veering wildly around from subplot to subplot, and from conclusion to conclusion (it feels like it’s reached its final play at least three times). Normally that would make things worse, but, concurrently, it settles down in to what it’s trying to say (as much as it’s trying to say anything). It even delivers laughs more consistently, too. To a degree, from that midpoint the movie is slowly rescued.

    One lesson I took from watching Just Friends (as if I didn’t know this already) was that just because a bunch of people defend something they like in a comments thread on the internet, it doesn’t mean you’ll like that thing too, even if that comments thread is on the A.V. Club. Nonetheless, while Just Friends is not any kind of “must see” film, as a 90-minute diversion — with, at this temporal distance, a splash of mid-’00s nostalgia — it’s passably entertaining.

    3 out of 5

    Deadpool (2016)

    2016 #107
    Tim Miller | 108 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

    In the US Deadpool was, famously, rated R — which (for those not up on their international film certificates) ostensibly means you have to be over 17 to see it. In the UK it was rated 15, which is much more appropriate, because if Deadpool had a mind it would be that of a 15-year-old boy. Of course, plenty of grown men also have the mind of a 15-year-old boy, and that’s why it’s the highest-grossing R-rated movie (worldwide) ever. And I guess I must still have the mind of someone half my age too, because I loved it.

    Spinning off from the X-Men series (more on that later), Deadpool is the story of Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a former mercenary who falls in love with Manic Pixie Geek Wet Dream Girl Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) before being diagnosed with aggressive cancer. He agrees to radical treatment in an attempt to cure it and be with Vanessa forever ‘n’ that. The treatment drives him pretty much insane, but also ignites his mutant genes, which give him the power of self-healing (like that other mutant whose name rhymes with Polverine…) Permanently scarred and feeling like he can’t return to Vanessa, Mr Pool sets out for revenge.

    Yeah, it’s a pretty standard superhero origin plot. But the devil is in the details, and it’s how Deadpool tells its story that matters — the narrative is just a framework on which to hang the gags. The immediate point of comparison on a superhero comedy is surely Kick-Ass, and it doesn’t take deep analysis to see that Deadpool isn’t as subversive as that movie. Where Kick-Ass comments on, at times even deconstructs, the superhero genre, Deadpool takes its rules as a given and throws a shedload of humour on top of it. Is that a problem? It depends what you’re looking for. I think Deadpool’s makers set out to make a superhero film that was genre-aware and prepared to take the piss out of that, but I don’t think they were aiming to deconstruct superhero narratives. It might make Deadpool a less ‘intelligent’ movie than Kick-Ass, but it doesn’t stop it being entertaining.

    That doesn’t mean Deadpool’s makers are short on cleverness, though. The film’s structure is particularly nifty: it gets right into the action, then mixes the back story in as it goes on. This avoids either, (a) boring stretches while we wait for the hero to turn up, or (b) shoehorning in fight sequences where they don’t belong just so that the action quotient is met upfront. Plus it allows for a few transitioning gags and flashback humour, which I’m not sure we’ve seen since Fight Club. It’s well-paced too, the story positively flying by. This may be somewhere else the familiar shape of the story works in its favour — we know where this is all going, so it doesn’t need to dwell on plot details. No one’s really here for the plot, so why not?

    The jokey opening credits say that the writers are “the real heroes here”, the joke being they wrote the credits so of course they’d call themselves the heroes. But it’s also true. I mean no disservice to the producers who persuaded the studio to greenlight it, or director Tim Miller’s handling of the material, or Reynolds embodying the character so well — they’ve all undoubtedly contributed enormously to the film’s success (and I’m sure there’s a ton of improvisation in the final cut, so even more so) — but a lot of what makes the film really work, in a way that goes beyond just “it had some funny bits and some cool action”, is that structure, that pace, those gags… which, as just discussed, can well have come from the cast and director, and editors and stuff, too. So what I’m basically saying is: everyone’s a winner! Yay!

    So what of that humour? It’s an R-rated action-comedy, you know what to expect: Swearing! Crudeness! Nudity! Throwing in four-letter words and assuming that counts as a joke! Well, Deadpool does have swearing and crudeness, but it’s not so completely mindless about it. It has violence and nudity, too, just like the good old days of R-rated action movies. But it doesn’t resort to throwing any of those in for cheap humour — they’re there because they are there and can be there, not as a get-out-of-actually-coming-up-with-gags card. Most R-rated comedies these days factor somewhere on a scale of “saying a rude word just to get a laugh”, that scale stretching from “just doing it once or twice” to “all the ‘humour’ in the film”. Such words are thrown around liberally here, but if there was an occasion where that was substituted for an actual gag then it didn’t stick in my mind. That doesn’t mean it isn’t crude, or using Rude Things for laughs, but it’s not just going, “I said the F word, at a time when I shouldn’t say the F word — isn’t that funny?!”

    There’s one particular type of humour that Deadpool is most famous for, of course. From the self-parodying, Honest Trailer-inspired opening credits, to the Ferris Bueller-referencing, Marvel pillorying post-credits scene, Deadpool less breaks the fourth wall, more obliterates it, then stomps on the rubble until it’s in little tiny pieces, then grinds those under its shoe until they are dust, then snorts that dust and digests it, then… well, y’know. The film handles this really well: it’s not a non-stop commentary, but it’s also not isolated off in little clumps, like, “this had to be here but it’s kinda awkward to have him always talking to the audience”. It’s often used for irreverence, and I like a bit of irreverence. There are clearly some rules and/or considered choices with this fourth-wall breaking, though. In his commentary on the deleted scenes, Miller says that Reynolds kept wanting to pull the boom mic down from out of frame and use it to batter one of the villains, or something along those lines, but Miller thought this would be breaking the film’s rules. That’s a pretty fine line to tread — knowing he’s in a film, but not, like, using the fact he’s in a film… I guess it’s more of a “what feels right” set of choices than a little rulebook.

    One of my favourite little fourth-wall breaks is Deadpool’s one-liner when he’s dragged off to meet Professor X, which brings me somewhat neatly to the film’s relationship to its franchise mothership. I think I’d assumed it would be kind of subtle about the fact it’s technically an X-Men movie, even though everyone knows Deadpool was in X-Men Origins and this co-stars Colossus who’s been in several X-Mens at this point. That expectation was cemented by the number of reviews/blog posts/etc that have continued to refer to Apocalypse as the 8th X-movie. But no: within ten minutes we have a scene explicitly set at Xavier’s School, and Colossus has dialogue about Deadpool refusing to join the X-Men. References and connections to the X-Men are too numerous to count from then on out. This isn’t a movie hiding away its connections as a technicality only comic book fans will know about, which is something the main X-franchise has arguably done at times (though Apocalypse marks a distinct change in that, explicitly making Cyclops and Havok brothers, and stating that Magneto is Quicksilver’s dad… but I digress).

    One of the film’s best bits comes courtesy of that X-connection: stroppy teenage goth mutant Negasonic Teenage Warhead (excellent newcomer Brianna Hildebrand), and her immensely comic-faithful costume. Ironically, it’s not at all faithful to how NTW is portrayed in the comics (and you can find dozens of think-pieces about how the film changed her character and how that’s more than OK, if you’re so inclined), but it is generally like X-Men comic costumes, certainly ones that cropped up in the early ’00s. (I swear there was a Frank Quitely New X-Men cover showing a bald female in a costume really like NTW’s yellow-and-black X-Men uniform, but I can’t find it now. Maybe I imagined it.) Comic-faithful costumes are very much the MO of Marvel movies nowadays, but because the X-Men film franchise sprung from the “how do we make superheroes acceptable in movies?” period of the genre, the X-movies have never really done that before (though they do sort of, in passing, at the end of Apocalypse — I’m beginning to think we’re one day going to look back at that as a transition movie, assuming the next one goes super comic-book-y). I mean, this doesn’t really signify anything about Deadpool, I’ve just gone off on a geeky tangent.

    Deadpool does have flaws, and other reviews have certainly pointed them out: it’s not always hilarious (well, how many comedies are?), it’s another origin story (I believe I mentioned this one), it mocks superhero tropes but ticks most of the same boxes (ooh, I did that one too!), it has a somewhat low-rent feel… which, actually, I don’t get. I mean, it cost $58 million — a sliver of the budget of most blockbusters nowadays, but only slightly less than Jurassic Park cost (20 years ago), and 33% more than Serenity cost (10 years ago). It actually looked bigger-budgeted than I was expecting. The action sequences are really good, for one thing. If it feels small compared to other blockbusters, that’s just a complaint brought about by too much money being spent on movies nowadays — go watch a Big Budget Blockbuster from the ’80s or ’90s and you might be surprised how low-key half of them are. Tsk, young(er-than-me) people.

    Speaking of which, I do feel like I should be mature enough to have grown out of loving Deadpool… buuuut tough. It’s fantastic fun. Though, it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up to re-watches. I’ve read reviews which point out it doesn’t have the substance underneath the jokes that Kick-Ass does (did I mention that already? I didn’t steal that point from someone else, nope, noooo sir), so while Matthew Vaughn’s film is completely enjoyable on multiple go-rounds, any enjoyment to be found in Deadpool will ultimately fade once the novelty has gone. I mean, that’s possible — literally, only time will tell — but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with a “first time is definitely the best” movie, if that first time is good enough. Heck, The Game made it into my 100 Favourites with exactly that experience.

    Anyway, until I do re-watch it, I really enjoyed it. How much?

    5 out of 5

    That much.

    Deadpool is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK today.

    It placed 8th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.

    The Centennial Monthly Update for July 2015

    It’s a month of mixed emotions here at 100 Films, not least thanks to it being the earliest I’ve ever made it to #100.

    But before even that, this month’s menu:


    What Do You Mean You Haven't Seen…?

    This month I was, happily, faced with the choice about what should be 2015’s #100. Fundamentally this doesn’t matter, of course — it’s just another thing watched, which just so happens to be the 100th new thing I’ve watched since a point in time we have decided marks the beginning of a new time-cycle (…just to suck all the romance out of it, there). Given the aim and title of this blog, however, of course #100 takes on significance. In a last-week-of-December scramble-to-the-finish situation, which film is #100 doesn’t matter so much as the very existence of a #100 does; in the more leisurely situation of reaching that point in July, however, there’s time to reflect and consider what film will join the likes of Citizen Kane, The Hurt Locker and Lawrence of Arabia in the 100 Films #100 Club. And I mention this in the WDYMYHS section, rather than Viewing Notes or Analysis or something, because the natural choice for such an accolade seemed to be a WDYMYHS film. So from the list of what was left, I selected the movie I felt most likely (based on its reputation and so on and so forth) to chime with my own tastes — the movie I most felt ‘should’ wind up being a personal favourite.

    But first — I’m behind on WDYMYHS, so have been intending to watch multiple selections within a month for a while now, and this month I finally managed it. So before the glory of #100, another WDYMYHS graced my list at #97: John Carpenter’s The Thing. I thought there was a lot to like, but I didn’t love it.

    Then on to #100 — the movie I felt most likely to love, that I should find a personal favourite. I have to say, it’s the kind of film I started WDYMYHS for — the very point of the exercise is to make me watch films like this; ones I’ve been meaning to for years, have been led to believe that I will love, but for whatever reason haven’t had a pressing enough reason to get round to. So that’s what led to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil being 2015’s #100. Thank goodness, it lived up to the hype. Naturally I watched the “final cut” he created for Criterion (is any other version readily available these days? Apart from the “avoid except for academic interest” “Love Conquers All” version Criterion bundle in, that is), which I might think is a little on the long side, but, well, I still greatly enjoyed it.

    Anyway, that’s 100 done. Hurrah! And with that said, of course July wasn’t just about those two films…


    July's viewing
    Scanners
    #91 Returning to Jedi (2007)
    #92 Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics (2013)
    #93 Scanners (1981)
    #94 Song of the Sea (2014)
    #95 The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)
    #96 The Voices (2014)
    Brazil#96a X-Men: Days of Future Past – The Rogue Cut (2014/2015)
    #97 The Thing (1982)
    #98 Lilo & Stitch (2002)
    #99 TMNT (2007)
    #100 Brazil (1985)
    #101 Salvation Boulevard (2011)
    #102 RED 2 (2013)


    Viewing Notes

    • I backed The Death of “Superman Lives” documentary on Kickstarter a couple of years ago now and have been patiently waiting for it to turn up ever since, so it was kinda weird when half the internet (not to mention Proper Film Magazines ‘n’ that) was talking about it a few weeks ago. At some point I’ll post a proper review, but if you’re interested in its topic then it’s definitely worth a look.
    • Utterly meaningless, but it’s also the first film I’ve watched this year that’s title begins with ‘D’. Odd for such a common letter. (The only other unrepresented letters at this point are Q, U, Y and Z. And X, technically, as Days of Future Past isn’t on the main list.)


    Analysis

    July 2015 was a month of mixed results. On the one hand, watching 12 new films ticks a number of boxes: it smashes July’s low average (previously 5.86, now 6.63); as that might indicate, it’s also the highest July ever; it continues my at-least-10-per-month-all-year goal; and it’s the ninth month in a row to show an increase year-on-year.

    On the other hand, it’s the lowest-tallying month of 2015 so far, and only the second month to fall short of the yearly average (which still rounds up to 15). That said, not included is that I spent time this month re-watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in its extended form to boot. Add that to The Rogue Cut and you get 16 films for the month — much more normal (well, normal for 2015). So, y’know, swings and roundabouts.

    And, as mentioned, I made it to #100 — that excuses plenty in my book. It’s the earliest I’ve ever reached it, the previous best being September 9th. That was all the way back in my first year, 2007, making it perhaps the only record 2014 didn’t claim. This year has been rather good by my standards, so it’s one I don’t foresee breaking again. I mean, if I had five consecutive best-ever months (i.e. better than I’ve ever done, x5) then I could squeeze it in by the end of May. Well, you never know.

    Over in prediction corner, if I can keep up my ten-minimum for another five months, as desired, 2015 will end no lower than #152. Remember, my previous best is 136, so that alone would leave me feeling pretty darn chuffed. Bolder estimates: my pace so far has me reaching #175; if I could consistently reclaim the 2015 mode average (which is 15), I’d hit #177; if I can manage to continue the year-on-year monthly increases (an increasingly tough task, as the end of 2014 was so strong), I get as far as #178. A finish anywhere northwards of #170 is a 25% improvement on my previous best, so that’d be more than grand.


    The Arbies
    The 2nd Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    A few films this month were good but didn’t quite live up to my expectations, which makes this feel like a pretty clear choice: it’s Brazil again.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    It’s taken me eight years to get round to it, so I clearly can’t’ve been that fussed, but I really wanted to enjoy TMNT. I didn’t not enjoy it, per se, but it wasn’t all I wanted it to be either.

    Best Portrayal of a Dog, Cat, Deer, Fish and Bunny Monkey
    Ryan Reynolds, your superhero sins are forgiven. (Also, the Comic-Con Deadpool trailer looked great, so that too.)

    Most Evil Alien
    The Thing from The Thing, or Stitch from Lilo & Stitch? Stitch from Lilo & Stitch, or the Thing from The Thing? Oh, it’s a tough call! Ok, Stitch does redeem himself (itself?), so I guess the Thing edges it.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    This award goes to another award — my Liebster Award! Maybe y’all want to know about me more than I thought you did.


    Reviews


    Archive Reviews


    In Memoriam

    Just a couple of weeks ago, I commented here on the enduringness of our elderly dog, Rory. Sadly, not very long after that post, his long-standing health problems meant it was time for us to choose to say goodbye.

    I know non-pet-owners often don’t ‘get it’ when a beloved pet passes away — I grew up in a very non-pet-y home, so I’ve been that person in the past. However, it’s a terrible wrench, even when it’s been inevitable for a while and you know you made the right decision.

    Rory was a rescue, found as a stray, with enough health issues that we’ve been taking him to the vet essentially non-stop since we got him. He certainly went through the ringer even with us, starting with a dreadful skin condition, which eventually cleared up entirely after years of uniquely-formulated treatment. He lost the tip of one ear in an assault by another dog, and had his neck punctured in another (both encounters entirely unprovoked!) Then there was the more regular old-age ailment of arthritis; and, two-and-a-half years ago, he slipped a disc and his gall bladder packed up at the same time, leading to a tense Christmas/New Year spent at a specialist vet hospital (and to me not making it to 100 films in 2012).

    Experienced owners in the family said they’d never seen a dog be so ill and pull back, but pull back he did, and for another couple of years to boot. He’d been judged too old and fragile to endure a back operation, so he lived with that slipped disc for those years, on pain killers of course, but he kept on. He was a little fighter, right to the end. In his last week, his spine problems finally reached a point where he could only stand for short periods intermittently, even for his beloved food, and that really meant it was time.

    We’ll never know what happened to Rory in the years before he knew us, but — in spite of his catalogue of woes — we gave him six years, one month and one day of loving happiness. I don’t believe in an afterlife, but if there is one, I do believe dogs are far more deserving of it than any of us humans. I’m sure Rory would enjoy being able to run free again, in between eating copious amounts of bacon and sausage. It breaks my heart that I’ll never see him again, but at least he’s at peace and out of pain.

    (“From around the blogosphere”, the list of 5, and so on, will all return next month.)


    Next month…

    With the thrill of #100 passed, there’s a whole new level of excitement…

    #1000 is coming.

    The countdown begins imminently, as 2015’s #103 (i.e. the very next new film that I watch) will be the blog’s #991.

    Expect banners, people.

    The Voices (2014)

    2015 #96
    Marjane Satrapi | 104 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA & Germany / English | 15 / R

    The VoicesJerry (Ryan Reynolds) is a nice guy living in the small town of Milton, working in shipping at Milton Fixtures and Fawcetts, where he fancies the English girl in accounts, Fiona (Gemma Arterton), and doesn’t notice how much another girl in accounts, Lisa (Anna Kendrick), likes him. He also talks to his dog, Bosco, and cat, Mr Whiskers, and they talk back. That’s why his psychiatrist (Jacki Weaver) encourages him to take his medication, but he doesn’t. When he accidentally murders Fiona (as you do), it’s Mr Whiskers that encourages him to cover up the crime.

    The Voices isn’t your usual kind of film — obviously. In the special features, everyone’s very keen to talk about how it exists outside of genre, and they’re right. From some of the premise (his pets talk!) and marketing, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just a comedy. It is a comedy, but a very black one. A very, very black one. A total-absence-of-light black one. The laughs do not come thick and fast, though there are some, and there’s a left-of-centre worldview that is comedy-quirky — if you tried to play this entirely straight, it wouldn’t work.

    However, it is also something of a psychological crime thriller. Jerry is clearly a very messed up individual, and so we’re always wondering what he will do next, “Oops.”what happened in his past to make him this way (flashbacks and hints are scattered, leading to an eventual reveal), and how will it all end for him? We’re conflicted here, because he’s a nice guy who we like, but he’s also a murderer, in horrific fashion, and so surely justice is due. Screenwriter Michael R. Perry and director Marjane Satrapi (of Persepolis fame) tread a fine line here: they do want us to like Jerry, but are certainly aware that can be an uphill struggle given what he’s done.

    They’re aided in no small part by Ryan Reynolds’ first-class performance. Reynolds has coasted along in minor, generic, average-to-below-average action-thrillers (Smokin’ Aces, Safe House), rom-coms (Just Friends, The Proposal), and, mainly, comic book movies (Blade: Trinity, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Green Lantern, R.I.P.D.), but a couple of more recent performances seem to have shown his range. Firstly, Buried (which I’ve still not seen), where he carries the film trapped alone in a box, and now this. And last weekend’s Comic-Con trailer for Deadpool, which looks like it might be awesome. Here, he essays a multitude of characters: working on the theory that the voices are all in Jerry’s head, Reynolds voices Bosco, Mr Whiskers, and a couple of other animals to boot. This isn’t just an affectation: he gives different performances as each, offering a kinda-dim but good-hearted Southern gent as Bosco the dog, and an evil bloodthirsty Scot as Mr Whiskers the cat. The dog is good and the cat is evil? Sounds about right. That’s not to undersell his main performance, in person as Jerry, a socially awkward guy who really does want to do the right thing, but can’t help being led astray.

    Threesome?Able support comes in the form of three women in Jerry’s life. Gemma Arterton has a ball, first as a bit of a bitch, then as a ludicrously-chipper super-English talking head. Anna Kendrick, meanwhile, is sweet and likeable, and while we may be on Jerry’ side when he accidentally slides his knife into Fiona, we’re keen for him not to make the same mistake with Lisa. Whether he does or not is where the real battle for his sanity lies. The third is Jacki Weaver’s psychiatrist, who is central to the climax but also has the least to do of all three, really. Never mind.

    Satrapi delivers a film of mixed tones, which clearly doesn’t work for every viewer, but I thought handled the shifting styles well. There’s a kind of kooky comedy to it all, but also horror movie-level disgust at points, and the complex psychology underpinning Jerry’s actions. I thought all three were mixed well, though I can see why it’s not to everyone’s taste to have such apparently-disparate genres co-existing; certainly, the darkness of the humour will be beyond some. DP Maxime Alexandre nails the visuals for all this, though. Off his drugs and in his delusions, Jerry’s world is perfect and sunny, but the cleverness here is that it isn’t beyond the realms of reality, it’s just a bright, sunny, polished, happy reality. When he takes his meds, the dark, grey, grim, hoardersome, blood-soaked, shit-stained reality of his life comes in — and his two best friends look really miserable and stop talking to him. No wonder he’s tempted to the dark side. Alexandre has form in horror movies (The Hills Have Eyes, The Crazies, Silent Hill: Revelation), so no wonder he can do the latter, but the majority of the film is on the shiny side, and he’s got that down pat too.

    Murder in mindThe Voices is the kind of film you say is “not for everyone”, which are often the best kind if they are for you. For me, it wasn’t quite funny enough — I’d’ve liked more of the dog and cat, who get the lion’s share of the best material. I also felt that Jerry’s backstory, the reasons for why he is how he is and does what he does, weren’t explored quite enough. The Blu-ray’s deleted scenes hint at more of this, particularly with an alternate climax, which was perhaps cut because there was too little material specifically building up to it. Rather than losing that ending, it would’ve been better to keep it and find more scenes that contributed to it.

    And talking of the ending, I haven’t even mentioned the finale! The more out of the blue it comes the better, I think, so I shall say no more. As a capper on everything, though, it’s darn near perfect.

    The Voices is not an unqualified success, then, but it’s one of the more unusual films I’ve seen in a while, with a good few appreciable qualities, and I enjoy that. Recommended with caution.

    4 out of 5