Meewella | Critic

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Tag: John Powell

QuickView: Don’t Worry Darling (2022)

Don't Worry Darling

“All they ask of us is to stay here. Where it’s safe.”

Bunny

After the excellent Booksmart, I had high hopes for Olivia Wilde’s sophomore directorial outing. Sadly, despite its panache, Don’t Worry Darling proves to be a shallow and often repetitive thriller that believes itself to be smarter than it is. The setup is a suitably surreal take on 1960s American suburbia where, like The Stepford Wives, something is palpably wrong. The leads’ idyllic relationship, with excellent performances from Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, is the film’s strength, Wilde’s direction providing eroticism through touch rather than nudity. As Alice becomes increasingly unsettled, the sound mix buzzes around uncomfortably like an insect, reflecting her mental state. Reflections are also a neat visual flourish, with several occasions where mirrors act impossibly. Third act twists are dangerous as they risk alienating an audience and Don’t Worry Darling manages the double sin of being entirely obvious with half of its conceit and entirely out of leftfield with the other. The result is an unsatisfying and disjointed reveal that leaves too little time to explore its ramifications. Chris Pine’s antagonist is overtly based on Jordan Peterson, particularly his obsession with order and chaos, and natural heirarchies, yet the film is content to make this allusion without attempting to debunk or even engage with his ideas. This is the film’s ultimate failure, which is that it never delves beneath the surface in any of its ideas, from cult programming to traditional gender roles to the broader concepts like satisfaction with our reality. There is far more to be gleaned from films with lesser ambitions like The Master or Martha Marcy Mae Marlene.

4/10

Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.

QuickView: Locked Down (2021)

“It’s lockdown: nobody knows what day it is, let alone the date.”

Paxton

With an impressively swift turnaround, released just nine months after the UK went into COVID-19 lockdown, Locked Down could have been an excellently observed comedy about the shared experiences of the preceding year but is undone by a weak script and an unnecessary and contrived “heist”. The focus on a recently separated couple provides an added layer of hostility to an already strained environment, with Doug Liman making some creative visual choices like deliberately poor framing to reflect off-centre webcams and leaning into video freezes and lag. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as the furloughed and depressed Paxton is the film’s highlight, coping poorly with the breakup yet witty and theatrical as he orates poetry to his neighbours. The script’s observations are more blunt than profound (“people like me who have spent some time in real prison are thriving in this new reality”) and its privileged tone can become unpleasant at times. As its focus shifts to opportunistic theft, Locked Down‘s relatability and competence plummet further.

4/10

QuickView: How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019)

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World quad poster

“It’s you and me, bud. Always.”

Hiccup

I don’t think I have felt so bittersweet about ending a trilogy since The Lord of the Rings concluded 15 years ago but, fittingly, at its heart the final film is about letting go. Unlike Pixar’s recent string of sequels, Dreamworks Animation is driven more by storytelling than cashing in on nostalgia (writer/director Dean DeBlois conceived the second and third films together), although there are wonderful flourishes that refer back to original film through dialogue, through actions, and through the score. Building these characters over the course of a decade allows for emotion to be conveyed subtly, like a silent gaze from Astrid as she realises how her adherence to values of traditional masculinity unintentionally hurts Hiccup. Viking society continues to provide an excellent backdrop against which to explore modern notions of masculinity (as in the underrated Norsemen TV series), particularly as Hiccup shoulders new burdens as chief. Although the discovery of a female “Light Fury” is the inciting incident that takes the whole village of Berk on the move, the changing relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is the real focus. The swashbuckling action is impressive and keeps the energy high but it rarely feels as compelling as spending time with the characters from Berk, leaving the dragon-poaching subplot often feeling like a distraction (or, more likely, a concession to viewers new to the franchise). These movies have always excelled in presenting majestic vistas and here the exceptional eye for detail is kicked up a notch, in a few places the realism of the environments even making the stylised characters seem a little out of place. Overall this is a delightfully satisfying conclusion that, although lacking the freshness of its predecessors, still retains their magic.

8/10

Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.

QuickView: Solo (2018)

“Stick to the plan. Do NOT improvise.”

Beckett

Beckett’s order may as well have been Disney’s diktat. No one was asking for a Han Solo origin story and, with the beloved character already so well fleshed out by the original trilogy, it is hard to see this as much more than a cash grab. When directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were ousted from the project, it seemed the writing was on the wall. Ron Howard stepped in and opted to reshoot three quarters of the film, the requisite for a solo credit. Although the result is actually better than I had feared — with a competently told and occasionally rousing heist tale — like JJ Abrams, Howard plays entirely safe within Star Wars universe. Solo moves at pace so that, as with Rogue One, little time is spent fleshing out the characters, and the only performances that stand out are Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and Donald Glover’s young Lando (an origin story that would have been far more appealing). The film’s strongest element may be John Powell’s score, which plays liberally with a theme by John Williams. Ultimately Solo‘s bland result is another strong argument for seeking out new stories to tell in this expansive universe rather than rehashing the past ad infinitum.

6/10

Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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