Remakes. Princess Diana. Lockdown. The end of the world (see remakes). The return of our favourite British superhero: Peter Rabbit. Sorry, I mean JAMES BOND. I interviewed an astronaut! And in Copshop a star is born (say it Louder for those at the back).
This year I found myself wanting to watch and review films that were decidedly in my comfort zone. Have repeated lockdowns finally got to me?
I did lose my writing mojo in 2021 but also found COVID, or rather COVID found me: in October it gamely spent three days throwing every symptom my way, including the Covid Sneeze which can dislodge a brick chimney pot from 100 metres. As someone used to tramping miles across muddy fields walking the dog, being allowed out of my 10-day isolation to walk 5 minutes to the priority postbox with our family PCR tests was joyous, even if I had more face wrappings that a Hammer Horror mummy. I’m now triple vaxxed, my body coursing with antibodies, and feel so invincible I might try to steal John Wick‘s car.
So after a strange year, here, in no particular order, are my cinematic moments of 2021:
Britiflick filmmaking at its finest: When The Screaming Starts
Horror-comedy mockumentary When The Screaming Starts combines a particularly British sensibility to the horrific (think David Brent rather than Ted Bundy) with a tight script, great jokes and top notch acting from its ensemble cast, as inept would-be serial killer Aidan (Ed Hartland) tries to found a Family of like-minded murderers, but ends up in a battle of wits with someone far more driven than he.
Director Conor Boru co-wrote the script with Hartland, and together they examine two current obsessions with wit and Jackson Pollock-levels of splatter: name recognition in a self-obsessed, noisy world; and our memorialising of serial killers. As Aidan says over a cup of tea in his missing, nameless grandma’s kitchen: “no one remembers the victim.”
The movie has been (very successfully) making the rounds of the festival circuit in 2021 but watch out for it on wide release in the UK in 2022. A cult classic in the making…
It’s the end of the world as we know it!
Yes Disney remade Home Alone as Home Sweet Home Alone, a not-awful but not-good update that sees JoJo Rabbit‘s Archie Yates left behind at his Anglo-American family’s US house one Christmas, fighting off a middle-aged couple who think he has something valuable of theirs that might just mean they can keep their own house.
You’d think from the reaction to news of the remake that we were living in the End Times, which we probably are, but not because of Home Sweet Home Alone.
Oops, it really is the end of the world as we know it!
There were a lot of doomsday movies in 2021. It’s almost as if the world is going to hell in a handcart and we need blatant allegories to point that out to us: Don’t Look Up (which created such extraordinary social media “discourse” I ended up despising every viewpoint including mine); Finch; The Tomorrow War.
My favourite was December’s Silent Night, with Archie’s Jojo Rabbit co-star, Roman Griffin Davis. Written and directed by his mother Camille Griffin, and starring Roman and his twin brothers, it’s very much a family affair as a wealthy family and their friends celebrate one last Christmas night in a country house before a toxic cloud is due to roll in, killing everyone worldwide. Coming in at a pacy hour and 30 minutes – a length many can only dream of when it comes to family Christmas dinners that feel like the end of the world — Silent Night bounces along, beautiful, bitterly funny and bizarrely realistic. The government has issued suicide pills, and an app, but do you take them? What if the science is wrong? (I’m a big fan of scientists, it’s the government I don’t trust, and apps.)
With Keira Knightley as Art’s brittle, blame-shifting mother Nell, this is well worth a watch, and not just for Nell’s toast at the festive dinner table: “May we rest in peace!”
I may be in the gutter but this year I interviewed someone who reached for the stars: ISS astronaut Cady Coleman
“Did you spend your downtime on the international space station watching Alien?” I asked The Wonderful Cady Coleman, an astronaut and scientist who features in the documentary The Wonderful: Stories From The Space Station. I don’t think I’ve ever been so thrilled about a prospective interview, and she was indeed wonderful. We also discussed women astronauts, how far humanity will go into space, and who she’d like to take to the space station to show them the Earth.
I thoroughly recommend watching the documentary too — the paths many of the astronauts took into space will be cheering to anyone with a child who is a dreamer, thinking on a different plane, rather than an A+ student at the front of the class. The astronauts and cosmonauts’ sense of wonder and achievement when they finally make it to the ISS is often as much about wanting to reassure their 10-year-old selves: look kid, you made it.
Best nun, bar nun
Benedetta, as God is my witness. Having seen and reviewed the also excellent Saint Maud in January, then watched Paul Verhoeven’s Benedetta for awards season, I was hoping to complete a holy trinity of religious lady films in 2021, though sadly it was not to be: my final choice, The Novice, turned out to be about rowing (the sport not the arguments) not sexy nuns at all.
Benedetta is one of those movies where all the women are wearing either a wimple or nothing at all. Set in the 17th century, it’s about a young lesbian nun who claims to see visions, and has an affair with a fellow novice. But is she headed for greatness or the stake? Skip church next Sunday and watch this instead.
Family film fun
In August I took both my tweens to see Free Guy, about a non-playing video game character who achieves consciousness — and thank god I did, as otherwise I would’ve had no idea who any of the YouTuber cameos were. Ryan Reynolds’ slightly dim but pure everyman schtick may be wearing thin (see also The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, actually don’t) but Free Guy was a lot of fun.
(Footnote: in a move that will probably make cineastes keel over and die, one of my sons walked in when I was rewatching The Matrix last week and declared it to be “just like Free Guy!” Don’t be angry with him, he was just programmed that way.)
A Star Is Born! (Louder for those at the back)
In September Gerard Butler returned in lurid B-movie Copshop, as stinky hitman Big Bob Viddick. Bob gets himself arrested so he can taunt — and kill — manbunned mini-gangster Teddy Muretto (Frank Grillo), who has hidden himself in a police station cell after double-crossing the Mob. Also breaking in to the same remote Nevada desert copshop is crazed but hilarious serial killer Tony Lamb (Toby Huss), who wants to kill both of them. It’s like a hate triangle!
But the undisputed star is Alexis Louder, who plays rookie cop Valerie Young. Injured, trying to work out who to trust but absolutely determined to stay alive until morning, Valerie, a young Black woman up against three older, white, male career killers, learns from her mistakes and never gives up — while Louder herself is a perfect, thoughtful action heroine and an undisputed star in the making.
I PROMISE I’m starting a podcast this year. Oh wait, I did?
Back in January I finally, after five years of threats (mine, not yours), started a podcast, deciding to go with what I know, if not, (sadly) who I know. Hence Gerrystorm — an exploration of the good, bad and frankly ugly movies of our Greatest Living Scotsman — was born.
Should it have been strangled at birth? Possibly. You can decide that for yourself though by listening to the year’s episodes (Greenland, Geostorm, Nim’s Island, Coriolanus, Law Abiding Citizen, PS I Love You, Olympus Has Fallen, Dracula 2000 and Copshop).
Check them all out here or find them on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and many more.
Fizz and Ginger Films’ Matt and Tori Butler-Hart returned in March, three years after their impressive siren ghost story The Isle, with Infinitum: Subject Unknown. Filmed in lockdown with a tiny cast and crew (mostly just Matt and Tori, with support from Sir Ian McKellen and Conleth Hill) it spun an unnerving tale about parallel universes and rebooted timeloops.
A chilling story about the expansion of human life, created during a time when we were forced to retreat, Infinitum: Subject Unknown introduces a heroine trying to navigate her way around a world that looks the same but doesn’t operate the way it should. It’s a world of endless repetitive days, an isolated home life and empty streets, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, she’s collateral damage for a greater good. Sound familiar?
The name’s… No Time To Die
No Time to Die postponements were the only way to keep track of time during a year of lockdowns, so I felt I’d lost my frame of reference when Bond 25 actually came out in cinemas in the autumn. It was suitably epic, with a touch of Thunderbirds about it, though Rami Malek’s villain in a white parker and a face mask left me unsure whether to start singing East 17’s Stay Another Day or something from The Phantom Of The Opera.
And that title was a tad misleading too. There was plenty of time to die! Nearly three hours in fact.
Queen of Hearts
In 2020 we had series 4 of The Crown, with Emma Corrin as the doe-eyed 19 year old thrust into an archaic world where you can’t even dance on the Royal Opera House stage with Wayne Sleep without your husband complaining you’re snatching the spotlight from him.
2021 brought us even more Lady Di. Spencer offered up a troubled Princess Diana christmassing at Sandringham and communing with Anne Boleyn. But whereas the pendulum marking the beheaded queen’s reputational changes — from witch to victim and back to somewhere in the middle — has moved slowly over 500 years, it feels like we’ve already been there and done that several times with Diana. Prefer your people’s princess memorialised in song? The distinctly odd Diana: The Musical arrived in November. I do love a rhyming couplet though, and in this respect it did not disappoint, unless you’re Shakespeare.
What they all have in common is blonde flicks and top-notch costumes, and that’s all I’m saying.
Yes someone decided to make a documentary about Oasis’s two record-breaking concerts at Knebworth in 1996, calling it, rather brilliantly, Oasis Knebworth 1996. And boy was it an emotional, nostalgic rollercoaster. The music! The parkas! The nasal screeching! (Actually that was just me singing along.) And, of course, the fans’ joy in actually getting through on their parents’ landline to buy a couple of tickets. “It was like Willy Wonka and the Golden Ticket” explains one now, though I don’t remember Charlie Bucket jumping on a train to the factory with “a rucksack, some class As and a few beers”, as one delighted gig goer reminisces.
Read my review of Oasis Knebworth 1996 here.
The Good-Bad Film Club
This year Liz and I, stalwarts of the Good-Bad Film Club, continued our search for the perfect disaster movie, while managing to avoid anything too disastrous.
Chinese volcanoes, Scandi tsunamis, earthquakes, plus aliens and Bigfoot (Bigfeet?) lurking in America’s great forests, we judged them all. Nice.
None of this would’ve been possible without me. I mean you. I mean me and you. Thank you for coming to my website, and remaining long enough for your click to register! I hope what you found answered at least some of your questions. Here’s to 2022!