February 2022

Rock and Roll, and simply Rock music, has had a long and variable history with cinema. At last count, Elvis Presley made fourteen thousand movies (mostly involving a race of some kind), the Monkees had Head, Pink Floyd had their Wall, Prince had Purple Rain, The Beatles got some Help with their Hard Day’s Night. Add to the list, then, venerable rockers Foo Fighters, who put all that practice from acting in their music videos to the test here.

We open on a scene in a spooky-looking Encino mansion in the 90s where a woman with a nasty bit of thigh bone sticking out of her leg tries to crawl her way to safety from a hammer-wielding maniac who successfully dispatches her in a particularly gruesome manner. Before we can get over this, we jump to the present day and the members of the Foo Fighters having a chat around their manager’s office as they discuss the recording of their upcoming tenth studio album. Looking for somewhere new, somewhere with character and a soul, the manager has heard of a certain mansion in Encino that may just fit the bill.

One night, singer and creative powerhouse, Dave Grohl, is suffering from writer’s block and descends to the mansion’s basement where he finds an old reel-to-reel machine. The music he hears reawakens his creative juices but also possesses him with the spirit of the maniac from the opening. Grohl returns to his bandmates determined to commit this new sound in the shape of a neverending song, and with a bloodthirsty look in his eye.

Directed by BJ McDonnell with a screenplay written by Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes that’s based on a story by Dave Grohl, it’s a movie that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve. Evil Dead, Halloween (John Carpenter wrote the movie’s score and has a small role), The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and yes, Scooby Doo and also that episode of South Park that had Korn in it, can all be seen.

It’s a gloriously gory affair, with plenty of inventive and bloodthirsty kills, along with a few jump scares, to give horror fans something to talk about. But for the most part, it’s done knowingly and with tongue firmly in cheek, and there are more than enough laugh-out-loud moments, including an unexpected cameo, to keep the mood light.

The band members aren’t about to win any awards for their acting prowess, but they’re all more than happy to poke fun at themselves. Guitarist Pat Smear finds himself without a bedroom in the mansion so sleeps on the breakfast counter with a Wee Willy Winkie hat. Drummer Taylor Hawkins criticizes Grohl for continually trying to write Everlong again. More seasoned turns come from Whitney Cummings as the nosy neighbor with the good lemon drizzle cake, Will Forte stands out as a delivery guy trying to get his demo tape to Grohl, and metal fans will rejoice in seeing Slayer’s own Kerry King as Krug, the drum tech named after the bad guy in Last House on the Left.

It’s a bit like one of their conceptual music videos stretched out from a five-minute idea into a feature film. Weighing in around the 115 minute mark, it’s not exactly long by today’s standards, but it does suffer from baggy sequences, particularly around the middle and towards the end. it could easily be half an hour lighter and no one would complain. A movie that’s ostensibly about a neverending song, runs the risk of feeling neverending itself. There are at least three attempts to get to the end credits here and I can’t honestly say any one of them is particularly satisfying.

However, for the most part it’s great fun, even a little charming in its own messed up kind of way, and the band manages to confirm the suspicions that they are nothing less than thoroughly bloody nice blokes. One has to wonder what people who aren’t fans of Foo Fighters would think about any of it, but for me, there was easily enough to get pass marks.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been au fait with PlayStation games. These days, if I’m sitting down to play a game, it’s far more likely to be something that resembles my day job. I play factory games where processes are designed and outputs are optimized and other tedious stuff like that. My days of dropping my PS Controller in fright because a wolf lept out of nowhere to attack Lara Croft are decades behind me. And yet, I feel like the Uncharted game is still from my era. Why on earth are they making a movie of this now? Should we expect Daley Thompson’s Decathalon to get a theatrical release this summer?

The truth of the matter is that this has been in Development Hell since around 2009 with David O. Russell, Neil Burger, Seth Gordon, and Dan Trachtenberg all being lined up to direct at various points before the spinning bottle finally settled on Ruben ZombieLand Fleischer. It’s been lingering around unmade for so long that Mark Wahlberg has aged from being the leading actor to the supporting actor. Tom Holland, who replaced Wahlberg in the lead role, has been signed up since 2017 where, if possible, he looked even younger. Even discounting COVID, this has been a difficult birth. So was it worth the effort, then?

Well, things start off interestingly enough. In a move that is becoming more common these days, we open in the middle of the action, sans title card, with Tom Holland’s Nate Drake coming round in the unlikely position of having his foot caught in a rope that’s holding a string of cargo as it falls out of the back of a plane in flight. As ridiculous as it seems, it’s perfectly in keeping with the computer origins. It’s imaginable as a level in a game; one of the levels where you expect to die a lot.

We learn that the opening scene really comes from a point about two-thirds of the way through the story, so we jump about a bit as we learn that Nate and his brother, Sam, were orphaned at an early age, but have grown up loving tales of Magellan’s expedition (big hit with orphans, apparently) and with a penchant for stealing antique maps and artifacts. They’re caught and Sam goes on the lam for the next ten years.

We next meet Nate serving bar in New York and pickpocketing in his spare time when he’s introduced to Wahlberg’s Sully, a conniving, older fortune hunter who has heard tales of Magellan’s lost treasure and may have information about Sam’s whereabouts, if only Nate would help him steal a golden cross thought to be a key to reaching further clues and lots and lots of gold. Meanwhile, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, and Tati Gabrielle care enough to varying degrees to try and beat them through the series of clues left behind by 16th Century Spanish sailors, who let’s face it absolutely loved clues, traps, and poison arrows shooting out of stone blocks.

If it sounds like you’ve heard this before, and you suspect you’ve seen this before, you’re right. For all the impressive set pieces, the sheer disregard for physics, gravity, and probability, when you boil it down, if you’ve seen National Treasure, you’ve already seen this done much better.

Tom Holland is a charming presence, although it takes a while to get used to him being old enough to be a bartender, not helped by his propensity to put his big old man nipples on display every half-hour or so. He delivers his quips and one-liners far better than most of the feedlines deserve and he moves around the screen with the indestructible fluidity of his sprite equivalent. Wahlberg is less impressive and when he goes walkabout for an extended period, it’s hard not to imagine the whole affair would’ve been better off without him

Fleischer directs like he knows this is not his best work, and if there’s a sense of urgency through the movie, where perhaps it would help if people took a quick breath to explain exactly what they think is going on, it’s probably because he wanted it to be over and done with as quickly as possible. Wahlberg has his one foot out the door from before the halfway point.

There are a few laughs to be had, and a few genuinely thrilling sequences, but vast swathes of it make no sense and it’s almost like corners were cut because everyone involved knew you could fill in the blanks from the other times you’ve seen this play out.

A man sitting in a chair watches a sunset.

It pained me to have to explain to a co-worker who Tim Roth is. It pained me further that mentioning Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs didn’t really help. I guess yesterday wasn’t 1997 right enough. Mr Roth is still in Quentin Tarantino’s Rolodex but after 2014’s United Passions where he played Sepp Blatter in a production that seemed to have been born out of a Sepp Blatter wet dream, I think we all did a little bit of erasure. Is Sundown going to be the movie to put him back into the public’s, or at least my co-worker’s, conscience?

Tim Roth plays Neil Bennett who we meet on holiday in Mexico with his family. There’s obvious wealth on show here. Everything is infinity pools and cliff-diving and hammocks and room service and margaritas and discrete security and ENGLISH and work phones that attract the kids’ disapproval. As is in keeping throughout the brief 83 minute running time, not too much is explicitly said here, but as Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Alice thanks Neil for coming on the holiday, we’re left to question the relationship he has with her and the two older teenaged kids, Colin and Alexa (Samuel Bottomley and Albertine Kotting McMillan).

At breakfast, Alice receives a call that her mother has been admitted to hospital and as the family are hightailing it to the airport, she is updated with news that her mother has passed away. Again, some wealth is evident as they are met at the airport by airline reps and as they are about to be whisked away on to their flight back to London, Neil announces that he has left his passport in the hotel so promises to catch up with them on a later flight. We quickly learn that his passport is in his possession and rather than return to the original hotel, he takes up residence in one of Acapulco’s more seedy fleapits where previous trappings are replaced with no air-con, doors that barely lock, cops with automatic weapons on the beach, SPANISH, Dos Equis, and gangster-looking types. There he meets Bernice (Iazua Larios) the bodega worker with whom he begins a relationship, and a variety of other dodgy hangers-on who seem to smell his wealth, all the while ignoring the urgent calls and texts from back home. Neil, it seems, simply doesn’t care. It’s a human tragedy but just not in the way you think it’s going to be.

It’s a small, intimate movie that likes to keep its cards tight against its chest while its characters go through their existential crises. I’m absolutely fine with this. I enjoyed asking questions, admiring the Mexican beach scenes, trying to pinpoint the exact source of the sense of dread I was experiencing that Neil was happily ignoring.

Director Michael Franco has worked with Tim Roth on several projects in the past so knows what he’s getting and how to get the best out of him. Here, Roth does a great job of holding attention, which is just as well considering the camera is seldom pointing at anyone else, and he does so with very few lines. Gainsburg, Bottomley and McMillian also work incredibly well together for the short period of time they share some scenes. While nothing extraordinary is done with the camera, it’s all pretty enough to look at, and there’s enough Dos Equis, shorts, and beach paddles to keep the senses occupied. But at some point, Neil sitting on the beach with a beer and staring into the distance has to become something more, the audience has to call and the movie has to show us what it’s got.

Oddly for movies these days, it comes in under an hour and a half and yet it still feels a bit baggy. As more time went by, I became worried that instead of pocket aces, the movie was holding a 2 and a 9 off-suit. This isn’t a movie that’s going to tie everything up in a bow, and it doesn’t, but what it does do is place its finger on the intersection of the ribbon and wiggle its eyebrows at you.

I really wanted to like this, and for long periods I did, but any goodwill earned was pretty much gutted in the final ten minutes and I can’t in good consciousness recommend this to my co-worker and she’s just going to have to continue not having a clue who Tim Roth is. I suspect she’ll get by.

My first exposure to the internet was in 1996, in a cyber cafe in Edinburgh where I sat across from Australian soap legend and Big Breakfast presenter Mark Little. So starstruck was I, that most of my hour was spent gawping at the celebrity on the other side of the small room from me, but I remember doing some very basic searches (on something other than Google) that led me to a Simpsons episode guide. Hey, it was the 90s. It was all very impressive, I learned a lot about the gaps in my viewing, I saved some wavs to disc, left, followed Mark about the Festival for a little bit longer, then went home and went about my life. Celebrity stalking notwithstanding, there was something so gentle, innocent, and pure about this experience, maybe the world would have been a better place if the internet had remained as a repository for Simpsons facts and then the events of this Felicity Morris documentary would never have happened.

Sadly, though, technology continued to advance unabated which led to a string of women “swiping right” on the Tinder profile of a man presenting himself as diamond-trader Simon Leviev, who over weeks and months, manages to become their boyfriend before announcing a slight and temporary cashflow problem along with a series of shady enemies desperate to have a word. It’s difficult to say much more about the documentary without spoiling the finer details, but suffice to say that absolutely nothing that Simon tells these victims is anything like the truth.

Morris’s film takes its time revealing its secrets. Cecilie Fjellhøy, who has the dubious honor of being Leviev’s first victim, presents herself as confident, intelligent, and savvy talks through her experience with humor and self-awareness until she gets to the sting and she just breaks, letting us in on how this has affected every aspect of her life. This is echoed to some degree as we’re introduced to Pernilla Sjöholm and Ayleen Koeleman.

The story is compelling enough so doesn’t need to rely on anything particularly fancy, and Morris keeps the pace just about right, if some of the testimony of this Catch Me If You Can tribute act becomes a bit repetitive after a while. However, it is very much worth your time sticking with it to the very end, if for no other reason than to do something to buoy your view on human nature.

Of course, there is commentary online questioning how the swindle was allowed to work. I believe there is a term for blaming the victims of crime, and this downplays the fact that Simon, faults and all, was very good at pulling the wool over people’s eyes. If we are to focus on something, maybe it should be how dangerous dating can be for women, both online and off, and questioning what we can do as a society to make that better.

Death on the Nile (2020 film) logo.png

My fading memory insists that the 1978 version of Agatha Christie’s best Belgian detective story, the one with Peter Ustinov in the leading role, was a staple of Sunday afternoon viewing in the UK and I watched it, or bits of it, five or six times a year while visiting my mum. It was the sort of movie that I’d always stay to the very end because there’d be something, a different thing each time, that I could never remember. And so I approached the new version, which serves as a sequel to 2017’s Murder on the Orient Express, fairly sure of whodunnit, but less convinced of the why and the how.

After a flashback to the trenches of World War One, Poirot finds himself in a London jazz club in 1937 where he’s introduced to singer Salome Otterbourne and he witnesses Jacqueline de Bellefort introduce her fiancé, Simon Doyle, to her childhood friend, the wealthy heiress Linnet Ridgeway. Jackie has begged Linnet to give Simon a job managing her estate, which she agrees to do and as they go off for a celebratory dance, Jackie watches the sparks fly between the two.

Flashforward six weeks to a wedding reception in Egypt and surprise surprise, it’s not Jackie that Simon is marrying, but Linnet. Dum-dum-DUM!! Once more Poirot is in attendance, a chance encounter putting him in the company of Bouc and his mother and because it’s a wedding, the script is given carte blanche to be as expository as it wants to be as we’re literally introduced to the cast of characters and the reasons they might be encouraged to commit murder by the end of the first act. And then there’s the small, stalking matter of jilted Jackie who refuses to let the newlyweds and guests enjoy their cruise in peace. During an argument, Jackie shoots Simon in the leg and in the confusion that follows, someone shoots and kills poor Linnet.

As you’d expect from an Agatha Christie tale, it’s a clever story and it’s entertaining to watch as Poirot slowly pieces the events together and as the clues are revealed, it’s satisfying to see what you spotted, frustrating to see what you missed, and impressive to learn how it all fits together to make sense sometime after the surviving cast is drawn together for the reveal.

Kenneth Branagh reprises his role of Poirot with a steady enthusiasm, and the supporting cast including Arnie Harmer, Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Emma Mackey, Sophie Okonedim Letitia Wright, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, and an oddly reserved Russell Brand, all seem to enjoy themselves without going too far to steal the show. Fans of Alan Patridge will be pleased to spot a cameo from Susannah Fielding as Poirot’s ill-fated love interest.

What distracted me all the way through, though, was that unlike the version from the 70s, not one frame of the 127 minute run-time was shot in Egypt. Everything was very obviously CGI. Positively described, this gave the whole experience a bit of a theatrical feel. Less positively, and more frequently the case for me, everything looked fake.

At the directing helm, Branagh takes a screenplay written by Michael Green, and deploys it with the steadiness of the make-believe paddle-steamer. Maybe he could’ve had more fun with points of tension, picked up the pace here and there, demanded a few more scene-chewing performances from his cast, especially Brand who might as well have been asleep through long sections, but overall he does deliver a pretty entertaining version of a well-known Sunday afternoon murder mystery, and perhaps that’s about as good as could’ve been expected.

Three American astronauts floating in space look towards the moon.

We’re not ready for this, says Halle Berry’s Jocinda “Jo” Fowler, round about midway through Moonfall’s 130-minute running time and this may just be the most accurate line of dialogue Ms Berry has ever committed to the screen. We’re not ready for this. We may never be ready for this.

We open with Jo and Brian Harper, played by Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy, Insidious), working in space on a satellite from the Space Shuttle, getting the lyrics to the chorus of Toto’s Africa wrong (no, really), when a strange black swarm attacks the mission, kills their crewmate, knocks out Jo and leaves Brian to fly the shuttle back to earth with no electrics, but not before he seems to the see the source of the swarm was the Moon. Back on Earth, Brian is scapegoated and blamed for the disaster, although why and how this happens is anyone’s guess. Jo, meanwhile, quickly rises up the ranks at NASA because she had the good sense to be unconscious while all the stuff with the goo was going on. 

Skip forward ten years and KC Houseman — played by John Bradley because Jack Black and Nick Frost were presumably washing their hair that day — a conspiracy theorist who believes the Moon is an alien-built megastructure, notices that its orbit is bringing it closer to Earth and it’s on a civilization-destroying collision course. Oh noes!

It’s not long before oceans are pulled to the sky as gravity battles with itself, earthquakes rattle the planet to its core, volcanos bloom and spill hell on earth, bits of the Moon fall like missiles across the planet, while our heroes race against time to save humanity.

Exciting, right? Right? Please?

Moonfall was written by three humans, all of whom I assume were adults who have experienced emotions, said words aloud to other humans, had dreams and imagined possibilities and had seen movies before. I know for a fact that they have seen at least Gravity, Contact, Elysium, and Prometheus and I know this because I’ve seen Moonfall.

So, no. I’m sorry. It isn’t exciting. None of it is exciting. When Berry’s character announces to her superiors that she can maybe organize a mission to the moon inside 24 hours, the eyebrows rise more than the pulse. When astronauts are in the canteen in their jeans half an hour ahead of launch, there’s no urgency. When the collective brains of the world decide that nuking the moon is the only option, it’s done with a shrug.

And if astronauts fighting strange lunar goo isn’t enough, we have a secondary storyline where the children of the heroic astronauts are trying to get to Colorado where supposedly they’ll be safe from the Moon crashing into the Earth, and they will definitely add twenty minutes to the run time.

I walked into this movie with my suspension of disbelief hanging on the popcorn machine. I expected silly. I expected fun. It isn’t either of those things. Instead it’s stupid, it’s po-faced, and most criminal of all, it’s boring. I expected a massive spectacle, like Armageddon, or some social commentary, like Don’t Look Up, but I didn’t get any of those things either. The CGI was oddly insipid and the movie barely has one level to worry about never mind two.

Maybe it didn’t jive with me because right now, in 2022, I feel like I’ve had my fill of conspiracy theorists. In a world where people are happy to disregard scientists and experts in favor of something some anonymous bloke said on Reddit, maybe a movie where the conspiracy theorists are right and one-third of the heroes doesn’t land all that comfortably for me.

It’s unquestionably a bad movie. Whether or not it’s sufficiently bad to be good will depend on the viewer and probably their blood alcohol levels, but for me, stone-cold sober, it failed to swing far enough round that cycle. It’s definitely the worst film I’ve seen this year. It may be the worst film I’ve seen in the last decade, but 10 years is a pretty long time, especially when I’ve seen movies that were written by or starred Danny McBride and James Franco. It’s in the running, though.

This is really, really exciting, says KC as we moved into the third act. Oh, sweetheart, you have no idea.