Film

Everything Everywhere All at Once

13/05/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Cinematic multiverses seem to be coming thick and fast at the moment. No sooner has Dr Strange shuffled his way through one, then this arrives. Everything Everywhere All at Once is the sophomore effort from the directorial partnership known as ‘The Daniels.’ (I didn’t catch their debut, Swiss Army Man, but I know it has its followers.) EEAAO is currently receiving enthusiastic buzz and has already been garlanded with glowing reviews, but – though it undoubtedly has moments of genuine brilliance – it often feels as though the directors aren’t as in control of their concept as they ought to be.

Evelyn Wang (Michelle Yeoh) and her timid husband, Waymond (Ke Huy Quan), run a chaotic laundromat in Simi Valley, California. Evelyn isn’t happy with her life and she’s constantly at odds with her daughter, Joy (Stephanie Hsu), who is gay, something that Evelyn tries to hide from her father, Gong Gong (James Wang). The family are summoned to the IRS office where they are subjected to an interrogation by ruthless tax inspector, Deirdre Beaubeirdre (Jamie Lee Curtis). Evelyn has tried to claim a karaoke machine as a legitimate business expense and Deirdre isn’t at all happy.

It’s round about this point that Waymond reveals that he’s not actually who he seems, but a Waymond from an entirely different reality. He’s come here to try to prevent Evelyn from being destroyed by an evil entity who looks very like her own daughter.

It would be pointless to try to give any more plot details because from hereon in – as the title might suggest – what ensues is a breathless free-for-all, as Evelyn stumbles helplessly in and out of her various incarnations, acquiring skills along the way. One minute she’s a skilled martial artist, the next a trained chef, then she’s an opera singer and, in what must be the film’s most bizarre sequence, a lesbian with hot-dog sausages for fingers. Along the way, there are references to other movies – 2001: A Space Odyssey, In the Mood for Love and er… Ratatouille, to name but three.

But it’s an exasperating journey. One moment, I’m genuinely impressed by what I’m watching, the next I’m just… confused. Where are we? What’s happening?

Yeoh is splendid in what must be the most eccentric role-choice of her career, while Huy Quan (who has barely graced cinema screens for more than four decades) makes a decent fist of Waymond. It’s interesting to note that The Daniels did first consider Jackie Chan for this role (a kung-fu punch-up where Waymond uses a bumbag as a set of improvised nunchuks could have stepped right out of one of Chan’s films). There are some comedy sequences in the mix too, and the crowd at the screening I attend are laughing throughout.

But all too often if feels as though The Daniels are deliberately going for cheap shots. Another fight scene involving butt plugs and oversized dildos just feels exploitative – and do we really need to see Evelyn eating her father’s snot? Furthermore, with a running time of two hours and nineteen minutes, EEAAO definitely overstays it’s welcome.

This then, is the curate’s egg multiverse – good in parts, but occasionally indigestible.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

06/05/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Another Marvel, another Multiverse – and am I the only one who’s growing a little weary of this device? It worked wonders in the Spider-Man franchise, but can it do the same for my other old go-to comic favourite, Doctor Strange? Well possibly, but I have to admit the main thing that draws me to this is the presence of Sam Raimi in the director’s chair.

Raimi has released some great movies over the years: The Evil Dead and its super-charged sequels, as well as A Simple Plan and Drag Me to Hell – but it’s a while since he’s had a chance to strut his cinematic stuff. While he’s always been a director who dances to his own tune, can he successfully apply those considerable talents to Marvel’s famously constricting template?

The answer is, ‘sort of.’

DSITMOM starts, appropriately enough with a dream sequence, where Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) witnesses a twisted, evil version of himself attacking a teenage girl. But is it a dream? When, shortly afterwards, Strange encounters the girl in real life, she turns out to be America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who has the ability to travel across the multiverse with ease, though (rather conveniently) she doesn’t know how she does it. Or, for that matter, why. Nor can she explain why she’s being pursued by a giant one-eyed octopus. But hey, these things can happen, right?

Sensing that she’s in danger (no shit, Sherlock), Strange seeks help from Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), only to discover that she’s not going to be any help at all. Demented by the recent death of her partner and terrified she might lose the two children she loves so much (the ones who don’t actually exist), Wanda decides to steal America’s power for her own wicked ends, an action that will cause the girl’s death. (Incidentally, for someone who’s supposed to be a genius, Strange seems to be very adept at putting his foot in things. He’s the one who messed everything up in No Way Home – and now this.)

I’m not going to relate any more of the plot because, frankly, it’s as mad as a box of frogs (I suppose the title should have warned me), but the more important question is, can this nonsense hold together as a movie, and the answer is ‘just about.’ DSITMOM is essentially a series of frantic action set-pieces, loosely strung together. Though they are occasionally eye-popping and sometimes make me feel that I’ve inadvertently dropped a tab of acid, they never really gel into a convincing story arc.

Different versions of popular Marvel characters keep popping out of the woodwork and in many cases are actually killed, but because we know they’re not the real McCoy, there’s no real sense of threat here. Cumberbatch gets to portray several different Stephens, which was probably more fun for him than it proves to be for an audience. The parts that work best for me are the Sam Raimi moments, the few scenes where he’s allowed to employ the tropes of low budget horror – and of course there’s the inevitable cameo from Bruce Campbell, which is always welcome. But too often Raimi’s singular vision is swamped in the sturm und drang of state-of-the-art special effects.

Elsewhere, actors of the the calibre of Benedict Wong, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Patrick Stewart are called upon to utter some truly naff dialogue, courtesy of screenwriter Michael Waldron.

The usual post-credits sequence suggests that Strange will be even stranger in the next instalment, if and when it happens. The enthusiastic applause from the mainly teenage audience at the end of this screening suggests that I may well be in the minority here.

Doctor Strange (and possibly Mr Raimi) will be back. Watch this space.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Happening

03/05/22

The Cameo, Edinburgh

Happening – or L’événement – is a harrowing tale, directed by Audrey Diwan and based on author Annie Ernaux’s experience of an unwanted pregnancy. It’s 1963, and the students at Angoulême university are preparing for their exams. It’s hot and hormones are running wild, but sex is a shameful, clandestine activity, and ‘getting caught’ is every girl’s nightmare.

When Anne (Anamaria Vartolomei)’s period is late, she knows exactly what it means. She faces a stark choice: have a baby and forsake her dreams of a career in academia, or have an abortion, thus risking imprisonment or death. She’s a clever girl, destined for great things. She can’t bear to see her future curtailed; she’s not ready to be a mother. But procuring a termination proves punishingly difficult.

This is a hard film to watch. Vartolomei is compelling in the lead role, and her desperate isolation really strikes a chord. Poor Anne! No woman should have to go through such troubles alone. The ‘father,’ Maxime (Julien Frison), is useless. He’s more worried about what his friends think of Anne than he is about her plight. What does she want him to do? Nothing, she tells him. She’ll manage by herself – just as she has throughout this ordeal. Because there’s no one who can help. Not her mum (Sandrine Bonnaire); she’s so proud of her brainy daughter – how can Anne face disappointing her? Not her best friends (Luàna Bajrami and Louise Orry-Diquéro) – she can’t make them complicit because they’d face gaol time too. Not her doctor – he’s definitely not on her side. So Anne is utterly, irrevocably, unbearably alone.

She does find a way, of course. Women do. This is why banning abortion is nothing more than an act of wanton cruelty. Unwanted pregnancies don’t miraculously become wanted ones; women’s lives just get harder. Anne has to skulk in the shadows, begging for help from people she barely knows, hoping against hope they don’t betray her. And, when she does – finally – find someone who can assist her, she has to sell everything she owns to fund the procedure.

Meanwhile, Maxime’s still frolicking on the beach with his pals, his life untouched.

It makes me angry, watching this at the same time as Roe V Wade is under fire in the USA. We know what happens when women can’t access legal, safe abortions: they die. The Supreme Court is attacking women’s basic human rights, condemning thousands to suffer. How dare they?

Happening‘s release is a timely reminder of what we stand to lose. Although it’s set in the 1960s, it doesn’t have the feel of a period drama: the fashions are neutral, the obviously contemporary details restricted to the music and the law. This lends the film an immediacy: this issue isn’t just an historical one.

Laurent Tangy’s cinematography captures the oppressive summer heat, the bleached colours reminding us of time’s inexorable progress. As the weeks unfold and Anne approaches the point of no return, the impulse to look away becomes almost irresistible.

And yet we can’t. We mustn’t. Because Anne doesn’t have that luxury.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

23/04/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

As most cinema-goers will testify there are actually two Nicholas Cages. One of them is the skilled actor who won an Oscar for Leaving Last Vegas and starred in a whole string of superior action movies like Face/Off and Con Air. Then there’s his more recent incarnation, the wild-eyed weirdo who seems happy to turn up for any old film, so long as there’s a pay cheque and a handy chainsaw. Unfortunately, we’ve been seeing rather too much of the latter Cage over the past few years.

TUWOMT takes this basic idea and runs with it, creating something that’s both incredibly meta and perfectly happy to hold the long-cherished values of Hollywood up to ridicule. Sometimes, a great idea comes from out of the blue and, luckily, director/writer Tom Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten managed to persuade Cage to sign on for this bizarre project, because it really couldn’t have worked without him. The result is one of the most immensely likeable movies I’ve seen in quite a while.

Actor ‘Nick Cage’ is on his uppers. He’s starred in a few too many stinkers and has failed to land the role he thinks might change his career for the better. He’s getting desperate – and it doesn’t help that his younger alter ego, ‘Nicky Coppola,’ keeps popping out of the woodwork to berate him for forgetting that he’s a film star first and an actor second. Meanwhile, he’s living in a hotel (where he owes $600,000 in back rent), he’s divorced from his long-suffering wife, Olivia (Sharon Horgan), and he’s rapidly losing the affection of his teenage daughter, Addy (Lily Mo Sheen).

When Cage’s agent, Richard (Neil Patrick Harris), mentions that Nick has just been offered a million dollars to attend a birthday party in Mallorca, he reluctantly accepts and is whisked off to the mansion of Javi Guttierrez (Pedro Pascal). Javi is Nick’s number one fan and has a collection of Cage-related movie memorabilia to prove it. He’s also written a screenplay that he wants Nick to star in. Awkward.

Almost before you can draw a breath, events start to pile in from the wings. CIA operative Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) informs Nick that Javi is a dangerous criminal who may just have kidnapped the daughter of a prominent anti-corruption politician. She wants Nick to work with her to find out where the girl has been hidden. It doesn’t help that he and Javi are getting along like a house on fire, sharing an affection for great films like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and er… Paddington 2. Oh, and one other thing. They’re planning to write a screenplay together…

If this is starting to sound distinctly unhinged, that’s exactly what TUWOMT is all about, but it’s crazy like a fox. There’s something infectiously funny about the idea of undermining the pomposity of Hollywood and Cage never holds back, investing his character – himself – with a whole raft of pretentious interests and self-destructive urges. He doesn’t actually play his part for laughs but attacks it with genuine acting skill and the film is all the funnier for it.

He and Pascal cook up a fine old bromance amidst the mayhem and, as their planned screenplay develops, so the film hurtles breathlessly from one set-piece to the next. Amidst the resulting onslaught of shoot-outs and car chases, there really isn’t time to stop for a moment and consider how unlikely it all is, but it hardly matters. While TUWOMT is unlikely to feature on future lists of ‘the best Nicolas Cage Movies of all time,’ it’s nonetheless a hoot from start to finish.

And it’s also proof that Paddington 2 – awarded a full 5 stars here on B&B – is one of the greatest films ever made.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Northman

19/04/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

It seems suspiciously like fate. Here I am – only just returned from a week in Shetland, where I’ve been researching Vikings – and this film is waiting for me at the local cineplex. Of course I have to see it. I can’t not see it. But I have some reservations. For one thing, despite the film’s almost indecent rash of five star reviews, I haven’t been exactly enamoured by Robert Egger’s previous offerings, The Witch and (more especially) The Lighthouse, both of which felt like cases of style over content.

It’s clear from the get-go, that The Northman is a big step up for Eggers (who co-wrote the screenplay with Sjon). His evocation of Viking life is vividly painted in freshly-spilled viscera across a massive landscape. The world-building here is dirty, ugly and thoroughly convincing. In the opening scenes, we meet young Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak), welcoming his father, King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke), back from his conquests. Amleth’s mother, Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman), is rather less welcoming and the reason for that soon becomes clear. She has secretly allied with Aurvandil’s brother, Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who is determined to kill Aurvandil and his son, and take Gudrún as his wife.

If the story seems familiar, it ought to. The ancient Scandinavian legend of Amleth is the tale that initially inspired Shakespeare to write Hamlet.

Amleth manages to escape from the bloody mutiny and, when next we meet him, he’s grown into a thoroughly buff Alexander Skarsgård, who, adopted by another tribe, has become a fully-fledged wolf warrior, a berserker. An ensuing battle sequence leaves no femur unshattered, no skull uncleft. Those viewers who wince at bloody violence may prefer to avoid this film at all costs – or spend a lot of time looking away from the screen.

Amleth learns that his uncle Fjölnir has had his stolen kingdom taken from him and has been exiled to Iceland, where he’s attempting to make a new life for himself as a sheep farmer. Gudrún has gone with him and Amleth knows that he must follow. So he disguises himself as a slave (by first branding his chest with a hot coal) and stows aboard a boat taking a consignment of workers over to Fjölnir. On the hazardous journey across the ocean, he meets up with Olga of the Birch Forest (Anya Taylor-Joy), a self-professed earth witch, and quickly falls under her spell.

But can this new love quell the thirst for vengeance that has consumed him since childhood?

The Northman is by no means perfect. It’s at its best when depicting the savage lifestyle of the Vikings and I also love the hallucinatory images that often flood the screen, particularly Amleth’s repeated visions of the legendary Tree of Yggdrasill, where family members are suspended like ripening fruit from its entwined branches. There’s also a spectacular Valkerie ride that carries me headlong to Valhalla.

Kidman, though initially underused, does get one scene that puts an entirely different spin on circumstances and makes me appreciate why she’s a director’s go-to for so many difficult roles. I would also have liked to see more of Willem Dafoe who, as Heimar the Fool, has clearly been drafted in to fill the Yorrick-shaped hole in the piece.

If I have a criticism, it’s simply that the age-old theme of revenge offers little in the way of surprise – indeed, there’s one point in the film’s later stages that seems to offer a braver and less conventional solution to Amleth’s torture, should he be man enough to take it – but, perhaps inevitably, it’s thrown aside and our rugged hero goes back to the well-worn path he’s always been destined to tread. Which makes the final fiery confrontation a little underwhelming.

Still, there’s no doubt that this is Eggers’ most assured film thus far – and I’m definitely interested to see where he goes next.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Hermit of Treig

14/04/22

Mareel, Lerwick, Shetland

When we book our tickets for the The Hermit of Treig, it seems very fitting: we’ll be watching a documentary about a recluse living in a remote Scottish location, while we’re in a remote Scottish location! Such perfect symmetry! And it’d be a good idea, if it weren’t for the fact that Mareel – despite being the UK’s most northerly music, cinema and creative industries centre – doesn’t feel remote at all. It’s a bustling, vibrant place, and the Thursday evening showing is all but sold out.

Not that we’re complaining. We feel right at home. (In fact, Mareel is very much like HOME, one of our favourite Manchester venues). We sit in the sun-soaked, glass-walled bar for an hour before showtime, sipping beer and Prosecco, enjoying the buzz. The staff are friendly and the place pristine. It’s a real find.

And Lizzie MacKenzie’s debut film is a find too. She’s spent ten years following Ken Smith, the eponymous hermit. And, over those years, a real friendship seems to have emerged. He may have turned his back on civilisation, but he’s an amiable sort: chatty and engaging and happy to share his musings.

When he was twenty-six, Ken was viciously attacked, and suffered a brain haemorrhage as a result. His doctors feared he would never speak or walk again. But Ken pulled through and, as soon as he was well enough, he set off to live his life on his own terms. He went to Canada and lived wild in Yukon for a few years, before returning to the UK and heading north to Scotland. He walked the length and breadth of the country he says, before finally deciding to stay put near Loch Treig. And this is where the young film-maker finds him, living off-grid in a home-made wooden cabin, far far from any beaten track, foraging for food and revelling in his splendid isolation.

It’s a lovingly crafted film, with a tender heart; it’s easy to see why MacKenzie won the audience award at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival. It’s not just the cinematography (MacKenzie’s) and photography (Smith’s) that dazzle with their natural beauty; the documentary shimmers with kindness and humanity too. Ken is seventy-two years old now. He’s not as strong as he was. He’s had a stroke. How long will he be able to manage?

It’s heart-warming to see the local (okay, local-ish) community rally round. Everyone’s so respectful of Ken’s way of life. They try to help him, but they don’t dictate; they don’t attempt to change him. And Ken’s pretty accepting too: hopeful that he’ll be able to continue living independently in his beloved hut, but pragmatic about the possibility that he might not.

There are some gaps in the narrative that I’d like explained. Is Ken allowed to just build a home in the woods? How does he get his photographs developed? What was the story behind his first cabin being destroyed? There are tantalising hints at avenues left unexplored.

Still, just like Mareel, The Hermit of Treig isn’t what we expect. And, like Mareel, that’s absolutely a good thing.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

True Things

07/04/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Kate (Ruth Wilson) has reached a difficult point on life’s highway. 

She’s somewhere in her thirties and struggling to hold down a thankless job at a benefits office in Ramsgate, where her customers seem to specialise in hurling abuse at her. She has no significant other in her life, no real interests and spends much of her free time gazing wistfully at exotic locations on her computer screen. Her work colleague, Alison (Hayley Squires), is trying to hook her up with one of her male friends, telling her that she needs to start playing the field if she doesn’t want to be a spinster all her life – while Kate’s mum (Elizabeth Rider) criticises her daughter’s ‘difficult nature,’ which – apparently – makes her come across badly to others. Kate’s dad (Frank McCusker) just seems obsessed with giving her home-grown vegetables from his allotment.

It’s clear that Kate is badly in need of new horizons – and things change dramatically when she conducts an interview with ‘Blond’ (Tom Burke), a handsome stranger, who freely admits to having done time in prison and cheekily wants to know if she’s free for lunch later on.

Against all better judgement, Kate accepts the invitation and shortly thereafter finds herself engaged in frantic sex in a high rise car park. To say that she’s smitten by Blond would be something of an understatement. She becomes instantly obsessed with him, unable to function properly when he’s not there, constantly waiting for a call or a text or… something. 

The trouble is, Blond is in complete control of this dangerous liaison and careful to give nothing away about his situation or his intentions. As viewers, we learn as little about him as Kate does. He’s an enigma and a pretty toxic one at that. It’s crystal clear that, if Kate cannot break the powerful hold he has on her, she is destined for heartbreak.

Harry Wootliff’s powerful little film is a veritable powder keg of longing, a symphony of doomed ambition. It’s as much a meditation on the theme of loneliness as it is an examination of the powerful pull of sexuality. Wilson is terrific here, offering yet another of her bruised outsiders struggling to survive the vagaries of life. She takes Kate through a maelstrom of subjugation until she finally seizes agency on a Spanish dance floor, thrashing ecstatically around to the sound of PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me

Burke, meanwhile, makes me understand exactly why Kate is in Blond’s thrall, even when he’s being obnoxiously vague about his intentions or heartlessly exploiting her utter devotion to him. He is powerfully charismatic. The film is essentially a two-hander, with an underused Squires doing the best she can with the thankless role of Alison.

It could be argued that True Things is relentlessly one-note, but if that’s the case, then it’s a note played with utter perfection by skilled artists. The characters here feel absolutely genuine and the slow-burn, languorous atmosphere is further intensified by Ashley Connor’s woozy cinematography, which often depicts events in an out of focus haze. A scene where Kate reels drunkenly around at a house party almost has me reaching for the alka seltzer. Furthermore, there’s a delicious duality to what’s depicted onscreen. I’m not always certain that scenes I’ve just watched have actually happened or are simply imaginings plucked from within Kate’s troubled head-space 

This could easily be annoying but, in the case of True Things, it gives the film added depth.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

28/03/22

Disney +

The Eyes of Tammy Faye never made it to ‘a cinema near us,’ despite being relentlessly trailed. Still, as previously documented, we’ve signed up to Disney+ for a short spell, thanks to their dastardly decision not to release Turning Red anywhere else – and the presence of Tammy Faye on the platform makes us slightly less aggrieved about it.

Michael Showalter’s film works just fine on the small screen; it’s about TV after all: an intimate biopic of one of the USA’s most infamous televangelists, based on a documentary by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. After hosting a successful Christian puppet show for their local channel, Tammy Faye (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield), co-founded The PTL Club in 1974, and soon found they had a TV hit on their hands. By 1978, they were ready to embark on a new money-making project: a Christian theme park called Heritage USA, all funded by their fans/parishioners – or ‘partners’ as they referred to them.

The couple’s finances burgeoned along with their popularity, and they were soon splashing the cash, luxuriating in fur coats and art-filled mansions. Tammy gained notoriety for her outspoken support for the LGBT community, and particularly HIV/AIDS sufferers. Other high-profile evangelists disapproved of her convictions, but Tammy’s public preaching of love and acceptance made a real difference to the popular discourse. Jim, on the other hand, was causing controversy in other ways, and – in 1989 – found himself convicted on several counts of fraud and conspiracy, and was imprisoned for his crimes.

If Tammy is a woman of contradictions (and she is), then so is the film. There are some glorious sequences (the final rendition of Hallelujah, for example, and Tammy’s disarming approach to a group of teenage hoodlums poking fun at her). But there are also glaring omissions. The couple’s early path to local TV is never shown, and Richard’s extra-marital dalliances and abuses – both hetero and homosexual – are only tangentially referred to. Of course, we are seeing things through Tammy’s eyes, as the title makes clear, but her ignorance means that we miss some of the most compelling aspects of the tale.

Make no mistake, Chastain is exceptional in the titular role: this is a truly stellar performance. Her Tammy is a wonderfully appealing woman, a heady mix of strength and vulnerability, naïvety and nouse. Even when she’s ridiculous – with her tattooed make-up and desperate smile – she’s somehow dignified and commands respect. Chastain pulled the Oscar for this last night, and it’s not hard to see why.

Still, a perfect performance doesn’t always equate to a perfect film, and this one sadly falls short.

3.7 stars

Susan Singfield

The Worst Person in the World

26/03/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

I have to confess to an almost total ignorance of Norwegian cinema before the good word-of-mouth for Joachim Trier’s latest film prompts me to give it a try.

The Worst Person in the World is a rare beauty, a picaresque tale of life and love in contemporary Oslo, built around a superb, award-winning performance by Renate Reinsve. She’s Julie, who, when we first encounter her, is a medical student, bored by the reality of slicing up bodies and fast coming to the conclusion that’s she’s chosen the wrong subject.

Shortly thereafter, she breaks up with her boyfriend, decides to study psychology instead, and then jumps ship again in favour of a photography course.

Until she starts dabbling with writing…

Fast approaching her thirtieth birthday, Julie realises that, despite all her best endeavours, she still doesn’t have a game plan for the future and, when she meets acclaimed comic artist, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie), the two of them hit it off immediately. Soon they’re sharing an apartment. But Aksel is older than her and already talking about the possibility of starting a family. Julie appreciates she’s supposed to want that too, but is painfully aware that she still hasn’t found her own path.

And then one night, she skips out of a dull launch for Aksel’s latest book and recklessly crashes a stranger’s wedding party, where she has a chance encounter with Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), an easygoing barista. The two of them share their darkest secrets and Julie begins to realise, to her dismay, that she is falling for him…

If this all sounds like something you’ve seen a thousand times before, don’t be misled. TWPITW, co- written by Trier with Eskil Vogt, is a multi-faceted creation. Broken down into a kind of visual novel, it’s related in twelve ‘chapters,’ along with a prologue and an epilogue. The film positively buzzes with invention – from the magical scene where Julie runs through an Oslo where every other character is frozen into immobility to a weird magic mushroom experience at a house party – and on to a conclusion that is both heart-breaking yet, somehow, life-affirming. It’s all brilliantly paced and thoroughly entertaining. An eclectic soundtrack featuring a whole variety of performers only adds to the ‘whatever next?’ atmosphere.

I love the fact that Julie is an unreliable character, struggling to find her way in the world. Is she the ‘Worst Person’ of the title? Well, it’s actually Aksel who uses the phrase, but he’s referring to himself when he says it. But really he’s just a little out of touch in a world where all his long-held views are increasingly perceived as controversial. And Julie isn’t terrible either; she just wants to find her own identity and won’t settle for anything less.

This feels uncannily like real life, with all its messy complications, many of which can never be resolved, only put down to the twisted trials of human experience.

It’s hard to remember a film that has nailed the convoluted path to maturity with such absolute conviction. If you’re tired of the conventional (and happy to read subtitles), The Worst Person in the World may be just the cinematic experience you’ve been waiting for. However you feel about this film, I’m pretty confident you won’t be bored by it.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney

Turning Red

24/03/22

Disney +

The House of Mouse’s decision to release all new Pixar films directly to their in-house streaming service seems incredibly short-sighted – and not just because this is a time when cinemas are really struggling to tempt viewers back into seats. Mostly, it’s because the gorgeous animation that exemplifies Pixar is made to be shown on the biggest screens available. However, Disney seem not for turning, so it’s time to renew that monthly subscription.

Turning Red is set in Toronto in 2002 . Meilin (Rosalie Chiang) is thirteen years old, a good girl who excels as a scholar and spends most of her spare time helping her domineering Mother, Ming (Sandra Oh), to run the family temple, a place dedicated to their illustrious ancestor, Sun Yee. Meanwhile, Meilin’s father, Jin (Orion Lee), cooks up some amazing food. In scenes that could have come straight from a Studio Ghibli feature, his dishes are enough to make this reviewer’s mouth water.

With her three bosom buddies, Miriam (Ava Morse), Priya (Maitreyi Remakrishnan) and Abby (Hyein Park), Meilin is a fan of the hot new boy band, 4*Town. She also discovers, to her dismay, that she’s developing a crush on handsome local store clerk, Tyler (Tristran Allerick Chen), who she has always professed to hate. She is hurtling headlong towards puberty and the resulting rush of hormones has an unfortunate effect on Meilin. She finds herself suddenly transforming into a giant red panda at the most inopportune moments (although I’m not sure when would be a good time). This is the result of an ancient transformation that every young woman of her family must undergo.

It can be cured, Ming assures her daughter, but not until a month has passed. Awkward.

And then news reaches Meilin that 4*Town are going to be performing at a huge concert in Toronto and she and her friends know that, whatever else comes or goes, they will have to be there in order to ‘become women.’ So how are they ever going to raise the hefty price of admission?

From the outset it’s clear that Pixar, already the most innovative of animation studios, is setting out to walk a path where no other cartoon makers have dared to venture. The Red Panda is clearly a metaphor, standing in for the turmoil and confusion of adolescence – the film even manages to cover the subject of menstruation without raising so much as an eyebrow. All credit to director Domee Shi, who has clearly used her own youth in Canada as inspiration for the story, co-writing the screenplay with Julia Cho and Sarah Streicher. Hats off also to songwriters Billie Eilish and Finneas, who manage to capture the vapid tosh that is 4*Town’s music with ease.

This is a gorgeous film, all about the power of womanhood and the healing properties of friendship. The fact that it’s wrapped up in a pretty parcel of jaw-dropping animation doesn’t dilute its message one jot – and the climactic showdown at the 4*Town arena concert – where events begin to feel a little like Pandazilla – brings everything to a suitably powerful conclusion.

Even on our modest screen at home this looks dazzling, so how it would have looked on IMAX can only be wistfully imagined.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney