More catchup from last year here friends. This was a pretty big and mixed range of stuff. But there’s a nice range of films I dug. As always, hyperlinked titles will go through to my podcast reviews.
- American Psycho (2000), Mary Harron – This is a pretty remarkable achievement of adaptation. A heightened, exaggerated vibe that is so essential to the success of the film. Way it weaves themes in from the start is a testament to the writing and Bale’s performance. His misogynistic control of women, money, status, classism and racism. Nails the competitiveness of capitalist shitbags in basically everything. Bale’s edge of menace is so off-putting, especially when coupled with the kind of absurdist comedy tone. Interesting how it rolls through genres. The first half is mainly a comedy, then turns into a horror, slasher then something psychological. A cerebral film.
- Junkopia (1981), Chris Marker, John Chapman & Frank Simeone – Have also seen this billed elsewhere as just a Marker film. He is super hit or miss. I liked this one though. The sea, human/art interaction. A succession of abandoned looking structures that at times hint at faces or other things. Sharply edited and scored, with a suggestion of narrative the result.
- Monster (2005), Jennifer Kent – Beautiful black and white, often shot unnervingly close. Covers similar ground as Kent’s later work – mother & son, overawed, monsters. Super scary, I dropped an f-bomb at one utterly chilling scare.
- How the ‘Dook Stole Christmas (2014), Jennifer Kent – A delightful, bloody Christmas tale in less than a minute! I would so watch a full length Babadook Christmas special.
- Grammy (2015), Jill Gevargizian – I liked this. Has a pretty standard short film structure. But does something different with it. Ominous suburban score. Plays with expectations of a grandmother nicely. Crams a great score, one killer effects shot and a funny coda all into less than two minutes.
- Parks and Recreation Season 7 (2015), Greg Daniels & Michael Schur – Love the simple twist of Ron and Leslie being enemies. Has a fair amount of Kathryn Hahn which is always a massive bonus. Exceedingly astute on politics as Ben enters the congressional race. Ron Swanson may well be my favourite TV character ever. The show is so good at creating a full cast of characters, and this season is particularly good at that.
- Gerald’s Game (2017), Mike Flanagan – Flanagan is a really strong director. Here he uses a lot of visual clues as setup. Which could annoy, but he pulls it back just in time. The performers are really good at conveying that awkwardness of trying to rekindle the sexual side of a relationship, and importantly the stock they have placed in that. Camera brilliantly creates a sense of space and perspective. Carla Cugino is out of the world good here, in a rough role. Turns into bloody chilling, horrific stuff. Almost too much so, with some of the child abuse flashbacks. Creatively puts internal monologue onscreen, though it gets a touch silly with the personification of death. Wrapped up in a clumsy way, but not before a sequence that affected me more on a physical level than any other I can recall.
- The Graduation (2016), Claire Simon – Doco focusing on the entrance process for a major French film school. Huge number of people trying to get in. Remarkable how many different study streams there are – exhibition, cinema running, promotion as well as the more obvious filmmaking crafts. Cool to see this broad cross-section of the French film community discuss film in this detail. Also examines the difficulty (fallacy?) in trying to apply logic to film and its consideration. You can sense the overbearing pressure on these young people. Kind of hard to watch at times. Passion for cinema that comes through makes it very worth a watch.
- Song to Song (2017), Terrence Malick – Malick for me is a total master. Immediately know you’re in one of his films. This concept of film as atmosphere. And here, character as archetype. Fassbender the rich manipulative asshole, Portman’s country normal gal, thoughtful Gosling and relatable Mara. Interesting to see the performers who sink or swim with the director’s approach. Mara has the right vibe, able to project levity despite the obliqueness. Feels like Gosling struggles with the process though. A film about intimacy. Recalls it, suggests it and makes you reflect on it.
- Thor: Ragnarok (2017), Taika Waititi – Really the first Marvel film with an authorial voice. The best parts of this are very much a Taika Waititi film. Quite hilarious. Hemsworth’s comedic timing is excellent. And the director’s character is hilarious. Dig the full fantasy start. After the bold first 45 minutes, it does fall into some of the same old Marvel territory plotwise. Performances are all excellent. Tessa Thompson is a badass while Cate Blanchett delivers one of the stronger Marvel villains. Does ever so slightly feel less than the sum of its parts.
- Battle of the Sexes (2017), Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris – Situates Billie Jean King as the revolutionary she was. Not always been the biggest Emma Stone fan and here she doesn’t immediately disappear into the role. But as the film progresses she gets more comfortable. So much to love: Alan Cumming as a confidante/designer, Margaret Court as a villain and a really positive presentation of queer romance. The irresistible physical connection between two people. Do think there’s a little too much of a focus on Riggs. Perhaps gives him a pass at times. Symbolic weight of what was a silly exhibition match is established. How it is used as a tool of the patriarchy.
- Good Time (2017), Benny & Josh Safdie – A unique fuckin heist film and entry into the ‘one really shitty day’ genre. Bit of an idiosyncratic film. Can feel the desperation reeking off the characters. It’s frenetic, driven by technical aspects – shooting, sound design. Beautifully and boldly cut together. A remarkable soundtrack of like late 80s synth superhero soundscapes. R Patz continues to show he’s one of the best. Jennifer Jason Leigh is dynamic in a small role. A hell of a film.
- I Confess (1953), Alfred Hitchcock – Cool, whodunnity style opening. Though immediately puts a twist on that. We see who the murderer is as he confesses to the priest. Which is cool. Really well performed .The plot is quite simple, but Hitchcock controls it well into one of his signature shock endings. Montgomery Clift is exceptionally good.
- Josie and the Pussycats (2001), Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan – This is awesome. Subversive from the start. The cast is great. Rachel Leigh and Rosario Dawson in particular absolutely slay this material as two of the Pussycats. And Alan Cumming is born to play this manager role. He and Parker Posey are a cracking villainous duo. Cool catchy songs. And hilarious self-referential moments. A bit silly but all so charming. And finishes with a totally adorable, utterly silly fight scene.
- Geostorm (2017), Dean Devlin – Such a pure dang joy. Your favourite apocalyptic weather movie, but with shitloads of space stuff. Gerard Butler plays a polly-punching genius scientist. Also a massive ‘countdown to Geostorm’ countdown clock. If you believe a bad film can bring joy, this is absolutely your thing. Charming cast. Abbie Cornish is ace as a badass secret service agent. Deeply silly and delightful, right down to the deliciously dumb, adorable, feel-good ending.
- The Girl With all the Gifts (2016), Colm McCarthy – One of the best zombie films ever. Militaristic opening with kids being experimented on. Glimpses of the zombie overrun outside world. Young lead Sennia Nanua is wonderful. Small group travelling thought the zombie wasteland. Excellent zombie transformations and performances. Very little CGI. Nanua brings this incredible, slightly inhuman physicality to her role. Great ensemble – Glenn Close, Paddy Considine and Gemma Arterton. Film very coded, uses the iconography of the war film to great effect.
Not Worth Watching
- Evolution (2015), Lucile Hadzihalilovic – Really did not get the creepy vibe that I think I was supposed to. Not at all atmospheric despite the incredible locations and underwater shooting. Gradually builds this environment of single women with a single male child. An implication of religiosity it feels. Chaste, bland village life. Really didn’t get into it. And a lot of the horror seems to simply focus on the ickiness of surgery. Meandering, uneventful and sleep-inducing. Not enough minutiae to grab onto.
- Free Fire (2016), Ben Wheatley – Found this super contrived, particularly the dialogue and music choices. Plus the much vaunted action was pretty pedestrian. The use of space is very poor, you can’t tell who is shooting at who. It had no weight. Both the action and presence of the performers. Looked and felt like people standing around acting. Brie Larson is good though. Her calm presence brings something different. Overall though there was no real sense of character, and as a style piece I didn’t find it very flashy.
- The Bye Bye Man (2017), Stacy Title – Starts with a 1960s dad Leigh Whannell, but unfortunately it’s all downhill from there. Low key and not particularly engaging. The first half is plain whilst the second is painfully awful. Builds up some decent mythology, but the eventual reveal of the Bye Bye Man is real shitty. There is no real consistency to the internal rules of the film. All of it is not helped by really bad performances by the three leads and an awful script.
- I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer (2008), Stacey Edmonds & Doug Turner – Some promising signs early with the way it combines cricket and horror. But the commitment to the cricket connection wanes. Looks pretty decent and slick for such a low budget. But you can definitely see the budget in the acting and sets. And a gross shower scene that serves less narrative purpose than maybe any nudity in cinema history. The script is rubbish and lowkey offensive. Charming at times such as the hilarious final battle, but mainly bad.
- To Our Loves (1983), Maurice Pialat – Sandrine Bonnaire is so great. Character’s approach to sex is interesting. No real exposition to explain her interest in it. It’s just part of the snippets we get of her father’s overbearing nature and violence. She’s remarkable in what is not an easy role. Aside from that the film didn’t really hold my attention though. The family dramas and lack of plot are a drag. Perhaps down to the lack of early focus on character.
- The Captured Bird (2012), Jovanka Vuckovic – Cool style combo of old and new with wild production values. Bugs flowing from pipes and blood bubbling from stones. But unfortunately it has that ‘effects reel’ vibe of a lot of shorts. I was not taken by it really.
- #Horror (2015), Tara Subkoff – A failure, but an interesting one. Cool locations and visuals. A totally weird, omnipresent and overbearing soundtrack that doesn’t really vibe with what’s onscreen. Super creative, even though it doesn’t work. The cool sheen of slight unreality to it all. Animated social media burst onscreen are crass rubbish though. Kids like their phones. We get it. Does attempt to ground things in the meanness of teen girls and the turmoil of teendom. Acting too weak to pull it off though. Kinda fucked up that a bunch of 12 year old girls get murdered.
- Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Denis Villeneuve – I dug the early part. Where we see something different, something remote and isolated. Not urban. But damn, this thing is sooooo long. I like how CGI is used to enhance the dystopic streetscapes. Epic and sprawling. The plot doesn’t do a whole lot though, there’s some hokey narrative paths. Establishes and explores the hierarchy of humans>replicant>VR maid. This hierarchy of realness. But not explored in that interesting a way. And I think the film does have an issue with women. Notion that the foundation of women is to make men happy. Violence against women as cheap symbolism. Also fuck Jared Leto. He makes every film he’s in worse.
If you only have time to watch one The Girl With all the Gifts
Avoid at all costs The Bye Bye Man
Here we go with September of last year thoughts. All in all a pretty positive month, that skews quite heavily to newer (at the time) releases. Enjoy.
- It (2017), Andy Muschietti – I really liked this, despite finding the scares to be pretty ineffectual. Builds this nice 80s small town with a dark past vibe. This is nicely shown through sketching out the different experiences that kids can have in a place like that. Liked the adventure vibe, a group of buds taking on something massive. But the horror elements are too scattershot. Sort of works in the world of the gfilm, but no cohesiveness in frightening the audience. Plus there is too much CGI on Pennywise. Some dark stuff to consider. Bullying and the face that all the adults are either distant at best or a whole lot worse. It’s a film about the experience of childhood divorced from the experience of adults.
- The Dark Tower (2017), Nikolaj Arcel – Given this is based on a (extremely beloved) series of books, it’s super slight. But given I have no connection to the source material, I actually had an ok time here. It’s light on plot for a fantasy film with minimal mythology. Builds nice dual worlds though. Both of the older leads are really excellent. McConaughey mixes cool reserve and genuine evil. Elba rocks as a fuckin badass action hero with presence and bravado. A strange mix of kid-led adventure film with some legit darkness and intensity. This actually left me hanging out for the supposed TV series.
- The Fate of the Furious (2017), F. Gary Grey – As someone who hasn’t enjoyed any of this franchise since #3, this was a really nice surprise. Crackingly awful dialogue. Grey harnesses the silliness and self-parody into something super fun. Which is not easy to do when not only do you know where the plot is going, you know every single beat. Gloriously stupid stuff. The Stath doing an action scene holding a baby is an underrated high point of the series.
- Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces (2016), Yousry Nasrallah – I didn’t quite capture some of the tonal stuff. But there was a lot to like here. The performances, especially from the two leads, are really good. There is a great sense of character, which comes much more strongly from these performances than the writing. There’s a really strong sequence at a wedding, storytelling wrapped up with a pivotal life ceremony. A quite horrific late shift that jars with what has come before and then the film ends on a comedic bee attack.
- The Incredible Jessica James (2017), Jim Strouse – I’m a big fan of Jessica Williams, especially her podcast ‘2 Dope Queens’. Here she plays a struggling playwright going through a breakup. Going in, thought Chris O’Dowd would be a bad fit opposite Williams. But it works really well, despite the uninspired script. Gentle, nice and worth it for the lead performances..
- The Girlfriend Experience (2009), Steven Soderbergh – Big fan of this one. Like the way it is shot – small, intimate and utilises focus. Sketches out the ‘girlfriend experience’. I thought Sasha Grey was really good. Like the construction, plotless in a way but the narrative sort of builds through encounters. Actually as more plot got added in, I liked it less. Still one of my favourite Soderbergh films though.
- Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colours (2015), Stephen Herek – This has the spirit of Dolly Parton running through it and is fucking delightful as a result. Be warned, it does get a little churchy at the end. But it’s really well acted, from the young lead and her parents in particular. And it’s a lovely weaving of her song into movie form. Slight and clearly made for TV, but lovely.
- Fly Away Home (1996), Caroll Ballard – A huge dose of schmaltz from minute one. Scraggly Jeff Daniels is all kinds of ace. Lots of cute baby geese. Look it’s pretty run of the miss stuff. But I like the motley crew vibe that pops up. Above average, solid, family fare.
- Hidden Figures (2016), Theodore Melfi – Perhaps not as revolutionary as the story demands. But dies make plain the intense racism and sexism being confronted. Simple, but good storytelling elevated by bloody good performances from the three leads. It’s a good script. More focused on Taraji P. Henson’s character than I was expecting. She is great here, but I think a more ensemble approach to the story would have made for a more satisfying film.
- Lego Batman Movie (2017), Chris McKay – Much better than its predecessor. Hilariously and cleverly pokes fun at the conventions of the character, tapping into his loneliness, arrogance and privilege. Also looks super, super cool. Even the really self-aware moments are very funny. Silly, but canny enough to poke at the seriousness of the character.
- Deadly Blessing (1981), Wes Craven – Underrated Craven goodness here. Smoothly crafts the ominous aspects of the Hittites – costuming and choral singing take on a creepiness. Plenty of this feels unremarkable, especially the whodunit elements. But Craven can’t help putting his touch of brilliance on things. Ernest Borgnine is really quite good in this. He adds layers to the presentation of the Hittites I think. Sort of lulls you along, then suddenly something like a slamming door scares the shit out of you. Also feels like Craven is riffing on his own career at times – the bath scene recalls his most famous film.
- Malcolm (1986), Nadia Tass – Colin Friels stars as a shy dude fired for building his own tram. Nice portrait of an ingenious and awkward outsider. Settles into an odd-couple crime caper with class commentary. Great script, that constantly makes you smile. I think something quite beautiful to it, depth to the characters and relationships. A fun, strikingly absurd tale of friendship and bank robbery.
- Patti cake$ (2017), Geremy Jasper – In a way not what I was expecting. It’s grimmer and more true to lie than the triumphant musical underdog story it was sold as. It’s a really great lead performance from Danielle Macdonald, transcends the cliché it could have become (large white girl trying to do hip-hop). Elicits the confidence that she has the fortitude to achieve what she is yearning for. All culminates in one of the best musical moments in a film for a long time. An awesomely exultant release of the film’s build-up.
- Ali’s Wedding (2017), Jeffrey Walker – So incredibly charming. Teen romcom tropes – nervousness about exams, talking to girls – filtered through a Muslim-Australian lens in a way that feels quite meaningful. It also makes this part of the humour. Really solid filmmaking, the way the harsher flashbacks are crafted. Also laugh out loud funny, with some really clever and fun music cues. Hits all the beats you expect in a way you haven’t seen.
- The Good Fight Season 1 (2017), Robert King, Michelle King & Phil Alden Robinson – Plays like a heart-warming remix of its predecessor. Baranski’s Diane provides such a comforting connection, while Lucca really becomes the focus here. The case of the week format means there are duds. But the overall theme of a predominately African American firm taking on police violence lends it a cohesiveness. I found this to be a warm, fun ride.
Not Worth Watching
- Hatchet (2006), Adam Green – I do love how Adam Green has made his own way, and this seems to be a particularly beloved film in the horror community. But it did little for me. Starts muted, even with the presence of Robert Englund. The script has some nice humour to it and it actually works pretty well as a comedy. Unfortunately it’s totally forgettable as a horror film. The kills are weird, not sure what they are going for. Neither played for laughs (despite the silly effects) or particularly creative.
- Death Ship (1980), Alvin Rakoff – Sort of OTT and hilarious, but not at all fun. There is an ominous presence to the visuals of the titular ship. But as soon as it is boarded, that atmosphere essentially evaporates. A muted and gross experience, neither of those in a good way.
- XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017), D.J Caruso – Sold to me by people I trust as a fun ‘good-bad’ movie, this is unfortunately junk. Utterly stupid from the first second. The action, even with dudes as talented as Donnie Yen, is super slow and a bit shit. Quite stilted overall. Very much a failed Bond riff. Occasionally certain cast members give it a shot of life, but there’s an equal number of them who explode onto the screen with a meh. A chore.
- Take the 10 (2017), Chester Tam – Oof. A lot of the Netflix original movies are underrated I feel. No chance of that here. It’s exceptionally bad. Mind-numbingly horrible and arch dialogue. I barely made it through which is very rare for me. Super uninspiring, crass and cheap. Unfunny with no plot as well. You know things are dire when not even Andy Samberg can inspire some laughs.
- Girls Trip (2017), Malcolm D. Lee – I didn’t get what so many others got from this film. Instantly establishes the four main characters. Which means no time wasted on backstory. And the casting is uniformly great. Four ace leads headlined by the breakout performance from Tiffany Haddish. But for me, it didn’t really transcend standard comedic stuff. The pee jokes and long drug trips felt tired, even with the refreshing characters and performers. Plus it was super overlong.
- Annabelle Creation (2017), David F. Sandberg – Supposedly an improvement on the first but I don’t see it. Really average rather than abrasively awful. Builds a decent ‘world’ – older couple with secrets, big ol house, orphans and nuns. But does zero with it. Boring. Feels like the many Waniverse tropes of slamming doors, use of framing and focus to generate scares, folks getting dragged away, people floating, are really only any good in James’ hands.
If you only have time to watch one Ali’s Wedding
Avoid at all costs Take the 10