SCENE – Quick-read reviews and double-bill recommendations.
STILL: A MICHEAL J FOX MOVIE (2023)
In cinemas and on Apple TV +
From the opening scenes of Davis Guggenheim’s beautiful and poignant documentary, it’s clear that Michael’s life and career have been anything but still. From a young age, Michael was always on the move, always searching and striving for success. That success would come through Family Ties and Back to the Future, but the journey to that point was one of toil, long hours and an urge to make it big in a city where thousands of young hopefuls vied for the same roles. Therefore, when Michael was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s in 1991 at 29, his impulse was to fight it with every sinew, pushing the disease and its devastating early symptoms to the back of his mind through work.
Using archival footage from Michael’s long and successful career, Guggenheim’s documentary hums with the energy of a 400V battery and takes on the feel of a classic Michael J Fox movie. Yet, while the autobiographical elements are often front and centre, it is, at its heart, a documentary charting his journey alongside Parkinson’s disease and the importance of his wife and family in helping to shape that journey. Michael’s words show raw and brutal honesty as he says, “If I’m here 20 years from now, I’ll either be cured or, like a pickle.” Yet this journey is far from downbeat; it’s inspirational, funny, reflective and sharp as we celebrate the man who gave us Marty McFly, a high-school werewolf called Scott, an aspiring business tycoon named Brantley and the ambitious and sharp young Alex P. Keaton.
HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL (2023)
ICON FILM CHANNEL MAY 1 AND DIGITAL JUNE 5
It’s a testament to the sheer power of Daniel Waters’ screenplay and Michael Lehmann’s film that the Heathers fanbase has only grown over the thirty-three years since Veronica and JD first entered our lives. Our coming-of-age season, ‘Teen Dreams’, explored the enduring power of Heathers and its ability to talk to multiple generations while blowing up the 80s teen comedy template. Heathers was sharp, bold and controversial, its themes ranging from sexual assault to bulimia, suicide and murder in a movie that ushed in a new era. Due to my endless love for Lehmann’s 1989 satirical masterpiece, I was less than convinced the film would work as a musical. I was partly right, as the inherent darkness of Heathers is toned down, with far more emphasis placed on exaggerated comedy rather than satire. This ensures the musical format works but, at times, blunts the sharpness of Waters’ original screenplay. But I also stand corrected in the colourful, vibrant, fresh adaptation the musical offers us. The comedy may not be as cutting, but it is beautifully timed, and as for the music, it’s nothing short of awesome. So “Lick It Up Baby, Lick. It. Up”.
GOD’S PETTING YOU (2023)
IN CINEMAS NOW
Jamie Patterson is a fascinating director, with elements of his work reflecting the creative genius of the late great Ron Peck. Like Peck, Patterson works with a creative collective of artists and technical talent, and while Peck was fascinated by the underworlds of London, Patterson delights in reflecting the different sides of his home town, Brighton. Also, like Peck, his filmmaking catalogue is a mixed bag from the sublime Tucked (2019) to the dour and vivid Justine (2020). Even when his pictures don’t entirely work, the creativity of the vision is nonetheless impressive. God’s Petting You could be described as ‘Bonny and Clyde Take Brighton‘, and there is much to love in this premise. However, despite the solid and thoroughly engaging performances from George Webster and Sky Lourie, the comedy at the heart of Patterson’s film feels dated and flat – a throwback to a range of 90s British gangster movies. That’s not to say there are not moments where the promise of Patterson’s film shines through; there just aren’t enough of these moments to ultimately keep our attention in a movie that only really finds its voice in the final 20 minutes.
STAR TREK: PICARD (SEASON THREE) 2023
Star Trek has had its ups and downs over the past twenty years on the big screen. In 2002 The Next Generation’s journey stopped with the critical and commercial flop of Star Trek Nemesis as Data sacrificed himself for his crew. While in 2009, J. J. Abrams breathed new life into old and familiar characters in Star Trek, as Spock, Kirk and Co were resurrected in a new timeline. But the promise of the initial Abrams outing was never matched by the two films that came after despite the superb cast. However, on TV Star Trek has seen itself go through a rebirth of confidence and creativity, which is fitting considering that’s where the franchise started in 1966. Through Discovery, Picard Seasons One and Two and Strange New Worlds, the franchise has delivered cinematic quality on the small screen while embracing the past, the present and a bright new future.
But despite the joy of every recent outing, one past hurt has remained tender to the touch, the lacklustre final voyage of The Next Generation. Picard and his crew deserved so much better than what they got back in 2002, and while both seasons of Picard have celebrated parts of that crew’s history, they also avoided falling into nostalgia for good reason; nostalgia, as we know, is warm and sweet, but it must come with a story that engages, enthrals and does something new. Thankfully Picard Season Three embraces nostalgia alongside a damn fine story with a cinematic punch that defies its streaming roots. Picard Season Three is beautiful, exhilarating and worthy of the crew who breathed new life into Star Trek over thirty-five years ago.
Picard Season Three embraces some of the finest Star Trek stories in building its ten-episode epic run. On a cinematic level, Season Three dovetails elements of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: First Contact. While on a televisual level, it plays with The Next Generation Season Three, Four and Seven while embracing the Star Trek IV-inspired Picard Season Two.
There is so much to love in Picard Season Three that you are left with a deep sense of grief and joy as we say goodbye to Picard and Co for the final time. Big, beautiful, expertly written, directed and performed, Picard Season Three is not only the last outing of The Next Generation we have waited so long to see; it’s one of the best Star Trek outings we have seen in the past twenty years.
STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLDS (SEASON ONE) 2022
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds”… I am sure you know the rest. These famous words opened Star Trek in 1966 and have remained core to the TV and cinema journey ever since. However, one character never got the credit he deserved as the Star Trek universe grew; Christopher Pike. Christopher Pike was synonymous with the NBC pilot episode The Cage. Pike was the original Captain of the Enterprise, but as we met him, he was full of guilt as he considered resigning his position before being hideously scarred on saving his crew. Then Pike vanished into history, with Kirk taking charge.
In recent years, Pike has made a small comeback, popping up in Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) and its sequel before gaining more attention in Star Trek: Discovery. Now with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Christopher Pike finally gets the outing he deserves as we embrace the long-forgotten Captain of the USS Enterprise and his young pre-Kirk crew.
By taking us back to the very origins of Star Trek in 1966, Pike’s Enterprise embraces the classic episodic elements that built the Star Trek universe. Strange New Worlds is a glorious, colourful and magical return to a bygone TV format that was last seen in The Next Generation. Some may say it’s retro, others may say it’s slow, but Pike’s Enterprise reflects the word’s meaning; a project or undertaking, especially a bold or complex one. It’s a show about the roots of Starfleet and its mission of discovery and adventure in the unknown depths of space, and it’s all the better for it.
IN CINEMAS NOW
Ti West’s incredibly clever homage to the origin of the slasher genre, X, paid tribute to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho, to name just two, in exploring the foundations of porn, horror and art. But far from being a mere blood-soaked cinematic seminar, X explored our collective fear of sex and age. His sequel to X has taken a long time to reach British cinemas, and sadly this may result in lacklustre box office takings, but I hope I am wrong. Part blood-soaked homage to The Wizard of Oz and part love letter to Joan Crawford’s underrated Strait-Jacket, West’s clever dissection of psychological horror is just as intelligent in its narrative structure and artistic vision as his first outing. But add to the mix the outstanding Mia Goth and Pearl becomes a twisted pleasure that deserves to be seen on the big screen.
Fourteen-year-old Billy Batson (Asher Angel) spends his spare time desperately searching for his birth mother. His quest led him to run away from countless foster homes while developing a healthy criminal record of petty offences. However, when Billy is given a final foster opportunity, he is unaware that his life is about to change in multiple ways as a subway journey leads to a new and confusing superpower.
Shazam! offers us something unique in an ocean of comic-book movies, a tale rooted in childhood dreams. Here Shazam! lights up the cinema screen in a film that pays homage to the energy, fun, humour and excitement of C.C Beck and Bill Parker’s unique comic book hero. Here Sandberg cleverly dovetailed elements of Kick-Ass with the comedy of Big and Vice Versa in creating a joyous, energy-filled comic book adventure that appealed to all ages. Here what could have been the movie’s biggest flaw ends up being one of its most charming characteristics, the interface between the manchild of Shazam! and his younger teenage self.
But the true genius of Shazam! sat within the deep themes of friendship, discovery and belonging at the heart of the action. After all, this is a superhero movie rooted in hope, love and family, with Billy’s journey equally as important as his alter-ego. Unlike several of the disappointing DC films before it, Sandberg’s Shazam! understood its target audience and the dynamics that had made Marvel films like Spider-Man: Homecoming work so well. The result was a comic book movie that left you with a superhero-sized smile.
SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS (2023)
Shazam! was a surprise hit in 2019, injecting new life and a fresh dose of optimism into a beleaguered DC slate of films. But does lightning strike twice? Broadly the answer is yes. Shazam! Fury of the Gods may have been caught in the political turmoil of a changing studio, but it is a super-charged superhero epic that does precisely what it needs to do, entertain. Sandberg’s sequel is bigger, bolder and more action-packed than the first film, and while this results in a less intimate aesthetic, there are still moments of perfectly timed humour and emotion on display.
Shazam! Fury of the Gods owes much to Superman II in its core narrative (hell, what superhero sequel doesn’t?). Here we find Levi and Angel’s Billy and Shazam! Facing off against three deadly gods (Mirram, Liu and Zeglar). However, unlike the first film, we now have a whole family of heroes, and it’s here Sandberg’s sequel struggles. Shazam! Fury of the Gods spends a lot of time attempting to figure out what to do with the broader family surrounding Billy and Freddy and only occasionally finds an answer. As a result, this is very much Billy and Freddy’s story, with Freddy (Dylan Grazer), in particular, taking centre stage.
However, these minor narrative niggles in no way distract from the bravery and scale of Shazam’s second outing or the ability of the movie to immerse you in a truly spectacular world of teen heroes, machiavellian villains, dragons and heart-pounding action. Neither do the niggles distract from the superb performances at the heart of this visually stunning and surprisingly emotional second outing. I, for one, hope we see Shazam! fly again because this is one character I am not ready to say goodbye to.