SONIC THE HEDGEHOG – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation), James Marsden (Enchanted), Jim Carrey (The Mask), Tika Sumpter (Ride Along), Adam Pally (Iron Man 3), Neal McDonough (Captain America: The First Avenger)

Director: Jeff Fowler (Gopher Broke)

Writers: Patrick Casey & Josh Miller (Transylmania)

Runtime: 1 hour 39 minutes

Release Date: 14th February (US, UK)

Sonic the Hedgehog may be an icon of the video game world so ubiquitous that he’s familiar to even those who don’t play video games, but regardless he is an odd choice to get the movie treatment. He may have a fervent fanbase and a huge library of games, but story and character have never been the strong suit of the franchise no matter how many DeviantArt forums will tell you otherwise. Given those circumstances, seeing the character shoved into a well-worn family movie formula is ultimately not too surprising. What is surprising is how much Sonic the Hedgehog actually works as a movie despite its more unimaginative elements.

The plot of Sonic is certainly amongst its weaker qualities. It lacks originality and relies heavily on tropes to the point that every development is predictable from a mile away. The film does seem aware of this and attempts to lampshade this by cutting to the chase, but regardless it’s all very workmanlike; nothing is particularly done badly, but none of it stands out either. Whilst no film with this tone and audience needs to be longer than 100 minutes, the story does feel quite rushed and unfinished at points, as if various different drafts were mashed together or chunks were lost in editing. For example, the entire subplot surrounding Tom’s fugitive status is feels tacked-on and barely impacts the narrative, whilst the prologue backstory for Sonic feels like it came from a completely different movie. With all that said, the movie manages to function purely thanks to its enthusiasm, humour and heart. Though it’s all tame and family-friendly, there are a fair few decent gags from the likes of both Sonic and Robotnik, and it generally avoids relying on potty humour or tired pop culture references. More surprisingly, though occasionally trite, the film does mine some pathos out of its themes of overcoming isolation and discovering where you belong. None of it is particularly revolutionary, but there is at least some effort on an emotional level to make this more than just an exercise in brand management.

Though many of the specifics have drastically changed and evolved over the years, Sonic as a character has always been defined by his cheeky demeanour and 90s-brand attitude. In terms of translating that into a three-dimensional character, Ben Schwartz has done a commendable job of making Sonic likable and even relatable. He imbues him with an infectious child-like wonder and a self-deprecating sense of humour that’s quickly endearing, but he also finds some depth in his feelings of desperation and loneliness and how that drives his erratic personality. The material is somewhat limited, but Schwartz consistently finds ways to embellish the base material and keeps the movie lively when the plot feels like coasting.

James Marsden feels a tad typecast playing small-town sheriff Tom and never quite embraces the ridiculousness of the premise, but he is nothing but consistent in his performance and has a decent repartee with Schwartz. Tika Sumpter feels a tad tacked on as Tom’s wife Maddie, but her chemistry with Marsden is strong and their relationship has some interesting kinks to it that avoid making it a cookie-cutter dynamic, whilst both Adam Pally and Neal McDonough are saddled with one-note side characters that don’t really demand actors of even their stature. However, Jim Carrey ultimately steals the show as Dr. Robotnik. Though a bit of a far cry from his video game counterpart, Carrey does embrace the cartoony nature of the character and delivers an unhinged and thoroughly entertaining performance. Much like Schwartz, he manages to elevate the ho-hum material handed to him and adds some intricacy to Robotnik’s motivations, characterising him a crazed narcissist with a single-minded obsession to prove himself better. It’s easily Carrey’s best strictly comedic performance in over a decade, and easily the most appealing element of the film to those not already heavily invested in the Sonic franchise.

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Much of the pre-release chatter about the film was Sonic’s drastic redesign during post-production, which saw the Blue Blur turned from a cartoon hedgehog to an unappealingly lanky Dr. Moreau creature to a happier medium between classic and realistic. Though perhaps not quite as impressive as the character designs in Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, Sonic himself ultimately looks like his iconic self and translates surprisingly well into 3-D space. The visual effects are suitably cartoony without feeling totally unreal, adapting concepts from the games into live-action with surprising adeptness and verisimilitude. The film’s action sequences are disappointingly brief and intermittent, but they’re all executed with good humour and craft. There are some clear cues taken from the Quicksilver sequences in the recent X-Men films, but they’re still a blast to watch and incorporate many of Sonic’s classic moves into the action. Tom Holkenborg’s score is effective if a tad forgettable save for some clever references to music cues from the games, whilst Wiz Khalifa’s tie-in song “Speed Me Up” is honestly a pretty decent track with a catchy and energetic beat; it’s no “Escape from the City”, but it is good workout playlist material.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a pretty by-the-numbers kids’ movie that does the bare minimum in some essential areas, but there are clearly enough people working behind the scenes trying their best to elevate it. It’s a flawed but endearing film with a naïve energy and wry self-awareness, occasionally hitting sparks of genius in the midst of its humdrum narrative. It’ll certainly appeal to Sonic fans with its appealing character design and numerous Easter eggs (if you are a fan, do stay through the credits!), but it’s harmless and appealing enough that a more general audience will find something to like too. There’s a decent backbone here to build a franchise out of, but if they proceed the filmmakers need to embrace the idiosyncrasies of the property. Now the foundations are in place, there’s no need to play it safe with a formulaic plot. Bring in more of the classic Sonic elements and embrace the ridiculousness more. If the sequel to Sonic the Hedgehog can at least be as unapologetically dumb fun as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows or the 2017 Power Rangers movie, then I’m all for further adventures with this chilli dog-loving fiend. 

FINAL VERDICT: 6/10

BIRDS OF PREY (AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN) – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street), Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim vs The World), Jurnee Smollett-Bell (Underground), Rosie Perez (Do The Right Thing), Chris Messina (Ruby Sparks), Ella Jay Basco, Ali Wong (Always Be My Maybe), Ewan McGregor (Doctor Sleep)

Director: Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs)

Writer: Christina Hodson (Bumblebee)

Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes

Release Date: 7th February (US, UK)

Speaking personally for just a moment, there are several reviews I’ve written in the past that I wholeheartedly disagree with now, and none more so than my original thoughts on Suicide Squad. If you can believe it, I gave the film a 7.5 at the time of release, and on subsequent attempts to watch it, I’ve found it is…nowhere near worthy of that score. To be fair, I saw the movie at a secret advance screening that began at 1am, so…yeah, perhaps my mind wasn’t in the best place and I mistook that film’s horrendous editing for me just being tired. Heck, I even favourably compared it to Fight Club, which…no. Just no. Yeah, past me was kinda dumb sometimes.

That being said, Suicide Squad did have many redeeming qualities, one of which being Margot Robbie’s fantastic performance as Harley Quinn. Even as many audiences disregarded the film itself, the desire for more from The Joker’s ditzy partner-in-crime was immense, and it seems Robbie herself was quick to pick up on what fans were really looking for. So now we have Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), which partners Ms Quinn with several other badass ladies from the DC Universe for a zany crime caper packed with blood and laughs. In short, it delivers on everything Suicide Squad failed to and so much more.

Mega Sized Movie Poster Image for Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (#15 of 18)

Birds of Prey is a movie told from Harley Quinn’s perspective not only on a plot level but a tonal and thematic one too. Telling its story with frequent voice-over, fourth-wall-breaking, fractured timelines and fantasy sequences, there is a frantic and larger-than-life energy to the entire production that simply exudes fun. The plot itself is a fairly simple “everyone wants to find character and/or MacGuffin for different reasons, so protagonist goes on the run to protect character and/or MacGuffin” kind of deal, but it is told with enough flair and idiosyncratic characters that it’s hard to care.

Even though the non-linear structure occasionally ruptures the film’s flow a little too much, its vigour and charm never cease to keep up, and come the third act it all explodes into a satisfyingly joyous girl gang frenzy. The aim of the game here is clearly unbridled entertainment, but there is some added depth to the madness with its themes of breaking free from toxicity and patriarchy and learning to embrace individuality and sisterhood. Superhero movies like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel may have already delivered strong feminist messages in their stories, but Birds of Prey allows those themes to burst out with anarchic pop-punk relish. It’s not afraid to allow its women to be dirty or foul-mouthed or anything else atypically feminine, and that rebellious spirit is alone worth celebrating for a major studio blockbuster.

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Whilst Robbie’s Harley Quinn has been worthily lauded, one of the issues viewers of Suicide Squad and fans of the character over the years have noted is the problematic nature of her relationship with The Joker. Her devotion and dependency on the villain may be an important part of her warped psyche, but unfortunately it also reinforces and makes light of the horrid toxicity of real-life abusive relationships. Birds of Prey handles this issue with tact, building the story and Harley’s arc around her not only getting over The Joker but finding herself again as an independent woman. This allows Robbie to bring some much-needed nuance to the character whilst still being able to embrace her manic and cathartic personality, and she’s clearly having an absolute blast throughout.

Though this is very much Robbie’s movie, and its biggest flaw is that she ultimately eats up much of the screen time of the actual Birds of Prey to their detriment, the rest of the cast all deliver wildly rapturous and compelling performances. Jurnee Smollett-Bell is a revelation as Black Canary, imbuing the character with a streetsmart attitude and moral code that sets her apart from previous incarnations of the character whilst still unequivocally being Dinah Lance. Though she mostly takes a back seat until towards the third act, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Huntress is fascinating being equally stone-cold and endearingly awkward; her social inexperience and one-track mindset make her a gold mine of possibilities for future films. Rosie Perez is finally given her blockbuster due as the abrasive yet gold-hearted Renee Montoya, whilst Ella Hay Basco is delightfully cheeky as Cassandra Cain. Ewan McGregor eats up the scenery and spits it out as the viciously camp crime boss Black Mask, and is ably supported by Chris Messina’s quietly psychotic turn as Victor Zsasz.

Though Suicide Squad’s aesthetic and technical qualities ended up being a garish mess, there were solid ideas at its core that simply got lost or out of control. Birds of Prey fixes up these ideas to deliver a more streamlined yet equally madcap experience. The film is awash in the loud fog and neon of a graphic novel, bolstered by Matthew Libatique’s fantastically flowing cinematography. The whole movie is bursting with punk, femme and queer inspirations, particularly in the film’s gorgeous costume design packed with awesome outfits sure to inspire many cosplays. The action sequences are a bone-crunching delight, packed with superb choreography and ingenious set-pieces with a clear Jackie Chan influence; it should be no surprise that John Wick maestro Chad Stahelski did some second unit punch-up on this. Further bolstering the film’s girl gang ferocity is its soundtrack, packed full of contemporary rap and pop and tuned-up covers of classics, all from female artists. Complimenting Daniel Pemberton’s score, these tracks are intelligently sprinkled throughout and none of them suffer from being obvious needle drops like Suicide Squad’s fevered playlist.

Birds of Prey is a divine blend of superheroics and chaotic catharsis, perfectly embodying Harley’s titular emancipation from not only The Joker but the past sins of the DCEU. From beginning to end, it bursts at the seams with uninhibited enthusiasm and sass, reinforced by a game cast all clearly having so much fun and filmmaking unafraid to be gaudy and unapologetically feminine. As the blockbuster debut of director Cathy Yan, her voice manages to shine throughout and only further emboldens DC’s new approach to making their films individually distinct rather than Marvel’s uniform policy. Even removed from its comic book roots, this is a bold and unique action-comedy that has plenty of potential outside of the typical superhero audience, and hopefully this isn’t the last time we see the Birds of Prey in action. As for Harley Quinn, we only have eighteen months to wait before she we see her return to her old squad. I hear they’re being given quite the makeover… 

FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10

MY TOP 25 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2019

Wow. 2019 was quite an interesting year for film. A lot of the discussion this year was how Hollywood is starting to feel more homogenous than ever, as blockbusters continue to eat up more space in cinemas and smaller films are having to run to streaming services for support. When filmmakers like Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh and even Michael Bay need to rely on Netflix to get their films made, there’s something clearly amiss in the traditional studio system.

With that said, there were great films from all corners of the medium this year, and now is finally the time for me to run down all of my favourites. There were quite a load of hard cuts to make here, but I’m happy to say every single film on this list is a gem and more than worth seeing. Honestly, some of these will actively make your life better. But hey…that’s just my opinion.

Honourable Mentions

Honey Boy

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Weathering with You

Late Night

The Nightingale


  1. High Life

This is a film that is both a homage to a far-gone generation of contemplative science fiction and a turbulent deconstruction of the genre itself. Claire Denis shows an incredible reverence to classics like Solaris and Silent Running whilst also injecting her film with an all-too-human darkness and penchant for all things carnal. Yet amongst all the apocalyptic grime and lust, there is a glimmer of optimism within this film’s black heart. It’s certainly not an experience for everyone, but there’s a beauty in its depiction of depravity.

  1. Judy

Judy Garland is such a screen legend that she practically feels fictional, but this brutally honest portrait of her swansong years brings the starlet back down to reality. Renée Zellweger delivers her finest performance in years, perfectly capturing the eccentricity, indomitable spirit and concealed sadness of the iconic actress and singer. Judy works not only as a spotlight on a celebrity’s twilight but also as a sorry reminder of how Hollywood’s problems with misogyny and depersonalization have a longstanding history.

  1. The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers returns once again with his unique brand of arthouse period piece horror with this tale of isolation and paranoia. Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe excel in this bleak and oozing atmosphere, unearthing performances rife with pathos and insanity, with Dafoe’s grizzly maritime drawl in particular exuding with terror. The black-and-white cinematography and 1.19:1 aspect ratio combine to create a visual experience that is haunting and claustrophobic, and its eerie imagery is pure unfiltered nightmare fuel. Watch at your own peril, but watch anyway.

  1. A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood

The tear-jerking documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour? may ultimately be the more defining tribute to the quiet genius of Fred Rogers, but Marielle Heller’s cinematic take on the children’s television host is remarkable in its own right. Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as Rogers, expertly embodying his reserved but kind demeanour whilst giving him a hidden dimension of sadness. His scenes with Matthew Rhys as the sceptical journalist are some of the most emotionally powerful scenes of film this year, and anyone struggling with any kind of mental anguish or trauma needs to see this. It is cinema therapy at its finest, and a worthy companion piece to the already excellent documentary.

  1. John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

Whilst perhaps the weakest entry in the John Wick saga on a story level, Parabellum delivers some of the finest action in the series yet. Every fight is a spectacle to behold, constantly upping the ante with new toys and ideas, putting to shame every dime-a-dozen action movie that even attempts to copy its style. This is a film made of pure fun, and its pretentions for greater meaning feel tongue-in-cheek in exactly the right way. As long as they can keep up the quality, John Wick can return as many times as he pleases. [read the full review here]

  1. Booksmart

Teen comedies have come in all sorts of flavours over the years, but a great female-driven example sadly only seems to come once in a generation. For this generation, the answer is easily Booksmart. Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is an immediate cult classic that plays with the well-established tropes but gives them a progressive makeover that is both hilarious and poignant. As much a tale of unconditional friendship and a contemplation on our adolescent regret as it is a series of sex and drug jokes, this is a film that feels like a time capsule of Generation Z and yet also a timeless tale of teenage liberty that’ll stand the test of ages. [read the full review here]

  1. Captain Marvel

It took Marvel Studios long enough, but they finally gave us a female-led entry to the MCU and it paid off in dividends. Whilst in many facets yet another superhero origin story, Captain Marvel defies expectations and fashions its story to be about more than just sci-fi heroics. Flavouring its narrative with commentary on female self-empowerment, wartime refugees and questioning your allegiances, there is a powerful but playful undercurrent to what is easily Marvel’s most wish-fulfilling fantasy since the first Captain America. Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers is the kind of hero we need more of right now, and hopefully she can lead the MCU into a bright but daunting future. [read the full review here]

  1. Long Shot

It may seem a bit quaint and overly idealistic now given how much US politics has continued to degrade since its release, but Long Shot is still a hilarious and thought-provoking marriage of romantic comedy and political satire. Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron may seem like an odd pairing on paper, but on the screen their chemistry illuminates every moment, and the fantastic supporting cast including O’Shea Jackson Jr., Bob Odenkirk and an unrecognisable Andy Serkis only sweeten the deal. If the current world climate has got you feeling down, this is the perfect antidote to pessimism. [read the full review here]

  1. Shazam!

In a world where superhero movies constantly feel like they have to be either The Avengers or The Dark Knight, it’s great to see one that embraces the childhood fantasy so unabashedly. Shazam! is a delightful and consistently hilarious throwback to 90s and early 2000s comic book movies in the best way, bolstering the expected superhero fare with self-deprecating humour, a lot of heart and even a little horror. It’s just a romp from start to finish, and yet another encouraging sign that DC is on a steady road to recovery. [read the full review here]

  1. Spider-Man: Far From Home

Into the Spider-Verse may have shown it up before it even got to the table, but Far From Home is still easily the best live-action Spidey flick since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. It serves as not only a strong epilogue to Endgame but also sets Peter Parker on a path that helps separate him from past interpretations whilst still being quintessentially Spider-Man. However, it’s Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio that steals the show, delivering a deliciously smarmy performance and the best Spidey villain since Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock. Hopefully, with now one last movie bolted onto the Disney/Sony deal, Marvel Studios can send out their time with this character with an appropriate bang until they can reclaim custody for good. [read the full review here]

  1. Promare

This is easily the most esoteric film to make the list, but there is simply no more unique a film from 2019 than Promare. A hyper-saturated, frenetically paced and action-packed anime bonanza of spectacle turned up to eleven, it backs up its brazen style with a surprisingly complex and timely exploration of prejudice and revolution. Like Les Misérables for the Antifa generation, this is a bewildering yet gorgeous example of embracing flair over form in the best way and standing out in a sea of both western and eastern animation. What else would you expect from the creators of Kill la Kill?

  1. Marriage Story

Divorce is hardly a new subject for film to explore, but Noah Baumbach’s raw and personal rendering of it is deeply effective and relatable even to those who haven’t been through the process. Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson both give stellar performances whilst keeping their drama balanced and heartbreakingly sympathetic. With a fantastic supporting turn from Laura Darn and a restrained but heartbreaking score from Randy Newman, Marriage Story is a worthy addition to the lexicon of stories about failed love.

  1. Uncut Gems

Just whenever it becomes easy to write the guy off as a lazy hack, Adam Sandler jumps back in the ring and proves himself a fantastic actor. Watching Uncut Gems is like having a two-hour anxiety attack, keeping you on the edge of your seat as you witness one man’s desperate and pathetic struggle with his unrestrained vices. Not only is Sandler absolutely mesmerising, but the writing and directing from Josh & Bennie Safdie is phenomenal across the board; not to mention the cinematography, score and great supporting work from Julia Fox and Idina Menzel. The fact this was completely snubbed by the Academy this year, especially Sandler, is a damning indictment of the entire awards season culture.

  1. Dolemite Is My Name

Speaking of snubs, Eddie Murphy also delivered an amazing comeback performance this year to little recognition, but Dolemite Is My Name is more than worth seeking out. Films about filmmaking are always a fascinating venture, but this biopic of the infamous Rudy Ray Moore is about something much larger than a cult icon. It is a testament to the pursuit of glory not just for fame and riches, but to give your community a voice and prove wrong those who thought you couldn’t. Anyone who wants to be a creative, especially from a marginalised background, should see this film as spiritual guidance to pursue your dreams on your own terms and make your art for those you love.

  1. Hustlers

There were certainly better films made in 2019, but no movie summed up the feel of the year than Hustlers; ironic, considering the film mainly takes place in the late 2000s. Lorene Scafaria writes and directs with confidence this tale of strippers taking back control after the 2008 financial crisis, criticising the failed capitalism that created the current culture whilst also basking in its opulence. The entire cast is a fantastic girl gang of talent, but Jennifer Lopez is absolutely the film’s MVP and once again proves she can be a formidable actress in the right role. In a year already containing both The Irishman and Joker, Hustlers ended up being the better Scorsese throwback than even Scorsese himself. [read the full review here]

  1. Ad Astra

When we get raw, grounded traditional science fiction, it’s usually a low budget affair in the vein of Moon or the aforementioned High Life, and attempts to make blockbuster-sized versions usually ends up diluting and ruining the premise (anyone remember Passengers?). Ad Astra is the rare example that puts its budget to good use, delivering a high concept spectacle with grand production design and visual effects whilst staying focused on the human story at its centre. It’s a film about trauma and isolation that uses its sci-fi trappings to amplify its themes rather than distract from them, crafting a sorrowful but necessary tale of learning to boldly move forward rather than letting the past define you. [read the full review here]

  1. Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari)

The ultimate dad movie of the decade, Le Mans ’66 is far more than just a film about cool fast cars going vroom vroom. It is a story about the best kind of teamwork, putting forward the best people for the job regardless of personalities and conflicts to achieve an ultimate goal. Christian Bale gives another landmark performance as the abrasive but unmatched Ken Miles, and combined with Matt Damon as the more restrained Carroll Shelby they make for a great two-hander. James Mangold directs the film with passion and fury, delivering some of the best racing sequences in recent cinema history in the process. Put this in a double bill with Ron Howard’s Rush, and you’ve got a great night of high octane driving bromance. [read the full review here]

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  1. Little Women

Greta Gerwig has proven she’s far more than just the millennial dreamer girl by making the defining adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s seminal story of progressive womanhood. Respecting the source material whilst giving it a cheeky revisionist twist, this is a gorgeous and touching drama that feels as young as the day the novel was first published, and will likely influence generations of young girls to come. The entire cast is brilliant from top to bottom, but Saorise Ronan and Florence Pugh shine brightest of all, whilst Gerwig herself has practically guaranteed herself tenure amongst the current crop of filmmaking greats.

  1. Wild Rose

The best movie of 2019 that no one saw, Wild Rose is the perfect film for the hopeless dreamer in us all. It was a banner year for rising star Jessie Buckley with standout turns in Chernobyl and Judy, but this was the proof in the pudding she is a leading lady to be taken seriously. Backed up by an equally stellar turn from Julie Walters, this tale of a Glaswegian single mother and ex-con trying to make it as a country singer is one of the best British indies in a long time, and a beautiful ode to pursuing happiness and dreams without drowning yourself in fantasy. [read the full review here]

  1. Avengers: Endgame

What an end to over a decade of storytelling! The Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment may now be commonplace in the blockbuster landscape, but only they know how to pull it off like this, and Endgame is a testament to their power and influence. A true epic not seen since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, it brings a satisfying closure to a sprawling saga whilst leaving the door wide open for more, delivering not only on the fan service but also on raw emotion and heart. This may be exactly the type of film that is homogenising western cinema into even more of a pure blockbuster landscape, but that is a problem with the industry more than Avengers: Endgame itself. Judged as the type of film it is trying to be, it is the chef’s kiss of superhero movies. [read the full review here]

  1. Toy Story 4

The fact that everyone thought a fourth Toy Story film was a bad idea and yet it still turned out amazing is proof that Pixar can accomplish anything when they put their minds to it. It far from negates the conclusiveness of the third film, instead acting as more of a character-driven epilogue to Woody’s decade-long philosophical quest to define his purpose as a toy, and as that it is a joyful yet sob-worthy triumph. It’s everything you could want from a Toy Story movie and more. If Toy Story 3 was like saying goodbye to your childhood friends, Toy Story 4 is having one of those friends run back, give you a kiss on the lips, tell you they’ve always and will always love you, then run away saying goodbye again. [read the full review here]

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  1. Jojo Rabbit

Writing these words in the immediate aftermath of Donald Trump being acquitted, it only becomes clearer that we need films like Jojo Rabbit now more than ever. A hilarious and yet soul-crushingly honest portrait of innocence corrupted by fear-mongering and hatred, it handles its weighty subject matter with knowing heft whilst also thoroughly dismantling the bravado and rhetoric of the Nazi Party. Though writer/director/co-star Taika Waititi’s fingerprints are clearly all over every aspect of the film, and great supporting turns from Scarlett Johansson and Sam Rockwell bolster its excellence, this is a film that belongs to Roman Griffith Davis and Thomasin McKenzie. Not only do they both give terrific performances, they perfectly symbolize what the film is truly about: how the horrific words and actions of our leaders trickles down and impacts the lives of the most innocent. [read the full review here]

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  1. 1917

Movies about war have been around since the dawn of the medium, and after over a hundred years of cinema it’s hard to come up with new ways to display and convey the magnitude of such events. 1917 does so by utilising the one-take gimmick to its utmost extreme, presenting a story of one soldier’s journey to save lives in the midst of one of the most casualty-burdened wars in history. Director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Roger Deakins and composer Thomas Newman are all equally at the top of their game here, each demonstrating why they are all amongst the best of their respective crafts, all to tell one of the oldest stories in the book in a completely refreshing way. Of all the movies on this list, this is the one that most demands being seen in a cinema as intended.

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  1. Knives Out

Rian Johnson took the toxic backlash he received from alt-right trolls after Star Wars: The Last Jedi and used it to make one of the best movies of the year. Knives Out is a whodunit caper done to perfection, self-aware of every trope in the book and twisting them all in quirky yet perfect ways. The cast is immense and all spectacular, delivering every piece of immensely quotable dialogue with the firmest of tongues in their cheeks, and the socio-political commentary is witty and just on-the-nose enough to be spiteful in all the right ways. Johnson says there may be more mysteries for Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc to solve in the future, and we can only hope they are all as captivating as Knives Out. [read the full review here]

  1. Parasite

No movie in 2019 felt more cathartic, more intelligent, more shocking, or more awe-inspiringly perfect than Bong Joon Ho’s instant classic Parasite. An outstanding critique of class that takes shots at both ends of the spectrum, it paints an exaggerated but sincere picture of what happens when the extremes of privilege meet and how even those least fortunate can succumb to the spoils of capitalism. Every other film on this list has something worth nitpicking, but Parasite is about as close to cinema perfection as you can get. In an age where spectacle and grandeur is the name of the game, this is relieving evidence that small-to-mid budget films still have a place and so much to say. There is room in cinema for all shapes and sizes of films, but the industry needs to keep a place for films like Parasite to exist. So go see it. Now. I assure you, you won’t regret it.

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BAD BOYS FOR LIFE – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Will Smith (Suicide Squad), Martin Lawrence (Big Momma’s House), Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical), Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games), Charles Melton (Riverdale), Paola Núñez (Dariela los martes), Kate del Castillo (The 33), Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix)

Directors: Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah (Black)

Writers: Chris Bremner and Peter Craig (The Town) and Joe Carnahan (The Grey)

Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes

Release Date: 17th January (US, UK)

Amongst the sea of buddy cop action-comedies, the Bad Boys films certainly have their place in history. It was (and unfortunately still is) uncommon to see a big Hollywood action film with two black leads, and the first film was one of several that helped shoot Will Smith from sitcom star to movie legend. However, much of those films’ legacy lies at the feet of one man: Michael Bay. Bad Boys was his feature directorial debut, and its 2002 sequel in particular ended up defining Bay’s aesthetic for years: loud, gaudy, over-the-top and borderline offensive. The Bad Boys films were never particularly good movies, but they had an entertaining appeal that was distinctively Michael Bay’s. So what do you get when you make a Bad Boys movie without the Bayhem? Well, it’s funny that you should ask…

Picking up in real time from the events of the second film, Bad Boys for Life is very much aware of the age of its two stars and uses that to its advantage. Whilst there are the expected elements like Smith and Lawrence exchanging quips about how old they are or the generational clash with their millennial co-workers, the third film has also tonally matured with its stars and makes a solid play at getting serious. Whilst the plot itself is pretty standard cop movie stuff, the character dynamics and thematic elements feel very fresh, especially for such a notoriously anti-intellectual series. The action, the fun and the laughs are all still there, but there’s an added dimension of heart and sincerity that gives the proceedings an emotional heft much in the same vein as recent Fast & Furious films; it’s not exactly complex, but it’s enough to break up the monotony. Beyond all the chaos and carnage, it explores universal themes of mortality, family and how our traumas define who were are. It all finally adds a dose of humanity to the franchise, giving the characters some character introspection to play with rather than just mugging or being charismatic.

Whilst Will Smith may not be quite the movie star he was even five years ago, and Martin Lawrence even more so (he hasn’t had a starring role in close to a decade!), the Bad Boys of Miami PD themselves pick up the roles of Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett like they never left. Their character traits and interplay are very much the same, but have been significantly dialled back from their almost caricatured portrayal in Bad Boys II, and that’s ultimately for the better. The film’s greatest asset is that it finds a way to dive into these character’s psyches and gives them a history that adds genuine emotional weight to what were seemingly just clashing buddy cop traits. This level of character development was something Bad Boys was sorely lacking in comparison to its contemporaries, and they now finally feel like real characters rather than vessels for their respective actor’s real-life personas.

There are a few returning players from the prior films including Theresa Randle as Marcus’s ever-annoyed wife and Joe Pantoliano as the always-required angry police captain, but it’s Bad Boys for Life’s new players that add some real extra flavour. The film’s big new conceit is a young team of officers who use technology rather than brute force to fight crime, and whilst this concept has quickly become cliché the actors themselves acquit themselves well. Alexander Ludwig is quietly amusing as the gentle giant Dorn, Charles Melton is a suitably cocky rival to Mike as Rafe, and Paola Núñez is an instantly-captivating presence as squad leader and Mike’s old flame Rita; Vanessa Hudgens is also present as Kelly, but she unfortunately doesn’t get much focus compared to her co-stars. This is also the first Bad Boys film where the villains feel just as developed and interesting as the heroes, with the mother-son adversaries being not only a physical but emotional challenge. Kate del Castillo is suitably sultry and wicked as femme fatale Isabel, whilst Jacob Scipio gives something of a star-making turn as Armando; if nothing else, he should have a solid career ahead of him playing heavies in action flicks.

So what does a Bad Boys film without Michael Bay look like? In many ways, much the same. Directors Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah keep true enough to the aesthetic established by Bay to be recognisably part of the same series, but at the same time they have refined and controlled his style into something more visually digestible. Yes, the film is still awash in a high-contrast filter with lots of dynamic tracking shots and slow-motion, but it feels far less frantic and sophomoric. There’s a bit more elegance to the construction of the action sequences, relying less on spectacle and explosions and allowing the stunt work and gunplay to speak for themselves. Whilst in some ways it does lose some of Bay’s more inspired moments of lunacy, it is ultimately far easier to process and remember the action in Bad Boys for Life, and is easily the most successful attempt at copying the director’s style to date.

Watching Bad Boys for Life is like reuniting with your dumb friend from high school and realising they’ve become mature and self-ware with age. It’s still thoroughly ridiculous and pretty disposable, but it has surprising depth and introspection that more franchise revivals need to take notes from. There’s something here even for those who didn’t particularly like the first two films, whilst still delivering on the action and spectacle franchise fans are looking for. It is ideal Friday night entertainment fodder, best enjoyed with a bunch of friends, fast food and maybe a few drinks. People often defend Michael Bay movies by saying you need to turn off your brain to enjoy them. You can do that with Bad Boys for Life, but thankfully you don’t have to.

FINAL VERDICT: 6.5/10

MY END OF YEAR SURPLUS REVIEW EXTRAVAGANZA THING 2019

I saw a lot of movies in 2019, with still plenty more to see over the next few months catching up with what I missed and the slew of awards releases still trickling into UK cinemas at the start of 2020. There are so many I simply did not have the time to do full reviews of, but better late than never I say. Here’s my much-longer-than-anticipated End of Year Surplus Review Extravaganza Thing of 2019:

*deep breath*


Escape Room

With the popularity of escape rooms as a pastime in recent years, it was only inevitable that horror movies would start capitalising on this. Though not the first to exploit the concept, Escape Room was the most prominent and delivered a competent but unremarkable take on the idea. Essentially just a slightly less sadistic play on Saw, it had enough interesting ideas and an underlying commentary on classism to help it stay afloat, but it was ultimately too forgettable to leave an impact. With a sequel due out in 2020, let’s see how long it takes for this burgeoning franchise to truly drop the ball. 5.5/10

Crawl

Alexandre Aja is something of a connoisseur for refreshing the B-movie concepts of the 70s and 80s for the modern day (see Piranha 3-D and the remake of Maniac), and Crawl is a prime example of his skills. A premise of two people trapped inside a flooding home with alligators in the midst of a hurricane is one prime for both close-quarters scares and high concept action, which the film admirably delivers on in both terms. The core store may be fairly cookie-cutter family redemption stuff, but the imagination of the film’s set pieces are more than enough to make this a worthy piece of Friday night entertainment. 6.5/10

The Farewell

Awkwafina has been shining as the comic relief in the likes of Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, but the young star proves she has dramatic chops too in this feature from Lulu Wang. Based on the writer/director’s own experiences with her Chinese relatives, The Farewell is an equally hilarious and heartbreaking examination of grief, family and tradition. I’d rather leave it at that and allow you to discover the rest for yourselves, but you are likely to laugh and cry in equal measure. 8/10

Ready or Not

Samara Weaving has slowly been building up a reputation as one of the new scream queens, but Ready or Not goes beyond that and certifies her as a cult movie icon. A modern-day spin on the Most Dangerous Game concept, this is a hair-raising and gut-busting skewering of the privileged through the lens of a horror-comedy, and Weaving’s transformation from distressed newlywed bride to determined survivor is one of the ages. Be prepared to have a new favourite to add to your midnight movie collection. 8/10

Judy

Biopics are a pretty expected way for actors to fish for an Oscar nomination, and it’s certainly worked this year for Renee Zellweger and her performance as the legendary Judy Garland in this picture. However, Judy is far more than just a vanity project, delivering beyond that a sobering portrayal of a star on the decline and an insight into the toll sexism, sexual abuse and the celebrity machine can have on someone’s mental health. Zellweger is of course brilliant in the role, but 2019’s underrated star of the year Jessie Buckley also puts in a sleeper hit performance as Garland’s beleaguered but dedicated assistant. 8.5/10

Dolemite Is My Name

Many thought the day would never come, especially after it came and went so quickly last time, but Eddie Murphy is back! This slick and hilarious biopic of the infamous Rudy Ray Moore and the production of his underground hit Dolemite is the best film of its kind since Ed Wood, and it’s only fitting that it was actually written by the writers of Ed Wood! There are great performances abound from the likes of Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key and Wesley Snipes, but it’s Murphy himself who shines brightest as Moore and reminds us why he’s a comedy legend in the first place. 9/10

The Aeronauts

There’s always a few Oscar bait movies that completely fail to get any notices every year, and this might as well be the poster child of that sub-genre. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones reunite from The Theory of Everything for yet another story of a revolutionary scientist, but despite being a high-flying adventure in a hot air balloon The Aeronauts falls flat fast. The film’s non-linear structure harpers the film’s attempts at effective character development, and it never quite does a good enough job of explaining the impact this experiment had on meteorology. The film’s flying sequences are breathtaking and Jones delivers a capable performance, but there’s very little to write home about. It’s hard to believe director Tom Harper made both this and Wild Rose in the same year, but it just goes to show you that a good story beats out stars and spectacle every time. 5/10

The Addams Family

It’s been so long since America’s spookiest family graced the big screen, and now in animated form it can fully capture the zany and morbid vision of Charles Addams’ comic strips. However, despite a strong voice cast and a few charming gags, the film’s simplistic and episodic plot put a major dampener on what could have been a welcome breath of fresh air for family animation. Not really much more to say than that. It’s fine, I guess. 5.5/10

Last Christmas

Paul Feig has had a fascinating decade of comedy hits from Bridesmaids onwards, but he now ends the 2010s with one of the most baffling and unintentionally hilarious romantic comedies every conceived. The entire premise of Last Christmas is built around an incredibly obvious and saccharine twist, taking an incredibly literal reading of the words of George Michael and telling a festive tale that will make you feel as sick as you would after eating too many mince pies. The talented and intersectional cast is a fine touch, as are the topical messages about the state of the world, but they are simply well-intentioned flourishes to a sickly and otherwise irrelevant core. It’s likely to become a Christmas classic, but for all the wrong reasons. 4/10

Queen & Slim

Queen & Slim can be very simply described as Bonnie & Clyde for the Black Lives Matter generation, and the film is very aware of that comparison. It’s a timely and brutally honest reflection of American culture and the fraught relationship between morality and race, and taps right into the cultural veins of our increasingly xenophobic culture. Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith both deliver subtle and nuanced performances, and music video veteran Melina Matsoukas proves she has filmmaking chops with this feature debut. However, it’s ultimately a little too blatant and simplistic in its messaging to make any points that anyone aware of the problem doesn’t already know. 7/10

The Irishman

Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating epic about Frank Sheeran finally made it to the big screen…in only select theatres due to being a Netflix production. Still, this is a gargantuan piece of cinema that would be a fitting conclusion to the master filmmaker’s career if he was ready to stop here. Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci all deliver career-best performances, and it contains so many already iconic sequences sure to become classics to the crime genre. Its strenuous length and lack of development for anyone outside its three main stars (especially its few female characters) hold it back slightly from Goodfellas greatness, but this is still a primo bit of filmmaking we rarely get to witness anymore. 8/10

Honey Boy

Shia LaBoeuf had something of a crazy decade, with him still at the forefront at one of the biggest blockbuster franchises at the start, sputtering out in the middle in a slew of creative and personal mishaps, and now here on the other side as an eccentric but self-aware curiosity. Honey Boy is the cinematic translation of that character journey. A semi-autobiographical odyssey based on LaBoeuf’s childhood relationship with his father, this is a captivating and gut-punching portrayal of mental health and self-destruction bolstered by astonishing performances from Noah Jupe and LaBoeuf himself. If you still think the man is worthy of a punch line, give this a watch and have your perspective shifted. 8.5/10

Black Christmas

The third incarnation of the slasher film often credited with inventing the genre, this version of the tale of sorority sisters being harassed over the phone by a knife-wielding murderer has been given an intersectional makeover. Whilst it clearly has noble intentions as it tackles topics like sexual abuse and toxic masculinity, the execution leaves much to be desired. Its lack of subtlety is deafening, its third act dive into mysticism is self-defeating, and withholding the timely subject matter this is just another generic horror movie. We need more feminist genre cinema, but that doesn’t mean we have to accept half-baked films like this. 5.5/10

The Hustle

A comedy dud of epic proportions, this gender-flipped remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels again aspires to be female empowerment but ultimately only proves that women can make terrible comedies just as well as men. Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson are clearly trying but completely flounder with a terrible screenplay that meanders from set piece to set piece, to the point where the main conflict isn’t even established until over halfway through the film. It’s a gaudy and baffling film that makes both women look absolutely ridiculous, and to see director Chris Addison lower himself to this level is frankly disappointing. 2/10

6 Underground

It may not be the best Michael Bay movie, but it is certainly the most Michael Bay movie. 6 Underground is Mountain Dew in cinema form, bursting with energy and ridiculous ideas that is occasionally entertaining but mostly just exhausting. The premise is preposterous and socio-politically disconcerting after only a moment’s thought, and whilst Netflix certainly gives Bay the freedom to play to his greatest strengths it also allows him to fester in his worst excesses. At least Ryan Reynolds lends the film a lot of charisma, because this would be far less tolerable with someone like Mark Wahlberg in the lead… 5/10

Promare

From the makers of Gurren Lagan and Kill la Kill, this bonkers film about futuristic firefighters in mechs battling fire-wielding mutant revolutionaries is that will delight anime fans and blow the socks off anyone new to the art form. Featuring a hyper-stylised gorgeous art style and action sequences to die for, Promare is simultaneously also a fascinating examination of anti-facism, hero worship and how the ends rarely justify the means. If you are looking for a film unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, this is it. 9/10

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Stuber

This is a pretty standard buddy comedy with a basic plot and not much interesting character introspection, but it’s ultimately held together by the fantastic chemistry between stars Kumail Nanjiani and Dave Bautista. That’s all I really have to say about. I guess it’s an OK watch if you stumble on it on streaming and have watched everything else. 6/10

Weathering with You

Makoto Shinkai’s follow-up to the excellent Your Name, this fantasy romance set in a rain-drenched Tokyo is a heartfelt tale of unconditional love and finding your own feet in a depressing world. The animation is gorgeous, the music is heartfelt and enchanting, and the story is melancholic yet hopeful. It may not be as emotionally resonating as Your Name, but this is a prescient and uplifting film about learning to find the silver lining in a bleak climate. 8.5/10

Little Women

Greta Gerwig knocks it out of the park again, adapting one of the most well-known novels in American history and finding yet another new perspective on the story after numerous previous versions. The entire cast is pitch-perfect, but Saorise Ronan and Florence Pugh especially stand out as they portray two different but valid interpretations of womanhood. Ultimately, it is Gerwig’s writing and directing that is the film’s true star, giving its source material the utmost respect whilst also twisting it in ways to give it modern and self-deprecating heft. This is the kind of literary recontextualisation I absolutely love to see. 9.5/10

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Bombshell

The Roger Ailes scandal at Fox News is the perfect event to make a commentary on #MeToo and the current political climate, and whilst Bombshell has a lot to say it doesn’t always say it well. The performances are all around strong, especially from Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie, but its portrayal of sexual harassment still has a noticeable air of male gaze in the way it is contextualised. Jay Roach and Charles Randolph clearly have a handle on the political satire, but when it comes to discussing women’s issues they both still have a lot to learn. Combined with the inconsistent tone, this is an OK film that ultimately deserved way better. 6/10

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1917

Sam Mendes. World War I. Roger Deakins. All in one shot. If you love cinema, you are already hooked, but 1917 is worthy of those selling points and then some. This is one of the best war films in recent memory, capturing the scale and the horror of its setting through its epic lens whilst also focusing on the human and emotional impact of the conflict. There are so many little touches to 1917 that make it so masterful, and the one-take gimmick is there to accentuate them rather than distract. Fantastic direction from Mendes, a strong lead performance from the underrated George Mackay, excellent attention to period detail in sets and costumes, and some of the best work in the careers of both cinematographer Deakins and composer Thomas Newman, this is an experience that needs to be seen on a big screen much in the same vein as Avatar or Gravity were in their day. 10/10!

MY TOP 25 MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS OF 2020

And so we now not only enter a new year, but a new decade of cinema. Only time will tell if these new 20s will be as roaring as the last, especially considering the world is burning outside, but there’s still plenty to look forward to at movie theatres! That being said, the start of a decade often doesn’t take shape until a few years in, so I doubt 2020 is going to completely alter the cinematic landscape within these next twelve months. It’s still a year packed with sequels, reboots and pre-existing intellectual properties, but I’m happy to have also found a strong handful of total originals to scatter about this list. Though the world may not change as soon as we hit 2020, this is the year to plant those seeds, and hopefully within a few years we’ll have a better idea of what this decade means for the industry. Otherwise, I think we’re still very much on track for the Disney conglomeration of media…

Once again, to avoid the “what about…” comments pre-emptively, I will explain my rules for qualifying:

  1. This list is based on what is scheduled to come out in 2020 as of writing. Some of these may get delayed to 2021 and beyond for a variety of reasons, but as of now they are due for release next year. I’ve included many a film on one of these lists that have been delayed as such (one of my entries this year was on my list two years ago…). I am no Nostradamus and cannot help it if investors decide a film is better placed in another quarter or needs extensive reshoots.
  2. I’m only counting films that have a confirmed 2020 release (in the US at least). There are plenty of films, generally smaller ones that may still be seeking distribution or sussing out marketing, which are in various states of production with an aimed 2020 release. However, if it doesn’t have a specified date on the calendar, it’s not getting counted.
  3. Films that will be released here in the UK in 2020 but were released in the US or elsewhere in 2019 don’t count. Don’t expect to see films like Jojo Rabbit, The Lighthouse or Bombshell on this list. I exclude them because I want to talk about totally unreleased films without any preconception of critical success, not just gush excitedly about films I’ve heard are good from across the pond and are simply awaiting release on our shores.
  4. This is not a prediction of what I think will be the best films of 2020. There’s always a film on this list that ends up utterly disappointing, and the best movies often end up being ones I overlooked or haven’t even heard of yet. These are merely the movies I am most excited and/or interested to see, and their quality will be judged when I have actually seen them.

  1. A Quiet Place: Part II

Release Date: 20th March (US, UK)

A Quiet Place was one of the bigger surprises of 2018, showing that John Krasinski has directorial potential and finding a deep emotional core about family and survival inside what is otherwise a fairly bog-standard post-apocalyptic sci-fi story. Whilst the first film did enough to set up a compelling sequel, where exactly it has to go is still very much up in the air. At the very least, with her barefoot-and-pregnant phase in the first film now over, hopefully this time around Emily Blunt will get her chance to be a full-on badass. If we’re going to have to wait even longer for that long-promised Edge of Tomorrow sequel, I need my badass Blunt fix wherever I can get it.

  1. The New Mutants

Release Date: 3rd April (US), 8th April (UK)

So yeah…this was on my list two years ago. It was supposed to come out in April 2018…then got pushed to February 2019…then August 2019…and now April 2020…hopefully. There is still doubt about whether it’ll get a release at all. Reshoots were supposed to be done in the meantime, but there’s no word that’s actually happened. This movie has been sitting on a shelf so long, the franchise it was meant to be a spin-off from is over. And yet still…that only makes me want to see it more. Whether it turns out to be a mangled mess or a mistreated gem, the behind-the-scenes calamity of getting this movie into cinemas is all the hype I need. Plus, this trailer that is now over two years old still looks pretty cool.

  1. Free Guy

Release Date: 1st July (UK), 3rd July (US)

Movies based on video games tend not to be good. Movies about video games, however, have a slightly better track record, and the premise of Free Guy is so simple but ripe for opportunity that it’s surprising no one has attempted it before. Essentially a riff on Stranger Than Fiction but with video games instead of novels, the prospect of Ryan Reynolds as a bumbling NPC becoming self-aware of his place in a Grand Theft Auto-style world has comedic potential written all over it, and the trailer shows promise with its vibrant and quirky sense of humour. Director Shawn Levy can be pretty hit-and-miss, and there’s every chance this could end up a disaster like Pixels, but the premise and trailer are enough to have me cautiously optimistic.

  1. The Invisible Man

Release Date: 28th February (US, UK)

It looks like Universal is making attempt #3 at bringing their Monsters franchise back for the modern era, and this time they’ve taken the safer but far more interesting avenue: handing the reigns to over to the low-budget maestros at Blumhouse. With Saw and Insidious co-creator Leigh Whannell now at the helm, this new take on The Invisible Man just from the trailer delivers exactly what the likes of The Mummy and Dracula Untold were missing: actual horror and suspense. Shifting the perspective of the story and turning it into a psychologically twisted examination of abusive relationships and gaslighting with a supernatural twist is a bold move, and exactly the right way to modernise these classic horror stories for a new age. Given the limited scope and budget of the film, it’s an investment that is likely to pay off for Universal no matter its ultimate quality, but here’s hoping it delivers.

  1. Fast & Furious 9

Release Date: 22nd May (US, UK)

After a brief detour with Hobbs & Shaw, the mainline series is back on track and the roads are wide open with possibilities. Which characters are they going to bring back from the dead? What crazy new stunt are they going to attempt with cars? And can we please just send these characters to space already? With series veteran Justin Lin back in the director’s chair for the first time since the sixth instalment, here’s hoping for a rollocking and mad adventure that brings a little of that magic that made peak Fast & Furious so special. Plus, John Cena is in this one, and here’s hoping he does something incredibly ridiculous like…stop a car with his teeth or something. I don’t know. These movies are kinda crazy and hard to read.

  1. West Side Story

Release Date: 18th December (US, UK)

Whilst it of course has its origins on the stage (and Shakespeare before that), West Side Story is so iconic in its 1961 film form that the idea of a remake feels almost disrespectful. Then again, when your name is Steven Spielberg, pretty much anything is a possibility. Robert Wise’s direction of the original has been so influential to many directors over the years (even Michael Bay credits Wise and his version as one of his main inspirations), so it’s simply going to be fascinating to see how Spielberg apply his distinct aesthetic to the classic story. Outside of the opening of Temple of Doom, he’s never even directed a musical before, and that in and of itself is compelling enough to have me intrigued. Thankfully, the filmmakers have learnt from time and have cast the film with a more racially-appropriate cast, and even original star Rita Moreno returns in a different role! With that said, it’s going to be interesting having two big latinx-focused musicals on our screens in the same year…

  1. In The Heights

Release Date: 26th June (US, UK)

The likelihood of a film version of Hamilton is high…just not for at least another five years. However, the long-gestating adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s other hip-hop musical is finally making it to the screen this summer. With a fantastic cast brimming with latinx and black talent, and both Miranda and co-writer Quiara Alegría Hudes heavily involved in the production, this musical tale centred around a bodega in Washington Heights will hopefully reach an audience far beyond the Broadway stage. Director Jon M. Chu may have a sporadic track record, but his history with the Step Up franchise and Crazy Rich Asians certainly demonstrates he knows how to make lavish crowd-pleasing fare with an eye for diversity. Speaking of Crazy Rich Asians

  1. Raya and the Last Dragon

Release Date: 25th November (US), 27th November (UK)

…our next entry is from that film’s co-writer Adele Lim, who recently turned down the sequel after discovering she was being paid less than her white male co-writer. So, jumping ship to instead write the next feature from Walt Disney Animation Studios seems like a solid move. The studio’s third film steeped in Asian culture after Mulan and Big Hero 6, there’s not too much info yet on Raya and the Last Dragon, but based purely on the image below I’m excited for the possibilities. Also, Awkwafina is in it, and Awkwafina makes everything better.

  1. Top Gun: Maverick

Release Date: 26th June (US), 17th July (UK)

I shouldn’t be excited about a sequel to Top Gun for a variety of reasons. It’s been too long. Joseph Kosinski makes very pretty but ultimately empty and derivative films. Tom Cruise in anything other than Mission: Impossible is often dicey. This is an idea that really should have been put aside after Tony Scott’s untimely passing and been left at that. With that said…damn, the footage released so far is impressive and makes the whole thing seem relevant again. The only way this could be any better is if they somehow embraced all the homoerotic subtext of the first film, but I sincerely doubt that will happen. Otherwise, looks pretty damn cool. Will probably look great in IMAX too.

  1. Coming 2 America

Release Date: 18th December (US, UK)

So Eddie Murphy finally made his first great movie in over a decade with Dolemite Is My Name, and now he’s reteaming with that film’s director Craig Brewer to make the long-awaited sequel to one of his most iconic films. Coming to America still holds up as one of the great comedies of the 1980s, and right now honestly feels like a more ideal time than any to bring Prince Akeem back to the streets of New York. With a good chunk of the core cast returning along with new additions like Wesley Snipes, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan, Coming 2 America has plenty of potential. Let’s just hope the comedy sequel curse steers clear of this one…

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  1. Bill & Ted Face the Music

Release Date: 21st August (US, UK)

Speaking of sequels to 80s movies, this one has been a long time coming, and it seems the Keanussance has finally worked enough magic to bring back the Wild Stallions. The idea alone of seeing Bill and Ted now middle-aged and dealing with fatherhood is a funny enough concept alone, and a new status quo that could bring some needed emotion to what is likely to be another wacky time-and-reality jumping adventure. Also, William Sadler is back as Death, and that alone bumps this way up the list.

  1. Onward

Release Date: 6th March (US, UK)

Pixar has two films out in 2020, with their second feature Soul releasing in the summer, but this fantasy adventure from Monsters University helmer Dan Scanlon looks the more promising of the two so far. Fusing fantasy tropes with a modern setting isn’t the most original of ideas (hell, we saw Bright do that pretty poorly recently), but from the footage so far it looks like an imaginative concept bolstered by a story of two brothers who want to see their dad one last time that’ll hopefully deliver plenty of laughs and heart.

  1. Godzilla vs. Kong

Release Date: 20th November (US, UK)

So whilst Godzilla: King of the Monsters might not have been to everyone’s tastes (personally, I thought it was a lot of goofy fun), the Monsterverse must soldier on to what it’s all been building to: the long awaited rematch between King Kong and Godzilla. Director Adam Wingard has a spotty history from highs like You’re Next and The Guest to lows like Blair Witch and Death Note, but there’s no denying he’s a visually compelling and talented director, and his eye feels perfectly at home with the other filmmakers who’ve been crafting this world of monsters. There are all sorts of ways this film could go, but as long as it delivers on the promised action with gusto, it’s going to be difficult to make this concept fall apart without at least a little fun on the way.

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  1. The King’s Man

Release Date: 18th September (US, UK)

Kingsman: The Golden Circle ended up being a bit of a disappointment but, instead of heading straight into a third instalment, Matthew Vaughn and co are stepping back in time for a sec to detail the origins of the titular espionage organisation. The trailers so far show more of the whipsmart action and charming wit the series has made itself known for, but hopefully this isn’t just yet another new coat of paint on a series that so far has only had one story to tell. If this one can pull something new out of its bag of tricks and prove Kingsman is more than just a one-trick pony, hopefully that will make a return to the story of Eggsy a little more justifiable.

  1. The Lovebirds

Release Date: 3rd April (US), 24th April (UK)

Director Michael Showalter and actor Kumail Nanjiani struck gold in 2017 with their touching rom-com The Big Sick, and now for their second feature they are attempting an odd combo: romantic comedy and murder mystery. With Nanjiani and Insecure star Issa Rae in the leads as a couple on the verge of break-up whilst being accused of murder, this mixture of emotions could easily end up muddled, but in these capable hands I have a strong amount of trust. Maybe it doesn’t sound like the heartbreaking awards contender The Big Sick was, but it at least has the potential to be a barrel of laughs.

  1. Run

Release Date: 24th January (US), N/A (UK)

My spidey sense is telling me that, given this film is supposedly a month away from its US release but has had no promotional materials released other than a few set photos, this film may be in danger of a major delay. Regardless of when it releases, this looks like a sleeper release to watch. This is director Aneesh Chaganty’s sophomore after his fantastic 2018 debut Searching, and it’s going to be interesting to see what he can do with a more traditional feature rather than a screenwatch film. The base concept of a daughter suspecting her mother of something dark has prime psychological thriller material written all over it, and featuring a disabled protagonist is certainly a plus for both diversity and suspense. Wish I had more to say, but certainly keep an eye out for this one.

  1. Black Widow

Release Date: 1st May (US, UK)

After nearly a decade of waiting, Black Widow is finally getting her own solo movie, and what an interesting beast it looks to be. An espionage thriller in the vein of Winter Soldier but turned up a notch, the exact purpose of this midquel to Civil War and Infinity War still remains a mystery, but hopefully this is more than just a promise to Scarlett Johansson being ticked off a checklist and instead dives deeper into the lore of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and retroactively gives Natasha Romanoff a proper shot at depth and redemption. On the plus side, if all the business with Johansson proves tiring, Florence Pugh and David Harbour look more than entertaining enough to keep this one afloat.

  1. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Release Date: 10th July (US, UK)

The response to 2016’s Ghostbusters was incredibly disappointing, with a flawed but decent and promising film being shunned to the sidelines simply for not being exactly what the fanboys wanted. Well, it seems Sony and Jason Reitman have taken notice and are delivering what they asked for…just not in quite the way they expected. Film fans should already know that Jason Reitman is about as a distant a filmmaker from his father and original Ghostbusters director Ivan as you can get, and based on the trailer Afterlife is arguably even more of a departure for the series than Paul Feig’s entry. This could easily just end up being Ghostbusters: The Force Awakens, but if Reitman can find something interesting and poignant to say about the series whilst still delivering the goods, I’m more than excited to hear.

  1. Tenet

Release Date: 17th July (US, UK)

Any new Christopher Nolan is always going to be an event, but Tenet easily looks like his most exciting new idea since Inception. As usual, the exact details of the film’s premise is being kept tight under wraps, but the trailer certainly suggests time manipulation is the central thrust of the film’s narrative. The film’s cast of John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki is also intriguing, but of course Michael Caine is still on hand in some form. Whatever the final film turns out to be about, it is all but guaranteed to be a visual spectacular.

  1. No Time to Die

Release Date: 2nd April (UK), 10th April (US)

Daniel Craig has been our James Bond for fourteen years now, and with this fifth and (most likely) final outing as 007 we find ourselves in interesting territory. With Cary Fukunaga at the helm (the first non-British director in franchise history) and a cast full of returning favourites and interesting new faces, No Time to Die looks to wrap up the Craig era in spectacular fashion. The trailer perhaps hints a little too much that it hasn’t learnt the big lesson from Spectre (i.e. don’t treat James Bond like a Marvel movie and pretend these films have an overarching planned narrative), but the action and style absolutely looks on display.

  1. Last Night in Soho

Release Date: 18th September (UK), 25th September (US)

As much as Edgar Wright likes to play around with genre, he has equally found himself stuck in the same self-deprecating cycle since the beginning of his career. Well, with Last Night in Soho, it looks like he’s finally trying something completely out of his wheelhouse. With a premise that reads like Midnight in Paris crossed with Don’t Look Know and a cast including Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie and Matt Smith, this psychological horror fantasy looks to be an ideal step forward into a new era for Wright, and hopefully he can find the right balance between expressing his reverence for cinema and leaving his own mark too.

  1. Eternals

Release Date: 6th November (US, UK)

Whilst Marvel’s first entry this year seems to be playing it relatively safe, Eternals promises to be something a little more cosmic and out-of-this-world. Whilst the property is extremely obscure and not particularly popular, its century-hopping narrative rife with gonzo Jack Kirby imagination certainly hints this could be something of a change of pace. With Marvel’s most diverse and interesting cast to date and a filmmaker as idiosyncratic as Chloe Zhao at the helm, hopefully Eternals can officially kick of Phase Four with some style.

  1. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Release Date: 7th February (US, UK)

I can’t believe I’m more excited for DC’s slate of films this year than Marvel’s, but here’s the simple case: Marvel is continuing to simply do what it’s proven good at, whilst DC has been slowly stepping out of its shell and is now promising vastly different and vibrant superhero films that looks and sound totally unique. Case in point: a manic, pop-punk extravaganza starring some of the greatest ladies in Gotham City drenched in neon and explosions. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the main saving grace of Suicide Squad, and now without the restraints of Jared Leto and the Snyder era holding her back it’s going to be exciting to see what she can do with this much-beloved character.

  1. Dune

Release Date: 20th November (UK), 18th December (US)

Dune is a property that is ripe for adaptation and yet is so difficult to distil into something palatable. Alejandro Jodorowsky famously failed in his attempts to adapt Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi classic to the screen, and the 1984 David Lynch version was rife with issues caused by getting lost in translation. Now, Denis Villeneuve is taking his shot with this first part in a promised duology adapting the original novel, and I couldn’t think of a better filmmaker to finally tackle this immense task. With films like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 under his belt, Villeneuve’s eye and sensibilities are perfect for the rich and pedantic world of Dune, and anyone else just needs to look at the cast list for the film to realise the immensity of this production. Whether this ends up a triumph or a disaster, this is absolutely one to watch.

  1. Wonder Woman 1984

Release Date: 5th June (US, UK)

If you haven’t already noticed, women are directing all four major superhero blockbusters this year. Whilst that is far from meaning sexism in the industry is over, it is a sign that the tides are shifting and women’s voices are being more heard in mainstream entertainment, and the first Wonder Woman film was a huge game changer that proved so many assumptions about women in blockbusters wrong. With Patty Jenkins once again at the helm, Wonder Woman 1984 looks like it has everything that made the first film a near-masterpiece of the genre and, now finally free of the Snyder aesthetic, can be as joyously bright and wild as it wants. How is Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor back? What is Kristen Wiig as Cheetah going to look like? How can Pedro Pascal still be this attractive whilst playing a Donald Trump stand-in? All of these questions and more have me utterly chomping at the bit to see Wonder Woman 1984, and here’s hoping it’s the film that truly signals the rebirth of the DC Extended Universe.

JOJO RABBIT – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Roman Griffith Davis, Thomasin McKenzie (Leave No Trace), Scarlett Johansson (Marriage Story), Taika Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok), Sam Rockwell (Vice), Rebel Wilson (Pitch Perfect), Alfie Allen (John Wick), Stephen Merchant (Portal 2), Archie Yates

Writer/Director: Taika Waititi (Hunt for the Wilderpeople)

Runtime: 1 hour 48 minutes

Release Date: 18th October (US), 1st January (UK)

We live in troubled times indeed, and what helps us more than anything to get through it all with our sanity intact is laughter. Whilst satire has thrived in recent years through sketch comedy and late night talk shows taking jabs at our socio-economic climate, films taking on the task have been a little fewer and far between. In walks Taika Waititi, fresh off a one-two-three punch of What We Do In The Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Thor: Ragnarok, with what is essentially the greatest Mel Brooks film never made. It’s too easy to describe the premise of Jojo Rabbit and end up making it sounds distasteful, but the final product is far from that. On the contrary, it is a master class in taking a horrible tragedy and turning it into something beautiful.

Whilst Jojo Rabbit firmly plants itself within its period setting of Germany at the tail end of World War II, it does a fantastic job of contemporizing its story and themes. Right from its opening titles, which juxtaposes propaganda footage of Germans going crazy for Adolf Hitler to the tune of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles, it firmly makes a point that this more than just a piece of history. However, it is less a comment on fascism as a whole and more the effect it can have on family and a young person’s mind. It is at its core a coming-of-age film about being yourself and overcoming societal conformity, but with Nazis and Jewish refugees in place of the bullies and nerds, and with that collation comes the humour. Jojo Rabbit is a consistently witty and clever story, but it also knows when to take a step back from the comedy and showcase the true horror of its setting. It never attempts to sugarcoat the reality of history for too long, and those moments of genuine tragedy can be gut wrenching to the point of tears. It is the wake-up call this culture needs right now to remember where we have been and what we can try to do to prevent it, and is ultimately an optimistic story of a boy learning to question his beliefs and see the world for what it truly is and could be.

Waititi has already proven himself a remarkable director of child actors with Boy and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and with Jojo Rabbit he has fostered yet another great young star in Roman Griffith Davis as the titular cowardly Hitler Youth. He brings humour and relatability to Jojo, a character who could have too easily been portrayed as righteous or stupid, instead firmly framing his warped worldview as a manifestation of his fears and naivety. Through his performance, Davis makes clear that Jojo is not a bad person, but simply one who needs to learn more about himself and others. Opposite him as the fugitive hiding within his walls Elsa, Thomasin McKenzie continues to prove herself another actor to watch with her dry and world-weary young woman who has been forced to grow up too fast. Scarlett Johansson brings a different sense of humour to the story as Jojo’s mother, using her assertiveness and kind heart for both comedic and dramatic purposes to play the kind of mum any of us would be lucky to have.

Sam Rockwell gives a surprisingly understated performance as the disgraced Captain Klenzendorf, still infusing plenty of comedy whilst ultimately playing a graceless yet tragically human character. Archie Yates is easily the film’s breakout star as Jojo’s buddy Yorki, providing a mirror to Jojo’s own misguided beliefs, and the likes of Rebel Wilson, Alfie Allen and Stephen Merchant all bring strong performances in their more limited roles. Ultimately though, the director himself is the real scene-stealer, as Waititi himself takes on the role of Jojo’s imaginary friend…Adolf Hitler. Waititi brings much of the same sense of humour he’s brought to many of his other roles, but using that same flippant and laidback comedy whilst playing one of history’s greatest monsters is a tremendously comical middle finger to the real-life villain, and is far more of a nuanced and psychologically rich performance than a simple caricature.

The best way to describe the aesthetic of Jojo Rabbit is “toy box fascist”, as it takes horrendous Nazi imagery and paints it with an idealistic and bright colour palette. It never glosses over the real-life atrocities, but instead uses its twisted aesthetic to lampoon the subtle ridiculousness of fascist iconography. This carries over into the film’s costumes, which lie somewhere on the fine line between historically accurate and outfits from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Michael Giacchino provides a fantastic score as always, and the film’s frequent use of classic rock and pop tunes with German lyrics is a wonderfully quirky touch.

Jojo Rabbit is the movie this ailing world needs right now: a reminder that innocence and humanity can be found in the darkest of places. It is an excellent ridiculing of both the depravity and the machismo of the Nazi Party, and ultimately is a feel-good triumph about love overcoming hatred. It’s confirmation that Taika Waititi is far more than just a quirky clown who never takes anything seriously; he’s a nuanced and talented filmmaker with a unique voice and something to say. This isn’t a film that is immediately going to fix the world or deprogram every alt-right sadboy who happens to watch it, but I hope it leaves an impact and helps someone realise we are not in too dissimilar a situation right now…

FINAL VERDICT: 10/10!