PIFF 2022: Pink Opaque – Review

Release Date – Available now, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 30 minutes, Director – Derrick Perry

A struggling Los Angeles film student (Elijah Boothe) attempts to put together his final project while charting a growing romantic relationship and connecting with his career-fading uncle (Chaim Dunbar).

There’s much of within co-writer (alongside Dave Ragsdale) and director Derrick Perry’s Pink Opaque which is concerned with its characters trying to prove themselves in some form or another. Central figure Travis (Elijah Boothe) is a struggling film student, attempting to put together his final film to little positive response from his professor, who picks apart many of the details which he is presented with. There’s a risk that Travis’ project won’t even be screened as part of the upcoming college showcase. Yet, despite the odds, he’s determined to not join “the rest of the people with a meaningless degree to give meaningless answers to meaningless questions”. He needs to find inspiration for his short, to give it an identity, and alongside that he needs money – turning to his somewhat distant uncle, Robin (Chaim Dunbar) for financial help.

Robin too is looking for inspiration to keep himself relevant as a television producer, his career having begun to fade as he ages and moves away from what’s currently trending. He hopes that his nephew will somehow be able to have an idea which can launch him back to success. Yet, his nephew is juggling more than just his short and financial worries as his relationship with girlfriend Kristen (Ruby Park) grows, despite the strong objections of her older brother (Daniel C.). Much like Travis the film is trying to balance a number of different elements and aspects in such a short amount of time. It results in a feeling that what we’re seeing is a selection of patches of ideas and moments before moving on to the next point or character, instead of a properly overarching narrative.

With so much going on for each of the different characters, and so much of it kept separate up until the final stages – when even then things don’t quite gel together – it’s difficult to connect with the film or anyone in it with so much jumping going on. It simply leads to a distance being created between the viewer and the film as there’s no real time for a hook to be formed with each element and figure. The personal dramas don’t have the strength or development to properly connect with you and bring you in meaning that you simply sit watching a slight jumble of bits and ideas, changing perspectives and moments which never quite have enough to grab you or simply bring you in to the piece as a whole.

As elements do begin to come together the dramatic impact simply isn’t there, particularly in the attempted escalations of the final 20 minutes. There’s been little to draw you in up until this point, yet it feels that even the mesh of everything having finally come together still has little effect overall. You simply remain watching what happens with little to react to or engage with due to the overstuffed and jumpy nature of everything that has come beforehand. Perhaps if it were dealing with less perspectives then there may be a feeling of more narrative and better flow to the piece as a whole.

By juggling the different ideas and perspectives characters in such a short amount of time Pink Opaque ends up feeling like more a selection of moments than a flowing structure, leading to a feeling of distance between the viewer.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Casablanca Beats – Review

Release Date – 29th April 2022, Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 42 minutes, Director – Nabil Ayouch

Through the help of their teacher (Anas Basbousi), a group of teenagers at a cultural centre learn how to overcome the shackles of politics and tradition through the expression of hip-hop and rap.

Shortly after the idea enters the mind that Casablanca Beats has links to the likes of School Of Rock a poster for the film appears in the background, on the classroom wall. A wall filled with its fair share of colours, posters and graffiti – just some of the ways in which the teenage students are introduced to a safe space in which they can discuss and express themselves. It’s a box from the outside world where they learn about rap and hip-hop from their teacher Anas (Anas Basbousi) – perhaps a former rapper himself – using the music and lyrics which they create to express themselves and release their anger and stresses over the politics and traditions in their country through the attitude in their delivery.

While not quite a film that has the students standing on their desks reciting “O captain, my captain” the focus isn’t quite on the effects that Anas has, but more the effects that rap has, Anas acting as more of a catalyst and support. It comes across in the relatively plotless nature of the film, instead detailing the change and development experienced by the handful of teenagers in the class. The way in which they are impacted by the music and their lives change due to them trying to take more control and action – sometimes through the expression of rap itself, one key scene involves young teenager Nouhaila (Nouhaila Arif) pouring out her feelings through her rhymes to her controlling older brother. There’s a brief strand for each of the central figures, depicting their repressive home lives and what their own lyrics are fighting against. These don’t exactly create any form of narrative, although show an individual arc of sorts for each figure, and perhaps because of this there’s an occasionally disjointed nature to the piece with its scene-by-scene nature.

Yet, all comes together in full-class debates and conversations regarding politics and beliefs. Thoughts and opinions flying around the room in extended sequences. While some feel a bit lengthy, the film itself gets out just before it feels like it may go on for a bit too long, there’s still enough interest in what’s being discussed to keep you engaged in the moment. Perhaps the most interesting point is that such conversations are being held in what feels like a fairly family-friendly film (albeit one with a couple of f-bombs). The BBFC 12 rating is certainly justified, but there still feels like a relatively universal (maybe not quite for the younger kids, though) feel to director Nabil Ayouch’s film, and his screenplay co-written with Maryam Touzani, once again bringing about that School Of Rock connection. It helps to further bring to life what the students are facing, and to some extent Anas as he tries to fight against parents perceptions of what he is teaching – and at times the heads of the arts centre he is teaching at.

Things come together to create an interesting and engaging film that works because of the way it focus on the effect of rap on the students over anything else. Showing them opening up and beginning to attempt to take more control of their own lives amidst the restrictions of their families and country’s traditions. While the occasional glimpses into these separate family lives does create something of a slightly disjointed feel to the film there’s still plenty to like, and a slight connection formed with the figures on screen – even if not quite on an individual level. Things move along rather well and you’re generally well-engaged throughout with your interest in the development of the characters, shown in the conversations and debates which they engage in with increasing confidence – moving from the classroom to the streets to the potential of the stage. It works well in its vein, allowing the music and lyrics to speak for themselves and help move things along at the character’s pace, simply adding another layer to the nature of the development.

There’s an interesting nature to the School Of Rock-esque feel of Casablanca Beats, while allowing the rap to move and develop things within the scene-by-scene nature of the occasionally disjointed narrative. Holding your involvement and interest for the most part, particularly when it comes to the growth and change of the central class.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent – Review

Release Date – 22nd April 2022, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 47 minutes, Director – Tom Gormican

Considering retiring from acting Nicolas Cage (Nicolas Cage) is offered a million dollars to attend a wealthy fan’s birthday party, however when Javi (Pedro Pascal) is revealed to be the head of a major cartel Cage is recruited by the CIA to help take him down.

Over the years, after having been made into so many memes, Nicolas Cage has perhaps warped in the eyes of some into a meme himself. It would be so easy for The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent, where the actor plays himself, to be filled with references and jokes to his career, a self-aware film filled with memes, and yet it doesn’t. It almost feels as if the lead could be any actor playing themselves, or an actor playing a fictional actor. Yet, there’s something rather clever about the idea of Nick Cage playing Nick Cage, particularly within this film. Allowing for a celebration of both his career and him simply being him, while managing to provide a couple of gags along the way.

Here we find the fictional version of Cage considering retiring from acting, after a series of bad auditions and readings for parts. This all going against the wishes of a 90s version of himself, loud and highly energetic – donning a Wild At Heart t-shirt and a leather jacket – a figure which screams the famous appearance the actor made on Wogan where he backflipped in and kicked the air. He’s in serious debt to the hotel he’s been staying at and the thing that could make that all go away is the offer of one million dollars to attend the birthday party of a wealthy fan, Javi (Pedro Pascal – having a lot of fun playing a complete ‘silly character’). However, not long after arrival Cage discovers from CIA operatives Vivan (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz) that Javi is the head of a major cartel who have kidnapped the daughter of one of the candidates in the upcoming Catalonian presidential election in the hope of fixing it. Soon he’s recruited by the pair to both get answers and track down Maria (Katrin Vankova).

A series of good performances, particularly Cage who is great as the fictionalised version/s of himself, help to bring about much of the comedy throughout the piece. While slightly prodding at action film conventions there’s generally plenty straying away from such a nature which helps the overall piece along. Allowing it to not feel tired or reliant on both knowing Cage’s career (although also featuring enough for fans of the actor) or a completely self-aware nature. It’s certainly a respectful screenplay for the actor from co-writers Kevin Etten and Tom Gormican – the latter also taking on directing duties – where narrative is put as at much of a core focus as the lead star. While this narrative may feel somewhat crammed into the third act, due to the jokes and scenes of the budding friendship between Nick and Javi – which provides plenty of laughs and chuckles throughout as the core focus of many scenes – what comes before is undeniably entertaining and at least drops some build up to it instead of forcing everything all at once towards the end in the hope of forming some kind of last-minute arc.

Yet, what makes the film click is the way in which it looks at and discusses the central figure of Nicolas Cage. The career which he has had, and will have. He’s cleverly used and cast in the film, with a different actor this would be very different, this has, of course, been tailored to Cage but in such a specific way that still manages to avoid feeling cliché or obvious. It helps to bring you in to the various scenes and moments of this fictionalised version of him, trying to be better while coping with a career breakdown. There’s so much the screenplay could easily dive into and yet it manages to avoid it all by remaining direct with its narrative, the friendship at the centre of the piece, never overinflating Cage or his presence in the film – he is as much a player/ character in this film as everyone else – and making an entertaining piece of work with plenty of laughs throughout. And it works because it looks at Nicolas Cage instead of a potential comedic perception, making it all the better for having done that.

The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent works because it avoids a self-aware feel. Leaning into Nicolas Cage the actor instead of the meme. Cage is great in the leading role with a supporting cast who help bring about many of the laughs. The third act may feel somewhat busy, but there’s still plenty to enjoy throughout, especially within the central friendship.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Operation Mincemeat – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 8 minutes, Director – John Madden

A team of British intelligence officers put together a false identity for a dead corpse with fake documents that they hope will divert the Nazis from their upcoming attack.

Perhaps one of the signs that a film such as Operation Mincemeat is working effectively is when it’s able to conjure up tension even though you know (or can generally presume) how things are going to happen. The Allies won World War II, this story is being told in the first place, you can assume that it succeeds. Yet, as the group are properly preparing their dead body to literally float into enemy hands, looking over the work that they have compiled and poured over the details of for months on end, there’s a sense of worry. What if things don’t go right? What if everything is returned without having been opened or looked at? ‘Everything’ in this case being a series of fake letters and documents written in the hope of distracting the Nazis to Greece instead of remaining in Sicily, where an attack will hopefully be launched.

The group behind this operation, having to meticulously create a false identity, relationship and series of exchanges to seem like the identity claimed to the corpse is real, is racing against the clock, and indeed a group who don’t see much in their plan. Led by Colin Firth’s Ewen Montagu and Matthew Macfadyen’s traditional, stiff-upper-lip Charles Cholmondeley the team behind Operation Mincemeat meet difficulties and obstructions within the fable that they weave. Not just when it comes to their core goal, with the presence of Kelly Macdonald’s Jean Leslie, typist turned key player in the effort, something of a slight love triangle forms between her and the two leads. It’s an idea that never really clicks or takes off the ground, feeling more at home with a selection of third act inclusions, or at least points in the latter half of the piece, where things are introduced with little time for further mention, or development. Feeling present to simply add to the worries and stresses certain characters face, not always properly connecting with the audience.

They stick out in a film that otherwise feels mostly focused on its core narrative of the Operation Mincemeat arc. There are occasional points for an underused Johnny Flynn’s Ian Fleming – whose screen-time largely revolves around the idea of him getting inspirations for his series of spy stories, a successful running gag involves it seeming as if everyone is currently working on a novel of some kind. The ensemble nature of the film, with a handful of British acting stars, does somewhat bring about the feeling of a standard British behind-closed-doors World War II drama, something which is present during a number of moments within the unfolding narrative. It mostly arrives in the second half as various twists and turns are explored late on, and Jason Isaacs Admiral Godfrey begins to play more of a part, although more in discussion than actually being seen.

With such points coming into play at this stage the film begins to show its run-time, although as it begins to come to a close. Perhaps this is pushed by the feeling that it wants to close at a handful of stages, and builds to what feels like an ending, but continues so that the whole story is told, as it needs to be. It forms a slightly jumbled feel to the third act, which while still relatively on track and engaging does carry a fair bit more weight than the rest of the film before it; where much of the references have simply been that, referenced points with not as much emphasis or push until now. Despite this late stage set of additions there’s still enough focus on the main unfolding operation to keep the audience engaged and interested in the way things pan out, particularly for those unaware of the events. It’s a good British war drama that generally keeps its flow throughout and is helped along by a set of good performances from the ensemble cast.

Slightly overstuffed towards the end Operation Mincemeat still keeps focus on its titular operation to keep the viewer engaged and interested within the well-acted events as the unfold over the course of the, slightly lengthy, run-time.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Northman – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 2 hours 17 minutes, Director – Robert Eggers

When his father, the king (Ethan Hawke), is killed by his uncle (Claes Bang) a Viking prince (Alexander Skarsgård) spends years vowing to track down the murderer to exact his revenge.

While it may not be in the horror vein, co-writer (alongside Icelandic novelist and poet Sjón) and director Robert Eggers conjures up just as much terrifying atmosphere within his latest, The Northman, as his two previous features, The Lighthouse and The Witch. It comes in the relentless noise of animalistic rituals, dances and battle cries. The camera crawls towards Alexander Skarsgård’s once-prince Amleth as he stomps and writhes and howls, releasing his inner wolf and the fury that comes with it. Screaming his pain and anger into the fire in front of him, harbouring years of rage towards his uncle (Claes Bang) for having killed his father, the king, (Ethan Hawke) and kidnapped his mother (Nicole Kidman). His stance and viewpoint has changed little since he managed to escape as a child (the younger Amleth played by Oscar Novak). The phrase throughout the trailers “I will avenge you father. I will save you mother. I will kill you Fjölnir” echoes across the film as Amleth tracks down Fjölnir, stowing away as a slave, and preparing to kill him.

As mentioned, the atmosphere flows thick throughout the course of the narrative. There are hints of Eggers’ fantastic debut The Witch when it comes to the lingering threats and tension at play as Amleth plays with his uncles mind, and attacks those in the small Icelandic clan he has formed, in the build up to killing him. Such feelings are mixed in with tones that feel reminiscent of The Revenant when it comes to the brutal attacks. Blood sprays, splutters, spurts and pours across the wet, cold and muddy landscapes showing anything but a clean battle. There’s no denying the gory nature of the film, adding to the intense feel on many occasions, and at times the fear factor that a handful of moments hold. The detail which helps bring you further into the world which Eggers, and his creative team, have so cinematically created. Add to that the roaring sound blared from the cinema speakers and you’re forced into plenty of the moments, up close and right in front of the characters as they attack and below with their vengeful fury.

This isn’t to say that the film is all brutality and shouting. There are plenty of quieter narrative based moments as Amleth builds up his plan, involving the slaves around him; including the young woman he begins to form a relationship with, Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy). On plenty of occasions what brings you in is the tactical execution of some of these plans, executed (sometimes in more ways than one) in the middle of the night while others are distracted. The camera tracks the characters almost like they’re in a spy thriller, yet never detracts from the dark drama that’s at play. One which knows how to use mythology and elements of folklore to progress and deepen the narrative while never allowing it to feel bogged down. Perhaps not led as much as his two previous features by such content there’s still plenty within The Northman to enhance a lingering sense of mysticism about the piece – and not just when relating to the idea of riding to Valhalla.

The night is often separated from the daylight, questioning whether certain elements are dreams or reality. What is a genuine foretelling and what is in Amleth’s mind, it comes in the almost black and white nature of his encounter with a seeress (Björk). The image isn’t completely in black and white, simply drained of colour, adding to the strange, otherworldly nature of the moment that while sticking out from the brutality of what surrounds it works perfectly in progressing the narrative and further heating up the central figure’s burning want for revenge. Aside from perhaps the final stages where the film begins to slightly show its run-time there’s plenty of consistency that keeps you in place for the duration of the film and allows for a work of true cinematic spectacle, that may even improve upon rewatches. Just make sure to see this big and loud, much like the impact of the film, for the true thundering effect that Robert Eggers and his team have conjured up. Perhaps not something of the mainstream, but for it to have been released to mainstream cinemas is just another item on the list for the boldness of The Northman.

Brutal, loud, gory, violent, intense, terrifying, cinematic; there’s plenty to love about the visual and audible atmosphere that runs throughout The Northman. It may slightly begin to show its run-time, but the elements remain intact throughout for an almighty roar of a Viking experience.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Lost City – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 52 minutes, Directors – Aaron Nee, Adam Nee

When she finds herself kidnapped by a billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe), adventure-romance writer Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock), alongside her cover model (Channing Tatum), finds herself exploring an island to find the treasure featured in her most recent book.

There have been plenty of comparisons made between The Lost City and the likes of Romancing The Stone and Jewel Of The Nile. The film certainly occasionally acts as a throwback to such adventure-romance flicks. But, while displaying such throwbacks it doesn’t ever feel stuck in the past. There are plenty of moments, not just when it comes to the tone and style of a handful of gags, that allow it to avoid delving into feeling dated or of another era. Perhaps some of this comes down to the casting of Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum – particularly Tatum playing cover model Alan, a true himbo figure trying to prove himself as a worthy hero to the writer of the adventure-romance novels which he lends his face, and body, to the covers of.

That writer happens to be Bullock’s Loretta Sage. Since the passing of her husband five years prior her workflow has dwindled, and seemingly so has the quality. Her latest book, The Lost City Of D, has been met with lacklustre reviews in terms of both the adventure and the adventure shared between the two central figures throughout the novel. However, the book has captured the attention of billionaire Abigail Fairfax (Daniel Radcliffe) who has located the lost city and believes that Sage can help him to find the treasure at the centre of the novel, the crown of fire, based on the expertise she has shown from having written so much about it. Therefore Bullock, with Tatum attempting to come to the rescue, finds herself stranded on a strange island with little clue of how to escape; being forced to go on an adventure much like the ones she has written about for years – just without the “pages of coital reverie”.

The casting of Radcliffe as the traditional British villain certainly feels intentional and he definitely appears to understand the character and what the film wants him to be – his baffled delivery of the line “why are things exploding?” is one of the highlights of the film. Throw in a publicist (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) doing everything she can to reach her friend to get her back on track with her book tour and you have a handful of traditional figures for this kind of film. It appears that the writing team for The Lost City are very aware of this and have tried to craft something within a more traditional vein, again with some more modern jokes and references for the cast to deliver – helped by the various points of action which mix both slight parody, mostly in the form of Brad Pitt’s brief screen-time, and simple comedic action. A cast who all seem to be having fun making this film. And while the fun doesn’t always entirely come across it does help to lift the tone in a number of scenes and gives the film an overall breezier feel. While there may be some slight jumping from perspectives with characters in different places there’s not quite a sketch feel to the film, or one that’s overall too jumpy and constantly flicking back and forth, avoiding little time being given to follow what’s happening at one point or another.

Overall, there’s plenty to like throughout The Lost City, helping push it along and keep you engaged throughout the run-time. Although, perhaps the moments that work best are those simply allowing Bullock, Tatum and Radcliffe to have a good time in the flow of the adventure-chase narrative. Almost as soon as the villain appears on screen and takes the acclaimed author to the titular lost city on his private jet you know what you’re in for, and luckily the film keeps a consistent style and tone. Maintaining a slight throwback style while avoiding a dated feel there’s plenty to amuse and enjoy within the traditional arc that the film travels across. Perhaps not as thrilling as the supposed Lovemore and Dash adventures are made out to be in Sage’s books, but still entertaining nonetheless.

The cast of The Lost City are clearly having fun in the breezy flow of this adventure-romance, heightening the amusement factor to be found within the slightly updated comedic action and adventure notes.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

PIFF 2022: A Beautiful Curse – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 32 minutes, Director – Martin Garde Abildgaard

Photographer Samuel (Mark Strepan) arrives on a mysterious island where everyone appears to be asleep, striking up a relationship with Stella (Olivia Vinall), the only person who seems to be awake and not monitoring those who are asleep.

There are plenty of questions raised throughout the short 92 minute course of A Beautiful Curse. Some are answered, but many are left with an ambiguous response, or almost nothing at all, at the end of the film. While some feel as if they do need an answer, particularly after having built up so much in the first half, there’s no denying the weird sense of mystery they create within the piece. As photographer Samuel (Mark Strepan) arrives on an island where time appears to have stopped, with everyone having fallen asleep where they stood or sat at that very moment, sirens blare with announcements that anyone still awake should leave immediately, and report to relevant authorities. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be any relevant authorities, aside from the menacing sight of those wearing hazmat suits, inspecting the tags around those who are asleep. They appear to be the only other people who are awake, until Samuel meets Stella (Olivia Vinall); a young woman around his age who he begins to strike up a relationship with, as they both try to survive and avoid the sleep curse that has plagued the rest of the island.

While containing a number of themes and elements which could so easily lean into the horror genre writer-director Martin Garde Abildgaard seems to lean away from such a feeling, instead focusing on the mystery and the questions that are raised. Even as he begins to shift away from the idea of the sleep curse and focuses on the growing relationship between Samuel and Stella there are a handful of questions raised, especially as the narrative appears to begin to jump back and forth in time. An element which, admittedly, does begin to get a bit much in the second half, but certainly manages to intensify the feeling of wondering what is real and what’s perhaps in the character’s minds.

You’re brought in through the conversations that they have, getting to know each other and exploring their strange surroundings – and, indeed, why they’re both present and still awake, to some extent. Strepan and Vinall give good performances which help to keep you engaged in the film particularly as it reaches some of its, perhaps, stranger moments which are generally pulled off thanks to the build up which has occurred beforehand. While the build up may sometimes switch and conflict focus depending on the state of the characters at that particular time, mostly in terms of the sleep curse and their relationship in either half of the narrative, it still manages to create that important sense of intriguing mystery which runs throughout most of the piece and often acts as the biggest hook of your interest and engagement.

The film seems to know this and plays around with just that in the way that it structures itself. The way it starts to potentially jump back and forth in time and still evolves the relationship between the two central figures. How they interact and behave around each other, and things change hinting at just how much might be real and how much may be imagined. Avoiding a horror feeling it simply creates that engaging sense of mystery which is largely carried throughout, even as the narrative slightly structures itself around you. While not every question is answered, perhaps one or two too many, that appears to be the intention and generally it works over the course of A Beautiful Curse which weaves an interesting, weird mystery into its setting and relationship.

While it may leave a handful too many questions open, the mystery within the relationship and sleep curse lines, switching focus between each half, holds your interest and generally keeps you engaged amongst the generally effectively unexplained weirdness of the setting.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

PIFF 2022: A Machine To Live In – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 29 minutes, Directors – Yoni Goldstein, Meredith Zielke

Documentary looking at the futuristic design and architecture of Brasília, the capital of Brazil, and the cult-like and alien links and beliefs tied to it.

As Yoni Goldstein and Meredith Zielke’s observant camera pans around the city of Brasília it demonstrates a view of the future trapped in the past. Towering buildings of varying shapes and designs seemingly plucked from a dystopian sci-fi flick of years gone by, Blade Runner certainly comes to mind at times, with occasional hints of The Jetsons. It’s a film that pitches itself for the big screen, a format which would likely allow the buildings and landmarks of the Brazilian capital to speak louder. Echoing the repeated thought that “Brasília wasn’t born, it was projected into being”. A view and projection of the future, seemingly abandoned and eventually grown by itself and the thoughts which kickstarted the process.

In relation to this the film’s second half, after much observing of the city and the views of those in and around it, takes a look at the cult-like and alien beliefs surrounding the architecture. Rituals relating to ultra-terrestrials and their influence from and over Brasília. As this strand is developed it certainly seems to detract from the overall view of the “boundary” making architecture and even the thought that “Brasília, for people who know how to look at her, is haunted”. Instead, the short 89 minute run-time of the piece begins to feel quite lengthy as it seems to explore something very different to what it started out looking into and focusing on. A slow feel is created and it does begin to create a sense of dissociation with the piece as a whole.

It’s also perhaps where the film itself is most restless. With much of it spent with little narrative, the film feels as if it silently and often immediately jumps from moment to moment, observance to observance with little warning. Often moving to something new even before you’ve properly managed to settle in to the most recent point beforehand. It perhaps explains why the most interesting and engaging stuff is that which looks at people’s personal views of the city, what it means to them and what they think of it, if anything.

Much of this is featured in the relatively successful first half of the film, featuring plenty of establishing long shots to truly get across the other-worldly nature of the city. It’s where the film seems more certain of itself and what it’s trying to show and describe, over the events of the second half where the themes feel less controllable as the depart from the initial focus into something slightly odder, and yet not quite bordering on the idea of this being something wholly experimental. It may not always be the most consistent film, and certainly it takes some time to understand and get used to amongst the various different points that it makes and silently observes, but there’s at least still some interesting elements within the way in which Brasília is made to look and feel, and how people react to it, that slightly engages you for enough of the run-time to make for generally interesting, if slightly odd, viewing.

There’s certainly a strong other-worldly feel within the initial city focus of A Machine To Live In. While it might be moved on from in the less-controlled second half there’s still enough initial interest in Brasília, and those within it, to move this occasionally odd, for better and worse, documentary along.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 22 minutes, Director – David Yates

With Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen) now free, with a growing legion of followers, and attempting to take supreme power over the wizarding world, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) enlists the help of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and co. to stop him from launching a war on the muggle world.

It’s been said by many that Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore, the third in the Wizarding World prequel series, could be the film that solidifies the fate and future of the franchise. Up until this point the previous two entries have been somewhat underwhelming (including somewhat when it came to the previous entry’s box office performance), although they do have their fans, providing little development; previous instalment The Crimes Of Grindelwald ending in very much the same place we arrived at the start of the first film. While this third entry does continue the idea that this franchise is two, maybe three, films stretched into a planned five there is at least some slight development across it and something more of a narrative arc gradually formed throughout – even if we do arrive at the inevitable dead-ends and circling again.

With Grindelwald (now taking the form of Mads Mikkelsen) now free his followers grow, putting him in good stead to seize the upcoming election which could give him supreme power over the wizarding world, being able to launch war on the muggles. While he can’t do anything himself in attacking and effectively taking down Grindelwald, due to a blood-bound spell, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law – who truly rocks his character’s hat, and occasionally coat, and beard) enlists the help of returning Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). Alongside Newt are returning faces such as ministry-working-brother Theseus (Callum Turner), Professor Eulalie Hicks (Jessica Williams – who brings a welcome deal of charm to her few scenes), muggle Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) and more – a number of whom feel like new faces due to the faded memory of the previous films, an event which may happen again due to the little screen-time such figures get here.

In many ways The Secrets Of Dumbledore plays out like the previous two films, although sending its various characters in different directions of different locations in order to confuse the future-seeing villain. The narrative certainly feels somewhat stretched with a handful of tangents and extended sequences that don’t overly have a great deal of effect. This being said there certainly feels to be less sequences of could-be-silent ‘action’ dotted here and there. Dialogue appears to play more of a part within this film and the course that it takes, mostly coming into effect and prominence in the second half once the elements have been properly built up towards – it certainly makes for a third act that flows rather well with the progression that it displays compared to the rest of the story. Perhaps this is down to the fact that J.K. Rowling, who penned the previous two films alone, is joined on this screenplay by Steve Kloves – who wrote the screenplay for each of the Harry Potter adaptations, excluding Order Of The Phoenix. Pushing the dialogue forward, particularly as the film goes on, and simply adding that built more detail to the narrative.

The narrative as a whole doesn’t completely develop much, neither do many of the elements, but at least it feels as if something happens within this film. Those elements may not have much to do with the alleged secrets of Dumbledore, Albus or – as we learned at the end of the previous film – Aurelius (AKA Credence Barebone, AKA Ezra Miller), or even Aberforth (Richard Coyle), but they at least allow for a brief, singular arc for this film to unfold, particularly in the later stages where some of the best content lies, because of the feeling of flow that’s introduced. Otherwise, it is the titular beasts that somewhat steal the show. They offer brief moments of silliness – particularly an extended moment involving mimicking, scorpion-like creatures – that stick out from the sometimes lacklustre drama that the rest of the piece attempts to conjure.

There’s a mixed bag within The Secrets Of Dumbledore. Three films in to this series and there still feels like little overall development, but at least within this particular outing there’s something of a slight arc, particularly coming into effect in the engaging flow and movement of the third act. It perhaps comes down to the more present dialogue that puts into effect the unfolding set of situations, and the Grindelwald-based one that’s most core to the film, or at least seems to be. It may still suffer from the slowness and tangents of the previous two films, but at least there’s still something relatively serviceable and watchable before the more entertaining bursts and strand leading up to this latest non-bookending.

Certainly displaying more of an individual arc than before, Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets Of Dumbledore still has the extended tangents that have lengthened this series so far, but is slightly lifted by the more dialogue-led nature which helps form the effectively engaging flow of the third act after another slightly middling outing.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Sonic The Hedgehog 2 – Review

Cert – PG, Run-time – 2 hours 2 minutes, Director – Jeff Fowler

When Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) returns to Earth, with newfound ally Knuckles (Idris Elba), Sonic (Ben Schwartz) must learn to team-up with fan Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey) to defeat the pair before his powers are stolen.

Back in the early stages of 2020 I gave the then recently-released Sonic The Hedgehog one star. Since then I’ve thought back to this review and consistently thought that I was too harsh on the film, at least in terms of the star rating. Having revisited it the night before watching the sequel I believe that while I’m not on board with the film it’s certainly not a one star affair. However, whilst watching Sonic The Hedgehog 2 there were times when my mind began to wonder whether I was right the first time around. Perhaps there was an unconscious cynical layer within that line of thought that simply wanted to have been ‘right’ instead of accepting a changing opinion or viewpoint. Yet, as the film progressed while, for me, it contained many of the same flaws as the first it eventually feels like something of an improvement.

We re-meet Sonic (Ben Schwartz) living a calm life in the small town of Green Hills, having settled in with police officer Tom (James Marsden) and wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). However, when Dr. “Eggman” Robotnik “Jim Carrey) returns from the distant reaches of The Mushroom Planet, with super-punch echidna ally Knuckles (Idris Elba – who appears to frequently switch between British and American accents mid-sentence), the titular hedgehog finally has an, albeit seemingly impossible, way to prove himself as the hero he wants to be. Teaming up with fan Tails (Colleen O’Shaughnessey), who has been observing Sonic’s actions from some time, the pair need to find the all-power-giving Master Emerald before their rivals do, both wanting to destroy Sonic and, in the case of Robotnik, take his power.

It’s through this line that we begin to get three different strands running through the film, also viewing Tom and Maddie in Hawaii at the wedding of her sister (Natasha Rothwell) – still not a fan of Tom. With so much going on the film feels slight busy, yet it’s perhaps testament that the lengthy looking – at least for a film like this – two hour run-time isn’t really felt. The gags as a whole may not take off, many relying on having seen the first film or simply coming across as quite laboured and predictable, but the more the film goes on the less trying it becomes. Yes, the fact that characters narrate pretty much everything that is happening or has happened instead of allowing the film to just show events and have the audience simply understand from that is still present (alongside Sonic occasionally coming across as a non-fourth-wall-breaking, child-friendly Deadpool figure – the words “if I die don’t look in my closet” don’t quite feel right coming from him). Yes, there are some slightly outdated instances – Jim Carrey’s Eggman flosses, Carrey, the highlight of the first film, doesn’t quite seem as manic here and gives a slightly hammier performance. Yes, there’s a slightly odd dance battle set to Uptown Funk, after some pretty cool Russian dancing. But, as such elements die down in the build-up to the third act there’s a better flow to the film as a whole that’s easier to get on with.

During more action-based sequences where dialogue feels less key to what’s unfolding on screen, and not everything is pointed out, the film properly begins to feel as if it’s coming off the ground and picking up pace. Again, the third act contains some of the best stuff in the film, but unfortunately the big final battle comes into play a bit too late to properly turn things around. But, it does mean that the film as a whole does leave off on a good(ish), if slightly obvious, note, and perhaps creates some hope for the inevitable third film. Generally, while still somewhat flawed throughout, some of the issues with Sonic The Hedgehog 2 are shed throughout to create a slightly more even, less trying piece of work that while certainly not great appears to gradually find its strengths and footing in its more planned-through sequences.

An improvement on the first film, but still not great, Sonic The Hedgehog 2 has many of the same flaws that occasionally make for slightly tedious exchanges. However, when focusing on action, particularly in the third act, the flaws begin to shed to create something gradually more bearable, and even engaging.

Rating: 2 out of 5.