Eternals (2021). A very long film about barely interesting superheroes. Some of the ideas and visuals are interesting if you don’t think about the story too much, but in the end it is just a randomised assortment of actors punching monsters until your brain goes numb. They suck at their job too. The greatest problem is that the inter-group drama and bonding of the heroes all falls flat. In the middle of the climax I paused to watch a YouTube video of an orang-utan driving a golf cart and completely forgot I was watching a film.
The Electrical Life of Louis Wain (2021). Cumberbatch plays an eccentric goofball artist who paints cats, and struggles mightily and clumsily against English stiff-upper-lip culture and class hysteria to woo Claire Foy. I suspected Cumberbatch could play these characters in his sleep by now, but he is very good here. It is a quality film, lifted up by production value, talent and artistry. In the first half, it has precisely that kind of saccharine storytelling that you would expect, but the story gets more unconventional and uncomfortable towards the end, dives deep into mental health problems and ultimately is much more touching than I expected.
House of Gucci (2021). A love story and history, based on real events, involving the rich Gucci family. A lush film, full of grand locations, famous people, expensive clothing, and it leans heavily on those elements. Most of the acting was good; some performances strong, some, like Lady Gaga’s, full of life and energy. But much of the film is dominated by an eccentric performance by Jared Leto that feels anything but authentic, while that of Driver, Irons and Lady Gaga feels so natural in contrast. All subtleness goes out the window in many scenes – in the writing too – and the end result is entertaining to watch but uneven as a production and a bit shallow.
The King’s Man (2021). The third film of a rather overrated series that never had a clear vision for what it wanted to be, and so lurches from one direction to another. This film chooses to be a heavy-handed prequel that lacks the youthful energy and humour of the first film. A dash of absurdism during some of the fight scenes doesn’t mix well with the rest and doesn’t justify the film’s existence.
Nightmare Alley (2021). Guillermo del Toro’s new movie is a beautifully realised piece of art. Bradley Cooper’s acting is smooth and natural as a mentalist at a carnival who tries to make it on his own. Del Toro’s style of course fits perfectly with that most colourful and grotesque environment of a carnival. Everything in this world is just a bit… nightmarish, including Blanchett the psychiatrist and the plans they concoct together. The film is a pleasure to watch simply for the quality on display in every facet of filmmaking, from the sets to the shots and acting. The conclusion could have been stronger, though. It all happened a bit confusingly, while the clues were at the same time a bit too obvious. I’d still highly recommend it.
Licorice Pizza (2021). A new Paul Thomas Anderson film is always a must for every film lover. Anderson makes unconventional movies, about unconventional people, and Licorice Pizza is about an unconventional relationship/partnership/association between a young guy and a little bit older girl where you never really know what it is between them, but it sure is fun to watch. Their ‘ship evolves over time, worming its way through various business enterprises where they support each other, and the film paints a portrait of 1970s California while it’s at it. The unfamiliar actors do great work and show oddball chemistry that made this film very enjoyable. Cute and atmospheric.
Red Rocket (2021). This film is both a bit of a masterpiece and disgusting. It follows some 45 year old ex-pornstar who moves back to Bumfuck Texas to hustle his way back into his ex’s life. Then he meets a 17 year old girl and starts… grooming her for the porn industry. Director Sean Baker (Florida Project) is making a name for himself by filming the poor underbelly of America who live in the most depressing places, and adds real-life people to his film next to the actors. Baker found the perfect location for this film where every horizon shows some dirty oil refinery constantly in the background, like a symbol of exploitation. The film lures you in with its smooth-talking actor who really seems like he is trying to fix his life and he even seems kinda charming, but before soon you realise that he corrupts every situation he is in while leeching off other people. It’s a very immersive film, like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). A pretty good superhero film. The more of these films that you have seen, the more meaning you will take away from it, because there are a lot of callbacks to earlier films. What makes the film succeed are many moments that resonate emotionally. It provides closure for many plot-lines and for many characters, and new beginnings too. It’s somewhat of a capstone for a series. For the character of Peter Parker, he goes through a transformation of emotional upheaval and destruction, and mental reconstitution. He learns about himself, and grows. And this always lay at the heart of the Spider-Man tales.
Turning Red (2022). A new Pixar film, about an Asian-Canadian girl who receives a curse that turns her into a giant red panda every time she gets excited. To take back control over her life and grow as a person she needs to stand up to her overbearing mother. I liked this much more than the recent hit animation Encanto (2021), with which it shares similar themes. The comedy is far better and quirkier, and the characters are more interesting.
The Wheel of Time Season 1 (2021). It’s a pretty decent adaptation. Production value is high, casting is pretty good, acting is decent and the landscape shots and interiors give a great sense of place, evoking those Lord of the Rings vistas. I have no great love for the source material and I thought that the liberties taken were all pretty understandable, although the final episode omits a lot of the book’s material that I was looking forward to, and I understand if fans of the books feel bewildered. The first three episodes are a bit frantic and messily edited, but the show goes up in quality after that when the adult actors get more chance to shine and scenes get more powerful.
The Expanse Season 6 (2021). The Expanse continues to dazzle with its depiction of solar system conflict, even though this may be the final season. The whole season works like a 5 hour movie of incredibly tense buildup and action, with the fate of the solar system hanging in the balance. Great lines, great acting, great effects. The universe it has built feels so rich and tactile. Just one of the best SF series of all time.