Soul
2020
***½
Director: Pete Docter
Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, Angela Bassett

Joe Gardner is an aspiring jazz pianist who is forced to eke out a living as a middle school music teacher. One day, he suffers an accident that separates his soul from his body, and his soul ends up in the Great Before. Like Inside Out five years ago, this metaphysical Pixar animation deals with some big questions about birth, death, and the meaning of life. The movie delivers another inventive interpretation of an abstract concept, even if the characters and their eventual insights are not that groundbreaking.


Rock Dog
2016
**½
Director: Ash Brannon
Cast: Luke Wilson, Eddie Izzard, J. K. Simmons, Lewis Black, Kenan Thompson, Mae Whitman, Jorge Garcia, Matt Dillon, Sam Elliott, Liza Richardson, Ash Brannon, Will Finn

Bodi is a Tibetan Mastiff who is expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a village guard, but he is drawn to rock music and wants to become a musician instead. This Chinese-American animation is harmless and quite enjoyable but terribly formulaic. The story is based on Zheng Jun’s book Tibetan Rock Dog, but the script is basically a mix between How to Train Your Dragon and Coco.


Se mieletön remppa (The Renovation)
2020

Director: Taneli Mustonen
Cast: Sami Hedberg, Kiti Kokkonen, Rea Mauranen, Kari Ketonen, Hannu-Pekka Björkman, Inka Kallén, Jukka Rasila

Maija and Jalmari are a childless, and by the looks of it, jobless couple who are forced to live with his overbearing mother. When Maija inherits a beautiful but totally dilapidated house, it is unclear whether it will be a blessing or a curse. This Finnish farce is directly based on the 2018 Norwegian film Norske byggeklosser and indirectly on The Money Pit (1986). The premise shows initial promise, but it quickly fades away when the main characters turn out be incompetent buffoons. The unfunny and implausible script wastes time on various irrelevant supporting characters (most of them played by Sami Hedberg), but fails to provide a proper conclusion to its main story.


Gifted
2017
***½
Director: Mark Webb
Cast: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Jenny Slate, Octavia Spencer, Glenn Plummer, John Finn, Elizabeth Marvel, Jon Sklaroff

Frank is an acting guardian of his 7-year-old niece Mary. Frank is determined to give her a normal upbringing, but it becomes an uphill battle when Mary turns out to be a math wiz like her late mother. This smart and moving melodrama about a child prodigy joins the likes of Little Man Tate and Searching for Bobby Fischer. Its greatest strength are the believable and well defined characters. Chris Evans takes a break from playing Captain America. His performance is nicely grounded, and the rest of the cast are doing a fine job as well.


Gemini Man
2019
**½
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Will Smith, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen, Benedict Wong, Ralph Brown, Linda Emond, Douglas Hodge, Ilia Volok

Henry Brogan is a US government sharpshooter who wants to retire. However, his employer believes he knows too much and sends out a highly skilled assassin who looks awfully lot like a young version of Henry. This science fiction premise was originally conceived more than 20 years ago, which is perhaps why the long-gestated script by David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke feels dated and predictable. Ang Lee stages some terrific set pieces, but ultimately this is a very ordinary globetrotting action movie with poorly drawn characters. Henry tells he is haunted by the lives he has taken, but Will Smith is not able to sell it. Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays an odd platonic female sidekick whose motives remain blurry. The deaging special effects look surprisingly plasticky compared to Captain Marvel.


Atomic Blonde
2017
**
Director: David Leitch
Cast: Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Til Schweiger, Eddie Marsan, Sofia Boutella, Toby Jones, Roland Møller, Jóhannes Jóhannesson, James Faulkner

Towards the end of the Cold War, MI6 agent Lorraine Broughton is sent to Berlin to retrieve a list of undercover agents before it ends up in the wrong hands. Although this style-over-substance action movie is based on the 2012 graphic novel The Coldest City, it takes cartoonishness a bit too literally. The script is predictable and boring, and the characters are sketchy and implausible. Charlize Theron does look cool and striking, which would make her the worst possible candidate to blend in in the crowd and do spy stuff. The only bright spot are the brutal action set pieces, which follow in the footsteps of Jason Bourne and John Wick.


Call of the Wild
2020
***
Director: Chris Sanders
Cast: Harrison Ford, Omar Sy, Cara Gee, Dan Stevens, Karen Gillan, Bradley Whitford, Colin Woodell, Scott MacDonald, Abraham Benrubi

In the turn of the century, a large and clumsy but goodhearted mixed-breed dog named Buck is abducted from his home in California and taken to the Yukon, where it serves several masters but is gradually drawn to the wild. Disney’s adaptation of Jack London’s 1903 novel removes the unpleasant and potentially offensive parts and delivers an exciting and child-friendly but somewhat sterile adventure. Buck is a lovely character but overly anthropomorphic and fully computer-created.


Everest
2015
***½
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Cast: Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Robin Wright, Emily Watson, Keira Knightley, Sam Worthington, Jake Gyllenhaal

In May 1996, various groups are preparing to climb the summit of Mount Everest. Climbing the world’s tallest mountain is an extremely dangerous feat on any day, but when an excessive number of climbers are hit by a sudden storm, it becomes a nightmare. This horrific true story has been documented in various books, most famously in Jon Krakauer’s riveting Into Thin Air. The film version cannot do justice to all the details or all the individuals involved in this disastrous day, but it probably benefits from focusing on a handful of people and their struggle against the elements. The end result is a gripping, well-acted, and beautifully staged drama.


A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
2019
***½
Director: Marielle Heller
Cast: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Susan Kelechi Watson, Chris Cooper, Maryann Plunkett, Enrico Colantoni, Wendy Makkena, Tammy Blanchard, Noah Harpster, Christine Lahti

Lloyd Vogel is a cynical journalist who is writing a piece on Fred Rogers, the squeaky clean host of a popular children’s TV show. While Lloyd attempts to ignore his estranged father who is seeking redemption, he hopes to uncover the real Fred. Marielle Heller’s fact-based drama was inspired by Tom Junod’s Esquire article Can You Say … Hero?. This is a warm, delightful, and surprising character drama which restores your faith in humanity. Tom Hanks and Matthew Rhys give great performances.


Dolittle
2020
**
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Emma Thompson, Rami Malek, John Cena, Kumail Nanjiani, Octavia Spencer, Tom Holland, Craig Robinson, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Marion Cotillard

Following the death of his wife, Dr. Dolittle, the renowned veterinarian who can speak to animals, has become a recluse. When Queen Victoria falls seriously ill, Dolittle must go on a quest with his animals and his new apprentice. Hugh Lofting’s children’s book was previously adapted in 1967 and 1998. This version looks like it started shooting before a page of the script was written. The end result is a plotless CGI mess which may appeal to small children, but not anyone else. Much like he did in Sherlock Holmes, Robert Downey Jr. attempts another accent (Welsh) and ends up giving an incomprehensibly mumbly performance.


I’m Thinking of Ending Things
2020
***½
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Guy Boyd

Jake takes his new girlfriend to meet his parents, unaware that she is planning to leave him. As soon as they arrive at their farm, she notices that something is a little off. This metaphysical mystery kicks off like Get Out, but that’s where the similarities end. Although the story was adapted from Iain Reid’s novel, this is a typical Charlie Kaufman mindbender, which once again deals with identity, loneliness and regrets. The film is bookended by two long, static, and dialogue-driven car journeys, but it is at its best during the intriguing and enjoyably weird visit.


Onward
2020
***½
Director: Dan Scanlon
Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Kyle Bornheimer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mel Rodriguez, Octavia Spencer, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong, Grey Griffin, Tracey Ullman

Two elf brothers, Ian and Barley, were brought up by their widowed mother in a magical world which has gradually forgotten how to use magic. On Ian’s 16th birthday, the brothers embark on a quest in order to spend a brief moment with their dead father. This Pixar animation has a rather formulaic and uninspired start, but it gradually finds its feet and ends up being an entertaining and moving story of brotherly bond.


The Lighthouse
2019
****
Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Robert Pattinson, Valeriia Karamän, Logan Hawkes

In the end of the 19th century, a grizzled lighthouse keeper and his new assistant arrive in a remote lighthouse off the coast of New England. When a storm strands them on the island, the isolation and heavy drinking begin to take a heavy toll on their sanity and sense of reality. Like The Witch, Robert Eggers’ second feature is an unusual and unsettling horror-tinted drama. This highly original film delivers a mix of shocks and laughs, some wonderfully archaic dialogue, and two towering performances. Jarin Blaschke’s stunning cinematography, which uses an almost square aspect ratio, adds to the feeling of claustrophobia.


Happy Death Day
2017
**
Director: Christopher Landon
Cast: Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Charles Aitken, Laura Clifton, Jason Bayle, Rob Mello, Rachel Matthews

A selfish and arrogant college student finds herself living the same day in a loop in which she is brutally killed by someone in a mask. She hopes that finding the killer will restore normality. This horror comedy gives us yet another version of Groundhog Day, which is at least acknowledged in the final scene. I kept waiting for Scott Lobdell’s script to add a new twist to the old formula, but it never does. Followed by Happy Death Day 2U (2019).


Patriots Day
2016
***½
Director: Peter Berg
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J. K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Alex Wolff, Themo Melikidze, Michael Beach, Vincent Curatola

Following Deepwater Horizon, Peter Berg stages another real-life American tragedy. On April 15, 2013, two homemade bombs explode close to the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Two Chechen brothers are quickly identified as the culprits and a massive manhunt is launched to catch them. Mark Wahlberg plays a fictional everyman cop who takes part in the police operation. This is a gripping no-nonsense action thriller and a moving tribute to the city of Boston.


Tenet
2020
**½
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh, Martin Donovan, Aaron Taylor Johnson

An undercover agent is recruited to an organisation called Tenet. He learns that someone in the future has developed technology which allows its users to move backwards through time, and it could be used to destroy the world. Inception and Interstellar proved that Christopher Nolan is able to tell complicated and demanding science fiction stories without dumbing them down for his audience. This, on the other hand, is probably his weakest film, and several long scenes of exposition are not enough to make it fully comprehensible or, more importantly, captivating. Throughout the story, it is unclear what exactly is at stake and why we should care about these characters when we know nothing about them, in some cases not even their name. The action set pieces are nice but not spectacular enough to sit through them twice, first forwards and then backwards.


Noah
2014
**
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Madison Davenport

Noah learns of God’s plan to wipe the wickedness from the Earth with a great flood and embarks on a project to build a massive ark which can save his family and two of every living creature, but doom the rest of humanity to extinction. He gets help from the Watchers, fallen angels who look like the stone giants in The Hobbit. Darren Aronofsky’s retelling of the legend of Noah’s Ark is a fantastical rather than a biblical epic. The script by Aronofsky and Ari Handel mixes elements from the Book of Genesis, the Book of Enoch, and pure fiction to imagine how this well-known myth could have literally happened. The screenwriters even manage to throw in some anachronistic contemporary issues like environmentalism and vegetarianism. The resulting spectacle is big, bombastic, stupid and ridiculous, but it is not totally without entertainment value.


Dark Phoenix / X-Men: Dark Phoenix
2019
**½
Director: Simon Kinberg
Cast: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan, Alexandra Shipp, Jessica Chastain

The follow-up to X-Men: Apocalypse is set in 1992. During a rescue mission in space, Jean Grey absorbs the energy of an alien life force, which makes her the most powerful being on Earth. As her emotional state becomes unstable, Jean finds herself at odds with her X-Men friends and the shapeshifting aliens who have come to reclaim their powers. When assessed in isolation, the final release in this X-Men series seems like a perfectly entertaining superhero movie. However, the movie doesn’t hold up to scrutiny so well when I began to wonder how many times I’ve seen any particular scene before, how all the events fit in the overall franchise timeline, or why Professor X and Magneto haven’t aged at all in 30 years since X-Men: First Class.


The Florida Project
2017
**
Director: Sean Baker
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Valeria Cotto, Christopher Rivera, Caleb Landry Jones

6-year-old Moonee and her young and feckless mom Hallee live in a cheap motel in Kissimmee, Florida. While the mother struggles to make ends meet, the daughter is left to her own devices. Set in the shadow of Walt Disney World, Sean Baker’s plotless social realist drama delivers a brutally believable contrast of dreams and reality in modern day America. It’s all good and well, but the problem is that Baker fails to evoke any empathy from me for Moonee and Hallee, who are some of the most irritating characters I have ever seen on screen. Willem Dafoe’s performance as the motel manager is just about the only bright spot in the film.


The Social Dilemma
2020
***½
Director: Jeff Orlowski
Cast:

This topical documentary delves into the world of data mining and surveillance capitalism. The former employees of Tech Giants like Google, Facebook, and Twitter explain how the platforms have evolved from the noble origins into the ruthless user manipulation systems that they are today. Jeff Orlowski’s compelling film doesn’t provide any big shocks, but it does manage to illustrate how cleverly and intricately the social media sites are designed.


RBG
2018
***
Director: Betsy West, Julie Cohen
Cast:

Throughout her legal career, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020) was a strong advocate of equality and women’s rights, and in her later years she became something of a pop icon. This biographical documentary is informative but not exactly captivating. There is not much to tell about Ginsburg apart from her dedication to law, so the film occasionally feels like a filmed CV.


Alpha
2018
***½
Director: Albert Hughes
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson, Natassia Malthe, Marcin Kowalczyk, Jens Hultén, Leonor Varela

Some 20,000 years ago in Europe, young Keda is about to prove his manhood by hunting a bison, but he suffers an accident and is left for dead by his tribe. Keda attempts to makes his way back home through the hostile environment with an injured wolf as his companion. The Hughes brothers are best known for their gritty urban dramas like Menace II Society and Dead Presidents. However, Albert Hughes’ first solo effort is a prehistorical epic, which is consistently gripping if not always believable. Like Quest for Fire almost 40 years ago, the characters communicate in an invented language. The film looks absolutely stunning.


Doctor Sleep
2019
**
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Robert Longstreet, Carel Struycken, Alex Essoe, Zackary Momoh

The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s claustrophobic horror classic was based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel. This belated sequel must strike a balance between Kubrick’s loose adaptation and King’s 2013 novel. The story revolves around a creepy cult who track down and kill children who have the shining in order to extend their own lives. Dan Torrance, now a recovering alcoholic, is compelled to protect a young girl with extremely strong psychic abilities. Almost 40 years have passed, so it is unfair to compare this to the 1980 film, but I must admit that I was captivated by this long and uninteresting story only when it returned to the Overlook hotel. The rest feels like a second rate X-Men movie.


Toy Story 4
2019
**½
Director: Josh Cooley
Cast: Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Madeleine McGraw, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves, Ally Maki, Jay Hernandez, Lori Alan, Joan Cusack

Toy Stories 1, 2 and 3 form one of the finest film trilogies ever made. Now, nine years later, the story continues regardless. Bonnie, who is anxious about starting kindergarten, can only find solace in Forky, a new friend she crafts from trash. When Forky comes to life, Woody feels compelled to protect him for Bonnie’s sake. The fourth episode maintains Pixar’s quality standard in terms of animation, writing, and characterisation, but it is a totally unnecessary addition to the series, which now replaces a perfect ending with a less perfect one. The franchise turns Buzz into a buffoonish sidekick and jumps the shark with Forky, who doesn’t make any sense to me within the rules of this universe. Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature.


Kätilö (The Midwife)
2015
**
Director: Antti J. Jokinen
Cast: Krista Kosonen, Lauri Tilkanen, Pirkka-Pekka Petelius, Leea Klemola, Seppo Pääkkönen, Elina Knihtilä, Tommi Korpela, Johannes Brotherus

Towards the end of World War II, when Finland is close to accepting the peace terms set by the Soviet Union, a young Finnish woman who works as a nurse at a German POW camp in Lapland falls in love with an SS officer. This adaptation of Katja Kettu’s 2011 novel is visually striking, which is sadly the only positive comment I can make about this laboured effort. Thanks to the confusing and unfocused script and the poorly defined characters, I was not swept along by the drama or the romance at any point. I could also not get over the fact that the characters communicate in Finnish, whether they are Finns, Germans, or Russians.


Tell Me Who I Am
2019
***
Director: Ed Perkins
Cast:

When Alex Lewis lost his memory in a motorcycle accident, his twin brother Marcus helped him to reconstruct the first 18 years of their lives, but decided to redact the deeply traumatic aspects of their childhood. This story is fascinating and unusual, but Ed Perkins’ documentary feels simultaneously bloated and incomplete. He overstretches and overdramatises the big reveal, which in the end doesn’t amount to much more than two sentences, and I’m sure was already disclosed in the 2013 book the Lewis brothers wrote with Joanna Hines. Disappointingly, the film sheds no light on the people who inflicted the trauma.


Three Identical Strangers
2018
****
Director: Tim Wardle
Cast:

In 1980, three 19-year-old men accidentally discover that they are identical triplets who were adopted by three different families. Their reunion becomes a minor media sensation, but the heartwarming story takes a dark turn when the brothers uncover the real reason why they were separated at birth. This very captivating documentary tells a rollercoaster ride of a story, which is alternately exhilarating, joyous, moving, sad, disturbing, and infuriating.


Jojo Rabbit
2019
****½
Director: Taika Waititi
Cast: Roman Griffin Davis, Thomasin McKenzie, Taika Waititi, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant, Alfie Allen, Sam Rockwell, Scarlett Johansson, Archie Yates

Towards the end of World War II, the timid 10-year-old Johannes “Jojo” Betzler remains a devout Nazi. His dedication to the cause begins to crumble when he befriends a Jewish girl his mother is hiding in the attic, which doesn’t make his imaginary friend Adolf Hitler very happy. A dark comedy about the Third Reich does not sound like an easy proposition, but somehow Taika Waititi pulls it off. Like La vita è bella, the film finds an awkward but just about perfect balance between the laughs and cries. The performances are all excellent. Waititi’s Academy Award winning screenplay is loosely based on Caging Skies by Christine Leunens.


Long Shot
2019
***
Director: Jonathan Levine
Cast: Seth Rogen, Charlize Theron, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Andy Serkis, June Diane Raphael, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård

Fred Flarsky is an idealistic journalist who quits his job on moral grounds. That same night, he runs into his childhood babysitter Charlotte Field, now U.S. Secretary of State, who offers him a job as a speechwriter as she gets ready to announce her presidential campaign. This is a funny and likeable, but highly implausible romantic comedy. Rogen plays the same drug-loving, foul-mouthed loser he always does, but he has great chemistry with Charlize Theron. However, the politics in the movie are total Hollywood wish fulfillment.


American Factory
2019
****½
Director: Steven Bognar, Julia Reichert
Cast:

Six years after General Motors shut down their factory in Dayton, Ohio, a Chinese Fuyao car glass company reopens the plant. The owners attempt to make the factory profitable, but it appears to be at the expense of safety and basic workers’ rights. This terrific documentary was shot from 2015 to 2017, and it gives the audience a deliciously intimate and uncensored look at the culture clash that escalates between the Chinese owners and the American workers. Academy Award winner for Best Documentary Feature.


Enola Holmes
2020
***
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Sam Claflin, Henry Cavill, Helena Bonham Carter, Louis Partridge, Frances de la Tour, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar, Fiona Shaw

Enola Holmes, the baby sister of Sherlock, is a self-taught and critically thinking 16-year-old girl. When Enola runs away from home to investigate the disappearance of her mother, she meets the young Viscount Tewkesbury, whose life seems to be at risk. This is an adaptation of the first book in The Enola Holmes Mysteries series by Nancy Springer. The movie is funny, enjoyable, disposable, and anachronistic. Millie Bobby Brown, who also co-produced, gives a commanding lead performance.


Tolkien
2019
***
Director: Dome Karukoski
Cast: Nicholas Hoult, Lily Collins, Colm Meaney, Derek Jacobi, Anthony Boyle, Patrick Gibson, Tom Glynn-Carney, Craig Roberts, Genevieve O’Reilly

This drama about J.R.R. Tolkien attempts to capture the dramatic circumstances that turned an orphan Catholic boy with a keen interest in languages into one of the biggest selling fantasy writers of all time. Just as Tolkien falls in love with a Protestant girl and finds his true calling, he and his tight-knit group of friends must face the trenches of the First World War. Literary biopic is not the most exciting genre, and this conventional film does not offer surprises. There is certainly very little here for the casual fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is beautifully shot and well-acted, though.


Hereditary
2018
**½
Director: Ari Aster
Cast: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd, Gabriel Byrne

Following the death of her estranged mother, Annie and her two children suffer strange visions. Are these supernatural occurences or symptoms of the mental illness running in the family? Ari Aster’s feature debut is a powerful and unsettling horror film. That is, up to the point when we find out what is actually happening. After that it gets silly. Toni Collette gives a physically draining performance.


Gerald’s Game
2017
***½
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Chiara Aurelia

Jessie and Gerald travel to a remote cabin to spice up their marriage, but things take a dark turn when Gerald suffers a heart attack while Jessie is handcuffed to the bed. This gripping and intense thriller escapes its confined setting inside Jessie’s head, as she looks back on her failed marriage and her childhood traumas. Based on Stephen King’s 1992 novel.


Isle of Dogs
2018
**½
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Kunichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe

Following an outbreak of canine flu, all the dogs of Megasaki, Japan are banished to Trash Island. 12-year-old Atari flies a plane to the island in order to find his beloved Spots. Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion animation is marginally better than Fantastic Mr. Fox, his unbearably whimsical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book. Like all of his work, it is meticulously designed and shot, but the story didn’t grab me at any point.