Beavis And Butt-Head Do The Universe – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 26 minutes, Directors – Albert Calleros, John Rice

When a space mission goes wrong, 90s slackers Beavis and Butt-Head (Mike Judge) find themselves sent 24 years into the future, where their core aim remains to score.

When it was announced that Beavis and Butt-Head would be making another return to screens some raised the question as to how the characters, and their 90s style slacker humour, would come across in 2022. Well, the answer appears to be just about the same as it did back in the day. Mike Judge’s cartoon duo remain the same “two very, very stupid, and horny, teenagers” they always were. It’s confirmed as we meet them in 1998, hanging around in the school gym where Butt-Head (Judge) is “trying to find out how many times I can kick Beavis [also Judge] in the nads before he passes out”. Not for the sake of the currently happening science fair, but simply for fun.

After a shoe-to-the-balls goes horribly wrong the pair find themselves in court and eventually space camp, where they appear to be more impressed by scoring than landing on the moon. After accidentally proving themselves as apparent prodigies when it comes to space tech the pair are sent on an important mission to space – the point of which goes over their head as they think their purpose is to have space sex with mission commander Serena Ryan (Andrea Savage). It’s perhaps a slightly detailed opening to what eventually leads the pair to leap 24 years into the future to today, however it brings to mind the openings of classic Simpsons episodes. A random event or occurrence that seems unrelated leading to the eventual plot of the episode. However, in the case of Beavis And Butt-Head it all seems to make sense. With the two central characters and their mindsets being the focus of most of the jokes, or rather the joke, there are plenty to of chuckles to be had as things are built up and get going. Particularly helped by the fact that much of this doesn’t feel like build-up, instead acting as throwing you into the developing plot from the start with its layers of absurdity and crudeness.

Once in the future the pair are intent on completing their mission, trying to track down now-Texas Senator Serena to finally score with her. However, she wants the pair dead so that her past isn’t revealed, while other government agents are trying to track down a pair of odd-looking aliens who have just arrived on the planet. Certainly the film as a whole doesn’t feel like an extended episode. It may be made up of various short stages and ideas before moving onto the next situation that Beavis and Butt-Head can get up to and misunderstand in the modern day, jokes which could so easily feel tired but generally manage to keep their head above water, but things move along fairly well over the short 86 minute course of the narrative.

Things could easily lean into the central figures adapting to modern culture and the way in which attitudes have changed since the 90s, there is one moment where white privilege is discussed with a worthwhile punchline, however things travel more along the lines of them viewing a smartphone as just a small TV before using it to buy the world’s supply of nachos. They’ve been told by alternate versions of themselves (named Smart Beavis and Smart Butt-Head) that they need to get to a portal before all world’s are threatened and close in on themselves, but there are more important things at stake. All involving their own sex-crazed minds. Little, if anything, has changed and the film works well for it. This isn’t to say that it’s a completely un-PC fest, the focus has long been, and continues to be placed, on the pair’s idiocy more than anything else. More that the pair very much feel like the same characters, getting up to the same stuff, and it’s still rather amusing to see unfold. A smile begins to emerge as you once again hear the declaration “I am Cornholio! I need TP for my bunghole!”

Beavis and Butt-Head return with little changed about themselves. They’re still idiots. Very horny idiots. It often feels as if little has changed (although this does come from someone not overly familiar with the characters) apart from the updated look and movement of the same-style animation. The core joke is very much the same, and for a large part of Do The Universe it manages to raise a number of chuckles over the short amount of time the film goes on for. It fits into its run-time well and doesn’t really outstay its welcome, knowing just about what it can do with its various ideas and sequences before it/ they begin to run out of steam – only slightly showing signs of slowing down towards the end as things begin to wrap up and some jokes start to run their course. However, overall this is a rather welcome return for two of animations biggest idiots. They remain that way, known by the creators who seemingly have no intention of making them seem otherwise. It’s one of the biggest reasons why this return works and manages to keep the viewer engaged with its humour in each moment and situation. Not quite leaving you laughing for no reason but definitely not leaving you agreeing that “this sucks”.

Amongst the various moments and sequences which construct the narrative of Beavis And Butt-Head Do The Universe there’s plenty to be amused by within the central jokes. Things might begin to wear out towards the end, but generally this is a consistently amusing return for the slacker duo.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Minions: The Rise Of Gru – Review

Cert – U, Run-time – 1 hour 28 minutes, Director – Kyle Balda

After stealing a powerful jewel from his favourite supervillain team, nearly-12-year-old Gru (Steve Carell) finds himself kidnapped, with only his team of minions (Pierre Coffin) to save him.

Back in 2015 when the minions embarked on their first spin-off feature outing my favourite joke in a film that made me consistently giggle like I was seven-years-old didn’t actually involve the small dungaree-donning yellow figures which have become a source of confusion and irritation to many. As the film’s villain Scarlet Overkill flies into an arena packed with villains she proclaims “look at all those faces out there. We are all so different, yet we have one thing in common”. Cut to a figure who can only really be described as a ‘human fish’ who proudly leaps onto his chair, punching the air and declaring in a gargling voice “we were born with flippers!” Only to realise he’s alone, sitting back down with an increasingly quiet “no? Just me? Ok…” It was perhaps nobody’s favourite joke in that film apart from mine. A quick, silly moment that reduced me to fits of chuckles. It’s this style of slightly cartoonish humour which has perhaps brought much appeal to the minions over the years, since their first appearance as Gru’s henchmen in 2010’s Despicable Me.

It’s also the kind of humour that continues to work best for them as they allegedly lead their second feature outing, at least the film is still lead by their name. Moments where central trio Kevin, Bob and Stuart (all minions voiced by Pierre Coffin) steal a commercial flight, or simply flight in traditionally slapstick manner with various screams, clangs and yelps are where the film works best. Simply displaying its various gags and jokes in the moment and allowing the title characters to behave as they usually do. It creates a handful of chuckles and certainly helps lift up the film above some of the more predictable gags and references to the wider Despicable Me franchise which are scattered throughout, as a whole the film feels more like Despicable Me prequel than a Minions-led feature.

This feeling particularly settles in as 11-and-three-quarter-year-old ‘Mini Boss’ Gru (Steve Carell) finds himself kidnapped after stealing a powerful jewel from his supervillain idols the Vicious 6. A group with amusing pun names such as Jean-Clawed (Jean-Claude Van Damme), Nun-Chuck (Lucy Lawless) and Svengeance (Dolph Lundgren) – it’s just a shame they don’t quite live up to their names, both in terms of comedy and general presence. While the film tracks the aforementioned trio of minions trying to free Gru and get him back home it continuously cuts back to him in the house of his favourite villain Wild Knuckles (Alan Arkin), also trying to find the valued jewel with transformational powers. Therefore, with noone else being certain of where the jewel is, bring in Otto, a larger minion eagerly intent on serving his boss, riding and chasing across America to try and track it down. It’s certainly the most side-plot feeling element of the film, and works better that way. But, it also brings in a busier feeling to the overall film, already holding what feels like two core plot-threads.

At only 1 hour and 28 minutes this is a fairly short film, but it certainly tries to pack a lot in. Particularly in regards to the feeling that much of the narrative is assembled together with different ideas, events and moments before moving onto the next situation the minions can have a scrap in. Certainly, the scraps and gags are amusing, they keep the film moving along fairly well and provide a number of chuckles along the way. Perhaps not on the same hit rate as the previous instalment, with some being a bit more predictable than others, but there’s still an appreciation towards the near-chaos that’s delivered on-screen by the not-quite-multilingual figures. In many ways they are the saving grace of the film, amongst the familiarity of the various plot elements, and some of the gags the titular minions are very much present to come in and bring a handful of chuckles to help move things along. When at its silliest and allowing gags to move the narrative along the film is very much at its best, not bogged down by the rest of its elements. Perhaps the strongest positive thing to take away from this is that amongst all the social media memes, irony, twistings of initial memes, TikTok trends (the story of the screening I attended for this is one for another time!) and more the minions are still capable of being funny by simply doing their usual silly schtick as if none of that other stuff exists – the best way to go about this kind of thing!

Feeling more like a Despicable Me prequel than a Minions spin-off The Rise Of Gru get slightly bogged down by its various ideas and plot threads, however when allowing the minions to simply be silly and lead moments by themselves there are a fair few chuckles to help move things along and create amusing enough viewing.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Nitram – Review

Release Date – 1st July 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 52 minutes, Director – Justin Kurzel

Drama following mass-shooter Martin Bryant (Caleb Landry Jones) in the build up to the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.

There’s no denying the eventual hard watch that writer Shaun Grant and director Justin Kurzel’s Nitram is. It gradually somewhat prepares you for what is to come thanks to the slow burn nature that its course takes, and the fact that from the start it acknowledges that it is not a piece of entertainment. In the build up to the events of the Port Arthur mass shooting in 1996 we follow shooter Martin Bryant (Caleb Landry Jones) – only ever, and very rarely, referred to as Nitram (the character name also listed as this in the credits), a name used to taunt and bully him since his school days. From his opening moments, letting off fireworks in his back garden in the middle of the day, to the anger of his neighbours, Landry Jones’ figure is shown to be isolated amongst his surroundings.

As the film progresses, and Martin leaves his tired but trying mum (an excellent, scene-stealing Judy Davis) and dad (Anthony LaPaglia) to live with Essie Davis’ former-actress Helen – specialising in Gilbert and Sullivan productions – various layers are brought in to enhance the fear around the central character and what is inevitably going to happen. Small details bring in an eerie nature that lingers in the mind, slowed down Gilbert and Sullivan tracks played over home video/ holiday footage. Two extended scenes in a gun shop where Martin discusses weaponry, specifics, range, ammo, licenses, etc with the owners are held onto to simply leave the viewer in increasing dread and tension.

Perhaps what makes the moment worse is the fact that up until this moment there has been little discussion of what’s going on inside the central character’s mind, or indeed the thoughts of the few people around him. Initially the bare scratching of the surface is when asked “are you sick?” the response of “no, I just get sad sometimes”. We get very few glimpses, or instances of personal understanding of what’s happening in the mind of the title character. However, much of this specifically comes to the fore when sat down with his mum at the table and they begin to discuss how they are respectively feeling, although hostility still hangs in the air. Ideas of mental health quietly float in the background of a handful of scenes, particularly those where a fear factor rises due to the actions that are being acted out and where things are leading.

In many ways while watching I was reminded of Gus Van Sant’s Elephant in the way that nothing is played in a showy nature and much is shown with a direct matter-of-fact nature. Not just in terms of the inevitable events at the end of the film, naturally held as you feel and notice people generally going around their day, but the course that’s travelled along alone. The first half may take a while for the elements to properly come together and the ideas to be properly established in terms of how the film is dealing with the central character and his behaviours, however as the second half arrives things begin to develop more and look into the impacts and effects of certain moments beforehand and how they further build-up to the ending. Certainly, this means that the film is going to be a hard watch for a number of potential viewers, it’s very likely supposed to be. But, it’s effective because of that and feels this way largely thanks to the build up; once it’s properly established its elements and starts to look at the emotions and thoughts of not just its central figure, but those around him too.

While it might take a bit of time for the ideas and elements to come together Nitram forms an interesting film, with plenty of fear and tension in the final 15-20 minutes. A hard watch for some, more so because of the effectively unshowy nature and slow pacing, but it certainly hits some good notes in its thoughts on undiscussed mental health and personal understanding.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Elvis – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 40 minutes, Director – Baz Luhrmann

Biopic following the career of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler) and the way in which it was controlled by his manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks).

When it was announced that Baz Luhrmann was going to be tackling an Elvis Presley biopic my main interest in the project was always in regards to how one of cinema’s most maximalist directors would tackle a life story. Well, the answer is in his usual style. By throwing a few bucketloads of showbiz at the spinning camera. Once again, Luhrmann shows himself to potentially be quite a hit-or-miss director. However, as with a handful of his films, if you’re able to get past the intensity of the first 20 minutes – where much of the glitz and glamour is condensed – there’s a fair deal to like about Elvis.

Perhaps it helps that, at least for the first half, the film focuses on the showmanship of the King of Rock and Roll (Austin Butler). Depicting just what drew people to him and his music, and indeed those to protest it and his apparent dance moves and stage persona – furious headlines spread across America calling him ‘Elvis The Pelvis’. However, despite the uproar being about Presley it feels odd that the titular figure feels almost like support in his own life story. Instead the events are remembered by his manager Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks – an understandably criticised performance which feels like his turn in the Coen Brothers’ The Ladykillers turned up to 11 and in a fat suit, it might take some getting used to but it’s certainly not dreadful) as he finally finds the show and act that can make him rich – “he was a taste of forbidden fruit… He was the greatest carnival attraction I had ever seen”.

However, as the film moves along, reaching it’s second half, Butler’s performance takes more of a centre stage as the focus also shifts onto Elvis’ own thought process and set of actions. Beginning to try to break free from the overall control of his played-as-villain manager. It takes a while to truly realise just how good Butler’s performance is due to the fact that the spotlight appears to not always be on him for so long, but when that light is finally placed upon him the strength of his performance shines. It allows for you to engage with the film, and its central figure, on a further level above the initial display of showmanship.

The highlight comes in the form of the surprise performance of If I Can Dream in the ’68 Comeback Special. Little is added to the moment as it largely focuses on Elvis singing. Allowing the song and moment to speak for itself a forceful punch of emotion is created as the song swells creating a powerful ‘wow’ moment, free from the flashiness of the rest of the film. It’s these moments where Elvis is the core focus where the film works best and engages you the most. Dropping the visual display around it and allowing certain points to exist in and speak for themselves. This isn’t to say that the surroundings don’t work, as the film charts Elvis’ Vegas residency there’s certainly a push from Luhrmann’s style – one which helps keep you engaged as the nearly two and three quarter hour run-time begins to show.

As a whole the film begins to near its conclusion you can feel it beginning to slow down and wanting to wrap up as the run-time starts to be felt. There are still elements that it wants to get in and check before the credits begin to roll, and it does them well enough but still with the lingering feeling of a slightly pushing run-time, despite the still engaging nature that it mostly manages to hold fairly well throughout – allowing for its head to be held above water. The idea of showmanship comes back round every now and then, mostly as we look through the eyes, or mind, of Colonel Tom Parker as he’s told that his “sideshow is a jackpot”. When the film leans this way it’s clear that it’s more about what people loved about Elvis rather than Elvis himself. However, when looking at the man himself, particularly thanks to Austin Butler’s strong central performance, and allowing moments to just exist as themselves – which there are a number of – the film is at its strongest. While this might be another hit-or-miss film from Luhrmann, if you can get past the spinning catharsis of the opening 20 minutes, there’s enough to enjoy and engage with to make for worthwhile, if not always in-depth, viewing.

When not throwing everything at the camera and looking more at the man himself, finely performed by Austin Butler, instead of his showmanship Elvis is at its best. The surroundings are fine and still manage to engage you, however the feeling lies that that’s perhaps what pushes the run-time.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Black Phone – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 43 minutes, Director – Scott Derrickson

After being kidnapped and trapped by ‘The Grabber’ (Ethan Hawke) 13-year-old Finney (Mason Thames) receives calls on a disconnected phone from past victims, trying to help him escape.

Co-writer (with C. Robert Cargill) and director Scott Derrickson’s The Black Phone appears to have been largely sold using the figure of Ethan Hawke’s central antagonist The Grabber and his selection of devil-like masks. It therefore comes as some surprise, although not entirely a bad one, that his screen-time feels quite limited. He’s used as a looming reminder of the threat faced by 13-year-old Finney (Mason Thames) as he finds himself trapped in a soundproof basement after having been kidnapped by the until-now-faceless figure who has been terrorising the streets of his mid-70s neighbourhood. The film follows him trying to find ways to escape, helped by what appears to be previous victims of The Grabber on the other side of a disconnected phone in the basement.

From the very start, as we witness the tensions in Finney’s own home where he lives with his younger sister, Gwen (Madeline McGraw) – a young girl with a mouth that could put a drill sergeant to shame – and abusive alcoholic father (Jeremy Davies), there’s an easily established slow pacing to the film. It draws out its themes and ideas in the build-up to Finney actually being abducted by the disguised figure in the black van. While some elements have a slight impact on the narrative, such as his being constantly bullied at school, there’s often not a completely investing nature to the film as a whole. While you’re able to sit there and watch the events unfold, and gradually become more engaged once the core plot kicks in and Finney’s escape attempts begin, the fear factor isn’t quite present.

It’s once we finally meet Hawke’s eerily soft-spoken criminal that an air of creepiness begins to enter the piece. When he’s on screen, his face largely covered up by masks meaning his eyes are conveying an effectively heavy amount, tension begins to waft in through the otherwise shut door leading to the potential staircase to freedom. An early claim of his to Finney lingers in the mind throughout whenever he appears: “I won’t ever make you do anything that you won’t… like”, the pause perhaps acting as one of the most effective pieces of suspense in the film. With the occasional reminder of Hawke and what Finney is potentially trying to prevent, detailed to him by the victims on the other side of the phone.

Yet, the true horror of the film comes in the more unexplained almost supernatural details. Not quite Gwen’s dreams where she can see details of previous victims kidnappings and where they might have been taken, but more in the presence of such figures when Finney talks to them. There are certainly a couple of effective jump scares placed here and there throughout the film. They pair up well with the more unexplained elements, which don’t really feel as if they need further expansion due to the creepiness provided from the relative unknown about them. As such moments play out a different side of the film is shown. While it certainly differs from what surrounds it, and indeed sticks out a bit, there’s no denying that some of the most effective, and engaging, content is held in these moments, although could be slightly expanded or used more so as not to feel as out of place, or from nowhere, as they occasionally do.

As things build up and get closer to the third act there’s enough within The Black Phone to gradually bring you on board and eventually involve you in the piece. It particularly occurs as the third act pans out and the tension and fear for what will happen to Finney is properly detailed. Even with Hawke simply sitting in a chair upstairs his posture and general nature – still with a mask on – raising the tension of the final stages, and allowing for any potential and actual interactions to have more effect – the speed of the final 15 minutes or so picks up from the rest of the film with a successful impact that helps to keep you in place and more engaged with the proceedings. While it might take a bit to become properly interested in the film, instead of simply just watching it unfold, once it does kick in things begin to grow and there is an occasional fear factor which works in its favour, not just thanks to Hawke’s performance and effective limited presence. It’s certainly an overall interesting film in the way that it goes about itself, it’s just that the actual content isn’t always as interesting and engaging, particularly in the build-up.

While it might take a bit of time to properly get going The Black Phone does pick up, thanks to a mixture of Ethan Hawke’s sparingly used performance and the more unexplained elements of horror. While not everything quite completely gels together there’s enough present to make for watchable and engaging enough viewing.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Lightyear – Review

Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 47 minutes, Director – Angus MacLane

After stranding himself and his crew on an unknown planet space commander Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) dedicates himself to completing his mission, spending years trying to find a way home.

“You. Are. A. TOY!! You aren’t the real Buzz Lightyear, you’re an… Oh, you’re an action figure! You are a child’s plaything!” was once the only case for the big screen figure of space ranger Buzz Lightyear, however now we get to see the film that apparently inspired that particular toy, and the imagination of its owner, Andy. Yet, instead of leaning into the idea of pastiching mid-90s sci-fi blockbusters, Lightyear has a generally direct nature. As we see Buzz (Chris Evans) and fellow space commander Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba) fail to escape from an unknown planet, they find themselves, alongside their expansive crew, stranded and lacking the ability to get back home. Therefore, whilst battling living-vines and rarely-seen bug-like aliens, Buzz takes it upon himself to complete the mission and find a way to get everyone off the planet, despite lacking the required formula to properly reach hyper-speed.

There’s an enjoyable nature to the first act of the film as we see multiple attempts by Buzz to single-handedly save everyone. There’s an entertaining feel to the big sci-fi blockbuster stylings of certain action sequences, helped by the stunning animation, and as a whole the film works better during its more direct and serious moments. When it attempts to crack a joke things more often than not fall fairly flat. Yes, there are a couple of chuckles here and there – particularly relating some references to Toy Story, which luckily die down just before they get too much – but most of the time the humour appears to break into the stride that the film is making in terms of the lighter dramatic side of itself.

Humour is worked more into the film as Buzz finds himself trapped out of Star Command’s makeshift city, and having to fend from giant robots that prevent anyone from leaving the planet. Equipped with companion robot cat SOX (Peter Sohn) – who luckily doesn’t play out as much of a frequent comic relief figure as might initially seem to be the case – and unprepared trainees Izzy (Keke Palmer), Darby (Dale Souls) and Mo (Taika Waititi), the titular figures mission gains a few extra steps. As the film begins to travel down this course you can feel and see the scenes and elements that construct the narrative being stretched out. Things slow down as the film begins to feel overlong, particularly during the third act, thanks to the extra elements and details that appear to be added from point to point within the plot. It simply results in the feeling that things are both, as mentioned, a bit too long and also generally meandering within the rambling construction.

It’s a shame for something that starts out with so much promise and intrigue. The initial set up and action elements mixed with the spectacular animation and general style genuinely set this up to be something amazing. There’s a lot of hope that it will capture something of a throwback feel to great sci-fi blockbusters, with the feeling of being one itself. However, overtime this fades as things begin to slip into feeling slightly more generic and leaning away from these grand sci-fi beginnings. While the film as a whole remains watchable and still has some pretty good ideas and moments it does become a bit trying at times, particularly in regards to the run-time and the narrative which feels as if it’s occasionally repeating itself. Beginning to leave it slightly stranded instead of properly taking off.

While starting off with plenty of grand sci-fi spectacle, Lightyear begins to devolve into a somewhat generic stretch, slightly dampened by its attempts at humour which break into the stride of the enjoyable action at play.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Good Luck To You, Leo Grande – Review

Release Date – 17th June 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 38 minutes, Director – Sophie Hyde

Retired RE teacher Nancy (Emma Thompson) hires young sex worker Leo Grande (Daryl McCormack) in the hope of finally discovering the sexual freedom that has been missing for her life for so many years.

It’s not often that I find myself watching a film and almost instantly really looking forward to writing, or speaking, the review afterwards. However, in the case of Good Luck To You, Leo Grande there’s so much unlocked in the mind thanks to the conversations that it glimpses and encourages that the mind swirls with thoughts, and ramblings, long after the brief credits have flashed by. There’s a lot to unpack, evolve and discuss from what the film manages to get in to just 98 fast-flowing minutes. Which, to a fair extent, is slightly incredible to think seeing as, as many people have likely already stated in regards to this film and many other products covering similar themes, it’s 2022…

Earlier in the year when reviewing Ti West’s horror film X I claimed that the core motives of the killers appeared to be “young people shouldn’t have sex because old people can’t”. The idea of late-life sex appeared to be worked into scenes of horror more than anything else. However, ailments got in the way of murderous couple Howard and Pearl’s hopes of continuing sexual freedom. Although, this appears to have been no problem for sex worker Leo Grande’s (Daryl McCormack) oldest client, at the age of 82. Far from bordering on that age, retired RE teacher Nancy (Emma Thompson) hires the “aesthetically perfect and apparently nice enough” Grande in the hope of experiencing the sexual freedom she was never able to feel during her long marriage to her two-years-passed husband.

“There are nuns out there with more sexual experience than me” she claims while pacing around the hotel room in which nearly all of the film’s drama takes place. There’s worry and anxiety from her about so many different things. From body image to whether she’ll be good enough for the man whose company she has hired. Katy Brand’s excellent screenplay taps into such themes with thought and eloquence, helped by Thompson’s typically thoughtful styling and mannerisms – particularly in a project that she clearly cares about and knows what it means, plus that seems to mean a lot to her individually.

While there’s plenty discussed between the pair in the quickly familiar hotel room, from their families to their lines of work and morals of what they’re doing – leading to an excellently unexpected ‘your mum’ joke that fits in perfectly to its surroundings – what truly rounds off the themes of the conversations is in the brief, but precisely crafted, moments of sensuality between the pair. As the barriers are gradually taken down for Nancy as she attempts to reclaim herself and her sexual identity of years of unfulfillment a snap is created within the floating music that gently sweeps into the background of these pivotal moments. Wonderfully captured by Sophie Hyde, whose fantastic direction shines throughout and brings the piece to life, helping to avoid a stage-like feel, which could so easily happen in a largely one-location two-hander such as this. All combining to seemingly perfectly round off the themes and ideas of what has been discussed in the interactions prior, before moving on to further develop things in the next meeting between the pairing.

Whilst so naturally delving into its themes of female sexuality, simply posing and exploring points for discussion without any provocative proclamations, the film also opens doors for points about male body positivity, alongside shared views and worries. While Nancy prepares herself in the bathroom, Leo looks at himself in the mirror, scanning his body, thoughts clearly rushing through his mind. Such shots are filled with subtleties in McCormack’s fine performance as his character hides plenty of personal details – he claims to tell his potentially distant mum and brother that he works on an oil rig instead of as a sex worker. Again, such elements are simply posed as natural facts. Things that happen.

There’s much power within what the film displays and the way in which it goes about showing certain details. It’s not in the matter of fact nature, but the way in which the characters discuss, behave and act when noone else is around, before gradually opening up to each other. Hints and moments of tenderness, both personally and jointly intimate – “it’s not vain to enjoy your body, to love it” – which are subtly dotted throughout the key details of the characters and their behaviours. It adds to the feelings of thought and care that have clearly gone into making this, and it allows more for the mind to ponder while simply being caught up in the entertainment of the film.

It shouldn’t be ignored just how funny Good Luck To You, Leo Grande is. From the initial hesitation and anxieties which create a slight air of awkwardness, although never entering cringe-comedy, to Thompson’s shocked blurtings and increasing desires to explore different positions there’s a lot to delight in in terms of the humour that’s presented. Frequently laugh out loud funny the chemistry between the central pairing, and the fine screenplay which they add effectiveness to, you easily believe in the on-screen figures and find interest and amusement within their ventures. The lightness and humour make those snaps – as if you can literally hear the click of the finger, or the cord to the lightbulb – all the more poignant. Allowing for a moment not to pause, but to reflect on what’s been seen so far, what’s happening now and the points which the film poses and discusses, again in 2022. Like the characters grow to be, the film is unashamed about what it is and what it poses to the audience. It’s a film for natural openings of conversation that will likely be highly effective in doing just that, doing so in a wonderfully entertaining way.

Naturally and positively unashamed, Good Luck To You, Leo Grande feels like an original breath of fresh air. Funny, thoughtful and excellently executing its ‘snaps’ to round of its themes, there’s a lot to like. And the conversations sprouted from it may be as interesting as the film itself.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hustle – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 57 minutes, Director – Jeremiah Zagar

Desperate to make it as a coach, basketball scout Stanley (Adam Sandler) believes that he has found the next major NBA star in street player Bo (Jauncho Hernangomez).

Often what makes a great sports movie isn’t in the sporting action itself. It’s in the connection that formed with the characters. If you care about them you’ll more than likely care about what they’re trying to achieve in their respective sports. It’s one of the reasons why I (a person who has no interest in sports) consider 2017’s Borg Vs. McEnroe to be the best film of that year, working as an excellent character study above anything else.

While new-to-Netflix Hustle isn’t quite as in depth a character piece it does present a likable figure in the form of Adam Sandler’s Stanley Sugarman. As his career finally appears to be developing with the opportunity to make it as a basketball coach for the Philadelphia 76ers the team’s owner Rex Merrick (a fleetingly brief Robert Duvall) passes away. Son Vince (Ben Foster) is quickly brought in to lead the new co-ownership, alongside sister Kat (Heidi Gardner), whose presence fluctuates throughout the film, and decides to keep Stanley as a scout, unless he can find the next star player for the team.

Cue the discovery of Spanish street player Bo (Jauncho Hernangomez), a potential star in the making who instantly casts a light on Stanley’s personal career hopes, and simple wants to finally be able to be at home for his teenage daughter’s (Jordan Hull) birthday for the first time in nine years. However, as the pair begin training together it’s revealed that while Bo’s skills are impressive he needs to learn to control himself, in particular his anger and the way he reacts to other players. It’s perhaps a strong cliché and convention that we’ve seen done a number of times before, yet because of the energy which flows throughout the film it’s easy to remain caught up in the unfolding events and progression of the two central characters as they both get closer to their NBA dreams and ‘making it’. Much of this energy is created during the various montages and training sequences which line the film. It’s easy to be caught up in them, and in particular the slight warmth of the central relationship between Sandler and Hernangomez.

This is another dramatic-leaning role for Sandler, where he has shown himself to excel in the past, yet there’s no denying the humour that’s present within Hustle. It’s an early effective device which helps to initially bring you in to the world and the characters no matter how familiar you may or may not be with basketball, especially if you don’t recognise all the cameos which are revealed in the credits. What further allows the humour to work is that the spotlight isn’t always being shone on Stanley, the light, fairly natural, gags are spread out amongst the cast, demonstrating this not to be a piece just about Sandler and his character. It’s a key element to how you engage with the film as a whole, and allows for the various relationships within it, and the characters individually, to feel more investing and generally enjoyable.

Yes, there may be a handful of familiar elements within Hustle, however with how engaging and enjoyable the film is it’s fairly easy to look past these and simply get caught up in the story that’s being told at the centre of it. Sandler and Hernangomez lead a solid cast well as two figures you want to see achieve their hopes of progressing in their careers and proving themselves to major figures in the world of basketball. This adds an extra spark to the moments of gameplay thanks to everything that has been built up over the course of the film and the skills that we’ve seen on display up until this point. It’s easy to get caught up by Hustle and the not-quite-underdog tale that it tells so well. It’s a relatively light, if slightly familiar, story that at least uses the former to a strength, increasing the film’s overall ease and energy, and making for highly enjoyable viewing.

While some elements within the narrative may be familiar Hustle works because it tells its story in an energetic and engaging manner. Helped by two strong central performances from Sandler and Hernangomez it’s easy to be caught up in this light and likable not-quite-underdog story.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Jurassic World Dominion – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 27 minutes, Director – Colin Trevorrow

As dinosaurs and creatures with cretaceous DNA begin to wreak havoc across the world the risk of human extinction rapidly increases, with the cause linking back to a major genetic company Biosyn.

I recently read somewhere on the internet someone claiming that one of the reasons Jurassic Park works so well and creates such tension and fear in relation to the dinosaur attacks is the fact that Spielberg utilises a similar technique to Jaws in that we don’t see the creatures for a fair while, especially as threats, and even then they’re sparingly used. It’s an interesting and solid point. If this is the case then almost thirty years on in the case of Jurassic World Dominion we see so many dinosaurs roaming around the earth in the opening twenty to thirty minutes that we perhaps get so used to them that the threat level is diminished. There are only so many times that we can see characters ‘nearly’ be killed by dinosaurs, and in this case insects which have been spliced with cretaceous DNA, before all tension is removed from subsequent attacks and chases.

It makes for a slightly lacking feel when it comes to the globe-trotting adventure that Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) embark on in this film as their lives of taming dinosaurs and stopping them from falling into the hands of poachers is halted when their adopted daughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon – whose pronounced British accent brings Keira Knightley to mind) is kidnapped by just that group. Much of their hunt links back to genetics company Biosyn, headed by Campbell Scott’s Lewis Dodgson, a company working with dinosaurs and claiming to protect them and use their DNA to help humans. And it just so happens to be this, and increasing swarms of giant locusts in the southern states, that returning faces Doctors Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Alan Grant (Sam Neill) investigate, after being called by old associate Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).

With so much going on over the nearly two and a half hour run-time – which only really begins to be felt in the closing stages – it’s almost a good thing that there’s a fair deal to follow due to the fact that the characters themselves are far from the most interesting thing in the film. There’s a lot of plot and narrative to get through, explanations and revelations crop up in most scenes and this helps to distract from the fairly bland nature of the characters. It doesn’t completely help that some – namely Pratt and Dallas Howard – don’t quite gain any chemistry with those around them, and indeed don’t have the most thrilling thread of the piece. However, as the feeling of a two film narrative begins to meld into one things generally even out and make for more consistent viewing.

This isn’t to say that what comes beforehand is in any way ‘bad’ viewing. Despite the various flaws that crop up there’s still an engaging enough nature to make things watchable. This shows during one particular chase as Pratt races down a runway via motorbike with two particularly deadly creatures right on his tail, trying to reach a plane flown by the welcome addition of DeWanda Wise’s Kayla Watts before it takes off. At this moment focus is on just that, the moment. The chase. It leans away from the characters and their conversations, and, yes, fairly bland personalities, and simply shows the race and fight to survive and reach a certain point. It’s during such moments where the focus is on what’s unfolding instead of what’s going to happen later that Dominion works best.

During such moments the big screen is well utilised. In general the visuals are, as is to be expected, great; with plenty of animatronics on display to bring the world to life and you that bit more into it – even if some scenes, once again, do feature one too many dinosaurs leading to a lowered impact, as if seeing them becomes standard and expected. Yet, there’s still some tension to be found when the film focuses on its sequences and scenes in the moment rather than what’s to come, and indeed the characters within them. There’s a lot going on within the film and that certainly helps to keep you engaged throughout the run-time, which generally passes by fairly well. This is definitely something very different, and perhaps unexpected – even after the conclusion of previous entry Fallen Kingdom – from the Jurassic series, and while it slightly stumbles trying to plot itself out there’s enough within the narrative to keep you engaged and interested in the piece and the unfolding events which make it up. Not quite closing things with a roar, but certainly having an interesting crack at something new within the final film in this new trilogy.

Jurassic World Dominion works best when acknowledging that its characters are not the most interesting elements. It helps itself by having a fair deal packed into the narrative to keep you engaged, alongside some occasionally tense dinosaur action, even if the impact is lowered by seeing too many too early on.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Il Buco – Review

Release Date – 10th June 2022, Cert – U, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Michaelangelo Frammartino

A group of cavers and speleologists explore unknown depths outside a small Italian village.

Having gone into Il Buco knowing nothing about the film aside from the title I found myself wondering part way through whether what I was watching was a narrative feature or a documentary. The lines are blurred through the highly naturalistic, almost silent, style which director Michaelangelo Frammartino brings to the piece. Instead of focusing on dialogue he allows nature and the environment to speak for itself in an almost calming manner. The light and greenness of the surface field, tended to by Antonio Lanza’s aging shepherd contrasts with the claustrophobic darkness of caves which are so key to much of the film. We see a group of cavers and speleologists (scientists studying caves and their formations) embarking on an expedition into unknown depths in a cave just outside of an Italian village, gently enclosed in the valleys. The gradual pacing and use of natural sounds in the opening stages sets in place the idea that this is going to be a fairly gentle film. It prepares your mind so that you don’t expect a proper narrative to begin unfolding and manage to get caught up in what the film is actually showing you.

Much of this is helped by the strong visual style of the piece. Thanks to Renato Berta’s cinematography both above and below ground the look of the piece keeps you in place throughout and helps to keep you engaged for much of the run-time, particularly when things become slightly slower in jumping back and forth between the cavers and the shepherd as he suffers from an increasing illness. Certainly the caving provides the most interesting elements of the piece, but nothing overall feels dominant in terms of focus as everything blends together in that documentary-like style. It’s a feeling further pushed by the camera often being a slightly distanced, observing force rather than up close and in the faces of the various figures who act out the points and moments that construct the slight arc of that the film runs across.

Perhaps due to the fact that we don’t completely get to connect with the characters one or two beats don’t quite have the impact they would like, but with something of this nature with its experimental leanings the involvement that we do have – even if at times thin – leads to an interest in what is happening in that moment in time. The slight fear that someone might get stuck in a cave, or the general intrigue as to how deep the cave really goes – the orange glare of burning magazine pages spiralling down to see how far the new drop travels is a recurring highlight in terms of the visual feast the film provides. During such moments brief glimpses of fascination, and perhaps wonderment, are created, simply thanks to the visuals which truly come to life on the big screen and help to keep you in the world that’s created, even if at times you are only simply watching instead of properly being involved.

But, alongside the views that are on display, perhaps the biggest thing that intrigues you about the film, is that for the most part it works and has you engaged in some way or another. It might begin to dip off around the hour mark when things begin to slightly stagger, but there’s still enough present to keep some interest in the cave exploration and, again, how natural everything feels. Maybe this is down to the moments of build-up and shots of the village near the hills and cave we spend so much time in, where the initial feeling is that this might be a film of everything and nothing – quickly moved on from once things are established. But, the 93 minute run-time generally feels like a natural fit, anything longer and things would perhaps feel more stretched and pushed. But, what we do have is an interesting piece of slightly experimental work. Using natural noise, images and style to create a wholly naturalistic picture, which helps to bring you in; particularly in the moments of cave exploration. You may not always be completely invested, but there’s often something to be interested or intrigued by, especially in terms of the impressive look which forms the core connection to this visual exploration.

Even when you’re not completely involved there’s a level of interest to be had in Il Buco, largely thanks to the highly naturalistic, documentary-like style which is further fuelled by the excellent visuals which bring the piece to life, and keep you engaged for the most part.

Rating: 3 out of 5.