Review Round-Up: 'All Quiet On The Western Front' | 'The Menu' | 'Lightyear' + More
ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT
Perhaps we all should celebrate the rare days when a new adaptation and/or a remake of acclaimed material isn't completely terrible. All this is to say that director and co-writer Edward Berger's version of All Quiet On The Western Front (Im westen nichts neues in German)—Ian Stokell, Lesley Paterson and Berger adapting Erich Maria Remarque's classic novel of the same name—stands fairly comfortably on its own two feet. This action war film is set during World War I, following a naive young soldier Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) who enlists to serve in the German army and is sent to trench battle in French territory along with his friends, them quickly discovering the inescapable horrors of war. Meanwhile, German officials enter negotiations for an armistice.
For a film like this to work, there's obviously a lot of exceptional filmmaking to be expected but also important is that the emotional journey that Paul goes through is explored as deeply as it is. Kammerer portrays remarkably in his film debut his character's crushing realisation of how none of this is a form of heroism as every soldier is just a statistic and loser in a game without any winners. Even though some cuts to and from that negotiation storyline oddly disrupts the structure, that feet-in-the-mud experience with Paul always has a reason for coming back to it.
In terms of filmmaking flair, Berger leads a talented group's efforts whether that is James Friend's fittingly bleak photography, suffocating makeup work (led by Heike Merker) or impeccable effects for a European production. Booming soundscapes (supervised by Frank Kruse) and Volker Bertelmann's disturbing, distorted synth-heavy score also blend together seamlessly to soundtrack Paul and others' gruelling fights for nothing. It's pure hell and silence will be the only relief.
Smileys: Sound mixing, makeup, Felix Kammerer, score
Frowneys: Minor issues with structure
Power of sometimes saying ''No, chef!'' instead of more common ''Yes, chef!'' should be more widely celebrated because sometimes your lovely evening at a restaurant might have deadly consequences, and not just for all the animals that were butchered for food. Dark comedy thriller The Menu is a shining example of that, as served by director Mark Mylod from recipes and a script by Seth Reiss and Will Tracy.
Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a young woman who accompanies food fanatic Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) to an obscure luxury restaurant. Other guests include unnamed movie star (John Leguizamo), his plus one (Aimee Carrero), food critic (Janet McTeer), her editor (Paul Adelstein), wealthy couple (Reed Birney, Judith Light) and a group of ''finance bros'' (Rob Yang, Arturo Castro, Mark St. Cyr). Their pleasant dinner becomes increasingly more horrifying once the restaurant's celebrity chef Julian Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) turns up the heat.
''Eat the rich'' has really become slogan of the year in film but unfortunately The Menu is the one that seems to be least successful in how it uses absurdity and class for its own storytelling. Mylod's 'Succession' chops come in handy when setting up the players and milieu, editor Christopher Tellefsen helping to accomplish that with perfect rhythm, reaction shots and b-roll (we all love good insert shots, right?) as they play with structure being based on the courses.
Clear turning point, however, is the fourth course when the script starts to play whack-a-mole when it comes to punishing guests. Fiennes tries his best as he's equipped with clichéd monologues while some of the supporting actors don't fare all too well when given more to do as tension rises. By fifth course, it's evident that there's not much more to these characters which makes the twists and comedic jabs land with less power, the film ultimately landing in a fairly obvious place with little flavour in its final dish.
Smileys: Editing, pacing
Frowneys: Screenplay, characterisation, acting
You know the movie that inspired the toy based on a character in that movie and another character in another movie had bought that toy because they loved the movie? Wait what? Hopefully you got most of that and are willing to forget the fact that movies didn't look like this in the 1990s because we're checking out a 'Toy Story' franchise spin-off called Lightyear. Having apparently wowed young Andy when he watched this movie, space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Chris Evans) gets stuck on a time-jumping mission while trying to return home. Along the way, Buzz has to fight a world-shattering threat that involves robots and evil commander Zurg (James Brolin), Buzz then finding help from his friend's grandkid Izzy (Keke Palmer), robot cat Sox (Peter Sohn) and two recruits in Mo (Taika Waititi) and Darby (Dale Soules).
Taking silliness aside for a second, the premise of Lightyear does seem to hurt the film's prospects on larger scale as well, mostly because it begs questions about breakout characters and how children view movies, and also because director-writer Angus McLane and co-writer Jason Headley's script struggles to find a reason for existing. Sox is obviously the standout from these characters, providing nearly all of Lightyear's laugh-out-loud-worthy humour as Sohn does great voice work to support that.
Otherwise the narrative presented doesn't grab you because nearly everything has been done better before in other similar films, this one being often mediocre at its best. Therefore it often wastes brilliant designs in animation, particularly rich and impressive lighting effects. Another perfect example of regurgitated material is sadly Michael Giacchino's score which just speaks to both the film's lukewarm nature and his apparent exhaustion when being on Disney's payroll constantly. Not everything is worth making, notably when there's no passion.
Smileys: Lighting, humour
Frowneys: Score, premise, screenplay
DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS
Stranger things are happening again in the 'Marvel Cinematic Universe' franchise as one particular trippy sorcerer returns in Doctor Strange In The Multiverse Of Madness, a superhero adventure which is directed by Sam Raimi in his return to the genre and written by Michael Waldron, based on the Marvel Comics characters. As we meet him again, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) gets a helpful yet dangerous distraction from his romantic troubles as he's tasked with protecting and aiding a young girl named America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) who is able to travel through all the different universes, a skill that also comes with threats. Interested in either destroying these universes or acquiring Chavez's powers are foes like evil Doctor Strange and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) who's lost her way since events of 'WandaVision' series.
We'll get to the storylines and how many of those characters interact in a second but first of all, it is genuinely great to see most of the film's strengths seemingly come from its director's personal toolkit. Raimi's horror and fantasy chops play around with visual styles and designs to create entertaining sequences, one highlight being a ''musical fight'' that is able to bring out the best of composer Danny Elfman as well. Raimi's sense of whimsy and the franchise's usual comedic edge blend together well, often even being able to distract you from what is otherwise a messy collection of character arcs and pointless side quests.
The movie's over-dependence on 'WandaVision' is perplexing on its own but choices regarding Wanda and how she is eventually used as an object of destruction rather than a person with their own past is poorly executed. When your story relies so heavily on already poorly established material and then there are awkwardly staged cameos and little weight in Strange's own personal journey thrown in, it all eventually gets crushed when universes collide in such ineffectual fashion.
Frowneys: Characterisation, story
JURASSIC WORLD: DOMINION
Oh, thank heavens someone finally lets dinosaurs go feral and run around everywhere, that should make a fun movie, right? Please say that's true. Results might be different than your expectations when it comes to monster mayhem in Jurassic World: Dominion, closing chapter to the new trilogy in the 'Jurassic Park' franchise, co-writer Colin Trevorrow also returning to director's chair. Dinosaurs are out and about four years after the events of 'Fallen Kingdom' as Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) have to leave behind their cosy, rural lives and go on a rescue mission to save their adopted daughter Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) when she gets kidnapped by BioSyn employees who wish to use her DNA to battle a rampant locust problem on Earth. BioSyn's evil actions also invite the presence of several formerly introduced characters.
It's no surprise that typing even the setup for this movie feels like a chore but to be fair, you sign up for this stuff to see big animals cause big destruction in addition to hopefully getting a good story. Well, technically Dominion is a step-up from the previous movie and our lizard brains will enjoy well-rendered dinosaurs and other CGI spectacles, while John Schwartzman's cinematography and stunt sequences do their best to craft something interesting.
The story on the other hand doesn't feed our brains as every line reading is painfully delivered because of poor writing by Emily Carmichael and Trevorrow, his woeful direction not helping since Dominion desperately lacks purpose, cohesion or even sense of danger, exemplified by those stunt sequences which never lead to damage or any kind of emotional weight. Many of the actors also seem to give up, Pratt's only action being the ridiculous hand talking which then is adapted by other actors as well (see the picture below). There's nothing on the pages of Dominion that earns our investment in these characters, their relationships or motives. Its box office returns aside, you'd argue that this franchise should be extinct by now.
Frowneys: Screenplay, directing, dialogue, Chris Pratt