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The Round Up #6 (Aug 22)

Minions: The Rise of Gru (2022) - Before Gru had become quite so notoriously despicable, he was an eleven-year-old child, allegedly. Well, evil isn't so much as taught as seemingly already in the blood and young Gru is on a mission, to become the newest and youngest member of The Vicious Six, who have recently ousted their leader, Wild Knuckles, and have just the one spot available. So when he gets an invitation in the post to go to an 'interview' for the position, he inadvertently lands himself in a huge pile of trouble by stealing an amulet from said Vicious 6 and siding with the now wrongly presumed dead Wild Knuckles and pursued by the rest of the nefarious group that Knuckles himself had originally created.

Unboxed (2022) - Heavily budget conscious, this is the story of a group of social media millennial wannabes with their gaze firmly fixed on fame and fortune at what seems like any cost. Production values are not high and if anything, we can best describe this as a solid effort.

The acting and scripting leaves a lot to be desired, but the effort is clearly present, even if the skill and polish are sadly lacking. Pitching it as a horror would be over-egging this pudding, though it takes place at Halloween, this really lacks the ability to scare to any degree. The online, streaming, real-time nightmare has been done much better already. A great example of getting what you pay for.

Honor Society (2022) - Angourie Rice plays Honor, a senior student about to graduate at the top of her class. By hook or by crook, it seems.

When she discovers that she is in the top four students, only one of which will be recommended for application to Harvard, she sets about ruining the prospects for the other three hopefuls, with all of her wiles, both feminine and otherwise. All of her nefarious underhanded plans seem to be going well, until she becomes a little too involved with one of the students whose future she is supposed to be ruining. There have been more than a couple of comparisons to 'Clueless' here. Mostly for the narration and fourth wall breaking in a high school romantic comedy, where the pretty girl ends up in a relationship with the partner least likely. The circumstances are different of course but the similes are hard to ignore. Rice is great and plays the dangerous yet innocent ingenue to a tee. It follows a fairly obvious, well-trodden path, with a twist or two you might or might not expect. Engaging throughout, this isn't a classic and will probably be forgotten quite quickly. As a vehicle for Rice, it doesn't do her any harm, but is unlikely to garner hordes of plaudits.

On The Line (2021) - Considered and thought -provoking documentary concentrating the on the lives of just a few American born Mexicans that have been deported back to Mexico having spent decades living in the USA. There are no answers here, only questions about how unfair this is. Forced to patriate to Tijuana, often leaving behind scores of family members in the USA, this follows their plight to find work and appeal the decisions to uproot them, tearing them from their families. This look into the aftershock of deportation, from the lives of those that have been on the receiving end is often tragic, but nonetheless highlights the determination of the human spirit.

Cheating For Your Life (2021) - Straight after the title, up pops 'A Lifetime Movie'. If you're not familiar with these, they are 'of a type' and the clue is in the title right here. Focusing on the scholarly pursuits of a group of friends taking their SATs, these honest-to-goodness teenage heroes that all children should allegedly strive to be are at a party to celebrate their results, when one of them ends up going over a balcony and dies from the impact.

Seems a few of these students (not the featured ones of course) have unnaturally high scores and our heroes are out to prove it. It's predictably wholesome and wholly predictable. The script feels like it was knocked up in an afternoon and the character arcs are non-existent. Direction is by the numbers with no innovation and if you feel like you're being lectured to, in the thinly veiled guise of entertainment, well, that's because you are.

Risen (2021) - This is an understated, budget conscious sci-fi curio if ever there was one. The pacing and underlying malevolence reminds me of Under The Skin but this plays out a lot differently. When a meteorite crashes in the town of Badger, it releases a deadly chemical which wipes out the entire population. In itself, this is weird enough and warrants extensive investigation.

Imagine the authorities reaction when some of the corpses start to come back to life. They don't speak, move or even seem to breathe, but yet they're sitting up with their eyes open, when only recently they were lying down on a gurney and not likely to do anything else. The rest of the piece revolves around discovering just what the hell is going on and why the dead are coming back to life, seemingly with alien assistance. Surprisingly accomplished, although the acting leaves a lot to be desired. A decent score certainly helps set the one and the story, whilst unbelievable, is delivered with decent pace. Well directed and will no doubt be missed by most, lacking as it does all the bells and whistles (and marketing spend) associated with such a project.

Albatross (2022) - A mixed race couple come to dinner with a friend of the wife's Uncle, in a time whilst accepted, was still frowned upon. The entirety of the film is based on the next few hours and the relationships each of these individuals has with the others. What would be a perfectly good stage play revolving around the lives of two husbands and wives, a gay lover and the mother of one of the wives.

The acting is none too shabby, by all accounts, but this has a definite audience, leaning occasionally into arthouse, and will be shunned as boring and confusing by those that don't take the time to immerse themselves fully. Plot-wise it's quite directionless, but this really is little more than a collection of hit and miss character studies.

Moonshot (2022) - Earth 2049. Not to be confused with the other Moon based drama released this year. Both are equally ridiculous, but in very different ways. Here we are introduced to Walt (Cole Sprouse), assistant barista who has dreamt of going to Mars all of his life and with a new love living on the planet, Ginny, he has all the more reason to go. One problem, the million-dollar price tag to get a seat on the flight.

Woke young adult sci-fi comedy at its most obvious. The people are beautiful and funny and smart, they are all quick-witted, focused and driven in their own way and all are seemingly naturally rounded, decent human beings. Clinical in this regard to the extreme, it makes for difficult character growth and development, but suffice to say that humans inevitably return to type when locked in a room in space with one another for too long. Perfectly pleasant, you would have to try hard to be offended, but this is neither challenging or even all that imaginative. Engaging performances make this bearable.

Good Madam (2022) - Already, we've come to expect certain things from Shudder Originals. So far, they have been true to their word of providing some of the best original psychological/horror/thriller projects. In the original Xhosa with English subtitles, we follow the mundanity of Tsidi's life, forced due to circumstances to move into the Cape Town property of the Good Madam, Diane, as a secret guest with her daughter, but only under certain conditions.

Tsidi's mother works as a maid for the aforementioned householder, pictures we see littered occasionally around the house. A kind white woman of some repute. At just over an hour and a half, this still manages to purposefully dawdle. The direction is excellent and the shots continuously stark, menacing and uncomfortable throughout. The house is full of secrets, that much is obvious, and the film takes its own sweet time telling us about them.

The Re-enactment (2021) - New levels of low are discovered here. This is the story of making an episode of a spooky television show. Here, we are behind the scenes during the filming of one of the episodes. Shockingly, achingly bad, which wouldn't be so awful if it wasn't entirely on purpose.

It is not, however. I spent the majority of my time with this wondering how they avoided the camera filming the filming instead of following a plot that really wasn't worth paying attention to. The only real shock here was how this ended up as a finished product that I was forced to witness.

Alone Together (2022) - Not the first Airbnb mix-up you will have seen this year. 'Gone In The Night' starring a truly bewildered Winona Ryder also got double-booked, only with more drastic consequences than we are presented with here.

Written, Produced, Directed and Starring Katie Holmes, this pandemic influenced romance throws a slightly uppity middle-aged woman and a rather confused and attractive man (Jim Sturgess) together in a helpless confusing happenstance. Predictable as a spot of rain in Manchester and mostly harmless, this doesn't really set the world on fire, but the characters are rounded enough to sit with for a while and see what becomes of these two lonely souls when forced together under unusual circumstances.

Grace Of My Heart (1996) - Featuring Edna Buxton (Illeana Douglas) of the Philadelphia Buxtons. I don't normally pay much attention to personal recommendations from others, as I have already usually seen and had an opinion on whatever someone is pitching at me. This one came from Mark Kermode, however, and it was something I had missed at the time. He espoused on it to such an extent that it felt like I would be doing myself a dis-service by ignoring him.

And to be fair, this is not the kind of thing I would normally gravitate to unencumbered by opinion. The story of Edna, up and coming songwriter, who really wanted to be a singer. Littered with enough talent that wouldn't fit on the cover, this also features the likes of Patsy Kensit, Chris Isaac and Bridget Fonda. Produced by Scorsese and Edited by Schoonmaker, you can expect a quality product, which no doubt explains the extensive and enviable cast list for the time. Not the blockbuster you might expect at the time, however, and it would be unfair to say that it has aged well, really. The performances are great with a simple and obvious plot, but there are numerous stabs at New York stories that feel much more vital and alive.

Beware Of Dog (2021) - Well, if you don't know your one to ten in Russian, Spanish and German beforehand, you probably will by the end. Postcards from Moscow, Barcelona, New York and Berlin, documentary style snapshots of lives of seemingly random locals going about their day to day. My smattering of Russian doesn't go far beyond the basics, so often I had no idea what was going on, with no subtitles to help me out.

Not sure if this was just my version, or was entirely deliberate by the makers. The acting was good enough for me to understand the overtones of OCD before it was blatantly pointed out, however. Neurology is universal, after all. Given that it doesn't really have much of a message to impart, this is surprisingly engaging, wallowing in the lives of strangers not dissimilar, but yet still disparate from your own, is always a unique and individual experience. You take their ups and downs based on your own reality, so what you glean from this could be very different from the person sitting next to you.

Orphan: First Kill (2022) - Well no, firstly. Not the first. Not by a long way. Odd choice for a title to be obviously incorrect. Doesn't really inspire confidence in what's coming next. This prequel to Orphan focuses on Esther's escape from a mental institution in Estonia, ingratiating herself by impersonating the missing daughter of a well-to-do American couple (Julia Stiles, Rossif Sutherland), the rather unfortunately named, Mr and Mrs Albright. Isabelle Fuhrman reprises the role of Esther which made such waves in 2009. Could she pull it off again playing a ten-year-old? At the age of 23? Hmm...

The Message (1976) - Whilst The Message admittedly does look its age these days, it is no less an impressive feat for the time, not least telling the story of Muhammad without once ever showing him on screen. The film makers were at pains to point this out prior to the starting of the film, save I expect for any backlash they may receive.

Largely ignored by Western audiences these days, despite the wish to have it produced in English, to garner a larger audience, was not without its own financial backing issues. Anthony Quinn stars in a production partially financed by Gaddafi, proving that art, religion and politics do sometimes work hand-in-hand. At nearly three hours it doesn't mind dawdling in exposition, essential for the laymen to make sense of proceedings, but could easily have been shortened had the makers had the desire to do so. This was a warts and all event, however, that the makers wanted displayed in entirety.


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