Start of 2024 Round Up

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It has been a very busy start to the year. There are still many carry overs from the end of 2023, and many are worth seeing and talking about. So, instead of doing full reviews for each, let’s do mini-reviews for a handful of noteworthy films currently doing the rounds.

Anyone But You (2023)

Glen Powell and Sydney Sweeney as Ben and Bea.

Strangely, there’s a high number of romantic comedies based on Shakespeare plays. The Taming of the Shrew was adapted into 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)Twelfth Night was adapted into She’s the Man (2006), and so on. We now have Anyone But You (2023), which claims to be inspired by Much Ado About Nothing. We are introduced to Bea (Sydney Sweeney) and Ben (Glen Powell), who get on each other’s bad side after their one-night stand. They are forced to remain in each other’s lives, as Bea’s sister is marrying one of Ben’s best friends in Sydney Australia. To resist Bea’s helicopter parents, and to make Ben’s ex-girlfriend jealous, the pair pretend to be a couple. There’s nothing about Anyone But You which is particularly original or game changing, but that hardly matters as it achieves the basics of what a decent rom-com should. With strong chemistry between its charming stars and a feel-good tone, it’s the most effective advert for Sydney ever made.

7/10

Best way to watch it: On Valentines Day (Yes, this is the best way to watch it, because the V-Day version has 5 minutes of extra footage). 

Poor Things (2023)

Emma Stone as Bella Baxter.

Yorgos Lanthimos’ unhinged imagination has repeatedly been confronting, poignant and hilarious. With films like The Lobster (2015) and The Favourite (2018), it feels like the director always tries to test if audiences will embrace his work, even at its most disturbing. With that in mind, Poor Things (2023) may just be the height of his madness. Set in a fantastical version of Victorian London, the film centres on Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), a young woman who has been resurrected by a mad scientist, and is now experiencing life for the first time again. With its jaw dropping production design, endless originality, flawless performances from Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo, quick-witted script and thought provoking analysis of personhood, Poor Things is an undisputed masterpiece.

10/10

Best way to watch it: Without any distractions. You don’t want to miss a frame. 

Wish (2023)

Ariana DeBose as Asha.

For 100 years, Disney has brought joy, laughter and happiness to generations of children (and adults). Therefore, the studio is taking part in the celebration with the release of Wish (2023), its 62nd animated feature. Set in the multicultural Kingdom of Rosas, King Magnifico (Chris Pine) keeps the population happy by promising to eventually grant all of their greatest wishes through his sorcery. However, 17 year old Asha (Ariana DeBose) discovers this is a lie, and embarks on a mission to free the people and their wishes. The most unfortunate aspect about Wish is that it aims for adventure and wonderment, but comes out feeling fairly generic and uninspired. Despite the beautiful animation and sweet intentions, Wish just feels like a template of a Disney adventure, failing to give us even one memorable song.

4/10

Best way to watch it: You’d be better off binging the classics if you want to celebrate Disney’s 100th year. 

American Fiction (2023)

Jeffrey Wright as Monk.

There isn’t a shortage of great films depicting African-American culture, but there are very few films which comment on those depictions. Now, we have American Fiction (2023), based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett. The story follows Thelonious “Monk” Ellison (Jeffrey Wright), a struggling author whose work is consistently ignored for not being ‘black enough’. In response, Monk writes a trashy blaxploitation, gangster story, wanting to prove that African-American stereotypes aren’t interesting writing. This plan backfires, as his disposable novel immediately becomes a bestseller and is called one of the best novels in recent years by the (mostly caucasian) readership. While it’s rarely subtle, American Fiction is a wonderfully clever satire, effectively making its point by being a human, unstereotypical story, without a hint of blaxploitation. Ironically, it’s exactly the kind of story which would be overlooked in favour of something more over the top, just like one of the protagonist’s own novels.

8.5/10

Best way to watch it: With fine wine. 

Anatomy of a Fall (2023)

Sandra Hüller as… Sandra.

What do you usually expect to see in courtroom dramas? There’s a symphony of “objection”, “sustained”, “overruled”, and “I will hold you in contempt”. It’s all fairly played out at this point, yet one has to wonder if a courtroom film could survive without all that. This is exactly why Anatomy of a Fall (2023) is so refreshing. Set in an isolated mountain chalet near Grenoble, Sandra (Sandra Hüller) and her son Daniel (Milo Machado-Graner) discover that Sandra’s husband Samuel has fallen to his death from the top window of their house. With suicide seeming unlikely, Sandra is now the key suspect in Samuel’s murder, given that their marriage was rather turbulent. While not a traditionally nail-biting thriller, Anatomy of a Fall will have you on the edge of your seat, as it delves into how the most innocuous and innocent details can be weaponised to appear calculated and sinister.

9/10

Best way to watch it: While giving your doggy lots of hugs. 

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023)

Patrick Wilson and Jason Mamoa as Orm and Aquaman.

The concept of ‘superhero fatigue’ is repeatedly debunked, but the current state of the genre could potentially make one believe it’s finally happening. With Warner Brothers soon to attempt a complete rebuild of its DC films, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2023) might just be the most disposable adventure put to screens in recent years. Following the events of the original, Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) wants revenge on Aquaman (Jason Mamoa) for his father’s death. To defend Atlantis and defeat the villain, Aquaman must work with his imprisoned brother Orm (Patrick Wilson). Even with the visionary director James Wan at the helm, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is as cliched as it gets. It’s apparent that everyone involved in the project is completely aware it won’t matter by the time the credits roll. Everything from the scripting, performances, action, and comedy feels like it’s on autopilot.

3/10

Best way to watch it: Skip it. 

Argylle (2024)

Dua Lipa and Henry Cavill as LaGrange and Agent Argylle.

When you look at Matthew Vaughn’s films, all can be enjoyed as complete, standalone adventures, with gorgeous production design, creative camerawork and compelling storytelling. Even his depiction of violence is infectious, as it’s simultaneously risky, yet tasteful. His latest spy-caper, Argylle (2024), promised to be all that and more, given that it was marketed as being from “The twisted mind of Matthew Vaughn”. The story follows spy author Elly Conway (Bryce Dallas Howard), who is famous for her creation of a James Bond-esque hero named Agent Argylle (Henry Cavill). Conway is soon attacked by actual spies, as it turns out her books have been predicting events in the espionage world. With the help of Agent Aiden (Sam Rockwell), Conway is on a mission to find out why her fictional novels are coming true. The film lays the groundwork for an interesting and funny spy mystery, but Argylle is only enjoyable on the most superficial level. It’s fun, funny, charming and silly, but unlike Vaughn’s previous efforts, there’s a distinct lack of heart and cleverness. Most frustratingly, the film fails to deliver anything truly outrageous. Unlike his work on Kick-Ass (2010), Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), or even X-Men: First Class (2011), Argylle feels restrained, despite being sold as Vaughn’s craziest film yet.

5/10

Best way to watch it: Rewatch Kingsman instead.

The Iron Claw (2023)

Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich.

Sports dramas have one of the most recognisable templates in all of cinema. However, unlike other repetitive genres, most audiences embrace the formula every single time. Therefore, it’s always particularly special when a sporting film breaks away from the mould. With that in mind, we now have The Iron Claw (2023), the true life story of the Von Erich’s, the iconic family of wrestlers who one by one met with very tragic ends. Following in the footsteps of Raging Bull (1980) and The Wrestler (2008), The Iron Claw is far from a brawny spectacle, delivering its heartbreaking story with sensitivity and maturity. Director Sean Durkin never expects us to be inspired by victory in the violent sport, instead showing us a sobering analysis of parenting, masculinity, and most importantly, brotherly love.

9/10

Best way to watch it: With your brother (or brothers).

The Zone of Interest (2023)

The Höss family enjoying a day by the water.

When American films depict Nazis, they are made to be Bond villains. However, German Cinema consistently manages to create far more human, complex and nuanced versions. Interestingly, these more sympathetic portrayals end up being far more chilling, terrifying and unnerving than any of Hollywood’s comically evil Nazis. The Zone of Interest (2023) is about as chilling as it gets, depicting the life of Rudolf Höss, the commander of Auschwitz concentration camp. Instead of being a true biopic, the film takes a step back, simply showing the quiet and innocuous life of Höss and his family, all of whom seem completely unfazed by the horror right outside their window. In the foreground, this may as well be a story about a family settling into a new home. Yet in the background of every shot, there are unmissable indications of the unspeakable war crimes. The fact that the family at the centre barely registers what’s happening, powerfully highlights the staggering depth of the evils committed during the Holocaust. As expected, it’s not a particularly re-watchable film, and it rests more on themes than it does on story, yet it is something that has to be seen.

8.5/10

Best way to watch it: Contemplatively.

Robert Fantozzi

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