Lost At Christmas – Review

Release Date – 4th December 2020, Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 41 minutes, Director – Ryan Hendrick

Two strangers (Natalie Clark, Kenny Boyle), after breaking up in their relationships on Christmas Eve, find themselves stranded, miles away from home, in the Scottish Highlands.

There’s a point in Lost At Christmas where Frazer Hines’ character describes himself and Sylvester McCoy’s as “two rowdy old b*ggers, giving it loudly until we kick the bucket dancing”. They spend their Christmas sipping glass after glass of whiskey in the warmth of a hotel bar in a small town in the Scottish Highlands. This seems like almost luxury compared to the situation that Jen (Natalie Clark) and Rob (Kenny Boyle) find themselves. Not only have they found themselves spending Christmas alone – Jen has found out that her boyfriend is married, while Rob’s proposal to his partner is publicly rejected, not for the first time – but the two are stranded in the thickening snow of the mountainous Highlands. It’s Christmas Eve, in the middle of the afternoon, the snow has stopped all transport, which means they can’t both get back to Glasgow, and so somehow they set-off together in the hope of getting home for Christmas, even if they will be spending it alone.

With Jen’s belief that all men are “b*stards”, and Rob getting increasingly frustrated at her otherwise festive attitude – she dons an elf costume and multiple Christmas themed bags for a lot of their journey, quoting various Christmas songs; after all ’tis the season – the pair clash to say the least. Based on director and co-writer (with Clare Sheppard) Ryan Hendrick’s 2015 short film Perfect Strangers, apparently the initial title for the feature adaptation, the film travels along lines suggested by this title. You can roughly tell where this relationship is going to go, however for a number of scenes there’s a feeling that the film is aware of its clichés, even if this feeling does seem to fade away as it goes along.

They find themselves in a small, almost deserted hotel in the middle of nowhere, and in the opposite direction to which they need to go. Aside from the stressed-out manager (Sanjeev Kohli), the regulars (McCoy and Hines) everyone appears to be present to simply escape the festive season – to the dismay of Jen. We get to know one or two of these characters as the two leads interact with each one over an extended period of time. It’s in the bar/ restaurant area of the hotel where we seem to spend most of the film’s run-time, it’s also where most of the run-time is built up. Through the various interactions, the delays in the main conversation and each event a lot almost seems to be present to push the film beyond the 90 minute mark. It slows the pacing and while not everything is unwatchable or bland it certainly doesn’t all quite click as well as the film does beforehand.

When it comes to the chuckles that this Christmas rom-com produces there aren’t a great deal, one or two mild exhales of amusement throughout – one particularly at the sound of an entire crowd roaring with laughter when a taxi company is told that Jen and Rob want to get to Glasgow on Christmas Eve. But, the film certainly isn’t bad for the most part. The supporting cast, particularly Hines, McCoy and Kholi, help to bring in some of the amusement and push the piece along a bit – even if some exchanges seem to be a bit too long, and there simply to add a sense of people coming together at Christmas. It’s this that appears to push the length of the film a bit more. Much like the two central figures have to start with this is a bit of a stagger, there are moments and it’s certainly something you can appreciate, and for the most part it’s pretty good, however there are moments where the film feels slightly lost and a bit too long that hold it back – particularly towards the end – from being truly enjoyable.

There are plenty of good moments within Lost At Christmas, and it’s not really a bad film, it’ll likely find an audience. However, its flaws do show, including its run-time and extended ideas and scenes, particularly around the film’s midpoint.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Safe Spaces – Review

Release Date – 7th December 2020, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Daniel Schechter

A college professor (Justin Long) finds himself defending his comments in class that have made a student uncomfortable, while also looking after his deeply ill grandmother (Lynn Cohen) in hospital with his chaotic family.

On its initial release last year in the US writer-director Daniel Schechter’s Safe Spaces was called After Class. While the film follows college professor Josh (Justin Long) and initially revolves around controversial comments he makes in a scriptwriting class about a student’s sexual experience after a date that make another student feel uncomfortable, it quickly explores the other aspects of his life. Josh’s grandmother (Lynn Cohen) is in hospital and it seems that things aren’t going well, most of his distanced family have arrived and are making things even more chaotic.

His sister, Jackie (Kate Berlant) has arrived and made herself at home in his flat, with him and his partner – although the relationship seems to be for different things depending on who you look at. His relationship with his father (Richard Schiff) is possibly the most distant. He barely associates with the rest of his family, not even telling his son from his second marriage, Ben (Tyler Wladis) – who, for some reason, gets angry at even the thought of Josh’s existence – that he has brothers and a sister.

Things simply don’t go well for Josh throughout the film. The general plot is a series of worsening situations for the main character. His work-life is almost forgotten at a number of points, despite being the catalyst and perhaps the main thought that the film wants to dwell on, there are so many other elements that are brought in and seemingly made worse over the course of the film that it almost begins to feel too busy. The humour that the film once held, even if not always succeeding in raising a laugh, begins to fade away as the drama takes centre stage, or simply the laughs are also forgotten about, and the film tries to get in as close to 90 minutes as possible.

As the film develops and things possibly couldn’t get any worse for the protagonist – who does struggle to simply apologise for his inappropriate comments, causing further trouble for himself when students refuse to turn up to class in protest – territory of near sympathy begins to be strayed near to. As certain comments are thrown around – especially by two particular students who claim that they’re going to start a petition to say Josh did nothing wrong – the film risks straying into, and points this out, ‘the woes of the persecuted straight, white, cis male’. However, the film borders on this, just about avoiding being a full-on sympathy piece for someone who is rather in the wrong, and knows it, but just doesn’t apologise and instead insists on defending himself in all situations of life.

Everything combines to simply create something that’s a rush to resolve, and with the humour having gone early on it does highlight how crowded the plot is. The film passes well enough and it’s a perfectly fine watch, however when it borders on certain types of sympathy – particularly towards some of Josh’s, to put it lightly, more controversial comments and actions – it does begin to further highlight its own flaws. There are a number of issues within this busy film, however there are some moments that work and hit the mark fairly well along the short course of this ‘dramedy’ – heavily focusing on the drama after pushing most of the comedic elements aside.

Much like the family at the centre of it Safe Spaces is rather busy and a bit chaotic, and the college elements certainly aren’t the main focus. However, there are some watchable moments throughout that collect to make this a decent enough, if rather average, viewing.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A Christmas Carol – Review

Release Date – 4th December 2020, Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 36 minutes, Directors – Jacqui Morris, David Morris

A dance-based retelling of A Christmas Carol with recorded dialogue reading Dickens’ words.

Not even 2020 is able to stop another version of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol from making it to the big screen. However, this take from sibling directors Jacqui and David Morris puts a slightly different spin on things. Telling the story mostly through dance, with voiceovers reciting the lines of Dickens’ text to what is happening on screen at the time. Much of the action occurs in and around a cardboard-looking set in the middle of the stage. Functioning as the various different locations throughout the story – one which never tries to be a new version of the classic Christmas tale, it knowingly travels along its lines as a retelling. The camera capturing shots and ideas beyond a standard theatre recording – there’s certainly a cinematic element to the film and the way it’s shot.

We open with a group of Victorian children creating an actual model theatre/ set in their living room. The family arrive to sit around it as Grandma (Siân Phillips) begins to tell the tale of Scrooge, acting as the main narrator throughout the piece. The theatre opens up into a proper theatre of the mind as the dancers begin to bustle around the busy streets of London, while Scrooge takes his money from the poor, humbugging the festivities outside. Michael Nunn takes the form of Scrooge on screen, while Simon Russell Beale – who so wonderfully played evil in The Death Of Stalin – is on voicing duties.

As Ebenezer is visited by the four spirits that will hopefully turn him into a better person one of the biggest issues with a number of Christmas Carol adaptations arrives. It’s sometimes difficult to show the gradual development of Scrooge, he often seems to change instantly at some point in the film – even The Muppet Christmas Carol has this issue. One of history’s biggest misers in this instance appears to show a more emotional, less cynical, side during his interaction with the restlessly twisting figure of deceased business partner Jacob Marley (Russell Maliphant – with the gravelly rumble of Andy Serkis).

Many of these earlier scenes are flooded in icy blue hues, showing the coldness of Scrooge’s heart. This is the same style – making elements in frame appear almost white – in which we see the lonely, isolated and homeless throughout the film – although such elements are briefly looked at and feel as if they could have a slight bit more done with them. Meanwhile a light orange fills the moments aiming for warmth, particularly when looking into the home life of Scrooge’s struggling employee Bob Cratchit (Karl Fagerland Brekke/ Martin Freeman) and his family.

The film travels along its lines relatively pleasantly, the visuals are certainly interesting at times. And while the feeling that this would be better witnessed performed live on the stage – mostly down to the highly theatrical feeling, even the voice performances have an air of theatricality to them. The piece certainly works on the screen, but it feels as if it would be better seen unfolding on a stage, even if the camera weaves in and out of the various actions in a way that theatre can’t do.

Highlights, as usual, arrive at the joyful presence of The Ghost Of Christmas Present (Mikey Boats/ an ingeniously cast Daniel Kaluuya). His humour and heart is felt, as we slowly see various different households celebrating the Christmas Day to come – the film certainly takes its time to dwell on each instance, trying to explore various details and keep track of different characters and their whereabouts. Admittedly things mostly slow down just after the hour mark – as the second spirit is finishing his message – much of the film seems to be so dominated by the dialogue that tells the story that the dance and general visual flair can’t quite take centre stage and so it doesn’t break out as much as it perhaps wants to. It does mean that this particular feature does stick to Dickens more than most even if not quite with the darkness – this is a mostly family-friendly watch. While there are some elements that seem to not quite clash, but hold the film back a bit there’s still a fair deal to like about this particular take on A Christmas Carol. It’s something different and there’s interest in that, and its traditional yet unique theatricality often serves as enough to stop it from delving into anything particularly uninteresting.

While it does feel as if the dance wants to shine more the theatricality of this retelling of A Christmas Carol does provide enough interest and style to keep you in place for the majority of the run-time. Even during some of the slower points when the film wants to take time to dwell on multiple successive points.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hillbilly Elegy – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 55 minutes, Director – Ron Howard

A hopeful Yale law student (Gabriel Basso) finds himself revisiting his childhood when his mother (Amy Adams) is in hospital from a heroin overdose.

Many have referred to Hillbilly Elegy, Ron Howard’s adaptation of J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir, as a bootstrap tale. Yet, the film seems more like something set after the peak of the bootstraps has been stood atop of. The subtitle for the novel is A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis and Howard’s film attempts to capture this, well, the family element at least. At one point Glenn Close’s crotchety grandma – called Mamaw – snaps “family’s the only thing in this world worth a god damn”, the tone of the film, if not already laid out clearly enough by this point, easily established. Or at least this is the tone it’s possibly trying to go for. Because, throughout Hillbilly Elegy the crisis is the fact that almost every character is unlikable. You rarely feel sympathy for them as they lash out and argue with each other for almost two hours.

The film is a series of tearful monologues trying to get other characters to think about themselves before descending into a random argument that contains a line such as “if you’ve got a problem with that then you can talk to the barrel of my gun” just so a character can storm of in rage so the scene can end. The screenplay truly isn’t best. And unfortunately the performances, try as they might, can’t quite help make anything emotionally engaging of this slow, fist-shaking rage. Perhaps cheek-slapping is the better term to use, after all the characters seem to believe that a quick palm-to-face interaction will solve all of life’s problems.

J.D. (Gabriel Basso) finds himself distanced from his family in 2011, called back home to Ohio the day before an early interview that could get him into Yale Law School. However, his mother (Amy Adams) is in hospital after suffering a heroin overdose, his sister (Haley Bennett) unable to look after her due to having a busy family, and having to work. As he drives through his former home of Middletown there’s a clear contrast to what seems to be the rest of the world. He travels under a bridge from well-dressed suburban life to what’s made to seem like a shabby run-down town. Everyone hangs around on street corners looking miserable, houses looking like they’ve been repaired multiple times. It’s an almost cynical view just to say that he’s distanced himself from his family, having progressed further than any of them have – as if his university life makes him superior to any of them. Cue multiple, sometimes randomly started, flashbacks to his past where we get subjected to the multiple fights and outbursts.

Alongside this we also witness many odd metaphorical points that are apparently meant to mean something. One of the most referred to examples being when Close’s character is watching Terminator 2 with her grandson (Owen Asztalos plays the young J.D. – who often is no better than the grown up version) and begins stating that there are three types of people in the world “good Terminator, bad Terminator and neutral” – it’s the type of thought parodied in a certain speech scene in Team America: World Police, but feels more like Taika Waititi’s ‘Two Doors’ monologue in Hunt For The Wilderpeople. Although the film has much less humour than this. While attempting to at times be light and humorous, or at least that seems to be the aim, it never lands and simply makes the finished product seem even more uneven and unsure as to what it wants to be (aside from Oscar bait – and it may not even work in that respect either, despite some claiming that voters might just fall for this it simply feels to weak and all over the place to be in contention). There are points where the tone and feel border on that of a fake film within another feature, where the joke is that its cheesy, cliché and not best.

The finished piece ends up, instead of being something of a crisis and struggle between a family to communicate, as a story of a distanced family. Not distanced by class, background or where the paths of their lives have taken them, but simply by the years of abuse and arguing that they have put each other through. It’s a slow watch, even more so because there’s barely a redeemable trait within anyone present – perhaps J.D.’s present-for-convenience girlfriend Usha (Freida Pinto) causes no offence, simply there to make J.D. looking like an even more agitated figure. Thing’s don’t quite come together in the right way. Simply they mesh together in some untidy clump to make for an uneven, unenjoyable and unsure look at a family and its carious issues. Wanting to gaze at various different points but jumping back and forth too often to properly look into each one the film is almost as dysfunctional and distanced as the family at its centre.

Not even Close and Adams can give performances that can prevent how unlikeable the characters in Hillbilly Elegy are. Add to that a screenplay that randomly jumps back and forth and some clunky messages and monologues, this is certainly a family stuck firmly in a constant strand of tearful argument based crisis.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

LFF 2020: Possessor – Review

Release Date – 27th November 2020, Cert – 18, Run-time – 1 hour 43 minutes, Director – Brandon Cronenberg

Tasya (Andrea Riseborough) works for a group that inserts her consciousness into the bodies of unsuspecting people, controlling them to assassinate rich targets, however one specific victim (Christopher Abbott) begins to fight back.

As many are likely to, and already have, point out; Possessor is a Cronenberg film through and through. Style has clearly been passed on with the tone and feel of this bloody sci-fi horror. And yet Brandon Cronenberg has his own distinct tone of lingering inflictions and internal battles of characters throughout this crimson-soaked feature – striking a tone that can possibly be best described as future-gothic.

Throughout we follow Tasya (Andrea Riseborough – who after 2018’s Mandy seems to enjoy being a part of the year’s maddest, bloodiest features), an assassin for an organisation who injects her consciousness into the bodies of unsuspecting victims to kill wealthy figures, while the person it looks like did the killing turns the gun on themselves as Tasya is pulled to safety. This is all until one particular job starts to go wrong. Tasya is placed into the body of Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), a figure with too many stresses and worries to be able to be controlled by someone else. His mind begins to push Tasya aside, having consequences on her mind and body – stuck inside a machine that helps link her to Colin. She’s sent to kill the cruel industry-figurehead father (Sean Bean) of his fiancée, Ava (Tuppence Middleton).

Bean’s industry figurehead John Parse may just be the definition of the traditional sneering classic villain, just with a Brandon Cronenberg spin. He truly puts the filthy into filthy rich. Disapproving of the man his daughter is spending her time with, running workplaces that – assisted by the dark hues of Karim Hussain’s cinematography – are made to seem almost like conditions of uniform slavery. He’s a cruel and heartless figure, doing everything he can to bring Colin down and get him away from his daughter as quickly as possible – even if that does mean torment. Colin’s hatred for John is too strong to be controlled by Riseborough’s exasperated professional – who is initially reluctant to take this job on after struggling to turn the gun towards the end of a previous hit. With Tate taking control of his body throughout the film – various images of bodies and minds melting into each other take place as this happens – there are mental impacts on both central figures, examined throughout by Cronenberg as both minds become increasingly tired, not to mention scared and uncertain.

While death is a main target for the piece it certainly doesn’t fill the film. However, when it does come about Cronenberg certainly doesn’t hold back. He lingers and pushes into each brutal attack on the senses. Not only do your eyes fill with increasingly dark shades of crimson, your ears are filled with all kinds of crunches, snaps, high-pitched nerve breakings and screams of pain – not to mention your own yelps and gasps of fear and shock at what you see on-screen. All while the film ever quite touches on the idea of being sadistic, or taking any form of joy in itself from the painful sound and images of the relentless murders. It’s not quite there in those moments to be enjoyed, although the surroundings are certainly some form of other-worldly escape, although certainly not one you’d wish to exist in the real-world.

And this feeling comes from the delve into the mentality and mindsets of the two central characters. They are certainly imperfect, they know that and that tires them out; but because of the imperfections and hassle of the other person making them have to come to terms with their personal flaws. The constant battle throughout a large proportion of the 103 minute run-time has clear-set consequences – one or two are somewhat predictable; especially towards the latter stages of the piece – and you don’t quite know what type of ending Cronenberg is running towards. The pacing of the film certainly speeds up as he begins to sprint towards his conclusion yet the question that’s always in the air is is there actually a positive outcome here? It seems unlikely, you begin to feel that the only way the two personalities will be truly joint and untied is by both meeting a fate similar to Sam Lowry.

As Cronenberg travels along his rattling rails – the marks of many people who were clearly never untied from them splattered across it – his plan gradually becomes clearer. This is not a film simply there for gross-out shocks and blood-drenched cameras. This is a feud between two minds. Who is really in control of whose mind? To be cliché and use the film’s title; ‘Who is the real Possessor?’ And yet, the existential questions are never quite posed to the audience, and they never fully ask them throughout. They simply witness a dystopia of the mind as both Tasya and Colin battle for control, a somewhat shared goal, but for different aims – thus causing a civil war of sorts. There are interesting developments and ideas throughout the film, some clearly passed down, or rather influenced, from father to son.

The film travels across its path, never branching into sadism, but simply positioning the right elements for truly brutal sharp turns as the rage rises and energy declines for a pair who act as both the protagonists and antagonists – while Bean, in a number of instances, truly steals the show with his most brutal, just wait, of baddies. But, most of all, it’s simply a well made piece of sci-fi horror cinema that we rarely see nowadays. Perhaps an ode to Dad’s work, or a legacy continued. Either way, this modern spin is certainly something that if continued will lead to another strong, long-lasting name in the bloodiest corner of cult cinema.

An interesting battle between two different minds, leading to pain and exasperation for multiple parties, this is something that while successfully painful in terms of its gore is a fairly well told story of an internal, mental struggle for mental power.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

LFF 2020: I Am Samuel – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – TBC, Run-time – 1 hour 10 minutes, Director – Peter Murimi

A gay Kenyan man worries about opening up about his relationship to his parents for fear of their response and the reaction of the rest of society.

You have to admire the bravery to make a film like I Am Samuel. Following a gay couple in Kenya – where visible acts of homosexuality can lead to up to 14 years imprisonment, or simply being attacked and beaten in the streets – as they try to avoid stigma and discrimination for who they are. Throughout the film, which was shot over the course of five years, we follow Samuel and Alex, two almost inseparable friends who clearly have a deep love for each other. Yet, there’s fear in each of them at the consequences of what might happen to them if they properly open up about their relationship to anyone outside of their friendship group. Samuel himself worries about telling his highly traditional farm-living parents, particularly his father, that Alex is more than just a friend to him for fear of being disowned and beaten out of their small, deeply religious, village.

Yet, the film takes more time to look at the positives of the central relationship, how happy the pair are when they’re together. It makes for a rather harmless journey, but still with some interesting and engaging points. We see the two, alongside various friends, party in the safety of their flat as they celebrate their love and each other, discussing their relationships, identities and wishes for the future. All filling up a fair chunk of the short, at only 70 minutes, run-time that the piece holds.

There are points where it feels as if director Peter Murimi wants to take a look at darker territory. At one point a flatmate of Samuel’s is attacked in the street, being believed to be gay, which causes him to panic that he will receive similar treatment. Throughout there are hints of such elements, and the film appears to want to show them in more depth, however it seems comfortable focusing on the central relationship rather than the response to homosexuality in Kenya, filled with many severe punishments, far worse than almost 15 years in prison. However, the film strays away from majorly exploring such topics, knowing its focus and staying relatively the same throughout.

For the viewer it’s mostly harmless, although there is seriousness to a number of the scenes and instances. The film itself passes by and you do feel for the characters on a number of occasions, especially Samuel when it comes to his parents and their response to his relationship – at one point stating “they might know the truth, but they are willing to believe the lie”. The viewer, like Samuel, is never fully sure. There’s emotion to be found within such ideas, as they linger throughout the film and are dwelled upon at various intervals. You do begin to want it to go a bit deeper or explore some other elements. It does feel safe at times, despite the bravery that clearly had to be present while making the film. It knows what it can do within its limitations, and what it’s comfortable doing, and does that. And for that it’s a decent enough, and undeniably short, watch that has some interesting points to look at.

A fair deal of bravery has clearly gone into the making of I Am Samuel, and it’s clearly even more of a personal piece for all involved. It often feels rather calm and harmless, as if it wants to show some darker elements, but for what it does it’s a decent look into the hopes and worries of those in the core relationship.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Craft: Legacy – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 34 minutes, Director – Zoe Lister-Jones

Four aspiring witches (Cailee Spaeny, Zoey Luna, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone) discover the consequences of their newly increased powers after manipulating someone in their school.

You’d be forgiven, from the posters and trailers, for thinking that The Craft: Legacy – the sort of sequel-reboot of 1996’s The Craft, courtesy of Blumhouse – was a full-on horror film. It’s dealings with witchcraft, manipulation and general dark and mystical themes would give this impression. However, sitting down to watch it it’s quite a pleasant surprise to discover that this isn’t really a horror film at all. It certainly has some themes of the genre, but more than anything else this is a teen movie about a group of friends, who just happen to be witches.

Lily (Cailee Spaeny) finds herself moving in with her Mum’s (Michelle Monaghan) partner, Adam (David Duchovny), and his three sons. It’s not long until she starts at school, and after a series of events including being mocked in class for a sudden heavy flow period she finds herself making friends with Lourdes (Zoey Luna), Tabby (Lovie Simone) and Frankie (Gideon Adlon). It’s made clear that they three are the outsiders, their own group aside from everyone else in the school. Their common ground being that they’ve all been mocked and ridiculed by class bully Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), plus the fact that they deal in witchcraft – although that’s kept quiet. When they feel a stronger power around them, after calling for a fourth witch to come to them to complete their circle – they discover strong, undiscovered powers within Lily. The four soon form an even closer bond experimenting with their higher abilities, working their way through an expansive spell-book.

We witness montages of them developing their skills, from levitation to mind manipulation spells. It’s all rather enjoyable to watch happen, because all of it centres around the friendship of the central quartet of witches. The feeling present throughout is that of a standard teen movie, especially when the characters attend parties or are receiving glares and almost disgusted stares from everyone else in the cafeteria. It all comes together rather well, you feel engaged and connected with this clearly closely-bonded friendship, and yet the magical practices are never forgotten about. They’re always centre-stage.

The whole thing is relatively young-teenage friendly (despite a 15 rating) and it’s fairly void of darkness. There is some seriousness brought in just before the final stages as the girls begin to face the consequences of their actions, particularly manipulating Timmy for what they see as the better of everyone at school. To everyone else it appears that overnight he’s completely changed. He’s a calmer, more respectful, much, much kinder person. However, this causes conflictions within one or two of the girls, particularly Lily who begins to form a closer relationship with him over the course of the film. It’s all handled fairly well, if with a fair helping of convention, but, again, there’s no denying that it still just about clicks and flows well enough over the course of the short, and mostly concise, run-time.

Even with all of this going on the film still feels a need to properly introduce a villain, or at least make them a more present force. While you’ve likely guessed by the point of the reveal who it is the final stages seem rushed and almost pointless, a bit too easy. As if added simply to just push the film a minute or two more over the 90 minute mark. The character does feel somewhat wasted, and barely much of a threat at any stage of the piece. However, the moment does still have some ideas that can be enjoyed, and the bond between the central four remains. It’s what keeps you in the film throughout, even during some of the more seemingly by-the-books moments, and often the tone and style of the film is a real relief. It takes something from the 90’s, keeps some elements but slightly updates it with the modern teen feeling to make it something slightly different to what we’ve seen over the last few years within this genre. It clicks and works because of this style, which writer-director Zoe Lister-Jones seems to have aimed for instead of horror – a good choice to make – and overall the film works rather well. It’s not your standard horror or witchcraft film, and it’s perhaps better for that fact.

Not exactly a horror film, more a teen movie about a group of close friends who just happen to be witches, and perhaps The Craft: Legacy is better for that. There are some rather conventional moments, and a little-used antagonist, but as long as that central friendship is there it’s usually enough to help pass things by.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A Christmas Gift From Bob – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 32 minutes, Director – Charles Martin Smith

Street busker James (Luke Treadaway) finds himself at risk of having his beloved cat, Bob, taken from him as his financial situation worsens around Christmas.

The true story of A Street Cat Named Bob was a bestselling hit, and when it was adapted to the big screen in 2016 the film was a relative success. Following on from those events we now find ourselves with a rather twee festive follow-up. Not quite in the vein of A Christmas Carol – although initially central figure James Bown (Luke Treadaway) does find himself being called “Grinch-face” by close friend Bea (Kristina Tonteri-Young). However, James’ closest relationship is still with his pet cat Bob, almost always by his side. At the start of the film we see the two attending a Christmas party for writers, after the success of his first novel based on his experiences recovering from heroin addiction and surviving through caring for Bob, life seems good but he’s unsure about what to do for his already announced second novel. As James leaves the party and offers to buy a homeless busker some food we’re taken back to a previous Christmas – James’ last in a situation of poverty. When the words “a Christmas past” appear on-screen you would be forgiven for thinking that this is going to be something rather cliché and cheesy.

At this point James is still selling The Big Issue outside Angel station, seemingly with rivals jealous of his cat that attracts extra customers, and busking in Covent Garden, barely raising funds to get him through the month, let alone worry about Christmas. Throw in Animal Welfare officers who are monitoring him, with the risk of Bob being taken away, and you have a mixture of everything going wrong at Christmas. There certainly isn’t anything as ‘dark’ as in the first film – which turns out to have been more memorable than perhaps initially given credit for, the scenes of James going cold turkey particularly coming to mind – but, that’s perhaps not a downfall for the film. There’s something about its mostly family-friendly nature that helps to capture a kind of warm festive feeling amongst the relative calm of the film, despite one or two of the more serious themes held throughout.

This is a film where people come together to support one another simply because they want to do good. It’s a traditional view of Christmas, and an especially harmless one, but it makes for something rather likable. This certainly isn’t the greatest Christmas film ever, and it might have a few clichés and conventions thrown in but somehow because of the general air and kind-hearted nature of the piece it doesn’t really matter. It’s easy to be brought into it for a conventionally warm and traditionally festively fuzzy, quaint Christmas flick. Something that people can simply sit down watch and appreciate that they had a decent time watching it. Especially during a scene where Christmas songs are performed with a Bob twist – Jingle Bells becomes Jingle Bob – it’s difficult not to have an amused smile slapped onto your face. You might not quite know why it’s there, but, of course, you haven’t any issue with it. Leaving with a good feeling inside themselves, maybe things will seem brighter, even if for a little bit, after viewing. Who care about those potential minor flaws anyway? It’s a Christmas film. It gives hope that things could actually be alright, and overall isn’t too bad in itself.

A Christmas Gift From Bob might be fairly conventional, yet despite its flaws there’s something rather kind and generous at the centre of it, providing a warm and likable festive feeling.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

LFF 2020: Lovers Rock – Review

Release Date – 22nd November 2020, Run-time – 1 hour 8 minutes, Director – Steve McQueen

At a house party in 1980’s London relationships are formed, developed and tested as the music plays and people take to the floor to dance together over the course of one night.

There’s a point in Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock – the second in his Small Axe series of films – where everything simply stops. You’re entranced in the various bright hues that fill the room, but more so by every single figure in that space swaying from side to side as they join together to sing Janet Kay’s Silly Games. It lifts you up into a space free from not only gravity but stresses, cares and worries. This type of communal rejoice is often only saved for moments of darkness and threat, as characters prepare to meet an early fate. And yet Steve McQueen’s direction, as he gently allows the camera to effortlessly float through the crowd, captures something far from this. Simply people coming together to have a good time, transported by the music that connects them. This magical moment of pure energy and joy is certain to stay with you long after the credits close.

The reason for this scene being the setting of a house part in 1980’s London. Many have gathered to escape after a long day and simply have a good time, to loose themselves in the reggae that pumps from the large speakers in the front room. For most of the run time we follow Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) as she weaves her way through the various rooms, layers and people in the house. Bumping into past relationships and developing new ones along the way. While there are confrontations and moments of mild tension – harassment from a group of white men outside the house creates a particular strand of brief worry and fear as Martha finds herself alone in the street – there’s always the trustworthy escape of the song and dance of the party, alongside her spark with fellow British-Jamaican Franklyn (Micheal Ward).

Much like Brian Welsh’s sensational Beats it’s easy to find yourself engaged within the music and dance. As you witness the characters simply let go and become themselves to the sound of each song – as the tunes gradually fade away to reveal the person inside each lover and dancer present. It’s an infectiously good time as the figures allow for a celebration of identity and personality. As was the case with the gloriously uplifting street party scenes in McQueen’s first entry into his Small Axe quintet, Mangrove. Yet, Lovers Rock is almost entirely this form of relief. We see the characters interact and have their individual conversations, enough to be allowed to know enough about them to have a connection and understand their connections and relationships, but not too much to form a heavy plot that needs to be precisely followed. This is a party. People turning up to have a good time, there may be one or two spills along the way, but the opportunity to let loose is still very much in play throughout.

Relationships grow, you notice and feel that. It might be one night of heady romance, but there’s the hope and feeling that there could be something more between Martha and Franklyn, the fact it could go either way and we only see the events of the night help to capture the feeling of the piece. And like the night that it takes part over McQueen’s film very much feels like a one off, something unique and different – especially during the aforementioned Silly Games scene – that’s not quite been seen before. In a number of ways it is bold and original, assisted by McQueen’s boundlessly brilliant direction, having also penned the screenplay with Courttia Newland. Yet, the most effective thing about the whole piece, over the course of its short 68 minute run-time, is how easy it is just to sink into it. After quickly establishing its themes and what it wants to do Lovers Rock simply does what the title suggests. It gets caught up within the music that it makes and takes you along for however long to an entirely different place. A place of calm, freedom, celebration, joy and so much more. The negativity being the brief pauses in-between songs, luckily there’s plenty left of the playlist.

This is something different and effective. And yet it simply seems to step out just to tell a simple story and have a good time doing so, and that is very much the case. McQueen, his cast and crew seem to have had a good time making this feature – the nostalgic fingerprints that cover each frame seem to suggest so. An overall deep breath of sobering fresh air amongst a light musical cocktail. Who cares about what the next day, or even morning, is going to bring? For now let’s just celebrate who we are together, the simple things can link us bring power and harmony. Lovers Rock heartily sings this as it breezes by, not forgetting to leave its imprint in your mind.

Lovers Rock is a celebration of personality and identity. Steve McQueen and co create an occasionally mesmerising world of uplifting energy that you can’t help but be caught up in. The brief elements of potential threat are handled well but this is overall an infectiously good time as the night plays out.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge On The Run – Review

Cert – U, Run-time – 1 hour 31 minutes, Director – Tim Hill

Spongebob (Tom Kenny) and Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) venture to Atlantic City to retrieve pet snail Gary (Kenny) from King Poseidon (Matt Berry)

2004’s The Spongebob Squarepants Movie has perhaps become something of a slight cult classic over the years since its release. Not just amongst younger viewers and those who saw it when it was first released but with adults too, to this day around 25% of Spongebob’s TV audience are adults with no kids. 11 years later the world was introduced to Sponge Out Of Water which, for about 20 minutes, brought Spongebob, in 3D animated form, to the real world. But, the majority of both films are made up of the traditional 2D animated form that the TV show that started it all still takes the form of. However, now, in Sponge On The Run, things look; and feel, different. Spongebob and all his ocean dwelling friends now take the form of 3D computer animation, which while there’s no problem with this the style does at times seem somewhat odd. Nothing new seems to be done with the style, instead it feels like what would be done with 2D animation in a 3D world – at times almost feeling like a form of stop-motion animation just without the fingerprints.

And yet fingerprints do seem to lie throughout the film’s screenplay, written by director Tim Hill. For a number of TV comedies it’s apparently common to have writers rooms where groups of writers get together to throw jokes around and come up with the best ones; it works well for 22-30 minutes episodes where you need to still try to get as many jokes in as possible. Although apparently never so much with films. Hill’s screenplay seems to try to throw in as many gags and asides as possible into the film’s already quite jumpy and all-over-the-place nature. Never quite giving the audience time to breathe as it flicks to something new in the hope of raising even a mild smirk. It feels as if a number of these attempted jokes have been either taken from the more recent series of the show, where apparently the quality has begun to decline, or have just been rejected.

The film itself almost feels like three loose episodes strung together to create a plot. We find Spongebob (Tom Kenny) enjoying his life working as a fry cook at The Krusty Krab restaurant, but when his pet snail Gary (also Kenny) goes missing he heads off to The Lost City Of Atlantic City – the underwater answer to Vegas – with his best friend Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke) to retrieve him from King Poseidon (Matt Berry). The reason for Gary being missing being that Plankton (Mr. Lawrence) notices that if he gets rid of Gary he gets rid of Spongebob and can take the Krabby Patty secret formula for his own unsuccessful rival the Chum Bucket. Thus King Poseidon – who uses snail slime to retain his young looks and avoid facial blemishes such as wrinkles, having run out of snails and issuing a royal decree for people to give their own up – is in possession of the sea snail that sounds like a cat. It all sounds rather busy and convoluted, and it is; and yet none of it ever really becomes engaging or that amusing at any point. Even with all of this going on the film still somehow finds time for Snoop Dogg to rap about being a pirate-zombie-cowboy before Danny Trejo turns up – something which sums up the whole film rather well.

Other celebrity roles and cameos include Tiffany Haddish, Awkwafina, Reggie Watts and Keanu Reeves as a wise tumbleweed – almost seemingly playing himself, which there is nothing wrong with – let’s not forget the majesty of David Hasselhoff in the first Spongebob movie. But the film seems so pre-occupied with celebrities, and random intervals that the plot, despite having multiple elements, occasionally feels thin. Maybe as a feature length TV special this would work better but certainly not as a proper film. It all seems to fall rather flat as the jokes never properly land and instead of focusing on the events of the film you almost focus on the sometimes rather odd soundtrack choices, Livin’ La Vida Loca plays as if it’s a catchy modern song that fits perfectly with the film.

Eventually the film, with about 20 minutes to go enters into a musical number and various flashbacks to how the various characters met Spongebob – the initial pitch for the film when it was first announced in 2015 under the title It’s A Wonderful Sponge – it feels as if, once again, this is a separate idea for TV (it’s already been announced that Kamp Koral adventures are to be a spin-off show). Everything simply feels extremely random and somewhat disorganised. In need of tightening up to create something that provides more than just one or two small exhales of mild amusement over the course of its 91 minute run-time. Through it’s various tangents, flashbacks, songs and general randomness this very much feels like something better suited for younger TV audiences than anyone else.

Unfortunately this nautical nonsense is not something you wish.

Rating: 2 out of 5.