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REVIEW: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) is just trying to get her taxes sorted while running her laundrette business with her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) when she’s informed of a threat to her world and the multiverse and is told that she might be the only one who can stop it.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is one of those films that’s completely barmy but brilliant. It’s a film I knew little about before watching it (I hadn’t even watched the trailer) and had just heard positive things via social media though had seen no spoilers or had any real idea of the plot. I think that might be the best way to see this film as it’s such a surprise at times as it veers off into different themes or genres that I never expected.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is a lot of movie. So much so, it can be almost overwhelming at times but by no means is that a bad thing. It suits the tone and the story perfectly but how the plot moves with the sounds and visuals can feel chaotic. However, you never feel lost in what’s happening. What Evelyn is going through is overwhelming to her, so to make the audience feels like that too. It helps make Everything Everywhere All at Once feel different and as it bounces between ideas, time, and universes, there’s a beauty to it too.

Everything Everywhere All at Once is impressive for many reasons but something that surprised me was how in one scene I could be laughing and in the next I’m tearing up. How the writers and directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan (known as the Daniels) handled the different tones of this film, balancing the emotional payoff with inventive and fun action sequences is impressive. Though the story feels chaotic and weird at times, I never felt that the film was getting away from its directors. All the weirdness and chaos was just what was needed as a story about the multiverse and an older woman having to learn how to save the day is a bit unusual and unexpected.

Michelle Yeoh is just fantastic as Evelyn. She is funny and relatable and she’s both strict and caring. Evelyn has a lot on her mind with the responsibilities of running a business and looking after her ailing father (James Hong) that she neglects both her husband and her daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu), however unintentionally. The action sequences with Yeoh showcase her talents but equally, the big emotive moments do as well.

Honestly, the whole cast is outstanding and the trio of the family; Evelyn, Waymond and Joy is wonderful. All three actors bring their A game and elevate each other with their performances. Each character is allowed to be well-rounded and a real person. They can be scared, strong, kind, mean, funny, stressed, or apathetic and it’s all fine – especially as some characters learn from others about how to be better people or how to go through life with a better attitude.

There are so many layers to Everything Everywhere All at Once and it’s one of those films where I’m enjoying reading everyone else’s thoughts on it – especially Asian Americans. Because Everything Everywhere All at Once is an immigrant story, it’s a story about family, love, and kindness, it’s a story about second chances and togetherness. It’s one of those stories that’s so specific that it becomes universal.

I don’t even really know if I have the words to properly describe Everything Everywhere All at Once but it’s funny, action-packed, heartfelt, and beautiful. It’s weird and wonderful and it’s a film that I’ll be thinking about for a long time. 5/5.

S is for Space Cowboys (2000)

When an aging Russian satellite suffers a system failure that could set it on a collision course for Earth, retired engineer Frank Corvin (Clint Eastwood) is called into help as his now outdated guidance system is what the satellite runs on. He blackmails his former boss Bob Gerson (James Cromwell) in order to get his old team back together to complete the mission, and soon Frank, pilot William “Hawk” Hawkings (Tommy Lee Jones), flight engineer Jerry O’Neill (Donald Sutherland) and navigator Tank Sullivan (James Garner) are all going through training at NASA to prove their fitness for the mission.

I love a good space movie, especially ones that focus on the technical aspects of space travel and have all the usual tropes with interesting characters in ground control as well as in space, office politics, and things not going to plan – Apollo 13 and The Martian are my favourite space films. Space Cowboys ticks all those boxes so I had a great time with this film.

The friendship between the old teammates is what really made Space Cowboys for me. So many of the scenes when they’re all together, just chatting, or messing around during their training were fun to watch. It all seemed so natural as they took the mick out of one another but also clearly cared about one another. Some of them hadn’t seen each other for years but the sign of a good friendship is being able to easily fall back into the old rhythms of a friendship like no time had passed at all.

The first two acts of Space Cowboys are Frank getting the team back together and them going through training together. There are the usual clichés of clashes between the old, would-be astronauts and the young, trained professionals but things never turn too nasty and as their training progresses you can see there’s a grudging respect between the two generations. The third act is the mission into space and naturally just about everything that could go wrong, does. There’s a bit of a farfetched reveal about the satellite but besides from that the mission in space is tense and action-packed.

As someone who grew up watching James Cromwell as the nice and gentle farmer in Babe, it’s been a weird experience watching the rest of his filmography as I get older, especially when he plays characters who aren’t that nice at all. Whenever he and Eastwood butt heads it’s fun to see but Cromwell’s character has such a shifty undertone to him it’s a bit disconcerting.

Have to mention the needle drop of *NSYNC’s Space Cowboy which was not a song I’d ever think would be in a Clint Eastwood movie but when the title works, it’d be a crime not to use it.

Overall Space Cowboys is a fun film with engaging characters. Sure, the main plot is saving a failing satellite but really it’s a film about friendship, loyalty, and trust and it has one of the most believable group of friends I’ve seen in film in a while. 4/5.

O is for One for the Money (2012)

Stephanie Plum (Katherine Heigl) is down on her luck when she gets a job at her cousin’s bail-bond business. Her first assignment is to bring in wanted local cop and guy from her past Joseph Morelli (Jason O’Mara), but as she chases him, she finds herself attempting to unravel the crime he’s accused of.

Based on a book series, One for the Money attempts to combine a chick flick with an action film to mixed results. It is perhaps more of the former than the later but thanks to Heigl’s easy charm and decent chemistry with O’Mara, their characters’ game of cat and mouse is an entertaining one.

There’s everything you’d expect from a film about a character who’s almost a wannabe detective. Stephanie goes around asking questions, makes friends with the local prostitutes including Lula (Sherri Shepherd) who helps her out and is funny, and has help from hot and experienced bounty hunter Ranger (Daniel Sunjata). It’s always nice to see a character who is fed up with their mother trying to find them a husband and who feels a bit aimless, actually find something she’s good at and enjoys.

One for the Money does lack a bit of threat and excitement though. While it does appear that Stephanie is being targeted due to her line of questioning, there’s no chases or particularly tense moments. The times where Stephanie is threatened by a big dude are resolved very quickly, not really allowing you to feel that she is truly in danger.

With a 90-minute runtime, One for the Money is a fun, breezy kind of film. Heigl is pretty great as Stephanie, though her voice over narration in the likes of noir thrillers doesn’t always work. However, Debbie Reynolds as Stephanie’s grandmother is a hoot and steals every scene she’s in. 3/5.

H is for House of Flying Daggers (2004)

Romantic police captain Jin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) breaks Mei (Ziyi Zhang), a beautiful member of the rebel group known as House of Flying Daggers, out of prison but things are not what they seem.

Plot-wise House of Flying Daggers is bit of a mixed bag for me. It’s interesting how pretty much every single character is hiding something and there’s a lot of twists, especially in the last act as motivations are revealed. So that’s intriguing and a twist usually happens just when I’m starting to get a little bored. Which is kind of clever from a scriptwriting point of view, it’s as if they knew when interest might start wanning and pull the audience back in. The love story/stories that are slowly revealed aren’t so interesting to me and the initial conflict of the rebel group vs the government ends up being dropped to focus on the romance. In some ways this leaves the ending a bit unsatisfying.

That being said, House of Flying Daggers is a beautiful and stylish film. When Mei performs a dance and shadow game at the start of the film, how the camera follows her movements as the long fabric from her clothes spins around is wonderful. The colours in House of Flying Daggers are a feast for the eyes. Whether it’s the pastel colours of the Peony Pavilion or the greens of the bamboo forest it’s all captured brilliantly by cinematographer by Xiaoding Zhao.

The fights and actions sequences are suitably dramatic and well shot too. Everything is easy to follow and they’re always exciting and innovative. Not being someone who watches wuxia films that regularly, I always find it’s a visual treat seeing action scenes like this when you compare them to a lot of Western action films that are heavily edited, perhaps in the dark and hard to follow. Plus, it’s fun seeing these people defy the laws of gravity and it all just be an understood part of this world.

The music composed by Shigeru Umebayashi is also beautiful. It’s the sort of music that made me believe in the love story more than the plot did.

I’m glad I’ve finally watched House of Flying Daggers after having the DVD for so long. Like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it’s a film that’s referenced in popular culture a lot – I realised that a shot of Mei towards the end of the film was on the cover of one of my university Film textbooks, always thought it was a beautiful cover but never knew what film it was from – so it’s good to actually know the original material.

The fights, colours and acting in House of Flying Daggers makes it stand out when the plot isn’t always that interesting. Perhaps it’s a film where it’s more style over substance but in this instance, I didn’t really care as I was swept up in it all. 4/5.

F is for Firefox (1982)

When the Russians create Firefox, a prototype jet that’s invisible to radar and can be commanded by the pilot’s mind, the West send pilot Mitchell Gant (Clint Eastwood) to the Soviet Union to steal it.

The plot to get Gant into Moscow is convoluted and the plot moves from him to the Russian high command to back to mission control in the West and none of it’s particularly interesting. Or when it does have the potential to be interesting it moves from that group of characters to another suddenly. Some scenes seem too long and just fizzle out while others don’t have enough context to be worthwhile.

As well as the KGB being a threat to him, Gant also has PTSD and panic attacks that can make him freeze up. The way these panic attacks are shot is kind of interesting with the sound and camera movement as well as overlapping scenes of the incident that gave Gant this trauma. It was kind of nice that while other characters including Gant’s superiors knew of his mental health issues they aren’t really talked about negatively and he manages to deal with them to the best of his ability.

Firefox is one of those 80s films that’s almost futuristic. While it’s definitely set in the 80s with the Cold War paranoia, the fact that the jet can fire missiles and pick out targets with just the thought of the pilot is a kind of sci-fi twist. It feels very 80s that they thought that technology could even progress to that point.

One thing that amused/annoyed me was that one of the reasons Gant got chosen for this mission was that he’s fluent in Russian, but whenever he talked to a Russian when he was pretending to be Russian, he still talked in English and didn’t even put on a (potentially awful) Russian accent. It made sense for him to talk with his own American accent when he was pretending to be an American tourist but when he was infiltrating the base as a supposed Russian it just felt really wrong.

Firefox ticks a lot of the standard Cold War thriller trope boxes but it doesn’t do anything to make it stand out from other films in the genre. The first half of the film is often boring and in the second half, while naturally the fighter plane sequences look dated now and though it becomes a bit long there are some sparks of potential excitement in them. It’s like the film tried to be two things at once; serious Cold War thriller and fun sci-fi action film. The two tones don’t really mesh together.

On a personal note, I enjoyed seeing Freddie Jones in this. He played Aubrey, one of the British Intelligence officers involved with the mission. It was another instance of seeing an actor almost 40 years younger than I’ve ever seen him before as until fairly recently he was a regular on the British soap Emmerdale which I grew up watching.

Firefox is Clint Eastwood’s eighth film as a director so while you could blame some of the film’s shortcomings on it being an early film of his, Eastwood had directed Play Misty for Me and The Outlaw Josey Wales by then which are both great. Maybe this is an instance where a director can only do so much with a dull screenplay overstuffed with exposition. 2/5.

C is for City Heat (1984)

Kansas City, 1933. After his partner is murdered, private investigator Mike Murphy (Burt Reynolds) tries to solve the case and take down the mob while his former friend Lieutenant Speer (Cint Eastwood) does the same.

City Heat is marketed as a buddy comedy set in the prohibition era and if often feels like it’s not a particularly great parody rather than an entertaining action comedy. I say parody as there one scene in particular where Speer shoot a guy multiple times and he continues walking and shooting far longer than he realistically would be able to. Yes, realism isn’t always there in action films (people never running out of bullets or stopping to reload) but this was super noticeable.

The small moments of comedy that worked for me was when there was a play on words. For example, when threatening one of the mobsters Speer asks, “You know what an ‘ilk’ is don’t ya?” and he replies, “A big deer?” and I don’t know why but that really tickled me. The more physical comedy didn’t work for me at all but Eastwood’s dry delivery of some lines did make me crack a smile.

A main selling point of City Heat probably was Reynolds and Eastwood and having these two genre legends share the screen. Unfortunately, they don’t actually do that a lot. While it might be marketed as their solving the crime together, they’re actually both individually trying to figure out what happened and, bar the opening scene and the final showdown, their paths only briefly cross now and then. A lot of the time they shoot a couple of barbs at one another, refuse to be honest about what they know and then go off to follow their own leads. The opening sequence did have some potential as it showed off the difference between Murphy and Speer. Murphy likes to think he’s a smooth talker and a charmer while Speer is more stoic and drier. It was a cliched juxtaposition that worked but then they spent the next hour barely together at all.

Murphy’s partner Dehl Swift (Richard Roundtree) does a whole load of double-crossing various people including mobsters. Because all of these members of the mob were dressed the same and looked similar, it was kind of hard to keep track of who’s who and who was the guy at the top of the food chain. The fact that I found myself not particularly caring about the plot or the characters probably was part of the reason I wasn’t really following who was who and instead was getting bored.

The women in City Heat aren’t that great as most of them are there to be love interests or to be kidnapped – or both. But I have to say I did like Addy (Jane Alexander), Murphy’s secretary and friend, a lot. She was smart with a great wry sense of humour and her comedic timing was probably the best out of everyone.

One decent character and a few dry quips from Eastwood doesn’t make City Heat a worthwhile watch unfortunately. The plot is often incomprehensible and dull and a lot of the shootouts are long, repetitive and just not interesting to watch either so when the action starts you’re still not entertained. City Heat tries to be an action film and a comedy and it doesn’t really achieve either. If Reynolds and Eastwood were on screen together more then the little sparks of chemistry seen when they were together might’ve made it more enjoyable but alas, they weren’t so it wasn’t. 1/5.

B is for Blue Steel (1990)

Trigger warning for rape and domestic abuse.

After an armed robbery goes awry, rookie cop Megan Turner (Jamie Lee Curtis) finds herself as the target when a witness (Ron Silver) becomes obsessed with her.

I went into this film knowing very little, in fact the reason I had a DVD of it was because it’s directed by Kathryn Bigelow and I’d been meaning to watch more of her films.

Blue Steel is a bit of a strange film in a way. It’s mostly framed as a typical cop action/thriller but as it progresses it almost becomes a slasher film – having Jamie Lee Curtis, Final Girl extraordinaire herself, as the lead sure does help cement that feeling.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Jamie Lee Curtis does give a great performance as Megan, showing her vulnerability as well as her strength, but it’s a bit difficult to understand Megan’s motivations for becoming a police officer. Anytime someone asks her reasons she makes a quip about shooting people or shoving them face first into a wall. It seems like she wants to have power and some of her actions are questionable. The villain of the film alludes to the fact that they aren’t so different and you can see some of those similarities he’s talking about. It makes her as a hero interesting, because sometimes it’s almost as if you want her to survive just because that’s how the general narrative of these sort of films usually work, not because she’s a character you become attached to.

The slasher element comes when Megan is being stalked by the witness. He makes himself a part of her life before showing her who he really is, though very few people believe her. He is suitably creepy and unsettling as you’re never sure what he’s going to do next. Plus, as bullets start flying, he almost seems to be indestructible as he shakes off injuries pretty quickly and just keeps coming after Megan. He puts her some mental and physical torture. The way in which he doesn’t stop is reminiscent of the slasher villains who never seem to stay dead. This kind of stretches the realm of plausibility as for the most part Blue Steel seems grounded in reality.

I in no way mean this as an insult but the score from Brad Fiedel is a great example of a 90s thriller/action score. The sound of it kind of encapsulates that time period and those kinds of films. It’s an unsettling score at times and compliments the action on screen, amping the tension well, but it also feels like a product of its time. It just instantly made me know what kind of film I was watching and when it was made. It’s quite the skill really.

Clancy Brown as the leading man is different (he played a detective and Megan’s reluctant partner) though I didn’t really believe in his relationship with Megan. It seemed to move too fast and was almost contrived. I think that’s the thing with Blue Steel, its ninety-minute runtime helps cover some of its flaws, as does the performances from the leads, but the story doesn’t really follow real world logic. If you think about it too long, you’ll probably like it less. 3/5.

As a side note, Blue Steel is one of those films I get enjoyment from just because of the cast. There were so many actors in this where I was like, “I recognise him” before realising that I was used to seeing them with white hair and looking 30 years older.

REVIEW: The Batman (2022)

When the Riddler (Paul Dano) begins murdering key political figures in Gotham, Batman (Robert Pattinson) investigates and finds a web of corruption that his own family may be entangled in.

The Batman is a great standalone film while also being a film that offers enough of its key cast that makes me want to see more. There are no origin stories for any of these characters, any backstory can be inferred by their actions or, if it’s needed to move the plot along, via dialogue. Gotham as a place feels real and lived in. It’s rundown and lawless and a mask vigilante would certainly not be out of place here. The vast majority of the film takes place at night – or at sunrise or sunset – but it’s a film where you can see exactly what’s happening even when it’s dark and raining. The Batman is a well shot and often very good-looking film; cinematographer Greig Fraser does great work here.

The Batman sees a Batman who has been doing this “job” for two years and has become a figure of fear to the criminals in the city. The interesting thing is you see Batman for the vast majority of the film, rarely seeing Bruce Wayne. This Bruce is so focused on being Batman and saving the city that Bruce is seen as a recluse, shut up at home and only seeing Alfred (Andy Serkis) and a housekeeper. He has yet to become the playboy public figure we’ve seen in other Batman films as this Bruce is so caught up in his anger and grief over his parents’ death that he almost doesn’t know how to be normal and make human connections when he’s not wearing the cape.

This leads to one of the most interesting dynamics in The Batman, which is the one between Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). It’s a take on the relationship that I haven’t seen in previous Batman iterations. They work together well and while they may argue they also trust one another. For a film that’s “dark and gritty” there’s almost always a wry sense of humour whenever these two interact. Potentially this is because Gordon is a bit worn down by everything and while Batman is a weird vigilante, at least he’s doing something. While Gordon doesn’t know who Batman is, it’s like he doesn’t care that he’s the imposing figure of Batman and can see he’s still a regular guy under that mask. Gordon puts his reputation on the line for Batman while Batman explicitly states that Gordon is one of the only people he trusts and believes in multiple times.

There are a lot of key characters here and as the murders mount up and Batman and Gordon look into the corruption and all the threads tying these people together, it can get a bit convoluted. Though it has its costumes and explosions, The Batman is a crime/mystery story at its heart. Batman, and the police department, are trying to solve Riddler’s clues before someone else winds up dead, it’s just that all these people are tied to one another and with its almost three-hour runtime it can be a bit hard to remember how people are connected.

That being said, I was never bored watching The Batman. The character moments were often as interesting as the action sequences and watching Batman be a detective (though he’s perhaps not the best detective ever yet) felt new and exciting. Seeing him lurk around crime scenes surrounded by dubious police officers while Gordon vouched for him was simultaneously weird, funny, and great.

The whole cast is great but a shout out has to go to Paul Dano’s Riddler who is incredibly unsettling and intriguing with a limited amount of screentime. Colin Farrell as the Penguin is near unrecognisable thanks to the make up and prosthetic work and a fat suit. So, while he plays a fun character, one has to wonder why you needed Farrell in the role and in all that getup. Couldn’t a fat actor have been cast? Especially as in this film Penguin is more or less a standard mob boss. Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman rounds out the main “villains” in this film and her dynamic with Batman is something I’d like to see more of.

Overall, The Batman is a pretty great film. The whole vibe of it is dirty and often almost hopeless but with Gordon – who almost acts like a co-lead at times – as the good centre there is some hope. This Batman is pretty interesting as he tries to find how to be both a figure of fear and a figure of hope, depending who needs it. I would love to see more of these characters and of this Gotham. And I can’t finish this without mentioning Michael Giacchino’s score – it’s excellent, suits the tone of the film perfectly and just heightens how threatening and imposing Batman can be. 4/5.

REVIEW: Shadow in the Cloud (2020)

Maude Garrett (Chloë Grace Moretz), a WWII pilot, is travelling with a confidential package when she encounters an evil presence and mistrust from her fellow airmen on board the flight.

Shadow in the Cloud is one of those films that I feel is best to go into it knowing as little as possible, and that includes not watching the trailer. All I knew before watching was “Chloë Grace Moretz in a WWII movie and things go wrong” so how everything went wrong was always a nice and sometimes funny surprise.

Shadow in the Cloud is pretty much a single location film and it makes the most of the restrictions that offers and how fun filmmaking can lead to some interesting situations. The single location in question is the plane, and specifically the Sperry Ball turret, the spherical gun turret on the plane’s underbelly. Maude spends most of the film there and her only communication with the crew is via the radio. While the majority of the crew are crass and mistrusting of Maude, their dialogue via the radio only furthers Maude’s characterisation and Moretz give a great performance. Her Maude is capable and strong but also scared and reactive. She is a character who is easy to root for as you learn about her the same time the crew does. Plus, with the men being pretty sexist (and in some cases racist) and generally acting in an unlikable manner, it’s easy to be on Maude’s side.

Have to give a shoutout to composer Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper. A synth heavy, techno score is not something I’d expect in a WWII film but it ends up suiting the tone of the whole film perfectly. With the help of the score and having Maude in such a claustrophobic spot the tension amps up nicely and when Maude gets her big hero moment for the first time, the synths kick in and it’s a thoroughly entertaining sequence.

Shadow in the Cloud is a bit silly with its genre mash up of war drama with supernatural/horror elements but it does it well and entertainingly so thanks to being grounded by Moretz’s performance. The dogfights are thrilling, the supernatural presence is suitably creepy and overall, it’s just a really unexpectedly fun film.

If you like Overlord then I’d definitely recommend giving Shadow in the Cloud a try – plus it’s only 83 minutes long and that includes the credits. Director and co-writer Rosanne Liang definitely knows how to do a lot with little in the best possible way. 4/5.

REVIEW: Mortal Kombat (2021)

Washed-up MMA fighter Cole Young (Lewis Tan) learns of an ancient battle when he’s recruited by Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) to stand against the enemies of Outworld who wish to take over Earth.

Having not played the games I’m pretty much a Mortal Kombat novice. Though that being said, I did watch the 1995 Mortal Kombat film earlier this year, can’t say I remember much about it though so really this Mortal Kombat is a blank slate for me.

The plot of Mortal Kombat doesn’t feature a big tournament, instead they talk about it a lot and it’s more a getting the team together to prepare to fight in the tournament kind of film. So really it feels like a lot of setup for the next film – which hopefully will be made otherwise this one would’ve been a bit of a waste of time.

The majority of the special effects and fight sequences look great. In fact, Mortal Kombat starts and ends on a high as it’s bookended by fights between Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim). Those fights are very entertaining and the second one where what can be amounted to superpowers are involved, is truly an excellent way to bring things to a close. The rest of the fights don’t quite hit that standard and a few seem to end before they have even begun. That said, all the fights are pretty bloody and gory so if you like that kind of thing you’re in luck.

A lot of the characters in Mortal Kombat feel pretty generic and don’t have too much personality. While Lewis Tan is great at the fight sequences, his Cole is the usual chosen one character and is defined by his love of his family and not much else. The rest of the heroes aren’t given much of a backstory or personalities and, for many of them, there isn’t a feeling of camaraderie between them that there should be when you have a team of heroes. Kano (Josh Lawson) almost feels like he’s in another film entirely as his personality is the biggest out of all the characters. He’s loud, brash and argumentative and they way he delivers one-liners just feels out of place as the rest of the characters are quite dour and serious. He does make it so things don’t get too dull but it still feels a little weird.

Mortal Kombat is a bit of a mixed bag but even though a lot of the characters are pretty generic (they’re fighters who all have some sort of special power), the plot moves at a good pace and the fights keep coming so you never really get bored. 3/5.