I was looking for a nice diversion with A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014) but unfortunately what was likable, clever and funny here was not enough to sustain an almost two hour run time. I laughed a little here and there, smirked some too, but this thing just never gained momentum. Seth MacFarlane could have tightened this up to a crisp 90 minutes, easily, just focusing on the many how ways to die. And there is inexplicably an extended edition that is 20 minutes longer?! Thankfully I didn’t watch that version. More disappointed than I expected by this one.
How did Steven Spielberg get to be the most successful filmmaker of his age? Autobiographical new work The Fabelmans (2022) attempts to answer the question by probing the pain of his 1950s childhood and parent’s divorce. We all know the man is skilled at directing kids, but I’m interested to see how he wrestles with middle class problems without the screenwriting crutch of space aliens and killer sharks. Word is Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, and Judd Hirsch could clean up at Oscar time, but I’m just hoping Spielberg has learned the difference between sentimental and schmaltz when I catch a showing this weekend.
Before heading back to Wakanda I went to Dahomey with The Woman King (2022). Based (loosely) on real events, The Woman King tells of an all-woman tribe of warriors called the Agojie and their fight against raiders and slavers in the 1820s. As one might expect, a film focusing on a group of warriors specializing in melee weaponry has some really well-done stunt work and action scenes. But make no mistake: The Woman King aims to be more drama than action. Carrying the film on newly-muscled shoulders is Viola Davis who has transformed herself for the role of General Nanisca. Davis projects strength both physical and performance-wise in this role. She is mesmerising in every scene. The film isn’t entirely hers. though. The story also focuses on new warrior Nawi (Thuso Mbedu in her first film role) and we learn of this warrior culture as she becomes part of it. I feel the film drags in certain places, belaboring obvious story points. Still, I was entertained by The Woman King enough to give it a recommend.
A scathing takedown of self-important social media influencers, Sissy (2022) is a genre-bending Australian horror-comedy that leans more towards the comedy than the horror, although it has more than its fair share of gruesome moments. The plot sees the titular online wellness advocate (Aisha Dee) running into her long-estranged childhood best friend (Hannah Barlow, who is also the co-writer and co-director) who invites her to a bachelorette weekend party at a secluded rural property. It’s there that deep-seated trauma for Sissy and all the guests as harrowing schoolyard memories resurface and manifest themselves into bloody mayhem. Superbly directed by Barlow and Kane Senes, this accomplishes everything it sets out to do, jumping genres with ease, and is anchored by a truly mesmerising performance from Dee, who never misses a beat in her heartbreaking and hilarious portrayal of the troubled Sissy. Solid recommend.
What was originally supposed to be a run at the National Theatre got cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic and got turned into a TV Movie! Might not be the best trade off but Romeo & Juliet (2021) manages to stand out from other adaptations because of its approach to the filmmaking: rather than filming in traditional movie sets the film is shot in the National Theater using the sets meant for its theater run. The result is a film that feels like theater without being a live performance, a really unique blend of theater and film. Of course Romeo & Juliet’s dialogue remains as impeccable as ever and all the performances are worthy of the bard (in particular Jessie Buckley and Tamsin Greig). Strong Recommend.