Scene: Quick Read Reviews and Double Bill Recommendations


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.

SHAZAM! (2019)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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. 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. (NEIL BAKER)


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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. (NEIL BAKER)



Based on the bestselling novel by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six feels like an extension of Cameron Crowe’s sublime 2000 film Almost Famous. But here, the coming-of-age themes are replaced by a focus on internal band conflicts, romance and politics. Told over two timelines, interviews about the band’s collapse are weaved into a delightful exploration of the 70s music scene creating a bingeful six-episode run full of 70s bangers and original tracks. There is also much to love in the performances of Daisy (Riley Keough) and Billy (Sam Claflin) and the Nicks and Buckingham-inspired dynamic between the two. Equally, the ensemble of Billy’s brother Graham (Will Harrison), bassist Eddie Roundtree (Josh Whitehouse), drummer Warren Rojas (Sebastian Chacon), keyboardist Karen Sirko (Suki Waterhouse) and Billy’s long-suffering wife (Camila Morrone) are an absolute delight. However, for all the high production values, there is a question about whether Daisy Jones & The Six manages to reflect the energy and drive of the novel, and while it may pay homage to Almost Famous, it never quite reaches the emotional and dramatic heights of Crowe’s love letter to 70s music. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t highly addictive and entertaining drama.


Rating: 2 out of 5.

Set in 1981 on the Kent coast, Hilary Small (Olivia Colman) leads a solitary existence after finishing a stay in a psychiatric hospital. Sexually exploited by her vile boss (played with pathetic sleaziness by Colin Firth) and alienated from the rest of her colleagues, she trudges through life with no sense of purpose or direction. She starts an affair with Stephen (Michael Ward), the newest of the young ushers working in the cinema, who shows her the tenderness of which she is deprived.

What follows feels like an inelegant soldering together of two different films. The first is a period film about an interracial relationship and attitudes towards mental illness in the vein of a Mike Leigh drama. The second is an ensemble piece about a ragtag group of cinephiles finding comfort and solidarity in their temple of the moving image. While these ideas aren’t necessarily in conflict, the two concepts never converge.

Olivia Colman is untouchable at this point in her career, so her star power is unlikely to be dimmed by appearing in a mediocre film. Commendably, she brings her full dramatic weight to the underwhelming script. Hopefully, Michael Ward will be able to use the exposure from the movie as a springboard to more substantive projects. But, far more than any of the human players, the film’s real star is Margate’s historic Dreamland cinema, which is immaculately photographed by Mendes’ frequent cinematographic collaborator, Roger Deakins.

Empire of Light has good intentions, strong performances from the leads and handsome cinematography. But, ultimately, more is needed to save this unimaginative and thematically disjointed venture.



Rating: 4 out of 5.

Each story director James Grey brings to the screen, whether science fiction, adventure or thriller, is wrapped in an intimate human journey. Often these journeys centre on family, belonging or a past event that niggles at a character’s subconscious mind demanding resolution. In Armageddon Time, Grey takes us back to his New York childhood with a semi-autobiographical drama that explores a friendship that left an indelible mark. As a result, Armageddon Time feels deeply personal, a series of joyous, loving, challenging and uncomfortable memories played out on screen.

The place is Queens, and the year is 1980. Paul (Banks Repeta) is the youngest son of Irving (Jeremy Strong) and Esther (Anne Hathaway). Paul is at that age where the idea of rebellion appeals, and in a city where cultural change is coming thick and fast, Paul longs to escape his middle-class Jewish life for an artistic adventure. The only person who seems to understand him is his grandfather (Anthony Hopkins), who encourages his love of art and sense of ambition and rebellion.

At school, he bonds with Johnny (Jaylin Webb), a Black kid who, like him, believes there must be more to life than school and endless rules. But while both Johnny and Paul may share the characteristic of a minority group, the nature and experience of persecution in New York for a Black and Jewish kid are very different.

In Grey’s engaging and atmospheric coming-of-age drama, chaotic family meal times are full of banter and love, while the streets of New York are alive with risk and change. Paul is desperate to embrace social change but has yet to discover what that change should be. However, he knows that with his friend, Johnny, in tow, change is possible and inevitable. But Paul is about to learn that childhood dreams and desires rarely survive a night of adult realities.

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