But while I wrote those reviews, I found myself completely stuck on blank pages for Raya and the Last Dragon, Peter Rabbit 2 and Nobody. No matter how hard I tried or how many pieces of go-to writing music I plugged in through Spotify, nothing was coming.
I had this problem last year when everything shut down. Movies were still coming out on streaming services, but I had no energy whatsoever to write about them. That seemed fair because, you know, the world effectively stopped turning. I found myself having more initiative to watch older films I had always put off, diving headlong into a three week binge of all 30 of Akira Kurosawa’s films; some excellent, some dull, all fascinating.
But now, things are relatively, in Australia at least, back to normal. I comfortably went to two packed screenings in a week, and there are no restrictions on cinema seating. The new and big movies are rolling out finally, things are looking up. And yet I just couldn’t write for some of them.
Let’s go movie by movie and find a reason or two.
Raya and the Last Dragon is the latest Disney animated film (not Pixar) and the first one I’ve liked since Ralph Breaks the Internet in late 2018. It stars the voice of Kelly Marie Tran as new Disney Princess Raya who traverses the complex and wonderous fantasy land of Kumandra looking for the last dragon Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina), who could stop a rapacious evil magic and unite the broken communities of Kumandra. I loved the dense nature of this world, being born of clear Southeast Asian influences like Vietnam and Thailand, but also with its own language and religious practices that made everything feel real. It was doing what good fantasy does. I liked the characters, the frenetic energy of the humour and action, the animation was typically spectacular, and James Newton Howard proves why he is one of our most underrated composers. Some of the humour didn’t work and the story wasn’t anything amazing, mashing together a standard Disney plot with some elements of Avatar: The Last Airbender (broken fantasy land, last-of-their-kind magical creature, building a team of characters from different lands, antagonist with an inevitable redemption arc, etc.). Overall, it was a nice, breezy, well-directed and action-packed piece of animated entertainment with just enough heart beating through. Nothing wrong with that, but I didn’t feel that I could add anything major to the conversation, other than to say “Raya was nice. I liked it”. Not much of a review.
So what about Nobody and Peter Rabbit 2? The solution is easier: I didn’t really like them.
Nobody has Bob Odenkirk playing so well against type as a secretive Keanu/Neeson-guy, all grizzled with the malaise of middle-age, but burning with a wellspring of violence. He can clock into a 9 to 5 but can also walk into a room of tough goons and beat them all senseless, while taking in a fair few humanising scrapes and blows. The movie was directed by Hardcore Henry’s Ilya Naishuller and written by John Wick scribe Derek Kolstad, and the pairing gave Nobody its biggest strengths and weaknesses. The style is effective, everything shot with sharp anamorphic lenses and slick lighting thanks to Hereditary and Midsommar DP Pawel Pogorzelski, and the first 30-45 minutes are quite entertaining. A quick-cut montage of Odenkirk’s character’s life is fun, a need for revenge is put in place leading to a smart subversion, and culminating in an awesome fight on a bus that uses tight spaces so damn well. And then the generic Russian bad guy shows up, complete with all the clichés of menacing henchmen and mob money, bring everything down to a bland retread of the action movie stereotypes that I thought John Wick was trying to subvert. Instead of changing things up with new ways of making an action movie beyond Odenkirk’s casting, the movie resorts to such simple tropes that I am so very tired of. The final action scene is well-done, complete with surprise appearances by RZA and Christopher Lloyd, but Nobody just felt like any ordinary action movie you could expect.
Peter Rabbit 2 also left me quite disappointed seeing as I rather enjoyed the first movie in 2018. It wasn’t anything mindblowing, but because of its lightning-quick wit and excellent use of the supporting animal characters, as well the surprise comic dexterity of Domnhall Gleeson, it was a hilarious and simple piece of entertainment that even my family of adults enjoyed watching. The sequel is the old, boring trope of the try-hard follow-up that thinks commenting on its existence as a sequel while repeating every good gag from before is the best way to do things. The filmmakers obviously think that a winking meta-joke about how they “never thought they’d get this far” will absolve them from a tiresome plot and few-and-far-between jokes that pale in comparison to the mile-a-minute humour of the predecessor. I knew things weren’t okay when Daisy Ridley didn’t return to voice Cottontail, AKA the funniest character in the first movie, and the rest of Peter Rabbit 2 did little to dissuade from me feeling that this was what many feared the first film would be like in 2018.
It’s rather hard to write multi-paragraph reviews for some movies, when your own thoughts on them can boil down to either “I liked it” or “meh”.
As opposed to trying to wring out some long-winded rants and ramblings, sometimes it’s easier to break things down to simple thoughts. Raya and the Last Dragon is good, and I probably won’t remember that Nobody and Peter Rabbit 2 exist come next year.
I am also more than happy, delighted in fact, to have other writers go into the detail that I can’t muster instead. If The Curb has someone else write about their love for Raya and the Last Dragon and its Asian representation, or how fun they found Nobody to be, or how much their kids or whole family enjoyed Peter Rabbit 2: brilliant. Any time this happens, I find that another’s voice is more important than my own. We should all feel comfortable feeling this.
Also a few recent movies I liked but that I don’t feel the need to write about:
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