Month: December, 2021

My top ten of 2021


It’s Nicholas Cage. But the good Nicholas Cage.


Mads Mikkelsen and Director Thomas Vinterberg make a good combination—anyone who’s seen The Hunt will know what I mean. However, unlike The Hunt’s sobriety, Another Round opens up the liquor cabinet as it centres on a bunch of school teachers in the spin of midlife-crisis and trying to connect with their students through a questionable social experiment. It’s a tragicomedy of sorts and gets big thumbs-up for its rapturous ending.


An unconventional tale told in a conventional manner. Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing person in her deaf family but ironically has a passion for singing. This coming-of-age story is wholesome, vivid, often hilarious, and ends with the a sublime rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. Will bring a joyful tear to your eye.


Carey Mulligan is electric as a young woman traumatised by her past in this vengeance film set the in the milieu of the #metoo movement. Vibrant, colourful and energetic, yet also thematically dark and cynically clever. Should be essential viewing for teenagers.


This first instalment of Herbert’s sci-fi classic is pure cinematic spectacle—a sound and vision masterwork from Villeneuve. Not quite as pin-sharp as BladeRunner 2049, but will still have your eyes and ears popping out of your head. Definitely a big-screen flick. Can’t wait for the second half.


Writer/director Florian Zeller’s debut feature operates like an Escher artwork as it paints an intentionally confusing (and heartbreaking) portrait of dementia. Up there with Anthony Hopkins’ best work.


A Campion masterpiece to rival The Piano. See my review here.


While her parents go about cleaning out the house of her recently deceased grandmother, Nelly explores the surrounding woods. She encounters Marion, a girl exactly Nelly’s age and to whom she bears a striking resemblance. Somehow writer/director Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) has crafted a complete experience in only 72 minutes. Patient, emotional and achingly beautiful.


Slow? Wonderfully so. Also mesmerisingly beautiful and utterly haunting. I’m a bit of a David Lowry fan (Pete’s Dragon, Old Man & the Gun, and Ghost Story). Really looking forward to his next film, Peter Pan & Wendy.


Who’d have thought a story about stealing milk from the only cow in town could be so engrossing. A sweetly tranquil film from Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff). Loved it.


Spider-Man: No Way Home

Verdict: Conventional MCU fan service with some nice flourishes.

Occasionally, a new director offers a fresh perspective on the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise (Taika Waititi’s humorous take on Thor, or Bob Persichetti’s brilliantly animated Into the Spider-verse). But when a vanilla director, such as Jon Watts in his third MCU outing, takes the helm you shouldn’t expect a reinvention of the wheel.

Having swung to the lofty heights of commercial success with his previous two Spidey flicks (Homecoming and Far From Home), Watts has, unsurprisingly, played it safe and repeated the dose. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. They weren’t bad films.

Following on from Far From Home, and with his secret identity as Spider-Man now exposed, Peter Parker (Tom Holland) turns to fellow Avenger, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), to conjure a spell that will restore his secret. But in doing so, he cracks open the multiverse, letting through villains from other Spider-Man universes. Chaos follows as Parker and crew attempt to herd Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Jamie Foxx’s Electro back from whence they came.

As expected, there is a slew of less-than-engaging action sequences, but thankfully No Way Home also presents plenty of more-than-engaging characters to balance things out.

Holland is excellent as the webbed hero, providing the titular character with a youthful innocence and charm that wasn’t fully captured by previous Spideys, Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire. Zendaya is also good with her reprisal of love interest MJ, and it’s in their moments together, along with their friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) where this film works best.

Where the story comes unstuck is in the convoluted set-up of its multiverse characters. Yes, the multiverse — a concept that has, so far, served to broaden MCU’s narrative scope (and cash haul) but also threatens to be its undoing. Space-time hullabaloo rarely works well in movies and No Way Home invests too much effort wrestling with this web of confusion.

I can already hear the MCU nerds decrying my lack of attention towards the intricacies of MCU lore. No Way Home is, after all, building on the labyrinthine, yet impressive, canon of MCU films and it certainly helps to have a good knowledge of them all. As a stand-alone film, though? No Way Home is a mixed bag of excellent whip-smart flair and average fan serving Spider-Meh.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

Tick, Tick… Boom!

Verdict: A colourful tale of bohemian anguish.

The age-old mantra “write what you know” echoes throughout the work of musical maestro of stage and screen Lin-Manuel Miranda. Certainly, if his previous outings are anything to go by (Hamilton and more recently In the Heights), Miranda has built a deserved reputation as a vibrant teller of musical tales.

Surprisingly though, this is Miranda’s first feature film as director. And while he clearly knows a clarinet from an oboe, the finer details of directing is a different kind of instrument to play. Thankfully, the connection between Miranda’s creative prowess and this film’s musical subject comes to the screen with organic ease. This, along with the fizzy talents of Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) and a solid supporting cast, Tick Tick Boom is a spirited journey through one man’s struggle to get his art on the stage.

Set in the nineties and based on the Broadway musical of the same name, Tick Tick Boom is an autobiographical adaptation of the late Jonathan Larson (Garfield). The film centres around his struggles to write the stage musical, Superbia, a work that would never eventuate as intended. Meanwhile, his dancer girlfriend Susan (Alexander Shipp) is cast to the margins as he frets over getting the work completed on time. A New York winter, sweaty shifts at the local diner, coats, scarfs, and the pained anguish of bohemian lower Manhattan provide the backdrop to the film’s many foot-tapping, colourful musical numbers.

As you might expect from a Miranda musical, peeling back the glossy layers of its well-choreographic set-pieces does reveal plenty of predictable tropes and cheesy dialogue. However, the film does a commendable job of disguising its many cliches, in part due to Garfield’s remarkably attuned performance, but mainly because of Miranda’s unflinching ability to distract his audience with kinetically charged and well-balanced storytelling. It’s unashamed heart-on-sleeve stuff and hard not to get swept away by it all.

Halfway through the film, Larson receives some advice from his agent: “Write what you know”. Indeed, it seems Larson, who sadly died in 1996, would have been pleased that the man to tell his story on screen heeded that mantra and appears to have a genuine passion for the subject.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.