Film February 2023

Film February 2023

Since this time last year, I’ve definitely moved on a step or two in terms of both consumption and awareness of films – so much so, I have actually seen a good percentage of the work that’s now getting recognition at the various awards ceremonies that pop up over the winter. (The problem is, this makes things like the all-male Best Director shortlist at the Oscars even harder to bear.) Becoming a Limitless member at Odeon has obviously helped this, as I can now just pop to the cinema on a whim; I only need to see approximately three films a month to cover the cost, so many of my visits are effectively for free – entertainment budgeting suddenly feels much easier.

As well as the new releases, I’ve really enjoyed watching a lot of classic films for the first time on the big screen; Casablanca was a particular favourite last year, and I’m looking forward to several other anniversary screenings in 2023. I do regret not getting Limitless before the Bond screenings started, though this might have thrown my October-November Bondathon out of the window, so swings & roundabouts.

The rules are the same: one new (to me) film every day with an accompanying mini-review – and hopefully more cinema visits this time round (I ‘only’ managed six in 2022). I’m also going to get some more film-based stage shows in around all of this, so expect to see some other reviews popping up on this page as well. And please do join me for another drunk tweetalong… 

The Fabelmans (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Massively overhyped, thanks to endless trailers for months on end, but not wholly unenjoyable. It is definitely far too long, considering it is basically just us watching a young man get progressively better at film-making as he makes more films – and many of the characters are utterly unlikeable. Gabriel LaBelle & Paul Dano are excellent, however.

Catherine Called Birdy (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A funny & (somehow) ultimately heartwarming coming-of-age story, with Andrew Scott, Billie Piper, Dean Charles-Chapman & Bella Ramsey as a dysfunctional medieval family unit. There’s lots to enjoy as Birdy consistently scares off suitors, larks around with her goatherd friend, and navigates the perils of young womanhood.

The Whale (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
I’m beginning to wonder if The Whale as a title isn’t just a reference to certain plot points, but also to how incredibly heavy the whole film is… Without Brendan Fraser’s remarkable performance, I think it would have sunk without trace – he’s one of the only actors who could make his character’s flurries of optimism (& the dreamlike ending) entirely believable.

Red Notice (2021) ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Basically, if you enjoy watching Ryan Reynolds play Ryan Reynolds, then you’ll have a fairly enjoyable couple of hours watching this. It’s another of Netflix’s ‘movie by numbers’ creations, but sometimes what you need is a straightforward action-comedy for a bit of entertainment. Not sure that it warrants the proposed sequel(s), but whatever.

Babylon (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
If both Babylon and The Fabelmans are being described as “a love letter to cinema” from their respective directors, then put me on Damien Chazelle’s correspondence list. Yes, it’s long, but doing justice to the death of silent film and the birth of the talkies means time is required. Justin Hurwitz’s soundtrack is sensational, and the ensemble cast is mesmerising.

The Duke (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Set up by its trailer to be a lighthearted caper, in which a pensioner ‘borrows’ a famous painting and stores it in his spare room, there is actually a more serious message at its core. Jim Broadbent puts in a brilliant performance as Kempton Bunton, a man on a mission to get free TV licences for OAPs.

Roman Holiday (1953) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
No less of a classic 70 years on – and it provides a wonderful time capsule for the sights of the Eternal City. Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck & Eddie Albert make a fantastic, fun-loving trio in this 50s coming-of-age comedy – and terrific to see it for the first time on the big screen.

Knock At The Cabin (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Perhaps I was a victim of the teaser trailer and M. Night Shyamalan’s penchant for a twist, but this didn’t really hit the spot. Though it is a frightening premise, it generally just stays on one level – it needs something to really come out of nowhere to make it more gripping, and also so it resolves in a satisfactory way.

The Estate (2023) ⭐️⭐️
Though it’s not exactly a new premise, the trailer set it up to be an amusing new feature – but it proves to be as tired as the concept. The fact that David Duchovney’s sleazy Richard (or Dick, as he prefers to be known) often gets the best lines is rather disturbing, and most of the family just comes off as completely unlikeable in one way or another. Basically, I was impatiently waiting for Aunt Hilda to die and then all her assets to spontaneously combust, so nobody wins.

Shotgun Wedding (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️
With the tagline ‘NEW MOVIE’ on its advertising, how can you go wrong? If you suspend your disbelief and get on board with the two leads suddenly becoming action heroes & unthinkingly going on a killing spree, it’s an enjoyable enough film. It’s just the right length, has a couple of twists, and it features Jennifer Coolidge doing Jennifer Coolidge things (including stealing every scene she’s in). Worth a watch if you want to switch off for a while.

REVIEW: The Shawshank Redemption, Oxford Playhouse

Based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, but probably better known from the 1994 film starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, the stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption (written by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns, directed by David Esbjornson) is currently touring the country. This production stars Ben Onwukwe as Red, and Joe Absolom as Andy Dufresne. Read more...

Photo credit: Jack Merriman

The Wonder (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A disturbing folk horror-esque story that simmers away for a while, before it really kicks on. Florence Pugh is (of course) superb, as is Kila Lord Cassidy; the cinematography & score are also key in the story-telling, enhancing the cast’s excellent performances.

The Good Nurse (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is a really gripping film, featuring a chilling performance from Eddie Redmayne – and a moving one from Jessica Chastain. The corruption & buck-passing of the hospitals is almost as horrifying as the crimes – if only it weren’t a true story.

Your Place or Mine (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️
That’s right: rom-com season is officially here! Fortunately Reese Witherspoon & Ashton Kutcher have more chemistry here than they did on the red carpet, but the film itself is rather formulaic – and, crucially, not particularly funny. Awkward!

What’s Love Got to Do With It? (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Even though I do enjoy a rom-com, I usually prefer to do something completely anti-Valentine’s come February 14th – however, as I’ve been excited to see this film for a while (thanks to a long trailer season) and I’ve not been able to do an Odeon Limitless screening for months, I decided to buck the trend. I’m a little uncertain about aspects of the ending, however the fact that the film as a whole brings something new to this specific genre can only be a good thing; the scenes in Lahore are particularly breath-taking. It’s warm, funny, and also incredibly moving.

TÁR (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
It probably doesn’t need to be as long as it is (it does drag a little in places because of this), however it’s an interesting look at the dreaded ‘cancel culture’, modern manipulation of media, and the perilous position in which women can find themselves if they’re in the public eye. Thought-provoking and engrossing.

Bank of Dave (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A lot of fun, but (in a similar vein to The Duke) it also has a serious message at its core. Taking the true story of Burnley businessman Dave Fishwick’s attempts to set up a community bank, it shows the barriers facing working-class communities and the knock-on effects of years of austerity.

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️
In the increasing ocean that is the MCU, a lot of the individual films are starting to feel even more like stepping stones than full entities in themselves. Still funny, though not as comedy-orientated as the previous Ant-Man offerings, it’s a solid enough blockbuster – and Paul Rudd is, well, Paul Rudd.

Morbius (2022) ⭐️
Oh boy. I’ve saved this one up for a long, long time to do another drunk tweetalong – and I definitely needed to consume it in this manner. Plot hole after plot hole (if you can call it that when nothing really seems to happen), way too many disgusting blood bag drinking scenes, and not anywhere near enough focus on Matt Smith enjoying being a villain (& knowing he’s in a terrible film). As with anything of this ilk, it’s been set up to have sequels or spin-offs of some kind, but I really hope that any plans get quietly shelved so Morbius can retreat to whatever bat-lair he’s created for himself, and stay there for eternity.

All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
It may not say anything new about war per se, but tracking one group of hopeful & patriotic schoolboys as they enter the grim reality of trench warfare, and seeing the bonds they form – as well as the losses they endure – throughout their time at the Western Front is no less powerful for this. The senselessness of war is laid bare in Felix Kammerer’s portrayal of Paul Bäumer, and the film’s cinematography & score create an unbearably tense atmosphere; the contrast between the soldiers’ conditions and the luxurious surroundings of the generals & politicians is stark. A must-see film.

Operation Mincemeat (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
No, this is not a filmed version of the award-winning comedy musical – this is a dead-serious (well, as serious as this mad true story can be) drama starring some heavyweights of cinema. Unnecessary shoe-horned love triangle and invented sister for the chosen corpse aside, this is an excellent depiction of one of the most ridiculous plans from the Second World War; high drama dominates, however there is room for a dash of comedy, and Matthew Macfadyen is especially good as Charles Cholmondeley. For those familiar with the stage version, it’s an interesting contrast & very enjoyable.

The Phantom of the Open (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A fantastical comedy-drama, based on the real-life story of “The World’s Worst Golfer”; Craig Roberts’ direction is impressive & imaginative, and Simon Farnaby’s script is full of humour & poignancy. I’d question the very visible age difference between Mark Rylance & Sally Hawkins as Maurice & Jean Flitcroft, however their performances are so brilliant that I can just about overlook it.

Monster (2021) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Following 17-year-old Steve Harmon as he gets caught up in a murder investigation, Monster initially feels like a cut-and-dried case – but things may not quite be as they first seem… The film is set up cleverly to steadily reveal more about Steve’s life, as well as the events leading up to the crime; it is slightly melodramatic and a bit of a caricature in places, however it’s still a thought-provoking film with some excellent performances from a talented cast.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this so much, but then I suppose if anyone can play a version of themselves and make it work (despite an outlandish plot), it’s Nicolas Cage. As you might have guessed, it’s rather OTT for the most part, but is also a lot of fun – and Pedro Pascal is absolutely brilliant as the Nick Cage superfan, Javi. A great bit of movie escapism.

Cocaine Bear (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
It’s not big and it’s not clever – but it is hugely entertaining. Packed full of increasingly ridiculous gore, physical comedy, and dumb jokes, it’s best enjoyed in a decent crowd in the cinema where you can all chuckle at the insanity together. It does lag a little in the infrequent sentimental parts, and there are perhaps slightly too many threads, but there are a lot of laughs along the way – plus it all comes to a satisfying conclusion. Avoid if you’re not a fan of bloodied human limbs flying everywhere.

To Leslie (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A moving story, charting the rise and fall of Texas single mother Leslie; six years after winning the local lottery, she’s left with nothing, living in motels and falling back on her now grown-up son for support. Her drinking problem isolates her from her family and the friends she left behind, but she has a change in luck when she meets sympathetic motel manager Sweeney. It’s quite heavy-going, and Leslie (Andrea Riseborough) is rather unlikeable for the most part, however by the time her shot at redemption comes around she will have won you over.

Triangle of Sadness (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Think The White Lotus, but with added seasickness, clogged toilets, and pirates… It does take a little while to get to its main point, steadily setting up the awfulness of many of the characters, but it’s worth it for the pay-off. There’s a great cameo from Woody Harrelson as the luxury yacht’s captain, but it’s Dolly de Leon who comes in and steals the show late on as Abigail, cleaner-turned-leader. At times disturbing, at others deeply funny – a real product of our aspirational, social media age, where the class divide still lingers.

Women Talking (2023) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
It’s a brave and important film to make, as it’s essentially a microcosm of the things women face at the hands of men on a daily basis – just an extreme example. Visually speaking, it isn’t the best: there’s a lot of low-light scenes, plus the colour-grading is a bit queasy. I also got hung up on when this was actually taking place! In ideology, dress & lifestyle it feels like the 19th century (or earlier), but it turns out it’s set in 2010. The inclusion of trans man Melvin feels like an after-thought, as his story is a bit underdone (considering he’s gone through the same thing as the cis women in the community) – however, there’s lots to think about and it’s well worth a watch.

The Quiet Girl / An Cailín Ciúin (2022) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
A film as quiet as the titular girl, but its subtlety is its strength; over the course of around 90 minutes the film builds to a strong conclusion, as the previously neglected Cait flourishes under the guardianship of her distant relations. It’s a beautiful showcase of the Irish language, with nearly all of the dialogue being spoken in Gaelic. A coming-of-age story with a difference – it’s brilliantly directed by Colm Bairéad, with wonderful cinematography from Kate McCullough. A fine example of storytelling through film.