• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

Non-Review Review: Bad Boys For Life

Bad Boys For Life is an extremely stupid and occasionally veering on incoherent film. It is also a lot of fun.

There are any number of obvious problems with Bad Boys For Life. The pacing and plotting is a mess, stopping and starting at random intervals depending on the film’s mood as much as its own internal logic. Characterisation varies wildly from one scene to the next. Bad Boys For Life has even picked up some of the more frustratingly formulaic narrative beats from modern blockbusters, stumbling blindly into overwrought bathos and even attempting to offer a retroactively Freudian origin story for veteran police officer Mike Lowrey. It also understands that modern blockbusters have to be “about” things; in this case, growing old.

Welcome to Miami.

However, a large part of the charm of Bad Boys For Life is the way in which the film seems to have taken virtually every note that an executive might possibly offer and decided to approach these notes in a way that feels surprisingly fitting for a belated follow-up to Michael Bay’s bombastic duology. Bad Boys For Life is unashamedly and unapologetically its own thing. This results in a cocktail that doesn’t exactly go down smooth, but at least offers a refreshing and distinctive flavour. It helps that Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah lean strongly into the series’ sensibility, and invest heavily in its core strengths.

For all its gestures towards the modern age of intellectual-property-driven franchise-building, Bad Boys For Life grasps that the heart and soul of the series has always been the charm in watching Will Smith and Martin Lawrence bounce off one another. That dynamic between Smith and Lawrence, two performers who know how to work an audience and a camera, are arguably what grounded the first two films – keeping a very human perspective amid the ensuing “Bayhem.” In Bad Boys For Life, they does something similar, adding a charismatic star power that is often absent from contemporary blockbuster production.

Police don’t stop.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: A Hidden Life

A Hidden Life is both surprisingly moving and about an hour too long.

Writer and director Terrence Malick bases A Hidden Life around the true story of Austrian farmer Franz Jägerstätter. During the Second World War, Jägerstätter was called up to serve in the armed forces. He refused to swear an oath of loyalty to Hitler, and so was punished for his pacifism. It’s a weighty and important story, and Malick ensures that any contemporary relevance will not be lost on viewers. A Hidden Life grapples with that most fundamental of questions, what it means to be a good person in a fallen world and how the measure of such morality might be taken.

Going to grass…

As one might expect from Malick, A Hidden Life is shot and edited in a rather disjointed and impressionist fashion. The film often feels like a waking dream. Scenes are not always clearly delineated, often beginning in the middle of abstract conversations that then play over atmospheric establishing shots like some sort of historical stream of consciousness. It’s an approach that has defined a lot of Malick’s later work, but is perhaps best seen as an outgrowth from Tree of Life. That sort of emotive and drifting storytelling style works oddly well when applied what is both a linear story and a familiar historical milieu.

The big problem with A Hidden Life is that it feels highly repetitive and redundant, particularly in its final ninety minutes. Rather than advancing or developing his thesis, Malick spends the final ninety minutes of the film just bluntly restating it over and over. It is exhausting, and not necessarily in the way that a film about the virtues of peaceful protest in an unjust world should be.

Peak Malick?

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Queen & Slim

Queen & Slim is a stylish modern indie that occasionally bites off more than it can chew, but is elevated by a surprising amount of warmth and humour.

It is no surprise that Queen & Slim looks beautiful. It marks the theatrical debut of director Melina Matsoukas, perhaps best known for her work on some of the most striking and memorable music videos of the past decade – including Rihanna’s We Found Love and Beyoncé’s Formation. Matsoukas has a wonderful eye, and she brings that to bear on this story of two unlikely fugitives who watch as their frankly uninspiring first date takes a sharp turn into an outlaw romance that finds them racing desperately for Cuba.

Getting the show on the road.

Queen & Slim is recognisably a modern American indie, drawing from the kind of cinema that Barry Jenkins helped to mainstream with Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk. It focuses on two young African Americans, and examines the world from their perspective. It is also dazzling to look at, cinematographer Tat Radcliffe saturating the frame with warm golds and neon purples. It exists in a liminal space, somewhere between a grounded naturalism and heightened dream logic – and all the more effective for that juxtaposition.

Queen & Slim occasionally veers a little bit too heavily into the stylistic clichés of this sort of cinema, leaning a little too heavily on shots studying the contemplative faces of its leads or taking in the breathtaking vistas of the American wilderness at an always perfectly calibrated distance from the eponymous couple’s vehicle of choice. It is to Matsoukas’ credit that Queen & Slim largely avoids indulgence, demonstrating an endearing humanism and humour beneath this carefully crisp and calibrated exterior.

Out(run the)law…

Continue reading

Non-Review Reviewsical: Cats

Were they blind when they made this? Do they think it looks good?
Is it fit for awards? Would it sweep at the Globes?
Can you say of the effects that they look worse than they should?
Are they justifiably excited when the internet goads?

Because Tom Hooper can and Tom Hooper did
Some actors did and some actors would
A major studio would and a major studio can
But reviewers can’t and reviewers don’t.

How about those special effects? Are they truly a feat?
Are they tense when they sense there’s no awards buzz?
Do you mind all the signs with the puns in the street?
Did they know from the go that they’d just filmed a dud?

Because Tom Hooper can and Tom Hooper does
Tom Hooper does and Tom Hooper can
Tom Hooper can and Tom Hooper does
Tom Hooper does and Tom Hooper can
Tom Hooper can and Tom Hooper does

Familiar songs for counterprogramming
All those known songs to bring them all in
There’s even a song that Ray Winstone sings
Tom Hooper’s Cats promises all of these things.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is probably the weakest live action theatrical Star Wars film, which is quite something in a world where Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones exist.

To be fair, some of the problems with The Rise of Skywalker are forced by external events. Carrie Fisher passed away early during production, and there was always a sense that the third film in the trilogy would focus on Leia in the same way that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens had focused on Han and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi focused on Luke. As a result, the film’s consciously flailing around how best to fill that void is understandable.

Similarly, director JJ Abrams arrived on the project at the last minute, after Colin Trevorrow was removed from the project. The new Star Wars trilogy has an abridged production cycle to begin with, but The Rise of Skywalker had to switch hands midstream. As a result, it makes sense that there is a certain rough quality to the storytelling, with Abrams inheriting a film that was not designed for him and trying to impose himself upon it.

These are serious and credible challenges facing The Rise of Skywalker, and it would take an impressive film to overcome these logistical hurdles. As much as Han Solo might not like to hear the odds, those odds have been stacked against The Rise of Skywalker from very early in the production process. The film seems keenly aware of this. At one point, Poe crash lands the Millennium Falcon on the forest moon of Endor. When Jannah comments on the rough landing, Poe replies, “I’ve seen worse.” Jannah replies, “I’ve seen better.”

However, while that failure to stick the landing might be forgivable – if disappointing in its own terms – The Rise of Skywalker is most severely undermined by unforced errors. The film makes any number of catastrophic storytelling choices, both in the story that it decides to tell and the way that it ultimately opts to tell it. Whenever The Rise of Skywalker reaches a narrative crossroads, it never fails to pick the weakest of the options in front of it. This is bad of itself, even without the sense that these choices are being driven by the most craven of motivations.

As with films like Justice League, it often feels like The Rise of Skywalker has been shaped and informed by listening to the loudest voices raging on the internet and tailoring a film to appease their aesthetic sensibilities. The grand tragedy of The Rise of Skywalker is that the kind of fans that it is intended to appease are well past being appeased. More than that, these cynical efforts to appease those fans serve to alienate the actual audience. The Rise of Skywalker is everything certain fans wanted from The Last Jedi. Not uncoincidentally, it is nigh unwatchable.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Jumanji – The Next Level

Jumanji: The Next Level is a deeply weird and uneven film, but one that works much better than it really should.

To be fair, a lot of the more serious problems with The Next Level are the problems that face many blockbuster sequels. The film scales upwards from its predecessor, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Given than Welcome to the Jungle was already somewhat overstuffed, The Next Level is bursting at the seams. Not only does the film bring back the entire primary cast from the previous film and bulk up the material for characters in supporting roles, it also adds at least three new major actors to the cast and attempts to maintain the same setpiece-driven pacing that kept Welcome to the Jungle moving.

Game on.

However, this doesn’t capture just how weird The Next Level allows itself to become. The film’s final act features one of the most bizarre emotional pivots in recent memory – a plot resolution that includes a terminal cancer diagnosis, a flying horse and Awkwafina doing her best impression of Danny DeVito. This isn’t even the primary plot. This is the pay-off to a secondary storyline that has, by this point in the narrative, been pushed into the background. None of this should work. Truth be told, it doesn’t really work. However, it is strangely committed. The Next Level never wavers as its plot leads to these strange places.

Like Welcome to the Jungle before it, The Next Level benefits from a propulsive approach to storytelling. To dwell on any of its plot points or character beats or emotional pay-offs would invite madness, and so the film never really does. The Next Level never settles down long enough to let the audience really appreciate how surreal or unusual its framing of these conventional tropes actually is, because there’s always something more to see or to do. The result is a messy and convoluted piece of blockbuster cinema that openly frays at the edges (and throughout), while holding together better than it should.

Solid as The Rock.

Continue reading

Non-Review Review: Just Mercy

Just Mercy feels like a timely and relevant update to the classic death row prestige picture.

The bulk of Just Mercy unfolds over six years, between 1987 and 1993. This roughly overlaps with a cinematic interest in this subject matter in the late eighties and into the nineties. Mississippi Burning and A Time to Kill looked at the racially-charged dimension of criminal justice in the American South, released in 1988 and 1996 respectively. Dead Man Walking and The Chamber tackled anxieties around the death penalty in 1995 and 1996. Indeed, Just Mercy feels like something of a companion piece to these explorations of the American criminal justice system.

Courting public opinion.

These sorts of films have become increasingly rare in recent years, largely driven by changes in the market. The death of the mid-budget movie has had a major impact on these sorts of projects, with the most recent major examples being films like The Hurricane in 1999 and The Life of David Gale in 2003. These sorts of projects have largely migrated to television and arguably podcasts, developed as limited series like The Night Of or Now They See Us. As such, it’s rare to see a film like this receiving that sort of awards push.

However, what is truly interesting about Just Mercy is the way in which it doesn’t just revive the starry prestige criminal justice drama, it also modernises it. Just Mercy might be set against the backdrop of the late eighties and early nineties, but it feels undeniably current in how it approaches that familiar subject matter.

Conviction.

Continue reading