Movie Review: Nightbooks (2021)

TL;DR – Hansel and Gretel with a twist.

Review (warning: spoilers)

What does it mean to be “normal“? On his birthday, for young Alex (Winslow Fegley) something has happened that has his parents worried. The mother is concerned that Alex will be emotionally scarred, and the father wonders whether Alex’s obsession with tales of horror doesn’t make him “normal”.

You see, Alex has a creative passion for horror stories but has now expressed he’ll never write another story again. He packs his stuff in a backpack with the intention of burning all his work.

Alex sneaks out of their apartment without his parents knowing and enters the building elevator. He presses basement and the lift starts its descent. All seems normal until the elevator suddenly shudders to an unexpected stop, and the doors open to reveal a dark hallway.

He wanders down and enters, what looks like, an empty apartment with an old television showing the horror flick, “The Lost Boys”. He spies a plate with a slice of pie and takes a bite. He then falls unconscious as the door to the apartment closes by itself behind him.

For a kid who supposedly knows a lot about horror, he seems oblivious to all the things that scream at you to get the hell out of there. Not the least of which is deciding to enter a stranger’s apartment and eating a stranger’s pie while a horror film is showing on a TV that strangely is working while the rest of the apartment seems to have lost electricity.

Upon awakening, Alex discovers he is now captive inside a magical apartment that can travel and appear anywhere in the world. Its purpose is to lure kids into it. This magical abode is owned by the witch, Natacha (Krysten Ritter), who only keeps kids around if they’re useful. Alex reveals he can write scary stories, and Natacha spares his life on condition that he write and tell her a scary story every night.

Exploring the apartment, he bumps into Yazmin (Lidya Jewett), a girl also trapped and serves as housekeeper inside the apartment. She shows him around including a huge library with a collection of horror stories. Yazmin explains that she was made to read to Natacha every night one of the stories but now the witch has gone through the entire collection.

The interactions between Natacha and Alex during story time is amusing because she constantly critiques Alex’s stories. For example, ghosts can’t physically push objects. In a way, she is actually trying to make Alex a better writer.

“Every good story hints at truth. The more truth, the more powerful the story,” she says.

And while Alex tries to write for survival, he discovers that another (previous) captive has left messages in the pages of books in the library. He attempts to piece together how he and Yazmin might escape.

Director David Yarovesky has created a film (based on J A White’s dark fantasy children’s novel of the same name) that puts a spin on the Hansel and Gretel fairytale. And there’s enough to like for young and older audiences to be engaged. There’s a Goonies crossed with Coraline feel to the film, and Krysten Ritter’s depiction of Natacha the witch is a delight (along with the stylishly outlandish costumes she wears).

When finally it is revealed what happened on Alex’s birthday to cause him to give up on writing, it coincides with a delightful twist that makes Nightbooks more layered than expected.

The message that being weird or different is perfectly fine is obvious. And while the scares are aimed squarely at younger audiences, there’s enough polish to reveal this film as a hidden gem.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022)

TL;DR – Evelyn’s world is already busy enough. So, when the multiverse comes calling and tells her she is the only one that can save it from destruction, all she wants to do is lie down and take a nap. But the universe rarely gives us what we want.

Review (warning: spoilers)

The multiverse is trending. A common technique in sci-fi/fantasy stories, the idea of parallel universes where a person’s life can be altered by different choices and events allows for an infinite source of material. Movies have long since examined these themes from drama flicks like Sliding Doors to sci-fi dystopias like Terminator.

Like many trends that come and go and then come around again, recent productions such as Spider-man: No Way Home, The Adam Project and the upcoming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, all explore altering timelines, different pathways and the existence of one’s self in different universes.

However, never before have I seen a film that takes this idea to the extreme as the incredibly ambitious Everything Everywhere All At Once directed and written by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka “Daniels”).

There is a helter-skelter, everything-is-chaos feel from the start as we are introduced to the life of Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh). She runs a struggling laundromat with her husband, Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan) somewhere in America. She is madly trying to get her tax forms in order as they’re being audited by IRS inspector, Deirdre Beaubeirdra (Jamie-Lee Curtis) while at the same time, trying to prepare breakfast for her father Gong Gong (James Hong), who has flown over from China. They’re also getting ready for a Lunar New Year celebration at the laundromat and Evelyn’s daughter, Joy Wang (Stephanie Hsu) arrives on the scene with her girlfriend Becky (Tallie Medel) and is seeking her mother’s approval of the relationship. To top it all off, Waymond has been holding onto divorce papers and has been wanting to discuss their marriage with Evelyn, but she is always too busy.

This opening scene is one version of Evelyn and represents a microcosm of the multiverse chaos that unfolds shortly after. The film is broken up into three parts. Part 1 “Everything”, Part 2 “Everywhere” and Part 3 “All At Once”.

Everything goes into anarchy mode when they have to attend an appointment at the IRS. In a nutshell, a version of Waymond (from a universe called the “Alphaverse”) takes over Waymond and attempts to explain to Evelyn the existence of the multiverse. In the Alphaverse, technology known as “verse-jumping” has been created that allows the user to jump into alternate universes as well as draw from the skills, experience and knowledge of alternate universe selves upon fulfilling specific conditions.

The arrival of Alpha Waymond is to inform Evelyn of a being known as Jobu Tupaki, who turns out to be Joy from the Alphaverse and was pushed beyond her limits using the verse-jumping technology resulting in her mind being splintered. This Alpha Joy now experiences all universes at the same time and can manipulate matter in any way she chooses.

The comedy and action that ensues in the chaos is nothing short of mind-blowing. One of the funniest mechanics is where I said previously that in order for a person with verse-jumping technology to tap into the skills and knowledge of an alternate self, they need to fulfil specific conditions. The conditions are more outlandish depending on how extreme the alternate universe that is being reached.

For example, there is a version of Evelyn who ends up being a kung-fu master. For the laundromat Evelyn to tap into this version of her and gain these skills she needs to profess her love to the IRS inspector, Deirdre, who at the moment has been taken over by Jobu Tupaki and become a wrestling wrecking machine looking to kill Evelyn and Waymond. It is hilarious watching Evelyn saying, “I love you” at a mind-controlled Deirdre wrestler and trying to mean it.

Another example is Alpha Waymond has to eat a chapstick in order to gain martial arts prowess from an alternate universe of himself. And then there is a sequence where the conditions involve him having to self-inflict four paper cuts before he can tap into the alternate universe. I had tears coming out of my eyes because I was laughing so hard watching Waymond getting a sheet a paper and frantically trying to cut his hand while psycho Deirdre is on the loose and yelling that you never get a paper cut when you want to get one.

But comedy and action are only two elements of this genre defying film. The story also explores themes of relationships/family, existentialism, and the meaning of life. The fact that Jobu Tupaki is Joy demonstrates the fractures in the relationship she has with her mother, and the bigger picture of a generation of teenagers with nihilistic views. The film explores the messiness of family not only with mother and daughter, but also Evelyn’s relationship with her husband along with her relationship with her demanding father.

Everything builds to a bagel induced black hole of oblivion (yes, an actual bagel created by Jobu Tupaki containing all the versions of Joy and her emotions), and Evelyn teetering on a knife’s edge when she sees that the only way to confront Jobu is to splinter her mind so she can experience all universes everywhere all at once also.

Evelyn looks like she is convinced by Jobu that life is meaningless especially when the vast multiverse that she experiences all at once demonstrates that there isn’t any purpose. Just when they are about to enter the bagel of self-destruction, Evelyn hears Waymond.

This was unexpected. Evelyn is very much the alpha female in the family and Waymond appears the emasculated and tentative husband. But there is strength and integrity in Waymond simmering beneath the surface that shows his love for Evelyn and why he has always been by her side. Even when the contemplation of divorce papers comes to the fore, he does not want to actually divorce her. He simply wants to demonstrate the dire state their marriage is in and wants to talk and be heard. It is Waymond that speaks to Evelyn who is about to step into the void and talks of kindness and hope. In turn, Evelyn tells Jobu that she is not alone and she will always be with her.

The reconciliation is not all tied up in a neat bow. Life is messy regardless of which universe you’re in, and when the laundromat version of Joy confronts her mother and unleashes a torrent of emotion, it is representative of all the challenges those teenage years represent, especially when living in an environment where the teenager feels they are not being heard by their parents. The drama from these connections is as integral as the comedy and action if not more and transcends the sci-fi genre.

The acting is a tour de force. Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan demonstrate they can be in roles that are not boxed in by cultural stereotypes. Their comic timing is brilliant, but their ability to draw out empathy even when the situation is ludicrous is a greater feat. Likewise, Jamie Lee Curtis, James Hong and Stephanie Hsu wring out every bit of their roles.

One of the most original films I have ever seen. I have no idea how the Daniels will be able to create a film any better than this one.

10 out of 10

Movie Review: Coda (2021)

TL;DR – Two parents, two kids. All of them deaf except the daughter who happens to have a gift for song. This is a story of the ties that bind a family together, and the challenges of youth being set free.

Review (warning: spoilers)

The 2021 Academy Award Winner for Best Picture, Coda benefits from timing. While the COVID pandemic has kept beating down our doors and the world continues to spiral in ways you would hope we would have learned from by now (e.g., the war in Ukraine), this film lights a much needed flame during a time of darkness.

In truth, Coda is a straight forward telling of Ruby (Emilia Jones) being torn between following her passion in singing and her love and loyalty to her parents and older brother, all of them deaf who run a family fishing business. The family is barely making ends meet, and the parents rely heavily on Ruby to be their interpreter and voice when interacting with people who don’t know sign-language.

As a coming-of-age tale, Ruby is genuine in taking care of her family but realises she cannot spend the rest of her life working on a fishing boat. On a deeper level, the story is also a “coming-of-age” for the parents who have to learn to let Ruby go and forge their own way to interact with others who they cannot hear. The one who sees the necessity for moving forward and letting go is the older brother who is frustrated that his parents rely more on Ruby than they do on him.

Coda contains the richness of a film comprised of many elements coming together in a fashion that lights up like fireworks in the night sky. The choreography is set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and the scenes on the fishing boat along with Ruby’s cliff diving hideaway sanctuary are stunning. The casting is spot on with Ruby’s parents, Frank (Troy Kostur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin), and older brother, Leo (Daniel Durant), all being deaf in real life. Troy Kostur’s portrayal of Frank deservedly won best supporting actor at the Oscars, and Emilia Jones also learned sign language for nine months prior to the commencement of filming. Combine all this with a story whose greatest strength is in its simplicity and a soundtrack which includes singing performances by Emilia Jones and co-star Ferdia Walsh-Peelo who plays Miles (Ruby’s love interest) and you have a film that will reignite your belief that things can get better.

While the subject of deafness is one of the themes, it is not the driving focus. The central theme is family, and the growing pains that are a part of life when you’re a teenager trying to find your own path. Deafness just happens to be an additional factor that is part of Ruby’s world, and one that she strives to navigate with sensitivity and integrity. She is not always successful, but neither are her parents or her older brother in navigating her “hearing” world. The fact that Jackie often discards Ruby’s pleas to live her own life and study singing, and Leo explodes with frustration at Ruby’s acts of martyrdom and, at one point, yelling at her that she is not part of the family, demonstrates that whether you’re deaf or not, we’re all human and can be easily blinded by our own driving emotions.

Some of the weaknesses of the film is derived in the high school scenes where female students mock Ruby for being part of a deaf family. While bullying is a real problem in teenage life, its depiction in Coda was stereotyped and not delved into with any degree of meaning. Its merely a mechanism used to create some sort of tension between Ruby and Miles.

It is with touching irony that Ruby is able to slowly communicate her dreams and desires to her family through song. The scene where Frank, Jackie and Leo attend Ruby’s school for a concert, and they watch her perform (not knowing if she is any good at singing) and can only react based on the expressions in the audience is the first step to their eyes opening that Ruby has actual talent. For example, when the crowd gives a standing ovation, they realise the school choir and Ruby are actually good.

When Ruby and Miles do a duet singing the song “You’re all I need to get by” by Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye, the camera moves through the audience and the expressions of those who can hear before focusing on Ruby’s family and the scene goes completely silent. It’s a powerful sequence demonstrating not only how much we all take hearing for granted, but also the mountain Ruby has to climb in order to communicate to her family.

When Frank asks Ruby to sing while they sit on the back of his pick-up truck and he places his hands on her neck so he can feel her vocal chords vibrate, you’ll need to be reaching for the tissues quick time.

And finally, when she auditions for Berklee College of Music and she sings “Both sides, now” by Joni Mitchell and sees her family has snuck in to watch, she signs the words as she sings them and you know her love for song is as strong as her love for her family.

Poignant, uplifting, and timely. Coda is a much needed breath of fresh air to escape the COVID pandemic confines and reminds us that we can all strive to be better in a loving and compassionate way.

8.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Death on the Nile (2022)

TL;DR – Kenneth Branagh gives Agatha Christie’s crime sleuth classic a 21st century makeover.

Review (warning: spoilers)

“There is a reason the heart is the organ given to love, you know. If it stops to rest, we die. And I won’t die alone, you can be sure of that.”

This line is spoken by Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey), one of the many characters that has a motive to be hostile towards Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Gal Gadot).

Hostile enough to commit murder? Many have done so in the name of love. And it is this fine line that is the central theme in Death on the Nile based on the book of the same name by the Dame of crime fiction, Agatha Christie.

Kenneth Branagh directs and stars as the titular detective, Hercule Poirot, and from the outset, it is clear, that Branagh dives into the role of Poirot with gusto and is passionate about the body of work generated by Christie. You would have to be, given this is the third adaption of Death on the Nile to the screen (the previous two being a television series in 2004 and a 1978 movie version directed by John Guillerman).

Enough time has passed that a revival of the material was due and though Branagh stays mostly true to the source, there is enough cinematic flair and a solid cast to allow the casual viewer to be enveloped by Poirot’s world of logic and deduction.

The tweaks that Branagh does in the film when compared to the novel add an element of noir that I found refreshing though others may view as taking some of the fun out of the Poirot story.

To point, we get to see a more human side to the Poirot character. From the opening scenes, a young Hercule is with a Belgian infantry unit in the trenches in No Man’s Land during World War I, and he is able to deduce the best time for a surprise attack. The attack succeeds but an explosion causes damage to his face. We then watch as he recovers in a camp with his fiancé nurse, Katherine, and we witness the love she has for him even though he is horribly scarred. She suggests he can grow a moustache to hide his scars, and thus the famous whiskers were born.

This sets the tone for a much deeper emotional Poirot portrayal as we then move forward to 1937 and have Poirot sitting in a London club watching a jazz-blues singer perform and being quite mesmerised by her.

This leads to another tweak in the form of Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo) who in the movie is a jazz-blues singer but in the novel was a romance novelist. Her singing and the music enhances the noir feel as we watch a couple on the dance floor: Jacqueline and her fiancé Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer). Their passion for each other is evident as their dirty dancing creates such heat between the pair that it is amazing that they don’t rip each other’s clothes off right then and there.

The owner of the club is the wealthy heiress, Linnet, who happens to be a childhood friend of Jacqueline. When Linnet comes waltzing in all femme fatale and Jacqueline introduces Simon to her, Jacqueline is initially oblivious to the magnetism between Linnet and her fiancé. That changes when Jacqueline encourages Simon to have a dance with her, and she suddenly sees that all the heat has transferred from her to Linnet.

Fast forward again and we’re now in Egypt. We learn that Simon has broken up with Jacqueline and is now marrying Linnet. Along with the newlyweds are a mixed assortment of characters who all ‘love’ Linnet , but also secretly harbour envy or jealousy in some form or another towards her.

This assortment includes:

  • Linus Windlesham (Russell Brand) – a doctor who was previously engaged with Jacqueline before she broke it off to marry Simon.
  • Andrew Katchadourian (Ali Fazal) – Linnet’s cousin, who manages her accounts and has been embezzling her funds.
  • Louise Bourget (Rose Leslie) – Linnet’s personal maid, who was going to marry a man and subsequently quit her employment, but Linnet saw to breaking the engagement.

Several more characters round off the wedding party and all have a motive to dislike Linnet in some form or other.

To make matters worse, Jacqueline has been stalking Linnet and Simon. And though she has not shown any inclination to hurting Linnet, she keeps appearing wherever the couple are and watching them.

Poirot is brought on board primarily to try and keep Linnet safe. And as they board the Karnak, a luxurious paddle boat, to take the wedding party down the Nile river, you know it is only a matter of time before poor Linnet turns up dead.

The cinematography goes a little askew when everything is set in Egypt, but Branagh ensures your focus is on the characters and trying to piece the puzzle together as to who murdered Linnet.

What surprised me was Hercule Poirot’s normally cold calculations are taken an emotional hit in a couple of unexpected ways. The first comes from Salome’s adopted niece, Rosalie (Letitia Wright), during a confrontation that reveals Poirot’s appearance in Egypt was not solely at the request of Linnet. The second is from Bouc (Tom Bateman) who is Hercule’s friend and is in love and dating Rosalie.

This adds a much needed complexity to Hercule Poirot and Branagh is allowed to show an emotional range that normally would be walled off from the viewer.

While far from flawless (for example, Annette Benning plays the part of Euphemia, a famous painter and mother to Bouc and is sadly under utilised), Death on the Nile still has enough substance and style for mystery buffs to enjoy the ride. In the process, demonstrating that Agatha Christie’s work will stand the test of time.

7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Stowaway (2021)

TL;DR – Three astronauts on a mission to Mars discover an accidental stowaway. This wouldn’t be a problem except the stowaway permanently damaged the CO2 scrubbers on the ship. Without the scrubbers there isn’t enough oxygen to support all four crew.

Review (warning: spoilers)

There are no aliens aboard the ship looking to kill the crew. There is not an artificial intelligence that becomes ‘evil’ and starts manipulating the humans to turn on each other. There are no lightsabers, and this is not the Millennium Falcon that can hyperjump from one planet to another. If you are expecting any of these sci-fi elements then Stowaway is not the movie for you.

Instead, Stowaway seeks to be grounded in actual science (or at least, theoretical science) and uses all the real threats of outer space to demonstrate the dangers of space travel. A suitable balance is achieved between plot progression and explaining the mechanics of the crew’s ship and the physics of space to allow the watcher to be absorbed.

Our intrepid crew is comprised of Commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick). The purpose of their mission is to make the two-year round trip to the colony on Mars to cultivate David’s algae and plants on the red planet before returning home.

The opening scene throws us right into the thick of it as we sit in the cockpit with the crew as they lift off. The turbulence and the amount of g-force they experience is captured on screen and on the crew’s expressions as they climb altitude and eventually break the earth’s atmosphere. It is an absorbing bit of film making as you will feel every rattle of your bones inside your body and find it difficult to keep your breath steady.

A lovely bit of physics and aeronautical engineering is then shown as the main rocket booster known as the ‘Kingfisher’ detaches with 450m long cables that are connected to the ship’s main hull and a tethered gravity spin is initiated. I’m no physicist but I understand the basic premise is that to achieve artificial gravity in space, the ship containing the crew is spun around a central axis (i.e., the main hull) and a counterweight (i.e., the Kingfisher) spins on the other end. Again, the cinematography of this sequence is brilliant and even experienced astronauts can succumb to the inertia as depicted by David who proceeds to throw up extensively into his vomit bag.

Everything goes smoothly until Marina discovers an engineer, Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) unconscious inside a part of the ship that houses the CO2 scrubber. How he managed to survive take-off is anyone’s guess, and it’s not clear how he could have been unaccounted for before the launch.

The movie could have then gone one of two ways. It could have turned into a dark psychological thriller with the audience unsure if Michael stowed away intentionally and is looking to sabotage the mission for reasons only he knows. Or it could be a genuine accident and now the crew of four have to figure out how to move forward. Thankfully, it is the latter (I didn’t want to watch another Event Horizon horror sci-fi unfold), and the driving dilemma that they confront is the CO2 scrubbers have been damaged beyond repair and there is only enough oxygen for three people.

Check that, there is only enough oxygen for two people to make the journey to Mars. But an unreliable solution is created to support three when David sacrifices all his algae and plant research to try and have them act as ‘scrubbers’. The story then becomes one of sacrifice and the varying views of the crew on what to do. They have ten days (which in itself is a margin of error and puts the entire crew at risk) to figure out if there is a way to save Michael.

Zoe and David have differing, but no less empathetic, views. When Michael is told by David the full situation, Michael understands that he needs to be the one to make the sacrifice. However, Zoe convinces him to hold on to hope.

In a last ditch effort, Zoe and David risk traversing the tethers to the Kingfisher to try and salvage oxygen from the tanks contained within. Commander Marina can’t do it because earlier in the film when she discovers Michael in the ceiling, he falls on her arm breaking it. So, now she’s in a cast and has no way of doing the job herself.

Zoe and David manage to get one tank of oxygen. They need two to have enough for all four of them to survive the trip to Mars, but a solar flare warning sounds and they are forced to rush back before the storm hits them with its deadly radiation.

In their haste, Zoe’s descent back to the ship is too fast and she loses the one tank of oxygen. It’s a devastating moment as they are now back to square one. Whatever oxygen is in the Kingfisher is now leaking out, and no one knows how long the solar flare storm will last.

The crew sit together, emotionally wrung dry and distraught, and mentally willing for some sort of miracle. But there is none. In space, there cannot be mistakes, and unfortunately, this mission has been riddled with them.

Zoe makes the ultimate sacrifice and ends up traversing the tethers once more to get one remaining tank of oxygen knowing it’s a suicide mission. The scene is almost magical as solar rays rush over her in waves, but we know in fact that Zoe is being bombarded by enough radiation that she cannot possibly survive.

The film ends with her depositing the oxygen tank for the other three and then sitting outside the ship, her breathing becoming more shallow, her suit slowly being burnt by the rays, and her sight focused on the tiny red dot that is Mars.

The audience has to make their own conclusion as to whether Marina, David and Michael make it as the credits roll. It is all a dire affair and more a shoestring sci-fi film than a full blown story such as The Martian or Interstellar.

I enjoyed the film primarily because of the stunning cinematography and special effects along with the humanity of the characters. This is a story of survival and when viewed from that lens, it delivers.

8 out of 10

Movie Review: The Adam Project (2022)

TL;DR – To prevent a dystopian future, Adam time travels to the past to alter the future by destroying the creation of time travel. Yeah, don’t think about it too much.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Storyline aside, The Adam Project is a Ryan Reynolds vehicle, so if you enjoy his schtick then you won’t be disappointed. Reynolds is typecast and delivers his one-liners in a way that borders on boring for the actor. There are moments where you feel that he is going through the motions knowing the formula works, but one will wonder if he secretly desires a role that is far removed from his comic persona.

The added bonus for those who enjoy Reynolds humour is he plays an adult Adam who time travels into the past and ends up working with a 12-year old version of himself (played by Walker Scobell). Scobell does an admirable job of delivering his smart mouth dialogue in the same way as Reynolds. The chemistry between the pair is evident and results in an enjoyable albeit nothing-earth-shattering adventure.

The story runs similar lines to other time travelling films such as Back to the Future and Terminator. In 2050, the world has turned into a technological nightmare ruled by Maya Sorian (Catherine Keener). Adam travels back in time to try and save his wife, Laura (Zoe Saldana), who apparently died on a mission in 2018. Adam is chased by Sorian only to end up in 2022, not 2018.

There he encounters his 12-year old self and his mother, Ellie Reed (Jennifer Garner). Both are mourning, in their own way, Adam’s scientist father, Louis Reed (Mark Ruffalo) who had died recently in a car accident.

What adult Adam discovers is that Sorian has messed with time by going back into the past herself to guarantee she will obtain full control over the time travelling technology. Laura had also discovered Sorian’s manipulations and Sorian wants her dead. And while Laura prevents any assassination attempt on her life, she ends up being stranded in the past due to her time travelling ship being destroyed.

Laura tells Adam that he needs to jump back to 2018 and destroy the time travelling technology, which just so happens had been invented by Adam’s scientist father, Louis. More time jumps occur, Louis helps both Adams in preventing Sorian achieving ultimate control and together they successfully destroy the technology. The dystopian future never occurs and both Adams magically disappear and return to their original times.

The emotional pull is meant to be within the Reed family. Relationship angst between young Adam and her mother, adult Adam and his father, and even between adult Adam and young Adam as the pair play psychologist for each other throughout the film. Love, sacrifice, and forgiveness are the eventual lessons learned and required in order to heal from any pent up pain and hurt from Louis’s death.

The CGI and action is glossy and well done though feels it is there to satisfy the action fans. The lightsaber-that-is-not-a-lightsaber used by adult Adam in a variety of creative ways to defeat his enemies is probably the highlight in terms of action sequences. The time travelling spaceships and chases are less so.

Sadly, Garner, Ruffalo and Saldana are seriously underused and Keener’s Sorian is painfully one-dimensional as the technology tyrant that wants to the rule the world (why? because a younger Sorian chose to give up any attempt at finding love or develop meaningful relationships, so the only path for her was tyrannical leader of the world… makes sense, right?)

Like I said, this is a Ryan Reynolds vehicle, so it lives and dies with him. Walker Scobell does showcase his acting skills and will be one to watch in future films. But other than these two, the supporting cast is wasted.

A light and airy sci-fi affair that has laughs for the Reynolds fans, a story that isn’t earth-shattering and action that won’t have the blood pumping.

5 out of 10

Movie Review: Nightmare Alley (2021)

TL;DR – Stan Carlisle is damaged goods. He’s not asking, “To be or not to be?” He’s asking, “To be damned or not be damned? That is the question.”

Review (warning: spoilers)

With acclaimed cinematographer Dan Lausten, and a star studded cast, director Guillermo del Toro has delved into the film noir storytelling with his distinctive style and vigour. Based on the novel of the same name by William Gresham, Nightmare Alley is about the duplicity of human nature and how some individuals who are damned, flirt with the idea of redemption, but ultimately embrace their own undoing.

Stan Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) is damned. Through flashbacks, he was abused by his alcoholic father and consumed with hatred. A hatred that reached the point where Stan kills his father and burns his body and their home to ashes.

Living as a vagrant, Stan stumbles upon a carnival and manages to secure some work. He meets an assortment of individuals that carry their own scars, and becomes a carny himself looking to fleece patrons and customers with their shocking acts and shows of deception.

One of these shocking acts that Stan witnesses is the geek show, where a deranged man eats a live chicken. The resident carnival barker, Clem Hoatley (Willem Dafoe), explains that geeks are found and made. Clem goes around finding drunks and offers them temporary employment while giving them opium-spiked alcohol to get them to stay. The geeks essentially are drug addicted, starving, emaciated men kept in cages and become animals for the ‘entertainment’ of carnival patrons. Stan swears he will never become a geek.

Instead, he starts learning the tricks of the trade to become a mentalist. The clairvoyant act at the carnival is conducted by Madame Zeena (Toni Collette) and her alcoholic husband, Pete (David Strathairn), and Stan discovers they have a secret code and cold reading tricks to discern the histories, characteristics and traits of patrons. He endeavours to master these techniques.

Stan also falls in love with Molly (Rooney Mara), who is the carnival’s electric girl (her act involves pretend electrocution). He eventually convinces Molly to leave the carnival with him, and they go out on their own performing psychic shows.

They achieve a level of success, and while Molly is satisfied, Stan is not. During one show, he is confronted by a psychologist, Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett), who attempts to reveal him for a fraud but fails. Stan is intrigued by Lilith and finds out that she holds a treasure trove of dirty secrets with regard to the social elite because of her job. Lilith agrees to share information she has on a judge Kimball (Peter MacNeill) in exchange for some background truth about Stan. The exchange is made, and Stan successfully swindles Kimball and his wife of a considerable sum of money.

Molly begs Stan to stop, but Stan can’t help himself and goes back to Lilith to get more dirt. Lilith suggests a former patient of hers named Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins), a rich recluse who, in his past, forced a woman named Dorrie to have an abortion. The abortion was botched and Dorrie died.

Stan manages to convince Ezra that he can talk to Dorrie and have her materialise in front of him, so he can ask her for forgiveness. Stan wants Molly to act as Dorrie’s ghost. Initially, she refuses but eventually relents indicating to Stan this would be the last time she would be a part of his deception and that she intends to leave him.

The ruse goes smoothly up to the point where Molly (pretending to be Dorrie) appears and Ezra gets close enough to her to realise he has been swindled. Ezra threatens to destroy Stan and hits Molly. Stan launches himself at Ezra and beats him to death much to Molly’s horror.

Stan orders Molly back to the carnival. He seeks out Lilith and discovers that she has betrayed him. Or rather she has been playing her own game of deception, stolen all the money he has swindled and made him the fool. In anger, he tries to kill her but security comes and he flees.

Everything comes full circle as Stan is now a vagrant once more and with the added bonus of being an alcoholic like his father. The final scene sees him arrive at a new carnival searching for work. The carnival barker turns down his offer to work as a mentalist but offers him a drink. Stan downs the alcohol, and the barker pauses and says there is one job that Stan could do. He could temporarily be the carnival geek, to which Stan responds with maniacal laughter that he would be perfect for the role.

Like I said damned.

Overall, the film keeps you engaged even though you will struggle to find redeeming values in any of the characters. Molly is the only character with any integrity, she represents Stan’s hope for redemption but ultimately he fails. Guillermo del Toro draws faithfully from the source material and the cast show off an ability to portray characters in a multi-layered way that will have a tiny part of you saying they are interesting even though you don’t want them to be.

Stan is a tragic figure and trapped in a spiral where he figures if he is going to go down, he might as well go down fighting and rich. But even then it is all an act of futility as he is undone by those who are even more damaged than he is.

His path to self-destruction was brutal, visceral and completely ironic, and I was glad that Molly didn’t get dragged down with him.

In the hands of lesser men, this film could have been so bleak and dark that it would have been too bitter a pill to swallow, but Guillermo del Toro does the noir genre justice and when you have the acting talents of Cate Blanchett oozing femme fatale, Bradley Cooper striving for some end to the tunnel (even if that end is insanity), Willem Dafoe ruthlessly delicious as the carnival barker, and Toni Collette born to be a psychic hustler, you’ll have enough of your favourite spirit to wash that bitter pill down.

8.5 out of 10

Movie Review: The Batman (2022)

TL;DR – Batman learns a lesson about vengeance.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Running on nigh three hours, The Batman is a lengthy reboot into the franchise. For the casual viewer, there will be a belief that tighter editing would have benefited the film overall.

For fans of the Dark Knight, they will enjoy every minute.

Director Matt Reeves has a clear passion for the caped crusader and has delivered a movie that takes you deep into, not only the minds of Bruce Wayne and associated villains, but the origins of Gotham and its founders. The city itself plays a key role in creating an immersive world where desperate people do desperate things, jaded people do jaded things, and practically everyone is barely holding onto their sanity.

The city as a character is portrayed in stunning cinematography by Greig Fraser, and it is the type of film that movie buffs will re-watch in order to absorb all the detail.

However, there have been many, many, Batman films and one has to wonder just how many more times they can depict in movies the character that spearheads DC comics alongside Superman.

From the trailer alone, the look of The Batman is grittier, darker, and more psychological than previous Batman films. But does that make it better?

Suffice to say that it is the story that allows Reeves’s The Batman to make its distinction from its predecessors. Yes, there is the psychological aspect in this story that rivals Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker versus Christian Bale’s Batman was a psychological delight, and in this film, Paul Dano’s Riddler versus Robert Pattinson’s Batman is arguably equal in the psychological thrills department. But in this film, we see much more of the detective element that has always been a central part of Bruce Wayne/Batman’s make-up. It is a side that is often glossed over for more action and fight scenes, but Reeves (like Nolan) doesn’t treat the viewer like an idiot and delves into the intellectual puzzles that Riddler is known for and ensures this is stirred thoroughly well with enough emotional napalm that you know everyone is going to get burned.

The story revolves around the Riddler who appears on Halloween and commences to target and kill political and law enforcement officials. Leaving clues and riddles for the Batman, unraveling the Riddler’s motives drives the story into the dark history of Gotham, which includes two of the founding families – Wayne and Arkham. It becomes evident that crime bosses are also targets in the Riddler’s cross hairs. And Batman seeks to get ahead of the game.

As puzzle pieces come together, Batman realises that Riddler is seeking vengeance on Bruce Wayne and those close to him.

This shakes a fundamental building block within Batman. In the opening scenes, he takes down a bunch of thugs assaulting a civilian at a train station. The thugs ask him who he is, and he responds saying, “I am vengeance.”

This comes full circle. As “vengeance” Batman sees himself as the one to dish out punishment for wrong doing. When he discovers through Riddler’s machinations that his father, Thomas Wayne (who was running for mayor at the time before his murder) was not the upstanding, squeaky clean figure he perceived him to be, he realises that the Riddler is also dishing out his own form of “vengeance”.

This revelation is reinforced in two ways. The first is when Batman confronts the Riddler locked up in Arkham State Hospital (this is a nice way of saying Arkham Asylum for the criminally insane). And the Riddler indicates his belief that he and Batman are the same. That they are on the same team and have the same goal (to rid Gotham of anyone tied to corruption, power and greed).

The second is that followers of the Riddler who attempt to assassinate the current mayor get stopped by Batman and Catwoman, but not before one of them reveals themselves as being the thug at the train station and saying to Batman that he is “vengeance”.

By the end of the film, Batman has had to rethink his idea of what he is seeking to achieve, and how he will transform Gotham in a positive way. It frankly a pleasant ending that is far more hopeful than I anticipated especially given how for nigh on three hours, you think Batman is fighting a losing battle against the darkness of the city.

But every night eventually turns to day…

8 out of 10

Movie Review: BigBug (2022)

TL;DR – a group of humans get trapped in a home by its household robots in order to protect them from a rogue artificial intelligent android called Yonyx who has determined that humans don’t need to exist.

Review (warning: spoilers)

I am a big fan of Amélie and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. A combination of colourful cinematography, fantasy and drama story-telling, spot-on casting, and a plot that was both simple and whimsical led to a magical allure that surrounded Amélie and shot actress, Audrey Tautou, onto the international stage.

All these signature elements within Jeunet’s arsenal are used in BigBug, a sci-fi comedy that piqued my curiosity when I watched the trailer. Set in a futuristic suburbia, people live their lives serviced by robots and androids, and homes have built in artificial intelligence. The background settings reminded me Edward Scissorhands and indeed, the BigBug cast of characters act in an exaggerated and caricature type way similar to the characters in Tim Burton’s film.

In BigBug, the household robots have their own personalities and play an equal role to the human characters. This is both a pro and a con. The pro being that the characters (both human and non-human) are quirky and (initially) interesting. The con being that unlike Amélie and Edward Scissorhands there is a lack of focus on both a ‘main’ character and plot.

Audrey Tautou’s portrayal of Amélie, and Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Edward in their respective films is key to being drawn into their world and the highs and lows they experience.

In BigBug, there are a multitude of characters including:

  • Alice (Elsa Zylberstein) – a divorcee trying to find love and owns a fully automated home that still holds objects of the past (e.g. physical books, journals, pens and paper).
  • Monique (Claude Perron) – an android maid wanting to understand humans.
  • Max (Stéphane De Groodt) – Alice’s love interest who pretends to be interested in everything she is interested in so he can sleep with her.
  • Victor (Youssef Hajdi) – Alice’s ex-husband who is in a relationship with his secretary, Jennifer (Claire Chust), and drops off their daughter, Nina (Marysol Fertard), so he can take Jennifer on a holiday.
  • Françoise (Isabelle Nanty) – a neighbour who becomes trapped in Alice’s house and owns a specialist android lover named Greg (Alban Lenoir).
  • Einstein (voiced by André Dussollier) – a fantastic robotic head that looks like Einstein that operates within Alice’s home.
  • Yonyx (François Levantal) – an AI android that achieves a level of consciousness where he concludes that humans do not need to exist.

Alice is the main character, but it soon becomes apparent that the supporting cast all vie for equal billing. This would not be a problem except the plot does nothing to flesh out the characters (not even Alice) and their predicament of being trapped in Alice’s home which leads to a number of comic situations doesn’t strike the funny bone like it should.

The plot itself is a means to an end. Yonyx has become self-aware and takes over the human population (turning them into servants, or making them act like animals on his TV show). Alice’s household robots identify Yonyx as the threat and lock down Alice’s home so no one can get in or out. You could achieve the same end if it was a reality TV game show or the cast was trapped on an island together. Again, this would not be a problem if the characters were fleshed out but they are all stereotyped and shallow (well, the adults are. The two teenage characters show deeper range).

There’s an emotional pull in movies like Amélie and Edward Scissorhands because you’re cheering on Amélie and Edward. But there isn’t any character like that in BigBug. You are meant to feel for Alice being stuck with her ex-husband and his lover but by the end you don’t care. You are meant to find it funny when Max keeps trying to find a moment to seduce Alice and whisk her away for sex but something always happens that prevents this from happening. When he finally does succeed in getting her alone in bed, he can’t perform because the anticipation and build up was all too much. Likewise the build up was too much for any genuine laughs.

To emphasise the lack of genuine laughs, there is a sequence of events where Alice’s robots are suspected by the humans trapped inside Alice’s home of turning rogue and becoming evil. At this point in the film, Alice and company haven’t realised the robots have trapped them for their own good to protect them from Yonyx. So, Alice’s robots try to become more ‘human’ to gain their trust. This involves Einstein, Monique and the other robots trying to learn about humour and what makes humans laugh. Quite frankly, it’s an alarming sequence trying to chuckle while Einstein attempts to tell a joke or Monique tries to laugh but comes off as a maniac.

Taking the comedy out, it is ironic that the only real emotional pull comes from the non-human android maid, Monique, when she sacrifices herself in order to protect Alice from being shot by a laser through the head by Yonyx.

By the time you are an hour in, you won’t care about what happens to any of them, which is a shame because the pieces are all there, it just doesn’t have a strong enough story…or actual humour.

4 out of 10

Movie Review: The Matrix Resurrections (2021)

TL;DR – most of what fans love returns in the fourth instalment of The Matrix franchise. Sixty years have passed since Neo sacrificed himself to save Zion. Have things improved between humans and machines? Well… marginally.

Review (warning: spoilers)

“Ah Neo, how I have missed thee…” This was the thought bubble that popped into my head when I saw the trailer for The Matrix Resurrections.

The sci-fi fan inside of me got giddy seeing the waterfall of green code, Keanu Reeves looking ageless as Neo, and the song White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane playing in the background. When Neo walks into a cafe and shakes Trinity’s hand (Carrie Anne-Moss also looking ageless), and Trinity asks, “Have we met?” The trailer had achieved its goal – it hooked me. The bullet time actions sequences that followed were simply a bonus.

More thought bubbles appeared:

  • “Didn’t Trinity die in The Matrix Revolutions?”
  • “Didn’t Neo sacrifice himself?”
  • “How are they alive?”
  • “Why doesn’t Trinity know him?”

Over two decades ago, back in 1999, a little known sci-fi film called The Matrix hit cinema screens and redefined how we look at the world. The character-driven dystopia with mind-blowing action sequences and special effects (that combined Hong Kong and Hollywood film techniques) became a worldwide box-office success that ensured sequels would be made. Two more Matrix films were released in 2003 completing, what was at the time, a trilogy.

Reactions from the second and third Matrix films were mixed, but they still smashed box office sales and ensured that the Wachowski directors never had to make another movie ever again. They have since collaborated and gone solo on other films/TV with mixed critical results.

In truth, while the trailer made me giddy, I did wonder why venture back into the Matrix for a fourth time when it felt like everything was wrapped up in the third one?

The story to be told is thus:

  • Sixty years have passed since Neo and Trinity gave up their lives. And while the human race lives, the machines still exist and so does the Matrix. Some of the machines now live with humans in peace, but humanity is still under threat.
  • After the machine wars sixty years prior, a program called the Analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris) manages to resurrect Neo and Trinity. The Analyst has been designed to learn about the human psyche and discovers that plugging Neo and Trinity back into the Matrix while suppressing their memories allows for greater efficiency to generate power for the Matrix.
  • With the above two points as the backdrop and premise, all you now need to do is pretend The Matrix Resurrections is the first The Matrix movie. The primary difference being that instead of Trinity trying to awaken Neo to the existence of the Matrix (as in the first film), this has the roles reversed where Neo has to awaken Trinity to the existence of the Matrix.

The third dot point above is an over-simplification of what happens in The Matrix Resurrections but really that is what we end up watching. Even a version of Morpheus (played now by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II instead of Lawrence Fishburne) and Agent Smith (played now by Jonathan Groff instead of Hugo Weaving) are resurrected; their new forms being a plot device so we do not realise, as the viewer, that they are actually Morpheus and Agent Smith in another form until later. The reason for their change in appearance centres around a resurrected Neo, with only faint memories of who he was, now living a life in the Matrix as a successful video game developer and creating a programming sandbox called a modal to develop and test characters, two of whom are Morpheus and Agent Smith.

The fact that the machines resurrect Neo and Trinity just so they can harness the unusual power they generate when they are in close proximity to each other shows that the machines can repeat their own mistakes. Plugging them both back into the Matrix to study the human psyche and generate power is an act of foolishness given the havoc and destruction the pair unleashed when they awoke and became aware of the Matrix’s existence in the first three films. But I guess even artificial intelligence can experience optimism.

Déjà vu is the name of the game. A plot device that is used in previous Matrix films and will make you feel like you’re experiencing déjà vu yourself when watching how The Matrix Resurrections unfolds. The film to me felt like a walk down memory lane as opposed to any sort of revelation. The chemistry is still palatable between Reeves and Anne-Moss; Groff is deliciously delightful as Agent Smith gone rogue; Abdul-Mateen II is less so as Morpheus; and Neil Patrick Harris ties it together as the main antagonist as the Analyst.

The ending is as expected. Neo and Trinity are freed from the Matrix and are a super powered duo that can recreate the Matrix however they want and awaken anyone they want.

When the credits roll, more than enough has happened that sets up for a sequel (or perhaps even a second trilogy). However, I have read that there will be no further telling of Neo and Trinity so the door may have finally closed on this cinematic series. Still, the Wachowskis said there would not be a fourth Matrix and here we are.

Perhaps in another two decades the waterfall of green code will appear again proclaiming Matrix 5’s arrival. Or perhaps we just need to take the red pill and see that we have been living in the Matrix all along…

6.5 out of 10