Terminator: Dark Fate

Cast: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta

Director: Tim Miller

Writers: David Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray


As the big-name actor who plays the titular role and who has appeared in the most films, most people would likely have agreed that the Terminator franchise belongs to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Even Salvation saw fit to include a CGI-ed replica of the then Governor of California so that their movie didn’t have to miss out on some T-800 action (I had to consult YouTube on that one because the only thing I remember about that film is Christian Bale’s tantrum). Dark Fate however makes the case the true star of the series is and always has been Linda Hamilton. Returning to her iconic role after 28 years, along with producer James Cameron, she strolls right in taking names and kicking arse and you immediately realise that she is what all the post-T2 sequels have been missing. Even when they had other (younger) actresses step in to assume the role, none of them could ever have brought the weight or the authenticity that Hamilton brings to Dark Fate. While those first two movies made John Connor out to be the most important character in the story, so much so that the movies that followed actually believed it, it was Sarah who did the hard work, brought it all home, and made us care. Dark Fate still isn’t up there with the two Cameron-directed films, but the main reason that it works where the other three did not is the grizzled, 63-year-old Hamilton rocking her sunglasses and rocket launcher and showing the kids how it’s done.

In a similar move to 2018’s Halloween (another title in a major franchise starring a woman over 55), Dark Fate erases the continuity of the non-Cameron films and serves as a direct sequel to T2. Skynet was destroyed and Judgement Day never came to pass. In the year 2020 however killer robots are still being sent from the future to terminate potential threats to the machines and their domination over humanity. This it’s the liquid metal Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) and his (its?) target is Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes), a young Mexican woman. Helping her is the future-sent protector Grace (Mackenzie Davis) who, in an interesting twist, walks the line between being a heroic soldier like Kyle Reese and a reprogrammed robot like the T-800. She is, or at least was, human but has been augmented with these cybernetic upgrades giving her Terminator-like abilities. We learn a little more about how this works through flashbacks. Or maybe they should be called flash forwards since she’s from the future. Douglas Adams was right, one of the major problems of time travel is that of grammar. Anyway, it is Grace’s mission to keep Dani alive and Sarah, a hardened warrior who has kept up the fight against the machines for the last thirty years, arrives to help. They are later joined by an old T-800 (Schwarzenegger), but his involvement cannot be adequately explained without venturing into spoilers.

Even after the mess that was Terminator: Genisys, Schwarzenegger’s reprisal of the role that made him a star is welcome. He retains the formidable presence and deadpan confidence that made him such an effective villain and hero in the first two films (a personal highlight is when his introduction is met with a blast from a shotgun just inches from his face, getting not so much as flinching or a blinking reaction). Also with three women making up the ensemble, including his former co-star who was the true protagonist of the two movies they made together, Schwarzenegger has the self-awareness to understand that he is not the star of this film and gracefully yields the spotlight accordingly. His scenes with Hamilton are worth the price of admission alone; even with all the special effects money can buy, there is simply no substitute for the feeling you get when two movie stars with a shared history enter the screen together. Hamilton and Davis on their part deliver a level of passion and intensity that has been from these films for years. Hamilton in particular, playing a character who has spent her entire adult life living with grief, paranoia and trauma, brings a powerful melancholy and gravitas to the role. When she quips “I hunt Terminators and I drink until I pass out”, she delivers the line with humour but you can also feel the tragedy beneath it.

Director Miller, having previously distinguished himself by making the modestly-budgeted Deadpool look like the major blockbuster franchise it was destined to become, has the resources this time to work on a far bigger scale. But, competent though he is, Cameron he is not. Much of the action feels weightless in the way that many of the Marvel movies often can with characters getting shot at left and right, crashing through walls, and falling from great heights without ever feeling like they’re in real danger. Even today the chase scene in the 1984 film with the stop-motion T-800 exoskeleton remains more exhilarating and captivating for all of its kinetic energy and physicality than half of what you’ll see in the big budget, digital-effects driven flicks dominating Hollywood today. The fight scenes Miller has constructed are well-paced and comprehensible enough to serve, especially in their use of slow-motion, but when you’ve already seen what a master director can do with this title, it’s hard to settle for something that merely manages to be passable. Unlike the other directors who have taken on the franchise, Miller at least seems to understand that the characters are just as important as the action, if not more so, in making these movies work. The performances he gets out of Hamilton, Schwarzenegger and Davis are so impressive that it actually becomes a shame when they have to be interrupted by a semi-thrilling action scene every few minutes.

Dark Fate is undoubtedly the best Terminator movie since Judgement Day, but unfortunately that’s not saying much. Hollywood can’t seem to stop itself from making these movies any more than the people in them can stop dooming their own species through technological advancement. As ironic as that it, perhaps it’s also appropriate for a series in which the fate of humanity is constantly hanging between the folly of our ambitions and our capacity for resilience. For the first time in my life (I was born the year after Judgement Day came out), someone has made a Terminator movie that I actually enjoyed watching. It’s not as good as what came before and perhaps it never could have been, but I’m still glad that it happened. Perhaps there’s an even larger, more timely lesson to be drawn from Dark Fate about how, even as our extinction seems all the more impending and inevitable with each passing day, we need to take our small victories where we can get. Or maybe I’m reading far too much into what is ultimately a mildly good sci-fi movie that hasn’t thought all too deeply about such things (what we were supposed to take away from that one scene where they get arrested and held in a detention centre on the Mexican-American border, I’m still not sure). All I know for sure is that they’ll keep making these movies for as long as they possibly can so we’ll see what happens next.

★★★

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Cast: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sam Riley, Ed Skrein, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple, Lesley Manville, Michelle Pfeiffer

Director: Joachim Rønning

Writers: Linda Woolverton, Noah Harpster, Micah Fitzerman-Blue


Maleficent, which came out in 2014, is a film that I didn’t care for when I first saw it but appreciate a little bit more in retrospect. A live-action fantasy-drama that took the story of Sleeping Beauty and reimagined it from the point of view of its best character, I don’t think I gave enough credit to the movie at the time for the lengths it went to offer a different, modernised spin on its classic tale. In the five years since Disney has released a surge of live-action remakes such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King that have contented themselves with repackaging their stories into ‘updated’ formats that only depart from the source material on the most superficial level. Maleficent, in contrast, dared to reframe its story from the perspective of its villain, revealing her to be not an evildoer bent on wickedness and malice but instead a misunderstood antihero acting out of grief and vengeance for the injustices inflicted on her. The film also went a step further by subverting the narrative conventions as determined by fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty, shifting its emotional crux from the love of an inactive princess and her princely saviour to that of a forsaken girl and her surrogate mother. It’s still a rather messy, CGI-laden blockbuster and the sexual assault overtones are clumsily done, but dammit at least it tired!

The film’s best quality was of course Angelina Jolie, with her commanding screen presence, devilish demeanour, and razor-sharp cheekbones, as the bewitching faerie queen. It’s one of those pitch-perfect casting choices that I wish could have been realised more fully outside the confines of the existing Disney property it had to cater itself to (a category that also includes Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins, Idris Elba as Shere Khan, and Ian McShane as Blackbeard). Before departing the screen to assume the director’s chair, Jolie was one of the true movie stars of our age with a talent for turning the thinnest of material into something compelling (as in Wanted, Salt, and of course Maleficent). While Maleficent was a movie that told a complete story and therefore didn’t really demand any kind of follow up, any excuse for Jolie to return to the front of the camera and assume a leading role is welcome in my book, especially when the sequel in question promises to pit her against fellow icon Michelle Pfeiffer. What the movie sets up in its first few minutes is the makings of a juicy battle royale between the two matriarchs that promises to challenge and evolve the relationship the so-called Mistress of Evil shares with her adoptive daughter. There’s a gold mine of material here that the film flat-out squanders, choosing instead to get caught up in escapades with cutesy CGI creatures, overcomplicated geopolitical intrigue, and aimless world-building and mythology.

Aurora (Elle Fanning), having become Queen of the Moors at the end of the first film, is engaged to be married to Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson), whose parents rule the nearby kingdom of Ulstead. The happy couple see their nuptial union as a chance to bring their two kingdoms together so that human beings and magical creatures may live and prosper in peace. Aurora’s godmother Maleficent (Jolie) is less convinced and wholly disapproves of the idea. So too, we learn, does Queen Ingrith (Pfeiffer), a genocidal supremacist bent on wiping non-humans from the face of the Earth. Both mothers agree to a family dinner where they promise to be on their best behaviour, the best scene in the film. It is an irrepressibly hostile feast that Ingrith has furtively designed to trigger Maleficent’s worst impulses and Jolie is delightful through it all as her character struggles to maintain her composure while barely disguising how contemptible she finds everything to be. With the character dynamics and psychological mind games at play, this could almost have been a scene out of Game of Thrones had director Joachim Rønning been more willing (or able) to let the tension play out gradually and allow the actors to revel more in the intrigue. As it is, the dinner turns sour and erupts into open warfare being declared between the two kingdoms. This setup is more than the film needs for a satisfying, character-driven fantasy-epic, but then it keeps on going.

Not realising that the real meat of the movie could and should have been the conflict between the two leading ladies with Aurora, uncertain of her loyalties, caught in the middle, Maleficent is instead separated from them for the entirety of the second act and ends up meeting a community of faeries living in secrecy. Perhaps there was room in this narrative for Maleficent to find her own people and struggle to decide whether her place is with them or with her goddaughter, but that’s yet another thread the film never allows any real time to explore. The faeries, as led by the even-minded Conall (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and the hot-headed Borra (Ed Skrein) are raring for a good fight and so all talk immediately slips into discussions of age-old grievances and battle plans. Meanwhile back at the castle, time that could be spent on character development is instead devoted towards matters of conspiracy, including a mystery about whether Ingrith’s husband King John (Robert Lindsay) was cursed by Maleficent, and warmongering. Even if we were to accept that the movie has other things on its mind at this point besides the theme of motherhood that was so foundational to the first movie, Ingrith’s explicit racism for example, it cannot even bring itself to explore these ideas at any substantive level. Things are escalating to war ever quicker and the movie spares far too little thought for what is driving any of the characters there and how any of them actually feel about it.

It’s clear that the movie has an endpoint it wants to reach, that being a wedding which gets interrupted by a massive CGI-fest battle, and so it rampages towards its goal with reckless abandon. One would hope that the climax would at least be worth the forced contrivances it took to get there, but it’s all the same old torrent of standard action and generic imagery you could have expected in your typical live-action fantasy. The various magical creatures lack as much in texture as they do in personality and the action scenes are shot with the same standard framing and predictable camera movements as you’ve seen in countless other big-budget CGI flicks. When things inevitably come to head, there is no emotional payoff to be had because so little of what has occurred since the dinner scene has been driven by character. There was potential here for a story about a strong-willed and misunderstood mother whose relationship with her daughter is strained by an inability to let her go, but with all the political scheming, tactical planning and other divergences that got in the way, there was simply no room for it. The film doesn’t even work as a star vehicle for Jolie, who disappears for long stretches so that room can be made for characters who aren’t as interesting a plot that no one cares about.

★★

Joker

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy

Director: Todd Phillips

Writers: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver


There has been so much discourse surrounding Joker both prior and subsequent to its release, much of which has been made in heat and bad faith, that it doesn’t seem possible to discuss it as a movie in and of itself. In truth the idea of the film, that is the very perception of it and what it appears to represent to the public regardless of how many of them have actually seen it, may be more relevant than its actual content. There were many who dreaded its release and who felt that its apparently sympathetic portrayal of a mentally ill, discontented white man being driven to act out violently might perpetuate further violence akin to the endemic mass shootings that such men have committed over the past decade (especially considering the 2012 massacre that occurred at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises). Another divisive aspect of the discourse has concerned the artistic merit and legitimacy of superhero/comic book movies with some ardent fans clinging to the notion that a pervasive bias continues to exist against the genre despite its monumental commercial success and the acclaim and awards attention granted to such titles as The Dark Knight and Black Panther. Personally I’ve found that I have had little interest and patience for the discourse, not because I don’t feel that the discussions Joker has inspired aren’t worth having, but because I simply don’t think it’s a good, bad, or smart enough movie to merit them.

Our protagonist is Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a miserable and unassuming introvert with an unspecified mental illness and a compulsive laughing disorder. He lives alone with his mother Penny (Frances Conroy), a frail old woman who can no longer care for herself, in a Gotham City that has been designed and shot in the squalid image of the New York in Martin Scorsese’s films from the 1970s and 80s. Two in particular stand out as clear sources of inspiration for director and co-screenwriter Todd Phillips, Taxi Driver and The King of New York, both of them about similarly unhinged and disaffected loners acting out in vindictive ways. Arthur works as a clown but dreams of being a stand-up comedian despite being woefully untalented, unfunny, and socially awkward. His idol is beloved TV personality Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), whose talk show Arthur watches nightly with his mother and fantasises about being invited to. In the casting of De Niro as the Jerry Langford to his own Rupert Pupkin, we see the movie’s most obvious homage to the Scorsese films it borrows from. Knowing, as anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the Batman mythos will, that Joker will end with Arthur becoming the infamous homicidal clown, there remains only the question of what will push him over the edge. Will Arthur’s transformation into the Joker come about from one very bad day, as was suggested in Alan Moore’s seminal The Killing Joke, or will it be the culmination of a painful, wretched and lonesome existence?

For this film it’s much more the latter than it is the former and it goes very far to show us just how utterly miserable Arthur’s existence is. He hasn’t a friend in all the world, strangers are rude to him, work is scarce and pretty awful and, when the world strikes and beats Arthur down, nobody is willing to help him get back onto his feet. In an early scene we see Arthur twirling a sign for a local business that gets stolen by some youths who then beat him up as he pursues them. When Arthur reports this to his boss, he gets accused of stealing the sign and loses his wages. Arthur is so desperately in need of some compassion in his life that when a mildly pleasant exchange comes about from a chance encounter he has in an elevator with Sophie (Zazie Beetz), a single mother who lives in his building, he becomes obsessed with her. It’s an alienating life he leads, made more so because of a condition he has that causes him to laugh uncontrollably when under stress. He’s the kind of guy whose mere presence makes other people uncomfortable; if you saw him on the bus, you’d instinctually search for the furthest seat from him and look away for fear of making eye contact. The world he inhabits is a horrid cesspool of brutality and despair and Arthur is one of its greatest deplorables.

Tied into this character study is an attempt at social commentary and political statement that is as unmistakable as it is confused. Gotham is depicted as a crime-ridden city in the midst of political and social turmoil and we are clearly supposed to recognise Arthur as a product of his environment. He is a victim of violent crime (as people with mental health issues are more likely to be), he loses his medication due to austerity, and the father who abandoned him at birth may or may not be one of the city’s wealthiest citizens. There is a disconnect however between Arthur’s motivations and the social forces at play that the movie never manages to reconcile. When Arthur finally snaps, his first victims are these three Wall Street arseholes whom he shoots in the subway. The economic difference between them is purely incidental; they attack him and so Arthur shoots at them, first in self-defence and then in retribution. This crime sparks an anti-rich, anti-establishment revolution amongst the downtrodden people of Gotham City, but the whole ideology of it has so little to do with Arthur that it almost feels like an afterthought. This isn’t to say that the Joker needs to be ideologically motivated in his actions, but the way that the film persists in alluding to this deeper intent behind his actions as shaped by the oppression he suffers while maintaining that he is decidedly apolitical in his beliefs just doesn’t add up.

This is because the movie ultimately cannot decide who it wants its incarnation of the Joker to be. The character has always been a walking paradox, a mismatch of horror and comedy who can be anybody from a devilish prankster to a sadistic psychopath and sometimes even both. The pencil trick in The Dark Knight is so shocking precisely because it’s such a funny bit. The contradictions with Arthur Fleck’s Joker don’t feel intentional or innate to the character however, they just feel inconsistent. He thinks that the world is sick and as he muses “I used to think my life was tragedy, but now I realise it’s a fucking comedy”, we’re supposed to understand that this is his great epiphany. Yet when he does strike out, it isn’t out of any sort of righteous fury or anarchic glee, it’s out of self-defence and petty revenge. The movie raises him as a figurehead spearheading some greater cause yet doesn’t give him any emotional or ideological stake in that cause. It is vaguely implied that his turn to violence could partly be due to childhood abuse, but the (probably unwise) idea is dropped almost as soon as it’s raised. The film is smart enough to understand that to portray Arthur as a hero would be wrong, and yet it won’t go far enough to make him deliberately unlikable the way Scorsese did with Travis Bickle’s racism and repugnant political views. Phillips tries hard to make Arthur a mirror wherein the viewers can each see some different side of themselves, but what he shows us instead is a blank canvas.

Still, let it not be said that Joaquin Phoenix doesn’t commit to the role with every fibre of his being. His physique takes on a twisted, skeletal form akin to Christian Bale in The Machinist and the range of broad expressions and animated gestures he conjures are as expressive as anything Peter Lorre or Conrad Veidt could have done (M and The Man Who Laughs, now there’s a Joker double-bill for you!) So potent is Phoenix’s unhinged charisma that he manages to embody many of the contradictory and half-baked ideas that the movie throws at him and tie them all together into an almost coherent, almost consistent, almost complete whole. It’s a marvel of nuance and complexity that the rest of the film doesn’t come close to matching. It does perhaps lack the clear sense of deliberation and purpose that made Ledger and Nolan’s realisation of the character such a tour-de-force, but what Phoenix does bring to the table is reason enough to see this film. In the end his portrayal of the murderous clown comes across as more pitiable than sympathetic; you feel sorry for Arthur the same way you might feel sorry for a rabid dog that needs to be put down. His uncontrollable, hysterical laughter seethes with menace and mania, yet behind it at all times is a look of humiliation and helplessness.

In its effort to be taken seriously as a prestige movie, Joker certainly has the look and sound of one. The cinematography by Lawrence Sher captures the bleak, nihilistic mood that the story is going for with its realisation of Gotham as a city that is rotten to its core. Emulating the grimy aesthetic from those crime movies of the 70s and 80s, the darkness is that of a world beyond redemption; the exact kind of world that Travis Bickle and Rorschach thought they lived in, that is this film’s reality. Underscoring it is a haunting, brooding musical score that portends an ominous threat behind every street corner and beneath every shadow. What is Phillips trying to say with this story and its aesthetics? Not much as far as I can tell. Joker treats itself with a self-seriousness that it never earns. It exudes filth, sleaze and grime, yet is only willing to get its hands so dirty before it retreats and falls back onto the familiar beats of better, bolder films. Thus, in its depiction of violence, tragedy and madness, Joker ends up being far too tame and impassive. Perhaps it’s the inevitable by-product of being a major studio release designed to be marketed towards a young and wide audience but the film is simply unwilling to take that extra step into someplace truly discomforting and provocative. The result is a movie that is neither good enough to be admired or bad enough to be condemned. It isn’t enough of anything to be worth any kind of strong reaction.

★★★

IT: Chapter Two

Cast: Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Jay Ryan, James Ransome, Andy Bean, Bill Skarsgård

Director: Andy Muschietti

Writer: Gary Dauberman


In this sequel to the 2017 horror smash hit, there’s a running joke with one of the main characters about him being a writer who is famous for bad endings. This is in part a dig at Stephen King whose works, including the book on which the two movies are based, have often been criticised for having messy endings. It is also, more significantly, the movie’s way of addressing one of the biggest problems facing director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman. After having done a capable job with the first film of introducing the characters, illustrating the story’s central conflict, and establishing a solid foundation on which a sequel could be built, they now have a satisfying resolution to deliver. Endings are never easy, especially when there are so many moving parts to piece together. Each of the seven kids from Chapter One has an arc that needs to be resolved, there are several interlinking threads and questions that need to be responded to (if not answered), and there is a threat that needs to be defeated. Whether the recurring gag is the movie’s way of warning us to be prepared for an underwhelming finale or an appeal to not concern ourselves with the destination and to instead simply enjoy the ride there, it is an omen either way. With a convoluted plot that it goes about for too long and a failure to learn from the flaws of the first film, IT Chapter Two mostly botches the ending.

When we’re first reintroduced to the Losers Club, they’re all 27 years older and are still haunted by their childhood fears. Bill (James McAvoy) is a popular author who hasn’t managed to come to terms with his brother’s death; Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is a fashion designer trapped in a brutally abusive marriage; Richie (Bill Hader) is a barely functioning alcoholic who exercises his anxieties through his stand-up comedy; Ben (Jay Ryan) has shed his weight and founded a successful architecture firm but is still haunted by the bullying he suffered; Eddie (James Ransone) is a neurotic risk assessor, meaning he at least gets paid to be a hypochondriac; and Stanley (Andy Bean), while having built a seemingly normal life for himself, still lives in terror. Of the seven, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) is the only one who has remained in Derry for all these years and it is he who gets in touch with his estranged friends when some mysterious deaths and disappearances indicate to him that Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), their childhood bogeyman, has finally returned. The young actors who did such a tremendous job of playing these characters in Chapter One have also returned for the film’s many flashback scenes. Thus the Losers return to Derry to fulfil the blood oath they all swore as children and confront the traumas they’ve spent the last three decades trying to run away from.

Now, in retrospect, the decision to cleave King’s novel into two according to the time periods was the right way to go. By setting one of the films in the past and the other in the present, both movies could attend to their characters and themes with a greater degree of focus and can still complement each other as companion pieces while still maintaining self-contained structures. This worked wonders for Chapter One and should have benefited Chapter Two as well. One of the problems with the sequel however is that, even for a film about how difficult it is to escape the ghosts of the past, it spends far too much time in that past. It turns out that in order to defeat IT once and for all, the Losers must complete a Native American ritual with ‘artefacts’ from their past. Thus the film proceeds to spend its entire second act following each member of the Losers Club in turn as they dive into their memories in search of their respective relics. Since this stretch of the movie necessarily involves retreading familiar ground and uncovering old wounds, it too often feels like the film is simply recycling the material from Chapter One. All we really get out of this hour-long treasure hunt is a reminder of their individual anxieties and fears as opposed to a deeper understanding of how they’ve grown and manifested themselves in the Losers’ adulthood (except with Richie, who is given what is by far the best arc in the film).

While Chapter One was pretty uneven in its application of horror, what made it work for the most part was that the characters were all children and Pennywise was the bogeyman preying on their adolescent fears. There’s an element of lost innocence and childish uncertainty there that made the vagueness of ITs powers and the silliness of his (her? its?) different guises scarier. Now that the Losers are all grown up, the ghouls they face are as lacking in severity as they are in texture. With so many different storylines to balance as each main character faces their own unique monster in search of their McGuffin, the film cannot devote enough time to build up the suspense or the weight needed for the scares to make more than the fleetest of impressions. By now we’ve been conditioned to expect the dancing clown to make his appearance when the characters we follow reach a certain point and, when he inevitably does, he’s just pulling the same tricks as before. While some of these scenes do work, particularly the one from the trailer where Beverly revisits her childhood home, most of them are so repetitive and generic that it wasn’t long until I found myself wondering why Pennywise was still screwing around with these kids when he could have killed any of them at any given point a dozen times over by now.

This all stems from a reluctance on the film’s part to grapple with the reality of the horror that Pennywise represents to the Losers and to jump down the rabbit hole (or I suppose sewer hole in this case) to see what terrible, dark places they might lead us to. There are themes of survivor’s guilt, homophobia and repressed trauma being raised, such is the stuff that great horror is made of, that the movie is simply unwilling to explore on a deeper level. Even at its goriest, IT is simply not interested in scaring the audience beyond the most visceral, sensationalistic level it can attain. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, not every horror can be Psycho, but the popcorn sensibility that the film clings to confines it more than it does assist it. There’s an uncomfortable clash in tones that arises when the movie harshly depicts the physical abuse Beverly suffers at the hands of her husband only for the idea to be left hanging there, never to be addressed again or unpacked. The same goes for the film’s opening scene, which features a vicious hate crime being committed on a gay couple (one of whom is played by Xavier Dolan), a brutal scene that is similarly dismissed and forgotten about as soon as it’s over. The way that the film moves on from its unflinching depictions of these terrible, true-to-life horrors to the more cartoonish scares without a backwards glance doesn’t sit right with me.

Even then, I think the movie’s biggest mistake is splitting the main characters up in the second act. The cast is the film’s greatest asset and they’re all at their best when they stick together. There’s one scene where the Losers are catching up in a Chinese restaurant that I honestly wish could have gone on longer before IT showed up to crash the party. Hader in particular is on top form; not only does he score some great laughs as the wise-cracking, foul-mouthed Richie, he also gets the most meaningful character development. Even the emotional arcs of Bill and Beverly, both of whom are clearly the main characters, don’t get furthered to as great an extent; they more or less undergo the same struggles as last time, which is fine because it’s part of the point, but it isn’t done in a way that informs or deepens our understanding of their characters. By separating the ensemble as soon as the movie has brought them all together and digressing from the main story with its many flashbacks and subplots (including one with incarcerated bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) that, despite being in the book, adds so little it should have been cut out entirely), the movie never allows its adult cast to settle on a rapport or to really explore what makes their characters tick in the way that the younger cast did so well the first time around.

Since the movie was made by the same creative team as Chapter One, the two are aesthetically identical. Chapter Two has the same expert command over light and dark that makes for some pretty well-executed jump scares and the same over the top music undermining the parts that needed to be subtler and more jarring. In fact, think the main reason why Chapter One works far better than the second is precisely Chapter Two is too similar to the first. The kinds of frights that we got in the first movie worked well enough when the characters were children, but they’ve all gotten older now and the movie needed to grow up with them. Having a creepy clown jump out of the shadows to yell ‘Boo!’ just doesn’t cut it when there are deeper, more adult fears and anxieties for IT to prey upon. Sometimes that’s exactly what Pennywise does and those scenes work well, but the movie doesn’t go there often enough. It’s just not interested in getting under your skin in the way that great horror movies tend to do, it has instead contented itself with getting a good jump out of you and then moving on. Again there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, the first movie did it as well. However, when you’ve been there before and you can see the jumps coming from a mile away, you kind of have to shrug your shoulders ask, “Is that all you’ve got?”

★★

Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino


When a filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino announces that his next film is going to be set against the backdrop of the Manson murders in the final years of the 1960s and that the late actress Sharon Tate is going to be a major character, it’s hard not to feel somewhat anxious or concerned. It’s a little like enlisting Michael Bay, a director known for unfiltered stylistic excesses and explosive glorification of warfare, to direct a thoughtful epic about a national tragedy (which, you know, happened). The recurring motif that Tarantino is probably best known for in his work, more so than his unique style of profane dialogue, his encyclopaedic knowledge of film and exhaustive pop culture literacy, or his fascination with feet, is his frequent depictions of over-the-top violence. Although the director’s views on violence in media are so well-documented by this point that his irritation at being made to reiterate them grows more and more visible with each new film, a question of taste has to be raised when discussing such a disturbing episode of recent American history. As much as I have (and still do) enjoy his body of work, I do often find myself questioning Tarantino’s judgement especially where it relates to matters of race and gender (plus there’s that time when he cast himself as an Australian). He is also, however, one of the few directors working today who I feel has earned the benefit of the doubt where experimentation and innovation are concerned and so I awaited this film with hopeful apprehension.

What’s strange about the movie Tarantino has produced is that it might be his most characteristic film or his least; it depends on who you think Quentin is. In true Tarantino fashion, Once Upon a Time is an ensemble piece with overlapping storylines. One concerns Sharon (Margot Robbie), an up and coming actress newly married to the celebrated Polish director Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha). One follows her next door neighbour Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a washed up TV star reduced to weekly guest stints in a desperate bid to remain relevant. The third features Rick’s employee and friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a stunt double whose career has effectively come to an end due to age and scandal. Yet for the longest time it doesn’t feel like the film has a story to tell or a point it’s working its way towards. The characters don’t really act so much as they just exist. Sharon attends lush parties with the likes of Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis), explores Los Angeles, and sneaks into a screening of her own movie. Rick attends a meeting with casting agent Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino), contemplates the direction his career is heading in, then spends the next day stuttering and drinking his way through a TV shoot. Cliff carries out a strict dinnertime ritual with his rigorously-trained dog, goes to Rick’s house to shirtlessly fix his antenna, and befriends a teenaged hitchhiker called Pussycat (Margaret Qualley).

As should be evidenced by the title, Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is best understood not as the story of three people whose lives intersected but rather as the story of a particular time and place. There’s a clear nostalgia for that era on Tarantino’s part which is evident in the loving detail used to bring the period to life. The cinematography exudes this warm glow that evokes an eternally sunlit California in the midst of a cultural golden age. As Cliff roams the streets of Los Angeles in either Rick’s cream-coloured Cadillac or his own rusty Karmann Ghia, the movie invites us to lean back and take in the sights and vibes of this city where hippies meander down Hollywood Boulevard and neon signs are ready to light up the streets as soon the sun goes down while Aretha Franklin and Deep Purple play in the background. Tarantino is known for having such a deep knowledge and passion for cinema that he’d make most film nerds ashamed to call themselves such and this movie is teeming to the brim with enough references, homages and cameos to make their heads spin. However, as with Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained which both told unmistakably fictional stories in historical settings, the film is as much a comment on the present as it is the past, perhaps more so. This is an era of sweeping change in the entertainment industry in which certain customs, stories and even people are being left behind. Tarantino, an ever vocal advocate for celluloid film in an increasingly digital age, is trying to recapture something here that he thinks has been lost.

It’s worth bearing in mind that, even when setting his films in the past, Tarantino has never even pretended to feel beholden towards history as it really happened. If anything, his movies should be considered fantasies for the blatant way in which they rewrite the past, correcting historical injustices with acts of bloody retribution. Adolf Hitler is gunned down by a Jewish soldier and a slaveowner’s estate and livelihood is brought down in flames by a former slave. There’s an element of that going on here in the film’s portrayal of Sharon Tate, but on a more intimate (there’s a word I never thought I’d use to describe a Tarantino film) scale. Tate is mostly remembered today for three things: starring in the racy Valley of the Dolls, marrying Roman Polanski, and being murdered by the Manson Family. Tarantino clearly reveres the actress and uses this movie as chance to showcase the sides of Tate we never see in the history books. What the movie shows us is a young, rising star with an endlessly promising future ahead of her living a day in the life that would one day be violently stolen from her. In Robbie’s performance we see an exuberant joy for life, a passion for her work and even an anxiety about winning the public’s favour and becoming a star in an industry that will kick the Rick Daltons of the world to the curb without a second thought. One particularly moving scene has Sharon watching herself (or, rather, the real Sharon Tate) in The Wrecking Crew and being relieved by the audience’s warm, enthusiastic response.

While Sharon is the heart of this movie, the protagonists are Rick and Cliff. Rick marks the other end of the Hollywood star-making machine that Sharon has just entered; he’s a has-been who makes his living playing punching bags for the younger stars of new TV shows following in the footsteps of his hit 1950s Western Bounty Law. It’s a vicious cycle that systematically builds people up only to tear them down and there’s a distinct pleasure in watching DiCaprio, a bona fide movie star in his first starring role since his Oscar victory, playing this washed up former idol coming to grips with his own irrelevancy. He taps into this wonderful vein of pathos and self parody playing this embittered, self-hating wretch who isn’t ready to accept that he’s no longer “Rick Fuckin’ Dalton”. This comes to a head when a boozed-up Rick chats to an exceedingly professional child actress who has barely begun her own path towards stardom. They talk about the book that Rick happens to be reading and, finding that the themes hit a little closer to home than he initially realised, the cowboy actor is reduced to tears. It’s an incredibly funny scene, but it’s also a surprisingly touching one that reveals the deeper humanity of Rick, and perhaps even that of Tarantino himself who has sworn he will retire after making one more movie lest he become an old, irrelevant filmmaker trying desperately to recapture the glory days of yore.

As Cliff, Pitt proves himself once again to be an exceptionally charismatic star, imbuing this effortless cool that evokes the memories of Steve McQueen and Burt Reynolds. Even when he’s just standing on a roof fixing an aerial in the California sun, his screen presence is magnetic. Like Rick, he’s on the tail end of his career having gone from a Hollywood stunt man to his friend’s overqualified chauffer and handyman. Unlike Rick however, he’s pretty cool with the whole thing and is more or less content to take life as it comes. Even when his employment with Rick starts looking more and more untenable or when he’s found himself at Spahn Ranch where the Manson Family have taken up residence, nothing seems to faze the guy. So it is that, for the first two thirds of the movie, we watch Sharon live her life as it’s about to take off, Rick as his is about to come crashing down, and Cliff as he breezes his way along, all three of them oblivious of the terror that will take place on Cielo Drive in the summer of ‘69. At that point the movie takes a sudden turn and it is here that we’re finally treated to the Tarantino we all either love or loathe. With the blending of extreme violence with slapstick humour and stylised visual flourishes, the ending is trademark Tarantino. Whether that feels appropriate in such a film as this will fall onto the viewer’s taste and what they think of Tarantino films in general.

The ending is bound to confound some and confuse others, but I think the point becomes a little clearer if you think of this movie as a lament for both the 60s and for Sharon Tate. The 1960s were the best of times and the worst of times and it is a decade which Tarantino clearly holds in regard. There are some for whom the Manson killings mark the end of that era; a sudden, shockingly violent end where the world seemed to stop making sense and nothing felt certain or safe anymore. My feeling is that this movie is Tarantino’s way of mourning an age that he wishes didn’t have to come to an end as well as a life of such promise and potential that was tragically taken too soon. While I’ve long thought Tarantino a filmmaker of enormous talent and depth, I would never have thought him capable of making a film with such sensitivity and affection. There are still smatterings of violence scattered throughout as well as the director’s usual wittily coarse dialogue and fetishistic focus on feet because it wouldn’t be a Tarantino film otherwise but, between the humour and the mayhem, there’s a profoundly melancholic tone that we haven’t seen in any of his other films. That’s what makes it all feel so strange. This is perhaps the least characteristic film Tarantino made in his whole career yet it might also be the film that reveals the most about him both as a filmmaker and a person.

★★★★★

The Lion King

Cast: (voiced by) Donald Glover, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Billy Eichner, John Kani, John Oliver, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, James Earl Jones

Director: Jon Favreau

Writer: Jeff Nathanson


There is a certain prevailing attitude in cinema dating at least as far back as the French film critic André Bazin which holds that the ultimate goal of any film is to capture reality as closely as can possibly be attained. In Bazin’s own words, “The objective nature of photography confers on it a quality of credibility absent from all other picture-making”. Thus he was largely receptive towards the works of the French Poetic Realism and Italian Neo-Realism film movements, which both favoured natural-looking aesthetics and restrained editing styles, and was more dismissive of German Expressionism and Soviet Montage, which blatantly defied such conventions. Bazin’s critics have since contended that ‘realism’ is in itself a construction and that the true measure of film, or indeed of art, is the application of form in service of function. The trick is in finding the best way to tell a certain story, constructing an appropriate reality through which to apply such a method and then maintaining it consistently according to its own rules and logic (in film theory jargon, this is called verisimilitude). This applies whether the film’s world strictly adheres itself according to what we recognise as reality (i.e. realism) or exists entirely within its own fabricated artifice (formalism). Most films tend to fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I’m simplifying and omitting much of the scholarship almost to the point of distortion, but that’s the basic idea as I understand it.

So, why am I writing about the thoughts of a French critic who died in 1958 in a review of Disney’s The Lion King? Because I think that this so-called ‘live-action’ remake of the 1994 animated classic illustrates, perhaps clearer than any other picture before it, the logical fallacy of Bazin’s filmic ideal. Even in 2019 where the most popular movies in the world are about superheroes, space wizards and sentient toys (all of which, incidentally, are owned by Disney), there still remains an outlook, one that Hollywood is guilty of perpetuating, that deems ‘realism’ to be of greater worth and merit than other forms of creative expression (such as, to give just one example, animation). It falls under the same superficial hierarchy that treats drama as more prestigious than comedy or ‘adult’ fiction as inherently superior to ‘children’s’ fiction. Even with the live-action blockbusters that now dominate the box office, films that objectively cannot take place within our own reality, audiences will espouse the virtues of ‘realism’ to defend the Marvel films for tending to have flat, drab colour palettes or criticise the Star Wars films for logical inconsistencies. Since ‘realism’ also necessarily invites us to embrace that which is familiar, that might explain in part the enormous popularity of Disney’s recent string of live-action remakes. It gives Disney licence to repackage some of their most beloved movies into a more ‘realistic’ format that the audience has been conditioned to believe translates to ‘better’.

Indeed, there’s something almost insidious about the way the press has persisted in referring to The Lion King as ‘live-action’ despite the film containing not one single image that wasn’t constructed by a computer. As far as I can tell it is not a term that Disney has ever used in their own promotion of the film, but it isn’t one that they’ve rejected either. The movie is a photorealistic animation; while the effects are often so convincing that you could be forgiven for thinking they could have actually shot some of these scenes in the African savannah with real lions and hyenas, it is an animation none the less. To some this is nothing more than a distinction without a difference. The lions look real, therefore ‘live-action’ is as serviceable a term as any other. Even so, because Hollywood has continued to assign such automatic merit to ‘realism’ above all other creative approaches and have given the live-action blockbuster a certain degree of class and respectability over films that favour more unconventional styles (the only appropriate word for which is snobbery), this all strikes me as a deceptive marketing ploy. If this movie is to be regarded as ‘live-action’, a form that we’re being taught is a more legitimate form of art than animation by virtue of its ‘realism’, then the inherent implication is that the 2019 remake of The Lion King is a ‘real’ movie while the 1994 classic is to be dismissed as nothing more than a children’s cartoon.

I think it’s easy to write The Lion King off as a cheap, lazy attempt by Disney to cash in on a movie that people already love by simply covering it with a new coat of paint. However, while this movie is many things indeed, it is patently obvious from the very first frame that ‘lazy’ and ‘cheap’ aren’t any of them. Clearly some tremendous effort and attention to detail has gone into making the animals all look and feel like living, breathing creatures from the intricacies of their physical appearances (not just the fur but also their skeletal and muscular structures) to their movements and the spaces they inhabit. As the sun rises over the savannah and we see the dozens of mammals and birds galloping across the plain, treading through the rivers and grasslands, and soaring across the sky, it’s almost like you could be watching a nature documentary beyond David Attenborough’s wildest dreams while ‘The Circle of Life’ plays in the background. There’s no camera to speak of since the imagery is entirely computer generated, but the frame sweeps and strides through these scenes with natural deliberation, as if the perspective were that of a person or device with real weight. When the physically imposing Mufasa or the lean, haggard Scar inhabit a frame, the animating team make every effort to convey their characterisations through their appearances, gestures and movements and they’ve clearly thought extensively about how these intelligent, lively beasts would interact with their physical spaces and environment.

From a purely technological standpoint, The Lion King is a marvel. As before in The Jungle Book, Favreau’s previous effort to remake a Disney animated classic, he and his team have built an entire world that looks uncannily, breathtakingly real and have populated it with a whole array of creatures who look so authentic, you’d never have guessed that they were nothing more than a sequence of ones and zeroes. Still, there remains for me the larger question behind it all: what basic, intrinsic value does ‘realism’ have in a movie where talking, singing animals re-enact Hamlet? What exactly was missing in the vividly expressive and strikingly colourful style of animation in the 1994 original to make Disney think the story needed to be told all over again in the exact same way but with plain yet photorealistic imagery? If there is indeed room for this story to be told in a live-action format, how can that possibly be best accomplished by slavishly following the example of a film that was conceptually intended to be realised in the form of hand-drawn animation? While the 2019 movie is half an hour longer than the original, it is nevertheless the exact same story told with the exact same characters in the exact same way with just a few interludes, extensions and revisions. Timon and Pumba provide some additional comic relief, Nala gets her own song, the hyenas are made a little more intimidating, and our understanding of the story and its characters is none the deeper because of it (also, for all their additions, they inexplicably chose to cut the scene in which the movie’s whole moral gets taught).

While the effort and thought that went into recreating the film’s most iconic images, characters and moments is self-evident, what’s sorely missing is the passion, the ambition, and the hidden X-factor behind the images and between the edits that makes Hitchcock’s Psycho a work of genius and Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake a pale imitation. When I think of the moments that stuck with me, they weren’t necessarily those that departed the most from the first film but rather those that were best served by the photorealistic format. The two that come immediately to mind are the first scene, where the animals come from far and wide to see the newborn Lion Prince while ‘Circle of Life’ plays, and a strange little scene in the second act where a tuft of Simba’s fur travels the vast length of the African landscape in this elaborate Circle of Life chain reaction to reach Rafiki so that he might learn of the prince’s continued existence. Crucially, both are sequences in which the animals do not talk and we are able to stare in awe at the wonderful scenery and immerse ourselves in the visual and audial (sans dialogue) storytelling taking place. Through the use of light, movement, natural sound, and music, the movie ably conveys what is happening in both of these moments in terms that even the youngest viewers can understand. Had they the will to make it, perhaps there’s a version of this movie that could have realised this approach on a more complete level. Whether it would even have worked is anybody’s guess, but at least it would have been different.

For all the movie is able to convey through its painstakingly crafted visuals and carefully thought-out simulations of the animals, it doesn’t change the simple fact that The Lion King is a human story being performed by creatures incapable of human expression. Even with the subtle nuances of their designs and actions, there’s only so much heavy lifting those little touches can do. What obvious and distinguished personalities the characters had in the 1994 film are almost wholly absent because the movie is severely limited in the kinds of expressions and movements it can have the characters perform by virtue of its ‘realistic’ format. The musical scenes, such as the young Simba and Nala’s rendition of ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King’ or Timon and Pumba’s iconic ‘Hakuna Matata’ feel slower and duller because all the animators can really do is show the animals running with and around each other at a moderate distance in a backdrop that does little to inform the ideas being sung about. When the movie calls for some kind of big, emotional moment, as in the scene where Simba watches his father fall to his death, there is absolutely nothing to be read in the cub’s expression because, well… he doesn’t have one. The expressive animating style of the first film proved invaluable in the second and third acts as it helped allow the grown up versions of Simba and Nala to quickly be established and advanced as characters in what critically little time they had left (people forget how unusually long the first act is). This film doesn’t have that advantage.

Perhaps the crew hoped that the voice talent would be able to step in and make up for this disconnect, but they too are let down by the limitations of the format. Some actors are up to the task as far as the medium will allow them. Glover does well playing a Simba weighted down by the crushing burdens of his troubles and traumas. Eichner gets to show off his singing chops and enjoys a pretty good rapport with Rogen. Oliver is so perfectly cast as Zazu that had he shown up just as himself complete with spectacles and suit, I’d still have gone along with it. Others fare less well, especially Beyoncé who is only on form when she’s allowed to sing. The single unifying factor these performances all have however is that, however emotive their inflections and intonations, the animation cannot hope to match them. Before the movie was released, I remember watching a featurette showing a side-by-side comparison between some of the actors in the recording studio and the final on-screen result. I was particularly captivated by James Earl Jones and how much more compelling his physical performance was than his CGI counterpart because that’s how expressive and forceful a performer he is even in a recording booth. For all that the animated Mufasa was able to convey in Jones’ reprisal of the role, they may as well have reused the audio from 25 years before.

Ultimately, The Lion King is not in and of itself a bad film but that kind of figures. It’s a bit like if someone made an exact copy of the Mona Lisa on Microsoft Paint, they’d have to be a pretty good graphic designer in order to pull it off. Favreau is by all means a competent director and it’d be hard for him to go wrong with the tried and true formula that he so rigidly follows. However, by refusing to take full advantage of the technology and talent at their disposal and being bold enough to try making something well and truly different, all he and Disney were able to accomplish was in making a film that is almost exactly like the one that already existed but comparatively worse. What the movie gains in ‘realism’, it loses in beauty, expressiveness and magic. Never before have I seen a film demonstrate so definitively how limiting and counter-productive it is to strive for ‘realism’ in art at the expense of all else. The style of animation is more realistic, to be sure, and that is exactly the problem because realism was never what the 1994 film strived for. It told the story it wanted to tell in the way it knew how and this film, just like all the other live-action remakes Disney has produced before it, proves once again how right they were to tell the story in that original form. Not that the execs at Disney making the decisions will pay much mind. They’re too busy singing ‘Hakuna Matata’ on their way to the bank.

★★

Midsommar

Cast: Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter

Director: Ari Aster

Writer: Ari Aster


First with Hereditary and now with Midsommar Ari Aster has delivered another horror film where the most intense and dreadful scenes aren’t those that where the violence inflicted on the characters is physical but is instead emotional. In a movie packed with crazy cultists and bloody murder, it’s the raw depictions of such unbearable emotions as grief, rage, depression, helplessness and isolation that hit the hardest because of how uncomfortably close to home they are for so many of us. Who amongst us hasn’t had that fear that we’re driving our closest friends away by burdening them with our baggage? Who amongst us hasn’t dreaded the prospect of being abandoned by our loved ones and left alone, inconsolable and powerless? Who amongst us hasn’t craved in vain for a place where we can belong and be loved and accepted as we are without reservation? Such are the devastating fears that Midsommar opts to explore and eventually realise on an appallingly extreme level. For all the blood and gore in this film (of which there is a lot) and the disturbing nature of its setting and many of the characters, it is the great dejection of the severely damaged person at its centre that makes it so gut-wrenching to watch, especially as we behold the emotional fallout of the fundamentally broken relationship she is in with all the intensity of watching a gruesome car crash in slow motion.

Our protagonist is Dani (Florence Pugh), a young woman who, in the opening minutes, suffers a devastating, unimaginable loss. It happens on a rainy night when she receives an ominous email from her sister, who has bipolar disorder and a history of self-harm. Dani’s desperate attempts to get in touch with her and their parents go unanswered, leaving her in a tearful panic. Compounded with her dread that something terrible may have happened is her apprehensive fear that her worry is an overreaction and that her hysteria will only make things worse. Although she has a boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor), whom one would assume she could rely on to provide comfort and reassurance in this ordeal, she’s worried she’ll end up scaring him off if she continues to impose upon him with her anxieties and problems. By the end of the scene, we see Dani’s greatest fears turn out to be true on both fronts. Her sister has done something awful beyond anything she could have imagined (the way Aster goes about the nail-baiting reveal through the menacing, stalker-like movement of the camera is masterful) and her boyfriend does think of her as a nuisance who asks too much of him. We learn that he most likely would have dumped Dani before long if not for her tragic misfortune, but even as he remains by her side he can barely will himself to provide more than polite, nominal support for her in all her tremendous pain and anguish.

Months later Christian’s friends Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper) keep egging him to rip the bandage and dump Dani so that they can all move on and enjoy the trip to Sweden they’ve been invited on by their classmate Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren). Dani, so starved for relief and affection that she finds the half-hearted company of her ambivalent boyfriend and his mates preferable to the prospect of being left alone, invites herself along. While the gory moments in the later part of the movie are pretty unsettling in their own right, it was the suffocating tension between Dani and Christian in their inability to communicate and be honest with one another that had me peeking between my fingers. The way that Christian kept tip-toeing about how burdensome he finds his girlfriend to be at this point and Dani’s awkward interactions with the friends who can just barely disguise how annoying they find her presence on their boys’ trip to be are so endlessly bleak and uncomfortable to watch that they had me wincing in ways that even the most graphically violent horror films tend not to. The only person who seems at all excited to have Dani along is Pelle, who suffered a similar loss to her at a young age and is more compassionate and sensitive to her anguish than the rest by a mile and a half.

Their destination is the remote community of Hårga, a picturesque and pastoral place that’s so out of the way and so divorced from modern society that only a single vehicle ever goes back and forth between them and the nearest town and mobile phones cannot pick up any reception. If that’s not the makings of a horror movie setting, then I don’t know what is. Their life is a communal one, free from the trappings of modern civilisation. They live off the land, share their worldly possessions, living spaces and labour, and function freely without government, hierarchies or capital. The people, all of them fair-skinned and wearing luminous white frocks, greet their guests with congenial smiles and inviting hospitality, excited to have them all along for this momentous, near-centennial festival that marks the occasion. On the outset, it’s a given that the culture they’ve come to observe and celebrate is a foreign one; one that Christian and his fellow graduate researcher friends understand has preserved a more authentic and agrarian lifestyle than what they are used to with their 21st century upbringings, which is what primes them to indulge the stranger and more macabre aspects of their traditions. Thus, as odd it is to see a caged bear in the vicinity for no apparent reason and as unsettling as the disturbing folk art decorating the shared living area are, they are rationalised as customs that differ from our own as opposed to sinister red flags.

While the setting is foreign to most audiences (although, come to think of it, isn’t that true about pretty much every film?), the sensibility will be very familiar to British and American viewers. The movie taps into a desire for community and connection that many people share, both to the present and the past. It’s what inspires us to selectively romanticise aspects of history and of foreign cultures while brushing the less appealing and flattering aspects under the rug (in the UK, one need only watch an ITV costume drama for an example). The whole reason Christian and co. embark on this expedition is because they are anthropology graduate students leaping on the unique chance to study a secluded society. Thus when they are invited to witness what turns out to be a ritual suicide where two elders walk of a cliff (only for one of them to survive and have his head crushed by a giant hammer), the academics reason that they ought to stay and keep an open mind rather than fleeing there and then as any other person would. While Dani most certainly wants to leave at this point, it is she who learns better than anybody else the deeper value of the attachments that these traditions serve. The guys don’t end up developing more than a detached interest in the community, which is why they don’t feel particularly apprehensive about wanting to get off with one of their young, beautiful maidens or sneaking around during the one hour of night-time darkness to photograph their most private scriptures. It is Dani alone who truly acclimates to their warped ways and finds that there really is something at the heart of the cult’s repugnant practices.

The most remarkable moment in the whole film comes towards the end in which Dani, having been crowned the May Queen upon winning a dancing competition, has a total breakdown that reduces her to a sobbing mess. These have been quite a frequent occurrence for her since that terrible night in the opening scene, as is demonstrated in a terrific shot that seamlessly transitions from a breakdown in her boyfriend’s apartment to another breakdown in an airplane bathroom. Every time this happens to her, Dani is by herself and she suffers in silence. Only this time, having witnessed an upsetting act that triggers another meltdown, her pain and anguish are met not with ignorance and apathy but with heartfelt affection. The women of the village follow Dani as she attempts to retreat to somewhere more private and, when she cannot hold the tears back any longer, they all cling on to her and wail in empathy to her tortured screams. It is a cathartic moment for Dani who, after months of being made to feel like her pain was nothing more than a burden on others, is finally validated as a person who deserves to be held and nurtured. For all of their murderous deeds and vicious rituals, the people of Hårga offer Dani the kind of love and acceptance that she so desperately needs and has been so cruelly denied by those closest to her, something for which no price seems too great. There’s a certain horror in learning that you don’t belong (as it was in The Wicker Man, clearly a key source of inspiration), but Midsommar shows that there’s just as much to be found in discovering that you do.

★★★★

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Cast: Tom Holland, Samuel L. Jackson, Zendaya, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, J.B. Smoove, Jacob Batalon, Martin Starr, Marisa Tomei, Jake Gyllenhaal

Director: Jon Watts

Writers: Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers


Following the cataclysmic, seismic events of Avengers: Endgame, Spider-Man: Far From Home offers a similar kind of respite as Ant-Man and the Wasp did after Infinity War. In the aftermath of Thanos’ apocalyptic crusade and the critical feats and sacrifices it took to defeat him, the biggest thing worrying our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man (Tom Holland) is how to tell the girl he’s crushing on that he likes her. Once again directed by Jon Watts, this latest instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe follows the example of Homecoming by placing its main focus on the coming-of-age aspects of the Spider-Man story and reining things back a bit. The action is on a smaller scale than whatever Thor or Captain Marvel are wont to get up to and the tone falls more in line with a teen comedy than it does a sci-fi/fantasy epic. While there are still hard lessons about power and responsibility to be learnt, there is plenty of relief to be found in Far From Home in the form of light-hearted comedy, an upbeat soundtrack and adolescent romance. The movie is also the start of a new era for the MCU (one that Spider-Man may not even end up being a part of, but that’s another story) as it grapples with Tony Stark’s legacy and what the future holds for Peter Parker.

Following the five-year period during which half of the world’s population had been snapped out of existence, referred to in this film as ‘The Blip’, Peter Parker is back at school and things are starting to return to normal. The shadow of Tony Stark looms large in this post-Thanos world and there is a question of who will step in to fill the void his death has left, but that’s not a question Peter is ready to face just yet as he continues to mourn the loss of his mentor and father figure. For now he’s back on the streets beating up small-time thugs, Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) is taking the revelation of his double life well, and he’s about to go on a trip to Europe with his friends Ned (Jacob Batalon) and MJ (Zendaya). Having recently grown rather smitten with MJ, this is the chance he’s been waiting for to tell her how he feels and he is determined not to let anything get in his way, even opting to leave his Spider Suit behind (which Aunt May cordially packs for him anyway). All he wants for the next few days is to be a normal teenager, hang out with his friends, and take a break from being a superhero for a while. But, as the saying goes, when people make plans, Yahweh laughs.

Peter’s vacation is threatened by the sudden arrival of these monstrous forces known as the Elementals. They strike without warning and leave a great trail of destruction in their wake and the only person who knows anything about them is Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal). Beck, also known as Mysterio, is a superhero from another dimension who has followed the Elementals into this realm to stop them before they reduce it to the ruin that his own world has become. This quest has led him to Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who is now trying to enlist Spider-Man to help them save the world from total carnage. When Peter ignores his call and proceeds with his holiday, Fury relocates the entire operation to Europe, hijacks the school’s trip, and presses onto the young webslinger that ‘no’ is not an option for him. The action takes Peter from Venice to Prague to London and as he works with Beck to battle these supernatural entities, the effort to keep his two lives separate grows all the more hectic and desperate. As things come to a head and grow more and more out of his control, Peter must finally decide what really matters to him and whether he truly is ready to assume Stark’s mantle as the hero that the world needs.

In this movie Peter is a young man on the cusp of adulthood and the main focus is on his growth and the impossible expectations he must somehow live up to as defined by the example set by Tony Stark. I’ve always been a little ambivalent about how largely this latest characterisation of Spider-Man revolves around Iron Man; to me it’s just more compelling for Peter to be out there all on his own driven only by the memory of a beloved family member whose death he is partly responsible for than to be adopted by this benevolent billionaire godfather who gifts him with all of these high-tech gadgets and handy short cuts. Whether Uncle Ben exists in this universe has yet to be confirmed however so Stark is the best that Marvel’s got and the movie makes good use of the connection between them (especially considering that Robert Downey Jr. never makes an appearance save in archive footage). There is a void in Peter’s life and he is searching for someone to show him the way forward. With Nick Fury impatiently pushing him to just grow up already and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) getting uncomfortably close to May, Peter ends up confiding in the supportive and compassionate Beck, whom Gyllenhaal plays with chameleonic charm and magnetism.

While I think the jury is still out on where Holland ranks compared to Maguire and Garfield in the Spider-Man hierarchy, he remains my favourite Peter Parker, which is a strength in a film that has him undergo an identity crisis as his double life threatens to unravel around him. There’s an endearing sense of sincerity and earnestness to his take on the hapless hero, as if his compulsion to be just, decent and good was less of a choice on his part and more because he simply doesn’t know how else to be. He’s also immature enough that there’s still ample room for him to learn and grow, especially as his immaturity leads him to make mistakes that place himself and others in danger (as in one scene where he accidentally makes his rival for MJ’s affections the target of a military drone). Holland is once again on full form with the hyperactive charm he’s brought to all of his previous appearances in the MCU (while this is his second solo outing, it’s the fifth movie overall in which he has played Spidey) and continues to sell the idea of Peter as a frantic underdog who is only barely managing to keep his head above water. The text doesn’t always support that depiction (he is wearing a Stark-designed robo-spider suit after all) but the performance cannot be faulted.

While the action is constructed on a slightly more restrained scale that the other MCU entries, Watts still manages to bring the thrills by making inventive use of the character and the foes he must battle. There’s one particular sequence at the end that impresses in how it employs the hero’s Spider-Sense (called the Peter Tingle in this film) when all his other powers and senses fail him. There are also some wonderfully trippy scenes throughout akin to those in Doctor Strange that add the exact touch of surrealism you would want in a film featuring a character like Mysterio. The hallucinogenic quality of these scenes work so well at tapping into Peter’s vulnerability and highlighting the fish-out-of-water nature of his arc that it feels like the story could have been told with greater emotional focus had they opted to set the movie in Peter’s native Queens. Obviously I get that the title Far From Home is supposed to apply on both a literal and metaphorical level but the European segments felt rather redundant to me in a movie that has a lot going for it at its emotional core. I have no doubt that the commercial Disney has made for European tourism will work its magic on international viewers, but I don’t see any narrative reason why the movie couldn’t have told a more focused and personal version of this story set in New York.

The best thing the movie has going for it is that it is such effortless fun to watch. Holland continues to helm the franchise as an appealing lead and the chemistry he shares with his co-stars, particularly Gyllenhaal and Zendaya, makes the film all the more watchable. By moving the action to Europe and turning the spectacle up a notch they did lose a little of that down-to-earth, John-Hughes-ish teenage spirit that made Homecoming such a delight, but since this is a film about growth that may not necessarily be a bad thing. It remains a fun light-hearted adventure, there are plenty of laughs to be had (if only from Ned’s fleeting but sweet fling with Betty Brant (Angourie Rice)) and there’s a certain warmth to the film that’s not really there in any of the other Marvel titles. The movie is hardly the equal of Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 or last year’s Into the Spider-Verse, but it’s almost unfair to make the comparison when viewing these MCU films as the simple and pleasing B-stories that they’re supposed to be. Far From Home is a pleasant and enjoyable film that’s thoroughly gratifying to watch and it really doesn’t need to be much more than that. It also has the best mid-credits scene in any MCU movie thus far, so there’s that.

★★★★

Yesterday

Cast: Hamish Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon

Director: Danny Boyle

Writer: Richard Curtis


In all of these years I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a movie that showed such little interest in such a promising concept. The premise is the actualisation of a fantasy that most of us have had at one time or another. A man wakes up one day to find that that the music of a phenomenally popular band has been erased and that he alone in the entire world remembers them. Armed with that sacred knowledge and a decent enough singing voice to make a go of it as a musician, he resolves to pass the songs off as his own and reap the benefits. It’s a terrific idea for a movie that opens itself up to countless possibilities just begging to be explored. But you see, there’s this girl; she’s the kind of girl you want so much it makes you sorry. It’s probably to be expected that Richard Curtis, the patron saint of British rom-coms, should want a quaint romance at the heart of this light-hearted fantasy. Why he felt that such a conventional and familiar story should totally supplant the endless potential of this alternate dimension he created however escapes me. Nearly every opportunity that the premise invites goes woefully unfulfilled to the point that the whole thing feels like nothing more than an afterthought. Instead of being taken away on the magical mystery tour that the movie promises, all we get in the end is a mediocre love story.

At the centre of it all is Jack Malik (Hamish Patel), a struggling musician whose career is going nowhere and who has no other direction or passion in life (he’s a bit of a nowhere man, if you will). For the last ten years since leaving his teaching job, he’s been busking on the same old streets, playing gigs in the same old pubs, and sharing his music with the same old group of friends. After one lousy gig too many, he’s ready to hang his guitar and walk away and it doesn’t look even his best friend, manager and biggest fan Ellie (Lily James) will be able talk him out of it. That is until one fateful night when a worldwide power cut ensues for twelve seconds, causing Jack to be hit by a bus. He wakes up the following morning in the hospital where the ever so winsome Ellie is waiting by his side with a brand new guitar as a get well present. Together they leave to meet their friends and Jack treats them to a rendition of an old favourite, ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles. Only it’s the first time any of them have heard what they assume to be one of his own songs, by far his best one yet. A quick google search reveals to Jack that no such band as The Beatles exists anymore and that he appears to be the only one with any recollection of their music. Thus he finds himself faced with a singular opportunity to become the musician he’s always aspired to be.

You would be hard-pressed to find a group who have done more to influence the course and evolution of popular music in the last half century than The Beatles. They launched the British Invasion, set the template for boy bands, pioneered a movement of sonic and psychedelic experimentation, spoke to a younger, more enlightened generation on radical and taboo topics, and wrote more amazing songs than I can even begin to count. Therefore the idea that The Rolling Stones, Coldplay and Ed Sheeran could exist in a sans-Beatles world (as they all do in this film) is completely unbelievable to me. That might sound a bit pedantic but what it comes down to is the total lack of curiosity the movie has for contemplating a contemporary cultural landscape in a world where The Beatles never existed. The movie makes a couple of token gestures, the best of which is a tour around a Liverpool that never became a European Capital of Culture and the worst of which is a deeply uncomfortable scene in the third act, but for the most part the movie treats its Twilight Zone premise as little more than an obstacle in the rom-com love story it really wants to tell. The question of whether The Beatles would still be The Beatles in a modern world without their legacy is a fascinating one that I wish the movie had done more to explore.

In its presentation of the Fab Four’s songs, all of which are performed as closely to their original forms as a single tenor with an electric guitar can get, the movie is inviting us to listen to them as if for the first time and there are some moments when it works. What bothers me though is how uninterested the film really is in trying to understand what makes the music as great as it is and why it resonates with listeners as strongly as it does. The assumption seems to more or less be that the songs are great because they’re by The Beatles, whom we all love. It appears the film believes (wrongly) that the greatness of any work of art has little bearing on the time and place in which it was made or to its creator. A tune like ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’, with its Buddy-Holly-style rhythm and Everly-Brothers-inspired harmonies, doesn’t really work as a new song in 2019 without a modern update of some kind because its electrifying pop sound is no longer as fresh and dynamic as it was in 1963. Yesterday also seems just as unconcerned with what kind of personal connection Jack himself has with these songs. In a scene where he plays ‘In My Life’ on a talk show, Ellie is moved because she thinks the song is about her. Jack in contrast seems to have put almost no thought in what these songs are supposed to mean coming from him (that he doesn’t even stop to think about how weird it is for a man in his late twenties to sing “Well, she was just seventeen, you know what I mean” should at least be worth a raised eyebrow).

But enough about the film I wish they’d made, what about the film I actually saw? Well, aside from its sci-fi concept that it only occasionally addresses, Yesterday is at its core a love story and a pretty weak one at that. The two leads are charming enough that they are able to generate some little spark between them, he as the sensitive but self-centred artist and she as his kind-hearted and infinitely giving supporter. She carries a torch for him but not only is he entirely clueless about her affections, he doesn’t seem to have the slightest interest in sex or romance in general. It’s not until Ellie confronts him about her unrequited crush at the most awkward moment possible that it even occurs to him to look at this beautiful woman who continuously beckons to his call and worships the ground he walks on with in any kind of romantic light. When Jack makes it big, she falls out of his life partly out of her justified frustration for having been taken for granted for so long and partly because of her commitments as a schoolteacher. When the two reunite and Jack reveals that he does fancy her after all, the most conflict Curtis can conjure to prolong their will-they-won’t-they rapport is the fact that neither one did anything about their feelings before. The lack of any convincing obstacle to keep them apart gets so tiresome and the constant miserable state Jack is in is so off-putting that it didn’t take me long to wonder what it was she even saw in him and to conclude that she’s better off without him anyway.

On the comedy side of things, the movie fares a little better. The premise allows for some humorous moments as when Jack tries to play ‘Let It Be’ for his parents, expecting them to be wowed by one of the most moving songs in the Beatles canon, only for them to keep interrupting him with one distraction after another. There’s also a running joke throughout about Jack discovering that some other facet of modern culture has disappeared including Coca Cola (which presumably required him to reword ‘Come Together’ slightly) and Harry Potter. Ed Sheeran has an unexpectedly amusing role as an exaggerated version of himself who lifts Jack to fame only to be eclipsed by him. I’d have liked to see more of Sheeran as the self-described Salieri to Jack’s Mozart, but he would have had to play a much less affable version of himself to really sell it. I also enjoyed Kate McKinnon’s role as the greedy, soulless music executive intent on signing Jack to her record label, moulding him into the most generic singer/songwriter brand they can possibly market and milking the Beatles’ music for every cent it’s worth. Their satirical take of the music industry is pretty broad (not least because it has to make room for the love story) but McKinnon’s over-the-top expressions and comical line deliveries are always good for some reliable laughs.

It’s a shame to see a film take on such a surreal and inspired concept only to end up with something that feels so sadly generic. The movie leans so heavily on a crutch of clichés that by the time we get to the end and see the romantic payoff it’s all been leading to, Curtis cannot even summon a fraction of the tenderness and feel-good warmth that might have made the hackneyed journey feel worth it. Even with a crap film like Love Actually, he can normally add enough charm and sentimentality that you can go along with the ride and enjoy it for the piece of schmaltz that it is. Whatever vision or style Danny Boyle might have brought as a director is so passive or absent that there is no doubt about Yesterday being a Richard Curtis movie. The movie doesn’t even work as a tribute to The Beatles since, apparently, the world as we know it would have remained virtually the same as it is today, if ever so slightly more melancholic, had they not existed. There are so many more questions I want to ask of this Beatles-less world (Who sang the theme song to Live and Let Die? What stage name did Reginald Dwight end up adopting? Did Eric Clapton ever write ‘Layla’?), but the movie has no interest in so much as entertaining such queries. I could go on but, in the end, I think The Beatles said it best so, to paraphrase: “Doesn’t have a point of view, knows not where it’s going to, making all it’s nowhere plans for nobody”.

★★

Toy Story 4

Cast: (voiced by) Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack

Director: Josh Cooley

Writers: Stephany Folsom, Andrew Stanton


In the three films that made up its near-perfect trilogy, Toy Story told what was more or less a complete story about the life cycle of a sentient toy. What started off as a pretty cute idea (what if your toys came to life whenever you left the room?) grew into something richer and more compelling by virtue of having so many characters just teeming with personality, thoughts and feelings. Over the course of the years-long span of these three movies we’ve seen Woody and the gang confront such weighty themes as growth, identity, parenthood, trauma, abandonment, mortality and transient love. It concluded with a grown-up Andy passing the toys on to another child so that their calling in life, to belong to a child and be played with, may never come to an end. It is as moving and powerful an ending as any Pixar could have dreamed up and to say that it left me satisfied would be an understatement. Thus, when I heard that a fourth movie was on its way, my reaction was apprehension and dread. Why mess with something that already ended perfectly? Why not leave well enough alone? Where else can they even possibly go with the story? Perhaps it’s the desperate move of a once fresh and dynamic company that’s struggling to offer its audience something new (of the ten films Pixar has released since Toy Story 3, six have been sequels and prequels). If there is indeed some anxiety within Pixar about the fear of becoming obsolete, irrelevant and forgotten, they’ve baked it into the very DNA of this film.

After having spent three movies exploring the emotional challenges and harsh realities of life as a toy, an immortal life of child-like dependence and parent-like nurturing that inevitably ends in relinquishment, the fourth instalment takes things a step further by delving into the theme of their very existence. What does it actually mean to be a toy? Enter Forky, a plastic spork with googly eyes, pipe cleaner arms and popsicle stick feet brought to life by Bonnie’s imagination and desire for a friend at her new school. Forky’s defining trait as a character is his existential crisis. He was created for the sole purpose of becoming trash and keeps trying to break away from Bonnie and make for the nearest bin so that his purpose might be fulfilled. Woody however thwarts him at every turn. Forky is a toy now; he has been endowed with a consciousness and a soul by a five-year-old girl’s desperate need for a companion during a scary time in her life and Woody tries his darndest to press onto the panicky spork that it is now his duty to be there for her. Throughout this whole series all the toys we have met, both good and bad, have shared a single motivation compelling their actions at every point, the desire for a child’s love. Through Forky we are given the greatest illustration yet of how that love isn’t just what these toys yearn and strive for, it is essentially what gives them life.

That desire to be loved carries with it a desire to be needed and since being given away by Andy to Bonnie, Woody has found himself relegated to the sidelines. He clearly cares for the kid and is as determined as ever to look out for his friends, but his heroics and leadership aren’t really called for in this safe, cushy gig that they’ve landed and he’s no longer the playtime favourite. Jessie is now Bonnie’s sheriff of choice; the old cowboy tends to be left stranded in the closet most days. When Woody elects himself to join the shy, nervous Bonnie on her first day at kindergarten, it’s like he’s a grandparent intervening in his granddaughter’s life in some minor, nominal way because he misses having a small child depend on him. He means well, but it’s still more about making himself feel useful than it is about helping Bonnie. Woody is essentially a weathered old hand on the verge of retirement and he’s simply not ready to be discarded and forgotten (a fate that befalls every toy sooner or later). For an immortal being, this is as close to death as it gets short of being incinerated (as they all very nearly were in Toy Story 3). Thus, with Forky’s creation, Woody finds some purpose for himself as the self-appointed guardian of Bonnie’s new favourite but even that can only keep him busy for so long. When Woody is later reunited with Bo Peep, whose departure we see in the opening scene, and learns of the life she’s built for herself since, it’s then that he starts to wonder whether there is more to being a toy than having a kid’s name written on the sole of your foot.

It’s a tough question that Woody struggles to answer because he and so many of the other toys he’s encountered over the years have been conditioned to believe that a toy’s existence is meaningless without the love of a child. The dark side of this desire is presented in Gabby Gabby, a 1950s pullstring doll hidden away in an antiques shop. Her voicebox is broken, a manufacturing defect, and so she was rejected and stored away, left to sit and gather dust for all these decades. It’s a cruel lesson that the Toy Story films taught us before back when Woody tore his arm in the second film, that the adolescent love and adoration these toys all crave is conditional. Since no child wants to play with a pullstring doll that cannot speak, Gabby sets her sights on Woody’s voicebox when he Forky happen to wander into the shop in search of a friend. What makes Gabby a great antagonist (apart from being voiced by Christina Hendricks) is that she isn’t an outright villain in the way that Sid and Lotso were. She isn’t in herself a bad person but the years of neglect she’s suffered and the harsh belief that only true perfection will make her worthy of the affection she so despondently pines for compels her to act out in harmful ways. In meeting her Woody is treated to a dark reflection, a warning of who he might become if he allows his desire to be needed to consume him.

All of this talk about existential crises, moral dilemmas and empty futures makes Toy Story 4 sound like it could have been directed by David Lynch or Werner Herzog (either of which, incidentally, I would absolutely love to see happen). I should therefore take this chance to stress that the movie is in fact a delight to watch in all the ways Toy Story has always been. The movie is a visual splendour from beginning to end, not only in the wonderful designs it conjures up from the dark, sinister antiques shop that Gabby dominates with her ventriloquist dummy stooges (the scariest things in the film) to the colourfully resplendent fairground just across the road or in the seamless fluidity of the movements and action but also in the character animation. So many of the film’s most touching moments hit all the harder because the animators always know the exact right expression to go for to complement the performance, just as writers Stanton and Folsom and director Cooley know when to stop for a moment so that the audience has some time to take it in. Pixar remains one of the modern masters of visual storytelling and Toy Story 4 is yet another testament to them. The movie is also incredibly funny, thanks in no small part to the inclusion of such new characters as a pair of conjoined plush dolls voiced by Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele and a Canadian Evel Knievel knock-off as voiced by Keanu Reeves.

It shouldn’t be possible for a movie to be this funny and entertaining while still being this loaded with philosophy and metaphor and yet Toy Story makes it look almost childishly simple. Part of the reason it works as well as it does is due to how freely flexible so much of the subtext is. The movie is loaded with images and ideas that can be a hundred different things to a hundred different people, all of whom can impart their own feelings onto the text of the film and read it all of their subtly different ways without the movie ever seeming like it’s at odds with itself. Woody is a character so rich in personality, history and mythology that he can be whichever character the individual viewer needs him to be. When Toy Story 3 came along nine years ago and delivered not only the perfect ending to its own story but also the ending that my seventeen-year-old self needed to see at that age, I was adamant that Pixar had no business revisiting this franchise and tarnishing its legacy. Having now watched Toy Story 4 I still believe that this is a movie that didn’t need to exist, but I’m glad that it does all the same. That the 1995 animated classic grew into such a magnificent blockbuster series and has against all odds proven itself capable of evolving and reinventing itself across generations is a feat worthy of celebration. Now please Pixar, for the love of God and all that is holy, stop making these films!

★★★★★