What can we hope for in Star Wars’ future?

This doesn’t seem like a normal Star Wars Day. It’s a major year in terms of anniversaries, The Empire Strikes Back and Revenge of the Sith both reaching significant milestones, and that’s certainly cause for reflection on the franchise’s generation spanning success. However, the Skywalker Saga – as the first nine films are retroactively known – has just come to a close, too, marking the conclusion of the central part of the franchise’s storytelling. The sequel trilogy which ended it has been particularly divisive, especially with the mixed critical reception to The Rise of Skywalker. Such a rocky start to Disney’s stewardship and beginning of this new era begs the question: how can Star Wars move forwards from here?

It’s hard to imagine there ever being a time in which the brand doesn’t have some level of cultural cachet, largely because the momentum of such a cultural and commercial behemoth is almost unstoppable. There’ve been rocky periods in the past, namely with the prequel trilogy, but those films were still financial successes; all three hovered around the $1 billion mark. The movie of The Clone Wars, an animated side story which hit the screen with little advance warning, still managed to reach over $100 million. Massive marketing and nostalgia combine to ensure some level of impact even for the releases least likely to succeed.

The Mandalorian attests to the possibility of adapting to change: to new mediums, eras, and characters. It was put forward as a major selling point for Disney+ despite not even having a title that will mean much to the more casual viewers, yet does seem — especially in the confidence to renew right through to a third season — to have been a massive success. Part of this must stem from the familiar aesthetics, the gritty world and Imperial imagery reminding us ot the original trilogy, but also the viral nature of internet famous “Baby Yoda”. It’s difficult to tell, though, which has had the bigger impact.

The Mandalorian

Disney seems to not fully be in a position to really see how to push things forward considering its mishandling of Solo, a commercial failure that could’ve been more. A Star Wars film is typically an event movie, but Solo wasn’t allowed any time for enthusiasm to generate thanks to being dropped only six months after The Last Jedi. It was a major failure; the first spin-off, Rogue One, pushed past $1 billion but this one didn’t even hit $400 million. It might seem inextricably linked to the timing, the rest of Disney’s films being some of the most successful ever, yet this isolated marketing misstep means that it’s muddy as to whether audiences will always respond to these less central adventures.

But a more significant concern is a lack of a strong vision for where the narrative should go, and this hasn’t been more evident than in The Rise of Skywalker. It superficially wasn’t a failure but a massive box office success, going confidently beyond the $1 billion mark, and has a cohort of dedicated viewers. However, there’s no doubt that it was a refutation of the thematically complex, subversive The Last Jedi, returning to formulaic ideas of Rey chasing her lineage and Palpatine simply returning from the grave. It worryingly suggests a risk averse company willing to trade a surprising, meaningful story for financial security.

Ironically, boldness and fresh ideas are what made The Empire Strikes Back seem so exciting and cemented its place as the best loved of the movies. That film was an evolution of what came before, taking the pulp of its predecessor and adding some human drama. The Rise of Skywalker was happy to emulate it, too, in terms of a dramatic, left-field twist, but without the sense of risk or tension in going beyond what had been presented before. Perhaps this conservatism might mean that those wanting safely-packaged nostalgia are satisfied but can’t, as a policy going forward, make for groundbreaking entertainment, or for even just being releases worthy of note.

Lucasfilm and its monopolistic owners, Disney, have to decide what they value in the franchise. The latter likely value the ability to turn an enormous profit considering that an eye-watering $4 billion was spent on securing the rights to Star Wars. But for the former, with long term employees having shown such craftmanship, it’d be a failure to diminish the franchise’s inventivity and meaningfulness. It might be possible to continue turning a profit with cookie-cutter storytelling, but what a waste it would be of something that, at its best, can be perceived as rich as the most profound mythology.

The Rise of Skywalker

To have faith in the next major project, The High Republic, would be a wonderful thing, especially as it may help set the tone for the franchise moving forwards. It’s a transmedia exploration of an era 200 years before the Skywalker Saga, meaning a remove from the conventions of the series so far; a fact evident in the new knight-like robes worn by these Jedi. Likely this will act as some sort of dry run for future films, the success or not in branching out telling Disney whether to shepherd Lucasfilm in a similar direction. There is, though, a groundswell of skepticism around these new heroes whose outfits and backgrounds emanate tedious gallantry, and we can only hope for the reality to be greater ambition and – however unlikely – a franchise-wide course correction.

A willingness to forgive and forget failure was shown with The Force Awakens, a film loved by audiences and critics alike. It was a comfort after six years of largely disliked live action movies, familiar iconography and characters revived and presented with JJ Abrams’ safe pair of hands or, at least, his familiarity in making easy-watch reboots. Disney seemed to suggest that they knew what people liked about Star Wars but, when the excitement of renewed potential has dwindled, they can’t see how to link creativity and commerce. If Disney continue to show that they can’t do originality can they ever seem like the franchise’s new hope again?

There’ll always be an appeal to Star Wars as a legacy franchise, and it seems to have too much power behind it to fail. Big, money-spinning intellectual properties rarely disappear, whether it’s Pirates of the Carribean, Transformers, Indiana Jones, but simply retreat and retool. Star Wars doesn’t seem in too much danger of losing its prestige, either, thanks to having received tremendous acclaim at various points in its history. The real risk, though, is the franchise losing its heart, the element that made it an epic ‘saga’. We’re at something of a turning point in the history of Star Wars, and yet to see if the new owners are an evil empire in disguise.

Lee’s Laconic 2019 Lookback

2019 has been an unforgettable year in cinema for a myriad of reasons. The work that has shone the brightest, though, is that which has explored timely and timeless issues with belief and bravado. This list reflects what I’ve experienced to be the year’s best, and regardless of your thoughts on my ranking should prove a guide to some of the most provocatively pertinent work recently unleashed on audiences.

10. Beats

Director: Brian Welsh

Beats is a throwback, but rather than being a rehash it’s an ideal example of one. The journey is a return the 1990s, both in terms of being a reflection upon the era and also recalling the likes of Trainspotting and Human Traffic. This leans more towards the hedonism-celebration of the latter but is enriched by its insights on life, being a coming of age story, a consideration of the value of raving, and a beautiful celebration of friendship and fun. It’s a film that is glorious escapism, not because it avoids reality but because it so perfectly draws from it.

It is a celebration of party culture but mounts a rigorous, welcome defence so invigorating and informative that it’ll inevitably draw people on board who’ve never experienced a rave. It posits that raving is an escape from the minutiae of life and the politics that drive it — elevating raving beyond merely fun but becoming an important act of resistance. Of course, it brilliantly also presents the joyous surprises of the best night out. It’s such a well rounded, deeply felt and considered film that it makes for escapism of highest order.

9. If Beale Street Could Talk

Director: Barry Jenkins

This is an adaptation of a classic work that holds immense power; a vivid rendering of the story for the screen. If Beale Street Could Talk‘s title refers to the shared, implicitly negative experiences of black people throughout the US, but as well as speaking to that truth it has broad, fascinating depths. There is some tragedy in the false imprisonment of a central character, but beauty, tenderness, and sometimes melancholy can be found in a multifaceted work that pays tribute to multifaceted lives.

All of the film’s elements represent collectively a truly exceptional tonal mastery. Its score and aesthetics represent this almost completely as if it were a silent film, the music simultaneously bringing sadness and triumph and the visuals luscious and also meditative. The film’s brilliance comes from the perspective that heart and realism aren’t seperate, that lives aren’t all one thing, and to have a complex reflection of life as a black American is ever-necessary, affecting, and important. The material might be historical is here timeless in its content and its unique construction.

8. Knives Out

Director: Rian Johnson

Rian Johnson is known for gleefully idiosyncratic works, and this is no exception. This is, as seems standard for his work, on some level a homage, but is much more than that when more than a cursory glance is taken. It is, for one, something that features a bevy of great actors putting in surprising performances. The surprise isn’t simply related to expressive or unsually complex characters but is related a consistent richness of themes that positions this as a blockbuster of major merit.

This is definitely not just an ordinary murder mystery, as the deep themes suggest, layers of purpose and playfulness making this more than a puzzle box. Narrative twists and turns take a greater significance and characters become more interesting thanks to the meaning within; there are human stakes and characterisation that make the mystery not just entertainment but compelling drama. Of course, Johnson’s script also has humour, humanity, and so do the vibrant performances. This is masterful filmmaking, making for probably the best genre spin of 2019 and definitely an admirably ambitious, important story where pleasure and purpose go hand in hand.

7. Piercing

Director: Nicolas Pesce

This seemed like a curious release at first, a Western adaptation of a challenging and long-ago released Japanese novel. This story is an unusual one, focusing on a man (Christopher Abbot) desperate to release his violent urges by killing a prostitute (Mia Wasikowska); a dark concept that also has wit and heft in the source material. Nicolas Pesce has made a bold move in bringing it to the screen, but he uses his skill to make a loyally brilliant adaptation that still has his own flair.

Pesce masters the basics and then adds elements that deepen the narrative and its experience. A close quarters tale is crucial to creating the central cat and mouse intrigue and the simple staging allows for this; added references to giallo and visual quirks then bring layers of meaning that could only be on the screen. Similarly, the characters are made fascinating by their actors, the ever watchable Mia Wasikowska a particularly fiendish highlight. It’s a work that’s fun, intelligent, and bold enough to perfectly translate rather than reshape an unusual tale that’s as punchy as ever.

6. Fighting with my Family

Director: Stephen Merchant

A few years have passed since the wonderfully joyous Eddie the Eagle — and here has arrived an ever greater and more ambitious sports quasi-biopic. This follows Soraya (Florence Pugh), known in the ring as Paige, who comes from a family of British wrestlers and whose skill and spark lead her towards the WWE. It lifts itself far above being just heartwarming, though, bringing in a dose of social realism that provides, yes, great immersion, but also great meaning.

The approach of this is an antidote to the condescendingly manufactured drama of music biopics like Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. Florence Pugh and Jack Lowden, the latter Paige’s aspiring brother Zac, bring honest performances that attest to the often uncomfortable complexity of people. The balance of the wholesome and the more difficult realities of life make this a fist-punching film that’ll make you think, too, and definitely one of the year’s highlights.

5. Mary, Queen of Scots

Director: Josie Rourke

This isn’t just another historical drama, even a well constructed one; this look at the eponymous individual and her cousin Elizabeth is refreshingly contemporary in its themes. Patriarchy constrains the monarchs in the form of suitors and treacherous advisors, the women’s political and personal goals constantly thwarted. Powerful actors bring the humanity of these individuals to life and drive this unexpectedly unforgettable tale.

Humanity is the factor that elevates this to a work with social relevance and thrilling drama. It has the traditions of its genre: a steady camera joined with the balance of the glum and glamorous. Its aesthetics are unquestionably pleasing, but the subversions of well written characters dealing with real issues gives everything a greater edge of reality. Its undoubtedly not the first to give such familiar parts of history a complex, contemporary look, but the approach us here handed so well that it makes your eager for more works made with such skill.

4. Sorry We Missed You

Director: Ken Loach

Ken Loach has returned with another incisive, unrelenting look at an issue that’s major in 2019 and doesn’t look set to resolve soon. It’s focused on the destabilising ripples resulting from zero hour contracts and generally uncertain, uncaring working lives; something of a companion piece to benefits-focused I, Daniel Blake. The subject here, however, perhaps has a connection to a broader set of people, and has that film’s same alarming incisiveness.

It’s deeply troubling and affecting for how it presents an utterly believable downward spiral. The film doesn’t create a gap between work and life, the former bleeding into the latter and increasingly, compoundingly, wreaking havoc on the lives of the family at the story’s centre. The empathy for the characters sells this: naturalistic performances and glimpses of humour give this a rounded reality and a sense of human tragedy.

There is evidently great craftsmanship in order to clearly and effectively put forward an important message. It explores the story with a precision that brings to light all the unimagined complexities and repercussions of a zero hours contract; things that are generally encountered in a piecemeal fashion through the news. This narrative not only allows us coherent overview of the situation but tugs at our common humanity, and this perfect approach to a pressing contemporary issue makes it one of the year’s most important films.

3. Her Smell

Director: Alex Ross Perry

Something uniquely special has happened here: the creation of an extraordinarily visceral work that’s simultaneously, inextricably, a deep dive into moral purpose. It portrays a rockstar in the throes of abuse of herself and others, melding with horror and leaving us wondering if there’s any hope of redemption. It’s terrifying, enlightening, and unique in all its elements — and it’s the result of a visionary creative team that has the bravery to push things so far.

Few works offer such perfectly pitched cohesion and such purpose beneath it. It’s a discordant, swirling nightmare at its start with crashing, twisting music, an unpredictable Elizabeth Moss, and a roving, unsteady camera capturing the horror. But the film does change, too, and the adaptation makes us feel these changes; we feel the difference between peace and chaos with such feeling that their moral value doesn’t need to be spoken.

There is no major release this year that is comparable to this, its immersive nature entirely its own. It brings you fully into its horrific, claustrophobic world, giving personal morality the importance that it deserves by virtue of how powerful its effects feel. Alex Ross Perry has overseen a work that gives life to ethics in a way rarely seen, one that speaks to the self-reflection of 2019 and is hard to imagine seeing competition that can combine such emotive viscerality and real purpose in the decades to come.

2. Joker

Director: Todd Phillips

There aren’t many films that inspire responses as strong as Joker, and it’s something that has to walk a risky line. It’s dealing with the creation of one of pop culture’s most notorious villains, risking glamorising evil in the process, and is inspired by Scorsese’s critically adored Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy with an obviousness that has been perceived by some as derivative. Todd Philips, creator of the critically mauled The Hangover films, took on this challenge and has produced one of the most bracing, confident creations of the year.

Essential to the success of everything is the intelligence that powers the great shocks and surprises. It has a strong message about the awfulness of society but also an inextricably linked look to the haunting awfulness of responding to that; and there’s remarkable skill in making the impact of both so raw. A score both string and growlingly industrial, a camera tight and unshowy, and unguarded performances are the key parts of affording the story’s descent into madness the unfamiliar feel of all-consuming horror.

This is a film that isn’t given the credit it deserves despite is cohesive, discomfiting brilliance. Few films are able to pull you into their worlds so effectively, scenes pushed to their limits so that you can never predict where the journey will take you. Its striking quasi-melodrama straddles the cinematic worlds of blockbuster and arthouse works with an effective precision, then, and this lays down the gauntlet for other filmmakers. It certainly shows the benefit — financially and creatively —of treating audiences with intelligence, and with its intensity is even better than it’s more demure spiritual predecessors.

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Director: Celine Scammia

Celine Scammia’s latest is undoubtedly a work of great beauty. It’s an exploration of lesbian romance, a story of a painter and her subject who fall in love. It might sound like it could be a lascivious work since gazing is at its centre, but it strips away the objectifying male gaze, and replaces with a female perspective. It becomes a far richer film with Scammia’s eye: one with not only incredible artistry but explorations of love that feel fresh. It’s a film that has had a massive appeal already and it’s easy to see why, structurally this being a genuinely game-changing work.

Nuance runs perfectly throughout the film, particularly in its trust of the audience to understand that subtlety. Imagery is, as the title suggests, a key part of the story, but whilst there’s a pleasingly painterly look to things the boldness is that we’re encouraged to observe everything like art. We get a sense of these women slowly getting to know each other, their increasing intimacy suggested by glances, changing manners, and specific framing. Artifice is at a minimum, exposition and music stripped away for the most part to encourage us to really see and therefore really invest in, really understand, the evolution of love.

This is one of the greatest films of 2019 and even the decade, redefining romance on screen so that it’s not just merely sensory. It’s a film where you’re left awed by it’s ability to speak of the connections between people and of shifting inner lives without really saying much directly about them. The core romance is so wonderful, too and, of course, has thematic depth alluded to with a careful, only gently indicative hand. You’re begged most by the evident craftmanship and subtle purpose to rewatch, making this a tenderly, authentically beautiful pirce that satisfies as entertainment, as a work that defies conventions, and as something that should shake its industry.

Enduring Love – 15 Years of Transcendence

Enduring Love is a film that won’t likely have many people celebrating its fifteenth anniversary. It’s an adaptation of an Ian McEwan novel which, unlike the still oft-considered Atonement, has disappeared into cinematic anonymity. A likely cause it’s that it’s an unusual genre blend, being both drama and thriller, and explores the bleak subject of a man obsessed with his past whilst stalked by an equally obsessive admirer. Ingenious design manages to make it something worth recognising; not just better than its source, however, but a work that reckons with transcendence.

There’s a narrative that appears both large and small scale, moving from a grand, original set piece to private drama. Joe (Daniel Craig) and Claire (Samantha Morton) are enjoying a romantic picnic when they are caught up in a hot air balloon accident, resulting in a tragic death. The rest of the film, however, deals with the effect of Joe’s survivor’s guilt on those around him, as well as the unwanted attentions of another survivor. It requires tremendous skill to be able to elegantly weave together these disparate story threads.

A widely experienced, genuinely visionary director manages to reform an awkward foundation. McEwan’s material has a similar story basis but is both scattershot and a little tedious, with Joe’s logical mind encountering a series of disorded events but relaying them with a lack of both flair and subtlety. Roger Michell might seem to some the wrong person for such a work, having directed the rom-com Notting Hill; yet that ignores the wit therein, and his skill at character driven thrills in Changing Lanes. Michell is perfect for giving multi-layered life to a challenging subject.

The encounter with the transcendental happens almost immediately. It’s almost there when the balloon unexpectedly drifts across the field, as if guided by an unseen hand. It’s when, however, Joe is lifted into the air by it that something unexpected happens: his eyes go wide in shock and awe, and the score turns beautifully, ethereally pastoral (a homage to Vaughn-Williams’ timeless “The Lark Ascending’). The horror of the scenario melds with an unlikely beauty, drawing us in with the stunning contrast and simultaneously affecting Joe.

It’s an immensely important moment, a sequence that speaks to the unknown that hangs over the film. Immediately following those crucial seconds is Joe’s letting go of the balloon, a decision that haunts him throughout the film. The preceding shot, however, doesn’t seem coincidentally placed but carefully juxtaposed. Was Joe realising the fragility of life and death? And was he, in that, realising how unknowable things are? He begins, whatever the case, to find a search for answers to his fears he might have contributed to the man’s death, to counter the uncertainty — to bring reason and logic to a life where cause and effect were stripped away.

Real, complex performances ground the film as it takes this journey — one that needs to be personal as well as metaphysical. Craig shows an ordinary, apparently intelligent, presentable man start to become frustrated, snappy, erratic, and even withdrawn, with his complex emotions writhing beneath a visibly agitated surface. There’s irony in the fact that his search for reason becomes more and more frenzied the more desperately he tries to attain it: a bold way to bring an internal philosophical dilemma to light, and a reminder that no philosophy is isolated from the reality of existence.

Morton brings clearly to life the effects of Joe’s obsession on those he loves, her character and performance fascinating in providing a fleshed out counterbalance to the central tortured man. Claire is an honest portrait of someone trying to keep everything — two lives, a relationship – afloat amidst her partner’s inwardly and outwardly toxic self-sabotage. Morton shows someone torn apart by Joe’s thoughts that are far from simply theoretical, and presents the attempt to stay afloat with affecting emotional truth. It feels all too rare to get this alternative point of view, taking the film from being an objective or even self-pitying character study to something moralistic.

It’s not just a drama but has an edge of the thriller, too, heightening the sense of complexity. The search for the truth and the stalking by Jed both have an edge of mystery and, as both Joe and his pursuer’s quests become more urgent, and the threads of their individual and share lives more chaotically tangled, the mysteries become both more thrilling and more frightening. The thrills are never divorced from the chaos-creating drama of minds cracking and buckling, resulting in a story that strikes the balance, without compromise, of psychological acuity and gripping entertainment.

One of the most crucial and distinctive elements of the film is Jeremy Sam’s score, charting the trajectory of its story with precision and a deeply literate approach. Pastoral beauty transforms into the smooth jazz of Taxi Driver – a subtle but evocative nudge – and then panicked, evolving chaos to rival the jagged strings of Hermann’s score for Psycho. The score always sets the mood perfectly, of course, being never intrusive, and is interwoven so that the themes are close but reflection brings out its depths.

It’s a film where not many aspects are hidden beneath the surface, including the duality of its characters. Joe is the protagonist, our guide through the film regardless of his fracturing mindset, and so it’s inevitable that Jed is viewed as the antagonist — the latter apparently a much more threatening figure. He’s simply, however, the alternate version of our protagonist, but the revelatory experience has instead taken Jed fully into the blind faith of love; the opposite of Joe’s cold search for reason. The film cleverly positions them at odds when they’re both on lonely, individualistic paths that just happen to have tangled.

Its ultimate message, however, is a sledgehammer, a contrast to the surrounding subtlety and a result of it. The end of the film puts us back in the field we started in but with a relationship irreparably ruined by Joe’s behaviour, suggesting that this is the main change in the film — and, in other words, at the core of the film’s meaning. The plot is therefore made to be, to some degree, a red herring, a journey into the diversionary obsessions of the deeply flawed protagonist. Joe’s problem is that he hasn’t had his attention in the right place.

Transcendence is the start of a moral quest here, then, but not in the way that you might expect. There is beauty in the transcendental at the start but we’re shown that Joe and Jed’s search for meaning and greater purpose in our lives can be destructive, selfish, and mindless. It doesn’t suggest that either science or religion is specifically at fault, too, with those characters representing both and, as such, representing neither. The film’s moral quest is to show how and why their outlooks are toxic; to allow us to realise the allure of the transcendent but understand that real meaning is not an ethereal abstract.

It’s a work of profound philosophical importance that is stunningly cohesive. Roger Michell and his committed collaborators have translated a leaden but intellectually promising work into something fun, thrilling, engaging, and illuminating. It’s a transcendental work not just in how it tackles our relationship with things we perceive as greater but its exceptional quality in doing so, making the fact it is underseen and underloved saddening. It is an existential work at the calibre of few others, and is one of the most unyielding, perceptive, and greatest films of all time.

My Top 10 Horror Films

As it’s Halloween the time is right to look at my horror favourites. It’s a list that is debatable, not least of all within my inner monologue, but I’ve made it easier by the decision to avoid works that simply have elements of horror for my top ten. These are films unquestionably classifiable as horrors that I personally love and would gladly revisit, and the reasons why are set out below in an undoubtedly controversial order….

10. Audition

Director: Takashi Miike

Few films feel as fresh twenty years on as this does, a horror with all the ingredients for a masterwork. It’s an intriguing study of relationships that moves from drama to horror with melancholy, beauty, good, and evil all swirling around in this precise mixture. It’s too refined to be deeply affecting, but it’s so compelling and original that it merits a yearly rewatch.

9. Piercing

Director: Nicolas Pesce

This is a fairly twisted character study and unique on the screen. It looks at two characters predisposed to differing forms of violence, and a horrific, witty, and utterly unusual bond that develops between them. It’s not an immersive work due to its absurdist style but is alluringly complex — and cinema is richer with its existence.

8. The Exorcist

Director: William Friedkin

Unquestionably this remains one of the most iconic horrors of all time and certainly earns its place here. It’s not as terrifying or shocking as it might once have been, but its pacing is perfect and so, too, is its tone. The demonic entity that possesses twelve year old Regan (Linda Blair) is violent, swearing, grotesque, and this balances brilliantly with the solemnity of those who witness that horror. A slow burner that, as testament to its craft, leaves you almost convinced in this metaphysical struggle.

7. Saw III

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

This second sequel in the infamous horror franchise is not one of the greats, but for a keen fan it proves exceptional. There are good twists, devious traps, and brilliant characters; a combination that makes for a remarkably satisfying watch. Its success is due to evident passion behind it that isn’t even so evident, or infectious, in much better known works.

6. Suspiria (1977)

Director: Dario Argento

Suspiria might have recently seen its profile raised by a remake, but this somewhat clunky original is still, in its originality, unmissable. It isn’t a perfect film and feels stilted fairly frequently, yet it has such beautiful imagery and transcendentally eerie music that you’re transported into it’s its weird, janky world.

5. Antichrist

Director: Lars von Trier

You’ll find the reputation of this to precede it, the bulk of opinion being that it’s gruesome and misogynistic. It’s a gruesome work, yes, but cerebral; it challenges the audience to understand the complexity of its message. It’s perhaps not easily approachable but left me feeling I’d seen something surprisingly meaningful.

4. Suspiria (2018)

Director: Luca Guadagnino

Remakes hardly come as bold as this inventive, uncompromising work. It has a style cleverly positioned between camp and sombre, allowing its dense and unclear journey through good and evil to be both fun and rigorous. It never bores in its lengthy runtime thanks to Luca Guadagnino’s typically bold vision, and its intelligence means it demands rewatches.

3. Saw

Director: James Wan

Gleeful, neatly plotted fun can be found in Saw. It’s not a deeply disturbing film but one with a carefully constructed mystery and, amidst that, delightful nastiness, great characters, and unforgettable iconography. It’s not often near nail-biting in its tension but is a smart melding of the slasher and thriller genres, the result being an exceptional piece of Halloween entertainment.

2. The Descent

Director: Neil Marshall

This really is the ultimate in cinematic terror. It has many layers of horror, and wrings all possible tension out of every situation. It’s got a realism which draws you in, well-acted characters who make you care — and a raw relentlessness that is incomparable. Pure brilliance that will still distress on repeat viewings.

1. The House That Jack Built

Director: Lars von Trier

Is this truly horrifying? The foundation is horror, if the killings of its central character are anything to by, and it builds something remarkable around that. It’s a stunning work that melds depravity, humour, and an intelligent, pathetic protagonist to portray evil and to increasingly skewer it. To indulge evil is to reject sensitivity and feeling; creator Lars von Trier portrays without remorse how the loss of those is life’s ultimate horror and punishment.

Honourable Mention

Silent Hill

Director: Christophe Gans

Some films transcend their limitations because of them, and this does as such with panache. The source material is twisted, bleak, iconic, but also in a B-movie vein; this leans into that with horrifying monster designs, an unsettling atmosphere, and a sense of unvarnished ambition. It’s a little too campy, sure, but feels like Guillermo del Toro meets a haunted house sensibility. The result is as memorable as that sounds.

This selection of films, being an unusual mix of highbrow and lowbrow films, the critically acclaimed and critically drubbed, is one I suspect that could land me firmly in the territory of film bro. These works, however, each have evidence of craftsmanship and care behind them that have resulted in vital, memorable entertainment and art. The House That Jack Built, however, melds those two states elegantly for me in a way that suits my tastes and, naturally, perfectly fits the remit of this blog.

Are Saw and Audition twins in terror?

It’s fifteen years since the release of Saw and, more notably, a full twenty since Audition. The latter, a tonally shifting and often quiet horror, has unquestionably greater depth — but it’s often seen as the root of the “torture porn” genre that Saw spun into an eight-movie trap-filled gorefest. What do the films actually have in common, though? And what roles do they play in modern horror?

Saw has the most obviously striking aesthetic, the screen covered in sickly tints that linger over bleaky dilapidated locations. It’s a cool style and one that is gauche enough to aid the twisted sense of fun in the films. It also works as clever shorthand in the similarity to the videos of horror-adjacent rock music, suggestive instantly of the pulpy tone and engaging people through that familiarity. There’s no confusion, just an expectation of visceral unpleasantness.

A green-tinted shot of one of Saw’s terrible traps

A similarly punchy and intriguingly offbeat premise drives the series’ narrative. The serial killer, with a franchise-friendly name of Jigsaw, is not one committing murders with wanton, if creative, abandon, but instead putting apparently ungrateful people in physically punishing ‘games’ that test the wills of players to survive. It’s a dark twist that expands the parameters of mainstream horror beyond traditionally mindless villainy.

Audition, however, doesn’t so much as widen the parameters of horror but busts the structure apart. It begins something along the lines of romantic melodrama, lolling around in some light comedy — and then twisting towards a nightmare. It’s not the effectiveness of this that is totally the focus of the film’s importance: it suggests fresh potential for horror in its wholesale warping of expectations.

There is plenty of complexity to mull over with Audition, too — its depths pernicious and troubling. It discreetly questions the nature of the apparently good, kind person who is the protagonist; someone who for much of the story appears a sympathetically lonely widower and victim. These things are less clear by the film’s end as the villain is given an even more pitiful backstory. We are asked the unsettling question underpinning our lives: where is the distinction between good and evil?

A romantic dinner in Audition, belying the tonal switch to come

Similar themes can be found in Saw but there exists much less room for contemplation. It’s a film where, essentially, everyone is bad —and it’s not concerned with moral complexity beyond that. The film isn’t dumb but simply neatly structured around other goals; it cares more about being a thrilling mystery than something which says anything purposeful or useful.

Of course, on a surface level they share an obvious point of comparison in their extreme violence, Saw even mirroring its predecessor with the amputation of a foot. Like most aspects of the film, though, their approaches differ: the violence in Audition is horrifically drawn out, whereas Saw‘s is surrounded by histrionics and acts as another shocking narrative turn. It’s clear that the latter, with its focus on pure entertainment, is the only one that sets the gruesome stage for torture porn’s sadistic arrival.

Non-ambiguous, thrill-based fear can provide a catharsis that something contrary to the norm mightn’t provide. Saw has obvious points that would draw a casual fan of the genre in, and offers obvious twisted fun. There is an original take on the motivations behind the story’s narcissistic prime mover but, essentially, everything is in service to entertainment — leaving audiences excited rather than bemused.

Audition’s villain prepares for torture

Audition‘s descent into hell, rather than a simplistic revelling in the gross and morbid, suggests a discomfort and unease that traps you in its world. It’s the sort of work that not only has an off-puttingly dark narrative but a structure that is unusual and uninviting from a distance. The moral element is likely a particular obstacle to engagement, a threat to the status quo offered by something nihilistic.

There’s a contrast in palatibilty between Audition and a similarly intellectual work like Get Out. Get Out softens the bleakness of its tale — its exploration of the pernicious racism in society is inherently bleak — by being significantly satirical. Audition, by contrast, pushes viewers away in playing the story relatively straight, its horror creeping into the texture of story rather than only seeming an intellectual message.

Language barriers, or wider barriers that have been created by a cultural isolationism, are perhaps a significant reason for Saw‘s supremacy in the West. Indeed, the taste for remakes of Japanese works is testament to that, with the American takes of The Ring and The Grudge‘s making around $200 million. Our lack of interest in the original works is attested to today by the fact we’re seeing yet another non-Japanese sequel to The Grudge next year, little clearly having changed in tastes following the nearly twenty years since the first.

A shot of the subversively sunlit Midsommar

Mediocre influence can be seen on the horror genre from Saw. It, of course, led to an ongoing franchise and proved once more how monetisable the horror genre is, its most obvious spiritual successors being reboots of similarly cash-focused ’80s franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. Camp and fun were removed from the reboots, too, as per the more realistic approach of Saw.

A parallel horror exists, though, and can to some degree be attributed to Audition. There has, in the last decade, been a bevy of films which are preoccupied with exploring the dark places of the psyche, eschewing more palatable scares: Hereditary, The Babadook, and It Follows. They see their origin in the risk-taking of Audition.

These two films are definitely different, then, but there is room for both sorts of horror. For every provocative, original, and startling Midsommar today, you have a daft, shlocky, and fun Ma — and that’s fine. But there should be credit where it’s due, and remembering how less financially successful works, and how non-Western works, have as much value as famous American productions is always something worth doing.

Joker’s Morality

Joker is definitely the most controversial film of the year, serious concerns having been raised about its moral purpose. It puts at its centre Arthur Fleck, a disillusioned white man who becomes a chaos-sparking criminal. Any sympathy for its protagonist is outweighed, however, by its urgent message — melded in with a visceral sense of distaste.

It’s a comic book movie that is startlingly grounded in reality. Arthur Fleck is the man who would become Joker, and begins as a clown and aspiring comedian who is perpetually down on his luck. He’s bullied, has mental health issues, a neurological condition, and no real talent. His evolution to Joker naturally, then, involves going beyond the bounds of a cartoonish origin into much starker truths.

The concern is, then, that this could be seen as validating the most toxic, anti-society notions of white men in a position like Arthur’s. It’s an understandable concern considering the state of society today, where an isolationist, nationalist white man leads America, emboldening the angry, superior views of men across the globe. It requires a tactful film to deal with this.

Some people have seen this as being a rehash of Taxi Driver, both films following isolated men who plot their revenge on society. There was controversy with that film, too, most notably the inclusion of Jodie Foster as a 12 year old prostitute. Flirtation with real horror is always going to make people questions its inclusion, and rightly so: film reflects and influences us, and to deny this is to suggest its impact can only be ephemeral.

Reality isn’t put forward particularly clearly in Taxi Driver, however. Travis Bickle, the troubled protagonist, is always fumbling about on the outskirts of society, an ever pathetic figure trapped in his own mind. He’s like a leaf on the breeze, the wistful, jazz-driven score reflecting his transience. It’s an approach that makes it appear a mature, analytical film, but which robs you of feeling the impact of Bickle’s behaviour.

We don’t have the luxury of being at a remove from Arthur. This is a film that thrusts us into his world with an almost-chaotic structure, energetic performances, and an industrial score that thrums and growls with anger. It’s an immersive story and therefore one where we have to feel the emotions involved and to grapple, whilst watching or when ruminating afterwards, with its meaning.

Arthur is sympathetic to a degree. His bullying seems unjust, the character being a person with a desire to be kind that’s curtailed by cruel people and a city falling apart. It’s not wrong to have some sort of connection to him at the start of the film: at that point he seems to simply be someone who’s crushed by the world rather than having inflicted an awful revenge.

Sympathy is partly limited by how involving the whole thing us, as it’s so unreservedly alive that there is an element of opera to it. Most viewers will, of course, bring some awareness of the character that will set them up for the ultimate trajectory of the film. Regardless of what you bring to your viewing, however, there’s an edge of parable evident from Arthur’s first received beatdown, but not enough to make it feel anywhere near didactic.

The transformation of the central character sees him push far beyond the limits of normal behaviour. He commits violent acts against people who are, in varying ways, cruel, malicious, and morally warped — but it never feels like the right course of action has been taken. Arthur relishes his acts in a way that leaves no room for empathy; just one of the ways in which we are made to feel sickened and shaken by his worldview.

Perhaps key to making clear the awfulness of the nature of events is that Arthur trangresses so much he destroys himself and society. The likes of A Clockwork Orange, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, and even Fight Club all see some hope or a return to the status quo. Here moral transgression and personal alteration seem absolute; Arthur makes himself disappear and the Gotham which he inhabits.

It’s a gut wrenchingly definitive journey, and no singular scene seems more definitive than his encounter with his chat show one-time-idol Murray Franklin. Murray invites him on the show as an extension of mocking his appearance at a club night; Arthur debuts on his show and ends by killing him. It’s a massive upending of social order, especially as we’re there with the main character as he enacts this unexpected murder.

What makes the scene so effective isn’t the murder but the build up, the pushing beyond our expectations. Arthur reveals his commiting of an earlier murder which leads, first of all, to the collapse of the normal interview structure. We don’t know how things will unfold from there with no hero to intervene, and as their unorthodox conversation continues it seems like we’ve been cast adrift. We feel the steering away from normality as if we’re in the scene — and share in the horror, too.

You’re almost left with terror by the fact that Arthur has no game plan beyond revenge. He’s angry, wounded, and his outlook results in a deadly nihilism that upturns a society that deals in rational, procedural operation. Universal destruction is the alarming result of someone being able to break without oversight, his unbridled emotions stirring a society that has no trajectory beyond the continued suffering of the underclasses.

It’s really an extraordinarily thorough exploration of the principle, espoused by Alfred in The Dark Knight, of some men just wanting to see the world burn. The clown prince of crime, at least as is known to the general public, might not here be the genius of yesteryear but certainly is transgressive enough to fit the bill of the character.

It’s clear that, no matter his problems, Arthur’s decisions are his own. Yet the hypocrisy of a society that professes to care, whether in the form of faux-friendly Murray or purported man of the people Thomas Wayne, means its worst aspects fester. A functioning society has to acknowledge and act on its weaknesses; Arthur’s actions blew the lid on a overboiling pot.

More than anything this is a timely parable, a warning: for society to pay attention to itself, where it’s going, and what value systems it may be fostering. It’s a remarkably intelligent and valuable exploration of how a society not being honest with itself can bring it to its knees. And the deeply unsettling, unforgettable tone of the film leaves you in no doubt it’s an outcome we all want to avoid.

The Legacy of the Blair Witch

It’s twenty years since the release of The Blair Witch Project, and three this month since the release of its belated direct successor Blair Witch. There is a massive perceived discrepancy in quality between the two, though, with the sequel having been widely criticised and not very widely seen. Is the franchise’s once bold found footage style no longer relevant, and can you still see the mark it made on cinema?

The direct impact it had was in spurring on found footage movies, and the fact that it existed was very much a result of the cultural mood time. Horror was in a state of self-reflection and so too was film was more widely, there being many works from the era that questioned traditional approaches and probed the very nature of society. The end of the century meant a bevy of works that were making a statement about the past and future.

Themes weren’t at the forefront of The Blair Witch Project‘s approach, though, being instead driven by style and a simple attempt to take a different tack for eliciting fear. It’s filmed on a handheld camera and focuses on characters set in the woods, its aim to immerse viewers and to strongly elicit the primal fear of being lost. There’s simplicity there, something that’s effective in sparking interest across all genres.

Stagnancy had hit American horror after a revolutionary ’70s and more predictable, but still fun, ’80s. The ’90s saw it become less ambitious with unwelcome sequels in slasher franchises, uninspired original films, and horrors that were based in the milder territory of psychological thriller. Horror didn’t have any terrifying or revolutionary vehicle throughout the majority of the decade, a saddening end to the century when it had been a popular genre, critically and commercially, since Psycho.

Blair Witch

Considering the circumstances it’s no surprise that The Blair Witch Project was successful, and it has led to notable spiritual successors. Cloverfield, Chronicle, and Paranormal Activity are clearly directly influenced in their usage of found footage but, fascinatingly, all have vastly differing subjects. These may only be a few examples but have been enormously popular ones, the first an last still having seeing spin offs or sequels into recent years. People like being thrust into the action, perhaps partly because point of view work is rare and also as these were all critically acclaimed.

The favour of the public can be fickle in that it decided to fall on low-budget haunted house horror Paranormal Activity but to reject Blair Witch. The former is in a similar vein to its spiritual predecessor, focusing on people trapped in an environment — this time, a couple in their house — and finding themselves haunted by an invisible demon. There’s nothing in its concept to mark itself out as particularly innovative, except the simplicity and limitations of the concept might mark it out as impressive for those who find it to work.

Nothing new of note was brought to the scene apart from its instances of a static camera. It was deeply unsettling for viewers at the time, perhaps because of how it attempted to make homes appear to never be safe. Today, however, the familiar structure of initial bantering, odd happenings, a splintering group, and then a few instances of real horror makes it seem an imitator now of something which has become boring.

The Blair Witch Project

Thematic depth is increasingly prized in horror above such stylistic twists, seen by the critical and commercial success of the likes of Get Out and Hereditary. These works deal with societal and interpersonal issues, intermingly basic, instinctive scares with more complex, haunting fears. Innovation is much easier to come across nowadays, but work that deals intelligently with profound parts of the human condition will always be appreciated no matter how much it’s been explored.

Audiences want freshness, too, no matter the approach taken to bring that about. Get Out was an intelligent horror-satire that was satisfying for many people, but the entertainment-driven releases of Annabelle, Ma, and the Saw series have equally proven to be big box office draws. Horror seems to fundamentally be an excitingly shifting genre, seeing constant reformulation that results in offerings for all tastes.

Found footage provided occasional bursts of freshness but can only go so far. Cloverfield was created as a bold new take on the monster movie in its meshing of the genre with found footage – superficially a world away from Paranormal Activity. However, it still had the self-referential nature of carrying a camera around, the artificiality of supposed naturalism, and an element of showboating. Incorporating characters into the camerawork means a constant wink to the audience as concessions are made to allow it, the approach always risking being gimmicktry.

Paranormal Activity

It seems that Blair Witch particularly highlights the limitations of the found footage film. It’s a bolder film than its predecessor but, nearly twenty years later, still shares many structural similarities with it and even Paranormal Activity. There’s something fundamentally unexciting from a distance about the prospect of Blair Witch, and the critical mauling it received probably didn’t help.

Despite everything that’s weighted against Blair Witch it does deserve a revaluation. It has a variety of characters, throws more drama into the mix, uses cameras in interesting ways, and plays with our expectations of what The Blair Witch Project aims to do. It still exists, of course, within certain confines, meaning that these additions are mere alterations to the surface of a fixed, unwieldy structure.

Perhaps the Blair Witch franchise, as far as film is concerned, is dead. The influence couldn’t be more ever present, though, in terms of helping to make horror appear full of potential – and since the late ’90s it hasn’t stopped. It doesn’t matter what you think of the original film or any of its sequels; they represent the willingness to experiment that keeps horror exciting to this day. As far as 2016’s Blair Witch is concerned, though, it’s well worth audiences taking a risk too.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – Review

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Where To Watch: Cinemas

Some controversy has accompanied the release of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and this is par the course for a Tarantino film. This is a look at ’60s culture and the Manson murders, one that has prompted people to reevaluate the director’s relationships with violence and women. Does this film mark a more socially conscious work, doing justice to the era and the victims of Charles Manson’s “family”? Or is it simply business as usual for an established creator?

The film’s central idea is the conflict between the old and new in film and, tangentially, society. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) are an actor and his stunt double increasingly finding themselves on the edge of Hollywood, whereas Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), whose story runs with varying prominence alongside, is young, vivacious, and full of potential. It’s a work that sees the era as one of cinematic and social transformation.

Humour makes the film interesting from the start even when it’s not laugh out loud funny. Much joy comes from the corny but cool authenticity of the faux classic film and TV shown throughout, the precise recreations making the heightened ridiculousness both amusing and admirable. If you’ve ever fallen prey to pop culture nostalgia it’s hard not to imagine that watching some of this would entail wearing a broad grin.

Another element that adds to the charm of the entertainment is the charisma of Cliff. It’s a character that appears likeable, Pitt’s portrayal of smiling warmth, loyalty, and gentle wit meaning his scenes are easy to watch. It’s a major issue, though, that the murder of his wife hinted at throughout the film is barely addressed; an omission that’s morally perturbing and indicative of superficial storytelling.

There’s suggestion of a flawed foundation in the weak acting beyond Pitt, it appearing that the actors aren’t at fault. Most characters seem artificial in some way, their behaviours abnormal and dialogue delivered in stilted manners. It may be the fact that there isn’t the usual quick-fire, witty dialogue of Tarantino’s other work, the resulting measured tone meaning the characters appear cartoonish caricatures.

Aesthetics here are not roundly weak but confused, there being a beauty to the world that’s unfortunately hindered. It’s a glorious recreation of the ’60s from a design perspective, feeling never less than accurate and vivid. However, the cinematography itself has no verve, no sense of any interesting craft to elevate the work as a whole. It’s visually both impressive in what’s portrayed and contrastingly workmanlike in how that’s done.

Underneath everything is a lack of structure; a lack of the control that you might expect from the creator of the gripping Inglorious Basterds. This isn’t tense or emotive, there being no serious momentum and no clear character arcs. You’re left at the end with the sensation of having been on a journey even less satisfying than a shaggy dog story. It’s a meandering, unclear, message devoid work.

Some fun is there to be had, though, amidst the caution or carelessness. It almost feels afraid to be bold, to say anything about such a difficult subject. Tarantino could have made an arresting statement about the end of an era and looked into what that meant, but instead he’s simply rekindled some of its sense of fun. It’s good to have a smile on your face, but to be challenged or invigorated would make this as a classic rather than merely a good blockbuster.

Woodstock Or Bust – Review

Director: Leslie Bloom

Where To Watch: Streaming (Amazon/Google etc.) from August 12

It seems the perfect time for this film considering it’s fifty years since the first Woodstock festival. This is a timely film in another major way, too, being a celebration of female friendship; something that has unfairly been denigrated and rightly being elevated now. This isn’t, however, specifically a tribute to Woodstock, so where does its interest lie? And does it explore its subjects with much success?

The film follows two teenage friends, Lorian (Willow Shields) and Meryl (Meg Delacy), both talented musicians stuck in a small town with overbearing parents. Despite their obstacles they wrangle themselves the opportunity to head on to Woodstock which leads, naturally, to a series of surprising and shocking events that show the strength of their bond.

One aspect of the film that stands out from the start is the naturalistic dialogue. There’s no effort to artificially make this feel like the ’60s; the teens feel modern but simply hamstrung by the mores of the time. It means you’re interested in the characters and drawn into the time period rather than made to feel like a distanced historian.

There are likeable leads, too. They’re great, expressive actors individually but have some believable charisma as friends, and the latter means that everything else feels more cohesive as a result. You appreciate that friendship is crucial to the story and are able to be more invested in their adventures – there being some curiosity created in seeing where they end up.

It’s admirable that the story is driven by a female friendship and fantastic that it’s been delivered so well. There’s the sense of authenticity in not only their bond but how all the clichés of tumult have been rejected, making for an enjoyable and necessary combination. Regardless of the film’s wider quality it’s done something important here with an enjoyable panache.

Frustrating, in contrast, is the striking lack of quality in the aesthetics. There’s a made for TV look in the uninventive lighting, bland and small sets, and the intimate camerawork. Very few shots feel like they’ve been given much artistic consideration and rarely feel anywhere near memorable, the one distinctive moment – a helicopter shot over a canyon – simply seeming out of place.

There’s a similarly uncrafted approach to the film’s tone, it switching uncomfortably between comedy and drama. Moments occur which should be uproarious and shocking or, simply, deeply uncomfortable. Little actually elicits a significant emotional response, though, because it doesn’t lean into anything with emotional certainty. You’re left with a series of disjointed non-events.

It’s a shame as there are messages in the film, just none that are given the time to gain significance. Social justice, the importance of friendship, jealousy, and assault are all looked at but nothing’s expanded upon in any way beyond the superficial. The take away can only be, with a friendship driving the story, is that friendship’s a cure all: a message which simply indicates that everything else is surface.

You’re left with a puzzle of a film. The good performances and mostly light tone make for a nice afternoon watch, but it’s simultaneously a work at odds with itself that feels noticeably incoherent. It’s easy to make sense of the fact, however, that there’s plenty of heart in the making and result of the film. Just expect to be pleased rather than moved.

Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw – Review

Director: David Leitch

Where To Watch: Cinema

What can you expect of a spin off from a nearly twenty year old action series, especially one that seems to have reached its limits of ridiculousness? This one clearly aims high seeing as it centers action legends Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham fighting a super soldier. Does it capitalise on the reputations of its predecessors and stars or is this ninth, sci-fi inflected story a sign of a series that has lost any sense of proportion?

The story is pretty standard for both a buddy film and a modern day actioner. Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) are quasi-enemies forced together to save the world from Brixton (Idris Elba), a super-suit powered, mechanically enhanced villain desperate to get hold of a deadly virus. The virus, however, is in the hands of Shaw’s estranged sister, Hattie (Vanessa Kirby) — leading to all manner of personal and professional complications.

It’s an ugly film, that much being certain almost as soon as the film starts. Locations are stagey with imposing lighting, and shots are rarely creative or subtle. The style tells you how the rest the thing will be, and that’s loud, brash, and not particularly refined; a step back from the elegance of the better Bond films. It’s a little distracting to watch something consistently reminding you of its rough and ready approach.

There is at least an undeniable energy that flows through the film. Quality editing and some skillful choreography mean that you’re glued to the screen, scenes as simple as the violence-laden character introductions being fun and surprising. There’s a carefree vitality in how cleanly much of the action is constructed that is refreshing even against the likes of Mission: Impossible.

Humour positions itself at the level of the action, though, as per the tradition of the buddy movie. It doesn’t always work but is mostly entertaining, there being great quips and enjoyable slapstick that prove enough to create several laugh out loud moments. This is not just a counterpoint to the action but something that makes it involving in a way that evokes, admittedly far more rudely and crudely, The Last Crusade.

It’s essentially a very Bond-like adventure overall, though. International locations, a distinctive villain, and a plot that meshes the personal with the professional all make this structurally reminiscent of his adventures. The number of elements that are tackled makes for an impressive action movie on paper, and one that, with the panache in its construction, definitely iz within the ballpark of the big league. It’s much more entertaining the practically humourless, overly mythologised Spectre.

Characterisation is reasonably superficial as per its cinematic counterparts. There are relationships and backstory explored but they don’t really feel meaningful in an affecting way; they’re more like essential ingredients to the formula of any action movie. However, an attempt to at least make the characters more than cartoons does make them likeable, drawing you more into the moment and keeping the action invigorating.

A sharper script could have made this a classic. There are lines of dialogue that don’t work as they should, scenes that go on too long, and perhaps a slightly skewed balance between humour and a more real human touch. There’s a lot that works but too obvious a lack of cultivation in something that just isn’t as entertaining as it should be.

It’s a very good blockbuster, perhaps one of the year’s best in its pure joyfulness. There’s a consistent undercurrent of fun and a sense of a genuine attempt to entertain that make even the weaker moments bearable. It needed a different approach to be a classic, though, and it’s hard to imagine people regularly revisiting this as part of the action canon. A genuinely fun weekend watch but unfortunately not as impressive as its potential.