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  • Writer's pictureSteve

The Round-Up #19 - September 2023

September was another busy month and next month promises to be the same, only busier really, as we hit Spooktober. Most of what you see coming in the next four or so weeks will be horror related as there is huge back catalogue of movies I will be going through, most of which I have either never heard of, or at least have no idea of their quality. Time will tell, there may even be a pearl or two in there. Cinebuffs Most Played of the month is below, which is unusual, having never seen a single episode from the show from which it spawned. See you at the end of next month, assuming we haven't all been whisked off to the underworld by nefarious demons (aren't all demons nefarious?).

Confess, Fletch (2022) ** - Based on the book series of the same name, this is fine. I say this with a slightly heavy sigh, because that's really all it is. Just fine. It's mostly unoriginal, unadventurous and formulaic in its storytelling, but Hamm makes up for the lack of innovation with his usual charming delivery. Feels like a Johnny English movie that Rowan Atkinson turned up his nose at.

School's Out Forever (2021) **.5 - Sitting firmly within darkly comic territory, the altogether British story of the events following a pandemic even more virulent than COVID is told from the perspective of Lee, a recently expelled 15-year-old boy, forced to return to his private school when no-one else can help. A decent script and reliable (if not outstanding) performances makes this bearable, despite the mostly repellent, unlikeable characters. Occasionally funny about as often as it is visually brutal, this is painfully average throughout, where it promised much more. Very Lord of the Flies in an overpriced blazer, however, if you like that kind of survival horror.

The Comeback Trail (2020) **.5 - When one of my personal favourites, Zach Braff, is reduced to the role of 'also-ran' in a cast list, then you know you're going to be spoilt, talent-wise. That much is certainly true here, with the likes of Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones and Morgan Freeman to name but three. Now if only the content matched the ability. None of this aforementioned trio is exactly far enough over the hill to imagine they would never work again, so to label it as a 'last hurrah' is not really true. A sometimes funny, sometimes satirical swipe at the movie industry that continually entertains throughout. There is life in the old dogs yet, clearly.

Strays (2023) **.5 - Given that there are already a ton of talking animal movies out there and the fact that Sausage Party exists, the only real surprise is why it took so long for this to surface as an idea. Lewd, crass and sometimes funny, you can glean just as much from the trailer, really, as sitting through the whole thing. Given a canine's limited ability to understand character depth, it was a nice touch to make only the humans seem like one-dimensional animals, be it by accident or design. Props to Jamie Foxx as the standout vocal performance.

Hustle (2022) *** - Not the first American sports movie of the last month that I know nothing about. I used to shoot hoops in college, but rarely more than for fun. Adam Sandler takes this basketball Rocky movie from Netflix and runs with it. It's no Uncut Gems or even a Jerry Maguire, both of which I got intermittent whiffs of. Decent performances thankfully overshadow the sports elements. I enjoyed it more than I expected to, no doubt due to Sandler's enduring charm.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (2023) **** - A heart-warming tale with a traditional English palate. Starring acting stalwarts Jim Broadbent and Penelope Wilton, this is an often tear-jerking and poignant tale of sadness and joy in equal measure. Not just a clever name, this is actually the story of perceived atonement for a man that feels the need to walk from Devon to Berwick, believing that the act of doing so will keep his friend alive. This needed heavyweight performances so the casting is perfect. Not without struggle and hardship, Harold continues what many consider a fools errand, simply because he feels he must. "A little less sense and a little more faith".

The Story of My Wife (2021) ***.5 - Originating from Hungarian writer Milan Fust's novel of the same name, comes a perfectly pleasant surprise. Dutch Sea Captain, Jakob Störr, bets a friend that the next woman that he sees in the restaurant in which they sit will be the woman he marries. Lea Seydoux plays Lizzy, the next eligible entrant. 20s/30s authenticity is at a premium and the performances are excellent. At nearly three hours, the exposition is uppermost, but not without purpose. As an example of a man losing himself in the eyes of a woman, this is about as good as it gets. All been there though, right?

Weird: The Al Yankovic Story (2022) *** - You probably need to be of a certain age to really appreciate this performance from Daniel Radcliffe. Weird Al was something of his time, an enigma in his own perm, a marker for a more innocent age. This fake biography is unapologetically silly, much like the man himself, and you really shouldn't put too much stock in it. Even so, this is helplessly likeable and entertaining, full of surprising faces and had me wondering where I recognised Spencer Treat Clark from. Gladiator, dammit!

The Eternal Daughter (2022) **.5 - I honestly don't think this did Joanna Hogg any favours. Full to the brim with atmosphere and delicate pacing of a predictable story whose twist you will see a mile off. Tilda Swinton plays both main roles here with consummate ease, but this is far from taxing for the likes of her, really, and she is rarely challenged. Hospitality can be a real bitch and I ended up feeling sorriest for the poor receptionist that had to put up with this faux ghost story. Hogg should stay well clear. This isn't The Others, no matter how much everyone involved wanted it to be.

The Pod Generation (2023) *.5 - If Charlie Brooker had written this, I wouldn't have been the least surprised. Whilst I love both of these leads normally, I struggled to maintain enough patience with this to stay fully conscious throughout, having to sit through the second half twice. Innovative production design makes this interesting, but cannot save it from what is lacklustre pacing, humour that misfires and unlikeable characterisation.

Paint (2023) *.5 - Bob Ross-a-like, the fictional Carl Nargle hosts a painting show in PBS Burlington, seemingly stuck in 1973. Considering this is a comedy, it fails to raise a chuckle during the entirety of its runtime. It beggars belief that the whole cast weren't wondering just what they were doing during its creation, and why. Given the talent at their disposal, we should be expecting more, funnier, better scripting and less of a dull, wooden plot. This felt like a chore to sit through. Best thing about it was the soundtrack, if I'm honest.

Greatest Days (2023) *.5 - If you were expecting a Mancunian Mamma Mia, then I'm afraid you're in for a rude awakening. The performances from the leads are strong and I was as much drawn by Aisling Bea as I was the music. And whilst you can't really fault the project for its good intentions and positive vibe throughout, this is literally and metaphorically a number 43 bus to Pendleton as opposed to a golden beach in Greece.

The Starling Girl (2023) ***.5 - Young Christian woman gets her head turned all the way around. Going some way to proving biology trumps religion, nature versus nurture does not take fundamentalism lightly here, or with any real credibility. Generally nice pacing if a little overlong, there is a good story here, albeit none too original, helped by decent, solid and watchable performances. Calling it a challenging, compelling drama is maybe a little too enthusiastic from an agnostic perspective. Good certainly, but never great.

The Equalizer 3 (2023) **.5 - Perhaps a little action-lite for the proposed final instalment to the trilogy, there is altogether too much exposition here for fans of thrill and spills. We've always known that Denzel was always so much more than what we're presented with. This mooches along fairly amiably for the viewer, dawdling and all, and gets out quick in just over an hour and a half. You'll probably be confusing scenes with this from John Wick's back catalogue for years to come. The town looks lovely and if I had the money, I'd book a trip there tomorrow.

The Adults (2023) **.5 - Their parents must have been a riotous hoot, that's all I'm saying. The insufferable reunion of three siblings is told with what the makers must have believed was deft and poignant glances at their bewildering youth. Honestly, I would have crossed the road to avoid them as children and would have been equally unlikely to entertain them as adults. They all need a good slap, frankly. Looked pretty and good performances made me both recognise and like them even less for the same reason.

Nandor Fodor and the Talking Mongoose (2023) ** - "I am certain this is an inexplicable farce."

Ultimately silly and very, very British. A host of recognisable faces show up for this nonsense about the notorious talking vermin and the man who investigates the claim. Starring the always likeable Simon Pegg and the effortlessly beautiful and plummy Minnie Driver as his assistant. Funny about as often as it is engaging, but mostly perplexing as to its existence.

Biosphere (2022) **.5 - You can't really accuse the Duplass Brothers of ever making dull movies. More often than not they are, well, eclectic. The same is certainly true here. Performed brilliantly by Duplass and Brown, the talent is inarguably better than the content. What really should be on a stage is brought to the screen by an enthusiasm for the subject matter which it then really fails to deliver on. Intriguing and curious, but ultimately undercooked.

Jules (2023) - **.5 - If Lifetime made alien invasion movies, then this is probably what we'd get. It's pleasant enough (aside from the odd tasty expletive) to air on Sunday afternoon television. When a spaceship crash lands in a dementia sufferers back garden (flattening the azaleas, mind) our lead Milt (Ben Kingsley) takes in the alien that crawled out of it, feeds it apples and matter-of-factly introduces it to the neighbours. Suggesting that you need to be slightly off-kilter mentally to not be terrified by proceedings is a little patronising, but this is inoffensively engaging and even intermittently funny at times.

She Is Love (2022) **** - I think this may have been made for me. COOKIE ON THE LIP!! Deliberate continuity error is deliberate. Just this action confirms the whole tone of this short delve into the curious relationship of this man and his American ex-wife, coincidentally meeting in a hotel in Cornwall after ten years. Irreverent and often witty, this is a curiosity and not for everyone, to be sure, but is paced perfectly, hence its short runtime. The performances are all excellent too, especially the befuddled Kate. Loved it, so sue me.

Bottoms (2023) - Imagine a forty-five year-old divorcee throwing a dinner party, drinking too much gin and complaining about how nobody understands or listens to her. Then a song comes on that she insists is all about her. Then read the reviews for Bottoms. Just saying. You go girls!


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