Licorice Pizza


Viewed – 15 May 2022 online rental

This got quite a bit of buzz towards the end of last year and from director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) and a setting of seventies America and young love, this sounded right up my alley. Gary is a child actor who becomes infatuated with an older woman, Alana who begins working at his school. With no end of confidence and charm he befriends her and soon brings her into his rather chaotic life.

This authentic recreation of seventies America is given a unique spin due to lead characters having an age gap. You could say it’s a unconventional love story. However as Gary leads Alana from one scheme to the next, for me he began to come off as a bit of an obnoxious dreamer. Alana fairs slightly better, seeming more level-headed and mature, even if she kept coming back to this guy. It made me think of La La Land at times with its pairing similarly not meant to be. However due to the movie jumping randomly from different events, such as Gary walking by a water bed shop, and next thing he’s staring up a water bed business (how’s he managed this, how’s he know anything about water beds?) …I began to feel a tad frustrated. Doesn’t help that none of his schemes are particularly engaging.

What the movie lacks in plot, it makes up for in two solid performances, especially singer turned actor Alana Haim (of the band ‘Haim’). I really liked her and she has many of the movie’s best scenes. There’s also two weird cameos, one by Sean Penn as a rather eccentric actor, and another by Bradley Cooper as one of Barbara Streisand’s husbands(?). Both of which come across like they’re in the wrong movie. Anderson’s direction is decent and atmospheric though, and the movie is often beautifully shot. However for a seventies set story, the music is mostly forgettable (apart from one scene using Bowie’s Life On Mars). Overall an interesting yet ultimately uninvolving comedy-drama that’s not as great as it thinks it is.

Verdict: Good

The Batman


Viewed – 30 April online rental

This long running franchise has always been one of my favourite series of movies, and the character remains probably my go-to comic book hero. So when I heard they were rebooting the franchise once again, I was curious / nervous where they could possibly take this character. Turns out director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, War for the Planet of the Apes) was an assured choice for this new era. Twilight’s Robert Pattinson takes on the role of Bruce Wayne / Batman who we hear has already been at the caped vigilante ‘game’ for over a year. A series of murders of political figures have started occurring in Gotham City. The killer, calling himself The Ridler leaves cryptic clues for the police and especially Batman to follow in a race against time as the bodies pile up. Embroiled in proceedings is small-time burglar Selena Kyle / Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), as well as local mobster The Penguin.

Reeves’ direction is suitably moody and highly atmospheric. I especially liked how he brought back Gotham as an eerie character in itself, something Tim Burton presented so well back in the day but Christopher Nolan mostly did away with in place of realism. This rendition of Batman successfully marries both the Gothic fantasy of Burton whilst retaining some of the grit of Nolan … and it works. Wayne / Batman is this time portrayed very much as a human being, capable of injury and mistakes and letting his emotions get the better of him. In this respect Pattinson is excellent – delivering a complex, damaged portrayal whilst still looking an absolute badass in the costume. I’d have like a bit more of him as Bruce Wayne though. Another surprise was Zoe Kravitz, an actress I only know as being the daughter of rocker Lennie Kravitz, but her portrayal is possibly the most complex and interesting version of Catwoman for years. Support from Jeffrey Wright as (inevitably) Commissioner Gordon and John Turturro as mob boss Falcone both bring plenty of personality also. A barely recognisable Colin Farrell is also decent as Penguin even if his character is kind of a side note. That just leaves The Ridler then, and with this role Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) is chilling and malevolent – even if he’s no Heath Ledger (although his grand-scheme bares similarities).

I had a great time with this. It was a bit long, and may have benefited from some scenes being trimmed down, but I can’t say I ever got bored. Pattinson turned out to be a great choice and I am eager to see what more he can do with the character. The story was gripping, with an intricate plot that bared resemblance to the Zodiac murders whilst also echoing the Saw movies. This was also different enough to stand on its own yet retains enough of the mood and aesthetic to still very much be a Batman movie. What more could you ask for?

Verdict: Recommended

Moonfall


Viewed – 26 April 2022 online rental

Now I can certainly enjoy a disaster movie. Earlier in the year the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle Don’t Look Up proved a unique take on the subject, so upon hearing one of the genres go-to directors, Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) was returning, I thought this could by good. Starring The Conjuring’s Patrick Wilson as a former astronaut and Halle Berry as a Nasa executive, this sets up the idea of what would happen if the moon suddenly changed its orbit of Earth and started headed for a collision?

You might be thinking Deep Impact or Armageddon and you’d be right. Despite its concept this felt incredibly familiar. Wilson is fine in his role as is Berry, supported by a likeable John Bradley (Game of Thrones) as a nerdy conspiracy theorist. However everyone else is incredibly wooden. The young actor playing Wilson’s rebellious son is just awful, with very robotic line delivery. Same can be said for Berry’s military officer ex husband. As the impending doom worsens, it’s clear the money was mostly spent on the effects, as this is where Director Emmerich’s movies have faired the best and this is no exception. At times they are impressive and effective, even if there’s also a few obvious green screen moments that look really fake.

The last half hour or so of the movie got a lot more interesting as it’s revealed just what is happening to the moon, and despite some plot revelations that are quite bonkers and a bit too familiar … I did feel there was a decent sci-fi story buried under the mediocrity. The movie just lacked polish, its script felt rushed (the world falls into chaos from just an internet post??) and the casting was lacking. Overall, not much to recommend here.

Verdict: Poor

Spider-Man No Way Home


Viewed – 13 April 2022 online-rental

Where do I begin talking about one of the biggest movies of last year? This third entry in the rebooted franchise starring Tom Holland follows directly on from the last movie that ended with Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio revealing Spider-Man’s true identity to the world. Faced with being recognised and harassed everywhere he goes, Peter Parker / Spider-Man turns to Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to alter time and cause people to forget who Spider-Man is … however things don’t go according to plan.

This is up there with one of the boldest concepts for a superhero movie. Hyped leading up to its release due to the fact the movie brings back a number of classic villains from all the previous Spidy movies – including Alfred Molina’s Dr Octopus … I was nervous the wealth of ideas and characters wouldn’t come together in a coherent, easy to follow way. Thankfully, the writers did a commendable job here and deliver a fun, constantly surprising and highly entertaining ‘spectacle’. There’s room in its 2 and a half hour run time for action, comedy and some powerful character moments that definitely had my heart-strings tugged.

Effects wise, even for a Marvel movie this reaches new levels – a fight between Spider-Man and Dr Strange is simply jaw dropping. A special mention should also go to the de-ageing effects for certain returning characters which is probably the most convincing I’ve yet seen. At times there are some plot conveniences that stand out and a bit involving a ‘cure’ remedy feels a stretch – I’m also still pondering that gut-punch of an ending. Yet considering what’s going on and the fact it mostly all works – this was still a triumph. Not the masterpiece it’s been heralded as, but still a great time from start to finish.

Verdict: Recommended

Nightmare Alley


Viewed – 06 April 2022 Disney+

Guillermo Del Toro is one of my favourite directors, so anything he comes out with is going to grab my attention. However this latest effort seemed to appear out of nowhere with little of the fan fair his movies usually attract. Bradley Cooper plays a guy seemingly drifting from place to place due to a troubled past, and gets taken in by a travelling carnival in the 1940s. There he develops a skill from conning audiences with fake psychic ability and chooses to take that skill to con the social elite out of thousands.

Del Toro’s style is once again showcased, even if it’s more subtle than say Hellboy or The Shape of Water. The movie is beautifully filmed, given an old fashioned, somewhat silent movie aesthetic. The carnival setting is perfectly freaky too. However this is very much a film-noir with a femme fatale in the shape of Cate Blanchett and a flawed hero in Cooper. Support is also decent, with appearances from Ron Perlman, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara and Toni Collette.

Due to the mentalist/grifter plot this can be hard to follow at times, and at 2 and a half hours, the movie drags slightly, especially in the first half. However with a clever final act that does make you wish you’d concentrated more early on … as the movie hints and lays bread crumbs to its twist – I felt this was one of those movies that may benefit from repeat viewings. As it stands, whilst not Del Toro at his best, this was still a well acted, stylish and cleverly-constructed movie. Worth a watch.

Verdict: Good+