Everything Everywhere All At Once Four stars In cinemas; Cert 16
Multiverse season appears to be upon us. That’s right, the multiverse. If you don’t know what it is, you soon will.
Somehow, we find ourselves this week with two big action extravaganzas showing at our cinemas that are set against this house of mirrors where infinite parallel variations of our universe exist. Imagine it and it is out there, on the other side of the looking glass.
Everything Everywhere All at Once takes us jumping through dimensions, but not quite in the same way we saw in Marvel Studio’s very recent and underwhelming Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (lukewarmly reviewed in this column a fortnight ago).
That the term is now ubiquitous enough to be shared between an independently spirited sci-fi comedy and a new offering from the humungous Marvel Cinematic Universe is somewhat comforting, a reminder that Disney doesn’t own it all.
And perhaps its double billing this weekend is simply symptomatic of the times we live in. By the generation, we’re becoming increasingly jacked-in to the borderless digital world. Our attention spans are now too fidgety to remain content inside one single, boring universe.
This outing by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, co-directors who go by the simple moniker “Daniels”, achieves what Doctor Strange could not. It uses the multiverse as a device, a MacGuffin even, to tell a simple tale about a family of Asian immigrants who are finding the American dream laden with stress and disillusionment.
With this as its foundation, it almost doesn’t matter about the tsunami of bells and whistles we are bamboozled with over its three acts.
Michelle Yeoh is a powerhouse as Evelyn, the owner of a laundromat that is being audited by the tax authority. If that weren’t enough, her relationship with husband Waymond (former 1980s child star Ke Huy Quan) is on the rocks, to the point that he is presenting divorce papers.
She is also struggling to come to terms with the fact that daughter Joy (Stephanie Hsu) has brought home a girlfriend. Evelyn’s high-maintenance and wheelchair-bound father (James Hong) has also arrived to stay from China.
During a visit to the revenue office to be grilled by Jamie Lee Curtis’s bureaucratic inspector, Waymond undergoes a sudden possession in the elevator.
He now professes to be from “the Alphaverse”, an action-ready alpha-version of himself with an important message to share.
Put simply, the multiverse is under threat from the alpha version of their daughter Joy, who has learned to leap through dimensions and manipulate their various powers at will. And she is now hell bent on destruction.
This all hurtles at Evelyn (and us) like The Matrix fed through a Jackie Chan prism. Before we know for sure what is happening, Evelyn and Waymond are being hunted by galactic agents in the service of their demented and all-powerful daughter.
Alpha Waymond has a way to imbue Evelyn with powers from her alternate versions elsewhere in the multiverse. For a person to take on these powers, however, they must first do something that is extremely out of character for them, leading to all manner of daft and hilarious interludes within the whirlwinds of action.
When its feet are planted on the ground, much of the film takes place in an open-plan office, which might be a first for a cartoonishly lofty sci-fi saga.
Slick and dazzling combat scenes come at you, the sheer invention and wit of their choreography whizzing past at breakneck speed. This contributes greatly to the film’s overall sense of continuous movement, both within the characters’ personal journeys and what is happening around them.
It might prove too much for some viewers, but that joyously untethered energy is what makes this mini-epic pack the wallop it does. And no matter how spasmodic the tempo, it always stays grounded in the family dynamic at its narrative core.
Interestingly, Jackie Chan was originally considered for the lead before the Daniels wisely opted for Yeoh, who has the martial arts prowess as well as excellent comic timing. Quan, who has worked as a fight choreographer since his forays with Indiana Jones and The Goonies, is equally brilliant, full of physicality and empathy.
Outrageous fun, even if you might not be entirely sure what the rules of the multiverse are.
A-ha: The Movie
In cinemas; Cert 12A
The sun always shines on TV? You’ve got that right. In Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm’s stubbornly sketchy portrait of Norway’s finest pop exports we’re presented with a group of players for whom chart-topping success rarely equated to personal fulfilment. Filmed over four years, this candid yet frustratingly untidy documentary implores us to question everything we’ve ever imagined about life in a million-selling pop group.
Keyboardist Magne Furuholmen and guitarist Pål Waaktaar-Savoy bring us back to their childhoods, when listening to records and dreaming up a future in rock and roll was all that mattered. Eventually, they’d meet the impossibly handsome Morten Harket, move to London, write ‘Take on Me’ and conquer the world. But it wasn’t quite as easy as it looked, and a-ha: The Movie examines a band where friendship has rarely been the priority.
Robsahm and Holm’s film starts well, employing animated techniques reminiscent of Steve Barron’s groundbreaking ‘Take on Me’ video, to tell its story. Playful innovation is pushed aside, however, for a wobbly, humourless account that talks a lot, but often skips over the details. A missed opportunity.
In cinemas; Cert 15A
There’s a bang of Stephen King off Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents, an ingeniously crafted parable that, among other things, explores the implications of power and the consequences of violence through the eyes of a group of supernaturally gifted youngsters.
When nine-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her family move to a tower block in Oslo, the last thing she expects to encounter is a young fella who can control things with his mind. Indeed, young Ben (Sam Ashraf) hasn’t yet realised the extent of his powers. Soon they discover that another child on the complex (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim’s Aisha) is telepathic and harbours an extraordinary connection with Ida’s sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who has autism.
Remarkable times, for sure, but remember, this is a horror, and let’s just say Ida and her mates go too far, that the kids are most definitely not alright and that Vogt’s film freaked the bejaysus out of me.
A clever, slow-burning chiller, brilliantly acted and well plotted, The Innocents explains only what it needs to, and the result is a deeply unsettling yet richly satisfying display that gets under your skin, the way all good horror films should.
Select cinemas; Cert 12A
Terence Davies does not make it easy for us. With Benediction, his singular, uncompromising take on the life of British war poet Siegfried Sassoon, one of cinema’s most distinctive auteurs employs his usual brand of funereal storytelling for a film so unapologetically sad it ends with a scene of someone crying.
The excellent Jack Lowden portrays Sassoon as an angry, traumatised solider who, in the midst of the Great War, is awarded for his bravery then punished for his opinions. Adopting a late-in-the-day anti-war stance, Sassoon is shipped off to a military psychiatric unit where he begins an arduous and ultimately joyless bout of self-reflection.
A celebrated poet, Sassoon later dabbles with high society, embarks on empty love affairs with narcissistic men and – captured angrily in old age by Peter Capaldi – eventually marries and converts to Catholicism.
Benediction examines a tormented life, dotted with unhappiness and resentment, and is more a collection of slow, theatrical vignettes than a standard biopic. Still, a wistful, hypnotic display works in spite of itself. It’s a fine film, and Lowden’s elegant turn makes all the difference.