As well as going to the cinema to see No Time To Die and Dune, I watched a some other new movies and an ancient one at home. Most are what I’d call ‘popcorn’ movies which don’t warrant a whole lot of comment, but I’ll try and think of something useful to say about them, without any major spoilers.
Finch (2021) is a new film on Apple TV+ starring Tom Hanks as the titular scientist who has survived an apocalyptic solar event which has left the Earth largely uninhabitable and prone to superstorms (much like those from The Day After Tomorrow but not as icy). With him are a dog and an AI-robot which he has built and has to teach like a child about the world.
Finch wants to escape a superstorm which will last over a month and so goes on the road in a customised mobile home headed for San Francisco. The film is less about the journey and more about the interplay between man and robot.
It was nice to see Asimov’s usual laws of robotics augmented by an additional directive of looking after the dog in the event of Finch’s demise, and since the robot has a tin opener at its heart it’s clear that it will eventually become its primary directive. It’s one of those films where very little happens in terms of action, but it’s pretty good with Hanks doing a great job acting alongside Caleb Landry Jones (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) in a mo-cap suit.
Red Notice (2021) is a fun buddy / crime caper film starring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot in the spirit of the old Pink Panther movies. Reynolds gets all the best lines (or perhaps improvises some absolute corkers) e.g. when they enter an old Nazi treasure vault hidden in the South American jungle looking for Cleopatra’s Egg (no really) Reynold’s character is asked where to look, and he replies “look for the box marked McGuffin” and there’s plenty more zingers where that came from.
Writer/director and previous Johnson collaborator, Rawson Marshall Thurber, seems to have channelled some of the Indiana Jones films into Red Notice but that’s fine – they were fun, this is fun (and it’s not the only film on this list to do so) and keeps you guessing the twists and turns along the way.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) is a VFX heavy martial arts movie based on the rather dodgy comic book hero originally created to cash in on Brice Lee’s popularity. The action in the film is a mixture between Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon all expertly choreographed and filmed. Simu Liu is great in the main role and Awkwafina is great as his sidekick, and it was nice to see Michelle Yeoh in action again, and of course the return of Ben Kingsley as the actor Trevor Slattery.
It’s a shame the film’s finale descends into the stock Marvel scenario of one CG creature fighting another CG creature while the actors are composited in, but the story is a nice change from a bunch of white guys in suits saving the world.
Jungle Cruise (2021) is another film on Disney+ and based on the theme park ride. That’s not the only similarity to The Pirates of the Caribbean, but I will leave that to you to discover. It’s an enjoyable fun film drawing on the likes of Romancing the Stone , The Mummy and the Indiana Jones films, as well as The African Queen. It’s heavy on special effects, light on acting and doesn’t really do anything to advance anyone’s career in the eyes of the Academy, but I’m sure they all got paid nicely, so who cares?
Dwayne Johnson isn’t in Fast & Furious 9 (2021) which shouldn’t really surprise anyone who is a fan of this increasingly ludicrous franchise, but does feature almost everyone else from the franchise (and yes, Ludacris is in the film). This includes some people who really ought to be dead, although they draw the line at trying include Paul Walker’s Brian again. The film builds more bridges to Tokyo Drift to the point where it feels like it’s no longer adrift and credit goes to regular director and co-writer Justin Lin.
If you haven’t been following all the other films, then you might find yourself asking “who’s he again?” but you’ll probably be too busy saying “what the actual fuck?!” when you see several severe cases of Hollywood Physics in action. They’ve included some terrible acting to try and distract you, but it’s almost like watching Nicolas Cage’s Cris Johnson in Next the way Dom is able to predict the exact outcome of some of the moves he pulls in his cars.
I think we are past the point of anyone taking the action sequences seriously with characters surviving fatal explosions, crashes and head injuries without a scratch. The space travel, the infinite zip lines and driving on a collapsing bridge are just drops in an ocean of cartoon reality that would make even Marvel blush. The fact that the team seem indestructible is actually discussed at one point during the film which is meta-fun, but it really deflates the sense of jeopardy and just leaves you watching for the next brazen impossibility rather than caring all that much about the Fast family’s fate. Also don’t get me started on how the team transport their vehicles in record time from country to country…
Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) can get away with any amount of Hollywood Physics it wants because all the action takes place inside a computer game. It’s a pretty good sequel to the 2017 remake and stars Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black playing against their usual types again with Karen Gillan. This time the aforementioned Awkwafini joins the action and Danny Devito and Danny Glover are trapped inside the avatars. Nick Jonas returns as Seaplane in the McGuffin centred plot.
Spectre (2015) was a repeat viewing ahead of seeing No Time To Die and I found that I had warmed to the film after giving it a chilly reception in this old post: Spectre. Viewed as a fourth film-length episode of a five-part story for Daniel Craig’s James Bond it has its moments – not least of which are the pre-titles action sequence and Cristoph Waltz’s performance as a pre-scar Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
And finally, I Confess (1953) is an early Alfred Hitchcock film starring Montgomery Clift as Father Michael Logan a Catholic priest who refuses to divulge the identity of a murderer who confessed his crime to him and in doing so becomes the prime suspect. Anne Baxter (All About Eve) is great as Ruth Grandfort who is married a well-to-do pillar of the community and is Logan’s old flame and the story centres around not only Logan’s devotion to the principals of the confidential confession but also his attempt to keep Ruth’s name out of the papers.
The film has a certain noir The Third Man-esque feel to it during the opening scenes before taking on a more familiar Hitchcock style – the platinum blonde, an innocent man accused, strong visuals of architecture to build mood, and a story revealed through confessions – with an interesting courtroom scene that sees one of Ruth’s lawyer friends laying into her pretty hard.