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Reviews of films I only managed to see late in the game...


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See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 19.May.24

Anyone But You  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

Anyone But You
dir Will Gluck
scr Ilana Wolpert, Will Gluck
with Sydney Sweeney, Glen Powell, GaTa, Alexandra Shipp, Hadley Robinson, Dermot Mulroney, Rachel Griffiths, Bryan Brown, Michelle Hurd, Darren Barnet, Charlee Fraser, Joe Davidson
release UK 26.Dec.23
23/US Columbia 1h43

Is it streaming?

sweeney and powell
After seeing Glen Powell in Richard Linklater's Hit Man, I thought I'd check out his earlier hit. There's considerable corny slapstick mixed into this screwball romantic comedy, and no question about where it is headed. But there are enough story wrinkles and lively characters to keep us engaged. And it helps that everything is sunny and gorgeous. It's a well-made bit of mindless guilty-pleasure fluff that keeps us smiling.

Meeting cute in a coffee shop, law student Bea (Sweeney) and finance dude Ben (Powell) have an instant connection, but quickly have a misunderstanding. Meeting by accident six months later, they find themselves travelling together to a destination wedding in Sydney for Bea's sister Halle (Robinson) and Ben's pal Claudia (Shipp). But their animosity threatens to ruin the nuptials, so everyone else enacts a plan to make them fall for each other. And when they discover this, they decide to flip the script on everyone. Of course none of these plans go smoothly.

This is a sexy and very silly film, packed with sequences that are designed specifically to make the audience laugh or swoon, regardless of whether they have any coherence in the narrative. There are moments of depth along the way, most notably in the way Bea and Ben continually second-guess each other, unsure about what is real and what might be a mistake. Thoroughly likeable, Sweeney and Powell have terrific chemistry, while the ace supporting cast ham it up perfectly.

But the script moves briskly past anything remotely serious, while the plot takes perhaps one gyration too many. This makes the whole thing feel fantastical and very contrived, but it's also funny and sexy, in a timidly goofy sort of way. We know from the start where this is going, so nothing is surprising in the expected zany but satisfying climax in the most picturesque place possible. As Bea and Ben note, it's stupid but fun, which is the best kind of fun.

cert 15 themes, language 17.May.24

Civil War  
Review by Rich Cline | 3/5  
Civil War
dir-scr Alex Garland
with Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Nick Offerman, Jesse Plemons, Nelson Lee, Sonoya Mizuno, Jefferson White, Karl Glusman, Edmund Donovan, Evan Lai
release UK/US 12.Apr.24
24/US A24 1h49

Is it streaming?

dunst and spaeny
It seems like a missed opportunity to make a movie about a new American Civil War and then leave politics out of it. The only nod writer-director Alex Garland makes in that direction is a reference to a president who has hung on for a third term, while dissolving the FBI and launching military attacks on protesting civilians. Instead, this is another war-is-awful movie, tracing the experiences of a team of photojournalists who throw themselves into the firing line. And even without much of a point, it's rivetingly well-made.

At the centre of the plot is Lee (Dunst) a battle-hardened veteran in New York as the Western Forces advance on Washington DC. So she and her partner Joel (Moura) decide to head to the capital and hopefully interview the besieged, belligerant president (Offerman). They're accompanied by the even more world-weary veteran Sammy (Henderson) and bright young novice photographer Jessie (Spaeny), who is thrilled to meet her hero Lee, and has no idea of the horrors that lie ahead of them.

Garland's direction is intense and involving, creating an incident-based road movie (see The Last of Us) in which the characters have quiet and even funny moments in between various terrifying encounters with gun-toting nutcases. The wild tonal shifts actually pull us into the story, so Garland's sometimes simplistic cinematic language (slow motion, an anachronistic song score, beauty in devastation) brings out deeper thoughts and feelings from a cast that plays scenes beautifully, often with skilful understatement.

So it's a rather large problem that the narrative tries so hard to remove itself from present-day political reality. And as a result, even the film's anti-war commentary feels half-hearted. Yes, the president's hard-man tactics echo Putin and Assad, with some Trumpian overtones, but the rebels' gleefully murderous response is just as pernicious, a point Garland is clearly trying to make in the film's final shot. But it doesn't leave us much room to think.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 22.Apr.24

Kung Fu Panda 4  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5
Kung Fu Panda 4
dir Mike Mitchell
scr Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger, Darren Lemke
voices Jack Black, Awkwafina, Viola Davis, Dustin Hoffman, Bryan Cranston, James Hong, Ian McShane, Ke Huy Quan, Ronny Chieng, Lori Tan Chinn, Seth Rogen, Harry Shum Jr
release UK 28.Mar.24
24/US DreamWorks 1h34

See also:
Kung Fu Panda 2 Kung Fu Panda 3
Is it streaming?

Po and Zhen
Seven years after the last movie, the action picks up where it left off, as our no-longer-so-reluctant hero faces a menacing new villain as well as some hard truths about his future. While the plot feels rather contrived, the film is still great fun, gorgeously animated with a vivid sense of detail and packed with both subtext and an increasing cast of hilarious characters battling for screen time.

Even though Master Shifu (Hoffman) pushes him, Po (Black) is reluctant to select his successor as the Dragon Warrior. So he's glad for the distraction when villainous sorceress The Chameleon (Davis) launches a plot to drain power from the afterlife and take over the world. But she needs Po's special staff to do this. Accompanying Po to face The Chameleon is sly fox Zhen (Awkwafina), who wants to learn kung fu. And they're followed by Po's father Li (Cranston) and Ping (Hong), who raised him. Indeed, Po needs all the help he can get.

As usual, the film is a mix of wacky comedy, silly slapstick and outrageously colourful action, often all mixed together at once. And underlying everything are gently thoughtful philosophies that add depth of meaning, pulling us in and making the nonsense feel unusually satisfying. Vocal work is excellent across the board, with some extraordinary work particularly from Davis. And there are several properly spectacular sequences along the way.

This is some of the finest animation Hollywood can produce, impeccably catching glorious Chinese landscapes and architecture along with witty nods to culture, food and art. And the large-scale action set-pieces are staged with fiendishly inventive choreography. There are also subtle messages woven throughout the chaotic story, including a comment about the perils of taking shortcuts to get what you want. And of course it's also a salient reminder that when you're in doubt, it's best to trust your heart.

cert pg themes, language, violence 26.Apr.24

The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare  
Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5  
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
dir Guy Ritchie
scr Paul Tamasy, Eric Johnson, Arash Amel, Guy Ritchie
prd Jerry Bruckheimer, Guy Ritchie, Chad Oman, Ivan Atkinson, John Friedberg
with Henry Cavill, Eiza Gonzalez, Alan Ritchson, Henry Golding, Cary Elwes, Alex Pettyfer, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Babs Olusanmokun, Til Schweiger, Henrique Zaga, Freddie Fox, Rory Kinnear
release US 19.Apr.24
24/UK Lionsgate 2h00

Is it streaming?

pettyfer, ritchson, cavill, fiennes tiffin and golding
Based real events from World War II that were only declassified in 2016, this is a tale from the early days of black ops involving frightfully well-spoken British agents. Guy Ritchie invests plenty of earthy humour into the film, which casually saunters through a series if amusingly well-staged set-pieces to put an entertaining spin on the war movie genre. Ritchie's approach is smirking, but he wins us over.

As the Nazis consolidate their grip on mainland Europe, the head of British intelligence (Elwes) decides to take them on by setting aside the rules of war, just as Hitler has done. To lead a vital mission to an island off the west coast of Africa, they bring in rogue operator Gus (Cavill). As two undercover operatives (Gonzalez and Olusanmokun) prepare the way, Gus and his team of ruffians (Ritchson, Golding and Fiennes Tiffin) head to Africa by sea, stopping en route to rescue colleague Geoffrey (Pettyfer) from a German prison.

Oozing British charm while evoking the ambience of Casablanca in this African outpost, the characters are hilariously civilised and chipper, This adds an almost farcical tone alongside the violent action. "Try to have fun," Gus says, before they massacre an entire encampment of Nazis. The ensemble indeed does have a lot of fun with these characters, adding terrific details that bring them to life and add to their snappy interaction. Cavill shines in a role that's relaxed and effortlessly affable, while Gonzalez is particularly enjoyable as she holds her own in this sea of masculinity.

The film's groovy vibe is infectious, as Ritchie mixes the alarmingly enormous body count with crisp banter, lavish production design and witty plot twists. And while the true story has been heightened to make it more entertaining, there's also a nice sense of authenticity in the narrative itself, with its offbeat flourishes and intriguing details, such as how the events connect to young intelligence officer Ian Fleming (Fox), who based James Bond on Gus.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 16.May.24

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