While I suppose we should be glad to see the back of 2021, early previews of 2022 don’t look all that great. Take your mind off it all by joining us to chat about House of Gucci, Belfast, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Last Duel, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and Last Night in Soho.
Two Ridley Scott films for the price of one in this episode, you lucky lot. This is House of Gucci, an, I’m sure, entirely accurate and utterly un-sensationalised account of the lives of the Gucci family, and the introduction to their midst of one Patrizia Reggiani, who married one of the dynasty and then had him murdered after he divorced her.
Patrizia, played by Lady Gaga, meets Adam Driver’s Maurizio at a party and is immediately smitten by him. She sets her sights on him and eventually wins him over, with the two marrying but Maurizio leaving the Gucci company and being disinherited by his father, Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), who disapproves of Patrizia and believes her to be a gold-digger.
After Patrizia has a child, she encourages Maurizio to return to Gucci, and helps things along by insinuating herself into the family by getting friendly with Maurizio’s Uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), which eventually leads to her and Maurizio moving to New York and working for the Gucci enterprise there. Her ambitions don’t end there, though, and she sets her sights on she and Maurizio taking control of the company, being willing to sacrifice Aldo and anyone else who crosses her path in order to do it.
Maurizio falls out of love with Patrizia, though, and begins an affair, and in a fine, upstanding manner dumps her by lawyer, which I think is the rich 1980s version of being dumped by text message, which rather angers Patrizia. Seeking revenge, she hires a couple of men to murder Maurizio (but it’s because she loves him, though, you know), before being caught and imprisoned.
House of Gucci is a reasonably entertaining film, and the performances are all solid to great, with particular plaudits going to Lady Gaga who continues to prove herself a very fine actor indeed. She certainly makes Patrizia a much more compelling and sympathetic character than she has any right to be. I only knew a little about her before watching this, the vast bulk of that from Lady Gaga’s recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but that certainly piqued my interest.
Obviously Patrizia’s not a good person, because good people don’t arrange to have other people murdered, but I was interested in what kind of a person she was. She’s seen to be ambitious and determined, but not cold-hearted or self-centred, and that’s fine. But Patrizia then bases some of her decisions on a fortune teller, which made me realise “oh, you’re an IDIOT person, OK”. The worst thing about that, though, is that the film seems to suggest that Pina, her fortune teller (played by Salma Hayek) is actually psychic. Which is weird.
The tone of the film is a little inconsistent to say the least, with oddly farcical moments mixed with the serious, and two notable scenes, where the hit is being decided upon and then arranged, apparently happening when everyone involved had forgotten how to act. Half the time it’s a strong character drama, and the other half it’s a soap opera.
Of the farcical moments, most involve Paolo Gucci, Aldo’s idiot son and the black sheep of the family, a character played so broadly and comically that, standing out from everyone else so much as he did, I assumed must actually have been that much of a buffoon, because it’d be too ridiculous otherwise. Only on checking the credits and discovering that he was played by Jared Leto, who I had 100% failed to recognise, did I think, “oh… !”, and begin to suspect the presence of an Acting Choice. I’ll grant that it’s an entertaining and committed performance, but it’s one that feels like it should be happening in another film entirely.
The accents are a mixed bag, too, but mostly a mix of bad, with Leto in particular always sounding like he’s only a step or two away from declaring, “it’s a-me, Mario!”. Jeremy Irons, it seems, is entirely incapable of an Italian accent, whereas Pacino, who’s otherwise very good in the film, is 50% Italian and 50% Jewish New Yorker, though the biggest issue I had with the accents is why they bothered with them at all – The Last Duel, which is set in France, has everyone doing, or at least attempting an English accent. They could all just use their real accents. We’d understand. Honestly.
Anyway, it’s still pretty entertaining, and worth watching for Gaga alone, just don’t imagine that it bears much resemblance to reality.
Kenneth Branagh’s latest film as a writer and director is Belfast, set in, checks notes, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1969, and while it’s not autobiographical, it’s certainly drawing heavily from his own experience as a lad during the “Troubles”, surely the most British way to describe what’s effectively a civil war.
It’s told through the eyes of Jude Hill’s Buddy, a nine year old in a working class Protestant family. His father, Jamie Dornan’s “Pa” works in the building trade in England to pay off a swingeing tax bill, leaving his wife, Caitríona Balfe’s “Ma” to raise Buddy and elder brother, Lewis McAskie’s Will, variously helped or hindered by Judi Dench’s “Granny” and Ciarán Hinds’s “Pop”, Buddy’s grandfather.
For a while at least, Buddy’s life and worries seem broadly in line with what you’d expect of a kid of his age – getting swept up in his friend Lara McDonnell’s Moira petty sweet shop theft schemes, struggling with his studies, being alternately bored and terrified by ranting preachers, and trying to get his crush, Olive Tennant’s Catherine to notice him, all of which is very charmingly told.
Less charming, of course, is rampant sectarianism, as a bunch of knuckle-dragging jackasses decide that Catholics are no longer welcome in majority Protestant areas and start to enforce that through violence, here mostly embodied though Colin Morgan’s Billy Clanton, who seeks to involve Buddy’s father in the violence.
This is a fault-line through which the other problems working class, poorer families of the era and location must struggle with, be that poor health, lack of prospects, or the heavy handed authority of the British Army that’s drafted in to police the place, doing as sensitive a job of it as you’d expect from the British Army in that sort of role, leading to the family’s decision to leave Belfast, as so many others did.
While there no shortage of darker themes and moments in Belfast, the framing of it through Buddy’s experience makes for a perhaps surprisingly upbeat and very funny movie, while not minimising or excusing the behaviour of those involved, which is a pretty delicate balancing act which Branagh has made look easy.
Just about the only thing Belfast does that I’m not a massive fan of is the occasional use of colour in what’s otherwise a black and white presentation – I get the intent, but it such an unsubtle technique in an otherwise subtle story that it’s jarring rather than charming. Could also have done without Van Morrison’s stylings, though, given his recent behaviour, but hindsight’s 20/20 I suppose.
That colour niggle aside, it looks great, has a clutch of great actors acting greatly, has charm to spare and is a funny, warm, empathetic look at a period that I feel really ought to come under more examination.
Does whatever a spider can
Spins a web, any size,
Catches thieves just like flies
Here comes the Spider-Man.
Is he strong?
He’s got radioactive blood.
Can he cut the running time?
No he can’t, unnecessarily long durations are apparently enshrined in law now or something
That needs some work because it doesn’t scan
There goes the Spider-Man.
Yes, I’m beating that drum again. I’ll stop when the problem does. Well, another Spider-Man film is with us, which picks up where Spider-Man: Far from Home left off, with JK Simmon’s J Jonah Jameson, now a full-on Alex Jones analogue, telling the world that Spidey killed Mysterio and that his identity is that of New York teenager Peter Parker.
This sees his life made a little complicated, not just because of the lack of privacy he now has but because a substantial number of people believe him to be a murderer, though this seems to mostly manifest in someone throwing some paint on him, and… ??? He, MJ and Ned all get arrested, but Daredevil turns up in his lawyer role and largely waves it all away. So that’s convenient. The one place that it does affect him is, though, is university applications, and he, MJ and Ned all fail to get in anywhere they applied, including their preference of MIT, because of their association with Spider-Man.
Peter, who the film almost goes to pains to show is a Tony Stark-like scientific super-genius and clearly needs to learn nothing, is upset, but especially for his friends, and seeks out a wizard to cast a spell for him, because wizards are a thing here, remember. Taking pity on Peter, Doctor Strange casts a spell so that the world will forget Spider-Man’s identity, but his irritation with and distraction by Peter’s many caveats and last-minute changes means he wizards wrong, and a hole is ripped in the multiverse, resulting in several villains who died fighting Spider-Man in previous films coming to this universe. More will likely follow, and the whole world is in peril again, which seems reasonable stakes for a film about an acrobatic teenager in a Lycra suit.
These villains are Doctor Octopus, the Green Goblin, Electro, Sandman and the Lizard, all played by the same actors as in their previous big screen outings, to varying degrees of success. Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe come out the best by far, managing to be both sinister and sympathetic. Rhys Ifans is a giant lizard and, fortunately, not much seen, which is all for the best, though when he is seen the creature design doesn’t look quite as ridiculous as it did in 2012, and Thomas Haden Church’s performance doesn’t go much beyond introducing himself to Spider-Man with, “it’s me, remember, Flint Marko”, as if Spider-Man might forget and confuse him with some other giant sand monster.
Electro, a terrible villain in 2014, is also terrible here, and also not at all the same character, because here Jamie Foxx is playing the role in a way that seems very Jamie Foxx, suggesting the tiresome presence of an actor’s ego in contract discussions. Sigh.
The wizard fella tasks Spidey with rounding up and dispatching these bad guys, but Spidey, being a kind and sensitive chap, decides he should help them all first instead, so uses his super-brain and some handy Stark Magical McGuffin Tech, along with some unexpected multi-armed assistance, to “cure” them all, before sending them back to universes where they’re all already dead… Hmmm. I suppose it’s the thought that counts.
Some people just don’t want to be helped, having fully embraced their villainy, but dammit, Spider-Man’s decided he’s going to cure them, and cure them he will whether they want it or not, this film not sending the best messages about self-acceptance and autonomy… This disagreement naturally leads to conflict, and it seems Spidey may be outmatched, but fortunately it wasn’t just bad guys who came through the big reality hole.
The excessive running time I mentioned in my introduction wasn’t as noticeable here as in many other films, perhaps because most of Spider_Man: No Way Home’s flab lies in the middle and the pace, and enjoyment, picks up considerably by the end, especially after the arrival of additional Spider-Men, but it’s still annoying, and continues to make me feel like editors no longer have any respect in Hollywood, or at least that their profession and purpose does not. The film could certainly do with any scene involving Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan being cut, plus all of the attempts at “comedy” rather than wit and humour, especially when at other times beloved characters are genuinely imperilled.
However, it’s still an enjoyable film, and a reasonable amount above the general baseline competency that most of the films in the MCU achieve, but it’s very much the least of the three Tom Holland Spider-Man films thus far (and may also be the last). As usual with these films, an advisory not to think too hard about it if you’re capable of such things, though here it’s mostly just in the denouement where things don’t make a heap of sense.
If you’ve not seen this yet but intend to, a quick PSA: there’s a mid-credits scene that’s worth staying a couple of minutes to watch, but the post-credits scene is literally just a trailer for the next Doctor Strange film, so do what Marvel can, or will, not, and respect your time by skipping that.
The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. France is also a foreign country, and they do things differently there too. So, imagine how differently they must have done things in medieval France, in the past. Speak English, for one, if Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel is to be believed, and it’s based on a true story, so why wouldn’t you believe it.
This is the story, told three ways from each of the principal participants’ viewpoint of the trial by combat of Matt Damon’s Sir Jean de Carrouges and Adam Driver’s Jacques Le Gris the latter of whom is accused of raping the former’s wife, Jodie Comer’s Marguerite de Carrouges.
Sir Jean is up first, a brave but foolhardy soul who falls on hard times after the Caroline War and struggles to pay his dues to Ben Affleck’s Count Pierre d’Alençon, although his former squire Jacques Le Gris does try and soften Pierre’s low opinion of Jean. Jean’s fortune improve after his marriage to the wealthy but disgraced de Thibouville family, but property squabbles with the count gifting land away from him to Le Gris starts a feud that bubbles along until, when Jean’s away fighting a disastrous campaign in Scotland, de Gris rapes Marguerite. When a capricious justice system yields typically skewed results, he opts for trial by combat.
The second part tells Le Gris’ side of the same story, but it’s the third part that truly packs the film’s wallop, as Marguerite experiences the harrowing rape in altogether too gruesome detail, but does hammer home how awful women were treated in this time period, literally property of their husbands. The duel itself also has a fair degree of wallops and hammering, and show that Ridley’s not forgotten the swords and sandals skills he’s picked up over the course of his career, in a film that arguably harkens back to his debut in 1977 with The Duellists.
Ridley Scott had some weird blame game thing going on about the relative commercial failure of this, something about millennials and mobiles, which had some serious old man shouts at cloud vibes, particularly in the middle of a virulent pandemic. No. It is the audiences who are wrong. I don’t really blame them for their apathy, it’s not that The Last Duel is a bad film, on any axis I care to think of, but it’s not a good one either. Rashomon in plate mail sounds like a winning formula, but the end result is just a bit drab.
Visually drab, in the main, which is most likely the “authentic” way to do things, and I have some respect for that, but it does wind up making the whole affair rather flatter than the drama of the story maybe deserves. Also, said story and characters seem to be chasing authenticity rather than interest, which, again, I have some respect for, but this is not a documentary, and much as it goes against every fibre of my being I do kind of wish this had leaned a bit more heavily into the soap opera aspect of the tale.
As it stands, oddly enough it’s maybe Ben Affleck that comes out of this the best, and certainly about a week on he’s the only character I remember with any life and vibrancy about him, or indeed the only character I remember full stop.
I’m certain there’s an audience for this that will really appreciate what it’s set out to do, but it’s much less of a fraction of the mainstream audience than Ridley Scott expected, apparently. I think it’s also fair to say that it’s a well enough made film that it deserves to have been given a chance by more of that audience, but again, virulent pandemic gonna virulent pandemic. I would say it’s worth giving this a look from the safety of your sofa now it’s started popping up on streaming services and even if it’s not the most entertaining film Ridley’s ever made, it will satisfy a more grounded sensibility. Three and a half out of five.
Do you remember Ghostbusters? Do you? Do you remember Ghostbusters? Jason Reitman, whose dad, Ivan, directed the first two films in the series, certainly does. It seems, though, that he’s afraid that you don’t, so he’s helpfully left many, many, many, many references to it in this latest instalment, and has even copied the final act more or less completely, all to make sure that you remember. Yes, I’m sure that’s why. I mean, it’s not just a cynical cash-grabbing soft reboot, right? Who in Hollywood would do such a thing? At no point at all while watching it was I reminded of The Force Awakens. Nuh-uh.
Strange, though, that what I guess was a family film (phantasmic fellatio aside) by marketing but at least a film for adolescents by tone should be so celebrated forty years later in a film very much aimed at kids, who have almost certainly never seen the original. Stranger still, that it should start with an old Egon being murdered by a demon, causing his dilapidated house and dirt farm to be left to his estranged daughter, whom he abandoned because he apparently became an arsehole.
Egon, it seems, was obsessed with a mine in the middle of Oklahoma, owned by Shandor Mining Company, because what Ghostbusters, a comedy film about some academics who become schlubby, blue-collar exterminators who accidentally saved the world, really needed was lore. His attempts at stopping this mine being the centre of another coming of Gozer seemingly failed with his death, but fortunately for the world his daughter is broke, so she’s forced to move to Oklahoma with her children, where they can find out what their grandfather was up to and stop all this ruckus.
This will involve visiting the mine, where we’re treated to lines supposed to show just what a scientific genius 12-year-old Phoebe, the film’s protagonist, is, like “how do you make steel beams from a semi-conductor like selenium?”, which just left me wondering how you make steel beams from anything at all that’s not steel, to resurrecting Ecto-1, strapping on a proton pack and destroying stuff, not being believed by the authorities, people being turned into demon dogs and then saving the world. And somehow the Ghostbusters will have collectively passed out of memory, with only Paul Rudd’s summer school teacher remembering them, and no-one seemingly aware of New York City being terrorised by a giant marshmallow man nor of the Statue of Liberty striding down its avenues. Ghosts, too, it seems only existed for a couple of years.
As I alluded to earlier, the saving the world bit is just the final act of the 1984 film done over, differentiating itself from that film in only two significant ways: 1) being emotional and sentimental, two words that apply to exactly 0% of the running time of the original, and which are exceedingly unnecessary and unwelcome here, and 2) continuing the deeply disturbing and unethical trend of literally raising the dead from the grave and representing them onscreen without their consent, something I only expect to get worse as technology gets better.
For all that, I did enjoy it for the most part, particularly the performance of McKenna Grace as Phoebe, which had worried me beforehand but is generally pretty engaging. Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd give reasonably entertaining performances, but beyond that? There’s a reason I’ve only named one character so far, and that’s because the film has only one character, and that’s Phoebe. It doesn’t do anything egregiously badly, save the irritating comedy sidekick, the self-monikered “Podcast”, who, in the way of all comedy sidekicks, is not funny and who you’ll want to see bloodily dismembered, and who you’ll inevitably be disappointed to see survive instead, and a wasted cameo from JK Simmons, which is always a crime.
It helps, I suspect, that I don’t have the original Ghostbusters on the same pedestal that so many seem to. Ghostbusters was, and is, a good film. I enjoy it. And that’s it: it’s not special, and it never was. And Ghostbusters: Afterlife is fine, but it just didn’t need to exist, and the potential reasons for it doing so seem at best misguided and at worst deeply cynical.
Thomasin McKenzie’s Ellie Turner’s move to London from rural Cornwall to study fashion design does not quite as well as she hoped. Initially that’s from the overwhelming assault of the big city and the assorted arseholes that find their way there, but she seems to get some respite from her unnecessarily bitchy classmates when she leaves the hall of residence and lodges with Diana Rigg’s Ms. Collins.
However, it turns out that this just swaps a world of mundane troubles for the supernatural. It seems that Ellie has already had previous form of seeing dead people, but only her much missed mother. The vibe of Ms. Collins place is decidedly different, with her dreams seemingly transporting her to inhabit the world of Anya Taylor-Joy’s Sandie.
Seems quite cool at first, Sandie being a supremely confident go-getter in the swinging sixties, a time period Ellie seems to have more in common with than the whatever adjective we decide to call the 2020’s. My choice would be sub-optimal.
However, Soho in the sixties has a notorious dark side, and it’s not long before Sandie falls into it, the man she trusted to help her singing career, Matt Smith’s Jack, soon turning into her pimp with her life spiralling downwards into what is apparently her murder.
In her waking hours, Ellie tries desperately to find out more about Sandie and her fate, earning her a great many side-eyes particularly when she starts having to dodge the faceless ghosts of the past that have started encroaching on her reality, leading, as often happens in this kind of thing to poorly evidenced accusations and an eventual reveal of the truth of things.
Wikipedia lists this as a psychological horror, and not for the first time Wikipedia is wrong, and I wish that it wasn’t. There’s a period where this does more or less fall in line with psychological horror and it works very well. Both Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are likeable and sympathetic in their own different ways, and Matt Smith has a blend of charisma and menace that almost made me stop thinking of him as Doctor Who. There’s also great supporting turns from Diana Rigg and Terence Stamp that adds to the mystery of it all.
However, and this will come as no surprise to anyone that’s heard out opinions on horror before, supernatural elements can do one, and there’s plenty of that in this, and by the time Ellie’s being chased around a library by what looks like dudes with tights over their faces this has gone over the cliffs into a chasm of unnecessary filler material.
Thankfully, there’s not quite enough of that nonsense in the back nine to completely spoil the good work done by the actors, which is arguably better than the script deserves, and when that’s put alongside director Edgar Wright’s traditional breakneck pacing and soundtrack choices, and stylish cinematography from Chung Chung-hoon, more known around these parts for his partnership with Park Chan-wook, well, there’s more than enough to hold my attention in Last Night in Soho, and I’m sure for anyone less philosophically opposed to horror films they’ll get even more out of it.
To sum up, minus five stars for putting Cilla Black in it.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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