This is Episode 41 of the Ready, Steady, Cut! Podcast, and you can listen or download it here. On this episode, with the upcoming release of Transformers: The Last Knight, we discuss the Transformers Franchise from start to finish and the impact it has had on the film industry. Jonathon’s partner guest appears on this episode in her podcasting debut
It’s hard to explain the appeal of the Sniper Elite series. It’s one of those gaming guilty pleasures that sounds faintly perverse written down, and utterly ludicrous spoken out loud. Not that there’s anything particularly unusual about sniping in games; almost all shooters have at least one rifle, and many have whole stretches of gameplay that are dedicated to nothing but long-range marksmanship. The sniping in and of itself, though, isn’t the appeal of Sniper Elite. Things would be so much easier if it were. But, no, there’s something else that differentiates this series from other sneaky-stabby-shooty third-person games, and it’s that psychotic slow-motion X-Ray view that lets you see all the catastrophic internal trauma you’re inflicting on your victims.
Seems an odd thing to be into, doesn’t it? Certainly wouldn’t sit well around the office water cooler or the in-law’s dinner table, and you get the sense that Rebellion, the game’s developers, probably recognise this. Which, I assume, is why they continue to set the series in World War II, despite having exhausted every major theatre of the conflict. You need Nazis for this kind of thing. These games have such a throbbing stiffy for lovingly-detailed exploding organs that it would be uncomfortable if your bullets were tunnelling through the brainpans of anyone else. But killing Nazis is always guilt-free. In the context of taking on a xenophobic imperialist war-machine, it’s actually pretty satisfying to watch precisely how much irreparable damage each bullet is inflicting on the Third Reich. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.
For Honor imagines an alternate Middle Ages in which medieval knights, Vikings and samurai all live within about five minutes of each other, which funnily enough is the kind of world I’ve imagined for so long that I feel as though I should be getting royalties from this. I’d be doing pretty well for myself, too. For Honor has shifted a remarkable number of copies considering it’s a multiplayer-focused duelling simulator. I suppose even for adults there’s an implicit desire to find out which of your favourite historical warriors are the hardest. It’s a timeless argument that has its roots somewhere in kids insisting that their dad can beat their mate’s dad in a straight fight. That idea has a lot of legs. For Honor is a franchise waiting to happen, really. Maybe the sequel will explain where all the pirates went.
One of the first things For Honor asks you to do is choose which faction to belong to. I selected the Vikings because I feel as though my life has a lot less raping and pillaging than I’d like, but it turns out the choice only applies to multiplayer, and that regardless of who you choose to align with you can play as whoever you like, thus rendering the choice utterly meaningless. I’m glad I agonised over it for half an hour, because it isn’t as though I have anything else to be doing.
Somewhere in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, there’s a Guy Ritchie movie. You can see it, occasionally. For two or three scenes, the FX-leaden sky peels open just enough to let a glimmer of light shine through; and with it comes personality, comes style, comes wit and verve. Ritchie has reimagined the Arthurian legend as a deliberately anachronistic working-class Cockney Herbert soap opera, and when this movie is allowed to be that, and only that, it’s great. The trouble is that two or three scenes in a two-hour movie don’t amount to very much. The rest of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword could have been made by anyone. And it’ll probably displease everyone.
Not that it’s bad, necessarily. But there are worse crimes in blockbuster fantasy filmmaking, especially since Game of Thrones colonised the murky stratum of swashbuckling that this movie lives in. Legend of the Sword might not be bad, but it is rote, derivative, listless and uninteresting. Which is quite a feat, considering the opening scene contains a 300-foot CGI elephant. The movie leans so heavily against its visual effects that it’s a surprise the thing didn’t topple over and flatten the rest of the movie.
In Snatched, Amy Schumer plays Emily Middleton. Emily Middleton is, for all intents and purposes, Amy Schumer, or at least the on-stage-and-screen persona that she continues to exploit. Like most popular big-screen comic performers, Schumer is dedicated to consistency. She doesn’t play characters; she plays herself, dialled up or down, or, in the case of this movie, flatlining.
This is the problem with all Schumer’s film and television projects, and, to a lesser extent, her stand-up. The humour is reflexively defensive. She’s flaunting her perceived inadequacies before her critics do. She taps into veins of sexual openness, body positivity, and shamelessness, but to close herself down, not open those subjects up. I know what I am, so you don’t need to tell me. But who wants to tell her, these days? Schumer has been at the forefront of popular culture for years. People either like her, or they don’t. Those who pay to see her on stage and at the movies aren’t interested in wielding her weight, or her appearance, or her bedroom proclivities, as weapons. She’s baring her fangs, but nobody is attacking. The awkwardness isn’t hers – it’s the audience’s.
In my house, waking up is often an issue. But in Phillip Guzman’s Dead Awake, it’s a death sentence. The characters in this movie are all afflicted by sleep paralysis, the phenomenon in which the dreamer’s mind awakens but their body remains immobilized. It happens to most people, once or twice. It happened to eight of them in Rodney Ascher’s quasi-documentary, The Nightmare, from 2015, which was scarier and more interesting than this. It didn’t need a conceit, either, whereas Dead Awake has a particularly dumb one. It suggests that the paralysis is courtesy of a demonic hag, who climbs atop you and strangles you while you sleep. Or while you don’t sleep, maybe. It’s kind of unclear.
You can see the first major problem with Dead Awake, I’m sure: It takes an inherently frightening premise and runs it through the genre wringer. The real-life condition is often accompanied by scarily-lifelike hallucinations; sinister visitors and suffocation. But nobody is boring enough to envision their supernatural nemesis as yet another long-haired, jump-cutting ghoul. This one crawls down stairs, along hallways, through doors, up and onto beds and sofas. But the movie’s terrible FX and stale direction have the whole production move at a similar pace. Dead Awake drags itself around, and when it stops long enough for you to focus on it, you realise how ugly it is.
Ah, it’s another one of those movies.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mean Colossal is in any way typical or familiar – quite the contrary, actually. It’s genre material, sure, but it’s just about the smartest, most interesting thing anyone has done with a kaiju movie in an awfully long time. No, what I mean is that it’s another one of those movies – the ones I can’t properly fucking review because their enjoyment is so heavily predicated on a big plot reveal and, more generally, a sense of surprise at almost every tonal shift and actorly flourish.
The problem, then, is that my role here is to churn out reasonably substantive reviews, and I can’t do that without giving away some of the stuff that makes Colossal one of the best movies of the year so far. So, just take these two paragraphs as a flat-out, unequivocal recommendation. Go and see this movie. And if you have any interest in doing so completely unspoiled (and, make no mistake, that’s the best way of seeing it) then don’t read any further into this review.